Key Largo and a New Boat

After our lovely new year’s eve on Key Biscayne, we had a pretty uneventful cruise over to the house on Key Largo. On advice from some other boaters the previous week, we took the Angelfish Creek cut through from Biscayne Bay out to the Hawk Channel.

First look at the tropical water of the Keys – such beautiful colours!

There’s very few passages through the Florida keys that have more than a few feet of depth, so you have to choose carefully and aim for high tide. After all of our careful planning, we never saw fewer than 5 feet under the keel through the passage, so maybe we didn’t need to be so careful, but better safe than sorry.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. The house is on what turned out to be a tiny tiny channel, and our boat blocks a distressing amount of it, so we have large fishing boats passing feet from our windows every morning full of charter customers. The house has some … interesting decor. But it’s a good place for us to hang out for the month with Hannah’s folks.

On Jan 4th, we got the final survey results back for the new boat, and everything looked good. We negotiated over a few things and signed some final agreements. A couple days later, we finalized insurance and the sale closed, and we find ourselves fleet owners again, but in the really undesired way. So now we can finally unveil our new boat.

We have purchased a 2008 Endeavour TrawlerCat 48. Endeavour is (well, was, really) a small boatmaker in Florida, which spent a little over a decade making sailboats from 1974-1986. After going bankrupt in the recession, it eventually got purchased by new owners who renamed it the Endeavour Catamaran Corporation and started producing cats. They made several models from 36 through 44 feet through the earlier years, and in 2008 started making the 48. The boat we just purchased actually turns out to be hull #1. From years in software design, I thought I was smart enough to never get the V1 of something, but here we are. Only 11 of the 48s were ever made, and the company ended up getting bought by ArrowCat several years ago. Shortly thereafter, the owner, Bob Vincent, passed away, and they haven’t produced any hulls ever since.

The few 48s out there are mostly with their original owners and rarely change hands. One of the 48 owners is a semi-retired boat broker and has basically kept track of every 48 owner and tries to connect them with interested buyers, so only one has actually ever made it to the public market. He’s how we ended up finding this one — since we had expressed interest in the middle of the summer in getting on the list, we got word that one was coming up for sale near where we were passing through, so the timing worked out for us to stop in and take a look.

It has several attributes that we’ve been looking to upgrade to:
* A structural “flybridge” area (second floor), for more comfortable weatherproof cruising
* More beam (width), but not enough that we will have trouble finding slips. The Endeavour cats are kinda mid-width. This boat has an 18 foot beam, which gives a bunch of extra room over our current boat. But many cats around this size have 22+ foot beams, which starts to be really difficult to fit in a marina.
* A third bedroom that we’ll convert into an office, so that we can have two isolated work spaces. Both Hannah and I tend to just be on zoom calls for the majority of every day, so we’re constantly jockeying for space and taking calls from a bed.
* Stability of a catamaran — just gets thrown around a lot less in rough seas
* Just more room, everywhere — the 48 has 850 sq ft of climate-controlled fiberglassed-in living space. Much bigger kitchen, bigger master bedroom, bigger flybridge, etc.
* Hydraulic dinghy lift — really easy in/out of the water to go for a jaunt.

We don’t really have any useful pictures right now, but if you want to see some video to see why we bought it, there’s a marketing video from 2013 on youtube.

We were originally planning on swapping boats mid-month so we could spend half of our stationary month on Key Largo outfitting the new boat. Unfortunately, after seeing the size of the canal outside the house, we canceled the plan. The Meridian is wide enough that we’re really close to blocking the channel for the biggest boats to get by, but the 4 more feet of the cat would really be aggressively blocking things. So we decided to just leave the cat in Stuart for the month and slowly get Highwind ready for sale, while also starting to plan out purchases for the new boat. It’s not a perfect solution, but these things rarely are. So we made one long day trip up to the boat right after the sale closed, took a ton of measurements, looked at some dinghies, and then left it to sit there for the rest of the month.

Anyway, after dealing with all of that, and deciding to just settle in, Key Largo has been lovely. It’s great to see Hannah’s parents after a year away, and spend the month hanging out. Hannah’s brother flies in for the middle 2 weeks of the month as well, so hopefully we all have a fun month and no one brings COVID to the party by accident. We’ve all been isolating as much as we can, but you never know.

On our first full day in the Keys, we went to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for a picnic lunch. It was a little crowded, but we managed to find a picnic spot. It wasn’t super warm, so we didn’t swim – only waded in up to our knees.

Key Largo is pretty chill — a few fun outdoor restaurants, the usual grocery stores/chains, and a lot of boaters. We’ve largely been working all day then drinking beer and wine and hanging out on the porch all evening, every night. It’s a rough life. After 10 straight months on the move, it’s nice to just relax once in a while.

A few days after we arrived was Hannah’s birthday. Since it was mid-week, we celebrated with a home-cooked dinner and my parents sent a lovely bouquet of flowers.

After a lovely first week, Matthew arrived. Since we had taken the car up to Stuart to receive the keys for the new boat and take some measurements for ordering new parts for the internet setup, we picked him up from Miami airport on the way home and stopped for Cuban dinner. It was a little chilly and Hannah had to wear all the spare clothing we could find in the car!

Delicious Cuban sandwiches

The next day Matthew and Keith went on a fishing charter. They returned home with about a dozen fish – largely yellowtail and tuna. This resulted in Hannah and Matthew making several delicious home-made fish and chip nights and amazingly fresh sashimi appetizers!

Brent and Elizabeth sent us, via my parents to Hannah’s parents, a custom puzzle of a photo from last year’s Christmas holiday – the one we wrote about early on in this blog! We spent a lovely evening putting together the puzzle. Hannah wouldn’t let anyone look at the picture after we opened the box, which everyone complained about, but it actually made the completed result more satisfying! It was fun to spend the evening piecing together a photo of all the family, back when we could be together. Hopefully we’ll be able to reunite next year.

We started hatching a plan to potentially take Highwind out on her last hurrah to Key West, or possibly out to Dry Tortugas, if the weather cooperates. That will be Matthew’s last week at the house before he heads back to San Jose.

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Sea Trials, Highwind Adrift, Miami and New Year – Quite the Week

After Chrismas our plan was to spend the next week in the Ft Lauderdale area. We had managed to confirm an engine survey, hull survey, and sea trial for the new boat in the week between Christmas and New Year. We would be renting a car and driving up to Stuart for two days to oversee this process. We moved the boat out of the Hall of Fame marina where we’d stayed for Christmas and set up shop on one of the buoys of the Las Olas City Marina. It was pretty close quarters in the mooring field. We had to snug up our lines on the buoy pretty close, but even so, on part of our swing, our stern was about 15 feet from a brand new 75-footer Viking that was for sale. We had nearly a full week of consistent 20kt winds ahead of us, so we had pretty constant swinging and pulling on the lines for the buoy. The mooring field (2 other buoys) filled up with other boats.

Everything for the first day of the survey was relatively uneventful. We spent almost the entire day poking at every button, switch, window, device, etc., and didn’t find anything major wrong. In the evening, back in Ft. Lauderdale, with the rented car we were able to venture a little further for outdoor-dinner and re-visited a spot from when we’d first arrived and had a car for loading and prepping the boat.

Sneak peak of view from new boat flybridge/pilot house

On the second day of the survey – the sea trial, we had to voyage north to Ft Pierce (a 2 hour boat ride) to the only place that had availability to haul out the boat for the hull survey on such short notice. As we were nearing Ft Pierce, David receives a phone call. It was the coast guard, informing us that Highwind was currently on someone’s dock. Apparently, the buoy anchor line (the one holding the buoy to the sea-floor) had snapped and Highwind had drifted, missing all the moored boats, and the brand new Viking, right into someone’s empty dock. He’d been nice enough to tie us down and then called the coast guard to have them look us up.

There was no apparent damage to the boat. OMG. We are so lucky – it could have been so much worse. The coast guard gave us this good samaritan’s phone number. We called him up to find out more information. As it turns out, the dock had been empty, but he was expecting delivery of a brand new boat shortly. We then received a call from the captain of this new boat. He was a bit of a beginner, and in the heavy winds was not pleased about the idea of rafting off Highwind. He demanded that we have Highwind towed to a marina. At this point, we were a 2 hour boat ride from our rental car in Stuart, which was a 1.5hr drive from Ft Lauderdale. There was no way we would be able to get south in time to sort anything out. We called BoatUS, who are pros at moving boats without anyone on them, and within 45 mins, they were at our friend’s house and had moved Highwind to a spot we’d secured with the Las Olas Marina. He even sent us some photos!

We decided that there wasn’t much we could do, so we focused on the remainder of the day with the sea trial, hull survey, and engine survey. Once we arrived back in Stuart, we headed straight back to Ft Lauderdale to check out Highwind. BoatUS had done a fantastic job securing her in the marina and there was no damage at all- I saw only a few rub marks where she’d touched the dock without fenders, but it was superficial only. Again, we were SO LUCKY.

We’ve been having unseasonably strong winds for the week and the forecast was set for them to die down on New Years Day, so we discussed the possibility of spending one more night in Ft Lauderdale before heading south towards the Keys. When we woke the next morning and spoke with marina, they did not mention anything about paying for our night on the dock (we’d already paid for the mooring buoy!), but were going to charge us a huge amount to stay where we were for another day, or a slightly less amount to move to a different slip in the marina. We decided that if we were going to untie, we might as well just head south to Miami, even with the fairly heavy winds. We headed down yet another slow/no wake/idle speed only section of the ICW and took 5 hours to go 20 miles. This was New Years Eve and we saw so many boats filled with people (probably not a single boat with less than 5).

New Years Eve partiers in Miami

When we got close to our intended anchorage spot, we saw through the binoculars that there were about a hundred boats moored there, so we decided to head a little further to Key Biscayne Bay. This was a little quieter, and we dropped anchor just in time for a beautiful sunset, a bottle of champagne, and a quiet evening on the boat, followed by fireworks 360 degrees at midnight.

This year wasn’t quite the adventure that we had planned, but as it turned out we have been fortunate to have still done so much in relative safety during a global pandemic. We have fallen in love with this lifestyle and are planning to try for the full Great Loop next year. Living in close quarters is not without its struggles but we are both happy and well (my bad shoulder notwithstanding) and we look forward to what 2021 brings – in particular vaccines as soon as we can get them!!

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Stuart to Ft Lauderdale, Christmas on Highwind

After looking on the potential new boat at Stuart, we decided that we were interested enough to make an offer, so we decided to head back to another anchor spot east of the marina for a couple of days during the negotiation process (to avoid marina fees!). However, on one of the (weekend) days, our main propane tank that runs my stove and oven ran out. We decided to see if there was a place to refill in town, since we had no other plans for the day. I found an Ace Hardware within walking distance of the town dock and called them to confirm (3 times!) that they did do propane refills. We dropped the dingy down, filled it up with our two tanks and the dock cart and headed in to town. It was about a mile walk along the road.

David pulling the two propane tanks to town

When we arrived to the Ace Hardware, the first sign of trouble was that they did not have the large propane tank sitting in the car park. I went in to the store and it turns out that they only did propane tank swapping – despite me confirming that we would be bringing our own tanks to refill! We then promptly got on our phones and started calling every marina and possible other place within reasonable walking distance around town to see if anyone would be able to refill our tanks. We found a few places that would be able, but were not open on the weekends.

While we were both on our phones, a friendly patron of the hardware store came over to talk to David. He recognized our situation (a fellow boat owner) and let us know of a place a couple of miles away that would be open, and he offered to give us a ride. This was a little concerning to us primarily due to covid, but he was wearing a mask and said we could put the windows down. While he was picking up what he needed in the hardware store, we called the place that he suggested to confirm that they would be open. Turns out the store did not do refills, but in there parking lot there was a random dude who did…sketchy!! Well, we decided we’d give it a go, and loaded our tanks and cart into the guys car. He was very friendly and also a live-aboard boater, spending a couple of months staying put in Stuart for the winter. We arrived at the propane place, and lo and behold, it was a random guy, with a large tank in the parking lot who was open during the weekend to do propane refills. We were able to refill the tanks and the guy drove us right back to the marina where we’d parked the dingy! Propane adventure successfully complete!

It turned out that we couldn’t get surveys done on the new boat until after Christmas, so there wasn’t a lot of point in hanging out nearby for another two weeks. So we decided to start heading south, with our plan being to make a base of Ft Lauderdale for the Christmas weekend. We stopped in Palm Beach for one night at a marina so that I could do a last load of laundry before getting to the house in the Keys.

As we were pulling out of Palm Beach, we drove by a ship-shipping ship that was either being loaded or unloaded. Pretty cool to see in real life the type of vessel that brought Highwind to the east coast.

The next stretch of the ICW is probably our least favourite – consisting of lots of bridges with clearance lower than our boat, with specific opening times during the hour, and LOADS of slow/no wake/idle speed only zones. It took us 9 hours to travel 40 miles (we can ordinarily do 100 miles or more in about that time period) to arrive into Ft Lauderdale on Christmas Eve. This was actually the first section of the ICW that we travelled back in March when we started our trip. We reminisced that we were so starry-eyed with the newness of boating on the East Coast that we didn’t realize how slow and boring this section really is! We agreed that any passages through this area moving forward will be done on good weather days going outside (in the open ocean), rather than up or down the ICW.

The most outrageous Christmas decorations seen in the slow zone of the ICW

We decided to see if there was anything open in Ft Lauderdale, despite it being Christmas Eve, so we headed off the boat for a short walk to the Las Olas Beach area where we knew (from our trip last year to the Ft Lauderdale Boat Show) that there was a strip of restaurants with outdoor seating open on to the beach. Turns out everything was open and it was actually quite busy! We managed to find a place that had fewer people and a good amount of space. We had excellent Mexican food and giant margaritas, which is actually a Short family tradition for Christmas Eve, so that turned out well!

For Christmas we had planned to spend the day to ourselves on the boat and do various family Zooms. It was a little sad to not be able to travel home for the holidays and see people in person. We are really looking forward to when we can get vaccinated and we’ll be able to travel home! I also had decided to cook Cornish Hens for our Christmas dinner- they turned out delicious, though David grumbled a bit about the ROI of meat to picking off the bones. :). Overall, a pretty good holiday, all things considered.

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Daytona Beach, Anchoring, Fort Pierce & Stuart

After St Augustine, we headed to Daytona beach, and dropped anchor in a spot just off the ICW. Unfortunately, we were spending only one night here, on a week day, and the weather was starting to get a little cold, so the odds were stacked against us actually visiting the beach. However, after a busy work day, while google-mapping what was near us, we discovered we were a short hop from a distillery: Copper Bottom Spirits. So we put down the dingy and headed to shore. We discovered that the restaurant attached to a nearby marina offered free temporary moorage to guests of the restaurant, so we put our name down in the queue for their outdoor deck (a 1 hour wait!) and headed off to the distillery.

When we arrived at the distillery, we were the only people there, so the owner let us into the back room/warehouse and gave us a tour. We’d never actually toured a distillery before, just lots of wineries/breweries, so this was a neat treat.

Their specialty is rum, offering several different varieties aged in different types of barrels: Sherry, Port, Whiskey, and even several beers. They also started doing a from-scratch Vodka recently, which is apparently a very rare thing, as almost everyone buys high-proof source Vodka from one of a few giant producers, and then just adds their own flavors/water/filtering and bottle it.

He talked about their entire process, most of which they do manually, from sugar cane through to bottling/labeling, including the long distillation process in the middle. It was fun to chat with him about everything, because the business was obviously a labor of love, not just a job. Anyone passing through here with an appreciation for liquor should stop in and get a tour/tasting!

After the tour, we went out to the tasting room and actually got to try everything. Their “base” aged rum was at least as interesting as our current “drinking rum” choice, the Plantation 20th anniversary, and the various barrel-finished rums were fascinating. We ended up picking up a variety of their rums. The vodka actually had a drinkable flavor, unlike virtually all other vodkas we’ve tried, but we’re not really vodka folks, so with limited space on the boat we passed. At the end, they, like everyone else in these coastal towns, turned out to be boaters, so we talked about our trip as well, as the nightly Christmas boat parade bobbed by outside their tasting room window.

Back at the restaurant (1.5hrs later), our name still hadn’t been called, but after a few more minutes of waiting, our table was finally ready. This was a pretty gimmicky restaurant and it turned out our table was a rocking contraption, which moved when you climbed in or set it to motion! We also ordered a tiki drink that was served in a take-home coconut carved with a pirate face.

Strange rocking chair table

Since it was still mid-week we did another short hop to a somewhat random spot 15ish miles south, just off the ICW, where we dropped anchor.

David had discovered that there was a nearby German restaurant that was very highly reviewed, with its own dock. After another busy work day, we dropped the dingy and headed again to shore. The temperature was getting much colder at this point, and the restaurant staff were pretty surprised by our desire to sit outside, but we insisted, so we were led out to their deserted porch. It was a delicious meal!

Next up, we headed to Fort Pierce and decided to stay there for a couple of days to be there on the weekend. We spent the first evening at a brewery (Sail Fish) very close to the marina where David tasted a couple of the beers.

The next day we dropped the bikes down and rode to a nearby botanical garden, which turned out to house one of the largest collections of bonsai trees in the country! The gardens were all set up for their holiday season light event, so you can see those in the photos.

After the bike ride, we ended up at a cider brewer (Pierced Cider Works), where we were able to sample all of their 10 different ciders! They had a great band playing in their garden seating area, so we spent a couple of hours going through the samples, playing cards and listening to music. It was really a rather perfect afternoon, and much more like what we were hoping to spend the year on the loop doing. Maybe late next year after we’re all vaccinated we’ll have more opportunities like this…

As we were walking back to the boat, the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful.

Sunset over Fort Pierce

After Fort Pierce, we headed south to Stuart. We’d been planning this stop for a while as there was a boat in the marina here that we wanted to take a look around. We’d gotten to Stuart a few days early, so instead of going into the expensive marina for a few weeknights, we anchored a few miles downriver instead, in a huge open cove with good holding and minimal wakes from passing sport fisher boats. We enjoyed a few perfect evenings of still water and perfect weather here before heading into the marina Wednesday morning.

At the end of the work day, we took a tour of the boat (very nice! we have some thinking to do…) and then dropped the bikes down and headed in to town for some errands. At the end of the line, we ended up at another brewery (Ocean Republic Brewing) for a tasting. We are finding that when we only have an evening in a place, the sun sets at 5pm, and we are still avoiding inside activities, that breweries seem to be our main option of off-boat entertainment, so it’s possible we’re just alcoholics at this point. Thanks COVID.

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Jacksonville Beach and St Augustine

As we pulled out of the south end of Dunbar creek and rounded the southern tip of St Simons Island, we drove very close to the salvage area and got an even closer view of the overturned ship.

For this leg, since the weather was good we decided to try going outside of the ICW. Though the waves were predicted to be 6 seconds apart (a pretty tight interval), they were actually closer together, and more random, so it was rocky enough that I battened down the inside of the boat for the trip. However, once we turned the corner, the waves shifted to the stern and made it an uneventful voyage.

We landed in Jacksonville Beach. Here, we were able to meet up with some family friends of mine whom I have known for essentially my entire life (pre-move to America, certainly). They had recently moved from Seattle to Jacksonville Beach, so we grabbed a spot in a marina near their new place and arranged to eat an outdoor dinner. The benefit of a Floridian winter is that this is comfortably possible even on Nov 30!

Due to our hasty boat-packing experience last winter when we readied Highwind for shipping to FL, we still had all of our holiday lights for decorating the boat for Seattle’s Christmas Ships cruises in December. We fished them out of deep storage and adorned Highwind for the holidays and she’s now looking very festive.

Our next destination was St Augustine. We had only stopped here for a couple of days on our way north mid-week and this was the exact time of the Florida Covid lockdown.

It’s the oldest city in the US, with a historic downtown area, and there is a distillery where we knew we needed to pick up some refills from our previous stop! We ended up staying here for several nights in order to be able to fit in some touring with our busy work schedules. We were able to have a couple of outdoor dinners and also walked around the historic district and the fort just outside of town.

From here, we are back in fast-transit mode for most of December. We’re trying to get down to Stuart (~200nm away) by the 16th to look at a boat that we may be interested in purchasing, and then down to Key Largo (~400nm away) to spend the month of January at an AirBnB with Hannah’s family. So expect mostly a lot of transiting for the next few weeks. Disappointingly, it looks like the only rocket launch in December will be while we’re too far north to see anything, so now we’re hoping for one on the way back up in the “spring”. Alas.

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Thanksgiving on St Simons Island

Dunbar Creek by drone, Highwind moored bottom left

From Sunbury we headed south to St Simons Island, our intended destination for Thanksgiving weekend. We had not stopped on the island on our way north, so this would be a new place for us to explore. We had been invited by some friends from Meydenbauer Yacht Club to share Thanksgiving with them in their winter island home, where they had been largely stranded due to Covid. They live right on Dunbar Creek, which runs through the island and had a dock large enough for us to tie up, ish.

Highwind on Jim and Leslie’s dock on Dunbar Creek

We had been invited for the whole week, so in addition to hanging out and doing some touring of the island, we had planned to work on several large projects on the boat. David wanted to rebuild the old broken alternator to become a spare, we needed to rebuild the solar setup on the bimini top, and David was re-doing our internet setup on the boat (more details here). This resulted in the boat immediately becoming a war zone of tools, boxes, and cables.

On our “solar panel rebuild” day, we laid out the bimini top on the dock next to the boat and started securing (involved elastic ties through eyelets and many zipties to some PVC piping that will rest over the bimini frame to assist with some of the weight of the panels). After we were about half way through, the sky opened up and began to pour. I mean cats and dogs pouring. After some minutes of panicked organization to get everything we could into the dry, we were completely sodden. We hid in the boat for a couple of hours until the rain stopped and everything had dried enough for us to keep going! We then had to lift the entirely constructed panel from the dock, up and over the side of the boat and secure it into place via zippers to all the other panels. All of this was happening while we were being eaten alive by no-see-ums. All in all, not my favourite boat project! However, we finally got everything secured and plugged in and David is very happy with the completed set up!

We had a wonderful time with Jim and Leslie who invited us up to the house for happy hour and dinner each day. We enjoyed largely a week of sunshine and weather in the high seventies (aside from the aforementioned rain storm). It is sometimes a little surreal to think that we were sitting outside in summer clothes watching the sun set at the end of November! Jim and Leslie also gave us a tour of St Simons Island. They both grew up on the island, and were able to share a lot about its history and pointed out to us how it has changed.

If you recall from our post around the time of Jekyll Island, at the southern point of St Simons, there was an overturned containership stuck in the shallow water. The salvage mission is still under way. I believe they have spent the better part of the year creating a large structure that sits over the ship which will use a huge chain to saw it into pieces for removal. We drove by the ship from a large distance on our way north, but were able to get a much better view from the public pier in the middle of town, where you can now see the chainsaw archway. They are anticipating that the ship pieces will not be removed until potentially the spring of next year!

On the actual day of Thanksgiving, we were joined by Leslie’s sister and her daughter, both of whom where at some risk of exposure to Covid due to their jobs, so we spent most of the afternoon outside on the balcony and then David and I ate at a distanced table across the dining room. Despite the arrangements, we had a wonderful and delicious dinner.

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New Internet Setup

Warning: Nerdy informational post. Skip if you just want to hear boating stories.

We’ve been using the Cradlepoint, Rogue Wave, and WirEng setup for the last ~2 years on the boat, and while most of the time it’s been functional, we’ve basically constantly been fighting issues. The Cradlepoint requires manual intervention to switch between providers, the Rogue Wave basically never connects to marina wifi, and the WirEng antenna seems to not be very omnidirectional, so it changes signal drastically as we spin in anchorages. We’ve basically had nearly a year on the boat periodically apologizing during work calls for dropping seconds of audio periodically. During COVID, lots of people have bad internet, but at some point this is going to be a problem.

Knowing I wanted more antennas, as well as more solar, while we were in Maine this summer/fall, we had the bimini canvas modified to add velcro patches so we could move the solar panel setup over from the hardtop, freeing up tons of real estate for antennas, while also doubling our wattage. Since then, I’ve been on-and-off researching options for a couple months. I’ve been leaning toward switching over to a Peplink router, and had still been trying to decide how complicated of a setup to get, other antennas to try, etc., when Hannah ran across an article on SeaBits about his 2020 internet setup. He had a ton of details on his Peplink-based setup, and had tried a bunch of antennas. I exchanged a couple messages with him, posted a little on the Peplink forum, and after a bunch of research, hemming, and hawing, I decided to try a “cheap” version of his setup.

In the past, we had Verizon and AT&T SIM cards in the Cradlepoint that we’d switch between. I wanted to, instead, support at least both of those connections simultaneously, as well as possibly adding TMobile on top. Peplink has a whole slew of different routers available, supporting everything from a single CAT6 modem through to a 6500$ unit with four integrated CAT18 modems. I decided to hedge some of my bets and went with the MAX Transit Duo CAT12, which has two integrated CAT12 modems, for 1000$. The router also supports integrated WiFi-as-WAN, so you can pull in marina wifi and treat it just like another internet connection like the cell modems. It also has a single WAN port, allowing me the flexibility to add another single cell modem and use that as yet another connection to share, which I ended up using in the end.

I picked up two Poynting OMNI-402 2×2 MIMO LTE/3G antennas, which were the SeaBits suggestions, to support two CAT12 cellular modems. They don’t have quite as much posted gain as some non-MIMO antennas, but they effectively pack two fairly-high-gain antennas per unit, in a nice weatherproof package, with integrated cabling, so it should work even better than the GigaMIMO under 95+% of circumstances.

Next, I grabbed two Poynting OMNI-496 2.4/5 dual-band WiFi antennas. Again, these were the SeaBits suggestions. The Poynting antennas have a great marine mount, have sturdy weatherproof packaging, and very good omnidirectional characteristics. So even though they aren’t the best peak gain of all available options out there, in real-world usage they seem to hold up better than anything else.

The interesting revelation that SeaBits had that kicked me over the edge was that he actually mounts the router very close to the antennas, letting you use very short cables (less signal loss/noise). Then you run a CAT6 cable and power cable into the boat to a simple switch (Trendnet 8 port industrial) and wifi access point (AP One Rugged) to actually distribute the internet to devices inside the boat. Separating the purposes like this means that you don’t need to fish a bunch of 30 foot cables from the antennas way down into the boat, with a bunch of noisy crosstalk with other signal cables the whole way. So even though I have way more wires total in play now, the actual arrangement throughout the conduits of the boat is way simpler.

Fishing the four antennas through the hardtop was awkward, since Meridian really didn’t build the thing intending for you to send wires through it, but once we got all the cables through to the center of the hardtop, it was gloriously simple to hook everything up. The router is a nice compact little rectangle with sturdy connectors and a nice removable power junction block. I put everything together, and magically it worked right out of the box. Both cell connections worked simultaneously, and I connected right up to the wifi of our friends’ house we were staying outside, and started setting up all kinds of routing rules.

Four new Poynting residents across the back of the hardtop

Finally, a few days later, after validating that this setup was working well, I took our old MOFI4500 backup router, and hooked it into the WirEng GigaMIMO antenna that we hadn’t been using for the last week. After disabling wifi and a bunch of advanced settings, I stuffed a new TMobile unlimited SIM into it, plugged it into the WAN port of the Peplink, and immediately we were getting internet off all 5 sources (2 wifi, 3 cellular)! After testing this new setup, I hardmounted power to that as well, and now everything was nicely secured inside the hardtop.

Testing the final setup tonight from St. Augustine, I was able to pull 139 megabits down, with the laptop using wifi! And for days now, video calls have been rock solid, using the SpeedFusion Cloud redundancy setup, where it sends packets over multiple connections simultaneously and merges them in the cloud. For around 2300$ total, this setup is a huge step up from the old one, for less than half of the cost.

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Beaufort, Savannah and Sunbury

Sunset after the storm

Since the weather was pretty dreary, it was the middle of the week and we knew another storm was coming, we decided to head to Beaufort, rather than all the way to Savannah.

We actually did something unusual for this leg, which was to set out in the afternoon, rather than the morning due to the tidal schedule. This section of the ICW has a bunch of very-shoaled spots that, even with Bob423 tracks, you really don’t want to be going through at low tide. With high tides around 3am and 3pm, we didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter for timing.

While underway we called the Lady’s Island Marina to make a same-day reservation and discovered unfortunately that they were all full that night, but had room for us the next day. Since the storm would be hitting the next day, and no wind was predicted overnight, we decided to anchor near the marina and get tied up as soon as possible in the morning. As we pulled into the inlet with the marina (with about 10 mins to spare before we both had to jump on meetings), the area with “lots of space” according to the marina’s dockmaster turned out to be full! With little other choice, we drove past the marina hoping for a spot further into the inlet. There wasn’t much room, but since it was getting dark (darn winter) and we both needed to be on calls, we dropped the anchor, set up a tight radius on our anchor alarm and went back to work.

We moved into the marina in the morning, and the remnants of tropical storm Eta hit later in the day. We had some strong wind and some short-lived mini-monsoons, but were otherwise ok. We heard from some boating friends who were anchored outside of Charleston that they were dragging their anchor in 40kt winds, so we were glad to be in the shelter of a marina and a few more miles inland! After that, the weather started improving and we ended up being able to have outdoor dinner on the patio of the restaurant next door to the marina and I was able to walk to the grocery store to provision. I also managed to go for a run!

We knew we wanted to get to Savannah on the weekend, so on Saturday morning we did a fairly long cruise from Beaufort all the way to Savannah. When coming North we had stayed at a marina 8 miles south of Savannah, knowing that everything was closed due to Covid and there wouldn’t be much to do. With Georgia currently having few restrictions, we figured that there would be a few more options, so we decided to stay in a more expensive marina right in the heart of the historical part of town. This was great, as we could hop right off the boat; however late Saturday afternoon as we arrived, the area was crowded with tourists and almost no masks in sight! We decided to go for a walk to explore a little. There were several restaurants open with outdoor seating, but they were right in the middle of the sidewalk with pedestrians passing by 1-2 feet from the tables. We hurried back to the boat and ordered delivery for dinner!

The next day, I had booked us another walking tour of the city. Our tour guide clearly had a great love for the city and we learned a ton about its history from founding to present. It was very interesting to experience the differences in character between Charleston and Savannah.

On Monday morning, we did a short hop to an anchorage on the Vernon River and the next day in the Little Tom Creek. These were great little spots, where we were alone. Nothing too exciting happened here – we both had days packed with meetings. Since it’s winter, the sun usually sets while we are still on work calls. One of these nights, I was sitting outside on a call at sunset. It was very beautiful, but since I was presenting, I was only able to take a couple of bad shots with my phone through the boat canvas. My portion of presenting ended, so I just had time to stand up to get this shot of the last little bit of light with the moon over head, while still wearing my headset on the call!

On Wednesday, we reached the stretch of the ICW where, due to Georgia’s very restrictive anchoring laws, we would be only able to stay in marinas. We had wanted to revisit Sunbury Crab Co, a restaurant with a marina that is about 8 miles off of the ICW. When we stopped here on the way North, we had eaten the most amazing grilled flounder that either of us had ever eaten before. Unfortunately the restaurant failed to live up to our memories a second time – the founder was good, but it wasn’t the flaky, melty, deliciousness that we both remembered. Since our next leg is at least 40 miles due to anchorage restrictions and lack of marinas, we ended up staying on the dock at Sunbury for the rest of the week, so that we could make the next leg on the weekend.

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Charleston and the Election

Sunset over McClellanville

Zeta ended up not being a big deal in the end. A couple days in the marina with a fair amount of wind, but nothing to write home about. So we hung out, chatted with our neighbors, and when the weekend came, headed south.

With a full weekend of calm weather ahead of us, but needing to be in Charleston the following weekend, we had some mileage to put behind us this week. My work week was also packed solid because of quarterly planning meetings, so we weren’t going to make much progress mid-week.

This area of the ICW starts to get quite tidal, with regular inlets and short rivers that lead out to the ocean, leading to lots of shoaling (underwater sand buildup spots) from all of the daily water exchange. As such, charts tend to be out of date within months, as shoals pop up out of nowhere, causing very shallow spots in the middle of the charted route. We’ve been reading alerts in the past on various sources (activecaptain, mostly) to know when to be cautious and make sure to go through near a high tide, but this summer found out about a set of tracks released by Bob423 that are regularly updated and can overlay into Navionics (and other apps) to give the latest safest water as proven by Bob and his community of other ICW travelers. Their community data is significantly more up to date than anything else we’ve found.

Bob423’s proposed alternate route (upper) through Lockwood’s Folly (old route dotted)

Setting out on Saturday, we knew that, just west of Southport, was a notorious spot called Lockwood’s Folly, which I’d been seeing alerts for the past couple months saying it’s super-rapidly shoaling, and down to around 4 feet deep along the currently-charted (and buoyed!) route. While we were in Southport waiting out Zeta, we saw Bob put out a message with an updated “beta” track that actually followed some deeper water (charted that way, anyway) far off course that he hadn’t tried before that he wanted someone to try out. We knew we’d be heading out early in the morning, near high tide, and with a forward-facing sonar we were in a good position to give it a go. We veered off course at the right place, and never saw less than 10 feet under our hull! We reported the data back to Bob, and I exported track and depth data out of BoatKit, which he sent off to the coast guard, and next week they’ll be re-setting the buoys for the new route!

After the excitement of beta testing Lockwood’s Folly, Saturday was otherwise a fairly mundane long journey through rural North Carolina, on an ICW that was mostly an endless series of neighborhoods. Late in the day, we entered South Carolina, and made a pit stop at Osprey Marina, the cheapest diesel around for a while, before we headed into the Waccamaw River. Checking out, the plexi wall around the cash register was emblazoned with a large “TRUMP 2020 MAKE LIBERALS CRY AGAIN” sticker, so we knew what kind of country we were in. Why anyone can comfortably have a worldview centered around others’ pain is beyond me, but that apparently describes slightly under half our country right now, sigh. We’ve been trying to keep a list of proudly-Trump-supporting businesses to avoid when we come back up in the Spring, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to find diesel south of Virginia if we hold fast to the list.

As the sun set, we entered the Waccamaw River, a very cool winding swamp-like river system with limited civilization nearby. On the way north, we had a couple very peaceful days on anchor here, and heading back south, we were disappointed that timing didn’t quite work out to spend more time here. But we still set up for the night on a nice little side river and had a peaceful (but warm) night among the wildlife noises.

Speaking of warm weather, we’ve been having absurdly warm weather for weeks now. We’ve had 3 summers so far this year: February in Florida, July in Maine, and now another in November in the Carolinas. The average for the area for this time of year is highs of 70 and overnight in the 40s, but we’ve had weeks of 80 degree humid weather, with only a single cold night that got into the 40s. As I’ve started getting emails from ski areas talking about getting ready to open in WA, I feel so utterly disconnected from that world right now.

Waking up in the morning to head out, we decided to pull anchor during the only 10 minute window that it monsooned, so my drowned rat crew was not super pleased.

We spent another uneventful day winding through the rest of the Waccamaw River and emerged into the “low country” of central South Carolina. We were originally planning on picking one of the few semi-sketchy anchorages along the river for the night, but the wind forecast kept increasing throughout the day, for the next couple days, so we decided instead to pull in at McClellanville Marina and wait out the wind for a couple days.

Before the overnight winds came, we did get a nice sunset at McClellanville

In the afternoon, I had noticed the starboard voltages periodically spiking higher than normal, but it didn’t seem awful enough to do anything drastic, and it would come and go. Unfortunately, when we went into the boat after tying up at McClellanville, the inside of the boat smelled like a hot springs — one of the starboard start batteries (Lifeline sealed AGM) apparently did not like the overvoltage and had started off-gassing hydrogen sulfide. So we frantically aired out the boat to keep from dying, set up fans in the aft cabin bedroom to run for a couple days, and slept in the front bedroom for the duration of our stay. I pulled the coil wire off of the alternator so it would stop generating when under way until I could get a replacement (one of the few things left that I don’t carry a spare for, since it’s not a terribly critical piece of equipment, believe it or not).

Tuesday, before work, we left the marina and headed ~7 miles down the ICW to Awendaw Creek, a well-known ICW anchorage, and a spot we stopped for a day on the way north in the spring, to basically spend the week. No weather of interest was forecast, and it put us around 38 NM to Charleston, which would be an easy trip to knock out Friday (which I had off work after the four days of planning meetings). So we hung out there, for 3 nights, while the expected election madness played itself out.

I tried to work with the one place in Charleston that could theoretically replace the voltage regulator on my alternator, but after 2 days of repeatedly calling and failing to get them to figure out whether or not they could actually fix it, I gave up and had a new higher-amperage alternator shipped from Seaboard Marine to the marina in Charleston to pick up in a couple days. I’ll have the broken one fixed up at some point in the future and then keep it around as a spare.

A lovely sunset over Awendaw Creek

Several days of meetings and nights of great sunsets later, Friday rolled around, and we tootled on into Charleston to spend the weekend. The city was basically entirely shut down (early COVID times) on the way north, so we didn’t do much other than grocery shop the last time here, so we were excited to actually see some of the city this time around. We knew we’d be able to get food this time, which we were excited for, but after searching a bit for other outdoor activities to do, found that there’s a hojillion walking tours, which seemed like a perfect COVID activity. I researched several options, and found that one that seemed likely to be the most irreverent, and we signed up for a Saturday midday time slot.

The walking tour turned out to be excellent. The guy was a complete history dork and went into huge detail on the slave trade origins, the evolution of the city, and how all that still affects the composition of the city (and the state) to this day. It was both incredibly informative and entertaining. If you’re in Charleston, I highly recommend Oyster Point Walking Tours, they were excellent. Of particular highlight was, while he was talking about a church in front of us, the bells all started ringing, nowhere near a :00/:15/:30/etc. time border. We quickly realized that they had just called PA for Biden, and celebrations were starting to break out. Later that night, Hannah went out for an errand and saw celebrations downtown as well.

After the walking tour, we got an enormous and delicious tray of loaded fries, burgers, and drinks, and waddled back to the boat for the evening, not needing to eat again until the next day.

Today (Sunday) was, unfortunately, fairly gross out, with on and off rain and consistent heavy wind, so we are holed up on the boat to finish off the weekend. The alternator’s changed and we’re back in full running shape, as well. This week, we’ll head toward Beaufort or Savannah, depending on how weather holds up. We have yet another storm coming through, so we’re waiting to see how the forecasts solidify for Tropical Storm Eta before making final plans…

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North Carolina

From Coinjock, we headed south towards the Alligator River. Along the way, we ran into a problem getting up on plane; Highwind just wasn’t getting up to speed as she should be. We were getting to the right RPMs, but fuel usage was way high at those RPMs, so the motor was having to work too hard to maintain those RPMs. As such, we assumed there was some kind of an issue with the running gear – either we hit something or snagged something. I got on the phone and started calling around to find a diver that would be able to come and check out the bottom of the boat in any of the towns that we’d be heading through. We determined that the most sensible place to get a diver would be Belhaven, which is just south of the Alligator River. We’d be able to make it there doing trawler speed – it would just mean a couple of longer cruises than we expected. At the north end of the Alligator River is a bridge with very low clearance and as we were approaching, we discovered that the opening mechanism had broken earlier that day, and they had no ETA for opening. That left us essentially trapped (along with a handful of other boats); the alternate route around being much longer and not something we wanted to do without the ability to plane. We dropped the anchor north of the bridge and decided to wait and hope that it would be fixed the next day.

When we awoke in the morning, the boat was COVERED in bugs, but the bridge was planning to open at noon, so we pulled up the anchor and started heading south. As David was testing out the speed/planing issue, we discovered that it appeared to have resolved itself. We were now able to plane and reach our normal cruising speed, at normal fuel usage. This really implied we had been dragging a crabpot or something for a while, and while maneuvering for anchoring/unanchoring, had managed to eject it. We decided to still get a diver out to check out the bottom regardless, so we headed south down the Alligator River into the Pungo River all in one shot, basically taking the afternoon off work, since the Pungo canal is the one spot on the whole loop where we have poor internet, even with our giant antenna. We also read that the bug issue was common on the Alligator River and they were less prevalent in the Pungo, so getting out of the Alligator seemed prudent. This was a fairly long cruise and we dropped anchor in the Pungo right as the sun was setting.

The next morning we headed in to Belhaven, this time staying at the Belhaven Marina (last time we stayed on the town dock). The diver was there to meet us and found nothing wrong, besides a few fresh scuffs around the rudder suggesting that we might have snagged a crab pot recently, but no smoking gun. The marina host was extremely friendly and gave me a ride to the grocery store to re-provision and the laundry facilities at the marina were free, so I was very happy, domestically-speaking. Now that we are so far south, we seemed to have discovered a new Summer with the weather being warm and sunny (and humid). We were happy to discover that the restaurant we ate at before (the one that gave us free wine and flowers) was still open and we had another delicious take-out meal, since they had only indoor dining available. While waiting outside for food, we chatted with a local resident who told us about a rooftop bar in Beaufort (one of our next destinations). We also chatted with our sailboat neighbors in the marina – also live-aboards who cruise up and down the ICW.

After getting a clean bill of health from the diver, we headed south to Oriental. We had planned to stay here a couple of days, since we’d been on the move every day for a little bit. We stayed in the same marina, and its outdoor Tiki Bar was now open, so we had a happy hour cocktail and also ate on the outdoor patio of a restaurant that on our previous visit had only been open for take-out. Where the marina’s grass lawn/tiki bar/patio area had been deserted on our first time through, it was now very busy in the late afternoon through the evening. We also didn’t see any masks, so we ended up mostly staying to ourselves on the boat.

Us staying to ourselves in Oriental – me reading and David napping

Beaufort was the next stop and we planned to stay there for the weekend. We had not stayed here on our way up – we stayed at Moorehead City just across from it (which was actually an unplanned-storm-shelter stop for us). We had heard that there would be some boat races there that weekend. We went into the main street and located the rooftop bar for sunset drinks and dinner.

The next morning was pretty windy and rainy. Our plan had been to take the bikes out for a ride over to Moorhead City to see if we could see the boat races and to get some pastries from a bakery I found there. We decided to wait a little bit to see if the rain would stop. We also discovered the bakery was closed on Sundays…boo. After an hour, the rain had basically stopped, so we got the bikes out and rode to Moorehead City to do some errands. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any of the races, so we just turned around and headed back to the boat. But David got an unexpected stop at a Harbor Freight and picked up some new toys.

Our next stop was Swansboro – another town that we had skipped on the way north. You may remember that this was the period when coming north that we didn’t have an anchor bridle because it had snapped. This town turned out to be really cute, with many options for outdoor dining (more than some of of the larger towns that we’ve visited!). We were only staying one night, but I definitely want to stop by next time we pass through.

Looking at the weather, another tropical storm (Zeta) would be coming up north, so we knew we needed to get somewhere safe to shelter. David’s uncle also wanted us to check out a boat for him just west of Southport to see if it would be worth his time to drive down to visit. The marina that boat was in was surprisingly cheap to stay in, so we combined tasks and decided to hole up there for the storm.

We were planning on staying at Topsail Marina at Surf City, but when we called the day before, all of the marinas in Topsail weren’t accepting transient guests, so that screwed up our plans a bit. With no reliable anchorages in that stretch of the ICW, we ended up waking up at dawn to make it all the way to Wrightsville in one shot before work (which was going to be our 2nd day stop). We just stayed on anchor there without going into town, since we had (apparently incorrectly, from later investigation) remembered there being nothing to do there.

The next morning we had a leisurely jaunt into Southport, and then spent the rest of the week in the Southport marina tucked away safely while there were high winds. The storm brought no rain and it was actually in the eighties, so we took a short walk and found a park with a boardwalk out to a gazebo right on the ICW. We did laundry, provisioned, and met a great couple on Inquest, an Endeavour TrawlerCat (which we’re contemplating for possibly our next boat someday) that pulled into the marina the same afternoon we arrived, also to ride out Zeta.

We both have really busy work weeks this coming week, so we’re planning on getting onto the Waccamaw River this weekend, and then making little stops next week to get us to Charleston for the weekend, where we have a marina reservation.

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