I started doing improvements to the electrical system onboard almost from the start. Notably the 110v outlets in the salon were completely FUBAR and had to be replaced immediately. For some reason I don’t understand, the factory had situated these two outlets -one port and one starboard- on the horizontal shelf surfaces outboard of each settee. So when water inevitably intruded into this area, it went straight for these outlets, pooled there, and quickly turned them into garbage which had a dual disadvantage in that they were now also electrical fire hazards. So when I replaced these, I also re-located them to the adjacent bulkhead where they are now generally free from the risk of getting wet.
I upgraded them too, to the new water resistant GFCI style Leviton sells. Since there are so few outlets on the boat, I decided that whenever I replace or add one, it will always be this improved, albeit expensive, type.
Fast forward three years, and I finally got around to a real electrical overhaul.
I never liked the location that Irwin put the electrical switch panel in, under the cockpit, behind the companionway ladder. One, it’s hard to see and access, and two, you can only get to the wiring behind it by going through the very cramped engine compartment, or by removing the panel entirely. Either option was bad. I decided to re-locate the entire switch panel to the nav station. There I could easily see, use, and maintain it as needed. But I also needed more space. New additions in this department included a new 110 VAC breaker panel, and a host of battery maintenance and control devices, including:
- battery switch
- solar panel charge controller
- 110 VAC battery charger
- additional USB and 12 VDC utility outlets
There was no way all this stuff would fit together in either location. So I decided to create a new “Battery Control Center” in the location of the original switch panel, and move the new AC and DC breaker panels to the nav station.
It took some weeks to do all of this, one step at a time. Yes it could have been done much faster, but as usual, I am doing everything myself, while simultaneously attempting to lead a somewhat normal life. Fortunately I am in no urgent hurry – a general status I prefer to remain in.
“Really, worse than Katrina?!”
No, wise guy, I’m talking about the storm that caused me personally more trouble on my boat than any other I have had to deal with.
I started boating when I was a kid. Things on the water were pretty much always happy and carefree then. I may have been caught in some rain, or some wind a couple of times, but nothing notable. Years later, when I was in the US Coast Guard, I got to experience some pretty bad weather at sea. The one occasion that stands out most in my memory was a time in early spring of 1984 when a gale passed through the northern Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana coast. And whenever the weather is bad, it’s axiomatic that the Coast Guard will be called to go out into it to rescue somebody. On this occasion we were tasked with retrieving an 80 foot derelict shrimp boat, which was adrift 90 miles offshore. The crew had been air-evacuated, leaving the vessel unmanned. (Nowadays the USCG does not go on such missions. Derelict vessels adrift are tracked by air, and eventually they are turned over to commercial salvage companies to pick up.) When we got on scene my CO estimated the wave heights at 18 feet, based on the fact that when we were in the troughs, the wave crests were approximately even with our bridge, which was that height above water level. My level of alertness was elevated, but I was not seasick and I was not frightened. Our 82′ cutter was designed for speed, not stability, and it was a very uncomfortable platform to be on in those conditions, rolling pretty wildly.
I was selected, along with a petty officer, to be the salvage crew for the vessel. With another crew serving as coxswain, we were put into our ship’s 14′ RIB, and sent over to the shrimp boat. Eighteen foot seas. The shrimp boat would ride up on the crest of a huge wave, towering above us while we were in the trough on an adjacent wave. Then in two or three seconds, our relative positions would alternate, the giant outriggers swinging and clanging dangerously near us. The only strategy for getting aboard the shrimp boat was to approach closely, and then with split second timing, to leap onto one of the tires hung from its sides, and scamper aboard. There would be one chance to get it right. By the grace of God, the petty officer and I both succeeded. We later attached the towing hawser from our cutter to the samson post of the shrimper, and took turns standing watch while we were towed home over the next couple days. That was a “good one.”
Then there was that time back in 2012 when I was caught in a storm on the Alligator River in North Carolina. That was pretty messed up!
But then came January 23, 2017.
[I’m sorry there are no pictures to go with most of this story; photography is the last thing on one’s mind while managing a crisis.]
I was solo because Dana was still in Alabama, and I was still on that questionable mooring in Buttonwood Sound next to the Key Lime Sailing Club. I’d heard something on Saturday about some storms expected that weekend, but (foolishly) I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. On Sunday I started to look at the forecast more closely. It looked like the worst of it would hit in the wee hours of Monday morning. Great. I gave a passing thought to the uninspected mooring I was on.
Nevertheless, I went to bed Sunday night, pretty much expecting to be woken by the arrival of the storm. Indeed I was at about 0300. The boat rocked hard as the first blasts hit, the rigging began howling, and the temperature dropped fast. I later learned that there were gusts on the leading edge of that storm in excess of 50 mph. I knew almost immediately and instinctively that I had underestimated the ferocity of this oncoming storm, and that I was unprepared. A feeling of dread crept over me as I hastened into my clothes and heavy foul weather gear. Lightning was flashing with intervals of only seconds, and thunder was almost constant.
The wind was coming out of the NW, the worst possible direction for this body of water and my relative location on it; I was near a lee shore and at the end of a fetch of water over a mile long – that allowed the formation of waves. The wind howled and whistled through the rigging, and I could hear heavy sheets of rain crashing down on the deck inches above my head. The boat was rolling, and pitching, and yawing at her mooring. I almost knew that something really bad was going to proceed out of this. Even if my mooring held, there were several boats to windward of me – would all of their moorings hold too? If one of them broke loose, they would drift right down on top of me with possibly catastrophic impact.
I thought of the dinghy, still afloat and tied to the stern with the little outboard motor riding just a couple inches above the water (on calm days). And I remembered loose gear I had neglected so secure out on deck: all four of our new fenders ($60/ea), the dinghy oars…what else was surely blowing over the side right now? I could hear crashing sounds out on the deck, I knew some of that stuff had already gone over.
I sat on the lurching settee in the salon, and waited, and prayed. Perhaps five minutes later I heard a tremendous crash, and grinding, crunching sounds. Obviously the boat had drifted into something, or vice-versa. I had to go out and investigate. I flipped on the spreader lights, and went out to see. I put two and two together pretty quickly. My mooring had failed, Swedish Fish had drifted downwind, and the rudder had fouled the mooring line of a boat (a Catalina 22 belonging to KLSC) in our lee, and that is all that was holding me. In the meantime, the Catalina and Swedish Fish were fouled up and parallel to each other, grinding and crunching with every wave. When the C22 would rise on a wave crest, its gunwhale would catch the overhang on Swedish Fish‘s varnished teak toe rail, breaking off piece after piece. A section about three feet long was almost completely broken off, and deep gouges were being cut into the gel coat beneath that on the starboard quarter. If the fenders hadn’t blown overboard, I could put a couple between the boats to stop the continuation of damage. All I had left were a few type IV throwable cushions. So I tied some rope to those and tried to wedge them in between the boats. This worked somewhat, but the pitching of the boats constantly squished the cushions out of the gap, so I had to sit there and continually put them back in to prevent further damage.
Somewhere around this time I put the Rocna anchor down at the bow, and I cranked the engine. In hindsight, I wish I had not put the anchor down, but just cranked the engine in preparation to get underway immediately if I were to drift free. I also untied the dinghy from Swedish Fish, and transferred its painter over to a stern cleat on the Catalina 22. It was almost full of water. I did this because if I broke free, I didn’t want another obstacle involved that might start a domino effect of further problems.
The situation with the cushions over the side was really just a cosmetic concern, even though the damage being inflicted was substantial and would be difficult and expensive for me to repair. The bigger concern was the tenuous mechanism by which the boat was being held. If that small mooring, or the modest line attached to it gave way, Swedish Fish and the Catalina 22 would both be adrift and blown quickly toward the nearby lee shore. It was a very real possibility. The rain had let up some by 0400, but the wind was strong and steady, I estimate at this point it was around 30 mph. I baby sat this situation until the first light of dawn.
At about that time I could just make out two figures on the dock over at KLSC, about 150 yards away. I knew it was Stephen and his girlfriend Felicia. They were running the waterfront operation at the time, responsible for maintaining all of the boats, and much of the other property too. They saw me too, out on deck under the illumination of the spreader lights. I waved to them in a manner that I hoped would convey an urgent request for assistance.
They were brave to venture out in this weather and sea state in a ten foot inflatable dinghy. The sky was completely steel gray with clouds skidding across it, the wind was still blowing at least 30, the waves were three feet and capping, and the rain was coming and going. With grim determination, they finally made it out to me, their faces half-hidden behind their foul weather hoods. While they were underway, I could see occasional cascades of water coming over their bow and into the boat. When they arrived, I explained the situation to them, yelling to be heard. I asked Stephen to please bring me a couple of large fenders, and in about 15 minutes he was back with them. I put these between the boats, and waited, not really sure what else I could do.
About a half hour later, Paul Keever, the owner of KLSC, came out in a twenty foot center console boat with a 100 HP engine, and he had a couple of his workers with him. I explained the situation to him. After realizing that there was no way to separate the two boats without cutting the mooring line, he finally agreed to that. I would cut the line, he would throw a tow onto the Catalina 22 to pull it away, and I would stay at anchor (I thought).
In hindsight, I wish I had asked him to let one of those guys stay with me, because very soon I would desperately need help.
I already had a box cutter blade on me ready to do this. I hung over the side, and just lightly touched the blade’s edge to the small mooring line. It cut instantly with a pop, as if it were about to pop on its own at any moment anyway. I saw Paul and the other guys going immediately for the Catalina, and I focused on getting my (already down) anchor set.
To my horror, the anchor was not set, and would not set. I let out more and more scope, and still, no set. I ran to the stern and tossed a 33 pound Bruce (aka Claw) anchor out, also with 13 feet of 5/16 chain and generous scope, but it would not set either. I was drifting sideways downwind toward a lee shore, at what I estimate must have been three or four knots, with anchors dragging bow and stern. I looked up, but saw no sign of Paul’s boat anymore, and even if I had, he would have to come immediately to have been any help at all.
The situation I was facing was dire, it was immediate, and it was all mine. There was no prospect of assistance.
The lee shore was perhaps a quarter mile away when this started, but it was drawing closer with every passing second. There were houses with pilings and private docks studding the area I was bounding toward. If Swedish Fish hit any of those, it could possibly hole the hull, and almost certainly total the boat with tremendous hull damage, and who knows what else.
I ran to the bow, and let out all the scope I had – 200 feet. Still, the anchor could not get a toe hold. Apparently, due to the speed of my drift, the 33 pound anchor and 13 feet of 5/16 chain was just skipping along the grassy bottom. Then I ran back to the stern and let out all of the scope that anchor had, with was another 200 feet. Still no change. We continued to drift rapidly to leeward, and the shore was growing closer and closer. I could hardly believe what was happening, that neither of these two heavy anchors could even slow the boat down.
I ran to the cockpit, put the boat into gear, and throttled up. The big girl began to power her way up wind, dragging the stern anchor and approaching the bow anchor. I steered askew enough to avoid running directly over the bow anchor rode. But that strategy only succeeded briefly. Soon the bow anchor rode would inevitably begin to stream under the boat, putting it in the direct path of the whirling propeller. If the line from the bow anchor got fouled in the prop, this nightmare would be fait accompli, and all hope would be lost. Honestly, there was precious little hope remaining, but I fought for it with every fiber of my being.
In the back of my mind, I thought about Swedish Fish, and everything the two of us had been through in the past three years. The blood, sweat, and tears I had put into her, not to mention the MONEY. I had slowly, painstakingly brought her from a state of ignominious dereliction to a beautiful, sea-worthy yacht. I had rested very little during those years, sometimes doing multiple restoration projects at once, but always, relentlessly staying at it, from the bottom of her centerboard to the top of her mast, from the bobstay to every detail of the engine and all of its systems, to the stern ladder. Losing her would be much more than a financial and practical loss. Its a thought I generally forbid to entertain.
And now I was fighting for her in a concentrated fit of effort that was pushing me to my very limits. In spite of continuous hard physical labor, I hadn’t had a sip of water in hours, and I was desperately parched for some, but there was no time for me to go below to get one. The muscles in my hands, arms, and back ached from the incessant work of pushing and pulling boats and anchors and anchor lines without rest for the past four or five hours. (What time was it now? I had no idea nor did I have time to care.)
I realized at this point that the anchors had to come back aboard so that I could drive the boat away from the lee shore. Since I had two out, they were at opposite ends of the boat, the rodes were ALL the way out, and I was alone, the urgency could not have been more acute. This was going to be a herculean challenge. I put the engine in neutral and ran to the stern and hauled in on the rode like a mad man. This in itself was extremely difficult, requiring all of my strength, because the boat was simultaneously drifting and dragging the anchor attached to it, against my pull. I did this for perhaps 30 seconds or so, until the lee shore drew closer than I dared allow, and then I re-cleated the line, ran back to the cockpit, threw the engine back into forward, and hit the throttle to power away again until the bow started drawing on top of the bow anchor rode again, risking running afoul of the propeller. At that point I repeated the above process – throttle down, tranny back to neutral, run back to the stern, haul away until I couldn’t delay powering away again, re-cleating the line, then back to the cockpit, etc. etc.
I can not overstate the desperation of the situation. I was only mildly concerned about my personal safety, but I was deeply concerned that the boat was about to be destroyed. I took a few seconds to send a “MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY” text message to Paul Keever, but ultimately it was to no avail. There was no one to help me, I had to manage this crisis completely on my own.
After repeating the above described work cycle a few times, I finally succeeded in getting the stern anchor on board. But the crisis was still not over by a long shot. In hindsight, I should have focused on the bow anchor first, since it was the one that was threatening to foul the prop. But given the panic-stricken nature of the circumstances, that mistake was not too surprising. Thinking straight? Not really, I was in a survival mode that gave me not even one second to spare.
Then I began the above process for the bow anchor, but by then it was too late. The lee shore was at hand, less than 150 feet away. Again I tried to power away from the lee shore at a skewed angle, but this time something else went wrong. I heard the engine bog down, followed a second later by a “pop,” and then a repeating “whump whump whump” coming from beneath the boat. My first thought was that I had indeed fouled my own anchor rode on the prop, it had cut, a piece of it was wrapped around the prop, and the tail of that piece was being slung around and around by the whirling prop, slapping into the underside of the boat there as it went. But since I was now apparently free and I still had forward motion under throttle, I continued trying to power away. Then I saw my bow anchor rode rise up out of the water as it grew taut, trailing away from the bow and back toward the water. Huh? So I had not fouled on my own anchor line. But…what had I fouled the prop on? It was something else. Whatever it was, I had no time to speculate on it now, my emergency was still at hand.
So I continued to try to power away, but the problem of the anchor rode running back under the center of the boat kept recurring.
And now the lee shore was less than 100 feet away, and drawing closer with each passing second. I decided to cut the bow anchor loose so I could finally power away from the lee shore unfettered. That anchor alone cost over $400. The chain and the rope were another $250. If at all possible, I didn’t want to add the loss of them to the list of stuff I had already lost to this storm. So as I ran up to the bow, I grabbed one of the large fenders that Stephen had brought to me at dawn, intending to tie it to the end of the anchor rode before I tossed it overboard, so that with the fender acting as a marker buoy, hopefully it could all be located and retrieved later. When I got to the bow to deal with the anchor line, I realized with crushing exasperation that I could not simply toss it overboard, because months earlier I had secured the bitter end to the base of the chain locker down below – so that I would not lose it by accident. Now I wanted to lose it on purpose, fast, but couldn’t unless I cut it.
I looked up at the shore we were hurtling toward. I was perhaps 60 feet away now, still getting closer. I am not exaggerating any of this. It was do or die now, I had to act quickly and deliberately and without fail. I still had the box cutter tool on my belt. I drew it, cut the anchor line right at the hawse hole, tied the quickest knot in history to the line attached to the fender, and hurled it overboard while bolting back toward the cockpit to grab the helm controls.
By the time I got back to the helm, Swedish Fish was broadside to the lee shore, drifting faster than ever now, being free of her dragging anchors, and less than ONE boat length from smashing into the pilings and docks there! I threw the tranny control into forward, slammed the throttle down, put the helm hard over, and to my dazed relief, the boat turned and pulled away from the crunching jaws of that shore. When she showed her stern to it and began pulling away, there were only a couple of yards between them. It was just dumb luck that I wasn’t aground there, the water level being raised by the storm.
Whatever was wrapped around the prop continued to “whump whump whump,” as we went, but as long as I was making progress away from the lee shore, I didn’t care. And now I was making good progress, powering hard directly to weather. Which meant heavy sheets of spray were flying up over the starboard bow as I went, which the fierce wind would then catch and sling with sadistic force right into my face. This happened continually, about every three to four seconds as I drove the boat away. (No dodger, remember?) The salt water stung my eyes. I wiped it out just in time for another one to slap me. I was dying of thirst, my muscles ached, and I was trembling from the catastrophe that I had just narrowly averted. It was now approaching 10:00 (I think), and I had been working hard and ceaselessly since before 0400.
I intended to take the boat as close to the windward shore on the opposite side of Buttonwood Sound as I could get it. There is a little pocket on the west side there behind uninhabited Pelican Key. That would be a good place to put down my remaining anchor and wait out the rest of this storm. When I got almost there, Paul returned in his runabout with his two workers, and approached alongside. I gave him the quick report on what had happened, and he had one of his guys (Nick) climb aboard with me to help me get Swedish Fish secured into a protected anchorage. I told him where he might find the fender floating that was attached to the anchor I had to cut loose, and asked him to please try to recover it for me. He agreed to do that, and peeled away.
Nick and I continued on toward the intended anchorage area. While I drove, I got him to carry the anchor on the stern up to the bow, and prepare it for deployment. Of course, the closer we got to the windward shore behind Pelican Key, the calmer the waters became, and the less intense the wind seemed. We got within about 50 yards of the shore, and I asked Nick to lower the anchor. The water here is very shallow, with less than a foot between the bottom of my keel and the sea bed, so I didn’t expect to need a whole lot of scope (length) on the anchor line. I let the boat drift back, and let out about 30 yards of anchor line and cleated it. I left the engine running until we were sure we had good holding. We didn’t, the anchor was dragging. I had Nick let out more scope. Still dragging. I asked Nick to let out all the scope, but still we dragged.
A few hundred yards alee of us was a large, newer power-cat style yacht, probably worth at least a quarter million dollars, maybe much more, anchored there to ride out the storm. As our anchor dragged, we drifted closer and closer to him. I kept hoping, hoping that stupid anchor could get a tine in and hold, but it was in fact hopeless. I had Nick stand by with our only remaining fender, and by now the owner of the power yacht was out on deck, arms akimbo, watching us intently. Our drift trajectory put us narrowly by him instead of on top of him, but by now it was past time to get the anchor back on board and start over.
So Nick pulled the anchor back up and we returned to the spot where we had started, though this time I got even closer to the windward shore line, only about two boat lengths offshore. We re-set the hook, and this time it held. Of course I don’t normally anchor in that close, but it was the only way I could get the ground tackle I had available to hold us in the existing conditions. If the wind were to shift 180 degrees, Swedish Fish would be shoved into the mangroves on shore. But I was on board, there was no indication in the immediate forecast for a shift in wind direction, and even if it did, I would deal with that when it came.
Just a few minutes after we got the anchor set, Paul returned and I was very relieved that he had indeed located the other anchor that I had cut loose, and he had brought it back to me. I took the anchor, he took Nick, and suddenly I was alone again. I didn’t even have a dinghy to allow myself to get off of the boat. But none of that mattered to me much at that moment. The important thing was that Swedish Fish was now in a good, protected and (relatively) peaceful anchorage, and I could finally sit down.
I looked out the windows in the salon at the wavelets on the water just outside, and at the larger waves still rolling along beyond Pelican Key. The wind was still howling. I felt shell shocked, and then I realized that I was also short of breath, but no amount of deep breaths would fix it. It felt like pressure on my chest. My hands weren’t trembling anymore, but that feeling was still with me. It dawned on me that I’d been traumatized. I was experiencing a form of PTSD. Somehow I felt different, as a person. This experience had changed me. I didn’t know how exactly, but I could feel it. Part of me was resentful that this change had happened to me without my permission, but another part of me felt that good may somehow come out of this. I was wiser and more prudent now, and it was a lesson that only such an ordeal could have taught.
I stayed there anchored behind Pelican Key for the next two days. I got a couple ferry rides from folks at KLSC back and forth to shower and get supplies. But on Tuesday afternoon Paul texted me to advise that the wind was going to ease off that night, and that I had better consider moving the boat soon, or else when the wind shifted or eased, the water level in the sound would drop, and I would probably find myself aground in that shallow spot behind Pelican Key where I was. At first I didn’t take him too seriously. But that night while I was relaxing down below I suddenly became aware that the wind had eased way way off, down to almost nothing. Paul’s words began to ring in my head.
A glance at the depth sounder confirmed that I had already lost a couple of tenths of a foot beneath the keel, and there was precious little depth remaining. I didn’t feel like doing it at all, but I finally realized that this may be my only chance to get out of this pocket before going aground. So I got dressed, and went out on deck to prepare to get underway. I cranked the engine, hoisted the anchor, and turned the boat back toward the mooring field next to KLSC. The boat was moving, that was good. I got about 150 yards when I realized that I was no longer moving. The engine was running, the prop was turning, but the boat wasn’t moving. I had soft-grounded. I tried steering the boat this way and that. I tried reverse. I tried leaving it in gear and throwing my body weight port and starboard. None of that worked. I was firmly aground. Calling Tow BOAT/US would probably take too long since I was now in a race with a falling wind-tide; by the time they got to me I would be even more firmly aground.
Reluctantly, I called Mike Williams for help. (This wasn’t the first time I had called Mike Williams for towing help, so I really hated to do it.) Mike suggested that I raise sail, and perhaps the wind would heel the boat over, and allow me to sail off the grounding. Great idea! I tried that, but by this time there was not even enough wind to heel the boat more than an inch or two. It wasn’t going to work. I called Mike back, and asked him to please bring the runabout out to me so we could hopefully tow me off of the grounding. It was about 2130. In 20 minutes Mike pulled up, we got a tow line on the bow, he was able to pull me off the grounding with relative ease. He went on home, and I motored back over to the KLSC mooring field area and put the Rocna anchor down. No worries about it holding this time, there was virtually no wind or waves. The anchor sunk into the bottom, and Swedish Fish held fast. And I went to bed.
That Wednesday I put on snorkeling gear and jumped over the side to see what I had fouled my propeller on. It was a surprise – there was some small rope, about 1/4″ diameter, and some kind of fabric, wrapped tightly around the prop and shaft. I came back at it with a bare hack saw blade to cut it off. It took over a half dozen dives to get all of it off. That was good, but there was bad news too. The prop blades were bent, the tips of them were bent over like a dog-ear bookmark. Great. Thank God that at least they weren’t so badly bent that the prop wouldn’t work. I brought the pieces I had cut off up to examine them more closely. The fabric was delicate. When I looked at the larger chunks I realized that it was part of…a woman’s blouse! No, I hadn’t run over anybody. Believe me, nobody was in the water during Monday’s storm. The blouse was just some flotsam that was in the water, tangled up with that loose piece of rope, which my prop just happened to encounter in the middle of my Monday morning crisis management. Nice. A clothing item like this is not surprising to find in the water around here. On nice days, many of the docks lining Buttonwood Sound have vacationers sunbathing on them. Ladies take off their cover-ups, and set them on the docks beside them. Of course it’s not unusual for them to later be distracted when they walk off the dock and leave something there, which the wind then blows into the water.
Here are some pictures of the damage to the boat, which I took the same day I dove to clear the prop:
Things were relatively normal/peaceful for the next couple of days. But then on Saturday, January 28, another storm came through! This one did not arrive with the same ferocity that the previous one did, but the sustained winds were very similar. But this time I was on anchor, and the anchor had been set for three days. I also had put out a second anchor. So the boat was well secured this time, it seemed. Nevertheless, I was very exasperated that this kind of weather was hitting me twice in the space of one week. I became determined to find a more sheltered anchorage than this, asap. This storm also lasted more than a day, so on Sunday I was able to get some video of the conditions:
I also took a selfie out there.
These two storms became a line of demarcation in my Key Largo sojourn. There was everything that happened there before them, and everything that happened there after them.
But now I was mad. I’ve come all the way to Florida to enjoy some of the good life, and this ain’t it. I positively must find a protected place to moor my boat, preferably in a marina slip, but if not, then an anchorage that is actually protected. There must be one around here somewhere, right? They are in abundance in North Carolina, but here, they are actually rare and hard to find. Long story short is, after searching assiduously for the next several days, the best thing I could come up with was another anchorage in the next bay over, called Tarpon Basin. It is just through the mangrove cut, one section east and north of Buttonwood Sound.
Tarpon Basin is much smaller than Buttonwood Sound, so therefore the water is much more protected. I determined to move Swedish Fish there asap. That experience, and what followed, is the subject of “Key Largo, Part II,” coming up next.
December 16, 2016 – January 22, 2017
After we arrived in Key Largo my friend Mike Williams, whom I originally met in New Bern over three years ago, put me to work almost immediately for American Sailing Academy and for Morningstar Charters. We arrived on Friday, and on Monday I was already out on my first charter – as a mate, not captain. I had to learn the boats and the area before I was ready to captain.
But within a couple weeks I did my first charter as captain, taking snorkelers out to Molasses Reef, where we would pick up a mooring ball, and allow the clients to snorkel around the reef, and later we would take them back, usually under sail since by afternoon the sea breeze would kick in. When I wasn’t captaining these charters, I kept a fairly full schedule teaching new sailors how to sail on board the ASA‘s fleet of Catalina 22s.
We quickly found a church we liked, and began attending. We went to a packed-house Christmas Eve service there, which was a very homey, heart-warming experience for both of us. At times like that we didn’t feel like newcomers or foreigners at all. 🙂
On Christmas day Mike and his girlfriend Mandy invited us to join them for some holiday celebration. We were glad to accept. They took us on a little sightseeing tour of the upper and middle keys, driving us all the way down to Marathon Key where we had a fabulous waterfront alfresco Christmas buffet at the Sunset Grille. It was unlike any Christmas celebration I’ve ever been part of. Most people were in their bathing suits, the tiki bar was doing a brisk business, and the pool was full of people, many of them sipping on margaritas or some such. The pool/dining patio is ocean front, the Caribbean blue color of the sea stretches all the way to the horizon. It’s still one of our favorite places to eat in the Florida Keys.
After the big meal, we drove (snooped) around a bit, scoping out other marinas either they or we might someday inhabit. We stopped by the Marathon City Marina, and I got to look out at their 300-space mooring field, which I believe is the largest in all of the Keys. We also stopped by Mangrove Marina and had a drink by the peaceful open pit fire, and later that night, we returned to Key Lime Sailing Club and enjoyed a couple more adult beverages with some of the guests staying there for the holidays, around their open pit fire. The weather was perfect. We had a wonderful Christmas, and much of the credit for that is due to Mike and Mandy.
For the most part the work was pretty steady, and the pay wasn’t bad at all.
Dana was settling in, and beginning to look for work of her own, as a nurse. But more urgently, she needed to re-claim her car which we left behind in New Bern, get our bicycles and other things which were in storage, and go back to Alabama to try to establish some sort of permanent management arrangement for her house and a few other items (her precious kitties) there. After that was done the plan was for her to pack up the bikes and other things and drive back down to Key Largo to re-join me.
So on December 29 she took the bus to Miami airport, and then a connecting flight back to New Bern. I think she was in New Bern for less than an hour! She was in a hurry to get back to Alabama to manage the situation there. So after she got off the plane, she got a ride back to New Bern Grand Marina to pick up her car and the other things, and immediately hit the road. She was in Alabama for the next two months. We missed each other while she was gone, but there was work which had to be done.
In the meantime I stayed pretty busy with charters and sailing classes, and with more projects on the boat, such as installing a second 100 watt solar panel on top of the bimini, and some more dome lights in the salon and another in the aft cabin.
After three weeks at the seawall dock behind my boss’s house, it was time for me to find a more permanent home for Swedish Fish. I was quite comfortable where the boat was, but the bylaws of his neighborhood homeowner’s association forbade any permanent liveaboards on boats behind the houses.
Before I accepted this position here, before I decided to leave New Bern and move here, I had been assured that there would be a slip provided to me as part of the agreement; that was a significant key to my decision to come. However we didn’t see the marina in which the slip was offered until we got here – my failing. I don’t want to get too specific, but suffice it to say that while the assurance was in fact genuine, the marina was not acceptable to Dana, and honestly there was very little that I liked about it either. It was a well-protected slip yes, with power. But no available potable water, and the tiny, hole-in-the-wall marina could hardly have been in a more inconvenient, isolated location. Put bluntly, it was in the middle of nowhere; the word desolation came to my mind. It wasn’t even on Key Largo. It was in an unincorporated area of Dade county, south of Homestead, basically in an Everglades backwater off the highway. What it did have in abundance was solitude and mosquitoes. So yes, that was a BIG disappointment. I could even get angry about it, but what good would it do?
There were several boats on moorings behind (on the bay side) of Key Lime Sailing Club, and for the time being, it looked like the only option. So I made arrangements, recruited a crewman from the staff to help me, and early on the morning of January 17, we departed Port Largo, motored down to the drawbridge at Snake Creek (which separates Islamorada and Key Largo) brought the boat back over to the bay side, and back northeast again to arrive at the KLSC mooring field in Buttonwood Sound, Key Largo at 1330. It took five and a half hours to move the boat less than one mile!
At first, this didn’t seem too bad. But it sure wasn’t what I had in mind for living aboard in Key Largo. I suspected that the mooring I was on was old, and possibly intended for a boat much smaller that Swedish Fish. I didn’t trust it. Over the next few days I kept thinking to myself, “I have to dive down and check out the integrity of this mooring.” The water there is just barely deeper that Swedish Fish‘s keel (centerboard up), and it’s very clear most of the time, so it would be an easy dive. The water was little cool, it being mid-winter, so I procrastinated. That turned out to be a very, very big mistake. Six days later, I would be put through the worst ordeal of my entire boating life, the subject of the next chapter.
December 15 & 16, 2016
On Thursday December 15 we got an early start as usual, and were underway at 0700, headed south and right into the maw of the big Miami seaport. Lookout giant container ships, giant cruise liners, megayachts, and massive ocean tug boats – Swedish Fish is coming through! (I’m certain they were all on high alert for our royal passing.)
If I may use an exhausted cliché, it all happened so quickly. Within what seemed like just a few minutes, we were under this bridge and that, and suddenly we were surrounded by a soaring, mirrored urban skyline to starboard, massive ships to our port, and all manner of navigational aids and obstructions in between. All the while I’m splitting my attention back and forth between the unfolding scene around us, and the charts, trying to make sure I don’t make a wrong turn in here somewhere. Markers and buoys are everywhere, “danger” signs, preferred channel markers, traffic separation markers, range markers, yadda yadda yadda! All that is true, but actually it wasn’t that difficult. Thank you modern technology for the wonders of the GPS chart plotter. With that one amazing tool, I can manage my way through almost anything with little fuss.
We took it all in, but never stopped or slowed down. Right on through Miami we went.
I had gotten some advice on a recommended stopover point between Miami and Key Largo, a tiny island called Boca Chita Key, in Biscayne National Park. (Did you know there was a Biscayne National Park? I didn’t before this day – doy!) So we were headed for little Boca Chita, not really knowing what to expect there. The cruise from Miami to Boca Chita that day was magical. As soon as we entered the broad water of Biscanye Bay, we raised sail and cut the engine. It was a perfect sailing experience. Steady wind right at our backs, pure sunshine, and Caribbean blue water stretched in every direction. And once we left Miami, it seemed as if immediately it was all ours, we saw almost no other boats. It was even a tad eerie that way – were we doing something wrong? Had we entered the Twilight Zone? Regardless, I was so charmed, I wished I could slow time down at that moment. I didn’t want it to end, but Swedish Fish kept charging along. Where would she take us today, what was next…?
I followed my navigation right up to Boca Chita. We doused sails and motored closer. I really had almost no idea of what I would find there. Was there an anchorage? Where? Peering though binoculars, we nudged in closer. There’s a lighthouse! (A lighthouse?) Throttle way down now, we inched in a little closer. Is that…is that…a cut going into the island? A harbor?! Yes, it was. And now I could see one other boat already inside, moored to a seawall in there. Creeping along, half expecting to touch bottom at any moment, we followed the little channel into Boca Chita’s picturebook inner harbor. It was shaped something like a giant comma, completely lined with a concrete seawall, conveniently studded with evenly spaced mooring cleats. One could tie up anywhere, at least on that quiet Thursday in mid-December.
We entered the harbor without incident, circled around, put out the fenders, and tied up at 1225. A dock (seawall)! The last time we had tied to the boat to anything was at the fuel dock way back up at Vero Beach, five days ago. It would have been nice to have stepped on terra firma almost anywhere, but this…this place was magic, even if we had been compelled to anchor and dinghy in. The fact that we didn’t have to just compounded our delight.
We spent the remainder of that Thursday exploring this little postcard of an island, combing its beaches, walking the grassy inner parts (kept cut by the NPS) and just listening to the constant rustling of the palm fronds in the breeze, while taking in the colorful blue water, green palms, mangroves, grass, and bright blue sky. The whole island can’t be more than just a few acres, but it makes a big impact on a day like this.
I had finally had enough of my ever-lengthening hair, and Dana agreed to cut it for me that evening, sitting on our boarding steps on the seawall. We were both pleased with the result. We cleaned up, had dinner, enjoyed a relaxing evening, and slept like children, nestled in this coziest of spots.
Friday, December 16, 2016
We awoke to another day of fine weather, and reluctantly departed Boca Chita at 0725. (I almost had to pry Dana loose from it.) But this would be a BIG day, and the good weather window was not to be missed. This was the day we should complete our 850 mile sea journey from New Bern NC to Key Largo, FL! But there were still many mysteries to unfold, reefs, narrow cuts, and a bit of ocean to navigate. Oh boy, let’s go!
First we had to backtrack about 3 NM to return to the Biscayne Bay ICW. There are no short-cuts here. If one were to try it, he would quickly be hard aground in this somewhat remote area. In fact, I almost put us aground myself when I misread one of the markers, and I thank Dana for catching the error. We backtracked our backtrack (!) and got back on course. Once back on the ICW, we turned south and soon had to thread the next eye of a needle for the day, this time through a collection of shoals and mangroves called the “Featherbeds.” Past that, it was another 6.5 NM to the inside entrance to Caesar Creek, the cut between Elliot Key and Totten Key (another “needle eye”) which we had to get through to enter the ocean to begin our sail south around Key Largo. The tidal current was strong through Caesar Creek, and it was afoul of us, but we were able to progress slowly through it with enough throttle applied.
After we passed through Caesar Creek, we were back offshore again, and once safely into deep water, turned our bow south and west toward Key Largo. The area between the barrier reefs and the Florida Keys is known as Hawk Channel. Its sort of a natural navigational channel for boats making any offshore passage between Miami and Key West. Its also extremely popular with the sport and professional fisherman, being chock full of all their favorite quarry. So down Hawk Channel we went, usually about two to three miles offshore.
By 1500 we were at the approaches to the Key Largo ocean side channel entrances. The question was, which one? I thought I knew, and we entered. But about 10 minutes into this narrow channel bordered by thick mangroves, it became apparent that this was not the right place. I later learned that we had entered the channel for John Pennekamp State Park. We did a 180 and went back out. What we were looking for was the entrance to an area called Port Largo, but that term was not on my chart, or even on my road atlas. And Googling “Port Largo” only showed real estate. Pfft! Anyway, after a few phone calls to my new employer at Key Lime Sailing Club, I was finally coached successfully into the Port Largo canal system channel entrance. Our temporary destination was the canal seawall (dock) behind my boss’s house. Once inside the canal system, it was easy enough to find the house and dock based on the directions I had been given. At exactly 1600, we tossed our lines to our hosts there, and made fast.
We had done it! We had taken ourselves and our ten ton boat, over seven weeks and 850 miles of water, from New Bern, North Carolina to Key Largo, Florida, through cold, and rain, and dark of night – safely and without incident. What a great feeling that was – we were ready to celebrate – though Dana was admittedly sad that the voyage was over. For her, that meant no new sea-going adventures for a long time, and a return (soon) to the daily grind of employment. I was looking forward to a new job, and a new place. But all that would be the subjects of blog posts yet to be written.
December 10 – 14, 2016
Dana & I agreed that on Saturday December 10, exactly one week after we had arrived at Vero Beach, it would be time to shove off and continue our trip. So early that morning we had Swedish Fish tied to the fuel dock at Vero Beach City Marina, and we waited for them to open for business. At 0800 an attendant arrived and we loaded 40 gallons of diesel fuel. The last time we had topped off was way up at St. Mary’s Georgia. The tank holds 85 gallons, so it’s nice that we can go quite a long way between fill-ups.
At 0835 we departed Vero Beach and continued south on the ICW.
I’d been advised that, as much as possible, it’s best to take this stretch offshore versus on the ICW. The ICW portion of this stretch has dozens of drawbridges to manage, making for slow going and potential frustration. I had this in mind as we departed Vero Beach that morning. I had been researching various inlets near here which we might use to get out. Jensen Beach is just north of St. Lucie inlet, so I determined that we would head there and examine the weather situation and other variables necessary for a safe and effective passage offshore.
I did want to go as far south as I could before opting to go offshore, in order to minimize the necessary distance to travel on the outside. It was just the two of us now, and I had to take a variety of concerns into consideration before making that commitment. And since St. Lucie Inlet is just a bit further than Fort Pierce Inlet, and it isn’t far to Jensen Beach from Vero Beach, we bypassed Fort Pierce Inlet and continued south until we arrived at Jensen Beach at 1330 and anchored near the causeway bridge.
That afternoon and evening we discussed our options, studied the charts, and the weather forecast. It’s about 120 miles from St. Lucie Inlet to Miami. That would be another full 24 hours offshore. The weather forecast showed some showers in the area, and winds possibly 15-20 at times. We had already had enough fun dealing with rain on the ICW, and the thought of messing with it offshore was not good. We don’t have a dodger. If we did, that would probably make a difference in our choices in these matters. So with just the two of us, no dodger, probable inclement weather at times, and no prior experience with any of these inlets, well, the attraction of the offshore option was dimming. The decision was made. We would stay inside, make the most of it, not stress, and enjoy the scenery. I did not look forward to negotiating a zillion draw bridges, but too bad, that’s what was left for us. This meant that when we finished, we will have traveled the entire eastern seaboard of Florida on the ICW.
Sunday, December 11
We got an early start, and were underway again at 0730. We needed to make a pit stop for some supplies, and Port Salerno had a glowing description in Skipper Bob’s Anchorages Along the ICW, so we nosed into Manatee Pocket there and found a very nice spot to drop the hook at 0915. This gave us pretty much the whole day to spend ashore and look around. It’s a very pretty town, and about a mile walk to Walmart, so we made the trek and enjoyed some of the sights along the way.
Monday, December 12
We really liked Port Salerno, but time and money were ticking, so onward we had to go. At 0725 we got underway, and were soon in Hobe Sound headed south. Then there was that weather we had heard about. Clouds were gathering and darkening, and it appeared that we were about to get hit with some possibly stormy weather. At 1015 we pulled off to the side of Hobe Sound and put the anchor down to wait it out. We waited for an hour and a half until it did blow over, and at 1155 we weighed anchor and resumed our passage. We continued on, past Jupiter Inlet, and down through another long narrow cut.
Eventually we emerged into beautiful Lake Worth. At 1450 we found a nice anchorage at North Palm Beach, and settled in there.
Here we were surrounded by elegant mansions, manicured landscapes, exclusive golf courses, and boaters out enjoying this picturesque lake.
Tuesday, December 13
We got underway extra early at 0640, anticipating delays with bridge opening schedules. And at 0812 we chose to anchor at Palm Beach while waiting for the Flagler Memorial Bridge to open on schedule at 0900.
Passing through Palm Beach, we couldn’t help thinking -and talking- about our very new US President elect Donald Trump, who has a fabulous residence here called Mar-a-Lago. Fabulous is no overstatement; the house is more aptly described as a palace, with a rich history to go with it. Follow this link to read more about it.
We continued on and at 1430, as we were passing through Delray Beach, I smelled something coming from below. I gave Dana the helm and rushed down to investigate. It was coming from the battery box. Our cranking battery was boiling! The ICW is just a narrow canal here, but I found a wide spot, and immediately pulled off to the side of it to drop the anchor and kill the engine, fire extinguisher at the ready. The battery continued to boil, which worried me. I disconnected it entirely, but the boiling continued. I gave a call to Bill Zlobl, a gifted mechanic and boat surveyor friend whom I had worked with before back in New Bern. Bill advised that I had responded correctly, that there was no need for further concern, and that the battery would eventually stop boiling and cool down. At first I was miffed at the battery for failing to do its job, but then I realized that it was indeed over three years old, and at the end of its life expectancy anyway. It was simply done. No great shakes, we still had the house battery, and it would get us by until I was able to buy a replacement cranking battery. It took an hour or so for it to stop boiling. Wow.
Half an hour later we were back underway, with one less functioning battery. At 1630 we entered Lake Boca Raton, found the anchorage area, and dropped the hook at 1640.
We looked around and marveled at our surroundings. What a place! Imagine a modern, densely busy, but glittering downtown area of skyscrapers and luxury high-rise condominiums, with a large, palm-lined square lake right in the center of it. That’s Lake Boca.
That night, small groups with kayaks and party-lighted paddles (yes) ghosted past us, their laughter easily carrying across the calm waters. There were numerous other small boats out to enjoy a peaceful December evening cruise as well. Dana & I played cards in the cockpit, splitting our attention between the game and the enchanting surroundings. This was one of the best, if not the best anchorage of our trip so far.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
We got started early again this day before 0700, but by 1035 we had to anchor north of the Sunrise Bridge in Ft. Lauderdale to wait for the next scheduled opening. Of course, there were several other bridges to negotiate that day.
But by 1600 we had passed though the North Bay Island bridge, and found an anchorage just to the southeast of it. We could see the Miami skyline in the southern distance. The sense of accomplishment was beginning to well up inside of us. At last, we were nearing our final destination. But this was not the peaceful, sparkling anchorage of Boca Raton. Here were rowdies on shore, and in numerous center-console boats running about, crowded with young adults, bling-bling lights aglow, and stereos blasting that eclectic mix of rap, latin, and island music that is Miami. One boat went by with a jumbotron video monitor on it, advertising some indecipherable but oh-so-trendy thing.
To top all that off, seagulls were here by the thousands. They didn’t pay attention to us until the next morning…
December 3 – 10, 2016
As mentioned in the previous post, I was eager to get out of Melbourne ASAP because of the unfavorable anchorage situation. So on December 3rd at 0735 I had the engine cranked, and 20 minutes later the anchor was up and we were out of there. We were still in the broad Indian River, and we had some east wind, so at 0850 we raised main & jib, and cut the engine. We were sailing along and it’s always pleasant, and preferred over motoring when the wind is favorable, but our speed was struggling to make better than 4 knots.
An hour later the wind was weakening, so to keep us moving toward our intended destination (for today) at Vero Beach, I cranked the engine and we motorsailed for the next couple of hours.
We doused sail around 1345, and at 1425 we had arrived at the busy Vero Beach City Marina, where we picked up the only vacant mooring ball. We were grateful for a short travel day, and most especially for a secure mooring in a very protected cove. It was such a relief following the previous week of long days traveling, sometimes in the rain, sometimes at night, and sometimes in very dicey anchorages that provided no peace of mind.
So once we arrived in Vero Beach, and I had a look around and consulted with Dana, we decided to stay here a while and try to forget about the previous week’s hassles. We were officially in south Florida, and we were ready to relax a little!
Going ashore, it was apparent that we had crossed an enchanting ecological line. The dense, verdant vegetation was clearly different here from what we had seen. Coconut palms were abundant, and dropping their frighteningly-large seeds with generous, ambivalent abandon. Also here were exotic-looking Banyan trees, ferns, orchids, and flowers of all sorts growing everywhere. The locals in the immediate neighborhoods are predominately wealthy retirees, many of whom choose to live here only in the winter. Not a bad gig if you can swing it.
We wound up staying in Vero Beach for a week. We hadn’t intended to stay that long, but the mooring price was reasonable, I had a couple of projects I wanted to get done, and there were several interesting things to see and do here.
Our friends Willard and QP arrived at just about the same time, and on our first full day here we went out as a foursome and strolled through the nearby Riverside Park and Veteran’s Memorial, and we walked through the beautiful neighborhood between us and the beach. We also had a nice walk up the beach, where many people were relishing the warm Floridian winter, sunning and swimming. We were somewhat surprised by the abundance of Portuguese Man-O-Wars that were washing up on the beach. Most swimmers seemed oblivious, but one touch to those tentacles would have certainly gotten their full attention.
Later that week, on a rainy day, Dana & I visited the Vero Beach Museum of Art, which is also within walking distance to the marina. The city bus system is free, and we used it several times to shop at Walmart, West Marine, and Harbor Freight Tools. Vero Beach had become another one of the little stars on our southern migration.
Our daily circumstances were increasingly dictating that we become more energy self-sufficient. I had to run the diesel for 2-3 hours every day just to have the alternator re-charge our battery. The main drain on the battery is our 12 volt refrigerator, and without near-constant charging, it can suck-dry our house battery within just an hour or two. So also while we were in VB, I installed the first of our 100 watt solar panels. (I would soon learn that would only be the beginning!)
The only negative thing I have to say about Vero Beach is that biting no-see-ums (midges) are a daily, persistent pest there. Adjacent to the marina is uninhabited Fritz Island, made up entirely of mangroves. It is apparently where the no-see-ums flourish and breed their progeny for the next attack wave on the hapless humans anchored nearby. I had to obtain special no-see-um netting to stretch over our existing bug screens to keep them out. In desperation, we also bought a Thermacell to keep them away. But ultimately, it was the no-see-ums that helped prod us out of Vero Beach and back on our course south.
Dec. 2, 2016
We departed Titusville at 0910, and 30 minutes later we found ourselves in the broad open waters of the Indian River, with plenty of north wind at our backs. So we shut the engine off, and sailed on a broad reach under jib alone for the next four hours. It was a very satisfying sail.
In hindsight I do wish I had put up the main – our progress may have gone from good to great. Nevertheless it felt great to be sailing along toward our goal. At 1345 the wind had eased a bit, so we cranked up the engine and motorsailed the rest of the way on into Melbourne / Eau Galli.
The odd thing was just how similar this anchorage was to the one we just left in Titusville. The only difference was that this time we were on the SW side of a high rise bridge crossing the ICW. But the anchorage and wind conditions were nearly a carbon copy of Titusville: we were pinned to a lee shore by strong NE winds, on a stretch of water big enough to produce the “washing machine effect” for us. I moved the boat twice trying to find a more protected spot. When I thought I’d found one, some fellows on a fishing dock nearby hollered that we’d be aground by morning if we stayed there, due to the falling tide. So we moved again, although the next morning I could not see a big tidal difference. But again, the anchor held fast, and all was well – save for my peace of mind. (I still fantasize about sharpies and other micro-draft boats that permit anchoring almost anywhere. Maybe someday!)
And again, mostly due to the weather (wind) going ashore tonight was out of the question. So we had another bumpy night afloat, and I was eager to get out of this place ASAP the next morning. And we did.
We departed Daytona at 0740 and continued southbound on the ICW. At 10:00 we passed Ponce Inlet, but stayed inside and continued on the ICW. The wind was blowing freshly almost straight out of the north, pushing us along. But it wasn’t until we entered Mosquito Lagoon near Cape Canaveral that the water was open enough for us to set sail. I don’t usually bother with the main when running, and so we rolled out the jib and motorsailed with it alone, making brisk progress. We were sailing neck-and-neck much of the way with our friends Willard and QP on board their Cal 46 Freya, and several other southbound boats.
That afternoon rain showers appeared in several places on the horizon around us, and we had to negotiate some long, circuitous, and narrow passages in the channel, at sometimes to windward, with the uncomfortable wind and spray to go with it.
We arrived at Titusville at 1600, and I must say I was quite disappointed at the only available anchorage area. It is an unprotected area on the NW side of the Max Brewer bridge. With winds blowing steady at 15 with higher gusts, and straight out of the north east, this put us on a lee shore, overnight, at the end of a considerably large fetch of water – about two miles wide across the vector from which the wind was blowing. This meant that we were in for a very choppy (bumpy) ride at anchor that night. It also meant that I was going to have to get up many times during the night just to check the anchor and make sure it wasn’t dragging. I pored over the chart, but there was no other place to anchor for us. Blah!!
Willard and QP had arrived a little while before, and were anchored just a few boat lengths SW of us. They kindly invited us over for dinner. I was happy to accept their invitation, but I was quite apprehensive about taking our tiny dinghy out in that chop, at night, with both myself and Dana on board. That pretty much filled that (Walker Bay 8) dinghy, and left little freeboard for error. Dana was naively unconcerned, which in my mind only amplified my sense of responsibility.
With the dinghy banging into the boarding ladder like an irate bull slamming his horns into the chute gate prior to being released into a rodeo, we gingerly climbed in and made our way downwind to Freya. Fortunately, since it was a downwind run, we were not bucked off! Once on board, we enjoyed their company and one of the elaborate Asian-inspired gourmet creations that Willard and QP are so dedicated to incorporating into their daily lives. The forthcoming trip back to our own boat nagged at the back of my mind. But, with careful seamanship and focus, we climbed back aboard our little bull, hung on, and slowly picked our way home through the whipping wind and darkness, bobbing rather wildly across the white-capped waves. Sometimes there was only a couple of inches of freeboard between us and a completely swamped boat.
But I was grateful for a good meal with kind friends, and a chance to do something for a while other than worry too much about anchor dragging. And this time, there was no need to worry. Even though I did get up several times during the night to check, the Rocna 15 anchor was well set, and held like concrete to the bottom; we never budged.
I thought, “Surely tomorrow night, at Melbourne, we’ll have a good anchorage.”
That was not to be the case.
We departed St. Augustine at 0942, and continued south on the ICW. Much of this route is nondescript, essentially just a narrow canal through what is sparsely inhabited, often desert-like territory, with the beach just beyond a narrow dune strip as you head south. At 1530 I was ready to rest, but there were no good anchorage areas listed in the guidebook, and none looked apparent along the edge of the ICW. However near Flagler Beach, I spied an area on the west side that seemed as if it might be wide enough for us to anchor there, just on the outer edge of the channel. There were a couple of modest houses along the bank there.
At 1550 I figured what the heck? As long as I’m not impeding the channel, no one can tell me I can’t anchor here. We did anchor, shut down the engine, and started to relax and enjoy a couple of refreshments in the cockpit. About half an hour later, a man emerged from one of the nearby houses, gesticulating and saying something unintelligible that suggested that he was unhappy with our decision to anchor here. I was not happy with his attitude either. I did not see his (or anyone’s) name on the water here. I had another cracker and ignored him.
Perhaps five minutes after that, another southbound sailboat came by, and the solo skipper slowed and pulled over close enough to tell me that we “can’t anchor here.” “Say’s who?” I asked. He insisted that our boat was “in the channel” and that we couldn’t anchor here, but it was “not far” to Daytona, he knew the way well, and that we were invited to follow him there, where there was a good, designated anchorage. Reluctantly, based upon these two volunteer nay-sayers, I decided to accept his invitation. We cleared for making way, fired the engine back up, raised anchor, and headed out. Blah! It’s kind of like getting ready for bed at the end of a day, climbing in, settling down with your favorite book, and then discovering that there is something urgent which requires you to get up, get dressed, and forget all about being in bed. Not fun.
Anyway, it was definitely not “not far.” It was almost 15 more miles. I just took this sailor at his word, and didn’t study the chart. We went on, and on, and on…then it began to rain. Then the sun went down, and the rain intensified. Grr! Now there was definitely no stopping, visibility was terrible, and we were uncomfortable, but we had no choice but to continue on. Sometimes our lead boat was barely visible, but we stayed in contact via radio. We were using the searchlight to find our marks, and trying to stay in the channel, peering through the dark, rain, and haze.
Then, somewhere around Ormond Beach I believe, our leader himself strayed from the channel, and was hard aground! We passed him. I felt that I should assist, but in reality there was nothing we could do. Attempting to assist him would only put us in similar risk of running aground, something I was very motivated to avoid, especially given all of the present conditions.
We pressed on, and on, through the dark and the rain. Passed under a few more bridges, and finally, at 1845, we arrived at the crowded anchorage in Daytona and dropped the hook. By now we were very tired, wet, and a tad grumpy. It was still raining.
We had heard that Caribbean Jack’s was a bar/restaurant not to be missed for ICW cruisers through Daytona, and we could plainly see it across the water from the anchorage. We could even hear some of the happy customers enjoying their evening over there. But by this time we were in no mood to launch and rig the dinghy and set out over there in the rain. Unfortunately for us, Daytona was no holiday. We were just glad to be anchored, and out of the running-the-boat-at-night-in-the-rain-through-sparse-and-unknown-waters business. The bright side was that we made further progress south today than we ever intended.
We departed Beach Marina in Jacksonville at 0740, and continued southbound on the ICW. After an easy passage of just five hours, we dropped anchor in the Mantanzas River, directly in front of the imposing edifice of the 322-year-old Castillo de San Marcos. With satisfaction, I reminisced about a time a few years ago when I had stood on the southern rampart of that old fort, looking out at this water, and yearning for this day, when I would be doing just this thing. So be careful what you wish for. 🙂
We dinghied in to the St. Augustine municipal marina, and spent the afternoon exploring some of the sights downtown. That night we were enchanted by the city’s annual Christmas lighting extravaganza, clearly visible from our anchorage.
To get to the marina’s mooring field one must pass through the beautiful Bridge of Lions bascule bridge. Not knowing any of the particulars related to all this, I inquired at the dockmaster’s office about what the bridge schedule is, how to find our assigned mooring, and determined that we would do all of this early the next morning before the limited opening schedule associated with morning rush hour would begin.
So at 0630 on November 29, 2016, we weighed anchor, and 15 minutes later the bridge opened for us and we passed through. Five minutes after that, we located and secured the boat to mooring #50 at St. Augustine Municipal Marina. After breakfast we took the dinghy ashore and spent the entire day walking around this very special city, the oldest in the entire United States. We toured the Castillo, wandered through the breathtaking architecture of Flagler College, up and down the narrow streets and alleys downtown choked with all sorts of curious shops and odd museums, had another alfresco lunch par excellence, and went on and on til our feet could take no more, finishing up with a relaxing latte at the end of the day in a quiet cafe.
Dana wanted to stay a week I think, and I would have liked that too, but we had just spent a week in St. Marys GA, and time and money were both ticking, prodding me now to keep our journey on track without unnecessary delay.
Who doesn’t love St. Augustine? We’ll be back, and not too long from now, we hope.