On the watery road again, and much more excitement than we wanted

After 2 1/2 months at Rivers Edge Marina, we were finally going to move again. St. Augustine was awesome, and we made a lot of new friends, but we were itching to go. Thursday was the day, but the wind was blowing hard out of the south, making it impossible to get out of our slip without running aground. So we left Friday, and even that was a challenge. Anya reversed Ronya out of the slip, but the current pushed us straight back towards other docked boats. Fortunately we had our friends from the Barcelona Explorer on the dock, and along with a wonderful wave-off, we got some help and support.

Goodbye St. Augustine!

They were dredging the Matanzas River where we ran aground on our way north (sandbar party), so we got some more nice adrenaline when the dredging barge told us to follow the pilot right across the sandbar where we had been aground. We didn’t immediately follow (traumatized), but when we gave in and did, there were 2 hearts pounding heavily!

We decided to spent that night at a marina, as where we could get to Friday had no decent anchorages. We went to Palm Coast Marina, a great choice! Very friendly, accommodating and affordable, with wonderful facilities. And a friendly wild duck on our pier, which happily ate some scrap bread we had on board, the whole time eyeing suspiciously the 2 black cats circeling them :-).

Saturday we left the dock fairly early to make our way down to New Smyrna Beach. We had decided to anchor at our anchorage from the way north, and again it proved to be fine, minus the 25 knot north winds that were blowing. The night was a bit rough, but we were ready to go again at 6:30 am to get 60 miles to Cocoa.

We made good progress and arrived in Cocoa by 3 pm, and found a nice anchorage just south of the bridge. After some boat work we settled down for a nice dinner, a couple of beers and went to bed early. At around midnight, there were loud thumps against our hull, and Rob went to see what was up. It was a guy on a kayak, motioning that the boat right next to us was on fire, and did we know if anyone was on board there? Rob roused me, and a nightmare enfolded. When I came up on deck, the sailboat 50 feet north of us was burning, and the first thing I thought was “is anybody on board or in the water” and the second thing was “unless they are in the water there is nothing we can do”. There was a helicopter overhead scanning the water with a searchlight, but nobody was in the water. We brought out our own searchlight, but could see nobody in the water or on the burning boat. There was a frantic call on the VHF that someone was on the bow of the burning boat, but even with binoculars there was nobody to be seen there. Then we realized we were in danger too, because if the boat exploded or the wind shifted, we would be in the immediate aftermath. So we raised our anchor and went south, away from the blazing boat. We dropped our anchor another 500 feet away and all we could do was watch as somebody’s “house” went down.

We waited until 2 am and the fire was out (at 1:45 finally a fire boat arrived, before it was only Boat US circling, and lots of law enforcement on shore half a mile away) before trying to go back to sleep, but of course the rest of the night we worried about arsonists and fire escapes.

The next morning, we saw the boat owner pull up to the marker on his dinghy. The marker was all that was left. After some circling around, he came over to us. Turned out he was a fairly old guy, and after asking us if we had seen anything, he started telling us about submarines that had been pulling up under his boat, divers that had been cleaning the bottom of his boat because they were going to steal it and drilling holes into his hull while they were frying chicken, and people that had been going on to his boat and drinking his beer for days, like the night before when they shot at him while he was on the boat north of his, and this is why he shot a flare gun at them (on his boat) and reported one of those people on his bow begging for help (there was nobody on his bow). As sorry as we felt for the crazy guy for losing his house, we were just so happy nobody got hurt and we got away before this fire could reach us. Go figure – there is one boat fire in the ICW and we are anchored right next to it.

That day (yesterday) we pulled into Anchorage Marina in Melbourne, and had Ronya hauled for bottom painting and lots of extra work which we are doing. We were both still shaken by lack of sleep and the crazy fire night, but Rob did a wonderful job of backing Ronya onto the travel lift. We moved everything we would need off the boat (you would not believe how much sh… you need to take with you for the cats), and up Ronya went for much-needed maintenance on the hull!

Ronya going dry

We took an Uber XL to our AirBnB across the causeway and moved in, cool place with a yard for the cats. Dinner, and finally sleep without fires, scares and worries!

St. Augustine Life

We have now been at Rivers Edge Marine up the San Sebastian River in St. Augustine for a good 2 weeks. It is a nice marina with a floating dock, and everybody is very friendly. We have bicycles, so we can get everywhere fairly easily, and downtown St. Augie is only a 5 minute bike ride away.

Hurricane Dorian’s approach was a tense time, and until the storm passed we did not know if it was going to hit us or not, so we prepared accordingly. We prepped, stripped, battened, duck taped and double lined Ronya, took down the genoa, and found a place to put the dinghy in the garage of someone we mat at the marina. Ronya looked naked, and we felt sad leaving our home the next morning to fend for herself.

Our friend Elena from Key Largo had generously offered us her house in Jacksonville to stay during the storm, and we gladly accepted. We rented the last minivan in St. Augustine and put everything valuable that was movable into the van. Loaded up with our watermaker, sewing machine, freezer, clothing, expensive spare parts, our bimini top so Anya could fix it on the sewing machine, and things we wanted to save, we had no idea we still have so many things we can load up a minivan and still have stuff left on the boat! Last came the cats in their carriers, and off we went to play house for 2 nights. The house has a small back yard, and the cats loved it. So much grass to chew on!

Fortunately for Florida, Hurricane Dorian passed us without much incident, and when we came back to the boat everything was fine. Undoing the preps was much faster, but of course we left some things prepped, storm season is not over. Two days left on the rental car, so a road trip to Wauchula to see Autumn and John was in order! We got to see the production of their legendary Stream2Sea products right at their location, and spent a wonderful time with them at their beautiful little farm with all their animals in Wauchula.

Autumn and John finishing a batch of Leave-in-Conditioner at Stream2Sea

Back in St. Augie, we settled in to watch the next storm approaching, but that one turned away without causing much apprehension. Anya is helping Autumn reorganize her backoffice, and Rob is still trying to find a job, we do have another 6 weeks here in the slow storm season. Meanwhile we are making trips on our bicycles to see some of the cool stuff in St. Augie, like the beaches!

Saint Augustine Beach
People can drive right onto the beach here, a new concept for a European Keys girl 😉

Watching Dorian very closely

So, we come up from the Keys to be safer from hurricanes, and the first one we have looks like it will miss the Keys and come to where we are (we are still in St. Augustine). The Municipal Marina we are in is urging everybody out (it really is not protected at all), and fortunately we already have our new marina lined up, which is up the San Sebastian River and much more protected. Will Ronya be safe there if the hurricane hits St. Augustine directly? Probably not, but we won’t be on the boat in that case.

Either way, right now it looks like a lot of storm prep no matter what happens: take down the bimini top and the genoa, possibly take down the solar panels, deflate the dinghy and put it down below, remove everything from the cockpit, tie down the helm, double tie all the lines, and try to get that last triangle of our furling mainsail into the mast. There is lots of good news though, especially compared to Irma: We have no outside potted plants and no outside furniture to put away. We don’t have to deal with hurricane shutters. We already have a generator and the diesel to run it. We don’t have to fill buckets or bathtubs, because we have 80 gallons of freshwater in our tanks. We don’t have a freezer we need to eat everything out of (just a tiny fridge, about 1/10 of the size of a normal household fridge, but we have solar if its up and a generator to keep the beer and cheese cold). We are always provisioned for 2 weeks anyhow. Red wine doesn’t need refrigeration. And most of the stores here are already out of water (which we don’t need), but not out of beer :-).

Apparently tomorrow night the path of Dorian will be somewhat locked in, and then we will know to what extent we need to prep. We are really lucky with the timing though, tomorrow morning we move to a protected anchorage!

The way to St. Augustine – a different kind of sandbar party

We took our time leaving our New Smyrna Beach anchorage, as we were not in a rush and only going 35 miles that day. The ICW is very pretty there with lots of “nature”, but the channel is still too skinny to sail.

ICW north of New Smyrna Beach

With some following current we motored at around 6 knots towards our next anchorage, a small inlet by an abandoned cement factory. When we got there, we decided that the spot may be too narrow and shallow for us, so we kept going, it was only 3 pm. We passed 2 marinas and still went on, heading for a recommended anchorage about 15 miles south of St Augustine, in the Matanzas River by Fort Matanzas. As we rounded the bend in the river, the green marker buoys were suddenly on our left (they were supposed to be on our right), but the GPS showed 8 feet of depth, so we headed towards shore where the markers were. Turns out there was an unmarked sand bank between us and the markers, and suddenly we were hard aground on the sandbar in 2.5 feet of depth. The tide was still going down, so we had no hopes of getting off of there fast. A call to St Augustine Sea Tow gave us no more hope, as they told us the best thing to do was to wait for high tide, which was going to be at 2 am. We hoped that we would get enough depth by 10 pm to get off, but of course by then it would be dark. Rob jumped off the back of the boat with a life vest on and a line tied around his waist, to walk around the sandbar and find out which way would be best to get off of it:

Rob is pointing out the deeper water after a walking inspection

Then Anya made dinner, since we had to spend at least 4 hours waiting, and we enjoyed a “sunset on the sandbar”. At about 9:30 pm (it was really dark) we could feel the boat moving, so we started her up and with a little persuasion from the engine we were off! Thankfully our floodlight was fully charged, so we could see where we were going and follow the markers this time… We decided not to go into the anchorage at Fort Matanzas, as we were still quite shaken and not sure we wanted to risk another sandbar party in the dark, so we kept going towards St Augustine, slowly following the markers in the dark. Not our most fun time on the water! There were a few other marked anchorages we tried to get into, but they all proved too shallow for us, so we ended up going most of the night until we got just south of St Augustine to a deep anchorage. There were quite a few boats in there and most of them were not lit, so we anchored on the outside towards the channel in 35 feet of water. At 2 am we were finally anchored, and instead of a 6 hour 35 mile run we ended up with a 14 hour 60 mile run, almost half of it groping around in the dark in a skinny channel, praying not to run aground again.. But we were afloat, safe, and anchored, and a cold beer never tasted so good!

Since we were so close to the channel, we decided to keep a night watch, and Rob got to go to sleep at 3 am with Anya on deck. At 5 it started getting light, and Anya started to relax too, dozing off in the cockpit at 5:30 am. After a few hours of sleep and a big breakfast, we continued north into St Augustine, and towards the Municipal Marina where we had made a reservation. We were in by noon, so we had the rest of the day to explore St Augustine!

Arrived in St Augie!

We walked around the historic area and really liked the place, as touristy as it may be. We figured we could stay here for hurricane season if we found a decent protected marina, so we started looking.

The next day (Friday August 23) we decided to walk to the “Sailors Exchange”, a consignment place for sailing. We found a few odds and ends we needed, but most importantly got some great info on recommended marinas and used bicycles. We put the marinas on our research list, but the bicycles didn’t work out, so we ended up walking 4 miles to the Walmart to get some cheap ones there. We found two very decent $100 bikes there that we could use if stayed here or throw on the boat if we were going to motor further north.

On the weekend, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos, an old fort built in 1672, a very interesting tourist spot! 🙂 We were very proud to find a depiction of “our sandbar party” marked by an arrow displayed on a steel plaque!

Our sandbar is in the channel directly west of Fort Mantanzas

Researching marinas proved difficult, as they all close early on Fridays and we thought Monday was a holiday (we were off by a week, although August 26 was National Heroes’ Day as well as National Dog Day, which included neither us nor our cats). So Tuesday we were at it again, now with tropical storm / hurricane Dorian headed our way forecasted to be here in 5 days. We called several marinas from Daytona to Brunswick Georgia, but they were all full, and we started to get a bit nervous with a storm coming and nowhere protected to go to. Then Anya found the Rivers Edge Marina, all the way up the San Sebastian River in St Augustine, and they had 1 dockage spot left! We hopped on our bikes to check them out, and they turned out to be our perfect spot and have the nicest dockmaster Paul. We booked it on the spot, and now have a protected home port in St Augustine to spend the storm season before we head over to the Bahamas. With “Dorian” prognosed to be “only” a tropical storm, we should be fine at Rivers Edge Marina, and if we may need it later in the season, there is a marina across the river where we can get a haul-out if we act fast enough ;-).

Very protected!

Now on to find jobs, since this is a tourist town we hope we can find something for 2 months that we can ride to on our bicycles. There is a job opening for an actor on the ghost tour, and Anya thinks it would be perfect for Rob!

Moving on up the ICW

After a quiet night at anchor in Fort Pierce Saturday night we got up early and the water was like a sheet of glass, no wind, so we headed up the Intracoastal Waterway towards Melbourne. We had been motor sailing since we left Key Largo using the little wind we had and the effect of the Gulf Stream but no wind meant motoring. This was going to be a special stop for Rob completing the circle from Melbourne Australia to Melbourne Florida. We had heard how beautiful the Intracoastal Waterway is, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We had to motor due to skinny water on both sides, but we loved looking at all the small beachy islands on either side of us. Later in the morning, we started seeing hundreds of Sunday afternoon boaters all around us and in the waterway, and that really kept us on our toes!

As we got closer to Melbourne, we decided to pull into a marina there, to give the cats and us a land-break after 5 days non-stop on the boat. We found a reasonably priced one that was close to the historic district of Melbourne, called in and made it there by 4 pm. Since we had to diesel up, we were assigned a slip right next to the fuel dock, a one-stop-shop! The Melbourne Harbour Marina is a bit run-down, but everybody is very nice there, and we enjoyed our showers without caring how old they were ;-).

After doing laundry, we set out to explore Melbourne. One of the strongest selling points for this marina was a brewery within walking distance, so of course we headed there first. The Hell ‘n Bells Brewery has great beers, and we got some food there as well. Afterwards we walked through the historic district, which is very pretty. A very quiet town with many restaurants closed Sunday and Monday.

“Captain Melbourne” closes the circle

We had decided to spend another night in this marina, after all there was another brewery within walking distance, and a Publix 2 miles away (also walking distance for us). This was also a much needed break for the cats, and Wilson was on the dock immediately. She is smart and always finds her way back, so we just let her roam. Sushi likes to stay on the boat, but she will go for a walk with Anya if she carries her off the boat!

We spent all day Monday walking around all over Melbourne, and had a blast. Happy hour at Quarters

Brewing was great, and some locals recommended a seafood eatery in an old gas station for dinner. It turned out to be the highest end fast food we had ever eaten – Rock Shrimp, Scallops, corn, broccoli, garlic bread, red potatoes and a spicy garlic sauce to die for. The food had to be ordered at a counter inside, and then you had to sit outside at a picnic table to eat it. There were flies everywhere, but we did like the locals and covered up our food with a paper towel in between bites, and that worked really well!

Bellies full, we headed back to the marina and stopped for a cocktail at their own restaurant. There we met some nice people from Big Pine Key (go figure).

A really early start Tuesday took us back into the ICW for a long leg to get us to New Smyrna Beach. Since the only anchorage on the way is in Mosquito Lagoon (and they warn you that the name is true), we did not want to stop there. Our first leg would have given us the opportunity to sail a ways, but the wind was literally 0.5 knots. So motoring again :-(. After about 5 hours we were heading for Haulover Canal. This is a nature reserve with tons of wildlife, but the waters are much too shallow for us outside the skinny channel. Of course the wind picked up to 15 knots, and there was no way to sail!

There were dolphins and manatees all around us all the way to New Smyrna Beach. Right before we got there, we found a nice anchorage right before the bridge, and settled in after 11 hours of motoring up the ICW. All cats on deck!

The boat is not moving forward, so Sushi is.

Headed North, steadily

After the extra unwanted day in Key Biscayne due to the weather, we set out Friday morning August 16 early in the morning. We decided not to be so over-cautious, and instead listen to the weather report after we left (knowing we could always go back). It sounded ok, so we headed back out into the Gulf Stream to see if we could make it to Lake Worth Inlet / Palm Beach. Including the trips in and out of the inlets that would be about 70 nautical miles, but we were hoping to make it in about 10-12 hours with the help of the Gulf Stream pushing us. And we made it by 7 pm Friday night!

We barely escaped a thunderstorm right at the inlet which made us scramble to reef the mainsail (frantic moments included when the sail would not furl again and the winds were getting over 20 knots – operator error of course).

When we came into the inlet and went to the place the 2019 Waterways Guide told us there would be an anchorage, we found a mooring field. That was awesome until we realized all the mooring balls were private! We ended up at the end of the mooring field anchoring, right before the next storm came through, which made for a very interesting sunset scenario:

We set off early again this morning (Saturday August 17) to make it to Fort Pierce Inlet. The weather was stellar, just not for sailing (4 knot winds). We motorsailed (more for stability than speed) on the last edge of the Gulf Stream, got our 45 miles in, and furled with no problemd at the entance to the inlet. We had read that this was one of the easiest inlets due to its wideness, so we decided to go in against the tide coming out, but OMG – what a ride! We did make it in safely and headed for the anchorage. The water in the anchorage was quite skinny, and yes – we ran aground. Luckily we were on mud, the wind blew us off in 25 minutes although the tide was still going out, and we ended up anchoring safely. Bad thunderstorms all around us as soon as we anchored, but all we got was wind and a few raindrops (and cooler air).

Every time we end our day there is a new adrenaline-infused challenge and learning curve, but we are loving it!

There is still no really bad weather (“hu…e”) forecasted to build in the Atlantic for the next 5 days (and having gone through Irma we are watching VERY closely), and we are now in the territory of semi-affordable haul-outs, so we feel reasonable safe, comfortabe, and not rushed. Tomorrow we will be going up the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) for about 4 days until we get to St.Augustine, where we will stop, finally get off the boat (boat fever is slowly kicking in) and explore!

Key Biscayne

Last night Wilson was watching closely through the galley porthole to see what Anya was making for dinner:

Not wanting to generate any more heat in the cabin (it was already 92 F), we decided to make dinner on our new Magma grill, a wonderful gift from our friends Amanda and Lee. So Anya put together the sourdough bread pizza baguettes in the galley and then Rob grilled them on the BBQ. Accompanied by a nice salad, this was a perfect relaxed dinner:

Unfortunately the bottom of the bread ended up very “blackened” as we do not have full control over the grill yet, so the black needed to be scraped off by Anya, which made Rob believe that this was a special European recipe :-).

With a cold beer in hand, we stared at the Miami skyline for quite awhile.

When we went to bed we found out that the mosquitos and no-see-ums had found us again, and lots of them! It was a very uncomfortable night, and early in the morning we were both happy to get up and go!

We turned on the weather forecast, and were told that there would be frequent thunderstorms today with winds gusting up to 50 knots, so we didn’t feel safe going out into the Gulf Stream , and decided to go tomorrow with a better forecast. And since we couldn’t find a good anchorage oceanside between where we were and 40 miles north (to flee into if we got hit by a storm), we grudgingly decided to wait it out – not what we were planning on, but better safe than sorry… If we keep up this pace, we might make it to Charleston by the end of next month 😉

We did some good projects on the boat like setting up our sunsail bungees, servicing the winches, and inspecting and tightening some hoses. A big thunderstorm rolled through, but only had 27 knots of wind. At the end, we could have gone, but we are travelling with our home that has everything we own on it, so we are extra careful…