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.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Living the Life

This is the Final Post of a four part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter.

Editor's Note: When we last left our hero, he was anchored above the Atlantic Blvd Bridge inside the city limits of Jacksonville.

I had been trying to get down to New Smyrna Beach to meet up with my sailing friend Wade, but ever since Fernandina I had been fogbound each morning. The night before, Wade and I had determined that I wasn’t going to make it to his dock before he had to leave to catch a flight back to work. I awoke to thick fog again.

The pressure was off my schedule but I was still frustrated having to wait for the fog to lift each morning. The Atlantic Blvd Bridge was less than fifty yards away but I could not see it that morning. I decided that when at least half of the bridge was visible, I would start moving. Earlier, I had seen a parade of three construction barges ghost by in the fog. I did not want to be out there with them in the limited visibility. It was almost noon before I could see the eastern half of the bridge, hauled the anchor, and got moving again. As disappointing as it was to miss meeting a friend on the water, my schedule had loosened and I began to look at interesting anchorages rather than the farthest one. I had my eye on a couple anchorages near Pine Island, north of St. Augustine. Passing through more salt marshes, scrub pine, and now also palm trees with much more sand along the shore, I glided through the Florida wilderness. Gulls floated on the water and osprey soared in the sky. I had always planned a backup anchorage or two in case the first was full of boats and I passed one possible anchorage on the approach to Pine Island. 

Pine Island was a heavily forested, medium-sized island, which had been formed when the ICW was cut straight through where the river had made a large bend. I turned into what had once been the Tolomato River and cut my speed to gently pass a fishing boat. The description of the anchorage that I had read said that it was a bit shallow on the way in, but had plenty of depth inside. I gurgled past the fisherman and part way around the first bend but kept seeing slightly less depth under Ruth Ann rather than more. It was a beautiful spot and very peaceful I am sure, but I wasn’t comfortable. After hanging on just a little longer and finding no deeper water, I decided to abandon the anchorage and try the next one. I didn’t really like the looks of the next anchorage on the chart as it was just a wide spot next to the ICW. I wouldn’t be turning off the waterway so much as just nudging my way out of the channel.  

Curiously, at the moment I was exiting the anchorage, my VHF radio crackled to life with a weather warning from the Coast Guard. I couldn’t really understand much of the fuzzy voice but I thought that I had heard the phrase “dense fog.” Just then, I looked to my south and was astounded by the bank of fog enveloping the trees along the eastern shore beyond the anchorage where I was headed. Now it was a race to see if I could get the anchor down while I could still see the water around me. I pushed Ruth Ann a bit harder and concentrated on the next channel marker to keep my bearings in case the fog beat me there. 

When I arrived at the Red 30 marker, the fog was closing in on the opposite edge of the channel. There was, of course, a maze of crab trap buoys, so I circled slowly, watching my depth, and chose a spot where I might not interfere with the buoys.  The crabbers weren’t going to be coming out this evening in this fog anyway. After dropping the anchor and backing down on the chain, the fog almost obscured the marker that I had just passed on the way into the anchorage. 

And then the big trawler came by.  

A large trawler paused in the channel, just visible in the fog. When they started moving again, I was a little relieved as the anchorage seemed tight and shallow, especially closer to the western shore. I was inside a curve where the straight channel cut across in front of me. There were lots of crab trap buoys and enough room for a couple more boats; a couple more boats about the size of Ruth Ann, not that behemoth.  

Then the trawler started circling around in the channel. They came into the anchorage between me and the near invisible R30 marker. As they circled around behind me, I waited to hear the sound of their shouts and the revving of their engine as they got stuck on the bottom. I wondered how deep the keel was on such a large boat. I hadn’t gone anywhere near as close to shore as they did. Nevertheless, their anchor chain rattled as it dropped and they settled into a spot plenty far from me. I suppose they didn’t have a choice as the fog had already rolled in. There was lots of chatter on the radio as other boaters panicked realizing they suddenly needed a place to stop.  

I was only a couple hours north of St. Augustine where I planned to stop for laundry and some fresh provisions. There was also a great marine consignment shop there and I had a mind to sell a couple winches that I had pulled off the boat that Ruth Ann’s engine had come from. The winches were just a bit too big for my boat once I had them aboard. Nevertheless, after the novelty of evening fog the day before, we were back to morning fog again. It was after 11:00 before I could see well enough to haul the anchor and get back on the move. While I was waiting, however, I had reserved a mooring ball at the Municipal Marina. 

I’ve always liked St. Augustine and I was keen to experience it from the water. I made my way into town and under the Bridge of Lions where I picked up a mooring. I went ashore to register with the marina and had a late lunch across the street at the A1A Ale House. There I had a Midnight Oil, an excellent oatmeal coffee stout from the Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, and the Fisherman’s Platter, which was a little too much fried food all at once, but it was so good. I definitely recommend the A1A Ale House which is immediately southwest of the bridge and right across the street from the municipal marina. 

The next day was busy; full of chores. I took my laundry into the marina. Again while my clothes were in the dryer, I took a shower. After taking the clothes back out to the boat, I loaded up my bike, some boat parts, and headed back to shore. At the Sailors Exchange, the marine consignment shop, I offered the winches and a nice brass clock and barometer set. Amusingly, they were more excited about the clock than the winches but bought them all. I left with a couple parts that I needed and a couple hundred bucks. After the Exchange, I biked to an Asian market in a fruitless search for dried soy sticks (kind of like tofu) and then hit a Winn Dixie on the way back to the marina.  

In the morning, I got rid of some trash, acquired some diesel and water, and untied from the mooring before noon. I wasn’t going to go far that day as anchorages between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach were few and far between. I stopped a little after 3:00 pm at the Matanzas River Inlet. There is an Eighteenth Century Spanish Fort, more an outpost really, and a peaceful little anchorage. Peaceful, that was, until another boat anchored right on top of me. He was so close, that I didn’t even have to raise my voice when I poked my head out of the companionway and asked “Are you serious?”  

He made some noises about having not seen me right there and oh, I’m sorry and blah blah blah. With a dismissive wave, I went below to finish my supper. It hadn’t sounded like he had done much or moved at all to fix the situation. However, in the morning I was up fairly early and he was already gone. We never bumped into each other in the dark, so he must have done something. 

The next day I was on the move with the first light and made it to Daytona Beach. It was sad how many wrecked boats I had already come across on my way through northern Florida. Daytona is only about a quarter of the way down the Atlantic Coast and I had spotted a dozen or more boats up in the marshes or on the rocks; even a surprising number of powerboats. I anchored south of downtown Daytona after circling below the Red 44 Marker. I could see four wrecks nearby from where I sat at anchor. 

The next day was a pretty full day and as the sun set, I anchored just below the NASA Railway Bridge at the edge of the Kennedy Space Center.  I checked the launch schedule but it was going to be more than a week before another rocket lifted off. I was stopping at a friend’s dock in Melbourne anyway, so I hauled anchor in the morning and continued on. 

I spent a week at that friend’s dock in Melbourne. They were friends of friends actually, and also former cruisers, so they treated me quite well and it was a joy to get to know them a little better. I did some boat projects, scouted around for some web design business, and plugged Ruth Ann in at the dock to survive another cold front. During my stay, I had a couple suppers with them up at the house and on Thursday evening we went out to a local seafood joint for mussels and a jam session of local musicians. It was great fun. 

I had finally gotten far enough south that it was mostly warm with the occasional cold front. The next planned stop was Fort Pierce. I had spent three years on a boat project in a local boatyard there and had adopted the town as one of my ‘neighborhoods.’ I knew several people, and a few who were business owners, so I was hoping to drum up some business there as well. 

At this writing, I am still in Fort Pierce. It is different here on the water than it was by land, of course. There is a very strong tide where I am in the inlet; strong enough to be occasionally frustrating. I may be on the move again soon, but in the meantime, my outboard needed some attention and I am waiting on a part ordered through a local Yamaha outboard dealer. 

Nevertheless, it has been good to be back here as well. I hit the wonderful Farmers Market on Saturday and stocked up with freshies. 

This is the life that I have been striving at for fifteen years. It is just finally settlting in that I've done it; I have achieved what I've always wanted. I have had some distractions this week with the outboard, but also spent some time organizing Ruth Ann's cabin to be more livable, and finishied some outstanding projects. My main goal next week is to sail -- just sail. I can't wait to get more familiar with this beautiful, wonderful little boat. 

I might yet get down to the Keys for a little while or maybe even to the Bahamas. 

Thanks for your support. 

Stay tuned. 


If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider supporting my work. 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. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Finally In Warmer Waters

This is Part 3 of a 4 part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter. 

Editor's Note: When we last left our hero, he was just leaving Savannah after having hunkered down for an icy cold Winter storm.  

Ironically, a couple hundred miles from where I had started near Wilmington, NC, I was now on the Wilmington River. The Wilmington empties into the Atlantic south of Savannah, but the path of the ICW turns up the Skidaway River. There were little patches of houses along the shore and more wilderness. Georgia wilderness is slightly different from the Carolinas. The same acres of salt marshes, but more hammocks of scrub pine and oak; perhaps more areas of "solid" land than wetlands between rivers. It was actually hard to tell passing by at sea level. 

I thought I had gotten to Hell Gate and watched a catamaran just ahead of me steam right through. In the channel, Ruth Ann was unperturbed. The water was quite low, but we only need four feet of water to pass comfortably. I had to check my chartplotter to be sure, but we had, in fact, just passed through the gate; quite anticlimactic actually. 

It’s hard to keep track of river names on the ICW. The Skidaway River had become the Moon River without any obvious geographical reason, then the Moon dumped into the Vernon, which emptied into the Little Ogeechee River. Hell Gate was actually a cut between the Little Ogeechee and the Ogeechee River. After crossing the wide expanse of the latter Ogeechee, I turned in behind Ossabaw Island onto what felt like another river, but it was simply called Florida Passage.  The Passage is a natural path of water, definitely not man-made, but somehow never earned the moniker “river.”  Just over the top of Ossabaw Island I found Redbird Creek and pulled in to anchor for the night. It was relatively warm, clear, and calm that evening so I took that opportunity to change the oil in my little Yanmar diesel. 

The next morning, after the temperature eventually climbed back up to 45 degrees, I hauled the anchor and continued south. If you look at a map of the Georgia Coast, huge swathes of it is green; signifying the land is a park or wildlife refuge. I made my way past Ossabaw Island, crossed St. Catherines Sound, past St. Catherines Island, across the Sapelo Sound, and halfway by Sapelo Island without seeing more than two or three other boats and nearly no houses or docks at all.  That evening, I passed a powerboat anchored in the mouth of the Crescent River and anchored Ruth Ann a comfortable distance beyond them. It was getting a little warmer each day, each mile I trekked further south, but after hours of standing outside in the cockpit steering the boat, it was still chilly by the end of the day. I always appreciated closing Ruth Ann’s companionway and warming myself and the cabin by making supper.

Beyond the Crescent River anchorage, I blasted out of the wilderness, and into civilization again. Brunswick, GA is a coastal boating community that also has a large port. Many import cars, both European and some Asian, come into the Eastern US through the Port of Brunswick. After crossing St. Simons Sound, I ducked behind Jekyll Island and found a spot to anchor just south of the island’s one bridge. It was a bit crowded but I found a spot about 20 yards off a gravel beach. Just over the berm behind the beach was a water treatment plant, but somehow there were several people and some kids walking along the shore. After so many nights in a lonely creek by myself, it was disconcerting that suddenly people were close enough that they sounded like they might have been talking to me. 

That night I was texting with a sailing friend of mine and he described a fogbound trip around the end of St Andrews Sound; part of my next day’s route. So, of course, you know what happened. The ICW route goes all the way out to the last inland buoy of the sound before turning back toward the East River and winding it’s way behind Cumberland Island. Wade, my sailing friend, had mentioned that he had always thought about jumping offshore from there, but never had. 

That next day, the closer I got to the last buoy and the turn on the ICW, the fog thickened right on time. I took a picture of some cormorants on a buoy, and five minutes later another picture in the same direction (both shown). That same buoy is almost invisible in the second picture. Besides the fog, my charts warned that there was shoaling all around the buoy that I was struggling to find. The fog was obviously the effect of the cool ocean air flowing over the warmer, shallow water of the sound. If Wade and I had both encountered fog there at different times of the year, it was likely a regular feature of this section of the ICW. It occurred to me that if I was going to motor all day anyway, I might as well motor offshore as the fog would probably clear faster over the waters of the Atlantic than along the shallow waters of the sound. When another buoy loomed out of the fog, I checked that it was the right one, and steered Ruth Ann to port to head out of the sound. 

It took a while to get out of the fog. Luckily, the depths of the sound turned south, exactly where I wanted to go. I couldn’t see much for while but I followed the depth contours and watched little sandbars go by. At the mouth of the inlet there were sandbars on each side with waves breaking less than 50 yards away both to port and starboard. After cleanly exiting the sound, the swell evened out and Ruth Ann savored being in the ocean again. It was like coming home for me. 

The offshore route was about half the miles compared to winding down the ICW. However, what I hadn’t planned on was the angle of the swell. I’ve crewed on boats where the captain was adamant about running the rhumb line (the planned route) without much regard for comfort. As skipper, I am a firm believer in angling into the swell, not only for comfort, but with less swinging and banging around it is also easier on the boat, the rig, and anything stowed below. Ruth Ann and I ran away from the shore for a few miles, then turned inward for a time, then outward again, etc. We were headed for the St. Marys Inlet where St. Marys, GA is up the river, but Fernandina Beach, FL is just inside to the south. A couple huge industrial towers loomed over Fernandina and made it easy for me to judge my southward progress and heading as we went along. 

My zigging and zagging got us down to the offshore buoys of the inlet and we turned in toward the mainland.  After such a peaceful jaunt across a little-used patch of the Atlantic, it was a shock to be back in traffic. There were fishing boats and pleasure boats buzzing around, there was a good size cargo ship, and I was just waiting to see the upside down wake of a submarine. The Navy's Kings Bay Submarine Base is north of the inlet and submarines regularly come and go. I had been warned about the power of the underwater wake of a sub. Luckily for me there were no submarines and once inside the inlet, the Amelia River was soon to our port. Up the river, just past an industrial complex and a small commercial port, was the Fernandina Anchorage, the day's destination. I was finally in Florida waters! Florida is not such a nice place anymore for vagabonds at anchor like Ruth Ann and me, but arriving in the state simply meant a warm winter to me. That was the goal. 

It was clear and calm when I anchored across the river from downtown Fernandina Beach. It was mid afternoon, it was warm, and I had survived the cold weather. Lots of fresh air and arriving at a milestone stop had made me feel tired, and after a quick supper, I went to bed pretty early. The next morning, I organized to go into town – twice actually. At first, I was just going to get some diesel and some water, but after returning to Ruth Ann with the lunchtime smells of local seafood still wafting in my nostrils, I gave in to temptation and headed back. The marina dockmaster had given me a recommendation but that place was packed. Around a corner, I found the Crab Trap and had a wonderful blackened Mahi sandwich and a beer. After lunch, I found the hardware store despite having no connection to cellular data – in town!  

It was New Year's Eve. I made a snacky supper after the late lunch and watched the Fernandina fireworks, which were pleasantly early. I did not stay up until midnight and there wasn’t even enough noise as the clock struck twelve to have woken me up. 

On New Year's Day, I got up reasonably early, hauled the anchor, and started moving again. Around the second curve of the Amelia River, I got hailed by a powerboat coming up behind me. He was so pleasant and considerate that I slowed for them to pass. Unfortunately, I was also giving them room by steering toward the starboard side of the river. Just as that powerboat, and another behind him, were passing me, I felt Ruth Ann bounce off the bottom. I quickly steered back toward the center, but soon we came to a slow stop; stuck in the mud. It was almost exactly the bottom of low tide, so there was no reason to call for a tow. If I was patient enough to wait, the tide would come back in and we’d be free.  

Another sailboat came around the bend and I hailed him on the radio. Even though it looked like I was in the center of the river, Ruth Ann was sitting on the bottom and I warned the other boat that the channel was in the narrow space between me and the eastern shore. He thanked me as his boat was bigger and deeper than Ruth Ann. We chatted on the radio as he approached and he told me what he was seeing on his chartplotter. I had been ‘lucky’ enough to have found a small island of shallow water right where I had tried to get back to the channel. Of course, just before he got by me, an obnoxious powerboat had to come flying down the river, snaked around the other sailboat, and buzzed by me without slowing; kicking up quite a wake. 

“That might bounce you out of trouble,” the other sailboat called on the radio.  

I scrambled to restart the engine and was already in forward gear when the powerboat’s wake hit us. The waves lifted Ruth Ann and set her down strongly a couple times ... and we started moving!  My theory was that each time we dropped back down, we made a slightly deeper groove in the mud helping to set us free. I hate to give the schmuck in the powerboat any credit but I got unstuck a lot sooner than I might have just waiting for the tide to rise. 

After getting free from the mud, we continued down past the end of Amelia Island, seeing the ocean again, but under a bridge that was too low for us. The ICW makes a sharp right turn to continue down Clapboard Creek. We passed through the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. The Timucua were an indigenous people of Northern Florida and Georgia. They numbered about 200,000 when the Europeans arrived in the 1500s, but by 1800 there were none left and not much is known about them or their culture. 

Pic by Two Down Crew

Clapboard Creek winds around the inland side of Fort George Island and empties into the St. Johns River. Just outside the creek is a boatyard working on a half-covered US Navy vessel. Another boater, a bit ahead of me, strayed too close and was being assailed on the radio by a security detachment patrolling the area in a RIB. I gave the boatyard a wide berth as I entered the river and watched for ship traffic. Jacksonville also has a big port; just up the river from where I crossed. The river is wider and I was slightly more familiar there than I was at the Savannah River, so I hadn’t checked for ships. It was New Year's Day and there was almost no traffic to speak of; except for me, that other boat, and the security guys.  

I had planned to stop early as there aren’t very many anchorages in the stretch of ICW after Jacksonville, but with the delay from running aground, I had arrived at a good spot just before sunset. I anchored behind a little island just north of the Atlantic Blvd Bridge. The noises of the city were less bothersome than I expected, but I was waked several times by local yahoos and their powerboats; including a couple boats who had purposely steered closer just to rock Ruth Ann and me. Nevertheless, after the locals went home, there was a lovely sunset as appetizer to my supper.  

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, excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Down the Coast

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series detailing my voyage down the East Coast in search of warmer weather for the Winter. 

The day after the storm, other than a glimpse at McClellanville, we were still in the wilds of South Carolina. Osprey soared overhead and egrets stared intently in the shallows waiting for lunch to swim by. There were clumps of scrub pine, cedars, and oaks draped with Spanish moss among acres and acres of salt marsh. My little Yanmar hummed below my feet and the miles gurgled by. Then suddenly we were in Mt. Pleasant. I have been to Mt. Pleasant many times, but only sneaking across Charleston in a semi to get to the port across the river. I didn’t recognize this coastal side of town. Just before the ICW spills into Charleston Harbor, Inlet Creek meanders off to the north. Supposedly there is a wreck up the creek that can tangle an anchor, so I anchored just off the ICW in the creek’s mouth. A catamaran slowed as it went by, deciding something, but they continued on.

I was getting desperate for laundry and I was low on fresh veggies. My plan was to stop at St. John’s Yacht Harbor just past Charleston. The trip would involve getting through Wappoo Creek, yet another spot with notorious tidal currents. I checked the weather and the tide schedule, and decided I could sleep in the next morning. While cooking supper, I snapped a couple sunset pictures and suddenly realized a rocket launch was streaking across the sky. I checked the schedule at Kennedy Space Center and learned that it had been the latest SpaceX launch. The camera couldn't pick it up, but I could see one of the lower stages dropping away as it zoomed by.

After a leisurely morning with a heaping breakfast, I left Inlet Creek, motored under the Ben Sawyer Bridge after it opened, and entered Charleston Harbor. I’d been here a couple times by water. Charleston is another favorite of mine. As I made my way across the bay, despite my calculations, I was going to be early. Ruth Ann and I turned around and made a big oval in the harbor; backtracking and catching a better glimpse of Fort Sumpter. Our timing was better when we got back into the Ashley River on the west side of Charleston’s peninsula.

The Charleston City Marina was on the bank opposite the entrance to the creek. I had spent a couple days in the marina in 2015 when I crewed on a Westsail 42. On my own  boat, especially since I would be the one paying, we didn’t stop there. Along the creek was a bridge that needed to open. The creek, the bridge, and the current all went easy on us and in no time we were entering the Stono River on the other side. I had made a reservation at St. John’s Yacht Harbor where I had stayed while crewing on another boat. I knew they had nice facilities including laundry and showers. I had already located a grocery nearby, and the marina’s website said they even had a loaner car. 

Even after sleeping in a little, circling around Charleston Harbor to time the tides, and making it all the way to Johns Island, I had arrived fairly early to the marina. I hit the dock running and borrowed the loaner car. Food Lion did not have propane cans, so after grabbing some groceries I got some propane at an Ace Hardware just down road. Stocked up with food and gas, I dumped that payload and grabbed my laundry. While my clothes were drying, I took a shower. Then I splurged and ordered Chinese delivered. Back at Ruth Ann with my Veggie Lo Mein, I put away my clothes and my groceries. The marina had put me on the end of a T dock, not near any other boats, so I snuck and ran my little propane heater that night.

I still had a good amount of diesel, so the next morning I shoved off and continued on. I spent a night in the Raccoon Island Anchorage, north of Beaufort. I had recently noticed that way back during the anchor drama in Navassa, we had damaged the 3-strand rope part of my anchor rode. There was a long stretch of heavily abraded line just after the 120 foot tag and in one place one of strands was actually severed. Previously, I had been anchoring in such shallow water that I never had to rely on that section of line. However, I was sure to anchor in deeper water soon enough, so it needed to be fixed. I spent a good part of that peaceful evening by Racoon Island cutting and splicing the line.   

The next town of any size was Beaufort, SC, which is Byew-fert as opposed to Beaufort, NC which is Bow-fert. The straight line distance is not far, but the ICW winds around through several rivers to get there. It was almost frustrating, but the scenery continued to allure. On the curving route into Beaufort, the tide pushed against us. When I finally arrived, I needed to stop for fuel. There was a Safe Harbor Marina right downtown on the main river. When I pulled up to their fuel dock, the current was deceptive and I didn’t make it on the first try. The patient dockmaster let me know that I wasn’t the first to have had a little trouble. No harm, no foul.  I got some fuel and headed south out of town. With plenty daylight left, I picked a different anchorage, a little further south.  

When I pulled into Cowen Creek, it was idyllic. There were some fancy shoreside homes on the southern bank just at the entrance, but as I steamed up the river, the homes were more modest. The edge of the little anchorage was littered with crab trap buoys, but after weaving through, I carefully dropped the anchor behind them. I didn’t want to get tangled in the traps but also didn’t want to cause any trouble or damage for a waterman/woman.  I was in about 12 feet of water, the wind was steady but would slow overnight and I was already using the repaired section of anchor line. 

I had Ruth Ann moving again in the first light of the next morning. The weather I had been watching was getting ominous and the more I did the math, the more obvious it was that I was going to get caught. It was already cool and overcast. After a chilly ride across the windy Port Royal Sound, we ducked into the protection of Skull Creek, a deliciously piratical name. There was still plenty of wilderness as we neared Hilton Head Island. Rustic fish camp resorts gradually gave way to more touristy developments. And then it began to rain.  

Cold and gradually more damp, Ruth Ann and I crossed the Calibogue Sound and we  braced against the wind coming in right off the ocean. The resorts were slightly more rustic again as I passed Daufuskie Island, but it seemed only a facade. As I got closer to the Georgia border and the Savannah metro area, there were more and more palatial homesteads along the waterway. Let alone their fancy boats, most of their docks probably cost many times what I paid for Ruth Ann. 

As we came around a tight bend near Turtle Island, we were surrounded by patches of cloudy water; a sure sign that manatees were feeding nearby. I quickly dropped my speed and ghosted warily around the curve. Manatees feed on bottom grasses and as they munch and paddle to stay in place, they stir up the muddy bottom. 

Around a couple more bends was the Savannah River, the biggest obstacle of the day. Still connected to the interwebs, I checked the Marine Traffic website to see if the river was busy. Marine Traffic displays the AIS data from ships. All large commercial vessels are required to have AIS transponders which broadcast their vessel details, speed, and heading. Savannah has a busy port and lots of ship traffic. It was a Tuesday, but the Tuesday right before Christmas, so I didn’t know what to expect. A couple AIS signals would require my attention. The most confusing was a very large barge just upriver from where I would cross. Its AIS signal showed that it was not moving, but I wondered if that was accurate.

With more rain and a bit more wind, I slowed Ruth Ann as we approached the river. The air was cooling and as I got closer, a pall of fog diffused the horizon and the details of anything more than a quarter mile away. I checked the barge again but it appeared to be stationary. The ICW crosses the river near a bend, so Ruth Ann and I would have to go upriver a bit to find the other side. I checked the tides on my phone and they seemed to be with us, rather than against.  

As we crossed, the fog obscured the river in both directions. I sped up and kept looking each way, but didn’t see another soul. Then, just as quietly as it had started, we were across the Savannah River. I had made it to Georgia! I would have celebrated but I was cold, damp, and miserable. There was plenty of daylight left and the anchorages through coastal Savannah were scattered, each with their own peculiarities, so I hadn’t yet chosen a place to stop. I passed a group of marinas at Thunderbolt, GA, a mainland suburb to starboard, with White Marsh Island to port. Thunderbolt Marina is a large complex on the mainland as that stretch of marine facilities gives way to salt marsh again. 

The first anchorage I had determined as viable was just around the bend. I could have gone eight or ten more miles, but I was damp and cold, so I turned up the Herb River. We motored past a few houses, and dropped anchor just around a bend in an area without much development. On the way in, I had spotted a Heavenly Twins Catamaran careened on the edge of the marsh, right next to someone’s dock. The Heavenly Twins is a unique catamaran design that I’d been attracted to for sometime. There didn’t appear to be much damage, but it was going to take some work, and some heavy equipment, to pull her back into the water. It was sad to see her languishing there. This was the first of many boats that I would encounter that had been swept to their peril by the recent storms; Ian in late September probably did the most damage along my route.  

I had arrived on the Tuesday before Christmas and there had been a gale forecast to arrive that night. The winds were quite strong out of the Northwest into the following afternoon. Those winds preceded an exceptionally strong winter storm that was set to arrive toward end of the week. Most of the country was going to get hit by the gigantic storm. This is the weather that I had known for a couple days that I wasn’t going to be able to escape. I had hoped to push Ruth Ann and  myself to get close to Jacksonville, FL. Recent forecasts, however, were showing that it was going to be just as cold deep into Florida, farther than I could hope to get before the storm closed in on me. It was already getting cold in Savannah. 

I spent Thursday at anchor as it got colder and colder. People who had been following my voyage were checking in on me. I posted the story of my Christmas miracles here. Suffice it to say that my family and friends, and two important people who I had never met, helped me tremendously. The start of that help was to get me thinking about how dangerously cold it was actually going to get. And finally, to convince me to move to a marina so that I could get an electric heater to survive. Further, many of those beautiful people helped me to afford that option. I had steeled myself to try to survive at anchor and was being stubborn about it in my own head. The truth of that matter was that even with a stash of several propane cans, I would not have been able to get through the five day storm without rationing my fuel supply. It would have been uncomfortable for hours at a time, and potentially dangerous. Ruth Ann is a warm weather boat. She is comfortable and cozy much of the time, but the berths are right next to the fiberglass hull and the cold seeps through quite efficiently. I moved Ruth Ann to the Savannah Bend Marina back in Thunderbolt. The people there were very nice; even as they were all getting ready to have the holiday weekend off.  

I got yet another Uber ride into town to get a shore power cord and a little space heater. I stayed hunkered down in Ruth Ann for most of my time there. I did get some laundry done just before they shut off the water to protect the pipes from freezing. I also had two visits from a friend of a friend of a friend with care packages of fruit and food; including some excellent home-grilled barbecue!

When the weather had passed -- most importantly when the nights that dropped into the twenties were over -- I untied the dock lines and pushed off. Just twelve miles or so down the ICW was another obstacle called Hell Gate, a small pass between rivers with very strong currents. I couldn’t time the tide very well starting from Thunderbolt, so I decided to just head there and check it out. There were a couple anchorages nearby, so that if the current looked too hairy, I could turn around and wait for slack water. Between the tidal schedule and the hours of available daylight, if the current was too strong for Ruth Ann, we’d probably lose most of that first day waiting for the slack.

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, excerpts of my coming book, Live Q&As and more. Even a couple bucks can help a lot. Thanks for your support. 

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...