Friday, February 2, 2024

Finally warm.

We are anchored in Palm Beach, in a familiar spot between the bridges across from downtown West Palm Beach (map). The anchorage is the most crowded we've ever seen, and we had to squeeze in on short scope, dropping precisely just outside the cable area and avoiding swinging into a slow-speed sign, a jury-rigged private mooring, or a trio of sailing cats anchored in our more usual spot.

Vector anchored at Matanzas Inlet at twilight. Photo: Erin Miller

It's been a full three weeks since I posted an update, and I am regretting not typing more on the couple of long days underway. That was owing in large part to the fact that I am still struggling to get the autopilot to play nice with the satellite compass, requiring a lot more supervision and intervention than normal. On the trickier days I just set it back to the magnetic compass, where it's more stable on most headings.

Vector at the Florida Yacht Club. Most of the docks have just been replaced and the tenants have yet to return.

Shortly after my last post we arrived at the Florida Yacht Club, where we elected to tie to the center T-head (map) for a shorter run ashore in the event of a tornado warning. That had us plowing through a half foot of silt just to get to the dock. The forecast storm turned out to be a non-event, but we did have a lovely dinner in the yacht club bar.

Vector at Jacksonville Landing, snapped by the passing Barefeet. Photo: Erin Miller

We left the next day with a bit more water under our keel for the very short run to the Landings docks in downtown Jacksonville (map). We had the docks to ourselves, and in the evening our good friends Erin and Chris picked us up in their car and we had a nice dinner together at Moon River Pizza. They were in town to pick up their lovely Selene, Barefeet, from its storage berth nearby to start their winter cruising season; we had a great time catching up. We waved to them the next morning as they passed us headed down river.

Barfeet headed downriver, with Southbank in the background.

Meanwhile our other friends in town, Jennifer and Mark, picked us up and took us to lunch at one of our old haunts in the Five Points neighborhood, Hawker's Asian Street Fare. They are in the process of selling their well-traveled Nordhavn 46, Starlet, after cruising half way around the planet over the past decade. We met them at a TrawlerFest show while we were all still searching for just the right boat, and it has been inspiring to follow their journey. They're camped out at an AirBnB in Jacksonville while they move everything off the boat and transition to a life of travel by other means. It was great to see them again and hear what the transition has been like, a sort of glimpse into our future.

The splash pad at the new waterfront park in Daytona. Closed for the season but the water was still jumping.

After lunch we waited for the tide to turn, dropped lines, and headed downriver in the last of the daylight to our familiar anchorage off Blount Island (map). This is also where Barefeet stopped for the day, and it was an unexpected pleasure to once again get together with Erin and Chris, heading ashore in their tender to the Palms Fish Camp for a relaxed dinner. They were up and out of the anchorage a good bit earlier than us in the morning, and we figured that to be the last we'd see of them until perhaps somewhere in the Bahamas.

The view from the other end.

The timing of the tide cycle at this point had us departing the anchorage in the early morning to have a fair tide into and through the ICW. We raced through the Pablo Creek bridge with a couple of knots behind us. That had us at our expected stop for the night, in Vilano Beach, right at mid-day. We like that stop because there is a Publix grocery store, which we needed, a short walk from the dinghy dock, along with a couple of restaurants. But realizing we could go another full day before needing groceries, and in light of the fact that the frigid temperatures would have us running the generator quite a bit with the early stop, we decided to press on further.

One of the other water features in the park, flanked by nice walking paths.

We were able to make it all the way to one of our favorite anchorages at Fort Matanzas (map) in easy daylight, were we found none other than Barefeet already there. We pulled off the ICW just before a notorious problem stretch, where a dredge was working the worst of it. A sailboat was aground just before the dredge, making us glad we could hold off on the problematic section until we were fresh in the morning.

We passed this sailboat well aground near Marineland. It was the same one that had grounded at Matanzas. I pointed them at some better chart resources for this stretch. We were in 13'.

Barefeet once again weighed anchor ahead of us, and they were able to relay their soundings and what the dredge had them do to get around. We had to cross an area that showed on our survey as only three feet deep, but we made it around the dredge without incident. We ended the day at the Halifax River Yacht Club in Daytona (map), where we had a casual dinner in the bar. On my walk to the c-store to pick up some milk I noticed that the lovely waterfront park and promenade, under construction for what seems like an eternity, has finally opened, and it was quite enjoyable.

Water in the bilge in Sanford and again in Daytona turned out to be a leaky gasket at this potable pump strainer, under mild pressure when we overfill the tank. One of many projects I've been tackling.

I had the Axiom-3 crew launch from Cape Canaveral on my calendar for the following evening, and leaving from Daytona early in the morning meant we could be anchored in the Indian River near Titusville in time for the launch. These Falcon-9 launches are quite the regular event nowadays, and you'd think I might be over them, but this one was going to feature a booster landing back at the Cape (as opposed to the more usual landing on a drone ship far at sea), and I've really been wanting to see one of those.

The new high bridge at NASA Causeway, with the demolition of the drawbridge in progress.

As luck would have it, the wind was fierce all day, mostly out of the north, making for challenging driving coming out of the Haulover Canal until we turned southward onto the Indian River. The north wind also dictated we'd need to anchor just south of one of the causeways, and we turned into the shallows east of the channel just after passing through the remains of the NASA Causeway drawbridge, now being demolished. There we once again found none other than Barefeet, who had taken our advice to stop in the lagoon for the launch.

Sunset from our anchorage south of the causeway. This photo belies the sea state just across the causeway from us.

By the time we had the hook down in shallow water south of the causeway (map), the launch had been scrubbed, postponed for a day. We had a mostly quiet night after the NASA traffic died down. Barefeet left early the next morning to continue south, but we had a leisurely day, as I still wanted to catch the booster landing. We took the extra day to go through the barge canal over to the Banana River, where we dropped the hook (map) about the same distance to the launch pad, but much closer to the landing zone.

Approaching the Christa McAuliffe drawbridge on the barge canal. It annoys me that the bridge still answers the radio as "State Route 3" when the intent was to honor her memory.

The landing did not disappoint. A low cloud layer meant we only saw the rocket for a few seconds after launch, and watched the booster reappear through the clouds just before landing. After a lifetime of sci-fi movies, wherein rocket landings happen in apparent slow-motion, I was a bit startled by the speed with which it approached the landing. The engines were already lit when it appeared through the clouds, gimballing rapidly to maintain balance. We could see the landing legs deploy and then in a flash it was all over. The sonic boom hit us a minute later, and even though I have experienced sonic booms before, you're never quite ready for just how loud they really are, or how they hit seemingly out of the blue.

The only shot I could grab of the launch, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds.

A handful of day boats joined us in the river for the launch, but they left when it was all over and we had the river to ourselves overnight, quiet save for the hum of the cruise port. In the morning we headed back through the barge canal and resumed our southbound journey on the ICW. We ended the day at an old standby, the Eau Gallie Yacht Club (map), where we took advantage of a free night of dockage to get out of the cold, do the laundry, and load up on provisions at the nearby Publix supermarket. We had a nice dinner at the pool bar, the only dining open while the main clubhouse is undergoing renovations.

The busy cruise port at Port Canaveral from our anchorage.

Our compact dishwasher had been end-of-life for a few weeks, and parts are no longer available for it. We hard ordered a similar model with exactly the same dimensions, despite having a different brand name, for delivery to us at the club. It still had not arrived by checkout time, and between that, more cold (the forecast cold snap took an extra day to arrive), and the work involved in unboxing and loading, we decided to just pony up and spend a second night. After getting the dishwasher aboard and testing it, we walked to Pizza Vola nearby for Italian food and draft beer.

It was too choppy to get together with Barefeet south of the causeway, so we exchanged photos at dinner time instead.

It was good we spent an extra night, because the new dishwasher was just enough different from the old that I could not slide in into the cutout I had painstakingly made in the cabinet a decade ago. It seemed to be off by mere angstroms in just one tiny corner, but after several failed attempts I conceded defeat and brought out the orbital sander. That meant leaving the new unit out on the counter overnight so I could stain the sanded area and spray a couple of coats of urethane varnish on it. I'm happy to report it's all installed and working great; the new model sports a countdown timer to tell us how long is left in the cycle, a handy feature.

With the new electric blanket, the old electric blanket, and the induction cooktop all misbehaving on the inverter but not sure power, I put the scope on it to see what I could find. There's a lot of noise in this sine wave.

Sunday morning the wind was still blowing 25 knots, but we had had enough of marina life for a bit, and we bashed our way back to the ICW, where it was once again behind us. We ended the day at a familiar stop between Pine Island and Hole in the Wall Island (map), north of Vero Beach. Normally we'd tried to connect with our good friends Alyse and Chris when passing Vero, but on this occasion they were across the state, delivering seminars to Great Loop cruisers at the semi-annual rendezvous.

This mural just across the tracks in West Palm is now fully filled in. We've been watching its progress since the beginning.

Instead we continued to Fort Pierce, and even that was a short day. Winds were now out of the south, and so we dropped the hook in a familiar spot off Faber Point (map), north of the causeway and across from the Coast Guard station. We tendered to On The Edge for dinner, as we did on an earlier visit, but it was mediocre at best, and next time we'll just land on the beach and go to the pizza joint instead.

Vector waiting for the Hobe Sound Bridge. Photo: Bob Snider

Our next stop was Hobe Sound, where we anchored further south than previous visits at a spot called Conch Bar (map). From there it is a short tender ride to a couple of waterfront joints, and while we started out headed for Tiki 52, there was just no place to get out of the wind at this all-outdoor venue, and we ended up instead at the Blue Pointe Bar and Grill, also all outdoors but with a bit of a wind break.

West Palm Beach no longer wants boaters getting water from these hydrants.

The next morning was the notorious shoal at the Jupiter Inlet, but the dredge has been through since our last pass, and it was no trouble at all. The old Jupiter Federal Bridge has been demolished since our last time through, and construction on its replacement had us swinging out into shallower water, but we got through without incident.

Today's project. Louise informed me the cold water fill on the washing machine had slowed to a trickle. The inlet was occluded with two decades of scale and debris.

By early afternoon we were dropping the hook in North Palm Beach, as far northeast as we could get in North Lake Worth (map) for protection from the easterlies. We tendered ashore for some groceries at Publix and dinner at Divino's, but our usual dinghy landing is now so overgrown with bushes that it was a real challenge, and if we stop here again we will need to land on the beach instead. Louise managed to bang herself up embarking the tender after dinner.

Louise poured the oil and vinegar for our bread at Divino's and it smiled at us.

With the dinghy landing no longer convenient, we decided to make it a one-night stop, and weighed anchor last Thursday morning to come directly here. It was a short trip, but we made the Flagler bridge opening by the skin of our teeth. We celebrated our arrival with dinner at our favorite local joint, Lynora's on Clematis, where they have a nice happy hour menu with discounted drinks.

Red-sky sunset over the festive lights on Clematis from our table at Lynora's.

We've now been here over a week (and I started typing this post three days ago). Barefeet was already here when we arrived, and we've been out to dinner with Erin and Chris a couple of times; they left yesterday morning for Fort Lauderdale and then the Bahamas. And our friends Karen and Ben arrived on Thursday for a conference, just in time to celebrate my birthday at City Cellar, an old standby of ours where the service was so bad it's now off the list.

Vector anchored in Palm Beach.

Since our last visit, the giant construction project across the street from the Publix has finished, and it sports two new restaurants, the high-end Harry's Bar and Restaurant, and Adrienne's Pizzabar. We tried the latter on our way to groceries, and while it was decent, there are better choices here in West Palm. We also joined Chris and Erin at O'Shea's, a new venue for us, while they took in the playoff game.

Adrienne's has a very, very large TV.

Craving Mexican one night, we waived our long-standing prohibition on Rocco's Tacos to give them another chance, and with lowered expectations we had a fine evening. And we met Ben and Karen for lunch at True Food Kitchen, rounding out our West Palm dining expansion.

The Brightline (high-speed rail) branded rental bikes here are shaft drive.

While not connecting with friends, I've been hammering out projects on the boat. That's involved two trips, so far, to the Amazon locker here, and one trip on the e-bike across the river to the Palm Beach side to an Amazon Counter, in Green's Pharmacy, for a new cooktop that was too large for the locker. Crossing to the Palm Beach side is always like landing on a different world.

Green's Pharmacy features this very popular old-fashioned luncheonette.

The cooktop turned out to be a no-go, for lots of reasons, including the fact that it came with a 15 amp plug and cord but draws close to 20 amps on full power. Louise filed a complaint with the CPSC. And I received and installed a new filter board for the inverter, to see if that would cure our noisy power problem, but it did not.

Only in Palm Beach. The police pulled over this Rolls Royce convertible; in front of the Rolls is a parked Pagani sports car. The two cars together add to over $1m.

Our watermaker has been suffering from lower production and increased TDS, and Chris had an oversupply of cleaning chemicals, so I ran batch of alkali cleaner through the system. When that was done I realized I'm seeing entrained air in the intake, and I had to tear the intake plumbing apart. I found two broken seats on the service valve, and replacements are on the way to our next stop in Fort Lauderdale. A non-working watermaker is a show-stopper for the Bahamas, so I need to get this fixed before we head offshore.

Running chemical solution through the watermaker membrane.

In other activities, I joined Karen and Ben for an Escape Room experience (Louise opted out), and there have been two SpaceX launches since we arrived. From this far away the night launches are still pretty impressive, but all I could see of the daytime launch was the vapor trail.

We made it out with seven minutes left in our hour. Photo: Also Karen

Right now our plan is to leave here Monday morning for Fort Lauderdale. Karen and Ben are slated to be aboard to join us for the ride; they'll be checking out of their conference hotel Sunday morning. We have Tuesday night booked at the Coral Ridge Yacht Club, and the Anchor Petroleum truck is scheduled to deliver us 1,000 gallons of diesel Tuesday afternoon, which will cover us through the Bahamas and beyond.

Old and new filter boards. The new one lacks the two ceramic caps at top.

Speaking of diesel, we needed to empty our waste tanks and take on water before having guests aboard, and the marina here in West Palm wants a $40 landing fee to use the pumpout and get water. That fee is waived if you buy at least $50 in fuel, so I put 15 gallons of diesel in for $70. That was at about a buck a gallon more than we'll pay at the truck, so we slashed the $40 fee down to a much more reasonable $15.

Scope trace after filter replacement reveals that was not the problem.

Resolving the watermaker and inverter issues are the two final hurdles to crossing to the Bahamas. Apart from tomorrow, there are no weather windows for crossing any time in the next week or more, so I have a little breathing room. We hope we'll see another window in the first half of the month, as we'll have a shorter Bahamas stay if we let things drag much beyond that.

Also only in Palm Beach -- 260' megayachts traveling the ICW and blotting out the view.

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