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.
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.
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…
Friday, we did our now-usual routine of waking up early and heading northward up the ICW, this time heading to to Titusville. This had been a planned stop for a couple weeks, aiming for a weekend day to see the Kennedy Space Center, so we got a spot in the city marina for a few days.
We had an uneventful glassy morning cruise up, and upon arriving in the marina, were greeted by several manatees swimming around, and our first in-person fellow great loopers, Larry and Mary Bailey (the link is to their travel blog). They were super friendly, and we ended up spending a bunch of our stay in town hanging out with them and a couple of their friends that came down to visit as well.
After working Friday, in the evening we had some drinks with the Baileys and then we had a late appointment at an escape room a few miles down the road, so we unloaded the bikes and headed inland to find some dinner. Titusville has a cute little downtown area, but as soon as you get outside of that, it feels like you’ve been teleported back in time. Aging half-abandoned strip malls (and indoor malls), sketchy diners, the works. We ended up picking a pizza place in the mall where the escape room was and had a great cheap meal before heading to the room.
The escape rooms were interesting. It sounded like the owner basically bought plans for them off someone in Vegas that sells escape room plans, and then just built them. One of the rooms was “The Hangover”-themed, and required a nontrivial amount of trivia from the movie to get through, which we required hints for. We got through that one and since the night was still young we did another Harry Potter-themed room that was pretty good, with some neat new tricks, aside from one super-tenuous connection in the last area of the room that even the owner couldn’t really describe how anyone was supposed to understand. Oops.
Saturday was the main event for us — the Kennedy Space Center. I’d been once, ~25 years ago with my family, and Hannah had never been, so we were pretty excited. I’ve been a space dork my whole life, so the color that this added to all the stories that I’d grown up reading about was just beyond awesome. As a pretty incredibly unpatriotic person in the current environment, it was still an awe-inspiring tour de force of the era back when America was actually great. This juxtaposed with the sadness of having them sell off daily tickets to astronaut lunches at the museum, because there’s so little else for astronauts to do these days. In any event, before I get stuck on a rant, the museum was incredible. I teared up more in one day than I have in the last decade combined. If you are even slightly intrigued by space, engineering, or US history, you’ll have a great time.
We got back to the boat, and were invited back onto the Bailey’s boat again for cocktails and snacks, and ended up heading in with them all for a night on the town. We ate a pile of seafood, hit up a wine bar, drank at a great brewery, and finished off at a dive bar. Look at us being all social.
After the night of heavy drinking, waking up early the next morning was rough, but it was supposed to be worth it. As it turns out, SpaceX had a rocket launch scheduled for 9:22AM, and so we couldn’t not go see it. Saturday, I posted on the looper Facebook group and asked what the best place to see the launch would be. Most people suggested just watching from the marina, but Ferrell & Tamara Shaffer (link to their Facebook blog) responded that they were at anchor just southeast of us at the closest spot boaters could get to the launch, and invited us to come join them. So, we gathered the troops and trundled out of the marina at sunup and went over to join them.
We rafted up on them with about 45 minutes to go until launch, chatted for a while, ate breakfast, and then gathered on the bow for the countdown. SpaceX did its usual great livestream leading up to launch — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, Liftoff! Wait, abort! We have an abort.” Apparently some sensor measuring the force of the rockets as they build up to launch thrust detected an anomaly and auto-scrubbed the launch right at T-0. So, that was disappointing, but what can you do? It was a pretty morning anyway, and we got to meet a second group of loopers. We dropped everyone off at the marina, said goodbyes, and continued our journey north.
This segment of the ICW was a little wacky. It was a very-dredged section, so any deviation from the channel got real shallow, real fast. There are regularly-spaced “spoil areas”, where they dumped the sand from the dredging back in the early 1900s, which had turned into tiny tropical islands in the intervening decades. There were lots of boaters out there today, fishing from the little islands and hanging out under tents in portable chairs. We had to take one long cut (the top picture) that was packed solid on both sides of the channel with people fishing from either the shore or tiny fishing boats in the shallows.
We’re also seeing dolphins and porpoises all over the place. It’s pretty crazy compared to the northwest, where if you see a little pod in a weekend you’re lucky. Everywhere we go, as long as we’re doing ~6-7kts, they swim over and play in either the bow or side wake to catch a free ride for a bit.
We ended up anchoring for the night in New Smyrna, a cute little town where the only things open on Sunday are the brewery (even the smallest towns have a microbrewery these days — what a time to be alive) and a little knick knack shop, so we didn’t do much other than walk around and get a beer before heading back to the boat for dinner. We’re anchored in a tight little spot between 2 boats on one axis and a sandbar and a crab pot on the other axis, but amazingly it seems to be holding quite well in what otherwise appears to be loose sand. We’ll see if we get woken up in the middle of the night by the anchor alarm that I have set on a super tight circle…
After being holed up at a windy Nettles Island for three days, and finally free of set-in-stone scheduled destinations, we were ready to get moving. Our next two plans were:
Get up to Titusville by the weekend to hit up the Kennedy Space Center.
Get up to Jacksonville the following weekend to then rent a car and drive down to Disney/Universal with Hannah’s brother and a friend of ours.
Early this week is also when COVID-19 officially transitioned from “Seattle’s kinda screwed” to “the country/world is on the exponential infection curve now.” We’d been assuming for a few weeks that many of our desired activities would need curtailing, but it took a while for businesses to finish playing virus chicken with each other and actually start closing. I put the kibosh on the Disney plan 48 hrs before Disney actually closed themselves, but I had some hope that, at a museum at least, we could more or less determine our own desired level of infection risk by how many things we touched/how many people we got near, so for the moment, we held onto the Kennedy plan and proceeded toward Titusville.
Our first stop after leaving Nettles Island was Vero Beach. We didn’t really have plans to do anything there, but on working days, it’s hard for us to make too much forward progress. Wake up early, try to get somewhere by 10:30am or so, then fire up the computer and work for the day. On the southern ICW, where you spend much of your time going 6kts, that doesn’t allow for a lot of daily distance. So, we found a nice looking anchorage on Navionics and headed up that way. The anchorage turned out to already have 2 boats in the best spots, spaced just perfectly to not really fit a third in between, so we set anchor ~100 feet east of the ICW channel and monitored to see how bad of an idea it would be.
It turned out to be a pretty great spot. A few boats waked us pretty good, but that was pretty expected. In the late afternoon, Hannah finished up her work for the day and wanted to try out the dinghy. Everywhere we’d been so far, we had backed into Marina slips, so we hadn’t actually had an opportunity to try it out since transporting from the west coast yet. So we put the boat in the water, the motor turned right on (a great sign, since the battery hadn’t been charged in ~3 months), and Hannah went out for a quick spin. She started idling away from the boat toward the channel, and then … frantic arm motions, then a cell phone call. It won’t throttle up at all, it’s stuck in idle. Damn. She tootled back to the mothership, and I started diagnosing.
Somehow, on the 3 week voyage across the country, salt had managed to find its way everywhere on our boat. We had most things cleaned as soon as it got to the dock in Ft. Lauderdale, but some things, like the dinghy, apparently escaped that cleaning. The shift lever had gotten tons of salt outside and in, blocking the shift mechanism and rusting some of the pivots. Fully dismantling everything, scraping off a lot of salt and corroded metal, and reassembling it fortunately completely cured the issue, and late in the evening we declared success. We were originally going to go ashore and try out an escape room, but the dinghy issues had removed our motivation, so we sat back to enjoy the evening.
The sunset looked promising, so I got out the drone, charged the batteries, got everything set up, went to take off and … red warning, can’t take off. Turns out, there’s an airport inland and our anchorage is right in the approach path to one of the runways. Damn #2 for the day. I called it, put everything away, and decided it was beer:45. So I grabbed a beer and settled in. Hannah went to take a shower, and immediately returned with the bad news that the water pump wasn’t working. Damn #3. Don’t they always come in 3s?
Our water pump had been not behaving super well even while we were still in Anacortes, and had gotten worse since starting the Loop, so we knew this day was coming. I was just hoping that it wouldn’t be, you know, today. So, I spent a few minutes tinkering, and decided to just give up, grab all the tools, and swap the damn thing out. An hour later, we had water again! But this pump wasn’t turning off some of the time when water pressure ramped up. I’m hoping it’s just learning, since it’s an “intelligent” pump, but in the meantime, sometimes we have to power cycle it to get it to stop running…
The next morning, we moved again. Next stop was Melbourne, which the book generously described as, “there’s not much to do here, but it has a great anchorage.” Hannah found an escape room here too, so that was our next intended activity. We got up to the anchorage, which was a roughly half-mile-square of 8 foot deep water to the east of the ICW channel with no other boats, and dropped anchor… and dragged it all over creation. We tried a few different directions, and couldn’t get it to set up strong anywhere. Fortunately, we were over a thousand feet from any even vaguely worrying water, but we really needed to get to work, so we set up an anchor alarm and started working.
For the next 5 hours, once an hour I would hear the anchor alarm go off, move it over another 100 ft, and go back to work. In the late afternoon, I got tired of this, and we found another better-sounding anchorage in Cocoa, another 15nm north. We pulled up the anchor and discovered several cubic feet of seaweed taking up permanent residence on the anchor and chain, explaining the earlier difficulties, but we decided to move anyway.
This section of the ICW fortunately has several 25mph speed zones for us to take advantage of, so we got up to Cocoa in an hour and set a great anchor in some sticky mud just SE of town, next to ~30 other anchored boats, west of the channel, just outside of the under-construction marina. The sunset looked exciting again, so I, not learning my lesson from last time, got the drone ready to go, went to take off, and … no takeoff allowed. Another airport. As my dad always says, he with weak mind has strong legs, so I put everything back away.
Later on, we took the now-working-great dinghy ashore after dark, tying up at a boat launch and hoping no one stole it (and immediately buying a 15ft locking chain on Amazon), and hit up a local escape room. The escape room was a serial-killer basement themed mission with some mostly-non-tech-based puzzles, which was fun. We knocked it out with 22:51 left, which is pretty great for us. We dingied back to the boat in the pitch dark and called it a night.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!!
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.
The only set-in-stone date on our trip for the next several months is having to be in DC for the March 6-8 weekend for a funeral. A couple months ago, with that date in mind, and expecting that we’d want to deal with some stuff on the boat before heading too far north, we guessed randomly, picked West Palm Beach to fly out of (~50 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale), and bought plane tickets.
Fast forward to being on the boat, and we think that guess is going to work out pretty well. We have the second round of canvas repairs that will be done either Friday or Monday (contractor-speak for “maybe Monday, probably Tuesday”) as the long-pull work item right now. Knowing we’re here until then, we have been taking the opportunity to catch up on all the boat prep that we missed out on in January when we had to send the boat out on 48 hrs notice.
With Sunday spent doing basic provisioning, the weekdays are our first trial of working full time from a boat on the other side of the country while trying to organize shipments, start planning travel, find/book future marinas, and do maintenance.
Monday, we had the pallet full of several hundred pounds of supplies from home arrive, and spent the entire afternoon unpacking and organizing. I stayed up late and installed a new chartplotter (navigation computer/display) and radar to replace our ancient ones. Despite wearing full protective gear and heavily using a vacuum to eat up a bunch of fiberglass, I’m still assuming I took another chunk out of my expected lifespan. Amazingly, I also managed to sell the old units, which I assumed would be nearly worthless, on Craigslist and eBay for 900$ in under a day.
Tuesday, the couch pallets arrived, and we had an exciting afternoon of frantically getting the existing couch out of the boat and getting the new couch on board with literally seconds to spare before the sky opened up. Once everything was installed and cleaned up, we utilized our rental F150 to its fullest, bringing a completely overflowing truck of old couch, pallets, and other misc junk to the dump before returning it in the evening.
Tech-wise, working on the boat has been going fairly well during the day. I picked up a second unlimited SIM card from an AT&T reseller (NoLimitData), stuck it in the second modem on the Cradlepoint router, and enabled intelligent trunking (with the existing unlimited Verizon card), so the router splits our traffic between the two connections. The results, at night at least, have been great (see picture). Midday, when the networks are congested, with the two connections sharing load, we’re at least barely noticing that we’re not on a cable modem, so we can’t ask for much more than that. I still can’t wait for StarLink next year…
Today, after work, I started digging into a few nagging problems we noticed on the boat on our quick trip up to Vancouver. A few of the switches on the flybridge helm had stopped doing anything, including the horn, and there were some issues with the trim tab sensors on the NMEA 2000 network. After messing around with the trim tab sensors for way too long, I finally just unplugged the device, plugged it back in, and quickly tried a fresh re-calibrate before the computer finished initializing it. Boom, all fixed. On to the electrical. I chased one of the issues down to a wire pulling out of a previous crimp connection, another of the issues down to loose spade connectors, and then fully debugged the horn down to it being a hardware issue. I pulled the horn off the boat and popped it open to check it out, only to be met with a horn element full of rust and spider webs/poop. So, a replacement is on its way from Amazon now.
In general, though, things are coming together. More storage/organization supplies are arriving from Amazon by the day, so our living spaces are pretty usable now, especially with the new storage in the couches. The ghetto-rigged A/C unit is doing a decent job, though with it being 88F and quite humid today, it was struggling to keep the inside below around 75, but that’s fine for working. On the fun side, we’ve been soaking a tiny 1 quart oak barrel for a few days to get it ready for aging cocktails, and tonight we declared victory and filled it up with a bunch of Negroni. In a couple weeks, that’s going to be delicious.
Tomorrow, we plan to actually unload the bikes and take some rides around town — hit up an escape room, maybe head over to the beach, etc. We have a pile of Amazon packages coming in the next 2 days with more storage/organization supplies (and some boat parts…), so that’ll take up plenty of time, but we’re hoping to be able to relax for our first weekend of the trip.
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.
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!!
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).