(Journal entries from October 30 to November 10.)
Joyner’s Marina in Carolina Beach, NC had some good memories for me, Jeanne and I stayed there for a week in 2015 waiting for a tropical storm to pass. So I stopped there again Friday afternoon after a harrowing day, bouncing off the bottom twice on shoaling in the waterway. Boats were going aground ahead and behind me and I didn’t want to be one of them. Pumped in some diesel and stayed for the night at the fuel dock – which isn’t the best spot, boat wakes rocked me until late. The blog got another post entered but it took until midnight with the slow WiFi connection. I’ve got to edit my entries better <ha!>, the post had almost five thousand words in it. I won’t have any readers. It’s like anything else you make yourself: You fall in love with it and can’t chop away like a real editor would.
This morning I left Joyner’s and ended up in Southport, NC in a cove where the ICW joins the Cape Fear River – where I’ll head out into the Atlantic tomorrow if the forecast allows. I hope to get to Charleston, SC by the next day and, if conditions are good enough, I’ll extend the trip as far as Florida going in at St. Marys near Fernandina. My other plan is to get the boat into a safe and secure boat yard for a couple of weeks so I can go home for Thanksgiving.
This evening I had dinner at Fishy Fishy’s about fifty feet off my boat’s stern. While I was sitting at the bar a fellow sitting next to me asked if that was my boat. “Yes.” And the stories started. Ice-breaker, that’s my boat. Well Dale and his wife Terry were interesting, being boaters themselves and he has a most interesting career, soon to end in retirement. Another couple joined in and mentioned boaters they had met: “Vermonters”,
“Do you know them? ”
It’s the same everywhere I go.
(Offshore 10/31 – 11/2)
The forecast was for winds NE 15-20 knots Monday increasing a bit overnight and then falling off on Tuesday near the Georgia and Florida border. I went for it, leaving Southport, NC out the Cape Fear Inlet on a course (210°M) set for St. Marys Inlet 250 miles away. As predicted the wind came up behind me (060°M) and I was able to rig the jib out on a pole and the double-reefed main hard on a preventer line to starboard, wing on wing.
That sail configuration is one of the slowest and most dangerous but I had made it very tight and it stayed secure even when Walkabout rolled so heavily that the boom dipped into the water. Not a pleasant ride and all I could do was sit, tied in the cockpit day and night eating crackers. I sailed that way for over a hundred miles. With 94 miles to go Tuesday evening I rolled the jib up and had to center and harden the main to slow the boat down to a crawl so we would get to St. Marys Entrance channel after sunrise. That didn’t work as planned and I had to drive up the fairway in the predawn dark. Daybreak doesn’t come until seven-thirty it’s so far to the West. No real problem, I only passed two outbound shrimp trawlers as I felt my way in and they went close to the channel’s edge. Probably had to dodge sailboats before. Inside, much relieved, I got the mainsail down and motored up the winding St. Marys River for a couple miles, and, not finding the marina there open, anchored in the river alongside some other “vessels”. Then it was a quick, much needed breakfast and a nap that lasted well into the afternoon.
St. Marys village is a little tourist town with a nicely developed waterfront, parks and docks, uncluttered streets with small shops and restaurants. I’ll try one of the latter tonight. To the north of town is a U.S. Navy submarine base to which the town owes a lot of its prosperity. I didn’t meet any submariners yesterday on my walk to a (in)convenience store but then again the Navy isn’t like it was when I was a sailor back in the sixties. My biggest gripe is the working uniform they have to wear, kind of a dappled blue camouflage getup. I can see camo on soldiers or marines but not on sailors, the uniform has absolutely no class. We used to have bell bottom blue jeans and chambray shirts that you could iron a crease into and look sharp; the more they faded the sharper they looked. Then again Navy ships don’t look like the ships I knew: multi-hulled monsters built for speed and warships that look all the world like Civil War ironclads, but faster. I have no idea whom we intend to fight on the seas but we are ready. Just don’t fall overboard sailor in that sea-colored camo.
Since I’m leaving in the morning heading for Jacksonville I took an hour, two as it turned out, to go to the St. Marys Submarine Museum. Somewhat eclectic, the museum has collected a little of everything, it’s an admirable volunteer effort. A lot of history is covered inside their small brick building, on the first floor there is a working periscope that you can focus and turn to see the harbor over the rooftops, a mock submarine helm with real steering yolks, and case after display case of artifacts from the inception of sub-surface vessels up to WWII. Upstairs is devoted to the modern Navy’s nuclear powered subs with displays of models and an endless variety of submariner mementos. Veterans who had served in the submarine service now give their time as guides for visitors and enjoy the job. Having, almost, gone in that direction when I joined the Navy I can appreciate their enthusiasm.
Motoring out of St. Marys this morning, retracing my inbound track, I veered South passing the Fernandina Municipal Marina. It was closed due to storm damage and the town is having trouble figuring out how to reopen it, that’s why I went to St. Marys in the first place. The marina was pretty beat up from what I could see, the storm left tilted docks and torn rooftops. I counted seven boats tossed up on shore, one reduced to a pitiful pile of flattened fiberglass. Hurricane Matthew’s eye churned up the coast passing right overhead at Fernandina.
Continuing along the waterway the current increased and by lunch time Walkabout was traveling at the respectable speed of seven knots. The drawbridge at Sisters Creek has been replaced with a high fixed bridge so there was no delay there. The St. John River leads through Jacksonville, Florida and has two lift bridges side by side. One, a railroad bridge, is usually left open but you have to call to have the highway bridge raised for you. I called the bridge on the VHF radio three times before getting a response. That was a relief because the river’s current was intense dragging my boat closer and closer to the span. I had telephoned a marina in Jacksonville two days earlier asking if I could stay there a day or two but they had shoaling near their docks from storm surge and were dredging, so when I passed under the great blue lift bridge doing eight knots I decided not to try to stay there but instead go on to Green Cove Springs.
All I knew about the Green Coast Marina was it is a do-it-yourself boatyard where you can leave a boat in relative safety. What I didn’t know was it is located in an abandoned naval shipyard, defunct for forty years. The marina occupies two of the ten quarter-mile-long concrete docks and a little adjacent acreage to store boats on dry land. The water between the docks is where I was supposed to find mooring balls but my charts showed shallow depth. The wind had been picking up all afternoon and I had the jib out for extra power.
Approaching the row of old piers rain started to pour down and the wind picked up to twenty, then twenty-five knots, visibility was nil. It was only half an hour from sunset and I couldn’t spot the mooring balls. I called the marina on the radio but it had closed for the night. One fellow on a boat responded and gave me directions, bless him. With my binoculars I saw a line of white balls and moored boats between the huge piers and, getting closer, let the wind push me in to them. The depth sounder went up until there was only a foot of water under the keel. I picked the ball farthest out and after three approaches and two misses I got a line on it. What a day!
As I mentioned earlier I am interrupting my trip. I decided to take a break and go home for Thanksgiving, a three week sojourn to get my head back together and see Jeanne who is entirely in agreement. I’ll take a train on Tuesday and be in Rutland Wednesday evening. It only involves a taxi ride to the station and train fare is far less than a flight. It won’t be comfortable but I’m used to that. I’ll pack sandwiches and water.
I paid for one month on the mooring here so when I return from Vermont I will have a week or so to get Walkabout ready for her next move.
Tomorrow I’ll catch a train in Palatka, FL. The station is thirty miles south of here. I’m not that comfortable leaving Walkabout out on a mooring but I’ve done all I can to prepare her, chafing gear is in place, the canvas is down and everything inside and out is secure if there’s a blow. Theft is a worry and there isn’t much one can do about it other than lock things up. The marina is in a remote place though and it’s well patrolled by police, I saw them last night when I took a walk. I also found a better place to store the dinghy, in back of a boat shop in the underbrush. I just didn’t like the idea of it being tossed around next to the old pier and get punctured. So I’m ready to get back to Vermont even if it’s cold as hell there. I’ll be back on the boat for the rest of winter in the tropics.
When I’m home I will also try to straighten out my server, Jeanne tells me no one can read the blog.
Mr. Barron, an eighty year old sailor who has been living aboard his sailboat for many, many years drove me down to the Palatka train station Tuesday to catch Amtrak’s Silver Meteor that runs from Miami to New York. Barron has a one-man ride service, a very handy thing for the people at Green Coast Marina and I was grateful and entertained.
I rode all day and night on that speeding train blissfully ignorant of election day horrors and was too tired to feel the pain Wednesday. I made it home, and that is enough for the moment.
This morning I pounded my computer keys trying to solve the server problem and was successful, finally, and now I can go on to more pressing things.