Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wayne's Hat

Although we're in Stuart, FL right now, there are some blog entries that we need to catch up with.

As captains use ActiveCaptain and contribute to it, they gain points. As they accumulate points, they win awards sent by different manufacturers. When they reach 250 points, we send them an ActiveCaptain hat.

Wayne, Carol, and Eddie are the crew and captains aboard Fluke, a beautiful Krogen Whaleback.  We've seen them before in Vero Beach and they've been up to Castine on one of our moorings.  We've kept in touch over the years. But this year, Wayne qualified for a hat. Since we were both cruising on the Chesapeake last October, we decided that we'd hand deliver the hat. But when we finally got together on the Wicomico River, it was freezing cold and neither of us were interested in taking our dinghies down. We vowed to meet them in Vero Beach to deliver the hat soon.

Months later, we were finally in Vero Beach. They invited us over to their boat for an excellent dinner. Needless to say, we finally delivered the well-deserved hat.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Crossroads

We left Vero Beach on Tuesday, a nice, bright, sunny day. Our objective was to get to Stuart. We've never been to Stuart and there seems to be a lot of cruising activity there.

Part of the planning process for any leg of our travel involves, surprisingly enough, checking ActiveCaptain. We just implemented a new "Hazard" marker that details problem spots that develop in an area. Sure enough, our path would take us across a hazard called "The Crossroads" - the marker in yellow/orange above. This is the place where the ICW crosses the St. Lucie River and the St. Lucie ocean inlet. It's a very busy place that has been shoaling with sand over the last few months.

While approaching The Crossroads, we heard multiple boats calling for towing companies because they had grounded right at this spot (why aren't they reading ActiveCaptain!). We decided that we would arrive just after low tide and it wouldn't be a good idea to risk going through the area. Instead we anchored at Jensen Beach (another ActiveCaptain anchorage - we didn't know about it otherwise). Since we had the whole afternoon, I bothered Karen to the point of surrender in taking down the dinghy and traveling the 6 miles to see the The Crossroads first-hand before our appointment at high tide the next morning.

The kids loved the idea of getting in the dinghy as we zoomed off down the ICW at 25 knots. The 6 miles flew by and we were at The Crossroads. Lot's of boats everywhere and me with my leadline to measure the actual depths.

So it turns out there is only 4.5' of water in the channel at low tide. We would have gotten there a little after low tide and the depth would have been 5'. aCappella draws 6' and we would most certainly have gotten stuck. Chalk up another one for ActiveCaptain.

While messing around the area, the sheriff came by in his patrol boat. We had a nice conversation about the channel and all of the boats that ground there. A few boats a week bend props and break shafts by hitting the bottom there and a good five boats every day end up grounded.

This morning we got underway before sunrise to be right at The Crossroads at high tide. We never saw less than 7' although I have to admit we were all holding our breaths. Then up the river to Sunset Bay Marina where we got pumped out, filled our water tanks, and filled our gas tanks for the dinghy. We're now on mooring #51 ready for the next adventure...or hazard.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dyna's big day...

One of our goals on this cruise was to get Dyna to swim in the ocean on a white, sandy beach - Florida or the Bahamas. Duke's dad, Jim, invited us to go swimming at his house with beach access and we jumped at the chance. Dyna, Dylan, Duke, and Holly (not Molly) had a wonderful time swimming in the ocean and then back at Jim's pool.

It's obvious - Dyna lives to swim...

After the swimming, Jim and Lynn made an excellent grilled salmon dinner. The dogs enjoyed sleeping and a Dogster frosty treat. Thanks Jim and Lynn for a truly wonderful end to our Vero Beach stay.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Drama

Why is it that women can bear children, endure regular pain and masochistic medical exams, live through menopause, and if a man has so much as a head cold the world must stop? I don't know if it's heartening or not to know that this actually extends to other species.

Dyna has had 5 litters, the first by caesarian, and 3 major operations without so much as a whine. Earlier this week she cut two pads on oyster shells while swimming and never skipped a beat.  Dylan now cut his pad and I have never seen a more pitiful sight.  It's a good thing we think those guys are so cute or I don't know why we'd put up with them!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mornings at the dog park...

Well, it's not Goose, but mornings at the Vero Beach dog park have become special. The dogs are now expecting to get in the dinghy as soon as we get up. They are quite interested in a large assortment of dogs that show up each day.

Duke, a large black lab, loves to tug on toys of Dylan's. It makes for quite a scene.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our latest patient...

We must be terrible parents. We only had good intentions and we did everything right. Or maybe we just have bad dogs. I'm not sure which. But today we created an unexpected patient - Dyna. She's completely fine - just a little scraped up. Here's what happened...

We lowered the dinghy into the water and set off to check into the Vero Beach City Marina. They are super-friendly here and everyone at the office was asking about our dog team. We got the latest schedule for the free GoLine shuttle bus that takes us anywhere around the area. What an incredible feature for this place. It gives cruisers so many options for shopping, projects, or just playing.

After checking in, we checked out the new dog park right next to the marina. This is a Vero Beach off-leash park set up right along the water - about 50 yards from where our boat is located. There were about 20 different dogs of all sizes and shapes and Dylan and Dyna had a great time running around and playing.

Then Dyna found the path to the water...

In and out, over and over, both dogs swam and had a grand time. It had been a long time since either had gone swimming and they loved it. All of a sudden we noticed that Dyna had disappeared. We knew she was probably in the water so we started searching for her. We found her in the middle of the mangroves, unsure how to get back to the deeper water. This was this Maine girl's first time ever seeing mangroves and she just didn't understand them.  She finally undid herself and continued to play and have fun.

Back to the marina for a quick washing off and back into the dinghy for a ride back to the boat. Then we saw it - blood on the side of the dinghy. Back on the boat, Dyna got a full EMT primary and secondary assessment. She had a shallow cut on her left rear leg, an abrasion on her front left paw, and a variety of scrapes on her left thigh - all from the mangroves.

We used anti-bacterial cremes on our patient and created some custom bandages that she couldn't easily remove. She's resting comfortably.

Personally, I don't think she even knows that she was injured.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nose to Bottlenose...

Today was an exciting day. Sure, it was an overnight over a couple hundred miles at sea. And sure, we transited a lock and had our first glimpse of Florida-sized pelicans. But today, our team came literally face to face with dolphins. Lots of dolphins.

To be fair, I was prepared for this. The stretch from Cape Canaveral through Vero Beach is teeming with bottlenose dolphins. They are everywhere. Early on, I got the team prepared and put them on dolphin watch in the rear cockpit.

Now THAT is a team - alert and ready. Each dog has their own step stool to stand on for a better view over the caprail. The objective is to give them enough view without giving too much height. We want them to stay in the boat. Given the chance, they'll leap. Trust me, they've tried.

It didn't take long. We had about 8 different groups swim, squeak, and slap the water all around the boat. Our team never knew that such things existed. The dolphins took turns jumping out of the water to Dyna's barks and Dylan's howls. They have learned the word "dolphin" because when I say it now, they run to the back and stand on their stools.

We'll make other postings about our overnight in the next couple of days. For now, the total joy was watching our crew experiencing nature at it's best.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At Sea Again

We pulled out of the Charleston Maritime Center right on time. ActiveCaptain user Jim on Arrivederci helped us with our lines. The sea predictions for the next couple of days were unlike any we'd seen – "2 feet and less," all on our starboard beam so the stabilizers should smooth things out to flat calm. We'd decided to take advantage and do a double overnight. I hate them; Jeff finds them challenging. But it did make sense to make use of the conditions. So off we went with two overnight meals prepared and layers of clothing to stay warm.

We experienced perfect conditions coming through the Charleston Harbor and out the inlet. I decided to go ahead and prepare our lunch - chicken burritos. I hadn't found the large wraps I usually used, so I made us each two smaller ones. As I carried lunch onto the pilothouse the boat gave a lurch. Jeff had just come out of the inlet and turned south. We had 2-4 foot seas right on our nose with short periods. My ultimate nemesis.

Experience told us to wait on lunch. Jeff thought maybe it was some effect from the inlet – they hadn't predicted this. Soon my stomach gave that familiar flip. Jeff was also a bit off, partly due to some expected off-gassing from our new exhaust lagging blankets which he got a whiff of with each engine room check.

We decided to try Queasy Drops. Jim McGee from Queasy Drops contacted us several weeks ago interested in supplying a sample for our Captains through our points program. Queasy Drops are sucking candies that use all natural ingredients to calm a queasy stomach. They were developed for kids on chemo and for morning sickness. Now they wanted to promote them for seasickness. I told him they sounded too good to be true but would be willing to try them. He sent samples.

To our delight, they worked. Our stomachs settled almost as soon as we began sucking them. I found it lasted about 30 minutes after the candies were gone. The seas persisted, so we spent the afternoon trying the various flavors. Not wishing to tempt fate, however, we wrapped up lunch waiting for the predictions to prove true. By late afternoon the seas had flattened. We ate one burrito, waited an hour and finally finished lunch.

Over our years of cruising and after many overnights we have developed a routine that works well for us. During the day we switch watch when we feel like it. Jeff takes somewhat more time at the helm as he likes being in control. Around 7 pm we eat half of our prepared dinner – tonight it was chicken fried rice. Then at 8 pm I go below to sleep and Jeff takes watch from 8-10. I take watch from 10-midnight while Jeff sleeps prior to his midnight to 3 am watch. I finish the night with a 3-6 watch because I find it easier to stay awake waiting for the sun to rise. We each finish our dinner at the start of our longer watch. The calories help us stay awake and eating gives us something to do to help the monotony.

The boat runs on autopilot so we mainly watch for other boats. We have MARPA (Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid) on our radar which lets us select targets and track their distances from us, the direction they're moving, and how long before we reach our closest distance and what that distance will be. It's mostly entertainment but occasionally there is a “dangerous target” we must hand steer around. On my earlier watch I encountered two shrimp boats, a common site off the coast of South Carolina. One was on a collision course with us. I find these boats particularly creepy. They're large boats with big arms out to the sides that have huge nets hanging from them. At night they display bright deck lights, lighting up the decks like daylight, which send out this eery glow on the water around them. They look like a vampire sent from Neptune. I veered slightly and we passed about a 1/4 mile apart. The lights lit up the pilothouse for a few minutes as we passed.

Daytime temps were fine with the solar heat through the pilothouse windows warming her to the 70's. As night fell it started to get cold. The layers we had shed during the day came back on. The kids complained that it was a three dog night and they were only two dogs. When I awoke for my 3 am watch the boat had a different bounce. The seas had finally turned to our starboard beam as predicted.

As I climbed out of the warm berth I felt the cold – 50 degrees in the pilothouse. The kids were huddled together for warmth. Jeff decided to start the generator so I could have heat during my watch. I love my man. He then informed me that the drip he had noticed on an earlier engine room check had turned into a spray. We were going to have to swap water pumps again.

On our way to Charleston last November, we developed a slow drip on our starboard side raw water pump. Jeff had swapped that with a spare and rebuilt the old one for a new spare. We now needed to use this spare on the port side. No big deal - simple swap - but the port engine runs the stabilizers so shutting down this engine would turn off the stabilizers. And we were in beam-to seas. We decided to see how calm things were at daybreak. Calm seas and we could do the repair while underway, otherwise, we'll head into Fernandina Beach and do the repairs there.

It's 5:22, the end of my watch is in sight. The pilothouse is warm and for now life is good.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Leaving Charleston...really...

We pulled into Charleston on November 3rd with the intention of staying for 2 nights. It's now some 10 weeks later.

The cold kept us from going last week. It was a frigid week all over the country. We're just now coming out of the ice cold weather. The coastal and offshore marine forecasts are glorious for the next few days. This is giving us a great opportunity to take off, and take off fast.

We've prepared everything for going to Fernandina Beach overnight and then continuing on for a second night to Ft. Pierce. Upon entering the inlet, we're thinking about turning right and making a short trip up the Intracoastal Waterway to Vero Beach. We have a history at Vero and we need to do a reset and start over there. It's a long story.

We'll miss Charleston. We've gotten soft with a high-end grocery store, hardware stores, incredible restaurants, dog parks, and normal routine. The view from our pilothouse is just breathtaking - and today it shows the calming, beautiful weather approaching. This is a fantastic city and we'll keep coming back. But there are other towns to explore and other challenges to meet. Besides, the kids were promised some ocean swimming off some sandy beaches.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dylan's BFF...

Goose comes from the other side of the tracks. I don't mean that he comes from a bad part of town. I mean he literally lives on the other side of the railroad tracks from the dog park we go to every morning.

Dylan wakes up every morning and hurries us along to get off the boat and onto the field. As we arrive, Goose, Huck, and Malcolm (Goose and Huck's dad) arrive on the other side, crossing the railroad area. A mad dash ensues as all dogs run toward each other. From then on, Dylan and Goose never leave each other's side.

It doesn't matter whether there is a toy or a stick - they spend their time running and chasing each other. Both are 2 years old and they are well matched in temperament and abilities.

Dylan might have different dogs in different ports but Goose stands out as a special one along the waterways we'll travel.  He's a best friend forever.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fleazing in Charleston...

I know at times, the cruising life looks like it is always fun and exciting. The truth is it's much like life on land. There are ups and downs, good times and bad. We're right now in a difficult period with harsh, unexpected weather. And now fleas.

First, the picture above isn't what it looks like. It's just what it feels like. Last night, all of our water intakes froze solid. The ice destroyed one filter and nearly took out most of our outside copper pipes. Being from Maine, we should have known better. It was a dumb mistake that took hours of heating to undo. Everything is working now although I still can't feel any sensation in my fingers.

The flea situation is minor but we can't seem to shake it. The entire boat has been extremely cleaned and vacuumed. Both dogs were bathed with special shampoo - and neither were happy about it. All sheets, bedding, etc. have been washed and dried. And tonight, Dylan is still scratching and we're still finding a few fleas. It's not bad yet and we really need to look hard to find a single flea but we know we shouldn't find any. Tomorrow we need to be more aggressive.

With 20 degree weather facing South Carolina through the upper half of Florida throughout the entire week, we feel like it would be dumb to leave. I can't imagine pulling up an anchor in weather like we're experiencing. I'm also not sure how we'd stop our outside water from icing up when underway in freezing weather (new project to self - add shutoffs and drains to outside water). Right now, I'd rather see the temperature change back to it's normal 40+ degree lows before moving.

It isn't always fun.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Time To Stay...

What a day...

Karen wrote yesterday that it was time to go. She's right - we need to leave. Our projects are done and we're ready to fire up the engines and pull out. Then it got cold last night. Really, really cold. The heat is on all the time. The marina is dripping their faucets so they don't freeze tonight. It'll be in the 20's at night for the next few days. It is definitely not time to go.

Going will mean being out in the weather right away. Instead, we're extremely comfortable at the Charleston Maritime Center. And we're paid up through Tuesday morning. I think we'll stay and let it warm up a little more. Hopefully the calm offshore conditions will persist as well.

So we're sitting in the pilothouse this afternoon planning our next passages to Fernandina Beach and Stuart when Karen says, "there's no one at the wheel of that boat and it's coming towards us." The pilot grabs control from the current but is in a terrible position near our bow. Instead of easing his boat against ours, he does the worst thing possible - he floors the throttles to try to escape. And he came so close to making it.

It could have been a lot worse. He ended up just hitting our monster Rocna anchor. It bounced around a lot and took a lot of paint off his boat. It also ripped off the metal door from his boat. It made a lot of noise and the dog patrol was at full alert barking and carrying on. Ain't no one is allowed to mess with our boat when our crackerjack crew is onboard.

The boat was from the US Park Service and part of Fort Sumter. Everyone around the marina was quite upset but it really caused no problem for us at all. They took a small boat out to inspect our boat and we couldn't find even the tiniest scratch.  I lowered the anchor to make sure the bow roller still worked and to be honest, I think it's working better now than it did before.

So we're going to stay for a couple more days to allow things to warm up a little. Dyna and Dylan will gladly continue going to the dog park - they don't care what the temperature is.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Time To Go

We have certainly enjoyed our time in Charleston, but it is definitely time to go. The galley is fully stocked, the water tanks are topped off, and our list of projects, both planned and unplanned, is mostly complete. We wanted to meander down the Intracoastal Waterway stopping at places we haven't been to before, but the temperatures are suppose to be dipping into the 20's, so our plans have changed. Sunday we'll head offshore and keep moving until we can find some warmer weather.

Despite the cold temperatures and record breaking rain, there is much we will miss about Charleston. The wonderful grocery store, Harris Teeter, is walking distance with a Red Box video kiosk, as is a Blockbuster. A small hardware store is close by and a very large well-stocked one just a 15 minute walk away. Of course, there are an almost unlimited number of excellent restaurants, bakeries, and coffee houses, and the lovely streets with beautiful homes decorated for the holidays, Marion Square, and the Battery. We found something new most every day.

But what we'll really miss are the wonderful people. From our dear friends Jeb and Linda, to the many new friends who made us feel very much at home. This has been a fun place to be.

Of course our canine crew will miss their morning romp at the nearby dog park. For nearly a month now they have both awoken like clockwork, anxious to be on their way up the dock. The moment they turn the corner and the park is in view they begin scanning the far side for their friends Huck and Goose.  When the four of them spot each other they erupt in what can only be called utter joy and the playing begins.  They will most certainly miss their Charleston friends.  But we need to be on our way.  Huck and Goose - we'll be looking for you again come spring.