Wednesday, June 28, 2017

smooth motoring south

June 27, 2017
Day 4 - St. Augustine to Rockhouse Creek, at Ponce Inlet
Approximately 64 miles

With the new water pump installed we were ready to go. Ready to go with a more moderated, subdued attitude than the first two days. We’ve been full-time liveaboards and boaters for almost eleven years now; really we should now better. That hyper, let’s see the world, we’re explorers, adventurers, anchor aweigh! attitude was perhaps a little over the top. We are after all, on a boat. A big, powerboat with multiple mechanical and electrical systems that can all . . . FAIL. Instead of setting our eyes on the ultimate prize of that deserted anchorage on a Bahamian out island, we left St. Augustine with the contented feeling of a working boat, a happy crew, and lots of uninterrupted family time. One day at a time, enjoying each day as it comes.

As it turned out, we had a fantastic day. The port engine is running smoothly, the kids understand what we’re doing and are, thus far, happy to be playing and are, more or less, self-entertained down below. The long day of motoring (eight hours) didn’t bother them because they know that the further we drive the boat, the sooner we’ll be in the Bahamas. 

The day wasn’t without some sibling rivalry, a few major tantrums, and a handful of whines, but we’re giving the kids a wide berth and trying to be as understanding and sympathetic as possible. Takeaways: It is possible that we will run out of art supplies. Roald Dahl is an amazing writer and manages to insert adult humor into his children’s books. And so refreshingly politically incorrect.

We motored on and on; Hans and I alternating driving the boat and taking care of the kids. At one point, Hans jumped in the dinghy with his fishing pole and zoomed off to try to fish the flats. No luck, but he did catch a couple cat fish off the boat at anchor in the evening.

A rain stop in Daytona as a massive thunderstorm rolled past and we continued on to our night anchorage: Rockhouse Creek just inside of the Ponce Inlet. Our trusty anchorage guidebook, Skipper Bob’s “Anchorages Along the Intercostal Waterway,” merely described it as a spot where you could dinghy to the ocean and walk the dogs. It was so much more.  Lined with (no-see-um infested) mangroves, fantastic holding, a view of sandbars and the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, and the sound of crashing waves on the beach, it was gorgeous. We jumped in the dinghy and spent an hour on the beach finding sea creatures, swimming, and playing tag and retreated to the boat when the skies grew dark (again). We quickly retreated inside the boat when the bugs came out in full force. 

Taco Tuesday is still Taco Tuesday, even at anchor - huevos rancheros with all the fixings and we were all in bed at 8:30 under our fans. We kept the boat closed all night to keep the no-see-ums out. Thank goodness it had been a cool day.

And of course we had an engine problem. This time the dinghy engine. Cough cough sputter. Possibly a rusty grounding wire? Hans diagnosed and did fix #1.

St. Augustine

June 26, 2017
Day 3 - St. Augustine
0 miles

A visit to the shell shop is an absolute must for Freja.

I love traveling by boat. It’s a completely different perspective on towns and nature than from land. I stood in the shade and breeze on the back deck and drank my coffee while watching the town wake up. An osprey flew overhead, a group of joggers passed by, a woman sat on the porch of an inn drinking coffee, two roofers started work on a roof line, a few boaters dinghied past.

8:30 and Hans was taking apart the water pump. The hope was that it was simply missing an O ring. The reality is that some internal seal seemed to be shredding and the whole pump needs to be replaced. Phone calls upon phone calls and Hans located one.

We all dinghied ashore and went our separate ways. I most definitely got the good end of the deal - a morning wandering in and out of shops, visiting a natural history museum, eating ice cream, and drinking iced coffee; whereas Hans was stuck walking to the marine store, finding the pump and spending the day installing the new pump.

We found a great UF museum right next to the main plaza.
Free entry and fantastic interactive exhibits about the early settlers and the archeological history.
Good news: he found a new pump. Tricky part: the hoses didn’t align exactly so it isn’t a mere plug and play installation. But with a lot of time, sweat, and's installed! We're up and running again!

The work continues. Quiet time for most of the crew; sweaty work for our captain/engineer.

familiar waters

June 25, 2017
Day 2 - Trout River anchorage to St. Augustine
approximately 46 miles
12.45 - 19.40

After a nice sleep-in, we had breakfast and started to work. I tackled the persistent leak in the dinghy with some 5200 (silicone sealant) and Hans went upside down in the engine room to check the water pump and impeller. Three very sweaty hours later, the engine was running fine and we were on our way. 

Again, night and day compared to three years ago. We’ve spent the day motoring first north up the St. John’s River out of Jacksonville and then south down the Intercostal Waterway and the girls have been easy.

After a pit stop to wait out a rain storm, we fired up the port engine and started south for the last five miles to St. Augustine. 

We were excited to get there before dark and in time for dinner. Freja loves St. Augustine - two summers ago when we bought s/v Summer Wind we stopped for a night in the historic town and went ashore for dinner. After dinner we walked down the main touristy shopping street at night and let the girls choose one souvenir. That memory stuck and St. Augustine has always been special for Freja. She loves to walk down St. George’s street and go in all the shops, oohing and aahing at all the trinkets. Meanwhile, Matilda is a bull in a china shop and has all the store owners cringing as she runs around the stores, touching everything. Because everything breakable must be touched.

But back to the last five miles to St. Augustine. Sure enough, the port engine started overheating again. I lifted up the engine hatch and water was spraying everywhere. Somehow we managed to run the engine for over five hours trouble-free, but those last five miles, a mere 40 minutes, nope. So we fired up the starboard engine (the one to be used only in case of an emergency) and continued south. 

We grabbed a mooring ball and jumped in the dinghy to go ashore. I was frustrated and second guessing what we were doing. (Pretty much the usual story in the boating world. It’s never straightforward and something is usually going wrong, making you question your sanity and decision-making.) I looked at the sky - gray - mentioned it to Hans and we both figured the storms had passed for the day so we left the boat open. 

Once in town we stopped at Freja’s favorite shop where the girls each picked out a souvenir then we stopped in a restaurant that looked OK. The restaurant scene is transient and hit or miss. As soon as we were seated the sky opened up. And it rained and rained and rained. It was hard to relax and enjoy the meal since we were thinking of our overheating engine and undoubtedly soaked boat.

Home again in the rain and thankfully the boat wasn’t too wet. We all collapsed into bed, ready to deal with boat problems in the morning.

Goodbye Jacksonville!

June 24, 2017
Day 1 - Ortega Landing Marina to Trout River anchorage
approximately 12 miles
15:00 - 17:42

Goodbye Ortega Landing, our home for the past three years.

Freja watches as Ortega River Bridge and our marina fade into the background.

After three weeks of organizing, list-writing, packing, and cleaning for me, and work at the hospital for Hans, we parked the van, handed in our marina keys, and untied the dock lines. We were off! Bahamas bound! 
We’d been full-time residents of Ortega Landing Marina for almost three years. The feeling of untying the dock lines and leaving, like a snail with our home on our backs, never gets old. It is exhilirating. Scary, exciting, happy. So many unanswered questions and what ifs. And so many possibilities. 

Off we go! Hans was exhausted. He worked an overnight, came home at lunchtime and we started running through our last checklist. One final run to the grocery store, a final run to West Marine, check the dock box one last time to make sure it’s empty, unplug the electrical lines and we were off!

Boating with older kids is night and day compared to our last trip in 2014 when the girls were only 1 and 3. Back then, one adult was on kid detail and the other one was the captain. Guess which job was the most popular. Within the first twenty minutes of leaving Ortega, the differences were apparent. Matilda was happy down below by herself (not sure what she was doing), and Freja was asking us questions about safety. What if a big wave hits the boat? What if there is lightning? What will the waves be like on the ocean? What if there is a storm at sea? What if the engine breaks down? What if both engines break down? Freja asks the questions, but then needs to take the information we give her and processes it in a way that makes her comfortable. So we’d give her the answer and she would re-work that answer in her own words.

And then…boating. Our one good working engine suddenly started overheating. Instead of yelling out a stream of expletives per usual, we took deep breaths and had a methodical conversation about what we needed to do. Because…”overheating?! Why is the engine too hot?  Are we going to sink?” 

We found a convenient place to anchor (on the Trout River, just north of Jacksonville next to the zoo) and we settled in for the night. Too late to tackle the problem, we popped open the bottle of champagne (because: residency complete!) and relaxed for the evening.