Monday, June 18, 2018

Georgia on my mind...

This evening Kintala is anchored just off the ICW, north of a place called Isle of Hope Marina. We are a day from finishing our first transit of Georgia, and it was a good idea to come this way. There are many cruiser / ICW tales of woe - stories about how hard it can be to navigate these waters. The trick, or so it seems to me after this one try, is to remember that Georgia has plenty of water that is deep enough to get through, it just isn’t available all day every day in every place. Jekyll Creek and Hell Gate are two places famous for being thin, with a few others where shoaling seems to come and go, sometimes ruining someone’s day. By pure happenstance, the days we came through were ones with the tides working completely in our favor. Low tides were in the morning hours, high in the early afternoons. Excellent planning, all Deb’s doing, had us hitting the skinniest spots at or near maximum water, and we spent most of each day riding a rising tide. With a tidal range up to three feet higher than Kintala’s keel is deep, only once did we see less than 3 feet under said keel; that being the first couple of hundred feet after entering Hell Gate northbound.

A good bit of time in Georgia is spent looking at the shallow mud along the channel

This is also a pretty part of the ICW, particularly the part north of Hell Gate. The southern part of the Georgia ICW is salt marsh, pretty in its own way but with a certain aroma, particularly at low tide, that is - how shall I say - “unique”? North of Hell Gate, where we are now, is pine forest. The water is less brown, more green, and there are plenty of dolphins for company.  An altogether pleasant place to pass through.

Large barges pass this way too. This one had a draft of only 2 feet when we checked its side with binoculars

Another interesting part of the Georgia ICW are the inlets. St. Mary’s, St. Andrews, St. Simons, Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, St. Catherine's, and Ossabaw are all pretty big bits of water and open to the Atlantic, each capable of administering a serious thrashing to the unwary. Their particular forte is stacking swift tidal flows against the winds, making for steep, often confused seas. Toss in a passing thunderstorm or two and things can get downright exciting. Crossing a couple of them has the wayfaring boat just a few hundred yards inside the sound, sometimes with the bow pointed off shore. Keep going and make landfall in North Africa somewhere.

These two photos are almost the same, but I liked them both so here they are

These are not protected, thin little channels snaking their way though a swamp. Again, we caught a good ride, though the southern branch of the Ossabaw Sound gave us a hint of what it could do during our approach to Hell Gate. A nearby baby rain shower accelerated the onshore breeze into the low 20s. Flying the jib close hauled on that wind gave us a good push onward, making it possible to pass through Hell Gate today instead of anchoring up and waiting for high tide tomorrow. (Seven knots as opposed to four will do that for you.) But that same wind put a sharp edge on waves being stacked close together. They were way too small to be much of an issue for 25,000 pounds worth of sailboat on a full honk, but were just enough to let one know that things could get much, much more interesting in a very short amount of time.

Muted light at the end of the day in Crescent River, GA

One can hardly talk about passing through these parts without mentioning the abundance of deer flies. They can bite right through a light shirt, not surprising since they bite through deer hide. But they do offer a time-filling distraction to the person not standing at the helm. After a couple of hours' practice one will start scoring a kill on 8 out of ten swatter attacks. A perfect hit leaves the corpse on the swatter, making for an easy toss to feed the fish. They are tough little buggers though, sometimes taking a serious smack and still flying away.

Moving south through these waters in the fall might be a touch easier without the regular assault of convective weather. Then again, the days are shorter making the tide v miles v daylight computations a bit trickier. We might give it a go. Though the outside passage around Georgia can be painless and save time, these are waters too pretty to miss. Cooler weather would make passing this way about perfect, and maybe the deer flies will be out of season as well.

"There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon." 
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 15, 2018

New Water

It was with a bit of reluctance that we dropped the mooring ball in St. Augustine and headed north. One of the best stops on that first trip South was spending Christmas at St. Augustine, so we like hanging around the place. But hurricane season is already here and Blowin’ In The Wind is still far ahead.

A couple of days later Sister’s Creek also managed to capture us for a few days. When we arrived a swift current was flowing upriver, carrying us past the dock in the narrow channel. The plan was to turn the boat around in a wide spot we knew about from being there before, then approach the dock into the current. The wide spot was completely potted over, tossing that plan into the dust bin. As the dock swept past, Deb asked what I was going to do. I didn’t have a clue. With no other option I started goosing the Beast without mercy while holding the helm hard over, trying to get the bow to swing up into the current without smashing it into the dock. Maybe Deb would be able to lasso a cleat or a piling from the bow, snub us up, and let the current swing the stern to the dock.

But she didn’t need to. The bow kept coming around without the boat going forward much. The angle of approach got better and better. The hull came to rest parallel to, and about six inches from the dock, bow into the current, the now-just-off-idle Beast holding us stationary against the flowing water. Deb took the small step to the pier, cleated lines fore and aft, and there we were. It was a perfect landing the would look good on my new Captain’s license.

It was also pure luck.

The first night we shared the dock with a really nice looking trawler, but we never saw any hint of the crew. Night two had us sharing space with three other boats, and then sharing drinks, stories, and jokes. It was a good time. Two boats left the next morning, the third the morning after with new friends Kelly and Melissa. But later that afternoon we were joined by another nice looking trawler. This one had a friendly crew and some good stories of their own.

Another reason for our stay was less obvious: we simply couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do next. The debate was to go outside, catching up to Blowin’ In The Wind in one big jump. That would also allow us to bypass the shallow bits on this part of the ICW. Shallow bits that are not my favorite part of taking the inside path. But we have never been through Georgia before and it has been two years since Kintala put new water under her keel. A schedule change for Blown’ In The Wind means we have an extra week to catch up. Should we make the outside jump, we would have to find a place to just hang on the hook for more than a week. Why not see some new places? A last consideration was the unrelenting thunderstorms that have flowered every afternoon for weeks. It is comforting to be sitting secure when the winds blow, the lightning flashes, and the rains fall.

That was on our mind because, just two miles short of settling onto the dock at Sister’s Creek we had, for the first time in five years, made a quick stop in the face of an oncoming storm. As the lightning fell and the rain shield slashed its way toward us, Deb pulled the boat a few feet off the channel while I moved to the foredeck to toss the hook. It hit the water just as the rain found us, setting hard as the wind gusts pushed us backward. The snubber went on and stretched out without any help from the Beast. About a quarter mile away a Coast Guard Cutter went to station keeping, stopping dead on their approach to the channel and then using their massive engines and bow thrusters to hold position as the storm crashed over us.

A storm too big for a Coast Guard Cutter to dance with is way too much for Kintala. Every afternoon has been the same, the storms then rampaging offshore every night. We are not huge fans of night passages anyway, though we do them when we need to. But night passages and the kinds of storms we have been seeing these last few weeks? No thanks. After a lifetime making a living in the sky I try to avoiding having that kind of excitement in my life.

So we are in new water tonight, anchored between islands just north of the St. Mary’s inlet. The worst of the storms appear to be past. Tomorrow we will start to pick our way through Georgia, figuring it will take five or six days as we balance the tides against the miles and the shallow spots, aiming to be at anchor before the evening light show starts. Sometimes a not-favorite-thing-to-do can still be something worth doing.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What are the odds?

Daughter Eldest and family have been struggling with getting Blowin’ In The Wind to ride to her anchor without getting the rode wrapped around the keel. A cure would be 60 to 80 feet of chain spliced to 200 feet or so of rope. But that is a bunch of money and ours is a family of budget cruisers, wandering as far and a long as we can, then stopping to work when the cruising kitty gets too anemic to carry us any further. Living this way means just putting up with some annoying realities. I, for example, would love to have an ice maker, a water maker, an anchor wash-down system, and an auto pilot with a certain level of sophistication. But getting them would mean spending a couple of years working for someone else in order to pay for it all, an even more annoying reality.

Blowin’ In The Wind has her own annoying habits, including having the anchor rode prone to getting tangled up in the keel.

Since Kintala is still in St. Augustine we wandered up to Sailor’s Exchange to see what we might find that would be a cost effective cure to their problems. We were going to provision instead, but Sailor’s Exchange closes early on Saturday and is closed on Sunday. We had hoped for some used chain, which they claimed that they had when we called. But all they really had was new chain at new chain prices, and way too large anyway. We did find a 15 pound kellet that might do the trick. Add a carabiner to hang it on the anchor rode and a retrieving line to pull the weight off the bottom, and their problem just might be solved. Not as good an answer as a better rode, but better than nothing, and at a modest price. I lugged the thing back to our boat feeling pretty good about coming up with something to make their cruising life a little easier.

This morning was the provisioning run. It is about an hour’s walk to the store from here so the plan was to hoof it over, fill up the shopping cart with enough stores to get us caught up to Blowin’ In The Wind, and make use of Uber to get it all back to the marina. Then we would load the Ding and get ready to depart in the morning. That meant we needed to start our day a little earlier than is our usual want when resting at anchor or on a mooring.

As we nosed the Ding up to the dock we noticed a young man hauling a nice looking run of chain and rode out of his dingy. Deb asked if he was getting rid of it, and we were informed that he has just bought a new boat and didn’t care for the chain / rope rode that came with it. An all chain rode was purchased, and he was taking the “old one” to storage. Apparently when he said, “New boat,” he meant a really new boat, not an old boat new to him. The stuff he was taking to storage had never even been in the water.

Deb went into deal making overdrive. The next thing I knew we were loading an (est.) 80 feet of brand new chain spliced to an (est.) 150 feet of brand new 3/4” three strand nylon into the Ding. All in exchange for $100 cash. The young man was happy that he didn’t need to lug the mass to storage where it would likely sit for years before someone tossed it out. We were happy that he was happy.

I have a pretty uncomplicated view of the universe, not giving much credence to the idea of anything or anyone being loose in the cosmos who even knows we exist, let alone bothers itself with our individual trials and tribulations. But what are the chances that we and this young man would pick the exact same day, and the exact same time, and be in the exact same spot to cross paths while just going about our lives?  What are the chances that he would decide to replace the rode on his new boat and be willing to part with the old one? It is, after all, a nice bit of kit and perfectly adequate for what he says he plans to do with his boat. And what are the chances that we happened to have $100 in our pockets that could be traded, on the spot, before the young man changed his mind?

Pretty slim, I would say. But I am really happy that it worked out the way it did. And I don’t much care as to the reasons why or how.

Tomorrow we head out for the last few of days of travel that should, if the cosmos continues to smile upon us, catch us up to Blowin’ In the Wind. We have a boat load of stuff for them, and they have a boat load of stories for us.

Just because they can

Kintala, now riding to a mooring ball in St. Augustine, is slowly catching up to Blowin' In the Wind. The Florida Peninsula’s fascination with afternoon thunderstorms has kept us on our toes.  With careful planning and a good dose of luck, we have managed to avoid getting blasted while working our way through the narrow, winding, and sometimes shallow channels that make up parts of the ICW around here. Today, and not for the first time this trip, we settled onto the mooring ball with thunder rumbling, rain shafts dropping near by, and lighting flashing. The storms responsible had already sparked a weather warning from the Coast Guard, with tales of heavy rain, hail, water spouts, and damaging winds. They rolled right up to St. Augustine, paused, then went past slightly to the south. We barely got wet.

St. Augustine in the twilight

The folks at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina have been nothing but helpful and friendly. The facility took a pretty good beating from Irma and is still recovering. Docks are trashed and the building that (I think) used to be a restaurant looks damaged beyond repair. The staff is working hard to get back up to speed while providing the best service they can to the cruising clan. The pump out boat is up and running, as is the shuttle. They even have a water boat running. The fuel dock is open with pretty easy access, and there is a small store. Nothing but good for those wandering along the way.

The crew of Blowin' In the Wind, now working their way through Georgia, hasn’t always had the same experience. While looking to find a place to provision Daughter Eldest called the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club to see if they could rent some dock space for a few hours, or even the night. According to Active Captain the facility, though mostly private, will - and has - (according to the reviews) rented space to transient boats. The customer service person who answered the phone informed Daughter Eldest, in a churlish and hostile voice, that St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club did not care for transients and would not even consider letting them touch down for a while.

The crew of Blowin' in the Wind had had a tough night. The current change at 0300 in the morning had swung them too near another boat. It turned out the other boat was laying to 250 feet of rode. It is Georgia so the tidal range is about 7 feet, and they were in 17 feet of water; 250 feet of rode isn’t outrageous. Still, that is a monster swing circle in a small anchorage, and it is likely that, had Kintala dropped an anchor in that place, we would had banged into him as well. In any case, when they called looking for a spot they were tired, a bit stressed, and the little ones on the boat could have used a break. A touch of aid would have been welcome. At the very least just a polite, “We don’t offer that service any longer” would have been okay. But no, they got handed a raft of lip from someone whom they had never even met, let alone harmed in any way.

The crew of Blowin' In The Wind is a resilient bunch. Since it was getting later in the day and they had their own storms to watch, they dropped the hook back where they started while the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club will become a minor part of the family lore...

..."Remember that time in Georgia, the nice guy with all the rode out, and the witch on the phone?"

We live in a mean spirited age, one where people often do harm just because they can. There is no rhyme or reason to it, no ultimate purpose, no real goal. Just a mean spirit loose in the world, pretending to be tough. Fortunately, there are still many untouched by this international malady, those who offer a kind word or a lending hand…just because they can.

Though it sometimes seems contrary to the evidence, I think the later are still the majority in our little world. After another restless night on the hook Blowin' In The Wind moved to the Morningstar Marina at St Simons Island. There they were greeted as long lost friends. The facility is first rate, though the pool may make it difficult to get the little ones to leave. There is a loaner car for provisioning. Do yourself a favor should you ever be passing through the St. Simons area and avoid the St. Simons Boating and Fishing Club like the plague that they are. The Morningstar Marina will treat you like family.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Keep going

Eagle Too anchored at Rodriguez
In the last 5 days Kintala has covered 230 nm and is now anchored off Eau Gallie, tucked in behind a bridge causeway and riding out a storm. There are wind gusts reported to 60+ and large hail but it looks like we are going to miss the worst of it. After leaving Marathon, friends Robert and Rhonda were waiting for us at Rodriguez Key. It has been two years since the last time we shared space with Eagle Two and it was fun to meet up like that. They are headed back to the Florida Panhandle area for the summer but maybe we will cross wakes again next fall.

The last of the pretty Keys water

After Rodriguez, the hook dropped into the bottom of Biscayne Bay just outside of No Name Harbor. We thought about going in, but decided it would be impossible to leave after just a night’s stay, and we wanted to keep going. We should have gone inside anyway. Though Biscayne Bay is a favored place for us, the weekend power boat shenanigans were a little too much. They kept blasting between the anchored boats like we made up the board of some deranged pin ball game. Even the local Sheriff slashed his way past at full song waving as he launched a sizable wake our way. I would have taken a video of him but that seemed like an excellent way to provoke a boarding. Never provoke anyone who has a gun and a badge, no matter what silly thing they might be doing.

Note to self: weekend time at No Name needs to be spent inside No Name. Inside is fun. Outside is just ugly.

From there it was an overnight run to Vero Beech. It didn’t start out as a run to Vero Beech, but we caught a ride from the Gulf Stream and it was just too good to get off. In the wee hours of the morning just off the inlet to Lake Worth (the original destination) Kintala was blasting along at better than 10 knots on a near idling WesterBeast and a jib working with a 10 - 15 knot wind. That is nose bleed territory for an old sailboat.

Sunset underway

Sunrise after a pretty decent overnight sail

Le Capitan deep in thought

The Ft. Pierce Inlet
Vero is another favored place, but not so much this time of the year. It was brutal hot, with the no-see-em’s flowing though our screens with every little wind gust. The first night’s sleep was lost to the watches of a short handed crew doing a night run close to shore and in busy waters. The second night’s sleep went to bug bites and burning skin. There was no hesitation about bailing out of Vero, sleep or no.

The WesterBeast has been puking a little bit of oil here and there and Deb has been keeping a close watch on it. We have cleaned off this place and that, trying to decide exactly where the breach was, but such discoveries are no easy task on a tired, dirty old engine. After the 25 hour run, the level amount of oil making a mess was getting on the border of being alarming, slowing her engine check this morning as she looked for hints of the source. The worst drip on the engine blankets finally gave a solid clue and she directed my gaze toward the adapter plate for our remote engine oil filter. It didn’t really look wet, but it is hard to see…and even harder to reach. I managed to get a wrench on the thing with a wrist twisted into angles slightly unnatural and more than slightly painful. A bit of pressure and it moved far easier than it should have. YES!

More twisting and unnaturalness got some torque applied, enough for nearly 3/4s of a turn. With the plate now snug, safety wire was twisted into place to make sure it stays that way. Minutes later Vero was happily abandoned.

A seven hour motor / sail run got us here. The Beast is as clean and dry as it has ever been, the storms are almost over, and we are closing in on Blowin' in the Wind.

Tomorrow we keep on going.

Storm rolling in to the Eau Gallie Southwest anchorage

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Shaking down

Kintala is (mostly) a going proposition once again. The new alternator pumps 30+ amps into the batteries, so long as the RPM is bumped up a bit. Which works for us since we never use the WesterBeast as a stand alone generator. Unfortunately there is no clue as to what that RPM “bump” might be as the tach is utterly inert. It could be the thing has simply reached the end of its service life, though my guess is the new alternator has an output signal that is incomprehensible to the old tach. If there is a way to get the two talking the same language, that information seems to have been lost. The tach manufacturer went out of the tach manufacturing business ages ago, with little information from that bygone era finding its way onto the internet. We will likely figure out something but, in my humble opinion, whoever decided that using alternators for tach drive information was a good idea, should have been buying a better cut of weed. We will fix it if and when we can, but the boat will run without it. I do have to admit that this old airplane pilot/mechanic just shudders at the idea of ignoring broken things. Nothing good ever comes from ignoring broken things.

With the boat operable again, we are now looking for a weather window to head north. We almost had one. Unfortunately, by the time the alternator was installed and tested, and the inside of the boat was reassembled into a living - rather than working - area, it was too late to do the provisioning and boat prep needed to be on our way. Not sure that will turn out to be a bad thing, as it appears the weather would have kept us pinned in No Name Harbor for a while. We love No Name, but it is a long, long walk to the store. Given that Sub-tropical storm Alberto is heading in this general direction, laying low for a few more days seems like a good idea.

A good idea that is struggling to make headway against hearts that dearly want to be chasing down Blowin' In The Wind and then finding a place to park Kintala for a visit back to St. Louis. This particular chapter in our voyage has been a trial. After a year at the dock and a lot of work being done to the boat, we never expected this run around the Keys to be a parade of breakdowns. The Jabsco raw water pump, the Lavac head pump, and the Balmar alternator failure have left us missing several potential weather windows. At least this much can be said for the quality of marine industry manufacturing, it is consistently bad.

It is often said that, when it comes to marine items, you can get “cheap”, “fast”, and “good”, but only two at the same time. It seems more like “expensive”, “slow”, and “poor” are the real choices, but you do get all three at once. Recently I touched down on the blogs of good friends also out cruising. One had to replace a starting battery that is barely three years old. The other suffered a (relatively new Jabsco) water pump failure that put his water maker out of service. Both are out in the islands, so they were served an extra portion of “expensive”.

Like all chapters, this one will, eventually, close. Boats are always going to break, and the marine industry is not likely to improve in my lifetime. Fortunately these kinds of problems do tend to come in clusters. We did sit for a long time. This Key’s rounding is simply a shakedown cruse that shook out some problems. We still see sunsets from our cockpit, watch the dolphins and pelicans play, don’t have to please a crass or uncaring employer to keep food on the table, and live a life much more conducive to some basic sanity and humanity than what is often found on land.

Now, if it would just quit raining for a couple of days.