Saturday, July 13, 2013

Yet Another U-Turn, Just Because We Can

Last we left off Pearl was sitting in the extreme northeast corner of Florida in Fernandina Beach waiting for an opportunity to head north. After talking to more folks about going up the ICW through Georgia we were convinced it would be long, boring and provide many challenges with shoaling and groundings. We had decided to do as many offshore steps as we could to avoid this but this meant waiting for a weather window. A week passed by with the weather pattern always the same. Strong southerly winds with high sea state and strong thunderstorms passing through every day especially late afternoon and evening when we would be trying to enter an inlet to our next destination. The show was fun watching these storms go around or on top of us. We knew the trip up could be a challenge so we lined up some custom weather support from the cruiser weather man Chris Parker to help when we did leave.

Gayleen insisted I get a picture with the plastic shark just like all the other tourists so here you go...

After waiting for a week the weather pattern was not supposed to change for at least another week or more. This is the summer pattern and it seems we missed the opportunity to sail in the spring pattern due to our late return from the Bahamas and the repair work on the fuel tank. This made us rethink what we wanted to do. Motoring up the ICW another 3 or more weeks was something we didn't want to do. Even if the weather pattern changed we would only reach New England in August just in time to head back south. Not having the option to spend time in New England with family and friends we realized the only reason we were heading north was because our insurance company said we had to be there for the summer to be out of hurricane territory. We could have gone up to the Chesapeake Bay but the folks we spoke to that stay in Florida told us its hotter and especially more humid there and they decided not to make that run north any more. After a short call to the insurance company we were set up with a policy that would let us stay in Florida for less cost than the amount of fuel we would have burned going north and returning. We decided to stay in Florida for the summer and did one of our favorite cruising maneuver, the U-Turn and headed back south down the ICW to central Florida. Its sad we will not make it back "home" this summer but next year we should be able to get a much earlier start. One thing about cruising. You need to remain flexible and you can always change your plans at any time.

The trip back down was a lot easier. The chart plotter plots a line on your path as you go so all we needed to do was follow the line backwards to stay in the deep parts of the channel and avoid grounding. Our first destination was St. Augustine for the Fourth of July fireworks. We were making good time motoring and even putting the jib up occasionally to increase our speed. In mid afternoon the reliable storm front came through. Amazingly, this was the worst weather we had experienced on Pearl and being in the narrow ICW with other boat traffic it made for a nerve racking 20 minutes. It was raining buckets of water, the wind was howling, the boat was heeling on bare spars and we could hardly see. We turned on the running lights and mast lights so others could see us. Gayleen was at the helm and did a great job making sure we stayed between the marks that delineated the channel. The chart plotter is of limited use at times because the maps are not all that accurate in the ICW. There are many stretches where it shows you are crossing land when you are really in the channel so we needed to keep looking for the next mark or other boats. Once again, Gayleen found a use for a winter item that she brought along. Her ski goggles kept the rain off her glasses so she could see better.

The skies cleared and we made it to St Augustine right at slack tide to cross the swirling current junction of the ICW and the St Augustine inlet. We grabbed a mooring ball just on the other side of the bridge where they put the fireworks barge, went to our favorite pizza place "Pizza Time" and got another of the best mushroom pizzas I have ever had and settled in awaiting the fireworks the next evening.

The St Augustine fireworks did not disappoint. We had almost a front row seat and watched the show from Pearl's cockpit.

On July 5th we continued south with the idea of heading back to our defacto home port, Harbortown Marina, in Ft Pierce. Most of the cruisers have already gone north or settled into their summer home so the boat traffic on the ICW is mostly local fishermen or weekend warriors. There were some occasional cruisers and the friendly ones would speak on the radio sharing comments about shoaling or bridge timing. We spoke a couple of times with a power boat aka trawler named Viking Star coordinating passing through draw bridges at the same time. On the second day we said good bye as they were going to stay overnight in New Symrna Beach as we continued south. Late in the day they reappeared off our stern so I called them on the radio asking if they were stalking us. In return we got a laugh and they said "you should be so lucky!". It turned out we were headed for the same anchorage so I offered to let him go ahead because he was faster knowing that his draft is 6 inches deeper than ours and if he ran aground entering the anchorage we wouldn't follow. They got there about 15 minutes before us and guided us in close to land to get out of the strong winds. Gordon and Kate from Viking Star are very nice and invited us over for dinner and of course we couldn't pass up the opportunity to see how the other half (power boating cruisers) live.

They used to cruise on a sail boat for several years so we had a lot to talk about. We really enjoyed having drinks on their roof deck then moving down to their living room and having dinner at their kitchen table. They even had a full sized refridgerator! We just kept telling ourselves that they had to burn fuel to get if we haven't been doing this since we got back from the Bahamas.

The next morning we parted ways as they were almost at their destination. We headed south towards Ft Pierce and although we had made a reservation at Harbortown Marina we checked out all the marinas along the way to see what was available. Now for my rant...sometimes the way people run their businesses amaze me. Harbortown had our business locked in but they didn't have a slip available with 30 amp electrical service and they wanted to put us in a slip that had 50 amp service. This would require an adapter. Instead of accommodating us, they decided we needed to pay them $40 to accommodate them. Without this extra fee they were already a little more expensive than everyone on the area and the Harbormaster wouldn't budge and give us the adapter..its just a stupid little cable that adapts connectors. In fact, most marinas have both 30 and 50 amp plugs at every slip. If they would have lent us the cable they would have has us there paying for 1 to 4 months in the slowest time of the year for them. In the end they helped us find another place that fits us even better, we are in beautiful Loggerhead Marina about 10 miles north of Ft Pierce in Vero Beach Florida. It is a very protected marina from storms and storm surge should a large storm pass through and is one of the nicest marinas we have seen. Pearl is sitting happily in a slip on B Dock.

While Gayleen enjoys the pool each day.

The staff is amazing and take very good care of us providing bicycles to explore with and get groceries and giving us access to a big grill to cook on. It is quiet this time of year but there are several other cruisers on sailboats that we met in the Captains Lounge. We had a "Happy Hour" last evening and the Marina put on a breakfast for everyone today. We are here for at least a month and then may extend as we wait out hurricane season to be able to get back to the Bahamas at the beginning of November.

One of the benefits of Loggerhead Marina is that it is part of a chain of marinas in several of the larger cities in Florida. If you are on a monthly lease at one, you can stay up to 15 days each month at any of the others for free. We may renew and take advantage of the other Loggerhead Marinas down south when Trevor and Speed come to visit in August.

That's our story as of today. Our plans are always subject to change so we never know what tomorrow will bring.
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