Friday, May 17, 2024

Out of Florida and our "hurricane box."

We are under way northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, bound for St. Simons Island, Georgia. It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, as so often is the case when we return to the states. Today is really my first opportunity to type underway (I got a bit done between Vilano and Jacksonville), but I expect I will not finish and will have to wrap up after we are anchored.

Duval-henge. The sun setting in a slit between downtown Jacksonville high rises as seen from the dock at Metropolitan Park.

Two weeks ago today we weighed anchor at Fort Pierce mid-day, both to be well-rested from our passage and also to have a bit less adverse tide pushing upriver from the inlet. We made the noon opening at the North Bridge, which was still plenty of time to get us out of the zoo that is the Treasure Coast on the weekend. The new bridge is coming right along; it will still be a drawbridge, but I think Vector will be able to pass under the new one without an opening.

Dismasted sailboats at anchor are not an uncommon sight north of the North Bridge. But this multi-million dollar carbon fiber racing cat, dismasted during the Newport-Bermuda race and awaiting her fate, is a bit out of the ordinary.

The late start meant we only made it as far as Sebastian by the end of the day, where we anchored in a new-to-us spot, in a pocket of 7'-deep water east of the ICW channel (map). We picked this spot because it is an easy tender ride to a handful of waterfront restaurants with docks. But after we arrived I discovered a city park with a day dock just a two-block walk from a mom-and-pop Italian joint, and we did that instead. We made a note about the Riverview Park docks and had an excellent dinner at the Italian Cousin.

Local joint, quite good. A photo I snapped to send to my Italian cousin, natch.

We had a comfortable night, despite being anchored in the open, and in the morning we weighed anchor for our first dock since leaving Great Harbour Cay back in February, at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club in Indian Harbour Beach (map). It was a short day from Sebastian, and the early arrival let us start on the backlog of "dock required" tasks. Chief among them, replacing the marginal R/O water in our tank with 500 gallons of fresh city water. Louise used up the last of the R/O by running two loads of laundry.

This particular Little Free Library, at Riverview Park, has a Tom Clancy fan for a benefactor.

I also put my scooter on the ground for the run to Best Buy, ten miles away across the river, to pick up a new 19' flat screen to replace the chartplotter monitor that gave up the ghost in the Abacos. The rear tire was flat, so I aired it up with our onboard compressor after getting it onto the dock. As soon as I removed the air chuck I could hear hissing, and I knew I had a problem.

Evidently I picked up a fish hook when we were riding around Great Harbour Cay. Both ends of the hook punctured the tire, so I had two holes and not one, which of course I learned when I aired up the tire after plugging the first hole. I carry a plug kit in the bik,e and after plugging both holes, airing it up, and checking for leaks with soap solution I pronounced it good to go and set off,  carefully, for Best Buy, checking the tire at the 1/4 and 1/2 way marks.

Fish hook I dug out of my scooter tire with needle nose pliers.

One of the two plugs failed just a mile or so from the store, and there I was, eight miles from home with a flat. I nursed it to a gas station which had an air station and also a can of fix-a-flat. This latter item proved completely useless -- most of the contents shot right out through the hole and all over the parking space -- so I pulled out the plug kit and ran another plug into the hole. This one held long enough to get me home, and at this writing, the tire is still holding air. But my shopping trip was a casualty of the day.

We had made dinner reservations at the club, as it happened to be our wedding anniversary, but we had to settle for the casual poolside restaurant because the main clubhouse dining has not reopened from their just-completed renovation. We ended up watching the exciting photo finish of the Kentucky Derby over a very casual meal. Half the restaurant was there for the Derby, and the other half seemed to be guests of the wedding in the main clubhouse who wandered in for drinks.  In the cool of the evening we walked down to the Publix to replenish the provisions.

One of our escorts in the Indian River Lagoon.

Not willing to risk another flat tire adventure, in the morning we put Louise's scooter on the ground and I rode that to Best Buy instead of mine, where they had exactly what I wanted. We decked both scooters when I got home, and got underway shortly thereafter, notwithstanding that the two Amazon deliveries I was expecting on Friday still had not arrived. I spent over an hour on chat with Amazon insisting that they needed to refund my money and they would likely never see the items again.

With the late start we made it a short day to Cocoa, where I hoped we might get ashore at the Cocoa Village free dock. Stiff easterlies had us dropping the hook east of the ICW and north of the causeway in a familiar spot (map). By dinner time the hoped-for respite in the wind had not arrived, and, unwilling to bash our way a mile to Cocoa Village in two footers, we went ashore at Merritt Island instead, where the only decent restaurant in walking distance was a Carrabba's. We passed a nice-looking massage place on our way back to the dock.

I booked a massage for the morning, and in the morning I returned ashore for that and a quick stop at Home Depot to replace our 8" fan, which breathed its last as soon as we got back from the Bahamas, after numerous disassemblies and bearing repairs. This is one of the few places we've ever been that has a Home Depot in walking distance of a free dinghy dock.

The cancer on the old TV is growing. Blue tape is so I know where to click to change from north-up to head-up.

The other thing I did while we were anchored in Cocoa was to install the new TV/monitor for the chart plotter, before the dead portion of the old screen got any worse. I set it up on the saloon table first to make sure everything worked, then I moved it to the helm and quickly tested it in place with the actual computer connection before removing the old unit and fishing the power cord down through the helm console. Once it was all in place and working I bolted it down, cleaned up my tools, and called it good.

Too soon, it turned out. After the entire project was done, the first time I walked past the plotter with my sunglasses on I realized the screen was vertically polarized. It never once occurred to me to check this, either in the store, or when I set it up in the saloon, or when I tested it at the helm. After all, the last two units did not have this problem, and one of them was the same brand and just an earlier model of the same TV. Also, when I walked into Best Buy with these same prescription sunglasses on, I was confronted with a wall of TVs, and not a single one was dark from incorrect polarization. Most manufacturers fixed this problem years ago, when it became popular to mount flat TVs on outdoor patios in bars and restaurants.


For whatever reason, Insignia, Best Buy's house brand, never got the memo. I've just been living with it until I can find a better solution, which means I have to either move my sunglasses up or down on my face to see the plotter, or tilt my head like an inquisitive dog. I can't drive the boat without the sunglasses. 19" TVs are as rare as hen's teeth, and I've spent many hours trying to find another solution. 19" computer monitors generally do not have integral speakers, which is pretty much a requirement for the plotter.

This is in the channel under the NASA causeway bridge. We first thought it was a barge with an excavator until we got close enough to realize the excavator is sitting on the seabed, surrounded by a sheet pile cofferdam.

Monday we made it another very short day on account of a planned rocket launch. Launches have become rather commonplace, with a Falcon-9 ascending skyward even as we made our way north, but this one was different, the first crewed launch of Boeing's Starliner capsule, atop an Atlas-Centaur rocket on a trip to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program. It would mark only the sixth time in history that astronauts would fly a brand new US spacecraft for the first time. We once again needed southeast protection, and we worked our way into a corner north of the causeway as far east as depth would allow (map), with a nice view of the pad at Space Launch Complex 41.

Sunset over the lagoon at dinner, as we await the Starliner launch.

The Atlas-Centaur is actually a pretty stubby rocket, just half the height of SpaceX's Falcon-9, and we could not really see any of the activity over on the pad, but it was exciting nevertheless to be able to see the capsule as the astronauts were being strapped into their seats by the pad team. Rocket launches being what they are, no sooner had they finished the very detailed process of getting both astronauts strapped in than the launch was scrubbed due to a problematic valve in the Centaur second stage. Louise had been all set to stay up past her bed time for this one, but the scrub was called in plenty of time for her to retire at her usual hour. At least we had a nice sunset over a dinner of grilled chicken.

The pattern of hurricane shutters on this trio of buildings in Titusville reminded me of Hollerith cards. I briefly considered turning them into octal for the blog.

Those sorts of problems are never resolved overnight, and so in the morning we weighed anchor to continue our northward trek. We found the NASA railroad bridge down for the first time ever, and with no answer on any radio channel over the course of ten minutes, I finally sounded the whistle signal for a bridge opening. A couple of maintenance workers popped their heads up and in a few minutes the bridge was open with no words exchanged. The brief delay at the railroad bridge was offset by the Haulover Canal Bridge, which is stuck in the fully open position.

We've never seen this bridge closed. The rail line goes only one place -- the Kennedy Space Center.

After the long slog up the mosquito lagoon, we arrived in New Smyrna Beach, where I had timed my arrival to the opening schedule of the George Musson Bridge. A half hour prior, we monitored a kerfuffle on the radio between a northbound power boat and a southbound sailboat that was, apparently, attempting to sail through the bridge against a heavy outgoing tide. The power boat skipper had some, err, choice words for the sailboat.

The sailboat never made it, and thus was making another attempt when we arrived. Once again the current was against him, and once again he was trying to sail, as his motor was inoperative. I, too, had some words for him, and eventually informed him we'd be transiting the bridge on our side of the channel regardless. He did not make it, and ended up having to try again a half hour later. Which is what he should have settled on in the first place, as he would then have the current behind him, or nearly so.

Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill, Ponce Inlet.

With that behind us, the next challenge was arriving at a notorious shallow spot where the ICW veers off the Indian River. A sailboat was aground there just off-channel, and we'd been hearing him on the radio for an hour. He seemed very concerned we were going to run aground as well, as he had hit with 5.5' draft. We are armed with the secret deepest-water track line, and powered through just barely grazing the keel in the mud, largely due to crabbing through in heavy cross current and giving the aground boat a wide berth.

When we reached the Halifax River we doubled back toward Ponce Inlet, on recommendation of our friends aboard Barefeet, who shared that there was a nice anchorage with dinghy access to a rum bar. Sign me up. We found the wide spot off-channel and dropped the hook (map). We put out extra scope for the very heavy reversing current. The river here is a posted no-wake zone, which most seemed to honor, and we had a comfortable night. We also enjoyed the Hidden Treasure Rum Bar and Grill, which has a nice new courtesy dock, and had a nice little walk around Lighthouse Point Park. It was a much nicer stop than our usual spot in New Smyrna, even though it's a two-mile detour from the ICW. 

Ponce de Leon lighthouse.

In the morning we weighed anchor to have flood tide all the way to Daytona and an arrival on enough tide to get in to the yacht club basin. That meant skipping a visit to the Ponce lighthouse, which I hope to do on a return visit. Once tied up at the Halifax River Yacht Club (map), I put the e-bike on the ground and set off to Office Depot and Walmart in search of a 19' monitor or TV that would work on the helm. Neither store had anything that would work, but I did stock up on a few provisions while at Walmart.

We had a nice dinner in the bar at the yacht club, with enough leftovers for another whole meal. Thursday we got a late checkout so we could leave near high tide at 1pm. It was miserably hot all day, and the late checkout also let us run all the air conditioning. Once we got under way we ran the pilothouse air conditioning all the way to the next anchorage at Matanzas Inlet (map) and through the dinner hour while we ate in the pilothouse.

Friday morning's front. We actually saw a high of 53mph.

Even the water temperature was 89° for most of our cruise, which made the engine room unbearably hot as well, but relief would soon come. At 7:30 a storm front came through that dropped the outside temperature ten degrees in the span of a few minutes. Between that and a lower water temperature near the inlet, we were able to just open the whole boat up and cool everything down to the low 70s. We had a comfortable night, alone in the anchorage save for what looked to be an unoccupied sailboat a half mile closer to the ICW.

Friday morning another storm moved through, this one bringing with it 53mph (46kt) winds. We are very thankful for our weather radio alert, which will wake the dead, and the time it gave us to dog everything and be ready. Our anchor was well-set, and other than a little bit of a wild ride, it was basically just a free boat rinse. The mainsheet on the unoccupied sailboat let go, and we watched helplessly as their boom smashed repeatedly into the standing rigging, alternating from port to starboard with each gust.

Aptly-named Magnolia Street on my ride to Solano Cycles. If you look closely you will see a peacock crossing the street.

The storm departed as quickly as it arrived, and we weighed anchor for the short cruise to St. Augustine. Our plan was to anchor across from the city marina, where I would pay the dinghy fee so I could walk to the scooter dealer to pick up the tire I pre-ordered. We also enjoy getting ashore there for dinner. As luck would have it, mother nature had other plans, hitting us with another 45-knot storm just as we arrived on the outskirts of town. We crabbed through the Bridge of Lions, which remarkably was still operating in 45-knot wind, at about a 40° angle with two knots of current behind us.

A closer view of the peacock.

Normally I keep to my side of the channel so opposing traffic can meet me between the spans, but in this case I had to call the bedraggled sailboat waiting on the other side, fresh from being beaten up in the ocean, to tell them I needed the whole channel and they'd have to wait for me. Once through, there was no way we were going to squeeze in to the tight anchorage in these conditions, and so we just continued on to Vilano Beach, where there is a lot more breathing room. On our way we passed county fire-rescue towing an unoccupied boat that had dragged across the anchorage, its hapless owner standing helplessly on the Vilano Beach Pier.

I think he was headed here. He might be a 500-year-old peacock.

We dropped the hook in our usual spot (map), all alone. The wind and seas laid down a bit just before we dropped, and we had a comfortable afternoon aboard. We figured to be stuck on the boat for dinner, but we got a last-minute reprieve and we tendered ashore for dinner at 180 Vilano. I don't think this place weathered the pandemic well, and I think next time we'll go a little further to the place by the beach. We walked right by there anyway after dinner on a stroll to the Publix. The new Hyatt Place, a modern building built in Art Deco style, has opened since our last visit, and within is a new well-rated seafood restaurant Pesca by Michaels, so we have another dining option here.

Both my conveyances at the boat ramp. The tread pattern on my new tire is aggressive.

The whole afternoon we had been watching a trio of tugboats moving dredge equipment and pipe around across the river, and in the morning they towed the pipe south through the bridge, with the rear tug passing us close aboard. A year ago that would have been a "buy my paint job" moment, but now that the paint is done we're more "keep your distance." I tendered across the river to the boat ramp with the e-bike to go get my tire.

ONE Wren coming up on our starboard quarter.

With the tire, bike, and tender all back aboard, we weighed anchor in time to have a fair tide all the way to the St. Johns, but oh, my, was it busy on the water on a warm weekend day. We made up for the fair tide by having to push against two knots upriver on the St. Johns, lingering on the green side as the ultra-large container ship ONE Wren overtook us and then met the downbound Ro-Ro Titan Zenith. We dropped the hook in our usual spot off Blount Island (map) and went to dinner at Palms Fish Camp, where it was the busiest we've ever seen it. We sat on the patio for the first time and enjoyed the live music.

On the covered patio at Palms Fish Camp, enjoying the solo artist doing covers of our era.

That left us just a two hour cruise to downtown Jacksonville Sunday morning. The majority of the Landings docks are closed for construction, and so we just headed through the railroad bridge and dropped the hook in what we have come to call the "suspicious boat anchorage" (map). With pleasant weather, I immediately launched into the scooter tire project.

ONE Wren overtaking us and preparing to meet Titan Zenith.

One of the consequences of the scooters living on the deck of a boat is corroded hardware. Plenty of penetrating oil and my electric impact driver removed most of the relevant bolts, but I needed the big pneumatic impact to get the axle nut off. At that point the "fork" that supports the right side of the axle is just supposed to pull off, but the inner bearing race is firmly seized to the axle. So far penetrating oil, heat, and a three-jaw puller have all failed to budge it, and today nearly a week later it's still sitting forlornly on deck waiting for me to try something else.

Current state of affairs with the scooter. More heat and percussive maintenance is in order.

At dinner time we tendered ashore at the Jackson Street dock in Brooklyn, where we were met by Erin and Chris, who arrived here a week or so ahead of us and were getting Barefeet squared away at a nearby boatyard in preparation for moving it to its storage location for the summer. We all piled into their car and headed off to pizza joint Fired Up for dinner. Silly us; we figured a pizza place would not be too busy on Mothers' Day, and we were more than right -- it was closed for the occasion. We ended up at Iguana on Park instead and had a lovely evening catching up.

Meeting Titan Zenith. We're off-channel and running out of room; I crossed as soon as he passed.

It was good we met up on our first night, because Monday the weather was so rainy we never left the boat. I hammered away some more on the scooter in the morning before the rain started, and then we hunkered down and did inside projects. We had a nice dinner on board.

This ship is delivering gantry cranes. I'm not sure how the bridge crew can see anything forward.

Tuesday was more pleasant, and when I got the notice from Amazon that the bearings I ordered to replace the seized one that I will, no doubt, destroy while removing the wheel had arrived at the downtown locker, I took the dinghy out for a spin to go get them. I sounded out all three Southbank docks, which are much shallower now that I remembered; I think they have silted in quite a bit and they are definitely a no-go for Vector at any tide level. I also checked to see that the easternmost 200' of the Landings dock is still open and accessible. Then I landed at the Friendship Fountain dock and took the Skyway to the transit center, where the locker is located, to get the bearings.

Vector and her neighbor as seen from the Skyway on the Acosta Bridge. She has a wake that makes it look like she is under way.

We decked the tender when I returned and started to weigh anchor, just as the sailboat near us started dragging anchor toward the railroad bridge. He came within a boat length of us while struggling with his rode, but no harm done, and we set out for the short one-hour cruise upriver to the Florida Yacht Club. We wanted to take advantage of our free night to top up water and get the laundry done, and we thought it would be nice to treat our friends to dinner at the club, since they offered to schlep us up to Green Cove Springs to pick up our mail and make some shopping stops.

Erin and Chris arrived to the club bearing a cooler full of meat and other fresh food. They'll be turning off the fridge while the boat is stored, and it would not survive the car trip back to Boston with them. Our freezer is once again packed to the gills, since we did not even make it all the way through what we had provisioned ourselves for the Bahamas.

Vector looking lonely on the T-head at Florida Yacht Club. We had to skirt around this construction fencing around the clubhouse and pool renovation.

I'm glad we had the car and not just scooters for the pilgrimage to our mailbox, because we had a lot of big boxes, including yet another TV from Amazon. That one, too, proved to be vertically polarized, and it's going right back. They also drove us to Walmart and Best Buy, neither of which had a solution to the monitor problem, but we again bought a few provisions. We ended up at Fired Up for dinner, since the club turned out to be doing a buffet instead of table service, evidently for "bingo night" (wait, is this the Elks?).

I don't know where bingo was, but it was not in the bar, and after we returned from dinner we sat in the bar for some final beverages and basically closed the place down. It was a nice finish to a season where we got to spend a fair bit of time together, even though none of us planned to be buddy-boating. We had hugs all around for a good-bye, since we'd be heading downriver and they'd be off to Boston in just a few days.

It's mating season. We were surrounded by dozens of dolphins doing their thing in the anchorage.

Our plan for Wednesday was to shove off in the morning and head all the way downriver to Blount Island, but we missed our tide window due to an overabundance of errands, and instead we waited through low tide and left on the afternoon mid-tide for downtown Jacksonville. We figured to just tie up in the still-open part of the Landings dock and maybe walk to Cowfords or Indochine for dinner.

We were able to get tied up, but that spot is right under the Main Street Bridge, which is very noisy, and a lot of chop on the river was slamming up against the dock in that spot. After sitting there for five minutes taking stock of the situation, we decided to continue a bit further downriver and drop the hook. We headed for a familiar spot near the Chart House, where we knew we could get ashore at Southbank.

We were stymied by a row of pot floats that continued downriver past the school board. We tried dropping the hook once we were past the floats, but the bottom is scoured down to rock in that area and we could not get purchase in any of three spots. Instead we ended up crossing the river to a new face dock at the east end of Metropolitan Park (map), where we found just enough depth alongside for Vector.

Vector on the face dock at Metropolitan Park. The mating going on here involved drumfish, being very loud under the boat.

The city "marina" at the other end of the park, where we've stayed quite often, has been closed for a year owing to construction of a new Four Seasons hotel on the adjacent parcel that was part of the park. This face dock is apparently the city's concession to still having some boater facilities here, and they've moved the free pumpout station that was formerly at the marina to the east end of the bulkhead past the face dock.

We had a comfortable stay with two other boats, and we walked to old stand-by Intuition Ale House for a decent burger and some tasty drafts. I enjoyed the Wheelhouse Brown Ale, but it is only available in the tap room. We left the place with half of my second one (and then some -- the barkeep topped me up) in a to-go cup; open containers are allowed here.

Sunset over the Amelia River from our anchorage in Fernandina Beach.

Yesterday morning we took advantage of that pumpout station, moving there at slack water and finding just enough depth alongside with a foot under the keel. We shoved off on the ebb and had a fair tide all the way to Sisters Creek and half way to Nassau Sound. We arrived to Fernandina Beach by 2:30 and pulled up to the Port Consolidated fuel dock for some $3.17 diesel, the cheapest we'll see for quite a while. We had to wait for two other boats before bunkering 750 gallons and getting back off the dock just after 4pm. Tax was waived, as we were leaving the state.

We dropped the hook in the nearby anchorage for the night (map) and tendered ashore in the heat for dinner at Pepper's Cocina Mexicana. We were pretty full, but we swung by Nana Teresa's Bake Shop for a couple of sfogliatelle for later. They were delicious, a taste from my youth, and I foresee more visits to Nana Teresa's in the future.

Louise having her sfogliatella on the aft deck. They were large.

We contemplated spending another night -- Fernandina is just that kind of town -- but the noise and smell of the paper mills overnight pretty much drove us out, and besides, today's conditions were perfect for an outside run. And so it is that we weighed anchor this morning on the ebb and raced out St. Marys Inlet with two knots behind us. We had a great passage, mostly flat calm, building to two footers astern toward the end.

Update: We are anchored in a familiar spot on the Frederica River, between Lanier and St. Simons Islands near Brunswick, Georgia (map). Our good friends John and Laura Lee have recently moved to St. Simons from their former digs in Richmond Hill, closer to Savannah, and we have plans to meet up with them tomorrow. So we'll be right here for another night before continuing north.

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