November 2012 - Chesapeake to Florida

1 November 2012    Portsmouth, Virginia
We picked up the hire car and drove to Deltaville to get my tooth fixed.  As usual the hardest part of driving in the States is getting out of the local area and onto a highway – we drove around for 20 minutes until we escaped from down town Portsmouth.

We stopped off at Yorktown which is where the British General Cornwallis finally surrendered to the American rebels (who were helped by the damn French of course.)  We didn’t have time to justify spending $20 to get into the museum and go on the guided tours, so we wandered around and just got a flavour of the place.  The battle field is a wide open space and the National Park has preserved the earth works that, manned with cannon, were the primary defences of the British.  The historic down town area is very twee with old seventeenth century buildings which are well preserved - it’s like being in a museum just walking around the town.

First time that I've walked out of a dentist with more money than I went in with...

We drove to Gloucester and went to the Wal Mart store to buy provisions and a few other goodies.  I bought a small fan heater for $17 which is exactly the same model as Jim lent us and will no doubt come in handy if it’s cold and we have mains power.

Thankfully, the new crown had arrived at the dentist and they soon fixed it in place.  I asked to keep hold of the old temporary crown in case the new one falls out again.  The dentist thinks that the whole tooth will fall out before the new crown falls out – we’ll see.  The dentist apologised again and offered to pay any extra expenses that we’ve incurred as a result of having to wait for the new crown.  I told him that the only thing was the hire of the car to drive up here, so he gave me a $100 bill to cover the cost.  This is the first time that I’ve ever walked out of a dentist with more money than I went in with!

While I was in the dentist, Glenys was in the supermarket stocking up on food and we had a well packed car as we drove back to the boat.

2 November 2012    Portsmouth, Virginia
I dropped the hire car back, while Glenys took advantage of the laundry room.  While waiting for the heater part to arrive, I went up the mast and removed the VHF antenna, so that we can fit under the 65 foot bridges that we’ll encounter when we leave tomorrow. 

Glenys started to look at places that we can visit on the way down to Key West in Florida, while I sorted out our 15hp outboard.  I took the fuel filter off and found that there was water in the bottom of the bowl, which proves that water is the latest problem.   I chatted to a Mike from “Wind Song” and he said that the water is caused by the ethanol that is added to petrol here in the USA.  Apparently the ethanol turns into water (or attracts water) when fuel is stored for a long time.  They don’t put ethanol into petrol in the Caribbean, which is probably why I’ve not had this problem before we came to the USA.

I emptied out most of the petrol from the dinghy fuel tank carefully into a petrol container and then put the last pint into a jar.  After letting the fuel in the jar settle, I could see that there was water in it.  I put fuel back in the dinghy fuel tank, stripped the carburettor and magically it all works again.  I’m going to have to keep an eye on the fuel and make sure that I never use the last pint from a petrol container because it will probably have water in it.

Up the mast again

The technician arrived at lunchtime and installed the dummy temperature sensor and the heater fired up and seemed OK.  We ran it for an hour and it was bouncing inside the boat.  I turned off the heater for an hour, but when I went to restart it wouldn’t fire up again.   I got the engineer to come back with his computer interface and we could see that the internal sensor was at 48°C simply because the heater itself was very hot.  The maximum temperature that I can set the thermostat is 35°C, so the heater won’t turn on again until it cools down.  We proved this by blowing a fan on the heater for five minutes to cool it down and the heater started OK.  

It’s a bit quirky, but I at least I know how it works now.  I really need to buy a proper room temperature sensor, so that it will operate as a normal central heating system.  I’m going to look on the Internet to see if anyone has been enterprising enough to design a home-made sensor.  Otherwise I might be able to buy one from Germany directly and cut out the 300% mark-up from the distribution chain. 

The people have been really friendly here and have been very helpful.  Every so often, we come across a place like this which is populated by interesting characters.  Jim from “Seascape” worked for the Coast Guard for seven years, then skippered tugs and worked as a Pilot.  Mike from “Wind Song” is a clock maker, has a master’s degree in music and has worked on fishing boats on the Grand Banks for many years.  He runs his clock repair business from a wooden shed in the boat yard.  It’s an amazing place, ram-packed with pocket watches, grandfather clocks and jewellery and kitted out as a clockmaker’s workshop with small presses and lathes where he makes his own cogs and shafts.

3 November 2012   Portsmouth to Great Bridge, Virginia
It was cold again last night – definitely time to head south.  The cabin heater fired up in the morning thank goodness.  We motored around to the town dock in Portsmouth to pick up a parcel for “Eye Candy” – they headed south two days ago and the parcel arrived yesterday.  It must have been the shortest time that a yacht has used the public dock because I ran to the chandlers to pick up the parcel and we left two minutes after we docked…

Portsmouth is at “Mile Zero” of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) which is a dredged canal/ inland waterway that weaves its way 1095 miles down to Miami in Florida. All the places in the guide books are referred to by the number of miles from Portsmouth.  The ICW winds its way down the east coast through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.  It’s difficult to sail along the route because it meanders around so much, so it requires motoring everywhere and doesn’t really appeal to me.

We motored down the Elizabeth River following a couple of other yachts.  We were all heading for the first of a series of bridges that only open at a specific time each hour.  When we arrived at the bridge there were already four other boats there.  We had to wait thirty minutes for it to open, so there was lots of circling going on in the gusty winds.  It was a right little flotilla of ten boats that rushed through the bridge and onto the next one three miles away which opened thirty minutes later.

Great Bridge, North Carolina

It was a lovely sunny day, but the wind was bitterly cold and I was very cold by the time that we pulled up at the Great Bridge public dock at midday.  It was wonderful to go down below to a nice warm saloon.  I put up our “Cockpit Tent” cover which shields the cold wind and makes it much warmer.  

We walked into the small town of Great Bridge, filled up a propane tank and went to a few shops.  There’s a great Dollar store where we managed to spend $28 on various stuff.  We've started to buy small things to give away when we get to Cuba, like toothpaste and small things for kids.  In the evening, we went to a Mexican restaurant and drank too many margaritas.  We had the cabin heater on for over eight hours today.

4 November 2012   Great Bridge to North River,  North Carolina
It was a miserable, overcast day.  We went through the bridge when it opened at eight o’clock and motored south through another couple of bridges.  I totally mistimed the North Landing Bridge and we had to wait for 25 minutes, which was frustrating.

After fifteen miles of the ICW, I was very bored.  There’s not much to look at, but you have to keep a constant watch on steering as the canal weaves about.  It started to rain and we tried to motor along with the Cockpit Tent in place, but we found it too claustrophobic.  We started to have one hour watches, so the one of us could be down below in the warmth and doing something useful rather than sitting and staring at the trees and reeds that edge the waterway.

We were cold and weary by the time that we anchored in the late afternoon in the North River after 46 miles of remorseless motoring through swamp and more swamp.  The anchorage is in the middle of nowhere and is just a convenient 3 metre deep anchorage on the way through this dismal place.

Glenys rustled up a nice late Sunday lunch of roast chicken with roast potatoes, stuffing and apple sauce – how does she do it?

5 November 2012   North River to Pungo River, North Carolina
We were up before dawn because we had a long 75 mile day ahead of us.  The anchor was up and we were away before the sun came up – a lovely clear day, but damn cold again.  

As we were motor sailing across Albemarle Sound, I went below to try to see if I could solve the mystery of the water that had been appearing in the bottom of the engine bilge.  I’d mopped it all out last night and mortified to see that there was about a pint of water sloshing around after only an hour of motoring.  There was no sign of a leaking pipe, or dripping water, but I did notice that the pumps on the side of the engine room were wet.  

The only unusual thing that we’d done that morning was to motor along at 2500 rpm for ten minutes (before we decided it was too noisy.)  I asked Glenys to increase the revs to 2500 and almost immediately water started to pour from the ceiling of the engine room.  I quickly found that water was coming from a vent pipe attached to the new PSS stern gland.  Glenys dropped the revs back to 2200 rpm and magically, the water stopped.

More Swamp, ICW, North Carolina

The vent tube is only there to allow air to escape from the stern bearing, so why was I getting water shooting out?  I rang Mack at Deltaville Boat Yard and after a bit of head scratching, we think that when the boat speed gets high, the water pressure in the stern tube is enough to raise the water level in the vent pipe so that it effectively overflows.  We could only surmise that this is happening now because the vent pipe is clear and there are two small scoops on the cutlass bearing housing designed to increase the flow of water into the bearing.  These were full of antifouling and I cleaned them out when we hauled in August.

Mack suggested two options – lengthen the vent tube and put the opening higher or put an anti-syphon check vale on the top of the vent tube and place it as high in the engine compartment as possible.  It’s another little project for me to do.  In the meantime, I’ve clamped the end of the vent tube shut – as long as I make sure that there is no air in the stern gland, it’ll be okay for a while.  I’m relieved that I’ve finally found the problem – it been driving me crazy for weeks.

The rest of the day was boring - motoring along a dredged channel sometimes in wide open bays and other times down narrow canals. I didn’t know whether to be impressed or bored by the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal which is 18 miles long and straight as an arrow apart from a single 15° bend in the middle.   We continued to run watches – one hour on and one hour off.

We anchored in a lovely place just to the east of Haystack Point on the Pungo River.  It’s well protected from the north and we were the only boat in sight – very peaceful.

6 November 2012   Pungo River to Oriental, North Carolina
Up early again.  We motored south with another ten or so boats of various shapes and sizes.  There aren’t many boats going north.  It started to rain as we approached Oriental and we anchored close to “Eye Candy” in the small anchorage just outside the marina.

Oriental, North Carolina

We delivered the parcel that we’d picked up for “Eye Candy”, chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and then went to “Eye Candy” for dinner with Andy and Clare.  Like us, they’re not sure where they’re going to stop on the way down to Florida.  It’s so cold here now that we all want to get south.

7 November 2012   Oriental, North Carolina
It was a horrible grey, rainy, cold day.  I nipped out of bed, turned on the cabin heater and ran back to have a lie-in while the boat heated up.

Glenys went to the supermarket while I wandered around the small town of Oriental looking for something to fix the vent tube on the stern gland.  I couldn’t find a vent valve, but bought 15 foot of tubing so that I can place the end of the tube higher up away from the water line to see if that will help.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to plan where we’re going for the next month.  Our friends Mike and Rona have hired a house in Vero Beach, Florida until the end of December, so that’s given us something to aim for – we’re planning to get there for the first week of December.  That gives us four weeks to travel down South Carolina, Georgia and the northern coast of Florida.  

We’re planning to sail for two nights down to Charleston in South Carolina, then spend a week on the ICW going to Beaufort and then onto Savannah.  After that it’ll be another couple of nights sailing to get to Florida.  We’re not looking forward to sailing at night in these cold temperatures, but we’ll have to grin and bear it.

Steve from “Celebration” picked us up and took us to their marina for drinks and nibbles with around twenty cruisers.  Most are heading south, but like us many don’t seem to know where they’re going to stop.

8 November 2012   Oriental, North Carolina
It was sunny and a bit warmer today, but we still had the cabin heater running all day.  We decided to stay in Oriental and paid $5 for a decent internet connection for 24 hours  - both of us continued to look at places to visit on the way down to Key West. 

We talked to our friend Mike on Skype and he’s okay with us getting some things delivered to his rental house in Florida, so I ordered a couple of small things and arranged for our mail to be sent out from the UK. 

New Asymmetrical Spinnaker

We walked around Oriental in the afternoon and then prepared the boat for sea.

9 November 2012   Oriental to Charleston, South Carolina (Day 1)
We were up early and left at half past seven heading for Beaufort.  It was a pleasant enough trip down the ICW for a few hours.  We anchored just inside the channel leading out to sea, so that I could go up the mast and replace the VHF antenna.  I also ran the water maker for half an hour just to make sure that it still works after not running it for six weeks – the water is so polluted in the Chesapeake that I didn’t want to use it.

As we motored out of the channel, I called “Celebration” on the VHF to wish them bon voyage.  They left for the British Virgin Islands this morning – they have a ten day passage ahead of them, but the forecast winds look like they should have a good trip. It was sad to say goodbye – we’ve bumped into them many times over the past eighteen months, but our paths are now diverging.

The wind was very light and slightly behind our starboard beam, so I dragged out our brand new cruising chute and deployed it.  It was very simple to hoist with the sleeve that came with it and it looked fantastic.  It was great to be sailing out at sea again and to make things even better, I caught a small tuna.

We had a great sail for three or four hours, but the wind gradually backed and we finally gave up when the wind was 60° off our starboard bow.  The wind actually dropped completely while we were putting the spinnaker away which caused a little bit of chaos because the damn thing ended up plastered against the main sail.  However, the sleeve did its job and I soon had it under control.

We motored for the rest of the day and by midnight the sea was glassy calm.

10 November 2012   Oriental to Charleston, South Carolina (Day 2)
It wasn’t too cold last night – we still had four layers of clothes on, but we didn’t freeze to death.  We motored all night.  It started to get light at half past five and the sky was impressively surreal - I took a great photograph of Venus and the Moon over the glassy sea.

Venus and the Moon at Dawn

We had several visits from Atlantic Spotted Dolphins who played in our bow wave for ages.  I caught another small tuna, which had a big bite out of its side – something big had tried to eat it while I was reeling it in.  Glenys rustled up pan-fried tuna sandwiches for lunch.

It remained calm all afternoon with no wind at all.  The sea was so calm that I spent several hours down below at the computer, editing photographs and creating articles for our website so that I can publish them the next time we have a good internet connection.

We continued into Charleston after dark, which is the first time we’ve been into a port at night for ages.  It was great fun – I’d forgotten how confusing it can be with all the various flashing buoy lights getting mixed up with the lights ashore.   We anchored off the main channel opposite the Battery at midnight and had a couple of nice cold beers.  

11 November 2012   Charleston, South Carolina 
We motored around to the Maritime Centre Marina and went onto the fuel dock to fill up with diesel.  The marina is a very small harbour owned by the city and only has space for about twenty boats.  We were a bit early arriving and had to sit on the fuel dock for a couple of hours waiting for a boat to vacate the slip that had been allocated to us.  I’m afraid that I had a sense of humour failure, being frustrated because I wanted to go for a walk around town and couldn’t – I need to chill out...

Eventually, the other boat left and we were able to move off the fuel dock and walk into town.  One of the main streets in Charleston had been blocked off as a pedestrian walkway for the day and there were lots of people wandering around eating food from stalls and bars and listening to the street buskers.

The town is obviously highly geared to tourists and you have to pay for everything - museums, tours, etc.  This is a bit frustrating after being in places like Washington DC and Philadelphia where they have some free historical attractions.  However, we've decided to pay to go on a tour of a plantation tomorrow otherwise we won't learn anything about the place.

12 November 2012   Charleston, South Carolina 
I've been putting weight on and stiffening up because we’re not doing any exercise at the moment - we need to get somewhere warm enough to go swimming again.  So, in a fit of madness, I went for a run for the first time for over a year.  I only ran a couple of miles, but it was good to be pounding the streets again.

After breakfast, Glenys put a load of laundry in the free washing machine and I changed the oil on the engine.  All this motoring down the Chesapeake and the ICW has added yet another 200 hours onto the engine.  

We went on our guided tour of the Magnolia Plantation, which was very good.  The plantation has been in the same family since 1676 and has some world famous gardens.  The tour guides gave us the history of the plantation and the slave trade as well as walking us around the gardens and the house.  

Formal Gardens, Magnolia Plantation, Charleston

Plantation owners were very powerful and rich people.  At the time of the Civil War there were around 300 slaves living and working on the Magnolia plantation.  The average purchase price for a slave was $1,500, which is much more than I would have thought.  In today’s money that would probably be $15,000, so the plantation had an investment of over £3.5 million in their slaves.  It is said that the owners of Magnolia Plantation looked after their slaves, which is supported by the number that continued to work at the plantation after they had been freed.

I really enjoyed being driven around the “Swamp Garden” which is a cypress and tupelo swamp with alligators, heron and other wildlife.  Alligators are weird things, lying for hours totally stationary with only a small part of their head and body visible – very creepy.  There are old “Live Oak” trees all over the plantation with Spanish Moss hanging from the branches making it all look very “southern”.

We had dinner at Hyman’s Seafood, which is one of the most popular restaurants in Charleston.  I just had to have Shrimp and Grits – it doesn’t sound the most appetising dish in the world, but was very tasty.

13 November 2012   Charleston, South Carolina 
Glenys went into town to do a bit of shopping while I did some more laundry and pottered about.  Our plan was to leave in the early evening and sail overnight to Savannah to arrive in the morning.  It’s 100 miles from Charleston to Savannah - an awkward distance which we can’t do in a single day hence the overnight passage.  The wind was forecast to be light until the afternoon and then pick up to 15-20 knots from the North as a weak front moves away.

We left the marina at noon and anchored just off the ICW in the middle of the huge Charleston harbour waiting to go.  I hate waiting to leave - it’s very unsettling and hard to focus on anything constructive.  We were so bored that we had an afternoon nap.

It started to rain heavily at three o’clock and still hadn’t stopped at half past four.  The wind was picking up and it was cold and miserable.  We decided to abandon the trip and motored further up the South River to the anchorage off the Municipal Marina.  It was going dark by the time that we arrived and there was a strong tide against the wind which made anchoring difficult because boats were facing in strange directions and it was difficult to see where to drop the anchor.  It took us two attempts to get settled.

14 November 2012   Charleston, South Carolina 
It was a very grey overcast day.  The weather forecast was predicting more showers today and tonight, heavy rain tomorrow and showers on Friday.  It looks like we’ll be stuck here for a few days.

Town Mansions, Charleston, South Carolina

We spent all day chilling out and looking at our future cruising plans.  I’ve collected a large amount of information about possible cruising areas and we started to sift through it all, working out where we really want to go.  We’ve decided to still go to Cuba, but we’re now thinking of nipping across to Mexico for a month and then going back to the south coast of Cuba before heading down to Jamaica and then Panama for the hurricane season.  

Longer term, we’re not sure when we’ll go through the Panama Canal.  It all depends on whether we go down to Ecuador.  The information that I have on Ecuador is over four years old and unfortunately we can’t get an internet connection to try to find out more.

We watched the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with our dinner – best thing to do in this cold miserable weather.

15 November 2012   Charleston, South Carolina 
It was another miserable rainy day.  The wind was gusting up to 40 knots when we got up and all the boats in the anchorage were veering around madly.  We went very close to one boat, so we pulled up our anchor and moved further out to the edge of the anchorage, miles away from anyone else - not pleasant thing to be doing in the lashing rain.

Fortunately, we were now in a position where we were getting a good internet signal, so we spent the rest of the day looking up information on more distant cruising destinations.  It was almost surreal to be looking at blogs of people who have sailed to Ecuador, Galapagos and Easter Island, when we can’t even get a mere 100 miles to Savannah.

After much deliberation, we’ve decided that we will definitely go to Ecuador and spend a few months there before heading across the Pacific. It will give us the opportunity to travel inland - perhaps to Peru and Chile.  Also we’ll be able to arrange a one month cruising permit for the Galapagos, which will be fantastic.  We’re not sure whether we’ll try to go to Easter Island, but we’ll definitely head for the Gambier Islands rather than the Marquesas because it will get us away from the maddening crowds and there’s a chance that we could stop in the Pitcairn islands, which would be very interesting.

So our long term plans (subject to winds and whims) are:

Jan - May       Cuba, Mexico, Jamaica
Jun - Oct       Panama, San Blas, Fly to UK
Nov - Jan      Transit the Panama Canal, Ecuador
Feb               Galapagos
Mar               Head across the Pacific

16 November 2012   Charleston to Savannah, Georgia (Day 1)
It was a little bit brighter when we dragged ourselves out of bed and the weather forecast that I picked up was for it to be dry for the next 24 hours.  Overnight, the winds were predicted to be 15-20 knots with gusts to 25 knots, so we decided that we would sail down to Savannah.  The winds were going to remain as strong northerlies for another week, but at least it should be dry tonight and we’d be sailing down wind.

City Dock, Savannah, Georgia

We received a depressing email from our son Craig.  He’s just bought a new maisonette with his partner Kristen and they’ve found out that they’ve got horrible neighbours in the maisonette above them.  The neighbours are noisy and have two dogs that bark all the time.  Another neighbour has reported the dogs and one dog has been taken away. The problem neighbour suspects that Craig has reported him and they’ve had angry words.  I’ve suggested that Craig should try to talk to and get friendly with the problem neighbour – very difficult, but better to try to sort it out now than to let it escalate.  Not a pleasant situation and there’s not a lot that we can do to help him.  

We spent the day waiting to sail away in the evening, surfing the internet and reading.  Our plan was to leave after six o’clock, but at five o’clock, we cracked up, had dinner and pulled up the anchor just as it was going dark.

It was very pleasant motoring out of the harbour with a light wind and calm seas.  A huge container ship was heading out of the port behind us and we just made it out of the harbour breakwater before it overtook us in the dark.  The seas outside were a little confused, but only three feet or so and there was very little wind, so we resigned ourselves to motor all night.  We started our usual three hour watches and I went to bed at half past seven.

Just after nine o’clock, Glenys woke me up and I had to get up to help her because the wind had picked up to 25 knots.  The wind was behind us, so I decided to roll away the main sail and we ran almost downwind with just the genoa.  Once we were settled down, Glenys went to bed and I stayed on watch.

It was bloody freezing.  By midnight, the wind was gusting to 35 knots and the seas were getting bigger making it difficult to do anything but sit and stare at the sea.  I tried to read but started to feel a bit queasy in the chaotic seas.

17 November 2012   Charleston to Savannah, Georgia (Day 2)
It became progressively worse overnight – we recorded a 45 knot gust at some point.  As I was approaching the entrance to the Savannah River, we had nine foot seas which were occasionally breaking.  

I was very concerned about our safety because the winds and seas were from North-north-east and the river entrance has a 2 ½ mile section that heads North West – we would be hard on the wind.  In addition, there’s a very shallow sand bank to the north of the channel – would the waves be breaking over the sand bank and making the seas even worse?

Our only other alternative was to carry on for another 24 hours and sail down to St Augustine in Florida, but the weather forecast was for the wind to increase some more.  Glenys came up to give me some moral support and, just as the grey dawn was breaking, we switched the engine on and turned the corner.  

It wasn’t pleasant.  We motor-sailed into the 30-35 knot wind and waves with the genoa sheeted in as tight as we could get it.  The combination of the sail and the engine enabled us to go along at 4 to 5 knots and fortunately the seas didn’t get any worse.  It took us 30 minutes to fight our way up to the turn in the channel, where we were able to turn down wind and sail into calmer waters behind a break-water.

After that, it was a pleasant, if cold motor-sail up the river for a couple of hours.  It was two battered and weary sailors that gratefully tied up to the city dock in Savannah.  Glenys rustled up bacon and eggs for breakfast, we had a shower and went to bed for a few hours – bliss.

In the afternoon, we wandered around a little bit and picked up maps and tourist information, before retiring back to our nice warm boat and collapsing with a cold beer.

One of the 22 Squares in Savannah, Georgia

18 November 2012   Savannah, Georgia 
We had a tourist day.  The weather was pretty miserable – overcast, drizzling and a strong, cold north wind, but we pulled on warm clothes and set out to walk around the town.

The city of Savannah was originally laid out in 1733 as a grid containing four “Squares” which were landscaped with trees and monuments.  The head of the new colony (a chap called Oglethorpe) allowed for expansion of the grid and by 1851 there were 24 Squares.  Two have been lost to re-development, but there are 22 Squares remaining.  We walked around the city and visited them all, which was an interesting way to see the city.

Most of Savannah's Squares have gardens with huge Live Oaks and are named in honour of people or historical events - many contain monuments and other tributes.  We’d printed out a document explaining the history of each Square so Glenys turned into a tour guide.  It was a very pleasant way to see the city.  Some of the parks are very picturesque and our route took us through residential areas as well as commercial sectors.  It’s a very lovely city.

I chilled out on the boat in the afternoon while Glenys did some more trudging around.  The city dock is convenient for the town being right on the river front, which has converted warehouses that remind me of Porto in Portugal.  The river has an incredible amount of traffic - mostly big container ships disappearing up river to unload their cargo.

We treated ourselves to a meal out in the evening and finished up in an outside bar listening to live country music and freezing our nuts off… 

19 November 2012   Savannah, Georgia 
First thing in the morning, I went to try to find an internet connection and I ended up on a park bench with my laptop on my knee typing furiously wearing gloves against the biting wind.  The weather forecast is for 10-15 knot winds from the north, so we’re planning to go down to Florida tomorrow.

The most famous restaurant in Savannah is Mrs Wilkes Boarding House – even President Obama went there when he visited the city.  It’s not possible to make reservations and they only do lunch from 1130 to 1400. They randomly put twelve people on each table and place food in the middle like a buffet.  You get to meet all sorts of people and the food is said to be brilliant.  We’d heard that a queue starts to form at 1030 and that it gets very busy.  We thought that it would be quiet on a cold November Monday, so we strolled up at half past twelve.  Unfortunately, there was still a huge queue of over one hundred people waiting to get in, so we abandoned the idea – what a bummer.

River Front, Savannah, Georgia

Instead, we ended up having a greasy, tasteless meal in the Savannah history museum and then walked around the small museum which had some interesting things.  Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Guides & Scouts came from Savannah, so there’s a whole exhibit room dedicated to her.

We had a quiet night in ready for an early start tomorrow.

20 November 2012   Savannah to St Augustine, Florida (Day 1)
We left at seven o’clock with blue skies and light winds.  Fortunately, the tide was perfect and we had a following two knot current pushing us out of the river, so we soon arrived at the river entrance.  Outside in the open ocean, the winds were pretty light from the north and again the seas were very confused.  The coastal waters are very shallow in this area (less than 30 metres out to 70 miles offshore), so I think that the seas just heap up if there’s a northerly swell.

We started sailing on a broad reach at 4-5 knots, but the wind gradually backed, so I had to put out our spinnaker pole to port to keep the genoa inflated.  It takes me about fifteen minutes to rig it all up, but the pole stops the sail crashing and banging as it loses wind and then re-fills.  I barely had time to sit down before the wind backed more and I had to swap it all over to the starboard side – what a pain. 

By three o’clock, the wind had dropped down to below 5 knots apparent, so we put the engine on.  The wind was so light and the seas so confused that I couldn’t even play with our cruising chute.  I don’t seem to be able to get it right at the moment – we either have too much wind or too little.

It was very cold as we continued motoring up to midnight.

21 November 2012   Savannah to St Augustine, Florida (Day 2)
The wind started to pick up around three o’clock in the morning, so we sorted out the sails and turned off the engine at our four o’clock watch change.  After that we had a nice sail until we approached the outer buoy at the St Augustine Inlet at eight o’clock.

The buoys for the channel through the St Augustine inlet change as the sand banks shift around, so the positions of the buoys are not shown on the charts.  The inlet looked awful – through our binoculars, we could see one red buoy (No. 6), but then nothing other than a green buoy about a mile away and big waves breaking over the sand bar in between us and the shore.   

Spanish Architecture, St Augustine, Florida

I tried to ask the St Augustine Municipal Marina about the entrance, but they refused to give me any local knowledge about the inlet and suggested that we ring Tow Boat US.  The manager of the St Augustine branch was extremely helpful and described the channel – “It’s just a matter of following the red buoys; we shouldn’t see anything less than 4 metres; oh and by the way, the second red buoy has been reported as being off station” - super…

I watched a power boat coming out of the inlet which gave me a good idea about the course to take I called him to ask him how it was.  He said it was okay – just follow the buoys and watch out for the big waves …

To Glenys’s dismay, I decided to “go for it” and we headed slowly past the first red buoy maintaining a heading lined up the red buoy and the outer sea buoy.  It was horrible.  The waves were very large and breaking – at one point we had a 3 metre wave break directly on our starboard quarter, which I thought was going to swamp us.  The water depth dropped to 5 metres and we were surfing down the waves heading directly towards the shore.  Glenys had the binoculars and was searching for the next red buoy.

Finally after what seemed a life time (because I was holding my breath), we spotted a green and red buoy amongst the crashing waves, but it was still half a mile away.  We remorselessly continued, scared because if we went aground there would be no way that we’d be able to get out of the breaking waves.  We breathed a sigh of relief when we passed the red buoy.  It was Number 2 red buoy which meant that the Number 4 red buoy was missing, which is why it was so difficult to see the channel.

The waves decreased from this point and we safely made it the rest of the way to the Intra Coastal Waterway. After passing through the pretty Bridge of Lions, we picked up a mooring owned by the St Augustine Municipal Marina and collapsed – going through the inlet generated more adrenaline than leading a steep ice climb.

After lunch, we dinghied into the marina and picked up some tourist information.  St Augustine looks to be a lovely place – it’s an old Spanish town dating back to 1565 with lots of very Spanish looking architecture.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and most places will be closed, so we’ve decided to have a quiet day in and walk around the town on Friday.  We went to a small supermarket and bought a chicken and vegetables to have a Thanksgiving lunch tomorrow.

Tony and Rachelle from “Saltwhistle III” came over for a beer – they have a Hallberg Rassy 42 like ours and we last met them up in Long Island near New York. 

22 November 2012   St Augustine, Florida
It was Thanksgiving Day today, so we had a quiet day in.  We had beautiful blue skies, but there was a wicked cold north wind, so we cowered down below in the morning with the heater on.

Cannon Firing, Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine

Glenys cooked a fabulous roast chicken lunch with all the trimmings which was enhanced by a few glasses of vino tinto.  Stuffed full of food and wine, we read and dozed in the sunshine until the sun started to go down, at which point we watched a couple of movies - a nice relaxing day. 

23 November 2012   St Augustine, Florida
We had a tourist day today.  It was another clear blue sky day with a cold north wind, but that didn't bother us once we were ashore and I wore shorts for the first time for a while.

We carried the two old hatches ashore which have been lurking in our front cabin since we replaced them back in July and caught a cab to the local consignment store.  New hatches are over $650 each, but they only gave me $80 for both of them – I wasn’t too bothered about it because I’m sick of moving them around every time I want something from under the front berths.

The town of Saint Augustine is lovely.  It was one of the first places that the Spaniards settled in Florida and was established in 1565 making it the oldest permanent settlement in the USA.  It has a very Spanish feel and some of the large hotels look like Spanish monasteries.

After lunch we visited the Castillo de San Marcos, which was built in the late 1600s.  It has been attached many times by the English and also the Americans in the War of Independence.  Once again the English don’t come out well in history because Francis Drake torched the whole town of St Augustine in 1586 – not a nice man really…   The best bit of the walk around the Castillo was a re-enactment of the very formal and pedantic way that the Spanish loaded and fired cannons.

Thierry and Claudia from “Vanupieds” came for a few beers and we caught up on each other’s travels since the last time that we saw them in Deltaville.

24 November 2012   St Augustine to New Smyrna Beach, Florida
We left at quarter to seven and motored remorselessly up the ICW.  We did 60 miles during the day, so we didn’t hang about anywhere – just motoring, motoring and motoring.  There are a few interesting parts, but it mostly looks the same as further up north.  We saw sections where there were lots of houses which have huge frames with mosquito nets enclosing all of their back yards.

Another house on the side of the ICW, Florida

We had all sorts of problems with the VHF radios. I took down the antenna for the fixed VHF radio so that we can fit underneath the bridges, but now we can transmit on fixed VHF radio but not receive very well.  Our portable VHF radio is giving out a very weak signal on transmit, but receives okay.  We ended up having to call the bridges on the fixed radio and keeping the portable radio on the cockpit floor so that we could hear their reply - God knows what is going on. 

We anchored just off the ICW in a very pleasant place at New Smyrna Beach.

25 November 2012   New Smyrna Beach to Cocoa, Florida
It was another day of motoring - not much to do.  There were some very nice parts on this section with small islands in wild areas that would be good to go kayaking.

We anchored in Cocoa.  This was the first place that we anchored when we arrived in the USA in June earlier this year.  We’ve done 3,700 miles up to Maine and back.  We average around 5 knots when we’re travelling, which is 40 miles per day.  That means that for the last six months, we’ve been on the move for half of the 180 days that we've been in the USA – it’s time to stop and have a rest.

I tested our domestic batteries – I've suspected them for a while as they don’t seem to be holding their charge.  Even when we've done a lot of motoring all day, the batteries are at a very low voltage the next morning.  When I tested them, three are showing to have a failed dead cell and the other three are below 75 % capacity.  I’ll need to replace at least three of them and maybe I should change all six to make sure that the old batteries don’t pull down the new ones.

I had a quick look in some marine catalogues and found that batteries range from $150 to $400 each so that’s quite an investment.  More money flooding out of our savings… 

26 November 2012   Cocoa, Florida
I spent morning on admin – I can’t get an internet connection here, but I needed to sort out my “To-Do” lists and try to get organised enough to buy things over the next few days to be delivered to our friend Mike who is renting a house near Vero Beach .  We expect to be staying in Vero Beach for about a week, so I need to get the stuff ordered as soon as possible to make sure that it arrives in time.

Green Heron, Merritt Island, Florida

Our 15hp outboard is still playing up.  It’s now cutting out at low revs - I’m guessing that it’s a fuel problem, but I changed the spark plugs anyway, which made no difference.  My Canon camera had been playing up and won’t read the memory card anymore, so I packaged it up to send off to get it repaired – I’m hoping that it will be delivered back to Mike’s house within a week.

After lunch, we went into Cocoa Village and walked to the tourist office to find out where the post office and library were.  I don’t know where the tourist offices get their staff from, but they’re not the sharpest tools in the box.  The lady gave us some incomprehensible directions which took us on an interesting meandering tour of the town.  Once we’d discovered the library, I used the internet to order a few things and get an order number for the camera return.

We had a quiet night in.

27 November 2012   Cocoa, Florida
Mike and Rona picked us up from the dinghy dock and took us out to Merritt Island, which is a National Park created by NASA very close to the Kennedy Space Centre.  We had a great day driving around the park, looking at a wide variety of wildlife and catching up on our various adventures since we last saw each other in Saint Lucia over fifteen months ago.

The Merritt Island Park is a very well managed wildlife refuge with a large number of different habitats, mostly aimed at attracting birds.  We saw Bald Eagles, Roseate Spoonbills, various species of heron and countless sea birds herons.  Topped off by a nice picnic brought by Rona, we had a pleasant day out.

Mike and Rona came back to Alba to stay for the night and we got very, very drunk - Mike and I were on the same skydiving team in the 1980’s and babbled into the small hours about the good old days…

28 November 2012   Cocoa to Vero Beach, Florida
We all felt a little dull in the morning, but I dragged everyone out of bed at seven o’clock and dropped Mike off ashore.  Rona came with us down to Vero Beach, which wasn’t terribly exciting – just another long day of motoring.

We had a bit of a scare at the bridge just before Vero Beach because the tide gauge was only showing 63 feet – the lowest that we’d seen so far.  We bottled out and Glenys motored around in a circle while I checked my records and recalculated the height to the top of the mast.  I reckon that we’re 62.5 feet to the top of the Windex, so we slowly crept through.  We didn’t rip anything off the top of the mast, so I must have been right.

Rona and Glenys, ICW, Florida

We arrived in Vero Beach, which is a large mooring field run by the City Marina.  No one is allowed to anchor in here, so the only option is to pick up a mooring.  Fortunately, they only charge $100 per week, so it’s very reasonable.   The place is very crowded being a favourite waiting place for the “Snow Birds” flocking to the Bahamas.  All the moorings were taken, so we were told to raft up on a mooring with a US yacht called “Different Drummer”.  It’s a bizarre thing to raft up on a mooring, but it’s accepted policy here at Vero Beach.  They even put three boats on a single mooring sometimes – the moorings must be strong.

I dropped Rona off ashore and we had a quiet night in, letting our livers recover.

29 November 2012   Vero Beach, Florida
We have excellent internet access here, so I spent the morning investigating batteries and spares for all of the pumps that we have on board.  There are nine pumps not including the ones on the engine - if a pump goes wrong in Cuba, we’ll have to repair it ourselves or do without it.

I read up on batteries and have eventually decided to bite the bullet and buy six new AGM deep cycle batteries.  I’ve found a local battery supplier who can provide a good make of AGM battery for only $225 each and they’ll deliver them to the marina for me. It will probably be a nightmare to sort out the logistics to pick them up at the busy fuel dock, but I’m sure that we’ll manage.  

I spent the afternoon, running wiring into the engine room from the solar panel regulator, so that I can fit a “dump resistor”. This will allow the regulator to control the charging voltage from the wind generator.  I’ve had the resistor and a new processor chip for the regulator for nearly a year now and haven’t got around to fitting it.  I need to get it sorted out before I install my new batteries – I don’t want to ruin another set of batteries.

Vero Beach Mooring Field, Florida

In the evening there was a gathering of cruisers to which everyone brought a small starter.  It was okay – we met a few new people, but most are elderly Americans who are waiting to go over to the Bahamas and not going our way.  Thierry and Claudia from “Vanupieds” arrived today so we spent some time chatting to them.  Thierry calls the old Americans “Q-Tips”.

30 November 2012   Vero Beach, Florida
Mike and Rona picked us up in the morning and took us to the cinema where we saw the new James Bond movie for only $4 – it’s a special deal if you go before noon. Afterwards, they took us to a couple of shopping malls where we went to the usual places – marine store for spares, etc

There’s a music shop next to the West Marine, so I went into stare at guitars and sheet music.  I’ve been trying to grow my nails for finger picking on the guitar, but doing jobs on the boat is not conducive to beautiful long nails.  I’ve been painting on some nail strengthening liquid, but that’s making my nails shiny and looks weird.  So, while in the music shop, I bought some plastic picks that fit over the right hand fingers and thumb – we’ll see how that works. 

Mike and Rona took us back to their rented house for the night.  They must think that we’re mad – as soon as we got into their house, we shoved a whole load of washing into their washing machine.  I then commandeered a wooden chair and Glenys cut my hair by their front door.  Glenys then dyed her hair because she could use copious amounts of water.

We had a nice meal and got drunk again reminiscing about the good old days.