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. 

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