Saturday, March 31, 2012


Just after 7:30 on Thursday morning fellow CYCers Jamie and Meg tossed us the last of our lines and we slipped away from the dock at Fernandina, Amelia Island. Within an hour, and after 4 sun drenched and adventure filled months, Freedom left Florida.

Fernandina Beach has become one of our favorite stops along the ICW. The town is full of brick sidewalks, charming homes,  and unique shops and restaurants. The air is filled with the hum of the pulp mill, the scent of wood, the sound of a train whistle.  Like many of the other Florida towns we have visited (St. Pete, Stuart, Daytona) the nearby shopping district had few, if any, national chains -- the boutiques, bakeries and restaurants are almost all locally owned, or at least Florida-based chains.  It is such a breath of fresh air and really gives you a sense of place instead of feeling like you could be in "Anywhere USA." From conversations with locals around the state, the dedication to local businesses is widespread, intentional and a point of pride. I like that in a State!

Here's a photo of one of the two Pulp Mills lining the waterfront in Fernandina Beach. It reminds of the game Chutes and Ladders.

We are now traveling a bit of the ICW that we bypassed in the fall by "going outside" ie, in the ocean. Georgia is know for its shallow waters, but so far so good. We made it through the Little Mud River and Hell gate (at low tide, even) without touching bottom.  Phew!

Along with the low water, or perhaps the reason for it, the ICW in Georgia snakes its way through isolated marshlands. We are still traveling in solitude. passing the occasional sailboat, trawler or local fishing boat, but for the most part we are on our own. For the past two nights we have settled into isolated anchorages, with only the pelicans, gulls, and gnats as company. Thursday night we anchored in the Darien River and watched burning sugar cane fields light up the shy after sunset.The next morning Freedom was covered in ash

Last night, we anchored in Walburg Creek, mile 625, of of St. Catherine's Island. The St. Catherine's Island Foundation owns the island and maintains a survival center there for endangered species such as gazelle, parrots and Madagascar turtles.

The next part of our trip has been subject to much debate: Should we go up the river and dock along the bulkhead in Savannah? Will the commercial traffic be an issue? Should we bypass Savannah and go to Hilton Head? If so, for how long, and which marina? How long should we stay in Beaufort - one night or two?  (Going to Beaufort was never a question) The only caveat was  our slip reservation (and dinner reservation!) in Charleston next Thursday for three nights.

At last, a plan was made. Here we are in Isle of Hope, GA, just outside of Savannah, where we plan to stay for two nights before moving on to Beaufort, SC for 2 nights, with one night at anchor before Charleston. The marina has a loaner car, so a provisioning trip is scheduled for later today -- hopefully after the thunderstorms have ended.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cruising in Company

When we first set out from Stuart a week ago we did not have much company on the Waterway outside of fishing boats and local traffic. We decided we were a little ahead of the snowbird migration, and we could be in for a lonely north. Yet, once we made it to Cape Canaveral a few days later we fell in step with other travelers

After several hours alone in the anchorage in sight of the Shuttle Assembly building we were joined by 4 sailboats and one motor vessel. (The final sailboat to arrive did so just at sunset, and without consulting a chart, we think, for they soon found themselves on one of the many shallow spots. Their calls to Sea Tow and their resultant tow to deeper water kept us engaged throughout the evening)

Soon after we anchored off Daytona Beach the following day, we were joined by the blue hulled trawler we had seen at Cape Canaveral, Castaway, and one of the sailboats: A Sparkman and Stephens Yawl named Jacunda. Friday was a lay day for us, but when we arrived at the St. Augustine mooring field on Saturday, there just a few boats over was Castaway, along with the sailboat C:/[esc] (pronounced "Sea Escape") who we had heard on the radio the day before but had last seen in November on our trip south. We have also overlapped anchorages with C-Gull Seeker, a green hulled sailboat.

A hour or so ago we anchored just off of Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island and off our stern is Jucunda!  Who knows how long we will cruise in company with this set of boats, but for now it is fun to see their familiar lines and hull colors as we enter an anchorage or pass them on the ICW.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Inching Up the Coast

The days all seem to flow into one another here on the waterway. We have had a good first week of our Spring 2012 journey north.

After leaving Stuart the morning of March 19, we had an alternately sunny, then rainy, then sunny ride up to Melbourne Beach. We found a good anchorage off Coconut Point and settled in for an evening of rocking and rolling amid the wind and waves. The next morning we went ashore to visit my 90-something Aunt Mary, and cousins Andy and Tim (who had just arrived from Buffalo). Aunt Mary has always been a great cook, and she made us a terrific lunch. The whole day was a special treat for me as we all caught up.  (Getting off the dock and on to the dinghy was a challenge, as the dinghy rose and fell on the waves and rain was closing in)

Wednesday morning we were up before the sun and on our way as soon as it was light enough to see. The winds were still high, but Freedom kept us comfortable. It must have been a good day for fishing as many boats loaded with rods passed us on their way to the ocean, and we passed many fishermen trying their luck along the ICW.  Not long after 2PM we dropped anchor in sight of the tallest one story building in the world: the Shuttle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral.  If you have never visited the Kennedy Space Center, add it to your list. It provides a fascinating history  on the US Space Program, the the simulated Space Shuttle ride rivals anything you might find at Disney or Universal Studios.  Now that the Shuttle program has been shuttered, the Assembly Building is open for tours. We are putting that on our list when we return in the fall.

Thursday night found us anchored off of Daytona Beach, and Friday morning we tied up at the Daytona Yacht Club where we received a warm and friendly welcome from Club members. For our trip to St. Augustine we were joined by our friend Mike, his son and parents (experienced ICW travelers and live-aboards).

Today we toured the main building of Flagler College, situated in the former Hotel Ponce de Leon founded by Oil and Railroad Magnate Henry Flagler. We were overwhelmed by the decorative finishes, tile floors and Louis Comfort Tiffany windows in the dining hall.

Off to Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island at sunrise.......

Monday, March 19, 2012

Heading North

The last line was pulled on deck at 7:15 am and we were off. It's been a great winter in Florida.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cruising FAQ's

Over the course of our extended cruise this winter, we have been lucky enough to share our journey with an assortment of family and friends,  be it for a few nights, a week, or even just cocktails on the Calypso Deck. Some have been experienced boaters and others lifetime landlubbers. No matter the asker's status, some questions have been posed with regularity. Perhaps you, treasured reader of this blog, might be just as curious. So, here are our top Cruising Questions and Answers:
What Do You Do All Day?
It depends
If we are on the move, we are up with sun and underway before the first pot of coffee is brewed. On such days we spend most of the day in the Pilot House taking turns navigating and steering, all the while keeping an eye out for other boats, marks, dolphins, or anything else out there on the water. If we have friends on board, I might slip away to exercise in the cockpit or to do some computer work in the salon. I am also in charge of keeping the crew fed, so unless I am seasick, I am in the galley too.
While traveling, we try to reach our destination by 3PM. If we are at a dock we go onshore for a walk or a trip to the grocery. Whether we are at a dock or at anchor we always take time to plot our course for the next day and focus on any repairs that have come to our attention during the day. A nap is always nice too!
It is often early to bed while we are traveling but sometimes after dinner we watch tv or enjoy a round of Catchphrase or cards.
If we are tied up at a dock, we still have a full day. If you ever read US Weekly, you are familiar with a feature they call "Celebrities, They're Just Like Us!" I would say our cruising schedule is just like the one we follow at home - other than not getting up every 10 minutes to let the dogs in or out. Cruising Couples, They’re Just Like You!
Typically we will get up between 6 & 6:30, put the coffee on, read the paper on the iPad, check our email, watch the CBS Morning News, eat breakfast, and workout (either in the cockpit with the TRX or free weights, or with a long walkor bike ride).  There is always something that needs to be cleaned or fixed onboard, and the Cap'n keeps a long to-do list. While he is working on his projects, I might head to the laundry or the grocery, attack a cleaning project, work on the blog (I know, not as much as I should), research marinas, travel plans, etc. for future trips, or oversee matters relating to our house on shore. From time to time we both have volunteer duties that we attend to via the Internet. 
After lunch we have Siesta Time for about an hour, and then we typically have an adventure. Yesterday we took a 6.5 mile round trip bike ride to Barnes and Noble to purchase books 2 and 3 of The Hunger Games series. I devoured book 1 last week,and the Cap'n is currently captivated. We both read a lot while cruising. Other recent favorites include: Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand; Molokai'i ; and The Paris Wife. We also read a good number of magazines: Passage Maker and Cruising World for the Cap'n and O, the Oprah Magazine and Fine Cooking for me., and the local papers as well as the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Before dinner we like to enjoy refreshments on the Calypso Deck and watch the sunset. After dinner we tend to read, watch TV, or if we have friends along, play a game or two. And,I admit to spending a certain amount of time surfing the web, playing Words with Friends, or pinning on Pinterest.

We also try to get to  catch some local flavor wherever we are: an art gallery, a historical museum, a concert, the Farmer's Market, etc.
Can You Really Anchor Overnight Where Ever You Want?

Sort Of.  
As long as the spot we select to anchor is deep enough, is not in the shipping channel, or is not posted as a restricted area, we can anchor there. Not everyplace is good for anchoring though. We need to take into consideration wind direction, "holding" potential -- is the bottom sandy, rocky, muddy, current, and boat wakes (bouncing around all night is not fun!)
Among my favorite places to anchor are in sight if a city skyline or in the middle of nowhere -- with the middle of nowhere, as in no cell service, being the best.
How Often Do you Refuel?
Every 6 months
We burn 3 gallons per hour at 8 knots of speed. Freedom is known  as a Trawler, aka a ‘Turtle’. We carry our house on our back and travel slowly. We might not cover as much ground as quickly as some boats, but we sure are efficient on fuel use!
If You Are Traveling Overnight Do You Stop to Sleep?
No, everyone takes turns being on watch and the boat moves 24/7.

Do You Eat All of Your Meals On Board?
Breakfast, almost always.
Lunch, mostly.
Dinner, 6 out of 7 nights (unless we have friends aboard or we have an enticing array of restaurants to try)
Happy Hour is the most frequently enjoyed ‘meal’  onshore. Especially here in Florida we have found that many bars/restaurants offer drink and appetizer specials during Happy Hour (anywhere from 2 - 5, to 4-6, to 4-closing), and that careful selection of appetizers can make a meal. And we never would have discovered Fish Dip if it wasn’t for Happy Hour (see for the recipe)

In general, eating on board is better for our budget and our waistline, and you can't beat the view!

How Do You Get to the Grocery Store?
Two feet, two wheels, the random rental car and the kindness of strangers. 
If we cannot walk to a grocery, we ride our bikes. If we need more than we can fit in a backpack and/or bike basket we walk to the market and call a cab for the ride back.
Some marinas offer transportation: either a car you can borrow for an hour,  or a regularly scheduled shuttle bus, or an ad hoc system: call when you are finished shopping and they will pick you up. 
Anyone who comes to visit with a car is often called into service to make a grocery run for heavy things (sleeves of soda, quarts of chicken stock, jars of mayo, gallons of vinegar, cases of beer - thank you Bryant and Bill!)
A few times this winter we have rented a car for Costco/Target/Walmart runs. Those have been my favorite stocking runs!

How Do You Get Your Mail?

We pay almost all of our bills online. Everything else is delivered to our home in PA, and our housesitting K'dults sort it and send us those items they feel we need to see. Most marinas are happy to receive packages for boat owners, and keep them until you arrive.
If you don't have anyone at home to forward your mail, there are companies who will do that for you. In fact, they can make sure you get your mail no matter where you are in the world. Many popular cruising locations have designated mail drops where you can arrange to claim whatever cannot be sent via email.
Can You Really Run That Boat All By Yourselves?

Where Else Do You Want to Go on Freedom?
Okay, no one has asked this, but I want to answer...
Martha: Cuba (Pres. Obama? Gov. Romney? who’s going to lift the restrictions????)
Cap’n: Rio Dulce in Guatemala; Maine; Anywhere with the Admiral (aka, Martha)!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Back to the Sunshine State

Our Shore Leave is over and we are back on Freedom in Stuart, FL. Although we had some cold and grey days in PA, the weather in Wayne was positively Spring-like when we left. We can feel the change in seasons here too - higher temperatures and humidity signal the end of winter. We'll be here at Sunset Bay Marina until about the 19th when we begin to slowly inch north. It will be good to get back on the Waterway, but for now we are enjoying the chance to stay put and explore Stuart a bit more.

Friday, March 2, 2012

All Locked Up on the Okeechobee

Our trip through the Okeechobee Waterway was a feast for the eyes and the imagination. On day one, while the Captain steered Mike kept his binoculars trained on the shoreline for alligators and other wildlife. Soon it was time to enter our first lock and begin to rise up to the lake level. As the Captain called the lock tender to request passage out of the corner of my eye I noticed a canoeist just to the left of the gates. "He must be watching the boat traffic," I assumed, and went about setting the fenders on the port side. About the same time I heard the lock master saying something about the manatees, but again, did not give it much thought.

I ran to get my camera as the lock gates began to close and as I pointed the camera aft I discovered that the canoeist was sharing the lock with us. I gave him a wave and asked where he was headed. The response awed me: "Well, I'm doing the Great Loop*. I left Iowa on October 15th, took me a little bit to get to the Mississippi, but I've been traveling ever since. If I get to Chicago by October 1st I'll be in good shape to make it around in just about a year."

*"The Great Loop is the continuous waterway that encompasses the eastern portion of North America including the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America's heartland."

Okay, we have met A LOT of "Loopers", but all of them in boats of at least 30 feet, gas or diesel powered boats, not paddle-powered. This was an interesting guy.

We continued to converse over the sound of the water: He was traveling alone, on a good day he paddles 20 miles, and sleeps most night in a tent on the dredge spoil that lines the waterway. He looked to be in his late 50's/early 60's and we so hope to cross his path again as we head north. Oh, the places he will go, the sights he will see and the stories he will have to tell.

Once the lock was full, and the gate off our bow was open I expected the Cap'n to put the boat in gear and head out, but he hesitated remembering the warning given to him by the lock tender: "Don't go anywhere until the Manatees have left the lock"
Sure enough, 2 manatees swam by and continued on their journey across the Okeechobee.

We "locked" a second time that day, without companionship and by mid-afternoon we had arrived at the edge of the lake. We had two options for overnight accomodations: a local marina with questionable water depths and a reputation for less than friendly owners or tying alongside "the dolphins". I pictured decorative dolphins, complete with cleats, lining the waterway. But here is what they really look like:

The line you see on the right is extended from our stern to the dolphin, and there is another on the bow. Attaching the first line was easy (sort of) - the Cap'n motored the boat as cose as he could, and Mike reached out and looped the cleat. Aft was another story. With the bow line stretching as far as it could, we had to hold the line with the boat hook and r-e-a-c-h out over the railings on the upper deck. The weight was just to heavy for me and in the nick of time Mike, with Lan cheering him on, came to my rescue and we were secured for the night. Then the fruitless alligator hunt began.....

Here is all I have to say about sunrise the next day:


The Cap'n showed off his rodeo skills by unhooking us from the dolphins with a quick flick of the wrist and soon we were on Lake Okeechobee:

Looks mysterious, doesn't it? The dark clouds in the second photo are caused by a fire in the sugar cane fields. The fields are burned before harvest to eliminate weeds. And if the wind is blowing in your direction, you are covered by small bits of ash - even if you are miles away.

Uncharacteristically, the lake was calm, and our trip uneventful. For me it was a bittersweet experience to "lock" for the last time and drop 13 feet on the far side, symbolizing the end of our adventure to Florida's West Coast.

We've been on shore leave for the past few weeks -- and after a string of raw northeast days, we can't wait to get back to the Sunshine State!