In the community of cruisers. This is not a metaphor.

I mean, we are physically situated in an actual Cruising Village. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Vero Beach has a rep as being a good place to gather for Thanksgiving, and it did not disappoint. With a free bus service to downtown, a clean and friendly marina, and moorings for only $15 a night, it’s a great place to get ready for the leap to the Bahamas. We’re here with people who’ve been making that trip for decades, and are happy to answer questions without forcing their personal view on you.

Plenty of mooring balls with three boats hanging off them

Plenty of mooring balls with three boats hanging off them

Because Vero is so popular, we’ve been rafted up on mooring balls–something we’ve also never seen. Fortunately for us, we were paired with our friends on Perla.

Happy to wake up next to this family!

Happy to wake up next to this family!

Lining up for the food

Lining up for the food

The Thanksgiving Day potluck was epic (although we hear attendance is down). Cruisers who have swallowed the anchor and accepted land-based life provide turkeys and hams, and the rest of the fleet signs up for whatever else they can pull off from the galley. We failed to bring chairs–turns out we don’t have any–but the food was great.

After the meal, the musically-inclined gathered on the back benches for some tunes. F was honored to be included, and led a few songs; she also got to rock out on Drunken Sailor….for about 20 verses. Thanks especially to the guys on Salty Paws for including her!dscf0855

And now we wait. We thought there’d be a great weather window opening up to jump to the Bahamas on Tuesday, but my mom is visiting Fort Lauderdale to get some face time with the grandkids before we exit the country, so we’ll miss that crossing opportunity. We’d planned to bring the boat down south to be near her, but the weather’s not so hot on the outside, and the ICW is shallow here and rife with timed bridges, so we decided to keep the boat in Vero and rent a car. We’ll commute (and enjoy the exotic nature of driving).

Florida tries to win us back

Ok, Florida. Possibly, there are some ways in which you are not terrible.

Sunset behind our mooring field neighbors, St. Augustine

Sunset behind our mooring field neighbors, St. Augustine

Fortressy

Fortressy

We managed to have a couple of really nice days in Saint Augustine. Both Wildcat and Mafalda were in the marina’s mooring field with us, so we spent some time walking around the old Spanish fort together. I’m not sure if this is still true, but growing up in the far northern wilds of Minnesota, I don’t remember much discussion about the Spanish influence in the United States—it was non-stop British history. It’s easy to forget that the Spanish had a permanent settlement in what is now the US, long before Jamestown was trying to work it out.

View from the fort

View from the fort

Very enthusiastic weaponry discussion

Very enthusiastic weaponry discussion

It’s surprising to find an old-school Spanish fortress on American soil as well. The National Park Service has been running a promotion where any family with a student in fourth grade can have free access to the parks, but apparently there’s some paperwork that needs to be downloaded in advance. We missed that step, but couldn’t feel too badly about spending $20 to check out what’s basically a castle, complete with weapons discussion by a very enthusiastic park ranger. All the boat kids were horrified with the glass cannonballs, designed to shatter on the decks of ships and cut up the sailors’ feet. Yikes.

Sentries.

Sentries.

St. Augustine was absolutely very touristy near the water, but somehow it managed not to be tacky and horrible. The older parts of town are right by the marina (often the case; harbor=town, for the most part), and the streets are great for strolling around. Also: excellent ice cream! Aaaand—we heard someone playing an acoustic guitar version of Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.” How do you even top that?

Strolling with ice cream in Saint Augustine

Strolling with ice cream in Saint Augustine

From there, we had an uneventful passage to Titusville in company with Mafalda, with one overnight stop in Daytona Beach. On the ICW (as in the Potomac and the Hudson), stopping for the night sometimes means moving the boat out of the marked channel to a spot with good depth and calling it a night. It’s often not very scenic, and we usually don’t go to shore; it’s just a pit stop, like pulling your RV to the side of the highway when you’re too tired to keep going. That was our Daytona experience, but since it wasn’t even spring break, we figured that was fine.

Kid party on the catamaran!

Kid party on the catamaran!

Titusville was maybe not our favorite place, but it did have a few advantages. We mostly anchored outside the municipal marina’s mooring field, but we did pay for one night’s mooring—although we didn’t bother moving our boat. We just wanted access to the showers, internet and dinghy dock. We had fellow kids boats to hang out with—Wildcat, Mafalda, and our old friends on Perla, whom we hadn’t seen since Annapolis. Eric and Cynthia had a car, so I managed to get in an initial provisioning run at the Walmart (the first of many such trips; getting the boat prepped for remote islands takes some work). But the highlight of Titusville came on Saturday, where we had a great view from our boats of a rocket launch at the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

Waiting for the launch

Waiting for the launch

Still waiting. Any minute.

Still waiting. Any minute.

Yes, it is still pretty cold (a cold front tore through over the weekend, and we actually saw temps in the low 40’s). Yes, we are constantly stressed out about the possibility of going aground. Yes, we have seen some pretty big cockroaches waltzing through the free book exchange at the marina. But Florida is starting to grow on us. We are fans of quiet travel and isolated anchorages, but for the moment, we’re enjoying the company of the vast and varied group of people moving south on the water. Certain areas we’ve passed through have been beautiful. Excitement about spotting dolphins has been superseded by excitement about spotting manatees and crocodiles (alligators? both?). And seeing all the pics of the snow up north has reminded us how different, and interesting, and fun this particular season will be for us all.

Liftoff!

Liftoff!

Just sitting here in the mud like fools.

We’re not really putting up long posts at the moment, but I feel a little guilty about our lack of info, so: here are some glorious pictures of us aground off Amelia Island in the ICW.

Yup. Stuck.

Yup. Stuck.

Setting the anchor so we don't drift further into the shallows when the tide came up.

Setting the anchor so we don’t drift further into the shallows when the tide came up. No kedging this time; we managed to get stuck on a rising tide, so we just sat tight for a few hours.

Today we’re lounging happily in the sun in Titusville, waiting to watch a rocket launch tomorrow evening; but as the pics attest: it’s not all wine and roses, folks! Hope this makes our northern friends feel better about the approaching snow.

Working our way south

It’s cold.

Waterfront in Beaufort, SC. Do not be fooled by the palm trees; it is not warm

Waterfront in Beaufort, SC. Do not be fooled by the palm trees; it is not warm

I thought that by the end of South Carolina, I’d be able to ship some stuff back to Michu’s sister’s house for storage: the warm sleeping bag, most of the fleece, the long underwear. Except I’m typing this under the warm sleeping bag, while wearing lots of fleece and my long underwear. The cold is advancing south faster than we are.

Making the most of the excellent free wifi; waterfront in Beaufort, SC

Making the most of the excellent free wifi; waterfront in Beaufort, SC

Terrazzo-style concrete with shells; waterfront, Beaufort, SC

Terrazzo-style concrete with shells; waterfront, Beaufort, SC

From Charleston, we spent a couple of pretty uneventful days in the Intracoastal Waterway, timing our route so that the tides were high over the shallow spots. We found ourselves in Beaufort, South Carolina for a few days, taking advantage of their library and relaxing on their beautiful waterfront. On our last night in Beaufort, we were lucky enough to meet up with two other families heading south; together, we took an outside hop down to the St. Mary’s River.

Our passage was just one night, but once again, it was not our finest hour; in addition to the uncomfortable swell (worse than we expected) and lack of wind (as predicted), we were able to tune in NPR down the whole coast, and had the unreal experience of listening to the election results come in while drifting along in the dark of the ocean. It was difficult to connect what we were hearing with reality, and really hard to have a measured response—we just felt to unmoored from our country, and what the election was saying about the people living behind those lights on shore. Somehow, it still didn’t seem plausible, even as we motored back towards shore the next morning.

On to the beach!

On to the beach!

We anchored off of Cumberland Island and met up with our new friends to commiserate and explore the island. We’d been hearing conflicting reports about access post-Matthew, and I’m not sure what conditions were like on the north side of the Island, but where we were, the park service piers were not available to visiting sailors. We were also asked not to land our dinghy on the beach, so we all headed up to a pier belonging to an inn and bribed them to let us park for a few hours. Then off to the very chilly beach!

Exploring Cumberland Island

Kids (and Calvi, the dog) exploring Cumberland Island

Jim builds........something.

Jim builds……..something.

The next day, we felt like no one would really mind if we did beach a dinghy, so we shuttled in to shore in one boat and landed with the intention of hiking to the ruins on the island and then beaching it up. Unfortunately, where we landed was essentially a minefield: deep, soft mud laced with oyster shells. The mud would pull you down up to your knees, and then suck off your shoe; then you’d cut the bottom of your foot. We ended up with one pair of blown-out flip flops (Michu); multiple abrasions (everyone); and one really deep toe wound (Miguel) that required a trip back to the boat for serious first aid (Michu).dscf0829

Exotic wildlife

Exotic wildlife

Eventually, we all made it to the ruins of an old Carnegie mansion for a picnic lunch surrounded by exotic wildlife—armadillos and wild horses. The horses were descendants of Spanish shipwrecks, and had been living on the island for around 500 years. Not sure how long the armadillos have been there, but we did some research and found out that to cross a river, an armadillo can float by inflating it’s small intestine. As Miguel pointed out, you don’t want to be around when they deflate.

We’d heard about a really nice free dock in Jacksonville, and thought it would be a good stopping point on the way to Saint Augustine, so we headed as a group to the biggest city in Florida. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize how far out of the way the dock was; it took a couple of extra hours to get there. To make matters even more exciting, Milou had an unexpected break in the day when we ran aground. We were just a little on the wrong side of the channel, and had to sit and wait for the tide to come up and float us off the bottom—a delay of about three hours. That put us in to the pier just before six o’clock, which is sadly pretty dark here in Florida. So, after a long and disappointing day of motoring farther than expected and being stranded in the mud, we ended with challenging navigation into an unfamiliar harbor in the dark, replete with lots of commercial traffic (including freighters) and with a backdrop of multicolored city lights to throw us off. Days like this one make me reflect thoughtfully on the resale value of the boat, combined with the savings still in the bank, and how we could translate that into a nice, warm house that doesn’t run into things.

Science!!

Science!!

We liked hanging out with other families in Jacksonville, and had a great day exploring their Museum of Science and History (MOSH), but eventually we were kicked off the free pier in favor of the football fans and had to backtrack a couple of hours to make our way to the ICW. This time, our downfall wasn’t skinny water—it was swiftly flowing water. The next stretch of ICW is home to the strongest currents on the East Coast, and our timing put a six-knot current right in our face. When your boat only travels at around five and a half knots, there’s really no point in trying to fight that battle. Instead, we anchored for a few hours right above the entrance and watched pods of dolphins play around our boat.

Much like our delayed entrance to Jacksonville, our delayed start on the ICW had us navigating in the dark to try and find our anchorage. It’s hard to decide which I find more stressful: a city harbor, with traffic and confusing lights, or a small creek crowded with boats, no lights, and rapidly shallowing water. Both situations are, ahem, less than ideal, and I find it really frustrating that we’ve put ourselves in that position not once but twice in the last week. We are not finding Florida particularly amenable to either our draft or our speed; there aren’t a lot of places for us to stop, and the distances between anchorages is sometimes just outside our capacity to travel in a day. Throw in a king tide to really get the current ripping against us, or to push low tide below chart datum to get us solidly stuck in the mud (the supermoon is not our friend), and I’m not particularly enjoying this stretch of our trip. We like our new friends very much, and everyone is safe and healthy and well-fed, but the cold weather is just the cherry on top of our rather grim week. We’ll be taking a couple of days in lovely Saint Augustine to recover.

Our general feeling: we must move south.

Beautiful Charleston

We finally dragged our tired selves into Charleston as the sun was coming up. In our exhaustion, and the dim light before dawn, we spent some time turning circles around a Coast Guard buoy tender working the channel entrance; they didn’t respond to our hails, and their constantly changing direction was playing with our heads. Finally, we just gave them a wide berth and motored past Fort Sumter and up the Ashley River to anchor.

View from anchor

View from anchor

dsc_1499We hadn’t really given much thought to Charleston as a destination. It’s a convenient stop, with a clear channel and a great harbor, but the charms of the city itself didn’t really play into our plan. Big mistake. Charleston is amazing, and we soaked it all up.

Ice cream break with our friend Mel

Ice cream break with our friend Mel

The downtown part of Charleston is very walkable, and we took advantage of the free shuttle from the City Marina to get there every day. Despite war, earthquake, and fire, every single block of downtown is oozing with history and character. Generally, when I upload my photos and start looking for what to post on the blog, I’m sifting through a trove of about 60, maybe 200 for a big landmark place like DC; I swear, I took about 500 pictures of Charleston. The mansions are amazing, and I absolutely failed to capture their beauty on film. I found myself trying to come up with a way to have a single Charleston-style house when we return to Madison. Considering they’re set up for maximum ventilation, it’s a terrible plan…but I think I would be ok with it. The double-decker porches and huge windows would justify the drafty winters.dsc_1520

Replica of the Hunley, a Confederate submarine

Replica of the Hunley, a Confederate submarine

We allowed ourselves to be seduced by package ticket pricing, which insured that we got ourselves to the Charleston Museum; the Gibbes Art Institute; the Aiken-Rhett House; and the Old Slave Market. It was a huge amount of history to try and absorb; thank goodness for the Gibbes, right in the middle—spending time with a bit of Solomon Guggenheim’s abstract collection, and exploring the Charleston Renaissance movement, gave us a bit of a break from Civil War history and contemplating the terrors of slavery.

Sweetgrass basket at the Geddes

Sweetgrass basket at the Gibbes

Witch and Fly Assassin

Witch and Fly Assassin

On Hallowe’en, we brought the boat into the marina for the night. The kids put on their best costumes, and we walked the dock, trick-or-treating with limited success. We ran into at least three men over the age of seventy whose first language was not English, and completely confounded them; most people scrambled to the galley to see what they had that was even close to appropriate. Based on our unscientific survey, most boaters seem to stock Snickers bars; we also walked away with some Cliff Bars, some granola, and a full-sized bag of potato chips. It was a party for the adults, too, as the City Marina has happy hour every weekday with free wine, beer and food. Shrimp and grits for everyone! We also managed to meet up with an old high school friend of mine who has been living in Charleston for the past 20 years. Facebook is so odd…but serendipitous in this case, as it was great to reconnect with Kristin face-to-face.

Oh, you know, just trick-or-treating at Hanuman...

Oh, you know, just trick-or-treating at Hanuman

For our last day in Charleston, Kristin had set us up with the carriage tour. Horse-drawn carriages are big business in Charleston; to keep the streets from getting too crowded, the drivers pull up to a shed to take their chance with a lottery, assigning them either the east, west or central part of town. Drivers need to know everything about the whole city–they never know where their tour will take them. Our driver, Matthew, was amazing–he knew everything about each building we passed. Once again, it was too much to absorb, but we did our best to take it all in.dsc_1533

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Family in a tree

Family in a tree

From Charleston, we’ll head south (as is the theme)–a bit on the Intracoastal, a bit outside if the weather’s good–and on to Cumberland Island in Georgia. We here it’s not to be missed.