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Warm Weather Sailor
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Thanks Dan,

Didn't get on till this morning. Looks like I missed it. Maybe next time. My antenna crapped out on me and I've been going ashore for connections. Got a new one today. Doreen will be back in another two weeks and we'll be going to Miami and then the Bahamas. Have a safe flight home.
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 · (Edited)
Recap

I'm finally home to sunny New York, where it's a balmy 31 degrees. And based on our trip, it actually feels kinda warm because I'm not dealing with a 20 to 25 knot north wind bringing the real-feel temp to somewhere in the teens.

So, I arrived at the boat, a 2008 Beneteau 43, in Beaufort on Tuesday night around 6:00. We stowed the boat for a short time and then went on up to the marina restaurant for dinner and a few beers. It was cold. The temps were in the 30's that night when we went to sleep. When we awoke, they were in the 20's, and the docks had frozen over. I could have used skates. We peeled the shore power cord and dock lines off the dock (they were frozen there).

We thawed the lines, pulled away from the slip, and started south down the river towards Hilton Head and the Atlantic at 7:00 a.m. The tide was against us, so it was slow going. And cold. The boat has a dodger and bimini, but no enclosure or any significant protection from the elements for anything coming over the stern or from either side. So heading south-southeast down the river meant we had to bear the brunt of the strong northwest winds. Did I mention it was cold? It was, in case you were wondering. I spent the entire trip, save for the last hour or two, in longjohns, wool socks, jeans, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, full foul weather gear, hat, and ski gloves. And I felt like I underdressed. I wish I had something for my ears and something better for the back of my neck, like a scarf.

Anyway, we hit the inlet at about 10:30, and turned towards Florida. We had decent winds to start, but being a delivery and all, we motor sailed to keep the speed up. Once we got out of the bad current, the boat picked up her skirt and took off. We were making a pretty consistent 7.5 knots. As the day wore on, the winds died, but we were able to create enough apparent wind to keep the sails full. Our speed fell off a little bit, but we still were able to maintain about 7 knots, give or take, until the sun went down.

Though we saw no boats, we did see plenty of dolphin. They must have been bored with no other boats around, cause they frolicked and stayed with us for a long time. And then after they left for a short while, they came back for an encore.

As darkness approached, the wind picked up, and so did our speed. We averaged about 8+ knots for the overnight portion. We definitely had a little help from a counter-current coming off the Gulf-Stream. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an eddy, but it was helpful. The impeller on the speedo was fouled, so we were not able to calculate the amount or the specifics of the current. All we had was SOG, but the skipper advised that he doesn't get to 8+ knots as a matter of course, so I'm pretty sure we had current help. The seas started to build too, so things got a little sporty. Nothing at all approaching dangerous, or even uncomfortable, but we surfed plenty. The boat handled the conditions extremely well, and she was very well mannered. I didn't get a chance take her up wind, so I didn't get to see how she does in those types of ocean conditions. But in terms of off the wind, she handled following and quartering seas very very nicely. I estimate that we had 5 to 6 footers, with the occasional larger one, with a period of about 5 to 8 seconds.

The boat has AIS, so we were able to track ships, but she's not equipped with radar, so we definitely needed to stay alert for nav lights and such. This time of year we didn't see any boat traffic other than large commercial ships, but that didn't obviate the need to keep a good watch.

We did 4 hour watches. I had the 8 to midnight, and 4 to 8 shifts. We figured that the guy with the dog watch would have only one. My first watch was unbelievably beautiful. The night was remarkably clear, and the number of stars visible was more than I had ever seen. Then around 10:00 or so, a harvest moon started to rise, which itself was quite pretty. When it first started to appear, I wasn't sure what was going on. It came from the east, so there was no land creating a loom obviously, but the entire horizon started to glow. Before the moon breached the horizon I was beginning to wonder whether there was an invasion force on the way!

Then I got to see the sun rise on my second watch. Sunrises surely are not as dramatic as sunsets, but they are quite beautiful in their own right, and for some reason uplifting. I let the skipper sleep past 8:00 and I just enjoyed the ride, with music filling the cockpit from the ipod and coffee filling my gullet.

Considering that the weather was continuing to deteriorate, and the forecast was calling for more and more, we decided that we would head in to an inlet and go the ICW route for a day to see what happened. As I posted previously, we were shooting for Canaveral, but we were not going to make that before dark on Thursday, and the weather was looking like it might get nasty before we would reach Canaveral too. Considering how the boat was handling and that the weather wasn't all that bad, it was very VERY tempting just to keep on going. But we decided to be more cautious considering that we didn't know for sure what the weather would do, it was extremely cold, and neither of us were familiar with the inlets. We didn't want to have a situation where we would need to round a cape, deal with an unfamiliar inlet, fight bad weather, shorthanded, all in the dark.

So, Ponce Inlet it was. The cruising guide writes this inlet up as being difficult, not to be attempted in heavy weather, not to go in without local knowledge, heave to outside the harbor and wait for a local to follow in, etc. We were expecting it to be quite tricky, but it was nothing like that. The wind and seas were out of the north, so the breakwater made the water smooth as silk. There was plenty of water, and the channel was very well marked. I really am not sure what all the fuss was about. I could see the entrance being somewhat nasty in a strong easterly, but it was pretty straightforward.

From there we went to the New Smyrna City Marina. They were very nice and the facilities were great too. After cleaning up, inflating the dink and testing the ouboard (owner's first time with both, as they were recently purchased), we cleaned up and headed in to town. There's not much there, but with help from Cam, we got a recommendation to try McKenna's on South Dixie. So we walked. And walked. And walked. That was a hike, but it was good to get the exercise. And though it still was cold (in Florida for goodness sake!), it wasn't nearly as bad ashore as it was at sea of course. The restaurant was fine. Your prototypical sports bar. Not 4 star food, but it did the trick for what we needed -- hot food and cold beer.

We left at first light the next day and headed south on the ICW. The water was a little thin, but we never got below 8 feet. The skipper was a bit nervous because the Waterway Guide puts the fear of death in you about shoaling, but we never touched the bottom. I had never been in the ICW, so I was excited for the whole thing, just to see the sights. For the first part of the day it was cool. We saw dolphin, pelicans, cranes, and some interesting boats (some floating, some aground and some sunk).

We ended the day glad we were inside, but we weren't so sure when we started out. Obviously we didn't KNOW what the conditions were like on the outside, but it was a mill pond in the ICW when we started, with very light winds. We were beginning to wonder if the forecasts had blown it again and if we had made a big mistake coming in at Ponce and losing all that time. But as the day wore on, it became apparent that the weather predictions were not wrong, just early. By midday we had very strong winds out of the north/northeast. We had cleaned the impeller the night before, so we had a sense of true wind, which had hit 31 in one of the gusts, and it was consistently around 25. Considering what we saw before we came in, and considering that there now was some east in the wind, I suspect the seas would have mounted and it would have started to get a bit more challenging out there. Considering that there were just two of us (and it was cold), I'm glad we went inside.

Back to the ICW, the channel got narrow in a couple of places, but we managed to stay inside and we had plenty of water. But then we got to Melbourne, our planned stop for the night. The entrance to the harbor got very shallow, and at one point we saw only 5 feet on the depth sounder, which should have meant we were aground (drawing 5'6"), but we didn't. Obviously the sounder was off, or we got a false reading, or something. We made it through and tied up to the marina with no drama. We had a great meal at the Chart House (right next to the marina), and then had a few nightcaps at the marina bar (Ichabod's).

We were off again the next morning at first light, and again saw very shallow water at the entrance to the harbor, but we made it out OK. Then it was pretty much a straight line down to Ft. Pierce, our planned stop and my place of departure. We originally had hoped to make it to West Palm, but having to spend so much time on the inside, plane schedules, family at home, etc., meant that we were going to come up a little short.

Something I should note that might be useful to others. The Navionics charts used on the Raymarine E series plotters were remarkably accurate for the ICW. To the foot. Even when we zoomed in beyond the range for which the charts were made, we were spot on. I had posted about traveling parts of the ICW at night. We decided not to do so because we both were unfamiliar with the run, and it was cold. Next time, however, with the Navionics charts I would do it, at least for this stretch. Just a tidbit for others that might be in a similar situation.

It wasn't until just before the north bridge in Ft. Pierce that the temperature started to rise. Finally, I was able to discard my foul weather gear and longjohns. I still had on jeans and a sweatshirt, but that's a far cry from the arctic apparel I had sported for the better part of the trip!

We got the boat tied up at the Fort Pierce City Marina, where the staff was very helpful and courteous. That's a great little harbor. The water is that Florida green, there are a number of bars and restaurants right there on the water, and you're right in the center of town while being dockside. I'm sure many already know this quite well, but I didn't. Ft. Pierce definitely will be a stop for us when we take some time to head down the ICW on our boat.

By now, the skipper's wife surely has arrived, and they are on their way to West Palm on the outside where they will have some solar panels installed. And then they wait for a window to cross the stream and head over to the Bahamas. Then to the Caribbean. And then, they are heading across the pond to Spain (where the owner was raised), and then to the Med for some deep water cruising. They actually are using their trip to raise money for a charity that builds wells in Africa (www.sailforwater.com). I can't tell you how jealous I am.

So that's that. We didn't have anything happen worthy of a Cruising World article, but it was good fun and good experience heading down from SC to Florida in mid January. Oh, and one other thing -- it was really cold!
 

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Warm Weather Sailor
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If you had come into Vero (aka Velcro Beach) you'd still be here Daniel, nobody ever leaves this place, it's like a black hole just sucks you in, nothing like free bus service, free water, good laundry, big liquor store and a West marine to keep all these world circumnavigators right here on a mooring. :) For those that don't live on a liquid diet there's a Publix nearby too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
If you had come into Vero (aka Velcro Beach) you'd still be here Daniel, nobody ever leaves this place, it's like a black hole just sucks you in, nothing like free bus service, free water, good laundry, big liquor store and a West marine to keep all these world circumnavigators right here on a mooring. :) For those that don't live on a liquid diet there's a Publix nearby too.
Well, I'm flying down to visit my parents in West Palm Beach in late February, so if you're still "stuck" there, let me know and maybe I'll drive up with one of those doohickies you use to free aggressive velcro. ;)
 

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Rick stopped by today to say hello.. it's always nice to meet another sailnetter! I keep my burgee up on our flag halyard, just in case.
 
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