Saturday, February 29, 2020

Dania Beach

We are in Harbour Towne Marina in Dania Beach, Florida, just south of Fort Lauderdale. We have had a fun week, topped off by an incredible dinner last night at Valentino Cucina Italiana in Fort Lauderdale .  While the weather has prevented crossing to Bimini, we have enjoyed our time on the boat.

Wednesday night we had the pleasure of dinner with our old friends Sean and Louise Welsh, who purchased our previous boat Steel Magnolia, now named Vector. (See As always, I learn quite a bit from Sean and Louise, as they live full time on the boat and have become quite knowledgeable. And it's also just good to see them.

Tomorrow we plan to head back home for a little while, because it seems clear there is no good weather for getting to the Bahamas in the coming week. I'll be watching it closely and heading back this way when possible.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Mega Yachts

We are in Fort Lauderdale this evening, in the world of Mega Yachts, and in a marina where a boat slip costs more than a decent hotel room for the night. The yachts we have seen are simply stunning. Last night we spent the night in Jupiter, Florida, just a few slips down from  "Privacy", Tiger Woods' yacht.
Tiger Woods' Yacht
Tiger's yacht seems downright small compared to the boat tied up at the end of our dock. It is named "MLR" and was built by Delta Marine of Seattle. It is 53 meters in length, around 174 feet. While my boat's displacement is roughly 50 tons, MLR's is 955 tons. We use one 50-amp shore cord in marinas, but this yacht appears to be connected to three 100-amp cords.


 I have searched high and low on the internet and I cannot determine her owner, but I ran across one interesting tidbit. According to the yacht's designer, MLR stands for a "Momentary Lapse of Reason". This makes it the only boat I have heard of other than ours that is named after a Pink Floyd album. 

It is unlikely that we will be able to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas tomorrow. The wind just won't quit. The offshore forecast calls for seas of four to six feet, more than we wish to handle. My magical PredictWind app shows four-foot seas under all of its three models but shows the wave period, or time between waves, as only 4.5 seconds. So these are not gentle four-foot swells eight or 10 seconds apart but steep four-foot waves that would slam us up and down. Interestingly, my forecaster Chris Parker shows that a messy eastbound crossing might be available Friday or Sunday. We'll see, and will continue to watch and keep you posted.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Watching the Weather

Front After Front
We are aboard the boat in Stuart, Florida. The plan is to depart and head south to the Palm Beach area by Monday night and Fort Lauderdale Tuesday night, trying to get into position to cross the Gulf Stream Wednesday to Bimini. It is a trip that may or may not happen, depending on the weather. I have no statistics to back this up, but this year to me has had an unusual weather pattern of one cold front after another passing through every two or three days, rather than about once every week or two as usual.

Normally when a cold front passes, the winds clock around from south to west to north, and the north winds are cold and strong for two or three days thereafter. That is exactly what happened here when the front passed last night with heavy rain and we awoke this morning to strong cold winds from a northerly direction. Strong north winds blowing against the Gulf Stream current make waves stand up and get very steep, and uncomfortable. So the usual practice is to wait a few days after the front and dash across the Gulf Stream before the next front arrives. The problem for quite awhile this winter is that the next front arrives before the winds ever settle down from the previous one.

The best advice I ever got about crossing the Gulf Stream was from a book entitled A Gentleman's Guide to Passages South by Bruce Van Sant. He said simply: "Under prevailing conditions, wait until the Offshore Forecast says south of east winds of less than 15 knots and seas less than three feet." He was speaking more of comfort than safety. Our boat can handle much rougher seas than I can. But in fact, under the current forecast for Wednesday, we should have southeast to south winds 10 to 15 knots and seas of two to four feet, pretty close to what he advised as the maximum.

There are two problems though. This is Saturday and a lot can change by Wednesday. And second, there are today many more models and forecasts than the National Weather Service Offshore Forecast, and they are not all in agreement. For Wednesday, Chris Parker's Marine Weather Center says: "Brisk SSE-S wind prevents comfortable travel Tue25, then very brisk S-SSW wind keeps travel window closed Wed26." PredictWind, an app I study regularly, calls for 2.5-foot waves Wednesday at noon between Fort Lauderdale and Bimini, but predicts winds of 19 knots. Using PredictWind's second model, it predicts similar seas but winds of only 13 knots. Its Euro model has winds at 19 knots and seas of 4.2 feet.

Too much information I think, but I have been watching it obsessively for the last few days. It does show that we are on the margins. The answer will not come until Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning when we can see what the sea buoys tell us about wind and seas, and see if the forecasts for the day have come more into agreement. If we can't go this time, we wait for the next front to pass and try again.

I'll keep you posted. The good news is that I am happy to be on the boat, no matter where it is. We will eventually get there.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Georgia's Controversial Anchoring Regulation

Every time I depart by boat from The Ford Plantation heading south, there are several lovely spots to anchor overnight along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) or close to various inlets if I am at sea in decent weather. I have spent many great evenings along this route. Unfortunately, it is now illegal to anchor in many of my favorite spots because of a new Georgia law and a regulation that has been issued in its wake. Georgia now has the most restrictive anchoring regulations in the nation. The regulation impacted 62% of anchorages along the ICW and eliminated 39% of them altogether. Here are anchorages near the ICW in the Sapelo Island area (red eliminated, yellow impacted):
Red Anchorages Eliminated, Yellow Impacted, Green Still Usable

The law is now codified as Section 52-7-8.4 of the Georgia Code. Oddly, the Act is premised on the prevention of sewage discharge from live-aboard boats in inland waters, something that has been illegal under the Clean Water Act at least since 1972. It is estimated that 90% of boaters fully comply with the federal law, and it is a fact that boaters care more than most about water quality and preventing pollution. Nevertheless, the statute starts off as follows:

(a) The General Assembly finds that, because of the frequency of live-aboard vessels utilizing the estuarine areas of this state, it is necessary for the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare to prohibit the discharge of sewage from such vessels into estuarine areas of this state. It is declared to be the intent of the General Assembly to protect and enhance the quality of the waters of such estuarine areas by requiring greater environmental protection than is provided pursuant to Section 312 of the federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended, such that any discharge of sewage from a live-aboard vessel into the waters of such estuarine areas shall be prohibited. [Nothing new here.]

The act goes on to clarify that sewage cannot be dumped overboard in Georgia waters, making something illegal that was already illegal, and seems to require that any valve that allows sewage to go overboard or be pumped overboard must be "secured". It says "Examples of secured mechanisms considered to be effective at preventing discharges include, but are not limited to, closing the seacock and padlocking, using a non-releasable wire tie, or removing the seacock handle with the seacock in the closed position." So now the valves on my boat that would permit direct discharge or pumping sewage overboard are secured with wire ties or have the handle removed. I'm also required to keep records of when and where I pump out sewage at a marina pump-out station. 

Securing valves with plastic wire ties that can be cut with scissors or removed handles that can be replaced seems a little silly, and targeting pleasure boats is outrageous in light of the problem of sewage plants that overflow and dump raw sewage every day in Georgia. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division keeps a running 30-day tally of these spills on its website. If there is a measurement of the amount of the spill, the total gallons is shown. As of yesterday, for the last 30 days, 582,689 gallons of raw sewage has been reported as flowing into our creeks and rivers. Many spills are not measurable and no doubt the total amount is much higher. In December, Valdosta, GA had a spill of 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage that overflowed for several days into the woods, into a creek, and then into a river that flows down into Florida. But OK, even though I'm not part of the problem, I don't mind wire-tying my sewage valves and I don't mind complying with what was already federal law.

In a very odd way, since the act is premised upon sewage discharge, it goes on to grant broad authority to the Department of Natural Resources to regulate anchoring. Anchoring has nothing to do with illegal sewage discharge, which can occur while a boat is stationary or moving. I am flabbergasted that the state would impose draconian anchoring regulations in the name of preventing already illegal sewage discharge. And it is with the regulation (called an Administrative Order) that the DNR went way overboard. To summarize, it prevents anchoring within 1,000 feet of any structure and within 1,000 feet of any shellfish beds along the shore. Some creeks and rivers less than 2,000 feet wide have shellfish along both shores, so the whole river is a now a no-anchor area. There is an exception that allows anchoring between 300 and 1,000 feet from any marina, even if within 1,000 feet of another structure. A "structure" is not really defined, but the regulation refers to "any structure such as wharfs, docks, piers, pilings, bridge structures or abutments". So if I take my boat up a creek and there is an old abandoned dock on the shore, or even a single piling, I can't anchor within 1,000 feet.

This screenshot below illustrates the odd rule. It shows Kilkenny Creek Marina where there is no anchoring within 300 feet (red), the (blue) permitted zone from 300 to 1,000 feet from the marina, and then the no anchoring zone beyond (pink) because there are structures within 1,000 feet. To go to dinner at Marker 107 Restaurant, it would be a balancing act to be sure you are in one of the little blue zones.

Kilkenny Creek Marina and Marker 107 Restaurant

Another chart shows the areas near Thunderbolt and Isle of Hope in Savannah where anchoring is forbidden (in pink). Part of the problem is that the DNR has published these maps but states that you may not rely on them. So it is difficult in many cases to figure out where you can be overnight.
Thunderbolt/Isle of Hope Area
As you can well imagine, the boating community is up in arms. A Facebook group has been set up called "Save Georgia's Anchorages". Marine industry groups are getting involved, fearing that Georgia's marinas, boatyards and resorts will suffer as boaters on the annual north-south migrations will choose to stay offshore if they cannot enjoy traditional and beautiful anchorage areas. It is not too long a run from Hilton Head, SC offshore to Fernandina Beach, FL, or vice versa. A poll taken of 593 ICW cruisers shows that 77% of them would do their best to skip Georgia as they migrate north and south, a very bad sign for marinas, boatyards, restaurants, and other businesses that rely on the boating community. 

Finally, just in the last few days, Boat US, the largest organization of boaters, has issued a "call to action" to lobby the governor and state legislature to intervene. As the organization said:

This 1,000-foot offset needlessly eliminates anchorages all over the state. It will affect numerous boaters, many of whom transit Georgia waters as part of the annual migration along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that brings in millions of dollars to Georgia businesses. There is no reasonable safety or waterway-management reason for taking such a significant swath of state waters from the boating public.

Curiously, DNR did create so-called “Marina Zones” that allow boaters to anchor as close as 300 feet to marinas or facilities that provide fuel, dinghy access, provisions, vessel maintenance or other services, regardless of whether other structures exist nearby. This can only lead to the conclusion that the reason for the greater offset from private structures outside these zones was to provide waterfront landowners with near exclusive use and enjoyment of our shared waterways.

Boat U.S. recognizes the need for states to manage their waterways and supports reasonable regulations that protect the public’s access. The ability of anchor overnight is an important part of how many boaters choose to enjoy the water. Please send a message today asking to repeal this rule.

The strangest thing about this all is that a law that was premised on stopping pollution from sewage discharge has morphed into complex rules about where one can anchor. Where a boat anchors has nothing to do with sewage, which cannot be legally discharged anywhere in the inland waters of Georgia, whether the boat is anchored or not. This regulation may have something to do with protecting land owners who don't want anyone anchoring in their back yard. Of course they don't own the water, but this regulation in effect grants it to them by saying any dock or piling can keep every boat from anchoring unless it is more than 1,000 feet away.

We have anchored fairly close to houses overnight on occasion, but we are quiet and respectful of our neighbors when we do so. This regulation has gone far beyond its intention of stopping the dumping of sewage. There are still a few spots to anchor, but some of the prime ones are gone. Here's hoping the political efforts are successful in bringing more balance to this regulation. We're happy to protect clean water and be good neighbors where we anchor, but this is just a strange and screwed up law and regulation.

UPDATE: House Bill 833 has been introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives that would negate some of the worst provisions of the current law and regulation. See