Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shortened Stay in St. Augustine

Sailboat about to cross under bascule bridge to St. Augustine
      November has been plagued by unseasonable cold fronts that have lowered temperatures in North Florida by only a few degrees. Though, the fronts have ushered in heavy winds and sea conditions for those planning offshore passages. Ocean travel days in November have been limited. Boats have been staging in harbors along the eastern seaboard such as Charleston, SC and St. Augustine, Florida for days awaiting favorable weather windows. Some have ventured out of inlets into the offshore waters only encounter rough sea state conditions and have opted to return to port to wait for milder circumstances another day.

White pelicans migrate to the south east coast from
central and western United States
      With our low aspect ratio rig 49.5 feet Simple Life has the option to travel the inside course along the ICW most days when severe weather threatens. We don't concern ourselves with fixed bridge heights at 65 feet and Simple Life can fit under the few bridges that have a 55 foot clearance. The numerous shallow areas can still throw a monkey wrench into the mixer and we still have to be careful negotiating these notorious ICW problem areas. Although, we try to make a point of traveling at mid to high tide whenever possible even though Simple Life draws only 4.5 feet. We've gone aground occasionally and with Simple Life's full keel it's not fun. So we make every effort to avoid grounding. Though, sometimes even careful planning isn't sufficient.

Lawrence and Elaine from SV Elle and I
      Our stop in St. Augustine was abbreviated with the weather forecast this season. It has always been a favorite stop in the fall and we reserved a mooring for a few days hoping to tour the city. More high winds were in the forecast and delivered as promised. It was nice to be secured in the mooring field when the 25+knot gusts kicked up during the night. Friends Elaine and Lawrence aboard SV Elle and I were scheduled to arrive the next day and we looked forward to having them aboard since we hadn't seen them since last winter in Marathon. Their plans of spending time at Cumberland Island, Georgia were dashed when they were chased south sooner than expected by the clever north winds. The news of their early arrival was good for us since we'd hoped to catch up with them along the way.

Joe on a cool day in St. Augustine
   The day before Elle and I's arrival during early afternoon on our second day in the harbor a fellow cruiser aboard Island Packet 38 SV Slow Flight dinghied over to invite us to join him and the crew of Pendragon a Beneteau 52 for happy hour and dinner at the Legion Hall across from the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. It sounded like fun and we headed ashore. We were introduced to Mary Ellen and Joe from Pendragon whom we'd seen along the way last season but, never met. Since they were New Englanders from Canton, Massachusetts we had an instant bond. Perhaps it's the New England accent that we have in common. We had a couple of drinks, chatted about where we've been, where we're going and ordered dinner. I must say that the shrimp basket and fries were the BEST especially for the reasonable price of $6.50! It's such fun meeting new people and instantly feeling like old friends.
     When dinner was over it was obvious that we would all be heading in our own directions in the upcoming days. Slow Flight had to be down to No Name Key, in Biscayne Bay by a certain date, Pendragon was waiting for an offshore window since they can't travel on the ICW due to a 72 foot mast height. Simple Life was waiting for subsiding winds to move south on the ICW toward Vero Beach for the annual Thanksgiving Day Bash. That's the cruising life. Meeting new friends, parting ways, catching up again and sharing the excitement of reuniting in a new sheltered harbor with laughter and sundowners.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Shelter from the Storm, Jacksonville, FL

Simple Life docked at the Landings at Jacksonville, Florida
photo by Joe Boulay
      The storm forecast was not our primary reason for heading up the St. John's River to Jacksonville, Florida but, it turned out to be a good place to wait out impending gale force winds. The main reason for heading to Jacksonville was that I had discovered that Ana Vidovic, a virtuoso classical guitarist whom I'd been following on YouTube for a number of years was giving a solo concert at Riverside Fine Arts in Jacksonville. Since we were nearby I hoped to divert up the St. John's River to attend the event. It's difficult to make any plans too far in advance when traveling aboard a sailboat. However, occasionally the stars align and plans made a few days in advance materialize.

     You may or may not know that I play classical guitar or perhaps I should say, I am a student of classical guitar. I say this because this instrument is so challenging that most who play often feel that learning and perfecting techniques is a lifelong journey. I don't know if guitar virtuosos in the world would sympathize with this concept or not but, perhaps they feel the same way. Having the opportunity to see Ana Vidovic live in concert was a dream that I'd hoped would eventually happen. She is an extraordinary talent with formidable gifts that place her among the elite musicians in the world. She's also an international performer whose tour schedule takes her throughout the world with only ten performances in the States in any given year. Between her sporadic schedule on the east coast and our hit and miss itinerary, I surmised that attending this performance was a once in a lifetime experience.

     Simple Life arrived at the free dock at the Jacksonville Landing after negotiatiating the 3+knot currents up the St. John's River off the ICW. At times we were moving at over eight knots! We researched our options with two choices for free dockage. One at Memorial Park near the Gator Bowl offered free dockage with electric and water for $8.75 per day. As we passed by the location only one boat occupied the space for 100 boats and it seemed to be in the "boonies" next to the port and away from the city. Joe and I decided to continue on toward Jacksonville Landing even though there was no electric. I assumed no boats would be there given that Jacksonville was 18 miles off the north south ICW route. Wrong once again. There was space at the dock but, it filled to capacity by late afternoon. Apparently, everyone was seeking shelter from the storm.

     The gale came and went and our wind generator never began spinning. The commercial buildings at the landing that house numerous restaurants along the waterfront made a superb wind break. The next day we'd heard that nearby St. Augustine had wind gusts to 50 knots! Either we slept through the worst of the storm or as I said Simple Life was blocked from the wind.

Ana Vidovic at the Riverside Fine Arts Center
      The concert was the following evening and we called a cab to insure an ontime arrival since our tickets were held at will call. We were second in line and had our choice of front row seating in the glorious venue which was an Episcopal Cathedral. The concert was sold out. I could not believe that we were seated front row and center. Ana was only a few feet away. I was so close that I was able to watch Ana's flawless tremolo technique which is somewhat controversial since she uses only her index and middle finger. Her solo concert began at 7:30 and continued until 10:00 PM with a brief intermission. A catered reception with wine, sandwiches and pastries was held at the conclusion of the concert where concert goers could meet Ana, have programs signed along with photo opportunities. Ana signed my program we chatted about her tremolo technique and I had my photo taken with her. I was so excited that I expected my head to explode. It was the thrill of a lifetime!
Ana Vidovic after a fabulous performance
Michele and Ana having a post concert chat


     Joe called a cab after the reception but, it never came. Nearly everyone had gone and it was time to lock the gates. The security guard said he didn't want to leave us waiting around for a cab that probably wasn't coming. He offered us a ride back to the Landing. The cab never arrived and we were fortunate that he was so kind. There are good people who will help others in need. The cruising life never fails to restore my faith in humanity.

     At departure the next day the current was not in our favor until 10:30 AM but, when it turned it would sweep us down the river into the ICW at over eight knots in less than three hours. Our journey would once again be on course and headed south. The short term goal for now is to make it to Vero Beach for the Thanksgiving Cruiser Celebration. The city provides turkeys and ham for the cruisers at the Municipal Marina and we provide the sides. Apparently, a record turnout is expected at the event this year. It promises to be an enjoyable holiday and we look forward to reuniting with cruiser friends whom we haven't caught up for awhile.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Offshore from Beaufort, SC (Port Royal Inlet)-Fernandina,Fl

Sunset off Tybee Roads Inlet, Georgia
     Lately, offshore weather windows have been few and far between. High winds and offshore seas have persisted for a couple of weeks with an occasional opportunity to travel on the outside. Recently, there were 15 foot seas in the Gulf Stream with 35-50 knot winds. Even though those conditions were well offshore they still affected the coastal waters of the Carolina's making offshore travel dodgy.
     We'd been waiting for a window to move from Charleston, SC and decided to travel on the ICW to Beaufort, SC. It took only one night anchoring in a creek with an arrival the following day anchoring in Factory Creek across from the town. Our general mail delivery been forwarded to Beaufort so we couldn't bypass the town.

     Weather forecasts had been downgraded for diminishing winds to 10-15 knots from the northwest and the seas were forecast to diminish from nine feet at Grey's Reef off Georgia to five feet the following day. With all systems go it appeared that we could plan an offshore passage late Saturday afternoon from Port Royal Sound Inlet at Beaufort with an arrival at the Mary's Inlet on the Florida/Georgia border around 11:00 AM Sunday morning.

     The passage began with us having to dodge a hazard to navigation, a large 30 foot floating tree with roots and branches reaching upward from below the waves leaving the inlet. Coast Guard had no security's on this hazard until we reported it. After that we heard reports periodically throughout the night. Somehow, I couldn't get that tree out of my mind. I hoped it was the only one we'd encounter especially in the darkness. At sunset seas were down but, the wave direction hit Simple Life on her side...all night. It was rolly but, at least we had a sliver of a moon to light our way. The engine was off and Simple Life was under sail for seven hours making over six knots! After midnight the moon set and the the wind lightened. It was necessary to motor once again making the ride more bearable. The rolling worsened after a couple of hours. It was going to be a long night. When it's the wee hours of the morning and way past my bedtime my imagination tends to run wild. I'd spotted a boat's lights off in the distance and thought I saw a helicopter's lights or some flying object swooping down toward the boat. Guess what I thought it was? Of course, I'd spotted a UFO! "OK, Michele, get a holed of yourself. There are no UFO's" I looked back with binoculars and the flying thing was gone. I saw only the boat. Whew! Without moonlight the darkness, wind and waves can play tricks with your mind. I mentioned it to Joe who quickly straightened me out by saying, "Don't start imagining things. It's a boat with running lights, that's all! Go to bed and get some sleep."

     Usually, I'm so wired at the start of a passage that sleep is nearly impossible but, around 3:00 AM I hit a wall. At that point I'm so tired that I have few worries and sleep happens. Poor Joe tends to take breaks but, gets little sleep during the first night offshore. I worry about him when I'm below in my cabin. With the engine running it's impossible to hear anything. Even though he's wearing a PFD with a harness and tether, I'm afraid I won't hear if he needs me over the drone of the engine. I feel much better when we're under sail. Those are my fears...I suppose most sailors have them, in one manner or another.

A shrimp boat plying the waters of St. Mary's Inlet

     Waiting for dawn can be like watching paint dry. You stare off toward the east searching for any hint of light. The darkest dark is just before dawn. I know it well. Finally, it happens, clouds become visible, then the horizon line, slowly a magenta glow spreads near the water and sky. I breath a sigh of relief. It's dawn. We've made it.

Refueling at Fernandina Beach, Florida

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Few Days in Historic Charleston, SC

    Thus far, our southern fall migration has been relatively mild in comparison to what we'd experienced last year. Weather has been dry and warm with minimal amounts of rain. Unlike last fall, we have not experienced any hurricanes, tropical storms or gales. Simple Life's onboard fireplace hasn't been lit this season! One weather factor that has affected most of us this fall has been the number of cold fronts that have not caused plummeting temperatures but, have brought numerous days of high wind conditions both inshore and offshore. This has limited the number of travel days.

An example of a Charleston Single House
     We planned to stay in Charleston, SC for a couple of days and decided to extend it to a week after two back to back cold fronts came through in a matter of three days and altered our plans. Being held hostage by weather in Charleston can be an enjoyable experience and not necessarily negative. Charleston is another of our favorite southern ports of call steeped in history with the finest southern cuisine and convenient amenities for itinerant cruisers like us. There isn't a good anchorage in Charleston but, there are a few marina choices. This season we stayed at The Charleston Maritime Center and found it to be convienient to the historic district and provisioning. The staff was friendly, helpful and...not  texting as we made our approach into the dock. That was a positive experience after The Town Creek Marina episode in Beaufort, NC. If you're curious read the blog on Beaufort, NC.


      Simple Life arrived at her berth around mid-day and I took the opportunity to do one load of laundry while the machine was available. That made my day! Getting chores done on a boat tends to give such a feeling of contentment. I always feel a sense of safety and comfort when I know we have clean laundry and groceries. It's a strange phenomenon since the things I disliked most when living on land was grocery shopping and laundry chores and now these chores lift my spirits. I suppose I am merely reconnecting with my primal instincts.

One of the remaining cobblestone streets in Charleston
 The proximity of the Maritime Center gave us the opportunity to come and go as we pleased. Other marinas offer transportation to town via vehicle or water taxi but, you are then relegated to the marinas' scheduled departures and arrival times. At this point in my life, I've had enough of other's schedules. We were free to return to the boat whenever we chose to have lunch or take showers before a night on the town.

     When all the boat chores were taken care of Joe began researching places where we could watch what we hoped would be the final game of the Boston Red Sox World Series. The King Street Bar and Grill looked like a good choice and it was offering half price burgers and multiple TV screens at the bar. The excitement in the bar was palpable as the Red Sox roared home with their victory and once again became baseballs' world champions. We were thrilled to be able to actually watch the game since we'd been following all week via staticky radio transmissions while anchored out.
Stately home in the Battery section of Charleston

Ornate iron work adorns most buildings

The Calhoun Mansion
During our second day in Charleston the sun shone brightly and I wanted to take the opportunity to photograph the city with good lighting conditions. We managed to cover some ground visiting my favorite southern cemeteries and historic haunts. I know I've said it before but, the graveyards in the south are pleasant places to visit. Offering a feeling of peace and tranquility in a modern life. There's a sense of coming to grips with one's own mortality when reading the names and dates of birth and death of those who came long before us.
A gravestone dating back to 1760


      I've often been told, "There is no free lunch" and being a New Englander I've often suspected anyone offering one. A light mist began falling upon Charleston during our last day in town. While walking along Meeting Street toward one of our favorite restaurants, Jestine's Kitchen for lunch, a young man lurking on a nearby corner hailed us. He was clearly a "salesman" of sort and definitely relentless since we waved him off. But, it was beginning to rain and he was offering...a free lunch! Although we were skeptical we decided to allow him to reel us in and listened to his promotion. He offered us a $25.00 gift certificate to Amen Restaurant and Raw Bar for lunch and a $50.00 gift certificate for dinner along with $50.00 in cash if we attended a seminar for 90 minutes pitching a membership in a wholesale travel club. It was raining, we were hungry, what did we have to lose? We took the $25.00 and went to Amen on East Bay St. Joe ordered a beer, a cup of she crab soup and an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with pickled okra. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and a half pound of peel and eat shrimp! All far. At 3:00PM we attended a hard sell seminar for 90 minutes and came out the other side no worse for wear with the gift certificate for $50.00 for dinner at Amen Street Raw Bar and $50.00 cash! That night we dined on the best shrimp and grits (I've sampled shrimp and grits up and down the low country coast) and crab cakes! All free! By the way, we didn't buy into the wholesale travel club. For now, we do enough traveling aboard the Simple Life. Beaufort, SC would be our next to collect a mail delivery, renew passports and stage for an overnight offshore passage from Port Royal Sound to St. Mary's Inlet on the Florida/Georgia border.

Dinner was fabulous!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reflections Along the Waccamaw River

An anchorage along the Waccamaw River
      One of the most scenic areas along the many diverse sections of the Intracoastal Waterway is the Waccamaw River in South Carolina. The water along this stretch is known as black water due to the tannins from decaying leaves and other decaying elements along this riverfront forest. Black water is highly reflective due to its' dense quality and can be ideal for photography at certain times of the day. Sunset can be particularly wonderful when clouds are reflected in the water.
Delightful fall colors


Ospreys and eagles nest along the river where
abandoned rice fields change the landscape.
 The bald cypress forest supports a wide variety of flora and fauna including the black bear that lives in the Waccamaw's upper reaches on the North and South Carolina border. Along the ICW the river transforms from heavily forested bald cypress trees with exposed knees in the swamp areas to abandoned rice fields as the river merges with the Pee Dee River and Winyah Bay near Georgetown, SC.

Bald cypress knees in the swamp.


Sunset on the Waccamaw by Joe Boulay

     Our overnight anchorage at Butler Island was a spectacular setting since we were treated to a windless sunset which provided a highly reflective water surface and an eerie fog shrouded sunrise the next morning. We hope you'll enjoy the images of our time transiting the Waccamaw River.

Fog at sunrise on the Waccamaw by Joe Boulay