Here at New Smyrna Beach City Marina we’ve got a million dollar Kadey Krogen trawler on either side of us so it’s a Strathspey sandwich made with pretty enriched bread.
The weather stays nice outside so Blair starts another outside job that he works at off and on for the next three days. One of the best features on Strathspey is our swim platform that raises and lowers via a small motor hidden in our stern lazarette. Over the last eight years in salt water we’ve abused this motor pretty badly. It’s been exposed to salt water occasionally and salt air continuously. Blair has rebuilt the motor twice and it doesn’t owe us the time of day now. In fact, the gears inside the motor are totally seized. Unfortunately, that particular motor is no longer available. Blair contacted Tartan a while ago and they told him that they had designed a retro-fit block and tackle system and they sent him the engineering drawings and parts list for the design. Now that we’re here at the marina, Blair begins the installation. After installing the blocks and lines and testing the functionality at each stage of the installation, we realize that Tartan’s design is not a good one; the swim platform door is just too heavy for me to lift without help of a motor. It’s disappointing to both of us, especially to Blair who’s spent way too much time on this particular project. Back to the drawing board and in the meantime Blair will continue to be captain of the swim platform, manually lowering it and raising it for me.
Despite what the US Coast Guard told us, Strathspey doesn’t feel ship shape. Over the years we’ve collected all sorts of flotsam and jetsam aboard the boat and it’s time to lighten the load. We spend a few hours one afternoon culling all the ‘stuff’ that has accumulated in all Strathspey’s nooks and crannies. We pull out lengths of wire, held onto ‘just in case’. We find two torque wrenches, a 15-year old VHR radio, an orbital sander, soldering irons… you name it. At one point, a stethoscope appears atop the pile and I have to shake my head. At the end of this ebb tide exercise we think we’ve offloaded over 100 pounds.
Christmas Day I make blueberry pancakes with bacon and real maple syrup for breakfast and we have a day of rest – or at least a day away from boat work. We take a long walk across the ICW bridge to Coronado Beach. It’s much cooler today and a strong North wind is blowing so everyone on the beach is bundled up. We know that cars are allowed all up and down the beach at Daytona Beach but we’re surprised to see them here on the hard-packed Coronado Beach. At the car entrance to the beach, there’s a small booth taking $10 from each car and there’s a sign posting rules such as a speed limit of 10 mph and no texting. Apparently this beach driving tradition goes way back to when the first automobiles came off the assembly line.
Late in the morning we have a three-way Skype call with Sandy and Stella in Edmonton and Brooklyn and Tom in Ottawa. It’s -24 C in Edmonton, -6 C in Ottawa and +18 C in New Smyrna Beach. Quite a temperature range! It was wonderful to ‘see’ everyone and hear their plans for the rest of the day. In the afternoon we drive down to Vero Beach for Christmas dinner with good friends and we pick up all the packages we’ve had shipped there over the past month. It’s a second Christmas when we get back to Strathspey later that night and start opening packages.
We spend time walking and exploring in New Smyrna Beach and we delay our departure from this marina dock so as to let a strong cold front pass. It’s not really cold at 20 C but the winds are blowing at 20-25 knots. Brooklyn texts me one morning around 6:30 am to say that it is minus 31 Celsius in Ottawa. Sandy is no warmer in Edmonton where it’s been bone chilling as well.
Finally, after all the big boat chores are complete, we start cleaning Strathspey so we can finally feel at home. Blair cleans and disinfects the bilge and dries it completely and puts a coat of paint on it. The sump is next and now Strathspey no longer smells ‘boaty’, just clean and crisp. I get our fridge in order and do most of the shopping for basic items that we’ll need aboard Strathspey for the next three months.
We leave New Smyrna Beach a week later having completed most of the big tasks. Annoyingly, the wrong size raw water pump was shipped to us so we order another one to be delivered to us down the coast. South of New Smyrna the ICW is a straight path past one spoil island after another. These spoil islands aren’t really anything that you’d build on and consist mainly of big piles of dredged sand and mud that, over the years, have sprouted trees and all sorts of undergrowth. As we motor down this narrow path, the depth meter tells us that there is six feet of water under our keel, then 4.5 feet, then 5.5 feet, constantly changing so there is no daydreaming for whoever is at the wheel otherwise the shallow-water alarm startles us into action.
Traffic on the ICW picks up today, December 30. In the week before Christmas as we headed south we perhaps saw 3-4 boats all day. Today, there is a line of us – power boats, sailboats and even one houseboat. It’s a cold, grey morning and we’re bundled up in many layers. By noon, the sun comes out and there’s enough of a breeze that we pull out our foresail. The sail adds a knot of speed to our progress and we make it all the way to Cocoa Beach. We make a right turn off the ICW and feel our way into shallow water and drop anchor. There are five other boats here that we’ve been playing hopscotch with over the day; some we’ve passed, some have passed us but everyone drops anchor here for good protection from the NW winds. Well after dark a large sportfish power boat motors by slowly and then turns off the ICW to find a good spot to stop for the night. They drop their anchor in the shallows on the other side of the ICW but soon haul it back in. They try again with no luck. They have a big light mounted right at their anchor locker but the positioning of the anchor chain is such that there’s one person lying prone on their high deck, peering over the edge of the boat, a good 12 feet above the water surface. Plus, it’s dark so they can’t tell if this is a good spot or if the chain has gone taut indicating that the anchor is well snagged. After a few more tries they move to the end of the mooring field and finally their anchor catches…..tonight’s entertainment. We try to be charitable in our comments because we just might be tomorrow night’s entertainment.
We arrive at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina mooring field on New Year’s Eve at 3 pm and, after tidying up the boat and having showers, we dinghy over to the Riverside Café, a 2 minute putt putt around the corner. I’ve been thinking about their blackened mahi mahi tacos all day! I order the tacos and Blair gets the Ahi tuna and we smile at each other and raise a toast, glad we pushed hard to get to this protected mooring field to hide from the next big cold front.
The evening after we arrive in Vero Beach the weather turns nasty. This isn’t a surprise but it’s definitely not welcome. The NOAA forecast for this area is so nasty that it says that the waters of the ICW will be ‘very rough’ – the worst description of these waters that I’ve ever seen is ‘choppy’ so we think the storm won’t be fun. The wind blows at a steady 20 knots all night with gusts to 30 knots even in this very protected area. It whistles through our rigging, waking me up periodically throughout the night. We are rafted to another sailboat here and count ourselves lucky that there are only two of us on this mooring ball and, doubly lucky because our neighbouring boat is not currently occupied. Many of the mooring balls have three boats tied to them as this is a very popular anchorage. The wind combined with the squeal of our fenders as they rub between the two boats sets my teeth on edge so we adjust and readjust the lines and the fenders to reduce the rubbing. The winds howl for two days with intermittent rain showers and we are confined to the boat.
During this time, Blair sets our Yamaha portable generator up on Strathspey’s swim platform and fires it up to provide extra power when we run our water maker. This is the first time we’ve used our water maker in two seasons so our fingers are crossed that this won’t turn into yet another expensive repair. When we packed Strathspey away two seasons ago, Blair had ‘pickled’ the reverse osmosis membrane using plumber’s antifreeze, a glycol plus ethanol solution, as per the manufacturer’s instructions. This would prevent algae and bacterial growth and hopefully set us up for a successful season of water making when we returned. As part of the re-commissioning process, Blair ends up emptying our entire port water tank backwashing fresh water through the water maker and although the resulting water looks clear and measures negligible salinity, it tastes like rotgut vodka or, more precisely, like ethanol alcohol. After a call to the manufacturer for some advice it seems that we need to run the water maker (i.e., push water through that membrane) for at least 10 hours and just discard the water until it tastes good. So, it’s a noisy household at the Buchanan’s today with both the generator and the water maker running and Blair doing sporadic taste tests. Fortunately it doesn’t take 10 hours and after three hours, he declares the water drinkable with no alcohol aftertaste. As a celebration we meet friends of ours at a neat little restaurant called Fire and Wine. It’s a sharing night and we get to taste a little of everything but our favourite is the yellow fin tuna carpaccio served on wasabi coleslaw.
I call weather guy, Chris Parker, on our SSB radio to get a sense of when we can plan our Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas. He tells me that there is one front after another barreling through Florida and that perhaps we might see a good forecast sometime after January 10th. The forecast for the next two days is unusually cold for Vero Beach with temps dipping down to freezing. It’s all related to the cyclone weather bomb heading for the northeastern US and Canada but we’re prepared. Our doghouse (cockpit enclosure) is in place so when the sun shines during the day we’ll be toasty warm via its green house effect. And at night our Espar furnace will keep the cold at bay. Bring it on!
Well now….I was going to post this as is but I may have been a tad hasty when I said bring it on…..We wake up this morning to 5 Celsius in the cabin and 92% humidity. If it was any colder, would it be snowing inside Strathspey? Sheesh! We’re nice and warm under our down duvet but it’s a hard decision to get up to turn on the Espar furnace this morning. After breakfast we decide to hit the nearest Starbucks and drink copious amounts of coffee and lattes until it is decently warm enough that we can sit upstairs in our doghouse and perhaps do some polishing and waxing of the cockpit.