Fernandina to Fernandina

In the 4 days at Fernandina Harbor Marina we did some shopping, laundry, visited with friends, gave the engine fresh water cooling system a chemical flush and changed the coolant. So it was a busy 4 days to say the least. The area and the marina have changed since we were last here. Mostly the prices have increased considerably for dockage and the marina is pretty empty. We are not sure if they are related or if it is just the time of year. In the anchorage across the river from the marina they have installed a mooring field, like so many other municipalities. The moorings are $15.00 per day for transients and that is the highest we have seen so far other than Marathon. It does include the use of the dinghy dock and showers but so do all of the others for a lot less money. Unfortunately this is no longer a Florida thing and towns all along the waterway are getting into the mooring business. The folks that work at the marina are extremely friendly and helpful and we felt very welcome.

A Close Call from St. Augustine to Fernandina Beach Florida

53 is the magic number and in a moment I will explain what that means. For those of you following our journey you will probably be tired of the repetition but not as tired of it as we are. Our night at St. Augustine was fine and quiet and at first light the next morning we were under way. There were two reasons; one was the fact that we wanted to exit the St. Augustine inlet on a falling tide or at least slack water, and the other was the forecast of storms earlier and more frequent in the afternoon. The waterway between St. Augustine and Fernandina has several problem areas and lots of shallow water. We much prefer the short offshore hop. On the first count our timing was very good. We had an outgoing tide and light winds with calm seas. A great start so far and the trip north toward the St. Mary’s River entrance was relaxing if only we had been able to sail instead of motor sailing. About 10 miles or so south of St. Mary’s we were shadowed by a US Coast Guard cutter for quite a while. Finally they called us on the radio and asked a few questions like where we were coming from, where we were going, how many on board, the name of the owner and our registration number. We were sure we would get boarded but after the questions they wished us a safe voyage and went on their way.
Watching Doppler radar, we knew storms were forming out to the west and heading in our direction. The question was, would they reach us before we reached our anchorage? As we arrived at St. Mary’s River entrance channel we saw a dredge and a few tugs working the channel. We called several times to see if there were any concerns for us in the area but none of them answered our calls. We also saw rain moving in our direction and heard thunder off in the distance to the west. We immediately got all of the sails down and everything secured. Now we would normally stand off at sea with a storm approaching but all we could see in the distance was rain and our radar showed nothing significant. So we made the decision to head into the river entrance. The tide was going out so we knew to expect a good 3 or more knot current against us as we proceeded into the channel. This is a narrow river entrance and there are rock jetties extending out quite a ways from land. We proceeded down the channel and got about as far as inside the rock jetty when the storm exploded directly over us.
We found ourselves going from rain showers to 35 knot winds to black skies with thunder and lightning in a matter of moments and there was no place for us to go or nothing for us to do except to keep heading into the channel. At 35 knots of wind and a 3+ knot current against us we were down to about 1 ½ MPH over the ground and were inside the first set of channel marker inside the jetties. And then things got even worse. The rains went to zero visibility and we could no longer see the channel markers right next to us. The only way we knew where we were was by the chart plotter. Now you remember that 53? Well that is what the winds built to. We were treading into very dangerous conditions and fast with no options but to maintain our position as best we could. With the strong currents and 53 knot winds the chart plotter showed we were pointed into the wind and waves and moving back down the channel from where we came at 2 ½ MPH. We were pushing the engine as hard as we could since we had been having coolant problems all day and our concern was that the engine might overheat under these conditions. If that were to happen it would spell ABSOLUTE disaster and there would be a good chance that neither we nor the boat would survive. And I believe that we were indeed in a survival situation. Not that the boat would not survive these conditions, but in close quarters to those rock jetties, had we hit them under these circumstances we would not have survived it. I can’t really say how long all of this lasted. Maybe and hour or more, it just seemed like a lifetime. We had to literally fight for every inch to maintain a safe position and not get washed up on the jetty or hit the channel markers that we knew were on both sides of us but we could not see. Even letting the bow of the boat fall off a bit would have put us in a bad way. All of this while we prayed that the overheat alarm did not go off. Occasionally the wind would drop below 40 knots and the backward motion would stop and we would be down to a stand still. This has only been the second time in over 16 years that I was concerned that we might loose the boat or worse. This is also the reason we have such a great fear and respect for these local thunderstorms and try and do what ever it takes to avoid them. In time, the rains eased and the winds dropped into the mid thirties then the upper twenties. Once under 30 knots we were able to get the boat moving forward again and make some progress, albeit very slowly. Soon we were again able to see where we were and we moved as far to the side of the channel as we dared to try and cut down on some of the influence of the current. In hindsight, we felt lucky that the currents were going out and we had wind and current in that same direction. If this had been a wind against current situation, we don’t even want to think of how bad it might have been. The rains finally abated and the winds dropped to less than 5 knots. All we had to deal with from that point on was the 3 knot current against us. To say we felt a sense of relief is an understatement. We called the marina in downtown Fernandina and arranged to tie up for the night. We were in no mood for any problems at anchor since there was still weather in the area.
If we had to do it over we would have indeed stayed offshore for as long as it took for the storms to pass. But all indications were for no more than rain when we turned into the entrance channel. Once inside everything developed so fast we had no time to turn and run out or do much else other than what we did. It just shows how quickly conditions can deteriorate when not expected. Knowing a storm is heading in your direction is one thing but having it build right on top of you leaves little time for preparation or consideration. These past weeks have been the most stressful and uncomfortable in our cruising lifetime. I am not sure what we could have done differently or whether the timing was wrong or what. We have sailed these waters in the past at this time of year, but never experienced these conditions so often before and it is our hope we never experience them again either. But the trip is far from over and looking at forecasts for the areas between here and Beaufort, South Carolina there will be more to come. Cruising is not always cocktails in the cockpit at sunset and times like these try even the most experienced. We survived this experience and whether it is luck or a supreme being watching over us I can’t say. But we are thankful to be comfortably tied to the dock the next day with friends dropping by for lunch and to be able to tell our tale. We plan to spend several days in the area, fix our coolant problem, visit with good friends and do a bit of exploring of the area that we have not visited for some time. And keep an eye on the sky. Then we will again head north for our final, for now, destination.

Titusville to St. Augustine Florida

Another couple of days stop has dragged out into over a week. We wanted to stop and visit a friend and help out with a few chores and we did do that. The maintenance work on the boat mostly got done and the weather was lousy. A low pressure system sat over us for days and the front that seems to have been draped over the middle of the state for a month or more gave us daily rain and pretty much gloomy conditions. They should really rename this the “Sometimes Sunshine State”. Of course that would not look good on the tourist posters. It seems that once we tie to a dock it is very difficult to untie and get moving again. We even gave the low an extra day to move a bit further north and give us a little more space. And of course every low pressure system that develops, no matter where it is, will be forecast by the local weather folks as a potential killer hurricane. It is really hard to sort out the facts from the hype. But also, the longer we stay the more we know we need to get moving again. Realistically we are about 3 to 4 days from Beaufort, which is our destination but we also know that it will take us a bit longer than that. After cruising for so many years we have friends strung out everywhere we go, especially the east coast. Once we reach Fernandina, we again will stop and visit. We like to spend a little time in Fernandina Beach, St. Mary’s Georgia and the Cumberland Island area. It is just a great place and when last there we wrote the piece on the Triangle which is on this site. But rest assured we will update the information on this visit.
It is always good to get under way again after a brief rest stop. Well they are seldom rest stops but this time we did get a chance to relax a bit. At 7 AM we shoved off the dock and motored out of the marina. It was dreary and cloudy all day with light rain off and on until afternoon. Most of the 54 miles to Daytona went smoothly and again the boat traffic was light. But we did have some anxious moments crossing through the Ponce De Leon Inlet. The area shoals frequently and there is dredging going on in several areas. But near the northern extremes as you round red marker 4 the depths drop off to 7 feet at low tide and of course we came through at low tide. The guide books always recommend that you transit some of these places only at high tide but that is really not practical if the high tides are during periods that make it difficult to attain. For instance, if high tide is at 3 AM in the morning you would NOT want to run this area or most of the ICW at night. But we made it through without touching bottom and as we approached Daytona the small boat traffic increased. A small skiff was out towing daysailors around and insisted on towing them down the middle of the channel and weaving back and forth. But usually when one of these small boats sees our bowsprit heading for them they quickly change course and get out of the way. We keep a signal horn at the ready in case they aren’t paying attention. There are 4 bridges in Daytona on the waterway, 2 fixed at 65 feet and 2 that have to open for you. Our anchorage was just past the northernmost bridge and right next to it. We have anchored here several times in the past and know the water to be 7 to 8 feet outside of the channel. Several of the permanent fleet here anchors just south of the same bridge and cruisers going north and south during the season will also anchor in both places. There is a fairly good current that runs through here making the choice for two anchors necessary when things get crowded.
The next day went fine until about 12 noon when during one of my regular inspections of the engine compartment and bilge, I noticed the overflow tank for the fresh water on the engine was not only full but overflowing. This could only mean the engine was running hotter than it should. We were only a mile or so past Palm Coast Marina where we had previously planned to stop and visit friends but later decided to head straight to St. Augustine. With 23 miles still to go we decided to head back to Palm Coast and try to sort out the problem. Once again these periodic checks may have prevented a more serious problem at a very inopportune time. We called the marina and they said, “sure come on in”, and in fact had someone on the dock when we arrived. We must highly recommend this stop for anyone coming this way and needing dockage. These are some of the most friendly, helpful folks we have encountered at any marina so far. And the cost was very inexpensive by east Florida standards.
Once settled in and giving the engine time to cool down the troubleshooting process began. In the meantime we had called our friend to say we were stopping by after all and he showed up on the dock. The first steps were to pull and check the thermostat and look for any blockage in the fresh water supply lines. Unfortunately nothing obvious was found but the lines were cleaned and the coolant replaced as needed. I removed the thermostat completely since there could be something wrong that was not showing up testing it out of the engine. These types of problems can be troublesome since they have no apparent cause and only show up under way. So we will see if the run to St. Augustine, only another 24 miles, will make a difference without the thermostat. There is really no place locally to get parts for the engine, but we can get them in St. Augustine. If the problem goes away we will replace it there.
We would have left the next morning but after breakfast we wondered what the rush was all about and decided to visit our friend and spend another day. It turned out to be a good day, sitting at his pool and having lunch, then some shopping. Every once in a while we have to stop and remind ourselves that we don’t have to be any place special at a given time. So another day in a nice, friendly marina is not such a bad thing. We can get under way tomorrow.
We did not leave too early the next morning since we had to transit the Bridge of Lions at St. Augustine at 1 PM due to construction. We ran from Palm Coast to St. Augustine and the overflow tank did fill as it should have but we have been at anchor off Castillo San Marcos, for about 2 hours and the tank has not pulled the water back into the FW tank. We have talked to a Yanmar mechanic and we discussed a few possibilities but his thinking is that the flange and radiator cap on the FW cap may be the culprit. The thinking is that if the cap leaks air, and it can leak air and not fluid, then it will not draw the coolant back into the tank. There seems to have been an issue with the flange and we have had 3 new caps leak and the only thing that stayed the same was the flange. Tomorrow we head up to Fernandina Beach. We have called the Yanmar dealer there and ordered the parts. They will arrive Wednesday and we will put them on and try to run enough to put it to the test. Our next run is offshore from Fernandina to Port Royal Sound so we want to resolve this.

Cruising Equipment Report

We thought that since we are over 1700 miles along on our most recent cruise, more like dash, from Houston to South Carolina, currently in Titusville, Florida, we might give a report on our on board equipment and how it is performing. While some of it is new, some has been on board for years. So lets start with one of the new units and most used. Our addition of a chart plotter at the helm, after using a computer at the nav station, is one of our favorites at this point. Our Standard Horizon CP300i has performed above our expectations and since we did not have to refinance the boat to purchase it, we consider this to be our best purchase and most helpful instrument. Besides displaying charts, it gives us tide and sunrise/sunset info as well as info on facilities in our area. We also purchased a Milltech AIS receiver, which is connected to the chartplotter. This device allows us to see the name, location, speed and course of a ship or tug within the area we are traveling via a little triangle on the chartplotter. The AIS was invaluable while traveling through Texas and Louisiana with the endless parade of tugs and barges. Now we can call a specific vessel by name to inquire as to their intentions. One should note that this only works if the other vessel has their receiver turned on. We’ve had a few sneak up on us around a corner. It sure is nice to know they are coming well in advance before entering a narrow channel.
Next would be our autopilot by WH Autopilots, which has been on board for several years and continues to perform admirably with no complaints, never rests and asks for no food other than a few amps. We have recommended this autopilot to anyone considering offshore or near shore cruising under serious conditions. Other than a wire which we broke on a connector, this unit has never failed or faltered. It is plumbed directly to our hydraulic steering system and is mounted below decks and out of the way except for the control head at the helm. The pilot has steered us through calm and near gale force conditions, both encountered more than once on this trip. Our Simrad wind, depth, and speed instruments have worked without issue since we installed them a few years back, with one minor exception. The knot meter has been temperamental the last few weeks and is about to get a diagnostic run. Most issues with it have been corrected by removing the impellor, replacing the attached plug, cleaning the impellor, and re-installing it. All can be done with the boat in the water. As a certified technician for a few well known manufacturers, I am very impressed with these instruments compared to others that cost much, much more.
One concern in traveling the Intracoastal Waterways, especially along the Gulf Coast, was being seen at night while anchored, especially by commercial traffic. Being run down by one of these guys would be the ultimate disaster, so we needed lights to make us the most visible. One thing we did was make an anchor light out of a kerosene lantern that we never used. By adding a socket and a 12 volt power cord, we could hang it lower than our masthead light and wherever we wanted on the boat. We also put in a LED bulb that uses a fraction of the power of our masthead light. Additionally, just before we left Houston, we went to the local hardware store and purchased 4 solar lights that are used to light your walkway at home. These we mounted on 4 of the stanchions. They light themselves at dark, stay on all night and turn off at sunrise. Most importantly, they use no power from the boat and they put light down near the water and with the anchor light, making us visible to any vessel that approaches us in the dark. When we are sailing, whenever that is, we can easily remove them and stow them until we anchor again. The solar cells recharge the internal batteries making them perfect for their purpose. We have lately seen folks using them for dinghy lights at night. They also come in handy when we forget to turn on the anchor light until well after dark!
Besides the chartplotter, we have a Garmin GPS at the nav station that can be connected to the computer and this unit has been on the boat for over 10 years. It just won’t quit. Although it is just a basic unit, it serves as a back up. At the nav station is also the Icom VHF connected to a remote mike in the cockpit. Other than coax cable problems, the radio and remote have worked well except for the outer cover on the remote mike cord, which has deteriorated and is showing signs of dry rot. We are trying to extend its life by coating it with liquid tape, a rubber coating used for electrical connections. This seems to be working so far. The problem will be once the wire goes, we can not get a replacement that will be compatible with the current radio so both will have to be replaced even if the radio is fine. Can you say planned obsolescent? Our Icom M710 HF radio has been invaluable over the years and keeps us in touch with friends, allows us to do email and download weather fax through the Pactor modem and our laptop. It has operated flawlessly.
We installed a new Clarion stereo system for entertainment and it is also connected to the new LCD HDTV so we have the equivalent of surround sound. One big disappointment with the Clarion is that the CD player portion of it will no longer eject the CDs even though they will play. We have too many entertainment toys on board but, to each their own. The new Toshiba flat screen is great and gives us a 23” screen that takes up little more room than the 13” standard TV we had for many years. We also now have one more galley cabinet as the screen is mounted on what used to be the front of the old TV cabinet. Simply installing a door where the TV used to set was all it took to add some additional storage. We also have a Samsung DVD player/recorder and a satellite TV receiver. Our tracking unit is made by Track-It TV and works just fine at anchor even though it only tracks in 1 dimension so will not work under way or if the boat is rolling. But at a fraction of the coast of more sophisticated units, we are pleased with it. It maintains the direction the dish needs to point as the boat swings at anchor. We have the TV, DVD unit and the satellite receiver connected to their own 350 watt inverter that only drives the entertainment center. They were previously plugged into the outlets on the boat and if we wanted to use them at anchor, we would have to turn on our 1850 watt inverter, which can power all of the outlets on the boat and is not as efficient when running small loads.
We have used the larger Xantrex inverter for years to run the 110 volt appliances and tools when away from shore power. It has done just fine to run power tools, the vacuum, microwave and other small appliances and we prefer it to running a generator for the short period of time we use those appliances. It will not run our air conditioner or hot water heater but the heater is plumbed into the engine and makes hot water when the engine is running. Our Raytheon RL70 radar unit has been onboard since it was new and only a nearby lightening strike has caused any issues. I do want to emphasize that this is a Raytheon and was NOT built by Raymarine. We use this extensively at night offshore and even more often to track approaching weather systems and storms, making it an invaluable piece of safety equipment.
We installed the MarineAire air conditioner with reverse cycle heat a year ago and like it a lot when we are plugged into shore power. Previously, for many years, we used a window unit sitting in the companionway hatch and had to climb over it to get in and out of the cabin. This has been a big improvement and does a much better job of cooling or heating the entire cabin. We have found that keeping a sun awning up in hotter weather helps the AC to not run as much. The sun awning also keeps the boat about 5 to 10 degrees cooler when at anchor with no AC. We have 5 of the 12 volt Caframo open fans around the cabin to help at anchor. Over the years we have found these fans to put out the most air, have 2 speeds, are much quieter than way more expensive fans and last a whole lot longer. You can also find them in local hardware stores and pay less for them than at the marine supply stores. Our solar powered vents in the cabin top have been working for several years now without any maintenance other than polishing the stainless on the covers. All of this contributes to keeping the interior cooler and dryer wherever we are.
For safety we carry a Switlik life raft permanently mounted on a cradle on deck. Switlik has just announced a recall on all of their rafts due to possible valve problems, so we will need to get it back for repairs as soon as we can. The raft does need to be inspected and recertified on a regular basis. We usually have it done just prior to a cruise. Other safety equipment we carry and hope we never need to use are, man overboard pole with horseshoe buoy, Lifesling MOB mounted on the stern, an updated EPIRB and the required flares, etc. We also use inflatable life vests that are always worn offshore, especially at night and anytime only one of us is on watch. All have stood up well to the exposures of constant cruising. We have 2 electric bilge pumps installed with a high water alarm to let us know if either fails or if we get serious water intrusion. In addition we have a large capacity manual diaphragm pump.
Another big upgrade before we set off this last time was to replace our original manual windlass with a brand new Lofrans Tigress 12 volt windlass. Our anchoring is so much easier and we find we are more apt to move or re-anchor as needed than we were in the past. We will also be quicker to set a second anchor if needed than we might have before. We have often envied those we saw come in and leave anchorages with an electric windlass. This, in addition to our anchor wash down system, makes the entire process easier and cleaner than it might have otherwise been. The wash down system was one of our first additions when we bought the boat. Too often we have seen folks with their bucket trying to clean the deck after hauling up a muddy rode and anchor. After our fist experience with that on this boat the wash down was installed.
After our first cruise to the Bahamas, we knew we would want to install a Watermaker for those times when water was not available or potable. Different boats with different usages and numbers of crew will require something with more output perhaps. After a lot of research, we decided on the Village Marine Little Wonder. After 10 years the unit is still going strong and we have experienced no service problems to date. The original output figure estimates are not what we have found, and many factory estimate on output are overly optimistic, but at about 4 to 5 gallons per hour it is sufficient for our needs. We average about 7 to 10 gallons per day for our water usage and don’t especially conserve, we have to admit. The unit runs off 12 volts and does draw around 20 to 25 amps per hour so a good set of batteries are needed. We do maintain the unit by doing a regular cleaning and pickling it when not in use long term. But when we do fire it up after a long down time, it springs right into action and the water quality is great.
Monitoring batteries and power usage is important to us but we have tried not to overly complicate the systems. We use a Link 10 battery monitor wired to monitor both battery banks even though the Link 10 was designed for 1 bank. It does a perfectly fine job of tracking our amp hour usage and displaying the state of the batteries. We also have a Guest Smart Switch with LEDs to show the battery status. 3 solar panels at 85 watts and our Four Winds wind generator, which has been up and running for about 14 years, keep the battery banks topped off quite well. Several years ago we replaced the original 2 banks of 2 8D batteries with all 6 volt golf cart batteries connected to make 12 volts. We opted for the less expensive Interstate batteries instead of the more expensive ones like Trojan to conserve costs. We do monitor and maintain the water levels religiously (monthly check-ups) and we get about 7 years out of a set. I say set, because we will usually replace both in a pair if one goes bad, although this is not necessary. One set has actually been on board 8 years and continues to function properly. Our alternator is the standard unit for the Yanmar 56HP engine we have and serves us well. We do carry a 100 amp spare alternator but have not found we need to use it at this point. We have added a portable Honda 1000 gas generator to our charging system and have found it a big plus. When needed, we plug the boat into the generator and run our Pro Mariner 40 amp, 4 stage battery charger off the generator. This works great when we don’t want to run the main engine for charging. We can run high loads like the Watermaker, etc. while the generator is running and the battery charger is replacing what is used. This can also be used at night when sailing is preferred but the power from the autopilot, lights and other instruments start to take their toll. It is much quieter and uses much less fuel than the main engine, about ½ gallon or so will run the unit for 6 or more hours. One just needs to be cautious and conscious of the possibility of carbon monoxide from the exhaust with these units.
No equipment report for a cruising boat would be complete without mentioning the dinghy and outboard. This equivalent to the family car is one very important issue that lots of cruisers debate. We have tried both hard and soft dinghies over the years and found the hard dinghy to have too many issues and short comings. We went with the RIB inflatable and never looked back. But all inflatables are not alike and after a few trials and many wet rides crossing harbors, we found that most inflatables from places like West Marine and even names like Avon, which are extremely expensive, will give you a wet and uncomfortable ride. The larger the tubes you can carry and the higher the flare in the bow, the dryer the ride when the chop is up a bit. Our Caribe has a lot of miles under its keel and we certainly have abused it. But it still gets us where we want to go, holds air pressure well after all these years and again, is the driest ride we have experienced. We hang it on the davits on the back of the boat and it never spends the night in the water. We have been very pleased with our Nissan 9.8 two stroke outboard, but if we had to do it over again would get a 15HP since the 9.8 will sometimes not get us up on plane with a load in the dinghy and both of us on board.
We use a computer for all types of things aboard from navigation to tidal information to the internet. Much is said about corrosion issues, etc. with computers on board boats. We have not had corrosion issues but generally just wear them out. We usually get 2 to 3 years out of a laptop before it needs replacement. Our most recent is a Toshiba Satellite and it is in the beginning stages of failure. It does not boot up on occasion and the USB ports are starting to fail. But out of other brands we have used we like this one so we have purchased another Toshiba to replace it. We had bought a Gateway but had to return it soon after purchasing it because when it booted up there was nothing but a blank screen. The new Vista operating system has been as bad as everyone has stated but we now have no choice. How all of our software will work is yet to be determined, but with great effort we have been able to get Airmail, our ham email program, and the drivers for our WiFi adapter installed. We are easing into the new one as long as the old one continues to work. We also depend on the computer to make some money while cruising as we occasionally have articles published in several boating magazines. Our Wifi set up is mostly put together from components from Engenius using their EUB362 adapter and omni directional antenna. We can pick up hotspots more than a mile away and have been using it extensively on this trip. A very important component of the computer is keeping our financial information up to date so we know when it’s time to stop and feed the cruising kitty. Hopefully, that won’t be anytime soon. This is only a partial list of the equipment that makes cruising easier for US. Others have, and are very happy with brands and equipment from other manufacturers and we do not want to imply that what we use is the best or worst or anything in between. But it is what is working for us now, and fulfills all of our needs as we travel, be it coastal cruising or traveling to far off and remote destinations. After 16 years we know what WE like and what has been worked for US. All too often we find products for the marine environment that has a very short life span and failure at the wrong time can be more than an inconvenience. All of the equipment on Sea Trek has proven itself over time and after continuous use.

West Palm Beach to Titusville, Florida

The routine is almost automatic by now. Up early for breakfast, pre-departure checks of systems and anchor up and under way. Today we would only have 7 bridges to deal with and 42 miles to cover between West Palm Beach and Stuart. The waterway along this stretch is very nice with a mixture of old and new homes and some still undeveloped areas. Still, being a holiday weekend, the small boats and their unskilled operators were plentiful and as annoying as ever, but all in all the trip for the day went well. The one area that gave us a bit of concern was Jupiter Inlet since the waters out of the channel are very thin and the currents are really strong. One of the 7 bridges also needed to be transited in this area. That transit went without a hitch.
Our planned anchorage was just north of the Jensen Beach Bridge off the restaurant where we planned to meet our friends. It would be a short dinghy ride and we could watch both the boat and the weather. Well that was just not meant to be. As we turned off the channel into what was charted as a 7 foot anchorage, we went abruptly aground. We found ourselves in 6 feet of water with our 6 foot draft. We were able to turn the boat and push our way off the bottom with the help of the many wakes from those annoying boats we mentioned. There is also an anchorage south of the bridge with a group of permanent liveaboards so we doubled back to give that a try. Our concern was that the depths would also not be correct but there were some boats already anchored. We turned off the waterway and found deep enough water to anchor. It was high tide so we needed 8 ½ feet to allow for the tides so we did not bump at low water. By then, the winds were building and blowing up the river against the current and building a serious chop with white caps. So our dinner plans with our friends had to be canceled. Since they are long time sailors themselves, they understood and we decided on plan C for the following day.
The next day we motored the short 20 miles to Fort Pierce and took a slip at Harbortown Marina. The entrance channel is straight forward and deep enough but the docks only have 4 1/2 feet at low tide. In addition the docks are the highest we have ever seen and we really had a difficult time getting on and off the boat. We don’t know what they were thinking when they built these. Perhaps they thought cruise ships would dock here. The marina did not inform us of the shallow depths at low tides or the height of the docks. For $80.00 per night it was a big disappointment. They also advertise WiFi service but don’t tell you in the ads that it is $5.00 per day. The evening went well with no weather although it threatened, and dinner and company was great. It was good to see our friends again after a few years have passed. We also met a nice Canadian couple, across the dock that was stuck there doing boat repairs after a lightning strike near the Bahamas. We would only have to figure out how to get off the docks the next morning. Besides the shallow water there is a very strong current which runs out of the channel all of the time since this is an outflow from Lake Okeechobee and we were docked directly behind a large research vessel. We shall see what the morning brings and I am sure we will figure something out.
The next morning brought low tides and depths at the dock of 4 ½ feet, not quite the 6 ½ we were told. In addition, when we brought our concerns to the marina they became very defensive. This is definitely NOT a good spot to stop for boats of deeper than 5 foot draft or with low freeboard. So we sat and waited for the tides to come up and at about 10:30 AM we dragged ourselves out away from the dock. Once in the marina channel there was plenty of water, just not enough at the docks. But the day and the fun were just beginning. We were making good time motoring with the jib up and our ETA to the Merritt Island area where we planned to anchor was doable and we would arrive around 4 PM. At around 1 PM the storms starting building quickly to our west and seemed to be moving in the direction we were heading north. Our fall back plan was to pick up a mooring at Vero Beach and wait out the storms and continue the next morning.
As we approached the bridge at Vero Beach we called the Municipal Marina to see if they had a mooring available. They said indeed they did and gave us instruction to get into the mooring field. We turned just passed the bridge and headed into the channel with no problems. They assigned us a mooring and again gave us instruction on where to find it. We were very specific with them as we always are that our draft is 6 foot and no less. As we approached the assigned mooring we promptly ran aground in 5 ½ feet of water. When we called the marina on the radio and informed them, their response was “it can’t be only 5 ½ feet and if it is and you are aground there isn’t anything we can do for you”. We know when our boat is aground since it stops moving and we have a depth sounder to give us the depths. So we were left in a position that we needed to resolve ourselves even though someone else put us there. Anyone passing this way on a boat should take care if your draft is more than 5 feet and not rely on the information even from the marinas you are entering. Only the Fort Pierce City Marina was honest with us and told us we would not be able to use the marina because of our draft due to the current spring tides, making low tide even lower. The others either did not know what they were talking about or just did not care. We did finally get off the shoal and get another mooring assignment in 8 feet of water this time. By then the storms were rumbling and getting very close to us. At least we were tied up and could breathe a sigh of relief. Some days are just like this but what makes it worse is when your problems are due to the incompetence of others whose job it is to know and provide the public with the correct information, even if it means they don’t make a dollar today. The $80.00 we paid Harbortown will cost them much more than that in the long run once word gets out and the cruising community is a small one where news travels fast.
The next morning and most of the rest of that day was uneventful for a change. We left the mooring field at 7 AM and dropped our anchor off the ICW west of Fairyland, Florida and no I did not make that up, around 2:30 PM. Most of the day we had light east to northeast winds until we anchored, then they switched to the south blowing right up the waterway. They were not uncomfortable as this is the typical afternoon sea breeze. Tomorrows run to Titusville will be about 25 miles. We probably could have done those extra miles if we wanted but there is just no rush at this time. We plan a couple of days at one of the marinas to do some maintenance and visit with a friend so it will be a busy couple of days. A front is due to approach by the weekend so we will see how that works out later in the week. The next couple of days are forecast to have a lot less rain and storms so we will see how that works out too.
This turned out to be a very pleasant anchorage but we would advise caution in strong north or south winds since they would blow directly up or down the waterway and this direction is very exposed. There are several bridges in the area that one could anchor either north or south of for protection in that kind of weather. In the evening and first thing in the morning we were serenaded by a pair of very loud peacocks from shore. We slept in an extra hour and got under way a little after 8 AM. An hour or so later we were passed by our first power boat of the day and the idiot skipper gave us a big wave as he blew past us and rocked us big time with his wake. But for the most part, the last couple of days, we have seen very little other boat traffic and I must say it has been pleasant. Our ETA to Titusville Marinas was shortly after 12 noon and we arrived at about 12:20 PM. Our first chore was to go to the fuel dock and top off the tank. Fuel was $4.58 per gallon plus tax and we topped off 35 gallons. We were also given a slip assignment as we planned to spend a few days. The marina is currently under construction and one dock is closed down and being rebuilt. Most of the other fixed docks are already done but space is short until construction is complete. An oil change, fuel filter changes, cleaning the raw water strainer and impeller replacement are the chores for the next couple of days.

Key Biscayne to Lake Worth, Florida

Rather than double back around the west end of Key Biscayne to head out for Fort Lauderdale, we went north on Biscayne Bay to the Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge, past downtown Miami and out Dodge Cut to Government Cut. The currents against us were pretty strong through Dodge Cut and especially out Government Cut, at one point only allowing us 3 to 4 MPH over the ground. But once outside, we made the turn north and the current became a non issue. The winds were very light out of the west so again we motor sailed the 20 some miles to Port Everglades. There was lots of boat traffic, even as early in the morning as we departed. We watched the storms over the mainland as we moved north but that is where they stayed for a change. Running outside here saves a lot of time waiting for bridges to open and there are many between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Once we arrived at Port Everglades the entry channel was full of boats of all shapes and sizes running full speed in and out of the inlet. They keep you rolling quite a bit until you get well inside to the turning basin. This is a commercial port so you might see ships of any size as well as the ever present cruise ships.

The 17th Street Bridge over the waterway opens every half hour and we were about 4 minutes late. We could not believe it when the bridge tender reminded us we were a bit late but opened for us anyway. We are not used to bridge tenders in Florida being this helpful. The waterway was teeming with boats from small runabouts to very large luxury yachts. This is the land of the mega-yacht and they lined the docks along this stretch. Our destination was Lake Sylvia right off the waterway next to Bahia Mar Marina. The entrance is a little tricky and you must hug the shoreline near Bahia Mar to get in. Once inside, the small lake is surrounded by very upscale, expensive homes. This is just a stopping place since there are no facilities ashore or any place to land a dinghy. But we did find several local boats already anchored here by the time we arrived. This is the July 4th holiday and everyone is out on the water. As usual the weather was threatening all afternoon but eventually all we had was a light steady rain until about 10 PM. But that did not cancel the fireworks and we were treated to a great 4th of July display. We had views from several venues and although it only lasted about an hour it was pretty good. Even before the show wound down the local boats started to pack up and leave, probably because of the rain. Finally we had the lake to ourselves with the exception of a couple of other cruising boats.
The next morning the forecast called for even more rain and storms than normal, if you can believe that. So we reluctantly decided to proceed north inside on the ICW from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach. That means a total of 20 bridges to transit in the 40 miles we needed to go. Most of the bridges have restricted times for transit. We use our chart plotter to pace ourselves for all of these bridges rather than try to guess if we will arrive on time. By placing a mark at each bridge we can let the plotter calculate what out ETA will be and adjust our speed accordingly so we can arrive just before the scheduled opening. This is very helpful in situations where there is a lot of congestion or strong currents. For the first half of the day we made pretty good time arriving at each bridge near the scheduled opening and forcing us to make good time to catch the next bridge. It did not hurt that we had a good current running with us most of the day either. But the afternoon slowed us down since someone in their infinite wisdom timed the bridges so slower boats could not possibly make the next opening and would have to decrease speed over time. And of course we had the afternoon storms begin showing up on our radar by 1 PM. We did try our best to keep north of them but the bridge schedules kept us at a very slow pace. All along this entire stretch we had to deal with inconsiderate, unskilled and simply totally clueless boat operators. All it really takes to own a boat is the money to purchase it and it seems common sense and good seamanship is not a requirement or even a desired characteristic.
Once in the Lake Worth area, we were free of bridges and had several options for anchoring for the night. Most are nothing more than a wide spot in the waterway and subject to boat wakes. We picked a spot opposite the Rybovich Spencer mega yacht repair yard since we knew it had decent depths and there was plenty of room. Several years back we received great service albeit at a great cost at that yard. We anchored near a small sailboat, a houseboat and a very large tug that we were surprised to see just anchored there. We arrived at approximately 3:30 PM, then a very strange thing happen around 5:30 or 6 PM. The sun came out and the rain clouds just kind of drifted away. I suppose the universe decided we had enough for right now. It was pleasant with a nice offshore breeze and lower, drier temps and humidity. For the rest of the evening we did not even need to run the cabin fans for a change. The currents here are strong and switch directions with the tides since this is close to the inlet but the holding for the anchor is very good. There are a lot of boats on moorings, most private, what ever that means, just a bit further to the north. This is another of those permanent live-aboard communities. We planned another inside run for the following day to Stuart to meet up with our friends that let us borrow their slip in Marathon.
We noticed a little trick the weather forecasters on the local TV stations do and we thought it might be interesting to those following our progress or coming to Florida at some point on a boat. Lets say today is Sunday and the forecasters will tell us that soon the storms will subside and become less frequent in intensity and less often. So that should happen on Tuesday according to their information. On Monday they will tell us in two days the same thing will happen which now means not until Wednesday. On Tuesday, they again tell us, “in two days” we will see less storms making that happen on Thursday and so on. Those two days really never arrive. This goes on day after day and we have found it to be laughable if it were not for the fact that we really need decent information to plan our next days move. I suppose this is done for the benefit of the tourist bureau so perhaps folks won’t pack up and go home early. Just an interesting side note to add to the lack of correct weather information.

Marathon to Key Biscayne, Florida

What were we thinking? Planning to stay in Marathon for a couple of days, and then move on. We should have known better since we have been delayed here for weeks, months, and sometimes years, in the past. So it is not surprising that after 10 days we are finally getting under way again. For those at the City Of Marathon Marina in Boot Key, that would have meant 2 weeks payment on one of your moorings instead of it sitting empty, as a result of your, in our opinion, unreasonable pricing policy. It is easy to get comfortable tied to the dock with power and water but we really want to get north. The problem in the Keys is one of wind and weather. The Keys pretty much run east and west until you get to Key Largo then they begin to turn the corner and take a more northerly orientation. So with winds daily at 15 to 20 out of the east it would be an uncomfortable slog into seas and wind, not making a lot of head way. In addition, something the chamber of commerce does not want you to know, Florida in June and July is a terrible place to travel by boat. Anyone that has read our posts to date is aware of the constant battle with storms almost on a daily basis. Being in Marathon has been no different and trying to just get to Miami has proven a task. But the winds have finally laid down and the chance of thunderstorms has been reduced to 60%, so we are finally off to our first anchorage north at Rodriguez Key off Key Largo.
As has been fitting, the winds were just south of east and we need to go east so it was just enough of an angle that we could motorsail but not sail. They pretty much remained in the 8 to 10 knot range all day. We arrived at Rodriguez at 1:30 in the afternoon and settled in as several other boats arrived during the afternoon. Just about as the sun set and it was getting dark, the storms made themselves known in the distance with billowing clouds and lightning. We watched them on the local news and on our own radar as they developed and marched all around us for most of the evening. There were some pretty spectacular lightning displays from all points of the compass. The local weather radar showed a massive storm center out in the Gulf Stream towards the Bahamas. But this night we lucked out and they passed to the north and south of us but no direct hits. These storms can not be taken lightly. They can and do pack winds anywhere from the 40 knot range to hurricane force and they come upon you quickly. The wind front usually hits you first, then the torrential rains, sometimes leading to zero visibility for long periods of time. Add to this the dangerous cloud to ground lightning and the potential for hail the size of baseballs and you get the picture. We have been dealing with these storms daily for weeks now and it is getting a bit more than stressful.
Rodriguez Key also has an east and west orientation so east winds will make it a pretty rolly anchorage and the prevailing winds are from the east. The bottom is grassy here making for less than favorable hold as proved by our anchor’s reluctance to set when we arrived and the ease in which it came up when we left. This is the most used stop between Marathon and Key Biscayne and many use it as a jump off stop for the Bahamas. We finally fell asleep very late and the bouncing all night would wake us from time to time. We were one of the first boats out the next morning. Wind forecasts called for light winds around 10 knots out of the southeast, which would have been good for sailing, then they changed their mind that morning and forecast light 5 to 10 and variable. We mostly had no wind so motored off toward Key Biscayne burning off yet more of that expensive diesel. As we often note, this is a trawler with big aluminum sticks poking out of the deck.
Not to leave this day to be anything other than normal, as we approached the Biscayne Channel off Fowey Light and the west end of Key Biscayne, we watched the thunderstorms march over Miami and the western side of Biscayne Bay. As we made the turn we began preparing. The tide was at dead low so we could not use our normal route, which is to turn out of the channel and head directly for Cape Florida Light until we hit the park seawall, run alongside it and go around the shoals to the anchorage behind Key Biscayne. With the tides so low, we were forced to go all the way into Biscayne Channel to the middle of Biscayne Bay, past the area formally called Stiltsville for the homes built over the water in the middle of the bay. We were also heading directly into the worst part of the storm.
Just as we exited the western end of Biscayne Channel it hit us, again with a vengeance. Initial winds started at 25 knots and quickly built to 35 knots, then the rains started. The waters in the Bay are only 9 to 12 feet here so a very steep chop developed as soon as the storm hit. Another concern was the shallow waters just behind us that were actually bare with the current tides. We had to make sure we were not blown back into the shallows. At one point we had the engine running at full throttle and were making only 1.9 MPH and a few times we were even moving backwards while motoring hard into the wind and waves. A few boats that were out there with us were doing their best and trying not to run into each other in the zero visibility. While all of this was going on a friend called us on the cell phone to let us know there was a serious weather watch for the Bay, and we said yes, we know. The whole thing lasted for almost an hour and eventually the winds dropped to 30 then 25, then 20, and by then we had everything back under control. It is amazing how relieved you can be to see the winds down to 25 knots. Well I guess, we never really were out of control but sometimes it seems that way. And did I mention that while all of this was going on we had morons with large sport fish and even smaller power boats running up and down past us at full throttle making huge wakes. Welcome to Miami!
Once it all passed, we motored the rest of the short distance to our usual anchoring spot behind the west side of Key Biscayne, and just off the several mansions on the shoreline. We were surprised at the number of boats already anchored and several more came in after we did. Fortunately the rest of the evening and into the night it was very peaceful and quiet. We were able to get a much needed good nights sleep and even sleep in the next morning.
Our plan here was a lay day the next day and a fuel stop at Crandon Marina. So around noon time we pulled up the anchor and made the short run to Crandon. We had been there once before but I believe it was 12 years ago. Amazingly, not much had changed except some construction for a new dock office. We topped off with diesel at $4.92 including tax per gallon, which is cheap compared to other fuel stops we have made. This is also the same price they quoted us on the phone two weeks ago. We topped off the water tank at no charge and dropped off our trash, all part of the service. By this point we had used up 40 gallons of our precious diesel, but considering the distance we have traveled, all under power that is not too bad. We returned to our anchor spot from earlier and dropped the hook in a nice easterly breeze. But the storm clouds were brewing to the southwest, exactly where they came from the day before. We had discussed earlier that the easterly sea breeze was definitely stronger than the day before and wondered if that would affect the daily gales. And sure enough the storms were fewer and lesser in intensity and stayed inland most of the day except well north of us. So we finally got a break for the day and hopefully for the evening. I just hope we don’t have to pay for it tomorrow when we make the run up the Atlantic beaches to Ft. Lauderdale.