Our last log ended with our arrival in Savannah, Georgia at the venerable Palmer Johnson yacht facility. Palmer Johnson is one of the leading mega yacht repair operations in the US, if not the world, and looks it. Duet, while definitely a yacht, doesn't quite meet the definition of mega, but the professionals at Palmer Johnson treated us as well as any 165 foot Feadship. We stayed 5 days, saw Savannah (but not The Garden of Good and Evil since it was continually checked out at the local Blockbuster) and Tristan (to everyone's relief) got his stitches out. For those of you not familiar with dogs recovering from surgery, here's Tristan modeling the latest in wound recovery headgear. While we were at Palmer Johnson we took a walk every evening to inspect the progress on various boats. There are some amazing yachts there but what was more astounding was the sheer number of them. We also did some work on the boat, although our work crew is somewhat less structured than Palmer Johnson's. We finally left Palmer Johnson and worked our way down the ICW through the islands and sounds of Georgia. We figured out the 9 foot tides (look at the slope of the gangplank leading to the dock; this was taken at low tide, at high tide the gangplank is level) to reduce groundings and we enjoyed deserted anchorages, at least until the sightseeing boat came through. One of our most interesting stops was Fort Frederica in southern Georgia. The fort was built by the English to fend off the Spanish who were expected to attack Georgia from their stronghold in Florida. It had it's own town and was the most expensive fort the British built in the Americas. The Spanish never got as far as the fort; the battle took place some 10 miles south in a swamp now known as Bloody Swamp because the rumor was it ran red with Spanish blood the day of the battle. The English flag still flies at Fort Frederica and for several days every picture taken of the fort included Duet, peacefully anchored behind it. We landed at the fort in the dinghy and walked the dogs, surrounded by trees hung with Spanish moss and the remnants of what was once a bustling English town. Fort Frederica was one of our most interesting stops to date and a great way to learn history.
After Frederica we continued to Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cumberland is a national park and we spent several great days anchored with daily beach walks while waiting for a weather window to go outside into the ocean to reach our next stop, Cape Canaveral. For those who follow our itinerary and know their geography, we skipped Jacksonville because we wanted to reach the Space Center in time for the Endeavor shuttle launch, but more on that later.
An aside on weather windows; a weather window is a period of calm weather long enough for us to feel comfortable going somewhere, either offshore or just around the corner, depending on what we're doing. We have two sources of weather information; the VHF radio from NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) radio and the Single Side Band radio (SSB). The VHF provides voice forecasts delivered by a computer generated voice known in boating circles as Perfect Paul. Paul sounds somewhat Middle European with an interesting emphasis on certain words. For example, when he says "and NOW the extended forecast" he really sounds as if he personally can't believe how exciting it all is. To add insult to injury, Ron records the forecasts and then fast forwards through the parts we don't care about. Perfect Paul on fast forward has to be heard to be believed!. We gather that Paul is scheduled to be replaced by a new voice and I must admit we (and I'm sure other mariners) will miss him.
The SSB delivers faxes of weather maps from various stations throughout the US in various formats. To Nancy these seem to have been made by chickens with dirty feet walking on maps of the United States. Ron studies them with great concentration to determine what weather systems are where, where we are and what is likely to land on us next. This process is very similar to the ancients studying the entrails of a goat to decide how the harvest was going to go. Fortunately for goats we only sacrifice reams of paper to print out the faxes. The biggest issue occurs when Perfect Paul and the weather faxes disagree (which we're sure also happened in ancient times with the high priests) in which case we sit tight until they resolve their differences.
Back to the journey. When the weather window lined up we left Cumberland Island. The trip to Cape Canaveral was 180 nautical miles or about 40 miles further than our journey from Cape Fear to Charleston. We departed around 8AM with a planned arrival of around 10AM the next morning at an average speed of 7 nautical miles per hour. We actually maintained 7 knots for the first few hours but as is customary with boats the plan was not to be. The wind was blowing out of the south, which of course was the direction we needed to go. Further the waves were also out of the south so Duet was pushing against the proverbial wind and sea. This makes for a bumpy ride, because Duet's stabilizers only remove side to side roll, not pitch from front to back. The best way to counter pitch is to either turn away from the seas (thereby making less progress in the chosen direction) or to slow down. We chose to slow down, to 5 knots from 7. Further, we had to detour significantly around Cape Canaveral. Capes stick out into the ocean and are shallow. When the wind blows and/or the waves are big the seas bang into the capes with considerable force. This is not a good place to be on a boat, hence the detour. So we were going slower than expected for a longer distance which lengthened our time to destination to 30-32 hours instead of 24-26. Not a huge difference on land but it seems like a long time when you're out there, believe me. The waves stayed relatively small at about 6-8 feet but were close together because of the wind.
Conditions in Duet's pilothouse resembled those on a carnival ride; first up, then down, then up, then down...etc. Not dangerous but both Nancy (of course) and Ron (more surprising) got seasick. Tristan and Maggie did not, thereby casting considerable doubt on the phrase "sick as a dog". Nancy and Ron took several doses of the miracle drug and kept the unpleasantness at bay, most of the time. Duet handled the conditions like the sea boat she is; no rattling, limited banging (things we had not stowed properly) and no sense that she was anywhere near her limits, even if we might be thinking about ours. We did have one gear failure; the fan which blows air up the chimney (so to speak) quit and the engine room heated up to 125 degrees from it's normal operating temperature of about 110. Our intrepid captain replaced the fan and order was restored. Other than that Duet cruised competently through the day, the night and the next day without incident.
Our procedures when running offshore had undergone some revision since our first trip. We have added log keeping every 30 minutes (latitude, longitude, speed, compass direction and time) as well as regular engine room checks. Frankly, just managing to do these things was about all we could handle in these sea conditions, although we got better at it as time passed. We navigate using a laptop computer which is linked to our Global Positioning System (GPS) so we can see where we are on the screen, which displays a picture that looks just like a paper chart. The computer steers the boat to latitude and longitude coordinates or waypoints which we give it and is able to adjust the course to compensate for Duet being pushed off course by wind and/or current. Being steered by a computer is quite disconcerting for those of us whose experience with computers leads us to agree with the statement "if our fridges and microwaves ran Windows we'd starve to death".
On this journey we entered about 5 waypoints to steer around Cape Canaveral and the GPS quit about 3 times for short periods. We use a new version of GPS called Differential GPS which is more accurate than regular GPS. Unfortunately, in our experience the Differential satellite signal sometimes disappears for short periods, which causes the GPS to lose track of where we are. We are now evaluating using just regular GPS, which is more reliable, if a little less accurate. When the GPS quits the computer continues to steer for several minutes and then calls for it's mother. At that point we switch to just the autopilot until we get the GPS back. The autopilot isn't smart enough to compensate for wind and current, so we have to adjust the course manually to ensure we don't end up someplace we'd rather not be. As part of our standard procedures, we also maintain a plot on paper charts of where we are just in case the GPS doesn't come back and we have a backup GPS in case the main one dies completely. Once we get within a few miles of shore we steer the boat by hand but having the computerized steering and navigation greatly reduces the wear and tear on the crew during a long passage.
We didn't arrive at Canaveral until about 3PM but the journey got much easier as soon as the sun came up. There's something reassuring about being able to see your surroundings, even if sometimes you're better off not seeing quite how big the waves really are. The Cape Canaveral entrance from the ocean is well marked and deep but rather narrow. Canaveral is a major port for cruise ships (which go offshore for gambling) so we had to get out of the way several times during our entrance. We did finally reach port, tie up and relax. We celebrated that night with a pizza and a nice bottle of red wine. As a result of this journey we now have checklists of things to do before going offshore, to do while offshore and to do when we arrive (pizza may become a tradition). The Canaveral journey was a very good learning experience with limited risk and we're very glad we did it. Florida seemed like a major milestone to us. We're not sure why but arriving in Florida had more impact on us than other states. We really enjoyed the Kennedy Space Center; it is absolutely worth visiting if you ever get down that way. Unfortunately the shuttle launch was postponed so we didn't get to see it but we had a super time anyway. We found a great fresh fish place and stocked up on fish for the journey south. We took on water, which is a rather technical process involving 3 filters (since some dock water isn't exactly Evian) and an hour of watching hoses. We carry about 275 gallons which lasts us 10-12 days.
We left Canaveral after about 5 days and made our way south to Palm Beach. We anchored in Hobe Sound right off the most expensive neighborhood and so had a million dollar view for free. We then anchored in Lake Worth at the northern end of Palm Beach. At some point during this journey we crossed the 1,000 mile mark, having traveled over 1,000 miles from our home port in Deale.
Lake Worth is an interesting anchorage. It is divided down the middle by an invisible line marking the boundary between two Florida counties, one of which charges for anchoring and one of which doesn't. Nothing more clearly illustrates the free market at work; the free side is packed and the other half is empty. Palm Beach doesn't encourage cruisers; the only place to land the dinghy and go ashore is literally under a highway bridge where cruisers tie their dinghys and then climb up onto the road like so many trolls. We had our first family visitor in Palm Beach; Nancy's brother Tom flew out from Northern California to visit her parents in Marco Island and drove over to see us. He stayed at a local hotel and commuted out to the boat via dinghy. We had a great time and even managed to order Thai food and fetch it in the dinghy. Tom is an arborist and hence a rope expert as he uses lots of rope while climbing trees. He and Ron spent several hours on the best way to coil long lengths of large line. Tom is also an experienced salt water fisherman and he provided great value to Nancy by rerigging her lures, sorting out her downhaul (don't ask) and generally preparing us for self sufficiency in the islands. He did point out, however, when Nancy proudly said "now we're ready to fish", that we don't really fish, we drag a hook and hope something will be stupid enough to bang into it. Tom stayed several days and was a most welcome guest. We remained in Palm Beach for a week; Ron worked on the boat , Tristan took in the sights and then we set off down the ICW through Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Key Biscayne. While this sounds easy it was was one of the most difficult parts of the journey. We went through 38 opening bridges (and another 10 which didn't have to open for us) in two days and some of the narrowest, busiest parts of the waterway.. We would much rather have done this stretch in the ocean but the weather didn't oblige. We did see some great views and some unusual sights as well as another way to make this trip but we agree with whoever said "you should do this stretch once but once is enough". We anchored in Key Biscayne for a few days, waiting for a weather window. Just south of Key Biscayne we passed some folks who live even farther out than we do on the boat. We eventually reached Marathon (about halfway down the Keys) and have a slip here (with some great neighbors). We'll remain tied up until early February, installing various pieces of equipment (including Ron's newest toy the mooring bitt, and Nancy's Christmas present, a Direct TV dish) and recommissioning the watermaker for the Islands. Nancy's parents and her sister Sally are visiting Christmas week which will be exciting as they've yet to see the boat.
This also gives us the opportunity to make sure that Maggie's epilepsy medication is working out right. She'd been having seizures when she met new people which can happen to anyone, but her case turned out to be epilepsy. She is now on Phenobarbital which, as some of you may or may not remember from the 70's, is a rather strong narcotic. She needs to have her liver function tested several times before we go to make sure she is processing it at the current dosage. So far so good, she seems fine and her seizures are moderating.
We now plan to spend 4-5 months in the Bahamas before returning to the Bay for the balance of the summer of '02. We have decided to postpone New England until summer '03 as we won't get another chance to see the Bahamas for several years.