Port Canaveral, Florida

11/19/2018

Today we arrived in Cape Canaveral, which marks the end of our trip.  It was our shortest day and was again uneventful as we backtracked a couple of miles up the ICW, turned right (east), went through the Canaveral Barge Canal and across the Banana River, lifted about 2 feet in the barge lock and arrived in Port Canaveral, which is in the city of Cape Canaveral.  I’ve been communicating with Cape Marina, our home base for the next 6 months, by email for about 3 months, including executing a 14 page package of forms and agreements documenting our insurance and other items.  So it was funny to arrive and not be able to raise anyone on the radio, on channel 16 or their working channel.  Carol ended up calling them on the phone as I hovered off the fuel dock, and finally a gal came down, took our lines and helped me fuel up, then directed us to our slip.

After we got the boat settled in the slip I went up to the office to complete the check-in process, and was surprised to learn that there was more paperwork to take care of: an evacuation plan.  It turns out that Port Canaveral is a military port, with a sizable US Coast Guard base as well as at least 2 cruise-ship berths and 2 container berths, and in the event of the threat of a hurricane and a port closure by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port every recreational vessel has to vacate the port.  They don’t care where you go or who takes your boat there, but with 72 hours notice you must leave or face a $1,000 per hour fine from the Coast Guard (!).  I hadn’t considered this at all and we were about to head back to Massachusetts for the month of December (as well as February and April), but I realized that since they will give me 72 hours I could fly or drive down and be on the boat in plenty of time.  I discussed various scenarios with the marina staff and finally decided that if I have to evacuate I’ll go back through the lock and across the Banana River and anchor fore & aft in the barge canal and ride out any storm.  This way I’ll be protected from storm surge by the lock and I should be OK.  But I also had to give them a Plan B which turned out be my brother Court, who lives in Southwest Florida and can be in Port Canaveral with 4 hours notice.  Court used to be a professional delivery Captain and is more than competent to move the boat 3 miles.  Actually, he’s part of Plan A, as well, as he will be my crew if I have to move the boat myself.

When we arrived in Port Canaveral there were 2 giant cruise ships in port, one of which was the Disney Dream.  We see pictures of huge cruise ships all the time, but until you get alongside one you really can’t appreciate the enormous size of these things.  The Dream has a dark blue hull and a big, more-or-less traditional clipper bow, on top of which they’ve essentially built a gigantic 10 deck high white hotel.  The ship was in port all day and sailed around 18:00 with much whistle blowing and other fanfare, including “It’s a Small World” playing loudly and kids zinging around on a roller-coaster on the upper deck.  Quite a sight.  In the 2+ days we were there these 2 ships sailed and 2 others arrived, and each time your eyes are drawn to them as they dock and even as they’re just sitting there.  They looked even cooler at night, when the entire exterior of the ship is bathed in bright white light.  This industry is absolutely amazing.

Anyway, this has been a fabulous trip for both Carol and me, and I’m kind of sad that it’s over.  On the other hand I’m also looking forward to getting home for a few weeks.  And all is not negative because the plan for the next several months is to be home for December, come back down to the boat for the month of January and circumnavigate southern Florida (across the Okeechobee canal and Waterway, down the west coast of Florida to the Keys for some time, then slowly back up the east coast to Port Canaveral.  Then we’ll come home for February and come back down in March for more cruising – hopefully to the Bahamas for a couple of weeks or so, back home for April, and bring the boat home in May.  It sounds good, so let’s see how reality turns out.

I’ve been planning this trip down the ICW for several years, and I’ve frankly been unsure how enthusiastic Carol really was about the idea.  But even with all the weather issues and delays we faced – especially in the first 2 weeks – she never once talked about aborting the trip and/or bailing out on me, and she never asked for a night’s break in a hotel, which I had offered from time to time before we even left.  She was a good sport the entire time, she was an essential part of the navigation team, she was integrally involved in every major decision we made, and in the end I realized that this was my idea and was something she never would have proposed on her own, but that she really did have a good time and I don’t think she regrets having done it at all.  The trip south down the ICW is over, but we have plenty of new (to us) cruising grounds to explore, and of course there’s still the trip home which will take about a month and will involve segments offshore in the ocean, bypassing parts of the ICW and speeding up our northerly progress, while at the same time freeing up time for seeing some ports we missed on our way south or that we want to revisit, particularly in Chesapeake Bay.  Not to make too big a deal out of it, but I am deeply grateful to Carol for her support and for making this trip possible.  It’s an experience we planned and executed together and it will always be a part of our relationship, which I find very cool indeed.

I hope I didn’t drone on too much in my blog posts and put anyone to sleep.  This blog turned out to be a great way for me to document our trip and record details we probably would have forgotten if we’d waited and summarized the trip after the fact, and I plan to integrate each daily entry into my ship’s log.  Thanks to everyone who kept up with our progress, and especially to those who posted comments of support, all of which were very much appreciated.

TTFN.

Today: 8.9 nautical miles

Final total: 1,431.3 nautical miles

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Cocoa Village, Florida

11/18/2018

There’s really not much to write about today’s short jaunt down the ICW to Cocoa Village Marina in Cocoa Village, FL.  The trip was nice but uneventful, although the scenery was nothing we haven’t been seeing for the past few days.  But the day was nice and sunny & warm, and it was great.  Before we committed to the marina we went under the highway bridge that goes over to Cocoa Beach, where the chart shows an anchorage and a town dock.  We had read that the town dock had been wrecked in hurricane Matthew last year and had not yet been rebuilt – including the dinghy dock – and we wanted to see for ourselves.  We would have anchored instead of taking a slip if possible, but yet again no dinghy dock means no shore access, in which case we’d skip the anchoring.  We perused the corner of the harbor where the town dock used to be and, sure enough: no dock and no dinghy dock.  So I radioed the marina for a slip, went back under the bridge and arrived in a really nice, modern and well-appointed marina.  Several marinas we’d been in on this trip had advertised a “Captain’s Lounge,” and we’d found that most were either very basic – a desk and chair and a TV – or were an outright lie: no lounge.  There were notable exceptions like Liberty Landing in Jersey City and (surprisingly) Titusville Municipal, but this was the most comfortable and modern one yet.  It was Sunday and I actually got to watch the 2nd half of a football game – the first football I’ve seen since we left Cape Cod.

Unlike yesterday, Cocoa Village is a very cute, busy and lively downtown full of shops, bars and restaurants within about a 5 square block area immediately outside of the marina.  The marina is right next to the bridge to Cocoa Beach.  Right on the other side of the bridge, about 200 yards from the marina, is the village park where there was a VegFest going on.  We wandered around the festival for a while and found displays by organic farms, organic body lotions and soaps, vegetable-oriented jewelry and, my personal favorite: Tee shirts emblazoned with, “I don’t anything that poops!”, complete with a representation of a pile of poop.  Lovely…

So we left the veggie folks to do their thing and walked around town some more, eventually settling on places for a drink and dinner, then back to the boat for a nice, quiet and peaceful night.

Today:  17.1 nautical miles

Running total: 1,422.4 nautical miles

Titusville, Florida

11/17/2018

Another nice, leisurely day meandering down the ICW.  Most of the day the channel went straight as an arrow with small, wooded islets on the starboard side and a big open bay known on the chart as Mosquito Lagoon on the port.  We’ve been seeing pelicans for a few days now, but today there were tons of them.  They’re the goofiest looking birds with that huge, long beak, but they’re such graceful fliers and it’s very cool to see them dive-bomb into the water and grab a fish.  There were also many dolphins around; by now they’re nothing new, but there’s just something about dolphins that you never get tired of seeing them.

About half way down the route today we stopped and anchored about 100 yards off the channel for lunch.  It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day with a light wind and it was so pleasant to just lounge on the boat for an hour or so.  Actually, we took advantage of the fabulous conditions and the absence of almost any other boats to both take showers on the stern.  We have a shower in the head, but showering outside on the swim platform is pleasant and doesn’t require a cleanup in the shower afterwards.

About a dozen miles or so from Titusville we came to the Haulover Canal, which bends the channel 90 degrees to starboard and bisects the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and takes you west to what’s known as Indian River.  As I think I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we’ve been seeing warning signs about manatees for several days but hadn’t seen any yet.  There are a half-dozen signs just at the entrance to this canal, and sure enough as soon as we got into the 1.5 mile long canal we had to crawl along at absolute minimum speed because there were tons of both fishermen and women in small boats, and manatees.  For the most part the manatees were along the edges of the canal, because they’re vegetarians and that’s where their food is.  But they also swim out into the channel sometimes so you have to be constantly on the alert so you don’t hit one.  There’s a cutout with a fishing pier and boat ramp about ¾ of the way through the canal where the manatees congregate for whatever reason, and as we passed we could see the water swirling all over that little inlet as the manatees were feeding and surfacing to breathe.  It was definitely cool.

About 6 miles after the canal we arrived at Titusville Municipal Marina, where we took a mooring out in the river.  We dinghied ashore to check in and pay for the mooring and we were hoping to take a walk around the area, but even more than in Daytona Beach there was absolutely nothing in the way of businesses anywhere near this marina, so we ended up walking around the marina itself a bit.  I’d read that there are a lot of boats in this marina in rough condition, and that’s what we found.  Quite a few liveaboards who seem to just live on the boat and don’t bother with maintenance.  It was so obvious that it was kind of weird.  No wrecks or sunken boats per se, but many of them were real eyesores.

After a while we dinghied back out to the boat for a cocktail, we watched yet another beautiful sunset, then I grilled dinner.  The highway bridge near the marina had lighting half way up the upright supports, which is different and was really pretty after dark.  The mooring field was peaceful and quiet for the night…except for the freight trains that came through every couple of hours and blew their horns what seemed like an excessive number of times as they went along the shore to the railroad bridge that crosses the river about a mile away.  All in all, it was another nice and interesting day of intracoastal voyaging.  Quite nice.

Today:  28.3 nautical miles

Running total: 1,405.3 nautical miles

New Smyrna Beach, Florida

11/16/2018

We knew today was going to be a very short one so we took our time getting up and going, including doing a little cleaning in the boat.  It was a beautiful day – a little warmer than yesterday but sunny and beautiful – and we were looking forward to some leisure time along the ICW.  Our goal was New Smyrna Beach, which neither of us had been to before but which the guide books talked up as a cute place with good anchorages right in town and a town dinghy dock.  We’ve been surprised how many places seem like a good place to stop but have no dinghy dock, and therefore no shore access for anchored boats.  Not everyone frequents marinas, both because of the cost and because they prefer the quiet and solitude of anchoring out, but if you can’t get ashore you can’t support the local economy, so it seems to me to be penny wise but pound foolish for the town or city not to invest in a dinghy dock.  Just one man’s opinion…

But anyway, the ride down the waterway today was enjoyable, with more wide vistas and bigger, wide bays alongside the ICW and lots more dolphins.  There wasn’t much boat traffic so we didn’t have to deal with too many local boaters, who are not always courteous to obvious transients like us.  We got to New Smyrna Beach in about 2 hours and anchored in Sheephead Cut, right across from the downtown.  There were a half dozen other boats in the anchorage but only 1 with people on it, so we kind of had the place to ourselves.  We dinghied ashore to the town dock and walked around the very cute and vibrant downtown, then stopped for a cocktail ($5 Margueritas all day!) that turned into dinner, as well.  It gets dark before 6:00 here and it was well after that when we got back to the dinghy, but we had only about ¼ mile to go to get out to the boat, so that was no problem.  We’ve found that there’s very little boat traffic on the ICW after dark.

Only a couple more days before we get to Cape Canaveral, and I’m ambivalent…

Today: 13.6 nautical miles

Running total: 1,377.0 nautical miles

Daytona Beach, Florida

11/15/2018

After 2 really good days in St. Augustine, where we did some reprovisioning as well as some great sightseeing, we moseyed on down the ICW to Daytona Beach.  We didn’t have a very long way to go so we didn’t leave until 10:50 and we kept our speed down around 8 knots, which is very easy going and saves fuel, both of which are good things.

Once again we started out going past several miles of fairly densely developed housing along the waterway, followed by several miles of open marshland.  What was different today was that the marsh grasses seemed to be shorter than in the Carolinas or Georgia, because we could see wide vistas of marshland over the grass.  We were a couple of miles from the barrier beaches and the ocean most of the time, but we could see them all day, which was not the case before.  It actually made for better sightseeing as we went along, and after hundreds of miles of marshland it was a welcome change!

Also for the first time, today we saw signs warning boaters to be careful about manatees, which are very big but very slow and not particularly aware mammals that have a bad habit of bobbing up right in front of passing boats.  They’re a protected (endangered?) species and there are substantial fines for hitting them, in addition to the emotional cost to the person at the helm because such collisions usually result in significant propeller injury to the animal.  So we kept a sharp eye out for manatees but didn’t see any all day.  Personally, I still want to see an alligator, but we haven’t seen one of them yet, either.

We’ve seen dozens of dolphins every day since North Carolina, in the canals and marshes as well as in the open sounds and bays, and they’re always a treat.  They also have the sometimes disturbing habit of surfacing right in front of us, but they’re so quick and they always seem to know exactly how fast we’re going and how close they can come safely – even when they have little ones with them.  Sometimes they’re obviously just swimming along, maybe looking for food and maybe just checking us out, but sometimes they’re obviously actively hunting and we’ll see a group of them swimming in tight circles and even jumping out of the water after a fish.  We never get tired of dolphins.

Daytona Beach is a very busy place, and as we got close we passed under a half-dozen or so bridges and past several big marinas.  We had made a reservation at Halifax Harbor Marina, only because the folks next to us at the marina in St. Augustine were going there and we didn’t know enough about Daytona Beach to pick otherwise.  Halifax Harbor turned out to be huge – over 500 slips – and there were interesting boats to look at as we walked around, but other than that Daytona Beach turned out to be kind of disappointing.  Again not knowing any better, we had both expected to be able to walk on the famous highway along the sand on the ocean beach.  But we were surprised to find that the marinas along the ICW are on the mainland side of the water, and you have to go across one of the big, high bridges a couple of miles to get to the ocean-side barrier island where the beaches are.  So we figured we’d just walk around the town instead but were frustrated there, too, as we found that the marina wasn’t close to downtown at all.  Which actually wasn’t so bad after all, because the temperature never did get out of the mid-50’s.  Even though we got out our warm jackets and gloves again, which we hadn’t worn in a couple of weeks and thought we wouldn’t need again until we went home, we were chilled walking around and cut it short and went back to the boat.  Oh well, there was a nice guy in the boat next to us, who was also in the same marina as us in St. Augustine, and we chatted with him for quite a while.  Marinas can be really social places, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with people on other boats because we all have something in common,

We’re not far from our winter home base now so we don’t have to push ourselves at all anymore; tomorrow will be another pleasantly short day.

Today: 46.5 nautical miles

Running total: 1,363.4 nautical miles

St. Augustine, Florida

11/13/2018

We woke to a beautiful, warm, sunny day at the free dock.  It wasn’t hot like southern Florida can be, it was just nice.  We took a walk around the park next to the dock, then got the boat together and left.  We were the last of the 4 boats there last night to leave, but we weren’t planning to go very far and we weren’t in a hurry.

So came out of Smith’s Creek, went diagonally across the St. John’s River and past the Navy base at Mayport, and the ICW picked up again on the other side.  Then we spent a couple of hours passing shoulder-to-shoulder houses and docks.  I can’t say I blame everyone for wanting to live along the waterway, but after a while I began to wonder why people would have these expensive docks with boats and boat lifts when they’re an hour and a half away from open water by boat.  What was nice was that many of the docks had 2 level decks, many with roofs, some screened in, many with grills, wet bars complete with bar stools and chaise lounges, some with dining-room tables, etc.  These docks would be a nice place to enjoy a cocktail or even an evening meal.  Personally, I’m a mosquito magnet so I’d have to have my deck screened in, but that’s just me.

And then, just like that you pass the last house and it’s mile after mile of open marsh again.  Today was a beautiful, sunny day, and the colors in the marsh really comes alive in the sunshine.  I think I’ve mentioned in days past that when it’s overcast everything looks gray: the sky, the water and even the marsh.  But sunshine makes all the difference in the world, and now you have a blue sky, green trees, blue water, and the marsh grasses are multiple shades of green and gold.  Not to make too much of it, but it’s the difference between boring and beautiful…hard to explain, I guess.

We arrived in St. Augustine around 13:00, and what a nice, pretty town it is!  As soon as we got checked in to the marina and got the boat settled, we took a long walk around downtown.  There are a couple of long pedestrian streets with shops, tourist traps, bars and restaurants, and small museums of different types.  Of course, Juan Ponce de Leon is prominently displayed right by the water, but we didn’t see any mention of the fabled Fountain of Youth.  Maybe that’s because he never found it?  Anyway, the city has been careful to keep the old Spanish style architecture, for the most part, and there are historical markers all over the place.  There are no really tall buildings and it’s a really pleasant place to walk around.  We were surprised to come across St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine right in the middle of all the Spanish and English colonial buildings.  We went through the Shrine, which is really a small museum to the Greek Orthodox history in St. Augustine, which goes back a surprisingly long time and continues to the present day.  Interesting…

Then it was back to the boat for a while, and back to downtown for dinner in one of the many small restaurants within about a half-mile radius of the marina.  We had our choice of Spanish, seafood, Greek, Italian, Mexican and Irish…and probably some others, and we chose an Irish pub with live Irish acoustic music.  It was a really nice end to a nice day.  We’re staying in St. Augustine for 2 nights, so tomorrow we’ll check out the rest of the town and do some shopping.  I’m really glad we stopped here.

Today: 34.1 nautical miles

Running total: 1,316.9 nautical miles

Jacksonville, Florida free dock

11/12/2018

Finally, and briefly, we’re out of delivery mode and into cruise mode.  Of course we’re still heading to a point certain by a date certain, but we have over a week to get there and there’s no need to sweat it.  So today we showered, did laundry, and did some tidying up, then left late and went just a short way to a free dock along the ICW near Jacksonville.  It’s a well-known spot with new, solid concrete floating docks about 16 miles down the St. Johns River from downtown Jacksonville.  There’s a park with playground and a boat ramp, and it’s quiet and very nice.  We had considered going up the river to another free dock in downtown Jacksonville, but when we got here we decided to skip it.  32 miles round trip just didn’t seem worth it.

This free dock is on a side creek off Smith’s Creek, just short of the St. John’s River and the Navy base at Mayport.  When we got there the tide was ebbing and there was quite a strong current running out of the creek, which drains a marsh network.  There were 3 boats there already but plenty of room for us and another boat.  When the folks who were already there saw us enter the creek, obviously planning to dock, 2 men and a woman came out to take our lines and, as it turned out, offer no shortage of advice.  It was a very tricky landing and I actually had to abort twice, exit the creek and come back in again, but I finally got it right and Carol got a spring line ashore so I could use it to nestle up to the dock.  Once we had the 1 line secured and the boat alongside, it was relatively easy – even with the current running – to get bow & stern lines on, and a forward spring, and with a few tweaks we were all set.

It turned out we had seen and spoken to 2 of the boats that were already there over the past few days, and in fact 1 of them was anchored next us at New Teakettle Creek a couple of days ago.  One of the fun things about the ICW is that you do see boats more than once – you pass someone, then they pass you while you’re getting fuel, then you see them in a marina or anchorage.  And we all have stories to swap about where we’re from, if we’ve done the ICW or the Great Loop before, etc.  Then it was cocktail time and Carol put out some nice cheese & crackers, and we just chilled out for the rest of the evening in yet another beautiful, peaceful place.  Have I said it before?  Indeed, life is good.

Today: 17.7 nautical miles

Running Total: 1,282.8 nautical miles

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