Sunday, December 23, 2012

The ICW from Vero Beach to Pompano Beach (a personal observation)

White pelicans enjoy winters in Florida, too

     Scenery along the mid-Florida section of the ICW from Vero Beach southward changes dramatically. Mangrove lined bays with abundant wildlife in the north eventually morph into sea wall lined canals with over the top mega homes and hi-rise condos known as "the canyon" in the south.

Condos along the ICW in Lake Worth

      Numerous bascule bridges are incorporated into the mix and for the most part define the various town and city lines of demarcation. Modest ranch style homes built during the 1960's that previously lined the waterway have been demolished and replaced by Italianate and Spanish inspired mansions. It seems that a fountain in every pool is all the rage this year. The defining factor of status along the waterway appears to be the size and embellishment of one's property.

    We were recently anchored in a manmade circular lake directly off the ICW near Delray Beach. Each of the home owners were doing their best to bolster the economy by contributing to the support of Florida Power and Light. I was "illuminated" by the amount of low level outdoor lighting and integrated in door lighting it takes to light one home. Of course I'm used to living off the grid on the 12 volt power system with solar and a wind generator supplying our energy needs. We're pretty stingy when it comes to how many lights are used at one time.
     Apparently, indoor blinds are currently not in vogue. Home owners appeared to be on exhibit as they carried out their nightly rituals. They didn't seem to be concerned that they were on display.

     The homes lining the lake were impressive in their architectural enormity. I speculated about who lived in these homes and also questioned the size of their incomes. I felt like an anthropologist watching an emerging species of humans as they retired after a long day at the office. For some reason I assumed that the people who lived in these homes would be coming home from work so pleased with their prosperity that they'd be dancing a jig. I know I would, but I discovered that this species of humans behaved the same way as their counterparts who lived in less impressive housing or in our case a sailboat. They let the dog out as soon as they were home from work just like we do! They walked around the yard to check on the gardener's wizardry. They checked the lines on their million dollar sport-fisherman just like...well you've got the picture. After checking the alfresco bar and pouring a well deserved martini they retired into air-conditioned homes for dinner and afterward watched TV! Their behavior was so similar to ours, only we were savoring our alfresco dinner in our modest cockpit enjoying the balmy breezes of South Florida.

     Before turning in for the night I checked on our new neighbors, it was 11:00 PM. Most of the lighting with the exception of the low level outdoor ambient lights were off. Hmm, there was no exciting party going on. They must have gone to bed. I somehow expected these humans to exhibit different behaviors than their less affluent neighbors like us. However, I never caught sight of anyone doing any cartwheels or jigs.
     Is it possible that having more worldly possessions doesn't necessarily coincide with transcendent giddiness? I'm not certain, but perhaps none of us are all that different. Maybe we're all still searching for the simple life, but for some of us the requirements are are a bit less ostentatious.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sidelined in Vero Beach

     People are sidelined for fouls in basketball, football, soccer sailing. In our case it wasn't a foul or illegal mark rounding that sidelined us it was sciatica! All of the readers under 35 will need to use the iPhone and google that word right now! Everyone else already knows what I'm talking about and you're probably remembering a time when you or someone you love now or perhaps used to love had this affliction.
     Joe had been complaining about feeling like Walter Brennan who played the grandfatherly character Amos McCoy in the 1960's show The Real McCoy's. He'd do the "old man" groan when getting up from a crouched position. He was feeling stiff in the morning (without even having a beer). All of this compounded with the daily demands of deploying 70 feet of chain and anchor and retrieving the chain in the morning with a manual windlass that is not in proper working order. Now we have a "situation."
     Joe suffered with the "situation" for a few weeks until it had become serious enough to call his doctor who immediately prescribed a course of prednisone and anti-inflammatories. This affliction of back problems seemed to be infiltrating the newly retired cruising population. Two cruiser friends had to visit Urgent care facilities this week for similar injuries.

     Fortunately, we were all resting on a moorings in Vero Beach at the Municipal Marina. I'd heard all of the stories about Vero Beach. It's known as Velcro Beach because once you get there you find it hard to leave. It's true! The city offers so many extended amenities that cruisers have been known to grow roots and never leave.

              A free bus run by the city of Vero Beach picks up cruisers at the Municipal Marina every hour from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM daily Monday through Friday with a limited schedule until 3:00 PM on Saturday. The bus ride is seven minutes from the beach, a Saturday farmer's market, grocery shopping, pharmacies, a West Marine and most importantly, for those of us who feel a bit shopping deprived...TJMAXX!


         The respite in Vero gave Joe's back injury some time to recover from the strain of daily physical chores associated with anchoring and lifting the dinghy engine and dinghy onto the davits. I was able to shop daily and re-provision without Joe having to carry groceries. Yesterday, we took the bus to the beach for lunch and music appreciation.

Even though I was reluctant to leave this morning we dropped the mooring and headed south. Joe has recovered nicely since his time off from boating chores and I have gained an understanding of the draw of Vero Beach and how easy it would be to stay awhile or even perhaps all winter.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shore Leave, St. Augustine

Sunset at Cumberland Island, Georgia
         Our tour of Cumberland Island, Georgia was extraordinary.
The best words to describe our visit were isolated, secluded and unexploited.
It was an exceptional experience.

Mooring field in St. Augustine Harbor

After moving on and anchoring overnight in a remote creek 
Simple Life arrived at St. Augustine harbor in late afternoon. The St. Augustine municipal marina has a mooring field which replaced the anchorage. This city is in direct contrast to the natural state of Cumberland Island. Lights, traffic, bars, tourists, restaurants and strains of jazz, folk and hard rock music intermingle with sounds of the city.
     The historic Old Town section of St. Augustine consists of a few narrow streets lined with bistros, galleries and museums that have been nicely restored. At this time of year Christmas lights adorn most of the buildings including the plaza and the Bridge of Lions. After sunset twinkling white lights embellish every building, tree and lamppost beckoning cruisers from their boats.
     Joe and I were drawn toward the bright, shiny lights as was every other cruiser in St. Augustine harbor. Although, most would certainly return to their respective boats by "cruiser's midnight" at 9:00 PM. Not us though, after the isolation of Cumberland Island and an overnight anchorage in a creek, we were like two drunken sailors on shore leave! The town was ours and we were seduced by its allure.

          First and foremost hot showers at the marina facility were on the itinerary. I longed for for a hot shower. While waiting for me Joe spotted a restored nearby pub that offered two for the price of one happy hour drinks. That was just the beginning of our night of debauchery.
     I had researched the restaurant guide for St. Augustine and found a few good reviews and reasonably priced choices. We decided on Bistro de Leon which offered a special if seated before 6:30 PM. I swore I would never take advantage of an "early bird special" since I prefer to eat after 8:00PM, but this was too good to pass up. The offer included an appetizer, a cup of soup, an entree (coq au vin) dessert and a glass of wine for $22.00! Delicious!

     Weather had been relatively balmy and seemed ripe for an apr├Ęs dinner stroll. After dark St. Augustine evokes a cross between New Orleans and Key West. Music filtered from pub doorways and bistros rendering trails of an ebb and flow that tantalized us. Stogies Jazz Club and Listening Room was our first stop. A chalkboard sign advertised a beer and cigar for $4.99. Drew Dixon, a singer-songwriter from Georgia was playing a few covers of Steve Earle's and some of his own compositions on acoustic guitar and fiddle near the doorway to the bar. His music had a warm, down home sound We were drawn in.

     Stogies had an atmosphere all it's own. Smoky with big over-stuffed couches and chairs, a loft upstairs with an opening to the seating area below. It was "artsy" & laid back versus sophisticated or stuffy. Joe puffed the cigar and drank beer while we enjoyed Drew's musical arrangements.

     When the cigar was snuffed out it was time to move on, perhaps it was time to head back to the boat.    

     Within a short walk we heard music filtering through the shuttered windows of the Tradewinds Lounge. It looked and sounded enticing and seemed too good to pass by. A succession of tricked out Harleys in front of the bar clued us in to the clientele.
These people were serious
Harley Davidson aficionados.

     Two formidable "greeters" (bouncers) wearing an array of studded leather accouterments guarded the doorway. We must have looked indecisive because they beckoned us and told us to come in and have a seat. The band was playing some pretty hard rockin' material, people were dancing. Was there really any harm in enjoying another night cap?

     It wasn't long before we got into the groove of the place. The band called Matanzas played mostly southern rock, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top and a few lighter pieces by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles. Most of the bikers wore leather chaps, and other identifiable biker club regalia. One biker who had a guest appearance with the band sang "I've Got Friends in Low Places" and did a phenomenal job. He wasn't shy and was very engaging.   Our night on the town was everything we'd hoped for and more, but it was midnight and time to call it a night.

     The next day was designated for chores with laundry at the top of the list. The municipal marina has only four washers and dryers. On any given day, it isn't adequate for the number of transient boaters checking into the marina. As a result it took hours to do two loads of laundry due to the wait time. It's prudent to bring a book, computer or anything to stay occupied while waiting. It's best to relax and make the best of the situation. I usually spend part of the time getting to know the other launderers. Joe calls them my "laundry friends." I usually manage to gain very useful cruising information from my new friends.

     There was still time for city exploration after the chores. Old Town was of particular interest to me for its rich history and one gallery in particular. The Worley Faver Pottery Studio and Gallery on Aviles Street was delightful discovery. The gallery which appears to resemble more studio than gallery with its open windows and welcoming atmosphere is home base for the potter Worley Faver We were greeted by Worley's wife Dena who directed us toward the back of the gallery where Worley was setting up a new display. His hand built masterpieces were displayed throughout the gallery, even on open window areas.

Worley Faver with one of his masterpieces
     There were also a smattering of paintings of St. Augustine and surrounding areas by other artists on display throughout the gallery. We were introduced to Worley and I told him how much I admired his work. He explained some of his techniques of firing and burnishing to us. I personally have never seen hand built pieces like these with such fine craftsmanship. This gallery was inspiring and will be on my must visit list the next time we pass through St. Augustine perhaps next spring.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cumberland Island, Georgia

     Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost barrier island along the Georgia coastline. Fortunately, 90% of the island has been preserved as a national park. It is one of the least developed places in the country.


      Cumberland Island is steeped in history. Early settlers were indigenous
people who lived on the island 4,000 years ago. Afterward, the island was
the site of Spanish settlements in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the 18th
century the English laid claim to the island.

Detail of Live Oak tree bark

General Henry Lee's grave marker
father of Robert E. Lee
     After the Revolutionary war, in the late 18th century interest in the island's live oak trees grew as a source of wood for shipbuilding for the US Navy. Old Ironsides was built from the live oaks that were harvested on Cumberland Island. Today the live oak trees are the primary variety of vegetation that provide the canopy for the maritime forest.
Dungeness in the early
20th century


The Carnegie name is synonymous with Cumberland Island's more recent history. In 1880 Thomas Carnegie brother to the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie purchased 90% of the land on the island.

He and his wife began constructing a fifty-nine room mansion later named Dungeness. The family used the mansion until 1929. It was left vacant thereafter and burned in 1959. Today the ruins of Dungeness are one of the popular attractions on the island.
Dungeness ruins as they are today

     This was our first trip to Cumberland Island and it took less than an hour to reach from St. Mary's, Georgia. The weather forecast called for light winds from the west which were ideal for the anchorage. It can be uncomfortable in northerly winds with the opposing strong currents. The anchorage is directly off the ferry dock and is only a short dinghy ride to shore. The ferry brings campers and hikers to the island daily.  

     At first glance the island is captivating with its heavily wooded canopy draped with Spanish Moss gently swaying in the breeze. It seems as though the forest is whispering. We stopped several times while walking along the paths and listened. The world seemed silenced. At other times depending upon where the path led us, crashing ocean waves could be heard off in the distance.

Cumberland Island National Seashore
A wild mare and foal

     Wild horses roam the island and meeting them on some of the narrow paths is not uncommon. Several horses walked past us as we explored the forest and ruins. We spotted wild turkeys and even saw fresh prints from a wild boar!

A foal walking on the path
      The skeletal remains of the Dungeness mansion were fascinating. It's easy to imagine the elaborate parties that once brought life to these ruins. Now wild horses graze on the grounds along with wild turkeys and deer.

A stallion taking a drink at the duck pond

     Joe and I spent three days in the anchorage. We were able to fill our water jugs with potable water at the ferry dock, but other than water there were no amenities on the island. Boaters and campers must come to the island fully provisioned.


      The wind shifted to the north on the morning of our last day in the anchorage. The boat was sitting to the current and waves began hitting her on the side. It was time to go. The previous afternoon's sunset seemed a distant memory with the passage of this wet cold front. In a way we were glad that weather had made our decision to leave for us. A feeling of sadness came over me when we left, but there's always the possibility of a return to this special place in the spring or perhaps even next 
                    year during our fall migration.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cruiser's Thanksgiving at St. Mary's, Georgia

     One of the nice social aspects of the cruising life is meeting new people with similar interests. Simple Life had just arrived in the St.Mary's anchorage and the anchor was set. Bob and Pat from Chanticleer whom we'd met during the hurricane at Dowry Creek dinghied over to invite us to attend the free oyster roast at 5:30 hosted by Seagles Restaurant in honor of the cruising community.

     It sounded great but first we needed a nap. It was 11:00 AM and Joe had passed out in bed from exhaustion after the overnight passage. I heard a knock on the boat. Lawrence from Elle and I knocked on the hull to welcomed us and inform us of the evening's activities. We'd met Lawrence and his wife Elaine way back in Chesapeake City, Maryland.

     The town of St. Mary's Georgia organizes an annual Thanksgiving bash for all cruisers who are passing through each year. Activities began on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving and ended with a pancake breakfast on Friday morning. We'd heard announcements for the upcoming celebration over the SSB Cruisehimer's net for a few weeks. Last year there were over 100 boats in attendance! Joe and I learned early on this trip not to plan too far in advance while cruising and that all plans should be cast in jello. We figured if we were in the vicinity we'd plan to attend and since we'd arrived in time we did check in with the organizers aboard Sea Tramp.

Photo by Debbie Rolen

     At sunset, Joe finally awoke from his "long winter's nap" we didn't feel up to going ashore for the oyster roast.
     But, on second thought, we were talking about oysters. Let's reconsider, after all Joe could live on oysters. Feeling a bit shaky and still groggy from our overnight ordeal, we dragged ourselves ashore. You've heard the old cliche, second wind...well we caught ours.

 Picture a hot fire, cool outdoor weather and a man with a shovel roasting the oysters over a wood fire while everyone with shucking knives stood around an outdoor oyster bar equipped with screens to catch the shovel loads of roasted oysters. I felt like a spectator at a cave man party! I ate my share of oysters as well. I don't even like oysters, but I was so caught up in the ambience that I had to participate. It was also happy hour, two for one beer and wine for $3.00! Everyone was very happy...the bartender "Cindy Queen of the Bar" was the entertainment with her boisterous demeanor and heart of gold.

Cindy "Queen of the Bar"

The cruising life is always filled with surprises. On Thanksgiving morning as Joe was making coffee he heard a dinghy engine. He went into the cockpit and the owner of Sea Tramp who organized the Thanksgiving celebration was there offering two Bloody Mary's to kick off the days' festivities. They made the rounds of the entire anchorage with drinks for everyone.
      Thanksgiving dinner was scheduled for 1:00 PM on Thursday. Everyone brought a side dish and the town provided the turkeys and ham free of charge. At 12:30 the cruisers lined up around the block. There were over 35 cruising boats in attendance this year. Volunteers had been setting up tables and chairs all morning in the Riverview Hotel dining room on the waterfront in St. Mary's and it looked lovely. Joe and I were invited to sit with the crew from Chanticleer, fellow Rhode Islanders Jeff and Susan on board Meltemi, and Bob and Brenda aboard Pandora.

Even though our stay in St. Mary's was brief I met another another cruiser with whom I made fast friends. We met at the oyster roast while she was photographing the festivities. Debbie is an artist whose medium is photography. Her subject matter ranges from a fascinating reflection series of studies on the St. Mary's river to a series of textural studies titled Art Dirt. Debbie's husband Josh and Joe hit it off right away. Joe's only regret was that we left before Josh taught Joe how to throw a seine net for shrimping off the boat. Hopefully, we'll all meet again when we return in the Spring.

Josh and Debbie
her photo of the oyster roast is above

On Friday morning the anchorage began thinning out as boats began leaving for their southern destinations. Some planned offshore passages with long days of travel ahead and others like us were moving a short distance away to nearby Cumberland Island, Georgia. We all parted with warm feelings from the holiday gathering we'd shared and for the warm welcome from the town of St. Mary's Georgia.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Offshore from Beaufort, SC to St. Mary's, Georgia

Tidalholm the house used in the films, "The Big Chill"
and " The Great Santini"

     Beaufort is a wonderful stop along the ICW north south route. The town is steeped in history from the Civil War era and is remarkably well preserved. Its historic antebellum architecture is quite different from that of Charleston. Many of the homes were built on a grand scale and more closely resemble the architectural influence of Georgian and colonial federal as well as semitropical Spanish architectural styles.

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in Beaufort is to explore the St. Helena's historic cemetery where Union troops once utilized the church as a hospital and used the marble slabbed grave markers as operating tables during the Civil War.

Beaufort is also a convenient place to jump offshore weather permitting enabling many to skip the dreaded shallows of the Georgia ICW. Nearby Port Royal Inlet is a well marked class A deep ship channel. Each morning we monitored Chris Parker's weather forecasts with hopes of staging an offshore passage from Beaufort to St. Mary's, Georgia within a couple of days.

The Downtown Marina in Beaufort was an ideal staging area for us to await the arrival of our mail shipment, rest and stay warm with electrical access for the ceramic heater. We'd spent a chilly, damp night in Tom Point Creek on the way to Beaufort so a couple of nights at a marina sounded good to me. Hot showers, a laundry, electricity, and heat! What more could a girl ask for? Maybe a nice dinner at one of Beaufort's low country restaurants would be a pleasant addition.

Monday morning before Thanksgiving Joe consulted Chris Parker via SSB radio concerning an offshore passage. Chris felt a passage would work for us leaving Port Royal Inlet on Tuesday morning with an arrival at St. Mary's inlet in Georgia at dawn on Wednesday morning! An overnight passage would take us past the entire 100 mile Georgia coastline. Normally this trip would take four days traveling the ICW route. Even though an overnight trip can be exhausting it seemed like a sensible alternative...

Simple Life left Port Royal inlet at 10:00 AM on Tuesday bound for sea. I called my friend Edie with a float plan for the passage and promised to check in with her upon arrival in St. Mary's. During the day we spotted numerous tankers and container ships. They passed a few miles from us without incident. The 3-4 foot seas were following with about a 6 second interval and a moderate chop. Of course everything changes with nightfall. There are no street lights on the ocean and it becomes difficult to steer to the waves. Situations seem magnified. Eventually, as predicted the wind picked up as did the seas.

During an offshore passage when I'm on my two hour watch schedule my imagination tends to magnify the real and imaginary. I have to admit that I became slightly anxious at times alone, at the helm in complete darkness. Simple Life seemed to be flying through the night with only white water behind her. I began worrying about sunken containers that may have fallen off the ships we'd seen during the day. If we hit one we'd sink! The Coast Guard was broadcasting security (pronounced say-cur-I-tay) concerning endangered Right Whales migrating in the area. I was certain we'd bash into one. It was time to sit back, assess reality from fantasy and smoke an imaginary cigarette. I monitored the radar and spotted a fairly large blip 12 miles off. Since we were near the St. Simon's inlet in Georgia I woke Joe due to the possibility that it was a large commercial ship. He checked with binoculars and confirmed that it was probably a ship and was glad that I didn't attempt to handle this on my own. Within a very short span of time the ship was headed toward us. Joe attempted a contact and received a call from another ship identifying the one we'd tried to hail as Canadian Highway. A response came shortly thereafter with a French accent, "I see you. I see you. I will turn to port momentarily."

My watch was over and I was happy to get some rest. As we neared the St. Mary's inlet the waves began building. I was jostled from sleep. Joe needed to slow down or we'd be there too early and we didn't want to approach the inlet in darkness. Waiting for dawn is similar to waiting for paint to dry. The darkest dark is just before dawn. Finally, a hint of light on the horizon and we pointed Simple Life toward the inlet. With a following sea and cresting 6-8 foot seas breaking at the stern with a 4 second interval, it was no walk in the park and I felt secure in our Island Packet. She handled the seas without difficulty and Joe steered very well. Five hours later Simple Life was anchored at the town of St. Mary's, Georgia. We felt happy to have arrived safely, had breakfast, tidied the boat, and settled down for an afternoon nap.
Welcome to St. Mary's Georgia!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Charleston, South Carolina

Architectural gem in Charleston

     Charleston, South Carolina exudes a certain quintessential southern charm. People are polite well mannered and friendly. Restaurants featuring traditional low country cuisine are virtually on every corner. In my opinion, it is one of the must see stops along the ICW.

An array of architectural styles from Georgian, to Federal, Italianate and Greek Revival mansions line the waterfront in the battery section of town. Along the side streets most of the private homes were built in a style that is characteristic to Charleston called the Charleston Single House. Some of these homes date back to the 1720's. The houses are one room wide and usually two rooms deep. They have two piazzas facing sideways with the gabled section of the house facing the street. The door on the street leads onto the porch instead of into the house. Strolling along Charleston's side streets and taking in these lovely southern homes is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

      Prior to our arrival in Charleston we'd overheard other boaters reserving dock space in Charleston Harbor. Joe called ahead to reserve space in a marina for a couple of days. As usual, weather changes were looming and the forecast called for high winds, accompanied by rain and a 20 degree drop in temperatures. Normal high temperatures at this time of year are in the low 70's. Anchoring out in the forecast conditions seemed extreme and it would be a treat to be in at a marina. Joe reserved a spot at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina which is located across the Cooper River from the historic part of town. The marina provided a free shuttle ride to town and a water taxi. One negative aspect of staying in any marina in this part of the south is the presence of strong current. We'd hoped to arrive at slack tide which we did. Slack tide in Charleston is difficult to time due to its short time span of approximately 5 minutes. After that period of time the current picks up dramatically and can make docking or undocking very challenging even for the most experienced yachtsman.

With Simple Life secured safely at the dock we boarded the water taxi into town. The mate on the water taxi was most helpful and suggested a few places for cocktails and dining. Our favorite restaurant from our previous visit was Poogan's Porch. It had fireplaces in each of the cozy dining rooms and the menu featured traditional low country cuisine.

     Prior to our arrival at Poogan's Porch Joe wanted to try some of the special blends of whiskey served at a pub called Husk which was one of the mates suggestions, it was next door to Poogan's Porch. When we picked up the tab from our Husk experience I'm certain that "sticker shock" was written on our faces. I don't think they know the meaning of happy hour. Our dining experience at Poogan's Porch was wonderful as expected. I ordered shrimp and grits and Joe ordered Calabash style shrimp.

Our stay in Charleston was marred by a cold front that brought rain, wind and high seas. Small craft warnings were posted in Charleston harbor and it was an unreasonable plan traveling offshore or even move further down the ICW.
We planned our next move while waiting for better weather. Beaufort, South Carolina, another favorite southern town would be our next port of call.