Saturday, November 28, 2009

Heading South - To Where the Weather Fits our Clothes!!

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends - we know we did (although we ate way too much!!!) We spent a great day on September Song with Stephanie (the master chef) and Bob (the master bartender) enjoying amazing food and company. Unfortunately we were so busy stuffing ourselves all day/night, I forgot to get lots of pictures - the few I got don't do the amazing array of delicacies served up by our master chef justice.
Dinner is About to Start
Dinner is Now Complete!
By the time we were inhaling apple pie and carrot cake for dessert and finishing up the last of the wine, I don't think any of us could eat another bite (not even a wafer for those Monty Python fans out there!!) What a wonderful day with great friends - thanks Steph and Bob - you guys are the best!! Bootsie wholeheartedly agreed as Aunt Stephanie even sent us home with some turkey which the boat kitties proceeded to inhale, nearly chomping several of my fingers off in their delight! Puss likewise was dancing on the table she was so happy - turkey day was a huge hit!!

We left St. Augustine the next morning and I have to tell you all that it was cold, darn cold - now I don't usually complain about the cold (mainly because I know I'd get no sympathy from our northern family and friends) but when we awoke on Friday morning, there was frost on our windows (OK maybe it wasn't exactly frost but it sure looked like it and it was really, really cold!) and while that may be OK in Maine where you expect it, it just isn't right in Florida!!! So off we headed south hoping to find someplace warmer!! We drove from the inside pilothouse almost the whole day, emerging only for moments at a time to snap a picture of a cool boathouse, funny tugboat or some laughing pelicans along the way.

There are four bridges in rapid succession in downtown Daytona, two of which we have to have opened for us since even with our antennae down, we measure about 23 feet high (trust me, we've measured!!!) Last year we ran into the worst bridge tender we've ever met at one of these bridges - she fought with us over whether we actually needed the bridge raised or not - she thought just by looking at us from a half mile away that she could tell we could fit under the bridge - UGH!!! Well sure enough - the witch (decorum prevents me from repeating here what I was calling her on the boat!!) was at the same bridge and proceeded to do the exact same thing!!! What did she have us on a list or something??? No other bridge tender anywhere has ever given us any grief about opening for us!!!! No one else had any problem with her....obviously she is not a Buffett fan (that must be it since it sure couldn't be us - we didn't turn nasty until she did!! I think she was particularly PO'ed when we asked her if she was assuming all the liability for damages to our boat if she didn't open the bridge - what, it's a fair question!!!!) As we headed through the bridge finally (she opened it only because a sailboat came up behind us) we heard her proceed to tell a catamaran further behind us that she couldn't tell them if they could fit through the bridge for liability reasons and they had to make that decision for themselves...huh???? What the hell had she just been doing with us??? Luckily our anchorage for the evening was only a short distance away so adult libations were close at hand! We watched a gorgeous sunset
and the moon rise high above the condo highrises that dot the Daytona landscape
- nature (and lots of rum) always have a way of calming us after a particularly stressful day (actually the day was just fine other than that one butthead!!!!) For all you snowbirds out there still traveling south, be weary of the bridge tender at the Main Street Bridge in Daytona - she's a real piece of work and not in any good way!!!! I wonder if she's ever even been on a boat before????

Anyways, after a peaceful night at anchor we woke this morning at o'dark hundred for another early start - while maybe not quite as cold as the prior morning, a couple degrees warmer is not what we're looking for - I want it to be warm and so far, not so much!!! I'm running out of sweatshirts to layer (OK I didn't bring that many with me in the first place!! I want shorts and tee shirt weather!!) Today's run has been really cool though - we have seen unbelievable wildlife including about seven manatees!!!! Last year on our whole trip down the coast we didn't see a single one while we were cruising - we'd see one at the docks here and there usually when some tourist was giving them water from a hose (which you aren't supposed to do!) - in fact we never even saw a single one until we reached Pompano despite having to slow down through most of Florida for the manatee zones - we were beginning to believe they didn't exist! Today they were out in force - hopefully this means they are making a comeback and the populations are increasing!!
We also saw hundreds of dolphins - a whole pod of whom decided to play with us for miles!!!! I love these gentle, funny creatures - they have a way of swimming on their sides so they can look up at you as if to make sure you are enjoying the show and taking lots of pictures (we did!!!!)

We passed rookeries filled with pelicans (brown and white ones - hanging together without any issues of race!),
cormorants and even one with bushes full of roseate spoonbills - way too cool!!!
If you think the ICW in Florida is all full of gorgeous italianate or spanish homes with flowing pools and gardens filled with statues and fountains (yes there is a lot of that especially south of here - think West Palm and Jupiter), then today's cruise would have been an eye-opener. Trailer parks flying confederate pirate flags (I can honestly say that was the first one I'd seen),

almost sinking houseboats
and definitely sinking dead aboard (rather than live aboard) boats provided the fodder for our cameras when the wildlife wasn't otherwise occupying them!!!

We're making better time on the water today than we had thought (gotta love the current when it's behind you) so we're pushing further south - the butter is still hard (and that is the bellweather of if we're far enough south - we're not!). We plan on anchoring in Cocoa this evening and hopefully will arrive in Stuart on Monday where we will kick back and relax for at least a few days with September Song and Steve and Di of Aurora! September Song plans on being there for at least a month - after a couple days, we will head south about 30 miles where we are going to have the boat pulled to do some bottom work on her. Gypsies needs some barnacles scraped off, new bottom paint and zincs and something to do with the stabilizers (that's Doug's area....) We're going to do a bunch of the work ourselves so we plan on whooping it up in Stuart before it's on to serious boat chores!!! But then we should be heading much further south - we are hoping to be at our winter home in Key West by mid-December!!! Yippee!!

Click here to see our anchorage in Daytona.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

First and foremost, Doug and I wish a very happy and safe holiday to all our friends and family - you're all with us in spirit on this day and we will raise a glass to toast to you all later today (after all it's a little early yet even for us!) We are lucky enough to be in St. Augustine with some of our cruising family - the September Song crew!! The sun is out but it sure doesn't feel like we're in Florida - it's downright cold. But we have much to be thankful for today so we're not going to complain about the cold - especially knowing that where many of you guys are right now is a whole lot colder than here (but come on - we're in FL we should be in shorts not jeans and sweatshirts!!!) We just had a fun catch up chat with Glen Moore who lives here in St. Augustine and we will be heading over to September Song later today for dinner and some football (wow - you know they are great friends when they say we can watch football on their TV!!!)

The past several days we've been having so much fun with Stephanie and Bob that I haven't had the time to blog (or quite frankly the capacity once we got back to the boat after hours of pub crawling!!) We left our anchorage in Cumberland Island the other day to head across the sound to Fernandina Beach, FL - not our longest day on the water to be sure as it is only about 6 miles but we had killer fog to make it more interesting. A very funky range marker/house marks the entrance to Fernandina and even in the fog, you couldn't miss that!!
We wound up anchoring out since they only had one mooring ball so Bob was kind enough to ferry us in and out in Half Note, September Song's dinghy which was already in the water from their time at Cumberland Island (that way we didn't have to drop our dink!!) Bob commenced two days of superb taxi service - we highly recommend him!!

Shortly after dropping the hook we set out for town with Cassie and Godiva, the SS boat dogs, who desperately wanted off the boat and onto green grass (you can imagine why!) They loved town - not only did Cassie get to chase some fish (OK it wasn't the same kind of challenge as when she had been in the Chesapeake or the Bahamas but it was still pretty cool),
Cassie Goes a-Hunting!
but they had some ice cream!!
Cassie and Godiva Get Ice Cream from Dad
A couple local cats saw them coming and high-tailed it up onto the roof - only kidding but they made quite a sight up there!
Cats Sunning Themselves on the Roof
Fernandina is a great little town with wonderful old oak trees covered in Spanish moss, a cute little downtown filled with funky bars, artists' galleries and shops, and great Spanish stye architecture on some of the old homes.
Steps Leading to One of the Art Galleries
At one point or another 8 different countries have claimed ownership over Fernandina so it has become known as the Isle of Eight Flags! A true highlight of our walk around town was the eclectic nature of a little store called Trailer Park Collectibles - the name truly says it all!!!
The September Song Crew Get Photographed at Trailer Park Collectibles

After walking around town for quite some time, we were parched and in need of sustenance - Bob took the canine SS crew back to the boat while we hit the Palace, the oldest bar in all of Florida (or at least that is the claim!)
Drinks at The Palace Saloon
The Palace is one of our favorite places in Fernandina - not only is it oozing with character but it always is brimming with local characters. It was there last year passing through that we met up with Ken, an ex special ops guy who kind of adopted us and wound up showing us around town and taking us to his private club - he made our stop in Fernandina truly memorable (especially when he showed us his several guns that he pulled out from beneath the seat and from the glove compartment of his truck on the way to his club!!!) We had been looking forward to re-connecting with Ken as we have thought of him often - a little Fernandina Beach sign that he had given us on our trip south sits on our helm station. Unfortunately when we asked for him, we found out that he has lung cancer and is in chemo - our best thoughts and prayers are with him! He is a special guy and hearing his news from all his friends at the Palace, many of whom we remembered from last year, was the one somber moment in an otherwise fun filled couple days.

From the Palace (which serves no food - not even an orange for our Shocktop - it is just a bar!!!), we wandered over to Pablo's, a little Mexican restaurant where we had a great meal the last time through (at least we remembered it as great, but then again it was after 2:00 am when we ate there and it was after hours and hours at the Palace and Ken's club!!!) Glad to see our taste buds are not at all impacted by our consumption of beer - lunch was great.
Lunch on the Back Deck at Pablo's
Not content to call it a day, we went off in search of the Green Turtle Tavern,

another funky bar we had scoped out on our first trip through - it was just as we remembered it - still sporting a multi-colored old van out front and many local characters inside!!

We love finding places like this!!! Every time I see the van and the Grateful Dead/Bob Marley memorabilia on the ceilings and walls I think of my nephew Drew who really should have been born in the 60's - he would LOVE this place!! Finally time to call it a day, Bob's taxi/ferry service brought us home to Gypsies for a quiet evening.

The next morning we went to breakfast at this great place Ken had told us about - it's an old Exxon station and while there is no sign, the joint is called T-Rays - if you didn't know about it, you wouldn't find it and even if you did, you certainly wouldn't go in as it truly looks like an old abandoned gas station (except that upon closer inspection, they have recently thrown some old tables and chairs outside next to the pumps to catch the overflow - it is a wildly popular locals hang-out with seriously good food!)
After a true truckdriver's breakfast
Breakfast at T-Ray's
we were in serious need of a walk (although we would have had to walk to Key West to walk off all those calories!!) Without really knowing where we were going, we headed off to find Fort Clinch which we had seen from the water on the way in - the best way to really get a sense for a town is to just walk around especially the residential areas (OK we have no other way to travel but it's still lots of fun!)

We got to see some of the local character - fences held together with hose clamps,
no wake signs decorating the driveway - after all Fernandina is a water town!!
We even got to try on some more hats at a few local stores - the Florida/Georgia college football rivalry down here is religious!!!
Bob Experiments with Winter Hats
Bob and Tammy Try on Gator and Bulldog Hats
Part way to Fort Clinch we were seriously questioning our sanity when Doug found it was several more miles past the entrance to the park where the Fort was located - we settled for taking a picture of the entrance
and proceeded to the beach which was much closer. After testing the water and making a few sand angels,
Tammy Makes Sand Angels
we spied a beach bar, Sandy Bottoms (cute!) After our ten mile hike (OK maybe not quite) that Shocktop was pretty tasty let me tell you.
Drinks at Sandy Bottoms
Of course then we had the walk back but at least we had the Palace in our sights as it was on our direct line home!! Still not wanting the day to end (and rationalizing that we had walked a really long way), we set off for the Green Turtle again - unfortunately we didn't have Cassie and Godiva this time as it seemed to be doggy day at the bar (one little furry guy even was sitting up in a bar stool - too funny!!)
We finally dragged our butts back to the dock only to be greeted by a gorgeous egret who couldn't quite understand why we were leaving!!

We were hitting the road again the next day, so it was back to the boats for us. What a great stop Fernandina is - the people always make us feel so welcome and the local funk is reason enough to stop here for several days at least!! As we set out again, we will keep Ken in our thoughts and hearts and hope he can beat the odds!!! After all, it is truly the people you meet (both other cruisers and locals) that make this cruising life so interesting and just darn fun!

Yesterday we set off in the fog, rain and cold for a 7 hour trip to St. Augustine - not the most fun we've ever had on the water to be sure - but also not the worst! We did see some pretty cool roseate spoonbills (which are pink and look a little like small flamingos) and some more white pelicans!!
Roseate Spoonbills
White Pelicans
It was really nice though to pull into the dock and get tied up - for some reason the winds always seem to pick up and the current is usually ripping when we come into St Augustine. We are docked for several days at the Municipal Marina which means we can walk off our boat and be right in the heart of the historic district of the city - very cool! About an hour later we were ready for the pub crawl....starting off at A1A Brewery for some wings and good beer, we could see all the Christmas lights of the city out the window. Now I'm a firm believer in you don't decorate for Xmas until Thanksgiving is at least over, but the downtown of St Augustine sure looked pretty. As we were walking to the next bar, however, the local trolley train went by blaring Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - now that was not right!!!! We hit Scarlet O'Hara's where the Shocktop was 2 for 1 and then hit a local dive for pizza - yippee!! Knowing we had an all day festivity planned for the next day, we called it an early night and headed back to the boats - don't get used to us being that smart too often!! Walking down the docks this morning, the smells are simply wonderful - just because we live on boats, doesn't mean we don't do Thanksgiving!!! September Song has been busy cooking turkey, dressing and all the sides, while we are making pumpkin bread, carrot cake and trays of apps!!! It's almost time to head over there so I'm going to sign off for today - our best to you and yours. May you all have a wonderful, happy and healthy holiday!!

Click here to see our anchorage at Fernandina Beach.
Click here to see our location at St. Augustine Municipal Marina.
Click here to see a map of all the places we have stopped at on our way down the ICW this year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back Together Again!!

[Note: This Blog was written November 23rd but not posted until November 24th.]

Once the fog lifted in Port Royal Sound, Gypsies had a great trip into Georgia - we were very happy to hear that several of the historically very shallow sections of the Georgia ICW have been dredged, so as long as you hit them at least at mid-tide, you really shouldn't have many problems!! We passed through Fields Cut and out into the Savannah River - Savannah is a very busy port so large container ships are a constant presence on the river (sometimes our little boat feels like it's playing frogger as we try to zip across the river between boats that could squash us like, well, a frog!)
Container Ship Cruises Up the Savannah River
- bye South Carolina (another state down!) From the Savannah River we could just see the huge bridge that cuts across the water into downtown Savannah - despite the fact that we love Savannah, we don't have time for a visit this time - seeing the bridge is as close as we'll come. Bummer - but we have places to go and more importantly people to see!!
Savannah River Bridge

The golden/green marsh grasses of Georgia are always so beautiful to see - you often feel like you are the only person for miles and miles (and you probably are!) since especially at low tide, your boat can barely peak out over the tops of the marsh as it negotiates the myriad twists and turns of the waterways in Georgia.
A Calm Waterway in Georgia
As usual the other day the marshes were filled with wonderful egrets, blue herons and pelicans as Gypsies glided past, some of them were even kind enough to pose for us!
An Egret in the Marsh Grass
A Heron Poses on Marker 27
Just outside of Savannah we passed by Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous or at least highlighted by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - from the water it is a very cool looking place with its large gnarled spanish moss strewn oaks that tower over the gravestones.
Bonaventure Cemetery
In one particular curve through the marshes we came upon a sailboat having a really, really bad day - all that was above water was a portion of a broken mast - now that'll wreck your day!!!
Sailboat that had a Really BAD Day!
We managed to get through Hell Gate and Florida Passage, both of which had recently been dredged (Go Georgia - finally!!!)
One of the Dredges Making Georgia's ICW Safer for Cruisers
without even a sphincter moment and made our way into a wonderfully calm little anchorage called Buckhead Creek (which Doug kept calling Buckwheat Creek for some reason!) A little while later we heard from Tide Hiker that they had decided to continue on since it was such a nice day and that we would be having company that evening. Sure enough we soon saw what we could of Tide Hiker over the marsh grasses making their way towards us - when they rounded the corner they had the fading light behind them resulting in some great pictures (we'll email them to you guys!)
Tide Hiker Approaches Through the Winding Waterway
Tide Hiker Cruises By to Anchor a Little Up River
No one wanted to drop their dink so we had a wonderfully peaceful night just enjoying a great sunset and occasionally chatting on the radio!
Sunset 1 - Buckhead Creek
Sunset 2 - Buckhead Creek

At first light we were up and on our way accompanied by the beauty of a brilliant sunrise in the cool misty air
Sunrise 1 - Buckhead Creek
Sunrise 2 - Buckhead Creek
Sunrise 3 - Buckhead CreekSunrise 4 - Buckhead Creek
- Norm from Tide Hiker was awake and there to radio us goodbye for this really was goodbye at least for a while - they were headed to Midway, Georgia to tie up to Bob and Stephanie's home dock while they fly out to the Midwest for Thanksgiving. We're not sure when we will see them again but hopefully it will be at least sometime this winter - maybe in KW. We had a great time with you guys - safe travels on the waterways!! For us it was on to Wally's Leg Creek and another great little anchorage where we ducked behind a clump of trees on a little island to find some protection from the wind. We had the creek all to ourselves until a snailbot pulled in and tried to anchor 100 yards off our bow - hello, they had the whole creek to anchor in so why would they come so close to us???? Their first attempt to anchor luckily failed as they proceeded to drag within 20 feet of us - we strongly suggested they may be better off moving off a ways (ya think??) They took the hint and we had a nice quiet evening!!

That night we were too excited to sleep as we were heading off to Cumberland Island the next morning to meet up with the September Song crew!!! The weather was nowhere near as nice as the prior couple days as we were greeted with a very grey day and 20-25 knots of wind!! But we were off early since we were first heading up to Brunswick, GA to a little place called the Ocean Petroleum Company to fill up - their diesel was $2.19/gallon which is by far the lowest price we've seen anywhere so well worth the hour out of our way! With some serious current behind us we passed under the Brunswick bridge
Brunswick Bridge in the Fog
and headed up past the shrimp boat fleet with plenty of time to spare - on weekends you have to call to make an appointment to get diesel.
Shrimp Boat Row
A Shrimp Boat Preparing to Work
The shrimp boat fleet is what makes OPC able to offer such great prices - they pump upwards of 50,000 gallons per day!!!! Thanks guys - we appreciate it!! Saving $0.50 or $0.60 cents per gallon when you are buying 400 gallons means beaucoup extra beer money!!! On our way out of the harbor, we had all the seagulls following us as it looked like the shrimp boats had the day off!!
The Seagulls Seem to Think We are a Shrimp Boat

After fueling up we were finally off to Cumberland Island - unfortunately we had to traverse both St Simons and St Andrews Sounds which are fairly open to the ocean making for a very rocky trip. We got everything tied down in time but the girls were both decidedly not too happy with the beating Gypsies took - despite knowing she is not allowed up on the table, Puss just had to get closer to mom who was driving for a little reassurance!!
Puss Looks for Reassurance from Mom
Luckily it didn't last too long as at the end of each sound we ducked behind land thus blocking the worst of the waves and some of the wind. It was still a wild ride through Jekyll Creek and the Cumberland River where we saw a group of white (albino) pelicans - too cool.
White Pelicans
We also made our way past the Kings Bay Submarine Base, home to six Trident-class submarines - we could see the big sub pens and escort ships up close and personal.
One of the Sub Pens at the Kings Bay Submarine Base
Submarine Escort Ships
Unlike the last time we pulled into Cumberland Island, we didn't see any actual subs out and about but with the weather and the numerous warning signs and changed channel markers, we had plenty to keep our attention!

And then we caught sight of September Song at anchorage over by Cumberland Island - yippee!!!! We were so excited to see them and before we could pick up the radio, we heard Bob's voice calling Gypsies - they had just seen us too! So we kicked it up a notch and hot footed it over to the anchorage (OK we still weren't going all that fast but Gypsies was excited!) We arrived in the anchorage to the chords of Mr. Buffett's Gypsies in the Palace being played on September Song's hailer and the friendly waves of Bob and Stephanie and barks from Godiva and Cassie, all of whom were out on their swim platform to greet us. What a cool way to come into a port - we were just as excited as we waved and yelled right back. Shortly after getting the hook down, we were on the radio - it was party time!!!! Half Note (Stephanie and Bob's tender) was in the water so over they came - Cassie and Godiva were not happy at being left at home but we'll have to see the girls tomorrow!!
Half Note Aproaches Gypsies

Too much fun was had for the rest of the afternoon and evening to begin to describe it here in a blog but suffice it to say I haven't laughed that hard or long in quite some time - my sides hurt this morning!! After cruising together for about 7 months we had been apart for almost two months so we had lots of eating, drinking, laughing and all around having fun to catch up on - we succeeded!! It's great to have the gang back together again!!! We were even having too much fun that I forgot to get pictures until the end of the evening - usually a dangerous proposition!!
"What, Doesn't Everybody Put Whipped Cream on Brownies?"
That Was Just Too Much Fun for One Evening!
Today we are hopefully headed across the sound to Fernandina, FL (yippee soon another state down) for more fun, games and revelry!!! Hope the Palace and Fernandina are ready for us!!! We made it across the sound in the bay and are anchored in Fernandina - Half Note is on its way out to pick us up in Bob's super taxi service so we don't have to put Hobos in the water - now that's service!!! Watch out Fernandina.....

Click here to see our anchorage at Cumberland Island.
Click here to see our anchorage at Fernandina.