10 December, 2017

Okeechobee Waterway

Location: Ft. Myers, Florida
Position: 26 39.457 N 081 52.638 W

Up through this past week we've been traveling over familiar ground. We've already been up and down the East coast via both the ICW and the Atlantic Ocean multiple times. After a night in Stuart (when we last wrote) we set off on a new adventure. We decide to take the Okeechobee Waterway and cross to the West coast of Florida via Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the US (after Lake Michigan). Okeechobee is a Seminole Indian word meaning Big Water. We will be negotiating 5 locks, 6 opening bridges and be traversing some very shallow water.

The limiting height is a 49' railroad bridge at Port Mayaca on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Our masthead is 46' above the water (we think) and the water levels in the lake are currently fairly high. This means we may only have a foot or so of clearance when we go through. We call ahead to the lock tender who knows the daily water levels and bridge clearance. He tells us that today's clearance is 48.65 feet. We're pretty sure we're less than that , but we've never actually measured. Because we are not certain, we take it very slowly, hopefully allowing us enough time to stop and back away before anything breaks, although we're not really sure about that strategy either. Julie is laying on the coach roof looking up so as to, theoretically, tell Mark if it looks like we'll hit. We are happy to report that the tip of
our flexible VHF antenna (the tallest thing on the
boat) is definitely less than 48.65 feet. We know this because the VHF antenna didn't touch the bridge as we went under. Phew.

After the railroad bridge, we spend our first night in the canal just East of Lake Okeechobee tied between two dolphins. Not the aquatic mammal sort of dolphin. Nor the "mahi mahi" / "dorado" fish sort of dolphin. No, this particular sort of dolphin is several pilings bound together that can be used as a place a tug or barge (or even a sailboat!!) can tie up while waiting for the lock. We call ahead to the lock tender and ask permission to tie up for the night so we can get an early lock-through. He says "sure, enjoy your night" – really nice guy, the same one we've been talking to about the railroad bridge height. While we're getting settled, we manage to misjudge the distance between the dolphins. We get the bow line tied off, but it's too short to allow us to back up to the other dolphin at the stern. So Mark lowers the dinghy, Julie breaks out the "really, really long line" and we get it set up so all we have to do is slip the lines in the morning. Nothing to it.

We enjoy chatting with the lock tenders – they always seem to have good stories. Like the fellow who told us about the automatic manatee sensors on the lock doors. Apparently, if the sensor is triggered by a passing manatee while the doors are closing, they reverse themselves and open so the manatee won't get squished. The operator can't override this automatic safety behavior until it's tried and failed to close three times in succession, adding about an extra half hour to the locking. When that happens during the last lock-through of the day and delays quitting time, he says "that dang manatee is no longer your friend".

We hope we'll be able to finally get some sailing in crossing the lake. We lock through and get out on the lake at about 8am, but there's no wind. We're in a big open place where we can sail, but there's no wind. The deepest spot we see is 10 feet deep so when the wind kicks up it can get very choppy Sigh. So we motor.....again! Just as we're almost across the 25 mile lake passage and are in a narrow, rocky, dredged channel, the wind picks up. Sheesh! We now have wind, but we can't sail in such narrow quarters. And so it goes.

We make the turn from the lake back into the canal and – Holy Molies! - there are loads of little islands in front of us! Has the canal shoaled in? Can we even get through here? We slowly nose our way in and find 17' of water! These are all floating islands of some sort of aquatic plant (turns out to be water hyacinth, an invasive species from South America), one little island even has a 4 foot tall heron standing on it! How strange – we weave our way through them, not wanting the plants and roots to get caught on our rudders or in our propeller. Gradually, they diminish until they're all behind us. Another first for us.

The Moore Haven lock is partially broken and is only opening on our port side. We manage to squeeze our 14' beam through a surprising small seeming 25' opening and lock through. Night 2 of our journey is spent tied to the Moore Haven town dock.

A strong cold front is scheduled to pass through this weekend (8-9 December), and we've read that there's a free dock at LaBelle, a small town on the western portion of the canal about 25 miles from Moore Haven. We pull in and learn that there are 8 slips with wifi from a nearby library, water and electricity – all for free. There's a "3 days in, 8 days out" policy posted on the bulkhead.

Our first day ashore we learn that there's a Christmas parade, a "Christmas in the park" with vendors, food, and a Santa Claus, followed by a Christmas boat parade, all on Saturday. Unfortunately, Saturday would be our 4th night. Julie calls the dock master and asks if we can stay a 4th night so we can attend the festivities. "Sure!" he says.

Our second night there we attend a food truck rodeo in the park. There are 8 different "lunch wagons" offering everything from wings to Mexican to French / Mediterranean to hot dogs to ice cream to BBQ to Greek – and it all smells and looks wonderful. We choose the French / Middle Eastern truck and bring our delicious lamb and chicken laden pitas back to Rachel for a night off from cooking and doing dishes. Yum!

Our third night there a big power boat named "Fiddlin' Around" with 4 guys on it literally squeaks in between the pilings two slips over from us. We help them tie up and after a while, one of them comes up on deck with a fiddle and starts playing Christmas carols and we start singing along. They are doing all the waterways in the US and travel 1 week together out of every month on this, their third boat. The first was a pontoon boat that sank somewhere along the TenTom Canal. We never learned what the second boat was or what happened to it. The fiddle player has a "small plane" they use to fly in to wherever they happen to be cruising. They turn out to be really nice guys and a lot of fun. We regret seeing them go the next day.

So now it's parade day. Unfortunately, after a week or more of 80 F days, our cold front is coming through and the low for tonight will be about 40 degrees F. It's already cooling off quite a bit – everyone is in jeans and wooly jumpers and attendance seems way down at the park. The vendors are pretty much standing around talking amongst themselves and the line for Santa is only about 3 kids deep. It's a shame, because we've really come to like this little town.

The parade participants, like any Christmas parade we've ever attended, toss candy and treats out to the bystanders, especially the kids. When we realize that the treats also include little mini "Moon Pies" we agree that we are definitely in the south. And here's a first for us – they're also tossing out packages of fireworks! With no kids around us we score 4 Moon Pies, 3 packages of "Whistling Chaser" fireworks, a piece of hard candy and a hot chocolate flavored lollipop. What a haul!

The evening is topped of by the boat parade, which goes right behind our stern. It only consists of 3 boats but they are all very enthusiastic and circle 3 times, to make it look like there are more boats!

We wake up on Sunday morning to 40 degrees F with 36 degrees F and a frost warning predicted in LaBelle for tonight. Fort Myers forecast has tonight's low set at 43, a good 7 degrees F warmer, so we say goodbye to LaBelle and make tracks. After a pretty long, breezy, very chilly but sunny day we arrive at our anchorage at 3pm and sit in the cockpit in the sun, relishing the warming rays. We're on Florida's west coast now and look forward to doing some exploring. And, after tonight, things are supposed to be warming up – we sure hope so, because we are really looking forward to that, as well.

Stay warm, be safe, and remember - it's almost Christmas!

03 December, 2017

Catching Up

Location: Stuart, Florida
Position: 27 11.513 N 080 16.093 W

You're probably wondering where we are and what we've been up to for the last 5-6 weeks. Here's a quick synopsis.

we don't ever see our boat from this angle, taken
 from new hi-rise bridge in Beaufort, NC

This is what happens when you anchor
 in too shallow water
We left Broad Creek (near Oriental, NC) after several fun and work filled days with friends and scurried down to Isle of Palms, SC (just north of Charleston) to spend about 10 days visiting friends. We were able to stay at their dock as their boat was in the yard getting work done. We took this opportunity fix some leaks (re-bedding and re-gasketing hatches, stanchions, and lockers) to stem the tide of water we took on every time it rained. Unfortunately it involved removing the dinghy davits so it was a bit complicated and time consuming. Luckily we had great success and now are dry and snug in inclement weather. While there, we also rented a car and drove up to visit Mark's mom in Greensboro, NC. Nice visit, but too short for all of us.

Hurricane damage to shrimp boat
in Little River, SC

Next we stopped at John's and James Islands in SC (just south of Charleston) to visit more cruising friends for a few days.

Morning fog on the Waccamaw River, SC
Unfortunately this 2 week hiatus left us with encroaching autumn weather. Lovely days but cold nights, down into the low 40s F. This made for cold mornings as we were hauling anchor at 7am just after first light and anchoring just before sunset. We made tracks for Vero Beach, FL because we decided to try and make it there for Thanksgiving. After 7 pretty long days on the water we arrived. It was a great trip and we had a wonderful time despite the cold and the long days.

South Island floating swing bridge SC
Sign for bridge it swings out across the river,
we had to wait for it
We attended the annual cruiser Thanksgiving pot luck dinner, along with about 150 other cruisers. Great fun, food, camaraderie and music. As always when we stop in Vero we had more boat jobs, a couple of trips up the mast, a visit from a couple of amateur radio club members to get Mark off on the right foot for our ham radio installation, and, of course, shopping and more happy hours with friends both old and new.

We left Vero yesterday and spent the night in Ft. Pierce after having lunch with yet more old friends. Today we made a leisiurly trip to Stuart, except for all the huge wakes from the weekend yahoos (grumble grumble). From here we'll jump off into new territory – the Okeechobee Waterway and Florida's West coast.

Ashepoo River
A bald eagle welcoming us
 to the anchorage SC
Even though it sounds like all we've been doing is boat jobs and more boat jobs, we've been having a lot of fun, too. Reconnecting with old friends has been wonderful, as expected. And the new boat has been great, too. So far this trip we've done many things we weren't able to do on our old Rachel with her 6' draft. Those of you who have traveled the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) will know what we mean when we say we've done McClellanville, Hell Gate, Ashepoo / Coosaw Cutoff, and Little Mud River all at or within an hour of low tide. For you non-cruisers, these are infamous shallow spots where people regularly run aground. We've even spent the night anchored in less than 4' of water!

Chilly Morning

Cruise ship Independence passing us
 on a blustery day

Calm anchorage close to Florida border

White pelicans

Cleaning up Hurricane Irma
 damage at St Augustine

Sunrise in Daytona, FL

An osprey chowing down on a fish
glad that's not our boat!

Tricky maneuvering a hi-rise bridge, a railroad bridge
 and then a bascule bridge one after the other

22 October, 2017

Lay Days

Date: 22 October, 2017
Location: Oriental, North Carolina

We're on our way South and have decided to take a few days off.  We left Deltaville on Wednesday, 18 October and, after 4 long days, are in Oriental, NC.  The weather has been beautiful with the exception that there hasn't been any wind to speak of, so we've been motoring all day.  On a few occasions we've managed to get a sail out for a while, probably more to appease ourselves than doing any real good.  

Yesterday we decided to stop at some friends' dock for a few days of R&R.  We've been going pretty much constantly since we got back from Vietnam in April, and, with the excuse of bad weather approaching, were able to convince ourselves to take a few days off.  Don't get us wrong – we're still going to be doing boat jobs, but we're not going to be doing them while we're under way.  It's all relative, you see...

The new solar panel is keeping us well supplied with electricity for our new fridge, and the systems we cobbled together before we left have been working well.  The new manual windlass needs some adjustment, but we are confident that we'll have a good system once that's done.

We met a huge tug pushing a barge with a big crane
The ospreys have already headed south – but we did see a bald eagle on the Alligator / Pungo Canal.  And it's nice to be seeing pelicans again.  We've always imagined them being the stalwart working class of marine birds.  As groups of them fly by us just skimming the wave tops we like to imagine them all wearing blue and white striped railroad engineer hats and carrying lunch boxes, off to another day on the job.  It seems growing up with Disney cartoons can have that effect on one.  

And yesterday when we were approaching our friends' dock, we were welcomed by 6 dolphins 'putting on a show', so close we could almost touch them.  Lovely.

Our first cruising friends on Barefootin'
It's great to be back out on the water.  We've already reconnected with several old friends and met some new ones.  It's beginning to sink in just how much we've been missing the cruising life.  Somehow we've managed to fall right back into it's rhythms almost without skipping a beat.  

The boat moves under us and we are content.

07 October, 2017

All Aboard!

Location: Deltaville, Virginia

Just a quick one to let you know that we're finally finished with the flood damage repairs. Woohoo! What a roller coaster ride! We may tell you about the last 5 weeks sometime in the future, but we don't even want to think about it anymore right now. That being said, we are very happy with the results and hope our tenants are too.

And we finished up none too soon. First, because we were getting absolutely, totally, utterly, unreservedly, wholly, and altogether sick of the whole project, and second, because we think we may have enough time to get our most important boat jobs done and still be able to head south before it gets too cold for us.

So now we're back on Rachel and it's boat jobs, boat jobs, and more boat jobs for the next week or two. Then, once we leave, we'll have yet more boat jobs to do while we travel south. At least all these improvements will be for us to enjoy and we won't have to rely on anyone but ourselves to get them done!

We look forward to seeing many of our old cruising fiends on the water for the first time in – wow! Has it really been three years? Sheesh!

Fair winds!

01 September, 2017

Tiles & Tribulations

Location: Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

You may have noticed that it's been a while since our last Khronicle. Well, let us tell you a story...

In May, when we were up in Deltaville working on Rachel, we received an email from the friend who is managing our house. "A supply pipe to one of the upstairs toilets broke and flooded the basement apartments." Yikes!

We gave him a call. He had already arranged for a remediation company to come in and start drying things out. Thank goodness for our friends.

During this time we managed to fit in two weeks of sailing with two different grandchildren followed by a wonderful week long visit with the other four, including the world's most epic pillow fight – ever! Loads of fun, and a welcome respite from all the work we'd been doing on Rachel. We also learned that we have a 7th grandchild on the way! Seven grandkids! Holy molies!

At any rate, after about a month and a half of drying, in mid-July things were dry enough in the basement to begin rebuilding. Both apartment's bathrooms needed to be re-tiled and the remediation crew had removed most of the baseboards and drilled holes in the plaster to facilitate the drying process. So all that needed to be patched, replaced, and painted.

 We decided not to renew the lease on the apartment that had suffered the most damage so we could work on it first without having to worry about a tenant. The lease was up on 31 July, so the decision was made to start demolition on that apartment on 1 August, with the expectation it would be ready to re-rent in a couple of weeks. Then we'd quickly knock out the other apartment that suffered much less damage without inconveniencing the tenant too much. Another scheduling quirk was that we could only do 1 basement bathroom at a time so that our remaining tenant could use the other bathroom while his was being worked on.

 So in the last week of July we headed down to Blacksburg with Houdini and Wanda. Because the upstairs (our house) is rented, we've been living in Houdini in the front yard for the past month, making weekly trips to a nearby campground to empty the holding tanks. Sigh.

The demolition crew came in and was pretty much done in 3 days. In the process they damaged some cinder blocks in a couple of walls, so we had to wait for a subcontractor to do an estimate, then effect repairs. Sigh.

Finally, a week after originally planned, we were ready for the tile guy. But wait! The tile guy quit his job the day before he was scheduled to start! Another was contacted, he never called back. The 3rd tile guy agreed to start the next day. Yay!
 After his first day of work, the tile didn't line up in 2 corners (this should have been a big red flag!). The contractor made him take it out. After 2 more days, the tile at the door into the shower was an inch shallower than the surrounding plaster (red flag number 2!). The contractor made him take it out. He then built out the doorway to the proper dimension. The next day, the door into the shower looked horrible, the drain was a disaster, there were big gaps in several areas, and several tiles stuck out further than others. The upshot is that after almost two weeks of stop / start / undo / redo, the contractor finally decided to fire him because of his shoddy work. Unfortunately, two weeks later, we still don't have a tile guy. Sigh.

 Today, exactly one month after work was begun, we are in almost exactly the same place we were a month ago – we still need to demolish the first bathroom and install new tile. The only real progress that's been made is the work that we have done – new paint throughout (except the bathroom of course), new countertops, painted the old wood kitchen cabinets, installed all new outlets, switches, light fixtures, etc., etc. It is very discouraging and we are on the verge of firing the contractor, asking for our deposit back, and acting as our own contractor. Sigh.

 To top it off, we still have a few weeks of work to do on Rachel (install a new fridge, solar panel, associated wiring and controllers, etc., etc.) before we can begin to head south. At this rate, we may run out of time and end up having to put her "on the hard" next month, head south in Houdini for the winter, and try again next year. Sigh.

We are managing to keep our spirits up and maintain positive attitudes, partly by looking out Houdini's window at the lovely flowers Julie has planted over the years in front of the house.   We can't live in it because it's rented, but we can enjoy looking at it.

But sometimes it's been difficult as we suffer the "tiles and tribulations" of construction....

Best to all,

Mark & Julie

Update 8 September: Yesterday we decided to stick with our contractor and we now have a tile guy! He's got a great reputation and he's starting work next Monday, so we're guardedly optimistic that the apartment might be ready for it's new tenant by the end of the month.  We'll keep you posted.

22 June, 2017

Hello Rachel

Location: Deltaville, Virginia, USA

Well. Here we are again. Launching a boat. For a change. Hmm...

We got back from Vietnam and spent a few weeks in Blacksburg, tending to our house, spending time with family and getting ready to leave again. Then we headed up to Deltaville with Houdini the RV and Wanda the Honda to spend some quality time with Rachel the Catamaran. After 52 days of pretty much constant work, we launched today. And we're happy to announce that we actually stayed within our budget (just barely), despite a couple of surprises. Good thing we don't bill ourselves for our time!

 We knew the refrigerator and air conditioner didn't work. Fixed in two days. We knew the batteries were dead so we replaced them. We knew the running rigging (the ropes that control the sails) was shot, so we replaced it. We knew the whole boat needed lots of elbow grease as it had not been used for 3 years...the list goes on.
 Our friend Anna helped us with some "up high" jobs.
 Mark working on one of the rudders.
 At least we had a short commute.
 We knew the centerboard lines needed replacing. When we started doing so, we discovered several other issues that required removal of the centerboards. So we had the yard bring over the travelift and raise us from 4" to 4' off the ground so we could pull them out. Then we had to grind off all the old bottom paint, repair several places, recoat them with a special barrier coat, then apply bottom paint. This caused our launch date to slip by about two weeks.

Repaired board ready to apply barrier coat.
 All sealed up.
 And now it's time for the bottom paint.

The 25hp Honda outboard, our main engine, also wouldn't start. After spending a lot of time on it, finding and fixing a particularly tricky wiring issue, Mark gave up on it and we took it to the local outboard repair shop. Two days later we got it back running perfectly.
 Just like old times several cruising friends passed through while we were there, putting boats on shore for the summer, launching boats, and just plain stopping in to see us as they were passing through. We were envious when they sailed away, but we had some wonderful times in the screen room having cocktails, cooking on the BBQs, and socializing.
 Finally it was our turn! We launched the boat today and went for our first sail in near perfect conditions. We were able to tack the boat well, and were able to sail closer to the wind than we managed to on Rachel the Tayana. At one point, close hauled, we made 7.3 knots! Can't wait to see what she'll do on a reach.

Feelin' good!
 We have sails again.
On the dock.

We know this is all a bit technical for those of you who are non-sailors but suffice it to say that after 6 weeks in the boat yard (thank goodness we had Houdini to live in) we have made the great escape back into the world of sailing. New Rachel is happily sitting at our friends' dock waiting for us to do yet another good cleaning and take care of a few minor issues. After that, we'll take her out and do some cruising on the Bay so we can get used to each other on the water.