Just as We Left It

Thursday March 7, 2013

We did not leave yesterday.  Our grand plans to push off the dock and begin heading south again were once more foiled, this time by high winds. Not only were they blowing at over 30 knots constantly through the night and into the morning, but they were pinning us directly against our dock. To leave under conditions like that would be hard for even an experienced sailor, and we’ve been out of the game for three months. We had the alarm set for 6 am anyway, ready to check the conditions again when we woke up, but I had been up since 3, listening to the winds howl outside and push our boat on it’s side toward the dock. As soon as the harps sounded and Matt rolled over to look at me, we didn’t even have to have a conversation. “Back to bed?”, he asked? Getting interrupted by a loud whistle and a rock to the side I agreed, “Uh huh”. Knowing that we would not have to try and fight wind and currents that day and end up worse than the catamaran next to us, the knot in my stomach unraveled and I was able to fall back to sleep.

 Trying to keep from having the staff see us and charge another night at dock (you never heard this Claire), we thought the best thing to do for the day was lay low and not leave the boat during business hours. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Besides, conditions were so bad that the travel lift wasn’t operating which meant that there were no other boats that would be needed our spot anyway. The yard was virtually resembling a ghost town, so we didn’t think it would be a big deal that we were occupying our spot for one more night. Picking up on a wifi signal much closer (thanks, ‘Boat’), I was able to get more work done and keep myself entertained. Matt….was probably on Cruisers Forums or Yacht World again. Disappointed that we were dock locked just as we were finally ready to leave, it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t a nervous wreck that we were going to crash the boat, I ended up finishing some much needed work online as well as got to have one more night to message my friends back home, and best of all. One last hot shower. It may have lasted over 20 minutes, but considering all the water I’ll be saving in the near future, I figured it was worth the splurge.

Setting the alarm for 6 am once again, this time when the harps went off we were both raring to go. What we had not been expecting, after all our weeks of sleeping in until after 9, is how cold out it is at 6 am. The temperatures hadn’t even hit 40 degrees yet. Just like our travels down the ICW months earlier, we bundled in as many layers as possible, each managing to slide into long underwear, athletic pants, and then jeans on our bottom halves. Turning the marine engine mounts on and letting it warm up for a few minutes, we discussed our exit strategy. What we wanted to do is walk the boat back to the edge of the dock, and while I kept a loose hand on the line wrapped around the dock cleat near the bow, Matt would push us out in hopes that the current which was now flowing out of the river, would catch the bow and turn us around. All things were looking good to start, but right when the bow should have been turning away from the dock it would begin to come back. After two attempts at this with the same results, we realized we’d have to motor ahead and turn around once we were away from the dock. Giving one last push, Matt jumped on and behind the wheel. I still stood at my post near the bow, ready to fend ourselves off the dock if necessary, but with a little power behind us we were able to move forward with ease and get ourselves turned around.

What a feeling to finally be moving again. I stood up on deck with a dopey grin on my face, passing by all the boats at dock and waving to the ones who were already up and about. Then picking up all fenders and wrapping up dock lines, don’t want an issue with lines in the water again, I joined Matt in the cockpit where we watched our river merge with the ICW, and watched St. Augustine disappear behind us. Hoping to get a few last sentimental photos of the town, we were too far away to make out anything distinguishable, and so I just set my eyes to all the new sights ahead. It wasn’t long before we got to our first lift bridge, one of seven that day, and went through with ease. The bridge tender was curtious and had the bridge open before we even got there. I was worried that coming up on so many lift bridges would put us behind our goal of squeaking past Daytona Beach that night, but if they were all as easy as this it didn’t look like it was going to be an issue.

Going below, I made some coffee in our french press that would warm us up a little above deck, but I also wanted to check to see how Georige. As soon as the engine was thrown on that morning she went running for cover under the covers of our bed, and we hadn’t seen her since. Still not seeing anything when I peeked in the v-berth, I called her name until a little rustle under the sheets sent two wide eyes peering up at me. Other than being a little scared and confused, she seemed to be doing fine and I left her to adjust by herself. As the day grew on, Matt eventually pulled her out from under the covers and stuffed her into his jacket to bring her out in the cockpit for a bit. It didn’t take long for her senses to go wild, wanting to check out all the new sights and smells and she roamed the cockpit, still sure not to venture any further than it. She was doing really well for a long time until something scared her, possibly a wake from a passing boat, and sent her rushing to her old hiding spot under the combing where we store winch handles and sail ties.

We continued to motor south, and every twenty minutes or so I’d look at the latitude on the chartplotter, watching the minutes fall. It was almost as if I had to prove to myself that we were actually heading away from St. Augustine, and in the right direction. I didn’t want to have it all be a dream, and wake up still on the hard with weeks of projects still remaining. Every bridge we passed under, I’d check against our Waterway Guide for mileage that we had done and what we still had left to go for the day. I’d try to judge the approximate time we’d get to the next lift bridge, and when we were coming up to one of the last ones of the day I was excited that we were ahead of schedule. By this point we had actually fallen behind another sailboat heading south and assumed he had made the call in to lift the bridge. Having forgot to change the VHF to channel 9 until we were right at the bridge, we thought it would be rude to call in a second request if someone had supposedly just done it five minutes before us. We arrived there a few minutes after 1:00, and when we sat for 10 minutes waiting for it to open, we assumed it only opened on the half hour and continued to wait.

At 1:40 the bridge had still not opened, and we thought ‘Oh, it must only be on the hour. What a shame that we only missed it by a few minutes last time’, and we continued to wait. At 2:10 the bridge had still not opened and we were growing impatient. We had been waiting for over an hour now, there’s no reason it should have stayed closed this whole time. Finally getting on the radio I called the bridge tender to see what the hold up was. He came back stating that there was currently construction being done, and he could not open until the barges in the water were finished for the day, and had moved out of the way of passing traffic. “Probably around 3:30”, he responded. By this time we were almost fuming. Not only had we wasted an hour motoring in front of this bridge, constantly reversing so the current didn’t throw us into it, but now we’d have to wait an hour an a half more. Throwing up my arms I turned to Matt, “We may as well just anchor off to the side, there’s no reason to keep motoring around until they open”. It was also now clear that the sailboat that had beat us to the bridge must have been relying on our call, having never made one himself, since at the same time, he turned around and began to motor north up the ICW as well. Now I know, never trust that anyone else is going to take care of business for you.

We dropped anchor just off to the side of the channel and began our wait in more relative comfort. Turning back to check on the other boat, he appeared to be stuck, water churning up around him but with no forward or backward motion. Hailing him on the VHF he confirmed that he had run aground, and after we offered to put down our dink to tow him off, he declined and said there was slight movement and he was going to work on it for awhile. We told him we’d be standing by if he needed us. Going to the dishes that were now stacking up in the sink, I constantly peered out the window to keep an eye on him, and sure enough he was off in a matter of minutes. Joining the two of us, a southbound catamaran crept up to the bridge as well and we waited to hear his reaction when he was told what the wait time was. It was only moments after he was told that he’d be stuck in that spot for at least another hour when either the bridge tender or one of the barge operators came on the radio and said “If you’re all looking to pass through here, we can temporarily move the barges out of the way for you to be able to pass”. Whaaa??!! What was any other reason that we’d be out here?! Did they think that we were all tipped off that this ONE spot was the best place on the ICW to watch a sun set, and we all wanted to stick around on the north side of the bridge until it was down? Enjoying sundowners and laughing at all the imbeciles that actually used this waterway to move from one location to another?

Giving Matt the ‘let’s go’ signal (or was it the ’round up’?, I may have given the incorrect one), I ushered him towards the bow to begin bringing up the anchor while I inched Serendipity closer to it. Before it was even all the way up, the bridge was now open and our fellow cruisers were passing under it. Handing the wheel back over to Matt he threw it in full and we hurried to catch up. Barely backing down on it once we had passed under, we tried to keep our speed up since we had now just lost over an hour sitting around. Daytona Beach we could still make, but we were aiming for the Ponce De Leon Inlet about 12 miles south, and now that was becoming a stretch. Pushing on and pushing on, we lost the catamaran to an anchorage in Daytona Beach, and the other sailboat shortly after. We kept looking at the sky and then at the clock, hoping we’d get to our intended anchorage with at least enough light to safely get the anchor down. It ended up coming down to just that, and minutes after the sun had gone down and hints of midnight blue crept over the eastern horizon, our anchor was down, nestled in a little creek just across from the inlet. So far, everything was right on place from where it had been the last time we were cruising. Getting up at the crack of dawn and piling on as many layers as possible while sitting out in the biting cold, boats running around in the middle of channels, and getting to your destination just after the sun has gone down. It looks like everything is just as we left it.

I wish I could say we enjoyed our first night back at anchor in peace, grilling up a nice dinner and enjoying a beer in the cockpit, but there was work yet to be done. For the next three hours we went between jobs, and stuffed down a few hot dogs in the process. Matt was back to work in the lazarette, checking the stuffing box and trying to pinpoint where a small leak was dripping water into our bilge. We think it was from a packing gland, and after working at it for an hour, think we have the problem fixed. After that it was onto engine projects. Checking the oil, changing the coolant, and so on. It should have been a quick enough project, still leaving us with an hour or two to enjoy the night, but a bolt was accidentally stripped while being tightened, and this meant that multiple parts of the engine had to be taken apart and reassembled. I shouldn’t complain since I was only the ‘tool fetcher’ or ‘step holder’ (to allow access to the engine), but once everything was cleaned up for the night I was still exhausted and ready to pass out in bed. Another 6 am morning tomorrow to get in as many miles as possible. After all, there is no rest for the weary.

See ya later St. Augustine Marine Center!

The engine is on, Retreat!!

Not a shabby little anchorage.

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