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The Dither over the Dinghy May 5, 2014

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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dinghy

Dinghies are life’s blood to cruisers. The big boat takes us for big adventures at sea, but in the daily back and forth for groceries, laundry and church, the dinghy is the family car. Life on a mooring ball requires a dinghy because a step off the boat is a step into the water. We have had some weird experiences with dinghies. In 2011, we made a trip to visit family and left the dinghy tied up behind our boat. When we returned, the outboard had frozen. Not with ice. It was August for goodness sake. Nevertheless, any effort to turn the motor in order to steer the dinghy met with strong resistance. Larry pulled things apart, cleaned, greased, and issued harsh directives, but to little avail. He was able to free the action sufficiently that a strong arm can turn the motor to steer the dinghy. It resists noisily, but we do get where we are going. We have used it this way ever since. Shortly after the first day of spring in 2012, while moored at Marathon, a violent thunderstorm built up during the night and flipped the dinghy upside down with the motor attached. We were asleep when the storm struck, and even though the fury of its onset woke us, the storm was quite brief. When it subsided, we went back to sleep. Only the next morning did we discover the inverted dinghy. That accident required the motor to be thoroughly disassembled. Every tiny part had to be washed in fresh water in order to cleanse it of the salt water. Some of the parts had to be replaced. It was not fun. What with ordering mistakes, shipping delays and general frustration with all things mechanical, the accident delayed our departure from Marathon, planned for the first weather window on or after April 14. We finally departed on May 7. The dinghy has other problems, not related to the outboard. It is a soft-bottom dinghy, and it is designed to have an inner tube between the floor and the bottom of the dinghy that serves to give it a tiny keel. That piece sprang a leak that only grew larger every time Larry tried to fix it, so he finally took it out simply to avoid having to look at it. As a consequence, the bow has zero rise, and we are routinely drenched when motoring into winds from forward. A couple of weeks ago, the transmission on the diesel engine took leave and required major repairs. We discovered this problem in the course of attempting to leave our mooring for the purpose of refilling our water tanks. While the transmission was inoperable, our mooring neighbor lent us two 5-gallon water jugs. Larry made trip after trip to the water refill station at the marina office until he had filled one of our 60-gallon tanks and put another ten gallons in a second tank. That way, if it were pouring down rain when we emptied the full tank, we could wait another day or two to refill our water supply. In the course of making those runs for water, Larry at one point set both of the jugs on the seat of the dinghy. The piece on the end of the seat that fits under the slide that allows us to remove or replace the seat broke off, the jugs tumbled, and that was the end of the dinghy seat. It actually can be repaired, Larry says, but it requires screws he does not have. Until he is done with the transmission problem, it is unlikely the dinghy seat will be replaced. Until this morning, the missing seat was actually not a problem. We usually sit on the wall tubes anyway. With the seat out, we have more room for groceries or shower bags or whatever we are ferrying back and forth. We had not worried much about it. However, this morning, when we were in the dinghy, dressed for church, and right on time, Larry pulled the starter cord, and it simply broke off. He just sat there for a minute, looking bewildered. Then we sighed and put everything back on deck. We would not be going to church. Larry had another repair job. His first thought was that he would probably have some sort of cord aboard which he could use to get the outboard going, but no such luck. We had a strong piece of cord that was a fraction too large in circumference. Everything else we examined was too feeble for the task. Larry would need to go to West Marine for a new cord. Well, so be it, we thought. At least he could row. Then he got into the dinghy and realized that he had no place to sit while rowing, because he needs to go to West Marine for some screws to replace the piece that holds the seat on the dinghy. In the end, he left here, kneeling as he rowed. I just hope he does not have to figure out how to walk on water when he returns. The situation is starting to look dire, and after missing church this morning, we might not be at the top of the list for prayer fulfillment!

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Another Fun Thing February 15, 2014

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We are anchored once again in Lake Worth. You probably wonder how we came to be here, since the last you heard, we were still at Cumberland Island. I’m not sure what happened to my muse, but she certainly took an extended leave.

First, we did not “do the ditch.” We considered that option. We were tired of freezing and tired of waiting and tired of not being in Marathon yet. However, when we examined the charts and read the comments provided by cruisers who have done it, we paused. There are several places on the ICW that are historic for their propensity to ground the unwary, or even the wary who happen to be unlucky. All of them but two lie along the route from the Florida border to Cape Canaveral. The idea of living with the constant threat of grounding for that whole distance was unappealing to say the least. The more we thought about it, and we had plenty of time to think, the less we wanted any part of it. We have always enjoyed our adventures outside. Part of the joy of cruising outside is the sense of freedom. Tip-toeing southward in constant fear of hitting bottom did not even sound like fun. We decided to wait for our opportunity to cruise in the big water.

We waited and waited alongside Cumberland Island for a week. Fronts came and went in close formation. No window for a run to Canaveral. Then, with sub-freezing temperatures forecast behind the next front, we moved to a marina for a week. It was so beautiful the day we made the move that we ate lunch on the aft deck, barefoot and wearing shorts. By the next morning, it was twenty degrees Fahrenheit. We unpacked our space heater, bundled up in warm clothing again, and waited.

Finally, finally, there was a break in the parade of cold fronts—a break long enough for us to get all the way to Lake Worth. We cruised out St. Marys Inlet, turned south, and it was as if we had put on the brakes. Between currents and wind, it was hard to tell what the real problem was, but our speed was between 1 and 2 knots slower for the whole trip than it had been the last time we made this excursion. Instead of about 33-34 hours for this jaunt, it took us a full 48 hours to get there. We were frustrated and bumfuzzled by the whole process. We couldn’t decide if something were wrong with the boat or if the diver had not scraped the bottom very well before we left New Bern, but amazingly, as soon as we got into Lake Worth and headed north to the marina where we buy fuel, our speed picked up as if nothing had ever been wrong. Amazing!

Once again, we thought we would stop briefly and move on. Once again, it did not happen. First the weather forecast turned ugly. Then we discovered that the water pump on the diesel engine was not working. It is always one fun thing after another with us!

Larry thought he could make the water pump repair himself, but no such luck. Every time he tried to turn the nut that kept the pulley and the water pump attached to the engine block, all the parts turned together, like a will-trained marching band. From long experience with such things, Larry has developed a bag of tricks that should have eventually brought everything under control, but this time he had no success.

Frustration piled on frustration extended our stay day after day. When Larry finally gave up and called a repair service for help, he found that they were booked solid for another week, and at the end of the week, they still needed one more day. We could do nothing but wait, and when they finally gave us a firm date to do the work, we still had to call a towing service and move to a marina.

As it turned out, this was the best part. We moved to Lark Park Marina, a municipal marina just north of West Palm Beach. We were familiar with it, because this marina graciously allows cruisers to tie up their dinghies beside the launch ramp in order to shop for groceries at the nearby Winn-Dixie store. The people who run the marina were always friendly and pleasant when we went shopping or tied up there while we went to church nearby. As marina guests, we discovered they are equally pleasant to their marina customers. The showers are clean and spacious. The laundry facility is also spacious, with 2 washers and dryers and plenty of space for folding. Would that every marina would see the advantage of having at least 2 washers and dryers. It doesn’t take a great deal to make a cruiser swoon!

The diesel repair tech arrived right on time on Wednesday morning, and at first he, too, wrestled with that obstinate nut. However, he had some sort of magic pry bar, or maybe it is just a secret spell they teach in diesel mechanic school. Anyway, that nut came off and so did the broken water pump. After the mechanic determined that replacement was required, it took another day to get the part. Finally, on Friday, our Valentine surprise was that the part worked, the engine worked, and we could get on with our southbound cruise.  We enjoyed our Valentine feast of grilled steak, rice, steamed asparagus and salad a little bit more because we were finally free again. We topped off the celebration with strawberries and cream. Yum.

For Valentine Day, a lover's moon rose over Palm Beach.

For Valentine Day, a lover’s moon rose over Palm Beach.

Today we are back in our favorite spot in Lake Worth. The wind is roaring all around, but it is predicted to settle significantly by 7pm. No matter how much it roars here, we can be grateful not to be in Bangor, Maine, where the roaring wind is punctuated with thick snow, a real blizzard. As our weather calms down, theirs is predicted to ramp up, and they could have two feet of snow by this time tomorrow. We can, instead, start thinking about the right time to head for Miami, where we think we will pause at Fisher Island only overnight before we continue toward Marathon. We like leisurely travel, but we have had more leisure than we know what to do with this year. We just want some Conch Republic hospitality in a place where the wind may blow hard, but it always blows warm.

It is, indeed, just one fun thing after another. To quote Joe Bastardi, the Weatherbell man, “Enjoy your weather. It’s the only weather you’ve got.”

Which Way? Which Way? December 31, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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We aren’t lost, as the title might indicate. We are challenged. It is a weather challenge, not a sense of direction. We are committed to a path southward, but as in all things, there is more than one way to skin this cat, apologies to cat-lovers everywhere.

Our trip from Wrightsville Beach to our present anchorage beside Cumberland Island National Seashore was tumultuous, to put it mildly. We have experienced following seas before, and our experiences have led us to plead with well-meaning friends not to wish us following seas. Maybe in the old days of square-riggers, sailors loved following seas, but Larry and I do not. Wind may interact with a boat from any compass direction, all 360 degrees, but wind coming from any hindquarter is the least desirable. We had following seas during this entire passage, and we don’t want them again anytime soon.

The first problem is the movement of the boat. The boat sits in the surface of the sea, and every movement of either water or wind moves the boat. When seas come from the side or the front of the boat, the energy that moves the boat forward modifies outcome of interaction with wind and wave. When the seas come from behind, the forward energy only adds to the force generated in the boat. I’m not an engineer, and someone may argue with the way I describe what happens, but here is the bottom line: when the winds come from any direction but behind, I can fairly easily adapt my movement in the cabin below decks and move with confidence here and there by learning the patterns of the motion; when the winds come from behind, it is much harder to do that, because there is no pattern. When the movement of wind and wave from behind is constantly modified by the movement of large ocean swells from the side, the seas become even more confused, and it becomes impossible to identify patterns that allow safe, confident movement in the cabin.

The second problem is that our boat does not like following seas. Our rudder is constructed in such a way that, as the wind builds up from behind, the rudder becomes less and less nimble. Maybe nimble is not the best word to describe rudder performance, but it will do for now. It points to our problem – maintaining a course when running before the wind. It can be done, but it requires constant attention. In the time it takes to check the display for the ETA to the next waypoint, the boat can move thirty to sixty degrees off course. Sailors are taught to steer with gentle, tiny adjustments, but in the confused seas we traversed, a tiny adjustment was completely swallowed up by big realities.

We were not suffering with a storm, either. Well, not a local storm. There was a storm far out in the Atlantic that was the source of our wind. Our problem was simply the force of sustained winds in the northern quarter of the compass. During the course of our travel they came from NW, N, and NE, and then backed up to NW again. Seasoned weather watchers know that backing winds are a sign of an impending storm, something that was forecast before we left. Our plan was to arrive at St. Marys Inlet before that storm set in. We accomplished that mission, but it was a struggle. The winds varied from 6 knots to 26, even gusting up to 30 knots. It was actually hard to talk about them as “sustained,” because they never were. In any 10 minutes, they varied as much as 10 knots. It was maddening. Probably it would be best to say that they were very gusty, which only added to the confusion of the seas.

Food is a major challenge under such circumstances. We ate cold cereal for breakfast. For lunch, sandwiches did the trick. Still, people need at least one hot meal each day. A hot meal does more than provide nourishment. It simply feels like a better meal, and that bodily and emotional gratification is important. For hot food, I followed my storm rule: one pot to heat and one bowl to eat. It wasn’t the right time for gourmet dishes and elegant presentation.

Simply keeping one’s balance is a battle in such tumult. It was a struggle just to remain in one place. It was hard to sleep, too. Despite stuffing lockers full of towels and placemats to immobilize pots and pans, we were only able to suppress the movement, not stop it. Ceaseless turbulence moved objects a fraction of an inch at a time, and eventually things slid and banged again. Nothing was broken, thank goodness, but we had no peace.

We had some fun when Larry’s birthday arrived. I went up to the cockpit shortly after midnight for the watch change. It was 30 minutes into the 27th of December. I wished Larry a “Happy Birthday.” He responded “Fine. Can you just take the wheel? I need some sleep!” That was the celebration. At that point, the best gift was a three-hour nap.

We arrived at St. Marys Inlet almost simultaneously with the front that would become a storm offshore. When we finally moved inside the jetties that guard the inlet, we had our first peace since exiting Cape Fear two days before. Ahead of the oncoming front, a warm front colliding with cold air over the Atlantic, there was thick haze – or thin fog, if you wish. We could not really see much beyond the next marker, but that was enough. It felt wonderful not to be wallowing any more.

As we moved out of the river and into the waters behind Cumberland Island, it began to rain. It wasn’t ferocious, just an annoyance. We easily found our favorite spot and dropped the anchor. “Home” at last.

The remainder of Saturday and all of Sunday can best be described as total collapse. We were exhausted in body and mind. We did nothing that required prolonged mental effort. We read light fiction. We allowed ourselves to sleep any time we wanted to. Then it was time to get back on course.

As for our question – which way? – we are not in the same situation as Alice who got lost in Wonderland. When she asked the Cheshire Cat “Which way?” the answer was, “It all depends on where you want to get to.” We know where we want to go. The problem is not the destination but the journey. When we had internet, before we set out for St. Marys, we downloaded the weather forecasts out seven days. The storm that built up as we arrived on Saturday afternoon was expected to blow itself out on Sunday and leave quiet seas behind on Monday through Wednesday. We had expected to continue our trip south at least to Cape Canaveral starting Monday. That path is still available, but the experience along that path is not likely to be delightful in the near future.

Seven days is much too far out to be reliable for weather forecasting. When we rechecked the weather on Sunday morning at Cumberland Island, things had changed, not for the better. In fact, back to back cold fronts and other complicating factors led NOAA to issue a forecast that included the statement that boating conditions at Cape Canaveral and south would develop from hazardous to dangerous over the course of the week. Well. We weren’t going there.

Our other option is to “do the ditch,” which is to say that we could take the ICW. We have never followed the ICW along the path through north Florida, because it has the reputation of being very shallow. People report running aground when the depth is charted at 16 feet. Still, many, many boats traverse this route successfully every year. It is a safe path when the open sea doesn’t look welcoming. If we don’t move forward, another week will pass, and we will still be at Cumberland Island.

Which way? Which way? We have a choice. We haven’t made a choice. This is the news so far.

May 2014 be a blessed and happy year for you!

God bless the USA!

Almost Christmas December 24, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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We departed New Bern on Thursday, December 19. The weather forecasts made us believe that it might be very uncomfortable to try to make it to Charleston before Christmas. 10-15 knots on the nose is like riding a galloping horse. Add another 10 knots and it just isn’t fun anymore. Our planned destination was Wrightsville Beach, where we would check the weather and make a go/nogo decision.

It was a lovely day for it. Cold, but sunny. We made good speed over ground until we entered Adams Creek. There we encountered an opposing current that slowed our speed by a knot, even more at times. At the same time, the wind, predicted to be 5-10 from the southwest, picked up speed and changed direction. It averaged 20 knots directly on the nose. In the channel of the ICW it didn’t make big waves, but it did impact our progress.

We were slowed enough that, by the time we reached Morehead City, we had decided not to make our planned fuel stop. We wanted to get out of the Beaufort Inlet before dark. We had previously called the fuel dock at the Morehead City Yacht Basin to find out how late they were open. As we approached Morehead City, we called them again to let them know we had decided against this stop. We had a couple of other concerns that they cleared up for us. In the past, the railroad bridge that crosses the channel to the inlet had normally been open, but when we passed through last summer, it was on a different schedule due to repairs; we learned that the repairs were all complete and it was open again. We also remembered that last summer the inlet was being dredged due to aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy. We didn’t want to traverse the narrow path left around that ugly dredge. We were happy to learn that the dredging was complete and the dredge was gone.

We traversed the inlet as the sun was setting. We turned south, bound for Masonboro Inlet.

At this time of year, daylight hours end shortly after 5PM. As we left the inlet, dusk had fallen, and soon it was truly dark. I heated some leftover roast beef and made hot sandwiches which we ate as the evening chill set it. Then we sipped soup from our huge meal-size soup cups and observed happily that the wind had fallen under 15 knots. Dead on the nose, but well under the 20 knots we had feared when we were still in the ICW. I cleared up from supper, made sure Larry had his lifejacket on and his tether handy, and then I left him on the first watch.

When I got up at 10PM, the moon had risen. It was almost full. Night watches seem long and dreary when there is no moon, but if the moon is shining, they aren’t bad at all. Larry took his nap, I took the second watch, and before I knew it, he was back in the cockpit. When I came up around 4AM to take the fourth watch, fog had developed.

Because the moon was so bright, and the fog was not very thick, the glow of moonlight was evident even through the fog. I listened for securite’ calls, but there were none. The first time I heard anyone on the radio was a 5AM conversation between an incoming freighter and the Cape Fear pilots. They were on the other side of Cape Fear, no threat to me. I kept a sharp lookout for lights, too. As I said, the fog was patchy, and cleared occasionally to allow a good view of surroundings. Most of the time I could see lights on shore. I made my securite’ calls, but nobody answered. That was good.

We arrived at the Masonboro Inlet after sunrise. It is well-lit, and I had seen the lights in the dark when we were still more than ten miles away. Everything is better in daylight, however, and we easily made our way in. We dropped the hook south of Mott’s channel.

After we established internet connectivity, I checked the weather. The forecast predicted rising winds Saturday afternoon through Sunday and Monday. All from southwest. Right in our path. And things would get worse come Christmas Eve. We decided to stay put till after Christmas. As things have turned out, it looks as if we planned well. It is now Christmas Eve and the wind has been roaring already for 24 hours. However, it appears that things will calm down Christmas afternoon and give us a nice window for our southbound journey starting Thursday. That is the plan.

Saturday morning was foggy, and the photo below was made shortly after sunrise that morning. On the seaward side of the channel, the sun’s side, the fog was clearing, but on the other side, it was quite foggy. I tried to get photos of the beautiful misty marsh, but I’m not skilled enough to capture it the way I wanted to.

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During the day on Monday, we saw an extremely odd cloud. I’m sure real meteorologists would understand it. We knew a front would pass on that day, but we have experienced many frontal passages, none of which was marked by a cloud like this one. I guess I need to try to find out its name. For now I’ll just share the magnificent sight.

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Sunday evening the sunset was glorious. Here it is for your enjoyment.

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More news later when there is news to share.

Merry Christmas to all!

 

Where Are We Now? February 15, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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We arrived in Marathon Florida about three weeks ago, and we are still here! Just this morning we had the pleasure of welcoming friends from Baltimore to the neighborhood. It’s a busy neighborhood. There is always a waiting list for the moorings in the City Marina. We were fortunate to tie up to the next to the last ball available for deep-draft boats when we arrived on Sunday, January 27, 2013.

It was a grand arrival. As we made the turn out of Hawks Channel toward the Seven-Mile Bridge, there were dolphins playing ahead of us. We saw a lot of dolphins between Miami and Marathon. I was surprised, because when we made the trek last year, we did not see any.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, as we entered Boot Key Harbor, we were greeted by two manatees. They were playing in the water beside us, and it was the first time I have ever had a complete view of a living manatee. In their own way they are cute, the sort of cute a mother loves. We always love any contact with sea creatures and birds along our journey.

We were a bit ahead of schedule, if it can ever be said that we have one. We only stayed in Miami 8 days, and left almost by accident, just because it was such a great day. We had been driven out of the Fisher Island anchorage, our first stop in Miami, by a report of strong winds and big waves that would roll in from the east. We love this anchorage because it is open visually to the sea, although the bottom contour across that opening is a reef. However, reef or no reef, waves predicted at 9 feet didn’t sound like a sight we wanted to see from that vantage point. We moved over to the Venetian Islands and anchored between Monument Island and Star Island, very close to the location we enjoyed last year. On Friday morning, the 13th, (as I write, I realize I never gave that number a thought) we got up and about early in order to ride the high tide out past a low spot near the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. We intended to anchor at Fisher for at least one day, just for the joy of it, and leave on Saturday or Sunday, two days predicted to be quite favorable for the trip to Marathon. The Friday prediction indicated a little more turbulence on the segment from Miami to Cape Florida, where the course begins to turn westerly, so we had thought we would enjoy spending the day at Fisher. That was the plan.

It was a positively beautiful day. We passed under the bridge and turned toward Fisher Island. We looked over at the Fisher Island anchorage. It was quite appealing. We looked down the channel toward the inlet and out to sea. The sky was clear, the sun was brilliant, the water sparkled, and the breeze was gentle. I ran to get my Kindle. When I need weather in a hurry and I am near shore, Kindle is my solution. I read the forecasts for the course from Miami to Marathon. We talked a bit, and we both agreed that we could handle whatever turbulence we might encounter for three or four hours, and we set our course out to sea.

What a great day. After we made the first westerly adjustment just past Cape Florida the water began to calm a bit. By the time we reached Rodriquez Key, it was quite pleasant. We ate dinner on the aft deck and were rocked gently to sleep.

The next morning we had intended to be off early, but that plan changed. We had departed Miami quite unexpectedly, despite the fact that Larry knew a filter change was due soon. He had thought in the back of his mind that he could do it at Fisher Island, but we kept moving. When he looked things over Saturday morning, he concluded that the smart move was to change that filter. It isn’t a hard job, and it doesn’t take a long time. It is simply tedious and dirty. By noon we were on our way again, and we stopped at Long Key for the night.

We ate dinner on deck and sat there talking as the moon rose. It wasn’t quite full, but it was magnificent.

Moonrise at Long Key

Moonrise at Long Key

 

The next morning we cruised away and arrived at Marathon in time for lunch. 

One reason we wanted to be in Marathon at that time was Superbowl. In Miami, we were sure there would be plenty of places to view the game, but we knew of none in easy reach of our anchorage.  We hoped that in Marathon, where cruisers wait days for one of the 200 mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor, there would be a plan for the big game. There was. One of the marina employees and a couple of his friends hung a white tablecloth up and provided projection for the whole evening. Cruisers brought food, and the party was on. 

SuperTV for the Superbowl at Cruiser Heaven in Marathon, FL

SuperTV for the Superbowl at Cruiser Heaven in Marathon, FL

We had a wonderful time. Those present appeared to be pretty evenly divided between San Francisco and Baltimore, but there was only one tiny moment of booing. I still don’t know the reason for it. Otherwise, there was a great deal of whooping and hollering for whatever team was having fun, and at the end there was a wonderful roar. The images were fine, though the sound was muddy. That was, of course, a real advantage during the power outage. We all ignored the mindless gabble of those who were doomed to be required to talk when there was nothing to talk about. It was a great party.

The next week, we made a run for fuel and water to Burdines, a historic local establishment. As we waited for tanks to fill, we stared across the canal at the remains of Faro Blanco Oceanside, the site of some very special memories for us.

In 1996 we owned a sailboat, and we had spent one summer cruising around in manmade lakes in Iowa and South Dakota. We wanted to learn real sailing skills, and we wanted to cruise the high seas. We enrolled in the Annapolis Sailing School, and at that time, the school had a teaching site at Faro Blanco Oceanside in Marathon, Florida. We took 3 days of basic keelboat instruction in a 14-foot Rainbow, and then we took the 7-day Bareboat class which featured a trip to the Dry Tortugas. Our keelboat instructor was Barking Joe McKeag. Under his tutelage we docked under sail for the first and only time in our lives. When we cruised to the Dry Tortugas, we were regaled with tales, mostly tall ones, by Captain Mike, whose last name I don’t remember and whose signature I cannot read on my class certificate. We learned a great deal, because even though he explained things very skillfully, we did all the work. We learned by doing. The Faro Blanco marina at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor was a treasured memory for us, and it was painful to see it falling into decay. We learned later that the owners were shut down for safety reasons several seasons after we were there. At present, they make motions about doing repairs and bringing the place back to life, but things don’t look good. It makes us sad.

We returned to Burdines a few days later to collect our free basket of fries. Every customer at the City Marina gets a book filled with all sorts of ads and coupons at the time of check-in, and the ad for Burdine’s includes a coupon for a basket of fries. We discovered that this is a bountiful basket, typical of their servings for both food and drink. We ate on the tiki deck on a lovely afternoon with temperatures in the seventies. A new friend, Michele Oublay, sat down next to me, and after we got acquainted, she kindly consented to make a photo of Larry and me.

Larry and Katherine on Old People's Day Out at Burdines, Marathon, FL

Larry and Katherine on Old People’s Day Out at Burdines, Marathon, FL

 We had intended to leave Marathon sometime this week and make our way to Tampa Bay. However, while I was doing laundry I met another new friend who told me about red tide. She and her husband had intended to visit the Gulf Coast of Florida this year, but she discovered that the red tide is infesting the waters. She told me that several years ago she had been caught over there when a red tide developed. She doesn’t have asthma or any other breathing disorders, but while she was in that area, she had to use an inhaler. She told me about a site where we could get all the information we needed to make our own decision. After we looked it over, we decided we didn’t need to go there. We renewed our registration for a mooring and decided to stay a month. If things get better in the Gulf by then, we can make our planned trip. If things don’t improve, we will make some other trip.

That is our status at this point. We are enjoying the beautiful weather. We are endlessly entertained by pelicans and gulls, and we love dinner on deck at sunset. 

Sunset at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

Sunset at Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL

 

Tales and Travels January 26, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Tuesday evening as I was setting food on the cockpit table for dinner, Larry was on deck watching a police boat circling one of our boat neighbors to the north of us in the anchorage. We mused together about the reason for such a visit. Hoping it didn’t mean that all the boats would be visited by the police, we sat down to eat. The police boat went away. We enjoyed our food and conversation. It was sunset and became dark as we ate in the glow of our little cockpit light. It isn’t exactly candlelight, but it is quite pleasant.

Suddenly Larry looked forward and said, “Is that a new boat?” as he got up and went out to the deck. We were pretty much done with dinner, and I joined him on deck to look at the boat that had engaged his attention. I am not gifted with good spatial imaging, but Larry is. He watched that boat closely, and then he said, “He’s dragging. That boat is coming right for our bow. Help me get the dinghy down.”

We stow our dinghy on deck during passages, and that is where it stays until we decide to go ashore. We had not gone ashore since we anchored in Miami Beach, so the dinghy was still on the forward deck. Larry went forward and began to untie it while I went below to get the oars. We hustled. In the short time it took for me to pull out the oars and bring them up, the drifting boat had moved much closer. Even a spatially impaired person like me could see that it was closer. It was being moved by the very considerable tidal ebb on a path that would absolutely impact our bow unless something changed.

We dropped the dinghy over. I tried to get Larry to put on a sweatshirt, because the breeze is quite cool here after dark, but he waved it off. I did persuade him to put on a lifejacket. He had a flashlight in his pocket. He climbed into the dinghy and headed for the drifting boat, which was moving dangerously closer every minute.

When he arrived at the boat, he circled it. He went to the stern and banged on the hull, shouting and trying to get someone’s attention. There was nobody aboard. We learned later that there had not been anyone aboard this boat for a good two weeks. The boat was anchored and abandoned. When the anchor dragged, there was nobody to care.

Larry climbed aboard and went forward to figure out what could be done. I was still on our boat watching anxiously. I looked all around, hoping to see someone on a nearby boat who could go to help. I saw no one. I could hear the anchor chain rattling and I could see Larry heaving on it. What I didn’t know until much later was that he could not at first get the anchor up. It wasn’t dug in, because the boat was still drifting, but he could not lift it, and that was a mystery.

The boat continued to move nearer to our boat. Larry yelled at me to call the police and see if they would help, so I went below to get the phone. Our yelling must have attracted some attention, because after I went back up later, someone in a dinghy was just arriving to help Larry, and another person arrived shortly after that.

First I had to figure out how to call the police. I really did not think this situation merited a 911 call, but when I checked our cruising guides for Miami Beach, that was their advice. To reach the police call 911. So I did.

The 911 operator asked me why I was calling, and I explained the situation. He transferred me to a police operator. The police operator transferred me to someone who took my information. That person transferred me to the Coast Guard. Well, if I had thought the Coast Guard was the right place to get help with a boat adrift in a municipal anchorage, I would have started there. The fact that we had seen a policeman searching around in the anchorage made us think of the police first. In Lake Worth, we often see the local sheriff handing out warnings and tickets, so we would probably call him about a problem there. We would later learn things about the drifting boat in Miami Beach that would truly give us pause. However, at this point, we simply wanted that boat to stay away from our boat and stop drifting.

I told the Coast Guard my story, and I was glad I wasn’t on the radio. It was bad enough over the phone. I have listened in on numerous calls for help with the Coast Guard, and this time I was the one answering all the questions. Except I didn’t have any answers. It wasn’t my boat.

 

G What it the name of the boat that is drifting?

L I don’t know. I can’t see a name anywhere.

G What kind of boat is it?

K A sailboat. A cat.

G Do you mean catamaran?

K Yes, yes! And it is still moving.

G What color?

K Color? It’s dark. I think it is white or cream or something like that.

G Okay. How long is it?

K I don’t know.

G I need to know how big it is.

K I can’t tell. I don’t know how to guess. It is shorter than our boat, and it is getting really close. Can you send us some help?

G How large is your boat?

K 45 feet. The boat that is drifting is smaller than we are.

G Sure. Can you see a line on the front of the boat? Anchor rode.

K I told you. It dragged.

G Does it have a rope in front?

K I can’t see the front of the boat. It is drifting and the stern is toward me. I can hear the sound of a chain rattling as Larry is trying to haul it up. Is somebody going to come and help him?

 

Eventually the Coast Guard told me that a boat would be dispatched. I thanked him and ran up to shout to Larry with the news. By then, I didn’t have to shout very loudly. That boat was close! The two men who had joined Larry in trying to stop the dragging used their dinghies to push the boat. They were able to prevent it from hitting our boat, but nobody could stop it.

When it was all over, I learned why it was so hard to stop this boat. When Larry eventually did hoist the anchor, it turned out that there were two anchors. One anchor was attached to the other on the shaft, and he had to pull both of them up at once. Furthermore, one anchor had rope and the other had chain for rode, and the two rodes were knotted and snarled together. When Larry did haul up the anchors, he had a huge wad of chain and rode and anchors. The boat drifted past our boat with Larry aboard and his two helpers using their dinghies to push the boat in whatever direction would keep it from hitting other boats in the anchorage.

The Coast Guard’s last words to me were that help would be coming soon. He said that they were in the Miamarina, and I expected to see that boat coming our way very soon. I was encouraged in that expectation by receiving a call from someone who said he was the one who would come in a boat to help. Ten minutes went by. No boat appeared. I called back. The person who answered said that the team was getting ready to leave. He said something about 30 minutes, and I thanked him.

More time passed. Still no sign of a boat coming our way. By this time I had lost sight of the drifting boat. That was worrisome. The tidal currents are strong, and I couldn’t guess where the boat might wind up. I had to trust that the men in their dinghies could control its path enough for Larry to be safe, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I called again. This time the man who answered seemed a bit testy. Well, I felt testy, too.

 

G Did the drifting boat hit your boat?

K No. They used their dinghies to shove it away.

G Where is the boat now?

K I don’t know. The last time I saw it, it was passing Star Island. I thought your boat would be here by now.

G They have thirty minutes.

K Thirty minutes? I thought they were coming to help.

G Well, they have thirty minutes to launch, and there are still five minutes to go.

 

At this point I was upset.

 

K Are they required to use all thirty of those minutes?

G They are about to leave. They will be there soon.

 

It wasn’t more than ten minutes before I saw blue flashing lights in the distance coming toward me from the marina. They never got to me, but that was fine. I wanted them to get to that drifting boat and help Larry.

The blue flashing lights stopped moving, and after a bit I assumed that they must have connected with the drifting boat. I don’t remember how long it was before I saw the red and green bow lights of a dinghy coming my way. One of the men who had helped Larry came to tell me that the Coast Guard had taken the drifting boat off their hands and that Larry and the other man were not far behind him.

When Larry finally arrived at our boat, he told me all about the snarled rodes and the bizarre way the anchors were connected. He said that they finally unsnarled the rodes and separated the anchors. Using two dinghies they moved the boat out of the main traffic channel. Larry threw the anchor over and it appeared to be set. Unable to use the boat’s engine to back down on it, he could only hope the anchor was dug in sufficiently to hold the boat. It held until the time when they relinquished the responsibility to the Coast Guard, but it must have been a good set, because the next morning Larry could still see the boat where he left it.

One of the men who helped Larry that night had been in the anchorage when the drifting boat first arrived, about two weeks before. The day after the boat arrived, three men and a child got into its dinghy and went away. They hadn’t been seen since. They left the boat in the anchorage unattended all that time. The boat had a Florida registration number on it, and the Coast Guard indicated they would follow up with the owner of the boat. We were just glad our boat was safe.

The next day after this adventure, we started reviewing the weather with a view to making our way to Marathon. The weather looked good for the weekend. A high was building, and breezes would be mild into Monday. We planned to move back to Fisher Island and start our trip from there.

The move to Fisher required using high tide to pass a shallow area near the end of the Venetian Islands. We saw a good chance to make that move on Friday morning about first light.

It was a lovely dawn, but it was cool. We needed long sleeves and pants, even if we were in Miami Beach. Fortified with hot coffee, we brought the dinghy up on deck. While Larry tied it down, I went through the boat making sure ports and hatches were closed. Larry turned on the engine shortly before 7AM.

Raising the anchor was a unique experience this time. Ordinarily, when Larry begins to pull the chain in, the boat slowly moves forward. Ordinarily, the anchor is somewhere in front of the boat, and the boat pulls backward on the rode. On this occasion, however, the tidal current had pushed the boat forward over the anchor, and the anchor was behind the boat. As the chain came in, the boat backed up. It was a weird feeling. We have learned that the price of a full keel is some strange action when anchored or moored. Generally speaking, if there are significant currents, the boat is influenced by them more than by the wind.

We enjoyed some more coffee as we glided past the little artificial islands. They are all quite attractive. We passed over the shallow spot with 2 feet of water to spare, turned south and passed the MacArthur Causeway Bridge and the railroad bridge right behind it. Then we were into the channel south of Dodge Island on our way to Fisher.

It was a gorgeous morning. The wind was 15-18 knots out of the northeast, just as predicted. The sun was gloriously shining in a clear sky with a few puffy clouds. A thought occurred to me. It wasn’t even 8AM yet. If we just kept going, we could be at Rodriquez Key in midafternoon.

“You know, we could just keep going,” I said.

Larry thought for a minute. “Is that what you want to do?”

I ran below and got my Kindle. I can get the NOAA text forecasts on it when we are under way. I had the Hawk Channel forecast URL bookmarked, so it was easy to verify that the forecast was good. Winds northeast to east 15-20 during the morning and decreasing throughout the day and into the weekend. We could expect a turbulent ride till we passed Cape Florida and started turning more to the west, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

“Let’s go,” I said. Larry nodded.

We don’t often make decisions about starting a passage this way. Our plan, however, had been to anchor at Fisher and then leave on Saturday. We already had a good feel for the weather. This last-minute change in plans simply took advantage of preparations already made.

It was a magnificent day. We had about three hours of turbulence after we left Miami. The wind was pushing waves mostly 2-4 feet but sometimes up to five feet directly on our beam as we headed south. We were rocked thoroughly. Because we hadn’t planned to go outside when we pulled the anchor, I had to do some putaway and other straightening after we were already out there. Some books fell in the floor. The cockpit doors banged a few times before I got them put away. But all in all, it was a wonderful run.

When we began to turn west, the seas began to simmer down. By noon, the winds were consistently under 15 knots. Our course put the winds behind us, but as we entered Hawk Channel, the protection of the reefs began to soften the wave action. We found a friendly spot and dropped anchor. A beautiful day turned into a beautiful evening. The sun went down. The moon came up. This is what we came for.

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Time for a Fresh Start January 2, 2013

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Christmas in St. Augustine was lovely. What a pretty town. All through the week we enjoyed the lights and the view of horse-drawn carriages decorated for the season. We visited the Memorial Lutheran Church of the Martyrs the Sunday before Christmas and enjoyed seasonal music and worship. That name is quite a mouthful, but the history of Huguenot Protestants who tried to colonize the area before the Spanish came is colorfully depicted in a panorama painted by a member of the church and displayed prominently in the sanctuary.

We would have loved to attend Christmas Eve services, but the logistics of dinghy after dark coupled with a rather long cab ride in both directions led us to decide to stay in and listen to Christmas music aboard. On Christmas Day we enjoyed phone conversations with family. After that, it was time to start watching weather seriously.

Our original intention was to leave St. Augustine the day after Christmas. A cold front that blew in Christmas night delayed us for a day, but by Thursday morning, it looked quite promising to depart with plenty of time to arrive in Lake Worth before the next front. Knowing that we had no hope of arriving in daylight, no matter what we did, we took our time that morning with assorted tasks. By the time we had refueled, taken on water, dumped off trash and had a pumpout, it was 11:42. The fuel attendant handed us our lines as we pulled away, and turned around to position ourselves to make the next opening of the Bridge of Lions.

That is when we heard someone shouting. “Hey, want to come back to the dock? The bridge won’t open again till 12:30!” We considered it, but decided against it. It was a lovely day, and we used the time to tidy up all the dock lines and fenders. We ate lunch. Finally the bridge opened and we were on our way.

It could not have been a more perfect day. Bright sunlight on aquamarine water. Gentle southerly breezes. Not a cloud in the sky. Unlike the day of our arrival when seeing even one marker required a close approach, we could see almost out to the sea buoy from the harbor. As we headed out to sea, the only disturbance in the water was our own wake and the northeast swells which surged slowly in our path. We turned on the autopilot and relaxed.

Until we drew near to Daytona.

The winds had clocked throughout the day, and by sunset they were mostly northwest. This change in direction put them astern of us. Near Daytona, we made our first course adjustment for rounding Cape Canaveral, and that is when the autopilot went on strike again. It had worked fine all day, and just about sunset, it breathed its last. Well, for a while anyway.

Throughout the night, Larry tried the autopilot intermittently, but it never worked longer than a few minutes, so we steered manually all the way around that cape. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it definitely is more work than simply watching what happens.

Manual steering is not too hard when you are steering toward land and there is some immobile landmark toward which you can steer. It is much harder when you must use the pedestal compass and the echart to be sure you don’t wander off track. During my first watch, I was able to use a giant flashing light at the end of the cape as a steering assist. Because it was in a location I wanted to avoid, I determined the magnetic course I needed to steer in order to avoid it and stay on track to round the cape. Then I figured out where it appeared relative to the ship’s rigging. I could use such an arrangement for thirty minutes or so before I needed to readjust the relative location. It sounds hokey, but it was much better than trying to peer at the pedestal and then glance at the echart to see if I were still on course. Using that landmark very much reduced the strain on my neck and shoulders. When I took my second watch, it was only an hour before sunrise, and even though I was steering to the compass at that time, it still seemed a lot easier after sunrise than it seemed in the dark.

When we reached our waypoint just southeast of Canaveral, we checked the echart’s calculated arrival time at Lake Worth Inlet. At that time, it appeared we would arrive before 8PM. However, as we continued southward, we began to lose speed over ground. We were only in the outer edges of the Gulf Stream current, but it was already noticeable. Until that point, we had hovered around 7 knots, but slowly over the afternoon and evening we lost speed until, approaching the marker for the Lake Worth Inlet, we were lucky to make 4 knots.

It was a perfectly gorgeous day, so Larry brought out his fishing line. We always enjoy fresh fish when we can get it, and we were hoping for something delightful for dinner. As Larry tossed his lure into the water, a passing tern took a great interest in it. To Larry’s amazement, the bird began to dive on it as if it might try to make a lunch out of that lure! The poor bird had no luck at all, but he did succeed in attracting several others, all of whom dived and splashed mightily, attempting to catch the lure. Finally one of them succeeded. least tern

He grabbed the lure in his beak, and flapping his wings for all he was worth, he began to rise. Imagine his surprise, however, when he discovered that he was not in control of the direction of travel. He was soon flying high, all right, in a path directly behind the boat, just like a parasail rider off Daytona Beach. The bird tried very hard to take charge of things, but eventually he gave up and let go. He is probably still wondering what sort of flying fish he almost caught!

Sadly, the fishing lure attracted more birds than fish. We had to eat leftover turkey for dinner.

Shortly after this little comic opera, Larry tried the autopilot again. It started working, and although we were pretty gun-shy at this point, it continued to work faithfully till we turned it off at Lake Worth. More analysis needed on this subject, but not for this forum. We were just glad it worked.

We were approaching Jupiter Inlet around sunset. We could hardly notice that event, however, because huge black clouds had formed all around us. Ahead, we could see rain falling. We thankfully observed no lightning, but it was discouraging. All the forecasts had predicted clear skies till Saturday. I went below to get our foul weather gear so it would be handy when we anchored.

Somebody at Jupiter Inlet was celebrating something that Friday evening. We saw a pretty good fireworks show as we passed.

The wind picked up about then, also. The wind predictions were for light and variable, all under 10 knots. Ha! We had 20 knots sustained, right on the nose, and we had lots of gusts up to 27 knots. It was a real gallop with 4-foot waves and spray everywhere. It was quite beautiful, but not too comfortable.

The arrival time at the inlet continued to be pushed back as our speed over ground decreased, but we continued to make progress toward our goal. About 10PM we approached the outermost red marker for the Lake Worth Inlet. By this time, all the rain appeared to be over and clouds were beginning to break up. We would not need our rain gear after all.

There was a price to pay for all the slowing down. It wasn’t just dark. It wasn’t just that the wind was howling. It wasn’t just that we were tired. It was almost max ebb current. Ebb tide is the outbound tide, the tide that is going out to sea. Because we arrived when we did, we were set to go into the harbor as the tide was rushing out of the harbor, and our timing coincided with its highest speeds.

This is a fairly perilous situation. Fortunately, we have a big heavy boat with a powerful engine. The inlet is very well marked and lighted. There are big green lights which line up vertically when the boat is in the center of the channel, so we were able to navigate in safely. Not without considerable wallowing, rail to rail, as we made our way toward the lake. If there had been a strong east wind against that current, we probably could not have done it at all, but the southerly wind had much less effect on the turbulence of the tidal current, and we were fine.

As we approached Green 11, the marker where we turn south to the anchorage, we had to dodge a runabout with no lights, right in the middle of the channel. One wonders what they were thinking. If I had not been on deck at that point with my flashlight, ready to illuminate the day markers that lead to the anchorage, I don’t think we would have seen them at all. Scary.

On reaching the anchorage, we cruised west toward the spot where we anchored last year. It is really hard to see the boats in the anchorage against the lights on the western shore. We could see them when we got close, but we could not see them very clearly until we turned around facing east. We circled around to get a good feel for the available space and picked our spot. In the protection of the anchorage, the 20-knot breeze seemed quite benign, and the anchor was set easily. We were home.

On New Year’s Eve we enjoyed a good steak and watched an old TV show on DVD. We have seen enough ball drops and midnight hurrahs to do us, so we slept through whatever went on in Palm Beach at midnight. Yesterday, we endured the political drama that was enough to drain the good cheer of a dozen holiday seasons if you let it. Today we are charging forward with a determination to make the most of 2013.

I know intellectually that one day is no different from another, but I do love the image of a slate wiped clean and an opportunity to start over and do better. I pray for myself to avoid some past mistakes and to have more wisdom when I make choices in the future. I pray for all of you that God will bless you with his presence and power, and that you, too, will enjoy the clean slate of the New Year 2013.

 Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas! December 24, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Uncategorized.
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Image courtesy of Dan at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Dan at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

For all the boots of the tramping warrior and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.   Isaiah 9:5

 

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, where the garments rolled in blood were mostly size 6, it is comforting to read that at the coming of the Prince of Peace, those bloody garments will become fuel for God’s fire, right along with the bloody boots of the shooter.

All because of the birth of a child.

Those who mourn the deaths of children
            Will be comforted


Because of the birth of a child.

 

For a child has been born for us,
      A son given to us;
Authority rests upon his shoulders;
      And he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6 

Those who mourn the deaths of children
      Will be comforted.

Because of the birth of a child. 

The child is born for us, and we cry out to him.
“Come, Wonderful Counselor. Listen as we scream and wail and cry out, ‘Why?’”
“Come, Mighty God. Gather and restore the shreds of our broken hearts.”
“Come, Everlasting Father. Wrap us up in your everlasting arms.”
“Come, Prince of Peace. Fill our hearts with your peace that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our willing it to happen. Bless us with the healing that calms the chaos and soothes the anguish and quiets the screaming when nothing makes sense.” 

Because of the birth of a child there is hope.

Not wishful thinking – the wish that things could be different. And better. Real hope is not wishing but rather it is the willful choice to anchor our past, our present and our future in God. We put all our hope in God, because God keeps his promises. The birth of the child Jesus is the greatest evidence that we can trust God now and forever. 

A nation grieves for fallen children, and tonight we are reminded by the birth of our Eternal Savior that God knows and loves each child. Every child. Every schoolchild. Every newborn baby. Every baby waiting to be born. Every baby that is barely a cell and a dream in his mother’s womb. God knows each one and calls each one by name, just has he called to John the Baptist in the womb and called to Jesus in the womb when their mothers met. We can safely hope in the One who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to death and then raised him to life that we might have eternal hope. 

All because of the birth of a child.

Do Wishes Come True? December 16, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Cruising.
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You can study the weather and analyze the weather and memorize the weather forecasts all you want. You get what you get.

After we assured ourselves that our steering was good to go, we began studying weather in earnest. It was Monday. Things looked promising for a departure on Tuesday, but we would arrive on Wednesday in St. Augustine during a driving rain. That would not be good. Those little red markers would be hard to see in those conditions, and it would not be fun to stand on deck peering through the raindrops. Later, we would have reason to ponder this prognostication.

A front would pass through Charleston on Wednesday bringing strong winds and big waves at sea Wednesday night and Thursday. Still not good.

On Friday a high pressure system would begin settling things down along the Atlantic coast, and on Saturday at St. Augustine, winds from the east at 5-10 with clear skies and 10-mile visibility were predicted. We made a baseline calculation of an arrival in early afternoon, unfortunately ebb tide. The contours of the St. Augustine inlet don’t bottle up the current the way we see it in many places in the Bahamas, so we felt we could navigate safely despite the ebb. Normally, we would not want to go in with wind against the tidal current, but such a light wind is really not a problem. We knew that we would contend with a northeast swell most of the way along the coast, too, but we chose to hope that it wouldn’t be too miserable. We were tired of waiting.

We departed Charleston around 9AM on Friday morning. The early morning fog was thinning. Although we could see the wall of cloud out to sea ahead of us, it was actually a quite beautiful morning. When we turned south, we began to wallow as expected in the combination of northeast swell and waves shaped by light breezes that varied from northwest to northeast. At first it was reasonably comfortable, but over the course of the day and through the night, the wallowing intensified.

This sort of ride is not something to write home about. It is exhausting. The long-period swells merged with shorter-period waves to create movement that could never be predicted. We have ridden big, slow swells in the past that were quite magical. We have ridden following seas that had a rhythm we could almost predict. This time, there was no predictability and certainly no magic. The motion was almost syrupy. It was easy to be fooled by a short interval of smooth riding. More than once I thought I could step forward safely only to find that as I stepped down, the floor moved away from my foot and I nearly lost my balance. Or vice versa. We seldom feel queasy on the water, but we had a few episodes this time. We happily ate chicken soup for supper, because it was soothing for our tummies.

This time of year, night is twelve hours of real darkness. This time of the month, the tiny crescent moon sets a couple of hours after the sun. With some clouds developing, it can be very dark. Fortunately, it is also pretty lonely, with few other boats around. A seaway that is crowded and also dark is extremely uncomfortable. We had the company of another sailboat behind us for a while, but he either made a course change or slowed down and even that fellow-traveler was gone.

When the sun rose, we observed another big wall of fog far out to sea. Through the morning hours as we approached St. Augustine, the cloud drew near, and by the time we were six miles out from the St. Augustine sea buoy, we were engulfed in thick fog. Fog! None of the weather predictions had mentioned fog. The Passage Weather graphics showed visibility at 10 miles all day along the northern coast of Florida. We were in a pickle. We needed good visibility to find our way into St. Augustine. That narrow channel is bounded on both sides by serious breakers that could pound a boat to bits. We had last year’s track for a guide, but we didn’t know if shoaling might have changed the path. The markers might not even be in the same place as last year.

What to do? If we could not go to St. Augustine should we turn back to Jacksonville or proceed around Cape Canaveral? Neither option sounded desirable.

We first called TowBoat US to ask about the channel. The Jacksonville Towboat site answered, but as soon as we asked if the channel to St. Augustine had changed since last year, the Sea Tow captain in St. Augustine interrupted. (TowBoatUS and Sea Tow are competing towboat companies. However, in this situation, they chose not to try to compete.) That’s how it is on VHF. You never know who is listening. In this case it was all to the good. The Sea Tow captain in St. Augustine told us that the channel had not changed since last year. The markers were all in the same place, but there was one new marker. This meant that our track from last year should be the right path to enter this year. He also shared his local knowledge of the behavior of the tidal current, telling us that by 3PM it should begin to slow down. When we asked him if the fog extended all the way into St. Augustine, he said it had been patchy all day.

With that information, we decided to verify first if we could find the sea buoy. Larry turned toward the buoy and I went out on deck. The fog seemed to be getting thicker and thicker, and we were almost upon the buoy before we could see it. This did not seem very promising. That buoy is huge. The channel markers are little red nuns and little green cans. Very small by comparison to that buoy. We headed back out to sea and discussed our options.

Then we decided to test the concept of navigating by steering on the track. We turned around and while Larry steered on the track we had made to the sea buoy, I stood on deck and watched for the buoy to appear. The sun seemed brighter in the sky as we made this run, and the buoy appeared in the mist sooner than I expected. That was encouraging. We followed the track and saw the buoy. That worked. However, at this point the fog began to thicken and close in around us. I was reminded of being in Maine. It really didn’t feel like the Sunshine State at all.

We turned out to sea again. We talked about Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral again. We even talked about trying to go all the way to Lake Worth, another 50 hours away. But we wanted to go to St. Augustine! About that time, I realized that the sun was glaring in my eyes. I looked up and saw a sun streak on the water. Above, there was a tiny hole in the fog and the sun was in the midst of a tiny patch of blue. The fog was thinning around us, and we probably had a quarter of a mile of visibility. I said to Larry, “If it could be like this the whole way, I think I could be okay.” That was all he needed.

We turned around and followed our track to the sea buoy. This time we had a good sighting in plenty of time to feel comfortable about things. We rounded the buoy, and Larry steered to the track. I stood on deck watching. Suddenly I saw the first red marker. I screamed out, “Marker! Marker!” We both got very excited. If we could find this one, then surely we could find the rest.

At this point, the track turned west toward St. Augustine, and we began to get a good view of the breakers to the north. The wind picked up, too, from the west, of all things! This wasn’t the prediction, either. A west wind on the ebb tide was the best thing we could hope for, of course, because the water would be smoother. A west wind against the breakers roaring in on the northeast swell, however, was ferocious. The breakers roiled up and broke at the cap of each wave, and the west wind caught the spray. The view was terrifying and entrancing at the same time. The sound was like the roar of Niagara Falls.

I turned forward again to look for my marker, but out of the corner of my eye, something moved. I turned back toward the breakers and there was another sailboat. He was only a short distance behind and northeast of us, and he was headed right for the breakers! Larry got on the radio and called to him to come over behind us. It was a terrible fight for that boat to cross the very spot where waves were beginning to shape up as the water shallowed, but he made it. Whew! Later in the day we would hear a boat call TowBoatUS from a similar location, because they had grounded. We weren’t able to hear how they got free, but any boat caught in that melee for long would be toothpicks.

Now it’s time to tell you. The entrance to St. Augustine is not charted on NOAA charts. NOAA takes no responsibility for telling anyone that it is easy to get into St. Augustine. The inlet is drawn on those charts, but no depths are recorded and no markers are shown. They say they can’t chart it because of frequent shoaling.

The boat behind us almost certainly was trying to use what little information the NOAA chart has, and it isn’t enough. When we first looked at the NOAA chart and saw how inadequate it was, we despaired of visiting St. Augustine. When we came last year, we used a privately annotated chart and notes from a captain who had transited this entrance many times. We entered on an optimal day – clear sky, bright overhead sun, and flat water. Local knowledge is essential. In our saved track, we had it. Apparently the boat following us did not. Nor was he very interested in learning. Larry called out to him when he was in danger, and he did make the move, but he only briefly acknowledged the call. He never spoke again to say anything or ask any questions. At one point he actually turned around and went back toward the sea, but soon he changed his mind again and turned back toward St. Augustine. I looked back from time to time, but we simply could not take responsibility for him.

Our next marker appeared right on time. Shortly after that, I asked Larry if he were having problems with the current, because it appeared we were moving southward. Indeed, the current was making it difficult to hold our course. Then to my amazement, I saw a sailboat coming toward us, north of us. His course seemed to me to be perilously close to the breakers, but he called out to us and told us we were drifting too far south. He said we needed to move north in order to pass between the next red and green. Larry increased power and forced our way northward. To make things more interesting, the fog thickened again at this point. Due to the reduced visibility, it was hard to make out the next marker, but as soon as I saw it, I saw that we appeared to be perfectly on track, which Larry confirmed.

This marker put us near the jetty at the inlet. That could have meant a serious increase in the current, but we arrived there after the strongest part of the ebb. The wind, the current and the waves all simmered down at this point, and with thankful hearts, we watched the fog thin out enough that we could see land and distant boats. We were safely inside.

We made a call to the marina and soon were moored south of the Bridge of Lions. We were glad to turn off the engine and look around at calm water. We hadn’t been there a half hour when we noticed the fog thickening again. It grew so thick that we could only see the boats immediately adjacent to us. We could not see the bridge or the land in any direction, even though it couldn’t be more than a hundred yards, and there are lights everywhere! We were well and truly socked in. If we had not grabbed our one moment to come in, we would never have had another.

The way things have gone, we might stay here right through Christmas. When we left Baltimore on November 4, we had our hearts set on being in Lake Worth at Christmas, but one thing simply has not led to another as we hoped. It is starting to look as if St. Augustine at Christmas might be exactly what we always wanted.

 

What Next? December 12, 2012

Posted by Katherine Harms in Boat Maintenance.
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We arrived and anchored in Charleston in the middle of the night. By the time our heads hit the pillow, it was Monday, December 3. Whew! We rested, got up late and began to figure out what would come next.

The big job was to figure out the real problem with the autopilot. Was it truly the autopilot, or was there something else that was driving the autopilot crazy? Larry disassembled our bed, which lies on a platform just above all the steering mechanical “stuff” that makes the rudder go where it needs to go. Then he disassembled all the “stuff.”

After much ado and a lot of frustration, he concluded that the problem was actually a joint at the end of the power steering piston. It was so loose, so worn down, that the ball inside the joint could flop in every direction. He tried a number of tests, and everything confirmed that this was the problem. He called the company, and after the normal back and forth he got the part ordered.

We made arrangements to move out of the anchorage into the Charleston City Marina on the day the part was expected to arrive. Charleston City Marina used to be much smaller, and there used to be a mooring field along the channel of the Ashley River. But no more. Where the mooring field used to be there is a huge dock that they rightly call the Megadock. Huge boats can and do dock there. We were allocated space on that dock, because with our steering issues, it was just simpler for us to move across the channel and land there.

We stayed there for five days. The part arrived right on schedule the afternoon we moved over, and through the next few days Larry worked on the installation. By Sunday, he had the work done and it was time to replace the power steering fluid. I got to help with that tedious task, pouring in tablespoons of fluid, turning the wheel slowly one way, then the other, as the fluid found its way down the hose and into the system where it does its work. As I did my job, Larry watched things at the other end and shouted instructions I could barely hear. Fun! That took a long time, but finally, we had the hose filled, and no matter what we did, it stayed full. It was time for a test.

Come Monday morning, we were ready to go for a test drive. As luck would have it, the wind kicked up that morning. We had enjoyed days and days of 10 knots or so, but that morning, it revved up to 20 and plus. It was blowing hard against the dock, too. A boat right behind us left only shortly before we did, and even with a bow thruster, he had problems getting clear of the boat ahead of him. (Now that sounds weird. Actually, he was pointed the other way, so his stern faced our stern, which explains my description. Somebody else was in the path of his bow.)

When we got ready to leave, Larry and the dock hand discussed our options and decided that the best course of action was to back out. With our high freeboard, it seemed quite likely that as soon as we tried to turn across the wind to enter the channel, a demonic gust would shove us right into the anchor of the boat in front of us. All this discussion assumed that our steering would work, and thank goodness, it did. We backed out into the channel and then shifted into forward gear so we could cruise for a while.

It was wonderful.

The autopilot worked better than it has in all the years we have owned this boat. From day one, when the autopilot was on, there was a lot of noise. It sounded as if it were working really hard and struggling to find its way. No matter the circumstances, the poor thing was constantly adjusting itself. It could be flat water, and the autopilot was working hard.

No more. With the new steering piston, the autopilot’s job is a piece of cake. It hardly makes a sound unless the boat actually needs to turn. How thrilling!

We headed back to the anchorage and settled in. Our plan was to start southward again at the first opportunity.

A look at the weather showed us two opportunities. It was Monday afternoon. The winds were favorable for a run south to St. Augustine on Tuesday, but we would arrive on Wednesday afternoon in a drenching rain. This is not optimal for the inlet at St. Augustine. Those little markers are hard to see on a bright sunny day. We would be hard pressed to find them in a pouring rain. If a boat wanders out of the channel there, the next stop is breakers that can pound a boat to pieces. Not good.

The next opportunity was Friday. Wednesday and Thursday were out due to an uproar in the Atlantic on Thursday, but by Friday, things would begin to calm. When I checked again today, it still looked good. If we leave Friday as the flood tide is dying down, we can make it to St. Augustine late Saturday afternoon, and that day is predicted to have clear skies. No clouds expected. No rain. Light breezes. It should be magnificent.

So that is the plan. Unless something changes, there won’t be anything interesting to talk about until next week. Hope to have tales to tell then.