Saint Augustine, FL
We're here at last!
I say this not because I was anxious to leave Saint Marys. On the contrary, we loved Saint Marys and it's wonderful community so much that it was hard to leave. But the longer we stayed, the longer the refrigeration wasn't getting fixed which was seriously affecting our lifestyle – a summer of no shopping and lots of PBJs was heading us off to other food options which weren't nearly as healthy as I would like. I can tell, too ;) There are other things on the boat which we must fix also, but focus on the refrigeration was taking over our lives.
I say “at last” when I refer to the passage here, because it caused a great deal of anxiety for me after 4.5 months of no cruising; it rather felt like I was being thrown into the deep end of the pool without being allowed to wade in myself. The weather window we were going to take turned out to be a bit more than was forecast, making for big winds, lots of howling, and confusing channel markers in the dark as we tried (several times) to find a good place to anchor in Fernandina Beach, from where we could catch the tide out to the ocean the next morning. But it was drizzling, too, and so we had the windows in the cockpit lowered, and there was a lot of resultant reflection of the instruments; all in all, I felt unsure of my vision, despite having a chart plotter in front of my face. Am I sounding old? Believe me, I felt it. I went to sleep anxious. Ugh.
As planned (with the tide), we fired up the engine at 5.00 am the next morning and headed back through the dark, just outside the main channel, avoiding the dredging vessel off our port side and dodging the Coast Guard boat looming in the channel to starboard, who hailed us on the VHF as we passed them. They informed us that the seas outside were 6-8 ft. and building, and that they had turned back themselves before the jetties. OK we said – OK. Let's go back to anchor and go back to bed. Phew. I was pumping adrenaline so hard, my legs were shaky.
When we dropped the anchor again, it was dawn and it was a great deal easier to see. I shared with Skip in a meltdown how incredibly incapable I felt at the helm in the dark, and that I was relieved we'd wait another day for calmer winds (and therefore, seas). Even if we had to motor-sail, I was OK with that; too little was better than too much when I felt so rusty. Skip suggested that perhaps he should do the driving, and I could be outside on the deck with a spot light, looking for hazards. Great idea – why didn't I think of that?
And so, the next morning we repeated the process, leaving in time to catch the outgoing tide through the jetties to the ocean. It was just as hairy in the dark, with dredging vessels barely out of the channel, and their huge (and blinding) spotlights shining on their gear in the water – so I was greatly relieved when we finally got outside in the ocean. There was left over swell from the big wind the day before, but both wind and waves were settling down and there was nothing out there to hit, which was comforting :). We turned south with our sails up and our motor on, and off we went into our next new adventure.
As it turned out, the sail was lovely in an ever-brightening day and we made excellent time to the St Augustine outside buoy. We called TowBoat US when we got close, to get local knowledge for navigating the inlet which is notoriously prone to shoaling. We got to the first red and green markers, hugging the north side as instructed, but the 5' swell behind us was high enough that we couldn't see any markers further down the inlet. We turned around immediately, taking some serious green water over our bow, and went back out to safe water. I called TowBoat US again, and a really sweet, young voice soothed my nerves with his calm and encouraging instructions; there were no “maybes” in his Southern inflection, and he made me feel better. We try again, and immediately I can see the second set of red and green buoys.
Five minutes later, still white knuckled and gripping the binoculars, I see a red TowBoat US vessel headed towards us before we've made it to the third set of markers :). I swear, this 25ft power boat, with a 20-something cutie at the wheel, is getting air as it flies across the surf that's following us in. He turns around when he reaches us, and escorts us through the rest of the buoys into the harbor. What an Angel, a Superman; I wanted to kiss him!
The Bridge of Lions was open as we approached (yay!) and we proceeded up the San Sebastian River as far as we could go, where we were glyreeted at the end of the Hidden Harbor finger dock by an entire family, waiting to help us tie up. Such a lovely welcome after some tense navigation! I had an amazing conversation with Myra, the incredibly beautiful 7 year old boat kid, who was happy to clue us in to what's happening and where her favorite eateries are. The dock is filled with liveaboards, and it will be a great place to stay for a while and savor the history of this gorgeous old city.
Meanwhile, I'm really grateful that we turned back in Fernandina Beach – thank you Coast Guard for influencing our decision in such a timely manner. Because (on reflection) if we had gone as planned, I have no idea how we would have made it safely through the St Augustine inlet. I expect it would have been in “rage” conditions, as they term it in the Bahamas, which would have made it very difficult to control the boat. People have lost their boats, and even their lives negotiating an inlet during a rage.
So I remind myself that every little thing happens for a reason, and even though our passage didn't happen according to our plan, it was, in the end, perfect. (Thank you, God! I promise next time to demonstrate more faith and less fear :)
Before we left Saint Marys, we flew up to Penfield, NY for Skip's 50th HS reunion. What an awesome, warm group of 68-ish year olds! The cool thing about this age group is that no one is posturing anymore – no one has lead a perfect life, everyone has had painful experiences, and no one is afraid to be entirely transparent. It surely makes for wonderful communication and I met so many lovely people, who knew me a great deal better than I knew them because they'd been following us via our logs. We also visited the Penfield HS of today, a futuristic version of the HS of Skip's day (which everyone agreed, offered a stellar education) which was an eye opener. It made me feel that my education in Guernsey (where they were still caning students in Elementary School) was truly back in the dark ages. I dare to believe that this is a much gentler world in many respects, today.
A week later ...
Clay, the guru of Frigoboat refrigeration systems, has been aboard every day since we've been here and has concluded that the system is broken, and we have to start again with a new installation. This will not involve tearing out one side of the galley to access the evaporation plate – our worst option – but instead, he'll figure out a way to get out the old one and replace it with two smaller plates. Still – working in a hole 12” x 11” on the counter top, and 22” deep from counter top to the bottom of the freezer box is not for the impatient, or very large person. I can't even reach to the bottom of the box myself without standing on a stool.
In contrast to this frustration is our new addition, Greta. Greta is now a 13-14 week old kitten, who followed me back to the boat from the dock in Saint Marys a week before we left, came on board and made herself entirely at home. She was desperately hungry when she arrived, and ate so voraciously that everything came back up. Everything. One vet visit later and some probiotics in her tummy, and she's healthy and growing rapidly. She is absolutely delightful in every respect, and I'm grateful she came to join us. I'm not at all sure what Portia will think about her, if and when Portia comes back aboard one day, but Greta clearly claimed us. We're thrilled and honored that she did and she's giving us hours of fun and entertainment :). Life is good.
Time to get some boat chores done. Greta is giving me lots of new ones ;)
Stay well, be happy!