Mayport to Spaceport

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous post is that, while crossing the St. Johns River near Mayport, we got a close-up view of one of the Navy’s new warships, being outfitted in a yard there. It was a giant, smooth, curvy trimaran — a couple hundred feet long, at least — utilizing stealth radar-evading technology. It looked more like a space ship than a warship. Except for one relatively small gun, there were no protrusions. Everything was behind hidden panels. I would hate to be in the cross-hairs of this sleek and deadly monster when it’s in a bad mood. The US Navy is definitely state-of-the-art. Very impressive.

As we were gawking at the new warship, we let another sailboat pass us crossing the St. Johns River. We exchanged courtesies and noted the name — Passages. As they pulled farther ahead of us, we lost visual contact, but heard them occasionally on the VHF radio. When we got to St. Augustine, we discovered that they ended up in the same mooring field that we were in, having arrived only an hour before us. A few days later, we were talking to some other cruisers in the marina laundry, exchanging sailing plans and boat information, and upon swapping boat names learned that they were the crew of Passages. They left St. Augustine the morning after our meeting, so we didn’t get to spend much time with them; but we learned that Passages resides in the boatyard in St. Marys during the off season, so we fully expect to see them again back on land. Small world.

Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel, St. Augustine

St. Augustine, as the oldest city in America, is a quaint old town, but most of the modern conveniences — groceries, hardware, services — are located outside the ancient district, too far to walk to. To add to the confusion, there are (I think) two different bus systems, with the “yellow” bus running routes that are designated by even more colors. It would take several days to figure out how to effectively move around, so the only reasonable alternative is to plan a short visit, hang around the marina, move on as soon as possible and provision somewhere else. Recognizing a need for a simple, flexible, cruiser-tailored transportation alternative, the St. Augustine Cruisers Net and some other locals established the Port of Call Cruisers Shuttle. Having seen an article on the shuttle in a cruising magazine, I knew we could provision in St. Augustine, and with the wind turbine arriving two days after our arrival, we wouldn’t suffer lost time hanging out there. We arrived on a Tuesday; rode the shuttle all day on Wednesday picking up groceries, hardware, and having the battery in my iPhone replaced; walked around the old part of town on Thursday, and received our wind turbine; sat out some rain on Friday; and installed the wind turbine on Saturday. (Fortunately, it worked great.) We had originally planned to shove off on Sunday morning, but bad weather was predicted for Sunday, so we paid for another night on the ball and waited. The storm on Sunday was rough, but it blew off in the afternoon. We unhooked from our mooring and pulled up to the marina fuel dock to have our sanitary holding tank pumped out, so we could depart at first light on Monday morning. After the pump-out, when I tried to start the engine, there was no response. Our starter had burned up.

So, we were stranded on the fuel dock, unable to move. Needless to say, since marinas make a lot of money from fuel sales, we were helplessly occupying some of the most expensive real estate in St. Augustine. I had to pay extra to stay the night at the dock. Being a Sunday afternoon, there was nothing I could do until the next morning. We spent all day Monday removing the dead starter and figuring out what model number we needed to order for a replacement. The Cruisers Shuttle proved critical to the effort, because as soon as I was able to get the old starter out, the shuttle got me to a parts store where I could order a new starter that could be delivered the next day. Of course, I had to pay for a second night on the dock. On Tuesday morning, Suzy caught the shuttle for some last-minute provisions. The shuttle was going to take me to the parts store to pick up the new starter, but at the last minute, the mechanic picked me up and took me, so we could install the new starter immediately. Unfortunately, the installation took us past check-out time in the marina — and past the time that we could effectively leave to head out — so we had to pay for a third night at the dock. It was a totally frustrating experience, mainly because it was unexpected and expensive.

All this is to say that, had it not been for the availability of the shuttle, it would have been much more difficult to resolve our starter problem as quickly as we did. We were saddened later on Tuesday to learn that Suzy had ridden on the last trip of the Port of Call Cruisers Shuttle. The shuttle service had applied for a grant from the St. Augustine Port Authority and the Development Authority, without which it could not continue to operate, and the grant had been turned down. The shuttle is no more. Opponents of the grant were of the opinion that the local government should not be involved in the enterprise. Supporters gave evidence of the positive impact of the shuttle on local businesses. From my own perspective, the shuttle was the one service in St. Augustine that made the city a workable provisioning and repair stop along the ICW. Without the shuttle, St. Augustine is a one-night stop. With it, cruisers can stay longer, meaning they will spend more money in the city. Had a company seeking to bring some jobs to town approached the local governments asking for many years of tax breaks, they would’ve jumped at the chance, arguing that the new jobs would result in more spending in the city — regardless of the loss of tax revenue and the added burden on local infrastructure that would cost the city to upgrade or maintain. The grant to the shuttle would’ve been pocket change in comparison. The image of cruisers is that we are a cheap and stingy bunch, but I spent close to an extra $1000 in St. Augustine because the shuttle made it a convenient port of call. The same is true for many other cruisers. That is no longer the case, and I’m sad for the cruising community and for the short-sighted city.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, New Smyrna Beach, FLWe finally pulled out of St. Augustine at first light on Wednesday morning. We were traveling with some new best friends, the crew of the motor trawler Dubhe (pronounced “doobie,” this is the name of the pointing star in the Big Dipper). We had invited the Dubhes over to Madge for happy hour the night before our departure, and I think they wanted to travel together so they could return the favor the following night in Daytona Beach. The jaunt to Daytona was longer than any we had previously attempted in Madge on a single day, and had it not been for Dubhe, we would not have attempted it. But we made great time and arrived before dark, thereby expanding our expectation of the distances that Madge can cover in a normal day. The only mishap of the day was that I ran Madge aground at the Matanzas Inlet, getting too close to a shifting shoal that was marked by temporary daybeacons. The deep route ran so close to a shoreline that I could’ve picked up pebbles off the beach from the cockpit, so I held off a little and got out of the proper channel. I thought we were stuck hard, but was comforted that we had a buddy-boat close by. Fortunately, we didn’t need intervention as I was able to rev the engine and twist the rudder, wiggling Madge off the edge of the shoal after five or ten tense minutes. We were very fortunate. There was another boat off our port stern that was stuck worse than we were, and they probably had to wait a couple of hours for the tide to come in to lift them off the shoal. We did have cocktails with Dubhe that night. They took off from Daytona a bit before we did on Thursday morning, but we’ve kept in touch with them by radio and text.

The Dubhes alerted us to an approaching storm, and while they were able to make better time than us — they headed for Cocoa, FL — we were able to get to the Titusville Municipal Marina on Thursday, where we tied up in a slip and hunkered down to wait out the storm. It has been rough here, both Friday and Saturday with strong winds, but at least we didn’t have the snows like much of the East. We’ve been bounced around like we’re in a washing machine, but except for being very cold and uncomfortable, we’ve managed to avoid any serious trouble.

Titusville is just across the Indian River lagoon from the rocket launch complexes of the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. I’ve heard that there will be a launch about a week after we leave. I wish we could hang around to see it, but we need to move on.

From Titusville, we plan to move on to Melbourne and Vero Beach. We may spend an extra day or two in Vero because it has good facilities and transportation, but maybe not, because it looks like it will rain most of the time we’re there. I don’t know. Part of cruising is that all plans are in flux. I’ll let you know what we end up doing.