Thursday, February 8, 2024

Stumbling Into An Odd Job

Squint Close for Egrets

It was going to be one of those wonderful Florida winter days; just barely overcast, but with enough sun to make you reconsider not using sunscreen on your face. I was well up the North Fork of the St Lucie River at a place called Kitching Cove. After a few days reuniting at anchor with some dear friends, I was going to make my way back to civilization. Groceries and laundry were looming chores.  Four or five other boats were in the cove but we were the only cruisers living aboard. The cove is separated from the St. Lucie River and the boat traffic by a long strip of mangroves with just enough solid ground to support several palm trees and the occasional oak. Along the opposite shore were some condos, a yacht club, and a resort, but it was a quiet, peaceful spot. The plaintive cry of an osprey regularly echoed across the flat water, and at evening, a flock of egrets would fly across the face of the mangroves, their bright white feathers a stark contrast as shades of black oozed across the green of the mangroves in the dissolving light of the day.

Kitching Cove Sunset

While I had looming chores to take care of, I had also picked that day because it appeared the wind was just right for sailing all the way back to the anchorage in town. Ruth Ann was upwind from Mollynogger, my friends’ boat, but there seemed to be plenty of room to drift back in the gentle wind once I had hauled the anchor. I prepped to first raise the main, then haul the anchor, and to be able to raise the jib after I had started. The last choice was whether to have the engine idling just in case I needed … or not.   

I left the engine off and went forward to raise the anchor as the main sail lolled from side to side in the breeze. Twice I paused to check my bearings on Mollynogger and another nearby boat. All was well, so I kept hauling. Once we were free, Ruth Ann fell away to the south as I walked back to the helm. It wasn’t that early, but I quietly whistled a bird call as goodbye to my friends as I ghosted by. 

I had my chartplotter on, but the charts were purportedly not accurate in that area. My inward track was only in my head but I attempted to follow it out. Ruth Ann crept along but I had all day and we were already doing two and a half knots in the enclosed area. We glided through the cove’s narrow entrance and passed a sailboat languishing nearby. After the cove, there is an open spot just upstream of the resort’s marina. A couple boats were anchored there, including the catamaran where a party was hosted the previous Friday night. I recalled that I was told to pass near the end of the marina docks, so I aimed Ruth Ann there. The river began to open up but was still shallow in spots. I watched the water and eyed my chartplotter. At one point, the depth sounder was showing that I had gotten into some skinny water, so I steered hard to starboard toward deeper water indicated by the potentially less-than-accurate chart. We passed near the Red 10 marker and the lower part of the North Fork opened up. We had lots of water before us and all the way down to Stuart. 

Sailboats don’t go in a straight line, so I had a basic plan to crisscross my way down the river. By the time we were approaching the western shore, we were regularly sailing along at three or three and a half knots. It was wonderfully pleasant sailing on a broad reach and Ruth Ann was as ecstatic as I was. We got close to some docks and tacked back out into the river. 


The longest leg was another nice broad reach the other direction as we made good progress down the length of the river. We were hitting four and a half knots and more. I don’t race and I’m not (knot?) really concerned with my speed, but it was satisfying anyway to know that we were going nearly as fast as we would have if we’d been motoring!

After a jaunt down past the Red 6A marker, we were pointed right at a small group of docks just past Britt Creek. There was lots of depth up to the shore, so I kept us speeding right at the docks for a good long time. Once we got within a couple feet of rubbing the keel across the bottom, I tacked us back to the south. I had been eyeing my windvane and expected to run downwind from there. The wind had been a little fluky all morning, but after we came around in a gybe and traveled several yards, we were still reaching. Ruth Ann just loves a good beam reach and she danced across the waves toward the neck where the river makes a bit of an ‘S’ curve just before the North and South branches join and go under the Old Roosevelt Bridge as one. 

Sketch of Ruth Ann's Track

The channel is marked for bigger, deeper boats than Ruth Ann and after taking a look at the chart for the waters ahead, we gybed again and cut both corners of the curve to head straight at the South Fork. At the confluence of the river’s forks, we sailed right at the boats tugging at their moorings at the Sunset Bay Marina. There is another curve to get into the South Fork where the Pendarvis Cove Anchorage is. I had to get Ruth Ann far enough south to make it inside a buoy marking a shallow area. We got as close to the moored boats as I could stand and tacked to the west. There was a little traffic around but it was a weekday, so no obnoxious weekend warriors with their wakes and their misappropriated glares. 

Just ahead of us was a large sailboat, they turned into the anchorage ahead of us and, of course, they turned toward the area I was aiming for. We sailed past the anchorage to let them decide what they were doing and I doused the jib, started the engine, and dropped the main. I set Ruth Ann to wallow in a slow circle as I went forward to tie up the sails and prepare for anchoring again. When we turned around, the bigger boat had picked a spot and they were already backing down on their anchor. I entered the anchorage and slid through the many boats and up near that bigger boat. Just past them was a Canadian boat that I suspected might be staging to cross to the Bahamas, so I anchored just past them. I row to shore, so I wanted to sneak into a spot as close to the dinghy dock at Shepard Park as possible. 

With that, I was in; I was back ‘home.’ Nevertheless, I prepared to go ashore. I had found a new upscale market, a good hike further than the nearby Publix. Publix is getting pretty pricey these days and I don’t like how their produce guy minds his department. Sprouts Farmers Market is another bougie grocery market, but it seemed less expensive and less cult-like than Trader Joes or Whole Foods. To their credit, and the reason I hiked a six mile round trip to get there, was that they have a great bulk foods section, including raw cashews and nutritional yeast (look who’s bougie now). I needed some freshies and some galley staples that are not available at the little downtown Publix. In addition to my bulk stuff, I found some tahini, a purple yam, some zucchini, onions, a head of cabbage, and some good raisins. 

Halfway back to the boat, I realized that all that fresh air I’d been consuming all day long was going to make me mighty sleepy. I had stopped at the liquor store to renew my tequila stock and ended up with a bag of Voodoo potato chips as well. I stumbled into the very Publix that I had meant to avoid and bought a Cuban Sandwich and some tabouleh for supper. Their tabouleh is actually quite good and I’ve had homemade Lebanese Grandma tabouleh in my life. The Cuban on the other hand, hit the spot but was only adequate. And I was just bragging online about being a Cubano connoisseur. The Publix Cuban is a decent attempt and they probably had the capacity to ‘hot press’ the sandwich for me, but I didn’t bother. Without being pressed the bread seems like too much. The cheese, pickle, and sauce are good; not great but good. Also, the pork is sliced deli meat. A proper Cuban has deli sliced ham, but small chunks of roast pork. By the time I had rowed back out to Ruth Ann, after sailing all morning, and hiking all afternoon, the Publix Cuban was just fine. I enjoyed it along with some Voodoo chips, but I saved the tabouleh for the next day.  

The following day, I could feel the big hike to the bougie market in my legs, but I mustered the gumption to go back into town to do laundry. While I was folding my clothes, I struck up a conversation with the guy who had introduced himself as the new owner and I ended up with a part time job. This is actually just what I needed. So far, I have really enjoyed his approach to people and business as I have witnessed it. I think he is going to be a great guy to work for and the job is pretty casual; some work but a lot of time. I’m sure I’ll have laundromat stories for you in the future. 

Now I’ve got to go add ‘Laundry Clerk’ to my encyclopedic list of odd jobs, which is here.  

Monday, February 5, 2024

South To Stuart

Pendarvis Cove

I was bombing my way south to get out from under the cold weather that often reaches into North Florida in January. And I was watching my diesel consumption and wondering if I had enough to get far enough. Then a friend ‘sponsored’ a jerry jug of fuel and I had a few more options. As I sailed down toward Melbourne, I was also watching the weather. Stiff winds were in the forecast again, this time out of the northeast. Ruth Ann and I ended up going all the way down to the Melbourne Causeway, the southernmost bridge in town, because it offered the best protection from the wind. 

Melbourne Causeway

Passing through Melbourne, I determined that it was not a place to find work either. The Indian River is also fairly wide open through there and all the anchorages were similarly exposed to lots of fetch. Fetch being the distance that wind can travel unimpeded over the water. Lots of fetch means lots of choppy waves when the wind comes from that direction. I scratched Melbourne off my list. It was also easy just then, because I had realized that Stuart was now less than two days away. I spent a couple months in Stuart last winter and I knew that the access to shore was excellent; groceries, water, and trash all readily available. 

Shepard Park Dinghy Access, Stuart

Ruth Ann and I stayed where we had tucked in behind the causeway for the next day as well. The second day’s forecast was iffy, but I decided to make a run for it anyway. After we got down past Sebastion and under the Wabasso Bridge, the mainland and the beach islands drew together and the wind would not affect us so much. It was blustery, but not bad; not the worst we’ve seen by far. 

After Wabasso, was Vero Beach and then Fort Pierce. The tidal current is quite strong through Fort Pierce, so my next hurdle was to try and time the tide. Further, Vero Beach was as far as we could likely get that day, but it is also a popular spot with cruisers and I was concerned that the anchorage there might be crowded. I decided to stop a bit early at the Pine Island Anchorage; another of my favorite stops. 

Once again, I left a favorite spot with the first light. We had to get moving to be able to time the tide at Fort Pierce and get beyond there that day. Down past Vero Beach, the anchorage didn’t look too crowded but we had had a peaceful night where we’d been at Pine Island. Vero is nice, but I don’t understand why so many cruisers, especially those with sailboats, stay there. They even call it “Velcro Beach” because it is so hard to leave. But Vero is far away from waters that are open enough to sail in. Of course, that only highlights how few sailors are actually sailors, but whatever. 

Ruth Ann carried me down to the North Fort Pierce Bridge, where we had to wait a couple minutes for the top-of-the-hour opening. After getting under the south bridge, we entered the last “lagoon” of the Indian River on the way down toward Jensen Beach and Stuart. My next challenge was the weather again. The wind was on our nose and was going to be out of the southeast through the next day. It was forecast to stiffen overnight and I was concerned about the anchorage I was aiming for. Last year my friend Nancy and I had sailed all the way in off the ocean, around a corner to the ICW, and into the Marriott Resort Anchorage without using the engine!  However, the anchorage was wide open to the southeast and would likely be very rolly that night. 

I got to Jensen Beach and decided to take a look at the Marriott Anchorage anyway. Ruth Ann and I passed under the Jensen Beach Bridge as I watched the wind, the waves, and the boats bobbing in the municipal anchorage. The Marriott Resort is just under the next bridge and about halfway there I decided that I didn’t want to anchor there in that weather. The Jensen Beach mooring field is on the southside of the bridge’s causeway, as exposed as the Marriott anchorage, but on the northside of the causeway there is an anchorage with some protection from south and southeast winds. The boats anchored there looked more peaceful than the boats in the mooring field. So I turned around. 

After anchoring on the northside and having a comfortable night, I arose again and finished the trip up the St. Lucie River to the Pendarvis Cove Anchorage where I stayed last year. Earlier, my wonderful friend had actually given me a  bit more than I needed just to get five gallons of diesel; I could have bought fifteen or twenty gallons perhaps, but I had held out. The morning after arriving, I rowed to shore to get a few basic provisions to tide me over. I was very grateful. 

And then the most wonderful, funniest thing happened: my sister called. 

In order to tell this story, I need to start in about 1975. When our family moved into Charlotte, the woman who had been in the house before us, left us kids three stuffed characters on the mantle of the fireplace. They were more than dolls, literally two feet tall and almost like muppets. There was a hippie, an indian, and a witch. I got the hippie and it might have affected my whole life; at least my outlook. 

The Hippie Abides

Fast forward to 2019, I was still driving a truck for boat money when Trump sent out a last check for $400. I don’t even remember the rationale behind that odd amount. Regardless, my check went to my parent’s address where I had last filed my taxes. My sister had called to tell me that it had arrived and suggested that she cash it and save the money for some time in the future when I might really need it. I was making good money on the road and didn’t have any reason to argue. Sure, sounds good, do it, I had said. She cashed the check and stuck four one hundred dollar bills in the pocket of the tie-dyed shirt of my hippie which she is “keeping for me” in her basement guest room. A hippie has never had so good actually. 

In the meantime, we both completely forgot about the four bills.  

Hilariously, after I had gone to shore with the last money I had to my name, my sister called that evening to tell me the story of remembering the hippie’s money. She had told me that she had just deposited it for me. Now, I had been living on cabbage, onions, lentils, and rice for a couple weeks. About all I could afford when I went ashore was some more onions, some garlic, and a cabbage; along with some grapefruit and a couple zucchini that were very special treats. I was a bit overwhelmed and exceedingly grateful after the phone call. I could live for several weeks on $400 and just that had taken a lot of pressure off my situation. I no longer had to take any job right away. I had some time; the most precious commodity. 

Shortly after that call, some dear friends invited me to a party the next night, up the river. In the morning, I bought some more diesel and got some water at a nearby marina, but didn’t manage to get ashore again for any provisions. You can take the boy out of East Lansing, but you can’t get East Lansing out of the boy. There were friends to hang with and a party to be had. I went running. 

sv Mollynogger next door

I’ve been hanging out with my friends, the Sail Bums, aboard Mollynogger, ever since. They are great people, fantastic musicians, and good to me. (Thanks again!) 

The party was fun and the next night was hours of deep thoughts and deep tracks, crowned by Stan Rogers’ rousing “Barrett’s Privateers” about 03:00 am. Later that same morning, we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 10:30 for their regularly scheduled “Cockpit Coffee” live on Facebook.

Life is good. Good friends. Good old boats. Rum and conversation. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Another Little Squall

I had bugged out of Green Cove Springs when I realized that fully half of the 10 Day Forecast called for 30’s at night; mostly high 30s but a couple nights reaching down toward freezing. Ruth Ann is not a cold weather boat and she had become a “neglected terrarium simulator.” The cold weather caused tremendous condensation in the cabin. And without being able to open up the portlights or hatches, the dankness had taken over life aboard Ruth Ann. Water literally dripped from the ceiling and the walls. The edges of the cabinetry started to bloom with mold and mildew. Every day, I was wiping down as many surfaces as I could with a rag and a spray bottle of vinegar and eucalyptus oil. It was more depressing than disgusting and I had to make a change. 

I stopped at the City Pier to plug in and top up my battery bank before we ran down the St. Johns River, through downtown Jacksonville, and south on the ICW to anchor, still in Jacksonville, next to the Atlantic Boulevard Bridge. I had calculated that I had enough diesel aboard to make it down to at least New Smyrna Beach or even to Cocoa, but it might be close. Once I got into some open areas of the ICW, I was planning to sail some and save fuel. If I kept moving, I might only get hit with one night in the 30s on my way south.  

The next day, I had made it down past St. Augustine to the Fort Matanzas anchorage. It’s one of my favorite spots, but I was up and moving with the first light and made it down to Halifax Lake, north of Daytona. One more day and I had made it all the way down to New Smyrna Beach. 

New Smyrna was one of the spots I was considering to stay for a while. I likely needed to find some work to keep feeding myself. Unfortunately, Smyrna is so close to the Ponce Inlet that the tidal current buzzes through town; peaking at about 2 knots in one direction or the other every six hours or so. This was not conducive to rowing ashore in all weather for a job, so I had to move on. A friend had offered to get me a slip in a marina to hide from the cold, and I bargained for them to sponsor a jerry jug of diesel instead. It was a truly sweet offer and well timed boost; a buffer against my dwindling diesel supply.  

I rested in New Smyrna where the weather wasn’t too cold. It was good to have a day off after crashing my way south all day for four days. On my ‘rest day,’ I motored over to the New Smyrna Marina to get that jerry jug of diesel. The next morning, I left early and got back on my way.  

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution kind of person actually, but I had pledged to myself that I was going to sail as much as possible. However, south of New Smyrna, the ICW goes through a narrow patch down past Edgewater, Bethune Beach and Oak Hill. After the usual vacation homes along each shore just south of Smyrna, there are some real Old Florida places along this stretch; some mobile homes and some old-school fish camps populated by RVs and fishing skiffs. Finally, the waters opened into the Mosquito Lagoon, just north of Cape Canaveral. It is deceptive, because the wide water to the east is very shallow. The ICW channel hugs the mainland to the west all the way down to the Haulover Canal. At Haulover, the ICW cuts across an isthmus to enter the Indian River; a huge lagoon of brackish water that stretches 121 miles down Florida’s coast, from Haulover to the St. Lucie River at Stuart. 

I turned into the canal and called the drawbridge that blocks the way in the middle of the canal’s length. The tender opened the bridge perfectly and I passed through without even slowing Ruth Ann. East of the canal is another large open stretch of shallow water. We motored across the expanse and aimed at the NASA Railway Bridge. 

I had seen some vagabonds sailing down the ICW. It is tough work but they appeared to rely solely on their sails. One boat had their dinghy ‘hip-tied’ and ready to use, but must have been rationing their gasoline supply. They were young sailors out here doing the life and I respected their mettle. They also inspired me. I had pledged to sail and even though I could have just continued motoring along after it was no longer necessary, I developed a plan.

South of the NASA Railway Bridge the Indian River remains a large expanse of water but the shallows recede toward the shore and there is a lot of room in deep-enough water. I slowed Ruth Ann as we approached the bridge and then ducked in behind it after we’d passed. I dropped the anchor, killed the engine, and prepared to sail. TO SAIL!  

There was a nice fresh breeze as we lolled at anchor in the protection of the bridge’s causeway. Just to make it interesting, I decided that I might as well sail off the anchor again. With a jib hanked on and ready, I uncovered the mainsail and raised it. The anchor came up as the main rattled around in anticipation. Once we were free, Ruth Ann started to fade away from the bridge and slowly turned her bow to the south. The jib was still tucked in a sail bag to keep it out of the wind until I had secured the anchor chain. Once we were drifting south, I grabbed the sail bag and yanked it off the sail before I walked back to the cockpit. Back at the helm, I steered us onto a broad reach across the westerly wind, sheeted the main, and then raised the jib.  

Glory. Glory.  

We had begun to sail and it was just fantastic; as usual. This is literally what I have lived for most of my life. 

South of the NASA Railway Bridge is the town of Titusville. There were houses scattered along the shore as we approached and we passed a large marina just before another bridge. A fishing boat zoomed by as a handful of sailboats bobbed in the marina’s mooring field. Under the bridge there were a dozen anchored sailboats on each side of the canal. Titusville offers a dinghy dock at a park on the west end of the causeway. The town was also on my list of possible stops but the available anchorages were all wide open to winds with either a southerly or northerly component. Not conducive to rowing a daily commute.

[ Note: if you squint, you might be able to see the 
ghost of a dolphin under the surface as she played
in our wake. The dolphins were very camera shy. ] 

We sailed along on a glorious day, continuing south from Titusville. Camera shy dolphins were swimming all around Ruth Ann. Without the engine on, as Ruth Ann’s belly cut through the water, I think the dolphins considered us some kind of distant cousin and several came by to check us out and say hello.  We passed under the Addison Point Bridge and I was watching two things. There were some dark clouds over my shoulder to the northwest and the wind from that direction was having me reconsider the anchorage I had been aiming for.  

I checked the weather on my phone and even though it belied what I was seeing with my own eyes, I couldn’t leave the frolicking dolphins and the sailing was so good. I kept watching the clouds and hoped that they would stay north of us. We now headed to a closer anchorage; one that had protection from the northwest wind. Another forty five minutes or so of sailing and we could pull into the Power Plant Anchorage, just north of Delespine. 

And then I looked over my shoulder at the clouds again.  

The storm clouds that had been hovering off to the northwest had expanded and were suddenly looming over us. Just as I had started to think of dropping sails and turning on the engine, the first gusts from the advancing squall hit us. The wind shifted toward the north and Ruth Ann leaned heavily to port letting the cleated mainsail shove us around to the west. We were out in the middle of the wide channel but now we were pointing toward the western shore rather than the waters to the south. I struggled to steer but the mainsail was in charge. After I was finally able to let the sail out and regained some control, I pointed us into the wind to depower the situation. 

I always rig a downhaul on my foresails for times just like this. In the chaotic wind and waves, I simply loosened the jib halyard and hauled in on the downhaul to douse the sail. The jib rattled in the strong winds as it collapsed onto the bowsprit. I leaned down and started the engine, then let the main halyard go and went forward with a couple sail ties to secure it. As I gathered the main sail, I was standing atop the cabin, hugging the boom as Ruth Ann rocked side to side. After tying up the main, I paused to look around from my high vantage point. There had been a channel marker nearby and I had to make sure the wind wasn’t pushing us toward it. 

I stepped back to the cockpit, checked the depth gauge, and grabbed a couple more sail ties. All the way forward at the bowsprit, I bunched the jib and tied it to the bow pulpit rail. The sails no longer rattled free in the wind, but the wind was already starting to abate. Back at the helm, I steered us into the channel and toward our anchorage. Soon the squall had passed and I kind of kicked myself for not holding on. After the short chaos of the squall, we could have sailed some more. 

I was good and exhausted by the time I dropped the anchor just behind the jetties of the power plant. It was a little rollier than I might have liked but it was going to do that night. Back in the warmth of the cabin, I made some supper and quickly fell into bed. The rolling continued and It was not a real peaceful night. Nevertheless, the next anchorage south, where I had planned to spend the night, was completely open to the winds out of the north. In the morning, I passed a boat in that very anchorage and I knew that I had had a more peaceful night then they had.  

I headed south toward Melbourne to check on another possible stop. Each time I moved on, I started looking at jobs online in the next area. I had already mostly escaped the cold weather, so now the quest was to find a good spot, with decent access for a guy rowing a small dinghy. 

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...