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Posts Tagged ‘weather’

It’s been an eventful month with the dominating theme being the weather. With a maybe/maybe not repaired engine, we finally got out of Onset Bay, MA a day after Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach NC. We spent three days on the move while following the news of the devastation unfold. Our beloved Oriental NC got whacked hard again with a storm surge even higher than for Hurricane Irene in 2011. The effects were felt well north. We opted for a lay day in Northport Bay on the north shore of Long Island as the remnants of Florence passed through. A day later we moved on, picking up a mooring in Port Washington where we staged for a run through the East River and hooked up with cruising friends Dawn and Paul for a low-key birthday celebration for Captain Mike at a local pizza place.

From Port Washington we caught a favorable tide and had a nice but overcast run through the East River/NYC on our way to Atlantic Highlands/Sandy Hook NJ where we spent another couple of days with Dawn and Paul waiting out yet another bit of weather. Finally, on Saturday morning, we opted to haul anchor on the tail end of a small craft advisory and started what would be about a 27 hour offshore run down the Jersey coast. Alas, our cruising friends made a last minute decision that they wouldn’t make the run south afterall, opting to leave their boat north for another winter season. Oh, to have such options. We pressed on.

Sailing was challenging, but we persisted until the daylight on Sunday when it looked like we were at risk for a night time arrival in Cape May. Sails down, engine on, we motored the rest of the morning and into the afternoon to an anchorage off the Coast Guard Station in Cape May. We had plenty of company as we waited out… you guessed it, more weather.

Come Wednesday morning, we made a break for it again. An early early morning departure found us motoring through the Cape May Canal, after which we caught a favorable tide for a run up the sometimes ugly Delaware Bay. In fact our tide was so favorable that we carried it all the way north to the C & D Canal where we caught another favorable tide through the canal. We were anchor down in the Bohemia River after a 71.5 nm run, which might in fact be a one day record for us. At this point we’d accomplished our ever shifting goal, to be past the outside runs and at least into the Chesapeake Bay before having to tuck our Cheshire in while we make our 5th annual “Driving Miss Rita” road trip. We took one more lay day to make some final arrangements, booking a marina slip, a rental car, etc. before moving to a marina situated a comfortably safe distance up the Sassafras River on the Eastern Shore.

Chapter Next…

After a few days of getting Cheshire tucked in, we were off on our road trip. For five years now, each October, I (sometimes we), travel from wherever we are to collect my Mom from what’s been her home in Indiana to shuttle her and her car to the panhandle of Florida where she winters. This year though would be our final trip as Mom’s sold her place in Indiana. Early Monday evening, we pulled into her driveway just as the auctioneers she hired to clear out her place we cramming the last of her stuff into the back of their truck… except for small truck load they ended up returning for the following day, and the couple of car loads we donated to the local Christian Center of things the auctioneer couldn’t/wouldn’t take. Suffice it to say that despite Mom’s efforts over recent years and in particular these past summer months, it was a big project. I had flashbacks to our own pre-Cheshire purge back in 2011.

Early on Tuesday, October 2nd, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) began monitoring an area of low pressure that had developed over the southwestern Caribbean. Meanwhile, in Anderson, we spent a couple of days wrapping up the details, visiting family in the area, and swapping our rental SUV for a 10′ U-Haul to ferry the last of Mom’s belongings, final packing. Two driving days later, Sunday afternoon, we arrived in Panama City Beach for what we thought was the end of this season’s Driving Miss Rita trip and the beginning of some family time. This was to be the first time in nearly 6 years that my siblings (4 of us) and I were all in the same place at the same time. Mother Nature however, would have a different plan.

On Friday, October 5 th, while we finished day 2 of our drive, the NHC declared this storm a tropical depression, and soon after, upgraded it to Tropical Storm Michael. We spent the weekend unloading boxes, cleaned up and moved patio furniture out to the balcony, stocked the pantry and fridge in anticipation of our family gathering. My sister and brother-in-law  were already in PCB ahead of Mom; one brother and his 2 kids arrived Sunday afternoon.  I managed to grab a couple of photos before things got crazy… and obviously need to work on my selfie technique.

Mike and I began our Monday morning as we do every morning… with coffee and weather checks. The coffee was good; the weather forecast not so much. Michael was now a full blown hurricane and he was coming to visit PCB in a hurry. I shifted into storm-prep mode, started planning for bringing patio furniture back inside, thinking about our water supply, eating without power to cook with, etc., while some of my family suggested I might be over-reacting. A few hours later a mandatory evacuation was issued and most of us were packing.

Early Tuesday morning, most of my family evacuated to Montgomery AL. One brother opted to stay behind.  My youngest brother and his crew of 4 were to be flying into PCB; plan B was skip their Atlanta to PCB leg, rent a car and meet us in Montgomery. We spent the next 4 days, one day at a time with a hotel change somewhere in there, obsessively watching the Weather Channel, scouring social media for updates and generally trying to amuse ourselves in suburban Montgomery. Mid-day Wednesday, Hurricane Michael raged ashore at Mexico Beach, about 25 miles east of where my Mom and sister stay, as the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall in the US. It was horrific and the damage extensive. PCB has been a special place for my family since we started vacationing there when my siblings and I were very small. My parents bought their first rental property on the beach while I was in high school and my parents, now my mother, have wintered there since Dad’s retirement in 1995… ironically the year that Hurricane Opal made a visit and wreaked some havoc in the area.  My family’s condos came through this storm with only minimal damage; many others were not so fortunate.

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Mike and I did check out some of the local tourist sights while we were in Montgomery, found some interesting eats, a hiking trail… details to follow in a later post. Long story a bit shorter, when the storm passed and we got some indication that power would be restored to Mom’s area within a day or two, Mike and I grabbed a return rental and started our way back to Maryland. Mom was in good hands with family and the FL Panhandle didn’t need any more people than necessary trying to reenter. We would have loved to have returned to PCB and volunteered with the recovery efforts, but having our Cheshire so far north, we were not in a position to delay any longer. We arrived home on Sunday night after two weeks away; about a day and a half later, the remnants of Michael made landfall in Portugal.

Fast-forward a few days, our Cheshire is now put back together. She’s had a bubble bath and a bottom-cleaning. We’ve topped off provisions, propane, and water. We’ve dug into our deeper storage to retrieve our warmer clothes. We even did some repair work on our weather-worn cockpit enclosure in hopes of better keeping out some of the cold we’re sure to encounter in the weeks to come.  Tomorrow we cast off the dock lines with a goal to get south as quickly as we can, weather permitting. Even before we get off the dock though, we’re already having to allow for some upcoming weather days/small craft advisories. Mother Nature Always Wins. We can’t complain though when we remember so many who have lost so much in these recent storms. Maybe we’ll get some good fall color out of the deal though.

 

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After a weekend of Gam events in Rockland, come Monday morning, with the fridge, fuel tanks and water tanks all full, we headed out to explore the Mount Desert Island region. Here we encountered more lobster buoys than we’d seen earlier.  It looked like party-colored confetti scattered on the surface of the water… but more on that in a subsequent post.   Deer Island Thorofare Light aka Marks Light was a new-to-us lighthouse along this route.  Mackerel Cove off Swan’s Island was a lovely spot to spend an evening; we even met another Gemini there.

We headed north through Southwest Harbor, passing  Bass Head Light and Bear Island Light, along the way making our way up Somes Sound, the cleft in the middle of Mount Desert Island, the heart of Acadia National Park.  Previously described as a fjord, the only one on the US East Coast, it’s recently been downgraded to a fjard.  Go figure.  Either way, it was quite pretty.  Anchoring is free here, but there’s a steep fee for dinghy access.  On the upside, there is fairly easy access to the Island Explorer, the extensive and free shuttle bus system that operates in the National Park.  If it weren’t the height of the busy season, we might have stayed longer, basing here to do some exploring.  We did walk into Town Hill,  had a few good beers and some mediocre BBQ at Atlantic Brewing Co. followed by a short hike about the nearby Blue Horizons Preserve, before catching the shuttle bus back.  Later came dinner aboard with some cruising friends, Dawn & Paul aboard s/v BuBu3 with whom we’ve been hopscotching.  They left the following morning; we opted to stay put for another day, knocked out some boat chores and spent a few hours at the delightful local Somesville Library (summer hours aka July & August:  Mon 1-4, Wed 1-6, Sat 9-2).

Our next stop was Islesford/Little Cranberry Island, an authentic fishing village for sure. Ashore we took a short hike about town and out to the Station.  Formerly a US Coast Guard Life Saving Station, it’s now a vacation rental property.  This 4-bedroom “cottage” sits on 8-acres and can be yours for $4,000/week in the high season.  See link above for interior photos;  mine are below, one distant from the beach and another from the water as we departed the following day.  Little Cranberry is also quite the artists’ haven.  We poked around in a couple of galleries.  Matt Brown (woodblock artist) and Mark Howard (water color) were a couple of our favorites.  As rumored, the mosquitos were quite aggressive on the island.  We test-drove a new-to-us insect repellant (Repel Lemon Eucalyptus) that proved quite effective.  Over morning coffee in the cockpit, we also had an opportunity to chat with a couple of guys who were moving a ginormous granite-based mooring ball for a customer who just bought a ginormous sport-fisher and wanted his ball moved to the outer part of the harbor; quite friendly guys and a fascinating process.  Check out the size of that chunk of granite in the photo below.

In Frenchboro/Long Island we caught up with the crew of BuBu3 again, hooking up for an afternoon of hiking together and later dinner aboard Cheshire complete with blueberry pie from Lunt’s Dockside Deli.   As recently as the year 2000, much of this island was up for sale/at risk for development.  Enter the Maine Coast Heritage Trust who in partnership with others, acquired about 1,000 acres or 2/3 of the island, an area now known as  Frenchboro Preserve.  It’s a spectacular place… largely fishing community, plus a small library and museum, with miles of beautiful hiking trails and lots of opportunity for berry-foraging.  Mike and I stayed on an extra day after BuBu’s departure, took longer hike about Frenchboro Preserve, gathered berries, had a late lobster roll snack, a later lobster dinner, and more blueberry pie, all from Lunt’s.

Our next stop was Blue Hill, with some views of Blue Hill Bay Light along the way, where we again caught up with the crew of BuBu3… we’ll just call them our advance scouting team.

The challenge with visiting Blue Hill by boat is that the tides are wicked high and there is no water at the town dinghy dock except for a couple of hours either side of high tide.  Alternately there is a rock scramble used by a number of lobster fisherman who also use the harbor.  We experienced both; photos below.  High tide at the town landing was in our favor for our first evening in town; we shared beers/pub food at Deepwater Brewing Co.  Tides were equally cooperative the following evening when we met up again for carry-out pizza from Merrill & Hinckley followed by an awesome performance by a regionally  famous community steel pan drum band,  Flash in the Pans. What awesome energy with multi-age generations represented.  They play around the region, but in their home of Blue Hill, it’s a serious street dance.  While in the area we also explored a bit of town including the local library and the Jud Hartmann Gallery where we spent a delightful stretch of time chatting with Jud himself.  Our last morning in town included breakfast at Harbor House where blueberry pancakes fueled my (Lori’s) climb of Blue Hill proper.  A quick dip in the chilly waters of Maine (photo proof below) and we were on our way again.

The next couple of days would take us on through Eggemoggin Reach, including a nice view of Pumpkin Island Light, (now privately owned but nicely restored), followed by  couple of nights boat camping in peaceful but more crowded than we anticipated Pulpit Harbor.

We’d pause for another couple of days in Rockland to visit with new cruising friends Keith and Nicki, collect a bit more mail (most importantly our absentee ballots), re-provision, do laundry, refuel, and top off water in preparation for our slow wander back south/west again, our summer in Maine too quickly coming to an end.

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From the time we were anchor up in Port Clyde, we were enveloped in fog for the duration of our run to Camden, our auto-hailer announcing our presence with a horn every couple of minutes.  Mike’s not convinced that the lobster boat captains can even hear it above their own engines, but it does give some sense of comfort… and more importantly it’s COLREGs-compliant.  Literally as we arrived, the skies cleared, offering a lovely view of the Camden Hills from our float in the Inner Harbor.  Good thing I snapped a photo then, because the following morning, the fog returned to obscure our view. (Comparison photos below.)  Camden is a lovely albeit very touristy town.  We enjoyed wandering about, but especially enjoyed catching up with my cousin Tim who was vacationing in the area.  Drouthy Bear was a fine place to spend some time.

 

 

After doing a bit of laundry, we were off again for a bit more “boat-camping”.  Seal Bay off Vinalhaven was a gorgeous spot.  Cruising friends Dawn and Paul aboard s/v BuBu3 found us here the next day.  Dawn and I had a lovely paddle, circumnavigated Penobscot Island.  The boys joined us later for a short hike around nearby Huber Preserve.  Photo credit for Cheshire at anchor goes to a fellow cruiser we keep crossing paths with.  A bit of distant fog the following morning was magical.

 

A couple of days later we moved on, a few more hauled seals noting our exit. Our next stop was Warren Island State Park/Grindel Point Lighthouse.   We climbed the lighthouse and poked around the attached Sailor’s Museum housed in the keepers’ cottage.  The LED light was not near as impressive as some of the Fresnel lenses we’ve seen, but it’s always nice to get a shot of our boat at anchor from atop a tower.  The museum was small but interesting.  We always appreciate lighthouse towers and keepers’ quarters that are open to the public.

 

With some nice afternoon light remaining, we opted to dinghy to the State Park dock and hiked the trail on the perimeter of the island.  Plenty of wild raspberries offered sustenance.  The next morning, the weekend crowds were gone and we nearly had the harbor to ourselves.

 

From Grindel Point we moved on to Belfast Harbor for a couple of days where we picked  up a city mooring.  We ferried our bikes ashore, and pedaled around the harbor to Young’s Lobster Pound for a late lunch.  We’d considered taking the dinghy, but the bike option turned out best as we found a place along the way to have Mike’s i-phone repaired, something we’d been trying to do w/o success since Portland.  After lunch we pedaled along the well-traveled Belfast Rail Trail that runs along the Passagassawaukeag River.  For the more adventurous (not us), the rail trail ends where the pedestrian-only  Hills to Sea Trail  begins, 46 miles long connecting Belfast and Unity.  Instead, we opted for the not-so-traveled Stephenson Preserve nearby.  Back in town, we did a bit of exploring before enjoying some wine and sourdough pizza at a little spot named Meanwhile in Belfast.  Belfast is a pretty little town with some interesting shops (Eat More Cheese was a personal favorite!) and galleries, and flowers everywhere… including atop the trash cans.

The following day was a bit more utilitarian. The local laundromat was well placed next door to the Belfast Co-op from which Mike fetched breakfast.  After shuttling laundry back to the boat, we headed ashore again for another wander through town and up the hill on our way to Hannaford’s for groceries.  The crew of Bubu caught up with us once again for beers at Marshall Wharf Brewery/ Three Tides; the beers were OK, but the service  abysmal so we opted to move on to dinner Front Street Pub for dinner.

 

With weather coming in in the days that would follow, we opted to leave early the next morning for a run to Rockland ahead of the SSCA Penobscot Gam.  A 05:11am departure had us running in fog the entire way, BuBu3 visible to us on radar but not otherwise. Four-plus hours later, Rockland Breakwater Light, even in the fog, was a welcome sight.  We were anchor down a bit before 10:00am.  Based on vhf chatter, the wind and the traffic picked up as the day went on.  We would stay put, safely tucked into the south end of Rockland Harbor for the whirlwind of potlucks and social activities that would follow.

The official Gam activities included a pre-Gam dinghy drift (think floating happy hour) as well as a day-long potluck/program topped off by a tour of the Sail, Power and Steam Museum led by its founder, salty and colorful Captain Jim Sharp.  While in town, we also visited the Puffin Project Visitors Center  and the Maine Coastal Islands NWR Visitors Center, both of which were quite educational regarding seabird restoration efforts in the Maine coastal islands.  The Maine Lighthouse Museum was of course a highlight as well.  We even managed to catch a brief walk through the Maine Seaweed Fair event (concurrent with the Gam) where, in addition to sampling some interesting nibbles, we met an interesting artist, Mary Chatowsky Jameson of Saltwater Studio who uses incorporates real seaweed into her art. I was so captivated we came home with a couple of her melamine plates… perfect art for a boat we think.

Our final day in Rockland consisted of another potluck, this time a Women Who Sail gathering (an awesome Facebook group I’m a member of), after which I met Mike for one last pedal out to the grocery.  Monday morning’s skies were clear as we topped off fuel and water and headed out past a now clearer view of Rockland Breakwater light, with Owls Head Light as a bonus.  From here, we’re eastbound, off to explore the coastal islands of the Mount Desert area.

 

 

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We left Onset Bay with full fuel tanks and thanks to a day of intermittent rain, full water tanks.  Up and out early, timing the tides for a favorable current through the Cape Cod Canal, we were also in the company of a bit of fog.  We’d best get used to this as we hear it’s quite prevalent during the summer months in Maine.  We managed to not hit any bridges, nor did we collide with any of the sizable vessels that also transit this canal.  Seven miles later we popped out the other end into Cape Cod Bay after a brisk run.  Not only did we make good time in the canal, but we saved a lot of time by not making the trip around the hook of Massachusetts.

Since we were making such good time, we opted to continue on to Boston.  Along the way we caught a few lighthouses.  One was Plymouth Light, although at some distance so not a great photo.  We got a closer look at Minot’s Ledge Light a couple of miles off Cohasett MA; although the water was dead calm at our arrival, I couldn’t help but wonder what climbing the ladder from a boat to gain access to the tower would be like in less favorable conditions.

On our way in to the Boston area, we had some decent views of the infamous Boston Harbor Light.

We passed on visiting the city this time, but enjoyed a lovely evening on the hook in Portuguese Cove off of Peddocks Island.  We had no idea that there were so many little island in Bostons’s outer harbor, thirteen in fact, but only six of them are accessible/open to the public.   The sunset over the city skyline did not disappoint.

P1060604 sunset over Boston

sunset over Boston

The real highlight of our time in Massachusetts though was catching up with cruising friends Tara and Brian, usually of s/v Scout.  For a couple of months though, they’re volunteering as lighthouse keepers on Baker’s Island MA.  Baker’s Island is very private…  and much to the dismay of the local HOA, the Essex National Heritage Commission who currently own Baker’s Island Lighthouse finally won a their court battle a few years back and the lighthouse is now open to the public for tours.  The Assistant Keepers Cottage is also available for rent.  We were thrilled though that Tara and Brian invited us to stay over with them in the Keepers Cottage.  We had a fabulous time with them touring the island, and just generally catching up.  Bonus points for Tara for taking us ashore to Manchester-by-the-Sea for a provisioning run before we took off.

Our timing also had us on island to see some baby seagulls; the Herring Gull chicks were about 3 weeks old, the Great Black-backed chicks a bit older.  Hopefully they survive the neighboring black lab that apparently terrorizes them.

 

Another day of motoring took us past several more lighthouses (named in the captions).  Our last night in Massachusetts waters found us anchored off of Rockport MA.  This morning we crossed into Maine.  I’m still more than a bit surprised that we’ve actually made it.

Wrapping this up at the York Public Library as phone service/wifi in the mooring field is essentially non-existent.  Off to do some exploring…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers:

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

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

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

In a nutshell:

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

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

As always, stay tuned.

 

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