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Annapolis, MD to Vero Beach, FL- Southbound 2008

Route South and stops along the way

Maritime Republic of Eastport

On this visit to Annapolis we discovered the Maritime Republic of Eastport (MRE). Eastport is an historic neighborhood of Annapolis on a small peninsula with Spa Creek on the North and Back Creek on its south shore. We've been to Eastport before but only to visit the Sailrite store or a restaurant so we weren't aware of its existence as a sovereign state.

Well, sort of a sovereign state. In 1998 Eastport residents were displeased at being cut off from the main section of the city by work being done on the drawbridge across Spa Creek. So on Superbowl Sunday, 1998 over a few beers, the Maritime Republic of Eastport was born. What began as a lark has become a major player in the Eastport neighborhood. The resulting organization now holds several significant annual events, the proceeds of which go to local non-profit organizations. These events, in fact, provide a major source of income for some local organizations.

This visit, we were anchored in Back Creek and walking the neighborhood to get to the post office and find lunch. A walk down any residential street in Eastport will find homes flying the MRE flag - an indication of the level of support of the local citizenry. It's wonderful to see the community involvement. Click here to read more about this fun-loving, not really independent nation.

Annapolis, MD - Anchored in Back Creek

A Serious Cold Front

We sat out a cold front in Annapolis and finally left there on October 26 heading south on the Chesapeake Bay. Weather forecasts looked as though we'd get to Norfolk, VA after 2 stops to anchor overnight. We got to Solomons, MD and found a nice protected spot to put down the hook.

Solomons, MD - Chesapeake Bay


When we left Solomons on the morning of the 27th we were expecting winds of 15 - 20 knots with gusts to 25. What we got were winds consistently 25 - 30 knots with gusts to 35! Luckily, the wind was on our stern so we got a push from it and were traveling with the waves rather than against them. It was a very rolly ride. Conditions were severe enough that we heard a few boats calling for assistance. We're sure glad that we have a robust and very seaworthy boat.

We anchored at Bones Bay in Dymer Creek just a little way north of the Rappahannock River. Charts and Skipper Bob's Anchorage book indicated that we'd be able to tuck behind a small island but the island is no longer there. What's left is a small stand of dead trees. This is a very nice anchorage with protection on the north, south and west. We looked at the weather forecasts and found ourselves facing gale warnings the next day and continued high wind the day after. Wind might be manageable on Wednesday, but it would be right on the beam and cold. Who wants to be that uncomfortable on purpose? We'd be hunkered down here until Thursday the 30th.

The wind did roar. We dragged anchor the first night. After moving to a slightly different spot, we used the tracking feature of our handheld GPS to monitor our movement. The pattern was interesting. We had a normal swing arc, but a few spikes in the track show where gusts took us out to the full length of our scope. But the anchor stayed secure.

Click here for an article that explains anchoring

Dymer Creek, Chesapeake Bay


Moving on to Norfolk

On October 30, we had good enough weather to head on to Norfolk where we again stayed at Waterside Marina. The plan was to stay just long enough to relax a little, do laundry and pick up groceries but there was weather. A storm was forming just off the Carolinas and heading northwest. We decided to stay put instead of heading into the weather. By the time the weather system got to Norfolk it was quite intense with gale and storm warnings being issued for the area.

Our extended stay coincided with a visit from a tall ship from Norway. As it came into the dock, sailors were up in the rigging of the forward mast and lined up on the bow sprits as well as all along the decks. And they were singing! It was a spectacular entrance. Here's a link to info about this ship. It stayed only a couple of days and when it left the sailors were back in the rigging singing as it moved out into the harbor.

Norfolk, VA
click here to see more photos from Norfolk

On the ICW

On November 7 everybody who'd been waiting out the storm decided to leave Norfolk and head down the ICW. It was a mass exodus. This is the first time we've done this part of the trip in prime time - along with all the other migrating boats. Like being on the freeway at rush hour. Of course, we all bunched up waiting for bridges to open, then spread out a little until we came to the next bridge. When we got to the lock at Great Bridge, there were so many boats ahead of us that they filled the lock and we had to wait an hour for the next southbound lock opening. Once past Great Bridge, there are fewer swing and draw bridges, so it gets a little less congested. The procession of boats reminds me of a trail of ants.

It's only 205 miles on the ICW from Norfolk to Morehead City, NC, but it takes a long time because it's dangerous to travel it at night; and the days are so short this time of year that the travel day is limited. The channel has some straight canals, but also follows meandering rivers and crosses two large but shallow sounds. Not all markers are lighted and in some places they're far apart so night time travel is strongly discouraged.

The Fall foliage was lovely. We stopped at 3 of our usual anchorages and one new one. Pungo Ferry, Deep Point and Bonner Bay are favorite stops; and Buck Island was new to us. When we wanted to anchor at Buck Island last spring, it was full of crab traps. The length of the travel day is often dictated by the availability of a good anchorage before dark. We do not like anchoring in the dark so some days were relatively short trips We got to Morehead City on November 9 and stayed again at Portside Marina overnight. Although we'd planned to anchor here, by the time we'd gotten fuel, we just decided to stay until morning.

Buck Island, NC on the ICW

Back out to sea

Leaving Morehead City, we headed offshore for Charleston. This 200 mile passage would be accomplished in about 33 hours compared to the 4 days to travel a similar distance on the ICW. Once we got offshore, the wind was much higher than had been forecast - it was above 20kts with gusts in the low 30-s. At least it was blowing on our stern so we weren't crashing bow first into waves. But the waves were pretty high and gave us a very rolly ride. Neal estimated that at times we had waves up to 10 feet. Made it difficult sleeping. And there was rain. It was one of those nights when I count the minutes until my watch is over. Then I feel both grateful to get out of the weather, and sorry for Neal who is just beginning his 3 hour turn.

By early morning, both the wind and seas were calming down a little and the ride got much better. And then we encountered fog. Of course, we're now old hands at sailing in fog thanks to our time in Maine. We relaxed when the fog lifted but encountered more of it as we approached Charleston. We stayed just outside of the shipping lanes to be out of the way of any ships. Luck was with us as the fog cleared again just as we got to the harbor. Charleston It was late afternoon when we got to the Ashley River and the anchorage across the river from City Marina was very crowded. We looked around for adequate space but ended up going back across the river to anchor between the City Marina and the Coast Guard station. It was a problem because it was pretty shallow but we finally set the hook before it got completely dark. The bad news was that hadn't noticed that a large catamaran had set two anchors so she didn't swing the same way we did. At 5:00 a.m. we found ourselves against the cat in a strong current!

We got free of the cat and went east of the Coast Guard station where no one ever anchors. We had 30 feet of water so we again set the hook. Except for the lack of wind protection this turned out to be a very good anchorage - partly because no one else was there. Currents are very strong on the river and we were able to swing with it without any worries. We'd been there a couple of days waiting for a weather window when a sheriff's boat came by wanting to know why we were there because it's an unusual place to anchor. I guess they were satisfied with our answers and decided we weren't plotting to invade Charleston.

We hadn't been to a supermarket in quite a while so we'd used up a lot of groceries and supplies. I actually dug out the powdered eggs and gave them a try. Hint: don't use powdered eggs for meals unless you're pretty desperate. They were barely "edible" as scrambled eggs, and sort of OK as scrambled eggs with corned beef. I've decided that they're adequate for baking but that's about it. When it looked like a weather window was approaching we moved into City Marina for 2 nights to do some provisioning and top off fuel. I won't disclose the amount but we set a new spending record at the grocery store.

Thanksgiving at St. Mary's

On November 24 we headed offshore bound for Saint Marys, Georgia and a Thanksgiving feast. The passage began well, but then the wind shifted. We had more than 20kts on the nose - pounding into the waves. Makes it pretty much impossible for the off-watch person to get any sleep. We were both very tired by the time we got to Saint Mary's inlet channel. It was another few hours before we got up the river to the town. We had a glass of wine and went to bed.

It was here that we discovered that the dinghy had developed an air leak on one side. With all the rolling we'd done on the way to Charleston, the davits were swaying back and forth and the dinghy was being swung around more than usual. The constant boat motion had also caused a couple of the davit bolts to come undone. Luckily they fell right into the dinghy and weren't lost.

Saint Marys holds a Thanksgiving feast for boaters. It's become a tradition over the past few years. The Riverview Hotel lends space, townspeople provide turkeys and hams, and boaters provide side dishes pot luck style. It is a marvelous event, superbly organized. There are get-togethers on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for boaters to meet and greet. Organizers provide transportation to a Super WalMart for shopping. Volunteers arrange the buffet tables and make sure they're well stocked, and then clean up afterward. I can't say enough about how well everything is coordinated.

This year there were 85 boats in attendance. Since most folks bring more than one dish, that's probably at least 160 different food contributions from boaters to feed about190 people if the local volunteers partake. What a spread!

Saint Marys is a nice small town with a pretty waterfront. Spanish moss hangs from the trees and there are many old homes and other buildings - some dating to the early 1800's. People are friendly. There's a large park that's well used by the locals. The main downtown street is a broad boulevard. There's not much actual shopping that can be done downtown, but there are 2 bookstores - one new books and one used - and a number of restaurants. It is also the National Park Service headquarters for Cumberland Island National Seashore.

The town has a submarine museum and the Park Service has a museum on the subject of Cumberland Island and the National Seashore. The submarine museum is appropriate because the US Navy has a major submarine base nearby at King's Bay.

At the head of the public boat ramps is a bait shop/information booth manned by volunteers from the Saint Marys Yacht & Boating Club. I got to volunteer. The guy manning the shop offered to take Neal to get a propane tank filled and put me in charge while they were gone. I asked what I had to do and he said just answer questions. Having been in town for 2 whole days, I knew I was well prepared to educate the masses about local attractions, events and history. No one came to ask questions, but people did come to buy stuff. A couple of fishermen wanted bait - specifically cigar minnows. HUH???? We ended up finding the right bait but then they had to give me exact change because I couldn't operate the cash register. I sold some ice and a couple of bottles of water. I was very lucky that everyone had exact change.

We waited out another cold front and then went to Fernandina Beach for fuel and anchored overnight just inside the inlet to get a quick start the next day.

St. Mary's, GA - Thanksgiving 2008
click here to see more photos of St. Mary's

Florida - at last

On December 4, we headed out to sea for the trip to Vero Beach, FL. We had light winds and a pretty smooth ride. Everything was going well until midnight. Just as we were changing shifts, the propane alarm went off. The propane controls include a sensor that detects propane fumes in the bilge. Propane is heavier than air so if there's a leak, the gas collects at the lowest level in the boat and will likely be undetectable to the human nose until it has reached dangerous levels.

Neal turned off the gas at the tanks, but the alarm wouldn't stop. He lifted the floorboard where the sensor is located and found that the sensor was UNDER WATER! We had a water leak. We were running the engine and couldn't tell whether or not the bilge pump was working, but the water level didn't change, so kept a watch on it.

What to do?? We were still north of Cape Canaveral, the nearest inlet, but there are no obvious anchorages there and it was the middle of the night. We could head in there, but should we? As time passed and the water level remained stable, we decided to continue on to the Fort Pierce inlet where we'd anchor and try to figure out what was the problem. Ft. Pierce has facilities for hauling the boat if we needed to. Once we arrived there, we found that the bilge pump was not working at all. There's a manual pump, but it is difficult to operate.

One of our wisest investments recently was a 2 gallon $30 wet/dry vac from Sears. We used it to try to empty the bilge, but the water level reduced to a certain point and then remained constant. Fortunately, Neal thought of checking the knot meter (speedometer) which is a device that goes through the hull. It turned out to be the culprit. Once that device was removed and the thru-hull opening closed, we were finally able to make some progress removing the water. What a relief to find a simple answer!

We continued on up to Vero Beach, our planned destination, to finish pumping and find the problem with the bilge pump. It turns out that we had a double failure in the bilge - there's a sensor that detects water and turns on the pump - it had failed, and the pump itself had failed. We got the rest of the water out; ordered an new bilge sensor (we already had a spare pump on board); and a new propane sensor because water ruins these sensors. The knot meter problem is a faulty O-ring.

Vero Beach = warm weather. Finally. Even when a cold front comes through it's not as cold as we had farther north. It's wonderful to put the long johns away for another year. We've vowed to head south much earlier next year so maybe we won't have to dig them out next fall.

The paragraph above was written fairly soon after we arrived in Vero Beach and no longer applies as I finish this article. Cold fronts that put the North in a serious deep freeze, also visited Florida in December and January. No sooner had we gotten the long johns put away than we had to dig them out again. We had some of the coldest weather in this part of the country since 1978. Frost & freeze warnings on several nights. It got down to 29 one night - note that we don't have heat on the boat. Layers of clothes during the day and lots of blankets at night made it less uncomfortable. We hunkered down and hibernated through it all.

We tend to get into a rut when we don't have a specific plan and we'd rather play than work so the boat projects don't get done very quickly. After being on the go for so long it felt good to just relax and stay in one place for a while so we spent the entire winter at Vero Beach. There's a certain luxury to being where we know the local shops and services and can get to them easily. Being a nomad means always having to search out groceries, barbers, etc. For a few months, we've known exactly where to go and how to get there. We know where to get good cheeseburgers, and great pizza. Kind of takes the "adventure" out of it, but it's been comfortable.

Vero Beach is known as "velcro" beach among boaters because it's so easy to just stay here instead of moving on. The city marina has nice facilities for laundry and showers and has park-like grounds with sheltered picnic tables and charcoal grills. And the county has FREE bus service to take you to just about every kind of shopping and service. No other place we've been offers the conveniences of Vero - mostly because of the bus service - one route has stops right here at the marina.

We watch the fish jump, the pelicans soar, dolphins feed, anhingas dive. Anhingas are related to cormorants. Like their cousins, they do not have oily feathers so they can stay in the water for a limited time before they must find a perch to spread their wings to dry. We had an anhinga perched on our dinghy outboard one day and another one spent a few days using our mooring parther's anchor as a favored roost. And Neal has begun experimenting with using the pressure cooker. As usual he makes good stuff.

In the middle of all this laziness, we did have one exciting afternoon when our mooring broke loose. We were rafted between two larger boats - a 50 foot schooner and a 48 foot ketch. Rafting means that the boats are tied to one another side by side and each is also tied to the mooring. We were below when we heard people calling to us. The mooring had come free from its anchor and our three boat raft was drifting toward other moored boats. No one was aboard either of the other two boats. Neal started the engine and began trying to maneuver the three of us to avoid collision. Our engine was able to move us all, but imagine trying to steer with a larger boat tied to each side! To make matters worse, we have a sun shade on the windshield so he couldn't see forward and his sideways visibility was hindered by our rafting partners. But luck was with us. The owner of one of our partners arrived and got his engine going. With one boat in forward gear and one in reverse, we were able to turn the raft. In the meantime, other boaters came out in their dinghies to offer assistance and the guys from the marina arrived. We got tied to another mooring, the marina crew untied us from the loose mooring ball we'd been dragging around with us and one of our partners untied and went to a different mooring. No damage was done and things are back to normal.

Vero Beach, FL - Dec, 08 - May - 09
Click here to see other photos of Vero Beach

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