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After filling our bellies at the St. Mary’s Cruisers Thanksgiving we began our trek south.  We waited around on Friday morning to get our much needed new battery for the handheld vacuum (my FAVORITE item on the boat) and then left for a free dock….yes FREE with water too…..on the St. Johns River.  We pulled in right at sunset and were lucky to get the last space available thanks to our overnight offshore cruising buddies SV Perfect Match, SV Island Queen, and SV Freya who had measured the depth for us before we arrived.  We joined them for a fish fry on SV Freya.  Experiencing the fellowship of other cruisers is a highlight of this lifestyle no matter age or background.  QP, who primarily speaks Chinese aboard Freya, bonded with Avery despite the language barrier.  Avery wrote her name of a sheet of paper so she could tell QP her name.  Now Avery wants to learn how to speak Chinese!  Leslie had her first taste of fried shark the same night.  The next morning we departed for St. Augustine.

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After our first leg of this adventure to the north, we were very determined to spend less time at marinas….it gets pretty expensive and we want to prolong our cruising life as long as possible!  However, it is still football season so we have compromised on staying every Saturday night at a marina so we can make sure we have internet access to watch the Clemson games.  This was a good thing in St. Augustine since there were no mooring balls left…..a downfall of not looking ahead!  After watching Clemson beat USC, we spent the next day with Dave, Gwen, Grace, and Maya at their house in Ponte Vedra.  The girls really enjoyed spending time with some “older” girls  and we enjoyed seeing the sights of St. Augustine and time with friends.15283915_348816798819434_9070800045987091723_n

 

We left St. Augustine heading for Daytona with a stop over at Fort Mantaza where we anchored for the night and did a little exploring.  Once we got to Daytona, we stayed for a couple nights and went to the Museum of Art and Science.  We LOVE our ASTC Passport….it has allowed us to visit so many great museums at no cost to us (the membership fee more than paid for itself at the very first museum we visited and we’ve been to at least a half a dozen since then.)   We spent nearly five hours at the museum and we had it all to ourselves.  The girls loved making rollercoasters with magnetic pipe to “making pizza” in a pizza parlor.  Avery and Leslie also got to see their 2nd planetarium show, “The Little Star that Could” which continues to fuel Avery’s curiosity about space!

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We had a great sail to Titusville (more than 6 knots); however, a cold front caught up to us and the Indian River got pretty rough just in time to pick up a mooring ball.  We stayed two nights on the mooring ball and they were not comfortable nights, especially the 2nd night.  We swung back and forth and up and down ALL NIGHT LONG.  Despite the rough sleep, we found an excellent playground and rode the bus around town.  This was a highlight for the girls since they had never ridden a bus before.  We missed our stop at the library but made it to the Chocolate Cafe, so all was good!

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After another awesome day sailing, we made the short distance to Cocoa and stayed at a marina (ACC championship game).  We were also able to catch up on laundry…..the marina had four washers and four dryers, so laundry was done in no time!  Cocoa Village was having a Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival in walking distance.  The girls danced with one of the bands and we found another great playground and ice cream store.  We joke rather often that our adventure is really just a tour of playgrounds and ice cream stores up and down the coast.  I bet I could write a book detailing the best playgrounds from Florida to Vermont!

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After our one night marina stay, we anchored on the other side of the causeway. Our food was low, so we needed to provision.  This required a mile walk with our little wagon to Publix, loading up the food, a few meltdowns on the way back, and then loading into the dingy, into the boat, into the cockpit, and into the galley.  The simple things take so much longer, especially with two kids in tow, but it is so rewarding when the task is complete and I swear the food (and drinks) taste better.  We rewarded ourselves with a day at the beach….the weather could not have been any better.  

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So, that is a quick catch up of what we have been doing the past couple weeks.  We are now moving on to the middle portion of Florida and are starting to think if and when we will cross over to the Bahamas or if the Keys are in our near future.

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In my last post, which some described as being a little tedious, I wrote about boat projects we were completing.  I ended that post with a mention that we were preparing for our first offshore passage and that it would take place through the night as we traveled from Beaufort, SC to St. Mary’s, Ga.  Well, we made it and I wanted to share our experience.  

In the final days and hours before departure, we worked almost nonstop to get all our systems fully operational and to clear the decks of clutter.  On Monday, we decided on a midday departure which would have us arriving at the St. Mary’s inlet just after sunrise.  The engine, despite not being run for almost a month, cranked up beautifully.  My parents met us at the dock for hugs, pictures, and to throw us the docklines as we backed away.  We timed our departure to take advantage of the 11 o’clock opening of the Lady’s Island bridge, gassed up at the Beaufort Downtown Marina, and were headed on our way south toward the Port Royal Sound.  

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The incoming tide made for slow progress down the river toward the inlet, so we took advantage and enjoyed our last tour of the Beaufort area with clear sunny skies.  So many great memories of friends and family on the waters of the Lowcountry.  We even passed by the very spot on Parris Island that Laura and I were married over a decade ago.  As we approached the sound and the ocean inlet, we took a moment to appreciate our life here with the bittersweet understanding that we may not return soon.  From this point forward, where we go and what we do is quite uncertain.

On this day, the inlet itself was busy with several tugboats and barges stretching an enormous pipe across the waterway.  There were also several cruising boats behind us that eventually made contact and shared that they were headed to St. Mary’s as well.  This was very comforting to us, knowing we wouldn’t be making the passage alone and could have assistance if we needed it.  At the very least, they could keep me company through the night as I stood watch at the helm.

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The seas were incredibly flat and the winds were calm as we moved through the channel markers and out 8 miles into open ocean.  The conditions gave me confidence that we might just be able to pull this off after all.  Certainly, things can change, but for now Mother Ocean decided to be kind and let us get settled as we left Beaufort, and all sight of land, in our wake.

It was an exciting moment to pass the final channel marker and turn the boat southwest to a heading of 200 degrees, knowing that 90 nautical miles straight ahead was the St. Mary’s inlet in southern Georgia.  No other turns to make, no depths to be concerned about.  Just one, long open water run.  Much different than the experience of the ICW over the past several months.  Unfortunately, for the moment, the calm winds were directly out of the SW, so sailing would have to wait.  I remember thinking somewhat nervously how much we would rely on our Yanmar diesel engine to make this passage quickly and safely.

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Laura managed to get the girls to lay down in the v berth and by 4 o’clock, both Avery and Leslie were fast asleep.  Would they sleep through the entire night?  Time would tell, but, for now, our passage of firsts couldn’t be going any easier.  Calm seas, children asleep, buddy boats nearby.

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In literature, that last paragraph might serve as a setup.  A kind of too-good-to-be-true foreshadowing.  And certainly, some drama would help to grip the reader and keep the pages turning.  Fortunately for us and perhaps disappointingly for you, the reader, the hours and miles of our passage that night came and went fairly uneventfully.  For most of the night, I successfully fought off the beginnings of seasickness and anxiety.  The weather changed, but only slightly, with a little more wind and waves that were a bit larger.  Those waves came from an annoying direction that caused the boat to wobble awkwardly as she rode in and out of troughs and crests.  That wobble gave the autohelm some difficulty holding its course.  But not too bad.  The girls woke up, but at separate times.  And while they were awake, they were especially sweet and friendly, most likely because they were enjoying their one-on-one time with Momma down below.  The engine had an oily smoke exhaust at times, but kept on running.  At one point, a strange flash on the horizon caused some concern, but it turned out to be the Coast Guard marking the location of a capsized vessel adrift, most likely pulled out to sea by Hurricane Matthew weeks before.The stars overhead were mesmerizing.  I even saw a few shooting stars.  And then dawn began to break.  To the East, like the glow from a distant city, the horizon slowly illuminated, growing in color and intensity until the sun finally came into view.  I’m sure the sun’s appearance that morning gave me the same mental and physical boost that ocean voyagers have anticipated and relied upon for hundreds of years.

sunrise We entered the St. Mary’s River inlet at 7:30 am, fought an outgoing tide all the way up the river until we reached the anchorage, dropped the hook, and it was over.  We’d done it.  I hadn’t slept a wink, but, riding the effects of the adrenaline rush I was feeling, we rewarded ourselves with an enormous coffee and breakfast at the Cedar Oak Cafe.

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Currently, we are still at anchor in St. Mary’s, Georgia and have participated in the Cruisers Thanksgiving that is hosted here each year.  There are nearly 70 boats at anchor in this small turn of the river and approximately 175 people in attendance.  It’s a great event that takes place over the course of several days with oyster roasts, happy hours, potluck dinners, open mics, and the big meal on Thursday as the highlight.  While we did meet one liveaboard family that is staying in St. Mary’s  for several months, we were disappointed that there were no other travelling kid boats in attendance here.  We’d really hoped that this event might be the beginning of some connections for the girls.  We’ll weigh anchor sometime on Friday and head south with excitement to be cruising new territory once again.

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We’ve been tied up at the Lady’s Island Marina in Beaufort since October 27th and I’ll admit that returning to our hometown after only 4 months of cruising was not part of the original plan.  Of course, Beaufort lies directly on the ICW and, after touring parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland this summer, we were going to be travelling back through one way or the other anyway.  But stopping here for a slightly more extended stay has been beneficial for a lot of reasons.  We were able to host Papa and Gramma Julia for about a week so they could see the girls.  I was able to travel with friends to see a Clemson football game in Tallahassee.  Avery and Leslie were invited back to their old school to tell stories of our travels, play with their old friends, and see their teachers.  Laura was contacted by an old boss to do a couple weeks worth of contract work at a school district in the Upstate which turned out to be incredibly inspiring and fulfilling for her.  We even got our very first set of professional family photos taken EVER.  But primarily, we’ve used these final few weeks of hurricane season to work on boat projects.  Fixing things that once worked and then broke and other things that had never worked at all.  Several projects involved adding completely new systems to the boat.  Even more tasks were of the routine maintenance variety.  As an attempt to provide a little perspective about the work involved in maintaining a cruising sailboat, here is a brief summary of SOME of the tasks we’ve taken on.  What’s most impressive to me is that our list seems longer now than it was when we started three weeks ago.

New House Batteries

The set of house batteries that were on board at the time of purchase last year have done OK for our small power demands, but there have been numerous signs that it was time to change them out.  A local golf cart service and sales center sold us 4 brand new 6 volt Trojan T105s and after Laura placed them and wired them up, we now have a strong 12 volt house bank of 450 amp hours at our disposal.

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Sink Drain Replacement

You’ve got to conserve water on board a small cruising sailboat.  For us, there’s been a big learning curve with regard to doing the dishes in a way that doesn’t use too much water.  Without going into too much detail, we needed a sink drain with a stopper and the little food-catching colander-style top on it.  After an online order for a new drain and 4 trips to the hardware store figuring out the correct plumbing fixtures, we’ve got a sink basin that will hold water and, hopefully, dishes that will get cleaned sooner.  Stay tuned for an exciting update on our even newer and improved system of dish cleaning and hand-washing that uses only spray bottles. (sarcasm)  I can’t believe I just wrote 118 words about a sink drain.  Now 130.  Crap.

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Cabin cushions

Our girls have trashed the cushions in the salon.  Small tears became gaping wounds in the fabric.  Stains started getting stains on them.  They needed work.  Our old neighbors are excellent seamstresses and they have done a great job stitching the tears and creating slip-covers for all the cushions for easy washing.  Thanks Vivian and Hope!

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New Nav Lights

Our portside navigation light and its mount were casualties of a bad docking experience in Oriental, North Carolina.  Since then, it’s been taped up and rigged up and it just needs to be replaced.  The previous owners of All In did a good job of transitioning all of the interior lighting to LED, but all of the nav lights and mast lights are old-school and they use more than their share of amperage.  My new LED nav lights are brighter and use a fraction of the power.  I employed a welder to make some new mounts for the lights.

New Techniques for Weighing Anchor

Because I herniated a disc in my back at some point in the last 4 months, we’ve had to get creative about ways to get the anchor back on the boat.  Adding an electric windlass doesn’t seem to be possible on our bow and the work involved to make it possible doesn’t appeal to me at all.  Instead, we’ve come up with several options that we’re eager to try.  For now, I’ve rigged up a pulley on the mast that allows me to raise about 12 feet of chain at a time from a standing position.  A possible future article may be written about the other options I’ve considered if this one doesn’t work out.  And by the way, if you are reading this and have some ideas about adding an electric windlass to a Hunter Legend 37.5 OR about alternative methods of raising the anchor, please message me or comment below.

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Mast Gate

I retapped the mast to fit a new fastener on the mast gate.  I also dry-lubed all the mainsail slides.  If you don’t know what this stuff is, it’s gone be aaight.  

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Harnesses/Jacklines

Our next passage will be offshore, through the night, so we’ve ordered harnesses for the girls.  The basic idea here is a system that keeps the girls on the boat while we’re underway.  The adults will wear harnesses as well, but the boat already had a few on board at the time of purchase.

AIS, VHF, OpenCPN

Acronyms.  I’m particularly excited about our new AIS system, which will allow us to see boats that are big enough to kill us and also for those boats to be able to see us and, hopefully, avoid a possible collision.  I also replaced an old VHF in the cabin with a new one.  OpenCPN will become our primary navigation software.

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Reorganization/refreshing of the cabins and cabinets

Laura has done a great job cleaning and recreating our sleeping quarters on All In.  All of the cabinets were emptied out and reassigned using the knowledge we gained over the first four months of cruising.

Restring lifeline netting

Our double lifelines with netting give us a greater sense of security as the girls move around the boat, but some of fastener string had become frayed, so it was time to replace it.  Side note:  We had a scary learning experience involving the lifelines that resulted in our three year old, who can’t swim yet, falling overboard at the dock.  I might make a quick post sometime soon sharing that story.

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Registered the EPIRB

Our boat has an EPIRB onboard (a device that initiates a rescue at sea in life-threatening sitations) and I had to get it registered with the federal government with our information.  Coincidentally, the current battery expired THIS WEEK so we’ll get it serviced ASAP as well.

Repaired a cracked cabinet door

Another bit of damage caused by those sweet, precious, wonderful darlings of ours who used the cabinet door as a swing.  Aren’t they just adorable?

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Electrical Panel repair

Patted myself on the back on this one.  Replaced the broken mounts of a bus bar in the electrical panel.  At first glance, didn’t think I could pull it off.  Our wiring is still a mess, but it’s on the list as a project in the near future.

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Replaced broken DC outlet

This outlet powers our fans on warm days and our pocket inverter for charging laptops and phones while underway.  The old one cracked and stopped working.

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Macerator pump repair

As long as we’re in the US, pumpouts are pretty regularly available.  What’s a pumpout?  Oh, just a vacuum tube that is hooked up to the boat and sucks out all of your bodily waste being held in a tank.  Neat, huh?  Anyway, when you’re offshore several miles, you’re legally allowed to pump this waste overboard.  Hence, macerator pump.  It’s like the disposal under your household sink.  Except for pooh.  It’s got blades for chopping and everything.  Well, ours needed some attention to get it working right.  Now it does.

Replacing the blades on the wind generator

Our wind generator suffered a broken blade before we even left Beaufort back in June, so it’s been unusable so far.  We ordered new blades and have them on board, but this is a project to be continued.  We’ll install the new blades and wire up the system as we go.

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Fitting the emergency tiller to our new rudder

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember that we ran aground in July, got towed off the shoal, bent the rudder in the process, and had to get hauled out for three weeks while a new rudder was built and installed.  Well, the new rudder post turned out to not be a perfect match with our emergency tiller.  If you ever lose steering while underway, you’re supposed to be able to deploy the emergency tiller and still maintain control of the boat.  I attempted to perform a practice run of this emergency situation, only to find that the new rudder post was filled with rock-hard foam.  After chiseling and drilling it away for about an hour, I had cleared enough foam to insert the emergency tiller.  Unfortunately, the tiller was slightly larger than the rudder post, so I spent the rest of the day on the bench grinder trying to reduce it’s circumference and make it fit.  Eventually, I worked it down enough to where I could insert the tiller into the rudder post and hit it with a rubber mallet to get it in place.

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I’m really not exaggerating when I say that our “To Do” list still has more items remaining than items checked off.  It’s incredible the amount of work (and money) that it takes to keep a boat running smooth.  I don’t know if you ever finish them all, but at some point, you just have to get off the dock and get going again.  That day for us looks to be Monday the 21st.  Our plan is to sail offshore, overnight to St. Mary’s, GA for a Cruisers Thanksgiving.  Wish us luck!

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Since back in Beaufort it has been a whirlwind of comings and goings for our family.  Between a short term job, visiting with friends and family, and prepping the boat, we’ve been super busy.

All In was stuck between fixed bridges because of the rapidly rising flood waters for almost two weeks in Myrtle Beach. Needless to say, this put an extreme halt to our plans and we needed to re-adjust once a again. So, we went back to Sumter to hang with family while we waited. After it was apparent it would be longer than a few days, we headed to Beaufort.  Time was ticking down to a consulting job that I took in the upstate of South Carolina, so I needed to start prepping.  Plus, Papa and Grandma Julia had not seen us since June and wanted to come visit while we were in Beaufort.   Unfortunately, during this time, we also found out that Bryan has a herniated disc in his back so this might complicate some things in the future.  For now, he is going to physical therapy and we are hoping this will cure the pain to avoid potential surgery.

Thankfully, we have been able to stay in Bryan’s parents’ townhouse until we were able to get the boat to Beaufort.  Finally, after two weeks, the flood water began to recede and it was time to get our home down to Beaufort.  We could not have asked for better people to be watching after the boat while it was stuck…..Pete and Jim were a godsend and we will be forever grateful for the kindness towards us and and our unpredictable situation.  Bryan’s dad (Steve) decided to hop on to complete the last leg of the trip (Myrtle Beach to Beaufort) while I stayed in Beaufort with the girls and my family.  This was the first time in 4 months that our family unit of 4 had been split up from each other.  After three days, Bryan and Steve arrived in Beaufort and safely docked All In at the Lady’s Island Marina where we will stay until the middle of November.

In the last week and half, Bryan traveled to Tallahassee to catch the Clemson vs Florida State Game and I have traveled to McCormick County to implement a parenting program AND the girls have been reunited with some of their friends at their old preschool.

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We have also met up with some other cruising families who are either staying at the same marina or passing through on their way south.   It has certainly been a time of rushing around and reminiscent of our old life, especially since we are right down the street from where we used to live in Beaufort.  It has been wonderful to meet up with friends and family while we are here.  But we are ready to get back into the rhythm of our cruising life.  In the next week, we will be back onboard the boat full-time and working hard on boat projects while continuing to catch up with friends.  The boat has turned into a bit of a mess with all the projects on the list!

Yikes! Lots of work to do.

Yikes! Lots of work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

After the passing of Hurricane Matthew, we were excited to head back to the boat and get on our way down the coast for a stopover in Beaufort. However, mother nature had different plans for us.

After arriving to St. James Marina, we took one day to unload and relax and then set off for Little River, SC.  This leg of our trip was also when we would pass the Shallotte Inlet (where we ran aground) and brings up a lot of bad memories.  The day we passed over the inlet, a good Samaritan in a motor boat was actually out helping boats pass the inlets due to the unknown depths since Hurricane Matthew.  Thankfully there were no issues and we had at least 10 feet of depth.  So, happily we cruised onto Little River thinking the effects of Hurricane Matthew were behind us and we would reach Beaufort in a couple days.

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As we moved along on Thursday, we noticed that the height of the water seemed to be rather high, despite being low tide.  As we passed under the Little River Bridge, the tide chart read 61 feet.   The mast on our boat is 59 ft and the antenna adds another foot or so.  As the day progressed we passed under two more bridges that did not have tide charts and it was SCARY.  We creeped under each of them with our antenna springing off the bottom of the bridge.  As we approached the Waccamaw River it was evident the flooding from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew was getting out of hand.  The devastation of the houses on either side the ICW leading up to the Socostee Swing Bridge was incredible.  Tons of debris was floating in the water and people were kayaking around their houses which were flooded.

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The tide board on the next bridge read 59.5 feet and we knew we would not be able to make it under, so we turned back.  As we headed back, the water only continued to rise and we could no longer make it under the previous bridges we just passed under.  The closest marina was flooded and most of the docks within this 5 mile stretch between bridges were are also flooded.  So, essentially we were stuck.  There were a few private docks still intact and we docked the boat and went around asking the neighbors about who owned them.

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We came across Pete (ironically the name of the other man who was very generous and helpful in the Chesapeake) who allowed us to stay at his dock on the end. Once again, the pure goodness and kindness of people was shown and we again feel grateful and indebted to these sweet people we continue to meet.   Jim and Debbie, two other neighbors, invited the girls to swim in their pool and us over for dinner and movies.  Pete continued to check in on us and offered us a power hook up.  We keep crossing paths with some of the most sincere and kind people we have ever meet.  My faith in the goodness of people is constantly reinforced.  I often wonder if it is luck or fate? But I will save that for another post!

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For the next couple days, the flooding has only increased and actually broken the Waccamaw River record set in 1928 of 17 ft.   The Socostee Swing bridge is now closed due to the flooding.  It now appears it will be a week before the water recedes enough for us to make it under the bridges on the ICW, so we sit and wait like we have done so much on our cruising journey thus far.

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Waiting on the boat to get fixed or waiting on mother nature to allow us safe passage is our “thing”.  While at first I was frustrated and irritated at this constant stop and start motion of our cruising, it is not bad and it is teaching us the lesson of patience.  At least that is my spin on our current circumstances!!