Sunday, February 21, 2016

The whispy mare’s tails hanging below the clouds are virga.  They are rain falling that evaporates away and never reaches the ground.  Most of the time on this trip the rain came all the way down to us.

This large tug pushing a smaller tug overtook us south of Titusville. They were only going a little bit faster than we were.

Later, south of Vero Beach, we met the smaller of the two tugs pushing a 200ft barge with a giant crane north.  He had a still smaller tug on his hip.

I don’t know how many bridges have to open for us on the trip, but there are a lot.  This is a bascule bridge at Sisters Creek where the Intracoastal Waterway crosses the St Johns River.

We tried twice to leave the ICW and enter the Matanzas Inlet to anchor for the night.  Twice we tried, and twice we ran aground.  It was an extraordinarily low tide, and there was just not enough water.

We see a large variety of craft along the way.  We met this junk rigged sailboat in Mosquito Lagoon.

Kingsport has more than its share of crooked roadside signs, but none so bad as this one at the southern end of the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff.

Sunrises are a constant surprise.  

On rare occasions we get off the boat.  This is Mulligans at Vero Beach.

Hello from Miami.  The temperature here has been in the 70s during the day and near 60 at night.  It’s much warmer than it was when we started out.  I am a bit ahead of myself here, so let’s start at the beginning.

Bill and I intended to leave Kingsport Monday morning, January 11th, but by Sunday night too much still remained to be done.  We weren’t in a rush, so we gave it another day and relaxed.  Tuesday morning our 1978 Chevy Blazer was packed to the roof, and we left home for the 8hr drive to New Bern.

The driving part of the trip was uneventful.  That was a good thing. With 280,000 miles on the odometer, it was not a sure bet.  James Little said the scariest part of our trip was in the Blazer.

Bill had tons of boat projects to finish before we could leave New Bern. The biggest one was replacing the last two of our cracked chain plates. The chain plates are the pieces of stainless steel that attach the rigging to the boat hull.  The rigging holds up the mast.  Bill had discovered cracks in a couple of the chain plates in the fall while Irish Eyes was out of the water for her annual maintenance.  He had already replaced four of the chain plates, but he still had two to do after we got onboard.  The last two required removing some of the interior teak, lots of cussing, and Bill folding himself into a pretzel in order to reach the spots he needed to reach.  I shopped for groceries and other things we had forgotten while keeping a low profile and staying well out of his way.

The big snow storm that dumped 40 inches of snow in the northeast just brought rain and wind to New Bern.  It was colder than normal, but it was not too bad.  Bill and I waited out the weather on Irish Eyes with two electric heaters keeping us warm.  We did not want to drive the Blazer on the salty streets then leave it sitting outside for six months. The Blazer does not need any more rust, and I really don’t think it could stand a trip through the car wash.  Just think of all those rotating brushes getting caught in the rust holes.  It would destroy both the car and the car wash.

On the morning of January 25th we were ready to untie the dock lines. It was sunny but cold.  We broke through the half inch of ice that had formed overnight in the marina leaving an open path in the ice behind us.  The sound of the ice breaking was a bit unnerving.  I wondered if it was scratching our hull, but it wasn’t.

That first day was short; four hours to Cedar Creek.  The next three were all-day motoring, rather boring “adventures”.  It was cold, but we had the bus heater on the boat to keep us warm.  It used heat from the engine and a fan to blow hot air in the boat just like the heater in your car.  It was great.  Underway the boat was warm and dry, and when we anchored for the night we dropped in our hatch boards, sealed ourselves in, and stayed warm for the next few hours before we buried ourselves under blankets.

At the end of that fourth day we arrived in Little River where my sister and brother-in-law live.  Our visit with Elaine and JP was great.  We always appreciate their hospitality, but after two nights it was time to push on.  The weather was fairly warm and clear for the next couple of days.  We made excellent time getting through all of South Carolina without any problems.  It was duck hunting season, and we could hear lots of shots as we motored along.  Some of the ducks we saw this time of year, especially the mergansers and buffleheads, were so pretty I couldn’t imagine shooting one.  I guess that is why I’m not a duck hunter.

The forecast for the first few days of February was for overcast skies and rain, but there was no mention any serious wind.  We anchored in the New River between Hilton Head and Savannah on February 2 planning to leave early in the morning to pass through Fields Cut and cross the Savannah River before low tide.  Our guidebooks call the junction an “ICW Trouble Spot”.  Fields Cut is a narrow manmade canal connecting the ICW to the Savannah River.  The cut itself is shallow, and the strong currents in the Savannah River create an even shallower sand bar across its mouth.  With the addition of the tug, barge, and ship traffic coming and going from the Port of Savannah, the junction and the area around it can be a difficult place.  We met a tug pushing a fuel barge coming out of the cut as we started in, but we waited out of its way on the side for it to go past.  After getting through Fields Cut we passed over the sand bar at the Savannah River with water to spare, and crossed the river in a huge gap between two inbound ships.  In the ICW just south of the draw bridge at Causton Bluff the wind speed jumped to 20 knots, and a tug appeared ahead of us coming our way.  Bill moved over to the side and promptly ran us aground.  With the engine screaming, the wind howling, and the tug rapidly approaching, we got off the bottom, got the boat under control, and got by the tug.

This leg of the trip had two more ICW Trouble Spots; Hell Gate and Florida Passage.  Hell Gate is narrow, extremely shallow, and marked with buoys that are moved as the sand bars move.  Other boaters had reported depths of 4 feet.  It takes 5 for us to float.  The tide was almost high when we arrived at Hell Gate, but the wind was howling blowing us sideways.  We decided, well, actually, Captain Bill decided, to press on.  Fortunately, Hell Gate is not long, and we were through quickly.  The Florida Passage is supposed to be shallow, but we had no problems in that section.  I finally convinced Bill it was time to stop. The wind was still strong, and it looked more and more like rain.  At the south end of the Florida Passage we turned left into Buckhead Creek where the ICW went right in the Bear River.  We found a spot in the marsh and dropped our anchor.  It was a good thing we quit early.  The evening NPR news was interrupted several times with tornado watches and warnings.  While I had no idea where the various small towns and crossroads were, I was comforted by a map of Georgia with the county names on it.  While others did have tornados, all we had was wind and rain.  Lots of rain; 2.25 inches fell in our rain gauge!  We stayed anchored in Buckhead Creek two nights, waiting on better weather.

February 5th was Bill’s 65th birthday.  I gave him his presents at breakfast, and we were off again.  There were two more Georgia ICW Trouble Spots ahead of us, Creighton Narrows and the Little Mud River. Tide and current were in our favor, and we flew through both of them finally dropping our anchor in Wally’s Leg just north of Brunswick.  I fixed pizza for Bill’s birthday supper.  In place of the more traditional ice cream and cake, he had a giant Goo Goo Cluster the Zangris had given him for Christmas.

The bad weather returned the next morning.  It was extremely windy, and rain and thunderstorms were predicted for February 6th and 7th. The wind was forecast to come from an unfavorable direction to be comfortable in Wally’s Leg where we were anchored.  We moved a couple of miles south to a spot north of Lanier Island for better protection from the wind.  We got the wind.  Sometime in the afternoon we watched a well worn 60ft motor yacht motor slowly by us.  It went around the island and disappeared from our sight.  The forecast rain started at sundown, and the wind continued to blow.  We were comfortable in our tiny house, tucked under our covers, and fast asleep until 3:30am.  Both of us woke up to a hard thump on our hull.  We scurried outside.  In the cold windy rain we found the 60ft motor yacht alongside our boat!  Bill beat on the other boat’s hull with his fist to wake them.  Their anchor had broken loose, and their boat had drifted from over a half a mile away to hit us.  We pushed the motorboat away, and they re-anchored.  First, they chose a spot ahead.  That was not good.  If their anchor broke free again they would hit us a second time. The captain of the motorboat apparently figured that out, and they anchored again this time behind us.  Irish Eyes didn’t have any real damage, just a scuff in the paint on the hull.  They left in the morning.

The wind changed direction on Super Bowl Sunday, and we moved after the rain stopped to a very pretty, well protected anchorage in the Frederica River.  We put up our TV antenna and watched the Super Bowl as the wind calmed down.

Our next objective was to make it through Jekyll Creek, across St. Andrews Sound, and on to Cumberland Island before the next batch of high winds arrived.  Bill thought 6am was a great time to get up, but I wasn’t not so sure.  Anyway, he was the captain, and we left the Frederica River just before sunrise.  The tide was almost high as we passed through the shallow spot in Jekyll Creek; perfect.  The wind was still light, so we made it across St. Andrews Sound without the predicated six foot swells.  Once across St Andrews Sound we were behind Cumberland Island.  There the Brickhill River was a nice place to anchor to get out of the wind.  The wind was still light, so pressing our luck, we passed it by.  About an hour later as we approached the Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base, the wind started blowing a steady 20 knots, and the gusts were 25 knots.  We had come too far to turn around and go back to the Brickhill River.  So, on we went to Fernandina Beach with the wind raising a nasty chop in the Cumberland Sound as it blew over the opposing current.

Fernandina Beach has a nice marina and a nice mooring field.  The wind was blowing so hard we weren’t comfortable with the thought of trying the boat to the marina dock, and I was certain I wouldn’t be able to pick up a mooring ball, so we anchored outside of the mooring field.  We stayed there about an hour.  The wind and current were playing games, and we were just going around and around in circles twisting our anchor chain into knots.  It was getting dark when we tired of the circles, pulled up the anchor, moved about half a mile, and re-anchored near a beautiful (?) paper mill.  All the while the wind was howling.  I saw 31 knots on the wind indicator.  It seemed like it took forever to do all this. The wind finally dropped in the late evening.  What a day!

We were up again the next morning before the sun.  While it was nearly calm, the wind forecast for the afternoon was a steady 30 knots with gusts to 40 knots.  By leaving early, we could make some southerly progress before the wind picked up.  Before noon the wind had started blowing again.  We passed several spots to anchor, but Captain Bly, I mean Captain Bill, said it wasn’t afternoon yet, and we needed to go on. I finally convinced him we didn’t need to try and cross the St John’s River with its currents and commercial boat traffic in the strong wind.  We anchored in the Ft. George River.  The wind was blowing 35 knots, and it took us three attempts before we finally found a spot out of the waterway traffic with enough room for the boat to swing and with enough depth to float the boat at the coming low tide.  Anchoring in the tight and shallow spot was rather scary.  I wasn’t a happy sailor.  It took me a while before I could talk to Bill again.  The wind once again died at sunset, so we had a comfortable night watching two tugs and their barges pass down the ICW just 250ft away.
The next day was cold. We were motoring along dressed in our long underwear, multiple layers of shirts and pants, and our down coats.  We were in Florida, so why was it cold?  It had to be warmer farther south, so on we went.  The wind was still blowing hard, but it was calming down as we motored along.  We intended to anchor near the old Spanish fort in the Matanzas Inlet.  It was dead low tide.  We could see a tow boat pulling a 70ft motorboat off a sandbar just south of the inlet.  We made our turn into the inlet and found the bottom ourselves.  We got off that sandbar and tried again.  We found a different sandbar.  The tow boat circled and watched us like a vulture.  It didn’t look like we would be getting into the Matanzas Inlet anchorage at low tide.  We pressed on south and found still another sandbar in the ICW.

The sun was setting.  It was getting dark.  Each of us looked at the chart and read the guidebooks.  The next anchorage was about 2 hours away. It had the not so welcoming name of “Cement Plant” and a not so positive note that said “not many cruisers stop here anymore, room for one smaller boat”.  About an hour away was a small marina at Marineland, a dolphin research center.  Bill called the dockmaster who was on his way home.  The dockmaster took our credit card information over the phone and said go right in and tie up.  He also said there were some shallow spots in the marina, but not to worry, the bottom was mud, so just push on through.  Irish Eyes floated in the entrance channel but slowly came to a complete stop.  We revved up the engine and pushed our 5ft draft thru the mud, got lines on the dock, and pulled ourselves alongside with our sheet winch where we lay leaning slightly to port.  All the bottom paint on the front of the keel was probably scraped away, but we were safely tied to the dock. On our way out the next morning the tide was higher, but we still had to push through the mud.

The weather was getting warmer each day.  We motored from sunrise to sunset most days.  We spent one night anchored off Cocoa where we went shopping and had a pizza.  We stopped for three nights in Vero Beach for showers, laundry, shopping, and a little exercise.  It was so warm one day in Vero that we walked out to the beach.  It was lovely.

There were 33 bridges that had to open for us in the two days that we traveled between Jupiter and Miami.  We were lucky and timed the bridge openings fairly well.  The section went faster and with less frustration than in previous years.  We were anchored off Miami Beach and having a celebratory drink by 2:30 of the second day, February 19; not bad, 936 miles traveled in 26 days.

Right now we are putting away our winter clothes, doing boat chores, shopping, enjoying the town, and relaxing on board.

I will try to write more often from here on. Until now it has been too cold to stay up and type, or I have been too exhausted.  We are perfectly fine, and we hope you all are too.

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