Quest for the Coconut Palm

DSC_2229Ahhh………..what have we here??? Sand? Sand between our toes? Beautiful tropical sand: white, soft, and not too far from the consistency of icing sugar! Sighting a coconut palm was another sign that we were getting to the tropical paradise. Shedding layers of clothes. These  form the iterations of warmth and the quest for tropical peace that has been our quest and on our minds since we left the Great White  North. We’ll take a large serving,  please: a super-sized dose of the warmth, dare I say even HOT temperatures, tropical sand beaches, azure waves tumbling onto bright, gleaming sand.

Palm sighting!

In this Ariose Note, we share selections of our journey from Beaufort, South Carolina to Daytona Beach, Florida. With the Carolinas, came the signs that our quest for well-deserved warmth was close at hand. My search for the coconut palm began in earnest, with Shirley rolling her eyes each time I grabbed the binoculars to check out if that palm on shore had coconuts. (just an aside: the jury is out whether any species of coconut palm was in the Americas before the Europeans arrived or whether they were transported here on early voyages). Never-the-less,  various species of palms were growing in the wild and in planted gardens once we hit the Carolinas and clearly, I thought, if palm trees of any flavour are growing, then sub-freezing temperatures are a rare, if ever, occasion and we are definitely making it to our goal.

The temperature of the water we were sailing on had begun to climb and several times a day, dolphins joined us. Often, we’d see one or two up ahead, headed directly towards us only to dive under the bow and reappear  much astern.  Once Shirley played a game of hide and seek with two that continued to surface beside us and then switch to the other side before she could grab a photo. Being a more sentient mammal, she figured out the pattern,  catching the dolphins at their own game. IMG_0943 Every time they surfaced, their soft grey backs and dorsal fins penetrated our world for a few short moments , our adrenaline would surge and we couldn’t help noticing the slow and lethargic pace that they set, as if they had all the time in the world. They did, and so did we. “ Hey there, don’t be in such a hurry, it’s time to begin relaxing”. We were taking note.

After a lovely late afternoon of motoring along the Coosaw River, its placid, calm waters lit up with the fortunes of the sun in colours riding over the liquid highway in pinks and blues from Ariose’s gentle wake, we came to the docks at Beaufort, South Carolina. I fought against the current to nose Ariose in to the dock while Shirley jumped off, in a fantastic manoeuver, quickly  tied off the bow and tossed me the stern line after wrapping it around a cleat. I pulled for all I was worth to get the back end to pull tight. The current was very strong, the water seemed to move in a very unpredictable way, and many fellow cruisers we met over the next few days told us of their own struggle with the current in landing here.

Beaufort was a nice place and we enjoyed the time that we spent there. The town had an interesting historic district with houses from the 1700’s and mature vegetation that gave the old neighbourhoods an incredible feeling of warmth and invitation; a real welcome home feeling!

Near 0 degree Celcius in Florida?!

As convenient as the Intracoastal Waterway has been for us, we had had enough of the winding tedium and tenuous depths. We knew the next stretch through Georgia was even less well maintained, with many areas limited to high-tide-only passage because of the shoaling. The chance to step outside onto the Atlantic again and put on some really good miles was very appealing.  Whoa there! Did I say, I’m willing to do another passage? We’ve done 3 and the last 2 haven’t been so bad. My reluctance has been well earned (we wrote about that in Nights/Rites of Passage) but easily forgotten. Sticking it out and learning from our mistakes has been our mantra thus far. A perfect weather window was appearing that could potentially allow us to bypass an entire state, and bring us into Florida! It’s gotta be warm in Florida, right? Well…. Here we are in St. Augustine, Florida. No, we’re not overdressed. This was a cold snap in the 40’s but thankfully, the temperatures soared right back to the mid 60’s by the next day!

Anyways, back to our passage to get there. We knew with the warmer temperatures this would be easier than our others, but it wasn’t without its challenges. We found ourselves in following seas and winds. We maintained pretty good speeds, but our course was straight down wind, and we had yet to figure out how to rig our whisker pole to keep the foresail out when on this point of sail, nor did we have a preventer rigged to stop uncontrolled gybes. So, we chose to zig-zag down the coast in the darkness, in a series of intentional gybes. Even though we were traveling at 6+ knots, good for a boat like ours, the additional distance added hours to our timeline for getting to our destination, Fernandina Beach, Florida. It was, for the most part, a very uneventful passage. We had hoped to glimpse a Northern Right Whale or two, since we were heading through major breeding territory and during the breading season from January to March, but, no luck. Keeping the same schedule for shifts as the previous two passages (usually 9pm to midnight and 3 -6am for me), I arose from my slumber at 9am, and yes, I actually slept this time (yeah!!).

Beach time in Fernandina.

We pulled into Fernandina Beach, right on the Florida side of the border with Georgia, and it even looked warm. It was sunny, the water bluer, sandy beaches on the coast, the misty ocean air and so many more palm trees, had us feeling very excited about our arrival in Florida!

Fernandina Beach is on a spit, nestled between the Atlantic and the ICW. We headed off the Atlantic toward its marina tucked between heavy industry. We tried hard to ignore the atrocious welcoming of pulp mills as we rowed Poco (our trusty little dinghy) into the town’s historic and touristy district. Once there, we forgot about the smelly elephants and had a nice time exploring . We did our usual walkabout, surveying what the town could offer us; even making a 5 mile walk to the other side of the spit to check out the beach on the Atlantic Ocean side. It was nice, but, the water was chilly and  a cold front gripping the eastern seaboard still lingered in the air.  We retreated to Ariose, bent on staying longer to get another look the next day, since our mooring was free. Hurricane Matthew put a question mark on the stability of the mooring balls and they would have to be re-certified before the marina could begin charging for them again.

As we moved through this part of Florida, the effects of the hurricane were obvious and many derelict boats littered the shores, tossed aside like so many giants toys. We fitfully slept, but the pulp mill, like a many eyed monster, with its billowing light show,  caused stench and noise to weigh on my consciousness as I slept with one nostril in protest, hoping that the morning would bring us some reprieve. The town seemed well kept and fairly touristy but all of the white-washing was lost on me by the morning when the winds changed.  As a little aside, this makes me think of “Winds of Change” (dinghy aptly named Flatulence) owned by  Joe and Rose from Hamilton, Ontario who we met at Sandy Hook. We have crossed paths with them many times since!

Happy to leave Fernandina Beach pulp mills in our wake.

Anyhow, back to Fernandina Beach. When the winds changed, we were assaulted full force by the noxious fumes. With hardly a word between us, we immediately stopped what we were doing, prepared to weigh anchor, and made a hasty departure. I haven’t been so happy to leave a place in a long time.  Ironically, that day’s 5 hour motor down the ICW brought us to our next anchorage near a bridge that was being demolished with work continuing through the night. Not the most serene anchorage.  At least we could breathe!

Pelicans swarming a fishing trawler.

We were pleased to next arrive at St. Augustine, a larger city with a reputation as a major center for cruising sailboats. It certainly looked that way. There were so many sailboats and power boats alike and many people living permanently on their boats. The entrance to St. Augustine was tricky and we were warned about it. There was a powerful wind filling our sails as we felt like we were screaming directly toward a piece of land, menacingly close ahead, an open ocean inlet to port with breakers rolling in.  The marker that we were to keep to the left of, bobbed innocently before said piece of land. I wondered, “do I keep to the left of that marker like usual”? In this case……. Hell YES, otherwise, you end up on a long shoal, only a foot from the surface of the water. Just another tense, knuckle whitening few seconds to make a decision on the ICW! Anyway, it was an interesting entrance to a city. Another bascule bridge awaited us and as we approached we were swarmed by flocks of pelicans and gulls as a fishing trawler also needed entry through the bridge.  We circled many times, leaving the engine in gear to keep from being swept into the bridge as we waited for the opening.Through the bridge and then a hard right to land at yet another dock affected by strong currents. This time someone was there from the marina to help us get to the dock. We refueled and headed for our assigned slip.

Mooring balls at Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Masts signalling the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Snug in the bushes – aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

St Augustine was filled with tourists patronizing the plethora of restaurants, jewelleries, galleries, bars and nic-nac shops set in a recreated old Spanish settlement town.  The Spanish Fort was something we were more interested in. It’s the vestiges of the oldest continually inhabited European  settlement in North America.

One person’s mark is well made on St. Augustine. Henry Flagler, a ridiculously wealthy (oil, rail) dude, was one of first to see the potential of Florida in becoming a vacation destination for the well-to-do from the northern States. He built the most unbelievable hotels and other infrastructure here – he was a fan of southern Spain’s architecture as you can see – in the late 1800’s.  We enjoyed checking those out.

Henry Flagler’s architecture, St.Augustine’s.

Sailor’s Exchange – great finds!

We stayed in St. Augustine a second morning when our new found cruiser friends from Whitby, Ontario (Raymonda and Constantin aboard ‘Monica’) said we couldn’t leave without going to the Sailors Exchange! We did and it was worth it (thanks ). This place had the most amazing pile (and I do mean pile – be prepared to spend a good chunk of time here to find stuff ) of old boat parts we’d ever seen to date. We were able to exchange some of our unwanted items there and get a few things for Ariose that we couldn’t have found elsewhere.

We left St. Augustine and had our sights set on Daytona Beach because, you know, it MUST be warm there! Heading down the ICW again, another bit of adventure awaited us. By 4pm that day we arrived at the inlet where we were going to anchor. According to Skipper Bob – a well known resource on anchoring in the ICW – it was a good anchorage. Shirley gave me instructions and I followed them… least I thought I did until … bump and halt!  No, despite seeming like it was leading you astray, you were supposed to keep that green marker to port! This was another occasion, like St. Augustine when the green marker was so close to shore it seemed as though it had been misplaced.  So, the HELL YES of the St. Augustine entrance became an OH NO of this leg.  Well, now what? We tried a few tricks with the engine in reverse and then forward to get ungrounded. We put out an anchor to kedge off, but we didn’t budge. The keel  was pretty dug in! We weren’t in any danger as the bottom was hard sand and all we had to do was wait and be ready for the morning when the tides rose enough to free us.

Taking an unplanned midnight stroll around Ariose at Matanzas Inlet.

We had no idea what we were in for. High tide was just past and that the water was now receding! How low would it go? We tucked in for the night, heeled over at a gentle angle.  As the night unfolded, I found myself crushing Shirl, so, I moved to the other end of the v-berth and braced myself up against the hull. At about 12am, I heard a gentle voice and a knock…..”Tim…….Tim……are you awake?  Open the hatch.” I did so to find Shirl STANDING beside the boat! NO, she wasn’t doing a Jesus walking on water trick, she was just  standing in rubber boots in the sand beside Ariose, looking a little forlorn. Of course, she had a plan,  and thought that this would be a good time to get our other anchor out into the main channel which we could clearly see wasn’t more than 20 meters from the boat. She needed my help. So, out I rowed Poco and dropped the anchor in the deeper water so that when the rising tides did float us free in the morning, we would be pulled there. I have to say, that even with the immediacy of this event we couldn’t help noticing how beautiful it was, with the moon so bright and the distinctive sound of dolphins spouting an arm’s length away from us in the channel.  They seemed to be hanging around to make sure that we got free. Back to bed, ahh…. well, back to trying to sleep against the wall of our v-berth. At about 4am, we could feel that things had leveled out and that Ariose was floating. Her movement had been restored and we were relieved that the anchors we had set were in fact pulling us into the safety of the channel. We checked that they were secure, and  with nothing further for us to do, we returned to bed to try to sleep.

At daybreak we jumped back into action upon finding that no, our anchors weren’t so secure. Both were dragging in the brisk current causing us to softly bump up against the opposite bank. Although groggy, we were able to pull up both anchors, get off this minor grounding, and continue in the early morning light. Never a dull moment. We were now Daytona Beach bound!

Daytona Beach

Daytona had its heyday in the 70’s and people from Canada flocked there during spring break, as the dated and slightly derelict hotels on the beach would tell. But, it WAS warm, and we had our very first taste of what was to come….the sand, the beach, the sun……but, what about the water? IT WAS COLD!!!!  You must be thinking, hey Tim, the water back home is frozen solid, so….get over it! The truth is that our woollies are being put away, our blanket is so….. yesterday and we have begun to spend lots of time in the cockpit in our shorts, eating/drinking and enjoying the weather. The cold snap that gripped us upon our arrival in Florida is over; the real Florida weather has emerged.  But Florida isn’t where we want to be. We spent nearly a week in Daytona Beach working on the boat and looking ahead at the weather. Then, we spotted it;  a perfect weather window appearing for the gulf stream crossing; something not easy to come by at this time a year. We were eager not to get ourselves into a situation where we were trapped at a marina, waiting for said window to materialize.  So, to make this happen, we found that we could turn a 5 day journey down the ICW into an overnight that would bring us to our hop-off-to-the-Bahamas point at West Palm Beach in time to take advantage of the weather window. We sped out of there, down the ICW to Titusville, and the next day, out through the Cape Canaveral Barge Canal for another overnight passage on the Atlantic. Tucking into the Lake Worth Inlet of the posh Palm Beach area, we began preparations for crossing to the Bahamas the following day.

Contemplating the rest of the journey from the Pier restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida and from Ariose on the Atlantic Ocean.

IMG_1155In our upcoming Ariose Note, we’ll post an account of the next leg of our journey where a turn of events throws yet another curve ball into our plans to reach the Bahamas! Future post coming from the Bahamas may have some delays due to poor reception from coconut palms and the lack of ‘developed resort’ accommodations. Cheers!

9 thoughts on “Quest for the Coconut Palm”

  1. Tim and Shirley, Can’t exclaim enough about how much I am enjoying reading about your experiences. Feel as tho I am right there with U! Wonderful narrative!!

    1. Hi Allen. It’ s been a long time since we worked on those cabins together at Peters place. Hope that you’re doing well and glad that you are enjoying reading about our adventures and misadventures!

  2. Well Shirl, you wanted an adventure, and certainly are getting just that! Enjoy the ride, and as always, be safe! xo

    1. Yup – getting some of what I wanted and even more of what I need, perhaps?
      Hope all’s well with you too, Deb.

  3. 6 degrees of separation yet again… Mom’s condo is un Greenacres, within Lake Worth just south of West Palm.
    We’re here until March 14th and I will be back to pick up the car in April…
    Let me know if you come back this way and you’re welcome to come and stay if you want some land time…

    1. No way! Would have been great to connect. We were st Riviera Beach City Marina – just down the road from you – for 5 days.
      If we are heading back to your mom’s neighbourhood around that time, will definitely reach out to you. At this point though, we’re just looking at moving on, and not yet seriously thinking about our return.
      Enjoy your time in the Florida sun!

  4. Shirley & Tim

    Great to hear that you made it to the Bahamas, without too much troubles! thanks for the blog, always good to hear from you.

    Keep on sailing and be safe! What an adventure! 🙂

    1. We are so glad to be here! Had a little more drama though before we were able to… Will share more about that next week.
      Always good to hear from you, too, Nicole!

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