Spring 2000 Email
Sorry I haven't emailed in a while. Throughout the whole ICW trip, I didn't send any email. I had bought a laptop computer just before I left Annapolis, and I didn't have time to set up any online accounts. Once I got to Florida, I finally got everything configured, with the usual amount of cursing and wasted time.
I stayed at the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach for the first month. That was an expensive marina, but it was a very nice place and had a very convenient data jack. I no longer have convenient email access because the marina I'm at now doesn't have a data jack. In fact, they're so technologically backwards they don't even have a fax machine. In fact (believe it or not), they actually still use manual typewriters (not even electric typewriters) when they want a formal-looking document!
I have an acoustic coupler gizmo to connect my laptop's modem output to a pay phone, but it's pretty clunky to use and to tell the truth, I haven't figured out how to make it work. So to send email now, I pack up my computer in its case, strap it into my bicycle's saddle bag, and ride six miles up to the old marina in Daytona Beach. There's a special lock on all the marina gates and doors, but I still have a key for it. I had a crew person help me bring the boat down, and we both got keys to the marina once we arrived in Daytona Beach. I stayed at the marina for a month, and when I left, I turned in my key. But meanwhile my crew guy had gone back north and had taken his key with him. Well, he's now back in the Daytona Beach area, so I got the key from him so I can still get into the old marina to use the data jack.
While I was still refitting the boat at Bert Jabin's, I had posted a note in the bath house lobby soliciting a crew person for a trip south on the ICW. I got only two responses, but luckily, one guy was able to do the trip. His name is Brent (a Canadian), and he is a powerboater who always wanted to make the trip, and was very eager. We got along pretty well and are still friends. He is self-employed as a home remodeler, home builder, general contractor, project manager, etc.
The trip down the ICW was very interesting and I enjoyed it very much. It's so rare that we can do something completely new and for me the ICW trip was a great adventure. We left Annapolis on November 4, and spent several days working our way down the bay to the official start of the ICW on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk.
We anchored the first night on Back Creek in Solomons, and anchored the second night on Jutland Creek, off Smith Creek, which is off the Potomac River just above Point Lookout. The third night we stayed at a marina on Jackson Creek in Deltaville, VA. The next day was a layover day at the marina to do some chores and provisioning. Day 5 brought us to a marina on the Hampton River in Hampton, VA, down at the bottom of the bay. We stayed an extra day to be tourists, then started down the ICW itself on day 7.
The first night on the ICW, we tied up to a rickety free dock at Great Bridge, VA, just past the lock. There were better free docks but they were occupied. On day 8, we anchored in the North River, in North Carolina, and on day 9, anchored in the Alligator River. Both of these anchorages were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cypress swamps (we didn't see any alligators). Our crossing of the notorious Albemarle Sound was completely uneventful as there was very litle wind (we had to motor).
On day 10 and 11, we stayed at the River Forest Marina in Belhaven, NC. Belhaven is a nice little town but there still were piles of debris out in front of many houses as they finish repairing damage from the hurricanes. The whole town was under water during the worst of it. On day 12, we went up the Neuse River and stayed at a marina in Oriental, NC. The Neuse is a big river that reminds me of the lower Potomac, and on this day it was very windy and "boisterous". Oriental was very small and disappointing. It was supposed to be "the sailing capital of North Carolina" but I think that is mostly local boosterism.
On day 13, we reached a major milestone and stopped at the town docks in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a very nice town with many elegant old houses in their historical district. The docks are right in the middle of the downtown waterfront, so you are convenient to everything. A nice pub with $1 draft beers was less than a minute walk from the boat, as were several restaurants. Also, a lot of waterway boaters and offshore voyagers hang out here for a while. I felt proud when I docked the boat against a stiff sideways current and didn't hit anything - didn't even nudge a piling.
We spent the next two days in Beaufort doing maintenance chores, provisioning, and planning the next part of the trip (and drinking $1 beers). I was kind of spooked by reading about the huge tides and rapid tidal currents for the next portion of the trip, plus there were some reported shoal spots, plus the Marine Corps. firing range, etc. Also, it seemed like North Carolina would go on forever, and Brent was getting antsy to speed up the pace. We decided to make a few offshore hops, where we would go out one big-ship channel to the ocean, sail down the coast, then go in another big-ship channel after about a one-day sail (leaving noon-ish, sailing overnight, arriving late morning the next day). Then we would stay at a marina to rest, then repeat the process.
On day 16, we left Beaufort and went down the coast to the marina on Bald Head Island, which is where Cape Fear is, and where the Cape Fear River meets the ocean. We arrived on day 17, and stayed an extra day to explore the island. I liked Bald Head Island a lot, since it was very peaceful in the off-season, the development is limited and tasteful, there's plenty of natural areas with nice beaches, and the whole developed area could easily be covered by bicycle. They don't let any cars on the island, instead they use electric golf carts. There is no bridge to the mainland, just a ferry. The island is an excellent example of good planning with respect for nature.
On day 18, we went offshore to Charleston, SC, coming up the river to a marina just across from downtown, arriving on day 19. Although I didn't like the marina (too expensive and too big, the facilities were not commensurate with the size or cost), the city of Charleston is absolutely charming. It's an elegant and proud Southern city, and they were lucky (and/or smart) to preserve so much of its wonderful character. We spent three days here, and I could easily spend more.
On day 23, we did another offshore overnight hop to Savannah, GA, arriving on day 24. There isn't much in the way of marinas by downtown, so we stayed at Palmer Johnson Marina in Thunderbolt, GA, which was a nice marina. They are most famous at this location for repairing/refitting megayachts, and we could see several in the shipyard but we weren't allowed to walk around there. We had two layover days in Savannah although the last wasn't planned. Savannah isn't nearly as nice as Charleston, but it's not bad and is certainly worth a stop.
We only wanted to stay one day, but the next day was extremely windy and cold due to a strong cold front. I didn't want to travel down the coast, so we stayed an extra day, rented a car, and visited Hilton Head, SC. This resort is almost the complete opposite from Bald Head Island. Hilton Head is easily reached by car, is very overdeveloped (both houses and shopping), has little natural area, and has way too much traffic (including traffic jams) even in the off-season. I didn't like it at all, but then again, I'm not into golf or tennis.
On day 27, we did our last offshore hop from Savannah to Mayport, Florida, arriving on day 28. This is on the St. John's River, and we had very rough conditions coming in due to clashing tides, winds, and ocean currents. The marina at Mayport was a dump - they didn't have hot water in the bathrooms because the hot water heater broke months ago in the hurricane and they didn't feel like fixing it. We didn't take a layover day.
On day 29, we motored down the ICW to St. Augustine, FL, intending to stay at the very conveniently located municipal marina. The docks were still wrecked from the hurricane, so we stayed at a less convenient marina north of town. Initially, we thought we would stay an extra day, but after seeing all of ticky-tacky touristy St. Augustine in the afternoon of our arrival day, we decided an extra day wasn't necessary. So on day 30, we motored from St. Augustine to Halifax Harbor Marina (the municipal marina) in Daytona Beach, FL. This was our intended destination, and I stayed here a month. It was definitely the nicest marina we had stayed at, and was also the most expensive (although cheaper by the month than by the daily rates).
So it took us one month (from Nov. 4 to Dec. 4) to go from Annapolis to Florida. We didn't have any real problems on the trip, but this wasn't just coincidence. The boat was in good shape and properly equipped, and I did a lot of careful planning and had all the guidebooks/charts. It helps to have an engineer's mentality because there are lots and lots of details to master. Plus I had a competent and enthusiastic crew person, which I consider to be essential. I don't think I could have succeeded by myself, and if I had attempted it solo, I probably would have had numerous problems.
Most of the trip was motoring, including if there was wind, but from an adverse direction. We did some sailing on the bigger bodies of water, such as Chesapeake Bay, the Neuse River, and the ocean passages. Since we only sailed when we had favorable wind, I don't think we ever tacked on the whole trip.
Although we started out using anchorages, we wound up using a lot of marinas. I was willing to pay the cost, and I appreciate easy access to shoreside facilities and sleeping soundly without worrying about the anchor dragging. Most of the marinas had reasonably good docks, but almost all of them had crummy bathrooms that looked like they were part of a sleazy motel. The big exception was Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach, which was first-class in every respect. It was almost like staying in a nice hotel. On the other hand, due to the cost, HH marina had mostly bigger and more expensive boats with very well-heeled owners, so it was kind of dull.
I was at the first marina for a month, from the beginning of December to the beginning of January. During that time, I left the boat for a week and flew north to visit my mother over Christmas. I was back down in Daytona Beach for New Year's, and watched the fireworks they shoot over the ocean at Daytona Beach. Frankly, it was a pretty cheesy display, considering it was "The Year 2000" and all that.
I had been planning to do some major work on my boat over the winter (unstep the mast and replace the standing/running rigging, etc), and the Daytona Beach marina doesn't let you do that kind of stuff at the marina (they are just a marina where you tie up your boat, and not a working boatyard). So after the month was up, I came down to the Seven Seas Marina in Port Orange, Florida, which is about six miles south of Daytona Beach. This is a marina and a boatyard, and furthermore, it's a do-it-yourself boatyard. I like a do-it-yourself marina because I enjoy doing the work (usually) plus you can save a lot of money if you don't have to pay someone to do it (I work for free). I have already been at this marina nearly two months, since I paid for another month's slip rental in the beginning of February and am about to pay another month's rent.
All of these marinas are on the Halifax River, which parallels the coast of Florida for several 10's of miles. All the beaches are on barrier islands along the Atlantic coast. The barrier islands are less than a mile wide, but are many miles long. On the east side of the island is the Atlantic Ocean (no marinas, just beaches), and on the west side is the Halifax River. On the other side of the Halifax River is mainland Florida. The marinas are all on the Halifax River, there are no beaches because the river water isn't very clean.
The main part of all the coastal towns is on the mainland. Interstate 95 runs north-south just a few miles inland, so all the big shopping is between I-95 and the river. On the other side of the river (on the barrier island), it's almost all hotels, motels, condos, and beach houses, with some restaurants and stores mixed in.
The main work that I'm doing on the boat this winter is to replace the standing and running rigging, including fitting a new jib furler (Schaefer 2100), plus other related tasks. The standing rigging is the original rigging from 1982 when the boat was built. After that many years, due to wear and tear and corrosion, you can't really trust the rigging to be at its full strength. A rigger in Annapolis inspected it and recommended that it be replaced. The running rigging is over 10 years old, and that too suffers from wear and tear and eventually must be replaced (before it breaks while you're using it with possible serious consequences). It's a pretty big job so it's taking me a while. Also, I'm not really in the mood to do a big job on the boat, so I'm not working very hard at it. However I need to get cracking because the days are whizzing by and it will be time to head north before I know it.
I'm probably going to head north back to Chesapeake Bay around the beginning of May, since by then, it will be getting hot down here. In general, you need to wait until the weather systems change from "winter weather" to "summer weather". Winter weather down here consists of periodic cold fronts sweeping down from the north. When the front comes through, the wind will be breezy out of the north for a couple of days, then will gradually shift around to the southwest for a few days. The temps are usually in the 50's or 60's when the front comes through, then it warms up to the 60's and 70's. We have had two freeze warnings, when very powerful cold fronts came through, and the temps dropped into the 30's at night. However it never got to freezing here since I am right on the water (the water temp in the river doesn't drop below the low 50's all winter).
We get rain quite rarely (perhaps every one to two weeks), since the main winter storm track is quite a bit further north. Any bad storms pass north of us, then redevelop off the Carolinas into classic nor'easters that bring snow and ice to the east coast from the Carolinas northward. According to a guy at the marina, about this time in February/March, the weather starts to warm up and the worst of the winter weather is over. Once the "summer weather" arrives, there are no more cold fronts. Instead, the weather systems start moving up from the Gulf and bring hot and humid weather along with frequent afternoon thunderstorms.
To come back north, I will probably travel up the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast, perhaps making one or two stops (TBD) before winding up somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay (maybe Deltaville, VA). It's possible that Brent (my crew guy) will accompany me back north again. He's pretty good company, although he's not really a "sailor" (he owns a powerboat).
I travel around alot on my bicycle; it was a good idea to bring it. I now have almost 800 miles on the odometer, and most of that has been since I left Annapolis. The good thing about Florida is that it's very flat, so there are no real hills to climb. They also are very good about having sidewalks or bike lanes, with marked crosswalks at major intersections. The biggest day trip I made was down to New Smyrna Beach, which was just over 30 miles. That trip had some rough spots, since there was road construction that eliminated the shoulder so I had to ride in a traffic lane for a few short segments. When I encountered such a spot, I would wait until there was a break in the traffic, then pedal like crazy to get past the "jersey barriers", until I got out of the construction zone.
I have also biked down to Ponce Inlet several times, which is about six miles south of here. There is a nice park on the beach and an old (but fully restored and working) lighthouse; it's a nice place to hang out for an afternoon. I have two big saddlebags for the bike, so I can tote lots of supplies when I go grocery shopping. The grocery store is about a mile away from the marina, which is a very short and easy bike ride. It's actually pretty convenient using the bike for routine chores and shopping. However I miss having a car, since I enjoy driving around and exploring an area. I would have a much larger "radius of exploration" with a car (150 miles or so) compared to the bike (about 25 miles).
My crew guy, Brent, works as a building and remodeling contractor, and as a project manager for construction projects. After coming down south on the boat, he went back north to finish up some construction projects he was working on. But the weather up north was so beastly, that he came back down to Florida in the beginning of February. He drove back down and is now living in an apartment in Daytona Beach. He used to work for a guy who now lives in the area, and this guy owns and rents out beach houses and apartments. So Brent is doing a little work for this guy on the side, and in return, the guy lets him stay in one of the apartments rent-free. However, it's a pretty crummy apartment, a very small studio apartment that needs some remodeling work.
Brent's main job is serving as general contractor for a couple who are having a new home built in the area. He's pretty good at what he does - very fast and high quality. The problem is, in Florida, the wages in the construction industry are depressed due to the availability of large numbers of people who'll work for low wages (primarily immigrants from Cuba and Central America). So Brent can't charge the usual rates that he charges in the Annapolis area, or in the New York / New Jersey area where he also works.
But the good thing is that Brent has a car (actually a van), so we have done some exploring of the area on Sundays, which is his day off. One weekend we went to Blue Springs State Park, about 30 miles inland. This park is well known in Florida as the winter home of the manatees. Manatees are marine mammals that look something like walruses, but without tusks and not quite as large (plus they don't come out of the water). They are very docile vegetarians and are no danger to humans. In fact, it's the other way around. Manatees float just below the surface while they are feeding on vegetation in rivers, and they are frequently hit and injured by moving boats since they are very hard to see.
During warm weather, manatees are spread out on rivers all over Florida, and are not particularly common at any one location. During winter, the rivers in northern Florida get colder than the manatees prefer. The manatees seek out Blue Springs because the underground source of the springs provides large amounts of water that is considerably warmer than the ambient temperatures. The springs are connected by a creek to the St. John's River, which is the main "backbone" river down the middle of Florida. So the manatees somehow find their way into the creek by the springs and large numbers of them congregate there in winter, making them easy to see. There are observation platforms along the creek and on the day we went there, there were hundreds of people in the park watching the manatees. In fact it was so busy, they had to close the park for a while to let some of the crowd dissipate.
There was a space shuttle launch recently, and I rode my bike down to the park at Ponce Inlet to watch it. Unfortunately, there were many clouds that day, and the shuttle launch was mostly obscured. However we could see small portions of it. The launch site is about 40 miles south of Ponce Inlet, so it's hard to see the shuttle itself. However you can see a very big and obvious orange flame shooting out of the booster rockets. The rocket exhaust leaves a trail of white smoke that hangs in the air for several minutes after the shuttle launch. The trail looks something like a thick jet contrail, except it's puffy and lumpy like clouds instead of uniformly straight. As winds in the atmosphere distort the trail, it takes on a zig-zag appearance and finally dissipates. There were probably a few hundred people in the park watching the launch, but everybody went away disappointed because the clouds obscured almost everything. When I got back to the marina, a guy there said they could see almost the whole thing, because there was a break in the clouds over the marina.
At the end of the mission, the shuttle landed in Florida, and as it was approaching, there was the characteristic double sonic boom while the shuttle was still supersonic. It sounded like a shotgun being fired twice with the shots about 3/4 second apart.
Much earlier while I was at Halifax Harbor Marina, there was a night shuttle launch. This was spectacular, and was very easy to see even from more than 50 miles away since it was clear that night. You could watch the shuttle go up making a bright flaming exhaust from the boosters, then you could see the boosters drop off. The main engine keeps firing but there was no more visible exhaust flame, just a bright blue-white dot. I could follow the shuttle's progress for a few minutes, until it passed over the horizon. From 50 miles away, you can really see how they are getting blasted off the earth and go into space. Plus the booster exhaust looks so big and hot, it's like a colossal roman candle. Those are some brave people strapped in on top of the rocket.
The beach is still almost deserted, but business is picking up as it gets closer to spring. It seems that January is the bottom of the season, when there are no major events scheduled. This area of Florida is far enough north that the beach is kind of cool during the dead of winter, so people who are into beaches head much further south. That's fine by me, because that means the beaches are practically deserted. It's nice to walk along the beach and watch the waves and birds, maybe pick up a few seashells. It's not too cool to go wading and get your feet wet, but it's a bit too cool to go swimming. There are quite a few young kids out surfing in the places where the waves break favorably. But they all wear full wet suits (like diving suits) to keep themselves warm.
Daytona Beach is one area where you're allowed to drive on the beach. This is not very environmentally correct nowadays, but was a long tradition that they continue. In fact in the old days, the Daytona 500 automobile race used to be run on the beach itself. The cars would race up the beach from Ponce Inlet, then cut across to a beachfront road, then race down to the inlet on the road, then cut back over to the beach. The beach has a gradual slope with very hard packed sand, so it's easy to drive on, or even to ride your bike on. However, I've seen pictures of what it looks like in the summer, and apparently it is bumper-to-bumper gridlock. Instead of cruising up and down Main Street, all the kids cruise up and down the beach. On top of that, there are thousands of people walking, sunbathing, etc. It doesn't look like fun to me, but it's a big thing around here.
The area just finished with "Speed Weeks". This is the first big set of events in a continuing series of events. There are many road races at the Daytona International Speedway, which is located a few miles inland from the Daytona Beach marina where I used to be. Even down here in Port Orange, you can hear the drone of the car engines when they are racing, and some of the races go all night. However it's far enough away that it's not annoying at all. You can also look in the distance and see the Goodyear Blimp hovering over the racetrack (you can't see the racetrack itself at this distance). The other day there were three blimps hovering over the track.
In late Febrary, they have the biggie race, the Daytona 500. Typical speeds in some of the races are in the 190 mph range. However for other types of cars, the typical speeds are in the 260 mph range. When you see how many cars there are and how close they are, it's like your worst beltway driving nightmare, except these guys do it for fun (and profit). It's hard to believe anybody could survive an accident, but the other day, a guy cracked up and rolled over, and walked away practically uninjured.
The present big set of events is "Bike Week", and no, they're not referring to bicycles. Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts descend on Daytona Beach for their annual reunion and party. Many of them are "true blue" bikers, mean-looking dudes with their loud Harley-Davidson bikes. The bikers pretty much take over the town until they run out of money and get too hungover, then they depart until next year. The next big event after "Bike Week" is "Black College Reunion", when thousands of black college graduates descend on the town and take it over for a while. They have a blast partying until their money runs out, then they leave. Around the same time or maybe a little later is "Spring Break", when thousands of college kids descend on the town and party until their money runs out. Does it seem like Daytona Beach is a wild place? I guess it is, but being a few towns south, I hope I will be able to avoid a lot of the noise and bother. I'm not a college kid anymore, and drinking, barfing, and throwing furniture off the balcony just doesn't appeal to me like it used to.
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