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Salem, MA to Vero Beach, FL - Southbound 2009

Route South and stops along the way

Heading 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.

We 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.

Because 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.

Buzzard's 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.

And the fronts came through. Wind up to 40kts.

The 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 hours.

When 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

On 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 City.

On 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 sleep.

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.

Check out the Gallery for photos from previous visits to the places mentioned above.

The Cruise

Neither 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.

Our 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.

On 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.

What 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.

The 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, Mexico

At 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.


Belize City, Belize

Belize 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 beautiful.


Santo Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala

The 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.

Guatemala, 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.

We 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.

Before 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.

Santo Tomas de Castillo and theRio Dulce, Guatemala
click here to see more photos from Guatemala

Costa Maya, Mexico

The 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.

The 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.

Back to Reality

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 be useful.

It's 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.

We 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.

New Year's Eve we stayed on the boat with a bottle of Champagne. We almost stayed awake until midnight.

Early 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.

Murphy strikes again

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.

Winter 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.

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