Summer 2000 Email
I'm still living on my sailboat "Sunspot", which is now back in the Chesapeake Bay region at Town Center Marina in Solomons, Maryland. I spent the winter on my sailboat down in Florida, the first month in Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona Beach, then the next five months in Seven Seas Marina in Port Orange.
Halifax Harbor Marina is the nicest marina I've ever stayed at, but it was kind of expensive. The marina is in a park-like setting right on the waterfront in downtown Daytona Beach, and has several hundred boats. They have nice facilities which were very well-maintained. It's not a working boatyard, just a marina, so you can't do much work on your boat. There were mostly big, expensive boats there, since it was a pricey marina. It was a little "dull", though, since most of the boat owners didn't live on their boats. They would just use their boats every now and then on weekends.
Port Orange is about six miles south of Daytona Beach, and the marina there was very different. It was a small working boatyard and marina, with maybe a dozen boats in the water. They also had a big metal shed with several dozen small powerboats stacked inside on metal racks. The marina had a small but very popular restaurant on-site that served breakfast and lunch. This marina was much livelier since the restaurant patrons would wander on the docks and chat. There were a number of people living on their boats in the marina. We all got to know each other so it was like a small community.
Both towns I stayed at are considered to be in "north" Florida. Most cruising people keep heading south to "south" Florida, where the weather is warmer, but even "north" Florida is hardly what you'd consider cold. There were a few times during the winter when strong cold fronts would cause north winds to blow for days, which would cool things off. Except for one time when there was a freeze warning, it never got so cold I had to turn my boat's heater on. The days were almost always sunny, and we got very little rain. In fact, this portion of Florida was in the midst of a severe drought.
Most of Florida has a narrow sandy barrier island running north and south along the coast. To the east of the barrier island is the Atlantic Ocean, and to the west of the barrier island is a river or lagoon. To the west of of the river/lagoon is mainland Florida, where most of the stores and businesses are located. The barrier island mostly has motels, condos, restaurants, and tourist shops. In the Daytona area, the river/lagoon is called the Halifax River, and it's part of the Intracoastal Waterway. This waterway connects Chesapeake Bay with Miami, Florida, so you can travel the whole distance on protected inland waters instead of venturing out on the ocean. Both marinas I stayed at were on the waterway, so they were easy to get to by boat.
Daytona Beach is not very large - I could ride my bicycle from north to south in maybe 15 minutes (it is bigger east to west). There were the usual "big box" stores like Best Buy, Home Depot, K-Mart, Circuit City, Border's, etc., out by I-95 at the western side of the city. Getting closer to the center of the city, there was a big mall with a Sears and all the usual mall-type stores. Across from the mall was an airport with regional flight service. In this part of the city, there also was a sizeable community college. The "main drag" of the city mostly had small stores and fast food restaurants. Over at the eastern side of the city, there was the older part of town right next to the waterway. This part of town had been recently spiffed-up, and they had a pretty linear park opposite the storefronts with palm trees lining the street. The marina was in this part of town, right on the waterway.
On the other side of the waterway, there's a piece of Daytona Beach on the barrier island, too. This had the usual motels, condos, restaurants, and tourist shops. Of course, the barrier island also had the beach, and the beach is what made Daytona Beach famous. The beach is quite wide, and has a gradual slope towards the ocean. The sand is very firm - so firm that you can drive your car on the beach without getting stuck. Several areas of the beach allow auto traffic, which is very popular although it's not environmentally correct these days. Back in the old days, the Daytona 500 auto race used to be held on the beach and the road just next to the beach.
Port Orange, where I spent most of the winter, is a much smaller town. It's mostly a residential area, although there were some big stores out by I-95 (Lowes, WalMart). There's a piece of Port Orange on the barrier island, too, including a nice beach. The marina was on the barrier island, so it was much closer to the beach than the marina in Daytona Beach (which was on the mainland side). In Port Orange, the barrier island is narrow, so I could ride my bicycle from my boat to the beach in about a minute, and in the process, traverse the barrier island completely from west to east.
In this part of Florida, winter is the "low" season from a tourism point of view - it's much busier in the summer. The area usually was not very busy at all, which made for nearly deserted beaches and roads, which was fine by me. There were several major tourist events during the winter, when the tourist population would suddenly swell by literally tens of thousands. The first event was the Daytona 500 auto race, now held in a big racetrack stadium out by I-95 west of the city. From the marina in Port Orange, you could hear the low roaring sound of all the cars racing around. You could also see several blimps flying above the stadium, including the Goodyear blimp plus other promotional blimps.
A few weeks later, the next big event was "Bike Week", where a hoarde of motorcycle enthusiasts descended on the city for a week (the crowd was estimated at 300,000 people!). Despite wearing black leather outfits and riding noisy Harley-Davidsons (mostly), they were a fairly mild-mannered bunch. The typical bikers nowadays are not hell-raising youngsters but aging yuppies, complete with cell phones and credit cards. It was quite a spectacle in downtown Daytona Beach - there were hundreds of motocycles parked handlebar-to-handlebar lining both sides of the street for blocks. The sidewalks were jam-packed with bikers and people gawking at bikers; the bars did a land-office business that week.
The next event was spring break, where college students come to lie on the beach and forget their studies for a while. This event is not as big as it used to be, since the city has been discouraging it due to too many rowdy youngsters. But the event after spring break made up for the lack of rowdiness during spring break. This event was called Black College Reunion, and consisted almost entirely of young African Americans, but not all of them college graduates. They come to hang out and party together, but there was also quite a bit of rowdiness and even public nudity. Many locals tolerate the event only very grudgingly, but business is business - the area depends on tourism for its livelihood.
To get around, I had a bicycle that I brought with me on the boat. It was easy to get around by bicycle - this part of Florida is quite flat, and the roads had bike lanes or sidewalks. Busy roads had crosswalk signals at intersections so you could always cross the road safely. Even the bridges across the Halifax River had sidewalks. The highest point around was the fixed bridge crossing the river at Port Orange, and it was about 65 feet high. A typical bike trip was to the stores near I-95, which was about 10 miles round-trip. I once went on a 31-mile trip to visit New Smyrna Beach, which is the next significant town south of Port Orange.
My favorite bicycle trip was down to Lighthouse Park, at the southern end of the barrier island. There was a nice park with a beach, picnic tables, nature trails, a fishing jetty, and a tall red-brick lighthouse (Ponce Inlet Lighthouse). The view from the top of the lighthouse was spectacular. You could also just linger on the jetty and watch the pelicans and dolphins, and watch the waves break endlessly. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
There were several other people living on their boats at the marina in Port Orange. One was a man from Edinburgh, Scotland, who was fixing up his boat so he could go cruising again. He had an old wooden boat with spartan accomodations, because that was all his budget could afford. Another liveaboard was a charter airplane pilot from Wisconsin who was trying to fix his boat so he could sell it. The boat had a bad engine, so he wound up replacing the old engine. Then the new (used) engine proved to be balky, too, so he spent lots of time working on it. Every few weeks, he would go back to Wisconsin to fly airplanes for a while to earn more money. Then there was a couple from England who had a sturdy steel sailboat and a rambunctious sheepdog. They spent months in the marina refitting their boat in preparation for extensive cruising. They were still there when I left.
If you get the idea that most people who own boats spend a lot of time working on them, you're beginning to catch on. If you travel around and live on your boat, it suffers lots of wear and tear. Plus, the saltwater environment is particularly rough on equipment and gear. I spent lots of time working on my boat in Florida. I paid the marina to lift my mast out with a crane, then lay it on some sawhorses on the ground. I then replaced all the boat's rigging (the stainless steel wire that holds the mast upright, plus the ropes used to control the sails). There were many other projects, major and minor, and at times, working on the boat became a full-time job. I've come to accept that as part of the price of living on my boat, although I sure do get tired of working on it.
I came down to Florida with Brent Morrison, who I met in Annapolis. He has a powerboat, and was interested in cruising down to Florida on the waterway but didn't want to take his own boat. He took some time off from his job as a home improvement contractor and served as crew on my boat for the trip down. Once down in Florida, Brent did a lot of repair and remodeling work for an old friend of his who owned several beach houses in the Daytona Beach area. Although Brent got to live in one of the beach houses rent-free, unfortunately the "friend" didn't pay Brent all the money he was due for all the work he did.
I got to see three space shuttle launches while I was down here, but only from a distance. The Kennedy Space Center is about 45 miles south of the Port Orange area. To get a "ringside seat", most people drive down to Titusville, the closest city to the launch pad. But being car-less, I watched the launches from the Daytona Beach area. The first launch was at night, and I watched it from the dock at Halifax Harbor Marina. It was very spectacular, even from nearly 50 miles away. I could see the big tongue of orange flame coming out of the booster rockets. When the boosters were used up, the orange flame stopped, and I could see two red dots move away from the main shuttle as the boosters separated. The shuttle engine kept firing, but it looked like a bright blue dot, like a big star. I could see the shuttle rise up and head over the ocean in a big arc. By the time it went below the horizon, they were hundreds of miles away and nearly in orbit. A few minutes after the launch, I could hear a quiet low rumble as the sound finally reached us. The second launch was in the daytime, but it was mostly obscured by clouds. I only got to see the shuttle briefly, between clouds. The orange flame from the boosters was still plainly visible, plus the white smoke trail they left behind. The third launch was just before dawn, and this also was spectacular. The sky was nearly cloudless, and the booster flame and smoke trail were plainly visible. At first, the smoke looked red, because it was colored by the red light of sunrise. At the shuttle rose up higher, the smoke trail turned orange, and once it was high enough to be in full sunlight, the smoke turned white. Afterwards, the smoke trail lingered, and it was still in "technicolor" until the sun came up, then the smoke looked white. As the winds aloft distorted the smoke trail, it took on a zig-zag appearance, and finally dissipated.
In early spring, my mother came down to Port Orange for a visit. We got to play "tourist", and drove around and took in the sights. On one day, we visited the Kennedy Space Center and saw where the shuttle is launched. Another day, we went on a guided tour of the St. John's River in central Florida. The tour is via pontoon boat, and they took us through swamps and narrow river channels, past alligators in the wild and all kinds of birds. A good time was had by all.
As spring turned into summer, I got ready to take the boat back to the Chesapeake Bay area. Florida is very hot in the summer, and there is a significant danger from hurricanes, so I didn't want to spend the summer in Florida. Brent was supposed to come back north with me, but at the last minute he backed out due to other commitments and a lack of funds. I tried to find other crew at the last minute and posted some signs at a few places in the Daytona Beach / Port Orange area, but I didn't want to wait around a long time for responses. I also called a few people who are professional crew/captains. They were readily available, even on short notice, but they expect to get paid. One guy quoted $125 a day, plus he wanted to bring a third person. Paying that kind of money would cause me to hurry north to keep the cost as low as possible, and that's missing the point of cruising: it should be a relaxing journey and not a forced march.
I finally decided to head north by myself and do things solo. I had some concerns, but what the heck! My general philosophy was to take it easy and go slow, so I wouldn't get "burned out" or too tired. To make a long story short, it worked out pretty well. I didn't have any major problems and got back in one piece (both me and the boat). But I will say that I definitely prefer having crew - it eases the workload and makes for a more interesting trip.
The trip going south in the fall took 30 days. Going north, my solo trip took 38 days. I stopped at some different places to see some things I didn't see on the way south. I had almost the same number of "traveling" days; I spent the additional days at marinas visiting places. Here is a rundown of the trip north:
We were originally going to leave at the very end of May, so I could get north of Florida before June 1. My boat insurance would become invalid if I was still in Florida after June 1 (hurricane season), although it would reinstate once I got north of Florida. I had the boat hauled at Seven Seas Marina, scraped off barnacles and changed zincs while the boat was hanging in the slings, then got relaunched. I was going to leave May 31, but the weather was very unsettled and I was still trying to get hold of Brent. I spent the 31st and June 1 basically fretting and worrying about "what to do!".
I finally left on June 2 with perfect weather, and went out Ponce Inlet past the lighthouse to the Atlantic Ocean. The first passage was an overnight trip up the coast to Brunswick, Georgia, which we bypassed on the way south. It went surprisingly well so my spirits were lifted. I don't remember either one of us getting much sleep on our overnight offshore hops on the way south, so the fact that I would have to stay up all night on the way north didn't worry me very much. Plus it was summer, so it was never cold like it was on some of the offshore hops south.
I stayed at the Brunswick Landing Marina for a few days and visited Brunswick. The marina had free laundry facilities and a data jack for internet access. Brunswick was a fairly nice little city, with an old historic area downtown and easily accessed groceries. There also were some industrial areas and "poor people" areas, and just down the river from the marina was a set of docks where big cargo ships were docked.
The next passage was an overnight offshore hop to Beaufort, South Carolina (this is "Bew-fert" South Carolina, which we bypassed on the trip south, and not "Bow-fert" North Carolina further north which we visited). This involved a trip up a river to get to Beaufort, where I stayed at the Downtown Marina, right in the heart of downtown. Beaufort was a really nice old southern town, big enough to have everything but small enough to walk just about anywhere (although I rode my bike a lot). It had many beautiful old homes and draws many non-boating tourists, too, to its historic areas and "yuppie" downtown.
My next major stop was going to be Charleston, South Carolina, but instead of going offshore I went up the Intracoastal Waterway. The offshore route would have been much longer, since I would have had to backtrack south down the river to the ocean, which would be many miles. The waterway trip took two days, with an overnight stop at an anchorage in Steamboat Creek, off the waterway which was on the Edisto River at that point. The first day, I had some trouble getting through part of the waterway - the water was only 3 1/2 feet deep at low tide and the boat needs at least 5 1/2 feet. The entire waterway is supposed to have at least 12 feet of water at low tide, so that section really needed dredging. I didn't feel like waiting for high tide - the tides are about 8 feet, so I would have had plenty of water then. Instead I took a detour off the waterway to use a different river to bypass the shallow spot. Due to the detour, this was a long and tiring day, but the anchorage was very peaceful. The next day was also long and tiring, and I had a lot of trouble finding the channel at low tide. I nearly ran aground when trying to move aside for a tugboat/barge - I was probably plowing through mud with my keel but I didn't get stuck. I had the tide against me most of the day, so I had to really push the boat to make it to a drawbridge by the last opening before rush hour traffic. If I didn't make the last opening, I would have to wait 2 1/2 hours and it would be dark before I got to Charleston. Luckily I just barely made the opening - the bridge tender was very nice and held the bridge open for me while I hurried for it. I arrived in Charleston in late afternoon.
I stayed at the City Marina in Charleston, which was in a much nicer location than the Patriots Point marina we used on the way south (although it still had strong currents). It was in the city of Charleston itself, so it was very convenient to hop on my bicycle and ride into the downtown business district or the historic district in just a few minutes. I spent several days here, and I think Charleston is a city that you could spend unlimited time in and never run out of things to do - it was very nice.
The next passage was to head to Southport, North Carolina, via an overnight offshore passage. By the way, most of the offshore passages were either motoring or motor sailing. This is one of the times when crew is really nice - I didn't want to sail overnight with the mainsail up in case it got too windy. It would be too much of a nuisance to furl or reef the main by myself, so I usually just motorsailed with the jib and staysail. Southport is just off the Cape Fear River, just across from Bald Head Island Marina where we stayed on the way south. I stayed at Southport Marina, and I think Bald Head Marina was nicer. Southport is a very small town, with nothing really to do or look at. It's really just good for a transient stop to gas up and go.
After visiting Southport, I headed offshore on an overnight passage to Beaufort, North Carolina. I stayed at the Town Docks, where we stayed on the way down. They put me in a very narrow slip in a tight little basin down near the Post Office, and I didn't like the slip. They were really trying to pack boats in, as it was much busier than in the winter. At night in the winter, you could probably shoot a cannon down main street and not hit anyone, but in the summer you'd probably hit someone. The beers at the Dockhouse restaurant/bar were just as big and tasty, but the price during the summer was $2 instead of $1. Oh well, I guess everybody tries to cash-in during the busy summer tourist season. I did a bunch of boat maintenance chores at Beaufort, like changing the oil and the fuel filters, adjusting the rocker arm clearance, adjusting the stuffing box (boring!). I also visited the Maritime Museum they have there, which we didn't get a chance to see on the way south. It was really nice, and reminded me a lot of the nice museum they have here in Solomons, MD.
All the way north from Beaufort, I traveled on the Intracoastal Waterway, which is the same way we came down. Beaufort was the only place where I had trouble handling the boat. It was just too difficult to get the boat out of the slip and out of the tiny basin by myself. I didn't want to risk hitting another boat, so I asked one of the marina dockhands to come on my boat to help out. He did, but he was pretty crabby even though I tipped him $5. I decided that although I liked Beaufort a lot, I didn't really care for the marina or its staff. Next time I'll probably stay somewhere else in Beaufort. The next stop north of Beaufort was Oriental, NC. Instead of staying at a marina like we did on the way south, I anchored out in the South River, off the Neuse River across from Oriental. This was another very nice anchorage, although the Neuse River was very windy and bouncy just like it was when we came down in the fall.
After Oriental, the next stop was Belhaven, NC, where I stayed at River Forest Marina again. This is another marina that I have to say I'm getting tired of and probably won't visit again. The bathrooms, already decrepit, hadn't been cleaned in days, and there was no hot water. So you got to use the guest shower in the main building, which is an old southern mansion used as a bed-and-breakfast. And guess what - it was decrepit and dirty, too. Plus the owner's kids were using the pool and the golf carts, and running around in the restaurant like they owned the place (which I guess they did), so it wasn't very peaceful. I had a problem with the boat here. It seems like I picked up some bad fuel in Beaufort, and my fuel filter was clogged up with gunk, even though I just put in a new filter in Beaufort. I had to pay the people at Belhaven to pump out and discard all my bad fuel and I changed the filters again. They charged "Annapolis prices", which is another reason I got turned off by the marina. Another guy at the marina had the same fuel problem I did and he got fuel at Beaufort, too. Only the bad fuel on his engine caused the fuel injector pump to fail and it had to be replaced at a cost of over $1000.
After a windy and rainy visit to Belhaven, the next stop was at the Tuckahoe Point anchorage on the Alligator River, where we anchored on the way down. In this area, the river passes through a cypress swamp with no signs of civilization anywhere. It was a little windy, but still quite nice. After Tuckahoe, I crossed Albemarle Sound (had to motor as it was nearly dead calm) and anchored for the night in the North River, a few miles north of the sound. It was very peaceful, but there were a lot of crab pots around that really limited the anchoring area.
Heading north from the North River, I passed through Coinjock, NC but didn't stop. I went through Currituck Sound and it was much better than the trip south. Back in November, it was windy and cold, plus the channel had many shallow spots. Going north, it was nearly calm and the channel had obviously been recently dredged. The spots that the guide books said were shoal were actually quite deep now. Heading up the North Landing River, which was very forgettable on the way down, there were (seemingly) millions of waterskiers and jet skis, so it was very crowded and rather annoying. A waterskier would fall down, so I'd have to stop since it was too narrow to go around them while they were maneuvering. Then he would ski for a while and I'd proceed, but he'd fall down again and I'd have to slow down again. The stop this day was at Great Bridge, Virginia. On the way down, we stayed at a rickety free dock, but this time I stayed at the marina (Atlantic Yacht Basin). Since it was a holiday weekend (4th of July), I thought the free docks might be all full, and I didn't want to show up and find there was no place to stay. As it turned out, the free docks were mostly empty, but the marina was pretty nice so it wasn't a problem.
The next passage was through the lock at Great Bridge then up the Elizabeth River to Norfolk and the end of the Intracoastal Waterway portion of the trip. This day was the 4th of July, and all the Navy ships in Norfolk had their ships "dressed" with signal flags running from bow to stern. And on an aircraft carrier, that's a LOT of signal flags! I went past Hampton and didn't stop, but went up Chesapeake Bay and anchored out in the Poquoson River. This was a place that we skipped over on the way south from Deltaville, since it turned out we could make Hampton Roads easily in one day. It was a pretty nice stop and I got to see three sets of fireworks from different towns around the anchorage.
The next stop was at the Deltaville Marina, where we stopped on the way down. It was a really nice stop since the weather was perfect and they had their pool set up - I soaked for an hour and it was marvelous. My mother drove over from her house in central Virginia and visited me while I was in Deltaville. We had lunch and she drove back the same day.
After Deltaville, I went north up the bay to the Potomac River, then up the Potomac past Point Lookout to the same general area where we anchored on the way down. This time I stayed in Smith Creek instead of Jutland Creek. After leaving Smith Creek the next morning, I really freaked out. There was a SNAKE in the cockpit! It was very skinny but about two feet long. It was windy at the time and I was trying to sail but I just let all the sails flog and let the boat wander while I dealt with the problem. I wound up whacking it in the head with a winch handle and it left a little pool of snake blood on the cockpit floor. I used a piece of rag and picked up the dead snake and threw it overboard. I was totally freaked out! I later looked it up in a field guide book and found out that the snake was a non-poisonous snake that swims on and in the water, so somehow it climbed up into the boat while I was anchored. Definitely NOT something you want to find on your boat.
This was the last day of the trip, when I reached Solomons, day 38 after leaving Port Orange, Florida. I was very, very, glad the trip was over. I enjoyed the trip very much, and I was pleased that I made it by myself and didn't have any major problems. Nevertheless, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the trip more with crew, and was glad that I was "home". I have been in Solomons more than a month already, and time, as usual, is flying by. I spent a week visiting my mother at her house (she picked me up and dropped me off). I also have lots of boat work to do, but I'm making very slow progress because, frankly, I'm not in the mood to work on the boat. Solomons is pretty nice, but it's very small and there's not much to do that's within bicycle range. Most of the stores and shopping are on the other side of the Patuxent River, and unlike Florida, the bridge is too high and narrow to ride my bicycle. But there are some other liveaboards here, and I can bum a ride when I need to.
My plans for this winter are still up in the air. I really want to cruise south again, this time east to Bermuda then south to the Virgin Islands. I'm looking for another person to come along as crew, especially someone who can stay with the boat for the whole trip (early November to late April). If I can't find any crew, I might stay up north for the winter and get a job for a while.
Hope all is well with you.
on board "Sunspot" in Solomons, MD
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