South from Salem
When we left Salem, MA on September 30, we had just
over a month to get to Vero Beach. It's the first
time since 2007 that we've had any sort of schedule
and we were cutting it pretty close considering
the time of year. By the end of September, the Autumn
cold fronts start marching across the continent;
and that often means waiting for weather. We'd booked
a Western Caribbean cruise with a group of other
sailors. We had to be in Tampa on November 7. We'd
ride with friends from Vero Beach to Tampa.
were attracted to the cruise by the extremely cheap
fare. Our rationale was that we probably won't take
Sea Fox to that part of the Caribbean and this would
give us a chance to see it. That cheap fare would
be negated, though, if we had to fly to Tampa from
somewhere else but even so, we both know that the
most dangerous thing to have on a boat is a schedule.
Salem doesn't have fuel, we made the first passage
a short one going just to Scituate, MA. Scituate
also has the advantage that there's a grocery within
easy walking distance. We spent a couple of days
and left the mooring on October 4. The only open
fuel dock did not have water available so we went
into water conservation mode. Stopping at Scituate
also put us close enough to the Cape Cod canal to
make it easy to time our passage with the current.
Once we got through the canal, the plan was to anchor
overnight at Onset, MA then head down Buzzard's
Bay and make Atlantic City, NJ our next stop. We
had an easy ride through the canal and were pleased
to find fewer lobster pots than normal in Onset
Bay turned out to be a difficult upwind slog. Winds
at upwards of 20 kts right on the nose. We knew
we'd never make to Atlantic City before dark the
next day and a cold front was coming so we headed
for Block Island instead. It was getting dark by
the time we got to the channel into the harbor and
barely light enough to see the moorings when we
finally picked one up. This was the first time we'd
entered a channel in the dark.
the fronts came through.
Wind up to 40kts.
modified plan was to skip the stop in New Jersey
and head directly for Norfolk - about a 48 hour
passage. We left Block Island on October 10 looking
forward to a good sail. NOAA had predicted NW winds
which would be great for our SouthWest heading..
NOAA was wrong. We had SW wind. Strong wind - mid
to upper 20kts of it. It was a nasty bumpy ride.
Sea Fox was heeled way over with her port rail in
the water much of the time. I got seasick for the
first time ever. But we were going fast. We hit
over 9 kts a couple of times. Problem was that we
weren't following our planned course - we were headed
almost straight south. This lasted for abut 15 uncomfortable
the wind died down that night it really began to
peter out. By midnight it was down to just 12 kts
and continued to diminish. It weakened to less than
5 kts for a while which had us concerned about having
to run the engine to make any speed at all. We went
from zooming down the ocean to putt-putting our
way and worrying about fuel conservation.
rest of the passage was uneventful. We were motorsailing
most of the time but it became clear that fuel wouldn't
be a problem after all. By 3:00 pm on October 12
we were anchored at Old Point Comfort at Norfolk.
We took just one day to rest and were ready to leave
the anchorage by 8:00am on the 14th. That's when
the fun began.
windlass motor was a little erratic when we put
down the anchor, but now it wasn't working at all.
Neal looked at every possible way it could be just
a temporary problem. It wasn't easily fixable. 13
feet of water. About 4 to 1 scope. That means manually
hauling up about 60 feet of heavy chain with a 45
pound anchor on the end. And the anchor was well
set in the muddy bottom.
worst part was looking forward to manually hauling
in the anchor every night on our way down the ICW
from Norfolk to Morehead City. Poor Neal! For the
rest of the trip we decided to use our secondary
anchor which has only 20 feet of chain and the rest
is rope. Still not an easy chore, but considerably
better than the all-chain primary.
first ICW day was relatively short. The stretch
south from Norfolk is time consuming because there
are so many draw bridges. Most open only on schedule
and it can be difficult to get from one to the next
in time for its scheduled opening. We spend a lot
of time waiting for bridges. We'd decided to stop
at Great Bridge, VA because there's a convenient
supermarket. We tied up at one of the free docks
and went grocery shopping. As we were leaving the
store, the manager came over and offered us a ride
back to the dock. What a nice surprise.
our way down the ICW we anchored at Buck Island,
Pungo River anchorage, and Bonner Bay. Neal got
his morning workout pulling up anchor every day.
He was very happy when we finally got to Morehead
October 18 we docked at the Morehead City Yacht
Basin - a new marina for us. It turned out to be
very convenient because they have a courtesy car
available and we were able to get groceries without
taxi fare. The facilities are much nicer than at
Portside Marina where we've stayed before. We rested
for a few days while cold fronts came through and
on the 22nd headed out for Charleston where we arrived
on the afternoon of the 23rd. We'd originally planned
to anchor at Charleston, but opted for a couple
of nights at a marina because of the windlass not
working. We took a short rest at Charleston - had
dinner at Jestine's - and left on the morning of
the 25th. We were in a slip at St. Augustine by
early afternoon on the 26th. By
this time we were confident that we'd get to Vero
Beach in time for our trip to Tampa and the cruise
ship so we took a couple of days to catch up on
the 29th the sun was shining when we got up. Then
the fog began rolling in and by the time we left
the dock the fog was dense. The forecast was for
patchy fog so we hoped we'd soon be out of this
"patch". We got the first opening of the Bridge
of Lions. There was another sailboat going the other
way through the bridge and the bridge tender pretty
much told us that we were both crazy for being underway
in the fog. We made our way carefully out the inlet.
Within an hour we were under clear skies. By late
morning on October 30th we were on a mooring at
Vero Beach City Marina.
out the Gallery
for photos from previous visits to the places mentioned
of us had been on a cruise ship before so we were
looking forward to this. But there was one problem:
wardrobe. Neal has some nice slacks and shirts.
I have one casual skirt and no slacks - only jeans.
Dress code on Holland America ships for dinner is
"smart casual" except for the two "formal" nights
on a 7 day cruise. Smart casual means no jeans or
shorts. Formal means that men must wear a jacket
and tie, and women should wear cocktail dresses
or nice pants outfits or something dressy. We had
to go shopping.
friend Rose knows all the best consignment shops.
She gathered us up one morning and took us out to
shop. Neal found a beautiful wool blazer that had
never been worn - the pockets were still sewn shut.
Cost: $7.50! He also found a dress shirt and tie.
I found a long black silk skirt and a top that was
just ok but would suffice. We were ready to mingle
with the beautiful people.
November 7, our group of 8 couples set out in 4
vehicles. It's pretty much a straight shot from
Vero Beach to Tampa on Florida highway 60.
a great week we had aboard the ship! From beginning
to end. The ship was Holland America's ms Ryndam.
Our cabin had a window so we had plenty of natural
light and could watch the goings on when we were
in port. I love watching the sea and it was fun
to see the difference in speed between this big
ship and our little one. The ship's facilities are
great - from the library to the pools and lounges.
There's a very comfortable lounge that gives a panoramic
view forward. This one turns into a night club after
dark. There's another lounge with a small dance
band and there's a piano bar as well. The casino
had players from morning through night,. The food
is wonderful. We were glad that our first cruise
ship experience was on Holland America because they're
not primarily amusement park ships. They're smaller
vessels than the Carnival ships, for example, carrying
just over 1,200 passengers instead of the 3,000
on the huge Carnival ships. There are lots of things
to keep adults interested and busy and they do have
staff and special facilities for kids, but they
seem better suited to adults.
itinerary was to have been Tampa to Key West to
Belize City, Belize to Santo Tomas de Castillo,
Guatemala to Costa Maya, Mexico to Tampa. Hurricane
Ida was churning up the waters and made it impossible
for the ship to get into Key West, so the captain
rerouted us to Cozumel, Mexico as our first stop.
We were not unhappy to miss Key West. Been there;
done that; got the t-shirt.. We'd never been to
Cozumel. The ride that first night did get a little
rolly and it made some people pretty uncomfortable.
After living on our sailboat, the motion didn't
faze us. The sea calmed down later the next day.
Cozumel, we rented a van and all but one couple
in our group crammed in and we drove around the
island. We stopped at a regional park but it has
a pretty steep entrance fee so we didn't go in.
About half way around the island we stopped at a
place called Coconuts for a drink. It's on the highest
point on the island - about 200 feet. Our only other
stop was at the "Tequila Museum" where they offered
sips of their various tequilas with the hopes that
we'd buy. Some of us did.
is known for great snorkeling and diving - neither
of which happen at Belize City which is where the
ship stopped. Once we left the little visitor's
center and shopping area where the ship docks, it
was a very unpleasant place. We'd thought that in
town we'd find little restaurants or bars to go
into, but there's nothing like that on the main
street. And we were warned not to venture down side
streets. Belize City makes Tijuana look positively
Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala
stop in Guatemala turned out to be our best land
experience of the cruise. The ship docked at a commercial
port that handles mostly container ships. The town
is some distance away but there's a visitor's center
that houses local merchants and tour operators.
Buses were waiting to take the people who had signed
up for trips to see the Mayan ruins. These excursions
were very expensive so no one in our group signed
up for one. Our group's negotiation team got us
onto a boat tour to the Rio Dulce. This is a famous
river among sailors because it is a favorite place
to stop and is a great hurricane hole. Our boat
has been there with her previous owner. We were
lucky to have a guide who is a history teacher.
Schools were on a break so he was working as a guide.
at least this part of it, is mountainous and lush
jungle. It's beautiful. As we went up the river,
our guide took us to a small grotto and pointed
out the pure fresh water that gets filtered through
the limestone cliffs and is collected by locals
as it flows out of the rock. We passed by people
in their dugout canoes fishing with hand lines.
We went near a small community where the kids in
their tiny dugout canoes come to the tourist boats
to display local fish and shrimp and shells hoping
for a handout. And they do get plenty of dollars
from the sightseers.
stopped at a Mayan village where Mayan children
are instructed in Mayan traditions and also given
a modern education. It seemed strange in this dense
jungle in this cluster of thatched roof buildings
to see the kids on their laptop computers and people
using cell phones.
heading back to the ship, we made a stop at the
town of Livingston where we thought we'd get lunch
and a beer as part of our tour fee. But since we'd
gotten a discounted price, we got a free beer but
no lunch. Probably just as well.
final port was Costa Maya, Mexico. There were excursions
to Mayan ruins but they were too expensive for us.
There's no town right here. It's as though this
port was built specifically as a stop for cruise
ships. The port visitor's center and shopping area
is new and beautiful with quality shops. There's
a couple of restaurants here - one with a huge swimming
pool and a swim-up bar. The beach is lined with
palapas with lounge chairs and has a booth offering
massage. It's a very pleasant place, but in the
end it's just a tourist mall. We walked around,
had a margarita and went back to the ship.
A highlight of the cruise was that we got a tour
of the ship's bridge. Neal asked one of the officers
if it was possible and was told to make a request
at the front desk - which we did. At the appointed
time we found ourselves in a small group of about
8 people to be given the tour. The officer who was
our guide explained all of the instruments and their
routine for running the ship. It was fun to see
the industrial-sized versions of Sea Fox's instruments
plus all the other systems required to run such
a large vessel.
week cruise went by much too fast. I could have
spent a few more afternoons at the pool or just
enjoying the ship. But we had to go back to reality,
Keith & Rose dropped us off back at the marina.
The next day we retrieved the cat, did some grocery
shopping and spent time trying to get motivated
to get the boat chores done.
Thanksgiving was a huge potluck dinner. The marina
dockmaster arranged for the boaters to use a bulding
in the park next to the marina. . There were about
100 boats in the marina and it seemed that most
participated. With that many people there were not
quite enough seats for everyone but we arrived before
they'd all been taken. We've yet to learn that we
need to arrive early and set our plates down to
reserve our seats. The organizers did a great job.
Food was plentiful and good. Volunteers even washed
everyone's serving dishes after dinner. A local
entertainer came to sing after dinner and a few
people danced. Very nice time.
In December we attended the CLOD (Cruisers Living
On Dirt) Christmas party - another very large potluck
dinner. There was an anonymous gift exchange with
a $5.00 limit which we extended to about $10.00
in order to try to give things that might actually
far too easy to fall into sluggishness in Vero Beach.
Everything is just too convenient. We arrived with
a list of things to do but our ambition quickly
eroded. There's always tomorrow. Right.
decided to exchange gifts this Christmas but with
a serious spending cap. It's fun opening gifts on
Christmas morning even when the gifts aren't spectacular.
We had Christmas dinner at Rose & Keith's house
with another couple and Rose's mother who was visiting
from Connecticut. The weather cooperated giving
us a very pleasant day. Rose cooked up a storm and
could have fed an army. It was all very good. This
was the third time in a month that I contributed
my corn pudding. I'm getting pretty good at it.
Year's Eve we stayed on the boat with a bottle of
Champagne. We almost stayed awake until midnight.
January brought a very long cold snap. Florida recorded
record low temperatures as far south as Miami. We
had lows in the upper 20's a couple of nights. We
used up a lot of gasoline running the Honda generator
so that we could use our little space heater. .Many
citrus growers and vegetable farmers had significant
crop losses. Here in the waters of the marina, fish
died. By the last days of the cold weather, we could
see some lying dead on the bottom near the dinghy
dock. Gradually, the fatalities began to rise to
the surface where we could see just how many had
died. There must be more than 100 dead fish floating
in the marina on January 20 as I write this. When
the tide goes out the carcasses get stranded on
the exposed bottom and in the mangrove roots. And
by now they really stink. Someone told us this morning
that 3 manatees had been found dead. I wonder how
many others were lost to the cold.
We finally had a date for getting Sea Fox hauled
out so we can paint her bottom. We were getting
ready to go and had the engine running. I went below
to get something and met a horrible smell and smoke.
We'd burned up the starter motor. Getting the old
one out and installing a new one turned out to be
a significant ordeal because of where it is located
on the engine. It soon became clear that we'd be
spending another winter in Vero Beach. Not bad but
not at all what we'd planned on.
weather was pretty bad for Florida. One cold front
followed another always accompanied by strong winds.
A closed up boat in rainy weather meant that we
had a bumper crop of mildew. We slept under piles
of blankets and used many gallons of gasoline in
the Honda generator in order to run our little electric
heater several times a day. But it wasn't all bad.
In February Stan and Annie Connally came in on Kokopelli
and were on one of our neighboring moorings. It
was good to see them again after 4 years. We spent
time with Pat and Duane Marshall, who have a sister
ship (No Se') to Sea Fox, when they rented a condo
here for a while. Our cockpit enclosure gave us
a nice sun room while it was cool so we could sit
outside and read. And we heard reports that the
Bahamas were also having cold weather and high winds.
Maybe it was just as well we stayed here.