Friday, January 25, 2008

Definition of a Good Day

Our definition of a good cruising day is that we didn't hit anything and we didn't run aground. According to that standard, Thursday was not a good cruising day.

It started out well enough. Before we left our Fenandina Harbor anchorage, Phil spent an hour or so changing the fuel filters on the diesel engines. Diesel engines thrive on clean fuel and new filters make the engines purr. We raised the anchor and, with the current on our side, we were soon doing six knots.

The weather was reasonable, but couldn't be considered warm. With an open cockpit and a strong breeze, we donned our "foulies" for part of the trip.

Florida has replaced several "bascule" bridges, sometimes called draw bridges, with new high-rise bridges with 65 foot clearance, meaning that our 56-foot mast can safely glide under them. With a receding tide, these bridges can be difficult to navigate. Strong currents under the bridges tend to play havoc with steering and you hold your breath as you cross under, trying to maintain a straight path and not hit the sides. What would a cruise be without a little suspense?

We also crossed the St. John's River, which leads to Jacksonville, and fought some very rough tides that tended to move our boat sideways as we were trying to move forward. Fortunately for us, there were no container ships or cruise vessels entering the St. Johns while we crossed it.

After several of these exciting episodes, we were looking forward to a safe haven at Palm Harbor Marina, a few miles south of Jacksonville. I called ahead to reserve a spot and the harbormaster said they would expect us. He failed to mention that we would be arriving at low tide and they had not dredged their channel into the marina for several years.

There were channel markers as we entered the creek leading to the marina. Although we tried to stay in the middle of the markers, our depth sounder alarm went off immediately, marking five feet, then four feet, then three feet. Our "draw" (the portion of the boat below the water line) is about three feet. When the depth meter hit 2.7 feet, we thudded to a complete stop. The current pushed us farther ashore and we were totally and completely stuck in the mud.

I was incensed that the harbormaster had not warned us about the shallow channel, but Phil was much more philosophical and noted that it was another "adventure." A small boat was dispatched to assist us, and we were soon floating again, only to go aground a second time. Once more, the small boat pulled us free and we were guided into a deeper channel and a safe docking

Palm Harbor Marina has turned out to be a wonderful stop for us. After we were securely tied to the dock, we discovered that a world of commerce awaited us a short walk away, including WalMart, West Marine, Walgreens, Publix Food Market, and all the fast food restaurants you could want. The Marina itself had wonderful hot showers and a laundry, along with a lounge that provided cable TV, loaner books and DVD's, telephone and wi-fi.

In addition to dockage for many boats in the water, this marine has several huge warehouses that provide "dry storage" for boats. Huge mechanical fork lifts can raise boats out of the water and deposit them in multi-level compartments inside the warehouses.

When we inquired about getting our bottom cleaned, we were immediately put in touch with a local bottom cleaner who showed up this morning and spent a good two hours underwater, breathing through a scuba tank, scraping several months worth of barnacles and "stuff" that had attached itself to the bottom of our boat.

Our one-night stop has turned into two or three nights. The weather is chilly and windy, the marina is safe and comfortable, the showers are hot, the washer and dryer work, and IU plays basketball at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. We will wait for warmer weather to move on south.

No comments: