This was a FANTASTIC training and boy did we eat well! Sue had gourmet lunches prepared for us EVERY day AND we also enjoyed dessert EVERY day – not our typical experience! Sue and Mike are taking their time to learn the needed skills before departure and are really setting themselves up for successful boating experiences from weather awareness to route planning/navigation, solid anchoring skills and the ability to snag a mooring ball on the first try. We got to facilitate the renaming ceremony of Sun Dancer and really enjoyed our time with this couple who will be in the AGLCA Class of 2022!
Ride along with us on a QUICK trip from Stuart to Tarpon Springs! It has been a while since I have blogged, being very busy with deliveries for owners who were not interested in the trip’s details. We have a couple of upcoming trips where the owners would like a written record and so I will brush up on the discipline it takes to record events and hopefully not bore the reader out of his mind!
Repairs on the Indian Town bridge prevented us from taking My Dori III (a Carver C40) through the Okeechobee Waterway from the east coast of Florida to the west coast. Very BAD timing for that to be the case! The wind was blowing 35 from the east and was kicking up 6 footers in the Atlantic and so we were sentenced to taking the ICW south on a WEEKEND through Ft Lauderdale and Miami, something we try to avoid like the plague! But when an owner wants the boat moved quickly, you do what makes the most sense.
It was a pretty easy run from Stuart to Boynton Beach, where we re-fueled and docked for the night. The next morning we were moving at first light. The waterways were quiet as the sun rose, bleeding crimson and gold across the sky. Bridges opened on silent cogs and we were the only traffic moving for a while. Of course that changed once we reached Ft. Lauderdale; it was south Florida on the weekend! Jetskis buzzed like mosquitos, racing in dizzying circles to jump wakes and as the sun climbed high, we noticed more than one police boat with a jetski lashed to its side, while its rider became another DUI statistic in the back of the boat.
Kayaks played chicken with the parade of boats passing by, oblivious to the fate possible if they mistimed their transits by mere seconds. Peanut Island and Oleta State Park were barely visible for the hundreds of boats anchored around them. Music of every genre competed, blasting eardrum-puncturing beats and vocals across the water and the tomorrow’s dermatologists will be able to make payments on multi-millions dollar yachts due of the amount of skin that was bared to the noonday sun.
Waiting at the 11 foot high Venetian Causeway bridge in downtown Miami became a exercise in a captain’s ability to control a boat amidst a bottle neck of other vessels all vying to be first through once it opened. As the bridge span yawned open, each captain chose a spot and a tidy parade of vessels from jetskis up to 80 footers caravanned through. It’s a little tricky along this stretch because there are several bridges with little room between them. Our parade moved along at a nice clip until it became clear that the upcoming, very low railroad bridge had just closed. One little engine chugged busily across while we watched boats slam into reverse in front of us and like dominoes falling, each boat did it’s best to cease forward momentum without being rear-ended by the next boat. Fortunately, the bridge opened rather quickly and order was restored to the procession which exited Miami as quickly as was allowed by speed limits.
Once free of the Rickenbacker bridge the procession fanned out with the go-fast boats taking off and heading either south to the Keys or east to the Atlantic. We were among those headed to the Keys and My Dori III was happy to show what she could do in open water. It didn’t take long to reach Key Largo where we refueled and docked for the night at Gilbert’s Marina, happy to be done with boat traffic for the immediate future.
The next morning, we were up and out at daylight, navigating the ICW to Channel 5 and from there up the Florida Bay, around Capes Sable and Romano to Marco Island where we refueled at Rose Marina and kept on running to finish the day at Moss Marina in Ft Myers Beach as the sun was starting to throw long shadows across the water.
We finished the trip to Tarpon Springs by running in the Gulf to Venice for a quick fuel up at the Crow’s Nest Marina and refueling again at Port Tarpon Marina before finding our slip at Tarpon’s City Docks. It was a short and sweet run and as always, a bad day on the water is better than a good day almost anywhere else!
Thanks for riding along with us, here’s the video re-cap!
One of the best parts of around-the-clock shifts is the night sights that are only visible if you are on watch after the sun sets.
On a recent boat relocation near Miami, we saw gorgeous lightning in thunderstorms that were fortunately not directly above us,
some bioluminescent dinoflagelates, tiny organisms that lit up the wake (no photo came out unfortunately), cruise ships ablaze with light but not life along with tankers, all swinging on their anchors just beyond the Miami shipping lanes and the amazing colors of the Miami Beach skyline from the Atlantic side.
Most of our other trips in this area have either been during the day or in the ICW so this was an amazing sight.
There is a calm at night on the water, a quiet peace that is shared by the two people on watch. It is unrivaled by any other experience and while it demands a certain kind of cooperative weather and open waters to be ideal, it is worth the extra watchfulness that is required to ensure the safety of the craft and its crew.
Not too many impressions from today and not many photos either simply because it was a demanding day on all. We came out of the Delaware City Canal and could see the Delaware River roiling in front of us. We knew the forecast, believed we could handle it and that the boat was also up to it. Once in the river, it would have been almost impossible to turn back because turning around would have required several minutes of broadsiding the current and we really weren’t sure if Easy Wind would be able to bring her bow around quickly enough so that we could steer up into the current, putting us and her at real risk. And so, we were committed. As our buddy, Mike put it later, “wind and current from the back…no turning back!” And he’s right.
The current and wind were in opposition creating haystacks of water and all of it was running faster than we were and from the rear. Same story as on the Chesapeake, water would sneak up under our stern and throw the bow any which way it pleased. Consequently, using auto-pilot was totally out of the question and it was an endurance contest between us and nature. It was challenging but after we passed the nuclear plant, at about mile eight, the waves spread out and were more directionally navigable.
There were lots of tankers, cargo ships and freighters to make sure we steered clear of but we steered the edge of the channel while they hugged the middle, so it wasn’t a problem.
We were both very happy to see the red and green markers of the Cape May canal. We fueled up and docked at Utsch’s Marina where we had stayed before. It is a bit tricky to enter as it looks like you are coming into a stockade that’s entrance is about 20’ wide with a little lighthouse marking it and of course the wind was blowing 35!
Unlike the last time we were here, the marina was almost empty. Hundreds of boats are blocked in their storage lot waiting to be put in the water but the C-19 mess has really interfered with boating this year and the governor just opened marinas this past week. The staff here is wonderful and really epitomize the family business mentality. Ernie apologized that the bathrooms weren’t open due to C-19 restrictions but that he would drive us into town if we wanted and even offered us some of his homemade chicken and rice soup!
We are concerned about the weather as it seems to be one low pressure system after another, kicking up winds and waves but we have a window of 1 footers tomorrow and so we will get Easy Wind a bit further north but aren’t sure what happens after that as the waves are predicted to be between 5 and 12 feet for days afterwards. That is definitely a no-go scenario for us.
Out we go with a couple of other boats on a chilly daybreak, past the Coast Guard station where Jerry did his basic training and into the Atlantic. The other boats quickly ditch Easy Wind but she doesn’t seem to care.
As forecast the waves are actually about 1 foot and for the first 3 hours we relax a bit, letting the auto pilot drive with us, occasionally correcting to miss crab pots. Around Atlantic City the waves have kicked up to three’s and we have to make the call about whether we try for Manasquan Inlet or go in at Absecon inlet and stay in Atlantic City.
If there were a way to know ahead whether the forecast would remain accurate, these kinds of decisions would be much easier but there isn’t. We decide to put our faith in the forecast and hope that the waves stay the way there are or even decrease a little and hope against hope that no thunderstorms pop up to kick up the waves. We power past Barnegat lighthouse and as we make the turn north,
we are fortunate that the forecast is actually accurate and we bump through manageable seas off the bow for 10 hours and are just about to turn towards the Manasquan inlet when the engine hesitates repeatedly and starts to vibrate. Two typical causes: you caught a crab trap and are towing it (hence the vibration) or the fuel filter has gone bad. We know it isn’t a crab pot because we are always hyper-vigilant for them and there literally haven’t been any for hours. So, we head out to sea, knowing the engine will need to be cut off for the time it takes Jerry to change the fuel filters.
He gets everything set up while I navigate us away from the shore and when he’s ready I cut the engine off and play nurse to his surgeon, handing him what he needs and taking away what he’s removed. I timed him and he has both fuel filters changed and we are back under way in under 4 minutes! I know he has done this on a bunch of his captain jobs but this is the first one I have been witness to and I am visibly impressed! Once the engine is back on, she purrs along, happy as a clam.
We head toward the Manasquan Inlet which is typically about the most treacherous inlet to navigate around here, unless one has timed entrance or exit to coincide with ebb tide and there is no wind (ha, like that ever happens!). Narrow and long, bordered by rocks and concrete jacks on both sides, with fishermen flying past you, coming and going, it can be a harrowing experience. Today we have timed it well. We are at ebb tide, the wind is low, the inlet is the calmest I have ever seen it and we make it through and then navigate the narrow railroad bridge and highway bridge and arrive at Clark’s Landing Yacht Club and Marina.
They have given us a great outside slip in an almost empty marina. The season here has been drastically delayed by the C-19 closure of the marinas until last week. Spring is here and the tulips are amazing! It starts to rain and it is really cold. The weather doesn’t look great for the foreseeable future and we wonder if this will be the end of our trip with Easy Wind.
Our heater has died again, so after a couple of sips of tea and coffee, we go to work on it this morning. We use a hairdryer to loosen the old hoses and try to snake out the hose and through-hull valve. It is gucky and while there doesn’t seem to be any real clog, when we reassemble it and turn the unit on, there is still no water coming out the side of the boat and no heat coming on inside it. Brrrr.
We spend some of the morning cleaning the inside of the boat – we have an excellent little Shark vacuum that really does a great job (I want one for my boat!) and we wish there was a laundry facility here at the marina so we could get some towels washed.
It is rainy and cold and as we sit and explore weather options; it is looking grim. Wave and wind forecasts don’t give us a window for almost a week and that is a one-day window. We are looking at moving from Pt. Pleasant, NJ to either Sandy Hook or NY Harbor, where we would anchor behind the Statue of Liberty and from there, time the tides to run Hell Gate in the East River and out into Long Island Sound. We really need two to three decent days to accomplish this and we aren’t seeing them for the better part of two weeks.
A discussion with the owners results in a unanimous decision not to have us sit for 5-10 days in New Jersey (especially since C-19 seems pretty hot right here) and sadly we agree that we will coach Easy Wind’s new owners from a distance in bringing her the last leg home.
We spend the next day cleaning the boat, inside and out. Jerry washes her down and I polish her railings, which have been dulled by salt and spray and she is shiny and smiling by the time we are done.
We take advantage of the sun that is starting to peek out to walk to the laundromat to get all the linens and towels clean and then reluctantly take a Lyft to Enterprise where we pick up a car, after thoroughly wiping it down with Clorox wipes. We return to the boat and pack our stuff and load the car as there is no sense extending time in NJ. It is sad to leave Easy Wind alone in an unfamiliar place. She has been our home for 39 days and we know her almost as well as Makin Memories. The staff here is excellent though and we know they will oversee the repairs to the heater and gas stove that need to be made. We secure her lines, lock her up, turn the keys over to management, bid her a last farewell and hit the road.
We have decided to try to travel down the coast, tracing by car the route we have just done by boat and end up in Virginia Beach. We reminisce about our favorite parts of the trip and how we already miss Easy Wind. It is raining and cold again by the time we get to Virginia Beach but this is an absolutely beautiful area that we vow we will return to when are on the road in an RV at some point. The beach looks a lot like any other beach but the surrounding area has lots of forest and natural beauty that is not so typical of a beach community and we would like to spend some time exploring it sometime when it is warmer and not raining.
This day is a total drive day. We wanted to travel down the Outer Banks of NC but were foiled by the NC health dept. We cross the bridge to the outer banks and find that unless you have a pass, you are unable to visit Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk, all of which are closed anyway. Sadly, we retrace our steps and decide that there will not be any real exploring on this trip home as we will probably face the same thing no matter where we go. So, we decide to just get home as fast as we can and make it as far as Florence SC before having had enough sitting in a car (boats are way easier to spend long hours in than cars are). The next day is more of the same. The roads are not as crowded but there are semi’s everywhere. We learn that other captains, delivering boats in the northeast have also been sent home owing to the non-existent weather windows. I know we all would have preferred to complete our deliveries but safety of craft, crew and pocketbooks needs to be foremost in mind when making these go-no-go decisions.
At the Florida border, we are herded through a blockade and while our rental plate is from Maryland, we confess, when asked, that we are in fact traveling from NJ. They siphon us off into a loop where we have to fill out some paperwork and receive instructions from the governor about how to stay safe etc. and a few hours later we are pulling into our home, sad that this journey is over but happy to be home after 5 ½ weeks where we are already looking forward to the next adventure!
The day is exactly as forecast, the wind and rain blow sideways and whip the Alligator River up into 3-foot waves capped with crowns of white froth. The Albemarle Sound beyond it will be exponentially rougher and even if we thought we wanted to attempt to cross it, the boat is literally pinned to the dock, using every fender we have and still she groans against them much of the morning and afternoon.
Thankfully for us, Easy Wind has a VERY functional heating system and we make use of it off and on all day, with shades drawn to insulate as much of our glass surfaces as possible. There are two other boats here with us, both of which had intended to cross the Sound today, one catamaran from Virginia whose people are very familiar with the Sound and one Looper boat from Ontario. Both have made the same decision we have and are going to wait out the weather and cross in the morning when waves are projected to drop to 1-foot heights and the weather should also be nicer.
Today is our 16th wedding anniversary! The forecast had predicted calming winds, lessening waves and cooler temperatures for the morning and it was pretty accurate, which is nice.
The moon paints the docks with frost and it is COLD! Our thermometer reads 58 degrees
INSIDE the cabin but the heater quickly injects some warmth as we get ready to depart Alligator Marina. I am wearing leggings under my pants, a t-shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts, gloves, a buff, a down vest and jacket, which is pretty much all the warm clothing I brought. There is ice on the decks so extreme caution is used as we take care of the chores required to get off the dock. Cold without wind is a whole different beast than cold with wind and we are ready to go as the sun is coming up.
The river is glassy-smooth but the Sound is her usual self and so is uncooperative with the forecast, which called for 1’waves. We wallow and roll, trying to find the best attitude for the crossing through 2-3’ foot swells that are washtub directional and grant no clear course for comfort.
And what should have been an easy crossing feels more like a combination of surfing and sailing as we take small tacks to lessen the discomfort and minimize sloshing in our fuel tanks.
Finally, we enter the North River and after a while I get fenders and lines ready for docking in Coinjock, where we have reservations for tonight. I am on the top deck when Jerry yells, “Hey, there is something crossing the river ahead of us!” I grab my camera too late to film the bobcat who is swimming confidently across the river and up onto the shore as we pass him. Well, that’s unusual! We have had deer and beaver swim across our bow but never a bobcat!
We had hoped to be here yesterday and pulling out on our anniversary but the contrary weather interfered with our plans. We pull into Coinjock Marina not too long after we pass the swimming bobcat and within a short time, some of the boats that were with us in Alligator arrive. There is some general tale-swapping and notes-comparing and even with social distancing boat people continue to be boat people, connecting over shared experiences and learning from differing ones.
My Dad used to stop at Coinjock twice a year when he moved his boat from West Palm Beach to the Jersey Shore and back again and while I have heard the name and we passed by here on our Loop (it was SUPER-crowded with boats and people), this is the first time where the timing worked so that we were able to stop, stay and eat here and it does NOT disappoint!
Their prime rib is renowned to boaters who come through here and I totally enjoy the first red meat I have had in weeks while Jerry celebrates with a seafood platter after the obligatory champagne celebration drink to 16 years together!
We are pretty much done after a short walk after dinner and count today a memorable anniversary!
The Bonnie and Clyde of the ICW bid a fond farewell to Coinjock.
Currituck Sound is windy and creates following seas for Easy Wind to wallow in front of – she really doesn’t like following seas at 1700 rpm but we don’t really want to push her to where she would probably be more comfortable and easier to steer. The Sound isn’t too far and we easily leapfrog the three sailboats that beat us off the dock this morning. It’s pretty to see their white sails against the blue sky but we don’t want to be trapped behind them in the narrow waterway between the Sound and the lock and if possible we would like to be far enough ahead of them that we don’t need to deal with them in the lock at all.
The last time we went through Great Bridge Lock a sailboat followed us in, got sideways and came close to colliding with us. The lockmaster (the worst one on our entire journey) stood there on the wall screaming at them and the poor things didn’t even speak English! Finally the tug captain of the barge that was in the lock with us was able to hand signal to them what to do and we got it all sorted out but we try to avoid anything that approaches that kind of drama if at all possible!
This day is uneventful and we travel pretty much alone, passing a couple of down-bound tows and barges and taking in the scenery along the way which alternates between forest, grasslands and homes. Coming through Centerville swing bridge, a flock of Canada Geese land in the water right in front of us and begin a serious mating ritual with all kinds of honking and snaking necks until they are paired off into solid two’s.
We have noticed ribbons of ducks and geese in wavy V’s headed northwards as spring is arriving, though you wouldn’t really know it by our recent cold temperatures! Each place we have been, we have just missed the peak of azalea and dogwood blooms, though some flowers cling tenaciously, unwilling to give up their holds. This is the only part of living further north that I miss.
We manage to coordinate the opening of Great Bridge with a down-bound barge but it doesn’t really do us any good because the bridge opens on the half hour and hour and the lock, which is a stone’s throw away only opens on the hour. So, we tie off to the free dock that is on the north side of the bridge and wait. Lots of people stay here over night and I can see that it would be a convenient stopping place to spend a free night but we need to get to Portsmouth to meet up with Brian, who has allowed some spare parts we need to be mailed to him and who will also take us to Wal-Mart to get oil so that Jerry can do an oil change for Easy Wind. Brian’s dad, Mike has unfailingly checked in with us every day or two to see how we are and to update us on news from home and the fact that in our absence our boat is “filthy!” We are blessed to have the people we call friends in our lives and we don’t take that lightly.
The passage through the last lock is unbelievably smooth. This lock actually has built-in fenders on the port side so all you have to do is loop a line over a cleat at the top of the wall and the lock drops you only a foot – it actually seems like much ado about nothing and we are happy to be finished with locks for this trip.
Coming into Portsmouth and Norfolk is excruciating because it is a solid no-wake zone for miles and there are railroad bridges that have been known to be down for hours. We are coming up on one, showing a green light and are almost there when the announcement comes over our radio that Norfolk & Southern bridge #7 will be closing shortly. Jerry looks at me and back at the bridge and urges Easy Wind to move along, which she does and we pass under the bridge and through as the lights are turning red! Last time we hovered at this bridge forever so we are pleased to have made it through until we get to the next railroad bridge which is definitely down with a train approaching. We idle along watching and groan when the train stops completely for a while. Fortunately, it resumes speed and the bridge opens and we are in the heart of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Naval ships of all types surround us on every side, many patrolled with their own private security boats which have machine guns mounted on the bow. It’s an impressive harbor and we know from experience that as you move further north it becomes even more so.
We pass hospital hole, where we anchored one night prior to coming into the marina last time and tie up at Tidewater Yacht Marina. This marina is home to a lot of live-aboards and even has a swimming pool built into the floating dock system. We check in and HAVE to go stretch our legs. Inactivity takes a bit of a toll on active people after a while and a walk is much needed.
We have finally caught up to spring! The flowers are amazing and walking the brick sidewalks reminds us of how much we LOVE Portsmouth. The homes are charming and a little reminiscent of Charleston and Savannah.
We took a ferry over to Norfolk last time we were here and it has more of a city feel while Portsmouth has more of a homey feel and we much prefer it. The walk does us good physically and mentally and we come back to the boat and sit out on the back porch where we chat with Bob, the owner of the last sailboat we leapfrogged. He is trying to sell his sailboat for a little faster boat that is of more use in Maine and feels the Chesapeake area will be a better place than Cape Coral, Florida to sell her. He’s had the boat for 22 years and it is obvious that he loves her but life changes and what’s practical at one point becomes obsolete at another point.
The sunny warm evening ends with a change in the forecast but we are ready for it
Dang! Should have gotten the key to the laundry room last night. We want to get it done before the rain but the marina office doesn’t open until 8 and when it becomes reality, the hours have changed and they don’t open till 9.
By then we could have finished and been safely back aboard but now we slog through driving, cold rain and stay in the laundry room until our sheets are done. The gusts are around 48 mph, so we are glad that we planned this to be a dock day to get errands done.
Brian arrives and takes us to Wal-Mart where we get the oil so Jerry can give Easy Wind an oil change. We grab a great lunch at Fish and Ships and eat on the boat – fried oyster po-boys! YUM! Thanks, Brian!!!!
The sun comes out as soon as we have finished all the schlepping chores (of course) and we send Brian back to work – sorry! And Jerry gets down to changing the oil as the wind continues to howl around us.
He finishes up and we take a long walk, stretching our legs as the coming days may not present the opportunity. We have a fairly good weather window and will try to make as long a run as possible up the Chesapeake in the morning.
There is something about waking up surrounded by city after 4 weeks of pretty much waking up in small towns or peaceful anchorages. It is really beautiful but we have now been commissioned to deliver this boat up to Boston, rather than Baltimore and we feel the need to get moving.
A Navy security boat escorts us out of the Elizabeth River (separates Norfolk and Portsmouth) past HUGE aircraft carriers and destroyers.
We see the protective gates that Brian works to open and close to allow the ships to enter and exit the base. It is a crazy dangerous job when the water is rough but we think he likes the fact that no two days are the same. The Red Cross ship Comfort was here last time we were through but she has gone to New York as a hospital to help fight the C-19 in that hotspot. Maybe we will see her in a week or so as we pass through.
A container ship chases out into the Chesapeake but we turn north and he continues east so we never have a close encounter. The Chesapeake is home to LOTS of HUGE ships and we are grateful that visibility is good and we can see them a long time before our radar detects them.
The good news is that the current is strongly with us and it is sunny, so we are making good time. The bad news is that the predicted one footers are actually two’s and three’s which build through the day into 3’s and 5’s and it is 100% a following sea, which Easy Wind is not happy about. The waves sneak under her backside and throw her bow any which way they please. This creates a LONG day of manual steering and we take more frequent turns switching off helm duty, as it is exhausting.
We see one of the unmistakable Trumpy boats approaching. They are such gorgeous boats and we remember seeing Enticer (you can google this yacht if you are interested – I think she is a time share now) in Palm Beach, then again in Greenwich for the Town Party where Eric Clapton headlined and somewhere later in Long Island Sound. It’s pretty cool to be at a concert and have the best seat in the house on your own back deck. This is a smaller Trumpy and we are hailed by 61’ Adonia’s captain. Turns out this is the flagship yacht for the Waterway Guide and he is a super ambassador, wishing us safe travels and hopes for a smooth journey.
This is the Chesapeake Bay and there are crab pots everywhere, hidden by the increasing waves, which forces us to duck and weave and pray that one of the waves from behind doesn’t decide to throw us onto one that we have already steered to miss. Fortunately, we are able to steer clear of all of them, even the ones that some smart guy painted BLACK!!!!
We have to up our speed a little to keep the rudder responsive and we cover 110 very uncomfortable miles before we are able to tuck into the Patuxent River and anchor in a very sheltered cove near the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Other reviewers of this anchorage reported being rocked out of their berths by the jets taking off but our night is calm and quiet and there is no better sleeping than being rocked gently on quiet waters with minimal wind….so peaceful.
The day is gray and overcast when we pull anchor and leave the PAX NAS anchorage. The sky paints the water in shades of cobalt and azure that cry out to be photographed. A green beacon gives us the GO signal and we are quickly into the Chesapeake again.
It is fairly calm and over the course of a couple of hours the conditions settle into the predicted patterns, creating a situation where the current and winds are against us and we take the 1’s to 2’s bow-on, which makes Easy Wind and her crew MUCH happier! Tankers and cargo ships lurk in the morning gloom and we pass by the ice-cream cone-shaped lighthouses that abound in the Bay.
We cross from the west to the east side of the Bay, taking the most direct route and pass by St. Michaels, home of the best crab places in the world. This would be much more painful except that the crab houses are probably closed due to C-19 restrictions and the weather is cold and not conducive to sitting outside for a couple of hours picking crabs and drinking beer. Oh well, maybe another time.
We by-pass Baltimore, our original ending point for the trip and after 8 hours of driving head-on into the wind and waves we pull into the anchorage we have chosen for the night. The sun attempts to emerge and after an hour or so is successful. The winds should be out of the northwest at about 7 mph so it doesn’t really matter where we sit the night. Last time we were in Fairlee River and we don’t want to do that again as the approach to the marina/anchorage was harrowing. So we have chosen the aptly named Still Pond Anchorage as it will set us up to do the C&D Canal in the morning and should be fairly sheltered as well.
We get the anchor set and work on some planning for the coming days. We have another cold front moving in tomorrow with winds that dictate a marina and we need to figure out when we will get a weather window to move Easy Wind from Cape May to NYC via the Atlantic while minimizing our exposure to the hotspots that are NJ and NY. We have researched the NJ waterway and we feel that this boat draws too much to even attempt running her through there so we will need good weather to run outside.
We sit down to relax for a minute and its as if we have entered Nirvana. The wind dies, the air warms and we are in a private cove that is bordered on one side by cliff-perching homes cloaked in trees that are just starting to sport their spring regalia. The red bud is in riotous bloom with the dogwoods transitioning pale green flowers to showy white. The old hard wood trees wear pale green leaflets and it won’t be long before these houses are magnificently shaded from the summer sun.
The other side of the cove is wild with rushes and trees bordering pale sandy beaches and it isn’t too long before we see a trio of deer bound across the beach and into the brush. A pair of Bald Eagles school a recalcitrant offspring who appears to be afflicted with ADHD for all the attention he pays them and soon one of the adults shears off to harass an Osprey who has just caught his family’s fish dinner. The Osprey emerges victorious, after a lot of ducking and diving and sweeps away over the trees to feed his family. We can hear geese and a woodpecker, though we can’t see them and the peace in this lovely cove more than pays us back for the beating we took yesterday and today. You can’t buy these kinds of moments and we soak in the warm sunny air and admire the calm surroundings until the sun sets and utter stillness descends upon the cove.
Gale force winds are predicted for tonight as another cold front sweeps down and drops the temperatures into the low 40’s. We would like to be tied up for this and have chosen Delaware City as our arrival spot. It will make it a shorter day than we would like to put in but there are zero marinas in the Delaware and being in Delaware City will position us for the run down the Delaware River to Cape May the next day.
It is calm this morning and there are things hinting at being mountains off in the distance. The waterway here is edged by orange clay cliffs with homes teetering closer to the edge than they probably did when they were built. They range from a field of mobile homes to elegant mansions and everything in between. A little lighthouse shares the same type of precarious perch and I wonder how much longer it will stand.
It can be a little unnerving to see a fairly large boat coming toward you and then watch it stop and swing right, then left, turn around and head straight for you. This is the Army Corps of Engineers taking depth soundings and they apparently don’t care how close they come because we had one get frighteningly close yesterday. This guy thankfully zooms right by us this morning.
We see the green light and enter the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal with the current behind us and slightly hazy conditions. The canal is easy and we encounter no ships, tugs or barges unlike our last trip where we saw a huge nose come around a bend over 100 feet up in the air and then the rest of the boat slowly emerged from there. When we passed abeam, there was no daylight on our boat, it was that massive. I don’t think the highest point on our boat even reached their anchor.
Today is an uneventful passage made brighter by the pink and white dogwoods, the redbuds and bridal bush that peek out from the near naked trees that tower leafless above them. In some spots it almost looks like autumn because the maples are covered in red whirly-gigs that look like fall colors from a distance and the sky is that flat gray that comes before storms.
The clouds are starting to roll and rain is advancing ahead of the front as we pull into the Delaware City Marina. They are SERIOUS here about the 14 day self-quarantine, which other marinas have announced but not enforced. We are instructed over the radio to make sure we arrive with face masks in place and we are not allowed off the dock except to take our trash to the dumpster! This would be a lot more disappointing if it weren’t raining and miserable outside by the time we finish getting the power and lines the way we want them.
Our heater has died, which might be a problem given what the weather is supposed to be like for the next couple of days. Jerry spends some time in the hold and we clean the strainers and he does everything he can think of to do. All he can think is that something may be plugging up the intake line and there’s no way I’m letting him get in the water to see. We have a space heater, so we will survive!
We weather terrific thunderstorms, driving rain and winds. Towards sunset there is a break in the bands and we sneak out, fully masked to walk a bit and boy, are we happy we did. This morning we had been talking about when the peak season for the DC cherry blossoms takes place and had decided that we had missed it this year.
Around the corner from taking the trash to the dumpster is main street of little Delaware City, DE and we hit the jackpot! The cherry trees here line both sides of the street and are in full blossom. The wind is whipping pink snow in every direction. We are stunned at the beauty of these trees and are so grateful to have been able to witness it, even if we had to bend the self-quarantine directive a tad.
Low tide tomorrow is at dawn, our usual departure time and as we walk the canal, we are seeing exposed mud flats at the entrance to the Delaware. We will need to let the tide come up a bit before risking departure. We think that will be perfect as a later departure will time it to where the tide will be turning a little less than halfway down the river and will be adding a few knots and lessening fuel consumption into Cape May, NJ (our 11th state and 2200 miles covered!). Waiting will also allow the 5’ waves that the gale force winds create tonight to calm down a bit as well, so we are resigned to a later start.
Back to the boat we go and tuck in as the next band arrives with high winds and dropping temperatures. We are in for the night!
We intentionally get a bit later start this morning, given the fact that we nestled into an anchorage dotted with crab traps last night and we don’t want to take any of them with us on the way out. We wait for good light and start out about a half hour later than is our usual, through water that is as smooth as glass and soft with the morning light.
Jerry had an interesting evening last night, getting up a couple of times to make sure the anchor had re-set properly and to do his normal survey of the state of the anchorage. He went out on the back deck, which, on this boat, is sort of like a porch with the swim platform level with the deck. He scared the heck out of a little marsh bird that had been sleeping on one of our deck chairs and who couldn’t get off the boat fast enough. The second time he ventured out he saw a water snake swimming lazy S’s in the moonlit water. He said it looked like the snake was contemplating using our back deck as a resting spot (we have heard other boaters talk about finding nests of water snakes on their swim platforms). Jerry gently disabused him of the idea with a boat hook and came back to bed but he says he will scan the back deck more carefully from now on before walking out there at night!
We wind our way through the last of the grassy marshlands, at least for a while, thank goodness! It is tiresome when there is nothing but grass between you and the horizon and it persists for days and days. We are back in the land of old South Carolina with its massive oaks, swinging with Spanish Moss. The mansions look even larger here because they are all built with a false story underneath, probably mandated by the insurance companies that don’t want to pay flood claims every year.
The crabbers here seem to be a better mannered bunch than their Florida cousins. Their traps rarely encroach into the channel and in fact seem to be helpful in that they tend to mark the edge of it in most places. There are folks out today, working their trap lines and it is a balmy day making it pleasant to be on the water. Numerous pods of dolphins join us for a while and then retire to hunt for breakfast. They are obviously well fed here as they are some of the largest dolphins I have ever seen.
We come under the bridge and into Charleston harbor and remember spending days here last time. We walked everywhere for miles and miles each day and marveled at the number of outstanding restaurants there were to choose from. We definitely needed to walk to counter the effects of all of the fine dining we did!
Today, we see nothing moving but the city is just as pretty as we remember. We pass Ft. Sumpter which sports no American Flag today, no ferries full of tourists and nobody can be seen walking the ramparts. It is almost spooky! We cross the harbor and back into the ICW and now we are back in snaking grasslands again. The houses here have a couple of hundred yards of dock on the side of the river that is fronted by a lot of grass flats and maybe 20 foot docks on the other side of the river that doesn’t. I know which side I’d rather be on.
The day is long with narrow, shallow waterways, not a lot to see and a warm breeze blowing sand flies into the wheelhouse. They don’t seem to want to bite us and we are thankful for that small mercy. We cover about 70 miles and pull into Awendaw Creek. The current is strong but it is a wide anchorage with swing room for 10-15 boats but there is just one boat in it ahead of us.
There is a courtesy to sharing an anchorage. Most people anchor out to enjoy the quiet and solitude that it provides if you have considerate neighbors. We pick a spot that will not encroach on his space and drop the hook. After showers and a snack we sit out back and as the sun is lowering a sailboat enters the basin and decides to anchor right ahead of us. Seriously!?!?
There is plenty of room here but he decides we have the best spot so he cozies in and the captain and crew are seen no more. The current and wind oppose each other which makes boats do interesting things while at anchor and we watch his boat look like it is underway headed directly at our boat. We can see his bridle and know he is anchored but it is still irritating.
The wind dies and a just-past-full moon plays hide and seek behind the clouds. Squeaky birds argue over oyster bed kingdoms on the shore and eventually even they settle into silence.
This morning is more of the same, a long straight shot of narrow waterway but because we leave when it is high tide, we have lots of water and the current helps speed us along so we make pretty good time. Jerry amuses himself by putting a dent in the horsefly population, leaving our Navigation Notes book smeared with bug gore! I’m not sure it will make a bit of difference to their overall numbers but it makes our wheelhouse more tolerable and keeps him happy.
Dolphins pretend to be sharks, riding with only their fins showing and we laugh at their antics. They are always welcome company.
Once we get by McClellandville and Georgetown, SC the scenery changes dramatically. We go from savannahs that stretch to the horizon to a forest with its feet in both sides of the waterway. The rivers are quite swollen compared to when we were here a few years ago. We pass the anchorage around Butler Island which we crowned as one of the most beautiful anchorages of our Loop (the other was in Canada). We woke to a steaming river and fog-shrouded forests and the photos we shot that morning of a steamy sunrise were among some of our very favorites that we took over the course of that year.
The river here looks like some of the Florida rivers we kayak; tea-stained brown but lush vegetation at each turn. Eagles and Ospreys dive for fish and we can spot the hatchlings in some of the lower nests. Along the way we pass a pontoon swing bridge and regular bridges most of which we don’t have to open.
We get to Myrtle Beach and have to make a decision. From here almost to North Carolina it is a narrow ditch, lined with houses and docks with no anchorages.
It is only 1 PM so it is way too early to stop in the last anchorage for miles so we continue, knowing we will have to put into a marina.
The homes here are amazing in architecture and landscaping and it is an interesting ride as we steer from the bridge and enjoy the last temperate day before the cold front arrives. We have a slip at the North Myrtle Beach RV Resort and Marina. The slips are short (25’) and the current is ripping but fortunately they have dockhands at the ready and we tie up. It has been a long day; we covered 90 miles in 9 1/2 hours and we are tired but again happy with our progress northward.
The current is still running fast when we are ready to depart but thanks to deft placement of the new fender balls, we come out of the slip pivoting on one of them, forcing it to act as a shield against the pylon until it finally bumps our stern away from the dock and we are free!
The first bridge today opens on demand but most of the rest of them through North Carolina are timed. Some open only on the hour (Wrightsville) and others open on the hour and half hour. Either way, it compels us to govern our speed to arrive at the proper time so we don’t have to spend much time hovering in strong currents and uncertain surroundings.
We finish with the North Myrtle Beach ditch, then pass some inlets where we can see the Atlantic and confirm that we are better off in the ICW due to wave heights. Towards noon, we round the point of Cape Fear, passing Southport Marina. We stayed a few days there because of high winds last time we were in the area and today is shaping up to be similar though it is too early to stop and the marina is temporarily closed anyway. When we were there last time, a retired Navy meteorologist did a weather briefing each night at the marina and helped educate boaters about the waterways between Cape Fear and Cape May. It was worth the price of a slip just to listen to this guy volunteer his time and weather expertise to enlighten those of us who were new to the waters.
The wind is starting to pick up and we know we are in for a couple of days of weather as a cold front barrels down, dropping our next couple of days into the low 40’s. We brought some cold weather clothes so as long as they don’t get soaking wet, we should be okay.
Today we have high winds gusting 24 kts but they should start to calm down by 6 tonight. We opt to anchor in a secluded basin called Big Lollipop Bay rather than the Wrightsville Beach anchorages because they are exposed and busy with recreational boaters and the basin is bordered all around by large homes which may help to block the wind. Looking at Windy, we are judging a marina will be a good call for at least tomorrow evening when we get to Swansboro.
We drop the hook and swing like a pendulum until the winds do in fact calm down. Each house on the basin has a dock with one or two boat lifts and you can see the open sky over the beach that lies just beyond them. We have the anchorage to ourselves except for the crab pots (yellow arrows) that always seem to dot the water where we want to spend the night. With a working dinghy and under cover of night, we might be tempted to procure a feast for ourselves but for now we are using them as markers to make sure we are holding in the same place!
During the night the cold front has dropped the temperatures to where I feel bad for Jerry hosing the mud off the anchor as we leave Big Lollipop Bay and head for the Figure Eight bridge, which opens on the hour and half hour.
We time it to hit the 7AM opening but it turns out that the tide is so low that we don’t even need the bridge to open. We fight the current for about 2 hours until slack tide adds a mile and a half an hour to our progress and then the tide turns and we gain the speed we wanted to make today.
We phone Camp LeJeune and while they are doing live firing today, none of it will impact the ICW, which reminds us of cruising up the Potomac and hearing the Navy directing a boat out of a restricted zone because they were testing Tomahawks down the river. They were oh-so-politely telling him that he was an idiot and to look at the notations on his chart about restricted areas! We pass by some of the targets they have used and continue through miles and miles of beach towns.
We by-pass Swansboro and end up in Moorehead City Yacht Basin because it is the lowest price for fuel that our research has turned up and we can tuck in here and wait out the bad weather that is coming if we decided to sit tight in the morning.
We help Sea Anna tie up right behind us. She is a 60’ McKinna that is being delivered to Maine and I have watched her delivery captain’s posts on Facebook and so recognized him as soon as I saw his face! We came out of Myrtle Beach with Sea Anna a few days ago. Needless to say, they travel a lot faster than we do but we find out that they laid up in Southport to have oil changed and some other mechanical stuff attended to, which is how we got ahead of her.
Turns out, later when we are invited to tour Sea Anna that there are 3 delivery captains here tonight all trying to figure out whether it is prudent to try to move one more day before the bad weather socks us in somewhere or to just stay put. We retire for the night and will deal with that in the morning when we see the conditions.
Happy Easter! The morning is actually warmer than was forecast and it dawns clear and bright. We deliberate over weather forecasts and decide that we can safely make the run to Oriental where we can re-provision before the bad weather comes in and then sit for a day to wait out the predicted storm. The other captains have made similar decisions, though destinations vary owing to speed capabilities and so we help Sea Anna cast off and bid Karl (captain) and Rick (owner) fair winds. They are going to Maine so we probably won’t see them again except on FaceBook.
We run 4 hours against the current (of course) to Blackwell Pointe Marina, a family owned place that is up Smith Creek and which looks like it will be nice and protected as well as being fairly close to town. We pull in and after dealing with the power cord converters (this marina is really more for sailboaters than cruisers as it has 110 power only), we have power. The sky is still blue and it is calm so we take a walk into town where most everything is closed due to C-19 and Easter.
It is small and quaint and looks like it would be fun at another time.
We re-provision and get ready to hunker down. The wind is picking up as we return to the boat and the halyards are clanging against the masts that surround our trawler.
Cruising through tannin stained water leaves a brown mark, especially where there is less wax and Easy Wind is starting to gain that traveling mustache that some boaters immediately remove as offensive and others wear as a badge of pride. She doesn’t seem to mind it and we think she is happy to be off the lake and moving towards her new home.
Emergency horns blare from time to time and we hope they are merely testing them for possible use during the storm that is to come. After sitting for a bit, we decide to stretch our legs again and go explore the graveyard we saw on the way to the grocery store. Graveyards are interesting places to learn more about the history of a place or to just admire the way a community reveres its ancestry and we have explored them in almost every country we have visited, finding fascinating customs and traditions in the process. Some of the graves here have been lovingly decorated with Easter flowers and others still bear brown and brittle Christmas wreaths, testimonies to how actively the decedents are remembered.
We come across several graves of men, from the 1800’s, who were members of the Woodmen of the World, which of course I have to Google. This is the short version of what I find out about the organization; “When Joseph Cullen Root founded Woodmen of the World in 1882, he envisioned an organization dedicated to helping its fellow man. Its purpose was “to minister to the afflicted to relieve distress; to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living;… to encourage broad charitable views…” Today, Woodmen is a non-profit organization, owned and governed by its members who do not simply share the fact that they have purchased insurance or annuities through the same organization. Woodmen is a fraternal benefit society, with members connected by their membership and also their desire to better their lives, their families’ lives and their communities.
At one time in its history, WOW did offer grave monuments to families of deceased members. Sometimes these monuments have the motto Dum Tacet Clamat, which means “Though silent, he speaks, ” etched on the stone. The monuments are all different but all bear some kind of tree or logs as part of the design…. Very interesting.
We return to the boat and suffer a VERY long night at the hands of the winds (gusts 47+ gale force) and waves and the fact that most of the sailboats surrounding us have not been attended to and the halyards are loose and slamming against their masts ALL NIGHT LONG (this one guy did come out and after trying to bungee his halyard away from the mast, found this creative solution to the problem and we were truly grateful to him!).
Easy Wind is rearing like a racehorse waiting for the starting gate to open and the worst part of the storm is not projected to hit here until tomorrow
The morning is a change for us, in that we are not going to move today, which feels strange. We are sitting with the wind howling as it shears the tops off the whitecaps and flings them into the air. We are able to watch the approach on our weather apps and I wonder how different life aboard must have been before all the modern ways we have of staying safe became available.
Jerry lays out extra lines and reties the dinghy down and we are as ready as we can be. Visibility closes down and the front moves onto us. Rain slams against the wheelhouse and cascades down and around us. Easy Wind seems watertight and we detect nothing leaking – always a good thing on a boat! We are saddened when we find out later that more than 32 people lost their lives in this storm, south of here.
We wait out the weather, monitoring its progress until the rain abates and hisses off into the Neuse River to the southwest of us. A little after noon, the wind blows the skies clear and the sun emerges and together they team up to dry everything out. By late afternoon we are able to get out and stretch our legs a bit and we go to the store for some odds and ends like D-batteries for our fans and some clothespins in case we can’t get to a laundromat (turned out I did some laundry in a 5 gallon bucket later that afternoon-NEVER be aboard a boat without a clean 5 gallon bucket – they have a multitude of life-saving uses for those with imaginations!). We walk to and from the store via different roads,
always interested in seeing something new and end the evening with a quiet dinner. We will be ready to move in the morning!
The wind has died overnight but we know it will be picking back up again later. In order not to lose any more time, we scan our weather apps and feel that it is safe to make a run if we get moving immediately. We are up and underway as dawn is breaking and a half moon rides high above us.
We descend the Neuse river and the wind does pick up but Easy Wind is fine in 2’s and 3’s especially if they are coming from her bow, which they are. Our laundry from yesterday is pinned to a bungee first on the back deck and then on
the flybridge but the humidity and the sun are battling to see how long it will be before the clothes are truly dry. This is where dri-fit materials beat cotton hands-down.
We turn up and into Bay river and then through Goose Creek and into Pamlico Sound which is quite rough (pictures NEVER capture this). Again, we are bowing into the worst of it so it’s all good.
Our goal is to make it through the Alligator-Pungo Canal to Alligator. It will be a 92 mile run if conditions favor us all the way and right now the current is giving us a push but we’ll see how long that lasts.
100 miles, no cell or connection all of the LONG day but we made it! Celebration happens when someone else cooks dinner for you! Softshell Crab sandwich and sweet potato fries for me and a hamburger and onion rings for Jerry!
So far we have logged 208 hours and 1,787 miles underway and tomorrow we cross the Albemarle Sound IF we can get off the dock safely. Temps are projected to drop as another cold front moves through bringing rain and a lot of wind. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
IMPRESSIONS OF EASY WIND RELOCATION – Week 3
The call to be in a Melbourne marina overnight was a good one. All afternoon the winds ramp up making our fenders groan in protest. The night sees that poor Osprey family hanging on for dear life and the wind screams around the nest, flattening palm fronds back and away from their tree trunks. This would NOT have been a great night to be at anchor, even in a protected spot. Preferring the fresh air, we have kept the boat open but have to close everything up when the rain starts around midnight. This is a good thing, we comment to each other, the cold front is pushing through and we should be able to get back under way in the morning. An occasional drip hitting my leg indicates that the front hatch has a little leak. This is the first rain we have had, which is a miracle given the fact that we have been under way for 2 straight weeks. There is no accumulation of water so we know that this is nothing major and we will deal with it when we have a chance to see if it is easily remediable.
In the morning, freshly showered, we listen to weather, look at Windy and make the decision to go ahead and get under way as there is nothing to be gained by hanging around. The wind is steady at 20 kts, gusting to 25 and there are small craft advisories, but the forecast shows things calming down in the later afternoon.
The wind is pushing us hard away from the dock and getting off unscathed would have been much more difficult had Matt, the dock master, not helped us. In a few minutes, we are free and headed back out to the ICW. Turning north, the ICW is white capped and choppy but wind and waves are coming straight at our bow which makes the going a little bumpy but not terrible!
The cruise today is unremarkable. The NASA assembly building reminds me of cruising by Marco Island. The building seems like a hulking shadow that follows our every move. We can see it approaching from miles away and it is still visible hours later off our stern. We took a tour there from the Kennedy Space Center when we were on the Loop and it was really interesting how much of what used to be all government activity has now been privatized with many of the launch pads being used by Spacex and Blue Horizon. Today, there seems to be no activity at all.
We pass through Haul-Over Canal, which is at the north end of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. We have come here several times by car to kayak with our kids and then once again with our exchange student from France, Heloise. We noticed last night that there was bioluminescent life in the water as we were filling up a gallon jug with sea water. Years ago, when we kayaked here, it was amazing to watch the little pearls of light that would fall between your fingers and run down your arm when you scooped up a handful of water. The fish scooting under the boats made little torpedoes of light as they darted past. It is a magical experience that I highly recommend if you haven’t done this.
Today, we pass through the canal against an amazing current, opening the bridge and passing into Mosquito Lagoon. We had tagged this as a possible stopping point for the day but the wind makes this a no-go and we are here earlier than we expected. I remember passing here on our Loop and being uncomfortable because the channel is so narrow and so close to the small beaches that border it on the west side. Today it is more uncomfortable because we are cruising right into the teeth of the wind. We are seeing sustained winds of about 23 mpg gusting to 30+ which is enough to shave the tops off the 2-3 foot waves and throw water right onto our windscreen.
Fortunately, our wipers work but I am too short to see through the cleared portion. I remedied this when we were home in Tarpon by bringing a step stool with us. We had several extras from three kids who brushed their teeth in different places . Somehow all three step stools ended up on our boat and while we do use one to protect the electrical cord connection, we certainly do not need to keep three of them. So one has been donated to Easy Wind (This photo was taken last week when we were warm!) and it makes it much easier for me to see over the spray rail when it’s nice out and through the wiped glass when it isn’t.
Obviously, we aren’t going to anchor here in Mosquito Lagoon because of the exposed conditions and we continue to New Smyrna to anchor in the Callalisa anchorage, where we anchored one other time. We like it because the anchor comes up clean and it is sheltered from the North wind. We are amused by a pair of pelicans who might give Olympic synchronized divers a run for their money. They fly wing-tip-to-wing-tip, wheel and then fold their wings back to arrow into the water side-by-side, coming up with snacks and a smile. Over and over they perform this feat and we wonder how many fish it takes to make a pelican feel full.
We stay up late (11pm) to make sure our anchor holds when the tide changes. We are closer to the other boats around us than we like to be but the current is strong enough to mitigate the effects of the wind and thankfully we all swing in unison. The cold front has come through and we are grateful for the quilt that we are using for the first time on the trip.
The morning dawns chilly and bright. Small craft advisories remain in effect and it doesn’t look like we will be able to go outside up the Georgia and South Carolina coasts like we had hoped because the waves in the Atlantic are predicted to be 6-8 feet. Our vessel handled 3 footers like a champ but we do not want to test her in anything too much larger than that.
With a pair of dolphins riding along with us, we cruise through New Smyrna and Daytona, under the bridges that I used to drive over to visit my aunt and uncle and I miss them both. The last time we were through here, they were working on replacing the small draw bridges with skyscraper bridges and now it looks as if the work is almost finished. They are putting the finishing touches on the Halifax Harbor Bridge and it is as pretty as the other bridges throughout this area. Only the Main Street bridge remains low enough for us to have to request an opening.
The area north of Ormond Beach is kind of cool because the channel narrows down and the houses are right on the edge of the water. They vary from old-time cracker shacks to monstrosities of opulence and everything in between. There are lots of boats heading north and we are all fighting against a strong current as we make our way northward. We wanted to rendez-vous with Loop friends Bill and Bobbie but we hit Palm Coast too early to stop. So we plan to do a Looper reunion with them and Bob and Nancy when the C-19 business is over. Palm Coast has absolutely exploded since we were here last and I would love to have a chance to explore it. I will have to be content just observing the growth from the ICW this time around and we are accompanied by a kayaker who travels with us for about a half hour. He is pacing us at 9.5 mph but is also getting a strong assist from our wake. Not to be discounted though, he still has to get himself home when he drops off from us.
We run along the barrier of Matanzas Pass and we can see the Atlantic just past the houses on our east side. Coming into St. Augustine reminds us of being here a couple of years ago, just in time to be part of the Blessing of the Fleet, which happens at the end of March. It is much quieter now. A mandatory stay-at-home order goes into effect from the governor of Florida at midnight tonight, we are praying that we can be in Jacksonville and then out of the state tomorrow or the next day without being detained. They are erecting roadblocks on all of the major highways into Florida now and many other states are also locking down so that no one can get in or out of their borders. This is becoming a little surreal. Our return to Florida could be very interesting but you know we have tried to live by the mantra of, “when life gives you choices, choose the one that will result in a better anecdote.” Gotta say that when we recount how we weathered the Great Quarantine of 2020, we will remember being blockade runners just trying to get this boat as far north and close to her new owners as we possibly can!
We pull into the mooring field in St. Augustine, on the south side of the bridge rather than the north side where we were last time. I navigate us into the field and onto our mooring ball where Jerry grabs it and secures us like we have done this a million and one times. We really like mooring balls, they are secure, inexpensive and you get to turn 360’s with the tidal change, seeing all your neighbors from every angle without worrying about whether the anchor will pull or not. The air is cool and the sun is warm and the late afternoon is calm and quite. We enjoy a healthy dinner and afterwards Jerry checks critical fluids,
which are all good and tries to figure out how to deal with our freshwater pump which is losing pressure and making showering and doing dishes problematic.
If we had a bike pump we might be able to re-pressurize it but we don’t have a pump on board so maybe we will have to go into a marina in Jacksonville to try to deal with it. We wanted to get out of Florida before we went into another marina but this may necessitate an earlier stop, we’ll make the call tomorrow. We retire early, hearing the sound of the bridge bells signaling another opening in the dusk and on put an end to our day.
Jerry calls the Bridge of Lions the next morning and we find that we have 8 minutes to get out of the mooring field and underway to make the 7AM opening. Not a problem, we have this boat down to a science now and she is started, warmed up and we slip the line to the mooring ball so that we are in the channel and ready when the bridge lifts.
It is a cool, clear morning and we make good progress northward. The waterway between Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville is one of my favorites. The area is called Palm Valley and it is gorgeous! The houses are close to the water and it is clear that this community LOVES to be outdoors.
Their pool areas and boathouse areas are given prominence whether they are glistening new multi-mullion dollar estates or little cracker shacks that are just barely hanging on to be able to pay their property taxes.
There are full kitchen areas as well as living and dining areas in or on top of many of the boat houses and the fishing must be far offshore because many of these boats have 3 or 4, 350 hp engines hanging off the sterns! And many of them have more than one boat! Wow!
We ooh and ah over each property that has cooler features than the last and eventually the waterway opens onto the Jacksonville inlet and a busy industrial area.
It is not as pretty and smells like some companies have risen to America’s increased need for paper products because the pulp mills are in full production mode as we pass.
We snake up a narrow and shallow waterway through salt marshes and marvel at what’s been missing for the last couple of weeks. There are NO airplanes anywhere! We have seen a few small, private jets but there are no contrails, no engine whine and no evidence of commercial airplanes at all. It is weird, especially as we came through the south Florida areas, where the deep blue sky is usually a crosshatched pattern of puffy, white jet trails. More evidence of how C-19 is drastically affecting how people have embarked on their new “normal.”
We pass Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island and round the corner to see Fort Clinch State Park, the site of a long ago death-march hike for our young Boy Scouts. It was really only a 10 mile hike but in the sugar sand off of Ft. Clinch the guys felt like it took forever! Rounding the bend, we are now in Georgia!!!
Cumberland Island comes into view and in a way I am glad this National Seashore park is closed. Delivering a boat is different than Looping because you need to be mindful of someone else’s time frame and pocketbook. When we were here last, we spent 3 days anchored in the area just off the ferry dock, hiking the island and exploring where JFK Jr. used to hide from the press and where he got married. We wandered the island and beach areas, catching sight of many of the wild horses that call the island home and even got to the far north and south parts of the island to see some of the homes and grounds that belonged to the Carnegie family members, back in the gilded age.
There are lots of other boats here but no tourist ferries are running now and huge signs have been erected on all the beach areas, declaring the part closed. That’s okay, we have had a long day and are content to sit on the back porch of Easy Wind. With jackets on and beach towels over our legs, we watch the sailboats that went under the bridge with us this morning, finally make their way into the anchorage and drop their hooks.
We swing on the hook all night and the wind dies down. We can hear the current gurgling against the hull and the boat moves back and forth as the tide ebbs and flows. We wave good bye to Cumberland Island as the sun is rising and turn into the channel.
Here we bypass the Kings Bay Naval Base, where we toured a nuclear sub back in our Boy Scout days. There are sub hangars and destroyers in for repair and/or reburbishment and it is an interesting sight.
We make the turn northward as a security boat comes nosing out towards us. I guess we got a little closer than he liked but as soon as it becomes clear that we are headed north, he backs off.
We have timed the tide perfectly and rather than chugging along at 9 mph, we’re fairly skipping across the water at over 13 mph. Of course, as soon as we round the north end of Cumberland Island into St. Andrew’s Sound the tide works against us and knocks us down to 6 ½.
We remember this journey well. Georgia and South Carolina are a lot of grassland-lined waterways with not a lot to see. They twist and turn like intertwined snakes and if we could go outside for this part, we surely would.
In passing Jekyll Island we notice that the ferries that normally bristle with tourists lie solitary and dejected, bobbing beside the docks today.
We round Jekyll Island into St. Simon’s Sound and are amazed to see a 656’ cargo ship lying flat on its side, surrounded by all kinds of other platforms, barges, cranes and boats. Apparently the Golden Ray overturned in September of last year with 4200 brand new cars aboard.
All crew members were rescued, the cause is as yet unknown and the Coast Guard is overseeing an operation that will slice the boat like a loaf of bread into 8 pieces that will be loaded onto barges for removal. In addition to that, all 4200 cars need to be salvaged as well. Sounds like this could take a while!
While it is a beautiful day and I am happy to be where I am with whom I am, this is my least favorite part of the trip. It is narrow and shallow and there really isn’t a lot to see. Sometimes the channel has moved a bit from where the chart says it should be and you have to rely on the crab pots and dolphins to show you where the deepest water is. It is a leap of faith sometimes, especially at low tide. We finally make the turn into Sapelo Sound, the Atlantic is right here and we are glad we didn’t go outside. It looks as if the waves are a bit smaller than forecasted but even here in the inlet Easy Wind is protesting the rough treatment.
We turn northward and into the ICW and immediately take a left into the Wahoo River, where we thankfully drop the hook and prepare to spend the evening before making the trek to Savannah tomorrow where hopefully a mechanic will try to sort out some of the issues facing us on Monday. Wahoo River is a secure and quiet anchorage and we are amused at the pelicans doing their pelican stunts and a pod of 8 or 9 dolphins comes by to say good night on their way out to dinner. Long day, but good day.
A gorgeous sunrise gives way to a gloomy day and we make our way out of Wahoo River (great anchorage) and back into the ICW.
Again, a lot of nothing to look at and the gray day makes it even less interesting. I get some work done and Jerry pilots through the first few hours. We stretched a bit yesterday in order to make today a bit shorter mileage. The last time we cruised to Savannah reminds us that once you turn into the Burnside River, it is slow going because of all the houses with big boats that line the coast and demand no-wake speeds.
We have timed our cruise well in that we arrive at Hell Gate about 2 hours after high tide in Savannah. The last time we came through here, we made much better time than we thought we would, arriving at almost low tide. We might have been able to pass through but there was a shrimper hard aground in the middle of about a five foot wide channel and all the cans were lying on their sides, yards up on dry beach. We ended up having to back out into the basin ahead of Hell Gate and wait until the shrimper re-floated. By that time there were a few other trawlers and cabin cruisers with us. We all compared notes on draft and it turned out that we had the shallowest so when the Shrimper backed out, we puckered up and lead the flotilla through, calling depth 4-5’ depth soundings as we went. It is not an experience we ever want to repeat.
Today is completely different. We have timed it much better, taking the low tide issues here very seriously. We pass through and Hell Gate has a good 15 feet of water and is yards and yards wide. The cans are floating jauntily far from the shores and we breeze through without a care. YAY!
The bank swallows dart and dive all around us as we make our slow and windy way up the Burnside River, past old antebellum style and very modern homes, all of which are HUGE!
We dock at Thunderbolt Marina by late lunchtime under billowy, gray skies, refuel, pump out and lay up at the end of the fuel dock. The day is trying unsuccessfully to brighten up and we walk into town to re-provision. Savannah is so pretty with its ancient oaks, dripping in Spanish Moss and the 6 mile round trip walk is welcome to two people who are accustomed to moving every day and who haven’t for quite a few days in a row.
We have moved from Melbourne and an 18” tide to Savannah, the land of the 8 foot tide and it is amazing how the marina changes the way it looks every few hours.
There are some monster boats in here flying the Union Jack and they either tower over the fixed area of the marina or are at eye-level, depending on the tides.
I’d love to see one of these guys get out of the marina, it is that tight!
Today is a waiting day. The marine outfit at Thunderbolt is now shut down, yesterday they had all of the department heads working but Lars has found someone who will come out to the boat to work on it in after lunch. We do laundry for the first time since leaving Tarpon Springs- those rolls of quarters sure come in handy!
Then we catch up on some work and enjoy a nice walk before returning to the boat.
We meet the folks on the boat next to ours Erin and Chris on Barefeet who, despite a stern that reads Marina Del Rey, CA. are actually from Boston and are on a slow return there. We garner local knowledge about the Cape Cod canal. It seems as if there is a possibility that we may be taking this boat to her new home as traveling is tough for her owners with the C-19 mess going on. We have done most of this journey before but we didn’t get past Mystic CT and so that canal is an unknown. It is good to have talked with people who have traversed it numerous times and we now know what to beware of what ideal conditions look like. So if we need to do it, we are ready! Time will tell.
We are sitting on the back deck and we hear and then see the first plane to fly over in a long while. It is BIG and military and it is odd that this is the only flying machine we have seen in days.
It’s now 2:30 and the mechanic, who was supposed to be here after lunch, has not shown up. We decide that we are going to go ahead and see if we can fix what we can so we can get moving again. Jerry takes apart the water filtration system as Carol indicated that the prior owner didn’t even have a filter and that this one is newly installed. Once the cartridge is pulled out, it is clear that this was the problem as it is gunked up with yucky stuff. Sure enough, Jerry reassembles the whole thing, we flip the switch on the panel, open a tap and low and behold, we have running water WITH pressure!
Next to be tackled are the bow thrusters. We pull up the mattress in the bow and underneath is a midget-sized compartment where the bow thruster lives. Jerry contorts himself into it and with me holding the light, he manages to remove all the anchoring screws without losing one to the bilge, which can be a feat sometimes!
Once the motor is removed, it is apparent that the shear pin (a sacrificial pin that is supposed to shear and break the connection between the motor and the thruster so that the motor isn’t compromised) has lived up to its name and broken into three pieces. Jerry removes the broken pieces and replaces it with the spare that was taped to the top of the motor. We are thankfully for someone’s foresightedness!
When we hit the switch, we have working thrusters again! All this sounds easy and quick. While not terribly complicated, it is as we have said on many occasions, “Everything on your boat is broken yet, you just don’t know it yet and you can fix all of it if you are able to do it upside down, backwards, left-handed and blind!”
We are pleased with the day and celebrate with a pizza for dinner before turning in.
The sun is not quite breaking the horizon when we depart Thunderbolt Marine. We have enough ambient light to see markers and so are comfortable getting under way. As we pass through the docks, the sky starts to bleed magenta onto indigo clouds behind some shrimpers who are just getting ready to go to work.
The bridge north of Savannah opens on the hour, which is 45 minutes away. UGH! We are at high tide and we chat with the bridge tender, who indicates he has a minimum of 24 feet clearance. They are not supposed to give this information out so we come up and take a peek at the clearance boards before making an irreversible commitment. The tide is against us which helps us hover until we confirm that we should be able to skinny under with room to spare.
We drive from the upper helm station and steering into the current, we make it under with about 2 feet to spare. Even when you know you should clear a bridge, it is harrowing experience until you are directly under the span looking up with room above your highest point.
We weave our way through the bulrush-edged waterway to the flooded Savannah River and cross it to the other side of the ICW. There are so many inlets near here that we take turns gaining and losing speed, with the changing current flow. The swallows snack on the ubiquitous no see-ums and pelicans crash into the water to swallow their wriggling breakfasts. The sun is up now, its light diffused behind a soft wash of pink and blue clouds. It spills liquid silver all over the surface of the water and the peace wraps around us like the softest of blankets.
At home, we are always awake for sunrise and sunset but often neglect to be really aware of them, bounded by a roof and walls as we usually are. On the water, there is never a time when we take them for granted and it is amazing how, though they may be similar, no two are exactly alike!
The day starts with a tide combined with flooding rivers that dwarf the day markers (one is actually almost completely buried)
and the crabpot floats are now a hazardous minefield of semi-submerged or popping to the surface spheres that look to ensnare the unwary. We avoid all hazards and eventually the day becomes an ebb and flow of speeding up and slowing down as we snake our way through the creeks and rivers that make up the ICW in South Carolina.
With a full moon and low tide, some of the cuts are challenging but none that demand more of Easy Wind than she is willing to give. By 4 we have finally had enough and we find the Laurel Hill anchorage, just off the ICW in the Ashepo River. It is not as secluded or as protected from the wind as we would like but we feel it will definitely do as we pick our way between crab pots and drop the hook, not too far from our neighbors’ 200 yard dock, complete with a fake coyote on it.
You can’t make up some of the stuff you see while on a voyage like this one.
We sit out back, watching the current rip past us, texting with friends from home who in their isolation are bored enough to entertain us for a while. We laugh and feel close to home and are truly blessed to call these people friends. A pair of fighter jets from the Charleston Air force Base claw their way into the sky above us and go roaring off for parts unknown.
We wait and watch until the tide changes to make sure that our anchor re-sets well. All is well and we are ready to put another week of this journey to bed. Thanks for being along with us!
Taking a day at home was much needed after our LONG but gorgeous crossing. The adrenaline that surges through your veins to keep you alert and awake during the crossing quickly melts away upon arrival, leaving most of us with the “crossing hang-over.” I remember one boat arriving in Tarpon Springs and we caught lines for him as he came into his slip in Turtle Cove Marina. He staggered off the boat, hit the head and returned declaring, “I’m getting back on my boat and sleeping for the next 24 hours. Please advise everybody I am armed and that if they knock on my boat, I WILL shoot them!”
We don’t feel quite that bad but the rest is much appreciated. We get to see my mom and some of our friends and Jerry spends the one day here fixing some of the little odds and ends around the boat that don’t work or that are broken. We re-provision as we will try to keep costs down by anchoring out as much as possible. If the weather is fair, we should be able to do this most nights until we hit the Ft. Myers and the Okeechobee Waterway.
We had planned to leave in the afternoon of the 25th but were advised by a friend that the Pinellas County Commission was meeting this morning to pass a “Shelter in Place” edict and we want to get out of here before we can’t. Fuel prices are plummeting because of international nonsense and we take advantage of it by fueling up at our local place and pay $2.18/gallon which I have NEVER seen before. Unfortunately, our bow thrusters decided to die some time between leaving the marina and the fuel dock so that just adds a challenge to the maneuverability but Jerry will deal with it. Thanks for the help, BJ!!!
We travel down the ICW over familiar waters and under familiar bridges. We really like cruising this area because the waterway is so narrow you get to see all the homes and it is very interesting. It is also a great time of the year because all the Ospreys have amazing nests and the babies have hatched so it is easy to spot an adult along with between 1 and 3 chicks in all the nests that are on the day markers.
The water here is an amazing color and we are reminded of the colors of our beloved Keys, which are now closed to visitors due to the C-19 quarantine measures. We are joined on several occasions by dolphins but the last ones are the best. A pod of 4 or 5 of them comes racing to the boat and the ride the side wake. A couple are really big and there is one baby. The biggest one is literally spinning as he swims, turning 360 degrees as he moves along beside us. Unfortunately I didn’t get my video going in time to catch it. I have NEVER seen one do this before.
We finally tuck into our favorite anchorage right near the entrance to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We are sheltered from all sides from the wind and are in deep water. We drop the anchor, set it and attach the Mantis bridle and then relax on the back deck for the first meal we have eaten today. It is nice to hole up in familiar territory. Jerry wants to get in the water with a dive mask to see if he can see what’s wrong with the thruster but I veto this because the current is running fast and I don’t think it is safe. We plan to anchor tomorrow around Casey Key and he can do it then. In the mean time we enjoy a lovely sunset and get some work attended to as the bridge lights illuminate and the stars begin to appear. After a rocky start with the thruster boycott, the day ends peacefully.
Daybreak finds us awake and ready to get under way. Crossing Tampa Bay can be bumpy under the best of conditions. Sunrise and sunset tend to kick up the first and last wind of the day and so we think that getting a jump on the sun may help us see less chop in the bay. Happily, we are right. We pull out west of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge just as the sun breaks the horizon and the bridge is a beautiful silhouette inked against the wash of rose and golden dawn. The crossing is windy but there are no freighters or cruise ships to deal with and we make it across the channel and to the other side of the Bay easily.
We come back into the ICW at Anna Maria Island which is probably one of the prettiest places in the world. Actually the entire trip today, excluding the man-made ditch between Sarasota and Venice is gorgeous. Once you get south of the Cortez Bridge, the water changes color, and could easily be mistaken for anywhere in the keys. It is breathtaking even if you have been through here a bunch of times, the colors just never get old!
The real estate along here is impressive also and the vast opulence causes me to reflect that I would much rather see stuff than have stuff, now if I could only find someone who wants the stuff I have! My kids don’t, that’s for sure! I have reached the age where divesting of things appeals to me more and more. Living on a boat for our Loop year reinforced the understanding of how little is needed to be truly happy; that value is to be had in the sights one sees and the people who move from the acquaintance column to the friend column.
Our day is long because most of the bridges need to open to accommodate Easy Wind’s air draft and a large majority of them are timed and so we have to hover and wait, sometimes 20-30 minutes for an opening, which can be tricky when the channel is narrow and the wind is whistling but we have no issues. It is sunny and cool and absolutely ideal traveling weather.
We tuck into a watery basin just off the ICW in Nokomis called Cape Haze and drop the anchor.
Tomorrow we will be in Ft. Myers and then will begin the cross-state trek to the east coast. The weather looks like it will be giving us a break, thankfully and so we are pushing ourselves a little bit and the boat not at all just so we have some fudge time if we get socked in somewhere by the weather. Easy Wind hums along happily at 17-18 rpm. It has been a really good trip so far and we feel that we have made excellent progress and are a little ahead of where we thought we would be, mostly because of the break we got for the crossing.
During the night the wind completely dies, leaving the boat and air super still. I have to get up to see what’s going on and am rewarded with lots of stars and the hooting back and forth across the basin of a pair of owls. The neighbors are all asleep and the peace is sublime. I go back to bed and the air has a hint of chill which makes it easy to get back to sleep.
We are pulling up the anchor around 6:45 and are underway with the chain, bridle and anchor rinsed off. The generator let us make some tea and coffee and we watch the world awaken as the sun makes its appearance. There is a hint of a breeze but it is much more calm than any other time we have navigated these waters. The Boca Grande pass is atypically calm and without its usual killer current and we pass Cayo Costa, glad that we hadn’t wanted to anchor there this time because there are more boats in the Pelican Bay anchorage than we have ever seen at one time.
We motor by Cabbage Key Inn, the home of Jimmy Buffet’s song, Cheeseburger in Paradise and continue into Gasparilla Bay. Again, the water is calmer than we have ever seen it. The last time we were through here, we were navigating north in a driving rain and cracking thunderstorm. We could barely see the bow of the boat and the storm tracker on our Iphone was completely red where we were. We were never hit by lightning but later realized that it must have come close enough to completely fry the motherboard in Jerry’s laptop. Thank goodness it isn’t like that today.
The sun is spilling gold all over the water when we become totally surrounded by a pod of dolphin. There must be 20 of them and they are everywhere. Some are riding the bow and others are riding the wakes on either side of the boat. There are 4 or 5 little guys with them and they leap and splash all around us. We are totally captivated and shoot lots of pictures in hopes that one or two will turn out. They stay with us for about 20 minutes and I can’t help but think that I would be hard pressed to think of a better way to start the day!
The cruise to Ft. Myers is very pretty and we travel a different way than we usually do. Typically we stay in a marina in Estero Beach because we love the restaurants and the feel to the area but the C-19 has all restaurants shut down now, so that they only offer carryout items. We are not traveling to the Keys on the west coast so there is no point in staying in Estero so we traverse a new waterway which brings us straight into the Caloosahatchee River, which will ultimately become the Okeechobee Canal. We’ve been to Ft. Myers by boat and the channel is amazingly skinny through here. I think because people are becoming stir crazy with the safe at home edicts, they all feel like it’s Saturday and there are flotillas of boats going both ways.
We pull into the Ft. Myers Municipal Yacht Basin and fuel up. We don’t need fuel but if things start to shut down further along, we want the farthest range we can get. So, we plan to fuel up wherever it is easily available and the lower prices make it much more palatable also. We get our first pump out as well and tie up for the night, taking a much needed walk to stretch our legs and to grab a couple of tomatoes and some milk at the nearby Publix.
We are walking through another ghost town. I think the sign companies are the only ones doing lots of business because every restaurant and bar seems to be sporting a new carry-out-available sign. We opt to limit the amount of time we spend in public and choose to eat aboard, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and giving thanks for being warm again finally! The sun sets behind one of the bridges and lights wink on across it. Another day is in the books.
The day dawns chilly and clear though the weather report warns of possible patchy fog and later a scorcher of a temperature at 93 degrees.
As the sun rises, the wind picks up and though we do see some fog under one of the bridges, it is lying at surface level and looks like the fog that fog machines used to spill across concert stages in the old days.
We are joined by a couple of boats and the other power boat and Easy Wind gently but firmly out-distance the sail boat to make it to the first opening of the Franklin Lock.
Even if you miss an opening and have to wait, this isn’t a big deal here as the raise is only about a foot. Thinking back to some of the ones in Canada that raised us 65 feet and more made it a bit more imperative to make any available opening. Otherwise you would have to wait hours for the lock to fill and then drain again or vice versa. In comparison, this is a piece of cake!
The canal is prettier than I remember and we pass houses that represent old and new Florida along the banks. These alternate with acres of scrub and wide-open cattle pasture land that brings to mind the Florida rendered so perfectly by Christopher Still.
The sun is fierce and it is windy but it is also finally warm enough to drive from our upper helm. We like the perspective from the top and we are even able to catch sight of manatees in time to avoid them. The reports say that the C-19 virus hates sunshine and well-ventilated spaces, so again we feel blessed to be sheltering safely where we are!
The second lock raises us 8 feet and the third, at Moore Haven, just a foot and now this ditch is more like I remember it. Miles and miles of nothing followed by field of sugar cane as far as the eye can see. We have been traveling with a 65’ Canadian boat, since this morning, called Lady Caradot.
They out-distance us as we travel at a more sedate pace but each lock has them waiting for us and while they could have ditched us on the third lock because we were pretty far back, they were kind and advised the lock master that we were back here and they all waited for us patiently.
There is a fire in the distance. The acrid smoke assaults our noses and when the wind shifts, it is snowing ash all around us. Yuck! The wind is a constant 17 mph, gusting 26 and that will compromise Plan A for today. We had planned on tying off on the Clewiston dolphins for the night before crossing Lake Okeechobee but we cannot take the chance of the wind catching our stern and putting us on the rocks (which are very close to the dolphins).
So, we will tuck into Roland Martin’s marina in Clewiston. We got fuel here on our last trip across so we are pretty familiar with the waters.
Sam, the grizzled old dock-,master who has been here for at least the last 10 years, greets us and quickly sandwiches us in between Lady Caradot and a 58 footer on the dock so if we want to try to leave early, it will be tricky!
We scrub Easy Wind rather than just rinsing her down, which is our custom when we reach a marina. There is ash everywhere on the deck but we are able to get her shiny and clean and pretty soon the AC is running and all is right with the world.
This is a fun marina under normal circumstances, with a grill and a tiki bar but all of that is shut down tight. Given the fact that we are docked right below the tiki bar, we are kind of glad it is shuttered and quiet. With what is going on in the world right now, we are happy that we provisioned the boat well and choose to eat on board where we know who has prepared our food! The crew on the yacht behind us is grilling burgers and swilling beer and a Limpkin stands on the canal bank hollering for his mate.
We learn that Lady Caradot will be cruising to the same spot we have pegged as a maybe stopping spot for tomorrow night, so we’ll see when they depart. They were out early today so maybe they will be out early tomorrow too. The trick is that you have to back out of here, along the line of boats on the T-head in a very narrow and shallow canal and then do a 180 in a little basin before exiting out through a lock that is pretty much always open and then tip toe out into the Lake. Should be interesting.
Well, we wait and wait but don’t see life aboard either of the boats that has us sandwiched in. We formulate our plan to swing the stern out, pivoting on a ball fender and get under way. Not having working bow thrusters on a single screw boat is a bit of a challenge, especially in a narrow, shallow and rock-lined canal, but Jerry is a very good captain. My job is to deal with the fenders and lines and stay quiet while he concentrates on extracting us. The departure is a success and Jerry makes it look easy, although I know it isn’t. Even though the boat was clean last night, I guess ash continued to fall and the decks are now dotted with more of it. I rinse her down again with river water and she looks better.
Sam reinforced our impressions from the last time we came through here, which means staying in the middle of channel until you are almost all the way across the rim route at the bottom of the lake at marker 7. There is no water if you stray even a little bit from the channel.
We scare a gator or two on the way out into the lake and it really looks as if you should be aground in the marsh grass that borders the narrow channel. Along the edges of the Lake, great columns of smoke are billowing skyward and the charry scent reaches us even way out n the water. We come up with the idea that they may be burning the fallow cane fields in order to prepare to plant the next crop. Otherwise, we have no idea why there would be 3 fires big enough to be detected from this far away.
After a while, we make it past marker 7 and turn north in deep enough water to relax a bit and sure enough we can now see the other two big boats finally underway behind us! We are almost across the lake when Lady Caradot laps us, burning lots of dinosaurs in the process.
The Myakka Lock is open and the lockmaster gives both of us permission to pass through the chamber. YAY!!! We pass through the lock and the old railroad bridge, which is also open (I think it always is) and enter another man-made ditch. There is an almost fluorescent green covering the water on the shores of the canals. What the heck!?!?! Fertilizer run-off? Frightening!
There are gators on the banks (one of the reasons Jerry hasn’t gone under the boat to look at the thrusters!).
Lady Caradot turns into River Forest but it is too early for us to stop. So we decide to continue to the Stuart area. It is an uneventful trip and we make it to the St Lucie Lock, which will thankfully be our last lock until we get to Virginia.
Finally, Observer has caught up with us and we both enter the lock and wait to be dropped 12 feet. I love the sign on the wall!
I guess it’s there in case you weren’t sure of which way you were supposed to go? We exit the lock and the wind, which has been building since we crossed the lake is now strong and gusting to 24 mph.
Entering Stuart is like coming into another world. There are the obligatory huge south Florida mansions with mega-yachts docked out front but the sheer number of boats on the water is staggering. There are mooring fields that must have hundreds of boats on mooring balls and hundreds more at the docks along the shore.
We have to navigate 3 bridges, all of which are very close to one another, very narrow and we need to open one of them. Boats are racing from all around us to get in line to go through once Roosevelt Bridge opens and then it’s a free-for-all! The water is choppy, the wind is literally whistling and things get VERY interesting for a couple of minutes as we rock and roll our way through, following Observer and holding a dozen smaller boats off that want to come the opposite direction.
The St. Lucie River is busy and rough and we are getting tired. Experience says that when the captains get tired, it is better to find a spot for the night than to get into trouble. We have 4 or 5 anchorages pegged as possibilities, some that are great shelter from the wind and others, described as great holding. The problem with anchorages on Aqua Maps is that you never know how many boats may be sharing the space and whether there will even be room for you once you get there. We opt for Hoggs Cove anchorage because it is large and there are a few VERY big boats in the anchorage. It isn’t crowded, there is plenty of swing room and while it will be exposed to the wind, the forecast calls for the winds to diminish as evening falls.
We set the hook, attach the bridle and stop and restart the IPad. We have learned that leaving the IPad on for a while is the best way to ensure that the boat is not moving. We sit and watch, bobbing up and down and listening to the wind whistle by us. We are firmly in and after a bit the wind thankfully does start to die down a bit and we shut off the IPad.
We have some nice neighbors anchored nearby. When we anchor out, we prefer to come in and stake our space early rather than picking our way through a minefield of anchored boats later in the day. This strategy works well and we watch as boats come in, nose around and drop their hooks only to pull them up, re-situate and try again. Finally, everyone seems settled in and we enjoy the sunset.
A walk-about near midnight assures me that we are still holding well and the stars are pinprick bright. We finally have about a quarter moon and Venus joins it in throwing sparkling reflections upon the water. Beautiful.
The morning dawns clear and doesn’t hold the chill that it has for the last 2 weeks. Everything is damp, which is not unusual but it will all dry out once the sun shows its face. There are no signs of life from any of our neighbors as we slip anchor, rinse off copious amounts of mud from it (no wonder it was such a strong hold) and get under way.
The water is calm for a minute but then a thousand fishermen have the bright idea that the best way to socially distance is to get their boats up and out the pass as early as possible and we are blinded by the rising sun and rocked and rolled by buzzing boats all around us until we get to the inlet and turn north while they all continue east. The sun is out of our eyes, thankfully and we are now in the ICW and headed north.
After a while the water turns from tea-stained brown to azure against white sandy bottoms and pods of dolphin bring their babies to play with us.
Again we have some of the big ones riding the bow wave (this one blows a rainbow for us!) and some of the smaller adults and babies ride the mid-ship wakes on each side of the boat. They are learning to roll sideways to make eye contact and some of them even spin completely around like little torpedoes. We take turns driving and talking to the dolphins because…who can resist them?!?!
Later, we see a huge ray leap free of the water, shiver a little and dive back in and a good-sized sea turtle comes up for air and then darts away as it catches sight of us.
We tuck into the Melbourne North anchorage which is just behind the bridge and causeway. This should shelter us from the SE wind a little bit anyway. The forecast looks ugly for the next couple of days with a cold front marching down on us, pushing high winds ahead of it. We love the Windy app, which allows us to see what’s going on in any area that might affect us and its projections are correct.
The night is rough, the shelter from the causeway illusive and my captain spends the night on the couch keeping watch until a few hours before dawn when it calms down a little bit and I make him go to bed and sleep for a few hours.
The forecast hasn’t changed since last night. We confirmed with the owners that we would keep going as long as it was physically safe to do so and they were good with this plan, deferring their previous intention to join us in Charleston, SC since traveling with the C-19 stuff going on has become a bit problematic.
We advised them that the winds were forecast to be constant 20 mph+ with gusts to 45 by nightfall and that we felt the safest course of action would be to marina the boat for the night. They were in agreement. So, we take advantage of the relative morning calm (10-15 mph) to bring Easy Wind into the Telemar Bay Marina in Melbourne.
We came in here for fuel when we were on our Loop and were surrounded by kayakers, water bikers and lots of other weekend sporting fans. This time we see only one water-biker. The safer-at-home edict is definitely affecting how people live their lives.
We fuel up and spend the next couple of hours scouring the boat. Anchoring out is less expensive but the mud that sometimes comes up on the anchor and chain makes it impossible to keep the decks clean, even when you do your best to rinse the rode as it comes in, which we always do. If carpets or entry mats haven’t been cleaned in a while, it makes it to where we track dirty footprints onto spotless, dewy decks too which is frustrating.
I bought a squeegee and have been able to keep the front windows clean but all the side windows were crusted with salt and who-knows-what-else and it felt good to get them cleaner. I still want to take some CLR to all the windows to remove the scale build up but the wind is kicking up and that will wait till next time. At least we can now see through them.
We spend the rest of the day listening to the wind start to whistle and snap the flags around us. We make sure our water tanks are full, catch up on work, accounting, bill paying and all the other essentials of life that get down graded in importance when we are continuously under way. An Osprey clings to his nest, feathers blowing and seems perturbed by the mounting winds, as he cries to his mate. The Osprey hatching on the east coast looks to be a week or so behind the west coast as most birds are actively sitting on eggs rather than feeding hatchlings here.
We make an obligatory run to Publix to provision for our run to the boarder since we plan on not stopping at marinas again until somewhere in Georgia, if the weather cooperates. We run into Captain Crusty and his “Admiral” Dorothy who are aboard Magic and are staying here. We came down the river system with them when we were Looping and we all had Thanksgiving dinner together at Turner’s in Mobile. We tried to rendez-vous with Moondance’s Bob and Nancy but we ended up anchoring out and so missed seeing them. We must adhere to commandment #1 when on a boat: “Thou shalt have no schedule” even if it means missing catching up with friends.
Easy Wind is clean and happy and so Week 2 is in the books or should I say, Captain’s Log?!!
It has been so nice to be back on the water. A different boat, a different journey but oh so reminiscent of our Loop journey, in that it is the two of us alone again sharing sights and experiences unique to us.
Arriving in Mandeville by rental car allowed us to bring a lot of provisions with us and it was a good thing we had because we arrived at the height of the first wave of panic over C-19, which had people hoarding food and paper products. We went into a Walmart neighborhood market to buy what we still needed. There were zero paper products on the shelves, and no meat, eggs or milk. Fortunately, we don’t use a lot of meat when we are cruising so we were able to find most of the things that we consider to be staples and though we did check a more upscale market for eggs and TP, the story was the same there.
We dropped our provisions back at the boat and because we had left home at 3 in the morning, gained an hour of time change and arrived in Mandeville in the early afternoon, with the rest of the day before us, we decided to go to New Orleans since Jerry had never been there. We made our way across the 25 miles of bridge that spans Lake Pontchartrain and were able to see the Super Dome and downtown as we came off the bridge. Passing a number of extensive cemeteries, Jerry got to see how gorgeous all of the above-ground mausoleums are. The ones on the east side of the road were the upscale marble numbers while those on the west side were of crumbling concrete, demonstrating how social inequality follows people even into the afterlife.
We exited the highway and followed a gorgeous tree-lined, azalea popping boulevard that had us passing sweet ante-bellum mansions cheek-to-jowl with modest shotgun houses, sporting peeling paint and crumbling stonework. We dumped out on the waterfront and traversed it until we came to Jackson square. The whole experience was like something out of a post apocalypse movie. Where there are usually bustling crowds, there were empty streets, with a few people here and there but nothing like what is normal. The bars and restaurants were mostly shuttered with a few half-heartedly trying to make rent by hawking food to-go. I absolutely cannot imagine what the economic fallout of all of this is going to be.
We parked the rental car and explored on foot, taking selfies along the Mighty Mississippi and in Jackson Square and then one more on Bourbon Street, which was so empty you could have shot a cannon down the street and not hit a soul. There is a hollow feeling here that I fear is but a preamble of the devastation yet to come. We grabbed a couple of ice cream cones from one of the only establishments still open and headed back across the bridge to get ready for departure the following day.
Up early, we returned our rental car to an Enterprise lot that was bristling with cars jammed into every conceivable space on and around the lot. The young man who gave us a lift back described how lack of business was forcing branch closings right and left. We got Easy Wind warmed up and spooked a gator off the twisty-turny channel that took us out to the lake.
The lake resembled frothy chocolate milk and a few hours later after a pretty rough ride we reached the Rigolets where we fueled up. This boat is new to her owners and I guess the seller hadn’t used her in a while and so no one had any idea how much fuel was in the tanks. We were pleasantly surprised to only need about 112 gallons. On we went out into the Mississippi Sound where we were greeted with more of the same. Not much to see, partly cloudy and sort of grim, the day passed and we tucked in out of the wind finally at the Gulfport, Mississippi Municipal Marina.
This marina was completely rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina and is a really nice facility that can hold about 700+ boats, according to the young man who checked us in and loaned us a splitter cord for the night. I would come back to visit sometime in the future when we have more time, as there are lovely white sand beaches on either side of the marina and it looks as if the town might be fun to explore but we are tired after a long day and tuck in pretty early.
Up early the next morning, with a goal of getting to a free dock in Gulf Shores (if crossing Mobile Bay doesn’t look too awful), we leave with the flags still standing straight out and brace ourselves for another kind of gray and windy day. At least it isn’t raining. We pass oil platforms with no evident activity and wonder if this is due to the catastrophically low oil prices, the C-19 or whether it may just be normal for this time of year.
There isn’t a lot to see and we chug along, chatting about the cataclysmic events that are rocking the world right now. The economic fallout is almost more frightening than the possibility of reducing our world population by a couple of percentage points. I know this is not politically correct to say but I really wonder where our leadership is right now. An incredible opportunity has been lobbed up to lead with strength to reunify our nation with itself and rest of the world and it has resulted in finger pointing and blame shifting – a swing and a miss by any account. Nothing unites a people faster than a common enemy but truly our enemy is not another nation and that seems lost on the current administration. I don’t know what the answer is and sadly I don’t see it in any of the other candidates running for office either. Time will tell, I guess.
We get our first glimpse of Mobile Bay and it looks totally doable so we continue on across. It is windy and bumpy but not terrible and we make it across and safely into the ICW.
Thank goodness! I like cruising much better when there is something to look at and we cruise a couple of miles to an abandoned warehouse dock where we tie up to the pylons for the night. The current is swift so this is a little challenging but we work well together and after adjusting lines and fenders for a while, we are satisfied that we will hold well, even when the tide turns.
This area is amazing. We are right across from Lulu’s restaurant and just upstream from Tacky Jack’s.
The last time we were through here, these waterfront restaurants were bursting at the seams with people eating and drinking, playing beach volleyball to the live music that was pounding out from enormous speakers. It now resembles a ghost town.
Bars have been closed down by state and county edicts and restaurants can only serve to-go orders and while we know this is available, because we called thinking we might want to carry food out, we see absolutely no activity at all. We decide to make a meal aboard and we enjoy the view from the back deck of the boat while we eat. We sleep well, Jerry especially. I know this because I felt and then saw one barge and pusher pass us, rocking us gently on its wake and I whispered, “barge” and he didn’t even stir.
Leaving in the morning is a simple affair of just releasing lines and giving a gentle push away because we are at slack tide and off we go, passing the silent restaurants and moving along the ICW again under gray skies.
We pass barges loaded with the cutest little fish houses. They are square concrete pyramids with the top flattened and have openings on all sides. It is nice to see this dedication to re-establishing reefs that have been damaged or destroyed by human activity.
We pull into the Wharf for fuel and it starts to rain – typical! We don’t really need fuel but this is a new boat to us and we want an idea of our fuel-burn so that we are able to plan the trip better. We top off and fill our water tanks and when we do the math, we find that the boat is burning between 3 and 4 gallons per hour and since there is only one engine, that’s pretty good! We can now figure out our range capability and plan future fuel stops more efficiently.
The day is gray and uneventful and we decide that stopping at the Ft. Walton Municipal Free dock would make the most sense, economically and timing wise. We bypassed this stop on our Loop thinking that it was too full and possibly too shallow but we have read the reviews on active captain and we should have at least 8 feet of depth on the T-head, which is fortunately empty. We pull in and tie up. The other residents look like permanent sailboat liveaboards. One is occupied by a young woman, another by a young man and the third by an old man. There seems to be community here as they are chatting about needing ice and who is going to the market.
We call the local police to inform them that we are here (it is Saturday and the park system is closed) and lock up the boat to go re-provision at Publix. We are hearing horror stories about long lines and no products at home but here, all is normal. We buy the few things we think we will need to get from here to Tarpon, taking into account the fact that if the weather shifts, we may be stuck in Carrabelle for a few days.
Back at the boat we make a great feast of Publix fried chicken (we NEVER eat this at home) and some fruit and chips. A brief shower has driven the sketchies from the park but the drizzle lightens and people on paddleboards take advantage of the spotty sunshine as sunset approaches. We watch, a little puzzled, as the young man casts the lines off his sailboat. He leaves the lines on the dock and walks to the bow where he starts to haul on a line and his little boat moves gracefully out of her slip. It becomes evident that he has an anchor a few hundred yards away and when he has maxed out the allowed number of days on the free dock, he hauls his boat out and anchors it nearby to spend the required number of nights off the dock before he can legally return. It’s actually genius and it occurs to us that these folks who might have been considered on the “fringe” of society may be the ones expressly equipped to thrive if our world devolves into surviving by wit and will and not needing a lot to get by!
I sleep well but Jerry is vigilant due to the nature of the crowd attracted to a municipal park. He is up several times during the night to check on things but fortunately there are no incidents. We are up before dawn, making tea and coffee for the day. We tend to wait to eat breakfast until we are under way because it breaks up the day a little bit.
A little duck swims ahead of our boat towards the rising sun, wanting us to go with him but we give it a few more minutes to let the sun shed enough light so we can see the day markers.
The sun is trying to peek through the clouds and we wish we could clear them away to reveal the blue behind them but it is to no avail. At least we get splashes of sunshine here and there. As we approach one of the bridges to the beaches we see flowing movement at the waterline and aren’t really sure what it is until we get closer. Hundreds and hundreds of Cormorants must have overnighted on the bridge bases and are now in full-on migration mode. They fly just above the water in a black flowing line and resemble one long, undulating snake rather than a flock of individual birds all bent on reaching the same destination. Part of what I love about boating is seeing things that you otherwise would never even be aware of much less be lucky enough to see. This photo is of some stragglers who weren’t part of the water-line hugging group; the renegades flying in the face of conformity!
From a distance, coming through Panama City and Mexico Beach reveals the resilience of man and nature. Two years ago, this area was a sea of blue tarps and broken and twisted trees. The oaks were mangled, with no limbs longer than a couple of feet and the pines were either denuded or literally snapped off, leaving forests of protruding pencil-point stumps.
Now we see no evidence of blue tarps (though I am sure some probably exist on the non-waterfront homes), a testimony to decent insurance and probably some government grant funding. The oaks are still mangled but there are surprisingly abundant tufts of green along the broken branches doing their best to create the kind of shade that only an old oak can. The pines that were left standing have also sprouted a green fuzz along their branches and the undergrowth has rallied to hide the pencil-point stumps. It is amazing to see what has happened in two short years. It gives one hope that even after devastation, growth and abundance are still possible.
I spoke too soon because as soon as you enter the canal that ties the Panama City area to the Apalachicola area, the wreckage literally still surrounds you. Bent and twisted trees line this ditch which under the best of circumstances threatens to never end. It is 40 miles of narrow S-turns edged on all sides by a lot of devastation and swamp grass.
Our plan for the day was to try to get past Apalachicola and out the pass near Carrabelle because we have a weather window for this one 24 hour period and if we miss that, we either spend 3 or more days twiddling our thumbs in Carrabelle or we give the Easy Wind more of a rough crossing than we would ideally like to. We have been alternating driving and napping in anticipation of a possible crossing and have it timed perfectly so that this should be doable but the current in the ditch is much stronger than expected and we are losing time rapidly. Night falls as we get to Apalachicola and if that weren’t enough of a challenge (the channel is well marked), we come across an active dredge line that the NAV alerts mentioned might be there – we were hoping the job was finished and they would be gone. The dredge line is actively dredging right in the channel and remembering our Captain’s training, we radio to ask how they want us to proceed. We are delighted when we decipher the southern slur that is so common to watermen and understand that he is volunteering an escort to take us along his “hot line” and get us to the channel where he hasn’t got any men or machinery. We follow our escort and are finally clear. Over the years it has always been gratifying to have things that we learned during our training pop up in real life but we have lost some valuable time here and now need to reassess if attempting the crossing still makes sense.
We listen to the NOAA weather forecast, scour Marv’s Weather Service for his wind and wave forecast and it is pretty clear that we either go now or we sit for days. We feel good, the boat has plenty of fuel and is running well and we unanimously give it a thumbs up to proceed, wanting to give Easy Wind her best chance at a non-demanding crossing. Jerry goes into the engine compartment to check oil and give everything a once over and all appears to be good.
We head out the Carrabelle cut in pitch darkness, which actually doesn’t faze us because the last time we came out this cut we were in pea soup fog that barely allowed us to see the bow of our boat. At least now we can easily see the markers and we navigate the cut into open water to find the conditions as predicted; we can’t see it but we can sure feel the gentle swells with no large chop or rollers and now the die is cast, we are Tarpon Springs bound. The problem is that we have no cell service and so cannot let the boat owners know of our intent. We have family and a friend who know we were contemplating the crossing if all looked good so we know we aren’t out without a soul knowing what we are doing but I don’t like possibly causing the owners to worry about their boat.
The skies have cleared and the stars are amazingly bright here away from the small amount of light pollution this area produces. It looks like a child threw a handful of diamonds against the black velvet dome above us and while some stuck and glimmer there, others scattered over the surface of the water reflecting their light in a mirror image of those above. It is breathtaking!
There is no way to do the Gulf crossing without traversing a good part of it in the dark and this is the payoff. Last time we had fog the entire way and saw almost nothing, this time we have perfectly clear skies and tons of stars, maybe next time we will have a full moon (we have no moon at all tonight)!
We alternate two-hour shifts, taking turns staring at our chart plotter and a lot of blackness and napping and the time passes quickly. During one shift change I come up to see Jerry hanging out the top of the Dutch door talking to goodness only knows who! I edge up next to him and see that we have a pair of ghost dolphins riding along side of us. They look like white torpedoes racing through the water right by our side door and they jump as if to greet us. Again, these are the best parts of boating!
I am on shift as the sun rises and it is absolutely magnificent. I can now see the gently rolling swells as they bleed from gray to gold to rose and then to blue as the sun breaks free of the horizon. We each take one more cat nap but we both love this part of the trip too much to spend it asleep. We see the loons that we only heard in the foggy darkness on our last crossing, when we wondered if we had imagined the sound at 50 miles off shore in Florida! Because the water is so flat, it is easy to see any aberration and we see fish jumping, lots of Loons and a family of dolphin in the distance, though none of them wants to come and play with us just yet. Flying fish leap up and skitter away from us, sensing a danger that is all in their imaginations and we are overcome with awe for all the life we see around us.
When the sun is high, its rays dive deep into the water inking it the color blue I remember so well from my childhood when we would go fishing in the Keys and cross from the emerald green waters into the Gulf Stream. That cobalt blue has a richness and depth of color that is unmatched, and we soak it in. The day is magnificent, warm in the sun and cool in the shade, in other words…perfect.
Our auto pilot works well and has a remote control which allows us to sit on the bow and up on the flying bridge and keep our bow pointed towards Tarpon Springs.
The sun arcs high and begins to descend and through the distant haze we finally see the power plant stack that marks the mouth of the Anclote River. 300 miles and 33 hours later, we are almost home! What a blessing this daylight crossing has been. Last time we had left earlier in the day and arrived here in time for sunrise, missing all the beauty we have been part of today. Most of Jerry’s charter crossings have been going from Tarpon Springs to Carabelle and northward. This is the first crossing we have done together since we finished our own Loop and we are truly grateful for this opportunity.
We arrive at the newly renovated City Docks and our buddy Mike is there to catch lines along with Dillon who works there. It is slack tide and the wind mercifully decides to grant us peace by subsiding and our docking is smooth and easy and we have arrived at the end of the first week of moving Easy Wind closer to her owners. We will take some time to figure out what happens from here. Will enough marinas be left open during the C-19 lockdown to allow us to refuel? We don’t really need marinas but we do need fuel to finish this job.
Makin Memories is currently under extensive galley renovations. Having not had much vacation this year, we grabbed the opportunity to do a quick get-away to Costa Rica. What follows is the description of our too-short stay in an incredibly gorgeous country. We would go back in a heart beat!
The adventure begins! We had enough points to make the 6:45 AM departure easier by staying near the Tampa airport the night before. Up and at ‘em at 3:30, we showered, used the fantastic new long-term parking lot and train and arrived at the Tampa airport to bypass part of TSA so they could train a sniffer puppy who was very enthusiastic in his duties, wiggling in circles around the passengers and finding nothing amiss, at least while we were near.
We ran into Tully and Catherine as we zig-zagged back and forth in the check-in lines. They were on their way to NC for Thanksgiving with Catherine’s family. Jerry and Tully got to talk strategy for Al’s retirement roast for a few moments and then we sat for a bit waiting to board. The people-watching was entertaining, as always. People with little dogs in carriers, others who looked like they opted out of changing from their bedclothes to come to the airport and others dressed to the nines in 4-inch heels and nightclub attire. It never fails to amaze us what people decide to travel in. The best was the New Yorker, who could barely make the legal ride-height requirement at Disney, who was sporting a hat larger than he was and as he got closer, we could see that he was wearing not one, not two but three hats! A New York Yankees ball cap and then 2 Stetsons on top of that. We shrugged and agreed that there really was no way for him to sensibly pack them!
The plane ride was a couple of hours and was easy. Seeing the route along the ICW that we navigated on the first part of our Loop brought back memories. Being able to see the Keys and reefs where we have snorkeled was amazing and we both sat transfixed by the perspective we had. Not having a route map left us guessing that we came across the Gulf and over the Yucatan to head further south. The beaches gave way to dense greenery which folded upwards into lushly forested hills and higher up it appeared as if a woman’s gauzy, green scarf had floated over and settled gently onto the peaks and valleys of the mountains.
Arriving in Costa Rica was like being parachuted onto the set of Jurassic Park or King Kong. The sun was shining on us in the bowl of San Jose but the surrounding mountain tops were shrouded in swathes of misty clouds that ribboned in and out of the jungle tops. We rented a car from Geraldo who looked at Jerry’s driver’s license and asked Jerry if he knew what people who shared a name were called. “Brothers?” Jerry asked. Geraldo grinned and stated, “No, we are tocayos!” And so we learned a new Spanish word (tocayo=name-twin) probably the first of many new words!
We arrived at the hotel (Doubletree San Jose) and were amazed to find the lobby totally open-aired and decorated for Christmas.
It reminded me a little bit of the hotel lobby where Bitzi and I stayed in Kauai when I was pregnant with Leland. The hotel is lovely, designed in terra-cottaed, arcing walkways from which rooms and suites branch off for maximum privacy. They upgraded us which was very nice, giving us access to free breakfast and cocktail hour drinks and snacks. The sun was setting as we enjoyed a beer by the pool, listening to all the different bird calls and we caught sight of the Great Kiskaddees who make homes in the surrounding trees. We enjoyed a fabulous meal at the open-air, pool-side restaurant and watched the stars peep out of the sunset colors above the hotel grounds.
A quick workout in the gym and a great breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs with local pastries and fantastic sausages in Hilton Honors Club geared us up to hit the road. We did a quick recon of the city of San Jose and then beat it out of town towards the mountains. We have never been huge fans of cities but I would really like to go back one day to visit the Cemetario Obrero, which looked really cool. On a wave of traffic, we were swept past its raised mausoleums and beautiful statuary with no way to pull over and explore it. I always love visiting graveyards in foreign countries but this one will have to wait.
Most of the day was spent riding up, down and around mountains with breathtaking views. We were in sunshine one moment and shrouded in mist the next. We broke up the drive in the town of Zarcero where the locals were decorating a park filled with topiaries in front of a twin spired church.
We HAD to stop and explore here. The church was open-aired and simply lovely, standing watch over the town since “El ano de Senor 1907.” Later we found out that this is one of only 6 or 7 spots to make the Atlas Obscura’s Costa Rican list (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/parque-francisco-alvardoa)
Back on the road, we maneuvered around semis and buses that had to swing wide on blind curves to make it around them without losing paint. Jerry relaxed into his Mario Andretti manual driving mode and we made decent time, arriving in La Fortuna to get out, stretch, enjoy some sangria with lunch and explore for a bit before circumnavigating the Arenal volcano, which unfortunately was shrouded in dense cloud.
We found our Airbnb and sat out on the room’s balcony to just chill and take in the view of Lake Arenal. The air is cool and damp and the birds are amazing. Our balcony is surrounded by various kinds of ginger, verbena, papaya, palms and some dense shrubs that I can’t identify. The birds are beautiful colors and are very social, especially when Jerry plays their own calls on his phone from the ornithology app he has.
We were swarmed by scarlet rumped caciques, hummingbirds and social fly catchers, all of whom acted like an intruder had come into their midst when they heard the calls emanating from his phone!
The bnb kitten joined us for a bit of purring and perching before running off to join her mama and leaving us to soak up the sights and sounds of this jungle paradise. We can see the sides of the volcano but owing to the dense mist and low clouds I wonder if we will ever see the cone.
We have a 9:30 reservation at the Arenal Biological Reserve but we are up early, thinking maybe we would hike the lava trails before arriving there. Unfortunately, those trails didn’t open until 8 so we went ahead and drove onto Arenal just as the ticket booth and restaurant were opening. We checked in and asked if we might do the tour earlier. The man replied that if we wanted to go immediately, he would change our reservation. Knowing that we would free up a lot of the rest of the day, we opted to do just that. We had chosen a self-guided tour, which in retrospect was still probably a good option due to the fact that once we were in the park, it began to drizzle and then pour. We were dressed appropriately in rain gear and hiking shoes and with an umbrella and a shower cap to protect the camera, we took our time walking through the gardens and into the canopies while guides hurried their charges past us. If the weather had been good, using a guide would have been the best choice but given the conditions, we were okay with the way we explored the park.
It’s called a rainforest for a reason and it was amazing to hear and see all the birds during the lulls in the rain. The rain roared onto the canopy and that roar echoed as the water cascaded down from leaf to leaf until we were surrounded by walls of water cascading all around us.
The torrents came and went, interspersed with periods of calm, during which the birds and frogs immediately started calling and darting around. It was magical! We descended a steep path to the waterfalls, which were running hard from the rain and torrents of muddy water poured into a river of café au lait.
A shaft of sunlight penetrated the canopy to spotlight a Blue Morpho butterfly before the rain resumed and forced it into hiding. What a treat to see the iridescent blue of this gorgeous butterfly in the wild!
We navigated several hanging bridges that spanned the gaps between mountain sides, allowing us a bird’s eye view of the canopies beneath us. They were not stable at all and when more than one person was on them, they jerked and swayed so that keeping one’s footing was precarious at best but the view, even with the pouring rain, was amazing!
We finished up the walk and celebrated with some coffee and hot chocolate. The temperature was comfortable even when we were wet but hours of being wet can still be a bit chilly so we were happy to get back in the car and dry off a bit.
The main mission was to find sloths and we both realized that without an expert to help us spot them, we might walk right past them and never know it so we decided to go to the Sloth Park which seemed too touristy and way too close to the town of La Fortuna to actually have sloths but we opted to try it out anyway. They guarantee you will see two breeds of sloths and our hopes brightened.
Eliezer was our guide and we set off into the jungle with a couple from Vancouver and a family from Texas in tow. Almost immediately Eliezer spotted an Aricari, a small breed of toucan. He set up his monocular and we each got to see it. He even took photos with each of our cameras so that we could preserve the memory.
He educated us about how we could tell the difference between 2 and 3 toed sloths (the 3 toed are grayish green with algae and are most closely related to anteaters while the 2 toed ones are buff-brown and are related most closely to the armadillo). They can live at least 3 decades and will stay with their babies for 6 months and then leave them to roam about the jungles.
The babies stay in the same area until they are about 3 years-old when they are full grown and then they will start to roam as well. This particular park had a lot of sloths that were young and they thrive here because there are no real predators like jaguars and ocelots, which are prevalent in their other habitats.
We were blessed to see many 3 toed sloths and even one 2 toed sloth that was missing one hand. Eliezer thought he might have tried to cross the street and gotten hurt that way but he seemed to be doing okay with just one hand. I was pretty proud when I actually spotted one sloth before Eliezar pointed it out to us but the others that he showed us, I never would have seen were it not for his direction. We also saw a swarm of honeybees on the side of a tree, protecting their queen as they searched for a new home. Eliezer said they would stay on that tree about 20 days while scouts looked for a new home for the colony – it was amazing!
We identified a huge termite nest that, when touched, seemed to come alive with tiny termites. We were challenged to taste them, which I did but Jerry opted out of. There was a hint of mint and a tiny crunch and not much more to them than that. We also found wild anise which is supposed to be an effective, natural bug deterrent and the smell was wonderful.
All in all, the Sloth Park is an amazing place to learn about these adorable little animals and we would highly recommend it. It was the perfect way to feel very thankful on a Costa Rican Thanksgiving Day! We returned to town and ended up at a restaurant that advertised typical Costa Rican food where we enjoyed some locally brewed Kolsch with an appetizer of chips and pico de gallo, guacamole and black bean puree.
Thanksgiving dinner consisted of roasted chicken, BBQ ribs with sides of plantain patties. We retired to our room, making plans to do the lava field walk in the morning before the drive to Santa Elena.
From your bed, you can tell if it is raining around dawn by listening to whether the birds and frogs are chirping or not. We had heard rain off and on all night long and as the sun came up, we hoped that the rain would have abated for a while but it came and went in the manner that now seems typical for this area of Costa Rica. So, we gathered our belongings and packed the car, hoping for a break. We got lucky! The rain stopped and there were actual patches of sun here and there, which we hadn’t seen since our arrival here. We bade the hotel kitties adieu and hot-footed it over to the lava park where we were the first people to arrive.
We got our tickets and Jerry grabbed a walking stick and off we went. We opted for the longer 4k walk that wound through the forest, around a small lake where there were supposed to be caiman (we didn’t see any) and then up into and across the lava fields to finish up down in a sugarcane forest.
As gorgeous as the walk was the day before, with its man-made walkways and tree-like railings, I liked this one better.
While man must have hacked the original trail and added some of the rocks that formed stairways, the majority of the walk was totally natural and really felt like you were walking through the jungle. There were large and small openings in the rocks that must have been homes for something but I am not sure we wanted to find out what! Up and down we went, around the lake, and all the while we were shrouded on all sides by lush greens of all shapes, sizes and colors. There were relatives of our begonias here and there, philodendrons climbing the trees and lots and lots of species we couldn’t readily identify.
As we emerged from dense jungle into scrubbier jungle, the lava fields became apparent. We walked over crushed pumice, both black and red, climbing and climbing until we reached the summit. The sun popped out to light up Lake Arenal and dappled the surrounding folds of green hills. We took some photos and remarked on the berries that grew along the trail. They are not blue like our blueberries; they are almost iridescent blue and we wondered what magic was in the soil to make them that amazing color.
We started down the trail, passing old people who wheezed their way down and around the volcanic boulders of the trail. I was half terrified for them (especially the old men who were walking all alone with nothing but their trekking poles) and half applauded their ability to carry on and do what they felt called to do regardless of whether it might have been the wisest choice for them or not. We landed on a lava gravel trail that wound through towering sugarcane or some other kind of bamboo-like grass and finally entered a forested area where we came across honest-to-goodness leaf-cutter ants scurrying along an invisible trail. I was so happy to be able to get really good video of them.
After a two-and-a-half-hour walk, we felt energized and ready for the 4 hour drive to Santa Elena. We had seen a German Bakery (been there for 20 years, we later found out) on the map of this area and had decided to stop there for breakfast or lunch along the way and we were pleasantly surprised at how authentic the food was. Almost all of the patrons were speaking German and that is another thing that we have noticed since arriving here. Costa Rica has a VERY international draw.
Unlike many tourist destinations in the states and Europe where the predominant tourists hail from Asian ports, here the languages are varied with French, German and Spanish being the most recognized and the Asian languages being the least represented here. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with a sinful apple strudel for dessert and got back on the road.
We had both been pleasantly surprised at the condition of the roads in Costa Rica, as we had expected very poor quality. Until late this afternoon, the roads have been fantastic, almost all newly blacktopped. Jerry has had a great time winding around corners, shifting gears like a native and challenging oncoming buses and trucks for the best half of the roads which are usually right down the middle.
True to the guidebook, as we got 30 or so miles out of Santa Elena, the roads devolved into unimproved washboards of dirt, gravel and rock. The fun was definitely over. The winding switchbacks didn’t change, nor did the type of oncoming traffic but the suspension in our car degraded to a kidney-jarring test of endurance and by the time we got to our Airbnb, we were both exhausted and so happy to find a warm welcome at the Pension Santa Elena.
Here we have a sweet little room with its own private slate bathroom, a communal kitchen complete with fridge, stove and microwave and a sitting room. It has a warm, hippie commune vibe (I think Annelise would love it here) and is owned by a Texan and his Asian wife. Their kids were sitting the reception desk when we checked in and were wonderfully welcoming. The rooms are spartan but clean and have everything we need along with a unique feel. We hung out in the common area, reading and people watching and finally hit the hay.
There is no AC but none is needed as the breeze is omnipresent and always cool, due to our elevation. There are no bugs, so windows were left open which resulted in a bit more noise since we are right on the main road through Santa Elena. Around 10 PM all the people-noise mostly abated but the motos (sin mofles) were audible pretty much all night long, grinding their way uphill through town and then gunning down the hill behind the pension. We were tired and so slept pretty well despite the noise.
11/30 started with a great breakfast, which was included in our pension’s price. They gave us a flattened-out bottle cap which served as our token for breakfast.
The two little ladies next door took our orders (which were guesses since the menus were AWOL) and delivered fresh-made tacos with black bean puree, scrambled eggs and queso for me and scrambled eggs with fried potatoes and toast for Jerry. The sides were a very spicy pico de gallo and a pineapple chutney that was really tasty. I love the unique experiences to be had when you let someone serve the local choices.
We had decided to just let the day happen and so we meandered through town and picked up some souvenir-gift items, some cookies and energy bars and then decided to take the bus to the Monteverde Biological Preserve. We caught the bus right outside our hotel and rode the 5 km uphill to the preserve where we were given wristbands and in, we went. The walks were amazingly different from the walk we did at Arenal. For one thing, the weather was threatening sunshine, a commodity that had been sorely lacking since our arrival! The walk was way more physically demanding than any we had done prior to this one but not enough to make us anything more than aware that we might feel it later. We had packed trekking packs with enough water/juices and bars to make the 3-4 hour walk without discomfort.
This hike was definitely more physically tough, with very steep ascents and descents and a lot of muddy trails. The views were spectacular along the way, when we got a chance to look up from where our next footfall was safest…waterfalls and massive trees filled with epiphytes and vines.
We followed a family across the hanging bridge that provided a birds-eye view of the forest canopy below. By the time we got to the middle of the span, the child, who was in her dad’s sling, was crying with fear and their poor dog refused to put another foot forward and stood visibly shaking at what she saw beneath her feet.
With a bit of coaxing, they all made it safely to the other side and collapsed to decompress with snacks for the dog and the kid. Makes you wonder sometimes why people set themselves up to make things more challenging than they need to be! Oh well, been-there-done-that and survived and I bet they will too.
Finally we got all the way up to the Continental Divide where we watched cloudy mists blowing over and through the tops of the massive trees on one side and saw how the constant winds on the other side produced an “elfin forest” of trees that were dwarfed by the adverse conditions. It was an amazing sight, especially since the sun was more present than were the clouds.
I have been really pleased with my hiking shoes that I bought a few months ago. I tried on very expensive Merrills, Keens and other hiking shoes, knowing that I didn’t want hi-rise boots. None of them fit well enough and I continued searching until I found a pair of $30 Columbia zero-drops at Dick’s that felt perfect.
Yesterday proved that I can walk for miles in the pouring rain with wet feet and even after hours of this, my feet still felt comfortable. Today shows that I might have a shot at walking the Camino since I had to put on damp socks and wet, muddy shoes and I was still able to hike for hours over very challenging terrain and I was still comfortable. In fact when we were finished with the hike, we decided to walk the 5k back to our hotel and while I could definitely feel that we had done in excess of 10 miles that day on top of 8 the day before, I felt amazingly good (once I got home and got my shoes and socks off)!
I can’t leave out the fantastic experience we had because we decided to walk home. As we left the park, I caught sight of a hummingbird zipping past us and then saw a staircase and sign that said Hummingbird Gallery. Up we went and what awaited us was simply awe inspiring. There were typical hummingbird feeders but also little ones that people were holding up and the hummingbirds were zipping and whirring around so fast you almost couldn’t see them.
We learned that there were 8 species of them from teeny tiny ones to others that were really big and everything in between. The colors went from black and white to the ruby throated hummingbirds to ones that glowed purple. The differences were astounding and these little guys were definitely not afraid of us. They whirred by our ears to hover or land on the feeders we held and were quite territorial, often whacking into each other hard enough to knock both birds to the ground for a second or two. We stood for probably about a half hour just taking in this amazing sight and if that weren’t enough, we turned around to see a Koati digging for grubs in the forest next to the gallery!
Quite an inspiring morning and afternoon. It gave us a lot to talk about on the walk home.
We rested for a bit in the afternoon, made an early dinner of left-overs from our Thanksgiving meal which really was just as good the second time around and then got ready to do the guided night hike that we had signed up for the day before. 70% of Costa Rica’s animals are nocturnal so we were really looking forward to this night-hike and it didn’t disappoint! Tony spoke really good English and took 6 of us into the forest where we spotted a Blue-Crested Mot Mot, roosting in a tree. Even with 7 spotlights shining on him, this bird refused to move, nor did the other birds that we later spotted in trees like the Brown Jays, a Green Toucan (who looked a lot like a green nerf ball) and a Wood Thrush. We also spotted an Orange-kneed Tarantula who was very shy and retreated into his hole when our footfalls vibrated too menacingly for him.
We saw a pair of Green Palm Pit Vipers garlanded into hanging figure eights of chartreuse scales, waiting on dinner to happen by. Tony took close-up photos for us and explained that the pit viper can sense temperature which was why he wasn’t being attacked, even though he was really close to the first one. He said that the snake can tell the difference between human and rat temperature which is why the snake will only attack a human if it feels threatened rather than just because it is too near. If we were rat-temperature, it might be a different story.
We saw bats and a Koati high in a tree, along with a pregnant mother sloth and her baby. I would recommend the night hike to everybody who goes to Costa Rica. The guides communicate with each other so that if one finds something cool, the others know to take their people to that spot later on. Tony lit up a little mushroom with his flashlight and then told us to shut off our lights. When we did, we saw that the little mushroom was bioluminescent and glowed with an eerie purple light. It was amazing! We got home about 8:30, grabbed a gelato and crashed.
We got up and packed this morning, had breakfast of yogurt, muesli, fruit and toast and hit the road for Jaco, which is on the Pacific coast.
We just sort of picked the destination a few nights ago and felt like it might be a cool place to dip our toes in the Pacific and chill for a night before heading back to San Jose. The drive was much easier out of Santa Elena than the drive in was, over mostly improved roads. We coasted downwards through lush, green canyons under a blue sky. There was definitely a different feel to the villages and countryside. It seemed more tropical with palm trees starting to show up, here and there. It was so nice to see the sun for a change!
As we neared the coast, we decided to stop at Carara National Wildlife refuge for a walk to break up the trip. This is where the dry forest meets the rain forest and was very different from where we have been. We saw Agoutis and iguanas and had a lovely walk through the woods, seeing more fungi than animals and birds but enjoying the walk just the same.
We were disappointed not to see Scarlet Macaws, though we did hear them. They are supposed to be active in the park during the day, though the guidebook did say it was best to try to see them early in the morning or in the evening as they migrated to the park or back to the white mangroves where they overnight. We were fortunate to see very cool spiders and a myriad of different mushrooms, which we really didn’t see prior to this.
We were forewarned in our guidebook that we would either love or hate Jaco depending on our age and what we wanted out of a stay. We grabbed a bite to eat at Senor Harry’s as we were a bit too early to check in and LOVED the fresh ceviche and guacamole that was made tableside and seasoned to our desired degree of spiciness – or lack thereof!
Our Airbnb, Tuanis ( which means go for it!) was lovely in a jungle motif sort of way. It was just off the main street and just past the heart of downtown Jaco. Our host, Ricky was from California and looked like he taught surfing for a living. There is a very laid back and chilled sort of atmosphere here.
We were a block from the beach and had to dip our toes into the water. It is a black sand and pebble beach with decent surf and we watched as surfers came out of the woodwork to take advantage of the beautiful late afternoon and sunset. This was a great place to relax and we took advantage of it.
Walking downtown after dark was a different story. The atmosphere turned a little frenetic and there were police everywhere, we even watched them arrest someone and throw him in the back of the policia pick up. That was enough, we grabbed a caramel ice-cream and headed home where we read and just enjoyed the air-conditioning for the night!
The journey is coming to an end but what wonderful sights we have seen. We took a brisk morning walk along the beach and then had some breakfast and off we went.
We opted for local roads which added an hour to the trip back to San Jose but we were really glad we did. We scooted along the coastal road for a while and then were in the midst of the agricultural areas of Costa Rica. We wound through palm groves planted in perfectly straight line, which gave way to plantations of bananas, in which all the hands of bananas were bagged, we guessed that this might protect them from monkeys. We ducked as a bright yellow, crop duster wheeled above us to swoop around and dust the grove again. So, maybe the bags protect the bananas from insecticides? Further along were groves of papayas and then other trees we couldn’t identify. The roads became potholed and threatened to rip our undercarriage apart if strict attention was not paid to navigating. It was worth it though, we spotted a regular toucan and a scarlet macaw up in trees above the road as we passed. We wound up, down, around and over the mountains marveling at the tiny concrete block homes that were seriously out in the middle of nowhere, clinging to the edge of a mountain. Their views were magnificent, all cloud topped peaks above and wavy green folds of canyons below.
One of the amazing things we have noticed about the homes, no matter how rich or humble, how city-bound or in the middle of nowhere they are, they are all protected. Barred windows are the norm and walls with broken glass and razor wire are not uncommon either. We haven’t done much research about the crime in this country but we have heeded the warnings not to leave anything valuable in the car even for a short time. Our car has been in private parking lots everywhere we have gone and we have still not left anything in it that had any value at all.
We finished up our drive from Jaco, cresting a ridge to see San Jose spread out below us and wound through back roads to arrive back at our Doubltree where we chilled by the pool and read and wrote travel notes for a while. We enjoyed a relaxing day, took a walk and saw a Rainbow Eucalyptus tree that was amazing, it is the first one I have seen outside a botanical garden and it was gorgeous! A literal rainbow of colors peeks through the peeling brown bark.
It seems that the time has fled too quickly but I know we will treasure the memories we have made here forever!
To Be Continued at another time in the Future. We LOVED this place!