20 October 2001 (Update #9)...
It's been a long 6 weeks since we got back from San Francisco, but it looks like the GOOSE... (no, we haven't changed the name; just shorthand for GOOSEBUMPS) is about ready to fly south for the winter!
And it's a good thing too. The weather has turned cold here on the Chesapeake (frost warnings for Annapolis) and we've spent all our money. Of course I've never been one to let a little thing like that slow me down! Celia, however, is little better disciplined and has refused to let me go play with the credit cards anymore without direct supervision from a responsible adult. :-)
Lots of things got worked on and we even finished a few of them. I have this vision of seeing the ICW, Florida and the Bahamas from a kneeling position on the deck (what is it about boats that dictates all work be done with the crew kneeling?!). Someone once told me that the word 'cruising' means 'doing maintenance in exotic places'. Uh-oh...
Several of the biggies are out of the way now:
- a Furuno 1712 radar is installed and working (we hadn't planned on radar
- a ridiculously expensive pair of davits grace the transom to hold the inflatable dinghy out of the water,
- we have a Village Marine 200 gpd water maker that reigns over the aft cabin (but we haven't put it in service yet),
- the single sideband radio is installed and working; we sent our first e-Mail on the first try (thank you Peter Kennedy!),
- the solar panels are in and working and
- we have a really classy enclosure for the cockpit that works very much like a sun room. Very nice to step out of the boat on these cold mornings into 75 deg F comfort. Is this the same guy you heard whining that it was too hot here on the Chesapeake? You bet it is!! :-)
None of these add-ons did anything to increase the space inside the boat, however. Celia has all the provisions on board and we may have to sleep in the cockpit tonight. Guess it's a good thing we have that fancy enclosure!
This big push started with getting the boat hauled at a nearby boat yard (Herrington Harbour North, owned by the same guy that owns our marina). I've never let a yard paint the bottom for me before, but this time I weakened. About the only thing I had to do was install a through-hull fitting for the planned water maker. I finished my part on Friday morning just ahead of the yard putting the boat back in the water. I went over to the chandlery (marine supply store) to get some bottom paint & brushes to touch up a few things. I came back to find the boat about to be picked up by the Marine Travel Lift... and no Celia. I figured she walked over to the chandlery to tell me they were ready and that I needed to get my butt over there post haste. So off they went with GOOSEBUMPS while I moved the car over to the launch area. Still no Celia. When they shut off the engine on the Travel Lift I heard this "Br-u-u-u-ce! I'm up here!"
Turns out Celia was sacked out in the boat when they picked it up and slept through all the preparation. The Travel Lift is like a big lumber carrier that has 2 or more huge straps to pick up the boat; it requires a lot of fussing around to get everything lined up and connected securely. Celia didn't wake up until the boat went up in the air. Like any good San Franciscan, she woke up because it started swaying around in the straps and she thought it was an earthquake! :-)
The whole time the work was going on in preparation for our October departure, we were both studying for our amateur radio licenses. I had signed us up for an intense weekend course + test especially designed for cruisers to get their General Class license. It required a lot of prestudy and, in Celia's case, practice with Morse code. I didn't have to take the code test because I'd had a Novice Class license back in 1955. It was long expired, but having passed the 5 words per minute code test back then meant I didn't have to take it again. It was a very intense weekend, but our instructor, Gordon West, is a superb teacher who puts heart and soul into what he's doing. If you want a license and are willing to put a little (lot?) of work into it, he'll do everything it takes to see that you get it. I really can't say enough good things about this guy from Costa Mesa. When it was all over Sunday evening, we both had our General Class licenses... amazing! Celia's call sign is KG4PQW and mine is KG4PQV. [ Note: our call signs have changed to K5CMB (Celia) and W5BAB (Bruce) ]
The work on the GOOSE... still isn't complete, but we have enough done that tomorrow morning we'll top up our fuel and water tanks and hopefully be on our way south. The ICW (intracoastal waterway) starts in Norfolk, VA where it will cut through the south corner of Virginia and take us to coastal North Carolina. Then it's down through North and South Carolina, Georgia and into Florida. We'll stop in Eau Gallie (pronounced oh-golly), near Melbourne, FL, where we'll attend the annual meeting of the Seven Seas Cruising Assoc. I've been a member and Commodore in the SSCA since 1970 and have attended only one other Gam (1984). Should be fun.
From Eau Gallie we'll continue down the ICW to Stuart, FL. At Stuart we'll turn inland and cut straight across FL vian Lake Okeechobee and on to Fort Myers. At Ft. Myers we'll leave the ICW system and head south to the Florida Keys, probably Key West. There are thousands of tiny islands in southwest Florida and I'm told it's a must-see area of the United States.
Between now and the time we get to Key West we'll figure out how we want to cross over to the Bahamas. Somewhere around early December we'll make the crossing and probably head to Georgetown in the Exumas. That's about as far as our insurance permits us to go at the moment, so we'll cruise around the Exumas first, then start working our way north from there. The idea is to end up in the Abacos in the early part of the year (March?) where we'll head back to California for a couple weeks. Then we'll rejoin the boat and cross back to the US.
No doubt we'll have a new list of must-do items that will need some attention when we get back. When that work is done sometime in May we'll start working our way north going perhaps as far as Maine. We want to spend the summer of 2002 cruising the Maine coast, then we'll start south again, this time to go down into the Caribbean: Puerto Rico, US & British Virgin Islands, etc. Not sure how far we'll go, but we'd both eventually like to at least see Trinidad.
I'll close with a family note. You may recall that my son Brad graduated from law school last May. Just heard from him that he passed his Maine bar exam and was sworn in today. Very, very cool. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine myself saying "... my son, the lawyer..."! :-) Good on you Brad!!
27 October 2001 (Update #10)...
We be cruisin'!
The GOOSE... finally left the dock about 2:30 on Saturday, 10/19... later in the day than we would have liked, but we were on our way. Our first stop was a very popular cruising destination called Solomon's Island which is on the Pautuxent River. Lots of things going on there that are targeted for tourists arriving by either boat or car. Our big plans for a dinner at a highly recommended Chinese restaurant next to the Tiki Bar evaporated as the day wore on and the reality of a late arrival sunk in. The boat was a lot faster before we loaded all these 'must-haves' on board. Now the boat is draggin' its butt through the water!
In the days before electronic charts, a late arrival meant that we'd have had to just slow down to a crawl and wait for daylight so that we could see our way into the channel. Thanks to computers, electronic charts, the global positioning system (GPS), depth sounders and radar, we were able to feel our way along the channel, through the harbor and into the anchorage without benefit of moon light to help us. Everything worked very well and, other than the anxious skipper twitching like the Energizer Bunny with a new battery installed backwards, we arrived without incident.
From Solomon's we sailed south past the mouth of the Potomac and into Mills Creek off the Wicomico River. The other boats pulling in for the night went on up the Wicomico and we had the creek to ourselves. We enjoyed complete isolation from anything urban... just the trees starting to show their fall colors, the marsh grasses showing signs of brown and countless birds. Very private. It's hard to imagine that this place is only a few miles from Washington, DC and any number of military installations. We weren't very far at all from CIA headquarters.
The next morning we headed into the East River on Mobjack Bay. Not a bad day since we finally got to do a little sailing. When the wind shifts into the right direction, we can move the boat much faster than by engine power alone.
We stopped at East River for the night because I knew there was a boat yard there. We needed to have them track down a persistent leak that put about 5 gallons of seawater into the bilge after about 8 hrs of running the engine. We called the yard next AM and found they were too busy to help (they're hauling boats for winter storage). However they did give us a couple other possibilities to try. So off we went across Mobjack Bay into the Severn River. A mechanic obliged us by looking over the engine very closely and finally had to say 'sorry... I can't find a leak anywhere'. By then it was getting late so we took a berth for the night and I called the company that built our boat to get a few ideas of what might be the source of the leak.
Bright and early we were off to Norfolk, VA and the Elizabeth River. This is where the ICW begins. We came in past all the huge Navy ships in port for repairs, provisioning and refits. Everywhere we looked there were large ships and barges moving around, both commercial and military. The activity far exceeds anything either of us had encountered on San Francisco Bay. We worked our way around the Navy's Norfolk base and found our way to Holiday Harbor in Portsmouth, VA. Holiday Harbor is an anchorage right beside red buoy 36 and coincidently Mile 0 of the ICW.
The next morning marked the start of our 1,000+ mile trip down the ICW toward Stuart, FL. And just to get ICW rookies like us in the swing of things, they put 3 bridges within 1 mile of each other that are each too low to pass under. The 156 bridges on the ICW either have 65' clearance (we fit under those easily) or they're draw bridges. In order to get through these draw bridges you have to call the bridge tender on VHF marine radio on channel 13 and ask that they open for you. There's a lot of traffic on the ICW and all the bridge openings would play havoc with local street traffic. So in the interest of good community relations (and maybe not getting his tires slashed!), the tender often delays the opening to get a few boats to go through at the same time. If there's commercial traffic coming through, they get priority. At our fourth bridge, the tender let 3 boats stack up until a 4th one arrived before he opened.
A couple miles after the 4th bridge we came to the junction to what's called Route 2 of the ICW. Route 2 takes you through the Great Dismal Swamp Canal which dates back to the time of George Washington (one of the original investors in the canal project). The swamp is actually 9 or more feet higher in elevation than the ICW and must be separated by 2 locks. Without these locks, both the lake and the swamp would be drained. We started our trip by going through Deep Creek Lock where we rose to the level of Lake Drummond located in the middle of the swamp.
There's been below normal rainfall and the lake level is a little low. This has forced the Army Corps of Engineers (they maintain and operate the locks) to limit the number of openings to 2 per day instead of the advertised 4. There are 2 locks and each is 150 feet long, 50 feet wide and 9 feet deep. Each holds about 67,500 cubic feet of water or about 1/2 million gallons. 2 locks opening twice per day is about 2 millions gallons of water coming out of the lake every day.
We arrived about an hour late for the first opening and had to anchor until 3:00 pm to catch the 2nd opening. It also meant that we wouldn't make it to the 2nd lock, about 25 miles away, until the next day since no boats are permitted to travel on the canal at night: they are very narrow and with no aids to navigation.
After we were locked through, the lockmistress hopped in her truck and drove over to a draw bridge 1.5 miles away at the town of Deep Creek, VA and let us through into the canal. Just past the bridge is a dock provided by the town of Deep Creek. There wasn't a soul there so we stopped for the night.
We went over to the shopping center for that Chinese dinner that Celia missed on Saturday. Celia ordered from the counter and when it arrived, nothing was like either of us expected: the Admiral was pissed! I still managed to eat enough for 2 (we had enough food for at least 4 people!) and staggered away holding my belly and promising to never ever do that again... 'till the next time! At least we had good TV reception so we got to watch CSI and pretty soon Celia stopped grinding her axe.
The canals of the Dismal Swamp are incredibly beautiful. Trees showing their fall colors overhang from both sides of the canal. Nothing is visible beyond the trees because of the dense growth. The only thing you can see besides the trees and the black water is the narrow strip of sky above. We literally had the canal to ourselves with no boats in sight in either direction as we got underway about 6:30.
Btw, 'black water' refers to fresh water that takes on a very dark brown color that is derived from the decomposing vegetation that falls from the trees... leaves, pine needles, branches or even whole trees. The tannin in this vegetation gives it the characteristic color.
You have to stay alert when traveling through the canals. About 6 miles into the canal we came across a tree lying across the canal. We were able to squeak by on the east side and kept going. A call back to the lockmaster at Deep Creek on channel 13 gave him an opportunity to warn the next boats so they could be on the look-out. You really don't want to break your boat around here because there's simply no way to get help to you.
The Dismal Swamp Canal ends at the Pasquotank River. We had hoped to make it to Elizabeth City, a cruiser friendly town on the Pasquotank, before it got dark but there really was no way to do it. So we anchored for the night beside Goat Island (no... no goats!) and went the remaining 8 miles into Elizabeth City next morning.
Unfortunately the unseasonably warm weather we've been enjoying went away last night. We woke up to very chilly conditions, probably in the 30s. So instead of taking a free berth at the city dock where there's no electricity, we took a berth at the only marina in town, Pelican Marina. That way we could have real showers, get some laundry out of the way and be able to turn on the electric heater!
At the moment we're waiting out some blustery weather with maybe another 35 boats. As soon as it eases a little, we'll get back into the main part of the ICW 15 miles away and head south with the rest of the 'snow birds'.
Hope all is well with everyone. It certainly is at our end of the line!
31 October 2001 (Update #11)...
BOO! Bet I scared yuh, huh?! Happy Halloween from the GOOSE...!
We're motoring along across the Neuse River as I write this, headed for Adams Creek. It's warm and sunny and the Admiral has collapsed on the settee in sheer delight for a snooze! :-) This is the sunset that was waiting for us when we finally arrived and anchored. A half hour earlier the folks on CONNEMARA who we had never met before zoomed around the anchorage delivering little packages of Halloween cookies for the boats anchored there. Halloween is Celia's favorite event, so they made a big hit with her!
When I last wrote we were in Elizabeth City, NC waiting for the wind to ease. It took an additional day, and when we left I wasn't so sure I'd timed it right, but it turned out to be OK. And cold! We kept the enclosure closed up while we motored along with the engine rumbling away. As long as the engine is running we can operate the heater, but after the engine is off and we're anchored it's time for long johns and hot tea!
We powered through Alligator River Bridge along with another Gemini, SEA YA . SEA YA was built back in the late '80s and is sailed by a very experienced crew, Dennis & Arlyce Johnson who sailed the boat out from San Diego, CA via the Panama Canal. We spoke to them briefly on VHF radio as we went by while they were setting up their spinnaker, then were surprised after we anchored hours later to see them pull in for the night just a short while after we did. Got a chance to see their boat and learn a little of how these folks have made their Gemini more liveable.
We got up the next morning with sun everywhere but where we wanted to go. Wouldn't you know, the Alligator-Pungo Canal was the only place with fog. Not quite tully fog like we get in the San Joaquin Valley of California, but a bummer when you have to negotiate a very narrow channel with likely oncoming traffic. Thankfully a barge happened along and started right on into the canal. Good! We followed him in with the radar going and stayed behind him about 1,200 yards. We could see the foam from his wake (we centered ourselves in it) and occasionally we could see the shore... it was a nervous trip. Check to view juat off the bow of the barge... nothing but a grey smudge down next to the water!
After the first straight section of about 15 miles (on the ICW they use statute miles instead of nautical miles), the fog lifted and we could relax a little. Once out of the canal we found some wind and got to do a little sailing.
About 1:00 we came to the town of Belhaven and decided we'd make an early night of it. Took a berth at Robb's Marina and discovered they had golf carts available for guests to use at no charge. Yee haw! I'm sure you can picture it: 2 seniors ripping around in their handicap cart. Don't know if the locals get a laugh out of it, but they damn sure get out of the way! We got a propane tank refilled, mailed some letters and bills and did some shopping for fresh foods. What a hoot toodling around town in that thing! Then we found that to get to the Food Lion supermarket we had to go down the highway... oops! White knuckle time! We felt like a target the whole way. On the way back we found an automated speed trap. Speed limit was 25 MPH and we were testing the envelope at a blazing 11 MPH!
Sadly we saw that 1 out of 6 houses had a for sale sign out front and 1out of every 3 was having a new, higher foundation installed. We asked at the marina and they said that the area is depressed, but that the biggest problem is the water that comes with the hurricanes and tropical depressions. Floyd caused a lot of damage in the area and many folks left. It's really a shame because it's a wonderful little town.
By the time they closed the office at the marina we were surrounded by nothing but large power boats. Everything towered over us. I had the feeling I was camping out in downtown Chicago with skyscrapers all around! There was a narrow path down the center for us to get out in the AM, but I wasn't looking forward to it.
No need to have worried, however. We were up at 6:00 AM and there were engines starting all around us. 3 boats cleared out at the end of one dock and I had an easy shot at getting out of there.
One sad note. When we first arrived at the marina, another catamaran, a Canadian boat, arrived and was immediately hauled out. Once out of the water we could see that one rudder was bent back at a 20 degree angle and Celia said she saw water pouring out of a hole in the hull near the rudder. We understand there are several of this brand of catamaran (a PDQ) that are traveling together toward Puerto Rico. Hopefully his insurance and the builder can work quickly to get them on there way again.
[ We later learned that they had moved to the side of the Alligator-Pungo Canal to make room for commercial traffic and hit a submerged snag which bent the rudder back. When it was bent back, the trailing tip of the rudder was pushed up into the hull. The area that was holed is a flotation chamber, so the boat was in no immediate danger, but steering must have been a bear! ]
There were a lot of good smells coming from the galley as we motored along this morning. About 10:00 Celia come out into the cockpit with her famous pumpkin bread. Really a shame I can't share it with you all. Yeah, right! :-)
A little disconcerting was to hear a very garbled transmission between (we think) SEA YA and TowBoat/US (TowBoat/US is sort of the AAA tow truck of coastal waters). No idea if we heard right or what might be wrong. We're hoping they were relaying a message.
That's it for the moment. Should be on our way again in the AM since there's no weather warnings yet.
25 November 2001 (Update #12)...
Yikes! Just reviewed the last update and realize it's been awhile since I wrote. Not to worry... we'll fix that right now!
I left off last time at Belhaven, NC at standard mile 135. From Belhaven we continued in a generally south and west direction and went through Beaufort, NC (pronounced boe-fort; the town of the same name in So. Carolina is pronounced byou-fort) and headed down Bogue Sound. It was a gray wet day and we had plans of stopping at Swansboro where we'd been told they had a free dock. Free is good.
By the time we got to Swansboro the sun had come out and apparently caused the free dock to become invisible. Bummer. While the captain was grumbling about his disappointment, we heard a call on channel 16 for GOOSEBUMPS. When I responded, I found that an internet acquaintance, Michael Beattie, who was crewing on a delivery of a 48' catamaran named SCOUT, had spotted the GOOSE... We had exchanged itineraries before leaving but I never imagined there was any real chance we would actually locate one another.
Turns out that SCOUT was meeting another catamaran, SIDE BY SIDE, at an anchorage some unspecified distance down the way. All we had to do was get past the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune firing range and through a bridge that only opens on the hour during daylight with sundown only an hour away. When you're overwhelmed with enthusiasm and have a distinct lack of good sense it's pretty easy to say "Sure!! We'll see you there!" The best I could do was keep SCOUT on the radar screen... they just blew out of sight. That's what 14 more feet of hull length, 2 engines and half a million $$$ will do for you! Everything ended well with us arriving well after dark. It was wonderful meeting Michael, his wife Layne and 4 other catamaran owners. 8 sailors sitting around after dark swapping lies can sure make a lot of noise! :-)
On to Wrightsville, NC. We met up with SIDE BY SIDE again (SCOUT was long gone), but they were stopping at the marina for a few days to connect with relative; we stayed in the Wrightsville anchorage before pushing on. When we found the anchorage and dropped the hook, what should we see but another Gemini! So we got settled then stopped by on the way to shore and met Jeff & Susan on ABOUT TIME. Jeff is an inveterate do-it-yourselfer and has done countless improvements on his boat. Both he and Susan seem to have boundless energy!
Turns out that Jeff ran for US Senate in the state of NY on the Independence Party ticket (?... not sure I got the party right) against Hillary Clinton and all the rest. Interesting couple and he and Susan are die hard bridge fans. Before we parted company 3 days later, he and Susan had taught us the rudiments of bridge. Now we know just enough to be dangerous! :-)
After a stop at a free dock called Barefoot Landing (it's actually a very nice outlet mall with several restaurants) and then anchoring in Calabash Creek where I managed to get many no-see-um bites, we went on to the Waccamaw River. I could have stayed there for a week just enjoying the peace and quiet. We were perhaps 2 miles off the ICW and not a single other boat ventured up there. The area is a protected cypress swamp. I'd love to see it in the spring with full foliage... it would be a completely different look.
Besides ABOUT TIME, the only other boat we saw was a small runabout. Jeff talked to the guy for a few minutes and was told about "the gray man". Superstition has it that if you see the gray man on the river, you're in for some bad weather. Since we had pulled into the Waccamaw R. to wait and see what hurricane Michelle was going to do, it sounded a little ominous. So I took the safe approach: I shut my eyes and went to bed early! It must have worked because Michelle weakened shortly after that and went out to sea. Unfortunately it went right through the area of the Bahamas that we intend to visit! Not sure what we're going to find there.
We parted company with ABOUT TIME so we could stop at a local marina in Murrells Inlet, SC while they continued on south. We needed a safe place to leave the boat for a few days while we rented a car to attend the SSCA meeting in Florida and then drive to Annapolis to retrieve Celia's now repaired car. As we tied up at the transient dock we heard Michael Beattie's voice again! Very cool... got to spend an evening with Michael and Layne who were boat-sitting SCOUT.
We enjoyed the 3-day SSCA meeting. Lots of cruising information and we heard a presentation on e-Mail via ham radio. Since we now have our ham licenses, this turned out to be a very helpful session. Plus you can't beat the price for using the system: it's free! It's really amazing what these folks do in the way of providing services to communities and other hams just because they enjoy it. Very cool.
Celia's car looks better than it did before the accident. Gott's Auto Body in Annapolis did a great job with the repairs. We left the car in Annapolis where our former neighbor Ric can keep an eye on it and run the engine occasionally. When we got back to Murrells Inlet, I had to return the rental car to the Myrtle Beach Int'l Airport and take a cab back. I really couldn't get over the amount of construction going on in the area and wondered at the pretty significant airport they have. The cab driver filled me in: golf is the big attraction. In the greater Myrtle Beach area (The Strand) there are 120 golf courses and over 100 housing developments all focused on support for visiting golfers. I'm not a golfer, so it was a big revelation to me. If someone were looking for bargains in the way of real estate, forget South Carolina... it's already been thoroughly discovered!
We picked up a paper so we could maybe get a better feel for what was going on in the area. Celia spotted an article (Sun News, 11/15/2001, Community section) celebrating a local teenager who singlehandedly conceived and implemented a project to help homeless children that stay in temporary housing. It was a really cool thing he'd done and Myrtle Beach wanted to recognize it. He and his family was awarded a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta (the kid said "It was really neat, everybody called you sir or madam"), and at a special dinner the singer Toni Braxton presented our hero with a trophy, a $10,000 scholarship and (are you ready for this?!) a one year supply of toilet tissue!! What can I say? Well... quite a lot, probably, but I'm biting my tongue! :-)
We escaped from Murrells Inlet and the Wacca Wache Marina (it was starting to feel very comfortable) and after many miles we found ourselves on the Great Pee Dee River. Hmmmm... did I get that right? Yep, Pee Dee. Ooo-kaaay. Guess I was distracted by the name because I missed the turn into the canal that the ICW follows. After about an hour with not another boat around and the sudden appearance of the Atlantic Ocean in front of us, I realized I must have blown it. So we retraced our steps and found our way back to the ICW.
Checkout this local "school bus" we saw along the ICW in South Carolina. How'd you like to go to school by boat?! Pretty cool.
On to Inlet Creek for a night in a very narrow channel with mud walls all around. I was worried the entire night that the boat wouldn't have enough room to swing on the anchor when the tidal currents changed direction. Worked out fine, but it's my job to worry and I did it well!
The next day saw us in Charleston Harbor where we stopped at the Ashley Marina. We planned on 2 days, but ended up staying 5. We thoroughly enjoyed Charleston, SC. I traveled here a lot in the '60s and '70s while I was working for Lockheed, but hadn't seen the town for at least 20 years. What a change! There's been a huge amount of restoration, the College of Charleston has a beautiful campus, many of the old homes in the area of the Battery are restored, this is where you find Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, and now they actually have several restaurants downtown. In the '60s I couldn't find anyplace to eat by the time I got off work! There's been a lot of progress in Charleston, done in a very attractive and tasteful way. If you find yourself in the area it's well worth your time to stop here and see what the town has to offer.
We celebrated Thanksgiving while we were in Charleston. Yes, turkey with all the trimmings. Celia done good! Even had leftovers that we polished off today for lunch while we motored along. Complete with some fresh bread Celia baked along the way. Is it any wonder I'm getting as round as the Pillsbury Doughboy?!
Our stop tonight was chosen in part because I wanted to put it in the newsletter: Toogoodoo Creek. What a name! I don't know if they're talking about the quality of the anchorage or what I'm going to find stuck to the anchor when I pull it up tomorrow! It turns out this wasn't a very good choice: there's a rotten chop that's built up in the wide channel and the waves are really hitting the sides of the boat. I don't think we'll be getting much sleep tonight!
We are anchored near standard mile 495, about 650 miles from Annapolis, MD. In the morning we'll be on our way to Beaufort, SC (byou-fort, not boe-fort) then on to Savannah, GA. We've heard a lot of nice things about Savannah, so we'll probably take a few days like we did in Charleston.
Keep safe everyone...
28 December 2001 (Update #13)...
Ho! Ho! Ho! from St. Augustine, Florida! The GOOSE... is chilling-out on the San Sebastian River about 400 yds south of the Bridge of Lions. And I mean "chilling-out" quite literally! Turned cold about 4 days ago and this evening it's down into the mid-30s. Yikes! Mrs. Bowman's little boy has blood that has thinned to the consistency of water and no longer enjoys this sort of cool weather!
But I'm ahead of myself. We arrived here on 3 Dec. after having motored out of Georgia and across the St. Johns River. We've run into some unexpectedly fast currents along the ICW here in Florida. Immediately after crossing the St. Johns River we came to the first bridge where we cranked up the engine to maximum revs. We were doing 7.8 mph through the water, but only 0.8 mph over the bottom. It took us well over 2 minutes to cover the 80 or so feet under that bridge!! That means the current under the bridge was about 7 mph against us. Downright scary! Btw, back when we first entered the ICW we changed the calibration of our speed indicator to display mph and statute miles (same as a car) instead of knots and nautical miles. That's because the ICW, maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers, records distances in "standard miles". 1 standard mile = 1 statute mile. Once we leave the Florida coast and the ICW we'll revert to knots & nautical miles which agrees with how passage charts are drawn.
The biggest problem we've encountered along the ICW, and especially once we got to South Carolina, has been the bugs. In particular a little devil they call a noseeum (no-see-'em). In Georgia I stopped at a drop-in clinic on St. Simons Is. to confirm that I didn't have some other weird malady, but the good doctor confirmed that "yup... looks like bug bites". Not like any bites I've had before. They form a blister that's about 1/4" across and stands up close to 1/4" above the skin. And they itch like crazy! If you break the blister, the itching gets worse and they usually get infected. The nurse had a name for them: sand gnats. Little buggers must be the Georgia state bird! I'm told they leave a microscopic drop of toxin on the skin... no bite at all, just the toxin. Lucky us, we both have a really strong reaction to the toxin. Takes 2 weeks to get past the itching and swelling and settle down to a scab that takes another week to heal.
So when we got to St. Augustine, anchored a couple hundred feet from Castillo de San Marcos, and didn't find noseeums, we thought we'd found a good place to rest up while recovering from our bites. Plus we could do a little work while here. Then on our first night here we saw that the whole town is lit up with decorative white lights: the entire quarter mile of the Bridge of Lions, the trees in the parks, most of the business buildings, the hedges, private homes, the cannons. I think the instructions were "if it don't move, hang lights on it; if it does move, tie it down then hang lights on it!" They call it St. Augustine Nights of Lights and the effect is nothing short of spectacular. What more could these weary travelers ask than a gracious rest stop and no bugs?!
Of course the town is given over to keeping visiting tourists happy and to separate them from their $$$. Lots of small shops, restaurants, bars, carriage rides, elephant trains. They even have 1-on-1 walking tours of the historic area. It must be frustrating to locals to drive through the downtown area, but for us it's been very convenient and fun. We did our best to aid the local economy and got our Christmas shopping done as well.
Not long after we arrived the town was buzzing with preparations for the Olympic Torch to pass through on its way to Salt Lake City. Cool! Celia & a cruising friend were downtown (50 ft from the dock) where they watched from the park; I watched from the deck of the boat as it was carried over the Bridge of Lions. In 63 years this is the closest I've gotten to the Winter Olympics.
There's a little disagreement aboard GOOSEBUMPS about this next one. I think that a highlight of our stay in St. Gus was to take the senior bus over to West Marine & to the Winn-Dixie supermarket. They dropped us off right at the door, then come back to get us at a prearranged time. So for $2 round trip each we got all our shopping done. 2 small problems. 1 hour of shopping took us over 4 hours by the time we were back at the dock where we left the dinghy. Things don't move real fast on the senior circuit!! 2nd problem was that there were some of those nasty noseeums hiding on the floor of the bus. Aaaarrggh! Took another 2 weeks to get over the new batch of bites.
While we were itchin' and scratchin', we did manage to get a little work out of the way. We installed the new 75-amp Balmar alternator to help us charge batteries faster. We resolved a number of setup issues in the charging system and have that running pretty well now. And we installed the last of the watermaker parts and got it running for the first time. Water is difficult to come by in the Bahamas and is often of questionable quality. And you have to pay anywhere from $0.10US to $0.50 per gallon.
A really significant discovery we made while anchored at St. Augustine that we'll need in the Bahamas has been learning to gather weather information from Winlink 2000 via the ham radio-mail system. The winlink.org web site has any number of useful features for cruising hams to improve safety while away from internet access, all of which are accessible via packet radio-mail. They even have weather fax images in a highly compressed format. Very cool stuff. And there's no charge for any of it... they do it cuz it's fun.
Our days of endless summer finally were challenged. The temperature abruptly dropped down from the 80s when a nasty, wet cold front came through punctuating the onset of winter with a big exclamation point! With wind gusts got up to 30+ knots and a current that runs through the San Sebastian, we had a pretty good test of our anchoring system. Unfortunately all the days and days of current first one way then the opposite had left the anchor and chain in a small little ball that looked like a large scale version of the candied apples I saw for sale over on St. George Street. There's also a rule (which I'd like to get changed!) that all weather changes of this sort must occur between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM.
So now it's cold, wet and the wind is blowing like a high speed hair dryer with a broken heating element. Celia got up about 4:00 AM to make sure no one has stolen our toilet and came back to bed with the report that "I don't think the boat is in the same place it was when we went to bed". Yikes! Time for the intrepid captain to leap into action! Well, sort of... I don't do "leap" very well any more and especially not at 4:00 AM! In proper cruiser fashion I started by exercising my full vocabulary of invective just to draw to the attention of the various wind gods that they aren't messing with any beginner. The north winds answered by cranking up the wind speed another 5 knots. If our name were Shingebiss (try a search on shingebiss + longfellow + hiawatha), we wouldn't have been intimidated by the north wind. However, my name in situations such as this is usually Capt. Defiant, but in the face of increasing wind speed Capt. Defiant adapted a more reasonable character and became Capt. Reasonable. We changed tactics a little and started the engine, hauled in the anchor & rode (anchor line + chain = rode) hand-over-hand then moved the boat out of harms way. Of course with all that adrenalin pumping, sleep was over for the night.
2 days later we had the same thing happen. This time we slept through it and got up at 8:00 AM only to see the bow sprit of the nearest boat about to spear the dinghy hanging from our stern. We were dragging again! I skipped the Capt. Defiant routine and went directly to Capt. Embarassed. When I hauled up the anchor this time I took a moment to look at it over the bow and immediately saw the wad of useless metal links wound around the anchor. Oops! Clearly I'd missed a vital step in the re-anchoring process the first time! Not to worry... I plopped the aforementioned candied apple look-alike on deck, unwound the mess making sure that I got an even coat of mud on both the deck and me, then quickly plopped the now-corrected contraption over the side before any of the other boats could notice what a damn fool they had in their midst! I have since edited our guide books by bleeding a red Highlighter over the part that talks about "...difficult currents south of the Bridge of Lions". You need 2 anchors here, folks... just like all the locals use.
So now we're running around getting ourselves ready to move somewhere warm(er). We need to find some propane, we need to buy a large kerosene lamp that will give us both light and enough excess heat to warm the boat a little, and we need a few groceries. Then it's off to Ft. Lauderdale where we'll gather our wits about us (some would argue that it's a fruitless task!) and head across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. Earlier plans to go through Lake Okeechobee to see the west & south coasts of Florida have changed because of our rather extreme reaction to the noseeums. I don't want to put us at risk by heading into an area notorious for insects. We're told that the Bahamas are significantly better for bugs, so that's where I'm placing my bet. We'll see.
Stay tuned... there's more coming!
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