Sailing and Ports

Despite how cold the past few mornings are aboard Strathspey here in Vero Beach, once the sun gets to the 10 o’clock position, it’s downright hot in the doghouse. Blair is in shorts and a T-shirt polishing and waxing the cockpit and I’m curled up in the corner, alternately reading and dozing – feels great! Blair just finished reading Springsteen’s autobiography so we are dialled into the E-Street channel on Sirius radio for most of the day. I am reading Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I pre-ordered it last week for my Kindle but, after all the presidential tweets, it arrives early and is definitely a good read and that’s all I have to say about that. Brooklyn texts us that she’s read a forecast for Ottawa this Saturday of a windchill of -40 C so we’re definitely not going to complain about a few cold nights here in Vero. On top of that our neighbour boat that we share the mooring ball with shows himself only once over the next five days – the privacy and quiet is a bonus.

These herons love our dinghy after dark

These herons love our dinghy after dark

During the cleaning, polishing and waxing exercise we see an ant scurrying along our stern rail with an egg in its mouth. Blair goes into kill mode immediately and sprays ‘ant death’ liberally with the hopes that he can head this possible infestation off at the pass. We’ve had ants aboard Strathspey before and they are persistent visitors. We thought that the worst we’d have after two years ashore would be spiders spinning webs that hang from our rigging and boom and float gently sideways in the wind. But ants are a different thing altogether – think collective mindset, think colonies!

Every day as the sun sets, our Espar heater goes on and the warmest room in the house is the bathroom these days.There is a good-sized vent for our Espar furnace in the bathroom which is a good deal smaller than a shower stall. So it’s toasty in there…but fairly limited in ambiance.

It seems I spoke too soon about our absent neighbour here on the mooring ball. After five days he’s back and he tells us that he has no source of heat other than a little electric heater which he powers by running his generator. Oh and by the way, he says, I plan to run the generator a lot – by a lot he means all day, all night, 24/7. He says he’s okay’d it with the marina and that’s all there is to it. Blair immediately dinghies into the marina office to see about rafting up with a different boat because as he says, ‘There’s no way I’m listening to that racket and smelling that generator exhaust for the rest of our stay here’. While he’s gone, I make a quick call to Harbortown Marina in Ft Pierce to see if they have an available slip for us. This is the same marina who told me before Christmas to call back in February because they were full up to capacity because no-one was moving because of the weather. Well, it seems someone must have moved because they were able to squeeze Strathspey in on their big face dock. We motor the 11 miles south to Ft Pierce and 15 minutes after tying up, our Espar is roaring away and the hot water heater is on…the small pleasures in life while sailing.

It’s so cold that it’s raining iguanas! True story – CBC news reports on January 4th that it’s so cold in Florida that iguanas and lizards are falling from their perches in suburban trees. Serves us right for thinking we could start our 2017/18 cruising in early December.

Injured manatee that swam into the Harbortown Marina and was eventually rescued by Florida Wildlife workers

Injured manatee that swam into the Harbortown Marina and was eventually rescued by Florida Wildlife workers

Blair checks the oil in our sail drive and, as part of the process, he clears some things out of our stern berth. Some of those things are the companionway boards and screens and stuck between two of them is a small brown lizard. This is the third stowaway lizard/iguana we’ve had aboard Strathspey this month and it appears this guy is attached to us, or perhaps it’s the warmth of Strathspey that he’s attached to. Blair sets the lizard out on the dock where the little thing turns around and starts crawling back to Strathspey. Usually these little lizards are lightning fast and dart away sooner than you can dig out a camera but this guy is sluggish. Blair picks him up by the tail and carries him up the dock and sets him free in the marina garden. No falling out of trees for that little iguana.

Saturday, I walk over to the Ft Pierce Farmer’s Market and meet a sailing friend for yet another fish taco lunch. Blair spends the morning sanding our teak companionway boards and our hatch screen frames. He calls me just before noon, very PO’d. He took a bathroom break halfway through his sanding job and someone walked away with his all his sanding and varnishing supplies. He left everything out on the work table and was gone for less than five minutes; we’re just really thankful that the thief didn’t take the companionway boards and screen frames. But $100 later, after a trip to West Marine and Home Depot to replace the supplies (a full can of cetol at $50! plus an assortment of brushes, strainers and thinner), we’re still muttering nasty things about lowlifes who can’t be trusted when our backs are turned. Feels bad and as soon as we get back to Strathspey on the dock, Blair digs out our steel dinghy cable and locks the dinghy to Strathspey. We shouldn’t have to do that I think!

Each morning at 6:30 am I get up to listen to weather guy, Chris Parker, on the SSB radio and each morning it’s just mostly static until the last five minutes of his broadcast. I finally call uncle and pay an extra $100 for a year’s subscription of emailed forecasts. They’re more reliable and, more importantly, available at a more reasonable hour.

On Sunday, the cold spell finally breaks and the night time temps are now in the high teens. The Espar furnace is off and we’re no longer wearing polar fleeces and wool hats but the NE winds are still strong so we decided to stay at Harbortown Marina to finish various boat jobs. One of these jobs is to get a certified Yanmar mechanic to look at our high pressure fuel leak which we thought was fixed in New Smyrna Beach but was not. The mechanic comes aboard and, despite running the engine at high revs for 15 minutes, Blair can’t make the fuel leak show (it’s like the singing frog!). It isn’t a wasted visit though because the mechanic does find and fix another small fuel leak that we hadn’t seen.

Our calendar shows that it has been cold and windy here

Our calendar shows that it has been cold and windy here

I discover that my MACbook Air is dead and, after spending some time with an Apple representative, I decide that it’s time to buy myself a new one. I’ve got an iCloud account and I’ve been backing up my computer on a fairly regular basis but we’re not sure that we can get my desktop and all the setup moved over to my new MAC because we can’t boot up the old one. I envision Blair in a grumpy mood for at least a day while he sorts out this backup. Now here’s where I’m going to sound like a commercial for iCloud…..I start up my new MAC and do the basic setup (language etc). Then I enter my Apple account number and password and it automatically connects me to iCloud and, lo and behold, my old desktop is displayed on my new MAC – all the icons, the mail setup, the reminders, my photos – everything. We were both so glad I’d sprung the $14/month to use iCloud to store all my ‘stuff’. Well worth it in this particular scenario.

Small pipes

Small pipes

Given the amount of time we spend here at Ft Pierce, visiting friends, running errands and taking long walks, it’s not surprising that Strathspey looks like a brand new boat. In between all the fun activities we’ve been cleaning and purging junk inside and polishing and waxing the exterior. We’ve even got some spare time on our hands so I’ve been painting some watercolour wildlife (pure beginner but wonderful for the soul) and Blair has gotten out his bagpipes; both the big pipes (loud) and the small set (easy on the ears) as well as his guitar.

There are many boats sitting here on the main face dock at Harbortown and most of them are waiting for good weather windows. Some, like us, look for a window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas and others are waiting for a window to sail over the top of the Bahamas to the British Virgin Islands. Friday, we cut the tether to land officially and put our car in storage and I do one last laundry. We use our spinnaker halyard to haul our dinghy up onto our coach roof and Blair fills our tanks with water. He changes the engine oil and sail drive oil and installs a new secondary fuel filter. The winds are blowing strong from the SE, the direction we want to go. But at midnight tonight, a cold front will roll in. The temps will drop from 28 C to 15 C and the winds will move from SE to NW; a good direction to blow us further south.

Our marina lounge has this huge display of knots, some of which we have never seen before

Our marina lounge has this huge display of knots, some of which we have never seen before

We have a wonderful sail from Ft Pierce to the Lake Worth Inlet at West Palm Beach. It’s sunny and there’s 15 knots of wind – it doesn’t get much better than this. At 4:30 pm we drop anchor in the south section of Lake Worth and I back down on it at 1800 RPMs because, although this area has excellent holding, I also know that the wind is going to pickup in the early morning hours. Shortly after we anchor, we see that the fuel is still leaking from one of the high pressure lines; not a full blow leak but bubbling around where the line connects to the high pressure fuel pump. Blair is determined he doesn’t want to go any further with that issue so he disconnects the two lines in front of the one that is leaking and tightens and cleans and wipes and runs the engine and finally thinks he’s fixed the darn thing. Here’s hoping.

Interesting sentiment

Interesting sentiment

The current is strong here because we’re so close to the inlet. Strathspey’s bow points north when we anchor because the tidal current is flowing in from the inlet but six hours later, the bow points south because now the tidal current flows out. The wind is still at 15 knots from the north but halfway through the night it picks up to 20 knots from the north and now, because Strathspey is a light boat, the high wind takes precedence over the current and we are sideways to the current and, more importantly, sideways to the waves that have grown in height due to the wind. I don’t sleep well because the waves slap loudly on Strathspey’s hull. As daylight comes, I see that we haven’t dragged our anchor and I’m relieved but by 10 am, the wind starts blowing a constant 24 knots knots with gusts to 27. We’re sideways to the wind because of the current and finally our anchor starts to give way slightly. It’s not a full-blow drag but it’s still happening and we go into action to haul up the anchor; me at the wheel and Blair at the anchor locker. We decide to motor north about five miles into the northern most section of Lake Worth because we think we’ll have more protection from the wind up there. It’s a tough slog with the current against us as it flows out the inlet plus 24 knots of wind on the nose. We arrive in the north mooring field and Blair is at the wheel going slowly, checking out a good spot for us to anchor. I go below and realize that, even at almost dead slow speed, it’s still really rocky down there and I know I won’t be sleeping well for the next 3-4 days with these predicted high winds. We’re opposite Old Port Cove Marina at this point so I call them to see if they have any vacant slips. Woohoo, they can accommodate us! I don’t even ask the price of the slip it’s so dang windy out here. When we pull into our slip, it’s flat calm and we know this is the right decision. Although I didn’t ask the cost of the slip we think this might be a pretty nice place because Tiger Woods’ big motor yacht, Privacy, is just down the dock from us (Google it). I go to the office and check us in while Blair hoses off the salt we’ve accumulated just in the short trip up Lake Worth to here. It’s here I realize that this is a really nice marina after I tour their high end washrooms and showers and especially when they send me back to Strathspey with a complimentary bottle of California Chardonnay. I could get used to this.

Wonderful fried green tomatoes

Wonderful fried green tomatoes

Blair reports that there is no diesel fuel pooled on the floor of the engine room and that he can wipe the engine with a white glove it’s so clean. He’s fixed the fuel leak. What a relief. What a mechanic. We clean up the disarray down below that resulted from the rocky ride up Lake Worth and have showers in these excellent washroom facilities and finally, around 3:30 pm, we think we better eat lunch so we head over to the onsite restaurant. Blair has the Commodore Burger which requires two hands to eat and I have fish chowder and fried green tomatoes. Both are excellent. Our table looks out onto the north anchorage where we had thought that we might find a quieter anchorage and we can see big waves rolling in toward the restaurant while the boats out there rock hard to and fro. It looks really uncomfortable so we’re doubly glad to be in here. Sailing is wonderful but so is port.

Bring it on

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.

After the hurricane

After the hurricane

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.

Weather report from NOAA

Weather report from NOAA

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.

One of the quieter moments last night

One of the quieter moments last night

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.

Yellowfin tuna carpaccio

Yellow fin tuna carpaccio

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!

Perhaps I mispoke

Perhaps I mispoke

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.

Love the One You’re With

The days are warm and sunny in Green Cove Springs once we move aboard Strathspey but it’s a race to finish all the basic ‘get-us-more-south’ tasks because the temps drop to 8 Celsius each night. These tasks are ones that let us leave dock safely but not necessarily in comfort; things like having the mast stepped, engine running, installing our outboard engine on Strathspey’s stern rail and, most importantly, adding our foresail and mainsail.

Sunday, we take a break from the constant go, go, go because it’s warm and sunny at 25 Celsius. So, we lower our new Yamaha outboard motor onto our dinghy and test out the Yamaha’s vroom vroom. We explore down the river and make a circuit of the Green Cove Springs marine area and, at one point, Blair cranks the outboard up to full-throttle. We clock our speed at 34 km/hour; vroom, vroom! That night Blair feels a culinary urge and makes spaghetti carbonara and it’s wonderfully decadent….pancetta, parmigano regiano, mushrooms and, get this, 35% cream…..woohooo!

Despite the cold nights, we sleep well under our down duvet but every morning there’s a discussion over who leaves the bed first to turn on our Espar heater. It never takes longer than 5-10 minutes for the interior of Strathspey to get to room temp but that first tentative step on the wooden floor in bare feet makes us calculate how long it will be before we can head a little further south. As part of those calculations, we rationalize that it makes sense to hire the boatyard to polish and wax Strathspey’s deck and unsurprisingly they are happy to add that job to their kitty.

New Rigging

New rigging installation

On Saturday December 17th it’s warm enough that the Espar is NOT on and we are in shorts and T-shirts. I spend the weekend clearing out our storage locker and we store the last of the items aboard Strathspey. I call ahead to St Augustine and Ft Pierce to reserve a mooring ball and dock for next week. The mast is stepped Monday morning and Blair spends the day adjusting all our new rigging. As night falls we make the last adjustments to our ‘taco’ – that’s the stack pack setup that holds our mainsail above the boom when we’re not sailing. It’s been a beautiful day at 28 Celsius and feels like a warm summer evening even after the sun sets. Blair won’t stop fiddling with ‘things’ on the deck, mostly because I’ve told him that we need to make a 7 am departure tomorrow morning in order to be at the Jacksonville Main Street bridge before noon. The Main Street bridge is undergoing a $10 Million upgrade and is on a reduced opening schedule and opens only six times a day. If we miss the noon opening we’ll be twiddling our thumbs until 4:30 pm and worrying about making it to a good anchorage before nightfall.

We leave the dock just after 7 am and it’s almost like Strathspey doesn’t want to leave here after her two-year hibernation because we drag through the mud all the way out. We start out with four feet under Strathspey’s keel, then we go to two feet, then one foot, 0.9 feet, 0.5 feet. Eventually our depth meter reads -0.4. How is this possible!? It’s too much for me and I hand the wheel over to Blair and stand on Strathspey’s bow so I can measure our slow progress against the pier and, more importantly, where I can’t see the depth meter or hear the incessant low-water alarm beeping. The sludge here is deep and soft and black and squishy so we can see no depth beneath our keel yet still plow a furrow and not come to a complete stop. Finally at the end of the 200-foot pier we break free and motor out into deep water and make a quick left to head down the St Johns River toward Jacksonville.

Fog on St Johns River

Fog on St Johns River

It’s foggy this morning. We can only see 75 feet ahead and behind Strathspey and the sun that will hopefully burn off this fog is slow to rise as there are low cloud banks east of the river. Blair drives from waypoint to waypoint and he’s switched on our radar to help discern any obstacles out there. Me, I’m just nervous with this fuzzy fog in my eyes and I stand at the bow scanning ahead for the red or green buoys that Blair tells me he thinks we are approaching, according to the chart plotter at the helm. I see nothing. It’s too hazy. That’s all there is until around 9 am when the warm of the sun finally lifts the fog.

We arrive at Jacksonville’s Main Street bridge a half hour early for their noon opening so I take the wheel to hover in the channel while Blair fixes our flag halyards and hoists our USA and Florida courtesy flags. I contact the bridge tender and he tells me that I need to be close to the bridge and ready to go at by 11:45 because this must be a quick opening. At 11:55 am I’m as close as I am comfortable and we hear a call from another sailboat coming down the river about eight minutes away but, when they call the bridge tender, he says he can’t wait for them. ‘Sorry captain, I’ve got a crew of Contractors working on this bridge and we’re going into the air in two minutes – you’ll have to wait until the 4:30 opening’. Burn! Three minutes too late.

We continue through the bridge and downstream to a new anchorage for us, between Blount and Little Marsh Islands. It’s a quiet anchorage and, when we awake the next morning, all we can see are the anchor lights of two other boats shining very faintly through the heavy fog. It won’t be an early start like yesterday where we easily used our radar to ‘feel’ our way downstream in the fog on the wide-open St Johns River. Today, we have only a very short distance to travel on the river until we make a sharp right turn into the narrow ICW with its twists and turns and shallow spots. We want full visibility on the ICW and don’t haul our anchor up until 10:20 am.

Blair in his most favourite (not) position down our stern lazarette looking at swim platform motor

Blair in his most favourite (not) position down our stern lazarette looking at swim platform motor

Five miles into our day, moments after we turn south and enter the ICW, we are hailed by the US Coast Guard. They ask us when we were last boarded by the Coast Guard and Blair says in 1999 by the Canadian Coast Guard. Quite politely they ask permission to come aboard and could we please slow our vessel so two of their officers can step over…..of course we will! Blair sets out fenders on our port side as I slow Strathspey down to idle speed, under two knots. The 30-foot coast guard vessel (Defender Class Response Boat) motors up beside us and two youngish officers step aboard while the other three crew stay aboard their vessel. First question to us was whether we had any weapons onboard. No Sir! They check our registration, our Permission to Proceed document (we’d just picked that up in Jacksonville from the US Homeland Security office on Friday, whew) and our regulation fire extinguishers. They check our bilge to ensure that no oil is leaking into it and then ask Blair to describe our MSD (we determine later that acronym stands for Marine Sanitation Device) – they basically want to know how our marine toilet works (i.e., that we’re not discharging any yuck overboard). They comment on the fact that we are both wearing life jackets and, 20 minutes later, they shake hands with both of us and step off Strathspey and we’re on our way again. Everything is in order aboard Strathspey!

7.5 hours later we arrive in St Augustine which is all lit up for Christmas with huge crowds roving the streets, enjoying the lights and all the neat little restaurants and pubs here. We grab a mooring ball north of the Bridge of Lions and, after showers and a quick walk through town, we are back to Strathspey to enjoy a quiet dinner in the cockpit with a beautiful view of the old fort and the picturesque waterfront.

Relaxing in the cockpit finally

Relaxing in the cockpit finally

Wednesday morning we drop the mooring ball at 7 am and head downstream without incident. It’s a long day when we finally pull into Halifax Harbor Marina and we’re glad to be at dock with access to unlimited water so we can spend some time cleaning Strathspey’s exterior, a job we’d neglected in favour of getting away from Green Cove Springs. We leave Halifax Harbor Marina the next day later than usual at 8:30 am. I planned this late departure because of the skinny water an hour south of us at Ponce Inlet. Many boats ground out here on the sandbars that shift back and forth with the tidal currents running in and out of the inlet. We time it so we pass this area just before high tide without any issues.

The issues appear as we hover north of the Coronado Beach bridge in New Smyrna Beach. Blair goes down below for some reason and he smells diesel fuel. He checks Strathspey’s engine and sees fuel hissing and foaming out of the top of one the engine’s three high-pressure fuel lines. This is a serious problem and, after motoring through when the bridge opens for us, we quickly radio our problem to the New Smyrna Beach City Marina. They find a slip for us and, because Blair has misplaced the tool he needs to tighten the nut that holds the high pressure line in place, we ask a mechanic recommended by the marina to help Blair sort out this problem. Between the two of them they tighten the nut very gently and, despite running the engine at high revs, the fuel leak is no longer visible. Hopefully, this is the fix that will do the job.

We had originally planned to book a slip at Ft Pierce for a week over Christmas and use that time to finish all the boat jobs that we had lined up before we set off for some serious cruising. Not happening. So many marinas were damaged in Hurricane Irma that the surviving ones are jam packed with no openings. All I could manage to secure for us near Ft Pierce was a mooring ball at the Vero Beach Municipal marina where we’d have to share a ball with two other boats – a hard setup with all the work we had planned. So, it seems we are lucky that our fuel line issue happened on the doorstep of the New Smyrna Beach marina as they just happened to have an available slip for us. I know it sounds like we are doing an awful lot of work on Strathspey, both new work and addressing failing systems but it’s worth it to us to be able to spend the winter cruising in warmer climes. Despite all the work, we still love being on Strathspey; gotta love the one you’re with…..

I make an executive decision and book us into the marina for a week. We’ll do all our boat jobs here instead of Ft Pierce. I call Enterprise rentals and book a car for us to drive up to Green Cove Springs to retrieve our own car. It’s warm and sunny here in the mid-20’s Celsius and this is a nice little marina, close to good restaurants and a relatively easy walk to a beautiful beach with soft, soft sand. The boat interior is finally clean enough that I can set out our new winter cruising mat at the bottom of our companionway stairs. We email our friends in Vero Beach to say that we will make the drive down on the 25th for Christmas Day dinner and we look forward to using the dinghy to explore an area of the ICW that we’ve never spent time in before.

Merry Christmas to all our family and friends!


After two winters spent in the snow and cold of Ottawa, we are back in Green Cove Springs, Florida getting ready to launch Strathspey. We left Strathspey at Holland Marine which is attached to Reynolds Park Yacht Center – both of which are good hurricane hidey holes as they are far inland down the St Johns River. These marinas use the old piers that were built to service navy warships and train service men; at one time there were almost 20,000 sailors and navy pilots stationed here. After the second world war there were over 600 ships docked at huge piers. Most of this has long since fallen into disrepair. Holland Marine has a few docks for boats and good haul out facilities though.

We waffle over whether Strathspey has fared well in this hot and sunny climate without daily TLC. When we consider that our boat has come through two major hurricanes unscathed (Mathew in 2016 and Irma in 2017), we feel pretty positive. But when we take stock of all the boat bits that need replacing this year due to salt corrosion and sun damage, we’re a little taken aback.

Our 17-year old windlass motor

Our 17-year old windlass motor

Back in Ottawa while planning our pre-launch boat projects, we had a few big items on our ‘fix or replace’ list and number 1 on that list was our 17 year-old anchor windlass. We’d had a lot of trouble with the windlass while in Cuba on our last cruise and Blair has taken it apart more than once to address corroded wires.

The windlass that we use to deploy 150 feet of chain is basically a two-part workhorse – a deck-mounted gypsy that guides the chain out of the water and into our anchor locker and a big motor that hangs unobtrusively below the deck and powers the windlass. After spending all this time in salt water, the motor was so corroded it was beyond fixing. As well, the chain stripper which forces the chain off the gypsy and down into the anchor locker had broken in half.

Shiny windlass

Our brand new windlass motor

Blair spends almost two days installing and wiring our new Lewmar windlass and it is now a thing of beauty on Strathspey’s bow. Alas, the foot pedals that power the windlass to bring the chain up and down have such corroded wires that we order new ones; another expensive item, another half day to install.

After Strathspey is splashed and we move aboard, we discover that all the important bits on our toilet are seized. At this point a functioning toilet is numero uno on our list of must-get-working bits. Strathspey’s toilet is 17 years old and, although Blair could rebuild it for probably the seventh time, he opts for a brand new toilet after scoping out all the other jobs on his ‘must do’ list. The toilet will be delivered on Thursday and I make plans to be away from Strathspey running errands while that particular installation takes place, as I know it will involve leaking hoses, heavy lifting and lots of cursing.

We have 25 gallons of diesel in our fuel tank and we’re concerned that, after sitting in this hot climate for two years, it will gum up our engine so Blair calls a mobile fuel polishing/filtration company to check our system. Best-case scenario is that we just need the fuel polished, a process which removes algae, any condensed water and other impurities. Worst-case scenario is that the fuel is bad and we need to have our diesel emptied and hauled away for expensive but environmentally safe disposal. The mobile unit arrives and after negotiating the money angle, a team of two rolls their mobile unit down the dock to Strathspey. Fuel, the polishing of, the filtration of and just about anything else you want to do to fuel is a finely honed business and it appears we have a team that knows their stuff. After the all-important ‘sniff’ test, they both agree that the fuel is just fine and probably only needs some polishing. That sniff test is for a whiff of sulphur, which would indicate that there is too much algae to try to salvage the fuel but we pass that test so all looks good. They move on to siphoning our 25 gallons of diesel through three filters and a water separator and remove some black ‘yick’ from the bottom of our tank and pronounce us good to go.

On the interior side of things, we purchased a Sirius satellite radio for Strathspey this fall and Blair installed it and we now have access to over a hundred stations. He programmed button #1 for the Beatles channel and #8 for CBC news but we’re also enjoying the NPR station as well. Friday and Saturday the temperatures plummet as a strong cold front moves through. At night the temps are down to near freezing but we are toasty inside with our Espar furnace running continuously, listening to good radio and working on all the ‘inside’ jobs (replaced the carbon monoxide alarm and the solar vent in one of our hatches and spliced shackles onto a few halyards). Sunday morning when we get up we see that there is frost on our car windshield! This is temporary though and the forecast is for mid-20’s Celsius by Tuesday. This is a good reason to never book a one-week trip to Florida to get away from the northern cold and snow; nice weather is iffy here at this time of year – it could be warm or it could be cold…luck of the draw.

I spend quite a bit of time schlepping boxes of boat stuff from our storage locker to Strathspey and, after two years away from it all, it’s been fun to open a box to discover what’s inside, much like an early Christmas. We’ve also been culling items from the boat – Blair discovers he has more than 20 T-shirts to stow away and there’s no way they will get stored aboard. I’m no better because upon our arrival here in Florida I bought tank tops and T-shirts, not remembering that I had left an entire summer wardrobe packed away in our storage locker.

I don’t do any major provisioning for Strathspey just yet but I do go grocery shopping for a very small amount of food so we can stop eating out at restaurants. We are reacquainted with US-South-of-the-border portion sizes very quickly and most often we share an entrée but this doesn’t always work given Blair’s predilection for things like meat loaf and liver with onions!

One day we go to the West Marine in Jacksonville to buy assorted boat bits but I have my eye on the Costco there so I drop Blair off and head out to try to find my way over to the Costco. Both the West Marine and the Costco are in the same mall but this is the biggest mall of my life! I actually have to enter the Costco address into our car’s GPS in order to find it.

Mast was only apart because of brand new rigging which is very, very shiny :)

Mast was only apart because of brand new rigging which is very, very shiny 🙂

Today, Blair finishes assembling the furling system on the mast (that’s the unit that whirls our foresail into a tight little roll after every sail). As well, he attaches all the new standing rigging that Holland Marine made for us. It was an all day job but it’s finally done and now we wait for one stupid little $20 part to install before we can lift the mast onto Strathspey and be an actual sailboat.

I get ambitious and make a trip to Lowe’s hardware and buy a screen replacement kit and start changing out all the screens on Strathspey that have started looking sad. It’s a neat little kit and I’ve amazed both of us with these well-stretched screens in both our companionway boards and two overhead hatches. I am my mother’s daughter!

So, it’s going slower than usual but we’re not complaining because there is no snow down here and any day on the water is a good day, yes?