Monday, September 28, 2009

Fernandina Beach Revisited

Sunday, September 20 - Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Yawn! After a fantastic week with Stacy's family, we're both trying to recover from the red-eye flight. Neither of us slept on the flight home, so we're pretty useless for the rest of the weekend. Wanting to take advantage of the rental car, we do some heavy provisioning on Sunday morning. We're supposed to get the car back to Enterprise by noon; since Publix is next door to the Enterprise office, Rene figures it's a good time to make sure there's a key drop. No problem, right? Wrong! There's no key drop, and the office is closed on Sunday. Okay, maybe there's an Enterprise drop off at the Fernandina Beach airport. Rene calls the local number and gets transferred to an endless loop. Next he calls the national number and is told that he can either return the car to the Jacksonville airport or pay for another day and return it to the Fernandina Beach office on Monday. Wait a second - we paid a one-way drop-off fee NOT to drop it in Jacksonville. Why didn't someone tell us we couldn't drop the car off on Sunday? The agent basically tells Rene that it isn't Enterprise's problem, and hangs up on him. Rene is ready to park the car in front of the office and tape the keys to the door, and damn the consequences. On the way back to the marina, Stacy calls the national number again and hopes to get a more reasonable agent. We're basically told the same thing, but at least this agent takes the time to check with a supervisor and tells us that we can return the car to Fernandina Monday morning, explain the situation, and it'll be up to the local branch manager to waive the second day rental fee due to the misunderstanding. Rene is there when they open at 7:30 Monday morning, and they do, in fact, waive the fee. Whew - one headache resolved. (Gotta love it - the local office tells us that we could've taken the car to an Enterprise branch in a local hotel; the national office was just clueless.)

Monday we begin feeling human again, and join LA & Susan for dinner aboard Genesis. Susan makes an amazing veal dish, and Rene brings a couple of bottles of good wine. We have a terrific evening - we're really going to miss them when they leave! We reciprocate with dinner on Pipe Muh Bligh on Wednesday night. LA & Susan have decided to leave Fernandina on Thursday morning, so this will be our last visit for awhile. We also learn that Susan's birthday is on Thursday - more reason to celebrate!

Wednesday also turns out to be one of those strange days that deserves a special mention in the blog. First we decide that it's "World Wildlife Day" or something. We start the morning with a dolphin fly-by, something that we rarely see in Fernandina. Later in the day, we see three manatees munching on growth at the dinghy dock. They don't seem too afraid of us, and stay on the surface for quite a few seconds before going back underwater. Back on the boat that afternoon, Rene sees a big sea turtle at the surface. That's definitely a first for us on the ICW! We also get a reminder of how small the cruising community really is: that afternoon, we see a familiar catamaran come in and moor on the buoy in front of us. It's Chris & Robin on Toucan Dream, the couple who used to live at our old marina! We last saw them in Beaufort, SC, back in early August. They're heading south after spending a month in Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately we have bad timing - our dinner goes late and they're leaving early in the morning, so we don't get a chance to visit with them this time. They're going home to Port St. Lucie, so hopefully we'll get to stop by to see them on our way to Ft. Lauderdale.

Thursday morning Chris & Robin are already gone when we get up, but we have a chance to wave to Susan & LA as they leave for Cumberland. We don't have a chance to get lonely, as we have three new visitors arrive in Fernandina around lunchtime. Matt is an old friend and co-worker of Rene's, and he and his wife and son are visiting from Atlanta. We were supposed to meet up with them in Jacksonville this weekend, but random occurrences kept us all here. First, our navigation instruments still haven't arrived, so we can't take the boat to Jacksonville. Second, Matt's sister, who lives in Jacksonville and was the primary reason for choosing that meeting spot, was kept out of town on business. Now there's no reason for Matt and his family to go to Jax, so we all decide to meet up in Fernandina instead. It works out really well, as they get a hotel near the beach and we get to spend more time visiting and relaxing with them. We have dinner in town with them on Thursday, and the rest of the weekend is spent poolside at their hotel. The hotel has just opened, and in addition to the pool and hot tub, it has a great BBQ area and putting green - perfect for Matt's 4-year-old son. They stay in Fernandina Beach through Sunday. We have a great visit with them, and plan to get together again next year when we pass through Georgia.

On another note, we finally have some good news about our navigation instruments! We receive the first set of instruments back from Raymarine on Thursday afternoon (9/24), two full months after our lightning strike. Everything but the chartplotter, GPS, and downstairs graphics module has had to be repaired. Rene installs the first set, including putting the wind instrument back at the top of our 63' mast, and finally sees a message other than "Sea Talk Failed". Yippee! We receive the rest of the equipment (chartplotter & GPS) on Tuesday (9/29), and motor to St. Mary's inlet on Wednesday for a sea-trial to calibrate the nav instruments. What a laugh! Sea-trial step 1: make two circles in your boat. Each circle should take at least 2 minutes to complete, and the boat should not be going more than 2 knots. Okay...shouldn't be too difficult, right? Well, after two tries and about eight counter-clockwise circles with no success, Rene calls Raymarine. MUST go in clockwise circles for the system to work. (If only the guidebook said so...) Okay, let's try clockwise circles. Wait a second, we have two massive ships coming our way. They're the military escort ships that usually accompany nuclear subs into Kings Bay Naval Base! Does this mean that we'll finally see a sub up close and personal? Yeah! Uh-oh, we've been doing doughnuts in the inlet for two hours now. We probably look a little bit suspicious, and the Coast Guard understandably doesn't have a sense of humor when it comes to protecting the subs. No problem - we'll stay out of the way and will listen to VHF16. If anyone comes to question us, we'll be perfectly honest. Okay, here they come...the ships are coming into the channel and pass right next to us. And...NO SUB. :-( They must've taken one out this morning, and the ships are returning to the base. We've heard that they accompany the sub about 60 miles out before they come back, so the sub probably left early this morning. Not fair! Between our northbound and southbound trips, we've spent about 10 days off Cumberland Island (across from Kings Bay) and still haven't seen a sub. Oh, well...we know they really do come through here. Our friends, LA & Susan, got some amazing pictures last weekend. (Guys - we hope you don't mind us sharing one of your Facebook two are terrific photographers!)

Anyway, as the navy ships round the bend towards the base, we go back to making our two clockwise circle, two circles, three...four...and still NOTHING. Rene calls Raymarine back for more direction. After being connected with a "calibration expert", he's told the compass thingy isn't talking to the brain thingy. "Check the wiring." Ah-ha...a loose wire! Rene puts it back in place (hey, a compass heading - cool!), and we try for two more clockwise, 2-knot, 2-minute circles. Woo hoo - success! On to sea-trial step 2: give yourself plenty of open sea to maneuver - at least 100m wide and 500m long - to let autopilot run a few zig-zags. Okay, we're out of the channel, careful to miss a rock sticking out of the water that isn't on our charts. We set the autopilot to "learn", and the boat starts tacking left to right, left to right. It goes through 18 different tests (getting awfully close to a channel marker), before we get those magic words, "LRN PASS". Hot damn - we have calibrated instruments again!! Maybe we'll get out of Fernandina tomorrow after all.

After a last provisioning bike run to Publix, we enjoy a final Fernandina Beach dinner. LA & Susan recommended a place called "29 South" before they left, and we found the menu online. Yummy! 29 South calls itself a "farm to table" restaurant, meaning everything is organic - either grown in their own garden out back or bought from nearby farms. Rene has their Sweet Tea Brined Pork Chop, which is served with macaroni gratin with blackberry ginger preserves. Incredible! Stacy has the catch of the day, which is coconut-encrusted grouper on risotto-style couscous. Also fantastic. Thursday morning, we finally let ourselves loose from the mooring ball to leave Fernandina. The 28-mile trip takes about 7 hours, and we anchor a few miles north of Jacksonville Beach. We should arrive in St. Augustine tomorrow (Friday), and will likely spend the weekend there. From there, we'll head down the ICW, stopping in Stacy's old college town of Daytona Beach, followed by 30-40 mile day-sails with a few stops until we reach Ft. Lauderdale. We expect to get to FLL by the end of the month, and hope for a good weather window in early November so we can cross to the Bahamas. Along the way, we plan to see friends Sue and Ted (from Tarpon Springs, FL) for a Disney weekend, hope to visit Chris & Robin in Port St. Lucie, and will see Tracy again in Ft. Lauderdale. Depending on when LA & Susan head south, we may even get to hook up with them again before we make the crossing. 'Til next time!

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