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Archive for the ‘Florida – East Coast’ Category

I was recently made aware that it’s been almost exactly a year since my last CatTales post. At the time, we were on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, just back from our final “Driving Miss Rita” road trip and readying our Cheshire for another run south before the cold set in for the season. Little did we know that it would be our last run. As I type, I realize that Cheshire, no longer ours, is ironically back on the Eastern Shore having new adventures with her new people.

Yesterday morning found Mike and I on a trail that offered views of the prairies of Oklahoma with a soundtrack of bugling elk. This morning, on another trail, we had a close encounter with a Texas Longhorn who was less than pleased to find us sharing his trail. A year ago, I’d never set foot in Oklahoma, had no idea that elk bugled and had never been face to face with a Texas Longhorn. We’ve come a long way, pun intended.

During our cruising years aboard Cheshire, we always said that we’d just know when it was time to do something different. Somewhere along the eastern seaboard on that last month-long cruise south, we decided just that… that it was time for a change. Having been from Maine to the FL Keys, much of the FL Gulf coast and to the Bahamas and back, things were going to start getting repetitive. And we were done, really done, with hurricanes. By the time we arrived in St Augustine FL a week or so before Thanksgiving, we’d decided that while we were done cruising, we weren’t necessarily done with the nomadic lifestyle. We’d decided to to try RV-ing.

The months to follow were a dizzying combination of readying our Cheshire to sell by owner, and researching and readying ourselves for our next chapter. By the end of November, we were owners of what would become our tow vehicle, a Nissan NV2500 high roof cargo van, a ginormous creature we affectionately named the White Rabbit. In early February, after copious amounts of research, we made a road trip to North Carolina where we adopted a slightly used travel trailer, a 2018 Lance 1995. We named her Alice, and she faithfully followed the White Rabbit, Mike and I back to north Florida. Down another rabbit hole, our next adventure had begun.

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Adopting the White Rabbit

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Adopting Alice

Fast forward to early April… I’d managed to scavenge the Florida State Park reservation system and pieced together some days here and there for what we thought would be a 2-week shakedown trip, with proximity to St Augustine/Cheshire in the event that we needed to show her. The day before we departed, we accepted an offer. I managed to piece together a few more weeks around FL to get us through the actual sale date just prior to Memorial Day weekend. It was the end of an awesome run, nearly 8 years of adventures on the water.

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Farewell to Cheshire

Chapter next…

In the nearly five months since, we’ve slept in fourteen different states, visited six of our National Parks and countless other national treasures. We’ve gotten a lot more savvy with state park reservations and finding the odd other spots along the way. We’ve spent nights at a blueberry farm, an alpaca farm, an orchard, a railroad yard and several wineries. We’ve explored all manner of odd local/regional history museums, local food traditions, and local beers. We’ve put some miles on our hiking boots. We’ve successfully shifted our small space lifestyle from a floating home to a rolling home. We’ve learned how to tow and back (sort of) a trailer. All in all, I think it’s been a fine transition.

One surprise/challenge has been our intermittent cell service and extremely sporadic access to WiFi. Consequently I’ve not been blogging and have been less active on social media, though still haven’t completely given up on the idea of somehow capturing our new adventures. Still pondering the possibilities and the challenges of blogging it vs planning/living it. For now though, I’ll consider this a final chapter in our CatTales story. Many thanks to all who have followed us; it’s been a blast having you all along.

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Having decided to head back to the Florida East Coast, we were once again in familiar waters. We opted for a pause in Bimini Basin/Cape Coral for a few days before ducking back into the Okeechobee Waterway. Fortunate timing let us catch the Cape Coral Farmers Market again; we also hit Publix and a nice little new-to-us Italian grocery, Paesano’s, for some re-provisioning, along with less fun but necessary chores… a trip to the laundromat and an oil change for the Red Queen. Of course we also had to visit a just opened craft brewery we discovered just down from the laundromat.  Big Storm Brewing Co., which was quite good, is apparently also run by folks with a sense of humor… always appreciated.

Our final day in the area was for play; Ohio friends David and Joyce who were spending a month in Naples came up to visit. We had lunch, followed by dessert… my second visit to Ice Screamin  , which is dangerously close to our anchorage.  This little ice cream spot is  another Working Cow distributor… a family-owned company in St Petersburg, FL that make the most amazing handmade ice cream.  I “discovered” them earlier this winter at a little place on the north end of Boca Grande.  Good stuff, but you can only get it in Florida.

 

Saying farewell to Florida’s West Coast, we ducked back into the Okeechobee Canal to once again make our way across the peninsula.  It was a leisurely trip, including a pretty but buggy night on the hook near Moore Haven where the little critters were apparently quite taken by our solar Luci light (photo below); ordinarily over night we only show our top-of-the-mast anchor light, but in creeks frequented by smaller faster boats who aren’t always looking high, we’ll sometimes show an additional low light, in this case our Lucie light.  We also took a layover day at Port St Lucie Lock Marina where we were fortunate to catch the occasional Saturday tour of the lock system.  It’s one of five locks operated by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Okeechobee Waterway.  One more day on the water found us back near Fort Pierce where we were reminded what color water is supposed to be.  The difference between the lake and the cleaner water near Ft Pierce inlet was striking.  I’ve blogged a bit before about the politics of Florida’s water, so I’ll not climb on that soapbox again, though the issue is very much ongoing.

Back on the East Coast, we again took a mooring at Vero Beach, pausing for almost exactly a month this time.  We did a few small boat projects… replaced the carbon monoxide detector, repaired our (secondary) Engel fridge that had gotten a wild hair and decided to stay in freezer mode all of the time, and replace yet another fan that had died.  The primary goal for this stop was to get Mike’s re-injured foot sorted out.  We was able to get an appointment with very good podiatrist who, after an X-ray and exam, declared it to be a “poorly healed fracture”.  Apparently a corrective surgery would have been potentially more damaging than helpful, so she referred him to a pedorthist (there you go, your new word for today) who fit him with a custom orthopedic that fits in a real pair of shoes.  They are a perfectly normal-looking pair of New Balance tennis shoes, but… shoes… not flip-flops or Keens; Mike has taken to referring to them as his Frankenstein shoes.

To take the edge off of all of the above, we also made a visit to another new-to-us craft brewery, Walking Tree Brewery.  It’s off the beaten path in Vero, but not so far from where we were pedaling for these appointments.  Their beers were quite good, but I was particularly captivated by their logo.  Florida mangroves are nicknamed “walking trees”, thriving at waters edge, one foot on land, one foot in the water.  I was also quite taken by a piece of original artwork at the brewery, depicting a terrestrial and watery yin/yang.

LS_20180426_074949 Fort MatanzasHaving resolved Mike’s foot issue to the extent that it can be resolved, we pushed on to St Augustine. It’s been our habit to pause here for a bit on both our southbound and our northbound runs, but it’s always especially a treat to spend the week of my birthday in this beautiful old city. This year was no different. Actually I share my birthday week with several of our St Augustine friends, so it was a bit of a rolling celebration.  Before arriving in St Augustine though, we paused for a night at one of our favorite nearby anchorages, complete with a view of Fort Matanzas.

It was a jam-packed week, catching up with cruising friends locally, crossing paths with friends from elsewhere who just happened to be passing through while we were here, and meeting some new folks who we hope to cross paths with again later this summer. We revisited all four local craft breweries and are happy to report that all are going strong; in fact one has recently added a rotation of food trucks. There were several visits to the Hyppo for gourmet popsicles, including my free birthday pop; Blood Orange Cheesecake has officially made my list of favorites. A new find this stop was a recently opened bakery, Bakersville Bread Company. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but worth seeking out. Here’s hoping they make a go of it.

One of the best parts of being in town for my birthday week is the opportunity to attend the annual Gamble Rogers Music Festival, now it its 23rd year. The festival runs all weekend and features a wide array of regional and local performers. As usual, we caught a few of our favorites and were introduced to some new stuff.

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crew of BuBu3, LaLuna and Cheshire, Gamble Rogers Festival, 2018

As much as we love St Augustine, we have our sights set on getting a bit further north this coming season. It’s been about 18 months since Cheshire and her crew have been north of the Florida/Georgia line, so we’re looking forward to getting into some higher latitudes. We’ll head north, hope for some cooperative weather for an outside run or two. Next pause: Oriental, NC. Destinations beyond that tbd.

JB 2018 0507 Cheshire departing St Augustine

Cheshire departing St Augustine, photo credit: Jennifer Barringer

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Just before New Years Eve, our visitors left and we tucked in to avoid what was to be a couple of days of rain.  In fact it rained very little, but enough that I was able to run around topsides with a deck brush and knock most of the worst of the crud loose to be rinsed off.

Then it got cold.  Really cold.  At least for central Florida, really cold.  We thought we were ahead of it leaving St Augustine a few weeks back, but we were mistaken.  To be fair, we got nothing near what friends and family further north have gotten.  That said, cold on an uninsulated boat away from the luxury of shore power (translate: heat) is different than the cold you come in from and sit by a fire.

And what the heck is a “bomb cyclone” anyway?  I also must have missed the memo that informed that we’re now naming winter storms… Winter Storm Grayson?  Really?  In any event, as long as my fingers hold out typing in the cold, I thought I’d capture a few thoughts.

As I mentioned above, when we’re away from a dock, as is our current situation bobbing around on a mooring ball, we have no source of heat.  I’ve been inspired to make friends with our oven.  Mostly we use the 2-burner stovetop, a small broiler and our outside propane grill of course.  Rarely have we used the oven.  It’s small (think oversized shoebox), the heat is uneven, and until our fridge replacement a couple of years back, we were propane misers.  In recent weeks I’ve made several different batches of muffins (6 at a time because that’s what fits), a few loaves of cranberry-orange nut bread (a holiday favorite), an apple cake, and even a gingerbread cake for the Christmas holiday.  So, on the upside, we’re eating well.

But it’s cold.  We’re wearing way more clothes than we’re accustomed to, even socks (gasp!).  The Captain has taken to wearing a hat during the day as well as at night.  We’ve had a couple of nights in a row where overnight lows have gotten into the 30’s outside, which translates to mid 40’s inside, yes INSIDE!  We stay fairly cozy under three fleece blankets while sleeping, but then we have to get up.

I have fond memories (not) of winter mornings in Ohio where I had to scrape ice and snow off of my car before I could even think about going to work.  I decided this morning that my current day equivalent is getting up and having to take a shammy to the windows, walls and ceilings of my boat/home to wipe up the dripping water that’s formed due to condensation… yes, we breathe overnight.  It’s been a couple of days now since the inside temp has gotten above 60°F even during the day.

Dinghy rides into a cold wind are also aren’t fun, but at least the dinghy doesn’t slip and slide as a car does on ice.

I’ve also learned that if you park your coffee mugs along the back of the stove while you’re warming the kettle, they warm a bit.  Ditto for bowls that will eventually hold our oatmeal.

We shall survive.  We shall also keep moving south.  We’ve braved the cold the last couple of days to make a provisioning run, top off water tanks and do laundry. The forecast is for some warming, but even so, tomorrow we cast off the mooring lines and head on south.  Destinations tbd.  Socks optional.

 

 

 

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As much as we love St Augustine, as the temperatures started to drop, we knew it was time to go.  It took us three days to motor from St Augustine to Vero Beach, thanks in part  to some favorable currents, at which point we decided it was warm enough to pause for a few days… which turned into nearly three weeks.  Yep, that’s how we roll.

We arrived a week ahead of Christmas and decided to stick around for the holiday potluck.  It was our first Christmas dinner served buffet style in a laundry room, no joke. Washers (mains and sides) on one side, dryers (apps and desserts) on the other.  Unlike our Thanksgiving potluck of the previous month, the weather was quite cooperative and a good time was had by all.

KL 26047037_1996776693672230_1738670633594429960_nA few days later, some former co-workers of Mike’s came to visit, and unfortunately brought some cooler weather with them.  Nevertheless, we managed to show them some of our favorite Vero spots.  The Indian River Citrus Museum never disappoints… solid Florida kitsch and some interesting history of the Florida citrus industry.

Of course a return visit to McKee Botanical Garden was in order.  They were gearing up for a lighted holiday event later in the evening which we didn’t stick around for, but a special exhibit entitled “It’s a Jungle Out There” featuring the sculptures of a collection of artists in Nairobi, Kenya was particularly captivating.  I quote from their brochure…

“Using reclaimed materials discarded from the car industry and other sources, a group of 19 African artists, ranging in age from 22 to 42 years old, created this collection for McKee.  Head artist Moses Ochieng is committed to training young artists and giving them a lifelong creative skill.  The artists are recruited from disadvantaged, impoverished backgrounds, providing them with employment and apprenticeships to empower them to be self-sustaining, productive members of their communities.  As paid apprentices, these young artists are taught valuable skills such as design, metal cutting, welding, painting and molding.  Most of the artists come from the Luo community and are known for their metal works, while a few are from the Kamba community known for their carving skills.”

I’d (mistakenly) opted not to bring my good camera, so the following  (numerous) shots are taken with my i-phone.

Elsewhere in the garden, we found mistletoe and pink flamingos in their holiday finery.

LS_20171229_144525 Orchard Island Brewery, Vero Beach FLAfter wandering the garden, we took a break beachside at Orchid Island Brewery which was much better than Mike and I recalled from a previous scouting visit… where we enjoyed some tasty bites and drinkable beers.  Later we headed back into town (taking advantage of friends with cars) for dinner at the ever so trendy Southern Social which was as good as we remembered it being from a previous visit.

While we’d hoped to visit the beachside Farmers Market the following morning, the weather was definitely not cooperative.  It was perfect however for a wander through the always impressive Vero Beach Museum of Art.  Not by accident, we caught the final day of a special exhibition, a Maurice Sendak Memorial Exhibition which was quite nice and very kid-friendly, even for grown-up kids.

I was captivated by another piece in the museum’s permanent collection that I’d somehow missed (or perhaps not adequately appreciated) at our previous visits, composed completely from wooden chopsticks and plastic forks.  The artist is Columbian, Federico Uribe, and this piece is titled Oriente-Poniente, which translates “east-west”.

The blue skies cooperated for yet another photo of a perennial favorite in the sculpture garden, a piece titled “Yorkshire Soul 3” by Spanish sculptor, Jaume Plensa.

LS_20171230_121659 Yorkshire Soul III, Jaume Plensa, artist

We spent a good part of the afternoon checking out a new-to-us spot called The Crab Stop which was quite yummy, followed by a bit more visiting back aboard our Cheshire.

LS_20171230_135617 garlic crabs, Crab Stop

Visitors gone, Mike and I tucked in for a quiet New Years Eve which involved dinner, a shared bottle of Prosecco and an early bedtime.  It was a far cry from the NYE parties we hosted in our previous life, but it suits our current lifestyle quite nicely.

And then there was weather…

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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.

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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