Returning to Marathon, Our “Winter” Home

Not being on a schedule this year traveling south, we did our best to avoid problems that might arise if we were forced to travel when we shouldn’t. We also stayed on the ICW rather than going out in the ocean to save time, because the weather wasn’t conducive, and we had plenty of time. The one occasion when we didn’t follow our own guidance was leaving Vero Beach. We had determined years ago to avoid traveling on the ICW in South Florida on the weekend. It’s not unlike at times going to a shopping mall on Black Friday. Lots of little boats zipping around with water skis and jet skis paying no attention to who else is out there and creating blockages at times around bridge openings. Since we left Vero Beach on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was clear that we would be traveling for the next three days through Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale to Miami on weekend like conditions – maybe worse.   

We were lucky. The conditions weren’t as bad as we had expected. The one interesting experience we had was passing through the Palm Beach area. President elect Trump was at his resort there on the water for Thanksgiving, and the sheriff’s department as well as the Coast Guard were vigilant at keeping boats away from his resort shoreline and making sure nobody did anything foolish. That meant that we had an escort along a three-mile stretch of the ICW. Everybody seemed friendly, but they were ready for trouble as noted by the machine gun in the bow of the Coast Guard boat.

Our travel south of the Palm Beach area went pretty smoothly, and we managed to make good time between bridges. For those who haven’t read our earlier blogs or have yet to make the trip from Palm Beach to Miami, you should know that there are nearly 30 bridges, most which open on a schedule. The key is to be able to keep to the schedule. We had to push the boat to make the schedule, and we were lucky that the tidal current helped us along the way. This is familiar territory for us, and we knew where to anchor away from crowds and where we could replenish our food and water for the final few days of travel.

Lots of wealth evident in this part of the ICW.A view from our Miami anchorage.

Leaving Miami, we traveled down Biscayne Bay to Pumpkin Key. Then we spent a day traveling in Hawk Channel before going under the Channel Five bridge and completing our travels by arriving at the Harbour Cay Club our “winter” home this season.

This sight told us that we’d arrived in the Keys.

Leaving our anchorage near the Channel Five bridge at sunrise.

Our new home appears to be a friendly, small marina on the Florida Bay side of Marathon. We’ve already met a few of the pelicans that call this spot home. We were also visited by a manatee.

Our boat at her winter home. Note the  neighbor on the post. He is one of several daily visitors.

More of those daily visitors on rocks near our slip

This manatee appeared to be quite interested in our dinghy.

Our annual holiday trip north took us away from here for two weeks, but in the short time we’ve been here, we have already met a number of fellow boaters and Marathon residents we’d gotten to know during past winters. I’ve begun my volunteer time at the Dolphin Research Center, and Sandra has found several who seek help to make pine needle baskets.

We also made our first trip to Key West, this time to witness a visit of Tibetan monks who spent a week here to promote world peace. While here, they created a peace mandala, a sand design created one grain of sand at a time. See below.

We also attended a meditation which included the playing of singing bowls. Sandra was so intrigued that she bought one.

We’ll try out new, interesting adventures during our stay this year, and I may actually do a better job of reporting on these in more timely manner in future blog posts.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob

South to Vero Beach

We’ve traveled another 400+ miles along the ICW since the last update sent out as we arrived in Beaufort, SC.  Our stop there provided us the opportunity to meet up with friends we’d known from Newport News and also from Marathon. In both cases, we enjoyed the company and appreciated being driven to stores.  Thanks to Janelle and Bob and to Brian and Jan. Best wishes to you Brian and Jan as you shop for that next boat… assuming that you don’t change your mind. It was sad to see Windchaser in such a sorry state.

Here’s all that remains of their marina.

The terrain has become more subtropical as we’ve traveled south, and the animal life has reflected that fact. We continued to see evidence of Matthew’s work, and we’ve enjoyed good weather just about every day.  

We left Beaufort at sunrise.

For those who wonder why we don’t just go out into the ocean and skip all the busy areas, it’s because the ocean has not been very pleasant. We nolonger are willing to get knocked around just to save a bit of time.

So it took us five days to get through Georgia and into Florida. The travel schedule was influenced by tides, since a few spots were too shallow at low tide for us. We also enjoyed most of a day at Cumberland Island, run by the National park service. Here we walked a couple of miles on a beautiful beach, saw wild horses up close and personal and got a close look at an armadillo – great fun.

This was the only crowd we saw on the beach.

This driftwood was pretty but a bit too large for us to get on the boat.

Our next stop was in St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. We always enjoy wandering the streets of this old city and appreciating the architecture. 

Henry Flagler’s first luxury hotel in St.Augustine, now part of Flagler College.

We also knew we needed replacement netting for our lifelines to keep Maddie and things we drop from ending up overboard. We knew of a marine store that sold fish netting that works well and lasts for years, so we made a stop there in addition to other activities.

This was found at the entrance to one of many beautiful galleries in St. Augustine.

Then it was off once again heading further south to Vero Beach. Along this stretch we saw more dolphins and at least a half dozen manatees in addition to several flocks of white pelicans.

We stayed at Vero for a week. This gave us the chance to visit with my sister Mary Jo and her family in West Palm Beach which included a Thanksgiving dinner. We also go our car up to Vero, so we could accomplish a number of errands, visit a couple of great eating  establishments and catch a movie as well. Maddie got to run on the beach, an activity she always enjoys. The downside to the beach walk was to see how much of the sand had been washed away by Matthew. This made us a bit sad and reminded us that nothing remains unchanged.

A good sign as we left Vero Beach

It was a good week, and now we are off once more, heading south of course. We have six or seven more travel days to Marathon. We’ll pass down the ICW through Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. We find more extreme wealth on display here in this stretch of approximately 90 miles than anywhere else we’ve ever been.
More to come…

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

 We Continue South And View More Hurricane Impact

Since the last update, we have traveled another 240 miles. (That may not seem like much, but it’s a lot when you’re best speed is about 8 miles per hour with a boost from the tidal current.  

 Our first sunrise in South Carolina

As we left North Carolina and entered South Carolina, we begin to see more evidence of Matthew’s work. A section of the ICW is a narrow canal with steep Banks. Most of it is loose dirt with some areas rock. Because of the rocks present, this portion of the route is a problem for boaters and is called the “Rockpile”.The high water from Matthew created other issues that we noted along the way. The loose embankment didn’t hold up with the high water, so it collapsed bringing down with it trees and bushes. 

We saw many examples of this. We also saw a few docks damaged and boats pushed up onto the shore because of the high water.  

When I reached the Socastee Bridge, we were glad to see that it was still functional. Following the storm, the water rose an additional six feet, creating problems for its electrical system.

 If you look closely at the next photo you will see a line on the vegetation marking the high water there. 

As we traveled down the Waccamaw River, we noted areas where the shoreline was still covered with water. 

During the past couple of days we spent time in remote areas of coastal South Carolina. This area is called Low Country, an appropriate name for the area given the expansive areas at or near sealevel with  little dry land at high tide. This area reminds us of the Everglades with occasional “hammocks”. Hammocks are small pieces of land in the Everglades that generally remain dry enough for trees to grow. Most of the territory both in the Everglades and coastal SC was just grass and very wet with occasional small spots with trees growing. 

Our next stop will be in Beaufort, South Carolina for a couple of days with the chance to visit some friends. Then we’ll venture into Georgia’s remote Coastline. This section of the ICW has some interesting challenges due to shallow water and high tides. One is even called Hell Gate. Once we reach the Florida line, we will still have nearly five hundred miles to go before we reach Marathon.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob

With Matthew Come Changes in Plans

As I wrote in the last installment of this blog, we had adjusted our plans to arrive in New Bern North Carolina at the marina we thought would provide reasonable protection. As this storm approached we took down our bimini, secured our sails and everything else that we chose to leave out on deck. We also made sure that our batteries remained charged and water tanks were full just in case the Marina lost either.

Nasty weather

Back to normal

As it turned out, we briefly had lots of wind, although not hurricane force, and lots of rain. The readers may have heard on the news about the resulting flooding in eastern North Carolina. It turns out that the heaviest rain came to inland areas farther from the coast. The flooding was close to or exceeded earlier records.  New Bern sits on the Neuse and Trent Rivers, both of which flooded further upstream. However the rivers  widen a great deal by the time they reach New Bern. Hence we experienced little flooding.

Once the storm had passed, we sought as much information as we could about the conditions on the ICW south of us and what changes we might expect due to the storm damage. Several sources looked to be helpful. We had decided not to leave New Bern for a week or two in order to allow the debris that was found to be in the ICW to settle out and some of the problems along the route to be resolved. One particular bridge it appeared would not be open to boat traffic until the very end of October or even later, so we were not in a big hurry to head south until things sounded better.

The time we would spend at the dock in New Bern we decided would allow us to accomplish the tasks that we might not have planned to take care of until we got to Marathon. Just down the dock from us was a canvas and sail maker, and we invited him to give us a quote for the replacement of our bimini and enclosure.   We knew we would need to get a new one this year since the current one was 18 years old – well past its useful life. His price and timing were good. We found that we could get it done while we were waiting out the problems on the ICW. 

We were pleased with the results.

Additionally we dealt with some electrical issues and took care of waxing of the hull and redoing the teak. We also replaced a noisy water pump with something at least somewhat quieter. And, of course, Sandra worked on her pine needle baskets as well as some knitting.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to some of our readers was the fact that we took Maddie to PetSmart and had her groomed for the first time in her five-year life. She didn’t like all aspects of it, but she seemed to survive and looks much better now. Her hair isn’t a lot shorter but it is a somewhat shorter at this point and looks a lot better.

We saved the canvas from our old bimini, and Sandra made covers for our ugly fuel jugs. While the sewing machine was out, we also restitched the jib. We didn’t bother with the main, since it has ripped and must be replaced when we get to our “winter” home.

On Sunday (10/23) we learned the bridge we’ve been waiting on (the Socastee) was now functioning once again, since the flood waters had finally receded. So we prepared to leave. Yesterday (10/25) we set out for Moorehead City and points south. All went well, and we noted that the current was running strong. It seems that the flood waters are still receding. For those who might be familiar with the Adams Creek Canal, we got 2 mph boost rather than getting slowed by nearly 1 mph as was predicted by our chart plotter. It would nice if we saw high water all along the ICW, but only time will tell. One fact is apparent: many boaters who were waiting for the Socastee Bridge to open are now on the move. We will have plenty of company as we travel. Will spend tonight at Mile Hammock and head to Wrightsville Beach in the morning. We are currently at Mile Marker 244. That means we still have 1000 miles of boat travel to reach Marathon. But we are on the way.

Carpe Diem

Captain Bob

 

Challenges of Matthew

Our travel south of Norfolk was interesting and a bit different from previous trips. First we got delayed at the Great Bridge lock. It seems that lots of NE wind over several days has resulted in extra high tides. The tide was too high for the lock to operate when we arrived, so we waited till the tide dropped a bit. Then we had to wait for the bridge just beyond the lock to open. Usually this is not an issue, since the timing of the two is coordinated. Because of the tide, the opening came off schedule, and the bridge, controlled by the town, would not make an adjustment. Oh well, no big deal. However, because of the delay, we couldn’t make our planned anchorage. 

Most people never get to see the subtle beauty of this part of the world.

Looking back as we travel the 20 miles of the Alligator-Pungo Canal on the ICW

We chose to anchor in the Currituck Sound. This began pleasantly, with just a bit air moving and a beautiful sunset. 

By morning, however, the boat was literally covered with some kind of bugs – I mean thousands! Fortunately they don’t bite, but they seemed to leave green slime everywhere, and they refused to leave.

Our next anchorage would be in the south end of the Alligator River, where we expected a new onslaught. Sandra had created a large net that would allow us to  cover the bimini. We also kept off the low anchor light and just used the one at the top of the mast.  We woke more or less free of bugs the next morning.

By this time, Hurricane Matthew was getting lots of our attention, so we decided to leave our normal route on the ICW and head to a marina in New Bern, NC. This location is more inland and well protected. We had stayed here for Hurricane Sandy a few years ago, and we were glad we did.

The hotel and condos will provide wind protection.

At the moment, we are waiting for the weather to hit, but Matthew continues to change course. We’ve been glued to our weather apps and television to try to learn all We can about the expectations anticipated by the NHC. I guess we aren’t as likely to get any hurricane force winds here according to current thinking . There may be some storm surge, but we are secure at a floating dock.

Lots of bears in New Bern

In the meantime,we’ll enjoy New Bern and wonder about how this storm will impact our continued travel south. Will there be lots of damage? destroyed marinas where we normally fuel up? newly created areas of shoaling that could prevent our progress?

I’ll send out an update after all this passes.

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

Down the Bay on a Schedule

Our trip down the Chesapeake Bay turned out to be less interesting and appealing than we had hoped it would be. The first problem related to the fact that we were on a schedule. It’s never a good idea to be on a schedule as you are cruising, since this can influence decisions related to both safety and comfort. The schedule can also limit options to visit interesting places while traveling.

Our first full day south on the Bay brought us to the Magothy River just north of Annapolis. The travel went well, and the anchorage turned out to be both pleasant and well protected. It also turned out to be a good place from which to head to St. Michael’s, Maryland the next day.

This car carrier was heading up the Bay at 18 knots. We were forced to quickly change course to avoid getting in its way 

St.Michaels is a busy tourist stop. The marinas were full and the anchorage was filled with 25 or more boats. We went ashore to explore and were surprised to find only a couple of other dinghys at the town dinghy dock. I guess that some  had tied up at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum instead. Since we had visited the Calvert Maritime Museum in Solomons earlier this summer, we weren’t motivated to spend the day touring this one, even though it’s supposed to be very nice. We did get some seafood at a waterfront restaurant and toured the shops in town. These were pretty pricey, so we mostly window shopped. 

One bit of history we did see in St. Michael’s – a replica of the boat John Smith used in 1608 to explore the Chesapeake with 14 other men. Must have been a bit crowded.

We left with the sunrise the next day and headed to Solomon’s where we planned to stay put while some weather came through. The weather forecasters were on target this time, as we got lots of rain and wind the next day. So we stayed aboard and got in some good reading.

This is where our schedule really began to interfere with our plans for comfortable travel. After spending two nights, we wanted to get moving.  The days were flying by, and we wanted to get to the Hampton Roads area in two to three more days. So we left and ended up getting a little beat up by the steep waves in the Bay. They weren’t dangerous – just pretty uncomfortable. We managed to get south of the Potomac and anchored in the Great Wicomico River for the night. We expected one more day of travel but the weather wasn’t forecast to change much for several days. We thought we might wait one more day but then decided we’d better head out. Another bumpy day but we got to the Severn River… just a little late to get a slip at the marina. The next morning we moved into a slip where we expected to keep the boat for a week while we visited our daughter Jennifer and did some provisioning. Oh, and I should add that the schedule was created in part so I could make a scheduled doctor appointment. I was on time for that too.

The visit was great and we filled the boat with food and fuel for the next segment of our journey. We especially liked the provisioning at Trader Joe’s in Newport News, Sandra’s favorite grocery store. 

With the water tanks full and the laundry done, we ended our visit and left the slip. You probably assumed that meant getting to Norfolk and Hospital Point on that day, but you’d be wrong. We are no longer on a schedule, and the weather forecast included small craft advisory for the southern Bay, so we went less than a mile and dropped anchor. We were glad we did, since the winds hit the upper twenties. The Bay would have been nasty. We enjoyed our stop relaxing a bit. Sandra caught a few crabs, so we had a treat as well.

Our anchorage the day before we moved to Norfolk. The last photo in this blog provides a real contrast in settings.

Today offered better weather, so we headed out for our last day in the Chesapeake Bay and on to Norfolk. This portion of our travels has the potential for being almost as intimidating as NYC, and today was no exception. First we were passed by a Navy war ship.

 

 

Then we sailed through an area being used by the Navy for some sort of training. Fortunately I had read about it in a monthly email from Tom Neale. Several boaters were called be a security boat and told they must change course to avoid the restricted area. As we passed by the Atlantic Fleet, a patrol boat came up close to keep us from getting too close to the ships. This wasn’t a big boat, but the machine gun on the bow spoke to us.

We did get a few photos in spite of the intimidation. This last one was a submarine.

As we arrived at Hospital Point to anchor, we noted that the anchorage was full of crab pots. We managed to find a spot to drop the anchor without tangling any lines, but we wonder how it will work in a couple of weeks when the southbound crowd begins to arrive.

So, as the photo below demonstrates, we are at mile marker O of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. We’ll be on this waterway most of the remainder of our trip south to the Keys.

This may not look like much, but this navigational aid marks the official beginning of the AICW.

The view from our anchorage tonight is somewhat different from last night’s.

Till the next entry into this blog . ..

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

Back in the Chesapeake

This past week of travel has reminded me of how different the coast of New England is from Long Island which is also different from the coast of New Jersey. Now that we have entered the Chesapeake once again, I see yet another variation in appearances. 

Yes, we arrived in the Chesapeake Bay yesterday, a milestone in our trip to the Keys. We were fortunate to stay on Mother Nature’s good side. However we delayed leaving Onset a couple of days to allow the ocean to settle some after Hermine stirred it up. 

For this portion of the trip we are on a bit of a schedule – never a good idea when cruising. But we need to be in the southern Chesapeake for a couple of appointments later in the month, so we found ourselves working out how that could happen without making bad travel decisions with respect to the weather. Our greatest challenge was to do the overnight sail down the coast of New Jersey with reasonable weather.  But we also would be out in the ocean for parts of two days as we traveled to Block Island and then on to Long Island Sound.

Tidal current provided one of the challenges. When you travel at only 6 or 7 mph, a tidal current of 1 to 2 mph can impact travel time significantly either for good or bad, depending on your direction of travel. Heading west into Long Island Sound required us to travel through the Race, a narrow portion at the east end of Long Island Sound where the tide can run at 4 mph or more. Hitting that area at the wrong time can add hours to our travel time.  The same is true of the East River down along Manhattan where the tidal current is equally strong.

So as I said, we were lucky on the whole. During the trip to Block Island, the seas were a bit rolly, but better than we thought they might be. We would have liked to stay a day or two on Block Island, but our timeline would not allow it.  We hit the Race at slack tide (the brief time with no current). Actually we had to fight the tide getting to the Race, but the building favorable current helped us make up the time afterwards.

Our first night in the Sound was spent at Truman Beach. We prefer to call it Jellyean Beach, because of its unique nature. It’s certainly not a typical sandy beach. Instead we found the entire beach to be covered with small, rounded pebbles that look very much like jellybeans when the are wet. It’s not a beach for long walks, however. Imagine walking on ball bearings.  But we really enjoyed our stop there.

Sandra collecting”jellybeans”

This was our presidential tour of the Sound. We left Truman Beach for Port Jefferson and then continued on to Port Washington. Port Washington is cruiser friendly, offering free moorings for the first two nights and a dinghy dock practically across the street from a large grocery and a short walk to a West Marine. We took advantage of both. We also enjoyed a quiet meal at a very nice Indian restaurant which also was close to the dock.

The next morning we were off as soon as the sun offered enough light, so we could get to the East River and benefit from the tidal current. We passed through Hell Gate to enter the river. It sounds bad, but at slack tide, it was a piece of cake. The current did help, and pushed us to as much as 12 mph at times. It’s always special to slide down the East River by the UN building as well as getting views of the other prominent buildings including the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the 9/11 Memorial. We did our best to avoid all the commercial traffic in the river and in the Harbor. As I mentioned on our trip north through the City in June, we were reminded of how busy the water is around NYC. The high speed ferries were the most intimidating.

Always a spectacular view!

Then it was out to sea. For some reason the weather forecast for the ocean never seems as accurate as the land forecast. I know that you are thinking that those forecasts aren’t so good either. Well these tend to be even less accurate. So in spite of the calm forecast, we had a rolly time for the first several hours at sea. The conditions settled some during the night, however. 

Our only bit of excitement came around midnight as we passed by Atlantic City. A large fishing trauler came out of the inlet and then moved up next to our boat, crowding us off our course. It was traveling just a bit faster, so it took some time to pass us. I finally slowed a bit to allow it to pass, so I could get back on my course and let him by before he crowded me any further off course. . I guess since they were working and I was merely cruising, my travel was of little consequence. The event at least helped keep me awake for a bit. 

The remainder of the trip to Cape Henlopen and the entrance to Deleware Bay was uneventful, and the seas became quite settled. We arrived before 9AM and crashed for little sleep. We explored the beach in the afternoon and enjoyed our isolation overnight. 

The sun showed itself over the Atlantic as we headed up Deleware Bay.

The next morning we left as soon as the sun provided some necessary light. Our goal was to take advantage the tidal current in the Bay as much as possible before it turned against us. On our spring trip north we saw no commercial traffic in the Bay or in the C&D Canal.  This trip was different. A number of freighters passed by. In fact two passed each other right by us. The channel isn’t that wide. I would not want to be the pilot of one.  In the canal two tugs with attached barges passed as well. It always pays to remain alert.

So as I stated in the beginning of this update, we are back in the Chesapeake. We’ll do our best to enjoy that which the Chesapeake offers. Rather than lobster, mussels and clams, it will include blue crabs and oysters. We will no longer be concerned about large ocean waves. Although we know that Bay can be nasty at times, such weather is avoidable. So we’ll enjoy the Bay sailing before we enter the next segment of our journey: the ICW.

More Bay blogging ahead.

Captain Bob

Carpe Diem

Sandra is always busy as we travel. Baskets are a focus when she’s not at the helm.