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. 


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