Black Creek to Fernandina

Amazing sunset view captured from the drone

We knew that we wanted to spend the weekend on the St John’s river, but this particular side trip isn’t detailed in the Great Loop book that we have generally been following, so we had to wing it. I did a bit of online research and found a blog post detailing an anchorage about one mile up Black Creek which is just off the west side of the river and not too far south.

With that plan in mind, we’d been rationing our diesel for several days, knowing we had to fill up fairly soon. All of the diesel up the ICW had been $3-$3.50 a gallon, and with us getting nearly 300 gallons to fill up, that was gonna be pricey. I’d seen a “Mandarin Holiday Marina” just down the St Johns River that had cheap diesel (listed at $2.10 online), and decided that we’d be able to make it there, as long as we kept planing (going 14-16kts) to a minimum. We called them the night before showing up, to make sure they were still open, and to ask about any depth issues (“no problem as long as you draw less than 6 feet!”) It all sounded good, so in the morning, we headed straight there.

Phone photo of the chartplotter with our sketchy shallow course into the Mandarin Holiday Marina

It was a lie. Or, as we found out, they might not even know because no one that works at the marina actually boats in the area. We looked every way possible at the chart and couldn’t actually find a way in that wasn’t dangerously shallow. But we knew that boats got in there, so we just did the Florida thing and went in anyway. 10 minutes of nonstop shallow water alarms from the depthfinder later (I don’t like seeing numbers like “2.5”), we did make it safely into the fuel dock, and were rewarded with 260 gallons of $1.90/gallon diesel! We paid, crept out of the area, and got back to our regularly-scheduled safe 10-15 ft depths.

Driving up Black Creek

We continued down the St John’s River, turned up Black Creek, found the spot and dropped the anchor. We’ve now anchored a few times on this trip, something we are very comfortable with, having done so many times while boating in the NW. What we are finding here is that rather than rocks and mud, most of the time, the bottom is sand and our anchor is apparently not finding good holds in sand. After a couple of tries, we decided we’d found a good enough spot and we’d sit tight and monitor the situation with two anchor alarms. The anchorage was beautiful and we were the only boat there!

Pretending to be the only boat on the creek

Despite being the only boat actually anchored here, we were not actually the only boat on the creek – not by a long shot. It’s actually very impressive that David managed to get both the day time and the sunset drone photos boat-free, since day boaters and jet skis were driving by us from both sides of the tiny island at full speed (huge wakes and all) until sundown.

So many boats. It was like this every 15 minutes. All day.

Since it was so pretty, and we were feeling pretty lazy on Saturday, and we could deal with the rocking from the wakes, we decided to stay here for the weekend instead of finding another spot on the St John’s River.

On Sunday, we pulled anchor and decided to go all the way north to Fernandina without stopping again in downtown Jacksonville. When we have a weekend day without dealing with work, it’s a good opportunity to get long transit stages out of the way. With everything now closing due to COVID-19, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to stay in places more than a day or two, since we can’t explore towns/museums/parks, so we’re pretty restricted to either public road bike rides or what we can see from the boat. So we’re going to just keep pushing north, seeing what we can along the way, and ideally get up to Maine for some quality social distancing.

We pulled into Fernandina just before dinner time, and found that while the marina was very swank (new docks), the location most certainly wasn’t. The marina was flanked on both sides by large processing plants and the area didn’t smell too pleasant. Also, we tried to plug into power and blew the breaker on two towers on the dock. I tried to bike to a couple grocery stores in town to buy some more food, and they were all completely out of anything useful, so I came back basically empty-handed. Since the marina office was closed for the evening, we decided to ditch the dock and spend the night on one of the marina’s mooring buoys, saving $80 in the process. However, by the time we had made this decision, it was decidedly past sundown, so we did all this with our radio headsets on and me on the bow of the boat with a headlamp and the mooring line; and to cap it all off, right as we cast off from the dock, a good wind picked up making the buoy approach quite difficult! Nonetheless we got tied up for the night just fine.

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Getting Better at Social Distancing (Palm Coast to Jacksonville)

Coming into Jacksonville after a long day at 8 kts on the ICW

At some point in the last couple of days, we surpassed our previous record for longest continuous time spent on the boat (on our Canadian summer trip two summers ago). Despite that, and even the current need to practice social distancing, we are still happy and in love and not suffering from cabin fever. We’ve been on the move quite a bit since our last post. We intended to stay in New Smyrna for a couple of days, including spending some time on the beach. Unfortunately we arrived a bit too late in the day for the 40 min walk due to delaying in the morning for the (aborted) rocket launch. Since the next day was a Monday and we saw most everything in town via an evening stroll, we decided to pull anchor and head to our next stop early.

The next stop was Palm Coast, which was really just a half-way point for us to Jacksonville. I had a really nice run along the ICW, where the few people I ran into did not seem to have heard about the 6ft distance thing… The following morning we again headed north to St Augustine, where we had planned to stay for 2 nights. This is the oldest town in the US and has some really great architecture. And, of course, we took no photos of it, since we were either on a bike or I was going for a run. Sadly, due to trying to practice social distancing, and the fact that we were here for two weekdays working during the day and things were starting to close, this all meant that we really didn’t get to explore the town.

Amazingly we found room to keep this suit on the boat for the ONE day of the year that it would be wear-able.

It was St. Patrick’s day, so while we wanted to avoid the club scene, we wanted to do something. Also, David had brought his ridiculous suit along, so he had to wear it. The governor of Florida announced that bars and nightclubs would need to be closed, and restaurants could remain open at 50% capacity with tables spread out. We decided to go out for a meal, since it was likely going to be our last opportunity for a while, and restaurants sounded pretty dead when we asked about reservations over the phone. At 5pm, the mayor of St Augustine mandated that no alcohol be served in the city, so we had a dry dinner before heading straight back to the boat.

An interesting side effect of Coronavirus has been the social normalization of group video chats for adults. Kids have been doing this forever now, but adults have largely shied away from “hey wanna video chat for a while to catch up?” While we were forcing the issue with some friends before isolation practices kicked into high gear, social distancing has made our attempted chatting advances much more normal, so we’ve been doing lots of “hanging out” the past week.

After St. Augustine, we traveled the long leg to Jacksonville for one night in the free marina. Apparently everyone else finally got the memo about staying at home since we were the ONLY boat in the entire marina. Or possibly the marina is used only when there is a football game at the nearby stadium. We’ll never know.

A very empty 80 slip marina, and we are the only boat. Also, it was free, aside from 8$ for power.

Also we’re almost out of diesel, since we’ve been rationing to try to make it to the 2$/gallon diesel just south of Jacksonville. When you’re filling up with hundreds of gallons of diesel, these things add up. But tomorrow is fill-up day, hopefully…

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Nettles Island

After we landed back in Florida after a great weekend celebrating David’s grandmother Marian’s life with his family, we immediately loosed the lines and started heading northwards, aiming to find an anchorage in Jensen Beach, just south of Ft Pierce.

Turns out that there was a wind advisory for small craft (it was pretty windy when we shoved off out of the marina). Most of the cruise was non-eventful, but as the sun set and we started to get near Jensen Beach, the wind started picking up in earnest and we became a bit nervous about putting down anchor for the night. We tried calling Ft Pierce marina, since they were only a little but further north than us, but they said that it would be too dangerous for us to pull in in the dark with all the wind. We then tried looking for all local marinas in Jensen Beach. There was only one, and it turns out their docks had been destroyed in the last hurricane. They recommended we try a public dock at a park just north of Jensen Beach. We turned down the narrow channel to go and check it out, but it turns out the dock was for small craft and not big enough for us. By this time the wind was really gusting and it was a bit scary to get turned around at the end of the channel which was really only about the width of our boat-length with extremely shallow waters on either side.

The ICW is the skinny white channel running N-S in this picture. It’s usually about 8-12 ft deep. You can see the water around it is ~3ft deep. We attempted to find moorage at the end of the offshoot near the top of this image.

Finally, I looked a little further north and found a marina on Nettles Island, who picked up the phone and had room for us, if we were willing to dock ourselves without help! We were very relieved. We came towards the Island just as the sun was setting and the wind was still blowing pretty hard. David did an amazing job steering us straight into our berth, which was literally right outside their restaurant – still full of people. Fortunately, as we came into the slip, several folks staying at the marina were kind enough to catch some lines for us, making the entire process go as smoothly as any of our non-wind dockings could have gone. Turns out David was the talk of the restaurant that night for doing such an amazing job in the high winds (haha get it?!).

With the winds forecast to be 20+ kts solid through Tuesday night, we decided to throw out our plans and wait it out before continuing north, since we had several nights of anchorages ahead of us before making it up to Cape Canaveral. There wasn’t much to do around Nettles Island, but we discovered Instacart and delivery groceries (they even delivered from Total Wine!), plus I took some time to do some training on my portable pole.

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An Average Day

Quite a few people have been asking us if we are under way and if we are on the boat while working, so I thought I’d describe an average day so far on the trip.

We woke up this morning in Boynton Beach and our destination for today is West Palm Beach. So far, we have been doing all our traveling early in the morning, before work begins and before most people on the we even awake. While David was still getting out of bed (he’s not a morning person), I started to get ready for leaving.

Once David was up, he fired up the engines and got our navigation systems up and running. I threw off the lines, hopped on board, and then we were on our way. Once we cast off, I made breakfast. Mmm, toast.

It’s getting really hot here in FL and we cannot have our A/C on when under way. By the time we pulled into the dock here, it was already almost 90 degrees! (Later in the day it got up to 94!)

Once we were tied off, and plugged into power, we turned on the A/C and got to work.

Then I make lunch. Today was “italian” style pasta salad.

After work we unloaded the bikes from the boat and did an escape room. This was actually our 3rd escape room on the trip – we’re enthusiasts! We escaped with ~10 mins to spare. After the escape room, we biked to a nice restaurant for dinner, where we celebrated David’s birthday a day early and they gave us carrot cake for free and put birthday confetti on the table!

So – in summary, we woke up early, drove the boat to a new location. Did normal things like make and eat breakfast and lunch, worked for the day, then hung out in town for the evening.

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Under Way

The last few days have been pretty solidly filled with finishing the last projects to get the boat back together and ready to start the trip. We swapped out a fixed cooler for a powered CFX3 unit (basically a second fridge), since we didn’t want to be beholden to buying ice every couple days, which required running AC and DC lines from our breakers up to the cooler and fixed-mounting it onto the boat. We finished replacing the dead horn, and discovered the old one must have been running on only one side for as long as we’ve had the boat, as the new one is significantly more throaty. We tried installing a new wireless camera to help assist with docking, but the connection is flaky, so that might not last. We got a bunch of storage/organization aids for the wine, liquor, and other under-couch things, and finally got everything stashed away into closets. Then we did some more homey things like adding a foam topper to the front bed, installed a 12V outlet in the front stateroom, and got new linens and a pillowtop for the couchbed. We’re ready for guests, and, after a week of the boat being a complete mess, we finally put the last tools away in the closet!

On Saturday, after finishing the last chores, we then had a great afternoon with a bike ride to a local brewery before returning back to the boat for dinner and final trip preparation.

This it what it is like to cook dinner in a boat galley

This morning, we finally pushed off the dock and started on our trip. We made it all of 5 feet before the first mishap occurred — we apparently had left the side door swung open as we left the dock, and quickly discovered that the thrusters were completely dead (we assume drained battery from not being used or charged in 2 months), so the fairly heavy wind pushed us alongside a (rubberized, thankfully!) post and nearly took the door completely off before we were able to get the boat out of harm’s way. After bungeeing the nearly hinge-less door back to the boat, we then actually started the trip!

We had a bit of a harrowing journey up the New River out to the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW). The New River is a much narrower continuous channel than anything we are used to boating, and we ended up behind a very large vessel being towed through the channel – apparently this is common as it is hard for larger boats to navigate the winding waterways. This was also our first experience going under bridges whose clearance is too low for us, meaning we have to wait for them to open, communicate with the bridges via radio, time crossings, etc. This will be a common occurrence for us for the next year, so we’d better get used to it! Northwest boaters will be amused to learn that instead of dodging logs, we spent the afternoon dodging floating coconuts!

We finally pulled into our stop for the night: Lighthouse Point Yacht Club Marina. David spent the evening hammering the hinges back to flat and making new mounts for the door while I was able to do a huuuuuge load of laundry, and we got rid of all the trash/recycling that had been piling up on our back deck. The boat is clean and organized, finally!!

Trash and recycling pile that had accumulated and taken over our back deck

All the chores were done just in time for sunset off the stern of the boat, and then we headed to the club’s tiki bar for dinner and drinks! Apparently the 75 degree weather was “a cold day” so the club was pretty dead. Their loss.

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And So It Begins

When David randomly (at least to me it felt pretty random…) said to me about three years ago, “I think we should get a boat”, I never would have dreamed that three years later we would be celebrating the first day in a year-long adventure on said boat in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. I must admit that when he suggested a year ago that we consider doing the Great Loop, I was at first hesitant – how would we work? where would we do laundry? can we live in small quarters without wanting to kill each other? how will I fit all my clothes and shoes for a year? David is clever though, since he knows that once he’s planted a seed, despite my initial negative gut reactions, once I’ve had a chance to mull things over, I usually come around to his way of thinking :).

And now, here we are, toasting to our first day!

Yesterday evening, we left 50 degree and rainy Seattle on a red-eye and landed this morning in Ft Lauderdale where the weather is sunny and 75 degrees.

Obligatory airport selfie with copious alcohol for sleep-inducing reasons

We were nervous about getting to the boat as this would be our first time checking out the full impact of the potential damage from shipping. The good news is that everything inside the boat was completely fine. The repaired canvas pieces look great and you can’t even tell that the BBQ railing had snapped completely from the boat. Unfortunately the BBQ itself was mangled beyond repair, so one of our errands today was to get a new one. We also noticed that some of the other canvas was less-obviously damaged, so we’re hemming and hawwing about what to do about those.

After establishing the state of Highwind, we went out for the day provisioning and picking up a few things for repairing our outdoor table that is a little worse for the wear. Costco, WholeFoods, HomeDepot, Harbor Freight, West Marine. I said to David that it is funny how we are about as far as you can be from Seattle, yet we spent the day in the same stores that we would have at home!!

Also, it would be a David and Hannah boat provisioning trip without hitting up Total Wine for excessive amounts of alcohol.

Now we are ending the day with some steaks on our new grill and probably early to bed since we didn’t get much sleep on the plane! Tomorrow, we both will be working from the boat while two different freight shipments arrive throughout the day with the new couch and our last pile of supplies from Kirkland. We’re also starting to look ahead to planning our first transit stages to get north to West Palm Beach by March 6th (where we have flights up to VA for the weekend for a funeral/celebration of life).

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