Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Back in the good (?) old USA in the homeport of conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays of wealth, Fort Lauderdale. The hundreds of yachts at Bahia Mar are empty except for the professional crews which spend all day washing them with the fresh water that Florida keeps saying it doesn't have enough of.

Lyz took a break one day when her classes were out early (she reports that the Bahia Mar Hotel, where she was staying and taking classes, is expensive, old, and dumpy) and we took a tour of Fort Lauderdale on Sesame. We went up the New River along the Riverwalk.
It's a bit tight around some of the corners, but there are wall-to-wall boats wherever you can see.
Someone MUST actually use these boats from time-to-time, but it's rare to see an owner aboard.
Back at the Los Olas Marina, a catamaran turned too sharply after coming under the bridge and got caught by both wind and very strong current against the bridge fender and the first couple of boats at the marina. There was a lot of screaming and yelling and scraping of boats until a passing skipper jumped aboard and skillfully used the twin engines to get the boat turned upstream and away.
Lyz came aboard Friday night after her classes were over. We had a good dinner at Bubba Gump's ashore and a good night's sleep before we headed north the next morning.

Some of the houses are fun. This one has outside murals, lighhouses, and all kinds of other stuff. Most of the houses are just ostentatious concrete monstrosities. Again, most of them are empty except for the servants. We suspect that these are not second homes, but, probably, fourth or fifth houses at least for folks who have more money that they know what to do with.
We went past Jupiter lighthouse. We read that it's the second tallest in Florida, probably because they found a little hill to put it on.
We anchored at Peck Lake for the night and walked across to the ocean for a dip in the warm, but rough, Atlantic. (NOTE: There is a "Manatee Zone: No Wake" for about three miles south of the Peck Lake anchorage. It stops immediately before the anchorage and then starts again immedately after the anchorage. I guess manatees don't hang out in quiet anchorages. And it certainly isn't quiet during the day since many of the powerboats take the opportunity to "exercise" their engines in this short passage.)
One of the major differences between running a sailboat and a powerboat with low "air draft" up the waterway is that you don't have to wait for many of the movable bridges to open. We have an air draft (height above the water to the top of the boat) of 14 feet once we lower a couple of antennae, so we're able to go under most of the bridges while they're closed.For a couple of days, the Skipper felt like a lot of the other old fat guys running their stinkboats up the Waterway with a young blonde chippy in a bikini sunbathing on deck. But then reality took over: The skipper was missing: a ponytail, wife-beater muscle shirt, Speedo, and gold jewelry. The boat wasn't a go-fast 60 foot muscle boat. And the chippy wasn't exactly wearing a bikini, was no longer blonde, and really WAS his daughter and the mother of his grandchild! (And, by the second day, she was bright red from sunburn because she lives in Florida, the "Sunshine State", and Floridians never go out in the sun.)
When we go to Vero Beach, we met up with The Admiral, Chris, and Mikey. We took Mikey to his first visit to an ocean beach.
He was hesitant at first, but was soon dragging his mother and grandfather directly into the surf and laughing.
After a couple more days at Vero and a couple of free bus rides into town and all the wonderful stores which don't exist in Abaco, we headed north to Cocoa to anchor off Ms Apple's Crab Shack where the Skipper bought a dozen of the sweetest blue crabs anywhere (yes, better than the Chesapeake) and a couple dozen cherrystones. The next day we went through the Haulover Canal.
And anchored in Rockhouse Creek near the Ponce de Lion Inlet. [Photo is the lighthouse near the inlet, not the creek.]
We had heard boats on the VHF radio talking about going aground near the dredge on the ICW near the inlet, so we called the dredge and got some very polite and specific instructions on how to get around him.
This dredge was actually pumping the spoils through almost five miles of pipe (and two intermediate huge diesel pumps) to a spoil island just north of New Smyrna. Once they have created a huge spoil island, they have to move further away to send the spoils. In a few years, someone will celebrate the spoil island and the fact that it is further above sea level than the surrounding "natural" land and and build a condo or mega-mansion on it. (What did they say about building your house on the sand?)We headed on to St. Augustine, going by Fort Matanzas along the way.
And saw the lighthouse in the distance.
The tour boat was out for its afternoon sail.
The dolphins were playing around the anchored boats.
A few derelicts are still around. Actually, this one arrived under its own power, but drifted rapidly toward the inlet once he dropped his anchor. As usual, someone dropped a tremendous amount of scope (anchor line) down current from us well after we had been there for a while. We gave him the hairy eyeball, but he didn't get the point and stayed right there. Needless to say, at the tide change (10:30 pm) he came alongside us and seemed to think that we had dragged UP current toward him! He dorked around for quite a while in the rain and we went back to bed. A few hours later, we were alongside again! This time, he started his engine so, assuming he was finally going to move, we went back to sleep. Alas, he hadn't moved and came alongside for the LAST time around 0530. This time, both the Skipper and the Admiral aboard Sesame had some words for him and he finally picked up his anchor and went away. Saint Augustine has always been one of our favorite places to stop, but one of out least favorite places to anchor (lots of current). Soon after, having decided that we had no interest in going ashore, we weighed our own anchor and headed out.

We passed a neat modern dockhouse which we have watched being built (or bebuilt?) for 4 years. It looks as if it's finally done -- at least until the NEXT hurricane.
We passed the major shipyard at the St. John River.
Watched the pelicans perform their amazing "ground effect" flights and crash landings. And anchored near the Kingsley Plantation on the Fort George River for the night. Still in Florida.
The original "plan" had been to anchor off Jekyll Island (Georgia!) the next night, but the weather forecasts were predicting strong northerlies in a couple of days, so we decided to get through as many of the rivers and sounds as we could and hole up in the more protected Frederica River for a couple of days. We went past King's Bay, a major US submarine base. Every time we go by, we wonder what this structure is. It looks like a huge carwash for submarines. [NOTE: We also observe that both East Coast sub bases are a few miles up rivers with rather narrow channels. One would think that those channels might be vulnerable to attack and closure. But we won't tell anyone if you won't.]
[A fellow Camano owner added a comment to this entry, identifying the contraption as a "degausser", so I looked it up on the internet and found: "Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, GA TRIREFFAC's state-of-the-art Magnetic Silencing Facility provides degaussing services to Trident, fast attack and United Kingdom submarines, as well as steel hull surface craft. TRIREFFAC's MSF is the only facility of its kind on the East Coast. A high-tech "drive-in procedure is employed when bringing ships into the MSF, which saves time and reduces the cost of this essential evolution. The Magnetic Silencing Facility is also used for research for development of future magnetic systems." Now we ALL know.]
Now that we're back on our Verizon Aircard, rather than the tenuous WiFi in the Bahamas, we can even use the internet while underway (except when we lose the cell signal in some of the backwaters of Georgia and the Carolinas). The Admiral was multi-tasking with both computers one day!
A kite surfer was having a glorious time off Jekyll Island as we went by, reveling in the kind of weather we were trying to avoid. But this guy paid no attention to us or the kite surfer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Farewell Abaco!

Our original plan had been to get back to Florida by the end of May so that Judy could babysit grandson Mikey and his father while Lyz was in Fort Lauderdale for a week taking classes. So we decided to get north of The Whale and wait for a minimum of a three-day window to get across. (Two days to West End and the next to Palm Beach.) We went through Dont Rock Passage toward Manjack on a very quiet day.
We only stayed at the relatively open harbor at Manjack for one night because of the forecast. We headed south a bit and anchored in well-protected White Sound at Green Turtle and then moved to a mooring when the breeze piped up. We had first met "Joken. . . Eh?" on the ICW four years ago and renewed acquaintances over a couple of pops with mutual friends we had met along the way.
When the weather refused to quiet down, we decided to move into a slip at Green Turtle Club for three nights. Nice showers and laundry as well as an "eat your slip fee" program in which you subtract your restaurant and booze bill from your dockage. A North Cove Yacht Club member with ties to Green Turtle left a burgee on the wall at the Club previously and we added our $1 to the thousands which paper the walls in the bar.
In three days we had: one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner. Although we certainly didn't come close to breaking even, it gave us another excuse to live large for a while.
We probably should have gone out and caught our own like these folks did, but we never really tried. (NEXT time?)
We had thought about renting a golf cart for the last couple of months and, since the weather didn't want us to go anywhere yet, we toured the cay on one and used it to stock up on groceries at Sid's Groceries in New Plymouth for the last time. [NOTE: For those who don't know, simple golf carts have neither springs or shock absorbers. Many roads in Green Turtle are not paved.]
This is a view of Abaco Sound from Bluff House, across the harbor from Green Turtle Club.
This is the ocean beach. Note the string of breakers marking the reef.No, he's not one of the famous wild horses of Abaco. He was just hanging around on the side of the road.
We stopped for a last frozen drink at Pineapples on Black Sound -- where we had our first drinks ashore in Abaco almost three months before.The Green Turtle ferries, all of which are named Bolo, will do pickups and deliveries at any of the marinas, private docks (water depths permitting), and moored or anchored boats. They land at Treasure Cay on the "Mainland" (Great Abaco) on the north side of The Whale in all kinds of weather. To get to the rest of the Abacos from there, you take a taxi to Marsh Harbor. Various ferries run from Marsh Harbour to the cays south of The Whale.
The Green Turtle Club has some gorgeous flowering plants.
Finally, it looked as if a weather window was imminent, so we took the short trip to Manjack, expecting to be there for a few days. We met up with brother Jock aboard "Home at Last" for the last time in Abaco and also had Randy and Liz ("Helen Bell") aboard for a gam.
We saw a novel way to "walk the dogs" at sea. The little guy on the bow watches out for sharks while the one in the PFD exercises to its heart's content. (We never saw them change places, so maybe the guy on the bow knows something the other one doesn't.)
Bill and Leslie built a house on Manjack sixteen years ago and are extremely self-sufficient. They are also very friendly to boaters and go out of their way to welcome them and to help them out. They will often have bonfires on their beach and invite all the boaters in the harbor to join in. (They claim that there are as many as 50 boats in the anchorage during the summer when the Floridians go to Abaco to cool off.) They supply free WiFi to the entire anchorage which is stronger and faster than the very iffy and expensive commercial WiFi in the rest of Abaco. The only thing they ask in return is that you respect their environment, pick up any jetsam you may find on the beach and either take it with you or leave it in piles above the high water line, and leave the flora and fauna alone (both in and out of the water). Both their house and boat are called "Sea Story". (With marginal or no telephone connections, the Abaconians rely a lot on their VHF radios for communication, both on the water and land. Thus, the names for the houses and cottages which are used as "call signs" on the radio.)
We had hoped to spend more time in Manjack as well as exploring a couple of cays to the north which we had missed, but the weather window was closing and shortening rather quickly, so we decided we had to leave or wait at least another week.
On the way out of Manjack, we caught up with "Wilde Mathilde" who, we were told, is a sister-ship of the steel-hulled "Joshua" owned by the late single-hander and writer Bernard Montessier.
We spent the first night at Great Sale Cay, an uninhabited cay halfway between Manjack and West End. There were at least 30 boats there waiting to go west or north.
Some would leave directly from Great Sale and do an overnight trip across the Bahama Banks and then across the Gulf Stream. Others would stop at West End on the way.
Since The Admiral wanted to get across the Stream as quickly as possible and since we never want to be accused of "roughing it", we planned to stop at West End to refuel, have our last fresh conchburgers and frozen rum things and get a good night's sleep.
The forecasts had predicted 2-4 foot seas almost dead astern. (With more wind and northerlies predicted for the next few days. So it looked as if the choice was leaving in less than ideal conditions or spending the rest of the cruising budget staying at West End for another week.) Once we got out there we discovered an added attraction of the occasional 5-foot breaker at a 45-degree angle to the rest. But the Skipper kept one hand on the wheel, another on the trim tab controls, and a third on the throttle and was able to keep the boat averaging around 12 knots most of the way. The result was a somewhat invigorating 5-hour trip from West End to the Lake Worth Inlet. The Skipper gave the passage a score of "3" on a scale of 5. (It was a little rough around the edges.) The Admiral gave it a score of, "I'm never going to do that passage again!" [NOTE: We may have to look into an airplane -- or a broom -- for the next passage for one of the crew!]
We started the new year in the Bahamas and got back to the US just before April Fools' Day. (We'll let our readers make up their own punch line for that one!)
Judy is now in Kissimmee, babysitting "the boys". (We were only a couple of days later than originally planned.) Lyz is in the Bahia Mar Hotel taking a class for a week. Allen is aboard the boat at Los Olas Marina (about half a mile from Bahia Mar) in air-conditioned comfort relaxing, doing boat chores, and trying to shake a bad case of bronchitis. Lyz walked over to have a gourmet pork chop dinner aboard one night and we took a short harbor tour to show her the total decadence of the Fort Lauderdale waterfront with its mansions and super-yachts.
And, no, I'm not going to spoil this last post about the sublime Bahamas with a picture of ridiculous Fort Lauderdale! You'll have to wait for the next episode.