Key West

We were looking forward to Key West for several reasons.  Key Largo was disappointing because of the recent hurricane damage and the fact that we had multiple trips to the vet for Kellie, and a Passport renewal to accomplish.  It was more like a business stop.  Then as we wrote about our overnight at Marathon turned into an anchor tangling fiasco.  Key West we looked forward to as a stress free goof off time and our first real tropical stop since last year.

As I wrote in the last blog entry our trip started with a little bump.  Luckily we were off quick and it didn’t spoil the otherwise perfect passage.  Because we again stayed inside the Hawk Channel, we had calm seas and local FM radio to keep us entertained.  Entering Key West under sail was great. Key West is a wide and deep harbor that gave us little issue.  We chose to anchor on the east side of Wisteria Island, also called Christmas Tree Island.  We dropped the hook near the red arrow on the map below.  The dinghy dock we used is at the green arrow.

Kew West Harbor

Wisteria Island is inhabited by some strange characters who live in tents and boxes. I guess they are the people too weird for “Key Weird”  They seemed friendly enough and wave as they dinghied to shore every day.  We took Kellie to the island for walks on the beach and met some of their doggies.  All were friendly. Here is our view looking out to the Gulf of Mexico.


We went to shore at the Key West Municipal Marina.  It seemed to be a good place to access everything we needed.  Close to the entertainment area (Duval Street) and also close to boaty stores (Chandleries) like West Marine so we could order parts.

Which brings me back to the dinghy motor.  I noticed in St Augustine in November that the motor was not idling as smooth as it did before.  The problem became more  noticeable in Key Largo but wasn’t an operational issue until Marathon where the motor would not run at idle speed. Cleaning the carburetor seemed to correct the issue in Marathon, however it remanifested in KW. 

Our motor is a 2009 Mercury 9.9 four stroke.  It came with the new (used) dinghy I bought in Little Washington NC back in September. See picture.  Not as flashy as the first dinghy that got stolen, but it does the job and is easier to load onto the boat.

dinghy on beach

  I have since learned that Mercury engines, or rather their carburetors are notorious for the idle jet becoming clogged. The idle jet controls the amount of fuel that is mixed with air while idling.  The “jet” is just a tiny needle valve used for metering out very small amounts of liquid.  Gasoline in our case.  The holes in the Mercury jet are very very small.  Even though we have a fuel filter on the inlet line, the jets routinely get clogged requiring the carburetor to be removed and disassembled. idle jet

This is a pain in the butt when the dinghy is in the water.  First the risk of dropping tools or parts in the water is ever present, and second the wave action can make a jerky platform to work on as the lines reach the end of their travel and jerk the dinghy. 

By the time we left KW I had opened up the carb at least four times.  I am pretty quick with it now.  Still not fun job and should not be happening.  I will say that this time there were other issues affecting the carb, including a corroded float needle.  I am assuming this was caused by ethanol gas.


I decided to be bold and rebuild the carb at the dinghy dock where it was calmer than tied up to the boat.  After replacing corroded parts and cleaning everything else I got the motor running and reset the mixture and idle speed.  Purring like a kitten afterward….luck man.

Once we got settled in and caught up with maintenance/repair we hit the town and acted like tourists.  We went to all the big tourist spots

At Captain Tony’s, with the tree!

KWest bar

We also hit  Schooner Wharf, Green Parrot, the something Monkey with frozen drinks…can’t remember the name now, the Sunset Tiki Bar, Kellie liked it as it was nice and quiet:


We discovered by accident that Colleen’s friends Brad and Kristen were also in Key West.  They are from Chicago and were in Florida attending a boat show.  They are looking for a boat to do pretty much what we are doing.  I of course told them to buy an Amel but I think they have their heart set on a catamaran.  We wanted to take them out on Annie but there was bad weather looming so we had to defer. 

Since Christmas was in a few weeks KW was being decorated for the season.  Colleen found her “Toyland”  themed house.  <get pic>.

We also had some of the most expensive margaritas ever.  They were good…but not that good.

Of course we visited the southernmost point buoy. <get pic>

Fun and Games in Marathon Florida

So Kellie had all her shots and blood drawn for her rabies test.  All we had to do was wait for the results which take 4-6 weeks.  For the wait we planned to go to Key West and then back to St. Augustine for Christmas.

When it was finally time to leave Key Largo for Key West we decided to make it an easy trip and break it up into two day sails.  We left early in the morning planning to stop in Marathon to sleep for the night before heading to Key West.We had perfect weather and nice calm sea state inside the Hawk Channel. The Hawk Channel runs along the east side of the Keys between the islands and a reef that is a few miles off shore. The reef attenuates the swells from the Atlantic Ocean and makes a nice smooth ride. The numerous crab/lobster traps were the only thing we had to watch out for. Here is a chartplotter view of the relative path we took.  I made this map later because I didn’t save the route on the Raymarine we actually used during the sail.

route from Key Largo to Marathon



We arrived at Marathon around 4:40 pm. We planned to arrive in daylight as we weren’t sure exactly where we would anchor and wanted be able to get the lay of the land. The first place we considered was outside Boot Key Harbor near the US-1 / Seven Mile Bridge.

anchoring marathon


It had a nice view and short ride to the Sunset Grill, but the DOT guys were grinding hurricane debris up on the bridge with a fleet of chippers and trash trucks. Kellie, who has an inordinate fear of garbage trucks, and trucks in general was not liking it….nor were we. It was a giant industrial set up with portable construction lights and generators adding to the “ambience.”

We puttered around outside to see if we could find a spot that was good, but in the end we decided to enter the harbor and try inside. Inner Boot Key Harbor is a nice well protected harbor, but not very deep. Our draft and mast height precluded us from entering all the way and taking a municipal mooring ball. However, on the chart there was a small patch of anchorage with sufficient draft and no height issues. We had eyeballed it on our car trip the week earlier and it seemed do-able, see the red X on the chart.

BKH anchorage

We entered the channel and followed the markers with no issues. As we had hoped we found a spot to the west of the bridge crossing the harbor. There were some small boats anchored there but there was a spot that was just barely big enough for us.  I lined up on the spot we wanted, checking depth and all looked good.

Just as we were ready to drop anchor I looked around and I felt I was a tad too close to a power boat on our port (west) side. Power boats don’t swing quite the way a sailboat does so I wanted to give it a little more room. I allowed the wind to drift us backwards planning to drive forward and line up a little further east. Unfortunately one of the boats behind us had laid out a web of anchors in all directions which was not obvious from looking at the boat. Adding to the fun was the fact that all his anchors used rope rode which doesn’t sink like a chain. This means that unbeknownst to us, just under the water was a literal net of rope going out in all directions from his boat.

Boat at anchor Boot Key

As we drifted backward we caught the line of the anchor that was dropped about 80 degrees to his stbd. Colleen only noticed it when the boat, named Firefly 4, suddenly started moving toward us. I powered forward to get off the line, but it was too late. The line had already gotten past the rudder and then got stuck in the prop. For a brief time it seems like the rope would untangle from the prop and be loose as I cycled between forward and reverse so I hoped we could pull it out.

I used the bow thruster to try to keep us lined up as best I could with the other boat, and dropped our anchor and hoping to drift in between, but his line was still attached to the prop pulling us sideways, beam to the wind. Our anchor caught a little bit and gave us time to try and free the prop. We did some forward and reverse, which seemed to free up some line but not completely. We did an “emergency launch” of the dinghy (my back feels it today) and I tied up to the starboard side of Annie and tried to pull us sideways to clear the line. That was no go. Colleen put fenders out on the side facing Firefly while we regrouped. The wind was picking up at 16 kts and with Firefly’s starboard anchor line apparently firmly wrapped up in the prop, we were left broadside to the wind being pushed into Firefly. Our anchor did not have much rode out and was not taking much bite. This wasn’t surprising considering the short distances involved. Not good, but we seemed to be stuck with the other boat and not drifting. I called SeaTow and explained the situation, they said they would get a diver out first thing in the morning to free us, but until then there was not much they could do. I then called the USCG to let them know what happened and to tell them that while we were not moving at the moment if we did start dragging we had no effective propulsion until SeaTow arrives in the morning. They logged it and said call back if anything changes for the worse.

After monitoring the situation, I felt like we might be drifting, closer to Firefly and our chain was still not tight, additionally it seemed like both boats were moving ever so slowly closer to a jagged metal abandoned pier. I had no idea what type of ground tackle Firefly had and now it was holding a 53ft boat as well as Firefly. I decided to use the dinghy to deploy our backup anchor which was an old monster grade fluke, that weighs 40-50 pounds. Of course this anchor is stored at the bottom of the forward line locker, so I had to empty everything out to get to it, and load it on the dinghy, remember my back…. Of course our dinghy engine decided at this moment to act up. While I was fighting my dinghy motor, Dave, the owner of Firefly showed up in his dinghy to find out what I was doing with his boat. Dave with in a few seconds of arriving, listening to me fight my dinghy engine, informed me the idle jets were clogged in the carburetor. (he was right)

Luckily Dave was here now with a better behaving dinghy. He towed our dinghy+anchor out while I paid out rope rode from the bow of Annie until all we had left was about twenty feet of chain on the back up anchor. We slowly ran that out and pushed the anchor over. Back on Annie, I tightened up on the new line and it seemed to help. It didn’t set immediately, but when it did it held. So now we were a couple of feet from Firefly and slowly bouncing in the wind. I stayed up all night monitoring. Oh and getting the 50 lb anchor deployed in a pitching dinghy finished my back for the next few days.

how not to anchor

The white line going to the bottom of the picture is our back up anchor, the chain is our primary.  Firefly’s tangled anchor is the slack line from it’s bow going under Annie.  That line is the one wrapped on the prop, and is tight on the other side going to the anchor, so it was holding Annie sideways.  Though the boats are close, about one foot apart, we never actually touched.  Lots of fender action on the nose.


SeaTow called us first thing in the morning and said they would be there around 11am with a diver and towboat. Shortly afterward at 8 am, a Florida FWC patrol boat(water police) came by the anchorage and asked the boat next to us to leave to make room for the salvage barges that were passing through. That boat had no motor… so the FWC said they would return with “more guys” and tow him out. They then came to us and rather gruffly ordered us to “leave the anchorage immediately.” This was one of those times that I just throw caution and prudence to the wind and have fun. In my most happy tone I told Officer Authoritative that I would love to depart his most beautiful anchorage except that I can’t. Officer Authoritative was apparently a genius as he reiterated that I did not have a choice.  I, gazing at our unorthodox anchoring arrangement told him I agree, I have no choice, I am stuck here. And proceeded to explain to him that I don’t normally anchor on top of 34ft day-sailers and were affixed to the adjacent boat until SeaTow arrived with a diver. I also pointed out that I already contacted the USCG and they were aware of the situation. Then Officer Authoritative finally looked at our odd anchoring arrangement and unhappily accepted my explanation of the situation, and left. What else could they do. Amusingly before he left he asked if I owned Firefly.  I told him the owner would return later when the diver was on site, he told me to tell that owner to get his boat out too.  Nice place this Marathon.

After the water police left the inoperative boat’s owner paddled his kayak over to us to talk. He was from Panama, and was preparing to return there…with his “new” boat. He said it was the biggest boat he ever owned, a 32 footer. He said he got it for a really good price because the motor didn’t work… but he didn’t care because he never had a boat with a motor before! He told us that he asked the police to tow him out of the harbor to open water so he could leave for Panama that afternoon…wow!

An hour or so later the patrol returned with a second bigger police boat for our neighbor and following shortly afterward our Sea Tow also arrived. I called Firefly’s owner Dave to come over and join the party.

The police tried to figure out the other inoperative boat’s anchors…and yes he also had multiple anchors which were stuck in the mucky bottom. They could not pull them up(no windlass of course)….and naturally one  of them was set under Annie and Firefly. What a mess.

Captain Mike of SeaTow was the best. He took charge of the whole fiasco, directing the police to just “shut up and follow his instructions,” then telling the boat owners to calm down because “Captain Mike was here now and everything was going to be ok.”  He tied up to Annie and made it the “flagship” of his fleet, and commenced issuing orders like an Admiral.

To this process, “my” diver first helped the other “inoperable boat” get its two anchors free. People really like to put out multiple anchors in this harbor. The diver had to dislodge the anchors one at a time and walk them to the boat so the police could pull them up manually. And his were pretty big ones, bigger than Annie’s primary. Once that boat was out of the way, the diver tried to retrieve our emergency anchor, but couldn’t dislodge it from the ground so we released the line with a float to retrieve it later with the windlass. He then cut us free of Firefly’s starboard anchor with us still attached to Firefly by the other end of the line He again used a fender to mark the line so Dave could retrieve the anchor. This let our stern swing free to follow the wind and we sistered up to Firefly. Fenders were already staged.

Next the diver began chipping away at the knot of rope on the prop. After 15-20 minutes we were free and hanging on our own chain and emergency anchor. I tested the engine in forward and reverse SAT! We got clear of Firefly and pulled up the main anchor and tied it off with a shackle so we could remove the chain from the windlass. We had to do this to use the windlass to pull up the emergency anchor. Dave’s friend Skip and I hauled it up and over the rail and we were free! I offered Dave dinner and drinks anyplace where our dinghy can go. (Oh and Dave was right, our dinghy issue from the previous night was clogged carburetor jets. I rebuilt the carb while waiting for Seatow.)  We didn’t get any pictures of this process, I wish we did,but I didn’t think it was a good thing to be distracted with while everything was going on.

We re-anchored closer to a fishing boat marina about 100 yards away from Firefly and settled up with SeaTow. $185 for one hour of diver time was the only bill. What a relief. We ate pork chops and rice, last night’s dinner that we skipped, washed up and slept.



By 2:55 pm no one had hassled us about being in the way. Colleen still wanted to leave for Key West immediately, but I thought we should get a real night’s rest and leave early in the morning. The barges didn’t start moving until 8 am so we would be gone by then.

Marathon was hit hard by the hurricanes last year, in the picture of Dave’s boat without us alongside, you can see the wrecked docks in the background.  US1 was still piled with storm debris and lines of dump trucks hauling it out somewhere.  Dave said the inner harbor was like a bowling alley during the storm with 75% of the boats lost.  What we heard was that the moorings were too close to one another necessitating short mooring lines which broke during the storm.  Longer lines would have had more shock absorbing capacity.

Dave sent us a message that he would be at the Overseas Bar and Grill on US 1, and to join him and Skip and his wife. Not exactly a dinghy ride, but Dave offered to pick us up, but he had already been drinking, so I passed and we got an Uber. The Overseas is a nice place, the people seemed really cool. The action happens out back. From the front it looks like a seedy liquor store, but the back is an open air restaurant and bar. A good time was had by all.

Dave and Colleen at Overseas

The next morning we got up early and headed out following the channel markers out of Boot Key Harbor. We were almost finished with the channel, running a little closer to the red markers when I noticed the depth had become erratic, something I did not see on the way in so I slow down a bit. Good thing I did because we shortly came to a stop. Not jarring, but still a rather quick stop. I realized we obviously grounded and thought Oh no! I will have to call Capt Mike again!

I remembered from somewhere, maybe a Delos video, that the bow thruster can be used to help back out of a soft grounding. So that’s what I did. Rudder amidship heavy reverse and wiggled the bow with the thruster. After a few seconds we were moving again. I backed more to the center of the channel and we finally got free of the Boot Key Harbor bad dream. Next stop Key West! (we even have more fun there!)


A side note:   This is the first blog entry using an offline WYSWYG blog editor.  Way easier and fast.  Since I can now work on blog entries off line I think I can get caught up!  The editor is Open Live Writer.  I tried several editors but they either would not link properly with the WordPress blog site, wouldn’t save locally, wouldn’t operate without internet, or would lose the images.


Key Largo

Annie draws 6.5 feet, and has a 66 foot mast so we have limited selection as to where we can anchor. I picked Rock Harbor because it was close to the veterinarian’s office, was advertised to have several dinghy-able restaurants, and had just enough depth for Annie.

We arrived the day before Thanksgiving, so we prepared a “boaty” Thanksgiving with what we had on hand.

I guess I knew that there were a lot of hurricanes this season and that a few affected the Keys, but I was more focused on the one that hit Sint Maarten where we had spent some time and had a few friends.  Once a storm leaves the news cycle we forget. I certainly did until we landed in Key Largo. The anchorage was nice but the hurricanes did a number on this part of Key Largo.

It looked like a bomb went off.  The “dinghy restaurant” was just a shell, the adjacent marina was littered with wrecked boats, a few blocks inland on US 1 there were boarded up buildings and debris piles alongside the road.

All around the area it appeared that heavy equipment had been at work razing buildings and clearing land, leaving a thin covering of rubblized community.

A few days later we rented a car and found the damage was not entirely uniform.  It was like the wind bands of the hurricane, destroyed localized swaths of island, but a mile down the road left no damage. Unfortunately where we anchored was hit. When we drove down to Key West to register my new passport number with Customs and saw a lot of damage in the middle keys. Key West luckily seemed to have been spared. We sailed there later in the week…

In Key Largo there was lots of active rebuilding going on. We found another restaurant called Snappers on the south end of Rock Harbor that was running from a food truck while rebuilding. There was a lively local crowd there.

This restaurant looked like a fun place but it was almost 2 miles by dinghy so we only stopped in once. I was impressed with the rebuilding efforts and ingenuity of the owners. Note the shirt the waiter is wearing “Snappers Strong”

We learned that the northern part of Largo faired better in the storms and found a few places inside the canals that were fun. Colleen got to watch the Auburn game!

Like Snappers it was a bit of a dinghy ride to get to them, and a fair run outside in choppy water.

I did some maintenance on the outboard….boat maintenance in exotic locations…. The outboard had been running a bit rough and the choke linkage kept falling off so I decided to tackle it and coat the motor with Corrosion X, wonderful stuff. It leaves a waxy coating that protects the parts and does not conduct electricity. I use it on everything now.


One of the reasons to stop here was to continue Kellie’s treatments and tests for her international travel papers. We needed to do a couple of booster shots, and have her blood drawn for the rabies titer test. She was quite happy to get off the boat, but soon realized we weren’t going to a restaurant….sad puppy getting stuck with needles.



Kellie’s tests took a few days longer than anticipated, the vet noticed that we had to wait 60 days from the last rabies shot before doing the test…we were a few days early. So two trips to the vet.
We spent a week in Key Largo, restocked the boat a bit from Publix and topped off fuel with a run to the gas station in the rental car. I like having full tanks just in case you need it…  We will need to stop by the vet again in 4-6 weeks after they get the rabies test results back. We plan to do that after Christmas then head over to the Bahamas.  (we actually had a vet in St Augustine handle it rather than sail back to Key Largo.

On the pet travel, Kellie was already good to go to the Bahamas when we left Charleston, but we were getting her set up to go to the British Virgin Islands which have the strictest pet requirements. I figured if we meet the BVI requirements she should be good for pretty much any other country.  This necessitated some tests and extra vaccines.



First attempt at making a video

So I know that the blog is way out of date, and I do have essays already written. I need to get with some good wifi and time to pull them together.

Anyway this is my first attempt at a video, which I dedicate to Mr Bill who was forced to sit through countless sailing videos. Bill I made it!

Some tech background: I used Filmora to make the video from cell phone footage. It took maybe a couple of hours to edit and set up. It is comprised of clips from different islands and is really just a mash up of cool scenery with a music overlay. Not in chronological order.

So lets see if our web hosting site can handle a 300 megabyte video. oops it can’t 64MB max size….so let see if I can put it on Youtube without getting in trouble for the music….but before i do that lets see if I can bypass the WordPress limits by putting it on the Bluehost server directly. This clip is only 4 1/2 minutes long….and it is 300MB…think about those 20 minute videos the real Vloggers upload.

Well that didn’t work… So here is a link to the video on Google

Sailing to Key Largo

We spent a little over a week in St. Augustine.  It was fun and there was more to do, but we planned to return in a few weeks for Christmas so we figured we would have more opportunity then.  In the mean time we sailed to Key Largo.  Why Largo,  and not Key West?  Because there was a veterinarian there who was recommended as being knowledgeable for for completing the  international travel vaccinations for Kellie….and it too was a neat stopping point.

We already have our “papers” for Kellie to sail to the Bahamas, but still needed a few more vaccinations and a rabies titer test to go to the BVIs and some of the other more restrictive islands.  I wanted to get everything done here in the States where it is relatively more convenient.  The rabies titer test is a blood test to make sure that the vaccinations worked and Kellie’s immune system will fight off rabies.  It takes a few weeks to get the results.  I have been told there are only two labs in the world that do the test, one is in Kansas, not sure where the other is located.  Definitely easier to have test done here in the States as opposed to overseas where the blood would have to be shipped internationally.   As it is the test is a few hundred dollars, can’t imagine the cost if we were outside the States.


Our sail out of St. Augustine was nice.  Easy wind and sea state.  The wind picked up the next day and turned more northerly.

We beat into it as best we could.  We had some good progress as long as the wind stayed up.  You can see below on the instruments, beating into into a 25 knot wind.  We were doing pretty good thru the water.  We at times hit the edge of the gulf stream which slowed us down over land.  The weather was great, we made good time most of the sail.  I did cheat a little and motor sailed to hold to our schedule.

We had a little bit of “lean” going on… (and a bent genoa furler support….which we found out about later.  Oops,  need to keep checking those halyards.)

Sometime during the sail, after we got salt water on the decks I realized I hadn’t cleaned up all the carbon dust from replacing the mainsail furling motor brushes.  I did sweep off the deck after the job.  Not pristine but I thought ok.  I thought the brushes were only carbon, like charcoal right?.  Apparently there is a ferric metal component to the brush….or the motor is eating itself in some way I have not detected.  There were little rust dots all over the work site and anyplace I touched later. (a thought, maybe it isn’t the brushes, it could be that I am a robot and my robot DNA is rusting….)

In any event this is going to be a cleaning project.  I think it will take a while to completely eliminate.

Kellie is getting her sailing groove set.  She has her “own” bed inside…

and outside.  She loves that dinghy



We got into the  Hawk Channel, and motored slowly through the shallows and found a nice spot to anchor in about 8 feet of water.  Can’t wait to go ashore.  There is supposed to be a really cool “dinghy restaurant” on the beach.

Into St. Augustine!

After spending a day anchored in Mayport we headed out again for St. Augustine.  This time with the spare autopilot installed, and much milder wind.  Sea state was predicted to be 3-4ft at St. Augustine instead of 9.9ft we had a couple of days ago.  The marina in St. Augustine was also nice about letting us reschedule our reservation.

We motor-sailed out of Mayport and then turned south on the wind alone.  All good except the shaft alternator didn’t seem to be running right.  I checked it and found a wire had broken loose….but I couldn’t figure out right away where it went.  We left the alternator off since it was a short sail anyway, and we also had solar.  Kellie supervising the port side.

I noticed while we were sailing that the VHF antenna which had been bent passing under the Morehead City Bridge was missing.  I suspect it is somewhere between St. Augustine and Mayport.  It was a rough sloppy ride from Augustine to Mayport, I suspect that was when it broke off.   Will have to climb mast and see what is left up there.  A new antenna is not expensive, $80 USD  just need to check on the connection at the masthead.

Entering St. Augustine this time was “easy-peasy.”  When the buoys are above the water is is really easy to see them.  We also had the assistance of a large motor yacht that entered before us.  They had AIS running so I marked their AIS position on the chart plotter.  When we entered the harbor I followed their path on the plotter, and of course the buoys.   They hugged the red buoys as we did also and I never had less than 4 meters under the keel.

We called the marina and got exactly the mooring spot we wanted.  See the picture below, right off the downtown waterfront.    It took a few tries to tie up as the mooring pennant was wrapped around the chain.  The marina sent a boat out to help us without asking.

We discovered that the marina itself is still pretty beat up from the bout of hurricanes this summer.   Only one pier had boats on it, the others still all askew.

After settled in, I contacted the local West Marine to order parts for the autopilot.  They were the only local “RayMarine dealer” so I had to deal with them.  We needed a  clutch coil and the “secondary planetary gears.” See the picture below of the worn out gears.    They apparently decided to turn into dust!



The fellow at WM was unsure how to get them at first, but eventually figured out what to do and had them back in a few days…at a surprisingly ok price.

Colleen was a little concerned at the mess during the repair…..

When arrived on Monday. Nov 13, the city looked pretty nice with Christmas lights going up.  We didn’t plan it, but on Sunday Nov 18 the city has a Christmas lighting festival in which the whole city get lit up….and boy did they light it up.




We pretty much had the city to ourselves most of the week.  We found a bunch of nice little pubs and eateries, did a winery tour, and got the bikes on shore for some riding.

Sunday during the lighting, was different,  it was crazy-town.  Streets packed as far as the eye could see, and the Christmas lights were suddenly everywhere.

We had dinner at a cool Yucatan themed restaurant, but after that could not get into anyplace due to the crowds.  I hope the crowds will be reduced when my Mom comes in December.





St Augustine, first try

So we attempted to pull into St. Augustine after sailing about 27 hrs from Charleston, and found 10 foot waves coming fast one right after another, but not the channel marker buoys….at least not at first. I was confused as the St. Augustine inlet seems pretty straightforward and short on the charts.

In the frothy mess trying to hold position at the “safe water” buoy, we did find that one, we finally spotted two markers, one red and one green…little foam and plastic buoys sitting only about two feet above the water….and when the swell came it they were sucked underwater disappearing until the swell reached its nadir. All across the inlet there were breaking surf-like waves…not very comforting. We slowly approached the first two buoys earnestly looking for the next set of markers… all the while being tossed about like a cork. As soon as we passed between the first markers the depth went from 5 meters to zero then “less than zero.” The water in the waves also took on a sandy brown color instead of the deep blue we had before the buoys. I realized that something was way off, and spun the wheel hard over and jammed the throttle to the limit. We backed out to the “safe water” marker without touching bottom and reassessed what we had. Wind was coming out of the north east at about 20kts, swells coming in from the ocean in the east. It was about 600pm with the sun setting. We found two of the entrance markers, the rest were supposedly in position as on the charts and lighted, and our charts were fresh. We decided to try again and hold to the other side of the “channel” and see how the depth looked.
We approached the two entrance buoys square on, and about 150 feet later the depth again went from five meters instantly to zero with waves all around us and no other markers in sight. I again aggressively backed out of the inlet.

Once back at the “safe water” marker we called the marina, no answer, then called the local Coast Guard, but got a wrong number, so we called Sea Tow, since I paid for a year of coverage, I figured might as well use it. The Sea Tow rep said the channel was altered by the recent hurricanes and the buoy markers had just been replaced….and that the lighted buoys were not yet powered so there were no lit buoys. We told him the buoys were being submerged. He checked on the sea state and was surprised at how bad the conditions were. He recommended that we divert to Mayport, 29 miles north until the sea state improved. He said, since the buoys had just been replaced, their anchors might not be firmly in place and able to withstand the 10 foot waves that we, and his data buoy were seeing. He was concerned that the other buoys had drifted away.

So we reluctantly turned north and found wind at our nose and large short period swells rolling in from the north east. Had to motor the whole way to Mayport. Apparently there is also a 1.5-2 knot current running south which limited our speed over ground to 3.8 kts. Ran out the mainsail to stabilize the boat, but could not catch wind with it or the genoa. Sea state was confused and variable, and we had a crappy rolly ride for 8 hours. Sue now has the company of Colleen in the boat’s “Ralph Club.” 😉 Odd though because Colleen had put a scopalomine patch on several hours earlier. I think location on the boat has an impact.

Did I tell you that at 1pm about 5 hours before we hit St Augustine the autopilot drive crapped out…so we were hand steering the whole time. It suddenly started making crunching sounds. When we shut down the drive the wheel was still crunchy to turn. I feared the issue was with the boat steering not the autopilot, but this morning found the issue was isolated to the planetary gear on the drive. Luckily we have a spare drive.

I got the spare autopilot drive out the next morning and installed it, so we are back in business. We plan to leave Mayport around 5 am and head to St. Augustine. Early departure will get us there with the sun at our backs instead of in our eyes. Will help spotting the buoys. Also the wind and waves will be lite tomorrow.

While researching the St. Augustine inlet I came across another couple who had the almost exact same experience. When will St. Augustine fix their inlet markers?

Read their account:

Throwback Thursday: St. Augustine – The Cutest Little Town You Could Almost Shipwreck Your Boat In

Kellie is out of her shell and is now a dog. She ate my leather belt.

Sorry no pictures…..