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Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma…   This is probably the most difficult blog post I’ve tried to write.  For more than a week now, I’ve been trying to find words and without fail, I come up short. While Texas was still cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey’s visit and with wildfires burning all over California and the Pacific Northwest, a storm that would come to be named Irma started its long trek in our direction.  In the end, we were so fortunate.  Many of our friends, acquaintances and others we’ve never met were not.  Having lived this cruising life for more than 6 years now, we have friends and acquaintances scattered about all over the place, from Maine to the Florida Keys and beyond to the islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean.  When a monster storm like Irma or Harvey, or Matthew of last season appear, our concern is not only for own safety and that of our Cheshire, but for so many others who are suddenly in harm’s way.

I can’t even begin to summarize the disaster Irma has created, in fact I won’t even try.  Anyone who was watching it unfold on TV has seen the devastation.  So many of the places we’ve visited in years past are just wrecked, many of them before even completely recovering from previous storms.  St Mary’s GA got smacked, and our beloved St Augustine took another hard hit as well.  It seems only the panhandle of Florida was spared.  It’s all so overwhelming, but I think we are most heartbroken by the impact on the Florida Keys.   It’s beyond description really.  We’ve spent two winter seasons in the amazing community that is Boot Key Harbor and in fact had planned to return for at least part of the season this year.  I can’t even begin to fathom how long their recovery will take.  While the mainstream media has moved on, the recovery efforts across the state and elsewhere in the Bahamas and Caribbean are just beginning and will no doubt take years to complete.  Some places will likely never fully recover.

Irma was a monster storm right out of the gate, one that maintained hurricane status for 11 days.  She formed early and far to the west and left a wide path of destruction in her wake.  Closer to home, she brought epic levels of storm surge to Jacksonville FL resulting in flood levels not seen since the mid 1800’s.

While it pales in comparison to what many have experienced,  I’ll try to capture a bit of our personal experience with Irma.  It truly feels small and insignificant in the big picture, but because this blog is intended to capture bits of our own cruising life, I’ll give it a shot.

On Wednesday August 30, with the National Hurricane Center 11am update, Irma was declared a tropical storm.  We were already starting preparations to be away for nearly a week, and began considering some extra storm prep as well.  By 11am the following day (Thurs), Irma had been upgraded to hurricane status, and by 5pm that evening, was a Category 3 hurricane.  This was a pretty rapid development, as most hurricanes wander a bit as lower intensity storms. We opted to take down our whole boat sun shades (which catch a lot of wind) and the jib as part of our prep.

We left bright and early Sat morning, Sept 2, for our drive to the mountains of North Carolina.  We had a lovely time catching up with friends from OH, day-hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Asheville.  (Blog post on the NC trip to follow.)  Irma meanwhile continued to make her way across the  Atlantic, with periodic fluctuations in intensity.  It’s an understatment to say that we were closely monitoring her progress.

By Sunday evening, hurricane watches began to be issued for Leeward Islands.  By Monday late morning, those watches were upgraded to warnings, and watches were issued for the US Virgins, the British Virgins and Puerto Rico. Before midnight, the Virgins and PR would also be upgraded to warning status.  While we were enjoying our morning coffee at daybreak on Tuesday, Irma was upgraded to a Cat 5. By Wednesday morning, almost a full week after she began, Irma started tearing her way over the Leeward Islands, passing north of Puerto Rico later that night.

As originally planned, we left the mountains Thursday morning, and after a nice pause in Columbia, SC to lunch with one of my nieces, finished our drive to north Florida, witnessing an abundance of northbound evacuation traffic.  We arrived at our marina with enough daylight left to do a bit more storm prep… removed the dinghy and secured it ashore and doubled/tripled some docklines. Meanwhile Irma was prompting hurricane warnings in Bahamas, storm surge/hurricane watches for south FL & the Keys while she  pummeled the Turks & Caicos.  The 11pm update would  upgrade watches to warnings for south FL and Keys.

Friday we scurried to finish our storm prep, including removing our solar array (no small task), the blades of our wind generator, and clearing the last of covers and loose items from our hatches and the cockpit.  We opted to disconnect from shore power and set switches so that only the bilge pumps were juiced as we were now on battery  power (with no charging from solar or wind) only for the foreseeable future.  The last thing we did was tape bits of tarp over the helm, as well as the cockpit windows and door, having learned from previous experience that even beneath the bimini, they are prone to leaking in horizontal hurricane-driven rain.  Having done all we could do, we opted to evacuate ourselves, hoping our evening-into-nighttime drive would spare us some of the evacuation traffic jams.  (Jacksonville was set to issue evacuation orders for our area anyway, though many stayed behind… boats float after all).  As we arrived in Panama City Beach where we’d hide out at Mom’s previously empty condo, Irma was making landfall in Cuba, and was now forecasted to take a more westerly track… we swore she was following us to the panhandle.

LS_20170908_155053 finishing storm prep

Saturday morning, Sept 9th began my obsessive monitoring of TV/social media storm coverage.  By 11pm Irma was still meandering along the north coast of Cuba, setting sights on the FL Keys and west coast of FL.  Hurricane warnings were in effect from Fernandina Beach around the entire Florida peninsula to Indian Pass, just 62 miles east of PCB, the whole Florida coastline save about 150 miles of the panhandle,  plus the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, parts of Cuba and Bahamas.  The satellite views and radar around this time were telling.

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Irma next made landfall on Sunday morning, Sept 10, shortly after 9am as a Cat 4 on Cudjoe Key, between Key West and Marathon, but her path was wide.  By mid afternoon she’d moved on to another landfall (Cat 3) near Marco Island.  The flooding in the Marco Island/Naples area was significant.

Come Monday morning, Sept 11, the 8am update downgraded Irma to a mere tropical storm as she moved along the northwest coast, across the state and north into GA.  This is when things started getting exciting in Jacksonville.  Storm driven water being pushed into the mouth of the St Johns River met the outflow of the river, swollen from rain, resulting in epic storm surge and flooding in Jacksonville at levels not seen since the mid 1800’s. Thankfully a couple of friends who had either stayed aboard at our marina, or returned after the hurricane threat had passed, kept us posted as the water rose with the afternoon high tide. Apparently our marina was not at risk, but the next marina up river  came  uncomfortably close to having their floating docks float over the top of their lower-than-ours pilings, or so our fellow dock mates were warned by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office who were monitoring happenings along the waterfront.  To my knowledge only one boat in our marina sustained damage, when a poorly anchored boat drug and ended up broadside across a couple of others on A-dock.  Some cars however didn’t fare as well; the high water came fast and was a bit of a surprise, and those busy prepping boats didn’t think to move their vehicles.

Pictures tell the story better.  Many thanks to dock mates, including Kareena of s/v Valhalla and Maryam of s/v Colorado for most of the high water photos.  I tried to duplicate the shots later as the water receded, but the elevation change and high sun made it challenging.  Still, I think you can get a feel for it.  Check out the piling heights relative to things that don’t float, the ramp angles, etc.

From D-dock (ours):

From C-dock, on the way to the clubhouse:

Around the clubhouse, pool and grounds:

Elsewhere in Jacksonville, the Life sculpture at Memorial Park illustrates well.  The shot with wave action was from a local newspaper article.  The one below it is mine from a visit to the park earlier this summer.  At right is the parking lot of a long-closed department store in the complex with our local Publix; note the kayaker (another shot from the local paper).  Even as I write, the water is still receding about town and some are still without power.  As noted before though, there are so many others who are dealing with so much more destruction.  Again, we count ourselves as fortunate once again, but hurricane season is not over.  Even as I type, there are three more storms brewing in the Atlantic.  Here’s hoping that those who’ve already taken a hit will get a reprieve from storms still to come.

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A Long Pause

OK, so it’s been a pause of epic proportions… more than 4 months in duration if I’m being honest.  In the last few days, I’ve had two different friends/readers check in to see if we are OK, having not seen a post in a great while.  Mike would tell you I’ve been talking about needing to get caught up, and indeed, there is a lot to catch up on.  I’m considering myself nudged.  Note that I’ll be backdating posts to come to maintain some sense of chronology.

Since I left off blogging in early February in St Augustine, we’ve been…

… south to the Vero Beach area where we hung out on a mooring for awhile, caught up with some cruising friends and met some new folks, as well as hooked up with some long-time friends from Ohio, several of whom were camping in the Kissimmee area for a stretch.  How fun it was to compare our boat life with those who’ve recently taken up camping with tow-behind campers…

… then back to St Augustine for another couple of months where I celebrated another birthday as did some friends, made a return visit to both the bird rookery at the Alligator Farm and the Gamble Rogers Music Festival among other things…

…during which time we also rented a car for a month-long road trip from north Florida to Los Angeles and back with many fun stops along the way…

… and we helped some friends move their 51′ Morgan Out Island from St Augustine to Ft Lauderdale, my (Lori’s) first real adventure on a monohull except for occasional day sails, about a 3 1/2 day offshore adventure.

Just ahead of the beginning of June, which is also the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, we moved our Cheshire up to a marina off of the St John’s River, not too far from downtown Jacksonville where we’ll hang out through the summer-into-fall.  We’ve been here a couple of times before, but for shorter stays.  This time through, we plan to dig a little deeper.  It’s a comfy protected marina with great amenities including a pool and free laundry, both of which will be handy as we move further into the summer.  I’ve found a local yoga studio and we’ve sorted out the JTA  (Jax’s public transportation system) for when our folding bikes aren’t up for the distance.  We’ve got a running list of places we want to explore and Mike of course has a long list of restaurants he wants to check out.  As always, there will be some routine boat chores/projects, but as of this writing, nothing too heavy duty, and definitely to be scheduled in the early and late parts of the day… it’s already quite warm here.  My mid-day plan is to hide out in the air-conditioning and blog.

Time flies…

Today happens to be the 6-year anniversary of our moving aboard our Cheshire.  Just for fun, I re-read an early post (the text of which I actually sent via e-mail lists before I had this blog up and running)… find it here if you too are interested in the flashback.

We’ve also just sent our passports off to be renewed, reminiscing a bit about the places we’ve been in recent years and options for the years to come… and picked up some “alternate” passports to keep us occupied in the meantime.

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Stay tuned, and thanks for checking in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pass Through Pensacola

Road-trip 2017, Days 27 – 30

In the home stretch of our month long road trip, we headed into familiar-to-us territory in the Florida panhandle, but not before checking out a new-to-both-of-us area, Pensacola, Florida.  Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida panhandle, nearly 832 miles by road from Key West, or 524 miles by water.  Pensacola’s big claim to fame is Naval Air Station Pensacola, the first naval air station commissioned by the US government back in 1914 and home of the Blue Angels.  We spent the entire day exploring the area, including the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barracas, all on base at NAS Pensacola.

The Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum was quite interesting.  My favorite source for all things lighthouse, LighthouseFriends.com, has some history.  It is one of few that was actually occupied by both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.  The tower and the Keeper’s Cottage nearly became casualties again in the early 70’s when there was talk of it being an obstacle for the nearby jet traffic on the naval base.  Preservation-minded folks prevailed, and today the lighthouse complex as well as the nearby forts are protected as part of the Gulf Shores National Seashore.  A most pleasant surprise during our visit was the “Women Who Kept the Light” exhibit, showcasing not just the women keepers at Pensacola but across the country.  It was an exceptionally well done exhibit and in my humble opinion, too much of a well kept secret, even on the lighthouse’s own website.

 

P1050771 Jeremiah Pelican Lighthouse Keeper

Jeremiah Pelican Lighthouse Keeper

Outside I was captivated by yet another creatures-as-public-art-project, this one entitled Pelicans in Paradise.  This was one of a flock of 41 5 ft tall 70 lb birds, hatched in 2004-2005 and scattered about Pensacola as a fundraiser for the local newspaper’s Newspapers in Education literacy program.  I’m not certain how many of them remain (though I was tempted to seek a few more out), but Jeremiah seemed to be in fine shape, obviously a well tended to bird.

The nearby National Naval Aviation Museum was at the same time impressive and a bit overwhelming.  With 350,000 square feet of exhibit space on a 37-acre campus, they obviously covered some history.  The chock-full space and the shear volume of exhibits made photography more than a bit challenging, at least for yours truly, but I couldn’t resist a shot of a few Blue Angels.  I loved that so many of the aircraft were shown suspended.

P1050777 Blue Angels, Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola FL

Blue Angels, Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola

Having spent way more time at the museum than we’d anticipated, we had only a short time to explored Fort Barrancas and none at all for nearby Fort Pickens.   Still, I was able to grab a few photos and Mike was recruited to help the onsite park ranger take the flag down at days end.

 

LS_20170424_140846 Hamaknockers BBQ, Crawfordville FL (so of Tallahassee)

Hamaknockers BBQ, Crawfordsville FL

Leaving Pensacola, we opted for the scenic route which took us through the Florida portion of Gulf Shores National Seashore. We spent a couple of nights at (Lori’s) Mom’s place in Panama City Beach, catching our breath, doing some laundry, generally slowing down a bit.  Mike’s nose found some good eats at Hamaknockers BBQ one afternoon on our way to Gainesville where we visited with friends for a bit.

 

On our last stretch from Gainesville to our Cheshire in St Augustine, we decided to stop and check out our new hometown so to speak.  We’d recently signed up for a mail handling service, officially known as St Brendan’s Isle, who handle mail for literally thousands of cruisers, RVers and others who travel.  They grew so much over the years that they outgrew their storefront (see Mike in photo below), but the post office (wisely) didn’t want to change their street address.  The little vertical bit between the windowed storefronts below is technically where we live.  We stopped by their new facility just outside of town to pick up our mail, along with that of a number of our friends, which saved us all some forwarding charges.  While we were in town, we also picked up library cards for our new city of residence.  Truth be told though, I’m not excited about Clay County Library’s e-book collection… it’s just not that big a population, but thankfully we’re also able to keep our cards for the Gainesville/Alachua Co Library which is awesome.

And thus ends another successful road trip.

Avery Island and NOLA

Road-trip 2017, Days 25 – 26

Many moons ago, Mike and I used to be regular visitors to New Orleans, LA.  Our general travel philosophy didn’t allow much for repeat visits to any one place, what with so many new-to-us options, but NOLA was different.  We’d return every 2-3 years for stretch.  Then Hurricane Katrina whacked this fine city in the fall of 2005.  We’d not been back since.

For all of our visits though, we’d never ventured out to Avery Island, home of the famous Tabasco Hot Sauce.  This trip, we decided it was worth a bit of a detour.  Beyond the spacious country store where one can purchase all things pepper sauced, we took the self-guided tour of the factory.  Despite signs warning of bears, we saw no wildlife in the vicinity of the factory.

Adjacent to the world famous Tabasco facility is the lesser known Jungle Gardens of Avery Island where Edward McIlhenny helped to save the snowy egret from extinction.  In the late 1800’s when the snowy egret was being hunted to near extinction for its plumage, he built an aviary on the island.  He would capture and raise these wild egrets, and after they raised their hatchlings, he’d release them in time for migration.  They apparently returned the following spring and every year thereafter, bringing some of their friends along as well.  The garden also features lots of gorgeous live oak trees, a sunken garden, several stands of bamboo and even a Buddha.  And of course there are alligators.  It’s a bit kitchy, but was worth wandering though.

 

From Avery Island we headed to Houma, LA which is nowhere really, but put us striking distance from NOLA.  Pizza at Redfish Pizza was quite good. The following morning we drove into the city.  Breakfast at Cafe DuMonde was of course obligatory.  After meandering the historic district for a while, we encountered long lines/waits at a couple of our favorite spots, settled on a new-to-us place that ended up being nasty.  Who knew you could get bad food in NOLA?

At the end of the day, we decided that as much as we love this city, it’s not at all the same on a day trip.  Or maybe it was the shock of city after several days in the back country.  Either way, next time we’ll plan better.  But for now, we needed to be making tracks.  We drove on to an uneventful night just outside of Mobile, AL with a plan to explore the Pensacola area of the FL panhandle the following day.

Road-trip 2017, Days 22 – 24

For our eastbound trip through Texas we were on a bit more of a fast track than we’d been on our way west.  We did pause for an evening in Houston though where we caught up with some of Mike’s family, his sister, two nieces, a niece’s husband whom we’d not yet met and a couple of wee ones.  It was fun to catch up and I’m kicking myself that no one though to take any photos.

Leaving greater Houston, we’d slow way down again.  We took to the backroads through Port Arthur and into the bayous of southwest Louisiana to pick up the Louisiana Outback Creole Nature Trail.  I had a number of National Wildlife Refuges in my sights.

We hit one of the Visitors Centers in the area to pick up some maps, grabbed a late lunch at the Anchor Up Grill in Cameron and spent the late afternoon into early evening exploring the Pintail Wildlife Drive and adjacent boardwalk at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.  Birds and other wildlife were abundant.  I’ve managed to id most of them, but input and/or corrections are welcome.

 

A number of alligators were also out and about, perhaps scouting their evening meals.

 

Out of daylight, we headed for the Lake Charles area where we’d grab a bite to eat, spend the night and get a jump on another day of bayou exploring.

The following morning’s exploration of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge gave us another opportunity to stretch our legs a bit.  We saw some different birds than we’d seen the previous day, along with some other creatures, and while there were several signs for gators, none were visible this morning, likely waiting for afternoon to sun themselves.

Mid-day we headed back into Cameron for a bite of lunch at T Boys, followed by a spur off of the Creole Nature Trail in search of the Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. Eventually located, it proved to be more for fishing access than it was birder-friendly.  No worries though; after a pass though, the late afternoon light fast approaching, we headed to our last stop of the day, the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.  A couple of creeping slow loops around the Wildlife Drive here proved to be a beautiful way to wind down our day.

From the swamps of southwest Louisiana, we’d head to the Big Easy.

Road-trip 2017, Days 18 – 21

Having gotten our fill of urban exploring, we headed out of LA and back into the deserts.  After a stop at Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant (a western chain) for a bite of breakfast, we motored on to Mohave National Preserve in southeastern California where we spent a perfectly delightful few hours hiking about.  The preserve is expansive at about 1.6 million acres.  We could have spent a lot more time here, but the Grand Canyon was calling.

Motoring on, we paused for the night in Williams, AZ, staging for an early morning visit to Grand Canyon National Park.  This stop was on our “must do” list for this road trip as neither Mike nor I had been here.  It would not disappoint.

The following morning we drove up to Tusayan where we parked the car and caught the free shuttle into the National Park.  Though our schedule would not allow for a hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon (Mike’s edit: nor would our old legs), we thoroughly enjoyed our morning trek from the south rim, part way down the Kaibab Trail and back up.  Our afternoon was spent shuttling about the central part of park, walking part of a paved rim trail and generally gawking at the views.  Back in Williams, we had dinner at the Historic Brewing Barrel and Bottle.


The following morning we were up and out early for a drive back into the south end of the park, and out towards the east end to explore the Desert View area.  We enjoyed more amazing views of the canyon in the morning light, poked around the Tusayan Museum and took in the architectural detail and fascinating artwork of the Desert View Watchtower.  The tower was designed by Mary Colter, a renowned architect of the time; find more history and some photos, including of the interior,  on the NPS page for the tower.

As with other places we’ve visited on this road trip, we could have lingered a lot longer, but we’ve got miles to cover and some more family visits on the calendar.  We headed out of the park at mid-day, stopping for lunch at a little Mexican place by the airport and some photos ops in downtown Winslow, AZ.

From here we picked up the pace to cover some miles.  After an overnight near West Mesa/Albuquerque we enjoyed a lovely Easter Sunday Brunch at the Slate Street Cafe, took a quick pass though Albuquerque’s Old Town (mostly closed on this holiday morning) and headed on into the vastness of Texas.

Road-trip 2017, Days 11 – 17

LS_20170410_073226 view from patio at D&D's

view from Duncan & Daniela’s

Finally we reached our western-most destination for this road trip, Los Angeles, CA.  Our week would be a combination of hanging out and sight-seeing with family and doing some exploring on our own.  What follows are some of the highlights.

A day spent in nearby Pasadena included a tour of the Gamble House, an American Arts and Crafts style home built in 1908 for the Gambles of Procter & Gamble fame.  It’s now a National Historic Landmark.  Indoor photography was not permitted on our tour, but the Gamble House website has extensive photos as well as information about the restoration.

A completely unexpected bonus to our trip to California was that it coincided with what’s referred to as a super bloom.  An unusually wet winter resulted in a spectacular explosion of wildflowers across much of the California deserts.  We would catch the tail end of the show.  Below are a few shots from our hike about Point Mugu State Park near the coast.  I couldn’t even begin to identify all of the wildflowers, so I didn’t even try.


Mike and I again braved the traffic of LA for a drive over to Venice, FL for a walk about the canals.  We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the canal district, along waterways lined with small but beautiful homes fronted by meticulously tended gardens and a few unusual watercraft.  After lunch a bite of lunch of course we had to dip our feet into the Pacific Ocean.  A building at the south end of the Venice boardwalk sported a most unusual mural, the Luminaries of Pantheism (photo below).  Turns out the building is headquarters to a nonprofit organization called the Paradise Project.  I quote from their website regarding the mural: “The mural was completed in March 2015, and features famous scientists, philosophers and poets who have espoused pantheistic views of the world — views that everything that exists consititutes a unity, and that this all-inclusive unity is divine (frequently described as “Everything is God”). Put simply, these great thinkers saw beauty in the connection of the universe. The Paradise Project, an organization dedicated to this ideal, is proud to honor these wise men and women for their contributions to human evolution and culture.”  An awesome bit of public art!

One of the things we love about visiting major metropolitan areas is the multi-cultural vibe.  It won’t be a surprise to those that have know us for a while that we decided to take a day to explore LA’s Little Tokyo.  We love opportunities to be reminded of our time in Japan and this day was no exception.  Appropriately, we opted to take advantage of the metro system which was quite handy.  We spent several hours exploring the Japanese American National Museum.  In addition to their permanent collection, we caught a couple of temporary exhibits that were particularly compelling and relevant in our current times.  “Instructions to All Persons: Reflections of Executive Order 9066” reflected on the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  “Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station” featured bits of reconstructed buildings from a detention camp along with the personal stories of some who held there.   On a bit lighter note, the final exhibit exploring the life and career of George Takei was also quite good.

Our brains full from the museum, we enjoyed a wander about the Little Tokyo neighborhood. We slurped a couple of bowls of ramen from Ramen Maruya, reminisced our way through a department store that could have been lifted from our neighborhood in Japan and last but not least, I was successful in my quest for a favorite but hard to find Japanese treat, black sesame ice cream, which tasted exactly as I’d remembered it!

Our last full day in LA found us on an urban hike in Griffith Park, a metro park sometimes referred to as the Central Park of LA. It was nice to stretch our legs and to catch a glimpse (though not a good photo of) the infamous Hollywood sign, the view of the LA skyline frankly made me want to hold my breath for a very long time.  Still, nice that they managed to carve out some 4300 acres for a public park instead of more buildings.

Having gotten our fill of the big city, we head back into the natural world, well kind of.  Next stop: the Grand Canyon.

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