Ponce Inlet shenanigans
November 25, 2018
St. Augustine was a very short trip for us not by choice, but because we got kicked out of the mooring field. Well, kicked out is a bit dramatic – we could only secure a mooring ball for 3 nights. We made the most of our time while there however. Erik’s dad and stepmom live nearby in Palm Coast, so his dad came to the boat and brought us all back to their place for a big family meal, an endless hot shower, and a comfortable bed. That meal was SPOT ON PAULETTE! Sorry again for falling asleep at the dinner table at 8p!
Since we would only have a few days in St. Augustine, we chose to move to New Smyrna Beach, just south of the Ponce Inlet because it looked relatively close to Palm Coast. There were a few really important things we needed to do with the family: 1) install the new custom tables that Larry (Erik’s dad) made for our salon and cockpit, 2) install the watermaker and interior safe (for passports and important papers), and 3) have Thanksgiving with our family.
Given Sparky’s recent sail trauma, and the fact he needed a spa day, I asked if Paulette would keep Sparky until we got to New Smyrna. She happily agreed because he’s family and that’s what she does: she takes care of family. Love my Mama P!
Unfortunately for all of us, New Smyrna is not at all close to Palm Coast – it’s about an hour away by car. Larry was so kind though and came out more than once to help us and bring us home.
Let’s first talk about how we got to Ponce though. We left St. Augustine just after sunrise to make the low tide and arrived at Ponce around 10 hours later, or 4p. We had heard from another sailing buddy that they recently stayed at Ponce, which had been dredged just a few weeks prior, so we felt confident that with our 4.6” draft we’d have little concern over the shoaling there. His advice: hug the jetty.
Of course, as per usual, the dirty fuel we took on at Salt Ponds in Hampton would haunt us again. With a whine and sigh, the generator gave up the ghost, stalled the drives, and Erik had to, once again, replace a costly fuel filter. The good news is that we had about 9 filters shipped to Larry’s house so we were well stocked.
This time however, the generator would not restart. Using the house generator as a backup, we continued toward Ponce and Erik investigated the problem. Looks like a bad alternator situation. Now it was our turn to whine and sigh.
The thing about using the house gen to power the batteries that power the drives is two-fold: 1) the generator isn’t very powerful and 2) the batteries will drain themselves, forcing us to slow the boat to reserve battery life. Going about 3.9kts, we made our way to limp into the channel.
But since there was little, if any, wind, Erik decided to bring our drone out and get some glamour shots of the boat – the problem however was that the remote battery was at about 15% and decided to be a complete dick when we tried to land her back on the coach roof.
We have great footage showing the crash though.
As we approached the inlet, there was easily 2 dozen fishing boats all hugging the jetty, with their lines out. Our maneuverability under these conditions is as limited as our speed. I kid you not when I tell you that some of these fishing boats decided to put their happy little motors right across our bow at a slow pace. One fishing boat even decided to motor forward while they were both facing backward. Winds by the way were northern, which means the wind was trying to push us AWAY from the jetty as well as pushing their fishing lines toward our path. It was comical if it wasn’t so dangerous. I joked that we were close enough to smack them upside the head.
In order to avoid collisions, we ignored our sage friend’s advice and made a slow turn south, where we quickly saw the depth readings go from 12 foot to 3 foot to 1 foot. We skedaddled out of there faster than a lover whose partner’s husband just came home.
After we finished that game of Frogger, we made our way to the recommended anchorage at Rockhouse. Unfortunately, there were too many boats already anchored there so we continued on to where we saw openings in the ICW itself.
For whatever reason, we didn’t consult our updated Navionics charts and relied on our Raymarine Chart Plotter. Don’t ask – we will NEVER make that mistake again. Here’s why: As we began turning the boat to face the wind in our new anchorage, we saw the depth go from 5 feet to 1 feet to what the hell? With a groan, Music & Lyrics nudged the bottom and did a 180 turn. We wiggled our way out of that and moved to where we thought we would be ok – we didn’t know for sure, because a fun little new problem arrived – our depth gauge wasn’t working anymore. Sigh.
We set the anchor and shook our heads. Our first grounding. It wasn’t so bad, right?
Wrong – we were about an hour from low tide and as we poured a much needed cocktail, we felt the boat jerk and rock, and that meant only one thing: we were still on the shoal. We’d have no choice but to wait for high tide to get out of this one.
The next day, Happy Thanksgiving, was when we moved the boat clear of the shoal, thanks to the Navionics charts.
Gathering all of our laundry and overnight bags, we dinghy’d our way (about 20 minutes away) to the only place in this area that we could dock at – The Grille at Riverview. These guys are rockstars – they generously let us tie up on their dock, even though we weren’t guests of their hotel, weren’t dining with them, and we’d be leaving the tender overnight. We promised to come back and have a drink when we returned (and by the way, we did – we took the parentals to lunch and the food was amazing – my fish and chips was outstanding – highly recommend giving this place a visit if you are ever in the New Smyrna Beach area.)
It was a lovely Thanksgiving with Larry and Paulette, and Paulette’s sister Andrea. The food was as usual delicious, and this is not being said just because they let me do 6 loads of laundry. I am forever grateful to have spent time with them.
Larry dropped us off on Friday and carrying our laundry bags, backpacks, dog bed, and Sparky, we made our way through the crowded restaurant to the outside dock. A nice woman was sitting on a stool by where we tied the tender and we both quickly noticed she’s wearing a skirt. Here’s why that’s significant. Erik has to shimmy underneath the railing to get onto the boat to untie her and bring her over to the dock platform. Shimming under her skirt was not on the menu, so we explained the situation and with a little giggle, she agreed to move.
Once we had all our stuff aboard, we started the motor, waved goodbye, and set off. Or so we thought. Apparently, our generators aren’t the only engines that seem to like bubbles. As the current took us back in front of the watchful eyes of the patrons at the Grille at RiverFront, Erik furiously worked to get the line cleared. Starting the engine back up with a triumphant roar, Erik gave the ta-da salute and the restaurant patrons whistled, clapped and some even gave a standing ovation. We gave a bow and continued back to the boat.
On Saturday morning, we decided to move anchorages again – this time, back to Rockhouse as recommended – it was close to a boat launch, which would make it easier and faster to get to shore. Unfortunately, it’s pretty UNPROTECTED with winds. I’ll talk more about that in the next post though.
Later that day, Larry and Paulette came to visit us for lunch and drop a few more things off. Erik and Larry took the dinghy back to the boat, but had another dinghy mishap. This time, she was out of gas. Erik refilled her empty tank but the winds and current set her firmly against the dredging pipeline. Unable to simply nudge her off the pipe with a foot, Erik used his super powers to back her off the pipe at an angle, but we still worry that this episode scarred Larry a little bit.
But like everything else on a sailboat, you fix your problems and move on – and that’s what we did: Erik fixed the alternator, got most of his repair/install/to-do list done, and we took the next window south.
Or so we thought.
Next: Distress at sea – when you have no choice but to call in the cavalry