At Ease is on the market-
Nov 7 – 18, 2020 –
As high winds were forecast, and with Hurricane Eta meandering around the Gulf, we elected to head off the ICW, up the St Johns River past Jacksonville. We were not able to get into the popular Ortega Landing marina there, instead docking at Lambs Yacht Center.
Wow! What a facility; very sturdy concrete pilings, concrete docks, even concrete roofs over many of the slips. A real hurricane hole, with a lot of gorgeous yachts tucked inside for long-term storage.
Here are just a couple…
For just $7500 per day, you can charter Innisfail; she was built in the 1930s during America’s “golden age of yachting.” This maritime masterpiece was pressed into service (as were many other private yachts in that period) and served as an armed patrol boat during World War II and then served our U.S. Presidents until she was decommissioned by the U.S. navy in 1965. During the 20th century she wowed royalty and heads of state with her magnificent craftsmanship. Guests included Presidents Kennedy, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon and Clinton as well as Charles de Gaulle and Anwar Sadat. (from the charter listing)
When it looked like Hurricane Eta was going to head back along the panhandle, we left Ortega and traveled back out the St Johns River to rejoin the ICW enroute to St Augustine. On the way, the forecasted storm track was updated, and was now bearing down right across Florida, between Jacksonville and St Augustine. Oh, great….
We hustled on down to St Augustine to take a mooring ball again, and wait the passage of the now weakened storm. The next day, it tore through quickly, with just a few hours of winds in the 40s, and then the skies cleared and the sun came out. Whew!
We stayed on the mooring ball another night in St Augustine before continuing to press on south. We stopped in Daytona for fuel, and stayed the night at Halifax Harbor Marina, where we got to see the Canaveral launch of an Atlas rocket at sunset. We were very excited to get down to Titusville to anchor where we could see the first SpaceX launch with astronauts to the space station, but a launch delay and poor weather led to us bypassing and going to anchor in Melbourne. Drat!
We stopped at Vero Beach, and met with friends Chris and Alyse Caldwell, whose boating consulting/training business is based there. We got some great tips on crossing the Okechobee Waterway, a shortcut across Florida to the Gulf Coast (instead of going all the way down and across the Keys. And we got to enjoy a double rainbow from the aft deck!
The next day we pushed down to enter the St Lucie River, the entrance to the Okechobee Waterway.
The Okeechobee Waterway begins in the Gulf of Mexico, proceeds along the Caloosahatchee River, crosses Lake Okeechobee, continues through the St. Lucie River then enters the Indian River before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. It extends 154 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and incorporates the Caloosahatchee River, two channels through Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie River, and passes through the Indian River Lagoon. The system is controlled by 5 lock and dam structures, 3 on the Caloosahatchee and 2 on the St. Lucie, and traverses many miles of untouched Florida Everglades and thousands of acres of Old Florida scrub and ranchland.
Our first stop was at Indiantown Marina, a few miles before the Port Mayaca lock that opens to Lake Okechobee. The lake is the second-largest lake (behind Lake Michigan) in the contiguous 48 States and the largest contained within a single state. Lake Okeechobee was known to Florida’s Seminole Indians as “Oki Chubi,” which means “Big Water.”
And with a stiff north wind, it certainly felt like Big Water as we exited the lock and endured several hours of 3-6 foot waves on the beam (from the side) as we made the crossing to Clewiston. We continued on to Moorehaven where we’d spend the night at the free city dock (with a small charge for electric). When we got to the Moorehaven lock, we were amazed at the large ‘rafts’ of floating vegetation that we had to plow through going into, and out of, the lock chamber.
The locks on the waterway were different from any others that we encountered on the Loop; rather than pipes and valves that equalize the levels for boats going up and down by letting water into or out of the chamber, they simply crack open the doors a bit, and let the water gush in, or out (depending on which direction you are going). We make sure to have a good grip on the lines that attach the boat to the lock wall at bow and stern, lest we get ‘flushed’ by the swirling water.
We left Moorehaven on a bright, but very windy, day for the final 55 miles down to Fort Myers. Naturally, the wind kicked up into the 20s as we got closer to the marina, and made the docking a bit challenging, but we ended the day in good shape, having come 1394 miles, on 21 travel days, since leaving Herrington Harbor North in the central Chesapeake Bay on October 18th.
Oct 31 – Nov 6, 2020 – With a freshly painted bottom, we were back in the water on Friday the 30th, and had a chance to walk to a local seafood market for some fresh shrimp, scallops and snapper to prepare over the next few days.
Another pretty sunset, and then a nice sunrise to start our next leg south.
We pushed on into South Carolina, hoping to make a series of long days with good weather. We’d decided that this wasn’t going to be the trip for lots of sightseeing trips, so we were up and onward before sunrise almost every day. High winds had us hole up at Tolers Cove Marina for a few days, just short of Charleston, and then on to Beaufort, SC, where we took a mooring ball again, like we did on our way north. Cheap, and easy in/out.
Then it was into Georgia, where we anchored in the Wahoo River; 8 foot tidal swing in the bend of a river, so the current first went one way, then the other, over the course of the night.
As we left, we fell in behind this shrimper heading out at Sapelo Sound.
As we passed St Simons Sound, we could see the progress being made on dismantling the huge car-carrying freighter that had capsized there in September 2019. It’s being sliced into sections, to be loaded on barges and taken for scrap.
Coming down the North River past the city of St. Marys, we turn past the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet’s home port for U.S. Navy Fleet Ohio-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines. This time, there’s one in port.
We crossed the border into Florida, staying first on anchor at Fernandina Beach, before continuing on south. We took a 25-mile diversion up the St Johns River to Jacksonville, where we’d use a few days to clean the boat, reprovision, do laundry, and wait out the stormy conditions and high winds forecast into early next week, that may or may not be associated with Tropical Storm Eta.
We actually had a tough time securing a slip, because a lot of other boaters were also changing their plans to head to marinas, or to stay there longer, due to the storms, but were fortunate to get a spot at Lambs Yacht Center. Very interesting place – many covered slips, but unlike many of the other lightly built structures that we’ve seen, these are all made of concrete, and very, very robust. Pilings, walkways, roofs – all concrete. Serious hurricane-proof concrete.
We will post some more pictures later of some of the beautiful yachts docked here.
October 18-26, 2020 – Departing our long-time home marina at Herrington Harbour North, on Oct 18, we started our fall migration, joining for the first time the seasonal movement of boaters heading for warmer climes, many to Florida or beyond.
The West Marine in Deale was stocked to overflowing with shrinkwrap materials, and other winterizing supplies; pallets of pink and purple antifreeze (for freshwater systems, and raw-water cooling circuits) crowded the aisles.
Not for us!
It felt great to be underway, with a purpose, again. Our first jump was modest, down to Solomons Island to see our friends’ new boat. They were still in acquisition mode when we last visited, and now they are well on their way to gaining familiarity with the boat that will take them on their Loop when the time is right.
Then, taking advantage of terrific weather conditions for a week, we really pressed the miles, over the successive week, before finally pausing in Caroline Beach for two nights, before making a ‘pit-stop’ to refresh the bottom-paint on the boat. We took advantage of ‘first light’, the time before actual sunrise to lift the anchor and get underway, to offset the shortening day-length of the fall season.
After stopping at Hampton, VA, we headed out early in some mild fog past the Norfolk Naval Base. We passed one of the carriers as the flag was being raised, and we could hear the loudspeakers playing ‘To the Colors’; Ben stood at attention.
We moved ashore into an AirBnB apartment for a few days, while work was being done, and we will wait for the windy conditions from tropical storm Zeta to abate, before continuing our journey south.
Earlier this summer, we were very proud to be offered the opportunity to have our boat featured in Soundings Magazine. It’s in the September 2020 issue, in their Used Boats column. We bought up the supply of the paper magazines at the local West Marine store, but you can read the article here: Carver 445 Aft Cabin: This motoryacht took one cruising couple on the adventure of a lifetime.
We were surprised at the fuel dock one day when a boat pulled up, and the people said- “Hey, we saw your boat in the magazine!”
June 5, 2020 – Today would be the culmination of our Great Loop journey, the day that would take us back to Norfolk, to where we started on May 10, 2019, after the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous.
We were like the freshmen then, joining the seasoned crowd that already had journeyed together up the East Coast, soaking up their practical knowledge and finding out how much more we had to learn. We made many friends here that we continued to see over the many miles that we’d go in 2019 and 2020.
We left Coinjock Marina early, where the dockhands had stacked us in pretty tight, so getting ourselves extricated with a slight breeze and a fair current made it an interesting proposition. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.
It was a 30 mile run through a winding channel, to the first bridge that we’d need to call for an opening. As it turned out, three faster boats caught up to us right before the bridge, so as we all held station waiting for the 10:00 opening, we let them all squeeze past. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.
The next bridge, 5 miles away, opened on the half hour, so we all needed to move down there smartly, lest we arrive a minute too late, and have to dangle around for 30 minutes more. We needed to speed it up a little right at the end, and it turned out that there was some maintenance activity that left only a very narrow channel. But nothing we hadn’t handled before.
Then just three miles to the Battlefield Boulevard Bridge, that coincided with the Great Bridge Lock. We entered the lock and tied up in a bit of a crosswind, but nothing we hadn’t handled before.
Then into the busy section of the river, with wharfs and piers, and barges and tows. Navy ship yards and security boats. More work crews working on bridges that we had to slow for, and then from around a right angle turn at a bridge, we spotted a tow with a barge that would arrive at the narrow bridge at the same time as we would.
Ben slowed, and hailed the tow captain, to let him know that we would slow down and hold on our side of the bridge for him to pass. “Captain, I am going to turn across the channel into that construction yard, why don’t you come on by me on the two,” was his reply. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.
And then, we were a mile from the Waterside Marina. One mile to go. As we motored the last mile down the Elizabeth River, we were proud of how we’d grown, what we had accomplished and the experiences we got to share with so many new friends, but a bit sad that what’s driven us for the past year is actually over. The wind picked up a bit, and it started to rain. No problem. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.
As we pulled into the tight Waterside Marina, it was a lot emptier than last time, when it was packed with Loopers. Ken and Linda Horton, local Harbor Hosts, were there with cameras to record the big moment, and even brought champagne to help us celebrate. When the lines were tied and the engines shut down, what a feeling!
Completing a long-held goal. An accomplishment for the two of us, with experiences we got to share with so many. Personal growth, as individuals, and as a team. Stronger, more capable, more resilient. So many new friends made, and two, sadly, lost.
Now what? Stay tuned…
June 2-4, 2020 – The boat was in New Bern. It needs to be in Norfolk.
So we went, leaving at 8:30 when the Alfred Cunningham Bridge would open after morning ‘rush hour’. Back down the Neuse River 25 miles, to rejoin the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, that we would follow to its terminus, Mile Zero, at Norfolk.
Just as we approached that point, an AIS target showed sailing vessel ‘Fleetwing’, which belongs to Bob Scherer, aka Bob423, the guru for cruising the ICW. We had bought his book, we downloaded and followed his tracks through every tricky spot we have recounted over the past month, and anchored at his ‘special anchorages’ (except when we couldn’t, because somebody else who bought his book beat us to them!).
The Pamlico sound was pretty nice to us, and we soon stopped at a rustic seafood depot that sold fuel, seafood, and rented space on their big working docks to cruisers like us. A place with character – splinters, and a little smelly.
The next day we pushed more than 75 miles, all the way up the Alligator River. At the top, where it outlets to the Albemarle Sound, is a swing bridge, that has in recent years been notoriously trouble-prone. Sometimes boats have had to wait for days for a needed part to arrive and be installed, to allow it to open to allow transit. We figured that the sooner we were past it, the better.
We anchored near a point that we thought would offer good protection from a stiff and gusty southwest wind, but we pulled up the anchor after a few hours of a miserable swell, and moved around the corner to enjoy a much smoother night.
Thursday we crossed the Albemarle Sound, and continued on to dock at the Coinjock Marina, a popular stop for boats transiting the ICW. They are known for their prime rib – we got the 32 oz Captain’s Cut, and it was terrific.
One more day to go before we wind up back where we started.
May 19 – June 2, 2020 – As we began moving north in April, the big question was how hard was it going to be to get necessary services (like fuel, water and pumpouts) amid the uncertainty and restrictions of the coronavirus response, as we transited the states that comprise the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Overlay on that the impending hurricane season, and wanting to have at least a little bit of certainty. Where would we stop (or could we stop) and for how long? And then what?
So, we’d made arrangements to pull 25 miles off the ICW in New Bern, NC, as a secure, and pleasant (in normal times, anyway) place to pause, while the Virginia and Maryland stances on COVID-19 boating restrictions relaxed. We wound up staying at the New Bern Grand Marina for two weeks, that coincided with the State’s progression to Phase 2 of their return to normalcy.
New Bern, North Carolina’s second oldest town, was founded in 1710 by a Swiss nobleman who named it after his native city of Berne, Switzerland. Bern means “bear” and the “Bern Bear” symbol is seen on the flag. Commemorative cast-iron bear heads decorate the historic City Hall and Central Fire Station, and all around town (see photo)
Stores open, restaurants serving, farmers market operational. Ahhh!
Good friends Bill and Geni, on Patriot, joined us early in our first week, and it was nice to catch up and plan our respective summers, over docktails. We even helped Bill celebrate a momentous birthday, at a local waterfront restaurant!
We decided to defer retrieval of our car from storage in Ft Lauderdale, so we took the bikes down and made a grocery run, and walked the town for exercise.
When we leave New Bern on June 2, we’ll be on the final leg of our Loop journey, with just a couple hundred miles to Norfolk.
May 17-19, 2020 – We knew there was a low pressure system brewing in the south Atlantic, as well as an even larger system brewing in the center of the country, and we figured we’d need to find a place to hunker down within the next day or so to let the uncertainty play out.
When we woke up on Sunday, it was indeed Tropical Storm Arthur, and the leading fringes would probably drop some showers on us as we moved on from Wilmington. Our track actually took us first southwest back down the Cape Fear River, to rejoin the ICW, before being more west-to-east. We left at first light, and passed by Phil and Karen’s home before 9; they’d offered to take some pictures of us as we passed, and from high on his third floor deck, Phil got a great angle of the boat with the barrier island and the ocean in the background.
The wind was very stiff on our bow all day, exceeding 30 knots, although waves in the ICW were generally small. We could see the leading edge fringes of the Tropical Storm begin to encroach, and felt the occasional showers more frequently.
At one point, the burgee on our bow begin to oscillate even more than it had a few moments before – turns out it was due to the metal being fatigued, and seconds later it snapped off, and the flag snagged momentarily on a storage bag we have mounted to the bow. Ben sprinted forward, onto the deck, and was able to retrieve it. Whew, we will have to remount our tattered white burgee for the last few hundred miles of our Loop, but we still have it !
Our first choice marina turned out to have no room for us, so we pressed on to a protected anchorage at Mile Hammock Bay, nestled up next to Camp Lejeune. We anchored with a couple of sailboats there, laying out lots of chain for the predicted blow.
As it turned out, though, the winds stayed in the mid-teens, and the rain stayed light to moderate, with no thunderstorms.
In the morning, it looked like the last of Arthur would clear the Morehead City / Beaufort area around mid-day, and the winds would lighten up later in the afternoon. Conditions later in the week were only predicted to worsen, so we thought it might be best to press on, rather than get pinned down where we were.
As we continued, we passed through a very strict swing bridge, that warned us not to be late for the opening EXACTLY ON the hour. This area adjoins a Camp Lejeune firing range, and fortunately we came by in the morning, as they often close down the waterway in the afternoons for gunnery practice.
We saw plentiful evidence of past hurricanes, and the damage they wrought to buildings, boats, and trees. Even now, some years later, the remnants remain.
We bypassed Morehead City and Beaufort, and pressed on up the ICW to stop short of the Neuse River. In more pleasant times, we’d have like to have stopped on one or the other; the two towns are across the river from each other, and feature history and good seafood. But we didn’t want to dock at either one in the high wind, and then get trapped there for the even worse weather expected in for the rest of the week. We figured we can go back on the nice sunny day of our choosing, by car, and get even more enjoyment, especially as the coronavirus comeback is scheduled to move to Phase 2 this weekend, and restaurants will start to reopen for onsite dining.
We anchored, again amidst a bunch of sailboats, and with crab-trap floats all around, at Cedar Creek.
We awoke to rain, with more forecast, but no thunderstorms. We watched the radar, and picked a time to leave that we thought might give the best chance to arrive at New Bern in light(er) rain.
The conditions on the lower Neuse River were quite rough, with swell and waves from a stiff east wind whipping things up the length of Pimlico Sound. The rain intensity varied, but remained continuous as we made our way into smoother conditions, and finally docked around midday at the New Bern Grand Marina.
Ahhh, to rest here for a few weeks, and get ourselves ready for the summer months ahead!