Monday, February 17, 2020

Fancy Catch Up

This will be a cheerier, more typical post. In fact, so much has happened in the last couple weeks it will take more than one post to catch you up. The first part of the story actually starts the first week of January, when I was minding my own business in Waldo, Florida. It was too cold for boatwork in Wilmington, NC, so I had escaped to Northern Florida for December and January. And it has been occasionally too cold for me in Florida as well!

Anyway, my phone buzzed on a random Tuesday morning when a friend of mine – a sailor – was triumphantly letting me know that he and crew had just entered the St. John’s Inlet after a trip across open ocean from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville. That trip had been a little rough, they were exuberant and deservedly proud of a passage well won. The last Wade knew, I was headed to Wilmington to work on my boat. He texted that they were headed for Saint Augustine the next day after anchoring for the night near Jacksonville. The boat, sv Aletheia, was going to be kept at a marina for about a month as Wade moved her down Florida’s coast to stage her for crossing over to the Bahamas later this year.

sv Aletheia, a stock photo
I surprised Wade by telling him that I was only about an hour from St. Augustine. Knowing they had probably flown in to move the boat and would fly back out, I offered to meet them there if they needed a ride around town. Wade said come on over, he’d buy dinner, and we were on.

The next day I wandered over in the camper van. I was walking around the marina looking for Aletheia and finally texted Wade that I had arrived.  At that exact moment, he and crew were in the marina office right behind me. A couple years ago, I had helped Wade move Aletheia and had connected online with a friend of his during that adventure. That friend, Chip, was the crew who had just made the trip from Charleston. It was great to meet in real life and after running around town for boat parts, the three of us had a nice dinner along with a pleasant, and lively, conversation.

Wade was working to stage his boat for crossing over to the Bahamas. In our conversation, he mentioned he was coming back in a month to move the boat further south and could use the help if I was free. I didn’t have to think twice about it.

One month later, Wade flew in and drove down to St. Augustine; I met him there. He decided, in the interest of time, we would not bother relocating a vehicle, but just sail the next morning. When we arrived down around Stuart, he would rent a car and drive us back to our vehicles where we started. The marina, however, balked at us leaving two vehicles in their lot for a week. They were especially squirrelly about me leaving an RV in their lot more than one night. While Wade called a couple hotels to pursue parking options, I walked across the road to an old Florida tourist attraction. They had a big parking lot but didn’t look very busy a month or more before Spring Break season.

The young lady at the ticket counter had to check with her boss [by texting him, man I feel old]. In no time at all, however, the good people at Marineland let me park my van in a corner of their lot for six days.

Wade and I went on a run for provisions, grabbed some tacos for dinner, and spent the night on the boat. The trip was going to be a couple hundred miles and we had five or six days to accomplish it. I had no schedule but Wade needed to spend a few days in Tennessee before going back to his two weeks on/two weeks off job. It was great to be on the water, but it was not a cruise. Our job was to deliver the boat and we needed to make time. We didn’t need navy discipline, but we had to keep moving at a reasonable pace. All in all, it couldn’t help but be a pleasant week. Wade is a really interesting character; he and I never seem to run out of things to discuss.

I was there to help as help can. That first morning, I handled the dock lines with a little help. A lady from a neighboring boat had given us each a slice of coffee cake and then gave us a final shove off the dock that was almost more than we needed, but I had managed to get onboard before her shove and we were off. The water was smooth as slate and the air was peaceful; if a little cool. It was mid morning as we left with the tide. Wade and Chip had slalomed through some tricky shoals near the Matanzas Inlet the month before, so we ambled back into the Intra Coastal Waterway(ICW) with none but the usual hazards to look out for. It was going to be a pleasant day and we chatted while Wade handled the helm most of that first day as he relished being reunited with Aletheia.

We were trying to burn up the fuel in the tank in order to have fresh fuel for Wade’s trip to the islands. For that reason, and for the lack of wind that first day, we never raised the sails. They were uncovered and ready if we needed them, but they never left their perch in the lazy jacks. There was a ghost in the generator, which would occasionally cause it to cough and die. I would take over the helm while Wade did some troubleshooting and re-started the system.

Aletheia is a conversation starter and always attracts attention. She is an Allied Princess, thirty six feet long, re-rigged as a Chinese Junk with an electric drive; battery-powered. She is a hybrid in all kinds of ways. Everywhere we went the people, even powerboaters, would smile and wave, take pictures, and gesture to each other. From the waterline to her graceful sheer, she perfectly embodies her model name – princess. Above her rails, she has a surprising profile. Rather than the triangular affect of a common sloop with one mast and angled stays, Aletheia has two unstayed masts with one extremely far forward. Two fully battened Chinese sails lay perpendicular to each mast, folded and at rest in their lazy jacks.

Below deck, invisible to the saltiest eyes, she is powered by an electric drive with a large battery bank and a small diesel generator. This secret attribute was a unique experience for me. The reserve power and range stored in the batteries is a tremendous advantage. At one point, we were approaching a drawbridge anticipating the scheduled opening when the diesel generator coughed and stopped. In the world of diesel powered boats this is not uncommon. Fuel filters clog at inopportune moments; air or water can sneak into the fuel lines. Diesels are efficient and reliable – to a point – but they can be finicky. Wade’s generator was relatively new on the boat and the system wasn’t quite dialed in all the way. The critical difference between a boat with only a diesel engine and Wade’s battery-operated, generator supported one, is that on almost any other boat, if the diesel stopped running the propeller would stop pushing the boat; no forward motion means no steerage.

The moment the generator stopped, we had the wind behind us accompanied by the tidal current; both pushing us toward the bridge; the very bridge that wasn’t going to open for twenty more minutes. On a solely diesel powered boat this would have been a sphincter-puckering panic situation. Another boat would have had to immediately drop an anchor, right there in the channel, get stopped, and try to fix the problem. Aletheia, on the other hand, has over an hour at cruising speed in her batteries (even more time at slow speed). When the diesel choked, Wade simply said “take it,” and left the helm to go below while I took over and calmly circled around upwind of the bridge on battery power. The bridge tender lowered the gates, raised the bridge on schedule, and we were on our way as peaceful as before. Wade got the generator restarted before the bridge was up, but even if he hadn’t I could have circled around waiting for the bridge and carried on once it was open under battery power alone.

Incidentally, reefing the sails on a junk-rigged boat is easier and more relaxed than dealing with a finicky generator. When I sailed on Aletheia before, Wade reefed the sails from the cockpit and was done before I realized that he had been explaining the reefing process to me.

We (mostly Wade) were troubleshooting the diesel generator’s buggaboo as we traveled. The generator would run fine for hours at a time and then cough and go silent. By the time we made Stuart, he had solved the issue. A couple fuel connections were just loose enough that an occasional trickle of air could get into the fuel. Wade will also change the fuel filters just as a precaution before heading across the Gulf Stream. We both think that the corrections he made during our shakedown will have the system running smoothly and reliably from now on.

January is a little early for Florida’s “season” and it was a cool week, but we were still surprised how few boats were on the ICW with us. We made Daytona that first evening and anchored just south of downtown. There were a few boats in the anchorage but we had plenty of room. It was cool, at first, to see the glow of the beach hotels and the Daytona Beach strip, but their bright lights obscured the stars once it was all the way dark. We made some dinner and went to bed. I had to get used to climbing into my quarter berth over and around the navigation station again.

The next day was another overcast one but easy weather made for a good day. We headed out a little after the sun and headed past the Ponce Inlet. Mosquito Lagoon opened up into a surprisingly wide stretch of water; none of it is deep so we stayed in the channel. Whenever Wade needed a break or wanted to check on something or just to give me a turn, he’d give me the helm, but the conversations rambled on, wherever either of us happened to be sitting.

You can't see NASA but I could
We got through the Haulover Channel, under its drawbridge and on past Titusville where NASA’s towers at Cape Canaveral loomed through the low clouds. Our stop that night was just south of the NASA Causeway Bridge in a deserted anchorage. Aletheia has an abundance of electric power and we had learned to load the Instant Pot about three in the afternoon so when we settled into that quiet anchorage, supper was ready. The unrhythmic buzz of random cars hitting the drawbridge’s metal grate was oddly peaceful but even that gradually tapered off as the traffic thinned and we finished eating.

The next morning we were off again and headed down past Cocoa and Melbourne. Almost five years ago, Wade and I were both aboard sv Eleanor with Alex Dorsey right there in Melbourne. As we passed through, I texted a hello to a friend in my Southwest Michigan/Northern Indiana circle. He called back right away and we had a nice chat as Aletheia passed by the end of the Eau Gallie River. After hanging up, I stood on the stern and waved my arms in case he could see us from his dock. That night we anchored off the channel near Micco, just north of Sebastian. The anchorage was an open roadstead in the Indian River Aquatic Preserve but we had a calm night; even as the next day’s weather forecast began to look grim. 

When we woke Saturday morning, we were within a day’s sail of our destination, but there was a small craft advisory in the forecast. The largest part of the storm sounded like it was well south of Stuart, but forecasts and advisories can be confusing; muddling and conflating offshore vs. ICW. And the land forecast is often significantly different from the marine forecast for adjacent areas. We sallied forth anyway.

From Sebastian down through the narrow twists at Vero Beach and on toward Fort Pierce, we kept evaluating and philosophizing about the weather. Fort Pierce was the last place with any small coves or marinas where we could hide. From there all the way down to Stuart is open flats with very few protective features to hide in or behind. The one bridge along the way that offered a bit of shelter was so far south it was only three more miles past it to our destination: the marina at the Marriott Hutchinson Island Resort.

We listened to the chatter on the VHF radio and even spoke with a few fellow travelers as we passed each other on the water. Some sounded oblivious, others were overly cautious and even paranoid. One couple from Quebec thought they had heard we would have fifty knots of wind. I don’t think they trusted that we hadn’t heard any similar forecast. Another couple, traveling from Annapolis on their first big powerboat trip took our advice and beat us into the marina at Hutchinson Island.

So much rain and fog, camera couldn't focus
It was a wet slog all day long. The rain stopped occasionally, but mostly went from steady sprinkles to a downpour and back to sprinkles. All my sailing stuff was by my boat in North Carolina and I had somehow purchased a rain suit that was too small. I remember reading tags and choosing what I thought was the right one, but the first time I sat down I ripped the pants wide open. The ever-prepared captain has two of nearly everything, and Wade immediately produced a spare rain suit for me to wear.

Ugly clouds came and went. Visibility shrunk and returned, but we motored on and never really considered stopping or turning around. Besides, it had rained so steadily that each of our rain suits had been gradually overwhelmed; finally finishing the trip seemed the most pleasant option.

The Hutchinson Island Resort Marina is just beyond and tight against the southeast end of the Ernest Lyons Bridge on the island side. We arrived at the marina just as the last gasp of the front was rolling through. Wade piloted Aletheia between two rows of large, expensive boats in gusty wind and a tricky current. Our slip was the last one, all the way in, on the right. As the boat arced its way into the slip, I was near the bow, ready with dock lines as the marina attendant zipped along the cross dock on his golf cart.  I started to silently worry that Wade was cutting a little close to the towering, budget-busting boat in the next slip. Aletheia is Wade’s boat, however, and he knows her well. My perspective was very different from his thirty feet behind me at the wheel. He slid us right into the slip like the boat was on rails. Wade had performed a beautiful, next level landing at the dock. Regardless of his captaining skills though we must have been a sight in the fading light; two guys looking like drowned rats on a curious boat.

Our first priorities were hot showers and dry clothes. After accomplishing those missions, Wade bought us a nice dinner at the poolside grill to celebrate our arrival. Various cohorts of an expensive wedding party milled around in the chilly open-air pool area determined to act like it was Spring Break and not early February. Still, however, there were way more cuddly bathrobes to be seen than tan lines.

We wrangled some local boat parts to finish a couple maintenance tasks and I tried to take Wade to my favorite dive bar/fish joint. It was Super Bowl Sunday and yet inexplicably the place was closed. My backup choice was a place where I had never been. They were a little slow but the food was good. After some careful checking and coordinating, the rental car schedule caused us to stay another night aboard. I literally had no schedule to worry about. Staying aboard the boat in a slip that was paid for made much more sense than driving north to have to wait until the next day to give the car back.

Monday morning, Wade drove us back to our vehicles in St. Augustine. We stopped at a marine consignment shop and then turned in the rental car. Enterprise dropped us off at the marina and I was very happy to see my camper van still there; neither stolen nor towed. Wade and I said shook hands on another successful mission. He left for Tennessee with a dinghy hanging off the back of his truck and I walked across the road to Marineland. I bought a couple shirts and a pair of shot glasses for a friend with a collection. At the counter, I asked the gal to pass on my appreciation for letting me to park there.

I got my bike out from inside the van and re-hung it on the back. And as I opened the curtains and
tossed my duffel bag on the couch – I was crackling with inspiration and boatwork energy. A week on the water had been the perfect way to re-focus on my own project. I had made a deal with myself: as long as there were no nightly lows in the 10 Day Forecast lower than 35 degrees, I was headed back to Wilmington. Done. Adios, Florida.

In anticipation of good weather and inspiration, before I left my hideaway spot in northern Florida, I had packed the camper van to be ready to hit the highway. I was halfway across South Carolina when I called the campground in Waldo to tell them I wouldn’t be back.

Currently, I’m at the boat. I’ve been here a couple weeks already and made a good bit of progress, but that will have to wait for the next post.






Also, I wanted to tell you that I am working on setting up a Patreon account. Patreon is a website that helps people support their favorite creatives; writers, artists, musicians, etc. I am not working right now; just working on my boat, Ruth Ann. Patreon is an easy and useful platform, but I am trying to set everything up in an organized, detailed, and thoughtful way. My plan is to continue writing in my old school, long form way, but on a more regular basis. For some time, I’ve also been working on a sailing memoir type of book; from my first experiences on a little Sunfish sailing at scout camp, to being on the cusp of an extended cruise on the U. S. East Coast, in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central America. To promote the book and this site, I am developing a podcast that will be supplemented with occasional video updates on YouTube. Imagine the Bubba thePirate Blog with Bubba the Pirate Radio and Bubba the Pirate Radio on TV. I have no aspirations to make all of that a full-time job – my job is wandering. I’m thinking of monthly updates; maybe every couple of weeks. My focus is the writing, so the audio and video updates will not be slick, time-consuming productions; just fun, basic updates about where I’ve been and what I did. The blog posts, the podcast and the YouTube updates will be posted openly online. Any support through Patreon or PayPal will be greatly appreciated but is not required. There will be some small bits of bonus content, like previews of the book or something, for those who decide to support me.

Thanks. I’ll post details when they are ready.

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