The Last Chapter . . . for now

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Finally the last day is here! We pulled out around 10:00 and headed south for the last leg. 40 miles to go, and we thought we would never get there. We had a direct headwind blowing 10 – 15 knots the whole way. Seems like my life, always bucking a headwind. Not much to see on the way, ocean on the left and a long string of Keys on the right. We pulled into Boot Key Harbor just after 5, and got a mooring ball. We were amazed at all the boats, some in not such good condition that were anchored, on moorings, or up in the mangroves, abandoned. The City Marina office was closed so we couldn’t register until tomorrow, but we dinghyed to the dock anyway as we needed provisions, and talked with several fellow sailors that explained the options to get to the store. We decided on calling a taxi. They will take you anywhere on the island for $6. They dropped us at the Publix grocery store and we stocked up for a few more days. Waiting for the taxi to pick us up, the bottom dropped out. When we arrived back at the dock it had slackened off enough to make it back to the boat. We then made dinner and turned in early. We were going to watch the lunar eclipse, but it continued to storm all night.

21 days and 1220 nautical miles of adventure, covering every emotion imaginable. We witnessed parts of America only seen by boaters, from the wildlife to the scenery, it was all enjoyable. The people we met along the way were all kind and helpful, and we truly appreciate their interest in helping us on our journey.

This was a trip we will cherish in our memories forever.

Monday, September 28, 2015

We moved from the mooring ball to Marathon Marina. After three weeks of constant traveling, we needed full hookups so we can clean the boat, wash clothes and put everything back in order. This is a luxury marina, compared to what we had in Norfolk. Really nice bathrooms, showers, laundry and pool, with a restaurant overlooking the sea for watching sunsets. Check out the live webcam at http://www.marathonmarinaandresort.com. You can see our boat to the right of a blue sailboat. You also might see us at the pool.

We really like all the liveaboards we have met so far, and would like to stay for the winter, but we are on a waiting list. Hundereds of boats come to Marathon for the winter and if you haven’t made reservations six months in advance at this marina, you will not be guaranteed a slip. We will find a place somewhere though. We have postponed going to the Bahamas for a while, as I need to replace the shaft seal on the boat before any long trips. We will be taking the next month to explore the island and surrounding keys, going snorkeling, fishing and soaking in the culture. Eventually we will return to Virginia to retrieve our vehicles and return to Marathon, where we intend to spend the winter. I will find a job and life will return to normal, or as normal as it can get in paradise.

bkh2
channel into Marathon
bkhapp
the last bridge!
bootkeyharbor
Boot Key Harbour mooring field
happy
happy to be here! Karen is happy, too, but someone had to take the picture.

Ending Week 3 – Friday and Saturday, September 25 and 26

By Friday morning we were approaching Miami where we had contemplated stopping, but decided instead to continue on to the island of Key Biscayne, where there is a nice quiet anchorage called “No name harbor” in Bill Baggs State Park. When we pulled in we were the only sailboat anchored, and it was peaceful. That soon changed. In comes a 40’ sport fishermen with three young Hispanic couples, blasting their music for all to hear. They pulled up to the bulkhead near the restaurant, got off the boat and started dancing. We were 200 yards away, but could barely hear each other talk over their music. This went on for a while, then they cut down the music and all disappeared down a trail for a while. Peace again, for a moment. In comes a 100’ sleek motor yacht, with at least a dozen bikini clad girls, some of which waved to me. They pulled up behind the first boat, turned up their music and started dancing. We may as well have stopped in Miami. After a while, both boats left and we turned up our music and had an enjoyable evening.

Saturday –

We decided to break up the last 76 miles to Marathon into two days so we would have more time to relax and enjoy. We are no longer following the ICW, but sailing down the Hawk Channel on the east side of the keys. This is a shallow area between the Florida Reef and the Keys and takes great concentration to stay on course. Karen, chief navigator for the entire voyage, has done an excellent job of telling me where to go. We have not hit anything or run aground once the entire trip, which I have read is unusual. She embraces and enjoys the process immensely.
We anchored off Rodríguez Key, near Key Largo, in 8 feet of the clearest water we have seen. I immediately dove in and checked the anchor, which I read you are supposed to do, and seeing it was set properly, got out our masks and snorkels and proceeded to checkout the bottom. We saw a school of blue tropical fish with a yellow tail that would come right up to your hand. I suspected someone had been hand feeding them, so I got Karen a handful of granola to feed them. They swarmed it, but didn’t really seem to like it. This was the most peaceful anchorage so far.
Tomorrow Marathon!

Another view of Cape Florida LH with morning light.
Another view of Cape Florida LH with morning light
flip
At our anchorage Saturday at Key Largo
flip2
snorkel fun
karen
Karen learning to snorkel.
moonrise
went to sleep with this . . .
. . . and woke up Sunday morning to this
. . . and woke up Sunday morning to this

Week 3 – Thursday, September 24, 2015

Daytona to Key Biscayne

Finally sailing in the ocean again and conditions couldn’t be any better. Perfect sunny day with a nice 10 – 15 knot wind to push us along. Our plan was to skip down the coast of Florida going from inlet to inlet, just sailing about 50 miles each day. We ended up sailing straight for 30 hours, covering 221 miles, and most importantly, avoiding 63 bridges!
We were hugging the coast, keeping about 3 miles out the whole time. This is necessary because the Gulf Stream gets closer to the shore the further south you go and with a 3 – 4 knot current heading north it will hinder your progress greatly. There is also the added benefit of cell service the whole time, allowing us to get constant weather updates. The weather forecast said chance of thunder storms every day for weeks, but we only encountered one on Thursday night. You could see it coming for miles so we were prepared, and it only lasted about 15 minutes. Seeing lightening strike nearby on the water is spectacular, and exciting. Karen was thankful it was my watch.
The scenery is the same all the way down the coast. Each city will have miles of high rise buildings, then nothing for a while, then the same again. The boat traffic increases the further south you go because of the shipping and cruise lines. Keeping an eye on all this activity keeps you busy. All large ships must have AIS, (automated identification system) which broadcast their important information such as heading and speed. We use an app called Marine Traffic which displays all this info so we can stay out of their way.

pelican zone, perhaps? (leaving ICW from Daytona, going outside)
pelican zone, perhaps?
(leaving ICW from Daytona, going outside)
Ponce Inlet, to the sea!
(To Miami, actually)
turbulent inlet
turbulent inlet
ss
taken with camera
photo taken with iphone
photo taken with iphone

3rd week – Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Approaching Daytona - look at all of the bridges (6, to be exact)
Approaching Daytona – look at all of the bridges (6, to be exact)

This is beginning to be a trip about “the bridges of the ICW” as our daughter Lauren so aptly stated to us in the beginning. We had 12 bridges to clear today before we reached Ponce Inlet, where we intend to go outside for the rest of the way down the coast of Florida. After 6 high rise bridges, two of which we had to wait on for the tide to go down, we gave up and anchored for the night right before the Sea Breeze twin bridges. It was an unpleasant anchorage, directly exposed to the winds which were blowing more than forecast. We finally got situated about 2100, but I kept an anchor watch till 2400 just to be sure. We haven’t drug anchor yet but it happens to everyone eventually, I have heard.

We rose early hoping the tide board would reveal a number we could proceed on, but it didn’t. I had called the local coast guard station the night before to ask when low tide was where I was, but the young seaman couldn’t help me. I called in the morning asking for assistance with the tides, and was told the low tide would be at 1100 at Ponce inlet, and it would be the same where I was, they thought. I disagreed. We were 11 miles away from Ponce inlet. The tides here run two directions because they dug canals for the ICW connecting north and south flowing rivers, so the current changes as you proceed. I then called the local Towboat US guy. He had the local knowledge needed, and informed me we were about 3 hours behind and would see low tide about 1300. He was right.

We then made our way un-hindered past 6 more bridges to the Lighthouse Marina at Ponce Inlet. After checking in, a guy at the marina loaned me his truck to make a provision run to the Publix, and to get some gas for the dinghy, as they didn’t sell gas. His tank was almost empty so I put some gas in for him. When I returned to the marina, I learned he had lost his license, so the gas wouldn’t help much. I will tip him some cash in the morning before we leave. Kindness cannot go un-noticed

we have grown to like this type of bridge the best - it is always tall enough when it opens for us
we have grown to like this type of bridge the best – it is always tall enough when it opens for us
the Captain (photo taken 9/22/15 leaving St. Augustine)
the Captain (photo taken 9/22/15 leaving St. Augustine)
pelicanfest
pelicanfest
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

DSCN9992 - Copy
good night, Daytona

3rd Week – Tuesday, September 22, 2015

galeaon
El Galeon, leaving St. Augustine, heading to Savannah, GA
streets
the streets of St. Augustine

bird1

To the ocean front from St. Augustine
To the ocean front from St. Augustine

Got one!
Got one!
Too small
Too small
Back you go
Back you go

pup
This boat, and dog, was anchored beside us
Heading to Daytona Beach
Tuesday, 9/22/15, sunrise –                              leaving St. Augustine anchorage

Goodbye

blue
intense
looking for 65'
Daytona Beach – looking for 65′
stuck2
have to wait for low tide

3rd Week – September 20 – 21

We left our anchorage off Cumberland Island at 0800, expecting and easy 3 hours to St Augustine. It turned out to be not so easy. We had 7 high rise bridges to go under (supposedly 65’ at high tide)

And one opening bridge that opens on signal. Those are easy. We also are in an area when there is a lot of shallow water in parts of the ICW, so you have to plan to pass those areas at high tide. Some of the bridges are not the stated 65’ they are supposed to be, so you have to pass under them at low tide. They all have tide boards affixed so you can see before you go under if you will make it. I need 64’-4” to clear my wind vane. The VHF antenna sticks up1’ higher but that’s flexible.

We left on an ebbing tide so the bridges should not have been a problem. We cleared the first one, but the second one was at 64’ on the tide board, so we anchored and waited an hour till absolute low tide. It still only said 64’-8”, but we made it with the antenna scraping. The next bridge, the Atlantic Beach Bridge, said 64’, but it was dead low tide so we tried it. Made the first few spans but then the VHF antenna snapped and fell to the deck. Another part of the anemometer fell also, but it still works, as does the VHF. Looks like another trip up the mast.

After all the delays, we decided to anchor for the night behind Pine Island and make St Augustine tomorrow. We had to cross a shallow bar to reach the anchorage, which was very secluded. We set Drag Queen, our anchor app that lets us know if we drag, then turned in early. We had to rise early to cross the bar again before low tide or we would be stuck for 12 hours.

Left at 0700 with one more bridge to go under, then went into St Augustine without further damage.

On the way we saw more sunken boats, another eagle and lots of mansions, all with boats at their docks. Everything is starting to look the same.

We reached St Augustine before noon and took a mooring ball at the city marina, cleaned up the boat a bit, put the dinghy in the water and went to check out the town.

Our daughter, Elaine, and Allyn her fiancé, were driving to Naples, Florida to look for jobs and a house. Like us, they are starting a new life. Timing was perfect for them to stop and rest for a while, and Allyn wanted to watch the Steelers play at 1:00 anyway. We found a sports bar and had lunch and watched the game till halftime, then Elaine and Karen and I went for a dinghy ride around the harbor, then back to the boat for a while till they had to leave.

We spend the rest of the day planning the next few days, then dinner and watched some “Granite Flats” on Netflix. A great show put out by BYU that is clean and wholesome. Not much of that around today.

We caught the free shuttle to the Publix grocery store and stocked up for the next few days. Then, after an early lunch we set off exploring St Augustine in earnest. It’s a huge tourist destination, with lots of history, Spanish architecture and tall ships. Most of the tourists spoke another language. I heard French, German and Spanish spoken on the streets, as well as English (from England).

The highlight of the walk for Karen was an art gallery that had some incredible pieces in oil of the sea. The highlight for me was the architecture, especially the Ponce De Leon hotel built by Flagler in the late 1800’s.

St Augustine is the cleanest, most well-run city we have stopped in so far, but still too touristy for us.

Back to the boat for an early departure to Daytona.

eagle
From Cumberland Island towards St. Augustine
nice
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
1st fl br
Tide board reading 65 – we should be fine

sink sink2

tide
Only 64′. Had to anchor an hour and wait for low tide.
br
Yet another bridge
day 14 anc
Our anchorage for Saturday night – about hour from St. Augustine
Approaching St. Augustine
Approaching St. Augustine

birds

Our anchorage beside Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine on Sunday
Our anchorage beside Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine on Sunday

fande

wave
Taking Elaine back to shore from our anchorage in St. Augustine

ntbridge

 

 

Day 13 – Friday, September 18, 2015


I FINISHED PASSAGE TO FERNANDINO BEACH

We entered the entrance channel at 0600. It’s a big ship channel for the Navy and the buoys are all lighted, so it would normally be a easy entrance. I must have upset Neptune, because as soon as we entered the channel it started raining hard and blowing like crazy. I had to keep looking at the chart plotter to make sure I was in the channel, because you couldn’t see the buoys until you were about to hit them.. Once inside the inlet everything calmed down and we made our way around Cumberland Island (just north of Fernandina Beach) to a nice anchorage, where we made breakfast, informed the love ones we were still alive, and then took naps. 

The afternoon was spent tidying up the boat, updating our blog and planning our further passages south.

Cumberland Island
Cumberland Island
cumberland2
Cumberland Island

Day 12 – Thursday, September 17, 2015

OUT TO SEA ALL DAY

The winds and waves increased as the day went on and I continued to adjust the sails, eventually taking down the jib entirely. With the waves coming from the north, and the wind had now changed from the east, it became increasing harder to keep our heading and enjoy a comfortable ride. The boat was kind of corkscrewing down the waves. By nightfall we decided to alter course and head for Fernandina Beach, about 60 miles north of St Augustine, and the first inlet in you come to in Florida.

We were now going directly downwind and could ride the waves a little better on this heading. It rained off and on all night, and the waves had increased to 4-7 feet, with some 10 footers. The wind was a steady 25 knots, or it was until the anemometer stopped working. Something else to fix when we get to port.  

Not much to photograph offshore. We did see a lot of dolphins. One jumped completely over the bow, while another kept doing back flops on our starboard side. I guess they thought these people need a show if they are crazy enough to be out here. The deck of the boat was also littered with flying fish, who met their demise crashing into the sail or some other part of the boat during the night.

sidewave
Rolling with the waves

it didn't rain all day, but looked like this the whole time
it didn’t rain all day, but looked like this the whole time

24 hours at sea, from Southport to the blue star
24 hours at sea, from Southport to the blue star, about 180 miles.

flying fish
flying fish


riding down a big one
riding down a big one

Day 11 – Wednesday, September 16, 2015

SOUTHPORT, NC  TO  . . .

We spent the morning preparing to go offshore. We winched the dinghy onto the deck and secured the motor in its mount. I filled up with water and diesel while Karen went to the Walmart and stocked up.

I packed the ditch bag with all the items needed if we had to abandon ship and get in the dinghy. The ‘epirb’ is one of the things you have to buy, but hope to never use.  It stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. For more information, see http://www.epirb.com.  I also strung jack lines on the side deck of the boat. These are to attach our safety harness if we have to leave the cockpit and tend to sails.

We pulled out at 1500 and rode the outgoing tide down the Cape Fear into the Atlantic Ocean. We turned slightly to starboard at 1700 set our heading to St. Augustine, Florida. We had a fair weather window for the next few days with winds from the North or Northeast blowing 10-20 knots, and seas 3-5 feet, but there could be periods of rain or possible thunderstorms also. The first night was good. We had a few showers but then it cleared and you could see all the stars. We were averaging 7.5 knots with a double reefed main and the jib. As the winds increased I had to reef the jib some also. Karen took the first of the 3 hour watches at 2100. I came on midnight and again at 0600. The first 24 hours we went 180 miles. From all I have read about sailing that’s a pretty good day.

ditch bag and epirb
ditch bag and epirb
This passage started out beautiful...
This passage started out beautiful…
sky1
Good wind and waves
not bad
still beautiful
sky2
looks like a good passage

sky3

where we were at midnight
This is the iSailGPS app we purchased for our iphones, showing our location on the current NOAA chart.   This chart lists the water depths in fathoms, not feet.  Southport is at top right. The blue star shows our position at midnight.  We had gone about 50 miles.