Decision Time

Off to a staging harbor to prep for the next few months.

The Banana River west of Port Canaveral was a really interesting anchorage. Lots of wildlife pressed right up against a major industrial area. Interestingly the wildlife (birds and dolphins, in particular) seemed not to care. The pelicans seemed happy to roost on man-made structures and the dolphins have figured out how to use the locks to go back and forth between the ocean and the lagoon.

We said goodbye to Port Canaveral in late morning and headed for Fort Pierce. On the way out we passed a couple of gigantic cruise ships which has arrived overnight. Andante felt very small and secretly wished for a water slide of her own.

Leaving Port Canveral
We passed two cruise ships berthed in Port Canaveral on our way back to the Atlantic. I’ve never been on a cruise ship like that and have some difficulty understanding the attraction — but they are still really interesting to me. The first one (MSC Meraviglia) was just huge. The second (Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas) had a cool twisty waterslide on the upper deck.
Sailing nicely out of Port Canveral. When the wind picked up in the afternoon it was almost directly in front of us. We tacked back and forth for a while but finally gave in shortly before nightfall and turned the engine on.
Lying on my back on the foredeck this was my view for much of the morning.
While this one missed us a subsequent storm hit us with torrential rain and some pretty good winds just a few miles before the entrance channel. I was glad to have the sails down at that point.
When I’m not on deck staring at the sails I’m generally down below staring at screens at the nav station. I use a chart plotter on my Mac (OpenCPN) to plan our route and monitor progress underway. Radar and AIS are very useful, especially at night. Its surprising how many fancy expensive boats (especially powerboats) don’t have AIS. I had a chance to do a few sun sights on this leg but haven’t worked them up yet. Now that its warm enough to hold a sextant in bare hands I’m hoping to work on my celestial skills over the next couple of months.
Andante anchored in Fort Pierce the morning after arrival. The water is warm and clear and greenish-blue. And full of dolphins and jumping fishes. On one side of us is a cluster of mangrove islands with lots of birds.
On the other side of us is the Fort Pierce Coast Guard station and a waterfront bar that offers really loud (but not very good) live rock music all evening. Bar not shown to protect the guilty.

So what next? After considering several scenarios I think the most compelling option is to head from here to the Bahamas. From Fort Pierce it is only 80 nm to West End. Getting from here to there will require completing some maintenance items, restocking food and supplies and waiting (and waiting) for an appropriate weather window. And all of this needs to be coordinated with obtaining a Covid test that is required for entry.

I chose Fort Pierce as a staging location exactly because it provides access to all of the products and services I need for this logistical puzzle while also providing the option to anchor out (free) for an arbitrary duration. I’d be much less inclined to wait for perfect weather if I was trapped in a marina paying more than $100/night. The dinghy ride to shore is long and can be wet — but the City Marina provides a nice secure dinghy dock that they encourage visiting boaters to use. A Lyft ride to downtown or the grocery store is about $7. So the infrastructure is here to make this work.

I’m still looking at options for Covid testing. The Bahamas will accept a rapid antigen test but it seems that appointments for a drive-through PCR test are more widely available. Never mind that I don’t have a car. The real trick is that the test result must be no more than 3 days old when you enter the country. With a typical 2 day wait on PCR test results, uncertain weather and the moderately slow nature of our travels it will be tough to meet that requirement.

I understand that the 3 day test age requirement can be waived if arriving by private vessel provided you can prove you haven’t stopped anywhere since the test. So at the moment my working plan is to wait for a good weather outlook, schedule and get a Covid test (hopefully Lyft is OK with a drive-through swabbing) and start sailing south along the Florida coast staying in cell range without stopping until I am emailed the test result. Then I can divert east across the Gulf Stream with an intended target of West End, Grand Bahama. Or if the test result takes really long to deliver, Bimini.

So I’ve made a decision and have something like a plan. It remains to be seen if it is a good plan but fortunately I’m flexible and in no rush. We’ll make the best of whatever happens next.

Finally Warm

The sunshine state delivered.

This week’s gale finally blew itself out. I was glad to leave Fernandina Beach yesterday morning with the ebb tide and get back to sailing south. Fernandina seemed like a nice town but I wasn’t able to explore ashore because of the weather so my impression is based entirely on what could be seen (and smelled) from the harbor.

The industrial scenery is improved with a nice sunset and a full moon.

This leg of the trip was about 170 nm offshore between Fernandina Beach and Port Canaveral. When we were able to sail it was glorious. The wind was sometimes perfect for sailing (12-15 kts on or just behind the beam) and othertimes made sailing impossible (2 kts on the nose). Fortunately Andante is blessed with not only a capable sailing rig but a workhorse engine and substantial fuel tankage. I’m happy to use whatever works to keep us moving.

Nice sailing conditions. The line of low cumulus clouds in the distance are out over the Gulf Stream. On this leg we sailed 3-5 miles offshore and experienced a slight southward current most of the way down the coast.
Moonrise over a glassy sea.

On our way south we passed Jacksonville at lunchtime, St. Augustine at sunset, Daytona Beach at midnight, and Cape Canaveral at dawn. Since more than half of the trip was at night without much to see I don’t have too many photos to share.

When its dark I spend much of my time below watching the radar and AIS targets on the chart plotter. I pop up briefly to scan the horizon every 10 minutes or so. When all sources indicate that nothing will be happening for 20-30 minutes — no traffic, no buoys, we’re not approaching a coastline, etc. — I set a (very loud) kitchen timer and take a (very short) nap.

St. Augustine Light at sunset.
Some of the launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. Would be fun to watch a launch from out here. I’m sure the area is monitored and cleared before scheduled launch (and now landing) events.

We pulled into Port Canaveral shortly after noon, got some fuel at a marina inside the heavily industrial port, and then went under a drawbridge and through a lock into the Indian River and a completely different world.

The anchorage I chose for tonight is right next to the western exit of the lock in a shallow area of the Indian River Lagoon / Banana River just teeming with wildlife. Pelicans, herons, all sorts of small birds and more dolphins than I’ve seen the entire trip. I spent the evening sitting in the cockpit enjoying the bright sunshine and watching dolphins jump and pelicans swoop. And it was warm. Yay Florida.

Port Canaveral is a small but busy place.
Just beyond the industrial center of the port the barge canal extends westward into the Indian River Lagoon and then the Indian River. A lock is used to reduce tidal flow between the inland waters and the port. Andante locked through with a small squadron of pelicans. Apparently manatee and dolphins pass through the lock as well. Signs warn boaters to mind their propellers.
Birds everywhere.
Views from the cockpit into the Indian River Lagoon / Banana River. It was very easy to spot dolphins in the glassy water. If you expanded the photo and looked at the tiny building to the left of the small island you’d see it is actually the enormous NASA Vehicle Assembly Building used to stack the Saturn V and the Shuttle. From this anchorage you can see most of the launch facilities — just as we could from the ocean side earlier in the day. Guessing this is a popular watch spot on launch days.

Conditions are supposed to remain nice for another day or two. Sometime tomorrow I think I’ll head back out into the Atlantic and continue south to Fort Pierce or West Palm Beach.

Boat Food: Basic One-Pot Pasta

Several folks have asked me what I eat onboard. In fact I cook pretty much the same stuff that I’d eat ashore with a few modifications. To some these mods may seem like laziness but there are good reasons for taking certain shortcuts.

Onboard there are some critical supplies that are limited. Chief among these are water, fuel, and time. I tend to favor dishes that use very little water, preserve cooking gas, don’t require hours of preparation or fiddly pot-watching, and minimize clean-up (which saves both water and time). Also, because the galley is in the center of the living area its important to minimize the generation of heat and steam. Excess heat is an obvious concern in warm climates. Steam (for example, from boiling water) can be a real concern when its cold as it exacerbates condensation on the inside of the hull and in poorly-ventilated lockers.

I tend towards a vegetarian (or at least pescatarian) diet and eat a lot of pasta. At home this pasta would be cooked first in a big pot of salted water (until the dog tells me its ready) and then drained and topped with a sauce that was cooked separately.

On the boat that approach would violate almost all of the concerns raised above. Instead I cook pasta directly in a very loose sauce in one pot on one burner. Is the result perfectly al dente pasta? No. But it saves water, fuel, dirty dishes, generates less steam and tastes really good.

Here’s how I do it:

Gently saute half an onion, several cloves of garlic and a good pinch of red pepper in hot olive oil until the onion softens and starts to color.
Optional, but recommended: Add a nice squirt of anchovy paste (or 3-4 fishes from a tin) and saute a few minutes longer. Adds a ton of flavor.
Add a 15oz can of crushed tomatoes then fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot. See what we did there? We diluted the crushed tomatoes 1:1 while also washing all the tomatoey goodness out of the can without having to measure anything. Add a good palm full of dried oregano and basil and 10-15 grinds of black pepper.
Bring the resulting mixture to a boil. It will be very loose and look more like tomato soup than tomato sauce. In fact, at this point it IS tomato soup. You could probably stop here and enjoy with a grilled cheese sandwich if that’s how you’re feeling.
Add about 2 cups of dry pasta to the boiling liquid. Stir it around and reduce the heat to a gently bubbling simmer.
My stove burns really hot so I use a flame tamer to allow a lower simmer. You want to keep the liquid bubbling but don’t want to scorch the bottom or cause it to boil over.
Make yourself a gin & tonic.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is done to your liking and the sauce has thickened up. For me this takes somewhere between 1.5-2 gin & tonics. I suppose this could vary depending on the size of your glass and how vigorously your pot is simmering. Figure 12-15 minutes.
Add some grated parmesan and enjoy.

And that’s that. One pot, one bowl, one spoon and one fork to clean. No water wasted. Texture is as good as can be expected but wasn’t perfect to begin with so reheated leftovers taste just as good tomorrow. And the boat smells fantastic for hours afterwards.

Basic formula: 2 cups (15 oz +/-) of crushed tomatoes + 2 cups of water + 2 cups of pasta feeds 2 normal people.

Hello Sunshine State

Warming up nicely. And still heading south.

Our trip down the long and winding ICW from Beaufort has not been unpleasant. But it was definitely a pleasure to get out into deeper water and really sail for the first time in several months. After an enjoyable two nights dockside in Charleston (and many long walks around the city) we took advantage of a brief weather window to run offshore South Carolina and Georgia to the St Mary’s River inlet and Fernandina Beach, Florida. There was great sailing weather for the first third of the 28 hour trip. We covered many miles on a three-sail broad reach about 5 miles offshore before the wind got fickle and died. That left us with an overnight motor in glassy seas under a nearly-full moon. Not unpleasant at all.

At the entrance to the St. Mary’s River we were greeted by the guns of Fort Clinch. Andante was not intimidated. We were a bit taken aback by the industrial waterfront of Fernandina Beach and the odors of the pulp mill but we found a nice secure mooring to hold us through the gale that arrived overnight. My instruments recorded a max wind of 52 knots. Wheee!

Its still blowing 35-40 kts as I write this –so expect to stay put until at least tomorrow to allow the wind and seas to moderate a bit. The goal is always to sail the boat so wind is good — but wind direction and sea state matter a great deal. As we head south along the east coast of Florida the ideal weather is something like 15-20 kts from the west. These conditions would allow us to sail at full speed a few miles offshore where the wind is strong but locally-generated waves are fetch-limited. We might still see swell from distant storms but even large swell is more comfortable than short steep waves. These are the general conditions expected beginning late Monday through Tuesday and into Wednesday. I hope to take full advantage of them. The near-term plan is to push south to Port Canaveral and possibly further (Ft. Pierce? West Palm?) as the weather allows.

We should be in South Florida (somewhere between West Palm Beach and Miami) by the end of next week. Once there I’ll take some time to decide whether to head further south to the Florida Keys or make the short hop (around 60 nm) to the Bahamas. Either way, things are definitely looking warmer and sunnier. Yay!

Later today I’ll work on updating the “Trip” link, above, to provide a summary of the 2022 trip legs.

Dockside in Charleston the night before departure.
Red sky at night, sailors delight. Or, if you prefer, from Matthew 16:2-3: He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Regardless, the sky was extremely red the night before we left Charleston suggesting a pleasant day ahead.
We had some traffic on our way out of Charleston harbor. The entrance channel is fairly narrow and with ships and tugs moving in both directions we chose to run just outside the channel between the green buoys and the jetty. I spoke with both the tug and the container ship to let them know our intentions.
Finally making some progress under sail. This was just after turning off the engine outside of Charleston with winds 10-15 from the NW. Almost perfect.
Sunset at the end of the first day out. Wind has now died to less than 5 kts and shifted to the south — no more sailing for now. Serious chemtrail action around here.
Sunrise on glassy seas the next morning. The entire trip crossed an important right whale conservation area and had hoped this would be a good whale watching day. I did see lots of dolphins and birds and a lone sea turtle but no large whales.
A little later that morning we saw a nice example of a mackerel sky. These high puffy clouds (cirrocumulus) look like fish scales and indicate that a change is coming. “Mackerel sky, not twenty-four hours dry” is the saying. (Source unknown, but not Jesus). Another correct prediction – by late evening we were being walloped with strong wind and heavy rain.
Fort Clinch on Amelia Island at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River. Lots of beachgoers and kayakers on a warm Saturday morning. The opposite side of the river is Cumberland Island, Georgia. I’m pretty sure we strayed across the centerline so we’ve now passed through all 12 states between Massachusetts and Florida.
Heading south on the Amelia River. I’m guessing this is a pulp mill but can’t get past how the big pile reminds me of the mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters. Also tough to get past the smell. Fortunately we’re upwind today.
The view from our mooring in Fernandina Beach before the wind started blowing.
The view in the other direction. Given today’s winds I don’t expect to put Dinghy in the water and explore the town. Instead I’m using the time to catch up on some cleaning and maintenance. And baking some bread — because I actually need bread and not just as an excuse to heat the cabin.

Making Tracks

A long, narrow and shallow week on the ICW

From southern North Carolina into South Carolina the ICW is extremely narrow with many areas of severe shoaling. Driving this stretch required a lot of concentration to keep Andante in the center of the channel and out of the mud. And we’re definitely driving and not sailing. There have been a few rare occasions to hoist a sail and gain an extra knot of boatspeed (and a smile) but the engine is on all day long.

From Camp Lejeune we pushed south with brief overnight stops in Wrightsville Beach and then Southport where we loaded up on fuel, water and some fantastic shrimp and grits. The next day we weathered a gale in the marshes of Little River Inlet, SC before continuing on past Myrtle Beach and into the amazingly beautiful Waccamaw River. The owls were frighteningly loud but it was too cold to see any alligators. This was definitely one of my favorite overnight stops so far. Probably buggy in warmer seasons so perhaps lucky to enjoy it now.

We arrived in Charleston, SC on January 12 and plan to stay here for a day or two until a weather window allows a coastal passage to Georgia. South of Charleston and all through Georgia the ICW is essentially impassable due to shoaling except at mid/high tide. It will be much more efficient (and fun) to sail outside. This short break gives me a chance to top up fuel and water tanks and stretch my legs with walks through the city.

Southport, NC is a cute little town and Southport Marina was a great stopover for fuel and a hot shower.
I recommend the shrimp and grits at Fishy Fishy Cafe in Southport. The local shrimp have lots of flavor. The Bud Light does not. But I enjoyed it anyway.
Sunset in Little River Inlet on the NC/SC border. I didn’t realize South Carolina had offshore gambling until the “Big M Casino” steamed past. Glad to have good lighting and AIS.
Between Beaufort, NC and Charleston, SC we cleared 30 bridges. Most of those are a standard fixed vertical clearance (65 ft +/-) but quite a few (including 3 in one day this week) require swinging, raising, or floating the span out of the channel before proceeding. We’ve run into a few delays due to bridge maintenance but generally all works smoothly and the bridge operators are very accommodating.
Spanish moss on the banks of the Waccamaw River. Miles of narrow winding channels surrounded by nothing but swamps and trees.
Quiet spot on the Waccamaw River.
Coast Guard doing two-boat drills in Charleston Harbor.
Andante on the “Mega Dock” at Charleston City Marina. We were probably the least “mega” boat in the place — but it was very nice.
The Ubers in Charleston may be a little slower than elsewhere. This is a very pretty city to walk around with lots of history. College of Charleston is a beautiful campus. And everyone seems to be extremely good about mask-wearing.