Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas in Vero

Vero Beach, Florida is known in cruising circles as "velcro beach" with good reason. White Pepper has been on a mooring ball at the Vero Beach Marina for 12 days now and we will leave reluctantly tomorrow. Life is easy here. The buses are free and make shopping convient. A lovely beach and park is within walking distance. The anchorage is well protected. The laundry works well. There is much bonhomie among the cruisers.

We had been telling ourselves that everything would be warm and well if we could just get to Vero. We have had some mild days but most of the nights have been very cold. In fact last night (12-29-10 3 am) set a low record for this day at 28 degrees F. Thankfully, a warming trend is forecast for the next month. White Pepper does not have a heater. We spend lots of time in bed sometimes 11 or 12 hours every night. Body heat, snuggling, and warm PJs keep us comfortable. I do feel sorry for the singlehanders here this week. I have discovered that the key to comfort is making the perfect "snow hole." By wrapping the covers carefully around the face it is possible to just leave the nose exposed--a snow hole.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were warm and mild. We received a large mail drop with many cards and gifts from the family. Thanks to everyone. The cruisers organized a pot luck for the afternoon. There was more food than all 60 of us could eat. Then we had a long walk to the beach to walk it off.

A curiosity at Vero Beach is that boats are expected to raft up on the mooring balls. We are rafted up with Scrimshaw a Legend 45 owned by Basil Carter and wife Daniela Tartau. We have become good cruising buddies. Both boats are headed south tomorrow (12-30-10) towards Fort Lauderdale. A weather window is shaping up for next week. Hopefully, we will be able to cross over to Port Lucaya, Bahamas then.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sadness of Titusville, FL

White Pepper pulled into Titusville Municipal Marina. We were fleeing the cold. At St. Augustine we had waited out a 6 day cold snap and another frigid Artic air mass was due in on Sunday 12-12-10. It delivered near all time record cold for this area with night time temperatures dropping into the 20s.

Walking about Titusville shivering I had two impressions. One was of homeless people, several claiming to be veterans. A local told us that a colony of homeless lived close by to the marina under a bridge by the railroad tracks. Several organizations including a veterans group "looked after them."

To be sure the City of Titusville is trying hard. Every sidewalk and curb of the small downtown area is being redone. Keibler Kobbler is serving up great gourmet lunches. There is a wonderful bakery shop downtown. Discount Propane is selling the cheapest propane that I have ever bought. Considering that the propane store is within walking distance of the marina makes this stop worthwhile by itself.

Another theme was the sad decay of the US space program. From anywhere on the waterfront Cape Canaveral is visible. The 55 story assembly building and a nearby launch gantry dominate the eastern skyline 5 miles across the Indian River on Merit Island. However, the last manned launch has left the pad and none are scheduled in the future. Nearby the marina is a "space park." There are three long walkways dedicated to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. Walking along these deserted byways there are memorials to the people who have died helping man into space. Of course there is a touching memorial to Christi MacCauliff, but there is a longer list of workers who died in constructing and maintaining the spaceport. Indeed many more have died on the ground than ever died in space. There are benches facing the launch site but no more launches will come. It is just so ineffably sad to someone of my age to think that the past 40 years of space exploration has come to this--just a few marble memorials.

Included in the pictures above are three memorials to the astronauts of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo as well as a distant view of Cape Canaveral. Instead of a homeless man I added a picture of a stork hunting in the pond in the city park.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

St. Augustine

St. Augustine, FL is the oldest continuously inhabited, European based, city in the United States. Sr. de Aviles showed up 455 years ago in 1565 with a small colony that survived. After attacks by English pirates Drake in 1586 and Searles 1668, the Spanish constructed a fort--San Marcos. This fort was an amazingly successful weapon of war. It fought 40 battles in 200 years and never lost. It is why St. Augustine thrived. The town traded sides several times by treaty but never by conquest. The uniforms worn by the canon crew pictured above are of the East Florida Rangers. These were a milita organized by the British to "Americanize" the Revolutionary War in the American south with loyalists.

St. Augustine had good run in the early 20th century when it was the vacation spot of choice for the rich and famous (before Miami got going). Currently it does well by catering to the less affluent with trendy restaurants and upscale art shops. There are several museums dedicated to the eccentricities of the previous generations. Of note, one of Flagler scions, Lewis, has successfully started a first class liberal arts college, Flager College, in downtown St. Augustine. It occupies his father's old hotel, the Ponce de Leon, in grand fashion.

Cruisers will be interested to hear about the extensive new mooring field that the city has installed in the harbour. The mooring balls eliminate the old anxiety of strong reversing currents and poor holding. For $20/day with a shower, what a bargain! This should increase the traffic here. The inlet is a worry for going offshore. Although doable White Pepper chose to avoid it and continue down the ICW.

One of the pics above show White Pepper on the mooring ball in front of the Bridge of Lions. Highway A1A (of Jimmy Buffet fame) goes over the bridge. Let me point out that the trip south on the ICW is many things but it is no longer burdened by bridges. The numerous swing bridges and basqule bridges are rapidly being replaced by standard 65 foot clearance high rise bridges which is a shame. The bridge tenders are invariably prompt and courteous, even occasionally helpful. I worry what will happen to them. I am afraid that they will have to sit in the same room as elevator operators, gas station attendants, and GM auto workers.

From St. Augustine White Pepper headed south to anchor at Ft. Mantanzas on the Mantanzas River. Mantanzas means massacre in Spanish and refers to the mass murder of French Huguenots at this spot. It is just another example of a religiously inspired war crime. I am amazed that the Spanish would memorialize it in geography. We could not enter the anchorage due low tide and had to spend an anxious night anchored in a wide spot of the ICW. Jan and I slept fitfully in our clothes that night. Up early we made 60 statue miles to New Symerna anchoring in Sheephead Cut. Then on 12-11-10 we made a short 38 mile trip to Titusville. Here we allowed ourselves the luxury of a marina slip as a fiercely cold norther was due in on the 12th.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Savannah, GA has been a goal of White Pepper's during this entire trip south. Visiting Savannah by boat, however, is not easy. The Savannah River is narrow and treacherous. The waterfront is industrial and there are no downtown marinas or anchorages. Most boaters find a nearby marina and arrange ground transportation into the city. We were so fortunate that our cruising buddies, Rick and Suz Bear, ex of Allergic to Cities were staying on nearby Skidaway Island with Suz' father, Bob. I mentioned Delegal Marina in the previous post. It is on Skidaway Island and was well worth the challenge to get there. Skidaway Is. is interesting in its own way. It is a Hilton Head variant, but now has a demographic problem. It was pioneered as an upscale retirement community 20 years ago. Now the 65 year olds have become 85. They are no longer able to play golf on the 6 beautiful courses or support the club. With the real estate crisis these seniors or their families can not sell the dream house either. I am certain renewal with come eventually but not without pain. It is a beautiful place. And I wonder how Hilton Head is doing?

We drove into Savannah and during the drive passed of the actual Moon River. My interest in Savannah was entirely driven by the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" which has to be the all time best selling travel book. For those readers who have not read it, the book describes a murder and trial of eccentric people in very odd surroundings--downtown Savannah. The waterfront of Savannah has been highly gentrified and is now a proper tourist destination with bars, art galleries and candy shops. This is a distinct upgrade from the book. Residential Savannah is grouped around 22 squares of various sizes. These were all laid out by the founder Gen. Oglethorpe. There are many old churches here including one of the oldest synagogues in America. Of interest to Jan and I, John and William Wesley, the founders of Methodism, served here. Their service was not happy, but that is another long story. On one of these squares is the Mercer-Williams house. The Mercer part of the name relates to Johnnie Mercer, who wrote 'Moon River.' Williams was the man accused of murder in book and movie. Most of the action took place here. The pic above is of Jan and I in front of the house and then there is a pic of Jan with Johnie Mercer himself on Ellis Square. Another beautiful part of the city is Forsythe Square. One of the pics is of us with Rick and Suz in front of the Confederate Memorial.

The day we were visiting was quite cold and most of the tourists were off the streets. This phenomenon left the locals more visible. I noticed an unusual number of rail thin brunette young women, many in spike heels and wearing sunglasses in the wan winter sunlight. When I finally mentioned this to our hosts, we were told that these ladies were likely students of the well regarded Savannah College of Art and Design--SCAD. This school apparently holds great influence in downtown Savannah and directs much of the restoration. Another group of citizens well represented were African-American men. They were perfectly well mannered and most were selling bluish-green roses made of palm fronds. They did seem to be idlers in an idyllic city.

It was an excellent visit and if we ever get a chance to return I would like to spend much more time in Savannah.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Escape from the Low Country

The ICW through South Carolina and Georgia is unlike the ICW in Texas, Florida or even North Carolina. This is the geography locals call the low country. Here the ICW is not a straight canal but rather a system of interlocking rivers, sloughs, sounds and oxbows connected by man made channels called cuts. These cuts have charming names such as Hells Gate, etc. All this makes for long winding routes through mostly remote marshlands. It is beautiful, but tiring. Exposed to the sea there are strong tidal currents and extreme tides. In Georgia the Corp of Engineers has abandoned dredging perhaps with good reason. With eight foot tides any boat can make it through at high tide. But do the math. In the winter season there are only 10 hours of useful daylight. On average, of course, only half of that time is above mid tide and half of that half is either ebb or flood. All of these calculations are worrisome but pointless as you just have to move along.

There are some remarkable spots along the way, however. White Pepper left Charleston at slack water about midday to get past a tricky bridge. We could only make 30 statue miles by evening and pulled off to the side in a little creek, Tom Point. We wound our way back into the marsh through a narrow creek about 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep for a mile. When the anchor rattled down it was easy to hear banjos playing. This last comment is courtesy of our friend, Rick Bear, who also visited here. The next day we crossed the tricky Savannah River at high tide and slack water. We passed by St Bonaventure Cemetery which had such an important place in the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The iconic image of the novel is the statue of 'The Bird Girl' which spent 50 years unnoticed in the cemetery until it was pictured on the cover of the novel. Readers will be happy to know that the statue has been moved to a safe museum in downtown Savannah. Also of interest the world's first ecotourist, John Muir, camped out in this graveyard for 6 nights in 1868 waiting for funds. That night we were safe and secure night anchored in another deep narrow creek, the Herb River. This was a civilized and habitated area south of Thunderball, GA.

The Delegal Marina, in Delegal Creek on Skidaway Island, GA is in a remarkable position. Directly exposed to the Atlantic Ocean on Wasassu Sound it should be as crowded as Fort Lauderdale,etc. But with only 2 or 3 feet clearance at low tide at the entrance, an eight foot tidal range and 3 knot currents it is a formidable challenge. The marina is understandably deserted. We were visiting Rick and Suz Bear, our cruising friends. Our visit is the subject of another post--Savannah.

After leaving Delegal Creek Jan and I just could not take Georgia anymore. We did not want to hazard Wasassu Sound, but 20 statue miles further down the ICW on the Bear River is St. Catherine's Sound. I do NOT recommend this inlet, but we had perfect conditions to leave--following breeze, slack water and zero sea state. Despite all of these conditions the White Pepper found 7.5 feet of depth 5 miles offshore just outside the entrance buoys red #1 and green #2. Very scary. I would not want to be there in severe weather.

We motor sailed south towards Florida. A head wind slowed progress, but finally about midnight the wind backed to the west as predicted. The seas flattened somewhat and we just flew along. The ride was bumpy and our crew got little sleep. We entered the St. Johns River at dawn. This is an excellent inlet--wide and well marked. Miraculously we arrived at the intersection of the ICW and St. Johns River at slack water and had an easy time with the turn. This spot is said to be one of the trickiest on the track south. The currents can run as high as four knots which is about all the old girl can handle at this stage.

After an uneventful day motoring south White Pepper arrived in the harbor of St. Augustine, FL. The city has just recently installed a large mooring field. This is a mercy as the anchorage is notorious for being tricky with contrary wind and reversing currents. Secure; we fell asleep about 8 and slept round the clock.