All our launch tasks are complete. Strathspey is definitely ready to sail and, if we stay any longer at Green Cove Springs, there will be time on our hands to start contemplating new projects. So we cast off at slack tide early Thursday morning. Sunny and warm, it’s an easy punt downstream on the fast-flowing St John’s River in Northern Florida. Today is the last day that the Jacksonville FEC railway bridge is open for an entire week and we need to pass through that bridge plus the Jacksonville Main Street bridge before we can breath easier. Both bridges are suspect these days; the railway bridge can shut down at a moment’s notice mostly because it is old technology but often it’s due to a lot more of ‘just because’. The Main Street Bridge often has construction going on that seems to be a good excuse for the bridge tender to ask cruisers to circle above the bridge for an hour or more. We’re happy that each of these bridge openings works in our favour today and we make it an early day with a sharp right through a wide bed of crab pots to anchor behind Exchange Island just past Jacksonville. Here, it’s urban yet peaceful with birds swooping and calling and dolphins arcing in and out of the shallow water.
We have a quiet night despite my restlessness (I’m always antsy our first anchoring out after months ashore) and we up-anchor in 8 degrees Celsius by 7:30 am and catch the fast flowing ebb tide of the St John’s River all the way down to our right hand turn onto the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Immediately, we see the 25-foot depths of the St John’s River give way to the shallow 8-12 foot depths prevalent in the ICW. It’s a cold morning with us bundled up in polar fleeces, foul weather gear, toques and gloves but by noon the temps have risen to 17 Celsius and, in the strong afternoon sun, we slowly discard layer after layer. By 3 pm we’ve motored through the Bridge of Lions at St Augustine and snagged a mooring ball in front of the oldest city in North America.
St Augustine is one of our favourite cities – great walking, good pubs, excellent restaurants and lots of good mojo going on. Our Honda outboard carburetor is toasted for the second season in a row so, rather than rowing our dinghy into shore against a three-knot current, we call the marina launch and they pick us up at 4 pm but warn us that the last launch back to the boats is at 6 pm. Ashore, we have quick showers, download emails and have a surprise encounter and nice chat with Tom, Tracy and Eva (the ‘Fishers’ from s/v Sheila at Trident Yacht Club). With 45 minutes to spare and looking for a warm place to wait for our 6 pm shuttle home to Strathspey, we stroll across the road to A1A Pub for one of their home brews. We nab two stools at the end of the bar counter and I put our neatly folded wet towels out of the way on the counter against the wall. Shortly after, someone comes over and says ‘I have a bet on…. I say you are cruisers but my husband says you are just sloppy drinkers’. It dawns on me that she is referring to our towels and we laugh and confess to being cruisers. Too funny – where else would you pop into a pub with wet towels? We catch the 6 pm launch home to Strathspey and, in the face of another cold night, we start our diesel Espar heater and settle in for the night. We’re never very happy on a mooring ball here in St Augustine; we’re a lightweight racer/cruiser so when the current picks up through here, Strathspey wants to surge forward on the current’s lift but is held back by the mooring ball so, often, we end up with that stupid ball bouncing underneath our hull keeping us awake all night. This time, after a tip from our launch driver, we pull the ball up on a short leash over our anchor roller and it works just fine until 4:30 am when the line we attached to the mooring ball starts shifting back and forth against our anchor making it bang back and forth. We try to ignore this but finally cry uncle around 6 am and get Strathspey ready to cast off and head further South.
It’s a long, cold day from St. Augustine down to New Symrna Beach where we make a left turn and slowly nose our way into seven feet of water about 100 feet East of the ICW channel. Onshore, we can see the flickering light of a campfire; it’s Saturday night and the little spoil islands up and down the Florida ICW are prime for families camping and fishing each weekend. Sunday morning, we think ‘Ah yes, we’re in the South finally!’ It’s 25 Celsius and sunny with just a hint of breeze to keep us pleasantly cool as we motor another 60 nautical miles South to Eau Gallie. Another long day, but this time when we secure our anchor, it’s a lovely warm evening and we sit out in the cockpit enjoying a glass of wine until well after sunset.
I make a reservation at Vero Beach Municipal Marina for Monday night. This is a popular place so I’ve made this reservation over a week ago and we’re glad I did as we motor south against 20-knot winds on the nose. It’s a warm South wind but when it gusts over 20 knots, we grimace as we note that Strathspey is now plodding along at less than five knots (at times 4.7 knots!). We normally can hoover along at almost 7 knots so its obvious that this wind is one to be reckoned with. We pull into Vero Beach at 1:30 pm and, after refueling, pumping out, filling our water tanks and picking up four parcels we’ve had shipped here, we are finally swinging on a mooring ball with new neighbours, s/v Cutting Class from Mystic, Connecticut.
Each time we make this 4 ½ day trip between Green Cove Springs and Vero Beach, we ask each other why we don’t just leave Strathspey at a marina further south for the summer. It’s not a particularly interesting section of the ICW between here and Green Cove Springs and once we enter the Indian River section it’s just downright tedious; long stretches of straight, wide-open water where, if we stray off the dredged channel, Strathspey’s low water alarm beeps at us as we guide the boat back onto the straight and narrow.
So here at Vero Beach, now that we’re close to good marine supply stores we take the time to do all necessary maintenance before we leave the USA. Number one on the list of high priorities, as usual, is Strathspey’s power management. In fact, power management is one of Blair’s biggest challenges here on the boat. In a day, we typically use 90-100 Amp hours, which means that we can go approximately four days before our four 6-Volt batteries are completely flat. If we’re not actually sailing with our instruments and we’re just running our fridge and a few lights, then our solar panels easily meet our demands. If we’re sailing with the chart plotter and autopilot on, we suck up that 100 Amp hours easily.
We have three battery charging sources here on Strathspey; a 100-Amp battery charger that uses an AC plug into shore (that’s the easy one but only good if we are tied to a dock), four 85 Watt solar panels (also good but only if it’s a sunny day) and an 125 Amp alternator on our Yanmar engine (good only if we are running the engine). Each of these sources charges our batteries and each source has a regulator that determines how much charge the batteries need. On our last day of motoring down to Vero Beach, the regulator for the 125 Amp alternator stops working. After motoring all day, our batteries are at a lower level than when we’d pulled up our anchor in Eau Gallie, six hours North. We order a new regulator from the local West Marine store here in Vero Beach. But now, with time on his hands as he waits for the regulator to arrive, Blair rethinks Strathspey’s three power sources and installs a high-current on/off switch to control the current coming from the solar panels. This allows him to manage the charge going to our battery bank with a little more finesse than simply throwing a blanket over the solar panels to prevent them sending power to our batteries.
Here in Vero with time on our hands as we wait for a good weather window to cross the Gulf Steam, we wait for boat parts, we take long walks to the beach and into town, I go to a local yoga class and Blair putters around the boat doing what I call ‘low-grade’ maintenance. I winch him up to mid-mast height to replace the steaming light bulb, he installs a good system to secure our diesel and gas containers on deck and he calls Iridium satellite to resolve our automated SOS signal. It’s nice to take a break from the steady push South but mostly I’m thinking that I don’t want Blair to have too much time on his hands here in the land of plenty; remember, this is the guy who, despite his pretty high octane career, has often said he wants to have a job where he can just wear a pencil tucked behind his ear and take ‘stuff’ apart and re-engineer it.
Our newest (and I hope our favourite) instrument aboard Strathspey this season is our Iridium satellite phone. Phone is a misnomer as it looks like an iPhone on steroids. This phone, and its accompanying data plan, allows us unlimited texts and data from anywhere in the world. A really cool feature is that we can send out these location signals to anyone on ‘the list’ so our friends and family will know where we are. I sent a test location signal out to Brooklyn last week when we were anchored in New Symrna Beach and she knew exactly where we were. If any of you want to be added to ‘the list’, just send me an email at my shercam account and I’ll add you. You can use this to travel with us vicariously!