Green Cove Springs to Miami, Florida, US

15th January  - 16th March 2010

If we'd only know just how cold it was going to be in Florida, maybe we'd have stayed longer in the UK, where at least the cold weather brought the combination of grandchildren and snow for entertainment.     On our return Florida was in the grip of record cold, with temperatures well below freezing most nights.    Friends even reported spotting sleet in Miami!    Still the work on our boat projects had to continue regardless.    Continuation of the rework of the deck paint, involving chipping twenty five years of accumulated paint away with a hammer, before several coats of primer and a top coat were applied, was particularly unpleasant in the icy conditions.    Paint would take forever to dry, hands and knees just as long to thaw after hours spent on them on the cold steel deck.     

During our absence our new propeller had been delivered, a bigger one, more in tune with the new engine and this and the cutlass bearing were duly replaced.    Harry returned to weld sacrificial zinc anodes onto the hull, replacing the previous bolt on zincs.    His next job was to weld on the stunning new deck cleats he'd fabricated from stainless pipe.

The bottom paint had been refreshed and we were getting close to launch.  It was time to retrieve our dinghy from storage.   We were amazed to find it still inflated after seven months, it seemed the superglue was still doing its job on the patches.    The outboard engine, however, was another matter.    Having sat on the deck all summer, we found the steering shaft totally seized, meaning the head wouldn't turn to allow steering and we already knew that the propeller was only held together with superglue!    Our friend Cole and his brother set to work to see if our "Tommy Tohatsu" could be brought back from the brink and after a couple of days he was returned in full working order.

Ice with that anyone?

Before launch we had to fix things back down onto the newly painted deck, fairleads for the sheets, repainted dorade vent boxes and the new fibreglass deck boxes, one of which was replacing our previous steel propane locker.

The moment of truth arrived and we were lowered into the water by the travel lift, hoping our new depth sounder was well installed and wouldn't leak.    As we floated it seemed that all was well and we began to focus on provisioning for our trip to the Bahamas.    A couple of days later, we were ready to head out, or so we thought.   Willing helpers lined the dock, our lines in hand ready to cast off, when we discovered that the radar/chart plotter, tested only the day before, wasn't working.   It seemed the LCD had died.   Our lines were quickly made fast again and morale plummeted.   Plans to leave that day were abandoned as we sought somebody able to repair the faulty unit.    

Enquiries were made of the manufacturer, Simrad, now taken over by another company and were horrified to find that their previously-experienced, fabulous customer support seemed to have disappeared.     Our frighteningly expensive piece of kit, whilst admittedly eight or nine years old, was no longer supported, not even for spares.    The replacement option wouldn't work for us either, as new equipment was not backwards compatible with the rest of our thousands of pounds worth of integrated instrument system.  Luckily they finally pointed in the direction of the wonderful Commercial Marine Electronics in Pompano Beach.     There the engineer, John, had another unit on which only the LCD was working and which could possibly be cannibalized to repair our unit.    The chart plotter was duly despatched to him.

Now we had the problem of how to read our extensive set of electronic charts in the absence of the unit.    For all we knew, the chart plotter/radar unit might not be repairable and it would be a shame not to be able to use the costly C-Map charts we already had.    We investigated our options and came up with a small GPS chart plotter unit at West Marine, which used the same chart chips.    Even luckier was the fact that it was priced wrong in the catalogue and as our reward for pointing out the error, we got our new back-up unit at the bargain listed price.    Early next morning the unit arrived and was installed and we headed out, keen to make the most of the forecast northwest winds.   Perhaps we hadn't needed to be in such a rush as once we left, it seemed that the unusually persistent, freezing cold, northwest winds would never end.

We headed down the river to Jacksonville, around twenty five miles.    Stunned to make it through the railroad bridge without getting stopped, for once, we headed eagerly downstream to the Main Street Bridge.   It was as we made our final approach to the now lifting bridge, that the Department of Homeland Security decided our papers needed checking.    They sure picked their moment but travelled alongside very professionally, without impeding our progress, to make their checks.

We planned to head straight out of the St. Johns River and sail offshore as far as possible with the favourable winds, possibly direct to Miami.     The last items retrieved from our storage unit were our polar sleeping bags, good to -10C.    We were happy to have them, as we spent a freezing night offshore, sitting in them, whilst sailing south.     Sometime during the night, the compass on our autopilot began to act strangely.    It seemed that the "rate" part of the compass, which compensates for its position high up the mast and the rolling action of the waves, had stopped working, leaving us weaving left and right, the autopilot overworking in its attempts to hold us on course.    As dawn arrived we decided to duck into Ponce Inlet south of St. Augustine and see if John at CME would be able to help with that problem too.   As we called him from the ICW early in the morning we unglamorously ran aground!    Luckily we made it off the sand bank unscathed and unassisted.

Another issue was engine vibration and we wanted to recheck the engine alignment at the earliest opportunity.    We pressed on to Titusville, opposite Cape Canaveral where we were forced to stop as the swing bridge was broken.     Seemed it just wasn't our day!   The rest of the day was spent checking engine alignment before curling up in our polar sleeping bags in front of the TV.    Below freezing wasn't a lot of fun on a steel boat with no heating!

 

"Sunshine State My A**!"                              What's that bit do then??

Next morning, bridge repaired, we pressed southwards and travelled as far as Melbourne, where we anchored for another chilly night.    It seemed our batteries weren't charging properly and we decided to run the generator and use the charger to equalise them, to remove any sulphation which had built up while the boat was stored.     We dragged out our Honda 2000 generator, always invincible in the past, to find it ran sounding as though it had a bad case of whooping cough.     Tired and cold, we now began disassembly the generator on the back deck.   As we worked, without a manual, the small parts inside the carburettor all fell out.   Luck was on our side, at least they all fell inside the case, not overboard, but now we had to try to understand how to put all the parts back together again.    This became much easier when we found the missing part in the back of the case!      Reassembled, the Honda still ran rough but would at least run with the choke open, so we pressed on to equalise the batteries.

Next stop was Vero Beach Marina, our priorities: to take a hot shower every day, regroup and rent a car to retrieve our successfully repaired chart-plotter unit.    We were stunned to find that rental cars in that area were around twice the price of those around Jacksonville.   We needed a car for Monday to make our trip, however they didn't open until too late for us to head out.   Of course they were closed on Sundays and by lunchtime on Saturdays, so we ended up renting a car for three days for our half day trip.   Still this gave us time to head to Fort Pierce and try to track down something to see there.     

At the crack of dawn on Monday we were southbound on the I-95, covering the two hundred miles or so to Pompano Beach by 10 am, thanks to a speedy detour care of our GPS when the interstate suddenly turned into a parking area.      John at CME was suffering from a cold and considerately didn't pass it on, making a long distance transfer of our repaired chart-plotter/radar unit and a refurbished rate fluxgate compass, from the other side of the office.     By 10.30 we were on the road north again and by 2 pm, back on the boat, installing the kit.

Frustrated by the delays and also keen to test out the new and repaired equipment, we decided to head offshore from Fort Pierce to Lake Worth Inlet.   This would give us the chance to test things out in the offshore wave action.     We made an early start at 7 am from Vero Beach and were anchored in North Lake Worth by Happy Hour!    Here we stayed for a week, trapped by the strong, cold winds.    During this time, however, we were delighted to learn of the birth of our fifth grandchild, Gruffudd Joseff Puw!

We kept ourselves amused in Lake Worth by making a traffic census, as we hiked to two miles to Sears at the Mall, in search of tools they didn't stock......."Mercedes, BMW, Mercedes, Bentley, BMW....Oh look finally a Toyota!".   Meanwhile we took our life in our hands sprinting across the ceaseless flow of traffic to cross the street.     We spent more hours in McDonalds, than in the rest of our lives combined, thanks to their free wi-fi internet.  (It had to be said that their salad was pretty good!).    Finally we had a chance to head down to Miami in relative comfort by leaving at 4 am from Lake Worth to ensure we reached Miami well before dark.

What's through the round window?                                   In Miami and still not in shorts!

(Lake Worth Inlet)                                                                                                   

In Miami we anchored in our favourite spot, amongst the stars' waterfront mansions.   Here we sat for ten days, yet again waiting for a lull in the howling winds and high Gulf Stream waves.    Still it wasn't a tough way to spend ten days, wandering around Miami South Beach, enjoying the Spring Break entertainment.   It seemed that's where all the beautiful people were spending their time off!     

As we bided our time, things continued to break.    One evening we were suddenly plunged into darkness.  Our entire 12V system had tripped.   We fumbled around with torches, glad that we knew our boat so well we could find our way around blindfold.    The Captain quickly worked out that the "clever" Adverc Battery Management System was at fault, apparently having passed on to electrical heaven and attempting to take everything else along too.    Luckily the rest of the system was quickly functioning again, once the late Battery Management System was removed from the circuit.

Another day there was a peculiar smoldering smell, which on further investigation was a trip switch for the inverter.   We found it melted and almost aflame.      Luckily a large electrical warehouse was right by our dinghy dock, so this too could be rectified before we left.   The proper sized cable being installed this time! 

Lots of people-watching, several pizzas and a movie later, the weather was forecast to settle down.  We headed around to anchor near the inlet at Fischer Island, with trepidation after our previous grounding there, it has to be said.     We waited a few hours there for the wind and seas to settle.   Once the forecast dropped from nine foot to four foot seas, we decided it was time to go.   Of course, out on the Ocean we found ourselves rolling uncomfortably for several hours in nearer nine foot seas as we crossed the Gulf Stream.     Things finally began to settle down around dark and become comfortable, enough for us to take turns to attempt to nap.    Suddenly dozing Christine found herself lying on the wall, cupboards flying open, things flying across the cabin.   It seemed there was still one last big wave lurking out there!   We were glad to arrive on the relatively protected waters of the Bahama Banks by 3 am, the next morning.   

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