Thursday, June 8, 2023

My Little Cove

Spring Park, Green Cove Springs
Spring Park, from Florida Times-Union

There is a little cove across the river from Green Cove Springs, Florida. I have crossed from town and back twice in the last week. I find it hard to imagine why so many boats stay in the anchorage by the City Pier no matter the weather. 

It began last Wednesday when I had been in Green Cove Springs for a few days already. Not only was my mail service in this charming little town, but I had good access to a hardware store, groceries, and a little storefront Mexican Restaurant. La Casita has really good shrimp tacos and a little bodega section near the front door. Besides lunch one day, I picked up some guajillo peppers which I stock in my pantry and a couple bags of Cacahaute Japones (Japanese Peanuts are some of my favorite Mexican treats). 

I first anchored at Governors Creek on the north side of town. There is a county boat ramp there and right across the road is Hagan’s Ace Hardware. St. Brendan’s Mail Service is a bit further north of town and pretty handy as well. However, the docks are fixed which makes them inconvenient at low tide when they tower above the water. Further, with even a gentle wind out of the east, my new dinghy was tempted to bang against the dock pylons. After running some errands ashore, I hauled the anchor and moved Ruth Ann down to the City Pier Anchorage. Green Cove Springs’ City Pier is quite a nice facility with a small pavilion and some benches about halfway out and eight boat slips at the end. An overnight slip is just twenty dollars and includes power and water. Quite a deal, but limited to 72 hours. The floating docks are always at water level and there is ample room to tie up a dinghy as well; which is free. 

City Pier
City Pier, from the City's Website

I anchored Ruth Ann near the pier and went ashore for some more errands. My driver’s license was expiring, so I legally declared my domicile at the mail service, got a Florida license, and registered Ruth Ann in the Sunshine State. I found a bike at a pawn shop. It was $45 and barely worth that, but the three plus miles from the City Pier to St. Brendan’s or the store will be quicker and easier. The lock and cable, which I’ve had for some time, are way more valuable to me than the junky, but adequate bike. 

The Saint Johns River is the longest river in the State of Florida. It actually begins in a marshy area near Vero Beach and wanders up to Lake Monroe on the east side of Orlando. Continuing north, the lazy, slow-flowing river goes through Lake George in the Ocala National Forest, passes Palatka and Green Cove Springs, then flows through downtown Jacksonville, and on into the Atlantic. Green Cove Springs is on the western shore where the river is about two miles wide. An east wind across all that fetch can kick up a pretty good chop. After an annoying evening bouncing lightly as I made supper, I vowed to move across the river for protection from the wind. There was an anchorage on the other side marked on the chart.

A windy forecast was in the offing for late in the week and through Labor Day Weekend, so I got up early on Tuesday, hauled the anchor, and motored across to Hallowe’s Cove. Anchorages marked on charts can be hit or miss. It can be crowded because it’s marked and everyone goes there. Or the anchorage might have worked for someone else, but in the end will not meet my criteria for safe or comfortable. There are a great many different boat designs with different depths and different behavior “on the hook,” so not every anchorage will work for every boat – obviously.

The long dock NW of Hallowes Cove
NW of Hallowes Cove

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Hallowe’s Cove and we were the only boat. There are no services of any kind and no place to land a dinghy, but that wasn’t why we were there. The shore is an uninterrupted stretch of oaks, pine, and cypress shielding Ruth Ann and I from three directions; most importantly from the coming east wind. At night, the forest literally comes to life; buzzing insects, croaking frogs, and a whole choir of other wildlife. During the day, fish jump and osprey soar. Somehow I had found a small nook along the riverbank where no houses were visible. There was long dock off the point to the northwest and after the sun goes down only a few lights show through the woods to the east. The next dock is more than a half mile to the south. It was so peaceful and just what I needed; on several levels. 

We settled in for the holiday weekend. A couple other boats eventually joined Ruth Ann and I at polite distances. It was hard to imagine why more of the boats in the City Pier Anchorage didn’t come over for the storm. Many of them probably aren’t set up to move much anyway. Just forty five minutes of motoring and what a difference! There were no persistent little waves causing us to “hobby-horse" and even at the peak of the storm, I could hear the wind more than I felt it. 

Hallowes Cove Sunset
Hallowes Cove Sunset

By Sunday after the squall, I was running low on fresh food and knew that I would soon need some more water for Ruth Ann’s tank. After calling to confirm the holiday hours at Winn Dixie, I headed back across the river to Governor’s Creek on Labor Day morning. I hiked up to the store and back, rowed out to stow my groceries, and then returned to hit the hardware store. Back in the plumbing aisles at the Hagan Ace, I was doing some “redneck engineering” and picking through various parts to design and redesign a system for Ruth Ann. 

Tuesday morning I hiked back up toward Winn Dixie where I grabbed a couple grocery items that I had forgotten the day before, but I was there because my mail service, which wasn’t open on the holiday, is in the office park right behind the store. I’ve used St Brendan’s Mail Service for many years now. When I was truckdriving, if I was headed south through Jacksonville in the afternoon and knew some mail was waiting for me, I’d jump over to US-17 on the bypass and sneak down to Green Cove Springs. The first couple times, I pulled into the Winn Dixie, snuck around the store, and staged my truck to pull right back out on the road. However, the alley behind the store is pretty skinny, and I soon realized that I could get caught back there; blocked by the Hostess guy or a beer truck that happened to park in a tight spot. I started to simply pull over on the shoulder of US-17, just past the Circle K, and walk up to get my mail with the truck’s four-way flashers going. Not likely completely legal, but I never got caught. So this is almost like “home” to me. 

That was a lot of walking in two days for a crusty old sailor and I got lazy. My original plan had been to haul the anchor and head back down to the City Pier Anchorage yet on Tuesday afternoon. There is no water available at Governors Creek and I knew I was getting low. I don’t have a gauge on the tank, so I couldn’t know how low. Labor Day Monday and Tuesday had been peaceful with the town blocking the west wind, but the forecast called for the wind to clock around into the east by mid-morning on Wednesday. I decided that I could get water at the pier in the morning and head back across the river before the wind arrived.

Unfortunately, it was just 6:00 pm Tuesday when I already felt the wind shift. Now, my little anchorage at Governors Creek turned uncomfortable with a strong wind over a long fetch. We were hobby-horsing again. Ruth Ann’s bow was bobbing up and down and it was hard to work on the computer while my whole world dipped to the left, then to the right, back to the left, and on and on. I hadn’t even started making any supper yet. Further, with the wind clocking around unexpectedly, I couldn’t be sure about the safety of where I had anchored. If anything went wrong, the wind would blow Ruth Ann toward the seawall of the county park. I checked my watch, checked the times for sunset and the tide, to learn that if I hauled the anchor right then, I’d have just enough daylight left to get back across the river. So I stowed my laptop and checked that the cabin was mostly set for getting underway. Usually when I start Ruth Ann’s diesel, I always check the belts and fluids, but this time, since it had just run the day before, I jumped for the start button in the cockpit. The little Yanmar growled to life, the exhaust had good water flow, and I went forward for the anchor. In five or six minutes, we were motoring into the chop and headed back across the river as storm clouds brewed to the east.

I got the anchor down in the fading light and set about to make supper. In the galley, after only a couple pulls on the hand-pump faucet, I got the airy, gurgling sound of a nearly empty tank. It was no emergency, just annoying, as I could head back in the morning to get some water. The forecast, however, was calling for several days of east wind which meant that back across the river was back to the ‘wrong side.’ 

The weather had changed quickly because a squall had come in off the Atlantic. Before I had even cleaned up from making supper, the storm had passed, the wind had abated, and everything was peaceful again. It was then that I noticed that my batteries had not recovered well. During one of my long days ashore, I had left my fridge on and there hadn’t been enough sun in the days since to top my batteries back up. The coming weather was going to limit the available sunshine for several days. I am completely reliant on my solar panels for power and was in a pinch. Such a situation can make me doubt my solar set up, but subsequent data collection reaffirmed that my array is normally enough to cover my needs. One habit that I haven’t established well is to only run the fridge two or three times a day when the weather has been overcast for more than three or four days.  

The next morning, I had just enough water left in my filter pitcher to make coffee, so I had a luxurious breakfast before I hauled the anchor and headed across to the pier. On the way, I decided that if there was room, I would just tie up to the face dock at the pier, grab some water, and head back out. I rarely use a dock, preferring to anchor or moor, but when I remembered that the City docks were supposed to be inexpensive, my plan started to evolve. 

Another sailboat was, in fact, on the face dock when I arrived. While I had hoped to do a touch-and-go stop on that dock, my new plan was to stay the night in order to fill up on water and use the electricity to charge up my battery bank. With the wind behind me, I coaxed Ruth Ann into one of the shore facing slips on the pier and tied up. I got rid of some garbage, plugged in, and began filling up with water. My list of chores had been revised to take advantage of a night in a slip. Up the hill from Spring Park was a Shell Station, so I loaded up my empty diesel jug and carted it up the hill. On the walk, I spotted La Casita a couple blocks away. It was too much a temptation, so after tying down the now full jug, I walked back up the hill for a late lunch; shrimp tacos and a couple Dos Equis. 

I also spotted my bike still locked to the bike rack where I had left it a few days before. So that was good, so far. 

Back at the boat, I cleaned up, did some digital nomad work, and then the wind picked up again. If I had planned more thoroughly, I would have swung Ruth Ann around the City docks and used a slip that would face the wind. Instead, the stronger wind was now slapping waves up against the overhang of Ruth Ann’s transom and the dinghy banged against the boat as it was tied behind. I moved the dinghy inside the slip next to Ruth Ann, and adjusted the dock lines to make room. I cut my hair, took a shower, and made some supper. The wind kept blowing and I was increasingly less comfortable with the dinghy beside the boat. The waves continued to slap up against Ruth Ann’s transom and now the dinghy pitched wildly with a line grunting against the cleat each time it yanked to the top of a wave. I went out again to adjust the lines and eventually moved some fenders forward to tie the dinghy against Ruth Ann’s bow in the forward space of the slip.  

I was up several times to check my lines; cursing myself that I had stayed there. Nevertheless, I was plugged in and it was critical to get my battery bank fully charged for the stormy, overcast days ahead. All through the night, the waves slapped, the dock lines groaned, and the lines to the dinghy yanked and grunted against the cleats. I didn’t sleep much.

In the morning, I had a full water tank, ten more gallons in jerry jugs on deck, and a fully charged battery bank. I was up with the sun to get back across the river to my peaceful little cove. I had managed just a couple hours of sleep. Mornings are usually calm, but the wind had barely eased overnight. The slaps weren’t as angry but the waves still came in off the river, bumping Ruth Ann, and bucking the dinghy. Aft and to port of Ruth Ann was a seawall as a breakwater and I was going to have to maneuver backward, into the wind and waves, to head between the breakwater and a clutch of pylons off the end of the pier to starboard. Moreover, the bowsprit was hanging over the dock very near to the dock pedestal with the power and water connections. The last thing I wanted to do was tear that off the city dock with my bowsprit.  I also had to mind the dinghy. If it was close behind us again, it would be in the way. If I let the dinghy painter out too far, the line could get wrapped on the prop. If the dinghy got between the boat and the dock, or the pylons, or the breakwater, I could easily crush it. 

I walked around the slip, plotting and planning all my moves. I let out some bow line to be able to pull back on the spring line. The anchor was then behind the pedestal and as we backed out it would be pulled away from trouble rather than toward it. I left the dinghy tied to the bow, started the engine and let go all the dock lines save the spring, which I had looped against a single horn of the dock cleat. The spring line went from a midship cleat aft to the dock cleat and then to a cleat in the cockpit, forming a long skinny triangle. When I backed out of the slip, the spring simply fell off the cleat’s horn and I pulled it aboard quickly keeping it away from the prop.

Ruth Ann has one propellor and “single screw” boats have “prop walk” in reverse at low speeds. The propellor spins so slowly that the blades of the propellor “dog paddle” the stern of the boat to one side as much as driving it backward. I knew that Ruth Ann’s prop walk was to starboard and used that to my advantage. We started out of the slip slowly, I grabbed the spring line as above, and then gave more throttle in reverse holding the helm with the rudder centered. As Ruth Ann gracefully backed away, the prop walk danced her in a shallow arc toward the seawall swinging her bow to port. When the bow was pulled past the clutch of pylons, I eased the throttle and put the gearbox in forward to steer into the anchorage and open water. In steering to port, the dinghy, still tied to the bow, had drifted to the starboard side. It had spent the night on the port side where I had deployed a couple fenders to protect Ruth Ann. So when I was clear of the dangers near the pier, I slowed the boat, put her in reverse briefly, and then steered around to starboard to get the dinghy to the other side of the bow and against the fenders. Out in the river proper, I set the autopilot and went forward to untie the dinghy and put it behind us where it belonged.

Back in my peaceful little cove, I anchored Ruth Ann and made some breakfast. It was so good to be back in my little slice of paradise. After so many errands, all the provisioning and bureaucratic chores, I set about to start working on my list of boat projects. I have a new piece of equipment that I have wanted for some time and will write about that later, but the unit is now mounted in the head and I have most of the pieces and parts I need to hook it up. The dinghy had been in the water for a couple weeks, so I undid the hull sections and hauled them aboard for a good scrub. Also, the dinghy won’t collect any of the coming rain if it is upside down on deck. I sealed a couple leaks and cleaned up around the boat; inside and out. In the next few days, I’ll do an oil change and service on my engine, work on some dinghy modifications, polish the stainless, oil Ruth Ann’s teak, and more.  

That first night I was back was the night before a full moon. Out on deck after dark, I was dumbfounded by the beauty and just plain grateful to be alive and to be right there, just then. The river was completely still but for a gentle rippling as if a canoe had just passed. The moon was not yet smoothly round and hung in the blackness, misshapen like an ancient coin. The reflections on the water danced like hundreds of diamonds being scattered over black velvet. The Shands Bridge to the south seemed to only exist when taillights made the lazy trip across the open space in the dark. Even the wildlife seemed to be awed by the spectacle. I don’t remember a sound as we all stared with thankful wonder at the world before us.

Much to my chagrin, there was not enough light in the sky to capture that moment on a camera. I tried with my real camera as well as my phone camera to no avail. Then again, it is somewhat delicious to have such a moment captured only by eye and just for me. 

The next day a couple boats had joined us in the cove. That night the full moon splashed silver shards onto the river where two neighboring boats floated in the mess as if they had landed on and shattered a mirror. I knew there were other sailors probably sleeping aboard those boats, but it seemed like I was the only soul to witness the grandeur. Sights like that shrink the boundaries and I feel less and less separate from everything; and especially from the beauty of the universe. 

May all beings be peaceful.

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting my project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunset images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support


Notes from Todd’s World:

1) Hagan Ace Hardware is a small local chain in Florida. Six or seven years ago, when I was hauling sod, I used to deliver to several of the Hagan stores.

2) Where the St. Johns River flows through Lake George in the Ocala National Forest, I got one of the largest bass I’ve ever caught when my first wife and I stayed at a cabin on the river.

3) Literally, a couple dozen times I have stopped on the side of the road with a full semi to walk up and get my mail. Hilariously, the ladies at the counter at St. Brendan’s would have had no more idea that there was a semi down the hill than they might realize recently that I had walked a few miles with a little dock cart to get my mail; sometimes forty or fifty pounds of boat parts.  

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Summer Wind Was Blowin' In ...

Sunset at Broward Creek

Somewhere back in the day when karaoke had exploded onto the American scene, I found myself in a bar during a karaoke session. There were places then, especially in Japan where it all started, that existed as dedicated karaoke bars. In my experience, however, in the States, typically a DJ would show up at a regular bar with a karaoke machine; often on a regular night during the week. I vaguely remember being dressed up for some occasion, but it was a long time ago. I think my friends and I were there for some other reason, but karaoke was also happening in a large bar. 

“You should do it! Get up there and sing!” someone said. 

After the third or fourth “Come on, man!” I said “No way, the only way that I would get up there and sing a song is if they had “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra and I’m sure they don’t.” 

Au contraire, mon frere ...

Of course, one of my so-called friends snuck over to the DJ’s table to paw through the pile of 3-ring binders. There were racks and racks of karaoke music CDs. The friend found the binder full of songs beginning with the letter “S” and, sure enough, that bastard DJ had “Summer Wind.” My friend came bouncing back to our table, and with a wicked smile, informed me that “my song” was, in fact, available.  

In my memory, I just wasn’t drunk enough to get up on stage and try to sing like Sinatra. I am pretty sure that I continued to refuse. 

“Summer Wind” is still one of my favorite Sinatra songs. I had seven or eight Sinatra albums on vinyl in my collection, mixed in with jazz fusion, new wave, punk, straight up jazz, and a whole pile of other music; weird and wonderful. 

There was, in fact, one time that I did get up on stage and sing karaoke. I thought sure that I had told this story before but I can’t find it in any of my blogs. It may be in the unfinished book that I’ve not worked on in a while. 

The boarding house, courtesy of Google Maps

I was living in a boarding house in Bay City, Mi where I had found my first “escape” boat. There were a whole cast of characters in the house and one of them, as near an Irish Traveler as I’ve ever met, convinced me to go out one night. We ended up in a neighborhood bar on the north side of the river; the White Goose Inn, I think. My friend was desperately trying to impress a woman; I think he had arranged to meet her. But that very woman spent most of the night explaining to me why she had to cut herself to feel alive and showing off the little scars on her upper arm; like weird sergeant stripes or scratches from some B movie monster. The Traveler had been relegated to talking with the cutter’s reticent and humorless friend. He and I each had reluctant conversations over the din of karaoke. We both probably drank more than necessary to dilute the strangeness of the night. I barely remember getting up on stage to sing a Brooks and Dunn duet with my housemate. At some point, we each concluded that we should just head home and leave the cutter and her grumpy friend where they sat at the bar. 

In the morning when I stumbled down to the kitchen, somewhat hungover, there was an important looking summit going on. One of the guys in the house lived in a room just off the kitchen. He was a strange bird, but seemed to work very hard; cleaning and waxing the floors at the local Kroger five or six nights a week. When he had returned home that morning, one of his guitars and a pile of cash, meant to pay his next rent, were missing – and the Traveler was long gone. The other guys in the kitchen wanted to know everything that I knew about the missing housemate. I didn’t actually know much and wasn’t even sure why I had agreed to go out drinking with him. The floor guy related sadly that he had just shown off his guitars to the Traveler and might have absentmindedly revealed his rent stash by adding a twenty dollar bill to the pile as he spoke to our missing friend. He held no malice toward me, but I was the last guy to have been seen with the Traveler and thus had been slightly stained by association in some of my housemates’ opinion.


The salt marshes northeast of Jax

Summer Wind returned to my life last week in the form of a boat. As I entered the St. John’s River from the ICW, headed north, a boat called from behind to let me know he was going to overtake me and pass on my port side. The captain and his wife waved enthusiastically from deep under their bimini as they went by. That boat was the Summer Wind, from Clinton Township, outside Detroit, back ‘home’ in Michigan. The boat was a low-slung powerboat of a decent size with an inflatable stowed sideways up against the transom. It was getting toward the end of the day and I was aiming to reach a particular anchorage. When the Summer Wind and another sailboat turned to continue up the river toward Jacksonville, I was took some comfort. I was crossing the river to reenter the ICW at Sister’s Creek. As those other boats headed west, that meant that there were two less boats competing for whatever space was left in the anchorages ahead.

Inside Sister’s Creek there were a couple boat ramps and a free dock. It was Saturday evening and lots of boats were racing back to the ramps to haul out and go home. In contrast to the urban ICW south of the river, I was back in the wilderness. There were scattered clumps of trees on little hammocks and seagrass in every direction. Once I was far enough away from the traffic near the ramps, I began to enjoy the peace of wilderness again. 

And then my radio crackled to life. It was Summer Wind. 

“We got lost, so I’m passing you again.”  

“No worries,” I replied. 

Very soon after passing me, the Summer Wind turned up the Fort George River. I just had the inkling that he would have wanted to continue on toward Fernandina Beach where I was headed. However, I checked my chart and there was a marina, and a couple anchorages down that way. I wondered what his wife was thinking as I again continued past another turn they had just made. He wasn’t my responsibility anyway, so I carried on. In the fading daylight, I was pushing to the farthest anchorage I thought I could reach. 

A half mile later, I passed the two ends of an oxbow created when the channel was cut through. The next wide spot was where Broward Creek flowed into the channel and that was my anchorage. The radio crackled again. Summer Wind was calling a Pan Pan (one step down from Mayday), they were aground somewhere down the Fort George River. The Coast Guard quickly answered and asked if they were alright. With no one in danger, the Coastie asked if Summer Wind had commercial tow coverage.  

“Yeah, but I’d rather not use it,” came the bizarrely naive reply. 

I was beginning to understand that Summer Wind’s captain was not an experienced boater. As I approached my anchorage and circled around before dropping my hook, the Coast Guard and Summer Wind were having a strange, and even strained, conversation. I was trying to ignore them until I got anchored.

As I started prepping my supper, the Coast Guard was calling after Summer Wind who was not answering. I was a bit shocked that they would just ignore the Coasties, but I think it confirms their lack of experience; lack of seamanship for sure. A while later – honestly, I don’t remember if it was that evening as it grew dark or the next morning – a boat slowly made its way past Ruth Ann and me with an engine that sounded half defeated. There was a dinghy hanging strangely off the transom and I think it was Summer Wind, but I couldn’t see the boat name and they didn’t call again. Regret and frustration seemed to hang heavily in the air like a fog. I have a feeling that the captain had roared back and forth until he got his boat free, and may have done some damage to his drivetrain; let alone to the poor flora and fauna underneath wherever he had grounded his boat. I never saw nor heard from the Summer Wind again. 

Fernandina Mooring

The next morning, with a bald eagle supervising me majestically, I hauled the anchor and finished the last few hours of motoring to Fernandina Beach. There I spent a couple nights on a mooring ball for the convenience of getting back and forth to shore. It was from the Fernandina Harbour mooring field that I picked up my new dinghy and gave away the deflatable. My new life rowing a hard dinghy rather than messing with an inflatable and an outboard has been liberating. I love my new little boat. 

My Eagle Friend

Besides picking up my dinghy, I did some laundry, had a hot shower, and got some provisions there. On the third day, I headed back down toward Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs. I have some bureaucratic chores and a few boat projects to do. GCS is the home of my mail service, my permanent mailing address for many years, and soon to be my official domicile. I’m getting a Florida Drivers License and registering the boat here. 

Retracing my route back toward Jacksonville, I couldn’t help but think about the Summer Wind and her poor captain. I’ve made up a whole story about him, his wife, and his boat. My story is a generalization of course, but I’ve met plenty of men like my vision of him. A man like that might never recover from embarrassing himself in front of his wife. There’s a better than even chance that they will sell the boat in a few months and head back to Michigan never to speak of boats or rivers again. 

Or they might have gotten good and drunk in Fernandina, and blown off enough steam to have called a mechanic in order to carry on; perhaps a bit wiser or more humble. 

As I passed the stretch of water where I had last seen the poor captain’s boat, I couldn’t help myself. I searched up “Summer Wind” by ol’ Frank on Google Music, connected my good Bluetooth speaker, cranked it up, and bellowed along as Ruth Ann and I covered the last few miles of Sister’s Creek. 

“The summer wind

was blowin’ in, 

from across the sea.”  

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If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting my project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunset images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support


Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Newest Member of the Fam

My love/hate relationship with my inflatable dinghy had turned to mostly hate. I was having to inflate it every morning and even after going ashore, I’d often have to blow it up some more before going back out to Ruth Ann. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the outboard on the dinghy too long in case it lost enough air to risk sinking. Plus it was so damn heavy, it was hard to move around. I would end up leaving it in the water and after 10 or 12 days I’d have a couple hours of work to remove the barnacles. 

And then the outboard stopped wanting to cooperate. 

The ‘deflatable,’ as I had come to call it, was a 9.5’ Achilles dinghy; a great little tender. I bought her from a Canadian couple in Ft. Pierce about 7 years ago. A captain I had crewed for and myself had ended up in the same marina and he brought the Canadians to me saying “This is a great deal. You should buy this.” So I did. 

The Achilles had an aluminum slat floor so that it could be rolled up when deflated. But that floor was incredibly heavy. Also, the aluminum had already started to corrode when I bought it. Several years in storage while I worked on my last two boats probably didn’t do the floor any good. The ends of the slats get tucked under the port and starboard tubes when the tender is all blown up. This put the jagged corroded ends of the slats dangerously close to the skin. I had had the Achilles blown up in the boatyard in NC last fall, but it was January before it was unrolled and inflated for use on the water. In the process, two air leaks had developed; one each port and starboard. The proper kit to repair an air leak in a hypalon inflatable is pretty expensive and my budget has been squeaky tight for most of the beginning of this year. 

From the Spindrift Webpage

I started looking around for some options. I looked at dinghies and kayaks on Craigslist and on Facebook Marketplace. I knew I was headed up toward Jacksonville, so I was looking around here.  I also looked at buying plans to build my own. The best part about D.I.Y. building a dinghy is the option of building a nesting dinghy. Nesting dinghies come apart and store in a small bundle with the bow section inside the aft section. But nesting dinghies are unique to cruisers and there is no market. No one makes and sells a nesting dinghy. I actually bought the plans for one dinghy and then found a better version but hadn’t bought those plans yet. That better version was called a Spindrift and the plans came in four sizes. Nevertheless, a Spindrift build would take nearly $3000 in materials alone.

In the last week or so, I had found a Glen-L 8 Ball dinghy on Marketplace. Glen-L is a boat plans business that was a mainstay since the 1950s in the classified ads of Popular Mechanics, Wooden Boat Magazine, the Small Boat Journal, etc. It was not a nesting dinghy but at eight foot long it would just fit onto Ruth Ann’s bow. The seller said that it had been his childhood boat and was “mid-refinishing.” I have done enough boatwork that ‘mid-refinishing’ was not a red flag, but it made me curious. The downside would be that I’d have to find a space where I could finish the refinishing. That would mean renting some space somewhere, somehow. Ruth Ann would also have to be kept somewhere. An ideal solution would be a dock or a mooring at a boatyard where I could keep Ruth Ann while working on the 8 Ball. But now the unknowns were starting to add up to an unknown cost. The 8 Ball was only $500 and I was researching my options for space. If I built something like a Spindrift, I’d need to find some space for that as well; likely for a longer period of time. Plus, my budget was still squeaky tight. I had no near term solution for financing any of those projects, but I was going through repair kits and had already worn one air pump out. The Achilles was like an unreliable car and it frustrated me on a daily basis. If it suddenly went completely bad, I’d have no way to get ashore; no way to get groceries. 

And then Dad decided to send all us kids a check as a gift/distribution from the estate/funds that he and Mom had saved up over the years. I suddenly had some options. Thanks, Dad!

I went back to the Marketplace ad for the 8 Ball and noticed a line at the end that said “Currently located in Myrtle Beach.” What!?! I don’t know if I had missed that before or if it was new information. Facebook had served up the ad while I was looking inside a 25 mile radius around Jacksonville. I messaged the seller to ask and he said “Yes, I’ve relocated.” I still don’t know if that had just happened or what. His seller profile shows a bunch of boat stuff that had sold, that was located in Jacksonville. His About Info on Facebook still shows that he works in Chicago(!), so who knows when …

I told him that I would be passing through Myrtle in several weeks and I would check to see if the 8 Ball was still available then and went back to my search. 

There were lots of kayaks for sale around Jacksonville, but Jacksonville is a large place and I don’t have a car. I might be able to get someone to deliver their kayak, but that added another wrinkle to the process.  I went back to the Jacksonville Craiglist to check for a dinghy again. Right at the top of the search results was a boat I had seen before. The cover photo was a wide shot of the side of the boat and it looked large. It also looked like a dinghy racing boat, not a tender dinghy. There are many classes, called one design racing, where people all race the same model of a small boat. Those boats are often called dinghies as well. I had seen that same ad at the top for days while I was searching. It just didn’t look like the kind of boat I was looking for so I hadn’t really ‘looked.’ On Thursday last week, for some reason, my eyes slowed down just enough to ‘see.’  

Spindrift! Wait … what! 

The dinghy I had been ignoring was a Spindrift; my best case possibility. What!?!  

I clicked on the ad to learn that not only was this pretty little boat a Spindrift, it was a nesting version of the Spindrift and it was already built. The price on that boat was about 2/3 the cost of materials! I tried to call, but got no answer so I sent an email.  

This was the day I was leaving New Smyrna Beach. I had intended to go out the Ponce Inlet and sail up to Jacksonville. In fact, I had told the seller that I might be out of phone signal for a few days but that I was very interested. If you saw my social media post last week, as I was headed out the sketchy, narrow inlet, a dredge ship did a couple U-turns right in front of me with no warning, no hornblasts, no radio announcement or anything. As I was turning around and heading up the ICW, away from the dancing dredge, my phone, down inside Ruth Ann, was ringing. 

Well, they’re just going to have to wait, I grumbled to myself as I watched the buoys and markers ahead and piloted my way out of one channel and into the ICW. 

Then I remembered that I had left a message for the Spindrift seller! I set the autopilot and dove below to recover my phone.  

I indeed had a pleasant voicemail from Don, the builder/seller of the Spindrift. Leaving Audrey, the autopilot, in charge, I stepped forward of the dodger to get out of the engine noise in the cockpit. I sat on the starboard side of Ruth Ann’s cabin and called the seller back. I gave him a brief description of the dredge in the inlet and we talked about the Spindrift. It was still available. He had a guy coming to look at it on Wednesday, but “he’s kind of a jerk and I don’t really want to sell it to him.” 

“Do you do Paypal?” I asked, “I’ll send you the money right now if we can do the deal.”  I could hardly contain my excitement or keep from talking too fast. 

“Sure,” he said. And we made the deal. 

I returned to the cockpit where I could keep a better eye on the channel and the traffic. With the autopilot minding the wheel, I transferred some money with my credit union’s app and as soon as Don emailed me his Paypal address, I sent him the money and changed course for Fernandina. I had just bought my dream dinghy. This was going to be life-changing. 

It took me three days to get all the way here, and I could hardly stand it. I started working on the project in my head. Don’s Spindrift was the 11. I probably would have built the 9 foot version if I had built one myself. The Spindrift 11 is a lot of boat for Ruth Ann, but because it comes apart and nests together, it takes up less space on deck than the 8 Ball would have. I did have a slight panic when I started thinking about all the dinghy components that I’ll have to store. It was too late to do anything but sally forth because I had already sent the money. I had lots of time to think as I gurgled up the ICW. This was almost exactly the dinghy I had always wanted. Just get it done.


The Spindrift has a sail rig, so I can sail her in addition to rowing. I will no longer use an outboard. My experience over the last several months living on the water confirms that I can live without an outboard. There will be compromises; there always are in boats as well as in life. There might be a few days now and then when I can’t go ashore because of the weather. There might be areas where I can’t stop because it would be such a long trip ashore (but only in the most unusual wind conditions). 

I met Don this afternoon here in Fernandina Beach. He delivered the Spindrift right to the marina where I got a mooring ball earlier. We slid the boat out of the back of his pickup, he wished me well, and was off. I sent him the straight amount in Paypal and told him that I would cover the fees when I saw him. He wasn’t worried about it and might have had some family commitments on Mothers Day. The sail for the dinghy is being made up on Cape Cod and won’t be available until June. I’m headed down to Green Cove Springs to do some bureaucratic chores and some boat projects. I’ll likely just stop here on my way up north to pick up the sail. Don is supposed to email me his address so I can cover his Paypal fees, but otherwise I’ll do it when I return for the sail. 

The main feature is that the Spindrift will split into two pieces and store in a small space. Moreover, because the boat is light and easy to move the two pieces around, I'll be able to bring her on deck at night not only for security's sake but also to prevent barnacles from having time to grab on. Way less clean up! 

So far, I love the way she rows! The hull is a very efficient V-bottom shape and the oars are proper rowing oars. The sailing rig includes a daggerboard, rudder, and boom as well as a mast which comes apart into three sections for ease of storage. ‘Ease of storage’ is a thing because Ruth Ann is a small boat. However, while sailing up here I developed a plan. I’m going to lay in a supply of Starboard or similar material to make some chocks that the nested dinghy will fit into when tied down. Speaking of ‘tied down,’ I will add some padeyes near the chocks to securely and tightly tie her down. I will also fabricate some similar individual chocks to tie down the two oars, the three mast sections, and the boom. These parts will stow parallel with the boat along the cabin roof. The rudder and the daggerboard will fit into the port cockpit lazarette where the inflatable thwarts and oars were stored.

Speaking of the inflatable … err, deflatable ... I’ve already given it away. In the next few weeks, I’ll either tune up my outboard and try to sell it  …  or punt and give it away as well. 

I am so excited to have eliminated a fossil fuel powered mode of transportation. I’ll probably always have the diesel auxiliary engine inside Ruth Ann, but now it is no longer necessary to also buy and store gasoline for the dinghy outboard. 

I can’t wait to sail the Spindrift. Even in the Bahamas where it might be a couple miles from an anchorage to a settlement or a good bar, in all but the most inclement weather, I will be able to sail ashore from Ruth Ann and back out again. 

Life is so damn good. Speaking of good: I'd still rather be lucky than good. 

Tonight behind Ruth Ann

Monday, April 24, 2023

Rookie Mistakes

Wednesday was going to be glorious. I had sailed Ruth Ann enough to be quite confident as a sailor again. My personal and business calendars were cleared to take advantage of a weather window. And I had stocked up on provisions, moved down the river, hauled the dinghy aboard, ran the jacklines (safety lines), and made some pasta to eat along the way. 

And then I made two rookie mistakes. Even worse, I also failed to heed previous advice from two salty sea captains; ironically both from the nautically rich State of Massachusetts. 

First Rookie Mistake: In my planning, I had become fixated on how good the winds were going to be on Wednesday and Thursday for sailing north. I had looked at the waves and swell patterns in the early planning stages but had not checked again nearer to my departure. I had done a lot of planning and preparation, but I had let me focus get too narrow. 

Second Rookie Mistake: Along the same lines as the first, I failed to recognize a potential hazard in my plan. The East Wind was going to be great for sailing once I had gotten out into the ocean and I was timing my departure so that the tide would carry Ruth Ann and I out; rather than flowing against us. The cardinal sin of that logic was to ignore what can happen when the wind is pushing against a current; tidal or otherwise. 

Both mistakes are basically the same mistake. Getting busy planning in a very narrow sense rather than being open, purposefully open, to a wider range of possibilities. It was a perfect example of what Nicholas Nassim Talib calls a “Black Swan,” an unexpected event that had out-sized effects on the full situation. 

In the image above, we started from the Marriott Anchorage which is just out of the frame in the upper right corner. Ruth Ann and I backtracked down the ICW to the St. Lucie River and turned out toward the Atlantic. As we meandered down the shifting channel of the inlet, I could begin to see some waves crashing on the shore. The inlet is not very wide and there is significant shoaling on each side. By the time I got to the oddly shaped jetties, I knew I was in a bit of trouble. 

The main flow of water is down the channel, of course. There is some water sluicing off through the shallows, but the main volume follows out through the jetties. All that water meets the ocean – and the east wind that day – right where the jetties pinch together. The waves were amazing and stood straight up as the flow collided against the ocean and the wind.

A full third of Ruth Ann’s hull was out of the water several times. Not from our speed (obviously) but from the violence of the steep angry waves and the short period between them. Ruth Ann would climb up a wave and hover in the air before crashing down, not into a trough but on top of the next wave as they were so close together. A wave or two later and the bowsprit went skyward again and crash downward all over. In such violently confused seas, it would have been near fatal to try to turn around in the small space inside the jetties. Turning around meant that at some point Ruth Ann would have been side to the waves which were big enough to just roll her over. There were a couple boats fishing in the wind shadow of the jetties and they must have thought I was either a salty son of a bitch, or stupid or crazy. I’m quite certain it was one of the latter two. My only choice at that point was to gun the engine and push through. 

We made it through the jetty gauntlet and into the ocean. 

Outside the jetties I had hoped for relief, but the problem was we were still in the flow from the river and tide. The waves had mitigated slightly but were still quite big and close together. I couldn’t turn sharply out of the flow for Ruth Ann could still get in danger when side to the waves. It was a fight to keep from getting physically thrown around by keeping Ruth Ann headed into the waves. I angled her as gently as I could to the ENE and slowly fought our way out of the flow. Turning around was slightly less dangerous outside the jetties, but turning around meant going back through the roller coaster. I did not want to turn back but I especially didn’t want to go back through that maelstrom. The inlet was sure to settle down, but not until the tide changed which was five or six hours from then. There was really nothing to do but to ride it out and try to make some way north. 

A few years ago, I wrote an article about marine consignment shops for Good Old Boat Magazine. In doing so, I met Capt. James Corbett in Salem, MA. I’ve mentioned the good captain several times over the years. His sage advice was “You’ll remember all your sins at sea.” I “heard” him and hear him still, but need to heed him.

I love my little boat, but if I had actually recognized the intricately designed French mast and rig, I might not have ever bought her! When I converted the rig from stainless steel wire to Dyneema rope, I was confronted with stem balls. Stem balls are a highly engineered flexible terminal on the upper ends of the stays. They were not obvious to me because they were at the top of the 35 foot mast. I had already decided to rig Ruth Ann in Dyneema and had, in fact, already bought the rope before I saw the stem balls. It took good deal of research to find stem ball terminals that could accommodate Dyneema, but I finally did and they work great! They did, however, cost me a couple months in the boatwork process.

My last post described a beautiful and angry squall that tore through the Stuart anchorage last Sunday. In the aftermath of that storm, Ruth Ann’s boom had disconnected from the mast. The boom is the spar (“stick”) that holds the bottom of the mainsail. It attaches to the mast by a swivel called the gooseneck. When I removed the boom to take the mast down last year, I recognized that the gooseneck was unusual, but I did not stop to study and understand it. Huh. 

While cleaning up from the storm, I lifted the boom with a halyard and topping lift and fit it back on the gooseneck. It seemed to click into place and I never thought about it again -- until after the roller coaster ride through the St. Lucie Inlet. After crashing and crawling our way out into the Atlantic, Ruth Ann’s boom was hanging limply by the sail rather than the gooseneck. My sin was thinking, or accepting, that the gooseneck had fixed itself when the boom seemed to click into place. Capt. Corbett came back to remind me. And now I remember. Don’t cut corners. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t let stuff fix itself without explanation. 

We were out of the river flow but it was still pretty rough. I was doing all I could to keep Ruth Ann pointed into the waves, but there were two wave sets about 30° or 40° apart. I contemplated trying to fix the boom, but when I set the autopilot into one set of waves and held on for dear life as I crept forward, by the time I reached the mast, the next wave set was nearly abeam and Ruth Ann rolled so violently from side to side that she was likely to throw me overboard. Now I knew, whether I accepted it yet or not, that I was going to motor all the way to Fort Pierce and pull in for repairs. 

My fate was sealed when I checked the tides at Fort Pierce and my arrival would time quite well with a tide to carry us in. There was no sense in burning up diesel and hoping against hope that the seas would abate. I’ve come in at Fort Pierce before and know it well. Although the tidal current is very strong there, the Ft. Pierce Inlet is wide without any pinch points to cause surprises. I only had to hang on for four more hours or so. 

And that brings me to the other Captain I did not heed. Hanging out in the Stuart Anchorage, I had the pleasure of meeting Capt. George and his family. At some point, George made an ominous reference to the sea state off the coast of Florida in an east wind. I remember hearing it but forgot about it in the time since. There is basically nothing between Europe and Africa to interrupt any winds out of the east. I remembered Capt. George for sure, when I got out into the Atlantic with a stronger than forecast east wind, having to fight to keep my boat and me afloat and alive. Whenever Ruth Ann got more than 45° off the waves, the next one knocked her into a strong roll. I had to concentrate on the waves as they approached while trying to judge the changing wave sets and how to steer into each subsequent change. From time to time, I snatched a glance at the compass, and knew that we were headed mostly due east straight offshore. I thought that the waves would settle down if I got into deeper water. Ruth Ann and I wrestled our way at least four miles offshore and got into sixty feet of water with no discernible change in the wave action. I had to change tactics and just concentrate on getting in at Fort Pierce. 

When I finally turned toward the shore, Ruth Ann rode the waves much better when they were coming in under her stern quarter than when we were crashing into them head on. However, we needed to make our way north, so I was holding our heading tight; right at the edge of comfort and chaos. When it became dangerously rolly, I would head back out to sea for a while and later turn in again. We zigged and zagged in the changing wave sets, and I pulled every foot of “north” I could hang on to as we rollicked in the waves. Hilariously, my SPOT satellite tracker only pings every 10 minutes, so our course looks like a pretty direct path toward Fort Pierce rather than the drunken line that it was. 

I was hungry and tired and holding on for dear life. It only took a few seconds of distraction to miss that the next wave set would hit us badly. Ruth Ann would twist and roll and I would hang on to the wheel with a death grip. Thankfully, out on the ocean the waves were a little more spread out. Though some of the troughs were surprisingly deep. We would suddenly crest a wave and then float down through space in infinite time until the bowsprit buried itself in the next wave. It was sickening and exhilarating all at the same time. What a ride!

Along the way, I thought I saw a sail. It was comforting that I might not be the only fool out there. But as I got closer and noticed the depth was decreasing, the chartplotter finally showed me that the odd triangular shape I was seeing was not a sail but a buoy marking a shoal. I was, indeed, the only fool. Well, me and a ship so large they weren’t even feeling the waves, but only one. 

Then a dolphin swam by. At first my brain only noted that a large living creature was in the water next to the cockpit, but just before I might have panicked I recognized it was a harmless and friendly mammal. It was a pair of dolphins actually, and they played in Ruth Ann’s bow wave for thirty or forty minutes in the semi-clear waters of the Treasure Coast. 

I passed the nuclear power plant, the trees where I knew the Blind Creek Nude Beach was, and finally approached some buildings I could recognize as the north end of Hutchinson Island. I was getting close finally. A large ship, actually the one I mentioned above, came out of the inlet so I could judge exactly where I needed to go. I was still steering in toward the beach, riding the waves, then out toward the ocean again and back. It was still amazingly violent. I don’t know how else to describe it. I rocked back and forth with the boat as we careened over waves and fell into troughs. I would still get caught occasionally by the next set and had to hang on while Ruth Ann rolled side to side and I leaned each opposite way like I was riding a mechanical bull. But now each time I swung her bow through to the other heading, I could see the sea buoys marking the entrance to the inlet. 

Finally, we arrived at the channel markers, but had to go just north of them before turning into shore in order to ride the waves comfortably. And as soon as I turned … peace and quiet came back. The waves would gently lift Ruth Ann’s stern, she’d do a little shimmy at the top before dipping as the wave passed underneath her. It was such a contrast to the maelstrom we had come from, it felt like rowing on a pond. Nevertheless, I had to mind our heading and keep the waves coming under her from a tight angle. Off to the north, a catamaran was coming in as well. After several glances, I could tell that we were on a collision course and that they had the right-of-way, so I cut our speed slightly. The catamaran eased into the channel just ahead of us and we were out of the ocean. 

Here's the calm part, after the turn into the Ft. Pierce Inlet:

On the way in, the Jetty Park was off to port. I spent many hours there a few years ago. When I had a boat project here in Fort Pierce, I would head out to the jetty after a long day or sometimes for lunch if I had run into town. I sat there and watched the boats going in and out and dreamed of sailing my own. It was then that I recognized how strong the current was and I was glad to have the tide with us rather than against us. 

After coming all the way into the inlet, I circled around the big spoil island to check out the anchorage below the North Ft. Pierce Bridge. There is a less current there, but it was fairly full, so I pulled in just behind the same spoil island and dropped the anchor. 

What a day. I was disappointed that we had only made it to the next inlet, but I was exhilarated as well. My little boat had brought me in safely. She had gone wherever I had steered her; even in the worst seas that I have ever experienced. We fought together for more than six hours and hadn’t turned back. It wasn’t as far as we planned but it was forward, toward our destination. We had not turned back. Ruth Ann is strong and seaworthy and I trust her now, even more than I had before. I made supper, did some research online about my fancy French gooseneck, checked the anchor again, and went to bed. 


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Friday, April 21, 2023

Sunday Squall

I promised bliss from now on. This post actually is about bliss but of a kind that many people, especially landlubbers, might not understand. It's about the difference between scared and prepared; and the freedom of the latter. 

By way of completely jinxing myself, I posted on Saturday a reel of some lightning off in the distance and typed, “Rain tomorrow here, but not a storm (... I think).” That day, I had moved the boat back down to the Stuart anchorage. On Sunday, I made three trips ashore and got 25 gallons of water and hit Publix for a big batch of provisions. I had gotten an early start because the wind was supposed to pick up (again) in the late afternoon. The outboard conked out but got me to shore the last time. Nevertheless, I had to row back out with all my groceries. 

The outboard quit running and needs some TLC, but I was out of time in Stuart. There is a good weather window for me to head offshore to get north on Wednesday. I really needed to do some laundry and the uncooperative outboard was putting a wrench in the works. I checked the weather and decided that Monday morning, it would be calm enough to row back to shore to hit the laundromat. 

And then the fun began.   

A bit later on Sunday, there was a bunch of lightning off to the northwest and because I had just spent a week hunkered down for weather, I posted “WTH is up with the weather this week.” 

Soon after a huge ominous cloud was looming over the entire western horizon and the wind started gusting. I was working on my laptop, sitting at the drop leaf table that surrounds the mast (foreshadowing). Lightning was, once again, dazzling the clouds to the west. Then the rain hit and the winds came in earnest. 

It was an amazing display of raw natural power for three or four hours. The rain spewed horizontally like the firehose of the gods and the wind howled like a crazed beast. There was lightning all around me; some quite close. I stood in the companionway, soaked from the spray, and watched in awe at the pure beauty of Mother Nature’s power. 

Then I noticed Ruth Ann was getting really close to Murphy’s Law. The Murph is an old fishing boat that had been left in the anchorage, likely for many years. She rarely moved much in the wind or tide and I suspected that she sat on the bottom at low tide. In the midst of the squall, I was amazed at how much anchor chain she had out when it got stretched. A big heavy workboat will react to the wind very differently than a little, lightweight sailboat like Ruth Ann. With a squall blasting, however, all our anchor chains were taut. I squinted into the wind and rain to evaluate the situation. After getting soaked to the bone, I assured myself that we would not get any closer. 

Then I started thinking more about the lightning. 

At times, I have contemplated what would happen if Ruth Ann got struck by lightning. Mostly, I'm a bit fatalistic about it. When a boat, any boat, gets hit by lightning all hell breaks loose. Most of the electronics aboard will be fried and there is a good chance of a fire and/or a hole getting blown through the hull under the water line. Nothing good would ever come from a lightning strike. Another wrinkle in the story is that I re-rigged my boat with Dyneema, a synthetic rope. Most sailboats have stainless steel wire rope holding the mast up. My rig is a synthetic rope made of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene; think if milk jug material had a second cousin who was a weight-lifting, steroid-swilling wrestler. My aluminum mast is keel-stepped; meaning the mast comes through the cabintop and rests on the top of the keel inside the boat. Bottom line is my mast will conduct electricity but my rig will not. Not only is this different from other boats, I have no idea what difference, if any, it would make in a lightning strike. 

I have done a little bit of research on boats and lightning, and less on lightning and dyneema, so I have no idea if Ruth Ann is a bit safer, or a bit more fragile. Regardless, if 30,000 amps hits my boat it’s either going to really suck or really suck a bit less. Just the same, Sunday evening I had to start thinking that I’ve never been closer to getting struck by lightning. 

Well … there was a time when I was a kid. The family had made a huge trip car-camping out west and stopped at the Rocky Mountain National Park. Dad, brother Tim, and I hiked up to a spot that was supposedly the highest point in the park you get to without hiking in; a casual walk uphill from a parking lot. There were fifteen or twenty people up on this peak and a ranger who was talking to us. I’ve always been fascinated by sunrises, sunsets, and the sky in general. I can still vividly remember the angry dark clouds creeping across the ridge on the opposite side of the valley. We watched the shadow of the clouds move down the side of the mountains. The rain under the larger clouds, was thick and obscured the land behind and beneath it.

And then my brother (we’re all geeks) said “I smell static electricity.” 

Dad and a few people turned to look at him and saw me standing there, apparently with my hair standing on end. I couldn’t see it, but I raised my hand and thought that I got a shock … from myself. The ranger stepped through the small crowd and body blocked me to the ground, shouting, “Run back down to the parking lot and keep your head as low as possible as you go!” 

Imagine what my Mom and sister thought, standing next to the car down the hil, and suddenly I am running like a mad man with sciatica; loping down the hill and ducking as I went. 

Back to Ruth Ann and the squall, I couldn’t decide if I had had my close call with lightning back then or whether I might actually attract it.       

It is already getting warm in Florida and for a few weeks now, I’ve been knocking around the boat in nothing but a pair of swim trunks. I had to consider the possibility that we could get struck. There was so much thunder and lightning, whether my new rig was going to help or not, whether I attracted it or not, was less meaningful than the fact that it was crashing all around us. 

There was nothing I could do but prepare – just in case – and perhaps not sit at my laptop right next to the mast. An amazing wave of peace came over me and I got into a forward cabinet to get a dry bag. A dry bag, of course, is a waterproof gear bag. I got my wallet and some clothes. I dug out my passport and the boat’s registration, and stuffed it all in the sack. I set the bag, still open, in the galley so that I could stash my phone at the last moment.

And then I watched the storm some more. It was beautiful. I wasn't scared; I was prepared. That was enough. That was all I could do and all that was necessary. 

I’m a midwesterner (or was) and all I could think of was snow snakes on the highway. It doesn’t take much wind to send the wispy snakes of snow crawling across the road, but this squall was pulling spray up off the water, atomizing it, and sending snakes of spray running all through the anchorage. I don’t have a wind gauge, but a couple miles away friends measured 53 knots of wind, that’s almost 61 mph! And I forgot to mention the tornado warning that night. 

The squall gradually passed, I finally made some supper, and all was well in the world again. Monday morning early, I rowed (without the outboard) back to shore with my laundry and a water jug. While my clothes were drying, I bought some more beer rather than hiking the extra couple miles to get some bourbon. I don’t drink at sea, but a sailor needs to celebrate arriving at port. I got back to Ruth Ann with clean clothes, clean sheets, beer, and another five gallons of water.  

It’s now Tuesday afternoon, I am back in the Marriott Resort anchorage right near the St. Lucie Inlet. Late morning tomorrow, I’m going to head offshore and try to get to the St. Johns River and Jacksonville. There are a couple spots I can pull in if I’m tired or the weather changes, but it looks good for sailing north.   


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Thursday, April 6, 2023

Happy Sailor's Heart

I have felt a little funny about some of my recent posts. In reporting on real-life-on-the-water, I kept feeling like I was being negative or telling stories about drudgery rather than the blissful days that I had expected; perhaps some of y’all had expected too. Well, bliss has arrived and will be emphasized in future. 

My last two project boats kept me off the water for several years; far too long. As a result, when I got back on the water aboard sv Ruth Ann, I was feeling like a rookie again. It didn’t help that winter weather was chasing me down the coast when we first started moving. On top of all that, I had installed the new-to-me engine and re-rigged the boat’s mast myself. Once we were moving, I had to learn all the creaks and groans of my boat while trying to determine which noises were normal and which needed attention. I was kind of on edge and Imposter Syndrome was hitting me hard. 

When I finally arrived in warmer waters and could slow down, it occurred to me that I had just traveled about 900 miles and put nearly two hundred hours on the engine that I had installed. I must have done alright or something would have slowed me down or stopped me along the way.  

And then I finally started sailing. 

It took some doing to combat the inertia of just hanging out and rationalizing with my discomfort, but I gave myself a mental shake and set the boat up for sailing. The anchorage where Ruth Ann and I have been is in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River and there is a nice, wide open area in the North Fork not far away. I got out and started sailing!! I can’t explain how important that was. 

The first day, I only hoisted the jib. There was plenty of wind and it was good practice to tack the jib between the forestay and the staysail stay on Ruth Ann’s bow. Soon after, I was sailing with jib and main. The North Fork reminds me of the three sections of Thornapple Lake in Michigan where I did much of my early sailing as a kid. There is a small patch of water separated from a wider area by a point that pinches the river from the north shore. Beyond that point is a large expanse of water, deep enough out to its edges for some really good sailing. I got lots of practice. 

And then my friend Nancy came for a visit. We motored up the North Fork of the river so that I could introduce her, in person, to some friends that she had introduced to me online. After hanging out for Cockpit Coffee with The Sail Bums on Sunday morning, Nancy and I were going to sail back down the river. The wind was a little boisterous that day and had I been by myself, I could have easily rationalized my way out of sailing, but I was too proud to wimp out in front of an old friend. Turns out, it was a great afternoon of sailing! My confidence got a boost.

Watching the weather, we adjusted our schedule and decided to hang out on Monday for a day of rest and then go offshore on Tuesday. The weather gods had decided to shine upon us. We got up and had breakfast, stopped by the neighborhood marina for some fuel, and headed down the river to the ocean. I thought I had gotten away from obnoxious and clueless drivers when I got off the highway, but a lot of those fools own boats and traffic is traffic. But the day was so nice it overshadowed the other boats. We got down the river, through a couple curves, and past the Manatee Pocket Channel. After crossing the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW), we motored out the St. Lucie Inlet, got past the last channel marker, into the ociean, raised the sails, and turned off the engine. 

It is always a pleasure to turn the engine off and start sailing. The first moments are so wonderfully silent by contrast to the rattle and hum of the diesel. But to have had that peaceful moment after stopping the engine and see only water before us … was just plain magical. In fact, as we headed out, because the Florida peninsula leans toward the southeast, the water surrounded us from well west of north all the way around to nearly straight south of us. There was nothing between us and the Bahamas.

Such a good feeling. 

As on Sunday, I was letting Nancy steer and call the tacks to share the experience and what little knowledge I could offer. She has been sailing a while now and was doing great, but Ruth Ann was in her glory. I love my little boat! She is just right for me and loves to sail. We meandered off to the northeast watching the time to determine when we should turn around. There was a little more than three hours of daylight left, but neither Nancy or I, nor especially Ruth Ann, wanted to turn around. 

Eventually, we did tack out to the east and then again southwest toward the inlet. On the way in, we tacked twice more to aim our course right at the outer St. Lucie buoy. The wind was straight out of the south and steady; not strong but just right. 

Once we got close to the outer buoy, I had an idea; a challenge had occurred to me. I told Nancy that I wanted to take over the helm and attempt to sail all the way into the inlet without turning the engine on. 

From the ocean, the St. Lucie Inlet begins almost straight west toward the shore. About halfway in, there is a dogleg to port and then a gentle curve to starboard as the inlet approaches the ICW. The south wind had eased but was nearly perfect. We were on a beam reach to the dogleg, and then a close reach swinging to a broad reach as we got around the curve. I assured my crew that I wouldn’t do anything stupid, but I wanted to keep the engine off. I thought that I could turn up the ICW and run with the wind behind us, but I planned to start the engine as we approached our destination. 

When I glanced at the water sluicing past a channel marker, I realized that we were going up against the outgoing tide. The gentle wind was just enough to push my beautiful boat up current. We were doing less than a knot (about 1.15 mph) much of the time. At least twice, I saw our speed bottom out to zero, but we made it through the spots where the tide was rushing and sallied forth. Basically dead ahead of us, the sun was going down in the west and it was beautiful. I was so full of joy I could hardly stand still. That was just what I needed; just the right challenge to break the crust off my neglected sailor’s heart. 

We jibed and headed north with the wind behind us, angling out of the channel, across some open water, and cutting the corner toward the ICW. I was beaming and so excited! We were ghosting along, but it was just after sunset and almost no one else was on the water. Once we had the wind behind us, we were sailing wing on wing for a time and I had to be very careful to mind the sails and not let the boom crash across the boat. 

It was getting quite dark, but we were headed toward the Stuart Causeway where the bridge was all lit up. Many of the channel markers along the way were unlit day markers, which I occasionally flashed with a powerful flashlight to eye the channel. Approaching the bridge, it was about time to consider turning on the engine. To get to the Marriott anchorage, I had to turn east into their channel and then south again just past the first pair of private channel marks. And then the wind shifted! Just a small veer in the wind opened up the possibility of sailing on without the engine!!  

Right near the marina channel, I had drifted to port while observing the changing conditions and Nancy called out “Depth says two feet. Two point four!” I quickly steered back into the ICW and aimed for the private channel. That would have stopped us in our tracks, but luckily my temporary depthsounder is measuring the water under the keel, not the depth of the water around us. Ruth Ann draws three and a half feet, so 2.4’ on the depth display is actually almost six feet of water. 

Unscathed, we sailed toward the Marriott Resort, a huge golf and tennis complex with a marina full of fancy fishing boats. Their channel markers were unlit, of course, so I shined the flashlight toward the bright lights of the resort and picked up a pair of marks in the water a dozen yards or so off the ICW. With the veering wind behind us, I could easily turn out of the channel and into the anchorage on a broad reach again. We came in past a mast-less sailboat that I saw the last time I had been in that anchorage. There was another small cruiser near the entrance, a catamaran further back, and another boat I could just make out in the darkness. 

Our route off the ocean (yellow line)

We had made it from out on the ocean all the way into the anchorage – under sail alone!!! My happy sailor’s heart could have burst open! Most importantly for me, my confidence in myself and in my boat, had skyrocketed. I was suddenly my old sailor self again. I had been reborn! 

Then I made a small strategic error. I was trying to decide if I should go past the catamaran or turn into the wind before I got there. My initial plan was to sail astern of the catamaran, to where there was lots of open water behind them, but also another boat. That other boat was lying differently in the light wind than the catamaran. At the last minute, I decided that I should turn before the catamaran and avoid getting near the other boat off in the darkness. Turning straight into the wind is a way to nearly stop a sailboat. There was a little tidal current, just a breath of wind, and Ruth Ann started to drift toward the catamaran; a boat probably worth more than all I had made in the last five years. My sails were already hanging limply and I could not get Ruth Ann to steer. If there is no water moving past the rudder, the rudder will not steer the boat. It was time to start the engine. 


I fired up the Yanmar and we moved about fifty yards -- less than five minutes of motoring -- to anchor safely west of the boats that were already there. I don’t even count those five minutes. We had patiently sailed for almost four hours, roughly four miles, squeezing every foot out of each breath of wind. We had gotten all the way into the anchorage that was our destination. I will take that as a win!! 

Wow! What a glorious day of sailing!! I will be bragging about it forever more. Plus, I had a friend with me, I had a witness, I can claim it! That has not always been the case.


If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below that is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunrise/set images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Cost of Being A Boss

I have learned that it is important to listen carefully to the way I speak to myself. Whenever I “hear” myself start to say “I’ll just …” or “It’ll be alright …”, I try to stop whatever I’m doing or thinking, and take a closer look. “Just” is a sneaky word in that context; it is a warning that a corner is about to be cut. Whenever I recognize those phrases I know that I am about to do something that I don't think is exactly proper. 

I was chatting with one of my sailing pals about the fact that I don’t have a windlass on Ruth Ann. A windlass is a type of winch that will raise an anchor off the bottom; some are manual but most are electric. Ruth Ann doesn’t have room near her bow for a windlass. Right now I am enjoying the workout. Wade’s conjecture, however, was that without a windlass a sailor might be tempted to stay anchored in a less than perfect spot just to avoid hauling the anchor by hand. At the time we were speaking, I had actually just hauled my anchor to move to a better spot shortly after having dropped it. I made it my mission to act like I had a windlass and not ever be that sailor who lets it slide.  

However, both of these concepts are getting ahead of my story. Hang tight, last Friday was a day to remember. 

I had promised myself that I was going to sail on Friday. It is somewhat hilarious that after three years of work to get a sailboat in the water and finally launching her the first week of December, it was February and I hadn’t sailed her yet. It’s a complicated story, but doing all the work myself to replace Ruth Ann’s engine had taken a bit longer than I had planned. Once we were actually in the water, it was a race to get down the coast before Winter closed in. The mad rush south and some goofy weather had caused me to motor all the way from Navassa, outside Wilmington, NC down to Florida. 

True confession: it wasn’t just the weather; I was getting in my own way as well. 

I had a boat in the water and was headed toward warmer weather for the winter; the life that I had literally been working for fifteen years to accomplish. And yet I was wallowing in feelings of inadequacy. I was panicked. 

I had to show up; had to demonstrate that I was the guy that I had been trying to be all this time. Imposter syndrome was hitting me hard. Even with a lifetime of sailing experience because the last few years had been more about boatwork than sailing, I felt like a rookie again. The trouble I had had that first week on the water had increased my doubts. I am proud to be a thoughtful, conservative sailor and the weather had really been against me for weeks. Yet I still felt like I wasn’t living up to my sailor facade. There I was motoring down the coast on my own boat powered by a diesel engine that I had installed myself and yet my pea brain had invented a facade and was accusing me of hiding behind it. Objectively, I was a damn sailor but I could hardly convince myself to think so. Hence, my promise to go sailing.

I knew I just had to start moving and everything would fall into place. My preparations had begun on Thursday; checking the rigging and the sails. Friday morning, it seemed a little windier than I had expected, but I pulled the outboard up onto the stern pulpit, hanked on the yankee (my high cut jib), and uncovered the mainsail. I looked around the gusty anchorage and went below to procrastinate. I made some lunch and sat. Finally, after a good mental shake, I got to work again. I started the engine, hauled the anchor, and left the anchorage. I was moving. Finally.

Just north of where Ruth Ann and I had been anchored was the junction of the North and South Forks of the St. Lucie River. The anchorage was in the South Fork and we headed north to turn into … wait for it … the North Fork. I engaged the autopilot and wandered around the deck running my jib sheets and making my final preparations. Approaching the elbow where the river opens up into a long stretch wide enough for sailing, I raised the yankee and cut the engine. 

It was so good, just soul enriching to feel Ruth Ann surge through the water without hearing the engine. I started to feel like I was back. The real me had begun to peek from behind the crust I had been accumulating. The wind was indeed a little stronger than I had anticipated and we were already doing more than half her hull speed with just the yankee. I was feeling good and we were stepping out. I could have raised the main and really put us through our paces, but it was not necessary to test us on that first day back. 

I had a glorious afternoon tacking back and forth on the North Fork practicing the timing of my jib tack. Ruth Ann is a cutter, so she has two stays at the bow. My jib was going to have to squeeze between the forestay and the staysail stay each time I tacked. I have sailed a cutter before but practice is never a bad thing. I pretty much got the hang of it. By holding the active sheet on the winch until the jib started to bulge between the stays and then hauling hard on the lazy sheet, I could get a consistent tack. Late in the afternoon, the wind got a little fluky so I started the engine and pulled down the yankee (jib). Back through the junction, I was in the South Fork again approaching the anchorage. 

The spot where I had originally anchored was fairly close to the channel. I was keen to get deeper into the anchorage to be less affected by the wakes as large boats went by. After slowing the boat, we gurgled into the anchorage and I watched the depths as we passed around the other boats. There was a large powerboat that might have been sitting on the bottom and I didn’t want to anchor too close to it, but there was a nice spot nearby. I circled around and aimed for the spot. The wind had strengthened again and it was blowing me off my chosen spot as I walked forward to drop the anchor. After a couple tries, the anchor was finally down and Ruth Ann drifted backward as I gradually let out some chain.  Then when I walked back to the cockpit to set the anchor, I noticed that I was a little close to another boat. I wasn’t obnoxiously close but I felt a pinch about it. 

It’ll be alright, I thought. That guy will probably not know any better and I’m going to go out again on Monday. I’ll just fix it when I come back again. And I went below.  

Do you recognize those phrases? It took me a few minutes, but I had begun to feel my own discomfort. I knew that I should move, but moving meant hauling the anchor again – with the wind pushing against it. Recognize that? That’s exactly what I promised myself that I would take care of. Reluctantly, I pulled a shirt on and climbed back into the cockpit.

I started the engine again and hauled the anchor. The anchor line and the chain were covered in a slimy mud from the river bottom which splashed all over the deck and all over me. I pulled the anchor into the bow roller and headed back to the helm. After another couple circles, I dropped the anchor again, this time much closer to where I had originally intended. Ruth Ann fell back on the chain as the wind pushed her and I let out the anchor line. We were in a much better place.

Back at the helm, I glanced at the dinghy and dropped the engine into reverse to pull on the chain. I heard a whimper, then a squeak, and I knew exactly what I had just done. For two months, I had backed down on the chain with the dinghy floating behind Ruth Ann without incident. Regardless, the whimper was the line getting pulled taut by the propeller which yanked the dinghy against the hull where it squeaked on the fiberglass. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.  

[ insert your favorite string of appropriate pirate cuss words ]

I didn’t understand how it had happened. The line may have gotten saturated or weighted down by algae growing on it … or I might have let out a couple more feet than normal. I don’t know (it’s called confirmation bias, people). What felt like a rookie mistake was actually a mistake made by a sailor who was letting it slide. You can almost hear me say “It’ll be fine …”  or “I’ll just leave that back there like I usually do …”

Now, after a pretty full afternoon of sun and fresh air, right when I would have liked to have had a drink, made supper, and relaxed for the evening – I was going to have to get in the water. 

I dug out my mask and flippers, stripped down to my skivvies, and lowered the swim ladder. This was going to suck a lot less than when I climbed down into the Cape Fear River last December – but it was still going to suck. The bridle on the dinghy’s bow was too long. I had spliced that bridle before I had ever had the dinghy in the water. There was also a long painter, but when I got down under the water it had been the bridle that had caught the propeller. The bridle was nearly always in the water lately and the white three strand line had become a dirty greenish brown. I managed to untangle a good amount of it in three or four dives, but there was a stubborn bit that had been squeezed tightly against the prop shaft between the propeller and the cutlass bearing. Luckily, I had learned from the Cape Fear story that my old fashioned two blade prop was very stout. Further, I was barely out of idle speed when I had heard the sounds and popped the gear selector back into neutral. There wouldn’t be any damage, so I climbed out of the water. 

Aboard Ruth Ann, dripping wet, I dug out a serrated knife; not my good one, but one that I wouldn’t regret losing if I lost my grip. On the way back to the cockpit, I tried to find a scrap of line or twine in my ropework bucket for a lanyard, but wasn’t patient enough to spy anything that would work. 

Back in the water, I reached over Ruth Ann’s transom to retrieve the knife and plunged back toward the propeller. Under the surface, I was weightless, of course, which meant that pushing against the knife sent me backward as much as it applied any force to cutting the rope. It took a couple tries to figure out how to get some leverage. I ended up in a funny chair-less seated position so that my thighs were under the rudder and my head and shoulders were level with the propeller. With my left hand around the other side of the propeller and holding onto a loose end, I cut through the line with the knife in my right. I could feel it coming loose and kept cutting. Bubbles rushed above me as I began to exhale. Just … one … more … slice … and the line popped loose. I had learned to surface while aiming behind the boat at an exaggerated angle. The swim ladder and the windvane were more than happy to tap me on top my head if I came up for air too close to Ruth Ann. 

One more dive to check that I had gotten all the line and I finally climbed out of the water. Earlier in the day, I had banged my head hard enough to draw some blood. On top of that, I only wear shoes in town and the day before I had cut one of my toes climbing around the boat. The river water was dark and I had to wonder what I had been swimming around in. Landlubbers and politicians cling to conspiracies about vagabond sailors polluting the water, but municipal run-off is a huge, mostly ignored problem. Five or six years ago, this very area was engulfed in a nasty algae bloom because of the fertilizer polluted water that had been released from Lake Okeechobee. It’s not us vagabonds. I won’t bore you with a rant about sailors and clean water, but the people blaming boaters never seem to consider that we live in this water. Even a dog won’t shit where it sleeps.

I took a shower … and I cleaned my toe with some peroxide. Whether it’s run-off, big agriculture, or even my neighbors, it felt good to rinse off anyway.  

I was finally able to make that supper and later I slept like a baby. It might have felt like a rookie mistake in the moment, but it's just life on the water. I can make that life a little easier by paying attention to my seamanship, but stuff happens. Further, I fixed my own problem in less than an hour while getting some exercise and having a nice swim. I can deal with that.

If you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting the project. There is a link to become a Patron at the top of this page and just below that is a Paypal link for one-time donations. Patrons get early access to the blog, and depending on the tier: sunrise/set images, BtP swag. excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 


I tried to grab the sunrise this morning and ended up with this blurry but cool, moody image.

My Little Cove

Spring Park, from Florida Times-Union There is a little cove across the river from Green Cove Springs, Florida. I have crossed from town and...