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!