January in Naples

On New Year’s Day, the anchor is up at 1 PM in Factory Bay at Marco Island for the short 15-mile journey north to Naples.  The weather today is nearly perfect as we enter Gordon Pass from the Gulf of Mexico and thread our way through the holiday boat traffic in the Gordon River.  In the process, Cutter Loose is about to enter floating condo mode…not nearly as exciting or fulfilling as island-hopping mode, but fun and relatively warm nonetheless.

Marlene

From the moment that Cutter Loose arrives alongside the fuel dock at Naples City Dock, Harbormaster Marlene makes us feel welcome.  She is a dedicated employee of a City that, as a matter of policy, does not place a high value on encouraging visits from live-aboard cruisers.  Nevertheless, she takes it upon herself to operate this City-owned marina efficiently, while serving as an ambassador of goodwill, to all who enter this dated but vibrant facility.

Pelican closeup

Naples City Dock is a curious phenomenon…vastly different from most marinas that we’ve visited. Every day, hundreds of tourists and residents alike flock to this facility like geese to a cornfield.   So, what’s the attraction?

At 5:30 AM, charter boat skippers arrive to prepare their vessel for a day on the water.  Anxious anglers begin arriving at the marina around 6:30 AM, forking over $85 per person to board one of a dozen or more fishing vessels in the local charter fleet.

Morning Dock gatherers

From 7 AM to 5 PM, local seniors congregate at the marina’s observation deck to peruse the morning newspaper, socialize and nap.

Naples City Dock also serves as home base to several sightseeing boats as well as the Blue Pelican water taxi.   These attractions attract successive waves of tourists to the marina, especially when the weather is pleasant.

Trip Advisor ranks Naples City Dock as #41 of 100 things to do in Naples.  This helps to explain the constant stream of tourists.  They stroll the docks at a slow pace, gawking at the boats and commenting on the names and hail ports.  The marina functions largely as a public boardwalk.  For marina guests, it is akin to living in a fish bowl.

Fish fillet station

The activity level reaches a crescendo late in the afternoon as the fishing charters return to the dock with the catch of the day.  Proud fishermen and curious bystanders encircle the filleting tables to admire the knife skills of the mates and the comical antics of the brown pelicans as they squawk and flap their wings in an effort to compete for handouts.

Pelican

Whatever the marina lacks in terms of modern amenities, it more than compensates for in terms of accessibility to the considerable amenities of Old Naples.  Among other things, it is the compact, walkable nature of Old Naples that makes this town such a desirable destination.

Weather permitting; our daily morning ritual involves a bicycle ride to Oakes Farm Market to acquire fruit, vegetables, a loaf of freshly baked bread and an entrée for the evening meal.  There is something particularly satisfying about accomplishing one’s daily chores without the use of a motorized vehicle.

Oakes Farm Market

Naples is a bicycle-friendly community.  Cycling along designated bike lanes and multi-use sidewalks is an efficient way of touring the magnificent but pricey neighborhoods of Port Royal, Gulf Shore Boulevard, the Moorings and Pelican Bay.  There is no shortage of work for contractors and developers in these neighborhoods, demolishing medium to large dwellings and assembling the acquired land into sites for new construction of ever-larger mega-mansions.

house

Becoming calibrated to the Old Naples real estate market is not a pursuit for the faint of heart.  During a Sunday afternoon walk, we visited a Realtor’s open house on a whim.  This particular condo unit is located on the second floor of a 1960s vintage two-story walk-up building with exterior staircases.  It is a two bedroom, 1,500 square foot condo with no storage other than one small closet in each bedroom.  Off-street parking is provided in a nearby surface lot.  The listing price of this unit is $899,900.  This is the bottom rung of the residential real estate market in Old Naples.  Many of the dwellings in Old Naples are occupied only a few months of the year.

Astin Martin

The culture of competitive wealth is unmistakable in Old Naples.  Each day, there is a steady stream of corporate jet aircraft buzzing the masthead of Cutter Loose.  They are on final approach to nearby Naples Airport, delivering their payload of executives and their families from the frigid north.  The streets and parking lots of Old Naples are filled with late model Ferraris, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis.  Most of the retail shops cater to expensive tastes.

Night shot 5th Ave

Conversations in a variety of languages are common on the sidewalks and in the restaurants of Naples.  Next to English, Italian is the second most popular language.  It is spoken by visitors, residents and workers alike.  On Monday evenings, Italian films with English subtitles are featured at the Norris Community Center.

tree lined street

shuffle board

Another favorite daily pastime for the crew of Cutter Loose involves aimlessly walking the  picturesque, palm tree-lined sidewalks of Old Naples.  A ten- minute stroll north places us at the Fifth Avenue retail/entertainment district which also serves as the venue for the Naples Arts Festival and a pavement chalk art show on successive weekends in January.

5th Ave Day1

chalk art2

 

chalk art 3

chalk art1

Sidewalk cafes and restaurants provide excellent people-watching opportunities along this attractive corridor.

5th Ave Day

A ten-minute walk to the west from the marina takes us to Third Street South, another retail/entertainment district where a lively farmer’s market attracts hundreds of customers every Saturday morning.

Farmers Market

paella

The City of Naples does an outstanding job of maintaining the highly manicured landscaped public walkways in the retail districts.  Rarely does one see litter anywhere in Old Naples.

Birds of Paradise

The City has also made a major commitment to community parks and the performing arts.  Cambier Park occupies four city blocks adjacent to City Hall.  This is an extraordinary facility which includes a stage and amphitheater.  Every Sunday afternoon, free concerts in the park are well-attended.

Park concert crowd

Park concert band

The City’s Tennis Center at Cambier Park features 12 clay courts with high intensity lighting for night play.  The courts are almost always full.

tennis

The Gulfshore Playhouse is housed at nearby Norris Center.  During our stay, our Pittsburgh neighbor Gwynn joined us in attending a top-notch theatrical performance of Informed Consent, a play about the mores of genetic research.

Pat at Norris

MLK day band

A series of cold fronts brings periods of windy, chilly, rainy weather to Naples in January.    This month, 8.3 inches of rain fell in Naples.  Average monthly rainfall in Naples is just 1.6 inches.  During the passage of one particular storm, an 82 MPH wind gust was recorded at nearby Naples Airport.  Thankfully, Cutter Loose sustained no damage because the marina is well-protected from the west through northeast.

Street flooding

During their stay aboard Cutter Loose, my sister Dianne and her husband Terry treated us to a day trip to Sanibel and Captiva where we spent the afternoon exploring Ding Darling National Wildlife Center.

Dianne Naples Pier

Spoonbill

white pelicans

Two spoonbills

Sanibel shells

During another day trip to the Shark Valley Visitors Center in the Everglades National Park, we cycled the 15 mile loop trail where sunbathing ‘gators were a dime a dozen.

gator with young

Eric and gator

Alligator close up

Anhinga

meandering road

Caribbean 1500 friends Shaun, Neil and Sadie of s/v Escapade pay a visit to Naples during our stay.

Shaun Neil

Yet another day trip to Sarasota brought us together with Pittsburgh friends Jerry and Ginger to tour the Ringling Barnum & Bailey Museum.

miniature circus2

Miniature circus1

Miniature circus closeup

Ringling Mansion

We also attended a meeting at the Sarasota Yacht Club to learn more about its forthcoming regatta to Havana, Cuba in early April.  As a result of the meeting, the decision has been reached aboard Cutter Loose to participate in this event.

Visiting Naples has been a delight.  Our time here has passed quickly.  On February 1st, we will continue our journey north to Fort Myers Beach, Pine Island Sound and Sarasota.  Cutter Loose will remain on the west coast of Florida, biding her time as a floating condo in anticipation of her April voyage to Cuba.

golf course

Ibis

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December 17th to January 1st – Marathon to Naples

Lobster traps

The pace slows considerably once Cutter Loose is securely docked at Harbour Cay Club in Marathon.  Here, we will pause to enjoy Christmas in the Keys.

HCC

Harbour Cay Club is somewhat unusual in the sense that each slip is owned by a live-aboard boater.  Collectively, the slip owners share in the cost of operating the marina.  Certain slips are available for rent to the public when an owner’s boat is not in residence.  Since slips in Marathon are difficult to secure during the winter months, we are delighted to learn that HCC can accommodate Cutter Loose for a relaxing eleven-day visit.

HCC is a small, friendly marina.  Every day at 5 PM, a small group of owners and renters gather at the waterfront Tiki Hut for libations and conversation.  Within a few days, we are on a first-name basis with most of the owners and renters.

Tiki Hut

A strong cold front is expected to arrive on Friday night, bringing with it 25+ knot northerly winds.  Since HCC is exposed to winds from the northwest through northeast, it is likely that 2-to-3 foot waves will pound the marina.  Friday is a day devoted to adding fenders and doubling dock lines in anticipation of the front’s arrival later in the day.

windy palm tree

Fortunately, slip #13 proves to be one of the better protected spaces in the marina.  Equally advantageous is the fact that the bow of Cutter Loose is pointed north into the strongest winds.  The weekend brings windy, bouncy conditions, as expected.  The motion, however, is quite tolerable and does not interrupt our sleep. By Sunday evening, the wind clocks to the northeast and subsides to 20 knots, ushering in a prolonged period of settled weather.

On Monday morning, we board the public bus for a day trip to Key West.  The one-way geezer fare is a mere $1.50 per person for the 50-mile journey through the Lower Keys to the nation’s southernmost city.  Unlike Marathon, which is a never-ending series of shopping plazas along a busy, four-lane highway, Old Key West is a traditional walkable village that is pedestrian friendly.

Old Town Bakery

One of the best ways to enjoy Key West is to stop first at the Old Town Bakery on Eaton Street, then stroll the residential neighborhoods, avoiding the bizarre t-shirt shops, rowdy saloons and the unusual spectacles on Duval Street.

Strand Key West

Rusty junk car

Key West House

Key West lighthouse

Key West Dog

rooster

Back in Marathon, a visit to The Turtle Hospital provides interesting insights into the capture, rehabilitation and release of injured leatherback, loggerhead, and green turtles.

turtle hospital

Injured turtles discovered by fishermen and recreational boaters are nursed into good health by hospital personnel.  Typically, turtles are injured by boat propellers or by ingesting man-made objects (e.g., fishing hooks, monofilament line, plastic bags, etc.) that cannot be digested.  Most often, turtles in distress are found floating on the surface of the water, unable to dive for food or to safety.

turtle operating room

At the hospital, injured turtles are x rayed and diagnosed.  Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remediate injuries.  The turtles are then placed into salt-water pools and nursed back to good health under the careful observation of veterinarians and support staff.  After a suitable recovery period, healthy turtles are released near their initial point of rescue.

Sea Turtle1

During the days leading up to Christmas, we enjoy the abundant warmth and sunshine of the Florida Keys.  One of the attributes of Marathon is its paved bike path alongside Route 1 which extends about ten miles from the Seven Mile Bridge to Grassy Key.

7 mile bridge

In addition to sightseeing and exercise, bicycles serve as an efficient means of transportation to grocery stores, outdoor concerts, church services and restaurants.

Bike Fridays

Chef Sandy has organized a Christmas Eve group dinner at Harbour Cay Club, to be prepared on the premises by 14 attendees who have signed up in advance to participate in this event.  Her delicious entrée is a hearty Cioppino tomato base “seven fishes” stew with a generous side of angel hair pasta and conch.

CEve dinner

Other attendees prepare assorted appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts.  While it may not seem like Christmas here in the Keys, it is comforting to be in the company of congenial people, especially at this special time of year.

send off group

On Sunday, December 27th, it is time to depart the comfort and conveniences of Harbour Cay Club.  Although it may seem counterintuitive to travel north in early winter, our plan is to travel to the west coast of Florida for the month of January.  Today, Cutter Loose is underway in the shallow, crab pot-infested waters of Florida Bay, bound towards Cape Sable in the swampy, southernmost segment of the Florida Peninsula.

Although we enjoyed our Christmas respite at Harbour Cay Club, it feels good to be underway again this morning.  Under sunny skies and with 20 knots of wind just aft of the beam, Cutter Loose makes short work of today’s 47-mile journey to an overnight anchorage in the Little Shark River.  This is Everglades National Park territory, where mosquitoes and other airborne critters rule.  The wind keeps bugs at bay while we enjoy some late afternoon relaxation in the cockpit.  At sunset, we beat a hasty retreat into the protection of the cabin.

Little Shark River

The anchor is up at 7 AM on Monday, at which time our bodies become breakfast for the ravenous stinging and biting insects that have been waiting patiently all night for our departure.  Our course today takes us into the Gulf of Mexico, skirting the western edge of Cape Romano Shoals before transiting Capri Pass, the entrance channel to Marco Island.  With 70 miles under the keel for the day, the anchor is down in Factory Bay at 3:45 PM.

Pelican

 

Ashore, Marco Island offers many convenient amenities for the cruising sailor.  A Publix grocery store, Starbucks, West Marine and several restaurants are located within a ten-minute walk from the dinghy dock at Rose Marina.  Each day during our stay is spent walking along the palm-lined streets of the island.  A brief overnight visit from friends Carey and Julie helps to while away the hours in Marco.

 

 

After a quiet New Year’s Eve at anchor in Factory Bay, the anchor is up on Friday, January 1st for the short 12-mile journey from Marco Island, through Gordon Pass and into Naples harbor.  At this juncture, our winter cruise will transition to slow motion as Cutter Loose will remain in her slip at Naples City Marina for the entire month of January.

HNY

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Christmas masthead

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December 1st to December 16th – Fort Lauderdale to Marathon Key

FtL Sandman

Our home during this one week stay in Fort Lauderdale is Las Olas Marina, a city-owned and operated facility located beneath the east side of the Las Olas Boulevard Bridge.  Like trolls, we explore the city by day and return to our home beneath the bridge at dusk.  From the marina, it is a five minute walk to the French patisserie for morning croissant and espresso.  Another block east of the patisserie is the A1A public promenade alongside the beach, which makes for an entertaining stroll at any time of the day.

Beach wedding

For those who seek a more extensive exercise alternative, it is a scenic, 40-minute walk west across the Las Olas Bridge to the Las Olas downtown retail and entertainment district.

Las Olas at night

The reward for a morning stroll in downtown Fort Lauderdale is the Gran Forno Italian bakery with its delicious coffee and impressive array of freshly baked breads, biscotti and pastries.  A few blocks further west is a meandering pedestrian walkway along the New River which leads to the performing arts center.  There is no shortage of interesting scenery and people watching opportunities along this route.

singer

It is easy to get around in Fort Lauderdale without a car.  From the Las Olas Boulevard intersection with A1A, public trolleys provide access to downtown, the 17th Street commercial corridor and the Sunrise Boulevard mall district.  The one-way fare is $1.  Big spenders can purchase an all-day trolley pass for $3.  Public transit in Fort Lauderdale makes shopping and provisioning a breeze.

Unfortunately, the weather is anything but cooperative during our visit to Fort Lauderdale.  A stationary weather front to the south produces dense cloud cover, high humidity, periodic heavy downpours and sporadic rain showers almost every day.  Our rain gear is always close at hand during excursions off the boat. After all, this is the tropics where precipitation can occur at any time.

Las Olas canal

Fort Lauderdale is a community of interconnected canals.  Even during dry weather, the City has been experiencing evidence of climate change.  At high tide, during a full moon when the lunar gravitational force is at its peak, some of the City’s canals overflow their banks, resulting in flooding of low-lying intersections and neighborhoods.

Lauderdale YC1

Our return to Fort Lauderdale evolves into a mini-reunion with Pat’s former Bishop Carroll classmates Joyce and Stephani.  Suddenly, the social calendar aboard Cutter Loose becomes filled with interesting activities including a delectable lunch at the Lauderdale Yacht Club, an abundance of mind-boggling choices at the Funky Buddha Brewery, shopping at Costco and Walmart, a Saturday holiday party at the home of Stephani and Robin, an outdoor jazz brunch on Sunday with Grenada friends Donna and Steve and Monday afternoon appetizers at Coconuts with Joyce and Brian.

Funky Buddha

Donn

During the days leading up to our arrival in Fort Lauderdale, the electronic chart plotters on Cutter Loose have been behaving erratically.  Since redundancy is an essential part of cruising, Cutter Loose is equipped with two electronic chart plotters…one below in the cabin and the other at the helm.  The local Raymarine technician diagnoses the problem as a faulty card reader which prevents the chart plotter in the cabin from reading and displaying navigational data stored on the Navionics chip.  The fix involves removing the faulty chart plotter and sending it to the Raymarine factory in New Hampshire to replace the card reader.  Since this part is currently out of stock at the factory, we will defer this repair until replacement parts become available.  In the meantime, we will get by adequately with the one functioning chart plotter at the helm.

heron

After a week’s stay at Las Olas Marina, Cutter Loose is underway on Tuesday afternoon for the short, one-mile run to Lake Sylvia where the hook is down for a one-night stay at this crowded anchorage.  In light of improving weather conditions, yachts are staging here for an early morning departure for the Bahamas.

On Wednesday, the anchor is up at 9 AM for the 33-mile, coastal run to Miami.  We arrive just in time for the 9:30 AM opening of the 17th Street Bridge.  From here, a left turn into the Class A inlet at Port Everglades provides rapid access to the Atlantic Ocean.  The weather has improved significantly since we departed Fort Lauderdale.  Under sunny skies, it is a pleasant sail south past the oceanfront condo towers of Hallandale and Miami Beach.

Pilot boat Miami

At 12:45 PM, Cutter Loose enters the wide and well-marked channel to Government Cut, the entrance to the Port of Miami.  Once inside, our course today takes us past the upscale condos at Fisher Island and alongside the docked freighters in Lummus Island Cut.

Port of Miami

Once under the Rickenhauser Causeway Bridge, Cutter Loose enters the protected waters of Biscayne Bay.  The anchor is down at 2 PM near Virginia Key…an excellent vantage point from which to relax and enjoy a spectacular nighttime view of the Miami skyline.

Miami skyline from stern

On Thursday at 10:30 AM, the anchor is up at Virginia Key for the short, three-mile run to the mooring field at Dinner Key Marina.  The marina and the mooring field are packed with boats at this time of year.  Not surprisingly, many snowbirds remain here in Coconut Grove for the entire winter.  Fortunately, there is one remaining ball on the outer periphery of the mooring field that can accommodate Cutter Loose.

CL mooring

Rather than compete for space at the marina’s undersized dinghy dock, we elect to utilize the launch service that is included in the cost of the mooring.  At the top of the hour, the launch circulates through the mooring field to pick up and discharge passengers.  A new, three-story marina office with laundry facilities, shower rooms and customer lounge has been constructed here at Dinner Key since our visit in 2011.  In our travels thus far, Dinner Key Marina serves as the model for well-maintained amenities, staff friendliness and operational efficiency.

Miami City Hall Dinner Key

Coconut Grove is a neighborhood within the City of Miami.  Within easy walking distance from Dinner Key Marina is a trendy shopping district with an abundance of eating and drinking establishments, a movie theater, Ferraris parked along the streets, multi-million dollar high-rise condos, highly manicured public parks, and, of course, Starbucks and a Fresh Market grocery store.  This setting makes for delightful strolls through city streets and Bayfront parks.

Twisty condos

After a visit to the farmer’s market on Saturday afternoon, easterly winds begin to increase as forecasted.  High pressure in Northern Florida is counterpoised against low pressure in the Keys, fueling an ample flow of easterly winds in the Miami area.

Farmers Market

The one downside to the Dinner Key mooring field is that it is exposed to north, east and south winds on Key Biscayne.  By the time we return to Cutter Loose in late afternoon, the wind has been building to 15 knots, producing 1 to 2 foot waves on the Bay.  Since the motion is not severe, we elect to ride out what is expected to be a windy night in the mooring field.  The wind generator will be working the night shift, insuring that the ship’s batteries remain fully charged.

Full Rainbow

For safety reasons, it is the marina’s practice to suspend its launch service whenever wind speed exceeds 15 knots. Such is the case on Sunday morning with periodic rain squalls and easterly winds in the 15 to 20 knot range.  By mid-afternoon, wind speeds have diminished to 13 knots which leads to the resumption of scheduled launch service.

Coco Walk

Since this is our final day in Coconut Grove, Monday morning is devoted to the mundane task of laundry.  Chores now completed, our afternoon date includes a pasta lunch at Strada followed by a 1 PM movie at the metroplex in Coco Walk.  Today’s feature is Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston.  The 4 PM Dinner Key launch service to our mooring brings to an end this four-day stay in Coconut Grove.  By 5:15 PM, Cutter Loose is anchored near Southwest Point on Key Biscayne, just a few miles from the Dinner Key mooring field.

sunset sail

At 7:30 AM on Tuesday, the anchor is up for a delightful sail through the Florida Keys.  This morning’s course takes us past Cape Florida Light with the towering structures of Key Biscayne in the background.

Biscayne Light

En route to the Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne Channel winds its way past a small community of abandoned structures.  Known locally as “Stiltsville”, these former fishing cabins were decimated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and other more recent storms.  Local preservation groups have attempted to save Stiltsville, but nature is slowly reclaiming what remains of this unusual neighborhood.

Stiltsville

Ever so gradually, the Florida Keys arc towards the southwest and west. Each day, the temperature becomes warmer and the water becomes clearer.

CL under sail

A network of submerged coral reefs on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys extends roughly 150 miles from Miami to Key West. These invisible barriers prevent ocean swells from entering Hawk Channel, making for comfortable sailing towards Marathon Key.  Since the wind is around ten knots today, a little help from the diesel engine is needed to reach our destination before dark.

Channel 5 bridge

After a calm overnight anchorage at Rodriquez Key, Cutter Loose is underway at 7 AM on a sunny, clear Wednesday morning.  Since our destination today is located on the north side of Marathon Cay, we pass under Channel Five Bridge near Matecumbe Harbor and into the shallow, crab pot infested waters of Florida Bay.  Just before reaching the Seven Mile Bridge, Cutter Loose passes between the Fanny Keys and into her slip at the Harbour Cay Club where we will remain for a week or more before moving on to Florida’s west coast.

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November 20th to November 30th – Vero Beach to Fort Lauderdale

Vero street beach side

There are many reasons to pause in Vero Beach.  It is an attractive and welcoming community that offers outstanding amenities for the cruising sailor.  In fact, there is such a powerful attraction to this place that many boaters drop the hook permanently in Vero when their cruising days come to an end.

beach scene

Such is the case with our friend Carey who we met on a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas during the 2011/2012 sailing season.  Now residents of Vero Beach, Carey and Julie go above and beyond the call of duty in making our stay comfortable and entertaining.

carey julie

While Cutter Loose remains on a mooring at Vero Beach City Marina, we pass the time enjoying their hospitality.  Access to their vehicles during our 7-day stay makes light work of grocery shopping and visits to the outboard motor repair shop.  While the women visit galleries, Carey and I tee it up at a challenging course comprised of equal parts sand, water, grass and palmetto rough.

Friends Sharon and Greg aboard s/v Dream Catcher are also here at Vero Beach City Marina.  We have been denied the pleasure of their company since Charleston.  Leisurely morning walks to the beach and meals together contribute to our delightful stay in Vero.  While our outboard motor spends a few days in sick bay, Hayden and Radeen and Greg and Sharon generously provide dinghy transportation from the mooring ball to the dock.

Vero Beach mooring field

Yet another reason to visit Vero Beach at this time of year is the Thanksgiving cruiser’s buffet, an annual ritual in Vero Beach.  Turkey and ham entrees are prepared and served by former cruisers turned volunteers that now make Vero Beach their home.

Thanksgiving lineup

The City donates the use of the fully equipped community center.  Visiting cruisers sign up at the marina to bring side dishes.  This year, over 200 visiting cruisers participate in this event.

Thanksgiving table

A high-pressure dome over southern Georgia has been fueling gusty gale-force, northeast winds along Florida’s east coast.  The winds are so brisk during our stay that the lifeguards have declared the beach off limits to swimmers and walkers.

churned up ocean

This weather pattern is expected to persist for another week, eliminating the option of a coastal sail to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.  In this circumstance, we are fortunate to have the Intracoastal Waterway as an alternative route south.

After a final energetic walk to the beach on Friday morning, Cutter Loose is underway from Vero for the short 14-mile run to Fort Pierce.  Upon clearing the 1:30 PM opening of the Fort Pierce North Bridge, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel illuminates its blue flashing light and maneuvers deftly alongside Cutter Loose for an impromptu safety inspection.  Within seconds, two uniformed Coasties board Cutter Loose armed with their inspection checklist.

Coast Guard approach

We are familiar with the drill, having been boarded by the Coast Guard in 2011.  They ask for our USCG registration papers and driver’s licenses.  One officer remains in the cockpit to complete the paperwork while his partner descends the companionway stairs to inspect for emergency flares, fire extinguishers, sanitation system and flotation devices.  Both officers are very young, polite and complimentary.  Thirty minutes later, the inspection is completed.  Cutter Loose has passed the exam with flying colors.   With this, the Coasties have packed up and are on their way.  By 2:15 PM, the anchor is down in blustery conditions south of Causeway Island.

Coasties leaving

On Saturday evening, we rendezvous with Caribbean cruising friends, Jan and Richard aboard IP 370 Morpheus of London, who have recently arrived in the U.S. from their home in the UK.

dinner with Morphie

We first met these intrepid English sailors in Virgin Gorda in January, 2012.  Thereafter, our paths would cross by chance on several occasions during 2013 and 2014 as we plied the waters between Antigua and Grenada.  In February of 2015, Cutter Loose and Morpheus shared an anchorage at Boqueron, Puerto Rico for more than a week waiting for a weather window to cross the Mona Passage to the Dominican Republic.  During our brief visit to Fort Pierce, we spent an entertaining evening with Richard and Jan comparing notes on our similar paths through the Turks and Caicos and the out islands of the Bahamas.

ICW Large home

On Saturday, the anchor is up in Fort Pierce at 8:15 AM.  Since wind and sea conditions in the Atlantic Ocean are untenable today, we elect to follow the Intracoastal Waterway along the Indian River past St. Lucie Inlet and Hobe Sound to Lake Worth.  As we continue our journey south along the ICW, the landscape becomes more urban and the size of waterfront homes is increasing in proportion to the density, size and speed of pleasure boats.

Large yacht Boca Raton

Over the course of today’s 47-mile journey, there are a total of seven bascule bridges to be transited.   Each bridge poses its own unique requirements in terms of arriving on time but not too early for the scheduled opening.  There is considerable jockeying for position as boats are admonished by the bridge operator to form an orderly queue.  The current, wind and wakes from passing go-fast boats makes for challenging piloting conditions during the final minutes before the bridge is opened.  Ever so slowly, the bridge spans rise and the parade of boats proceed through the narrow opening.

party boat 1

On this, the Saturday following Thanksgiving, the Waterway is crowded with recreational boaters.  Floridians want to be outdoors on their boats, enjoying a warm, sunny afternoon.  In Jupiter Sound, boating activity reaches a fever pitch.  The waterway becomes a proverbial obstacle course of slower sailboats and trawlers, personal watercraft, paddlers and impatient go-fast power vessels.  Some of the more powerful motor vessels are traveling at incredibly high speed, kicking up a four-foot wake and churning the ICW into a frenzy of white water.  On a holiday weekend, Jupiter Sound is truly a bizarre spectacle of sight and sound.  It is a stressful place to be.

Lake Worth anchorage

Finally, at 4 PM, the anchor is down in the quiet but crowded anchorage at North Lake Worth.  Dozens of cruising boats are staged here for a Gulf Stream crossing to the northern Bahamas once the wind and waves subside.  The peacefulness of this setting is particularly soothing after today’s experience on the Waterway.

On Sunday, the anchor is up at 8 AM in North Lake Worth for the 31-mile run to Boca Raton.  Today’s journey takes us through the upscale urban enclaves of Palm Beach and Delray Beach where the homes and boats are even larger than those which we encountered yesterday.    Thankfully, the traffic on the Waterway is lighter today with fewer go-fast boats.  A total of 12 bascule bridges must be transited on this segment of the ICW, adding significant time to today’s trip. Rather than pressing on to Fort Lauderdale, we opt instead for a short day, dropping the hook in Lake Boca at 1:30 PM.

Boca Raton Pink Resort

Upon our arrival, the anchorage is filled with pleasure boats enjoying all manner of Sunday afternoon partying.  By 4 PM, most of the local boats have departed, leaving this pleasant anchorage to just a handful of transient cruisers.

party boat bigger

On Monday, the anchor is up at 8:30 AM for the short, 16-mile run from Boca Raton to Fort Lauderdale.  Another 8 bascule bridges must be transited today.  This brings the total to 28 bridge openings since departing Vero Beach on Friday.  Today, Cutter Loose is frequently the only vessel in the bridge queue. What a difference a day makes.

Welcome to FtL

By noon, Cutter Loose is lying on a City mooring near the Las Olas Boulevard Bridge.  Tomorrow we will take a slip at Las Olas Marina to enjoy a week’s stay in Fort Lauderdale, the self-proclaimed “Yachting Capital of the World”.

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November 12th to November 19th – Brunswick, GA to Vero Beach, FL

 

Under sunshine and blue skies, Cutter Loose is underway from Brunswick Landing Marina on Thursday at 10 AM.  Riding the favorable ebb current, we are whisked under the Sidney Lanier Bridge, past St. Simon’s lighthouse and into the Atlantic Ocean.

St Simon's Light

Winds today are less than 10 knots.  Seas are less than two feet.  It is a perfect day for a coastal passage to St. Mary’s inlet, some twenty miles to the south.  Today’s outside run is a refreshing stress-free alternative to transiting the ICW through shallow Jekyll Creek.

Today, our course passes three miles offshore from Cumberland Island, with its magnificent white beaches visible to the west.  In the distance, the industrial skyline of Fernandina Beach, FL is a mere dark spec on the southern horizon.

fort

At 3 PM, Cutter Loose enters St. Mary’s inlet.  This is a long, dredged channel that leads past Fort Clinch and into Cumberland Sound.  From this juncture, the Amelia River flows south, across the Georgia/Florida border and into Fernandina Beach.  With 45 nautical miles under the keel for the day, the anchor is down in the Amelia River at 4:30 PM.  At sunset, Cutter Loose casts a silhouette on the Amelia River marshland.

Instead of pausing to visit Fernandina Beach, the favorable weather and sea conditions compel us to depart our anchorage early on Friday morning.  Our destination today is St. Augustine, about 70 miles to the south.  Retracing yesterday’s track, Cutter Loose is outbound in St. Mary’s Channel at 7 AM.  Once in the deeper water of the Atlantic Ocean, we make a gradual turn to the south and set the autopilot to steer to the St. Augustine sea buoy.  Northwest winds in the 10 to 15 knot range fill the genoa and push us gently towards our destination.  By mid-afternoon, the wind has subsided to 7 knots.

Unlike the Class A inlets in Brunswick and St. Mary’s which are wide, deep-water, dredged channels, protected by jetties, the St. Augustine inlet is navigable only by smaller vessels.  This channel meanders alongside sand bars and breakers on its way to the harbor.  This afternoon at low tide, there are several spots with only 12 feet of depth.  Because the channel is constantly shifting, the Coast Guard buoys are not charted.  Rather, these aids to navigation are temporary buoys that are moved, as needed, to define the edges of the deeper water.  In today’s benign weather conditions, the St. Augustine channel is easily navigated.  However, only local boaters should attempt this channel in heavy weather.

At 4:45 PM, the anchor is down in the San Sebastian River alongside the Castillo de San Marcos, just north of the Bridge of Lions.  Under normal circumstances, it is preferable to rent one of the many City moorings in this harbor since the velocity of the current creates a notoriously unstable holding ground.  Unfortunately, all of the mooring balls are occupied upon our arrival this afternoon.  In light of the forecast for increasing winds tonight and during the next few days, it is unlikely that large numbers of boats will be departing their highly coveted mooring balls anytime soon.

On Saturday, the wind is blowing 20 to 25 knots out of the NE.  Cutter Loose is locked in the middle of a tug-of-war between wind and current.  Anchored here in the San Sebastian River with the St. Augustine inlet about a mile away, the tidal current is fierce.  When the wind is aligned with current, the boat rides nicely upwind and up-current with the anchor set in front of the bow.

The battle for dominance ensues in earnest when wind is opposed to current.  In today’s particular circumstance, Cutter Loose behaves erratically during the ebb when the bow points to prevailing current despite 15 to 20 knots of wind on her stern.   In lighter wind conditions, the boat would simply drift down-current on her anchor, causing the chain to tighten snugly against the current.  This is not the case today.  Instead, the anchor chain leads longitudinally beneath the keel towards an anchor that is located somewhere behind the stern.  The steady force of the wind on the stern is sufficient to prevent the boat from drifting down-current on her anchor.  She lies neither downwind or down-current.

Occasionally, a 25-knot-wind gust causes the bow to round up in the general direction of the prevailing wind.  The current resists, saying “whoa there, not so fast…I’m in charge here”.  During this temporary faceoff, Cutter Loose swings broadside to the wind, rolling in the chop of wind-against-current and swimming wildly in pirouettes around her anchor.

Buddy boat Island Spirit is anchored nearby, performing a similar dance.  The two boats are not well choreographed.  Sometimes there are five or six boat lengths of space between the two vessels.  At other times, there is only one boat length of space between us.  Sometimes, the two vessels are positioned bow to bow.  At other times, they are pointed stern to stern.  There is no readily apparent reason for such opposite behavior given the similarity and proximity of the two vessels.

On Saturday afternoon, there is even more excitement in the anchorage.  An unattended vessel previously anchored off the green side of the channel is drifting gradually toward Cutter Loose off the red side of the channel.  At present, it is lying mid-channel in the approach to the Bridge of Lions.  This is a busy thoroughfare on the hour and half hour as southbound vessels position themselves for a bridge opening.  The Harbormaster and his assistant arrive on the scene in their launch within minutes of receiving our report about the crewless, adrift boat.

boat rescued

Wasting no time, the launch is tied alongside the dragging vessel while the Harbormaster jumps aboard.   Using the boat’s manual windlass, he slowly raises the anchor and proceeds to maneuver the vessel towards the Bridge of Lions under the power of the launch.  Presumably, the goal is to request a bridge opening and move the boat into the safety of the City Marina.

Bridge of Lions

Suddenly, the owners arrive on the scene by dinghy to find their boat being towed by the Harbormaster.  One can only imagine the feeling of shock and despair when they discover that their boat is in a different location.  The surprised owners climb aboard their boat, start the engine and proceed to re-anchor in another area of the harbor.  Thanks to the prompt responsiveness of the Harbormasters, the story has a happy ending for everyone.  It is also a lesson that anything can and does happen in these challenging conditions.  Given the wind-versus-current battle being waged in the harbor, it is best to remain aboard and maintain an alert watch for the duration of the day.

The wind gradually subsides overnight, bringing an end to the strange dance of Cutter Loose and Island Spirit.  With improved weather, there is an exodus of snowbirds from St. Augustine on Sunday morning.  The once-crowded mooring field now has several vacancies.  The anchor is up for the 10 AM opening of the Bridge of Lions.  Cutter Loose is secured to a City mooring ball by 11 AM.  This is our opportunity to  re-discover the historic district with cruising friends Hayden and Radeen.

St Aug street

St. Augustine refers to itself as “America’s Oldest City”.  More specifically, St. Augustine is the oldest permanently occupied European settlement in the U.S.  This terminology acknowledges the fact that the Timucuan Indians were here when the Spanish arrived in 1565.  To place this date in historic perspective, the Pilgrims would land at Plymouth Rock some fifty five years later.

Flagler entrance

Oil baron Henry Flagler arrived here in the late 1880s.  He built two hotels and acquired a third.   Then he built the Florida East Coast Railway as a means to transport guests from St. Augustine to his other resort hotels in Palm Beach and Miami. Today, Flagler’s impressive hotels are an important part of the Flagler College campus.

flagler college

St Aug turret

Casa Monica hotel

Monday is a day for exploring alternative storage yards for Cutter Loose during the summer/fall of 2016.  Our travels via rental car take us north to Green Cove Springs to visit two marinas.  Neither facility is inspiring in terms of potential storage locations.  However, it is interesting to visit these marinas for pure entertainment value.

heron

On Tuesday, the anchor is up at 7 AM for today’s 57-nautical mile journey along the ICW to Daytona Beach.  Our course takes us past Matanzas Inlet, Palm Coast and Flagler Beach and into the Halifax River. By mid-afternoon, Ormond Beach is astern.  Single family waterfront homes gradually give way to high- rise condo buildings upon entering Daytona Beach.  At 3:15 PM, the anchor is down just to the south of Memorial Bridge.

ShockTop

 

The business district is a short dinghy ride from the anchorage.  A 60-minute walk through town provides an opportunity to stretch our legs and explore the retail district before settling in for the evening.

Daytona street

The sky is overcast at 7 AM on Wednesday as the clanking of the anchor chain against the bow roller alerts the anchorage to our impending departure.  For the initial two hours of today’s journey, the narrow confines of the Halifax River provide protection from the full force of gusty southeast winds.   At New Smyrna, the ICW enters the broad open waters of Mosquito Lagoon.  There are no pesky mosquitos today thanks to 20 – 25 knots of wind on the bow.  Adverse wind and current slow our progress to less than six knots, showering the deck with salt water in the process.

Pirate ship

Once through the narrow, dredged channel at Haulover Cut, the Indian River takes us past Titusville to the NASA Causeway Bridge.  Rather than requesting an opening and pressing on to Cocoa Beach, the decision is reached to drop the hook at 3:45 PM with 55 nautical miles under the keel for the day.  The elevated causeway provides a comfortable lee from the brisk southeast wind.  From here, NASA’s 55 story Vehicle Assembly Building looms large on the eastern horizon.  This is the catbird seat from which to witness a missile launch from the Kennedy Space Center.  Tonight, it is a quiet layover before moving south to Vero Beach in the morning.

Birds at bridge

The alarm sounds at 0530 on Thursday and the anchor is up in complete darkness at 0600.  The NASA Causeway Bridge is a short distance from our anchorage, but already the bridge operator is barking detailed instructions on the VHF radio.  At 0615, the three southbound vessels awaiting the opening are directed to form a queue.  We are anxious to comply with the bridge tender’s wishes.  If we miss this 0625 opening, the next opening is not until 0830.

The bridge operator explains that only one side of the south bascule bridge will open this morning.  This makes for a narrow squeeze under the best of circumstances, let alone at nautical twilight with the sun still well below the horizon.  Causeway traffic comes to a stop as the bridge begins to open at 0620.  A faint outline of the raised bridge deck is barely visible as we proceed through the narrow opening before dawn.

Bridge at night

Today’s early start taken together with favorable tidal current ensures a mid-afternoon arrival at Vero Beach Municipal Marina, some 65 nautical miles to the south.  South of the Wabasso Bridge, Cutter Loose and Island Spirit are greeted by friends Carey and Julie who ignite firecrackers from the outer dock of the Sea Oaks marina.  The eastern side of the ICW channel is lined with perfectly manicured, waterfront homes.   At 4 PM, Cutter Loose is tied to a mooring at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina.

ICW house Vero

Vero Beach is an exceptionally welcoming and friendly town that receives high marks from experienced cruisers.  At this time of year, the marina is packed with cruising boats, many of which have familiar names and hail ports.  Some boaters choose Vero as their final destination for the winter while many others will continue further south to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  We will pause here for a week to enjoy the delights of this community and the company of close cruising friends.

egret

 

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November 3rd to November 12th – Charleston, SC to Brunswick, GA

After three enjoyable weeks of delightful fall weather, a stationary front has brought cloudy skies and persistent rainfall to Charleston on the morning of our departure.  It is tempting to ignore the shrieking 6 AM alarm.  How sublime it would be to enjoy another hour of sleep and while away a few more mornings sipping coffee at Caviar and Bananas.

Raindrops on dodger

The primary mission of the snowbird, however, is to continue the journey south, rain or shine. It is 0700, the tide is slack and duty calls.  Cutter Loose is underway from the Charleston Maritime Center towards the Wappoo Bridge where the first opening of the day is scheduled for 0900.  An early arrival places us at the front of the queue for the procession south.  Given the rain and poor visibility, only three vessels arrive for the 9 AM opening.  This bodes well for light traffic on the ICW today.

Spartina grass marsh

Our course takes us on a circuitous route through the rivers, creeks and tidal marshes of the low country.  Elliott Cut connects the Wappoo Bridge with the Stono River. The Stono flows into the Wadmalaw River which flows into the North Edisto River.  At Edisto Island, the ICW follows the Dawho River through Watts Cut to the South Edisto River.

By 2 PM, the rain dissipates thereby improving visibility.  But heavy cloud cover continues to blanket the South Carolina coast for the remainder of the day.  Once through Fenwick Cut, it is less than a mile to Rock Creek where the anchor is down at 3:20 PM amidst shorebirds combing the marsh grasses.  This vantage point affords an excellent view of late afternoon tugboat and barge traffic along the waterway.

barge at dusk

Today’s journey is a vivid reminder of the engineering marvel of the ICW.  Its designers succeeded in interconnecting a maze of tidal rivers and creeks with dredged land cuts to create a navigable inland passage that extends from Norfolk to Miami.  A bird’s eye view of the Atlantic coast reveals hundreds of rivers, creeks and streams carved into the tidal marshland that give the appearance of veins and arteries in the human circulatory system.  Both aesthetically and functionally, the ICW is a national treasure and a gift to all who ply these waters.

Predicting tidal current along the ICW is quite a challenge.  Introducing dredged land cuts to the maze of tidal rivers and creeks interrupts nature’s method of flooding and discharging seawater from the coastal drainage basin.  Tidal currents often change direction when transiting from a tidal tributary to a land cut and vice versa.  Oftentimes, transiting a shallow area of the ICW at high tide is more a matter of good fortune than thoughtful preparation.

Overnight showers have ended when the time comes to raise the anchor near low tide at 0700 on Wednesday.   Today, the sun will remain elusive…concealed under heavy cloud cover as Cutter Loose presses further south along the South Carolina coast.  Our course takes us through the Ladies Island Swing Bridge past the quaint village of Beaufort, SC and into Port Royal Sound, a deep water inlet to the Atlantic Ocean.

Lady's Island Swing Bridge

Under normal circumstances, the snowbird voyager would follow the Port Royal Channel southeast into the Atlantic for an overnight sail to Fernandina on the Florida/Georgia border.  Instead, we opt to call at Hilton Head Island, just 20 miles south of Beaufort on the ICW.  At 1:40 PM, the anchor is down in the May River which rewards us with a stunning sunset view of the mainland.

Kilkenny sunset

On Thursday, the anchor is up at 0800 for the short run to Broad Creek where we have reserved a slip for two nights at Shelter Cove Marina.  Although pricey at $2.50 per foot, many grocery stores, shops and restaurants are within easy walking distance from the marina.

CL at dock HHI

With little advance warning, Pittsburgh friends and former neighbors, Gere and Linda generously agree to meet for dinner.  After a brief introduction to Cutter Loose, Gere and Linda provide a driving tour of nearby Long Cove Plantation and a visit to their beautiful golf course home.   We are grateful for their hospitality and their willingness to meet on such short notice.

grimms1

Friday is devoted to exploring Hilton Head Island’s 60-mile network of paved bicycle trails.  The Bike Fridays are assembled and ready to roll at 0900.

Eric bike fridays boat

Golf Course HHI

With the exception of stops for breakfast and grocery shopping at Whole Foods, our ride continues until late afternoon.  The weather cooperates for today’s ride, providing warm and partly sunny conditions until mid-afternoon when an eerie fog rolls in from the Ocean.

Whole Foods HHI

At daybreak on Saturday, our day of departure, the marina is ensconced in dense fog.  This presents a dilemma since the tide is already falling and there is insufficient depth in the entrance channel to accommodate the five-foot draft of Cutter Loose at low tide.  We are underway at 0730, inching our way through Shelter Cove’s channel with only an eighth of a mile of visibility.  Once in the deeper water of Broad Creek, we drop the hook to enjoy a leisurely breakfast while the fog dissipates.  As if on cue, a faint outline of the Cross Island Parkway fixed bridge appears on the western horizon at 0900 and Cutter Loose is underway for the second time this morning.

fog with bow in shot

Since a cold front is expected to pass through the SC/GA coastal waters after midnight, we are anxious to make southerly progress and secure a protected anchorage before sunset.  By noon, Cutter Loose has crossed the Savannah River ship channel, leaving South Carolina astern and entering Georgia.

storm clouds

Dramatic low cloud formations are moving rapidly in our direction from the northwest.  Could this be the forecasted cold front staging an early arrival?    Increasing cloud cover and the rise in temperature and humidity are ample warning that a change in the weather is imminent.

Once through the land cut at Hell Gate, our course takes us into the Ogeechee River.  Here, there are several narrow tributaries that afford excellent protection should strong winds materialize overnight.  With 66 nautical miles under the keel for the day, the anchor is down in Kilkenny Creek at 5 PM.  By midnight, the wind has increased slightly and shifted to the north, signaling the passage of the front.

May River sunset

At dawn, wind speeds in Kilkenny Creek have reached 20 knots.  Heavy rain is forecasted to begin in the early afternoon.  Given the absence of rain, the decision is reached to weigh anchor and press further south until the rain begins, at which time we will call it a day and drop the hook for the night.

By mid-morning, the wind increases to 20 to 25 knots with gusts in the low 30s.  To their credit, NOAA marine weather forecasters have nailed the wind speed predictions.  On the waterway, northerly winds in excess of 20 knots are not necessarily a deterrent to southbound vessels.   When the wind is astern, conditions on the ICW are normally quite benign.  Since much of the Georgia waterway meanders through marshes, the wind does not have sufficient fetch over open water to create an uncomfortable chop.

Driftwood

It is preferable to sail outside directly from Charleston, SC to Fernandina, FL, thereby avoiding shallow areas along the ICW.  However, a favorable three-day weather window is a rare commodity at this time of year when cold fronts pass several times each week.  One advantage of the more protected ICW route is that it is usually possible to make southerly progress every day regardless of weather.

Shrimp boat

Our course today takes us through the Newport River and Johnson Creek into the broad waters of Sapelo Sound, an inlet to the Atlantic Ocean that is directly exposed to today’s northeast winds.  Here, the seas are 4 to 5 feet with gale force winds howling at 30 to 35 knots with gusts to 40.  This robust cold front is certainly packing a powerful punch.  One can only imagine the sea state 30 miles offshore in these challenging conditions.  With the wind astern and a favorable current, Cutter Loose makes rapid progress through this three-mile segment of open water.

While navigating the ICW inland on the Sapelo River towards the relative protection of the Front River, a sailboat becomes visible in the shallow waters of Dog Hammock Spit, about one-half mile south of our course.  It is conspicuous not only because it is the only other vessel we have seen all morning, but also because Dog Hammock Spit is such an unlikely place to see a vessel at any time, let alone during a  strong cold front.

Suddenly, the VHF radio comes alive with a distress call.  It is the vessel we have been observing.  The anxious skipper explains that his vessel is without propulsion.  The engine is inoperable and the ship’s batteries have become discharged, weakening the boat’s VHF radio transmissions.  The wind is blowing his vessel onto a lee shore.  This poor chap is having a very bad day.

We offer to be of assistance in relaying the captain’s request for emergency towing services to Sea Tow, a commercial towing service.  Fortunately, the Sea Tow operator in nearby St. Catherine’s, GA responds immediately to our call on VHF 16.  We pass along information provided by the vessel in distress, including the name and specific location of the vessel along with wind and sea conditions.   With assurances from Sea Tow that it will immediately dispatch its tow boat to the scene, we resume our course and speed along the ICW towards the Front River.  We were pleased to be an intermediary in this situation.  But what would be the likely outcome of this scenario had Cutter Loose not been underway in this specific area of Sapelo Sound at this precise time?

Wind driven rain begins to fall at 1 PM.  At 1:30 PM, the anchor is down in the South River near Queen’s Island with 40 nautical miles under the keel for the day.  In the lee of the nearby marsh, the water in the river is relatively calm.  The gusty northeast winds, however, show no signs of abating.  We are reconciled to a noisy, windy night here at Queen’s Island.  On a positive note, the wind generator aboard Cutter Loose is enjoying these breezy conditions.  Today, it is single handedly maintaining the house battery bank at peak charge, both day and night.

At daybreak on Monday, winds in our protected corner of South River have subsided to 10 knots.  Heavy rain showers and thunderstorms persist throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, delaying our departure from Queens Island.  The front has become stationary just south of here and the center of low pressure is moving ever-so-slowly offshore.  The result is persistent warm, humid, cloudy and rainy conditions.

Rainbow through dodger

Finally, after 24 hours of steady rain, there is a break in the weather on Monday afternoon.  Cutter Loose is underway from Queens Island at 1 PM for the short, 25-nautical mile run to Brunswick, GA.  Our course today takes us through Altamaha Sound, Buttermilk Sound and the Mackay River en route to the Frederica River where the anchor is down at 4:30 PM near St. Simon Island.

Under sunny skies, Cutter Loose eases into her slip at nearby Brunswick Landing Marina at noon on Tuesday.  Our primary purpose for visiting Brunswick is to evaluate this facility as a potential layup site for Cutter Loose during the 2016 hurricane season.  The marina was formerly utilized by the U.S. Navy as a hurricane hole to store the Atlantic fleet in the event of severe storms.  Today, it is a popular place for cruisers to dock their boats during the summer months.   With a total of 314 slips, the facility is huge.  Nearly all of the slips are occupied.

Brunswick Courthouse

The business district of Brunswick is within easy walking distance from the marina.  With parks, public plazas, wide boulevards and interesting restaurants, Brunswick’s downtown is attractive and well-preserved.  However, as is the case with many smaller industrial towns, Brunswick is struggling economically.

Brunswick Stew pot

The City’s claim to fame is that Brunswick stew was created here on July 2, 1898.  The actual stock pot used to prepare the stew has been memorialized in a city park.

movie set tearing down

One block of the town’s main street corridor is closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  At first glance, there appears to be a major public works project underway.  Upon closer inspection, construction workers are reconstructing storefront facades.  Advertisements in Spanish appear on many of the buildings.

movie street

We learn that the entire city block is a scene that has been created for the movie Live by Night, starring and directed by actor Ben Affleck.  The movie is based on a novel by Dennis Cohane, set in Ybor City, Florida during the Prohibition Era.  Ybor City was a Cuban enclave and cigar-rolling district where rum was bottled and shipped to speakeasies in New York City.  Watch for the release of this movie in 2017.

Ben Affleck with movie poster

Our mission is accomplished in Brunswick.  In the morning, Cutter Loose will depart on the ebb for Fernandina Beach, FL.

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October 27th to November 2nd – Images of Charleston, SC

 

Marina daybreak

 

AME church

 

porch garden

 

greg sharon

 

steeple2

 

row of houses

 

cotton wreath

 

steeple1

 

fountain

 

Gaullah woman

 

custom house

 

church ocre

 

butterfly

 

Boone carriage lane

 

church1

 

battery house

 

vicar

 

3 horses

One week in the Holy City is not quite enough…

 

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October 22nd to October 27th – Beaufort, NC to Charleston, SC

On Thursday, Cutter Loose is underway from Town Creek Marina in Beaufort, NC at 9 AM for the 45-NM run to Mile Hammock Bay at mile marker 244 on the ICW.  From the marina, we retrace our steps north through Gallant’s Channel, then south in the Chimney Island Channel.  Once under the Morehead City “highrise” Bridge, the ICW enters a dredged channel through Bogue Sound, a shallow body of water that separates Bogue Banks (a barrier island) and the mainland.  Although well marked with aids to navigation, the dredged channel is quite narrow.

Shrimp boat

This morning, an approaching shrimper travelling in the opposite direction with its arms extended is dragging the centerline of the ICW, sending pleasure boats scrambling towards the extreme edges of the channel to avoid collision.  Bogue Sound continues south for 25 miles to Bogue Inlet, where dolphins swim alongside our bow and entertain us with their playful antics.

Camp LeJuene Fire Rescue

South of the inlet is the tiny town of Swansboro.  Beyond Swansboro, a ten-mile stretch of the ICW bisects Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune which is home to 50,000 marines and an additional 100,000 family members.  At 3 PM, the Onslow Beach Bridge opens on schedule to allow Cutter Loose and other southbound sailors to continue their trek along the ICW.   At 3:30 PM, the anchor is set in nearby Mile Hammock Bay, a man-made harbor that was used during WWII as a training facility for amphibious landings.  Tonight, noisy helicopter-landing and takeoff maneuvers continue past bedtime.

Camp LeJuene helicopter

On Friday, the anchor is up in Mile Hammock Bay before sunrise at 7 AM.  The purpose of our early start this morning is to arrive at the Surf City swing bridge in time for its 9 AM opening.  Battling an adverse tidal current, Cutter Loose arrives at the bridge a few minutes late.  Thankfully, the bridge operator agrees to delay the 9 AM opening by a few minutes in order to facilitate our passage.  This act of kindness enables us to arrive on time for the 11 AM opening of the Figure Eight Island Bridge, which in turn makes it possible for us to make the noon opening of the Wrightsville Beach Bridge.  These three bridges are amongst the most difficult timing challenges on the entire ICW.  This morning, we rejoice in scoring a perfect trifecta of bridge openings.

From Wrightsville Beach, our course takes us through Masonboro Sound, skirting Atlantic Beach to Snow’s Cut, a dredged canal that provides access to the Cape Fear River.  The 2-knot-favorable current in Snow’s Cut raises an expectation that Cutter Loose will enjoy a current boost all the way to the town of Southport, where the Cape Fear River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  Optimism turns into disappointment when an adverse, 3-knot-flood current significantly slows our southerly progress towards Southport.

Mile Hammock sunset

Notwithstanding the delay, the anchor is down in Dutchman’s Creek at 4:30 PM with 64 nautical miles under the keel for the day.  Dutchman’s Creek is a tidal tributary and as such, Cutter Loose is riding to current.  Low tide tonight occurs around bedtime, with less than a foot of water under the keel.

At mid tide falling on Saturday morning, there is sufficient water depth in Dutchman’s Creek to facilitate our departure just before sunrise.  The snowbird migration is especially dense this morning, with a dozen or more boats concentrated within one mile of waterway.  After several hours of jockeying for position, the faster boats gradually pass the slower boats, making their way to the front of the procession.

sand dune

Our course this morning takes us past the communities of Holden Beach, Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach before crossing the North Carolina/South Carolina border near the Little River inlet.  By 1:30 PM, Cutter Loose is docked at Barefoot Landing Marina alongside its integral shopping complex in North Myrtle Beach with 47 nautical miles under her keel for the day.

Bernie and Rick

On short notice, my high school classmate Bernie and her husband Rick agree to pay a late-afternoon visit aboard Cutter Loose.  Bernie provides updates on children, grandchildren and travel adventures while Rick describes the abundance of golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area.  Although brief, our visit with Bernie and Rick is most enjoyable.

Umberto's Wall

Following our time together with Bernie and Rick, we enjoy a hearty Pittsburgh Italian meal at Umberto’s with cruising friends Sharon and Greg of s/v Dream Catcher.  The clientele at Umberto’s tonight is dominated by large groups of hungry men in golf attire consuming Neanderthal-size cuts of beef and pork.  They have timed their junkets perfectly, as the weather has been delightful for golf and other outdoor activities.

On Sunday, our 0715 departure from Barefoot Landing Marina is designed to coincide with high-slack tide.  For the next seven hours, we will enjoy a favorable current all the way to the Winyah Bay inlet in the vicinity of Georgetown, SC.  The initial ten miles of our journey today is dotted with Myrtle Beach golf courses, upscale homes, condos and marinas that front on the waterway.  Golfers arriving at Waterway Hills Golf Course are transported from the parking lot to the clubhouse via gondola.

CL with overhead trams

After clearing the Socastee Bridge opening at 0915, Cutter Loose enters the Waccamaw River.  In many ways, this 25-mile, pristine section of the waterway is the signature feature of the ICW.  The Waccamaw meanders its way towards Georgetown, its banks lined with live oaks, Spanish Moss and abandoned rice fields.

Sharon's eagle

In the stillness of morning, a chorus of birds adds a delightful sound track to this visual experience.  The Waccamaw is a perpetual delight.

CL on Waccamaw

All too soon, it is 1 PM as we leave the Waccamaw River astern and sail under the Lafayette Bridge into  Winyah Bay.  Instead of pausing overnight at Georgetown, the decision is reached to push on through the Estherville Minim Creek Canal and the Fourmile Creek Canal to the South Santee River where the anchor is down at 3:30 PM.  Having completed 60 nautical miles on today’s journey, our trip to Charleston tomorrow will be made shorter.

Night Shot CL Sharon

At this point of our winter cruise, we are fully immersed in the rhythm of the waterway.  Early morning departures, mid-afternoon anchorages, sunny skies and comfortable temperatures in the 70s add to the enjoyment of travelling south on the ICW in October.  We have been making steady progress in our search for the endless summer.  However, a frontal system is expected to interrupt this blissful travel experience with rain and windy conditions on Tuesday.  Our objective on Monday is to make Charleston in advance of the nasty weather.

Eagle 101

At 0715, the anchor is up in the South Santee River for the 45-nautical mile run to the Holy City.  Our departure coincides with a rising tide.  Water depth is important today because the next 20-mile section of the waterway, approaching Isle of Palms, is notoriously shallow and best accomplished at mid-tide or higher.  By 11 AM, the wind is blowing at 20+ knots out of the north under mostly cloudy skies.  Thankfully, there are no groundings or near-groundings this morning and our arrival in Charleston by early afternoon is imminent.

At noon, Cutter Loose arrives at the Isle of Palms on Sullivan Island…the northern doorstep of Charleston Harbor. Once through the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge, our slip at the Charleston Maritime Center is only 20 minutes away.  To our surprise and dismay, the bridge operator refuses to open the bridge due to high winds in excess of 25 MPH.  At first, we are confident that the closure is a temporary setback.  Surely the bridge will open soon.  However, after further conversation with the bridge operator, we come to understand that there has not been a single opening all day.  Rather than circling in front of the bridge for hours, the decision is reached to anchor temporarily in nearby Inlet Creek until the wind subsides.  Cutter Loose is lying in the lee of a tree-lined bank of the creek which provides some protection from the brisk northeast winds.

inlet creek 2

By 5 PM, it becomes apparent that there will not be an opening of the Ben Sawyer Bridge today.  Armed with this realization, we prepare to settle in for the night.  Arriving sailboats have been accumulating in this shallow creek all afternoon.  Tidal currents are fierce in Inlet Creek under normal circumstances.  At this time, tides are running five feet higher than normal.  When the tide turns and the wind becomes opposed to current, water in the creek begins to boil.  This produces the dreaded washing machine effect.  Factor in wind gusts to 25 knots and soon this tiny anchorage is transformed into a chaotic dancefloor.  Some vessels are riding to current, others are riding to wind and still others are rotating 180 degrees around their anchors, riding alternately to wind and shifting current.  Anchors drag.  Anchors are reset.   A handful of boats elect to depart the confusion of the creek, preferring instead to ride out the delay in the more exposed anchorage alongside the ICW channel closer to the bridge.

Inlet creek1

For added insurance, we would have preferred to pay out another 50 feet of chain, but the confines of this pencil-shaped creek prevent us from doing so.    Hopefully, wind speeds will moderate tomorrow so that our freedom of movement will be restored.

Tuesday morning at Inlet Creek dawns with wind speeds of 10 to 12 knots under cloudy skies and intermittent showers.  NOAA’s 9 AM weather report for Charleston reports 8 knots of northeast wind at Fort Moultrie, which is exactly one mile as the crow flies from the Ben Sawyer Bridge.  Surely this moderation in wind speed will enable us to be underway shortly.

The bridge tender, however, sees the world through a different lens.  She states with conviction that winds are currently 30 knots.  She admonishes the anxious logjam of waiting vessels that there will be no bridge opening until the wind subsides to 25 knots sustained.  Since the issue of wind speed is not a matter of public debate, there is no alternative but to relax, read a book and be ready for the all clear signal.

Reeds on anchor

Finally, after a 24-hour delay, the Ben Sawyer Bridge operator announces an opening at 2 PM on Tuesday.  A mad scramble ensues, removing the accumulation of sea grass that has accumulated around the anchor chain by the swift current in the creek.

Ben Sawyer Bridge

By 3 PM, Cutter Loose is docked at the Charleston Maritime Center.  After sixteen days and with 630-nautical miles under the keel, we will pause for a week to enjoy the delights of the Holy City.

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October 15th to October 21st – Hampton, VA to Beaufort, NC

On Thursday, Cutter Loose is underway from Hampton City Pier at 8 AM for the short, 22-nautical mile run to Great Bridge, VA.  Another day of sunny skies and comfortable 70-degree temperatures provide a pleasant backdrop as we navigate our way through Norfolk’s busy harbor.  Although the journey is short, it is filled with the fascinating sights, sounds and distractions of a military and industrial zone.

navy security boat

In the hierarchy of authority within the busy shipping channel, naval warships are at the very peak of the power pyramid. Naval personnel provide advance warnings relative to the movement of warships in the harbor.  A stern announcement on VHF radio warns all marine interests to obey a 400- foot security zone around the vessel.  A squadron of smaller Navy gunboats staffed with armed guards brandishing automatic weapons, zip around the harbor at high speed in an aggressive show of power.  Their task is to enforce security perimeters, sending lesser vessels scurrying towards the shallower edges of the channel.

navy vessel

At the opposite extreme, slow-moving pleasure boats are relegated to the very bottom of the shipping channel food chain.  The VHF radio crackles with polite admonishments from container ship pilots and tugboat skippers, urging pesky sailboats to clear the channel.   Security vessels patrolling the naval shipyards act as a visual reminder to remain clear of ship building and ship repair activities.

Tug and barge

The prudent strategy of least resistance in this malaise is to deftly pilot one’s pleasure boat right up alongside the channel markers, neither completely in nor completely out of the shipping channel.  When a traffic conflict arises, a swift but temporary departure from the channel normally solves the problem before it arises.

Hospital Point

Mile marker zero at Hospital Point in Norfolk marks the beginning of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).  In about two months’ time, Cutter Loose will arrive in Coconut Grove (Miami) FL which is located at mile marker 1094.

Sharon pic of CL at Gilmerton

By mid-morning, the Gilmerton Bridge operator is in a relaxed mood having endured the hectic initial opening following the 6:30 AM to 9:30 AM rush-hour blackout period.  Two railroad bridges that are normally in the open position are temporarily closed this morning for rail traffic.  This is not a problem as we are on a relaxed schedule today.  Despite the closures, we manage to navigate our way through the Elizabeth River to Great Bridge Lock in time for the 11:30 AM opening.  By noon, Cutter Loose is locked through and docked alongside a public park which is our final destination for the day.  From this spot, it is a short walk to grocery stores, Starbucks and restaurants.  We spend an enjoyable evening aboard s/v Dream Catcher reuniting with cruising friends and planning the next steps of our journey along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

On Friday morning, Cutter Loose assumes her position in the queue for the 9 AM opening of Great Bridge.  Traffic on the waterway is relatively light at this hour.  By 11 AM, a veritable parade of snowbird motor vessels arrives from astern.  When a faster motor vessel overtakes a slower sailboat on the waterway, the polite protocol is for both vessels to slow to a near stop in order to avoid an uncomfortable wake from the faster vessel.  This requires compromise on the part of both skippers, each of which would prefer to transit the waterway without the added time and expense of repeatedly slowing down and speeding up.  Despite the disparity in speed between motor vessels and sailing vessels, courtesy and mutual respect prevails.

By the time we cross the border into North Carolina and arrive at Coinjock circa 3 PM, no fewer than 25 faster vessels have overtaken Cutter Loose.  Thankfully, most motor vessels are content to dock at Coinjock Marina for the night while we continue on to an overnight anchorage near Buck Island, some eight miles south of Coinjock.  It is entirely likely that these same vessels will overtake us on the waterway again tomorrow.

At 4 PM, the log reads 43 miles for the day.  The anchor is down in the lee of Buck Island at mile marker 58.  There has been a noticeable change in the weather today.  This afternoon, sunny skies have given way to heavy cloud cover and an increase in wind.  A TROF will drag a cold front through the region tonight, ushering in a wave of cooler Canadian air.  The wind has already backed to the north.  For tonight, however, our anchorage is secure.  We are cradled in our cozy cocoon, enjoying hot showers and a game of Rummi Kub before dinner.

Since we are unable to receive TV stations with our digital antenna in this remote anchorage, recorded music is our source of entertainment for the evening.  Sunset tonight is a blend of muted red and orange, instilling hope for brighter skies tomorrow.  There is nothing quite as effective as a 90-pound anchor and the absence of TV evening news to impart a secure feeling that all is right with the world.

The alarm clock rudely awakens us out of a sound sleep at 6 AM on Saturday.  Cutter Loose and Dream Catcher are underway at 7 AM for the long 70-mile journey to the Pungo River.  Sunshine and clear skies make short work of the buildup of condensation that has accumulated on the windshield overnight. By 10 AM, Albemarle Sound is astern and the Alligator River Swing Bridge is visible a few miles ahead.

ICW

At 1 PM, Cutter Loose enters the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal.  This is a narrow, dredged cut through dense cypress swamps that extends in a straight line for 25 miles.  From a piloting standpoint, the Canal poses few challenges with the exception of avoiding the occasional deadhead log.

sunrise

Our reward at the end of the Canal is a snug anchorage and a delightful sunset in the narrow headwaters of the Pungo River.  A small craft advisory has been issued for these waters beginning this evening through Sunday afternoon.  The NOAA marine forecast calls for 20 to 25-knot winds with gusts to 30 knots.  Extra anchor chain has been carefully laid out as an added precaution in the event of a blow.  Given the protection of this anchorage and the holding characteristics of the thick black mud in which the anchor has been set virtually guarantees a restful night despite the wind forecast.

Eric at helm

Sunday dawns bright and sunny but quite chilly.  It is tempting to remain at anchor today while the cold front works its way offshore.  Since our destination of River Dunes Marina is a relatively short journey of 48 miles, we decide to press on despite the windy conditions.  At 9 AM, we bundle up in winter clothing to weigh anchor in the Pungo.  Gusty northerly winds today are in the 20 to 25 knot range.  Our meandering course takes us downwind across the Pamlico River to Goose Creek where the ICW passes under the Hobucken Bridge and into the wide open expanse of the Neuse River.

River Dunes house

By 3:30 PM, Cutter Loose is docked at River Dunes Marina near Oriental, NC.  The marina is part of an upscale residential community with an elaborate clubhouse.  Stopping at River Dunes is a no brainer because it is an attractive facility, it is sheltered from the gusty northerly winds and because it offers a special “two nights for the price of one” promotion.  In addition to the “twofer”, an additional $50 dockage discount is offered because we are travelling in a small flotilla of four boats.

Clubhouse In

One more important reason to pause at River Dunes is because a frost warning has been issued for coastal North Carolina.  Being plugged into shore power at our slip permits the operation of the heating system aboard Cutter Loose, which will prove comforting when the temperatures dip into the thirties overnight.

River Dunes chapel

Monday is a day of relaxation ashore with several visits to the small town of Oriental for food and entertainment via the free loaner vehicle provided by the marina.  Under sunny skies, moderate wind and an afternoon high temperature of 60 degrees, it is a lovely day for a stroll around the grounds at River Dunes.  Although several residential lots have been sold, there has been little new development here since we visited in 2011.  Obviously, the effects of the 2008 recession are still being felt in the coastal retirement real estate market.

Bridge  construction

On Tuesday, Cutter Loose is underway from River Dunes at 9:30 AM for the 34-mile run to Beaufort.  Unlike the robust wind and sea conditions that accompanied us on our way to River Dunes on Sunday, the water today is as flat as a pancake.  Under sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s, our course takes us through Adams Creek and into Russell’s Slue. Freshly cast concrete piers for a new fixed-highway bridge have created an obstacle course in Gallants Channel.   At 3 PM, Cutter Loose is docked securely in her slip at Town Creek Marina.

Greg Kate bus

The sole purpose of our stop in Beaufort is to visit with friends Greg and Kate and their labradoodles.  Most of the time, this tight family unit can be found touring the western national parks, the Canadian Yukon Territory and Alaska in their Class A motor coach.

Kate at oven

 

In typical fashion, we are treated to a delicious homemade meal and fascinating conversation about their travels.  It is always entertaining to be in their company.

Us with Kerlins

The next leg of our journey will take us from Beaufort, NC to Charleston, SC.  Depending on weather, there are several route options ranging from an outside coastal run, the inside waterway run or combinations thereof.  It will be interesting to learn how this segment will materialize.

 

Posted in Winter Cruise 2015 - 2016 | Comments Off