Friday, July 31, 2020

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Last Year

Last year in September we were carefully watching slow-moving Hurricane Dorian. It was expected to come as far east as the 80-degree west longitude line, about 75 miles from our location, and then turn north. Thankfully it did exactly as projected. See my blog entry from that episode here.
This year

This year it's Hurricane Isaias. It is currently located just north of Dominican Republic and the forecast is very similar to Dorian's. Just as I said last year, "Throughout our long wait for Dorian, we have counted for several days on its forecast turn from northwest to north, keeping it at, or east of, the 80 degree west longitude line (and more than 75 miles east of us) as it passes. (We are located at 31.9N 81.3W)." It now appears we will be doing the same thing all over again. I'll post further as we get closer to Monday morning and we have more clarity on the track.

Meanwhile, Division Belle is located in Thunderbolt and I'll make a decision tomorrow if it seems prudent to move it more inland up the Ogeechee River to home.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Americans banned from entering Bahamas (with exceptions)

When we were allowed back into the Bahamas to pick up our boat, we went immediately to pick her up and get her home, because it was obvious that the borders could be closed again. In fact, getting our required Covid-19 test within 10 days of our Bahamas arrival was complicated by the fact that the surge in new Covid-19 cases here at home was causing a delay in getting test results.

We were very fortunate. We took the test nine days before our departure and got the results four days later, giving us enough time to complete the online process to be cleared into the Bahamas on July 1. On the morning of July 2 we departed Bimini and arrived in Palm Beach late that afternoon. 

Now, sure enough, the borders have been mostly closed again to Americans beginning this Wednesday, July 22. The story was reported today in the Washington Post here. We are very glad we acted when we could and got our ship home. The closure still allows private planes and boats to bring Americans into the Bahamas, but who knows how long that will last?

You can't blame the Bahamas. It is a small island nation that was reporting no new cases and tried to re-open its borders carefully, tests and all. But it has seen an immediate increase in Covid-19 cases since re-opening. 

As the Washington Post reported:
"The Bahamas has reported 49 new covid-19 cases since opening its borders to foreign travelers on July 1", [Prime Minister] Minnis said. That amounts to nearly a third of the total infections detected in the country since the pandemic began. Most of the new cases have been found on the island of Grand Bahama, a popular resort destination.
Warning that there was a risk of the Caribbean nation’s hospitals becoming “overrun,” Minnis said that it was time for “decisive action.” He announced a full shutdown of beaches, parks and indoor dining on Grand Bahama as well as beach closures on several other islands. A nighttime curfew will also go into effect for Grand Bahama on Monday night. 
We are deeply saddened by these developments. The Bahamas is a poor nation totally dependent on tourism...mostly from the U.S. Here's hoping this lovely country can work its way through this catastrophe. 

We hope to go back one day on our boat, but we are not at all certain when that can happen. Our hearts go out to the many Bahamians who have lost their jobs. We hope for a speedy recovery.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Safely Home

Fernandina Beach Sunset After a Storm
Division Belle and I are safely back after a long 10-hour run yesterday. In planning the day, I didn't really take time to figure the distance and time required to come in the Wassaw Sound and all the way in to the Hinckley yard in Thunderbolt. I arrived at the (missing) sea buoy at around 3:30 but did not dock until nearly 6 pm. The inlet has a tricky,  unmarked entrance that I picked my way through slowly and carefully, and then I was slowed by a two to three knot current against me all the way in.

The photo above explains part of the reason I love being on the water so much. We had a wicked late afternoon thunderstorm at the dock in Fernandina Thursday, followed by the clouds parting to provide a spectacular sunset. I'm glad to be home, but I love spending time on the water.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Shhh...Don't tell my wife

In my younger days I used to travel all over running my boat alone. I didn't think twice about crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas alone or doing my infamous 50-hour 500 nautical mile trip alone non-stop from Key West to Orange Beach, Alabama. Alas, I am older now, so when I purchased Division Belle the Lovely Laura Lee laid down the law that I could only travel alone in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). In other words, I was not to go to sea alone.

Well, this morning I found myself at sea heading from Fernandina Beach to Brunswick alone. To be honest, I have my wife's blessing. After traveling together in the ICW and at sea, she has come to realize that the ICW is exhausting and can risk damage to the boat from grounding in areas not well-maintained. It's also very tiring because one has to drive and pay strict attention all day. In the ocean, you set a course and turn on the autopilot, so it is only necessary to keep an eye out for traffic or obstacles. 

There is an argument to be made that the ICW is safer if, for example, the boat started sinking. Since the water is usually only about 10 feet deep, the boat couldn't sink too far. I would likely stay dry or at least be able to swim to shore. But on the other hand, the likelihood of running aground or hitting something is much greater in the ICW. Overall I feel more comfortable at sea on a nice day than struggling to avoid running aground in the ICW.

Coming into the inlet at St. Simons Sound, I once again passed by the infamous car carrier M/V Golden Ray, which rolled over and sank in the Sound in September of 2019. The ship had a capacity of 7,400 cars and was leaving Brunswick with 4,000 brand new cars headed for the middle east when it sank. Insurance losses were estimated to be $80 million for the ship and $80 million for the contents.
M/V Golden Ray

The cause of the accident has not been officially determined. Car carriers must be loaded properly and a water ballast system must be used properly to maintain stability, but there is no official word yet on what happened here. 

It is known that when the ship started listing dangerously, the pilot intentionally steered it into shallower water and grounded it, which likely saved lives and allowed the port to reopen within days of the incident. All of the crew survived, including four crew members who were rescued by cutting a hole in the side of the ship to get to the engine room.

The removal of the wreck is a massive undertaking. An explanation can be found here and a video on the technique is available on YouTube here. A concern of many is that a major hurricane in the area this year could be environmentally catastrophic.

I'm spending tonight at the Morningstar Marina located on the causeway between Brunswick and St. Simons. Today was a short five and a half hour trip but tomorrow will likely be double that to get all the way to the Hinckley boatyard in Thunderbolt.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Fernandina Harbor Marina

The Norwegian Gem off Jacksonville, Florida
Another idled and anchored cruise ship

We are tied up at Fernandina Harbor Marina on Amelia Island, right at the border of Florida and Georgia between here and Cumberland Island. We spent one night in St. Augustine and then headed back out into the calm ocean and came here today, bypassing Jacksonville altogether. 

This is one of the nicest stops along the waterway because of the quaint little town of Fernandina Beach, which was thriving prior to the Coronavirus and seems to be gradually re-opening now. The docks were pretty much destroyed here by Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016. With a change of ownership, insurance claims, and complications of a property lease from the city of Fernandina Beach, it took almost four years for the marina to rebuild and finally re-open. When we passed here heading south in January, it was still closed, so we are delighted it is available again. The docks are built to last and very impressive.

Our plans have changed somewhat because we were headed to Jacksonville to have some work done at Lamb's boatyard there, but a call to them this week revealed the they are slammed with work, and could not get to us for several weeks. The same seems to be true of all of the boat repair businesses along the way. So the Lovely Laura Lee, who has work to do back home, will head back home in a rental car tomorrow while I spend the next three days or so getting the boat back to the Savannah area.  We will likely get the work done partly at a yard in Savannah and partly at home at The Ford Plantation.

It has been a beautiful cruise, and I have rarely seen the ocean so calm for over a week. We again had afternoon thunderstorms today, but the worst of them passed south of us as we came in the inlet. The channel here is unusually large and deep because of the submarine base at St. Mary's.

We have now travelled nearly 1,000 nautical miles to get our boat to the Bahamas, have it quarantined there for four months, and then try to bring it home. While we are disappointed that the Bahamas cruise didn't work out, we are grateful that we have retained our health and that all of our family members have remained well during this horrible pandemic. And what's not to like about spending time cruising on the water, wherever we happen to be?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Day Off

Yesterday morning we awoke with plans to get moving from New Smyrna Beach to St. Augustine. Instead, over coffee, we just decided to take a day off. We realized that we had been on the move for five straight days and we really just wanted to chill a bit. So we did a little laundry, took a two-mile walk, and otherwise enjoyed a relaxing day in a nice town. For a third straight day we had afternoon strong rain with intense lightening, again washing the boat and bringing temperatures down. The day ended with a steak dinner on the aft deck.

Today we got underway again, and we are currently about three miles off the beach near Marineland, 15 nautical miles from the entrance to St. Augustine. The afternoon storms hit again but early today at around 1:45  pm. The line was fast moving and the worst of it passed to our north. We got no lightning, but strong winds at around 35 knots for a short time. We should be inside the inlet at St. Augustine in about one hour 45 minutes.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Heavy Rain and Steady Progress

Disney Wonder idled and anchored off Port Canaveral yesterday
1,000 feet long and holds 2,500 passengers

As we neared the entrance to the Port Canaveral ship channel late yesterday afternoon, we could see on radar and out the windshield the approach of an impressive a line of thunderstorms. We were able to barely get inside the inlet before the full force of the storm hit us. It was not terribly windy, but there was blinding rain and incredible lightening as we crept our way west on the Canaveral Barge Canal.Visibility fell to perhaps 1/4 mile several times in the canal just because the rain was so heavy. While Port Canaveral had cancelled its fireworks display, the lightening was every bit as good a show.

When we arrived at Cape Marina, it was already closed and we needed to circle near the docks several times to wait for the rain and lightening to stop. We finally docked at 6 pm after spending about an hour to go just two miles up the canal and circle around. The shore power at our slip did not work -- one outlet had no power and the other would trip its breaker no matter how much we lightened the load. So we ended up running our generator all night.

The best news was that the rain brought temperatures way down into the low seventies, allowing us to have a nice dinner on the aft deck, and to sleep more comfortably with no air conditioning in the stateroom.

We had decided last night to use the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) today to avoid a longer trip at sea around Cape Canaveral. So this morning we headed west on the canal toward the ICW and immediately had to pass through a drawbridge and then through a lock that prevents tides from affecting the canal. With a late start at 9:40, we cleared the lock at 10:10 and joined the ICW an hour later at 11:10. Sure enough, as we got within about two hours of our destination, the afternoon thunderstorms came again with heavy rain, low visibility, and amazing lightening. Fortunately, the rain let up as we docked at the New Smyrna Beach Municipal Marina at 4:45 pm.

As a result of the rain, we are again enjoying a cool evening, and will dine on board. We will head to St. Augustine tomorrow, probably at sea if the weather holds, and then on to Jacksonville Tuesday where we expect to leave the boat to get the air conditioner and a few other things repaired.

We're having fun, and still very glad to be reunited with Division Belle after her four-month quarantine in the Bahamas.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Heading for the Cape

We are at sea right now just a few miles off the coast of Vero Beach. We travelled yesterday from our Palm Beach anchorage for about six hours up to Fort Pierce where we tied up for the night at Harbourtown Marina, an old haunt of mine that includes a pool, an outdoor restaurant that is good, and a full boatyard. Unfortunately, the yard was closed yesterday for the holiday weekend so we were unable to have anyone take a look at our broken air conditioner. The restaurant was a little too busy for us so we ordered takeout and enjoyed social distancing dining on the boat.

Today we are headed to Cape Canaveral where we will spend one night and continue north. The weather has been hot but with very calm seas. I don't believe we have seen any waves higher than one foot since leaving the Bahamas. For tomorrow, I need to do a little research to determine whether we will be at sea or in the Intracoastal Waterway. For going to sea, I need to figure out the distance out and around the Cape and also check on the condition of Ponce De Leon Inlet at New Smyrna Beach near Daytona. I have used this inlet years ago but will need some local knowledge to make a decision.

Port Canaveral normally has a pretty impressive fireworks event, but it was cancelled this year due to Covid fears. And besides, even if they had held it it was to have been last night. So we will likely have a quiet evening on board. 

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Back in the USA

We are safely in Palm Beach, anchored just inside the Lake Worth Inlet. We had a peaceful and uneventful Gulf Stream crossing, leaving at around 7:40 this morning and arriving at 4:15 pm. We covered 78 nautical miles at an average speed of over 9 knots with the help of the Gulf Stream. We had hoped to go further but figured out there were few places to anchor just inside the Port St. Lucie inlet at Stuart, and that going further to Fort Pierce would have had us arriving after dark.

Tourists were finally allowed back into the Bahamas beginning June 15 for private boats and planes and beginning yesterday for airlines. Being allowed in required a negative Covid-19 test performed within ten days of arrival (shortening to 7 days next week) and submitting that test and answering some health questions on an automated website that issues by email a “Health Travel Visa”. You might recall that we were earlier required to get a negative test in May to apply for re-entry which was ultimately never examined because of a backlog of applications. So it’s been a little bit of a hassle, but well worth it to protect this poor nation.

It was good to see Division Belle yesterday after four months. Everything is basically OK although she is a little worse for the wear. The varnish didn’t do well baking in the Bahamas sun, the boat is quite dirty, and both our Bahamas courtesy flag and our Ford Plantation flag were bleached from the sun and shredded by the wind when we arrived. But there are two other issues to be dealt with: the air conditioner unit for the cabin area below doesn’t work at all (making sleep very difficult in this kind of weather), and the watermaker is not producing fresh water because of “high salinity”. Ordinarily I flush the watermaker with fresh water every two weeks, but it sat for four months without being flushed, so we might need a new membrane or other parts to get it back in business. 

Other than those issues, the boat seems fine and we are glad to be back aboard. Bimini has no cases of Covid presently, but many businesses are still closed. Walking around town a little, we did not see a single person without a mask. There have been no new Covid cases in the Bahamas for weeks, and we are hopeful that reopening for tourists does not cause them to have a new outbreak. The Bahamas are totally dependent on tourism.

We sought Customs approval of our re-entry using an app called “CBP Roam”, created for Customs and Border Patrol. For about 30 minutes it said: “Your arrival has been submitted and is awaiting review by a CBP officer.” Then it asked if I would join a video conference with CBP, but when I clicked OK nothing happened. After a phone call with Customs and two more tries, we were cleared into the country and are now called "Verified Travelers", which I think means no more video conferences. This will be a vast improvement over the old system where we had to appear in person at the Customs office, and the old, old system where we had to go to a designated marina and call, sometimes resulting in someone being sent to check us in in person.

We will be heading further north tomorrow.