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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.

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve transited the ICW in north central FL.  We’ve made some outside runs off shore along this stretch as well, but often we’ve been inside.  The bridges are familiar to us.  The landmarks are familiar to us.  Occasionally we’ve stopped along the way… Cocoa, New Smyrna Beach, and a couple of stays in the Merritt Island/Canaveral area… but for whatever reason, although we’ve anchored nearby often, we’d never gone ashore at Daytona Beach.  Worse yet, although we’ve seen it numerous times from the water, we’d never managed to stop and visit the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet.  For this trip north, I vowed to remedy this.

We arrived in Daytona mid-day on Sunday, and after getting settled in a new-to-us anchorage, we went ashore on the Daytona Beach side of the river to find a bite to eat and scout the bus stop we’d need for the following day’s adventure to Ponce Inlet.  On  a tip from former cruising friends, we went in search of the Daytona Taproom; we were not disappointed. Great burgers, fries and plenty of local beer options.

After a lunch that was much more substantial than our usual, a long walk was in order.  We opted to make a big loop, over to the beach side, south to Main, then west on Main toward the Halifax River/ICW, and finally north up to where we’d left the dinghy near the Seabreeze twin bridges.  Little did we know that this route would take us through the heart of the tail end of Daytona Bike Week.  Despite our having motorcycled for years, we’d never seen this event in person… wow, just wow.  I couldn’t even begin to try and photograph it for fear of tripping off the curb in the crowds.

The following morning we were back ashore for breakfast before catching our bus.  The mass exodus was underway, with bikes on trailers everywhere and the monumental clean-up effort underway.  We caught our bus and settled in for the 10 mile ride south.

LS_20170320_095310 sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach FL

sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach

From the water, we hadn’t appreciated the size of the park grounds at Ponce Inlet, officially known as the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.  An impressive stand of live oaks on grounds were home to a number of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  A couple of them were even cooperative with my efforts to photograph them.  There was also a collection of Cuban Refugee Rafts;  we’d seen such exhibits before, particularly in the Florida Keys, but they always manage to make me catch my breath.

 

Standing at 175 feet, Ponce Inlet Light is said to be the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country. (Cape Hatteras on NC’s Outer Banks takes first prize in this category.)  Like many other lighthouses we have visited, the various keepers’ cottages and auxiliary buildings now serve as museum space.  Ponce also is known for their lens restoration, and in fact have a dedicated building, the Ayers Davies Lens Exhibit Building, which houses an impressive collection of restored Fresnel lenses.

The Lighthouse Friends page for Ponce de Leon Inlet Light provides some interesting history, including a bit about author Stephen Crane’s real life adventure.   He was shipwrecked during a gale off the Florida coast while enroute to Cuba, and tells of this adventure in his short story titled The Open Boat.  Curiously, this light was previously known as Mosquito Light, until it was decided in the mid-1920’s that the name itself was not helping to encourage settlement in the area.  Of course we had to make the climb, all 203 steps, and were rewarded with a nice view of the inlet.

After our climb, we took a stroll out to the water.  I was saddened to find a Cormorant with a fishing hook caught in its bill… an all too common occurrence really.  Birds get hooked and/or entangled either in discarded line and tackle, or often get snagged when they try to steal a fish that’s already been hooked.

We caught our bus back north, found our dinghy and Cheshire right where we’d left them, and deemed Ponce Inlet Light well worth the pause.

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Mike at the bus stop

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We were in St Augustine when we learned that several of our dirt-dwelling friends from Ohio would be visiting the central Florida area this winter.  As we had no other definite plans, we decided a return visit to Vero Beach was in order.  This would be our third visit to Vero, and as it turned out, also our longest.

One weekend we rented a car and headed inland to catch up with some friends Bob & Donna and Dave & Teresa who were camping in Kissimmee State Park.  We enjoyed some hikes, some shared meals, and comparing notes on living in our respective small spaces, their tow-behind campers vs our Cheshire.  32143751324_55a5583d30_o

Meanwhile back in Vero, we were once again successful in clearing out the guest cabin to accommodate overnight guests aboard.  Mark & Pam were in the area for a short stretch.  It seems they always visit when we’re on a mooring ball/away from the dock, so they had the full dinghy back-and-forth experience to boot.  They were the first brave souls, not counting Mike himself, to test out the newly fashioned sling seat that hangs off our transom.  Depending on the time of day, our ginormous solar panels even offer a bit of shade.

We made a drive down to Ft Pierce to check out the Navy SEAL Museum which was well worth the trip.  The boys especially enjoyed the training “playground”.

Interestingly it was on the nearby beaches that those who preceded the SEALs would train for  their assault on the beaches of Normandy and Southern France in Europe and numerous islands throughout the Pacific.  We found it to be a much more peaceful place today; the terns seemed to agree.

Back in Vero Beach, we made a return visit (1st for Mark & Pam) to McKee Botanical Garden.  In addition to the usual plants and sculptures, they had a couple of special exhibitions.  The “Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks” exhibit was something we had seen before at a garden in Naples FL a few years back.  It’s almost impossible to appreciate these pieces via photos, but I’ve included a few below anyway.  Patrick Dougherty’s Stickwork was also a familiar sight, as I’d watch him construct a few of these pieces on the grounds at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus OH a number of years ago.  The link above is to the Garden’s write up on the exhibit, and includes some additional photos and an interesting description of the process.

 

Former cruising friends/currently CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) Stew & Diana drove up from Stuart for a visit one day, and we were pleased to find a few other cruising friends wintering in Vero Beach as well.  The weekly Thursday Happy Hour gathering continues and was good for meeting some new folk.  On a couple of Mondays we joined the group that frequents Mr Manatee’s for $5 Burger night.  Mike bravely tackled the Colossal Woodrow Burger (a double stacked (a full pound)/pork roll/bacon egg/onion rings/mozzarella sticks) challenge,,, eat the whole thing, including the fries, and get a free t-shirt.  One guy in the group does the challenge weekly;  apparently everyone he knows now has a t-shirt.

The remainder of our time was spent revisiting familiar places… the Vero Beach Museum of Art never disappoints.  Larry Kagan’s Object/Shadow exhibit was amazing.  (See Che Guevara image below and check out the link above for more info.)  Deborah Butterfield’s Horses were also breathtaking.  We were frequent visitors to the Saturday Farmers’ Market Oceanside, often walking over early for coffee and a bite of breakfast on the beach before doing our shopping.  We also dug a little deeper and found some new things.  Taking advantage of the free/donation bus service, we found some new hiking spots, a couple of new-to-us restaurants and a fish/seafood market that had just opened at our last visit, now doing quite well (see carry out stone crabs pictured below… quite yummy).  Our stay also overlapped with the Vero Beach Art Club’s Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts show which was nicely done; we were tempted by a couple of pieces, but alas, we have little remaining room for art.  All in all, it was a fine stay.

Vero Beach is definitely one of our favorite stops along Florida’s east coast.  As usual, our month long stay stretched a bit longer… no surprise.  For now though, we’ll head back north.

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As I write, we’re wrapping up a six-week long stay in St Augustine.  After our engine drama and yard time in Oriental, NC and a frigid couple of weeks with even more engine drama getting south, we vowed to take a break from projects, rest, relax, and regroup.  We spent the Christmas holiday with Mom in the FL panhandle, and the weeks that followed back in St Augustine catching up with “old” friends, some who are here and some passing though, and making some new friends as well.  We’ve made visits to some of our favorite restaurants in the area, and have explored some new ones that have appeared on the scene since our last pass through.  Digging a bit deeper than the ever present tourists, we joined in a silent march and ceremony in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Unity in Community March, a sister march to the Women’s March in DC.  The latter was particularly well attended, with the crowd estimated at about 2,000 strong… not bad for a town this size.  As luck would have it, we also caught a bit of the St Augustine Film Festival.  In between all of the above, we’ve enjoyed, as we always do, the Nights of Lights;  St Augustine does look pretty dressed up in her holiday finery.

I promptly signed up for an unlimited month of classes at the nearby yoga studio that I was introduced to a year or so back.  Several times a week, I take a short pedal from our marina, along the pond at Oyster Creek which offers some great birding, particularly at low tide, through a quiet residential neighborhood to the studio.  It’s been a great habit to step back into.

Along with some  small, routine cleaning and maintenance, I did decided to tackle one of my least favorite cleaning chores.  We have a storage locker at the foot of our master bunk (we refer to it as the foot locker), a wedge shaped space that reaches out under the foredeck.  With virtually no insulation, any kind of temperature fluctuations lead to condensation, and with little to no air circulation, gets pretty funky.  Our cold run south recently had pushed it over the edge of tolerable.  Cleaning it out requires half climbing into the barely-big-enough-to-do-so space.  While I had it emptied and relatively clean, Mike decided to install a 12-volt “muffin” fan between the foot locker and the adjacent hanging locker, in hopes that some improved air circulation will keep the funk down.

Mike also installed an AC/shore power monitor allowing him to geek the AC power numbers the way he does the DC numbers.  Of course the breaker tripping issue that prompted said installation ceased to happen immediately after the monitor was installed. Go figure.

So far we’d stuck to our plan… no big projects, rest, relax, regroup…

Then some local friends announced that they’d be leaving town for a week; we decided it was an opportunity to borrow some project space for the big project we’d been putting off… recovering the settee cushions in the salon.  When we’re inside the boat and not sleeping, we’re in the salon, kind of a combination dining room/living room/office.  It gets a lot of wear and it’s been looking progressively rough.  It’s been 2 1/2 years ago that we ordered new fabric, but at the time were distracted by other more priority projects.  Last winter while in Marathon, we ordered new foam cushions, but then the fridge died unexpectedly and replacing it became the priority.  We stuffed the new foam in the old cushions and threw some towels over the top to cover the holes.  It’s a project that takes some ample clean space, so it went on hold while we cruised up north last summer.  Our friends’ kind offer of their condo presented the perfect opportunity.

Step one was shuttling the cushions, materials and a monster-heavy sewing machine to the condo.  We spent 5 solid days disassembling and reassembling the cushions, 5 in all, 3 different shapes.  The horizontal ones required some complicated sewing.  The first cushion took a whole day and was pretty much a disaster.  Overnight, the Captain came up with a new design, and life got much better.  We recovered 7 cushions in all.  Three were  horizontal ones that took some tricky sewing.  The remaining four vertical ones required removing a gazillion staples from the plywood backing, re-stapling the new fabric, then making and installing a dozen fabric covered buttons.  I’ll just say that Mike continues to fine-tune his sewing skills, our heavy-duty stapler is awesome, and I have a whole new appreciation for covered buttons.

The process:

A before shot… taken during one of our first few days aboard back in 2011.  We were in the process of  emptying lockers and sorting out the junk that came with the boat purchase… patio furniture cushions anyone?

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settee, the early days

The following were taken last winter… the holes that prompted us to prioritize the project again, then the stripped down salon without cushions, while stripping/refinishing the back wall.

 

Here’s what it looked like during the project… cockpit cushions and every other available cushion and pillow on the boat pressed into temporary service.  ls_20170126_185344-settee-during

Finally, the the after photo.  Almost looks like grown-ups live here, doesn’t it?

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new cushions installed

We even had a bit of fabric left over, enough to cover the headboard in our master cabin.  Very fancy…

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new headboard in master cabin

Many thanks to our friends Dawn & Paul who lent us their space and helped shuttle materials to, and to a fellow yogi Tamara who helped us shuttle it all back to Cheshire.

We’ve now finished our short list of departure chores, and had a few good-bye dinners with friends. Rested and recovered, tomorrow we cast off the dock lines and head a bit further south.  Stay tuned.

 

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In 2011, our first year cruising, we got what we thought at the time was a late start moving south; we left North Carolina in early November and putzed our way south, making it just south of Charleston SC by the beginning of December.  The following year we were delayed leaving the Chesapeake Bay when my father passed away rather unexpectedly, but still managed to make north Florida by December 1st, as we did for the three years that followed.  This year would be a different story.

Friday, December 2nd — We were still on the hard, but the Red Queen and Cheshire were finally reunited.  The reinstall went smoothly, or so we thought at the time.

Saturday, December 3-4th — Cheshire hung in the slings of the travel lift for the weekend while we touched up the bottom paint on the spots where she’d been blocked.

Monday, December 5th — After a bit more than 6 weeks, Cheshire was back in the water.  While we were in the well with a cherry picker accessible, Cheshire also got a couple of new spreader boots, had her screecher halyard re-rigged and her wind instrument tightened up.  The rest of Monday and Tuesday were spent getting things put back together, the dinghy back on the davits, the sails back up, essentially undoing all of the hurricane prep we’d done pre-Matthew.  In anticipation of some cold days on the water, we also put our eisenglass cockpit enclosure up, which we almost never use but are thankful to have when when it gets cold.  After topping off water tanks and some final provisioning, we bid farewell to our friends in Oriental and were ready to go.

Wednesday, December 7th we finally got off the dock.  The 16 days/15 nights that followed would prove to be some of the coldest we’ve experienced since moving aboard 5 1/2 years ago.

Our first few days out were cold, but uneventful.  We were up before first light most mornings, and underway before sunrise.  With the engine running, we’d have engine-driven heat, and with the sun shining, our full cockpit enclosure behaved a bit like a sun room.  Don’t get me wrong… we were still wearing layers, wool socks, hats and gloves, even inside, but it was manageable.  We’d stay on the water as long as we dared and still manage to have the anchor down before dark.  The latter was easier than we thought, as we didn’t have much competition for anchorages this late in the migration season.  Our evening routine was to cook a hot meal, then huddle under fleece blankets reading until bedtime.  The following morning, we’d get up and do it again.

Instead of hoping offshore, we opted to stay inside (in the ICW) at least to start with, partly due to the cold, but mostly because we wanted to give the engine a good solid test.  It ran well, the weather was cooperative, we had anchorages to ourselves and the bridge tenders were most pleasant (translate: it’s their slow season).  We opted to pause in Holden Beach at their new “courtesy dock” which, contrary to the info we had, was not free.  It did have power however, and after three days on the boat, provided a nice chance to walk a bit.  And of course, the Captain found chicken wings.  And we had heat overnight.

The couple of days that followed took us into South Carolina, along the beautiful-even-in-December Waccamaw River.  We made a stop at Osprey Marina, a favorite of ours, where we scored another jar of their yummy hot pepper jelly and again warded off some freezing overnight temps.

 

Then things got interesting.  As we started to close in on the end of day 5, we were deep in the marshes of coastal South Carolina, surrounded by lands designated as national wildlife refuge  and national forest lands, translate: beautiful and the middle of nowhere.  Looking ahead, the following day would put us in the Charleston area, and we talked of maybe taking a lay day.  It was just after 4pm, daylight was fading quickly, and we were headed for a familiar-to-us anchorage, having calculated we’d just make it before dark.  Mike was at the helm when he noticed that the engine temperature gauge was not right… like reading that the engine was not hot, which is better than too hot, but still…  I took the helm while he popped open the engine compartment in the back of the cockpit, only to find engine coolant spewing.  Not good.  After a few minutes, he figured out that the bracket that holds the coolant hose onto the engine block was missing a bolt, and in its loosened state, had been too close to the alternator belt which had chafed a hole in the hose.  In the middle of nowhere…  With dark fast approaching…

While I stayed on the helm, “steering” our Cheshire without power in a wicked tail current down a creek lined with marsh grass, punctuated with the occasional wooden dock, Mike managed to jury-rig a fix, first with so-called Rescue tape (which didn’t work on a messy hose), then with heavy-duty duct tape (my Dad would be pleased).  He then sat on the cockpit floor for the next 35 minutes, which seemed more like 35 hours, with a fiberglass pole jammed into the engine compartment to hold the hose off the alternator belt, while we fired the engine, held our breathes and motored into the nearest anchorage.  We were anchor down right at dark and on the phone with TowBoat US before the night was out.

For those who are not familiar, TowBoat US is like AAA, except for boats.  There are a couple of companies that provide the service, but in 5+ years, we’ve never had to use it.  Until now. It saved our butts, and is worth every penny.  I don’t even want to think about what the tow would have cost without it.

We made arrangements for them to collect us from the anchorage the next morning.  Jason, our towboat operator couldn’t have been nicer.  He showed up even earlier than expected and towed Cheshire and her crew without incident to Tolers Cove Marina, another familiar-to-us spot near Mt Pleasant SC.   Tolers Cove is mostly a sportfish marina with not a lot of room for transients beyond a day or two, but they were kind enough to let us hang out on the backside of their fuel dock for a few days.  Three hours under tow, including some skinny water and a restricted bridge, and we were safely tied to a dock mail ordering parts.  At least it was a Monday.

Mike found a replacement bolt at a local hardware store, but the funky shaped hose had to be mail-ordered.  We opted for expedited shipping, but weather in Michigan and a “mechanical problem” with a cargo plane delayed things a bit.  Our parts finally arrived mid-morning Thursday.  The hose replacement actually went fairly smoothly.  Then we decided to go ahead and do that earlier-than-usual oil change our mechanic in Oriental had recommended.

Mike started the engine up to let it warm up… except the engine didn’t warm up.  Apparently the low temp reading on the gauge wasn’t entirely about the coolant hose leak, rather a weird coincidence of timing.  Mike decided to pull the thermostat and take a look. (See photo below which in my humble opinion doesn’t resemble any thermostat I’ve ever seen).  Apparently it’s a pretty simple open or closed devise that got stuck in the open position by a tiny piece of debris. At least we were fortunate that it didn’t get stuck closed, which could have resulted in the engine overheating!  In any event,  Mike was able to dislodge the rock, reinstall the thermostat and all was well.  Given the late hour, we opted to skip our planned grocery run and instead walked down to Sullivans Island for a splurge meal at the Obstinate Daughter where the martinis were most delicious.

Another 2 1/2 days on the water brought us to the Savannah area where we’d arranged to meet up with cruising friends Dawn and Paul who were road-tripping up to New England for the holidays.  They gets bonus points for flexibility, messaging back and forth regarding timing, location options, etc.  We were tied up at the dock at Bahia Bleu Marina before noon, allowing for some much needed laundry.  Mother Nature even sent us a freaky warm day so I was able to wash our few, much worn cold weather clothes.  We had a great albeit short visit, including a much needed/much appreciated grocery run.

Our final push, 3 1/2 days, brought the cold weather back, along with some damp rain and occasional fog.  The Captain resorted to taking a pair of scissors to a perfectly good pair of gloves, cutting out the thumb and index finger of the right glove, enabling him to use the iPad we keep at the helm for additional navigation assistance.  We wound our way through the marshes and across the sounds of coastal Georgia, and were disappointed that the sun remained hidden even as we crossed into the Sunshine State.  A bit south of Jacksonville it finally cleared, and our last morning at anchor for this stretch was lovely.

The numbers:

This run from Oriental NC to St Augustine FL was approximately 600 statute miles or about 522 nautical miles, and took us 16 days.

Of those 16 days, we were underway for 12, plus 1 under tow.  We had only 3 lay days where we stayed put, but for repairs, none for weather, the latter of which is remarkable given the season.

Of our 15 nights out, we spent 8 of them at anchor, and 7 at a dock… which is more dock time than our usual, but we splurged a couple of times for dock power on the particularly cold nights (dock power = heat overnight), spent 4 nights on the dock for the engine repair (which included a couple of cold nights as well), and another to hook up with friends for an afternoon/evening.

In a nutshell:

It wasn’t our most pleasant cruise; the engine issue was particularly challenging, but not as bad as it might have been.  I was reminded once again how much I appreciate that Mike is scary smart and able to fix so many things.  We managed to survive the cold, but were reminded that we really are fair weather cruisers. We so missed our usual slower, more relaxed, stop and explore along the way pace.

In the end, we made it to north Florida/St Augustine in time to grab a rental car and spend Christmas with my Mom in the Florida panhandle.  Now we’ll hang here for a few weeks, appreciate the relative warmth and sunshine, catch up with some friends,  and regroup/plan for what comes next… which hopefully isn’t another boat project.

As always, stay tuned.

 

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After a fun stay in No Name Harbor, Cheshire hauled anchor and headed out.  The Plan A was to make a quick stop for fuel and water, then head offshore for a stretch. Before we got far, even to the marina for fuel, it was apparent that the weather was a little snottier than forecast.  Plan B might have been to just stay in the protected ICW and start motoring north, but neither of us was too keen on doing so heading into a weekend.  Too many bridges and crazies in south FL for that to be anything but unpleasant.  Perhaps our southbound trip through this stretch last winter is still too fresh.  We settled on Plan C, ducked into Marine Stadium and dropped the hook to hang out for a couple of days.

Come Monday morning, the forecast was favorable for an offshore run.  After an easy in/out at Miami Beach Marina, we ducked out Gov’t Cut and had the sails up.  We were able to sail all day into the night until the wind died early Tuesday morning not far off Ft Pierce.  We furled the sails, fired up the engine and opted to stay out and motor through the day into Wednesday morning to St Augustine.  We had a Northern Waterthrush join us for a short stretch off Cape Canaveral (who was most uninterested in the Wheat Chex Mike offered), and were greeted by a gorgeous morning sky as we approached St Augustine.  We had a brief visit by US Customs and Border Protection who pulled along side just as we were approaching the inlet.  After a short chat about where we’ve been/where we’re going, they were apparently satisfied that we aren’t terrorists or drug runners.  We asked for some local knowledge re the inlet and were informed that “it’s a mess”.  In fact it was a mess, as it often is, but we managed quite nicely.  At 261.5 nautical miles over 48 hours, this was our longest offshore run yet.

In keeping with our make-it-up-as-we-go-along cruising style, we decided midway through the inlet that instead of a couple of days in the mooring field, we’d see about getting a slip for a week at Rivers Edge Marina.  A quick phone call to dock master Paul and we were in.  We had a great week (coincidentally my birthday week), catching up with friends and visiting some of our favorite spots. Mike even got some bonus points (I’m a bit more of a folk music fan than he) for joining me for a couple of days of the Gamble Rogers Music Festival where we enjoyed some great local and regional music under the live oaks of the Colonial Quarter.  What a great venue, and a bargain as well… Friday night through Sunday afternoon, several stages simultaneously for $15.

As usual, I enjoyed birding the shoals off of E-dock and saw a new-to-me bird, a Red-breasted Merganser.

Early light over the shrimp boat docks were another welcome and familiar sight.  This was the view from our galley window as I made coffee each morning.

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early light on the San Sebastian River, St Augustine, FL

Tempted as we often are to extend our time here, we managed to hold this stop to nine days.  We opted to stay inside/on the ICW for the next pretty stretch, and enjoyed a peaceful night on the Jacksonville Free City Dock near the Sister’s Creek Bridge.  With any luck, in the coming days we might just get our Cheshire north of Florida… for the first time in about 18 months.

LS_20160506_190920 Cheshire on Jacsonville Free Dock

Cheshire on the dock, Jax Free City Dock near Sister’s Creek

 

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