Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Northern Florida

We made some cell phone calls to try to track down spark plugs for our sick outboard as we went from Georgia to Florida and past Fernandina. They claim that the shrimp business really started there.  They also have two big paper plants which belch rather aromatic smoke which the locals call "the smell of money."  We have never stopped there and hope to in the future.  Apparently the old town has a great deal of charm, largely because Flagler's railroad completely bypassed it.

  We finally raised someone at Amelia Island Yacht Basin who said he would track them down one way or another.  When he asked for my name so he could call back, he immediately said, "I'll bet you own a Camano Troll!"  It turns out we had been in communication with Tom and Gerrie Clare two years before when we were heading south and they were finishing up the Great Loop on a sister ship.  We ended up waving to each other as we passed going in opposite directions just south of St Augustine.  (See our December 2007 blog.)

Tom now works part-time at the marina where he has a slip for the boat.  He found the spark plugs for us at the local NAPA, offered us a discounted slip for the night at the marina next to his boat, took us shopping, took us home to his wife for a gourmet dinner and good conversation, and sent us back to the boat with some delicious home-made frozen lasagna.  It was a delightful day and evening and we thank them both for putting up with us boat orphans.

We waited for a while the next morning since we had a pea soup fog worthy of Maine in July.  We felt our way down the ICW for a while, but it cleared by the time we got to the busy St. Johns River junction. 

We pushed on through to Saint Augustine, one of our favorite cities but one of our least favorite anchorages because of strong currents and opposing winds.

We paid our $10 to park the dinghy at the Municipal Marina and made like tourists both on foot and on the Trolley Tour.  Saint Augustine purports to be the oldest continuous European settlement in America and is really quite beautiful with a very strong Spanish history, as well as French and English and, of course, American.

One of the streets is canopied by "live oaks" which are hundreds of years old.  The trolley also took us over to the beach and the lighthouse.  We didn't walk up to the top of the lighthouse, but we did watch some surfers at the fishing pier for a while.

Back at the anchorage, we discovered that Summertime from our home port and one of our clubs had dropped her hook nearby.  We left fairly early the next morning and looked back at the progress being made on the multi-year reconstruction of the historic Bridge of Lions.

The Art of the Slow Pass

When you are in a sailboat or a slow powerboat, one of the most unnerving sights is to see a large sportsfisherman coming in either direction at full speed, pulling a HUGE wake.  If he continues his course and speed he will, at the very least, create great discomfort aboard the slower boat and, at worst, create some real damage and personal injury with his wake.

ICW etiquette demands that the slower boat slow down even further so that the faster boat can slow down enough to throw a much smaller wake but still get by without taking all day.  If the faster boat is passing from astern, the slower boat moves in behind it as quickly as possible after the "slow pass" and both resume their normal speeds.  If they are passing in opposite directions, both slow so that they are throwing smaller wakes and they angle across each other's wake and resume speed. If the faster boat does NOT slow down after the slow boat has significantly reduced her speed, MAJOR problems can occur since the slower boat has reduced its ability to steer at idle speed and can be left to wallow helplessly in the swells left by the jerk who, rumor has it, compensates for deficiencies in his own manhood with a heavy-handed throttle.  Sometimes the slow pass is preceded by a radio call on VHF Channel 16 or horn signals, but usually eye contact or a wave and an obvious speed change is sufficient.

After Saint Augustine, we passed Fort Matanzas, the scene of the final annihilation of the last 300 Frenchmen in that part of Florida by the victorious Spaniards.  The fort was built later and never saw action, but supposedly discouraged invasions through the Matanzas Inlet.

We spent the night at anchor in Rockhouse Creek, just inside the Ponce de Leon inlet north of New Smyrna.  It's a fun dinghy ride out to the inlet past all the shoals. We had passed an old friend from home aboard Nomad who has been doing this trip every year for something like 24 years.  They anchored near us for two nights.

Florida is constantly building new canals into which they can put their yachts and new land from the sand dredged up from the ICW channels onto which they can put their mega-mansions and condos.  It seems like one big Disneyland for wealthy adults at times.

Along the cut canals are more modest homes, some with very creative boat houses at the ends of their short docks.  Elsewhere, there are true "house" boats beside the channel.

The route south took us through the Haulover Canal and past NASA's huge assembly building across from Titusville.  We missed a shuttle launch by about a week.
We passed friends of my brother's in Peace who we had seen in Abaco two years ago and who said they were heading there again this year. About six ominous looking go-fast boats from US Customs and Immigration were involved in some kind of simulation as we were going by.  Note the masks or whatever they are wearing.

Even the pros have problems.  This was a pushboat and large barge with large concrete beams aboard which apparently ran aground in the ICW at close to high tide.
There are all kinds of islands along the dredged portions of the ICW which were made from the dredging spoils.  Over the years, they have been seeded by wind and tides and birds and have become their own complete ecosystems.

Our goal was the Vero Beach City Marina where we are rafted with some other boats on a mooring, will use the free shuttle bus to go shopping, and share a Thanksgiving potluck dinner with over 100 other boaters from the moorings and docks -- the great majority being "snowbirds" like us on their way further south for the winter.

Charleston, SC to Florida

Once we were sure Sesame was safely tied up and plugged in, we rented a car to drive south to Kissimme, Florida to see our daughter Lyz and her family just before they moved to Dallas for Chris's new job.

We got to play with the grandsons, Matthew (4 months) and Mikey (3 years).
"Poppie" got to take Mikey and Matthew out trick or treating.  Mikey was Woody, from Toy Story, riding his horse Bullseye(?).  Matthew was either a dragon or a lizard, take your pick.

After a relatively chaotic week getting Chris to pack the SUV with everything they would need to live for at least 2 months in the temporary apartment in Dallas that would be their home until their new MacMansion is finished, we saw him off on Friday for his 2-day drive with the "stuff" and the dog.  Two days later we put Lyz and the boys on the plane for Dallas and drove back to Charleston. We left the house pretty much "as is" for the professional movers to take care of since they are being paid by Chris's new employer.

As we walked the Megadock at the Municipal Marina, we discovered that we had namesake boats docked on either side of the pier.
We spent a couple of days shopping and being tourists since we had the expensive luxury of a slip with electricity (= airconditioning and heating!).
We toured one of the oldest town houses in the city and had lunch at a seafood joint where the waitresses wore interesting shirts.

We did some browsing and Christmas shopping at The Market.  (Guess who gets the sweet grass basket?) The Market is a string of roofed open-air shops just behind the original slave market which is now a museum.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset over the anchorage one night.

We were anxious to get going again after a few days of bad weather and took a last quick tour around the marina which hosted a huge variety of boats from our little 28-footer

to The Sublime
and The Ridiculous

We left Charleston and headed south through many opening bridges, all of which we had to wait for on our first trip down the ICW on our Nonsuch 30 sailboat with its 54' mast.  Now we only have a 14' "air draft" and are able to sneak through a lot of the bridges while they are closed.
Along the way, we saw a lot of dashed dreams, aka: boats that could be bought cheap!
Most of them were "water stored".
In the same areas there were some fairly impressive "winter cottages".

The "riparian rights" around here seem to guarantee everyone the right to build a dock to the edge of navigable water and everyone seems to take advantage of it, no matter how long the dock.  And they don't share! Each and every house has its own dock, some of which I swear are a mile long!
More modest houses celebrate the few "forested" clumps of land in the middle of the marshes.  The only visible access is through many miles of winding creeks between the house and the mainland.
As we got into Georgia, we passed the Bonaventure Cemetery made famous by the book and movie The Garden of Good and Evil. We also passed Moon River which was actually named after the song rather than vice versa.
There is a steady stream of "snowbirders" on their way south. Sometimes, one misses a turn and has to wait for BoatUS, Tow Boat, or a tide change.

We passed the Jekyll Island Hotel, the winter home of the mega-rich in the 20s and 30s, now owned by the state but still open to the public as a combination luxury hotel-museum-restaurant.  We stayed at the dock in the foreground on our first trip south in our sailboat, but there is no longer any water there.

Our last stop in Georgia was Cumberland Island, another home of the rich and famous until the Germans scared then all away in the 1940s with their U-boats.  The skipper had planned to spend a day ashore and maybe even take a swim in the ocean on the far side, but the dinghy engine failed to start and we had no replacement spark plugs, so we decided to head on to Florida.