We left the Hinckley Yacht Services yard in Savannah, GA on October 2nd. It had been nearly one full year since Jo Beth arrived there on a truck trailer following Hurricane Irma in Marathon, FL. That one year proved to be an eventful one, from dealing with the insurance company, parts and materials vendors, and the repair process itself, to the sobering fact that Lisa and I moved no less than 11 times – 12, if we count our evacuation from the Keys for Irma – and all but two of those moves happened in less than 3 months. Jo Beth is our home, and needless to say, we are glad to be home.
From Savannah, we sailed to Brunswick, GA. The sail from Savannah to Brunswick was a boisterous one, but fast and fun. We covered the 95 mile distance in about 15 hours, at an average speed of 6.5 knots, with easterly 18-20 knot winds. The trip was a great test for our new Monitor Windvane self-steering system, which uses the balance of wind on the sails to hold a set course and steer the boat without using any power. ‘Monty,’ the name Lisa has given to the Monitor, did an amazing job. We arrived at our base marina, Brunswick Landing Marina, at about 3am – tired and a bit chilly, but happy to be sailing again.
Even though we were out of the repair yard, we were still wrapping up smaller jobs on board. After Irma, our refrigerator/freezer controller was no longer working, so it was replaced as part of the repairs. I noticed during the sail to Brunswick that the temperature of the refrigerator was steadily increasing and after we had arrived and settled into our slip, further investigation revealed the controller and compressor were no longer coordinating their efforts. As this had been part of the hurricane damage repairs, we contacted the Hinckley yard. They sent down their lead electrician who determined that one of the tiny, hair-like pins in a plug on the back of the controller was bent. Miraculously, he was able to straighten it – and we were cooling wine and making ice once again. Unfortunately , the system shut down about three days later, this time for good, the bent pin now broken. A replacement controller was ordered and installed by us.
We also discovered a minor leak; more of a seep really, in the installation of the replacement stainless steel railing posts on the port side. With help from the boatyard, we were able to pull and re-bed the bolts which attach the posts to the deck structure. One more issue resolved.
Otherwise, our time in Brunswick was spent getting ourselves and the boat prepared to sail south. In one long day trip to Jacksonville, we were able to get most of our long term provisioning done at Costco, and also sold my car. We then began watching the weather for favorable conditions to start sailing south. The weather window opened for us on November 20, and in the early morning hours, under a leaden gray and overcast sky, we motored away from Brunswick Landing Marina and out St. Simons Sound into the wide – and completely windless – Atlantic Ocean, bound for Miami, Florida.
The next 30 hours were relatively uneventful. Winds had been forecast to be light and northeasterly, but had remained nonexistent. The sea was calm, with only a slight swell. Ship traffic on the ocean was also very light. We had expected to see a fair number of ships, particularly when we passed Jacksonville, FL during the night, but only saw two. Before dawn, the city of St. Augustine was fading behind us.
Lisa and I take ‘watches’ when we make an extended trip offshore, as we don’t stop at nightfall, but continue sailing. In the Intracoastal Waterway, the waters are shallow and crab pot markers dot the surface; unlit posts and markers are also present. These things make moving on the waterway at night a potentially hazardous venture, but the ocean is, for the most part, free of such issues. Generally, Lisa takes the first watch at 10pm until 2am. Then, I’m on watch from 2am until 6pm. Then, it’s her turn again, until 10am. Between 10am and 10pm, we tend not to adhere to any set schedule, but share the duties as needed. Being on watch doesn’t mean you literally sit and ‘watch.’ We read and listen audio books, satellite radio, or podcasts; or plan projects for our arrival. Sometimes, we think of that great restaurant we remember from a previous trip, or making a visit to a favorite beach or museum. Every 15 minutes or so, we take a full look around the horizon and check the RADAR and AIS information from our instruments, as well as our course and speed. Sometimes, it can be hard to stay awake, so we use a timer which chimes at 15 minute intervals to keep us alert. We also wear safety harnesses which double as life-jackets and are tethered to the boat, 24/7 when we’re offshore. At night, we even clip ourselves into pad eyes installed in the cockpit.
The temperatures were tolerable, in the 50’s at night and 60’s during the day, so we wore layers. In the cabin, with the engine running, it was a good bit warmer. Wednesday morning dawned with clearing skies and warmer temps – we were moving south – but there was still no wind. We had been sailing a course which took us about 35 miles out from the coast. Now, we made a slight course change to the southwest, to ‘angle’ in a bit more on the coastline. This was done to avoid the influence of the powerful gulf stream current, which flows northward like a massive river within the ocean.
In the late afternoon of our second day at sea we felt a stirring in the air, and soon, we had a breeze. We set the jib, which is the large sail at the head of the boat, and eased back on the engine throttle. Our wind direction and speed instruments, mounted at the top of the mast, indicated we had 5, then 8, then 10 knots of wind from the northwest. On our present course, this meant the wind was blowing from nearly directly behind us. Our boat speed remained the same, even with the engine slowed down. We set about the procedures for getting the mainsail up and when ready, I clipped my tether onto the jackline secured to the decks and went to the mast. I prepared the mainsail halyard – the line which raises and lowers a sail – and began the process of hoisting. One hoist, then two, and I felt a twinge in my lower back. On the start of a third hoist, I felt it again – and suddenly, it was as if someone swung a sledge hammer into my lower spine. I dropped onto the deck and looked back at Lisa in the cockpit. She knew immediately what had happened.
In my college years, I injured my back while jumping – and showing off - on a trampoline. Even though 35+ years have passed, my back still ‘goes out.’ There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it’s happened when I was trying to move a refrigerator and it’s happened when I’ve reached for a piece of paper on a desk. As a doctor once told me, “you can carry an anvil all day and be fine, but bend to pick up a hammer and you’re out for a week.”
Lisa clipped in and rushed to the mast. “That’s it,” she said, “this changes things. About an hour earlier, we passed Cape Canaveral, 25 miles to the west. “We’re turning back and putting in at the Cape. In the meantime, you’re down below and on the sole.” (‘Sole’ is the nautical term for ‘floor.’) The winds had continued to increase and now steadied out at around 12 knots. Lisa furled the headsail and brought down the portion of the mainsail I’d managed to raise. She came into the cabin and stood at the chart table and began leafing through our charts to plot our course change. I watched from the floor, lolling with rolling motion of the boat, each roll threatening to start a new series of spasms.
“Let’s go to Ft. Pierce instead,” I said. “Going to Canaveral will have us going upwind and I’m afraid that motion will make things worse. Plus, Canaveral has a lock system to go through, and it will be dark when we get there. We’ve been in and out of Ft. Pierce before. It’s very straightforward”
She thought for a moment, then sifted through the charts, stopping at one. She moved the course plotting tools around the paper.
“Ft. Pierce is 55 miles from here,” she said. “It’s going to be the middle of the night when we get there.”
“Yes,” I said, “but we can hover outside at the channel entrance and go in at daylight. Besides, it’s an easy, well-marked channel. We’ve done it before, remember.”
She stared out a port for a few moments.
“Alright, but I don’t want to go in until daylight. Go in and anchor?”
“Sure,” I said, “that’s fine. Or, go to the City Marina.”
Going to a marina was my preference. Both of us would rest more there, but more importantly, I could get off of the boat and walk around. Experience has taught me the worst I can do for my back is lay about, taking drugs, and waiting to feel better. I needed to be someplace where I could get off the boat and move.
“Ok,” she said. “Where are your muscle relaxers? And anti-inflammatory meds?”
We made an agreement she would do an extended watch, until 2am. She also decided we would continue under motor power and not sail, as we could keep a faster average speed. I took the meds and made myself as comfortable as I could on the cabin sole. Soon I was rocked into a pharmaceutical slumber.
I woke with a start and looked at the clock. 2:15am. My watch. I slowly moved up and off the sole and made my way outside. The wind had picked up more and a larger following sea had built, but the motion was still fairly easy. Lisa double checked me, but I urged her to go below and get some sleep. She updated me on ‘need to know’ details; our course and speed, and that the electric autopilot was handling things well. She also said she had sighted the Ft. Pierce sea buoy and that we had just passed the inlet. But, after consideration of the sea state and wind, she decided it was easier to do a large circular course close by the channel entrance and sea buoy, than to try and hover near the buoy. The AIS system showed an ocean going tug paralleling our course, about 8 miles east of our position. There was no other traffic to speak of. Lisa went below and settled onto the starboard settee. She was soon asleep.
The next four and a half hours passed slowly. The eastern sky began changing from black to gray, easing into muted oranges and yellows. At sunrise, we were north of the channel entrance by about three miles; I adjusted our course for the sea buoy and decided to let Lisa sleep a bit longer. I remained very much aware of my back, which I now thought of as a schoolyard bully, threatening to send me into spasms with each lurch of the boat. When we were a half mile from the sea buoy, I slipped below and woke Lisa.
As we passed into the inlet and the ocean swell subsided, then vanished, I let out an audible sigh. It was only then we realized it was Thanksgiving Day, and that my plan to find a marina may not work so well. We called the City Marina on VHF radio and by telephone, but received no answer. Since the City Marina was the closest and easiest to get into, we decided to go in and secure ourselves to the fueling dock, taking a ‘better to ask forgiveness than permission’ approach. By 6:45am, we were secured at the fuel dock. I quickly stepped ashore and went for a short but stooped over walk.
At 10am, there was a knock on the hull. Outside was Dean Kubitschek, the City Marina manager. We promptly made apologies for stopping unannounced and explained our situation. He held his palms up in a silencing motion, a set of keys strung on a blue lanyard swinging from his fingers.
“Don’t worry about it one bit,” he said. “Here are keys for bathrooms and showers, over there and over there,” he said, pointing behind him and across us to the other side of the marina basin. “Laundry’s in the same areas. We have quarters in the office if you need them. We’ll check y’all in, do paperwork, all that, tomorrow. We’re also having a Thanksgiving dinner for the boaters, this afternoon at the yacht club. Starts around 2pm. Hope y’all can make it.”
He even gave us his cell phone number. Lisa and I remain very grateful for the hospitality extended to us by Dean and his staff; Matt, Antonio, and Anne, to name a few, particularly as we kept extending our stay due to my back and then weather. On the following Monday, when I went to the office to extend our stay for another week, Dean looked at me and said, “you only look half as crooked now as compared to when I first saw you.” The next day, I got a very intense – and beneficial – massage. And we walked. A lot. We also met other sailors and boaters, and were able to caravan with them into town for groceries, boat parts and supplies, and so on. Making new friends is a big part of the cruising life.
The following Thursday, after waiting for another weather window, we were ready to continue south. We topped off the fuel, took on water, and pumped out the waste holding tank. We had lovely easterly winds around 15 knots. The sun was warm and we were looking forward to a fast and pleasant overnight run to Miami. We left the marina and entered the inlet channel, once again bound for sea. After clearing the sea buoy, we began to set the sails. I clipped onto the jackline and went to the mast. The mainsail went up fine, but stopped short of the full hoist. It was clear something was amiss. I squinted up and into the late afternoon sun to see what was happening.
This time, the problem wasn’t my back, but a piece of hardware on the mast. Near the top of the mast, there is a set of folding steps installed, one on each side. The steps allow a person who has been ‘hauled up the mast’ to stand up and gain access to the very top of the mast, where navigational lights, radio antennas, wind direction and speed instruments, etc., are installed. The steps are normally folded up and locked, but now, for some reason, the one on the starboard side of the mast was fully open – and the main halyard had caught around it.
What followed for the next two hours was a somewhat comical, somewhat pitiful, attempt to un-entangle the halyard from the step. Doing so was exponentially compounded by the fact Jo Beth was pitching headlong into a steep swell. I was harnessed and clipped in but still had to hang on with one hand and flip the halyard around with the other; otherwise, I would have been catapulted from the deck and into the sea. The halyard is one long line and runs outside of the mast, so there is a front section of the halyard, which is the part pulled on to hoist the sail, and a back section running through a sheave/pulley at the masthead. The ‘head’ or top of the sail is shackled to the halyard on the back side of the mast. I succeeded in repeatedly crossing the halyard over the front or back side of the step, but never completely off of it, until I looped the back section of the halyard over the forward side of the step. Then, the motion of the boat in the swell flung the front section of the halyard over itself on the back side of the step, effectively locking it in place.
Lisa and I admitted our defeat. We briefly discussed continuing on to Miami under power, but were acutely aware the step needed to be closed and secured. Once again, we turned on a westerly course back into the Ft. Pierce Inlet and called the City Marina on the radio. That evening, as we motored back into the slip we’d vacated only 4 hours earlier, we were met with incredulous looks from friends with whom we’d said our “until next time” partings. Our dock neighbor, Dave van Cleef, who lives aboard his pretty boat Cilcia with his ginger tom cat Lucky-Roo, stood and threw his hands in the air with a questioning look. I pointed towards the masthead and quickly explained what had happened. He looked up at the masthead, and then back at me for a moment before saying, “well that’s just plain tacky.”
The following morning, I was able to un-entangle the mainsail halyard, with the boat lying still in a slip, in less than 10 minutes. Dave stood and watched from the cockpit of Cilcia. Dave is in his 70’s, but healthy, lean, and wiry. I mentioned that I had a bosun’s chair, and would be happy to haul someone up the mast to secure the steps. He eyed me warily.
“I’m too old,” he said in a stern tone.
I paused, then said, “well, if someone could haul…”
“You’re too fat,” he called over his shoulder as he stepped off his boat. He smiled, then turned up the dock, Lucky-Roo on his heels.
We called Mack Sails of Stuart, FL. Fortunately for us, they had some crews working in a boatyard not far from the marina. After a quick read of a credit card number over the phone, we had rigger Eli Levi on site and going up the mast to close and secure the steps, all within the hour of my phone call.
After our return to the marina the night before, Lisa and I went out to dinner. We were nursing our wounds, me with a Guinness and her with a vodka soda, when she asked if I was feeling well to which I had to say I was not. I had started coughing a bit the night before, and as I seem to be prone to bronchitis, I was concerned it was in the offing. However, I was also beginning to believe the medicine I use to alleviate seasickness was affecting me adversely.
For decades, I have used the Trans-Derm Scop (Scopolamine) Patch for my ‘mal de mare’ affliction. It has always worked wonderfully. However, after the sail from Savannah to Brunswick, I felt a bit out of sorts, but wrote it off to all the stress of finalizing repairs to Jo Beth, dealing with the refrigeration issues, etc. When we first arrived in Ft. Pierce, the ‘off’ feelings were amplified; but again, I wrote them off to being an effect of the muscle relaxers and other meds I was taking for pain, etc. However, after our attempted departure for Miami from Ft. Pierce, I felt incredibly bad. That time, the issues were much more severe; mild double vision, a dry mouth to the point of being painful with difficulty swallowing, mild disorientation, and a host of other symptoms – all of which I later discovered are well documented side effects for the Scopolamine patch. And, as it just so happens, I was actually getting sick - a fever appeared on Friday and lingered until Sunday. Thankfully, it wasn’t bronchitis, but only a case of the general upper respiratory crud. Lisa soon picked it up as well.
Both Lisa and I knew we had to leave Ft. Pierce, if for no other reason than our mental health. We decided to travel about 30 miles south on the Intracoastal Waterway to the Peck Lake anchorage just south of Stuart, Florida. Staying in the waterway meant a weather window was less critical, giving us more flexibility. We were joined by our friends Bill and Jackie White in their 43’ trawler styled yacht, Fancy Free. We spent the next 4 days anchored in Peck Lake as another cold front roared through. We left the anchorage on a bright and sunny Sunday morning and motored south along the waterway to Lake Worth, a community near Palm Beach, FL. We anchored there and planned an early departure for Monday to Miami. The weather was lovely for an offshore run.
We left Lake Worth with the rising sun on Monday, passing the small freighter Tropic Mist on our way out. Initially, there was little wind, but it soon became light and variable, mostly from the northwest-west. The apparent wind, which is the wind produced as we moved forward, was greater than the actual wind. We had to cover 70 miles to Miami and wanted to be there and anchored by sunset. It was a tall order. In order to have our best possible chance, we decided to motor-sail. We pushed hard on the indigo blue sea, but didn’t make it; by sunset we were just passing the sea buoy at Government Cut, the entrance to the Port of Miami, among a string of departing cruise ships. By the time we were inside the channel jetties, night had fallen.
Neither of us is keen to the idea of entering harbors at night; even a harbor familiar to us, such as Miami, can be challenging due to the lights ashore, and doubly so when the lights are those of a major city. Miami harbor at night is, suffice to say, quite dazzling. We made it through, proceeding slowly, and after another two hours were anchored in one of our favorite spots on Key Biscayne’s western shoreline. Lisa made a pot of chili and soon after eating, we were in bed asleep. Our friends Bill and Jackie on Fancy Free, had anchored further south in Biscayne Bay. We awoke about 1am with Jo Beth rolling heavily. The north wind had piped up, sending a swell across the bay into our serene little spot.
In the morning, after the routine check of weather, we decided to move across the bay to Dinner Key Marina and secure to a mooring. Lisa was still a bit under the weather, and we had a monster cold front coming at us. Bill and Jackie on Fancy Free decided to continue down to Key Largo and secure for the weather there. The immediate weather forecast was daunting; gale warnings were posted until early Saturday morning. The forecast called for winds up to 40 knots, with gusts to 50 knots possible, mostly from the southwest and west. That’s pretty much what we got. The mainland provides some protection from southwest and west winds, so it wasn’t too bad.
Jo Beth was well secured; the mooring lines were doubled and her sails furled and tied. We secured the boom against swaying and the well salted decks got a benefiting rinse from the heavy rains. As forecast, the gale was spent by Saturday, and things began to settle down. It had made for a few breezy few days aboard Jo Beth. Sunday morning, we were ready to be underway again.
After my realization that Scopolamine and I were no longer getting along, I did extensive research into motion sickness remedies. For years, I have heard wonders about a drug called Cinnarizine. Commonly sold as ‘Stugeron,’ it is available over the counter in most every country except for the US and Canada where it is banned. It can be ordered from online pharmacies in Canada, which obtain the medicine from Great Britain. Lisa likes Bonine, but in the past, I had found it ineffective; Dramamine is essentially anesthesia for both of us. Surprisingly, I stumbled upon a non-pharmaceutical remedy popular among scuba divers - plugging one ear.
The theory behind the single ear plug is this: motion sickness is generally caused by a sensory conflict in auditory and visual signals received by the brain. The inner ear tells the brain you’re moving, while the eyes tell it you’re not. The brain reads this sensory conflict as a hallucination caused by an apparent ingestion of poison, resulting in the all to familiar nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, the purpose of which is to expel the ‘poison.’ However, by plugging one ear, (usually the non-dominant ear – for example, the left ear for a right-handed person), the brain interprets the inner ear systems to be malfunctioning. Accordingly, it disregards the information the inner ear is sending, and relies solely on what the eyes are relaying. Thus, there’s no sensory conflict; no conflict in the brain, no motion sickness. Lisa also whipped up blend of essential oils known to alleviate nausea, and we carry something on board called ‘Quease-Ease.’ It’s a blend of essential oils, and is used in hospitals to help patients recover from post-surgical nausea and nausea caused by medications. You sniff the receptor of the Quease- Ease tube and voila, nausea vanishes.
I tried the ear plug method on the sail from Lake Worth to Miami, and was fine. I also took a dose of Bonine. One, or the combination of both, worked. The remainder of the trip would be made in Hawk Channel, which is generally protected from the ocean swell by the barrier reef, so not precautions were needed. Needless to say, the Scopolamine patch and I have parted ways.
(I’m sure many of you are thinking I encountered a bad or expired set of patches. Not the case: I checked for recalls, etc., for the batches I have and there were none. The patches have been stored properly and are not expired. I did speak with my doctor, the one who prescribed them, who is also an accomplished sailor. He believes my reaction to the medicine is due to physiological changes as I’ve aged.)
We stayed on the Dinner Key mooring until early Sunday, December 23rd, leaving at first light. We motored a few miles east-southeast across the bay towards Biscayne Channel and on through to Hawk Channel. Biscayne Channel passes through ‘Stiltsville,’ a small group of homes built on stilts above the very shallow water area of the bay known as Biscayne Flats. Stiltsville began in the late 1930’s when a local crab fisherman built a shack on stilts to process and sell his catch. More houses were built by others, typically serving as ‘social clubs,’ and at its peak, there were 27 structures. Some of the structures weren’t technically houses, but purposefully grounded boats and barges. Most were destroyed in 1965 during Hurricane Betsy. In 1992, there were 14 structures still standing, until Hurricane Andrew; after Andrew, only seven remained. Those seven remain today. Now contained within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park, the structures see only limited use.
Once in Hawk Channel, we set our course south and motor sailed the approximately 50 miles to Rodriguez Key off of Key Largo. Winds were light and from dead astern, so we only set the headsail. By 4pm, we were tucked in on the southwest side of Rodriguez Key with three other boats. The winds picked up a bit during the night, and we rolled and pitched constantly. Welcome to paradise!
We were underway from Rodriguez Key at first light, and treated to a spectacular sunrise. It was Christmas Eve. The skies remained overcast as the upper Keys passed along our starboard side. Tavernier, then Islamorada, then Long Key. After that, we passed The Conch Keys, and then Duck Key and Grassy Key. We were motor sailing with the jib; the winds at Rodriguez had abated and our course had changed to a more southwest-westerly track. Just before noon, we could pick out the Bonefish Condominium Tower on Key Colony beach, which is just east of Marathon. By 2pm, we were in the channel for Boot Key Harbor where we hoped to pick up a mooring ball in the Marathon City Marina Mooring Field. Unfortunately, no moorings were available, so we added our name to the wait list – number 12!
We made a quick turnaround in the harbor and headed to Marathon Marina, which is at the harbor entrance, to take on fuel and water. While there, we decided to treat ourselves – it was Christmas after all – to staying in the marina for a couple of nights. After the fuel and water tanks were full, we were secured in our slip. We celebrated our arrival back in Marathon with a Christmas Eve dinner at Lazy Days, a restaurant on the marina property. Christmas Day was spent doing necessary boat chores – washing the salt off of the boat, cleaning, boat maintenance, and laundry. Lisa went to church as well, reconnecting with friends she had made during our time here in 2017.
Wednesday morning, with a fresh breeze out of the east, we left our marina slip and motored the short distance into the Boot Key Harbor anchorage to anchor and wait for our mooring ball assignment. We also took the dinghy in and walked to Keys Fisheries, where we lunched on fresh stone crab claws and conch ceviche…yum!
Unfortunately, there was a spot of trouble in paradise – Jo Beth’s 15 year old engine alternator has ceased to be. We had noticed a significant slowdown in the battery charging cycles during the past couple of weeks, and that the battery charge indicator light was staying on longer than it should after the engine was started. We were able to get in to Marathon Boatyard where the alternator output was tested and found to be under
13 volts at over 3,000 RPM- it should be 15 volts at a much lower RPM. Jo Beth’s batteries were not being fully charged. Over time, this could damage the batteries, necessitating their replacement - a very costly repair.
Prior to Hurricane Irma, we had a wind powered battery charger, but the hurricane took it for her own. During the storm repairs, Lisa and I decided to switch from wind driven power generation to solar, which is much more efficient. However, adding solar power to the boat requires careful planning; where to locate the panels and how they should be mounted; how many panels would we require; and so on. With all of the other storm related repairs, we felt we had enough on our plates and tabled the solar additions until this year. This meant we were dependent on the old alternator to keep the batteries charged. When the old alternator was no longer functional, we had to move somewhere quickly so we could plug into shore side power. Marathon Boatyard was our best, and closest, option. An alternative was to obtain a portable gasoline or diesel powered generator to use for battery cgaring, but that would have to be stored when not in use, and there simply isn’t enough room aboard Jo Beth for one.
Soon, Marathon Boatyard had the alternator replaced with a new unit and we received our mooring ball assignment. We’ve now settled into ‘life on the ball,’ and into a bit of a routine – catching up with local friends, planning some short cruises in and around the Keys, and the like. The solar panels are ordered; four 100-watt semi-flexible Sun Power panels will be installed in a few short weeks - hopefully. After all, we’re in the Keys and on ‘Keys time’ once again. As they say, “no worries, soon come mon!” Of course, there are always numerous maintenance chores and projects to be done around the boat.
Thanks for sailing along with us. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or comments. Please let us know what you’d like to see here. We want this new site to be an interactive experience, so don’t be shy. We’d love to hear from you. Also, we belatedly wish all of you many sincere, safe, and happy days; not just now, but for all of 2019 and beyond.
See you soon!