Posts Tagged ‘Jacksonville FL’

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.


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.


Stay tuned, and thanks for checking in.







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Dependent on our feet, our folding bicycles and occasionally a decent public transportation system to get around when attached to land, we are sometimes disappointed at not being able to visit some of the farther flung places we read about.  Not often, but sometimes.  So, on the rare occasions that we have a rental car, we try to maximize our use of it.  Upon learning that I was off the hook from my jury summons, and with a few more days left on our week-long car rental, we decided to explore metro Jacksonville’s park system. The Timucuan Trail Parks system is the largest urban park system in the United States, and is a network of a fair number of bits of land as well as water scattered about the greater Jacksonville area.  It also includes the  Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, an extensive coastal wetlands area managed by the National Park Service.  We started our exploring at Fort Caroline, a recreated-from-sketches fort overlooking the St John’s River that commemorates the French presence in north Florida, before they were driven out by the Spanish.  The nearby Ribault Monument, also a recreation, commemorates the landing of Jean Ribeault in north Florida; it also has a nice view of the St John’s. With our fill of history, we headed for the hiking trails.  Our next stop was Spanish Pond, which apparently has a bit of history as well, having served as a Spanish encampment leading up to an attack on Fort Caroline.  Hard to imagine now as its a magnificent marsh, full of nesting wading birds at our visit, beautiful, but hardly a place I’d be inclined to pitch a tent.  A lot of the birds were on nests that were out of view (smart birds!), but we could see a few of them flying about, though at some distance, with bits of nest building material.  Mostly it was an amazing concert of sounds.  Some attempts at photos follow; I’d have loved to have captured the soundtrack however.

Adjacent to Spanish Pond is an area with a not-so-creative name, but a great story, the Theodore Roosevelt Area.  This 600-acre bit of woods is available for exploration thanks to the foresight and generosity of one Wille H Browne.  Willie was apparently a bit of an eccentric,  lived on this bit of property almost his whole life, and despite offers of millions of dollars from various developers, refused to sell, believing in his words that “money cannot by happiness and this place makes me happy”.  Wise words, Willie, wise words.  In the late 60’s not long before he died, Willie gifted his land to the Nature Conservancy with the stipulation that it not be developed and that it be named for his hero, Teddy Roosevelt.  I’ve written before of more famous folk who have done much for the preservation/conservation of wild spaces.  On this day though, Willie, who I’m afraid is little known today to folks outside of Jacksonville,  was my hero.  For those so inclined, read the details of his story here;  it’s a touching, well written piece.

Willie Browne

Willie Browne, photo from NPS sign

Famished from our exploration, we decided to check out a place in historic Mayport.  Mayport turned out to be not so impressive, but we had a delicious lunch at a place of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fame called Singleton’s Seafood Shack . The following day we headed out again, this time to some spots on the north side of the St John’s.  Cedar Point, unlike the Cedar Point of Ohio fame, was a peaceful spot to start our day.  The morning view of the marsh had me vowing to further research a paddle trail I’d read about that leads here.  A solitary rooster welcomed us at the parking lot, perhaps looking for handouts?  A nearby stand of live oaks was full of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  We did a bit of a hike at nearby Betz Tiger Point Preserve, which is a relatively new preserve, and in my humble opinion, is a bit overused by equestrians.  Perhaps it was the rain we’d had in the preceding days, but the trails were not in good shape, completely washed out in places.  Back in the parking lot, we found a Yellow-throated Warbler had become quite attached to  our rental car, particularly one of the side mirrors.  Weird.  Finally, we attempted another hike at nearby Cedar Point Preserve and had to abandon our plan when we came upon a bit of trail that looked more like a pond.  Still, a good day in the woods.

Not unlike the Metro Park system of central Ohio, our former home, Jacksonville has a lot to offer for natural spots.  On my list for another visit: Ft George Island, the Kingsley Plantation and some paddling in the Timucuan Preserve.

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When Mike and I learned in early-to-mid April that I’d once again been called for jury duty, we decided to  make a plan for a bit of a pause in north Florida where we could also make arrangements to rent a car for a week.  We were also due for some more dockside time to work on ongoing boat maintenance, things that are just more easily done when attached to a dock with unlimited water, access to marine supply and hardware stores.  I proposed we return to a favorite marina of ours from earlier in our travels, the Marina at Ortega Landing; the Captain agreed.  It’s a bit of a splurge for us, more pricey than most of the marinas we visit for any length of time, but they have great facilities including a pool which would be a nice treat after days of boat chores, and most of the necessities of life (groceries, etc) are within walking distance.  For further flung needs, we’d have the luxury of a rental car for a brief stretch.

As usual, I’ll spare you all the minute details of our ongoing projects, except to say that we were pretty busy. We were pleased to find that a nearby but not-very useful marine supply place  was bought out by Sailors Exchange, the original St Augustine location being a favorite of ours, and is much improved.  Mike scored some teak bits for a cooler-top cockpit table thingy (that we also stand on at the helm to operate tank-commander style as Mike likes to describe it), along with some material for a stern shade… keeps the cockpit much more comfortable when we’re staying put for a bit, and minimizes our need to fire up the air-conditioning.  Our fresh water system needed some TCL, which is always a bit of a project.   I’ve come to believe that my compounding/polishing/waxing all of the topsides gelcoat is going to take me the rest of my life, but I did get a nice compliment from the guys who were detailing a neighboring Gemini during our stay.  There were other misc projects as well, but those are the highlights.

We also revamped some storage, ditching a couple of carry-on sized rolling suitcases we moved aboard with because we had them.  It became a bit of an issue when the zipper on one corroded to the point of being non-functional.  Not kidding.  Mike had to take a knife to it to free the contents.  We swapped them for a couple of much more boat-appropriate Eagle Creek duffles that store much smaller, tolerate boat conditions better, and have already tested well.  Love, love, love Eagle Creek.

The duffles came in handy on our trip to Gainesville.  As long as I had to go anyway for jury duty, we decided we’d go ahead and knock out our annual medical appointments as well.  Clean bills of health for both, yea!  I’d also done a bit of research and learned that the Alachua County (Gainesville) library system has developed a fairly extensive collection of e-books, so we scouted a local branch and picked up library cards.  Can’t believe I was without one for three years, as I was quite the patron of our library system in Ohio.  E-books won’t completely replace paperbacks aboard Cheshire, but we were able to move a ton of books off the boat,which made the Captain very happy.  Since our time in Gainesville also coincided with my birthday, it was nice to celebrate with dinner out with friends/landlords Marcy and Tim.  And, as it turns out, my jury duty was cancelled… which they very helpfully posted via website a couple of days in advance, so I didn’t even have to show up.

In addition to boat chores, and with some time back and “bonus” rental car days in lieu of jury duty, we did our share of playing as well.  Some exploring was via bicycle, including a couple of visits to the Riverside Arts Market (which is about half Farmers’ Market really), and some pedaling along the Jacksonville Riverwalk, a kind of work in progress, which boasts some cool public art.  By car, we checked out some of the metropolitan park network in the Jax area… but I’ll save that for another post.

Food highlights this stop:  We made return visits to Harpoon Louie’s (for the Captain’s wings fix!) and Trent’s Seafood.  New to us this visit and all well worth returning to were Metro Diner (also of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives fame) and Puerto Plata (yummy Latin food), both walking distance from the marina, as well as Pinegrove Market & Deli, Moon River Pizza and Intuition Ale Works all a reasonable pedal away.

As much as we enjoy Jacksonville, it’s time to be heading north.  So, north we go…






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We’ve jumped a bit further north since my last post.  After returning east-bound through the Okeechobee Waterway, we came through the St Lucie River to rejoin the Atlantic ICW and turned left.  Still a bit early in the season to be heading too far north, especially given continuing reports of cold and nasty weather, we decided to spend a bit of time in north Florida before continuing on to the Carolinas for the summer.

Our trip back north has been fairly uneventful to date.  From the Stuart area, we took a couple of days to get to Vero Beach, a favorite stop for us.  We picked up a mooring ball and stayed for a couple of days, long enough to re-provision (a nice  Publix with a bonus stop at Fresh Market), and did some trading of paperback books at one of our favorite bookstores along the East Coast, The Paperback Place.  We might have gotten stuck in Vero (aka Velcro Beach) except for the news that I’d once again been called for jury duty.  Guess they weren’t kidding about the “postponed” part.  North Florida, here we come.

Four more days on the water put us in St Augustine, after an overnight at nearby Ft Matanzas, another of our favorite stops.  We took a slip at Rivers Edge Marina up the San Sebastian River… I think I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve stopped here.  It had been awhile since we’d been at a dock, so we took advantage of access to marine supplies (including Sailors Exchange) and unlimited fresh water and knocked out some boat chores during our stay… a bit of spring cleaning if you will.  Of course it was St Augustine, so we did some playing as well.  We caught up with some cruising friends, including one of the monthly cruisers’ Happy Hour gatherings.  As our visit to the city included a weekend, we of course had to visit the Old City Farmers Market.  Our stay in this very artful city also coincided with yet another art festival where we picked up a painting by Hua-Yao Tung, a Taiwanese artist who lives/paints/and shows his work locally.  It’s a fun piece titled “Blue Heron with Sandpipers”.  Happy Birthday to me.  Of course, a visit to St Augustine wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hyppo where every visit I try a new flavor;  Chipotle  Peach did not disappoint.  El Galeon has also arrived in town since our last pass through, and certainly adds a bit to the already picturesque waterfront.

Two more days on the water would put us in Jacksonville, FL where we’d reserved a slip for a month long stay at the Marina at Ortega Landing.  We spent one night on the hook mid-way in a spot just off the St Johns River, just before the bridges of downtown Jacksonville.  (See my previous post on this stretch from our last visit a couple of years ago.)  The Reed Island anchorage was within view of a major container ship dock, where I was quite entertained watching tug boats spin huge container ships around end-for-end dockside.  The even larger Carnival Facination motored by as well, bound for somewhere in the Bahamas I believe.

Remember, you can click on any of the photos for a closer look.  Can you find the tiny human near the stern of the container ship?

shades of grey

shades of grey

The challenge on our final stretch was timing the Main Street Bridge, a restricted lift bridge that generally opens on request, but because of some repairs in process, was requiring a two hour notice to open, which is more than a bit difficult to time given the strong tides/currents on the St Johns River.  Not to mention some wicked storms that were brewing during our stretch through the bridges of downtown Jax.  Currents, bridges and limited visibility are not issues you want to deal with simultaneously.  Thankfully the rains held off until we were at the marina backing into our slip… a different kind of challenge.

Our stay at Ortega Landing will be a bit of a splurge.  It’s one of the nicer marinas we’ve stayed at, complete with clubhouse/pool/hot tub/free laundry.  We hope to get some more boat projects done, in addition to doing some exploring.  We’ll have a car for a week for a run to Gainesville for some routine/annual medical appointments as well as my jury duty.  In the meantime though, we tuck in to wait out the rains.  Good thing we have a stash of paperbacks.











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