9. Goin’ Down Florida, Really!

When we last checked in, we had just turned back to Charleston after leaving for a planned offshore overnighter to the Florida border.  The six-to-eight foot seas we were experiencing were forecast to moderate in the night, but we were still looking at 10 hours of effortful, less-than-fun sailing, so we sensibly aborted after an hour.  Four days later, we believed we’d found the next weather window.  This forecast was the opposite of the previous: moderate during the day, with both wind and seas building early the following morning.  Facing the prospect of another week in an expensive marina, we told ourselves that if we could put up with a few hours of unpleasantness, we’d be safely tucking into the St. Mary’s Inlet at the Georgia/Florida border by 7am the next day.

I can happily report that we did, in fact, enter the St. Mary’s inlet by 7am.  I can also report that the preceding hours were certainly unpleasant.  The wind and seas started building earlier than expected and by 9pm we had 8-foot waves rolling under our port quarter (rear left corner) every twenty seconds, fully visible in the bright full moon.  Keeping the waves on the quarter meant that we were sailing dead-downwind.  This is a difficult point of sail to maintain in the calmest of seas, let alone while steering through 60 degrees three times a minute to maintain our course, and our double-reefed main suffered more than a couple accidental gybes (when the wind catches the back of the mainsail and violently swings the boom over the opposite side).  We considered changing course to keep the 30-knot wind more solidly on our port quarter, but that would have put the waves on our beam, rolling the boat from side to side all night.  We opted to hold our current course, which at least had the advantage of pointing us directly to our destination.

We weren’t in danger. We’ve been in seas like this before (and not enjoyed it then either).  We had an opportunity to cut the passage short and duck into Savannah, GA, but we decided that a night approach into an unfamiliar inlet was potentially more dangerous than our current situation, so we pressed on.  In retrospect, we let our itching to move drive us rather than waiting for the right weather.  In the future, we’re going to wait for a bigger, more stable weather window; certainly less than 6-foot seas, regardless of the cost of another day in a marina.

Approaching the St. Mary’s Inlet with the rising sun, we saw the impact of the accidental gybes.  Our mainsail slides had ripped out of the track and the sail, still board-stiff, was held only by its halyard.  Once in the calmer waters inside Cumberland Sound, I wrestled the mainsail down, securing it with three wraps of a dock line around the boom.  By 9am we were on a mooring in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  By 9:01, we were asleep.

Safely on a mooring, we lazed about all that day, reading, falling in and out of sleep, and eating whatever nosh came to hand.  We woke up refreshed on Thanksgiving Day, cleaned up the gear and lines strewn about the deck during the passage, properly stowed the main, and got everything ship shape.  Over long phone calls around the country we were able to experience our families’ celebrations, albeit at a remove.  While we missed everybody, Deb made sure that we didn’t miss out on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, having provisioned us with fixings for stuffing, veg, and a roast turkey breast.  We even found a can of whole cranberry sauce in the galley (expiration date June 2014).  We broke out the box wine and gave thanks until full.

After recuperating and enjoying the holiday, it was time to get moving again.  Back in the ICW, we watched Florida pass by as we made our way south.

We fueled and tied up in Jacksonville Beach where we fell asleep to the strains of the marina bar band (“Hold on Loosely”, “Gimme Three Steps”, “Born on the Bayou”, and, yes, “Freebird”) before moving on to St. Augustine.  St. Augustine is unlike anywhere we’d yet visited, not only with its Spanish fort and 17th Century buildings all strung up in lights, but the way that the city presses up against the waterfront such that the Municipal Marina is mere steps from the action.

And there is quite a bit of action.  We spent the next couple days being tourists, walking all over downtown.  In my very limited experience, St. Augustine is very pretty, and very very touristy. I’m sure there’s a deeper, more nuanced city off the beaten path, but it would take more than the short time we allotted.

 Always read the plaque.

Always read the plaque.

Our superficial experience aside, we enjoyed our time in St. Augustine.  We serendipitously ran into old neighbors from our home marina, who, after a four-day offshore transit, travelled the same distance as we did in five weeks.  We ate yummy take-out Cubano and Ropa Vieja sandwiches.  We properly washed the boat.  We toasted to sunsets over the city.

The next morning found us on the road again, getting about 25-40 miles further south each day; Port Orange, Titusville, Eau Gallie, and Vero Beach.

 DAYTONA!

DAYTONA!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached peak Florida.

Twice on this leg we’ve docked in marinas that have been described as “Old Florida”: the Seven Seas Marina in Port Orange, just south of Daytona, and the Eau Gallie Yacht Basin, just north of Melbourne.  From these experiences I’ve come to take “Old Florida” to mean comfortably down-at-heels, quite reasonably priced, and peopled with friendly folks who don’t hesitate to help and make you comfortable.  Within minutes of tying up at Eau Gallie, no less than three of the staff and members of the close-knit community invited us to their regular weekly potluck dinner.  The theme was Puerto Rican cuisine, but our chocolate chip cookies were accepted without complaint and the pleasant conversation spun late into the evening.

 Eau Gallie Potluck

Eau Gallie Potluck

In addition to new people and places, driving down the ICW allows one to come in close contact with new flora and fauna.  As we venture south, we see more dolphins (although they successfully elude our many attempts to photograph them), palm trees, hanging moss, egrets, and pelicans, along with the familiar cormorants, gulls, and terns.  The pelicans hang out on the cribbing fenders below bridges, flying off to skim along the surface, then rising high to dive straight into the water for fish.  It seems that each pelican has a tern buddy, who, at each plunge, flies over to watch the feasting pelican and catch any fishy morsels that escape its pouch.

And now Delancey is on a mooring in Stuart, FL.  We were met by Deb’s folks, who picked us (and Lucy) up and took us to their place in Hobe Sound for an extended visit while we repair stuff and complete projects on the boat.  We used our dinghy for the first time, took showers, and enjoyed home-cooked meals. Every day this week we made a pilgrimage to the boat to bend on a new anchor (reputed to perform better in the hard sand of the Bahamas), replace a blown bilge pump fuse, fill the boat up with new provisions, and sew new slides on the mainsail.

 So shiny!

So shiny!

 The bounty of the sea!

The bounty of the sea!

Lucy rested at Grandma and Grandpa’s.

 Put the camera down and feed me.

Put the camera down and feed me.

Sometime after our last offshore passage, our anemometer (wind speed indicator) stopped spinning.  This thoroughly excited Deb as it meant not one but two trips to the masthead.  She climbed up with the concern of a bonobo and brought the offending hardware down to the deck.  I checked it out and found the bearing was shot.  After a bit of fussing we had it repaired and reinstalled minutes before another rain squall soaked the anchorage.

I like this team.

[Oh by the way!  We've added a map page tied to the location of each post!  Check it out here!  Enjoy!}