Hilton Head to St. Augustine
November 19, 2018
After a week and a half in Hilton Head, with inclement weather and an unstable sea state (with up to 9’ waves), we finally had a window to head further south. Next stop would be to see Erik’s folks. They live in Palm Coast, and because our mast height is so tall (75’), we don’t have many options for inland waters so St. Augustine – here we come!
This would be a 26-hour motor-sail. Timing tides and wind at both places, we decided to leave just after high tide, where would carry us out with the low. Weather was good, although a bit misty. The chill in the air that we had coped with for the last week was no longer bone chilling (if 50-60F temps can be considered bone chilling), but we were suited up in our multiple layers regardless.
We got up before first light and made coffee, double checking the weather en route and preparing the boat for cast off. Shortly before 6a, we untied and pushed off. In the dark, we made our way to the channel, and were surprised that the buoys weren’t lit. We almost collided with one of the buoy markers, whose light was burnt out, making it a sign of misfortune for the start of this leg.
With light winds on our stern, and a 2-knot current carrying us south, we were making wind, not being carried by it. Putting up the Code Zero wasn’t really an option as we were going faster than the breeze. This would be a motor trip. But what a gorgeous sunrise!
Sparky wasn’t enjoying this journey at all. He was restless and kept pacing below in our cabin. At lunch time, after I made us some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (yes, I made sammiches because sometimes, comfort food like this is just what is needed), I brought Sparky into the salon and settled him on the couch next to me and we watched a movie.
Approaching our night sail, the anxiety of night watches hit me again. Erik wanted to make sure I got some rest, so after an early dinner of quesadillas, I tried to sleep until I’d come up on watch at midnight.
I closed my eyes at 7p with every intention of getting some solid sleep, but Sparky wasn’t going to have any of that. He kept getting off his bed and wandering around mine, which put me on high alert. He is 15 years old, blind, deaf, and confused. The last thing I want is for him to fall off our bed and onto the wood floor, breaking something at sea.
Around 9p, I tried putting him and his bed back on the floor where he could wander around without me worrying about him, but his toe nails were click-clacketing as he paced. Sigh.
I took him outside to the cockpit, and he poddied, so I was hopeful he’d be able to rest finally, which means so could I. Alas, that was not to be the case. I gave up finally around 10:30p and donned my layers (yoga pants, fuzzy pajama bottoms, long sleeved shirt, insulated jacket, and foulie) and headed up to the bridge to join Erik.
The sky cleared and there was a decent moon giving off good light, sparkling the sea like a diamond studded carpet. Erik advised the course we were taking, which was just a few miles off the coastline. We were at the Florida-Georgia line and it was interesting to say the least to be so close to land. On the one hand, if anything were to go wrong, we’d be close enough for BoatUS to come fetch us, but too close to land that if they didn’t, we’d have some tense times ahead. See that’s the thing: I always think about Plan B. The What If game. What if the drive generator gives out yet again on this trip and this time, the drives won’t restart? Given we’d had issues with the bad fuel we took on in Virginia, this was a very real concern.
Erik wrapped up in a blanket, and laid down with a pillow next to me, and I took over watch. The light casting off the radar was too bright, even in its dimmest setting, so I had to physically block it out to view the horizon for boats not registering on the AIS.
We were approaching another shipping channel and boats were both leaving and arriving, and one large shipping container looked like we might collide unless I changed course. I couldn’t remember what Erik told me about the time of impact setting on the radar, but given we were going 7 knots south, and they were going 9 knots west, made me think there was a real chance we’d come too close. Reluctantly, I woke Erik to confer about this.
I really hate that I have to ask him literally everything – from whether I should change course, to questions about how to read the equipment. I’m thankful we didn’t have sails up because that would have been yet another round of questions about how to trim the sails with the variable northerly winds we had (plus the luffing that happens at night startles me and makes me feel very small.)
Erik goes back to sleep, and thankfully gets an hour and half before I need to, once again, wake him with a concern. This time, we had a fishing trawler about a half mile off our port side bearing straight for us. I saw them come out well south of us and begin doing their thing, but when they shifted course, I kept my eye on them. They were not on AIS so I couldn’t call them (or so I thought – I guess I could have gone to channel 16 and hailed “fishing trawler east of Fernandina channel, this is the Catamaran off your bow”, but I think Erik would have done it differently – and that is my point: I’m always wanting to do things the right way.)
I awakened Erik who took quick stock of the situation and, once again, explained physics to me. The trawler was not a risk to us, however he did acknowledge that they were too close, and were assholes for coming this close to us.
Just after the trawler passed our stern at about 200 yards, the drive generator moaned and then stalled out. I quickly returned the drives to neutral to preserve battery. Erik tried restarting a few times, then we both sighed heavily. We’d have to clear out the lazarette again, and replace the fuel filter.
It was 2am and we were just crossing the channel. This was NO time to change the filter with vessels coming in and out. Erik started up the house generator, which would help keep the batteries to the electric drives charged just enough for us to motor through the other side.
The house gen does not have the same power as the drive gen. In fact, it bleeds our batteries so we cannot motor at the same speed as the drive gen (it’s about 2/3 the power). Around 2:30a, we were clear of the channel and grabbed a new fuel filter.
We are old hands at this process by now – this is the third time we’ve done this. Second time at night, and third time under a confused sea state with wind/current/waves acting like children at recess.
Heading back to the helm, we crossed our fingers that the generator would fire right back up. It’s never that easy. This generator has a self-bleeding mechanism, but this clearly doesn’t work. Air in the lines would have to work themselves out on their own timetable, not ours.
We finally got the generator fired up, only to die again moments later. This up and down would occur for the next stressful 20 minutes before she took hold and stayed there. Once we felt she was stable, we increased the speed of the drives to get us back on course and onward to our destination. Except, 30 minutes later, she stalled again. It’d take another 10-15 minutes to get that bubble clear (or whatever grain of sand) and get her going again.
We had been less than 4 hours from St. Augustine when this happened. We would have entered the inlet just as dawn approached, but this delay added another hour to our arrival.
After the drama of the drive generator was over, it was my turn to get some rest. I took possession of the blanket and pillow and curled up next to Erik who was wide awake. I slept for a good hour and woke up feeling a little better now that I’d had some real sleep. I went below to make us some tea and check on Sparky.
Sparky was standing at the foot of the stairs just staring blankly at me. That was the first sign that he’d had a dramatic night too. I turned the light on into our cabin and saw poop EVERYWHERE. This is a small dog mind you, so seeing poop everywhere was not a happy sight. He’d pooped on his blanket (and thankfully not the bedding itself), then walked in it and carried pooped across the floor and rugs. Sigh.
Armed with antiseptic wipes, I started cleaning everything. About 10 minutes into this clean up, I realized I still had my foulie jacket on, so I took that off so I could get on my hands and knees easier. My poor little dog. He had to be very stressed on this trip to do what he did.
It was too early to feed him, so I just took him to the cockpit, where he peed and then gave him a small treat. Reluctantly, I put him back in the cabin where it’s safest for him (and where he can’t fall down the stairs going into each hull.)
I made tea and brought it back upstairs to wait for the turn into the channel. Winds had picked up to about 10 knots and as we turned, they were right on the beam, pushing us south and fighting with us. Apparently, 6a is a popular time in the St. Augustine channel and not only were we fighting 4’ waves, current, and wind, we were also fighting other vessels for space. I had every faith in Erik’s skills manually piloting us into the inlet, but I didn’t trust the other captains. We were way too close to these other vessels – but it’s a narrow channel and we just had to trust each other not to be complete assholes.
After what felt like an eternity, we finally cleared the rough waters and chop and the breakwall was now behind us. Erik radioed for the marina where we would be taking a mooring ball, but they advised us that check in wasn’t until 11a. I almost giggled because this isn’t a hotel, we weren’t waiting for a room turnaround. Erik navigated us to the northern side of the inlet, just outside the marker, where we set our anchor while waiting for our mooring ball to become available.
Once secured, Erik contacted his dad and let him know we’d arrived, I fed Sparky, and then the three of us climbed into bed for a couple hours of sleep.
At 10:30a, we woke back up, made some coffee and took showers. By 11:30a, we took at a look at the wind and current and realized we would have a difficult time attempting our first mooring so we waited. And waited. Winds finally died down to 7 knots so we lifted the anchor and moved the 100 yards or so to the mooring field.
Mooring isn’t hard – it just requires swiftness of action, facing into the wind, and crystal clear communication between parties. My first three attempts at catching the mooring line failed. All the videos I’d watched had a buoy resting well off the ball, making it easy to catch the line with a boat hook. This mooring ball was not the same. The line did not have a buoy – it had an eyelet that you had to hook. Sigh.
“Turn port 1 foot, back up 1 foot, hold steady.”
On attempt 4, I was able to snag it and bring it to the boat. “I have the line. I’m putting down the hook. I’ve got the bridle line. Oh no, the line won’t connect, the caribiner is too small.” Erik told me to try putting the bridle line through the eyelet. No can do – the eyelet was too small.
Putting both hands and all my weight on the mooring line, I called Erik to the bow to help. He joined me and creatively pushed the bridle line itself through the eyelet and then clipped the resulting loop. The lack of good rest, the stress of the trip, and drama of the mooring combined and I just sat down on the trampoline and started to cry.
Erik has this on film of course – we filmed the whole process of getting that mooring checked off our bucket list of firsts.
Erik told me I did everything right. Communicated well, which meant he was able to position us where we needed to be. Secured the mooring line, even when I couldn’t connect the bridle, I’d safely held onto the line until he could help me.
He told me I should be proud of myself for a job well done – and hugged me and kissed me. I just felt like a failure. I have more than 1000 nautical miles under my belt and still struggle with confidence. I look forward to the day where I don’t need to ask him for explanations on everything, and where he can get the rest he needs as Captain of our boat.
Next: Work, work, work, and we are evicted