Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cumberland Island, GA (Brickhill River)

After yesterday’s thunderstorms and rain, the weather cleared and the sun came out at 5pm, so we dropped the dinghy into the water and went ashore to see if we could get the lay of the island.


We were anchored just offshore from the Plum Orchard Mansion adjacent to the dinghy dock.  The National Park Service provides this description of the the mansion: “In 1898, George Carnegie was about to marry fashionable and wealthy Margaret Thaw of Pittsburgh. As his wedding present, his mother intended to assist him with a home on Cumberland Island. Lucy told Peabody and Steams that she proposed building a "simple house on this island, on a site about eight miles from here," with a cost limit of $10,000. On 1 December, 1898 Page described the project as "fairly launched."


As we approached the mansion, sitting on the porch swing was a National Park Service volunteer caretaker who had been living here for the last three months.  We chatted with her for half an hour, then wandered back to the boat.  We thought the mansion was quite nice, large, but not particularly architecturally interesting.


Returning to the boat just before sunset introduced us to one of Georgia’s signature characteristics:  BUGS! We were assaulted by gnats, small enough to make it through the mesh screen on our ports, hatches and doors, and they drove us quickly CRAZY, so we closed up the boat and turned on the air conditioning, as it was still 79 degrees outside and the boat quickly becomes stuffy in those circumstances.


Florida in the Rearview Mirror

Alligator Creek adjacent Amelia Island – Plum Orchard Anchorage, Brickhill River, adjacent Cumberland Island

Days on Cruise:        8

Miles Today:              29.6

Travel Time Today:  3 hrs 25 mins

Odometer:                  277 miles


We decided to try an experiment this morning and see how early we could get underway in the event we ever need to. Instead of our usual leisurely coffee and computer time, we downed one cup of coffee, threw clothes on, waited a few minutes for daylight, then pulled the anchor at 7am just as it became bright enough to read the day markers to navigate the circuitous channel in this region. We made and ate breakfast and took our showers serially while taking turns driving the boat.

More marshes and grassland soon led us across the Cumberland Sound where the St. Mary’s River enters the Atlantic Ocean near Fernandina Beach. This also marks the state line between Florida and Georgia!  So, we’ve put the first state behind us and now have a short 130 miles of Georgia coastline in front of us.


At this juncture the northbound red triangles (port) and green squares (starboard) marking the channel switched sides, because technically for the next few miles we were in the river leading to the King’s Bay Submarine Base. The water was dredged to 25 – 60 feet deep, the deepest we’ve seen. It made for a bit of uncertainty and extra caution in peering at the markers through our binoculars to work our way across the many channels into and out of the River and Sound.


By 11 am we turned off the ICW into Brickhill River, a narrow, winding stretch leading to a dinghy dock on the shore of Cumberland Island where we planned to spend the afternoon hiking and looking at wild animals.  Three wild horses and one wild turkey were polite enough to make an appearance on shore just as we arrived.

However, it’s pouring down rain, thundering and lightning, so we anchored alone 75 feet offshore (no marina or dockage here), had lunch and started chores and leisure time to wait out the storm. If it doesn’t stop raining, we’ll see the Island tomorrow instead. What’s the rush? We have no schedule until May 25 when our middle child Mackenzie and her husband Matt join us somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay!


One other side note: we saw an astonishing number of sunken or grounded sailboats and wonder what it is about this area that leads to so many:  see below!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Alligator Creek, FL (off Amelia Island)

St. Augustine, Fl – Alligator Creek adjacent Amelia Island, Fl

Days on cruise:               7

Statute Miles Today:      52.9

Time Underway :         6 hrs

Cumulative Miles:       247

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We’re anchored just north of Nassau Sound, about 20 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Fl.  We’re only 20 miles from the Florida-Georgia border.


An hour or two of today’s trip transited a section of the ICW referred to as The Ditch. While we don’t know the details of its’ origin, it isn’t hard to imagine why this narrow, arrow-straight, man-made stretch has this name.


Dolphins in Florida are as ubiquitous as zebras in the Serengeti; the difference is we seem unable to grab the camera and click fast enough to get a great photo of them.  While we may have them with us for a while yet, it may be that we have to wait until next winter when we get back to Florida to complete our quest for a great dolphin shot.


As we crossed the inlet for the St. Johns River (which leads to Jacksonville 20 miles upriver), we passed a dry dock facility for Navy vessels.  It reminded us of the Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton near our home (absent the large mothball fleet).


Five miles north of Nassau Sound we pulled into Alligator Creek where we’re anchored for the night behind Amelia Island.  This grassland, marshy area separates us from the ICW.  You can see a couple of trawlers continuing north. We guess they didn’t have as late a night as we did last night! We needed a nap.  The weather report predicts thunderstorms tonight, and the wind is currently blowing 13-20 mph; perhaps we’ll get some lighting to brighten up our night?


Back in January when we arrived in Fort Pierce after buying the boat, we met another couple, Stephen and Charlotte, also at Harbour Isle Marina and also planning to be 2012 Loopers.  They’re from Jacksonville, FL and we enjoyed several social occasions with them before they returned to Jacksonville and home for a couple of months.


Last night Stephen and Charlotte came to St. Augustine, 20 minutes from their home, to have dinner with us. It was great to see them again! They’re really nice folks, lively and fun, and have 5 kids similar ages to our 3. They picked us up at the marina and took us to “Aunt Kate’s” on the ICW a few miles north of town for fried shrimp and margaritas.  We talked a lot about our Loop plans, preparations (they expect to leave home April 9 to head north), and plans to meet again. They’ve already cruised this area over the years so will start out at a faster pace than we’re going, and likely catch up with us somewhere in Georgia or South Carolina.

It was great to see Stephen and Charlotte again, and we look forward to the next time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pretty St. Augustine


We dinghied back to shore after a quiet night on the mooring ball and spent the day exploring this old town.  We returned to Magnolia Avenue, whose Magnolia trees were removed after they all died during a harsh winter 150 years ago.  Planted in their place are now oak trees, and look how it looks today? The adjacent wall is made of concrete and seashells.



Bob’s great-deal lifetime National Park Service Pass ($10 one-time fee gets you into all National Parks for free henceforth) got us into the Castillo San Marcos, a Spanish fort built from 1672 – 1756 when Florida was part of the Spanish empire. The fort has served six different flags, survived hurricanes and withstood many sieges and bombardments.



We walked back into the center of town through neighborhoods which have avoided being transformed into tourist traps and enjoyed seeing homes from the late 1800s that looked truly lived in. We also walked the length of St. George Street, lined with old buildings now housing shops, galleries, restaurants and museums. We were, much to the merchants’ dismay, dissuaded from buying anything.


This is a 600-year-old moss-draped Oak tree, now living in the middle of a Howard Johnson’s parking lot.  This is pretty illustrative of how St. Augustine has managed its’ historic character:  use it to the maximum to make money without destroying the things that brought us all here in the first place.


And this is the mooring field at the marina where we’re staying adjacent to the attractive Lion’s Bridge.


We enjoyed other sights including a building initially erected as an uber-swanky hotel by Henry Flagler, co-founder with John D Rockefeller of Standard Oil Company, to serve as a winter retreat for northerners following the Civil War.


All the windows in the building are Tiffany stained glass, reportedly now worth $30 million themselves. The building now houses Flagler College, a private liberal arts college. Henry Flagler went on to build a vast empire of hotels and a railroad from St. Augustine to Key West.


Other attractive public buildings and churches line the streets of St. Augustine as well.  This was a nice stop!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St. Augustine

Daytona Beach, FL – St. Augustine, FL

Days on Cruise:             5

Statute Miles Today    52

Time Underway        6 hrs

Cumulative Miles:        194


What a day!  We’re loving this cruising lifestyle.  The scenery is changing from tropical to the beginning of “low country”, meaning marshes and swampland, Spanish moss dripping from deciduous trees, mostly Oak (instead of Palm trees) and varied waterways.


It’s so interesting!  Waterfront communities are no longer of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale mile-after-mile, multi-million dollar estates cheek by jowl, and instead are what we think of as “normal” houses that happen to be on a pretty waterway with a dock and a boat.


Many miles today were rural, without any development of any kind.  As always, we saw lots of dolphins, fewer pelicans, and other waterfowl and a few manatees.


We’re on a mooring ball ($22/night) at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina for two nights.  Late this afternoon we took a “trolley tour” of the town just to get an overview, and tomorrow will go back to see the most interesting places in more detail.  St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited, European-founded city in the United States, established in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez. Today’s population is only 13,000, so it’s still a small place. We’ll let the photos tell the rest of today’s story.IMG_3145

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Life on the ICW

Titusville, FL to Daytona Beach, FL

Days on Cruise:  4

Statute Miles Today:  48.8

Time Underway:  4 hrs, 23 mins

Cumulative Miles:  142

We’re starting to identify a “rhythm” that feels right to us, knowing everyone is different and what works for us is not what would work for all cruisers.  We wake up 6 – 6:30 am, have coffee while checking email, the news and weather forecast for the day, eat breakfast, then take off.  We’re cruising about 50 miles/day on average, or 6 hours, and think cruising no more than 2-3 days in a row is good before taking time off to relax, see the sights and play.  We’ll see how long this pattern holds up.


We left Titusville and continued cruising up the Indian River (which we’ve been on since the very beginning, except during our shake-down cruise to the Keys) and finally said goodbye to the Indian River when we entered the Haulover Canal, taking us into Mosquito Lagoon, which fortunately did not live up to its’ name. 

A side note: rivers here are not like rivers we’re accustomed to. Those that are part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway are brackish water, not fresh, because they’re connected to the Atlantic Ocean by inlets. So they’re also tidal, have no headlands or discernible river deltas.  They seem, to us, more like extensions of the ocean than actual rivers.  But at one time they were more conventional rivers before many of them, along with lakes and lagoons, became connected by man to create the ICW.

The photo below show’s tonight’s anchorage just south of the Memorial Bridge at the south end of Daytona Beach.  There is only one other boat here tonight, a sailboat.


Below is the Haulover Canal. It’s a mile long, about 200 feet wide, 12 feet deep and has been used for centuries, first by Native Americans and later by the military, to “haul” canoes or military cargo from the Indian River to Mosquito Lagoon, both huge bodies of water.  Everything to the right is Merritt Island or a designated Security Area, land that is part of the Kennedy Space Center or adjacent water.  Many sailboats who normally cruise the Atlantic come through an inlet to the ICW in this section to avoid going 25 miles offshore in the Atlantic to meet the requirements of the post-9/11 Security Zone around the Space Center.  We saw LOTS of sailboats today. The Haulover Canal is now on the National Historic Register.


We continue to find boats that interest or amuse us along the way. These folks were having a great time!


Look how shallow the water is where these folks are fishing!


Below is the lighthouse at Ponce de Leon inlet.


The scenery is very different here compared to southern Florida.  We find it pretty, more rural and less developed, and with far less boat traffic. Some parts of the ICW today were extremely narrow, surrounded by lowland marsh; others were wide bodies of water with shallow sandbars everywhere except in the dredged channel. We saw zillions of dolphins, manatees, pelicans and eagles today. We’re enjoying “living the life”!

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Pedestrian Pursuits

Once we returned from the Kennedy Space Center, we resumed the more pedestrian pursuits of getting the boat ready to head north in the morning: checking all the fluids, filters and strainers in the engine room; filling the water tanks in preparation for anchoring out; and hosing down the boat to remove the accumulation of salt from our earlier cruise.  Bob was hosing down the boat when he looked over the side and saw:


There were two manatees just below the scupper enjoying the fresh water flowing off the deck!  It’s illegal to purposely provide fresh water to manatees because it causes them to be accustomed to humans, and that’s a sure fire way for them to get run over by a boat, their most common cause of death. 


Spaced Out: Kennedy Space Center

We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center today around 9:30.  This self-supporting (non-tax-supported) facility does an extraordinary job of illustrating the history of the U.S. space program.  It was a day that almost, almost, made Bob want to vote for Newt, just so we could continue our quest as Newt proposes.
We began our tour in the Rocket Garden which displays a variety of rockets, almost all of which began life as ICBM’s ready to do our share of taking the human race to Armageddon but later re-purposed to take man into space.
Next we watched an IMAX movie about the construction of the International Space Station: truly extraordinary! Because it was in 3D, Cathryn found herself reaching out to grab the popcorn and oranges that were floating at her face when the astronauts “dropped” them.
We then boarded a bus to tour the various assembly and launch pad facilities spread over this huge facility.  The photo above is of the Space Center’s most famous building: the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB),  360 feet tall, and it covers a vast area, more than 8 acres.  It’s the largest single story building in the world. If you look at the flag on the upper left, the blue field is as large as a basketball court,  the stars are 6 feet from point to point, each stripe is 8 1/2 feet wide.
Inside the building it looks equally vast.  The Apollo Saturn rockets were the first spacecraft assembled in this building, followed by the Space Shuttles.  One year from now it’s scheduled to be closed for remodeling for future use in assembling the US’s next generation Space Launch System and the Orion space capsule, which is planned to be a deep space system, rather than the near-earth orbit (within 450 miles) that was the space shuttle’s mission.
The space shuttle Discovery was in the VAB being prepared for its final trip to the Smithsonian for exhibition at a facility at Dulles Airport in Washington DC . If you enlarge the lower picture you can see the heat tiles that have caused the program so much trouble and the loss of the Challenger and her crew back in 1986.
We also saw the relocated-for-exhibition Control Room used for the Apollo missions as well as Apollo 11, the vehicle which first took man to the moon.
The visit reminded us of the 1960s and 70s when we were growing up, and the US seemed to have begun a truly historic journey.  It’s sad that we don’t seem to have the same sense today.
After 5 1/2 hours we were “spaced out”.  There was lots more to see, but we just couldn’t absorb any more.  As our first “tourist” activity of the Loop it was a great beginning.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Moving North

Melbourne – Titusville, Florida

Days on the Cruise:   2

Statute Miles Today:      38.4

Time Underway:    4 hours, 20 minutes

Cumulative Miles:   93.2 miles

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The charts for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway are marked every 5 miles with a purple “statute mile marker”, (look toward the bottom on the chart above for the the 880 mile marker), counting down the miles from south to north, ending at Mile Zero at Norfolk, Virginia.  We left Fort Pierce at SM 965 and midday today crossed the 900-mile marker.


The weather continued to be cloudy with some rain this morning  as we left the Mather Bridge/Dragon Point anchorage, but turned sunny by mid-morning.

The scenery is changing as Melbourne, FL marks the northern edge of the “no frost zone”, meaning only rarely does the area south of there ever see any frost.  Palm trees are rare now, and deciduous trees predominate instead.

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We’re spending the next two nights in the Titusville Municipal Marina so we can visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral tomorrow.  This marina has fixed docks as opposed to floating docks, a first for us – all marinas in the Pacific Northwest have floating docks because the daily tidal variation is in the 8 to 15 foot range. So we fumbled a bit with tying our dock lines, but otherwise did fine. We’re still in the early stakes of learning to dock this 30,000 lb. boat, you’ll recall. The  marina is a bargain compared to the rates in south Florida: we’re paying $1.20/foot per night here, compared to the asking price of $3.05 a foot at the place we stayed in Ft. Dollardale. The $1.20 was after a 25% discount for being Boat US members.


This afternoon we noted an enormous billowing cloud of smoke across the waterway from the marina.  We’re told it was a “controlled burn” much like they do in forests in other parts of the country at times, but in this case they’re burning  old palms, scrub and other “junk” undergrowth. Who knew they did this in areas with no forests?  Not us.

We sure hope the presidential candidates quit talking about bombing the snot out of Iran.  Among other things all this war talk is driving up fuel prices.  We paid $3.94 per gallon today for 220 gallons. Ouch!



Last night was as stormy as the day had been benign and beautiful. Shortly after we anchored just north of the Mather Bridge, rain began falling in earnest, harder than it does back home. Florida is the “lightning capital of the United States”, and it decided to put on a show for us. We sat on the sundeck after dinner (couscous and shrimp with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cilantro and feta), watched the spectacular storm light up the sky, and counted to see how far away the lightning was when the rumble of thunder began. The wind blew hard for a couple of hours, our anchor held, and then it settled down as quickly as it had begun, and we had a calm night at anchor.  Back home, people say “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes; it will change”, but that seems even more true here.