Posts Tagged ‘marinas’

OK, stupid title for a blog post (though a spin on a great tune), but it accurately describes our time in this state.  Our plan was to pause briefly in Gloucester to wait out a day of weather, then keep on moving.  We should know better than to think that our plans matter.

In a text exchange the night before we left Gloucester, a friend asked where we were headed the following day;  I replied “Plymouth-ish”.  The route into Plymouth Harbor is long and well off our track.  Our goal was to spend a night at anchor closer to the Cape Cod Canal so as to be able to time our transit through the canal.  In short, we had no intention of actually stopping in Plymouth.  If we manage to get off the dock tomorrow as is our current plan (there’s that word again!), we will have been here 15 days.  15. Days.

We were maybe 5 miles off of Scituate, MA, motoring in very light winds that were mostly directly behind us.  Shortly after 1pm, Mike called me to the cockpit.  We’d developed a horrible shudder.  Thinking we’d caught something on the drive leg or a rudder (think lobster buoy), we went through our usual routine of clearing them. Except that that didn’t resolve the shudder.  Some quick diagnostics let us know that we were fine in neutral, but with any kind of rpms, the shudder was back… pointing to a likely drive leg or transmission issue.  We shut the engine down and put the sails up in hopes of maintaining some steerage and kept creeping south, albeit slowly (remember the very light winds and mostly behind us). Eventually we called TowBoat US (think AAA for boats).  Shortly after 3:30pm, we were under tow by Captain Matt who could not have been more helpful.  We were on the dock  at Brewster Plymouth Marine by about 5:15pm that evening, Thursday.

While we were bobbing around under sail, we caught sight of the Lightship Nantucket, headed somewhere I haven’t been able to determine.  She’s now a museum ship, generally docked in Boston Harbor, one of only a couple of lightships able to move under her own power, so it was kind of a big deal to see her underway.  Find a bit more of her story here.  Our route in under tow would also take us past a couple more lighthouses.  Matt, our TowBoat US guy, would be less likely than Captain Mike to detour for closer photos, but nevertheless, I took photos.

With Cheshire safety tied up to the dock, and marina staff gone for the day, we headed to town to decompress.  On a tip from friends, we stopped into Dirty Water Distillery, followed by dinner at KKatie’s Burger Bar.

The good news was that the following morning we had our new bff/mechanic Colin on board and the problem diagnosed.  Turns out Mike was pretty close.  The Red Queen (our diesel engine) herself was fine, however our flex coupler, the complicated bit that connects the transmission and drive leg, had failed. Mind you, before today, I wasn’t even aware that we had a flex coupler;  diesel mechanics is definitely not my strong suit.  The bad news was that despite this quick diagnosis, we still had to order parts from Sillette in England, who, given the 5 hr time difference, by noon Friday our time were already closed for their 3-day summer bank holiday… translate we couldn’t even order parts until the following Tuesday, at 3am to be precise.

We spent a few days on the dock in a temporarily vacant slip during which Cheshire got some much needed spa time, having not been dockside with access to a hose since our last project stop in North Caroline a couple of months back.  I cleaned/waxed all of the nonskid, always a multi-day project, and the ground tackle (anchor, chain, etc.) got some love.  We did some playing as well though.  Saturday afternoon’s Plymouth Waterfront Festival was not as awesome as advertised, unless of course you’re interested in aluminum siding, tub inserts or really really bad arts & crap.  The afternoon was salvaged though when we found that a local-but-too-far-to-bike-to craft brewery,  Mayflower Brewing, had a pop-up beer garden at one of the local museums.  Come Monday when the slip holder was due back, the marina staff hip towed us out to the mooring field.  End of projects that require a hose and copious fresh water.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Mike set an alarm for 3am Tuesday so he could be on the phone with Silette when they reopened after the holiday.  Parts were ordered.  Then it got hot.  Wicked hot.  We were thankful for breezes in the mooring field, but still found multiple reasons to be ashore for next few days. We did errands early, then hid out in the public library and restaurants until the evening time when it finally cooled a bit.  Dillon’s Local for beers/snack, then buck-a-shuck oysters at Surfside Smokehouse on site at marina were both quite good.  Wednesday we figured out the public bus system and caught a bus to a local mall which was perfectly awful.  I’ve never been a big mall person, but this one was bad.  The nearby Target however, our really goal, did not disappoint.  Ice cream from Peaceful Meadows back in Plymouth was a nice treat as well.

By mid-day Thursday we’d gotten notification that our parts had arrived.  We were thrilled to have them so quickly, only to be deflated again when the yard staff informed us that there was “no way” they’d get to us before the Labor Day/holiday weekend, and suggested we touch base the following Tuesday.  We consoled ourselves with a visit to Second Wind Brewing Co which was quite good, followed by a great meal at Thirty-Nine Court.

Our holiday weekend involved some windy weather, and a few more errands and smaller scale boat projects (including Mike’s replacing our inverter that also started misbehaving shortly before our arrival here).  We caught a concert at the Spire Performing Arts Center followed by beers at British Beer Co, had our best breakfast in Plymouth at Will & Co. and did a bit of touristing by bike.

Plymouth is actively engaged in a bit of sprucing up in anticipation of its 400th anniversary upcoming in 2020.  Consequently some parks, sites, etc. are fenced off while improvements are underway.  We of course saw Plymouth Rock, which was hard to photograph despite multiple visits… weird shadows, and is a bit over-rated imho.  There’s also some question as to whether this rock marks the real location of the Pilgrim’s landing.  Check out this link for the real story behind Plymouth Rock.

P1070808 Forefathers Monument + Mike

Forefathers Monument, Plymouth MA

A bit off the beaten tourist path but more impressive was the Forefathers Monument commemorating the Mayflower Pilgrims.  Completed in 1888/89, it stands at 81′ and is built of solid granite.  Years ago it apparently was much more prominent a feature overlooking Plymouth.  Today it’s surrounded by trees on mostly private property, so much so that despite its size, you don’t see it until you’re nearly on top of it.  For a bit more info and photos of this monument, check out this blog post. Note Mike in the photo for size reference.

Also worth a visit and unfortunately even more off the beaten path is Plymouth’s 9/11 Memorial.  It was started by a local businessman, a personally funded memorial in front of his produce store.  It’s grown to be a much bigger deal, now managed by the city,  featuring a piece of steel from the WTC, and several granite pillars bearing the names of every person who lost their life in the tragedy, reportedly the first 9/11 memorial to do so.  Other granite pieces feature powerful quotes by FDR and DQ, the latter of whom I’m fairly certain was the memorial’s originator, and another by R Giuliani (not pictured).  The light and polished granite made for interesting photographs.

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.  – FDR

Back downtown, tucked into an area called Brewster Gardens is a sculpture I found most captivating, the simply named Immigrant Monument, by artist Barney Zeitz.  I’ve read both that it was a tribute to the original Pilgrims, and alternately, as the inscription on the sculpture appears to indicate, to later immigrants to Plymouth.  Either way, it’s a beautiful piece, commissioned before and installed about a month after 9/11.  Take a look at the link above for a local news piece including some bits about the sculptor who travels from Martha’s Vineyard every couple of years to maintain/polish the piece. 

To the enduring memory of those immigrant settlers of Plymouth who as latter day pilgrims from many cultures and countries over the course of three centuries helped build upon these shores a robust and hospitable community.  At great personal sacrifice, they established new homes in a new world and by their hard work, enriched and transformed this town of their adoption. Precious to a grateful posterity is the remembrance of their lives and labors.  – inscription on Immigrant Monument, Plymouth MA

P1070830 Immigrant Monument, Plymouth MA

Immigrant Monument, Plymouth MA

Obviously there’s a lot more history to Plymouth that I won’t even begin to try and cover here, but the above were some of our highlights.

Tuesday morning, we were out on the mooring ball, enjoying a leisurely morning after a busy weekend,  finishing our coffee, when at 8:30am there came a knock on the hull.  We popped out to find a couple of the marina staff out to collect us for yet another tow into the dock.  Colin was ready to start our repair.  Later that day we encountered another delay when he found that the engine mounts were also trashed, which required another day of waiting for parts.  Wednesday morning we again got towed in a game of musical boats, this time to the fuel dock.  While Colin spent 2+ days on the engine, we finished some last minute chores… laundry, a hardware store run and some final provisioning, including a celebratory dinner out to a nicer-than-our-usual place called the Tasty… yummy Asian-inspired offerings.

IMG_5824 new flex coupler

new flex coupler

Finally, today we moved off the fuel dock, under our own power for the first time in more than two weeks… all the way to the marina’s face dock where we spent this evening  waiting out a nasty blow which thankfully brought some cooler temps.  Tomorrow we’ll be on the move again, keeping a close weather-eye on the storms brewing in the Atlantic.      And that’s as much of a plan as we have for now.  Stay tuned.


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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.


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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Partial assembly required…

As with most of our projects, this solar/battery upgrade isn’t as straight forward as we hoped it might be.  We finally did receive the second set of batteries with the correct tops, but the wrong size nuts for attaching the tops to the batteries. Another phone call to arrange for replacements, more waiting.  We also collected the second solar panel (which in some high winds, required taking the mothership to the dock once again); it’s now stashed next to the first panel in the port hull, making for an even tighter work space for the new battery compartment as well as for getting into the head which is forward in the same hull.  Even waiting for the remaining bits, we finally had what we needed to begin the assembly.  As usual with our boat projects, Mike is once again lamenting not having the “proper tools for the project”;  he so misses his well equipped basement shop from our condo, but not the snow that surrounded said basement shop and condo.  This project did however warrant a new tool.

Part of this project involved actually moving the batteries to a new location.  We needed twice as much space for our new battery array, more than would fit in our Gemini’s original battery compartment, port side beneath the nav station.  By moving them to the inboard storage area beneath the port settee, we were able to center the weight better, an important thing in a catamaran.  Consequently we have to rearrange some storage, but that’s another day, another project.  Mike built a framework to keep them in place as this storage space is neither level or square.  Hard to tell from the photo, but they’re tucked neatly into an L-shape, preserving a fair amount of accessible storage space.

Having placed the batteries and snaked the monster-sized wiring (4/0, pronounced “4 ought”) from said batteries in their new location back to the battery switch in the previous battery compartment, next up was to assemble the connectors.  Enter new tool… a hammer crimper.  Yours truly’s job was to hold various bits in place while Mike pounded said bits vigorously with a hammer, which of course all took place while sitting on the sole of the boat.   I’m happy to report that at the end of the day, all walked away uninjured.

Phase next of assembly was to load four lengths of aluminum, and a couple of buckets/bags of tools and misc bits into the dinghy, and haul it ashore to start construction of the support/frame for the solar panels.  Thankfully the City Marina at Boot Key Harbor has some plentiful project space.  We staked out a small area next to “Stitch”, the local live aboard/canvas guy and some others working on various projects and got to work.  Step one was cutting the aluminum to the proper lengths, specifically 4 lengths of 6061-T6 aluminum 1″ x 2″ x 1/8″ rectangular tubing.  A plastic miter box , a set of clamps and a hacksaw were not the ideal tools for the project, but that’s what we had;  we muddled through a couple of cuts.  Kudos to Alex of Sea Tek, another live aboard who makes a living doing such projects, who witnessed the struggle and loaned us his compound electric miter saw to finish the remaining cuts.

Step two, with the proper lengths cut, was to measure, mark and drill about a gazillion holes of various sizes that need to be in very specific locations and very specific alignment.  Our mantra for the day: Measure twice (or two dozen times), drill once.  A good while later we had four bars, drilled with a total of 60 holes of sizes varying from 1/4″ to 3/4″ .  The cardboard, by the way, is our solar panel template.  Pretty high tech, huh?


laying it all out

Next up, some filing away of the rough bits.  Most of this step required the use of small metal files to clean up the holes, and larger files for the bar ends, all by hand.  A short time later though,  another fellow cruiser who was constructing a whisker pole, offered the loan of his angle grinder to sand/clean up the bar ends.   Note the creative use of a director’s chair in the photo below.  And by the way, this guy’s hair is really jet black; he’d been grinding PVC with the aforementioned grinder  prior to this photo being taken.


with angle grinder and director’s chair

Although we still love the more remote anchorages, there are definite advantages to being in a place like Boot Key Harbor, dense with cruisers, many of whom are DIYers who are more than willing to share their experience, expertise and tools.  It’s not accidental that we picked this place to tackle this project.

Phase next: Taking these various bits and pieces back to the mothership to begin putting the puzzle together in place, hanging off the stern of the boat, over the water that’s just waiting to collect stray bits, tools, and fasteners that may get dropped in the drink.  Here’s hoping for some light winds and calm seas.

As always, stay tuned…



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LS_20150118_074348As we creep up on the one month marker for our stay here at Dinner Key, I realize I’ve not yet written about this place.    It’s a new spot for us since we started cruising, though we’ve previously been to Coconut Grove (almost 18 years ago on our motorcycle trip/honeymoon down this way).  A couple of seasons ago we did an offshore stint from Lake Worth down to Government Cut, and after ducking back inside on a Saturday morning, were so put off by the craziness of the weekend warriors on the water in Miami, we headed down into the Keys pretty directly. That season, we spent a long stretch in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon and loved it.   In the meantime, several cruising friends had visited and spoken highly of Dinner Key, so we decided to check it out for ourselves.

For starters, the location is fantastic.  The dinghy dock lands one an easy walk from Coconut Grove and within steps of a bus stop well connected to the greater Miami-Dade transit system.  Although we still do a lot of walking by choice, the local Coconut Grove Circulator costs a whole 25 cents/trip and saves us a lot of steps.  There’s a relatively new Citi Bike (bike share) program as well, though we’ve not checked it out.  The immediate area is full of restaurants, galleries (and shops if one is into shopping, but I could skip the chain-store dominated mall that is CocoWalk), in addition to the more practical grocery stores (Publix, Winn Dixie, Fresh Market and an IGA, along with a very good Middle Eastern market), Shell Lumber (awesome hardware store + teak lumber), and a couple of marine supply places.  Apparently Coconut Grove was THE place before South Beach came into vogue, faded some in the years that followed, and is undergoing a bit of a renewal;  interesting Miami Herald article here.  It’s probably one of the most urban places we’ve cruised to date, with the exception of Charleston perhaps, which is good and bad.  We’ve opted not to take/leave our bicycles ashore, but that’s not been a problem.

Dinner Key Marina and the Dinner Key Mooring facility are huge.  The marina boasts 582 wet slips, making it the largest wet slip marina in Florida.  The mooring field has 225 mooring balls, and they stay full as well.  The marina facilities are pretty dated, and the mooring field facilities leave a lot to be desired, but a new building is under construction and is certain to be a huge improvement.  Most don’t seem to mind though, as they’ve been running a waiting list for the mooring field the entire time we’ve been here.  Somehow we got lucky and scored a ball almost immediately.  Unlike other mooring fields we’ve visited, this one seems to have a higher percentage of “stored boats” though, that is, fewer full time cruisers and liveaboards.  Even so, the dinghy dock stays pretty full.  The staff are top notch as well.

DKM and DKMF Map1The biggest downside in our opinion is the fact that the mooring field is pretty exposed; no amount of new shoreside facilities will change that.  It lies beyond the breakwater extending into the bay.  (Map right, we’re in the section of yellow numbers, just left of the big white spot/shoal. The area of more protected “dots” is the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.) We get some protection from the west and north, but significant wind from other directions makes for some rocking and rolling, which can get uncomfortable if it goes on for a while.  Cheshire, with her low bridge deck clearance, just doesn’t like wind/waves on her nose.   It can also make for a wet dinghy ride when the wind and waves are up, as it’s a fair distance to shore.  They operate a shuttle boat that makes hourly runs from shore through the mooring field, which is awesome for daytime runs, though they’ve wrapped up by 5pm.  No problem.  If we’re going to be late, we’ll take the dinghy; if the weather isn’t conducive, we just stay aboard.  The flip-side… there are no bugs and the nighttime view back to shore is actually pretty in an urban kind of way.

LS_20150102_145419The really cool thing though is the history of this place, Dinner Key that is.  It started life as the International Pan American airport in during the 1930’s through the mid 40’s when seaplanes took off and landed near what is now our mooring field, a major stopover between North and South Americas.  The terminal building has since been purchased by the city of Miami,  nicely preserved and serves as city hall.  (We’ve been past the building a number of times, and have seen the mini-museum in town,  but a peek inside is on my “to do before we go” list.)  See the Wikipedia piece here for a bit of history,  a National Park Service piece here, and finally an article here for a bit more history, photos and additional links.

So we’re very much enjoying our time here.  Mike’s son and daughter-in-law are also in the area so it’s been fun to spend some time with them, and we’re looking forward to a brief visit with some Ohio friends this weekend on their way to Key West.   Mike’s also working on a solar upgrade project that’s proving to be a bit more complicated than anticipated (had to order a new tool today).  Looks like we’ll be here a wee bit longer than our planned month (no surprise there!), but we’re anxious to get moving again.  Lots more new places for us to explore.

As always, stay tuned, and thanks for keeping up with us.

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I’ve realized that 2 of the 3 posts I wrote during our time in St Augustine were about the birds… first the mergansers, and later the birds of marker 33.  (The other post was of our farewell to Kiwi Spirit, who by the way is well into its/his solo circumnavigation, somewhere in South Atlantic as I type. Here’s wishing him continued fair winds in this second and final attempt.)  This seems hardly representative, so despite our having visited and blogged about this fair city numerous times,  I’d thought I’d hit the highlights of some of what we did this visit.

There are things that are a given when we visit St Augustine… pedaling to the Old City Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, visiting the shrimp boat docks on the San Sebastian, some provisioning at our favorite Asian market on the east coast, and during this time of year of course, the Night of Lights, where the city gets dressed up in all its holiday lights for a few months.

We also made a return visit to the annual British Night Watch;  see my post of a previous visit two years ago for details.

LS_20141108_152051 Dan N JayeNew-to-us this visit was the Pirate Gathering.  We donned our pirate garb and headed over to check it out.  Not many photos as there was threat of rain and I opted not to risk my good camera; besides, a fancy camera didn’t fit the look.  I did however manage to catch a couple of our cruising/pirate friends, Dan and Jaye, in the midst of a sword-fight.

Also new-to-us, though a St Augustine tradition, was the Christmas Regatta.  Hard to capture moving boats at night, but some of my photos turned out OK.

LS_20141202_173818On the food and beverage front, we of course made return visits to some of our favorite spots, and found a couple of new ones.  During my cousin’s visit, we toured and sampled at the newly opened St Augustine Distillery.  They’re making small batch spirits, including bourbon (currently in the aging process), making/sampling and selling vodka and gin, and rumor has it, when some of the bourbon barrels are freed up, they may take a stab at rum.  I especially love that they’re using Florida ingredients (sugar cane among others) and even more that they’ve repurposed the historic Ice Plant for their facility.  More on their story here.  (Again, the threat of rain had me with only my i-phone, so not much for photos.)

Also this stop we were able to reconnect with some cruising friends we’ve met in recent years, and make some new ones as well.  There’s a very active  St Augustine Cruisers Net and we hit most all of the events they sponsored during our visit.  We’re looking forward to crossing paths again along the way.  Photos credit: Lisa and Michelle.

Finally, as always, there were boat projects, a couple of big ones and several smaller.  The big one, and the reason for our delayed departure, was an upgrade to the fuel filtration system; we now have a dual Racor filter system that lets us drain fuel filters from the cockpit while underway, which is awesome as the situation that generally has us needing to drain said filters is when we’re getting tossed in rough seas and/or rude boat wakes, which is not generally a good time to be shutting one’s engine down.  Mike also replaced the cabin heater which had recently died.  A messy, multi-day project had us stripping/refinishing a bit more of our inside teak, installing louvered vents on a couple of doors and making new inside window coverings (with the Phifertex fabric left over from the windshield and hatch covers projects we did in Oriental this past summer).

All in all, a good balance of work and play.  Then it got cold.  Time to get moving.

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When we decided to extend our stay in St Augustine, the marina staff asked us to move from D-dock to a slip on E-dock.  They needed the face dock for a larger catamaran that was expected in, and we don’t mind a regular slip, especially for a longer stay.  Turns out it’s a great birding spot.  The view off our stern is of a shoaled area… a bit of marsh grass at high water and mudflats at low water.  Turns out the birds love the mudflats.

As during our previous stays, the Osprey and Boat-tailed Grackles  are plentiful.

A variety of heron visit as well, including a Little Blue Heron who proved to be quite elusive.  I did manage to capture a shot of him one early morning.

The mudflats are also popular with a variety of gulls, pelican and other shore birds, so much so that I’m trying to stretch beyond my beloved wading birds to familiarize myself with some other varieties.  Great thanks to folks on the Birding Aboard FB page and birding friend Donna for help with some id.

A great discovery this stop though was a spot on the far opposite end of the marina property near A-dock.  I’d taken some bits of teak down to a picnic table in that area for a bit of stripping/refinishing, and spotted a couple of Black-crowned Night Heron hiding in a live oak tree.  These are the heron that we found so captivating during our stay in St Simons Island where they came to visit/fish at night.  I’m not sure where these guys spend their nights, but a series of return visits to the live oak confirmed that this is where they hang during  the day.  Occasionally they would perch on some of the outer branches, but most often they stayed tucked into the foliage.  My frequent visits were rewarded with a few decent shots.

Finally, a week or so before we left St Augustine, we had an opportunity to “give back” to Mother Nature as it were.  Most of the marina docks are floating piers, except for the dock that runs parallel to the shore out to D, E and F-docks.  For weeks I’ve been walking the dock, sadly noting the trash that had accumulated in the marsh grass (some due to the onsite restaurant), and pondering how I could do a bit of clean up without doing damage to the grasses or disturbing the birds who dwell in these marshes.  A nor’easter that brought some stiff north winds coupled with exceptionally high spring tides gave us the window we needed.  The vast majority of plastic, styrofoam, etc that I’d been noting in the grasses had blown and floated free, captured for a time against the dock where collection was possible without disturbing the marsh.  We collected three garbage bags full. My heart was happy walking that dock for the following week, with a view of the mostly trash-free marsh.


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When we arrived in St Simons Island, we had a plan to stay for a month.  The first 2+ weeks would be spent on my Driving Miss Rita adventure as I’ve come to call it.  I flew from Jacksonville, FL to Indiana and drove Mom and her car to the Florida panhandle where she’ll spend the winter… yay, Mom!  Mike joined us in Panama City Beach a bit later and we had a blast with my youngest brother and his crew who we overlapped with for the better part of a week.

After our return from the FL panhandle, we figured we had a couple of weeks to knock out some small projects (we always have at least a short list of “next time we’re at a dock” projects) and still have plenty of time to play and explore a bit.  We’ve actually been to St Simons Island a couple of times before, but for fairly short visits.  Read about one of our previous visits here.  This time we could be a bit more leisurely.

So leisurely in fact that I did some reading, including an interesting little book, Voices from St Simons  (thanks, Terrie!), a collection of narratives by descendants of both plantation owners and slaves of the area.  It’s an interesting read actually, if you’re into oral histories as I am.  I’ve written in previous blog posts of some of the other islands of coastal Georgia… Cumberland (two visits actually, here and here), Jekyll, and Sapelo.  St Simons it seems moved pretty quickly from plantations to upscale vacation destination to over-developed when so many vacationers decided to relocate and live here permanently.  Still, a bit of civilization is nice from time to time… restaurants, grocery stores, etc., particularly for us cruising sorts.

This was actually our second visit to MorningStar Marina, having paused here briefly last year to meet up with road-tripping friends.  This visit we reconnected with some cruising friends Curt and Cindy whom we’d met this past summer in Oriental.  It’s a beautiful spot, surrounded by marsh grass, and has a great staff.  It’s actually across a small bridge from St Simons Island proper, so there’s very little that’s walking distance, but most all of the roads on the island also have bike/pedestrian paths, and in a pinch, during daytime hours, the marina has a courtesy car… which we borrowed twice, once to return our rental car and later for a couple of unscheduled runs to West Marine in Brunswick.  We did a lot of pedaling, and in fact found an awesome bike shop on the island, Monkeywrench Bicycles, where we were able to do a much needed replacement of tubes and tires on our Stridas, our little fold-up circus bear bikes.  (They also provide rentals of non-circus bear bikes for those who may be interested.)

Our longer stay also allowed for more exploring of the culinary.  We made return visits to a couple of gems we’d discovered on previous stops, including Palmer’s Village Cafe  (a breakfast favorite) and Southern Soul BBQ (yummy Brunswick stew among other things), as well as a splurge meal at Coastal Kitchen and Raw Bar which is on site at the marina.  New finds this time around were a great Vietnamese noodle shop called Island Pho, a fun little deep dish pizza joint called CJ’s Italian Restaurant, and last but not least, a new-to-us beer and wings spot called Locos Grill and Pub.  (Mike has decided with these additions to our list that he could stay here for the winter… I however have vetoed that plan, holding out for lower latitudes.)

yuck from the starboard fuel tank

yuck from the starboard fuel tank

Lest you think that we did nothing during our time on St Simons Island but eat, I should mention some of our projects, both the scheduled and the unscheduled.  We’d developed a bit of an issue with fuel pick-up on our trip down from Oriental… water/condensation and other crap that accumulates in the bottom of the tanks and gets sucked up and chokes in the separator causing the engine to die at the most inopportune times, mostly when we’re getting tossed about by waves or whomper wakes.  We/Mike had pulled/de-gunked/reinstalled both tanks a while back, but they’re apparently in need again.  This stop we managed to pump some junk out of the bottom of the starboard tank without actually having to remove the tank altogether (see photo… the brown is junk, the pink is good diesel); on our list for next stop is doing the same to the port side and upgrading the fuel filter system on the engine.

in the "foot locker"

in the “foot locker”

I also finally tackled a much dreaded project… cleaning out and de-funking a storage area we refer to as our “footlocker” as it’s at the foot end of our bunk.  It’s a decent-sized but awkward space, kind of a giant wedge, that extends underneath the front deck up to the anchor locker, has marginal air circulation and is completely uninsulated… in short, it gets funky mildewed from time to time.  I’ve tackled this particular project once before, which literally requires crawling in through a 10″x 20″ opening up to my waist, repeatedly, with spray bottles and brushes and sponges and such.   There was much swearing involved.  This time was no different.

stripping teak

stripping teak

We also replaced a bent stanchion (the upright stainless poles on the sides of the boat through which the lifelines run).  This would have been a simple project, except that it required removing an 8 ft teak shelf and peeling back the vinyl headliner to access the bolts on the underneath side.  And as long as we had the shelf out anyway, maybe I’d just do a bit more of my ongoing strip-and-refinish-the-crappy-varnish-job-that-our-previous-owner-did project.  Even a bit at a time, it’s a multi-day affair and very messy.  Even so, we were on schedule for a month-end departure.

temporary door latch

temporary door latch

A couple days later however, we returned from an afternoon of pedaling about, put the key in our companionway lock/latch, and heard a not-what-that-usually-sounds-like click.  Busted lock.  I managed to break into the boat by removing a screen in a window we’d left open, fetched Mike’s tools and he proceeded with much difficulty to dismantle the lock from the cockpit side… which then left us with a door that would not even latch, let alone lock.  (See Mike’s creative stop-gap fix in the photo.)  Of course the part had to be ordered, then installed, and by then some nasty weather was in the forecast.  So we stayed put for a couple of days hiding out from the wind and cold, and appreciating our little space heater that we can only use at the dock/on shore power.

This morning we finally got off the dock.  Except that the Raymarine chart plotter is apparently now not playing nicely with some of the other instruments, and the built-in cabin heater (which only works when we’re under engine power), which we almost never use and weren’t even using this morning, is now leaking.  And so, we start the maintenance/project list for our next stop, St Augustine.  Cruising has been defined as working on your boat in exotic places.  We’re certainly living that dream.  No worries though, it’s all good, and we’re sure to find a good balance between work and play… it is St Augustine after all.

As always, stay tuned.



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