Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vero Beach to Lake Worth, Florida

Thursday, October 16 - Sunday, October 25, 2009
We left Titusville this morning for the two-day trip to Vero Beach. The winds have been light and on the nose, so we've motored all day. We arrive at anchorage #1 - Indian Harbor Beach - around 5pm, but aren't crazy about the looks of it. It's in the mouth of the Banana River and doesn't seem to have much protection. We still have some time before sunset, and decide to go the additional 4 miles to the Melbourne bridge. We anchor NE of the bridge in 7-8 feet of water in the protection of the causeway. Time for a sundowner to toast our 40-mile day!

Friday we have another slow, 34-mile day to Vero Beach, FL. Vero Beach is said to be a great stop for cruisers. With affordable, city-owned moorings and a free bus around town, it's a little like a mini-Marathon (Boot Key Harbor). We arrive Friday afternoon figuring we'll stay til Sunday or Monday. Since we haven't been off the boat for a couple of days, we're ready to check out the local restaurant/bar scene. Better yet, Stacy won't have to cook tonight! After checking in at the marina office, we dinghy over to a couple of nearby restaurants: Riverside Cafe is near the mooring field on our side of the ICW and has its own dinghy dock; the Lobster Shanty is supposed to be a bit more upscale, and is located on the opposite side of the ICW. We do a drive-by in the dinghy past the Lobster Shanty, and realize its boat dock is more for mid-size motor boats than dinghies. It would be a long jump up to the dock, and our dinghy would be underneath the dock in no time. We end up at the Riverside Cafe; it's easy to get there from the mooring field, we can see the dinghy dock from our table, and dinner turns out to be really good. (Admittedly, this is a bit of a surprise since their website touts it as more of a party/happy hour spot.) On the way back, the fishing bridge next to the dinghy dock has filled up, and Stacy nearly gets beheaded by someone's fishing line...this guy had a heck of a throw!

Saturday we try Vero's free public transit system for a grocery run. Bus line #1 stops right at the marina at quarter to the hour (according to the published schedule), and it takes about 30 minutes to get to Publix. After a lovely 20-minute tour of the beachside area, the bus makes a turn...and arrives back at the marina. Huh??? Here's the secret the bus schedule doesn't tell you: the route is more like a series of figure-eights. From the marina, catch the bus at quarter to the hour for beachside service, and catch it at 5-10 after the hour for Publix service. Same thing at Publix - if you catch it for the ride back at the scheduled time, you'll have to ride the circuit to the transfer station, and then it'll come back to the Publix 20 minutes later. It really only takes 10 minutes from the marina to Publix; you just have to time it right. Anyway, we finally get to Publix and go nuts over the two-for-one deals. We're in Bahamas provisioning mode, and our shopping runs are getting out of hand. We leave with 5 canvas bags full of stuff and just make it to the bus stop in time for the trip back. Fortunately it's the short ride - we're ready to get back to the boat! The bus doesn't run on Sundays, so we have a leisurely walk to the beach to tour the town. Apparently we're well into the off-season, because everything is closed. What do you do if you can't go into any stores? Walk along the beach and find a bar, of course! Vero really does have a lovely beach, and we get plenty of surf pictures before circling back to the oceanfront bar. We find a funky little place with Adirondack chairs overlooking the ocean and live music. Ahhh ... heaven!

We've decided to spend an extra day here to check out the mall, so Monday we hop on board the bus again and ride all the way to the transfer station. We're becoming pros! The mall is pretty nice, and better yet it's surrounded by "satellite strip malls" full of stores like Target, Lowe's, Ross, Marshall's, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. Stace makes out like a bandit at Macy's clearance rack (need those shorts for the Bahamas!), and we spend 4 hours wandering through the rest of the shops. We'd better get out of Vero before we bust our budget.

We leave Vero Tuesday morning for the 45 mile trip to Port St. Lucie where friends, Chris & Robin (also ex-Watergate pier 4 residents), live at a condo/marina. We hope to get as far as Stuart by the end of the day, and will make the rest of the trip on Wednesday. Chris & Robin have offered us their condo's guest dock, so we're looking forward to a few days visiting with them and staying in one place. Surprise! The wind gods have finally smiled on us, and we have 20+ knot winds. We're able to do over 7kts in the ICW, and we make it 35 miles to the crossroads (the intersection of the St. Lucie River & the ICW) by 2pm. We've been warned that things could get interesting from here: there are a couple of shallow spots (3-5'), but the bottom is supposed to be soupy enough to let us pass. As we enter the St. Lucie River, we find the 4.5' sandbar but never feel a bump. We slowly make it upriver against the current, and have good depths until we make the turn into Chris & Robin's cove. We've misunderstood Chris's directions and turn north of the last marker instead of south; suddenly we see 4.5'...4'...3.5'...and we're stuck. We're about to call TowBoat (it's been awhile - we're overdue!), but Rene manages to spin the boat enough to dig our way out. We finally reach the dock at 5pm, where we see depths of 4.8'...yet we're not grounded. Talk about some strange bottom conditions! We spend the next few days visiting with Chris & Robin, who show us some wonderful local restaurants and take us to Publix and Sam's Club for more provisioning. We also get to meet ex-Watergaters Tom & Sandy, whose going-away party we attended when we first moved to WYC in October 2007...funny how small the cruising community is! Chris & Robin have some fantastic neighbors, and we love the marina live-aboard feel of the place. It's hard to leave, and we end up staying an extra day.

We finally leave Saturday to continue south towards Lake Worth. We don't shove off until 1pm in order to give ourselves more water in the cove, and to get to the crossroads near high tide (3pm) to make it over the sandbar. The trip takes longer than expected, and after a stop for fuel and a pump-out, we don't make it to the crossroads sandbar until 5pm. It makes for a short day, and we decide to anchor just 12 miles south of the crossroads. Peck Lake is a gorgeous little spot that we never would've seen if not for local knowledge. Our chartplotter says Peck Lake is 1-3' deep everywhere, but Chris, Robin, and their neighbors have all anchored here. There's a narrow strip of 6-12' deep water if you know how to find it, and we arrive to find 8-10 other boats anchored here. It's beautiful, and we quickly decide to spend two nights here. You can dinghy to the island behind the anchorage, and there's a path to a secluded beach on the ocean. It's crowded on weekends, but we have a feeling we'd be the only ones here if we came during the week.

As tempted as we are to stay a third night, we haul up the anchor Monday morning for the last leg of our trip. It's about 23 miles to Lake Worth at Palm Beach, and we're ready to get to our jumping-off point for the Bahamas. The only bad thing about this leg is the number of restricted bridges. After two on-request bascule bridges, we have to pass through FOUR more bascules that open on schedule. The first three open on the hour and half-hour and are 3 miles apart; the fourth is 1.5 miles downstream and opens at quarter past and quarter to the hour. We get to the first bridge 25 minutes before its next scheduled opening, and try to bob in deep enough water without being in the way of any passing boats. Once we get through, we'll try to make it the 3.2 miles to the next bridge which opens 30 minutes later. 3.2 miles in 30 we need to go 6.4mph to make it, right? Wrong. Bridge #1 doesn't even start the process until noon, so we have to wait for traffic to pass, blockade arms to go down, and span to fully open. It's nearly 10 past the hour before we're on our way to the second bridge, and we end up half a mile short at 12:30. We radio the bridge tender anyway to see if we can make it. "You're not even at the bridge yet." Okie-dokie...note to self: we really need to go 3 miles in 20 minutes, because the bridge tender won't open the bridge if you're not at the bridge a few minutes before the scheduled opening. We sit in front of bridge #2 for 25 minutes til that opening, and take our sweet time to bridge #3. By some miracle, bridge #4 doesn't seem as far as our cruising guide says it should be, and we finally manage two consecutive openings without waiting. Woo hoo! In the end, it takes 3 hours to go eight miles...not our most efficient day.

We arrive at the northeastern Lake Worth anchorage a little after 3pm. The anchorage isn't nearly as busy as we expect it to be, and we find a spot with good holding and plenty of swing room. There's a free dinghy landing (we really can't call it a dock) at the base of a nearby bridge. We have to haul up the dinghy onto a patch of sand, lock it to the fence, and then walk up the embankment to the road, but it does give us access to a nearby Publix and "The Gardens" mall. We've managed to break our broadband stick, so the mall is our first stop the day after we arrive. What a place! Macy's and Sears is surrounded by Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany's, and the like. Rene gets his broadband stick, and Stacy goes nuts at Teavana ($45 for a half-pound of tea...what the hell was I thinking?? Rene's calling me a tea snob). Thursday we're moving the boat to an anchorage south of the Lake Worth inlet (about 5 miles from here). It's closer to a marina with a secure dinghy dock, and we'll rent a car to visit friends in Ft. Lauderdale and attend the boat show there. We're shopping for a water maker that Rene will install before we leave for the Bahamas...wish us luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Titusville, Florida

Friday, October 9 - Wednesday, October 14, 2009
When our family and friends first got the SPOT message of our latest location, a few of them went HUH?!? The city of Titusville isn't nearly as well-known as its neighbor to the west (think "Mickey ears"), but it's a great stopover for cruisers. Titusville is on the ICW, about 45 miles east of Orlando and 15 miles north of Cape Canaveral. NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building can be seen from a number of T'ville vantage points, including our anchorage. If you're cruising in the intercoastal and want to stop somewhere that has easy access to Disney, NASA, Universal Studios, or any other central-Florida tourist spots, Titusville is your place. There's a spacious (albeit open to the elements) anchorage just outside the marina basin; the basin itself is too small to allow any boats to anchor (it's forbidden), but the city marina is extremely friendly to anchored boats. Some of our cruising guides have quoted dinghy and shower fees of $5-10, but we've found the dinghy dock to be free for the first week, and showers are $2pp. There's an Enterprise rental car office and a liquor store about 1.5 miles from the marina, and a good Publix grocery store and pizza place is 2-3 miles away. We've got a weekend rental so we can drive to Epcot on Saturday morning. We're meeting friends Sue & Ted at our hotel near Epcot at 8am, so we have a 6am wake-up call scheduled to get us there on time (it's supposed to be about 75min away). Who says we don't have alarms on the boat?? :-)

Having arrived in Titusville on Thursday afternoon, Friday is boat project day. Rene noticed the windlass acting up again while we anchored yesterday. Sparks started flying when he tried to use it, and it stopped working in the "anchor down" direction soon after. This isn't the first time we've had problems with it, and he figured it was likely a loose wire. Rene manages to crawl into the anchor locker to clean and reattach the wires, and voila! The windlass is working again. He's becoming quite the Mr. Fix-It! Friday afternoon we call Enterprise ("We'll pick you up!") for a ride to our rental car, only to find they don't have any drivers available. Rather than wait for another half-hour to try again, we decide to walk it. It's only a mile and a half, and we're ready to see some of Titusville's historical downtown district. Did we mention that Florida has been breaking heat records on a daily basis this week? Whew! Temps are 95 degrees, and humidity is probably just as high. It's bloody hot! We make it to the Enterprise office before we've completely melted and get upgraded from an economy (yes, we're cheap!) to a Ford Focus. We'll take it! After a quick stop by a nearby ABC liquor store, we run by the local Publix. Anytime we have a car we try to stock up on heavy stuff. It's much easier than carrying four 2.5-gallon water jugs and a couple of cases of beer on the bikes!

Saturday morning the alarm goes off at 6am and we're at the dinghy dock by 6:30. All of the hotels on or near Disney are full (we assume because it's Columbus Day weekend - who knows), but Sue has found a newly-renovated/opened hotel 5 miles from Epcot. It's a suite hotel with a bedroom, hide-a-bed, and full kitchen, and works perfectly. We spend some time catching up over mimosas and make it to Epcot by 10am. What a place! Neither of us has been here in 15 years, and they've added some great rides. Better yet, they've added a "FastPass" feature for their most popular rides that lets you get a ticket to return later in the day and bypass the long lines. A few favorites: "Soarin'", a simulated hang-glider ride that takes you over the California coast, wine country, and mountains; "Mission: Space", a geo-?? that lets you experience g-forces like an astronaut; and "Test Track", the fastest ride at Epcot. The record highs begin to get us again by mid-afternoon, but having a hotel close by means we can leave the park for a few hours to get a late lunch and a dip in the pool. Much better! We're back in the park by 6pm to wander through all of the countries of the World Showcase. We also happen to be here during the International Wine & Food festival...the lines are so long that we don't actually partake, but it's fun to see what pairings each country has to offer. We stay at Epcot for their fireworks and laser show, "Illuminations", before going back to the hotel for a very later dinner. Sunday Sue and Ted take us to Downtown Disney, a shopping and restaurant complex that didn't exist the last time we were here. It's a fun place to walk around (and no entry fee required!), and we have a final "refreshment" together at T-Rex (think "Rainforest Cafe" with dinosaurs). It's been a super weekend, and we hate saying goodbye.

Monday we're off to Kennedy Space Center. We get a late start, and only have about 4 hours to spend in the park before we have to leave to return our rental car. We hate cutting it short, because there's so much to see here! They still have a bus tour that takes you past the VAB to a viewing area near the space shuttle launch pads, but they've added two more stops: there's an entire building dedicated to the Apollo/Saturn V lunar missions, and another building that shows components of the international space station (you sometimes get to see astronauts training for missions to the station). There are also two Imax movies, the rocket garden, a Hubble telescope exhibit, a shuttle launch simulator, a "meet the astronauts" event, the astronaut memorial, and a mock-up of the space shuttle (orbiter plus external tank & solid rocket boosters). If that's not enough for you, admission includes a visit to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, located 6 miles west of the KSC visitor center. We manage to take the bus tour to the launch pads and the Apollo museum, and then see an Imax film, the rocket garden, and the Hubble exhibit. We try to extend our car for another day to finish everything, but we'd have to go to a daily rate (too expensive). Oh, well - it's still been a great visit! We get quite the surprise on returning our car: they can extend our rental for one more day at the weekend rate. We can go back to KSC tomorrow! The great thing about the KSC tickets is that they're good for two days, not just one. We assume a lot of people don't have time or don't bother with a second day, but it's a great opportunity for us. Once again, we get a late start to the park. When will we learn?! The bottleneck seems to be the tour buses, so we start by covering everything we want to see and do at the visitor's center. The second Imax film (astronaut-filmed scenes from the space station) is fascinating, and the shuttle launch simulator is a great time. After a few more pictures around the area, we board a bus at 2pm intending to see the rest of the center. We were hoping to stop in to the Apollo/Saturn V exhibit to see a few more things, but time is quickly getting away from us. No worries - we should be able to make it to the space station exhibit with plenty of time to spare...right? Wrong. We can stay on one bus from the visitor center to the launch pad to the Saturn V building, but then we have to transfer buses...which means going to the back of a very long line. An hour after leaving the visitor center, we finally board a bus for the space station exhibit. We end up with a very informative bus driver who also happens to drive 20mph under the limit, so it's 3:15 before we make it to the exhibit. Knowing we have to leave KSC by 3:30 to make it back to the car rental office by 4pm, we stay on the bus and forego the tour. Grrrr...this is NOT how we intended to spend the last 90 minutes! But as Rene said, thanks to being able to keep the car for another day, today really was "gravy". Maybe someday we'll learn to get moving earlier in the morning!

We're planning on staying for an extra day to do a few more boat projects, and will likely leave Titusville on Thursday morning. For our next anchorage, we have a couple of destinations in mind that will depend on tides and currents (i.e. what kind of boat speeds we have). After that, we plan to stop in Vero Beach and Port St. Lucie on our way to Ft. Lauderdale. We're hoping to get a watermaker in Ft. Lauderdale, so our crossover to the Bahamas will likely happen in mid-November. We still have plenty of open spots if you want to come visit! Till next time...

Pictures for this Blog chapter:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

St. Augustine to Titusville, FL

Saturday, October 3 - Thursday, October 8, 2009
Ahh, St. Augustine...what a beautiful city! We've anchored right off the old fort, and are ready for a quiet night on the boat. We spend a few hours topside people-watching and enjoying the gorgeous full moon. By now, our friends in the Harvest Moon regatta (Galveston, TX to Port Aransas, TX) have made it through the storm and are sharing survivor stories over lots of rum drinks at the after-party. Have one for us, guys! Sunday we go into town for some provisioning and sightseeing. St. George street is a pedestrian-only area that runs parallel to the water and houses most of the tourist shops, restaurants, and bars. We wander from one end of the other, finding a new English Pub and ending up at our favorite wine & tapas place for dinner. We found The Tasting Room by accident on our northbound trip, and the menu, while changed, is just as good today as it was in June. We enjoy Moorish pork kebabs with Spanish olive and tomato soffrito, sauteed jumbo shrimp with grilled artichokes, chorizo, and peppers, and finish with grilled chicken and sausage paella. Yummy! We finish the evening at another St. Aug staple, the Rendezvous Restaurant (180 beers from around the world - 'nuff said!). After a couple of dessert beers (i.e. "trippels"), we make our way back to the city marina for the dinghy ride to the boat. All is well until Rene slips stepping onto the stern. Good news - he's fine; bad news - the phone isn't in such good shape. Thanks to all our friends on Facebook for their advise on phone repair, but that puppy isn't coming back to life. Oh,'s only the 3rd Razor we've lost due to water damage. :-)

We leave St. Augustine at 8:30am Monday morning for what we expect to be a 2-day, 52-mile trip to Daytona Beach. It's a good cruising day, with the current at our backs most of the day. We're able to average over 4 kts, and pass the ruins of Fort Matanzas & Marineland (now closed) on our way to our anchorage at ICW Mile 809. Stacy is a little wary of this anchorage; all we know is that it's up a small channel, past a Sea Ray plant, to a closed cement plant. Barges are known to pass up and down the creek, and friends LA & Susan warned us that they wouldn't use the anchorage again given a choice. It was way too shallow and narrow, with quite a bit of traffic. We get there around 3pm and slowly make our way into the channel. LA & Susan weren't kidding - there's barely enough room for our boat to turn around without hitting the shoals at the edges. And we're supposed to anchor out of the way of barge traffic? Are you kidding?? We idle up the creek for another 10 minutes, but Rene soon agrees that this anchorage isn't for us. One little problem...there isn't another anchorage nearby that's deep enough for us, and the nearest marina is 20 miles away in Daytona Beach. Stacy checks online: there's one marina at Mile 829 and another at Mile 831. We're chasing the sun as it is, and those two miles could make a difference between arriving in daylight vs. darkness. The marina is too far away to reach on the VHF radio, and we don't have a working cell. The marina closes at 5pm, and there's no way we'll get there in time. Now what? Skype! What a fantastic program. Stacy skypes Loggerhead Marina (formerly Caribbean Jack's) and they assign us a T-dock. We arrive at the dock at 7:00pm, and the sun sets at 7:04pm. Talk about timing! The marina is south of the Seabreeze bridge in Daytona, and has a pool and hot tub on site. After a quick dinner, we're off to a long hot soak. It's been a long day (52 miles in 10.5 hours), and we're thrilled to have a rest day in Daytona tomorrow.

First order of business on Tuesday: we're off to the Volusia Mall to the AT&T store for a new cell phone. After losing three wet phones in as many years, we're finally getting smart. They have a water-resistant phone that has a rubber back around the battery. Rene first saw it at our old marina, when one of the boat yard guys dropped his own phone into the water. Rene managed to retrieve it for him, and the phone came back on without a problem. They aren't cheap, but we highly recommend them if you live on the water! After the mall, we walk over to Stacy's alma mater, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The campus has really grown in the past few years, with new dorms, fitness center, auditorium, chapel, and classrooms. The main administration building, Spruance Hall, was destroyed by a tornado a few years ago; signs are posted advertising the upcoming groundbreaking of the new structure (maybe they're after alumni money!). Fortunately the cafeteria hasn't changed a bit, and we stop by for some much-needed air conditioning and a cold drink. Apparently we're getting used to the colder temps in north Florida and Georgia - Daytona is bloody hot! After drying off, we grab a taxi and head beachside to the Daytona Boardwalk. The boardwalk still has the usual kitsch-y shops - tattoos, souvenirs, gifts, pizza, a fun house, etc. There's also a new 3-level mall next to the Hilton with movies, Bubba Gump's, a Cold Stone Creamery, and lots of shops. A favorite college hangout and great German festhaus called "Bernkastels" is gone, replaced by more hotel rooms. Boo hoo! Thank god the Ocean Deck will always be there. That's our destination for happy hour and dinner, and we'll see if we have enough energy to stick around for the live music and dancing starting at 9:30. If you haven't been to the Deck, it's well worth a visit. It started out as a beachside bar - you can enter from the street or the sand - and a 2nd floor restaurant was added a few years ago. We stick with the downstairs area, and watch the volleyball players in the sand pit next to the bar. The Deck has Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale on tap...pitcher, please! A bunch of patrons are watching the last baseball game before playoffs, and things get pretty crazy as the game progresses. There's also a major downpour while we're there, but the lightning manages to stay well offshore. We have a great time - fantastic food, beer, and atmosphere - but don't quite make it long enough to hear the band. Oh, well - it isn't a reggae band tonight, so it's not as much of a loss. Back at the marina, we enjoy another soak in the hot tub...better enjoy it now, 'cause it may be awhile before we get this kind of luxury again!

Wednesday, we leave at 10:30am and soon discover this is "bad bridge karma" day. Our first bridge off the dock is the Main Street Bridge, only a half-mile downriver from the marina. Before we even toss our lines, we try to reach the bridge tender for an opening schedule. We can't raise anyone on the radio, and the phone number goes to a fax machine. A third call to the phone number finally reaches the bridge tender, and we're told that only one span is working. The west (starboard) span is under repair and won't open, so we go through the left span with a close eye on our horizontal clearance. Another half-mile downriver is a 65' high fixed bridge, only it has less than 63' of clearance 2 hours before high tide. What the...??? After our last experience dinging the VHF antenna against the underside of the bridge, we're not going through anything with less than 63' of clearance. We decide to wait until we have more water, but soon realize that it's going to be a LONG wait. We sit for 2 hours with almost no change in the water height, and eventually talk to the bridge tender from the Main Street Bridge again. She tells us there used to be signs indicating an additional 3' of clearance at the centerline; the city took the signs down a few years ago for liability reasons. TowBoatUS confirmed that there should be at least 2' of clearance, although you'd have to maneuver exactly through the center, being careful of the lights hanging down from the center of the bridge. Oh boy...maybe we'll wait for low water after all. After another hour, it's 2pm and we really need to get moving. The tide board still only shows 62.5' of clearance, but we're going to crawl through and hope that the bridge tender and TowBoat are correct. We edge towards the bridge at a fraction of a knot, and hold our breath as our mast approaches the side of the bridge. We're aiming for slightly right of the hanging light, since there's a chain that goes from the bridge to the left of the light. A few seconds later, our wind instrument makes it under the bridge, followed by the VHF antenna and finally the wind vane. Nothing touches, and Rene veers to the left to avoid hitting the opposite light and chain. Stomachs clenched and hearts pounding, we finally reach the opposite side of the bridge. We're through! We've lost 3 hours sitting at the first bridge, but the current is with us and we make it through 4 more bridges (2 fixed and 2 bascule) to our anchorage in New Smyrna, 15 miles downriver. There aren't any recommended anchorages between New Smyrna and Mosquito Lagoon (which would be another 15 miles downstream), so we're calling it a day. We were supposed to have a 30-mile day today followed by a 15-mile day to Titusville on Thursday, so we'll just reverse the order of those two. On the plus side, there aren't any fixed bridges between here and Titusville. Hopefully we won't get stuck again!

We leave our anchorage south of marker 43 at 8:15am Thursday. (FYI...some cruising guides say this anchorage has become too shallow, but we don't have any problems. As long as you stay away from the 2' charted shoal, there's plenty of 8' depths.) We seem to be outrunning the tidal change, and find ourselves in a perpetual state of slack tide. We aren't getting the push we hoped for, but aren't fighting the current, either. It's pretty quiet on the water, and Rene takes a few minutes to scrape the barnacles off the side of the dinghy that he can reach from the stern. We still can't believe it - he cleaned the dinghy a month ago, and its bottom is already covered with barnacles. It's the most god-awful smell! Hopefully he can get to the other side at our next stopover. Another boat project for Titusville...

We don't have much wind, but it's an interesting trip all the same. Our favorite spot is the Haulover Canal, where we see three manatees in less than 5 minutes - one of which is swimming alongside our boat! Our only "uh-oh" moment of the day comes two miles north of our Titusville anchorage: the BoatUS website has a post from another cruiser who was delayed for 3 hours last week because the NASA railroad bridge was closed for repairs. As we approach the railroad bridge, sure enough, it's closed. Stacy tries to hail the work crew on the radio, and another bridge tender comes on to say there's no way to reach the crew, and we'll have to anchor until the crew opens the bridge again (typically between 3pm-5pm). It's just after 2:30pm, so this could be anywhere from a 30-minute to a 2-hour wait. At least we can see our anchorage from here! As we begin our turn to drop the anchor, the work crew foreman waves to us and the bridge begins to open. Hooray!! Apparently our bridge karma is improving! We get to our anchorage soon afterwards and find a good spot in 6' of water near the channel to the Titusville harbor. We hear the municipal marina is friendly to cruisers and should be able to land our dinghy there this weekend. Saturday we're off to Orlando to visit Epcot Center with friends Sue & Ted, and Monday we'll go to Kennedy Space Center. Time to play tourist!

Before we sign off, we have to send big hugs to our friend Ron who became a daddy earlier this week. Little Sandra Birkhoff came into the world on Monday, October 5th, and we hear the whole family is doing great. We're hoping to visit Houston next Spring, and can't wait to meet the newest Birkhoff!

Pictures for this (and the previous) Blog chapter:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Southbound part III: Fernandina to St. Augustine

Thursday, October 1 - Saturday, October 3, 2009
After leaving Fernandina early Thursday morning, we have an uneventful day through the ICW. The instruments are working perfectly, and we realize just how much we've missed them. Rene keeps kissing the chartplotter screen! :-) We only have one soft grounding south of the St. John's river, but Rene is able to get us out of there without a Tow Boat US call. We anchor a few miles north of Jacksonville Beach, about half-way between Fernandina Beach and St. Augustine.

Friday morning, we leave our anchorage at 7am to make the 35-mile trip to St. Augustine. We have a few 65' bridges to get through this morning, and want to take advantage of the two hours remaining before high tide. We get to our first bridge by 7:30am, and get a major reminder of just how much an almost-full moon can impact tides. This bridge is supposed to have 65' of vertical clearance at high tide, but clearance is already down to 63' 90 minutes before high tide. Noooo! Our official mast height is 62.5', but we soon learn that the instruments on the mast put us over the 63' mark: we can actually hear our VHF antenna hitting the bridge. Ugh...we can't begin to express what an awful sound that is! Imagine hearing an awful "twang" as your antenna scrapes across 3-4 cross-beams underneath the bridge, knowing that your mast is maybe 6 inches below that. We vow to wait for lower water at the next bridge if the clearance board shows anything less than 64'! (As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for...)

We get to the next bridge about 3o minutes later; we knew that the bascule bridge there had been replaced by a 65' fixed bridge, but we didn't realize that work was still underway to demolish the old bascule bridge. As we approach the bridge, binoculars in hand to find the clearance board, we realize that a massive barge is parked against the bridge. We can't get through the bridge! (Talk about a "you've GOT to be kidding" moment.) A motor cruiser ahead of us has stopped and turned back; apparently they've radioed the barge operator, and they yell to us that the bridge should re-open at noon. we have to kill four hours. At least we won't have to worry about high tide! We turn around and anchor a mile upstream from the bridge. Stacy spends some time working on the blog (I don't think I've ever done such "real-time" blogging before), and Rene calls around to local engine shops to figure out what's causing the white smoke he saw coming from the engine earlier today. (The verdict: it's likely sediment or condensation from our backup fuel in the jerry cans. The smoke is gone later in the afternoon.) Other than that, we'll hang out until the bridge re-opens. We certainly aren't the only ones to be surprised by the closure; there are at least 6-8 other cruisers parked in the ICW before the bridge waiting for it to open.

The barges finally move to reopen the bridge for traffic around 12:15pm. Currents under the bridge are 4kts, and the water "boils" around the pilings. We're going against the current; even with revving the engine to 3000 RPM (1000 RPM higher than our typical cruising speed), our boat speed drops to 2kts as we go under the bridge. Scary! The current is against us for the next few hours, and we rarely get above 3kts. It soon becomes evident that we're not making it to St. Augustine today! Time to look for alternate anchorages... Hmmm...Pine Island at Mile 765. That's about 12 miles north of St. Augustine, and we can probably get there well before dark. Sounds like a plan! In the meantime, we keep a close eye on the depth gauge. We're going through Palm Valley Cut, which has 7-8' depths in places (not to mention some funky boathouses - see picture). Rene does a fantastic job keeping us from grounding, but we're ready to call it a day. We arrive at the anchorage at 5pm, and are pleasantly surprised - what a gorgeous spot! Our cruising guide warned that the anchorage has shoaled to the point where it can hardly be recommended, but we have 8' depths down the center of the creek an hour after low tide. We're sharing the anchorage with two motor cruisers, and soon find ourselves experiencing the kindness of strangers again. Our neighbors stop by in the dink soon after we anchor to invite us over for drinks. The two boats are cruising together, and we meet David & Zoe on Misstress and Paul & Barbara on Bigwig. Drinks lead to dinner, and we have a fantastic time getting to know our hosts and touring their boats. After a fun evening, we join them again on Saturday morning for breakfast before saying goodbye to our new friends. We can't thank them enough for their hospitality, and promise to keep in touch. Who knows...maybe we'll meet up again in the Bahamas!

Thank goodness it's a short trip to St. Augustine...we're still a bit fragile from last night. We're thrilled to be cruising with the current this time - 5kts is a heck of a lot better than 2kts! The trip is pretty easy until we're within 2 miles of the city. All of a sudden, the ICW shoals to under 7', and that's on the magenta (ICW) line. Not fun. Next up, we arrive at the intersection of the ICW and the St. Augustine inlet to a traffic jam: first we get a fly-by from the pirate ship (aka party boat), and then a 50' fishing boat decides he's going the wrong way and does a 180-degree turn right in front of us. He's maybe a boat-length away from us (just enough room for a smaller speedboat to come flying between us and the fishing boat), but fortunately has plenty of power and maneuverability. Gotta love being on the water with the crazies on the weekends! We arrive in St. Augustine at 3:30pm and anchor off the fort. We're in 20' of water with plenty of swing room. There's an historical reenactment happening at the fort, with "soldiers" in period uniforms firing off cannons. What a fantastic spot! We're ready for a quiet evening on the boat tonight, but tomorrow we'll go into town for shopping, sightseeing, and dinner at The Tasting Room. We had such a great meal at the tapas restaurant when we were here in June that we promised ourselves we'd go again on this trip. Cheers!