April was cold and wet, and since we don't like either kind of weather, we waited. We moved back aboard on Sunday, April 21 and left the dock Tuesday morning for our first stop, Cumberland island GA. I can't even beginto describe the beauty of the place in words. The photo of Harry on one of our hikes will give you an idea. On this morning, we walked for 3 miles along the beach and never saw a single other human being. Because of more rain and cold, and a cracked tooth needing a crown for Jane, we stayed 2 weeks between Cumberland, St Mary's, and Fernandina.
The winds were consistently wrong for making our passage north on the outside, so we stayed in the intracoastal and are glad we did. Much of it is shallow because government budget cuts mean little to no dredging, but the scenery can't be beat. Marsh, cypress swamps, isolated anchorages--and then towns, mega-mansions, and history. In Savannah we walked a couple of miles for "down home" barbecue (photo above). Then the next night we reconnected with good friends for a waterfront dinner. In Georgetown, SC, we toured the Rice Museum and motored by plantations from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then, on a very sharp curve in the ICW we came bow to bow with the huge tug and tow in the photo. At least 4 tugs, five barges, a sharp curve, and low tide in an already shallow spot. Our nerves we stretched, but somehow we got by.
Finally though, it happened. Yesterday we ran aground on a falling tide and couldn't get off. We could have just waited bout 4 hours, but fortunately we decided to add towing insurance to our Boat US membership. We are happy to say that it DOES work. No harms one, and tomorrow we will cross into North Carolina.
For family reasons, we turned around at Brunswick last July, returned to Jacksonville, and "parked" the boat at Ortega Landing Marina. In the fall, with real estate prices still low in Florida but starting to rise, we bought this house and now, after almost 16 years of living aboard full time, we have a land base. But the anchor does not yet have a solid hold on us. Within the next 2 weeks we will be heading north slowly with plans to spend some time up the Potomac in Washington, DC and then get to Maine by the beginning of August. As usual, all our plans are "set in jello" and we will continue to update this blog along the way.
After months alone in the marina, CORMORANT needs a bit of TLC to get ready to go again and we have been working more and more as the weather warms. Provisions have to be checked, bought, and stored. The companionway door has now been stripped and oiled (no more varnishing outside teak), and Harry is replacing all the hoses in the head. The engine is already serviced so it won't be long now! It just feels like sailing weather and we are almost underway.
Harry enjoying the screens
Where did June go? We spent the first half of the month still at Camachee Cove Marina in Saint Augustine, Florida. Justin, of Cooper's Canvas, was working full time to design, build and install a complete replacement of our bimini, insert, and dodger as well as a full enclosure with both clears and screens. CORMORANT has a canoe stern and a rather difficult cockpit entrance, so it was a real challenge. Justin's work is outstanding and with new "natural" colored canvas and dark green screens matching our hull stripe, we look like a new boat. It is a real change for us, because we have always been a blue water ready boat, with enough canvas for dryness in the companionway and a little shade, but nothing more. Now, we are going to be cruising the east coast for a couple of years, so we are going for more of the "sunroom" approach. When we left in 1997 heading south in November along the waterway, we envied those folks in T shirts inside their enclosures. This year that will be us!
One of the bonuses of choosing Cooper's Canvas is that the marina, Camachee Cove, is half price while the work is being done. That is a great offer for any cruiser. We were in the marina for tropical storm Beryl, whose eye, at just below hurricane strength, went right over St. Augustine. The protection is great there and we had no damage at all. We hauled out there too for our annual bottom job, and you can see in the photo that the work was very good and professional. Just a caution for others, though. They seem to think that one coat of paint is normal, and if you want two, be sure you settle on a price first.
Another maybe hurricane and Brunswick, Georgia
We made a little progress to the north, but only 3 days after leaving Saint Augustine a massive low developed in the Gulf and we decided to go into Brunswick Landing Marina to wait and see what might develop. Brunswick has a reputation of being a good hurricane hole, and we are very secure up the river. Debbie did develop and created lots of problems, but mostly it was just lots and lots of rain and some flooding. But she was slow, so the days passed by. Like lots of places here it seems, once you stay over 5 days you have paid for a month, so we are still here enjoying the area, waiting to see Jane's brother who lives in Thailand and is coming for a visit on Thursday, and just messing around with all the normal boat projects. We have a new map up, but our line just barely shows at the bottom. We hope to get to Washington DC this season.
Before coming, we did a little more exploring around the Saint Augustine area. Besides boats, Harry loves trains and old cars, so he was in heaven. Out in the country we found a train club, and Harry was even allowed to drive (but without passengers).
Car, St. Augustine
daily cruise boat, St. Augustine
We're in Louisiana to attend Harry's 50th high school reunion, and we are so lucky that this time we can stay with his sister at her friend's camp on the river. What a treat. From the time we saw Rob and Renee in NO, it seems like we have done nothing but eat and talk. For Sunday lunch for the 4 of us, we had 12 pounds of crawfish and 3 pounds of boiled shrimp! Then here at the camp we had a memorial day cook out. Fresh grilled Copper River salmon Emmy carried back with her on the plane from Seattle, a large barbecued brisket, and 3 deserts. Next, it was juicy fried catfish topped with crawfish etouffe. I won't continue, but you get the idea...
The really wonderful thing is being at the camp. In LA, a camp is a rustic week-end place, usually on a river or lake. This one is on high ground right by the Tangipoa River in Ponchatoula, so it is convenient yet a world away. The camp is a big square building, but only half has solid walls, and the kitchen, bath and shower are there. The rest all has short walls with screen above, a big table for meals, and beds lined up on the porch for sleeping. No TV, no traffic noise--just the insects and the frogs and the owls at night.
Harry gets to drive!
We are now in Saint Augustine, waiting in a wonderful marina while we have all our well worn cockpit canvas replaced. Since we have now completed our circumnavigation and have decided not to "do oceans" anymore, we have lots of offshore blue-water gear and spares that we won't need for the coastal cruising we have planned for the next few years. All of this is listed for sale on the Cruisers Forum, but we cannot seem to post photos there, so here they are:
Autohelm ST-6000+ control head
back of autopilot control head
code zero furler
Profurl C42 drum
riding sail, to control sailing at anchor
Lewmar Wireless Windlass control pn 68000844
merriman single and double blocks
Lewmar wireless windlass transmitter
assorted power cables and adapters
4JH3E exhaust mixer elbow
Now let's see. How far to ???
Yes, it has been over a month since the last entry, so obviously we have been having a great time and not looking too hard for internet connections. The Bahamas have very few free connections, since most of the boats there seem to go for the entire winter so they subscribe to monthly wifi service. We kind of enjoyed the break from constant connections.
After a week in the well-known cruiser destination of Georgetown, where winter cruisers organize activities almost everyday, culminating in a 2 week regatta at the end of the season, we moved on to Cat Island and then overnight up to the Abacos. We skipped this group on our way down in 1999, so we wanted to visit. The area is beautiful for sure, but with our draft--which is only 5 1/2 feet-- we had to be very careful and watch the bottom and the tides all the time. Average depth seems to be less than our keel, so we managed to hit bottom twice in our 2 weeks there. Oh well, at least there are no more barnacles on the bottom of the keel.
Unbelievable colors show depth
Sapodilla anchorage, Caicos
Historic Sapodilla Hill
Monument anchorage, Georgetown
With a beautiful forecast we sailed out of Boqueron, Puerto Rico, on Saturday morning, March 17 heading north and west to the Turks and Caicos. It was one of the very best passages we have had in all our 15 years of cruising. Seas were regular and smooth, winds were constant from one direction, giving us a nice broad reach all the way, and there was no rain! Just before noon on Tuesday we made the turn into Sandbore Channel to get to Sapodilla anchorage in the Caicos. In the photo, the dark blue is the open sea, over 4000 feet deep. The lighter water is over the sand bore lining the channel, just 2 to 20 feet, and the medium water is the passage in. We are relearning how to read depths from the colors.
We were last in the Caicos in 1999, and the building boom has changed the whole place. Sapodilla used to be remote, and to get to town cruisers hitchhiked. Now, the bay is lined with beautiful homes, but the water and the people are still as nice as always. We hiked up the "hill" by the anchorage (probably 100 feet high) and saw grafitti from sailing ships passing here long ago.
After only 2 days in Caicos the weather looked good so we decided to make the 2 night passage to Georgetown in the Bahamas, where we are now. More fantastic colors in the water, an anchorage which can, and does, hold 100's of boats, and perhaps our last clearance into a foreign port with Cormorant. It is wonderful to be here after the famous Cruisers' Regata which finished March 11. Now the dinghy dock has plenty of room, the stores are well stocked, and we can even get room here at the internet place. We'll be heading up the islands toward the Abacos, and will probably update from there.
CRUISER INFO: Clearing in and out of the Turks and Caicos, staying no longer than 7 days, cost $100. Clearing in the Bahamas is $300 for up to 4 people, and it is good for 1 year with one re-entry, so boats wanting to cruise the eastern US and return within a year do not have to pay again. There is a transit clearance of $50, but you must be out in 7 days and if you want to then change to the cruising permit you have to pay the full $300, with no credit for the $50 you already paid.
Dinghy exploring in Salinas
We ended up spending a week in Salinas, getting groceries, installing the fridge, and just messing around. It has the reputation of being a good hurricane hole and this creek shows why.
Lots of birds, but lots of stink too
The banks are lined with mangroves, and in a storm, boats go as far in as draft will allow and spider-web lines across the creek. One boat, visible under the clear water, didn't make it.
and some birds like to roost on boats
"House" on the reef, Culebra
Moving west from the US Virgin Islands, it is an easy day sail to Culebra, the closest of the so called Spanish Virgins. It is a whole different world, with no cruise ships, no charter boats, no beach discos, and plenty of nice friendly people. We felt like we were cruising again rather than being on vacation. As we entered the large sheltered harbor on Culebra, we passed the reef anchorage called Dakity. When we anchored here in 1999, navigation was "eyeball" to find the deeper water through the pass and into the anchorage behind the reef. Now, the DNR has put out free moorings (however we tried one and were not satisfied with the maintenance, so we slept much better on our own anchor) and red and green buoys mark the channel. One enterprising soul seems to have made a home, with 360 degree sea views, for a song.
After Culebra we sailed 10 miles to the south to Vieques. In 1999 it was closed to cruisers because the navy used it for test bombing and local people were protesting after a tragic accident. Since then, the navy base in Puerto Rico has been closed and Vieques is now mostly a park--very little development and all of that on the west end of the island. We spent 3 days in Ensenada Honda, and anchorage that is totally protected by mangroves and reefs and is so large it could hold well over 100 yachts. The most we saw was 3.
Then came one of those days which unfortunately happen when cruising. As we sailed 10 miles west to Esperanza, the strong winds ripped a meter long tear in our 14 year old headsail. That night, as we were rolling miserably in the anchorage, our refrigerator evaporator sprung a fatal leak. Harry repaired it 2 years ago, but the metal is so thin to improve efficiency that, on a constantly moving boat, its useful life is about 5 years. We put this one in 7 years ago in New Zealand, so it was time. Our despair was short however. The next day we sailed to Salinas, on the south coast of Puerto Rico and found a very large, beautiful protected anchorage with friendly, helpful people ashore. We took the sail in for repair, got in back in only 2 hours, and the total cost was $45. We ordered the new evaporator which had to be shipped from South Carolina, and 30 hours later we got the call that it was in the store and when were we coming to pick it up! Now Harry has been working all day to install it, and right now the lid is going back on the freezer. We will enjoy our sundowner time today for sure.
Jane and her sister Mary, as you can see here, had a wonderful week of snorkeling and swimming at every opportunity in the US and British Virgin Islands. Mary was able to stay 8 days, so we could go more places and hit the snorkeling highlights. The very best was the Indians in the BVI, followed by Leinster Bay on St. John. We swam with loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, saw rays from the boat and while swimming, and even had to get the underwater guide to corals and fishes out to identify all the things we found. Since Mary is having a partial knee replacement in a week, walking was out but swimming was fantastic. No pain with no gravity to push those bones together. Plenty of rum and tonic, good food, and good books to read in the afternoon "siesta" time made the time pass all too quickly.
Now it is time to say good-bye to the Virgin Islands and begin our trip to the west and the north. Tomorrow we will sail to Culebra, one of the "Spanish Virgin Islands" and part of Puerto Rico. From there we plan to go to Vieques and then along the south shore of Puerto Rico before jumping off for the Bahamas. The next update will be from new cruising grounds, since we want to go to some of the places we missed on the way down in 1999.