Thursday, December 14, 2017

Jacksonville to Longboat Key. December 2-11, 2017

Our month was up at Ortega Landing...and yes, we made reservations for November next year too.  It is a real nice stop on the migration south with good airport access for travelling to see family. We like it here.
We headed out with the ultimate destination of Longboat Key, for our mid December to early February stay.  Another great travel day as we approach downtown Jacksonville on the St John River.

We enjoyed Longboat Key very much last year so we are returning to it as "home base" for a while. It will be our third December/January in the Sarasota area (Marina Jack was "home" in 2015/2016).

A few vessels heading to ???  Nice way to transport your boat to the next geographical area you want to explore.  Maybe we will ship Sum Escape to the Pacific NW someday....

Day one was 67 miles to an anchorage south of St Augustine.  It was behind a low tide sandbar just off the ICW.  We had a nice peaceful night at anchor here. A nice full moon rising.

A moonset and a sunrise at the same time in the morning.  The moonset.

The sunrise and another early morning departure.

Julie made good use of the travel time.  A little background first.  She has completed wonderful baby books and scrap books (almost) for each child.  This is the last scrapbook she is completing, Brett's scrapbook.  All others have been delivered!

Next stop was Rockhouse Creek anchorage near New Smyrna.  This was on the recommendation of Larry and Lena (Hobo) our neighbors at Ortega. A wonderful anchorage.  Thanks for the tip Larry and Lena!!  We dropped the dinghy in and went over to the low tide huge sandbar near the New Smyrna inlet for a nice Sunday afternoon walk.  It was a bit chilly so this person's business was not too robust.

On Monday we proceeded to an anchorage near Malabar (S of Melbourne) in the Indian River.  Again we were just off the ICW but boat traffic stops near sunset and it was a convenient stop.

We departed on Tuesday at 7 AM to another gorgeous sunrise.

And were soon accompanied by some dolphins having an early morning surfing session.  We never tire of these guys!  And this group followed us a couple miles....great stamina as we were traveling at 10 MPH!

We arrived at Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce around 11:30 AM.  We were met as planned by a technician and the service manager from Whiticar Yacht to make an adjustment to the starboard shaft seal.  It was still spraying a bit of water from the installation they did in June. A quick adjustment, a sea trial and all was good so we took our slip at Harbortown for the evening.  A quick wash of the boat, a walk to Publix and it was time for bed!

On Wednesday we left around 8 or so bound for Stuart where our friends Carole and DeVere (Job Site) were planning to meet us to travel across the Okeechobee canal system.  We arrived at Sunset Marina before they did but they certainly made good time from Hilton Head Island which they left on Sunday! We travelled the 283 miles from Jacksonville in 5 travel days.  They made the almost 400 miles in three and a half given they did not start till 1PM on one of the days due to a repair!  It was great to see them again.  They were travelling with Carole's sister and brother-in-law and we all had cocktails aboard Job Site and then a great dinner at the Boathouse.

Thursday morning we left at 7:30 to start our Okeechobee crossing. It was a nice day on the water and given the strong head currents we encountered (they are dumping a lot of Irma water from Lake Okeechobee) we ran at cruise (about 18.5 MPH for our boat) across the 16 or so mile lake route to make up some time.  We wanted to be sure we hit the third lock, Moore Haven, before the 4:30 last lockage.  DeVere (aka Turbo) complied with this slow cruise speed....thanks DeVere!
We arrived there shortly after 3 PM and took a nice walk and had cocktails aboard Sum Escape and then each cooked aboard.  We received a good rain storm that evening tied to the Moore Haven city dock. $1 a foot including electricity and halfway across the Okeechobee waterway....nice stop.

Friday we departed in some fog

for our 79 mile trip to Snook Bight Marina in Fort Myers Beach where we will meet Brigitte an Scott (Putz'n Around) our other "Bahama buddy boat" for a couple nights. We again ran at cruise for a number of miles once near Fort Myers to be sure we could make the pot luck party Brigitte and Scott had arranged and invited us to.  The "white" in the wake is not snow!!!

Here is Job Site making sure they beat us to Fort Myers Beach.

The pot luck was a marina get together and they kindly included us.  Surprisingly, it was a sort of Michigan reunion as the majority of the boaters hailed from Michigan.  We all of course used our "built in" map (hand) to show where we were from!

Saturday our friends Pat and Tim visited us for a couple hours.  They are staying in a condo on Bonita Beach for the month.  It was great to catch up with them.  In the evening we went to Mantanzas Restaurant and had a great dinner with the Bahama crew.  Some preliminary plans were made and we plan on an early February crossing to West End and then work our way south to the Exumas.

Sunday we departed for an anchorage near Cape Haze. It was quite windy so Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor were choppy and we got "salted" pretty well.  Oh, and it was a bit chilly so I was using the lower helm.

We got anchored in early afternoon and a large manatee swam by shortly after.  It was again just off the ICW and in a manatee "slow speed" zone so very minimal wakes.  The eastern shore was lined with homes but many were apparently seasonal and not yet occupied.

Monday morning we departed for Sarasota in 40 degree weather and stopped for fuel along the way.  We only had about 45 miles to go but due to fueling and the no wake/ slow speed zones we did not arrive till after 3 PM.  We got the salty boat washed and dried, took showers, had dinner and crashed.  The last 9 days of travel covered 519 miles and 59 travel / engine hours and does take a toll just as any form of travel does...even if it only averages 9 miles per hour or so.  Remember we have bridges, locks, manatee and no wake zones, etc that all add to the slow travel pace.  But it sure beats a crowded highway!
We got all the salt off Sum Escape (yes we needed a sweatshirt, it was chilly....keep that North wind up North would you all!!) soon after checking in.

We are all settled in at Longboat Key Club Moorings Marina for the next 8 weeks or so. 
We expect that we might meet a few "class of 2017" Loopers as they continue to travel south through this area. We always enjoy meeting new cruisers so we hope a few do come through.  We also have visitors scheduled from time to time as we find this facility quite conducive to entertaining company.  We look forward to all the planned visits.
We will also see doctors and dentists, get some maintenance done on Sum Escape and generally make ourselves at "home". Here is a photo of our partially decorated Christmas tree on the stern as we rest comfortably at Longboat Key.  Still working on those Holiday decorations!

Merry Christmas to all!  Thanks for following our blog.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Thanksgiving Trip to Denver. November 23-29, 2017

So we checked airline flights and found a very reasonable direct flight Jacksonville to Denver to visit Brett and Natalie.  We flew out on Thanksgiving afternoon and returned on Tuesday....well actually Wednesday with the 3 hour plane issue delay. It is only the second Thanksgiving we have missed the Michigan celebration with Tom's family in 30 years or so. But it was so nice to be with Brett and Natalie for a few days.
We landed and got our free rental car (thank you Enterprise/National).  We were just in time for a great sunset and some unique (to us at least) cloud formations. Perhaps these clouds help explain our bumpy ride here.

We drove to the Westminster area near their apartment to find a bite to eat.  We ended up at a Macaroni Grill and Julie had lamb and I had lasagna for our Thanksgiving feast!  Actually it was quite good.
It was great to see Brett and Natalie Thanksgiving evening and see their beautiful recently remodeled 2 bedroom/ 2 bath apartment.  Very nice.  The golf course view from their balcony.

Friday we did some grocery shopping, took a nice walk on the trails around Standley Lake (although a quick rainstorm cut it short) and settled in for the short stay. 

We went to dinner in Arvada at a really nice little Italian place, Zuccas.  What a great little downtown area.
Saturday we ran errands and visited / caught up on things with Brett and Natalie.  We took the light rail into the city and Brett bought us lunch at a great Mexican restaurant near Union Station, Machette Tequila and Tacos.  Really good!  Thanks Brett! 

We walked around town and found the street location Julie's great uncle lived in the 1920's on Wazee St.

This is the original seed company building.  We
think the residents might have been different seeds today.  It is Colorado.

That evening Brett grilled steaks for dinner....delicious!
Sunday we took a ride to the mountains and visited Staunton State Park for a nice 5 mile hike. 

The record high temperatures we enjoyed here on the trip were great.  Hiked in just a sweatshirt at almost 9000 feet.  There were a couple icy areas on the trails and some snow here and there but it was a spectacular hiking day.

Monday Julie continued to work on Brett's baby book.  This even included a call to Mom Van Hall to get some details on her childhood, etc "for the record" in the book. It was done by the time we left!
We also enjoyed some time with their cat and dog, Sophie and Leo.  Sophie reminds us so much of our cat Frisky.
 And Leo is still a puppy!
We also checked out the local prairie dog population on one of our neighborhood walks.

Monday night Julie and I cooked dinner for Brett and Natalie.  Gotta check on the blueberry pie Tom is baking. Yes the ice cream is in the freezer....

We returned to Jacksonville on Tuesday.  But......
It was a late night....OK early morning arrival back in Jacksonville.

November statistics:
Miles travelled:  Month: 390 / Trip to Date: 8982
Travel days:   11/ 195
Engine hours: 46 / 1022
Locks:   0/ 47
Bridges opened:   8 / 76

Days on hook or free wall:   8 / 86
Gallons of diesel:  322  / 7318

Friday, November 24, 2017

St. John River Cruise. Nov 12-21

Well the third attempt did the trick.  After two failed attempts in Nov 2016 and May 2017 our third planned cruise of this awesome river happened.  Yes, mechanical delays thwarted the prior two attempts so that we could do other things on our agenda…it’s a boat.  And this time we did have to wait a few days for an inverter repair and deal with numerous no wake zones due to the flooding still present from Irma in early Sept.  Seems odd that there would still be so much water from over two months ago.  But here is the deal….the St John River flows north from 310 miles south of Jacksonville and drops only 30 feet to sea level.  So, something like an inch per mile, a very slow draining process.  We feel sorry for so many business owners upstream that still have flooded businesses.  

Before we left we had a great dinner in Avondale at the Blue Fish with Randy and Sherry (Priorities)from Holland MI and Rolf and Harriett (Time Out).  A great time was had by all.  Thanks for driving us all Rolf.

On Friday 11-10 we received our repaired inverter back from the authorized factory repair facility in Sanford.  We sent it in from Hilton Head prior to leaving there.  I re installed it by following the wiring diagrams in the owner’s manual. Just some AC, DC and ground connections to make.  The owners manual now has a blood stained page to prove it…nothing serious, just the normal cuts and scrapes as one tries to wrestle a 53 pound unwieldly unit into a cramped space above the generator and re-bolt it to the wall.  With a scrap board used for leverage and a couple borrowed tools, it was back in and running in about three hours. 
Saturday we provisioned the boat and Sunday we departed for the cruise.  The first night we took a dock at Palatka and took a nice walk around the old town.  We visited the St John River Center here which was quite interesting.

A cool mural depicting an era gone by.  We hope to see all this wildlife on our cruise.

As we travelled to the north end of Lake George on Monday, the Raymarine chip no longer covered the river!  Note the lack of detail as we are entering the lake....
But, that is why one comes prepared with an Ipad with SeaIQ installed.  It is now our navigation guide for the rest of the trip to Sanford.

Monday we anchored in Salt Cove in the NW corner of Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. Large but shallow, it averages only 10 feet deep. 
We took the dinghy up to Salt Springs, about a three mile run.  Lot’s of wildlife but due to high water we could not land the dinghy and explore the Spring up close. 

This first night at anchor Julie went to start the generator to cook dinner and nothing.  No lights on control panel, no power, no nothing.  I went into the engine room and reset all the breakers, etc and started it from the engine room.  I must have inadvertently bumped off one of the breakers when I was re-installing the inverter last week.  All was good for about a half hour and it sputtered and died, just as it had done intermittently last year before we had all the 2000 hour maintenance done on it.  So I looked at the primary fuel filter.  It was not really dirty but I changed it anyway.  I vacuumed out the air intakes too.  (Having the inverter provides power for the vacuum without the genset power thankfully).  Then I tried to restart it but it would not fire.  I looked at the secondary spin on filter on the engine and noted it had over one year and 450 hours on it…owner’s manual says 500 hours or one year.  So I went to change it and the filter wrench broke!  I cobbled the wrench back together with a small sheet metal screw, changed the filter, primed the engine and success!  Our turkey (drumstick) dinner was only an hour and a half late…..
Tuesday we anchored at River Forest, just north of DeLand.  We looked for a spot that would protect us from the strong north wind where the current would not oppose the wind. 
The first spot on the north end of the oxbow did not work, but the south worked great…boat stayed parallel to shore due to the current and wind was stopped by the trees. 

Lots of eagles, egrets, and an owl off in the distance too.  
Also note high the water is here....all still from Irma over 2-1/2 months ago.  Also, note the water stain halfway up the sign showing how high the water was earlier.  By the way, the water is quite clear, it is just a dark brown from the tannins in the water from decaying trees, all part of nature.  This whole area is a wildlife preserve.  Nice.

We took a long no wake dinghy ride to the Highland Park fish camp up one of the creeks.  A fish camp it was!

Wednesday we made it to Sanford, 150 miles upstream (south) of Ortega Landing. Lots of high water, going slowly as they are still in flood stage here....

Sanford is about as far south as one can navigate on the river.  We took a mile and a half walk to Winn Dixie to get some fresh groceries.  Nice little old Florida town.  Oh, and for you Hudsonville folks, Sanford was known as the celery capital.  Who knew Hudsonville had a big competitor in the South!!  They had ice plants, a circular railway for loading the crops, packing houses, etc.  “back in the day”. Who knew!? 
They said they had a slip but we might hang out into the fairway a bit....but it was a great spot.
We also spotted the vessel Classic Cyn, but Curt and Cindy were not on board…sorry we missed you two! Maybe we’ll see you in the Bahamas again?
Thursday we travelled only 15 miles north to an anchorage near Blue Springs state park.  Again, our attempt of visiting the springs was stopped by high water.  Even Julie's call to the rangers to see if we could break the rules and land the dinghy was answered with a resounding "no ma'am". But what a great anchorage.  A big gator circled the boat late in the afternoon and a short dinghy ride got us fairly close to many birds along the lilly pads.   Zoom in, center of frame for alligator.  So much wildlife!

The video is of egrets along our dinghy ride.
In the morning we had a hatch of midges (blind mosquitos) to clean off of the boat.  They were literally an inch deep in some area of the boat.  I brushed as many as I could off with a broom and it looked like snow falling as Julie looked out the window. They hatch from the mud and only live three days. The heavy scrubbing will have to wait till we get back to a marina.  Here they are on the fly bridge hatch.

We called ahead to Silver Glen Springs park on the west shore of Lake George to see if we could land our dinghy there.  We got a helpful person on the line that said it would be unlikely that anyone would say anything if we broke the rules and landed.  So we started reading all the reviews of the area and decided it would be worth the trip.  

All the reviews talked about a shallow entrance.  One review said, “I think a four foot draft vessel could make it”.  So given the high water, small waves on Lake George and our four foot draft we proceeded ever so slowly into the entrance.  One engine into and out of gear, ever so slow and with some 4.5 foot sections we did make it into the run up to the spring.  And are we glad we did!  What a spot.  Beautiful clear FRESH water, 73 degrees year around.  I even went swimming in the crystal clear water to set the bow anchor better than it was set.  Only about 6 feet deep, so easy to dive and reset the anchor. 
It was Friday night and only one other boat anchored to spend the night.  There were some moored and unoccupied boats there illegally too...
-Around 5:30, I was going below to take a shower and Julie says come on back here, there is a black bear at the waters edge getting a drink.  Wow, it sure had a black and shiny coat.  The picture does not do it justice.  It is just to the right of the bow of the moored sailboat.

The boiling springs.  They release 65 million gallons per day of 73 degree water.

On Saturday morning we took a 5 mile hike along the Yearling Trail.  This is the area where the characters in the Pulitzer Prize book The Yearling written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived.  It was published in March 1938. 
Note the whistle on Tom's shoulder.....
 Hmm, wonder what kind of dropping this is...they use the trail too.

We were on our way back to the boat and Julie says “look, a bear”.  I was leading and looked back at her, but the bear was in the trail ahead.  So much for my valor and protection of Julie!  So we blew the whistle we brought along (as we had been warned of bear activity in the area) and yelled but the bear did not move.  We saw a young couple coming up the trail the other way and yelled at them too and they said they saw the bear.  It finally went across the trail and we started moving along the trail after a couple minutes.  Then two cubs ran across the trail too!  We are glad we did not push ahead too quickly as a mother with cubs can be pretty dangerous. But what a beautiful sight.  These bears have such dark black shiny fur. They appear very healthy and vibrant.  One of the trail information stations said there were once 12,000 black bears in the central Florida area and now only about 1,500.
When we got back, there were many boats arriving to enjoy the area.  We too enjoyed the water and floated for a few minutes on our chairs…well at least until Julie’s lost air and it was put in the trash…sorry Julie.  We were told that literally hundreds of boats pack the area on summer weekends so we were happy to be here “off season”.  Still there were about 8 other boats sharing the anchorage on Saturday night, one boat at sunset played God Bless The USA song reminding us of our kids and neighbor kids performing that song back in the summer no bears tonight.

ere are the schools of fish migrating into the spring for the evening.

Sunday we pulled anchor early as it was supposed to rain by late morning.  Our destination was only 33 miles away and we hoped to have the rain clear the area as we cruised north.  Love it when a plan works out, we cruised through a little rain and arrived at Murphy Creek around noon. 
It was a very remote setting and we listened to owls, osprey, watched eagles soar and generally enjoyed the quiet.

Monday we departed for our 47 mile run to Black Creek north of Palatka.  It is so true that the real St John starts south of Palatka but this was a really cool anchorage area too.  This creek goes some 40 miles and is really more of a river.  We took a dinghy ride a few miles upstream and decided to turn around as it was just too wide and deep for any real wildlife exploration.  We did dinghy up a small creek and saw lots of turtles, egrets and herons though.  The St John is such a great wildlife habitat.  This was a wonderful cruise, albeit in an off season where the leaves were largely off the trees due to hurricane and season, but perhaps there were a few less bugs too!

No zoom lens needed to see this eagle!

A large heron.

Tuesday we refueled at Doctor’s Lake Marina (thanks Waterway Guide for the fuel prices, saved 38 cents per gallon versus Ortega river area...and needing 425 gallons, it was a great savings) returned to Ortega Landing and washed all the midges (blind mosquitoes) off the boat (they were literally an inch deep on the top of the radar near the anchor light), did laundry and arranged transportation to the airport to go to visit Brett and Natalie on Thanksgiving.

And a big thank you to Larry (Hobo) our next door neighbor at Ortega Landing for the ride to the airport.
We hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!