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New Microwave Cabinet

When we bought C Ghost, it came with a small microwave oven tucked into a cubby hole that looked almost custom designed around the oven. We never thought much about it until a couple months ago when the oven started making weird noises and then stopped working. I replaced an internal fuse and got it going again, but only a few days later it stopped working for good after 17 years of service with two owners.

The original microwave oven that came as standard equipment with the boat. Notice how it fits just perfectly into the space designed for it.

We thought this would be a simple matter of buying a new ~$70 microwave and plugging it in. Nope. Not even close. As it turns out, this brand of microwave is no longer made and the dimensions of this oven were apparently unique in the world. In particular, the height dimension of 9.3 inches cannot be found on any small microwaves on the market today.  When I looked on the Island Packet user forums, a number of people with older model boats have exactly the same problem. Some just choose to do without a microwave once it fails, while others  go to great lengths to have their broken oven repaired. No one it seemed, had tried to enlarge the space where the oven fits.

We thought of trying to get the oven repaired, but there were a couple other things we didn’t like about it that wouldn’t be addressed with a successful repair. First, the inside volume of the oven is very small and we wanted one slightly larger. Second, at only 550 watts, the oven is underpowered – so much so that it can’t even pop popcorn. So we decided to enlarge the available space (increasing the height was all that was actually necessary) to give ourselves a lot more choices.

The old oven removed from its cabinet. The two little rings on the “floor” are where the front feet of the oven sat inside to prevent it from sliding out. The hole towards the right is for the power cord.
The front piece of molding came off easily by drilling out the three bungs and removing the screws beneath.
Next was the messy part – removing the “roof” of the cabinet. The only way to do this was to cut it out as it was screwed in from the back on two sides and was a solid continuous piece on the third side. A Dremel tool and an Oscillating cutter did the job (although they made unavoidable marks on the surrounding surfaces). This expanded space could now accommodate dozens of different brands of microwaves currently on the market.
I found some scrap teak at the local sailors exchange to cover the marks made by the cutters. I also fashioned some captive “rings” to hold the feet of the new oven in place. They are the usual brown rubber floor protectors for the bottom of furniture feet. I just turned them upside down and drilled out a properly- sized hole for the new microwave feet to drop into. I then screwed down each rubber ring to the floor around its outside perimeter.
This angle shows how the new teak molding around the top edge interfaces with the original more fancy piece of molding.
All the new teak has been varnished and the new microwave is in place. This model was on sale at Lowe’s for $59. It is bigger inside and has 700W of microwave power (150W more than the original oven). I installed a teak “strap” across the rear portion of the top of the oven to keep it from jumping out of its foot holders in rough seas and from tilting out when we are heeling to port. This piece can be raised if necessary for an even taller microwave if there is a future need. While in port or at anchor, we store plastic containers on the top of the oven, and in effect have not lost any storage space with this improvement.

Bahamas Recap – Quartermaster Report (6/15)

What worked well:

Food provisioning: From a provisioning/quartermaster standpoint, food prep and provisioning  worked well overall. As on our 2016 ICW cruise, Paula pre-prepared a number of cooked entrees which were vacuum-sealed and frozen. This helped tremendously from a convenience and variety standpoint. We are particularly fortunate that Island Packet sailboats have more freezer space than is typical of many sailboats or even some larger power vessels. As our trip proceeded and we used up meals, Paula would wait until we were in a marina for several days and buy, cook, and freeze meat meals to replenish our supply. A partial list of meals appears below for those interested.

We were grateful that we went “overboard” and froze 6 lbs. of butter for the trip and brought large containers of several kinds of oil (extra virgin olive oil, “lite” olive oil, canola, peanut). We use a good bit of butter and extra virgin olive oil in cooking as we find these much tastier than substitutes. Not only was butter in very short supply in the small shops of the Exumas (and they are almost exclusively small shops), but cooking oils were also hard to come by and very dear (500ml bottle olive oil $16.00).

This trip Paula learned to make her own Greek-style yogurt in a thermos, as yogurt (which she uses a lot in sauces and cooking) was hard to find. She used the last bits of our own USA store-bought live culture yogurt for the first “starter” and canned evaporated milk.  In preparation for our next trip, she is trying dry yogurt starter in packets, and powdered WHOLE milk (Fortificado brand has been highly recommended) as these will be lighter and less voluminous to store if they indeed produce good results.

Paper and plastic goods: We were forewarned that paper and plastic products are expensive and in short supply in the Bahamas.  In the shops we visited there were often few or no paper goods for sale with the singular exception of the flip and lock-lid Styrofoam containers often seen used in US restaurants for take-home leftovers. These were everywhere, in huge packs, and my understanding is that this is what Bahamians use to pack lunches to take to work. We brought 42 rolls of paper towels, used them sparingly, and have 16 left and packed 47 rolls of marine toilet paper and used all but 10. We were similarly glad we stocked up on Ziploc-type bags in various sizes, as these we used  them for food, non-food storage applications, (protecting documents and phones) etc. We used very few paper plates/bowls while at anchor, to save on the amount of trash made and have almost the whole supply we brought as “left overs”.

Propane: We used two 10-gallon propane tanks-full during our trip to power the oven and stove-top. We had 5 green Coleman cans to use for the grill, but the weather was so windy during our trip, we never used the grill.

Laundry: We were able to find and use laundry facilities on about half a dozen occasions, but most laundry was done by the bucket method. Here again, our quick-dry running clothes (Dri-fit) served us well. The water we used, either from our watermaker or marinas was all R/O water (reverse osmosis) and so soft that we used much less laundry detergent, soap, and shampoo than we had anticipated as everything sudsed with so little product. One of the decisions we had wrestled with when we first contemplated living aboard was whether to convert the aft head into a laundry with small washer/dryer. We decided in favor of retaining the second functioning head. Our trip reaffirmed that this was the correct decision for us, as having two heads was vitally useful when we had guests. Also, when underway, as the aft head is more convenient and safer to get to when conditions are sporty. Finally, the energy and water costs of washing and drying clothes by machine would have, in our minds, outweighed by far the amount of elbow grease and effort needed to wash, wring, and hang clothes. A caveat here is that our experience was in a breezy, tropical environment with lots of sun. In a cold, wet, cloudy clime, having access to an onboard dryer, at least for heavy clothes and towels, might have been much more important.

Challenges: 

Grocery shopping: Shopping for groceries in the smaller Cays was very different from visiting a “supermarket” typical of the USA or available on a larger island such as New Providence (Nassau). Shopping meant taking the dinghy from C Ghost’s spot in the anchorage to a dock, walking to small shops with a back-pack, and buying what we could carry. This imposed a weight limit on our shopping trips and presented the issue of refrigerator/freezer items warming in transit. Once we had purchased, we often had a fair walk and dinghy ride back to the fridge and freezer in C Ghost.

Seafood: Surprisingly, we ate much less boat-prepared fish than we anticipated. Fresh fish is NOT available in the small Exumas shops. Paula had fantasies of providing a fishing and spearfishing bounty herself, but alas, she was singularly unsuccessful this trip. (see fishing gear section in the Captain’s post). For fresh fish, we needed to go to the dedicated fishing dock at the particular Cay or island where we were anchored. If the Cay was so small that they didn’t have a dedicated dock, you had to suss out the local fisherman at his home or fishing spot. This was all highly educational, and we very much recommend the humbling experience of haggling price for fresh fish with a man who speaks with a musical, half-comprehended patter, and who can instantly identify you as a tourist, as you and your mate are the only white people on the docks! The wonderful local people we came to know gave us this advice: Don’t smile, don’t be as friendly as you are now. Despite all this, AND the absence of any kind of scale or cash register at the docks, when we weighed our purchase at home, we almost always found that the negotiated price compared favorably (sometimes very favorably) with fresh fish prices at home. You can also save money if you are willing to clean your own fish, as the fisherman on the docks will gladly clean your fish for you for an additional $10.00.

Fruit and produce: Fresh produce was in similar short supply as it was almost exclusively brought in on the mail boats. Surprisingly, we saw almost no fruit or vegetable gardens on the islands in the Exumas. We don’t know if this is due to difficulty growing in the sandy soil, or a lack of preference for vegetables, or some other factor.

Bread and baked goods: Bread and bread-type products in the stores were either absent or expensive (loaf of bread $7.00). Although delicious breads and cakes were sold as an accompaniment to meals bought at restaurants or conch stands, they were not usually available for retail sale at those locations. Paula baked bread, biscuits, quick breads and made soft tortillas for sandwich wraps much more frequently than she ever did at home.

Trash: Paula  found that she overbought plastic trash bags. As all trash must be removed from the islands by mail boat (no dumps or recycling that we could discern) leaving bags of trash on any island was accompanied by a fee, usually a few dollars on the honor system, but in some locales (e.g. Chub Cay) $20/bag. We tried to make as little trash as possible, and compressed what we had, so used few bags.

 

How we could have prepared better: 

Bread:  Paula found she hadn’t brought nearly enough yeast and flour and needed to buy these several times. She probably could have saved some money by stocking up at home. Fortunately, yeast and flour were readily available almost everywhere, and reasonably priced. However, flour is heavy and took up a lot of space and was a big load in our back-pack during shopping excursions. Adding up what she brought from home and what she bought in the Exumas, Paula  used  20 lbs  of flour for a trip that lasted just about 4 months!

Fruits and vegetables: Paula wishes she had brought more dried fruit. The latter is light, more easily stored than canned fruit, and can be used in cooking without turning to mush.  As regards the dearth of fresh vegetables, before next trip she would like to experiment with some dehydrated vegetables. They are pricier than canned but stow more easily with less weight, and her research tells her they can be palatable if chosen with care and prepared in certain applications such as stews, soups, or to augment starches or grains. She is also considering trying some inexpensive sprouting trays to experiment with while we in the marina, to see if this is a practical method to provide  some fresh greens of our own.

This trip, we used our own ice maker only a handful of times. Ice was in plentiful supply at any marina we encountered, and at reasonable cost, and in sizes that lasted us till the next marina stop. We are still happy we have it, but it was not essential on this trip.

 

Partial list of cooked, pre-prepared frozen meals:

  • Meatloaf
  • Shrimp with caper sauce
  • chick parmigiana
  • baked boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • boneless skinless chicken thigh jerk seasoning
  • chicken Tikka Masala
  • chicken vegetable soup, homemade
  • rosemary country style pork ribs
  • country style pork ribs with jerk seasoning
  • country ribs with sauerkraut
  • barbecue pork
  • sausage, meatball, vegetable pasta sauce, red
  • whole cooked corned beef
  • shallot mushroom sauce
  • garlic macaroni and cheese
  • souse (made in the Bahamas)

In addition, there were a number of raw, or as-purchased items:

  • shrimp
  • scallops
  • lots of bacon
  • the 6 pound of butter mentioned above
  • 4 pints heavy whipping cream
  • 12 steaks wrapped in packages of two each
  • thin-sliced deli salami
  • bratwurst
  • sweet Italian saugage
  •  Kentucky Legend Turkey breast, sliced
  • brussel sprouts
  • brocolli
  • greeen beans
  • sliced fruit for Tommy’s morning smoothie: strawberries, banana, avocado
  • soft tortillas
  • 1 Stouffer’s meat lasagna (still unused)
  • 1 Mama Michelina eggplant parmigiana (still unused)

 

Bahamas Recap – Technical Report (6/14)

Our Bahamas wrap-up is being published in two parts. The first part (below), is oriented more towards the mechanical and techie-type things that worked and didn’t work throughout the trip, and was written by Tom. Part 2, which will be published in a separate post, is from the Quartermaster’s point of view, covers the food and provisioning topics, and is written by Paula.

What worked well:

Cell Phone Signal Amplifier – This device is made for your car and purports to “boost” a weak cell phone signal when you are driving through fringe coverage areas. We thought it might be useful in the Bahamas when we were anchored near uninhabited islands in the Exumas and distant from any cell towers. It was a bit of a risky purchase since we needed to match it up with a special ($$) marine antenna (not the little car antenna it came with), and there was no information in the packaging indicating it would work with the Bahamian cell phone network. This turned out to be the best pre-departure purchase we made. It worked beautifully and was the main reason we could publish a blog post everyday no matter where we were. There were only two nights out of our entire 118 day trip that we didn’t have Internet access by way of the cell phone network.

Solar Panels – We’ve had our three solar panels for a while on the boat, but this was the first time we relied on them exclusively for all our energy needs for 30 consecutive days at anchor. They worked great. There was only one day we had to run our diesel generator to recharge batteries, and that was because we’d had two straight days of clouds and rain. As well as it all worked, we would like to add one more panel to the mix since we will be using the new watermaker a lot more which is a significant energy consumer.

Fridge/Freezer – We did a lot of upgrading to these 12 volts systems in the two years before this trip and it paid off. We had no problems at all, and the freezer stayed at or below 11 degrees the whole time – cold enough to keep ice cream.

Phone weather apps  (Windy, Wind Finder, Predict Wind, Weather Underground) – These smartphone weather apps were excellent and generally very accurate. We had access to them nearly all the time because of how well the cell phone signal amplifier worked.

Chris Parker Email subscription – Before we left Florida, we bought a four-month email subscription to Chris Parker’s weather service. This got us a very comprehensive forecast each afternoon for all areas of the Bahamas, Gulf Stream and Florida coast. This subscription also gave us access to his live stream (via his website) weather report every morning at 6:30AM if we couldn’t receive it on SSB radio. The subscription was well worth it and had the side benefit of teaching us a lot about weather patterns.

Anchor Pro app – This is a smartphone app that will sound an alarm if our anchor was dragging. It worked great and is highly recommended.

Mantus Anchor – We had four different styles of anchors on board with us not knowing how many different bottom types we would encounter. As it turned out, we only ever used our Mantus anchor (a Rocna style anchor that can be disassembled). It held fast in every anchorage in the Bahamas and we never drug. Because of the clarity of the water, we could actually see it hit the bottom when it was lowered and watch how its “roll bar” worked and how the anchor dug in. It was very consistent.

Spot Tracker – This was an inexpensive tracking device that allowed our blog followers to see where we were at anytime on a Google map. It works exclusively via satellite and does not need cell phone, wifi, or VHF connectivity. It worked flawlessly wherever we were. It had the added benefit that its map and location data could easily be integrated into our blogging software (WordPress) making it very user friendly.

Garmin G2 Blue Charts – We had three types of electronic charts with us (Navionics, Garmin G2, C-Map). When we traveled down the US east coast on the ICW, the Navionics charts were generally the most accurate as regards the depths and location of the channels. However, everywhere we were in the Bahamas the Garmin G2 charts were king. In fact, the Navionic charts were sometimes dangerously inaccurate and therefore we rarely used them. The C-Map charts were also very accurate, and we used them to create all our routes on the laptop which we then transferred to our Garmin Chartplotter.

Kindles – The only way to read a book in bright sunshine.

WhatsApp – This is a smart phone instant messaging and voice calling app similar to Skype that exclusively uses Wi-Fi. It avoids the per-message cell phone charges that can pile up when using the phone’s native messaging app. It’s much simpler than Skype, worked quite well, and saved us a lot of money. This was another service that was greatly enhanced by our cell phone signal amplifier.

Crocs – Our footwear of choice for going ashore in the wet dinghy, walking on trails, and anywhere there was a chance of getting our feet wet.

Shorty wetsuit – Paula had one of these and Tommy wished he did. During February and March the air temperature in the Bahamas was perfect, but the water temps were a little on the chilly side. For short swims it didn’t matter, but when snorkeling for an hour or so it did and the shorty wetsuit was the ticket. Tommy has a full wetsuit, but that was too warm.

Cyper 8 bug spray – We used this on our dock lines when in marinas and it kept the crawly things off the boat.

Underwater Camera – Before we left Florida, we bought a small underwater camera at Walmart (Nikon Coolpix) for $100. It worked perfectly, and we got some great snorkeling pictures.

What didn’t work so well:

Dinghy – This was our biggest disappointment during the cruise. We purchased our dinghy 6 years ago in Maryland when we were cruising the Chesapeake Bay. It was perfect for that environment when all we needed was a small (8’6”), soft-bottomed dinghy with an electric 3HP motor. We never had to go more than ¼ mile to shore, there was no sharp coral to contend with, and there generally was no wave action in any of the anchorages. Also, we never had to carry snorkeling gear or make big grocery or trash runs. All of this was different (sometimes dramatically) in the Exumas, and our dinghy was wholly inadequate for longer distance exploring in rougher waters and less hospitable shore lines, all while needing to carry more stuff. A much better setup looked to be a 10 – 11 foot hard-bottomed inflatable with a 10 – 20Hp engine.

Watermaker – We were apparently one of an acknowledged few unlucky customers who had problems with their new watermaker from Spectra. We had no problems with the installation and everything tested out just fine before we left Florida. However, after only 1 month of use in the Bahamas, three problems occurred simultaneously with the system that rendered it unusable. We were able to contact a Spectra technician via email and got the system working again through a combination of field repairs and temporary workarounds. This was a very expensive addition to the boat from a highly-regarded manufacturer that we counted on using a lot. We expected much better. Spectra was very helpful, and agreed to replace the parts that failed free of charge so hopefully we will end up with a reliable system for our next cruise.

Sirius XM Weather – We have a Sirius XM satellite receiver on the boat and subscribed to the Sirius marine weather forecasting service before we left. The advantage to this weather service is that it is delivered via satellite and does not need a cell signal, Wi-Fi, or VHF radio to receive it. It was a complete waste of money. The forecasts were very slow in arriving, covered far too general an area, and were highly inaccurate. That wasn’t the worst part. When we tried to cancel the service from the Bahamas, we discovered that the Sirius website blocks all Internet access attempts from the Bahamas (they claim it’s a security measure). Since we had a limited pre-paid voice plan on the Bahamian SIM cards in our cell phones, waiting on “death hold” with Sirius customer service was also not an option. We ended up having to pay for this rather expensive service that we never used until we got back to Florida since there was no way to cancel it.

Fishing gear – We’ve never been big into fishing, but we were told by many how good the fishing was in the Bahamas and that we should give it a shot. We only had older and lighter gear, far more suited to catching small fish in a lake than big fish in the ocean. We did feel like we missed some good opportunities (especially Paula) since we weren’t properly prepared and are now motivated to equip ourselves much better for next time.

Autopilot – When we installed a new autopilot four years ago, we saved a lot of money by reusing the drive motor from the previous autopilot installation (circa 2001) and marrying it to the electronics of the new autopilot (circa 2014). At first, all seemed to work well. However, about one out of every three times we tried to engage the autopilot, it would display an error code and shut itself down. The only way to recover from this was to restart all the electronics that were integrated with the autopilot, including the Chartplotter. We knew this was related to the older drive motor not being entirely compatible with the newer electronics (in addition to being older, the motor was also from a different manufacturer), but thought we could muddle through by just restarting everything when necessary. It ended up becoming a real nuisance on this trip, particularly since there were several long passages where having a reliable autopilot made a huge difference in safety and comfort. We need to bite the bullet and get the proper drive motor.

Cockpit side shading – In addition to the early morning, the time of day we enjoyed most were the few hours before sunset. The angle of the sun at that time allowed it to shine directly into the side of the cockpit with no shade from our overhead canvas. We took to hanging makeshift shades using towels or other material and then constantly shifting them around to follow the swing of the boat at anchor and the sinking angle of the sun. We clearly needed a more permanent side-shading solution that is easier to deploy. This is one of Paula’s main projects for the summer.

Hot water bag – There are only two electrical items on the boat that cannot be run by our solar energy system, the air-conditioner and water heater (they draw far too much power). Since the temps were in the mid 70’s most of the time, there was no need for air-conditioning. However, life at anchor is much more pleasant if hot water is available each day. To this end, we went “old-school” and used a camping hot water bag we got from REI that laid out in the sun all day full of water. It yielded about 2 gallons of hot water each evening when we brought it in. We never figured out a good place to hang the bag, either in the shower or near the galley sink. Plus, it leaked, its hose kept kinking with the slightest bend, and the nozzle could not be open/closed with one hand. We clearly need a better bag, but we also should’ve tested out and setup good mounting locations before we left.

Credit cards – We were able to use credit cards in most places, but quite often there was a substantial “convenience fee” charged, especially in the Exumas. It was much better to use cash.

Day 117 (6/1) – Saint Augustine

Last night after dinner we strolled around the Hammock Beach Resort at Palm Coast. We got another look at the ocean there which featured whitecaps and few boats. We were happy to see that the golf course, which had been virtually destroyed by salt water from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, had recovered.

A view of the 18th hole at Hammock Beach Resort, Palm Coast.

We had a leisurely start this morning. We wanted to arrive at the Matanzas Inlet on a rising tide as it is sinuous and can be shallow.   So we slept in a bit and  delayed our departure until after 8 am. The ICW waters were still and beautiful and full of bird life as we traveled. We passed many small bass boats, dinghies, kayaks, and john boats outfitted for fishing and enjoying the quiet. Folks in the homes lining the ICW appeared to be still sleeping as all was silent except for a few pups that barked at our passage.

These homes line one side of the ICW and have a view of the marsh on the other.
The marsh is full of birdlife, dolphins, and often fishermen.

It was a very enjoyable trip, made more so by the comfort of seeing the approach of familiar landmarks like the 312 bridge and the historic and beautiful skyline of St. Augustine.

Once we saw the 312 bridge, we felt we’d arrived home.

Our marina manager met us on the dock and we were tied up in nothing flat, right back in our old lucky slip C13. We met new neighbors on the pier and were welcomed back by old friends and acquaintances. As a bonus treat,  when we walked to the parking garage in downtown, our car started right up and looked as good as new except for a layer of dust and pollen.

We made it back to the marina just before the sky opened up in a brief but noisy thunderstorm. After a quick shower we went to a delicious boat-made dinner prepared by one of our closest friends in St. Augustine and attended by two more of our closest friends! We feel so fortunate and welcomed. It’s great to make journeys, and it’s great to be home.

In the next day or so we will post our “Wrap up: Bahamas Edition” detailing what worked well on our trip and what we could have done better. After that we will resume periodic postings on various “Life Aboard” topics until our next cruise.

Thank you all so much for keeping in contact with us via your readership and comments.  It made our trip just that much more fun.

The featured picture today is the quintessential view of what it looks like ahead of you when traveling on the ICW on a nice day.

 

Day 116 (5/31) – Palm Coast

When the rain stopped last night around 7PM, we had a very calm and peaceful night in the anchorage. We had to contend with mosquitos and no-see-ums, something we never really had to deal with in the Bahamas, but we were used to that. There was one funny, and all-too-common scenario we watched unfold in the anchorage. A boat anchored near us included a couple our age and a small dog. The owner walked the dog to the bow of the boat with a small square of green Astro-turf in the hopes the dog would relieve himself on the fake grass. It didn’t work, and there was a lot of dog vs. human staring for a while. Finally, the dog won the battle as shown in the below picture.

This doggy refused to go on the grass mat his owner put out on the bow of the boat. He had to be taken ashore for some real grass.

We left the anchorage just after sunrise so as to arrive at two known ICW shallow spots on a rising tide. Once we got past those, the main part of today’s trip was to go through the city of Daytona and all of the bridges that cross the ICW. The featured picture is of the approach to Daytona on the ICW from the south. Unlike the area between Palm Beach and Ft. Pierce which is riddled with restricted-opening drawbridges, the city of Daytona now has only one drawbridge, and it opens on demand at any time. All the other bridges are high rise 65′ footers that we can fit under. However, that one drawbridge has a unique challenge. Technically, it is a “double leaf bascule” type bridge which means it has two halves that swing up from the middle. During hurricane Irma, a sailboat sank in the ICW channel directly in front of the eastern half of this bridge. It is still there, and a temporary navigation marker has been placed to the side of it so boats won’t hit any of the underwater parts. Because of where it is, only the western half of the bridge now opens, making it a very narrow slot to get through followed by an extremely close shave past the sunken sailboat. Throw some current into the mix along with other boat traffic and voilà, you’ve got a super tense and scary boat handling situation.

The drawbridge is closed in this picture, but you can clearly see the sunken sailboat in front of the eastern (left) span. You can also see the small green buoy in the water marking the front of the sunken boat that is underwater. That buoy is actually in the center of the ICW channel. Only the right half of the bridge opened, and it didn’t open to a completely vertical position (it was slightly tilted toward the center). Driving C Ghost through this was very nerve-wracking.
We’ve just gone through the half-raised bascule bridge and had to pass very close to the sunken sailboat immediately after. At least it wasn’t raining.

Once through Daytona, we went through a short stretch with some very large and beautiful homes. This was followed by a long stretch of pretty and unpopulated shoreline where we saw more dolphins and a couple eagles. The two eagles were fighting with an osprey over custody of a plump fish that the osprey was carrying. As the birds dive-bombed each other, the fish wriggled free and fell back into the water with a splash. The osprey and one eagle flew off, still locked in aerial combat mode.  The second eagle (pictured) landed on a piling, where it stood looking miffed.

This mansion was just north of Daytona.
We saw two eagles today for the first time in a while.
This is what the ICW looked like for most of todays trip north of Daytona.

We finally arrived at Palm Coast and tied up in almost the same spot we’d been docked to last time. We looked for our friends’ Chris Craft trawler, but didn’t find it. They are likely in Ocean City for the summer.

We took the shuttle to the resort proper and had dinner there at a very nice restaurant with a view of the golf course and the ocean. Paula had steak and Tommy had mahi-mahi. Afterwards, we walked the grounds and went down the ocean. There was a stiff, damp breeze and 3 to 4 foot waves visible against a purpling sky.  We are excited to think that we should be home tomorrow afternoon.

The trip to Saint Augustine tomorrow is only 25 miles. There is a tricky shallow area in the ICW about 10 miles north of here at the Matanzas inlet that we have to traverse at mid-tide or higher to get across safely. High tide occurs at that shallow spot just before 11:30AM tomorrow and then not again until midnight. This is the reason we chose to stop here at Palm Coast for the night, so we could get to that shallow area on a rising tide in the morning.

Day 115 (5/30) – Rockhouse Creek

We left Titusville at about 6:30 am. Although we knew we’d likely see rain, the chances of thunderstorms was predicted as small. The sky and water were blue-gray and calm ahead,  threatening and black behind.  Along this narrow stretch,  we saw well over a dozen manatees,  and even had to slow and alter course in some areas to avoid them.

This sky followed us the entire way today and eventually caught up.

About 10:30am the clouds caught up with us and a downpour ensued which wiped put nearly all visibility.  We had seen a large powerboat following about a quarter of a mile behind us, but the rain so totally erased us from each other’s view that he hailed us. He had only  caught a glimpse of us, and thought we were heading towards him, instead of away! He seemed relieved that we were both north-bound, and once the rain let up a bit, he and another powerboat made a slow pass.

We did see a few interesting sights in between the rain episodes. This area included a lot canals just off the ICW that appeared in every way to be the “mainstreet” of a neighborhood. We also saw another example of the phrase “home can be anywhere”.

A neighborhood canal.
Home sweet home.
IN addition to all the manatees we saw today, there were plenty of dolphins as well.

We traversed two drawbridges and one fixed bridgewithout incident, and Paula got some piloting experience in holding steady against a following current while waiting for the span to rise. We reached Rockhouse Creek and anchored just in time before several hours of thunderstorms began. The featured picture today is what the sky looked like just as we dropped the anchor. Our anchor is holding well and we now have a respite. Some rain is predicted for the early evening, but then should end.

 

Day 114 (5/29) – Titusville

While we had heavy rain and thunder for most of the afternoon today, there was a nice break in the weather this morning for a few hours. We took full advantage of it and went for a long walk around town through some of the residential areas we hadn’t explored yet. There are some really gorgeous homes on the tree-lined street of the Indian River waterfront. All of them have a spectacular view of the launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center on the other side of the river. We can’t imagine what it sounds and feels like here when one of the big rockets goes off.

Another stately home on the waterfront with a perfect view of the launch areas at the space center.

We also had a chance to walk around more of the grounds of the state park that surrounds the marina on three sides. The park is bordered on the east by the Indian river which, for a change, was calm this morning. The featured picture is a statue of Poseidon in the park looking out over the river (his trident is broken off). We also got a good look at a sunken sailboat  in front of the park seawall. There was no obvious reason why it sunk (it was in a marked channel) and may be a left-over casualty from hurricane Irma.

The very well-kept grounds of the marina and surrounding park area along the Indian river.
This sunken sailboat is actually on the correct side of the markers leading into a small dock in the park. We don’t know the cause of the sinking.

The forecast for the rest of this week calls for rain every day, but the strong wind gusts from Alberto have now subsided and there is less chance of convective squalls after today. So, we will be casting off the lines and leaving here early in the morning. Our destination will be an anchorage just south of Daytona where we stopped on our way down the ICW in early February. It’s a relatively short trip (34 miles) compared to our two most recent outings. This is because we’ll be back to a section of the ICW where we have to take the tides into account to get over a few known shallow spots which now dominate the route planning.

Tonight’s dinner was baked chicken thighs, collard greens with bacon and sliced potatoes sautéed in a bit of the bacon grease.

Day 113 (5/28) – Titusville

Weather holds are one challenge of life on a boat that Paula at least had never thought much about before living aboard. Oh sure, we’ve had tons of fantasies of perfect sailing passages and many nightmares about horrific gales. We didn’t realize that the decision to remain in port or at anchor in poor weather would be so complicated and fraught with computations and doubt. This is especially the case when there has been a good bit of recent unfavorable weather, and one is longing to be on the move and finally back to home port. Weather predictions are just that, predictions, and demonstrably fallible. In addition to forecasts of wind strength and likelihood of localized thunderstorms with higher gusts, the planning of any ICW legs must take into consideration the timing of the tides with attention to shallow or “trouble spots” as well as the availability of bail-out points if something goes wrong. The Captain must consider just how much risk is involved if C Ghost is caught in a “50% chance of” squall while she is traversing a narrow ICW section or going under a bridge.  The uncertainty as to your own weather calculus solution is compounded by seeing that one vessel (there is always at least one), that despite an ominous forecast, gun-metal gray sky, spitting rain and threat of blow, exits the marina looking salty, with the crew wearing foul weather gear and determined expressions. Do they know something we don’t? Each boat and crew have a different agenda, destination, experience level, and acceptance of risk. It’s not a good idea, we have found, to try to compare our decisions to those of others.

The wind effects of “Alberto” were still in force all day today at our location.

In this decision-making, Tommy has the hardest job, as Paula’s skills at charting, meteorology, and tide prediction lag way behind his. She considers it her job to listen to Tommy’s analysis, ask questions,  and acquiesce readily to the final plan.

There are benefits to weather hold days. We get to know the towns and/or anchorages we spend extra unplanned time in much better, sometimes with very sweet benefits. When we were held-over nine days in Norfolk during Hurricane Matthew 2016, we met strangers who are our friends still. In Titusville, we met a couple just starting their Looper journey, and have already written back and forth to them.

One of the pretty historic buildings on main street.
You never know what you’re going to find when you browse the local antique shop. This picture was quite titillating.
One of the very pretty homes along the waterfront.

We have enjoyed our stay in Titusville, where everyone we have met is friendly, the marina is beautiful with great amenities, and we have walked the park and shore in-between raindrops. Today we explored some beautiful residential areas and saw some neat boat graphics. We saw many Memorial Day decorations and got a chance to reflect on the meaning of this holiday. The featured picture is of one of the winners of a patriotic boat-decorating contest held here for Memorial Day.

You are never far away from the “Space” theme here in Titusville.
Off in the distance is the Kennedy Space Center.

We had one more wonderful lunch at the diner which  is clearly the culinary and social hot spot of this town.  But we will be glad when we are able to be on our way.

Tonight’s dinner is sautéed pork with sauerkraut and zucchini.

Day 112 (5/27) – Titusville

Another weather hold day in Titusville as Alberto tracks up the eastern side of the Gulf of Mexico. We are getting lots of rain and wind (35kt gusts), but certainly mild in comparison to the weather the folks near Panama City are experiencing. We are hoping folks there are safe and protected. Tropical storm Alberto is a fitting end to what has been a very rainy and windy month of May for us. By our count, there have been a grand total of four “nice” days (no rain, some sun, moderate wind) since we got back to Florida. Three of those four days we used for travel. The featured picture today shows the wind effect on the palm trees, the grey skies, and some thrill-seeking kite surfers in the background.

In between bands of rain, we were able to get out a bit. Folks were still making efforts to pursue weekend activities. One fisherman who had pulled his runabout and trailer right to the edge of the boat ramp before deciding conditions were too unfavorable to launch, parked his boat and truck in a parking space and fished from the ramp’s edge. Also fishing on our pier were three pre-teen boys, who called upon Tommy to assist in removing an embedded hook from a catfish’s mouth. We could see tarpon gulping air in the fairway in their weird rolling way, but the manatees have been absent.

Tommy did engine maintenance while Paula read online about manatees, dugongs, and tarpon, and did a little cleaning. Across the ICW, people flew land-based small kites in the gusts. One could imagine that the palm tree tufts, streaming wildly, were cheerleader’s pom-poms, cheering both the kite-flyers  and kite surfers on.

Knowing today was going to be a bad day to take pictures because of the weather, we saved some pictures from the last two days when there were brief periods of sun so we’d have some good pics for today’s post. These were taken just walking around the marina:

We love the ingenuity displayed in the pictorial representation of these “don’t do it” signs.
Here’s someone who was not about to give up one passion in order to pursue another. The question is, how does he get the motorcycle on and off the sailboat?
This truck is parked right outside the marina and has a boat on a trailer attached to the back (meaning the owner has  probably not gone deer hunting). We were a little startled by the driver.
Back to the land of alligators.

Paula made pseudo-beef stew from some canned soup and added meat and vegetables for lunch, and then we vegged out ourselves watching the Indianapolis 500.

Tonight’s dinner will be shrimp with tikka masala sauce, rice, and green beans.

Day 111 (5/26) – Titusville

Today at dawn Paula took the laundry to the marina’s facility. Since many boaters are also early risers, she was able to socialize with others similarly engaged. Despite the forecast of bad weather to come, many boaters had decorated their vessels for the Memorial Day Holiday with festive results and it was fun to view these in between changing the clothes from washers to the dryer (featured picture).

One boat on our pier went all out for Memorial Day. It looked great!

While the clothes dried, Tommy and Paula had coffee in the cockpit and discussed last night’s amateur production at the Titusville Playhouse, which was excellent and featured a cast which ranged from elementary school-aged to adult. The singing and acting was great, and the stage sets were professional and well done. If we lived here, we would definitely get season tickets.

We saw the production “Fun Home” in Titusville’s 105 year old playhouse. It’s undergone a recent renovation and was very cozy inside.

After laundry and chores, we set off to find the Dixie Crossroads, a seafood restaurant recommended by Paula’s parents, who enjoyed it during their cruising days, 30 years ago. The restaurant was still functioning and still had great seafood.

The Dixie Crossroads restaurant was alive and well and still quite popular.

After lunch, we extended our walk to the spit of land just under the Max Brewer bridge. By now the sky had gone gun-metal gray and threatening, and there was a brisk chop in the ICW and a stiff breeze- advance notice of the predicted deterioration of the weather for the next few days. Accordingly, boats began to appear in the channel to the marina on their way to tie up to secure berths.

This is the entrance channel into the marina.

Tommy spent some time wrestling with the charts and forecasts, trying to plan the best timing and route for the last 100 miles to St. Augustine, considering tides, currents, bridges, shallow areas, and possible anchorages and trying to predict the likely effect Alberto will have. Later, in the cockpit, we had the great pleasure of watching three manatees sporting in the fairway, seemingly enjoying the mild drizzle that had begun. Before this, we had only had glimpses from afar of these placid giants, but now we got to see and hear them “blow” like dolphins, watch them surface and submerge together in apparent play while flashing their round, flat tails.

Two manatees surfacing side by side right behind our boat in the marina.

The drizzle increased, so we came inside and took in the cockpit cushions and pillows. Paula made dinner while we listened to music. Tonight, we had the last of the Bahamian baked chicken leg quarters, tri-color pasta in tomato/basil sauce and pan-sautéed zucchini. Tommy also had rye bread and butter, but Paula skipped it. A quick look in the full-length mirror in the marina’s head has convinced her she is approaching manatee proportions after three-plus months of eating with no running.