Sunday, May 11, 2014

Homeward Bound

Saturday (4/19/14) we wake up to rain. Linda read and I worked on some projects. We all planned to go to Bluff House Marina for a late lunch. Tried to time the lunch, between the rain stopping in the afternoon, and when they stop serving lunch. We head in around 2:00PM, still a slight drizzle, but weather radar on the iPhone show it will be ending soon. I don't bother with a foul weather jacket, too warm for me, I just a soon get wet from rain than from sweat. I have enough saltwater to deal with. Before we order lunch the sun starts to break through and we have a nice sunny afternoon. Also discovered they have WIFI fast enough for Skype. I call my mother, with video, since I can see she is on her computer back in Connecticut. Also call our son, Dana, in Oregon.

After we went for a walk on the beach, we came back to Bluff House for dess3ert and then back to the boat for the evening. Around 8:30 someone announces on channel 16 on the VHF to look north for the laser light show. We looked in that direction and got to see clouds 25 miles north of us lighting up from the distant thunderstorm. Too far away for us to hear anything. The show went on for a long time.

Sunday walked to the beaches on the Atlantic side with Linda and Dawn. First beach we walk onto I find my second “Sea Bean”. These are seeds from a tree in Africa that have saltwater proof shells and can float for years in the ocean. There are apparently lots of them in the Bahamas. Another boat we have been traveling with, in the same direction, says they average about one per hour of beach walking. I don't think I have fared as well. 

Flotsam, buoys, floats and fishnets

When we got back to the anchorage, we found Sanderling had arrived. We had an early evening dinghy raft up party, one anchor, five dinghies. Passed around appetizers.

Sunday, We left for Manjack Cay only about 6 miles north. Was hoping to get one last day of snorkeling, before we start the trek back to Florida. Everyone else stayed one more day at Green Turtle. It turned out to be too rough to snorkel on the Atlantic side of Manjack, even at anchor on the “protected” side was a little bouncy, compared to our recent very protected anchorages. We walked some of the Atlantic side beaches and then headed back to Crab Cay, next to Manjack. On the lee side of Crab Cay, we discovered a calm beach that was littered with Sea Biscuits, kind of like fat over sized sand dollars. We finally had to stop picking them up. We placed them along the high tide line as we walked down the beach. As we walked back to the dinghy we selected the best ones and returned the others. Also picked up a lot of dead small conch shells in near perfect condition, aside from them dying young.

Monday we start the trip back to the States and head to Allans-Pensacola Cay. I got lazy and decided to tow the dinghy, but as the waves picked up I decided to stop and put the motor and dinghy up, to a chorus of “I told you so's”. We arrived around 4:00 PM and went for a hike to the north side of the island. The island is currently deserted. There had been a NASA tracking station back in the 60's and 70's, but it has been removed. The road to it, is now just a narrow foot path which leads to the north side and the “Signing Tree”. Past cruisers have taken debris that had washed up on shore, like fenders, buoys, etc and sign their boat name and date and then hang them in a tree. Unfortunately there is enough flotsam, that one tree after another down the beach, is covered with these decorations. We hike over with another couple on “Rosanti”, Mark and Linda, who we have just met, but heard on the VHF in the past month or so.
The Signing Tree

Tuesday morning we leave early to head to Great Sale Cay. This is another very remote cay that is uninhabited and is used as a staging point for cruisers coming and going from the Bahamas. It is our rendezvous point with Sanderling, Gertie and Hot Chocolate. The next couple days has a very good forecast weather window for transiting the Gulf Stream. There are about 45 boats in the cove by sunset looking to take the same opportunity. Strange, to see so many boats in such a remote location. The only boats that go ashore are the ones with dogs and us. We walked over to another NASA tracking sight. All that remains is a slab of concrete that is slowly getting undermined and busted up. 
Roger and Chrisy delivery brownies for midnight snack

Chrisy on “Sanderling” comes by with some brownies and Oreo's for a midnight snack when we reach the Gulf Stream. Since they have a dog that will explode before it will pee in the boat, they try to keep passages under 17 hours, so they plan to leave about 2:00 PM in the afternoon tomorrow. The rest of us will leave in the morning and drop anchor late afternoon on the edge of the Great Bahama banks in about 25 feet of water. Rest, have dinner, snooze and continue on around 10PM.

Great Sale Cay, Rendezvous, West Harbor, jumping off point the the USA. Morning calm.

Wednesday we leave at sun up, 7:00 AM. Other boats are starting to trickle out, in different directions, for different land fall points in Florida. Some of the more ambitious are going to try to ride the Gulf Stream further north to Charleston, SC or Fernandina, FL. 

Welcoming committee
We are heading to the Cape Canaveral Yacht Club. We are the last to arrive at selected way point on the Matanilla Shoal. Sandy on Hot Chocolate radios back to us about all the dolphins around them. Yeh, right by the time we get there we assume they will be gone, as always seems to happen. Well, as each of the three boats arrive a pod of dolphins moves to greet the next boat. They are swimming back and forth around our bow. Very, very cool. What a welcoming committee.

We have dinner. Can't get any sleep, so we just relax. We are hoping to see the “Green Flash” at sunset. The sky is totally clear, but just as the sun was getting ready to set a small cloud partially obscured the view. Around 7:30 I was checking our running lights. Bill asked on the radio are we getting ready to leave? I told him I'm just checking the lights, but since no one is sleeping we decide to leave at 8:00PM.

A totally clear night, no moon, but lots of stars. As we approach the Gulf Stream we start seeing a series of cruise ships, most heading south. They start as a faint light in the distance and within half an hour they are a couple miles in front of us lit up like a Christmas tree rapidly going by. Half an hour later they are a faint light disappearing in the opposite direction. Tracking them on radar helps to see how far away they really are and if we are on a potential collision track while they are still many miles away. By the time we are in the Gulf Stream there are few big ships around. By now Bill is about two miles ahead of us and Gertie. Dawn asks him to cover his stern light off and on so we can be certain we are following the right boat. Bill flashes us. The Gulf Stream is somewhat rough but we have good winds. By early morning the wind direction changes and we are getting most of our propulsion from motoring.

By noontime we arrive at the Cape Canaveral Yacht Club. “Sanderling” beats us all by a couple hours with their 75 HP engine in their Island Packet. That night we have dinner at the Yacht club. They are open for dinner 2 nights a week and we are here for one of them. The food was very good. Nice little club, with very friendly members. We stay for two nights and work on cleaning our boats, now that we have unlimited free fresh water. In the Bahamas water is generally 25 cents a gallon so we did not squander it on washing the boat. We are in hog heaven, back in the USA.

We spend the next couple days, day sailing up the Florida coast and not in the ICW. Overnight stops at Ponce Inlet, St. Augustine and Fernandina. Sanderling and Hot Chocolate keep heading north into Georgia and South Carolina. 

St. Augustine Seawall

Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine. A replica Spanish Gallon and replica of Magellan's ship, both from Spain.
Our day between St. Augustine and Fernandina we spent most the day in fog. Even though we were with Hot Chocolate and Gertie, we were out of sight of each other most the day. We have the radar on most of the day to avoid the many Shrimp boats and ships going into Jacksonville.

We stop with Gertie for a couple days in Fernandina for the Shrimp Festival. Linda and I visited with both my cousins Bill (his wife Deb) and Jan who live in Fernandina.
Deb & Bill, Jan (in fancy Pirate Hat) and Linda
Hot Chocolate only stayed overnight and continued on the next day for home in New Bern, NC. Home for us is much farther away. Friday night Manana had front row seats for the fireworks that were launched directly in shore from where we are anchored. Nice show, not too long. Saturday the first day of the Festival, had rain most of the day and quite hard at times. Had a bit a bailing to do when we got back to the dinghy dock. The sun did come out late in the afternoon for a nice ending to the day.
ARG ! Pirates attacking Fernandina (Not to be confused with the Alcohol Research Group)
Sunday we motored about an hour to Cumberland Island with Gertie. Packed our lunches and went for a long hike. Lots more people than there was in December, we only saw a couple rangers at a distance then. This time there were a lot of day trippers who came over on the passenger ferry and a few campers staying overnight on the island campgrounds.

Monday we sailed off shore to St. Simons to set up for the next leg, overnight to Charleston, SC. Within a few hours we were inundated with swarms of Love Bugs. They don't bite but the annoying things land on you and the boat. When you step on them or swat them they leave a yellow mark. They seem to die in a couple hours. What a mess.

Love Bugs attack !
 After all the rain we had at Fernandina, the boat had been very clean. I got out our small dust buster to suck up the ones in the back of the boat, but could not quite keep up with the new ones landing, just too many of them.
Shrimp Boat
Tuesday morning Gertie and Manana leave for Charleston for about a 26 hour motor/sail. On the way we pick up the Love Bugs again off St. Simons. Try to sail further off shore, but they are out there too, not as bad as the day before. Still a full time job sucking up the little buggers as they land. Finally the wind shifts to the southeast and starts to blow them back towards shore and away from us.
Mr. Bug Sucker

Mr. Finch is tired
We picked up another more pleasant passenger around sunset. About 8 miles off shore we had one very tired finch land on the boat. Poor guy the first time he tried to land Linda yelled and scared him off, but he came back. Sat on our life lines and moved around the boat looking for a good place to park. He tried to land on our davits, but the 1-1/4 diameter stainless steel tubes were a little too big for his little feet to grip and he slowly rotated like the minute hand on a clock until he fell into the dinghy under the davits. He gave up and went to sleep in the dinghy, dead tired.

Sunrise Snooze

Passed the Savannah River and had to turn on the radar to track all the shipping traffic. Many of the ships were anchored waiting to enter Savannah, but at a distance in the dark it is hard too tell what direction they are moving in or not at all. We anchor in Charleston around 10 AM and all get a couple hours of sleep. We all head out to dinner at the Hominy Grill, a restaurant I walked pass back in November and thought looked interesting. I can confirm it is. We are all very happy with our dinners.

Fort Sumter (Originally twice as high, reduced to rubble in the Civil War)

Charleston, SC, City of Churches
The next day Manana heads north in the ICW, Gertie spends another day in Charleston. This first time traveling on the ICW since we got back to the USA. Once we get past the notorious shoals behind the Isle of Palms in the ICW, east of Charleston we really get moving. Coming south last fall about an hour after low tide we bounced off the bottom, here, with a 4.8' depth reading. This time going north about an hour off low tide again, we saw no less than 5.3”, without a bounce. I seem to have the bad timing of hitting all the problem areas on the ICW at low tide. I send out a cocky email to some sailing friends in the area, stating “high tide is for sissies!” Linda says “your just lucky as hell”. A short while later, I'm complaining to her about these crab pots in the middle of the channel when I looked up from my iPad after sending out a couple emails. Then it dawns on me that neither the crab pots or Manana is in the middle of the channel. We are now going rather slow plowing through mud, with a depth reading of 4.4 feet at half speed. I guess I need to look up more often and I guess my wife is right.

Between the current in our favor with the rising tide and the southeast wind with our head sail out, we are cruising around 7 knots. The motor is on but at low RPM, fuel saver mode. It is not legal to strictly sail in the ICW. Linda is enjoying this area of the ICW. It's kind of like HGTV on the water. “Hey, look at that porch we could do that.” “Hey look at those windows, I like those”.

By afternoon we are into South Carolina rice country, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Francis Marion (The Swamp Fox) National Forest. We anchor for the night at Minims Creek adjacent to a dike which has rice fields behind it. There are a couple backhoes on the other side busily clearing drainage ditches. We have the creek to ourselves and fortunately the wind is still blowing hard keeping the bugs at bay. By evening we have two more boats anchored with us.

The next day the tide is against us for most the morning and wind dies late morning and we furl the head sail, slowing our pace. We reach Osprey Marina late in the afternoon for a two day visit with Linda's sister and to get some chores done.

Entering Osprey Marina. We hear they have "acquired" a pet alligator.

As we dock the boat Linda notices a Green Tree Frog hiding behind one of the cushions. How the heck did it get there? We have been at anchor since we left Cape Canaveral. We have not been under or near any shore line trees. Did a bird drop him? Maybe with all the Love Bugs on the boat, he leaped from the shore thinking we were a BBB (Buoyant Bug Buffet) ? Anyways once we get tied up I decide to release him in the woods. When I move the cushion I find we have two stowaway tree frogs. Boy can they leap, it was hard corralling them in a bucket and keeping them from leaping out. 


and Robin