June 2012 - Florida to Chesapeake

1 June 2012   Marsh Harbour, Abacos, Bahamas
I woke up at quarter past six and dragged myself out of bed to listen to the weather forecast on the SSB radio.  There’s a cold front coming down through Florida which will give strong winds and squalls to the north of us tonight and then we should still have a three day weather window before the next low forms on Tuesday 5th.  We’re planning to leave for Charleston tomorrow.

I did a couple of runs to the fuel dock to fill the jerry can and top up the diesel tanks.  We then pottered around for the rest of the day, reading and getting ready to sail tomorrow.  I’ve managed to catch a cold, have a sore throat and I’m feeling a little low – “man flu” I guess.

The weather was squally in the afternoon, but cleared up later.  We had an early night and plan to leave first thing in the morning.

2 June 2012   Marsh Harbour to Cocoa, Florida (Day 1)
We had a massive thunderstorm come over us last night at three o'clock.  Lashing rain, 35 knot winds and spectacular lightning – I even disconnected my laptop in case we had a lightning strike on Alba.

Another squall approaches, Marsh Harbour, Abacos

We climbed out of bed at six o’clock.  I downloaded the latest grib file and found that the low that was going to form on Tuesday is now forecast for Monday night and will be giving us gale force winds as we approach Charleston.  Glenys and I had another weather routing discussion and changed our plans again, aiming to leave in the afternoon and head for Cape Canaveral in Florida which is only 220 miles, which should get us in on Monday before the low forms.  We’ll still have 600 miles to travel north to get to Chesapeake, but at least we’ll be able to do it in smaller one or two day hops up the US coast to avoid this awful weather.

We decided to leave after lunch, to make sure that all the current squally weather had passed us, which gave me time to do a few little jobs.

We’re going to have to use our holding tank to “store” our toilet effluent when we’re in the States.  We have a 35 litre stainless steel tank in a cupboard in the front heads.  There’s no gauge on the tank, and if it gets full, it will overflow - dumping effluent out of a hull fitting in the side of our hull above the waterline.  It will be a little bit embarrassing to be pumping “stuff” out of the side of the boat. 

I did an experiment by flushing clean water through the toilet into the holding tank and found that 200 pumps of the toilet will fill the tank.  At an average of 15-20 pumps per flush that means that we can use the toilet 10-14 times before we need to empty the tank.  I’ve sellotaped a piece of paper onto the cupboard above the toilet so that we can record how many pumps we’ve done since the last time it was emptied - life is wonderful on a luxury yacht.

When we arrive in Cape Canaveral, we’ll have to go into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  This is a channel through coastal wetlands that goes from Florida to Virginia.  It’s supposed to be dredged to 4 metres, but is shoaling in some places and may be a challenge to our 2 metre draft.  In addition, there are a large number of fixed bridges and power cables that stretch across the ICW at a height of 65 feet.  The specification for Alba says that the mast height without instruments is 61.5 feet.

I went up the mast to see how much our instruments stick up above the mast and found that our VHF aerial is four feet long meaning that our total mast height above the water is 65.5 feet. This means that we won’t be able to get under bridges at high tide which will severely cramp our movements.  Perhaps we’ll not spend much time in the ICW.

We hung around reading and waiting for the rest of the morning.  After lunch, we got ready for sea and I started to pull up the anchor, then Glenys noticed that the depth gauge was flickering between 1.9 and 2 metres – we were aground because we were at low tide. We were so excited about leaving the Bahamas that we hadn’t even bothered to look at the tides.  We had to wait another two hours for the tide to come in…

Overfalls in Man-O-War Passage, Abacos

We negotiated our way out of the shallow harbour and set off across the lagoon towards Man-O-War channel five miles away.  The wind was blowing W 20-25 knots from the west and there were some dark looking rain showers to windward of us.  After ten minutes, I noticed that the wind direction instrument wasn’t working, so thinking that I’d damaged something when I went up the mast, we anchored and I went up the mast again.  Everything looked OK and there didn’t seem to be anything that I could easily fix, so we upped anchor and carried on.  

Meanwhile, two squalls had passed either side of us with heavy rain.  Then at the channel through the reef, there were over-falls caused by the strong westerly winds encountering the strong tidal current heading east.  Our Karma was very low at this point, but we persevered and soon popped out in to the open ocean, which was calmer than inside the reef.

We had a great sail for four or five hours, but by eight o’clock in the evening, the wind had dropped and Glenys had to turn on the engine.  We had a 1½ knot current against us which was very annoying, dropping our speed over the ground down to 3-4 knots.

3 June 2012   Marsh Harbour to Cocoa, Florida (Day 2)
The wind picked up enough for us to sail at four o'clock in the morning - I unfurled the genoa and shook out the reefs in the main.  We were getting 5-6 knots of boat speed, but we still have a one knot current against us.

By six o’clock, I had to turn the engine on again because the wind dropped and veered to be coming straight at us.  We motored all day with blue skies, 5 knot winds and a 3 foot swell, but at least the counter current had disappeared.

We just read books or slept for most of the day. The highlight of the day was giving myself a No.12 haircut, which didn’t turn out too well, but at least there’s no one else to look at me.

4 June 2012   Marsh Harbour to Cocoa, Florida (Day 3)
We continued motoring for most of the night, but at least we had a fantastic full moon which illuminated the gently rolling, three foot seas.  At four o’clock, the wind finally picked up enough so that we could sail.

As we approached Cape Canaveral, we had three big vessels pass close to us, heading towards the same port.  It’s much, much busier than the Caribbean and keeping check on the ships made my 4-7 watch fly by.

We arrived just outside the port entrance at eight o’clock and hove-to, while I tried to sort out the customs clearance procedure.  I rang the Canaveral Port Authority who told me that I had to call an 800 number to talk to the Small Craft Division of Homeland Security to clear in because they only deal with cruise ships and large vessels.  When I called the Small Craft Division number, they told me that I could only clear in when I was tied up somewhere, so we continued into the port looking for a dock.

Bascule bridge, Florida

The port is very busy and is mostly geared up for large shipping – there’s also a military base with naval security boats wandering around to protect it. I took a picture of a submarine anyway – it’s amazing how difficult they are to see.  We couldn’t find any public docks – just a couple of marinas which looked busy, so we continued towards Cocoa to anchor there before clearing in.

There’s a lifting “Bascule” bridge and a lock leading from the Port to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  It was quite scary calling the bridge operator on the VHF radio and asking for it to be opened.  All traffic was immediately halted on a major, three-lane highway for little old us.  Once through the bridge we called the lock keeper, who again opens on demand.   The lock is massive; about 400 metres long and 25 metres wide and we were the only ones in there – seems a waste of resources, but who am I to complain.

The waterway from Canaveral Port to the Indian River passes through a nature reserve and there’s a wide variety of wild life.  We saw Bottlenosed Dolphins in the port and Glenys had to steer us around three manatees to get into the lock.  Along the waterway, we saw ospreys, scarlet ibis, herons, pelicans, cormorants and there were fish jumping out of the water all of the time - amazing.

We passed through another lifting bridge and came to the main ICW where we encountered our first “fixed” bridge, which has a nominal clearance of 65 feet.  There are tidal gauges which show the exact clearance under the bridges and this one was showing 64 feet – there was no way that we would get underneath without destroying our 4 foot VHF antenna.  I checked the tide times for Cape Canaveral which showed that we were on a rapidly falling tide, so we waited for the tide to drop.  

While we were waiting, Glenys rang Boat US and subscribed to their towing service for the princely sum of $165 US.  We’re going to be spending a lot of time in the USA navigating in very shallow waters and the risk of going aground is pretty high especially with our relatively deep, 2 metre draft.  The Boat US towing service gives us unlimited tows to get us off “soft groundings”, i.e. they’ll come and rescue us when we hit the bottom.

After twenty minutes, the tide gauge still showed 64 feet, so I got the hump and decided to remove the bloody VHF antenna.  We anchored at the edge of the ICW and I climbed up the mast again for the third time in a week.  It was a bit of a struggle (aren’t all little jobs on a yacht?), but I safely removed the aerial and we now have a mast height of 62½ feet.  We’ll have to use our handheld VHF radio for a while.

After sneaking under the bridge, we motored for a mile and anchored off Cocoa in 3.5 metres of water.  I rang the Small Craft Division of Home Land Security to clear in.  They took all of our details and then told me that all of the crew have to report to the Cape Canaveral office within 24 hours.  I said OK, disconnected and then nearly screamed.  So we have to go back to Canaveral Port where we’ve just been told that they only handle large vessels – God give me strength…

Is this really The Truman Show? Cocoa, Florida

We had lunch to boost my blood sugar level and reduce my temper.  We then motored under the next bridge and anchored in 3 metres off Cocoa Village, which is a very nice anchorage.  I put the dinghy into the water and lowered our 15hp outboard in place, but it wouldn’t start.  Could anything else go wrong today?  I took the carburettor off, cleaned it and managed to get the outboard started, but I don’t know what’s causing these problems.

By now it was three o'clock and our day was in tatters, so we decided to sort out the customs crap today.  We went into Cocoa Village and took a taxi back to Cape Canaveral.  The Homeland Security guy was very pleasant and I asked if we could have more than the normal six months’ immigration entry.  He said that he might be able to do it, but we’d have to come back tomorrow when his supervisor will be there.  At $60US for a taxi, I don’t think so.  In fact, he ended up making a mistake and giving us seven months, which means that we can stay until the beginning of January which will be helpful.

When got back to Cocoa, we went straight into a bar for a nice cold beer.  It was like being on a different planet, sitting in an air-conditioned American bar, watching American TV and gazing out at the people wandering by.  Cocoa is a very quaint tourist town with narrow streets, lots of trendy cafes and antique shops.  Everything is very clean and orderly.  We became convinced that we were in The Truman Show.  Surely that car’s been past this corner before?  Is the TV repeating itself? Haven’t we seen that guy on the bike before?  

We staggered back to the boat, Glenys rustled up egg and chips and we collapsed into bed - what a day!

5 June 2012   Cocoa, Florida
It was my 56th Birthday today.  Glenys hasn’t bought me any presents, but I’m not that bothered.   Is that what happens when you get older?

I spent the morning looking at routes to get us further north.  We need either a four or five day window to get us to Beaufort or a three day window to get us to Charleston.

I dropped the dinghy into the water to go into town, but the outboard wouldn’t start again.  I reckon that I’ve got dirty fuel or water in the fuel tank.  I couldn’t be bothered to take the outboard to bits to clean the carburettor, so I fitted our small 2.5hp outboard and we slowly chugged to the dinghy dock.  We went to a café for lunch and I was able to use their wireless internet connection to pick up the weather.  There’s another front giving unsettled weather in the area for the next three days, but it looks good from Saturday 9th onwards.  

We went into the tourist office to get some local information and found out that there’s no supermarket or even a grocery shop within walking distance.  Also there’s no Laundromat anywhere near here - it’s just a pretty little tourist town, so we’re going to go up the ICW to Titusville tomorrow for a couple of nights and then come back down here on Friday.  Hopefully they will have better boating facilities there.

Night Blooming Cereus, Cocoa, Florida

On the way back to Alba, we had a chat with Bill on “Gaia” and he confirmed that there’s no tide in this part of the ICW.  I guess that’s why there’s a lock at Cape Canaveral – duh!  It’s a good job that I removed the VHF antenna from the top of the mast yesterday because we’d have never got under that first fixed bridge – we’d have been waiting forever for the tide to drop…

After a couple of hours back on the boat, we went out for a Mexican meal for my birthday treat.  It was OK, but too much cheese, not enough cilantro and far, far too large.  We’re going to start ordering one meal between the two of us – kind of like old age pensioners do…

We went for a walk to help digest the huge meal and came across a garden that had a cactus plants climbing up the trees.  The cacti had hundreds of huge white flowers which looked spectacular.  A local lady told us that they’re called Night Blooming Cereus which only flower once a year and each flower only lasts a night – it’s nice that they did it on my birthday.

6 June 2012   Cocoa to Titusville, Florida
After breakfast, we motored for fifteen miles along the ICW to Titusville. There’s a huge mooring field outside the Municipal Marina which forced us to anchor ½ mile from the marina entrance in the middle of nowhere.  We dragged on our first attempt to anchor, but it seemed to hold OK in a slightly different place.

We went into the marina, and then had a walk around.  In 1996, we spent over a month here on Glencora before we sailed back across the Atlantic to the UK.  There are quite a few changes, a huge shopping mall across the road had been demolished and our favourite sea food restaurant closed down eight years ago.  Titusville is a sleepy, spread out place with not much going for it apart from a good marina and nice marina staff.  To make matters worse, when NASA finished the space shuttle program, over 30,000 jobs were lost in the local area.

We only just made it back to Alba before a huge thunderstorm came over and gave us 30 knot winds and driving rain – at least it tested the holding of the anchor before it went dark. 

7 June 2012   Titusville to Cocoa, Florida
A huge thunderstorm came through in the middle of the night again with high winds – we were glad that we’re tucked up in bed rather than being at sea.  It soon passed and the wind dropped off to nothing which meant that the mosquitos arrived.  Goodness knows how they found us because the nearest land is ½ mile away.  Anyway, I was up at four o’clock dancing around with the mosquito zapper.

Stormy Skies, Titusville, Florida

In the morning, Glenys chugged off to the launderette while I started to sort out the dirty fuel and our 15hp outboard.  Ten minutes after she left, another big thunderstorm rolled in - she only just made it into the marina before the heavy rain started.   I had a cup of tea and waited until the rain had stopped – funny how I wanted the comfort of a nice cuppa in the miserable weather.

I poured most of the fuel from the outboard tank into a jerry can to re-use and then emptied the remaining couple of litres into some plastic bottles to throw away.  There was definitely water in the bottom of the tank.  I removed the carburettor and found traces of water in the float chamber as well, so I ‘m fairly convinced that the problem is water in the fuel.  I’ll buy some gasoline additive to put in the fuel that I have in jerry cans.

There was nothing else for us to do in Titusville, so we upped anchor and motored back to Cocoa, arriving mid-afternoon.  We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon, before another huge thunderstorm came over giving us 35+ knot winds again.  These storms are short-lived, but very powerful.  The visibility drops to around 25 metres in the driving rain, the boat veers around in the gale force gusts, and the crack of thunder as lightning strikes nearby is deafening, making us duck our heads.  Hopefully there won’t be any tomorrow.