Sunday, December 5, 2010

Back in Fernandina Beach, FL

Sunday, November 21 - Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Yep, we've finally made it to Fernandina, our top spot for leaving the boat whenever we have places to go and people to see. This time it's a "road trip" to Houston, TX, where we still have 25 boxes of wine sitting in a friend's closet. We're hoping to leave the boat on a mooring ball, get a rental car on Wednesday, attend the St. Mary's Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday, and drive to Houston on Friday. One possible catch...our friends from Civil Twilight arrived in St. Mary's a few days before us, and have heard that Fernandina's moorings have been full all week. We'll anchor out if we have to, but we'd feel a whole lot safer leaving Pipe secured to a mooring ball since we'll be gone for five days.

We left Beaufort Sunday morning for the 125nm trip to Fernandina Beach, FL. NOAA forecasted light winds and 2-3' seas, so imagine our surprise when we had 3-5' seas on the beam. At least NOAA got the "light winds" part right - they were too light to put a sail up, so we bounced left to right...left to right...all night. Good thing we aren't prone to sea-sickness! We arrived at the St. Mary's inlet in time to ride the current up the channel (8 knots, baby!); the gods must've been smiling on us after our rough overnight, because the marina had a single mooring ball available when we called at 7:15am. The trip was definitely starting out right!

We spent a couple of days working on boat projects, and picked up our minivan for the Houston trip on Wednesday afternoon. Talk about luxury! We'd rented the van hoping we'd have enough room to bring back the remaining 25 boxes of wine, but had no idea it would be so spacious. The second and third rows (seats) folded into the floor, leaving what amounted to an incredibly comfortable cargo van. Captain's chairs, satellite radio, cruise control...even his and hers temperature controls. Heaven! The only problem with our impromptu Houston trip was our food supply; we'd already begun freezing fresh meats for the Bahamas (including 4lbs of chicken breasts), and couldn't leave them on board for five days with no way to re-charge the batteries. Our refrigerator and freezer would have to be turned off while we were gone, meaning we'd have to get rid of as much food as we could. We vowed to eat every meal on board until we left, and the remaining items were used up thanks to some creative menu-ing. Stacy came up with a Moroccan couscous salad for the Thanksgiving potluck to use up some of our chicken, and Brandon and Carryn from Sol Mate joined us for a lemon chicken & asparagus dinner after arriving in Fernandina on Wednesday. The last of the freezer contents were used to make meals for the road, and we were finally able to shut down the freezer.

On Thursday morning, Brandon, Carryn, and Bella joined us in the minivan for the drive to St. Mary's. St. Mary's is famous in the boating world for hosting a Thanksgiving feast for cruisers, which has been held every year for the past ten years. Local volunteers make enough turkeys and hams to feed the 100 or so boats filling the harbor, and visiting cruisers bring all of the sides. A local waterfront hotel/restaurant provides the setting, and people can bring their own dishes, wine, and table decorations if they want to make it even more festive. Gerri and Alan invited us aboard Civil Twilight for a pre-dinner refreshment (fantastic bloody mary's, Gerri!), after which we joined the masses waiting in line for the 1pm dinner bell. We walked through the double doors to find two long tables lined with every dish you could imagine, plus rolls, sweet breads, and desserts spread out over the bar. After piling heaps of food onto our plates, we found our places at the table that Alan had reserved for us. The weather was gorgeous, and we sat outside in the sunshine with Brandon and Carryn, Alan and Gerri, and Ed and Sue from Angel Louise. The atmosphere was a lot like last year's Christmas celebration in the Jib Room in Marsh Harbor, magnified to about 300 people. The people of St. Mary's were incredible, and we can't thank them enough for sharing their hospitality with so many cruisers who often find themselves away from family and friends over the holidays.

We got an early start Friday morning, dropping Tux off at the kennel before continuing on towards Houston. We took turns driving every two hours, and got an extra hour of sunlight thanks to the change in time zones. By 3:30pm, we realized that we could make it to Houston in one day if we pushed it; we called friends Donna and Steve to see if they minded having house guests a day earlier than planned, and made it to their place by 9:00 that night. We were thoroughly exhausted, but happy to have made it to Houston. 900 miles in 14 hours...priceless!

The weekend was a whirlwind of errands and visits. We had tea with our "Houston parents", Dave and Sheila, made a run down the international food aisle at Fiesta (adobe peppers in chipotle know that'll be good in something!), and had sushi with Donna and Steve, Jennifer, and Chris and Katya and their girls at Redfish Saturday night. Sunday we celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary over quiche and mimosas with Donna and Steve. Stacy got to see Bridget, her friend from Continental, over coffee at Starbucks, and we managed to get a few more hard-to-find provisions at the monster HEB near Donna and Steve's. (That's still got to be the best grocery store in the world!) We made it to John and Bonnie's that afternoon in time to watch John fill his newest toy - a blown-glass liqueur dispenser from Eastern Europe - and were thrilled that Gary, Deborah, Kraig, and Heidi could all stop by for a visit. We even cracked open a few good bottles of wine...hey, the more we had there, the less we'd have to fit on the boat!

Thanks to John and Bonnie's help, it only took us a half-hour to load the wine into the van Monday morning. We were on the road before 9am, and drove for 10.5 hours before stopping in Marianna, FL, for the night. We managed to arrive in Fernandina shortly after noon, and moved the boat to the fuel dock to load our wine and provisions aboard Pipe. The alternative would've meant a lot of trips back and forth in the dinghy - not an attractive proposition, especially with winds blowing 15-20kts that day! It's a good thing we loaded the wine when we did, because the winds increased to 30kts overnight. Rene was on the bow at 2am adding a second line to the mooring ball while Stacy gunned the engine against the waves. The winds continued to blow throughout the next day, and the 30 degree temps reminded us how much we wanted to get south. Unfortunately we now find ourselves in a waiting game; we still have a few packages that are being sent to the marina here, but they aren't supposed to arrive until Monday (12/6). We had hoped to be in Lake Worth by then, but the weather forecast looks awful for an offshore jump until the middle of next week. In the meantime, we'll enjoy a few of our hot spots in Fernandina: O'Kane's Irish Pub, Indigo Alley, and 29 South. Who knows - we may even run down to St. Augustine via the ICW if we get tired of staying here waiting on weather. We've learned that quite a few of our boating friends are in the Ft. Pierce/Lake Worth/Ft. Lauderdale area waiting for a weather window to cross over the the Bahamas. We're anxious to get down there to join them! Til next time...

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