From Hontoon, we cruised another long day to the town of Acosta. We knew the marina lacked charm, but a warm shower was the main attraction, made possible in the comfort of our own head (yacht bathroom) by a stern hose hookup which provides running water without having to fill the water tanks. Once docked, I was a woman on a mission as I located the connecting piece of hose, performed the necessary gymnastics over the straps and davits on the swim platform to attach it, screwed the regular hose to the connector hose and the regular hose to the spigot on the dock. Water on!… only to have Steve note that the connecting hose astern was spluttering water into the bilge at a pretty good clip. Sigh. Water off. Perhaps this contributes to the big picture in our water dilemma…or perhaps we have three separate water issues. Steve was very adult in opting to shower at the marina locker room but I, noting how sandy the jaunt up there was, opted for not returning from a shower only to have sandy feet. I washed my hair in the tepid water that had sat in the bathtub cistern for two days and took yet another sponge bath. There could be worse things, like discovering in bed that you still have sand between your toes.
Our itinerary the next day was leisurely and highly recommended, a short 18-mile cruise to Murphy Creek with a full afternoon to gunk-hole Dunns Creek. We found a derelict boat in our first choice anchorage, and further up the creek a huge derelict barge with 2 old school buses and an old Air Stream trailer spoiled the view of the next anchorage. This, coupled with our having noticed the forecast for the next day with winds topping 18 mph, gave us pause and dampened our spirit for adventure. Upon deliberation, we decided to make a beeline as far north as possible to minimize what local knowledge anticipated could be an exhausting passage, fighting the slap of white caps abeam all day. We anchored in beautiful Black Creek, after a 58-mile cruise, which positioned us just 20 miles from our destination at the Ortega River, and trading the cacophony of “whoopy cushion frogs” and territorial birds for the road noise of civilization.
The final leg of the return to Jacksonville was a quick morning slog. Slapping white caps of 2 to 3 feet pitched us back and forth and camouflaged the myriads of crab pots, forcing us to make abrupt corrections to avoid running afoul of their lines. We passed Ortega Landing Marina this time and docked at Lambs Marina and Boatyard, also highly rated, but more for boat repairs than creature comforts. The marina is designed for long-term dockage, with well-crafted covered slips totally obstructing any view. Our window panels can be replaced here while we address the water issues and have a thorough inspection, so as to avert these emergent crises for a while.
Itinerary undetermined again, the lemons are plentiful and juicy. Lemonade coming right up.
From Palm Coast, a two-day cruise landed us at Ortega Landing Marina, on the southwest side of Jacksonville, Florida. Ortega Landing is iconic among Loopers, a hands down 5-star favorite. I will agree that there are many pros, and our stay was great, but generous slip size would not be one of them. With the beam of Red Pearl at 14 1/2’ and our slip not more than 15’, our big round fenders which we use for locking, were essential for keeping us off the neighboring boat. Of prime importance was connecting with a canvas company who will replace the remainder of our flybridge panels. Our prime delight was our afternoon with Mike and Brenda Finkenbinder, who made a quick trip down to Florida from Minnesota just because. It was so good to be with them and to meet their new family member Bertie, a big, handsome Australian Sheepdog Poodle mix.
I will just mention (but not go into the weeds regarding need for) the services of Eric Weatherly, a quiet, unassuming and highly-trusted marine repairman, who fixed our AC pump, our shower pump and our forward bilge switch, which all malfunctioned at the same time. I could also tell you what one-way plane tickets to South Bend cost that day….
After repairing the above-mentioned mechanicals, we provisioned and readied for a week in remote river country. Two weeks would have been ideal, but we have a date with the isinglass man, so 7 days it is! We departed on Friday, May 14, on a 50-mile cruise to Palatka, an old town a bit down on its luck, where most of the vessels in the marina appear to have been forgotten. The local dock master assisted us with our lines, as steady winds exceeding 15 mph buffeted us off the dock. Craig also was a garrulous story-teller, smacking of “the fish that got away” variety. We decided to pass on his recommendation for carrying in pizza for dinner and, craving activity, walked across the bridge two miles to Corky Bell’s Seafood and Grill. Corky Bell’s proved to be a very popular spot, and we had the best fried clams ever, and delicious local stuffed flounder. The kink in our plan occurred when the Uber service, which we had scoped out while making our plans, had no cars available. Steve was limping by the time we hiked back to the boat, although neither of us was worse for the wear the next day. On Saturday we were up with the bass fishermen—literally hundreds of bass boats dotted the city docks by day-break just feet from our dock. Craig informed us that this was a benefit for children’s cancer, and then regaled us with details of the tournament a few weeks earlier, which attracted the real pros and was televised live with overhead drones capturing the action and awarded prizes of over $100k.
A 30-mile cruise on Saturday took us to an anchorage around Welaka, where we met this magnificent fellow while gunk-holing up the Ocklawaha River.
Feeling that we had no choice but to ignore Loopers’ caveat to avoid weekend cruising, Sunday was our big 60-mile day. Our strategy was to get to our southern-most point so that we would have fewer boats to maneuver around as we dinked our way back north, exploring the sights on weekdays; but even so, the hordes of Sunday boaters around popular sights made the long Sunday cruise simply unpleasant. We reached Butchers Bend, which had been described as an idyllic spot…and it WAS pretty, but for the beach revelers just the equivalent of a block away! Steve and I both felt a little cranky; we were primed for wild-ness, and instead experienced mad jet skis, worrying tubing and packed-in family beach excursions.
At this point in the story, “cranky” turns to “despondent”:
Ah, perfidious Red Pearl! Your siren call of Looping Delights wooed me, Your guiles now doth wound me.
The water pump has always been a—“question” of minor concern. A new pump two years ago did not remedy the occasional and random pulsing every few hours and eluded the plumber’s search. The pulsing has gradually become more frequent until, as we left Palatka, we agreed to turn the pump off at the panel except when needing water. But then, that evening Steve found the aft bilge full of fresh, clean water, with the water tank monitor registering only 1/4 full. We had topped off the tanks just the previous morning, but now 150 gallons of water were gone. Pumped out of the bilge into the river! We quickly filled everything we could find with what remained in the tanks—buckets, thermoses, quart soup tubs—and the bathtub became a cistern for bathing and flushing. How uncanny that we pressed to our furthest destination, only to have this happen!
Monday morning we stepped outside to the silent beauty which surrounded us—wafting mist on the water’s surface and the permeating scent of cedars, elegantly draped with moss all around the small oxbow anchorage. With our heads finally around this new water debacle, we relinquished the need to race back to Jacksonville, although we WOULD have to compromise the solitude of the anchor for fresh water at marinas. What a remarkable difference a Monday makes on the river, with only codgers like us making waves! We enjoyed gunk-holing the Dead River at Hontoon, seeing lots of turtles, a few alligators, an array of herons, only one manatee. Our most memorable sight was a great blue heron at the shallow water’s edge catching a 6” sunfish-shaped fish, wrestling it, and swallowing it whole.
As night falls, the wind has died. An alligator swims by purposefully, perhaps in pursuit of a hot date. The little turtle which has sunned himself all afternoon still perches alone on the end of his log. Frogs have begun their grotesque, whoopy cushion serenades; the birds, their cacophonous, tinny, speakeasy mating calls; and…I wonder if that wild cricket-ish racket is the once-in-17-years treat of cicadas. Night in the wilderness is noisy!
Formulating a quick game plan, we packed our bags (literally bags, as we have no boat space to store luggage), loaded our folding bikes in a rental car, and headed north for the week end. The method to our madness was that this might save a day or two as we cruise, with Jekyll Island checked off our list.
We found a casual vibe, pristine and sparsely-populated beaches, miles and miles of paved bike trails, and the largest “cottages” one might imagine. Its history is predictable, that of European “discoverers,” pushing out the indigenous people, of privileged and elite settling a beautiful landscape in an attractive climate, made possible only with the brawn of indentured and enslaved people. Island history claims that Jekyll Island has been a vacation grounds for 3500 years on which tens of thousand of Native Americans hunted, fished, and gathered shellfish. First seen by French in 1562, and then settled by the British, its strategic military importance was recognized. It was, however, the American movers and shakers who bought the island in 1886 and formed the Jekyll Island Club, which captured our imagination. Said to be “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world,” despite members’ claim that Jekyll Island life was simple and carefree, it offered winter and spring camaraderie and diversion for people like William Rockefeller, J.P.Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer (of The NY Times—who kept adding onto his cottage as consolation to his wife who hated the island), William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and Richard Teller Crane, Jr. (of elevator and plumbing fixture fame—building the most lavish cottage on the island, with 20 rooms and 17 bathrooms). Too involved to fully flesh out here, I will briefly insert that the financial gurus of this elite club, along with other political and banking powers-that-be, secreted away in 1910 for ten days on Jekyll Island, formulating the basis for the Federal Reserve; the meeting which, when reported to the public three years later was referred to as “a hunting trip.” The Club era eventually came to an end as a result of World War II, and in 1947 the island was sold to the State of Georgia for use as a State Park, opening opportunities for recreation and pleasure along the Georgia Coast to everyone.
The island shows two personalities today. A modern Beach Village offers many public accesses to sandy shoreline bordered by dune grasses and scrubby cabbage palms, a convention center and tall hotels, and the requisite T-shirt shops. We were more charmed by the quieter, Historic Village. Simple, private residences, largely of the 50s ranch-styled vintage, line much of the road-way and camouflage discreet public beach accesses. The historic “cottages” are, disappointingly, not open to public tours, but rather, currently offer exclusive lodging and host events, such as weddings. Cycling amidst miles of grand Spanish Moss-draped Live Oaks was absolutely magical, and I imagined whispered secrets through the mossy beards of centuries-old sages and wizards. Moss-hung “picture frames” overlooking grassy fens and out to St. Simons Sound invited us to stop and gaze at the beauty, grateful for these protected spots, an invocation of silence.
We returned to Palm Coast only to learn that our ordered steering part arrived a day early! Having received excellent coaching from the marine shop, Steve had it installed in no time at all. A forecast for heavy thunderstorms cautions us to hold off cruising until Friday, making our stay in Palm Coast Marina a full week! In the meantime, we have discovered water in the forward bilge compartment, verifying, once again, the definition of cruising: “the act of fixing of one’s boat in exotic places.
The adventure began as we were returning to the ICW from our anchorage at “Cement Plant,” a spot, thankfully, more charming than its name! The channel was narrow and shallow, lined with lovely homes overlooking private piers. Suddenly I realized that we were headed toward one of those piers, despite my turning the wheel hard over to the opposite side. I’m chagrined to admit that we were glancing off the pier before I remembered that two engines gives us control through the gearshift. The glance was light—thankfully!—and subsequently we were able to find an appropriate spot to drop anchor and phone for assistance. Steve knew almost immediately what had happened: the joint piece which connects the rudder post to the hydraulic steering mechanism had finally rusted through. He had been watching it, cleaning it, lubricating it, and making a mental note to have someone look at it. But in the year away and our delight at readying to cruise again, that minor detail escaped the list of priorities. (Of course, I was no help, either, as I tease that when he learns to make shrimp and grits, I will learn to change the oil.) An hour and a half later, the welcome sight of the tiny-but-mighty red TowBoatUS appeared. A young Captain Avera threw us a bridle and off we went, chatting by radio to formulate the game plan. St. Augustine, nearly 35 miles north, by our research was the next port which had available dockage and a boat yard, but as we passed the town of Palm Coast, the captain asked if we wanted to stop there, St. Augustine being a 9-hour tow. We told him we had called, but the marina was full. A few minutes later he radioed back: Palm Coast had two double slips which we could come into. When we expressed surprise, he laughed, “You didn’t whine hard enough.”
To prepare for entering the marina, Red Pearl was put “on the hip,” pulling her against the towing vessel tight and snug with the cushion of big round fenders. It was here at close proximity that I saw that this tiny boat sported only two 130 hp motors. (Our slow boat has two 240s). Under power of the tow, we inched toward the marina. A boat with two woman absorbed in conversation “waked” us, sending a tall boat like ours rocking and rolling precariously, and the captain left the helm just long enough to throw up his hands and yell after them. At the entrance of the marina, a second attempt was required to get into position, and I heard an engine restart, then again. By now, we definitely “were the show”—everyone within shouting distance had come to water’s edge to watch. The towboat cleared the bow pulpits of sailboats at the entrance with just inches to spare. With our longer and taller boat causing lack of visibility, Steve, instructed by the captain, advised him by radio when to start those blind turns. A piling which separated the double slip, required release of our connection to the tow before we were actually in the slip, and three knowledgeable dock hands hauled us in. It was not until we were secure that Capt. Avera told us that he had lost an engine and had ushered us into the marina with only 130hp. He departed with the encouraging reminder that this 5-mile tow would have cost $1100 but for our annual membership with TowBoatUS. Lucky for us!….?
By 5:15 on a Friday afternoon, we had discovered that ALL marine mechanics in the area are currently scheduling into July, and no one would touch this job, even for Loopers. And so, Steve located the part at a marine shop and we quickly Ubered to pick it up before closing, only to discover that it didn’t. quite. match. The part will be ordered Monday morning—fingers crossed it’s as easy to install as they say!
As we wait for said part, we’ve rented a car and will spend the week end on Jekyll Island, 2 hours north, which was on our list of stops. Funny— we thought the isinglass our most pressing issue. Whatever—this lemonade will be delicious!
In our 13 months away from Red Pearl due to COVID-19, a lot of life happened:
We met our first grandson, Wesley Brooks Nelson Hollenberg, already 14 months now, who charms with a sweet sense of humor and verbal commentary on everything.
We watched waaaay too much TV—both news and pablum for entertainment during lockdown.
We gardened with Steve’s father in his weakened condition during treatment for Lymphoma. When he passed in October, our final goodbyes were necessarily strangely distanced; the family gathering, masked and void of hugs and shared meals. We postponed the languorous sharing of memories for a safer time.
Steve and I both had hips replaced; I had the distinct displeasure of hipx2, requiring revision because of two dislocations.
Steve’s mom fell and broke her hip the night we left Goshen to return to Red Pearl, and Steve and his sisters continue to partner with her in figuring out how best to meet her physical and social needs, as she navigates this new life without her life’s companion.
But I digress—this blog is about our Loop experience.
Away for over a year, we returned to Red Pearl on April 4, finding her looking fit, thanks to the care of Captain Eric Ravenschlag at Legacy Harbour Marina in Fort Myers. Freshly waxed, and contents thoroughly sorted, cleaned, replaced—and a valiant attempt made at reclaiming her from the spiders—we are cruising again. Cutting through Florida from west to east again on the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee, we enjoyed mostly serene and bucolic scenery, a few locks, some cows and alligators, and revisiting the small towns of Clewiston and Stuart. Lingering in quaint Stuart for boat maintenance, we enjoyed some great restaurants, walked the boardwalk, and lived among some truly beautiful yachts for a few days.
Heading north on the Intracoastal Waterway, we returned to Indian River Harbor, a good spot for reconnecting with Steve’s cousins, Song and Judy Koh and their daughter Michaela, and had a delightful dinner together on the flybridge. High winds convinced us to stay an extra day. Further north, we lingered in New Smyrna Beach, welcomed exuberantly by harbor host Rick Swanson, who rescheduled his daily kite boarding to show us the artsy town, the scenic Ponce de Leon Inlet
and lighthouse, the drivable beach, and the wild, protected area of Turtle Mound at Canaveral National Seashore in his unapologetically sandy Avalon. Steve and I then explored town via bike—and, Steve thinks, every last boutique on Flagler Ave.—and walked the beach, people watching and dodging big jelly fish which had washed ashore. Dinner with Rick and his wife Dianne at Riverwalk Terrace was delightful, despite an attack of no-see-ums. Five weeks into his volunteer post as harbor host, Dianne says they have dinner with Loopers about twice a week. (Think, “Dinner with strangers twice a week!”) This was the first time we felt the urge to stay an extra day “just because” and had the expansiveness to heed that urge—a skill which true Loopers hone.
Despite Red Pearl’s natty red hull which attracts long gazes from passers by, the constant generation of urgent and not-so-urgent repairs continues. Most pressing is the flybridge enclosure, the “second story” of the boat and our preferred helm from which to cruise. Having recovered from our initial delight at finding a hippy canvas craftsman in Fort Myers who quickly replaced a rotting zipper in one of the curtains (the flexible vinyl windows, also called “isinglass”), we realize now that the entire enclosure has adopted a schedule of abdication. Steve and I are determined to negotiate a way to address this on our terms without sitting for weeks for yet another repair. Despite a new zipper, the determination of the enclosure pressed further as we crossed Lake Okeechobee, requiring us to find a second canvas craftsman in Stuart to replace two more windows. But, alas! Just a few days later, abdication morphed into outright insurrection, with two more zippers ripping out with a third seriously threatening action. We do have options, however, so stay tuned!… Another taunting issue has been the generator, whose control board coding saga was finally resolved in Fort Myers. Nevertheless, its refusal to start at our first anchorage resulted in a cold supper and a lack of morning Joe. A new battery was just the ticket.
I envision blooming redbuds and crabapples back home, and I miss the satisfaction of potting up planters of flowers and spreading aromatic cedar mulch; but we also relish spring in Florida, which makes living outdoors so delightful. Things feel different than a year ago in Florida. Despite what lawmakers decree, masks are required to enter nearly any establishment, and people comply. After sitting at home, absorbing the stream of media reports of how politicized and divided we are, it feels good to be out and about, experiencing the voluntary shared concern for one another that a simple mask exhibits.
How a week changed our charted course—and that of the whole country’s! Sadly, Steve and I did not return to Red Pearl after our two weeks away. A day before our flight back to Florida, we decided that COVID-19 poses a threat which simply precludes any right to reason through a way in which we can “safely” proceed to do what we want to do. While we might be even better able to keep “social distance” on the boat, there still was no truly isolated way to get down there. And as we watched spring break beach partiers, I was less inclined to want to be in Florida, anyway.Further, as the disease spreads and businesses shutter, it simply is an insecure time to be away from home. So, once again, here we sit in our condo in Goshen, Indiana, the small space which we purchased simply to store our stuff and from which to launch as we travel and visit our aging parents. We have spent way too much time here. How ironic.
As of today, Red Pearl has been tucked in at Legacy Marina in Fort Myers, FL. Captain Pat Davis and a friend of his drove to Key West the last day that services were open. At this time, most marinas are closed, allowing visiting yachts to stay only long enough to purchase fuel. At the marina office, Pat picked up the key and a few Amazon packages awaiting us, returned the laundry card-with- a-chip, and then enjoyed a delightful overnight cruise under a moonless, brilliantly-star-studded sky. At Fort Myers, he cleaned out the fridge (!) and left Red Pearl clean and looking loved. Hopefully the generator will be repaired during this interim, but even if not, dockage fees are 1/3 those in Key West.
Our dream of cruising the Chesapeake now having been foiled a third summer, perhaps there will be a window in which we can safely return and enjoy some Florida Gulf coastal cruising this summer.
What an amazing sociological experiment we all are a part of! Do be well, friends.
Our final days in Key West were marked by looking forward and making preparations for leaving Key West. Here are highlights:
As Mike and Brenda cleaned and moved off their boat, evening bid euchre and Pinochle, Key Lime Pie, and little beers, for the most part, continued. We celebrated one evening with happy hour at Santiago’s Bodega and then watched the sun set over Mallory Square amidst a throng of tourists. Not particularly charmed by having to stand on tiptoe to watch the sun drop below the horizon, we did find the street performers on the square to be in top form. This guy’s gutsy art was enhanced by his awesome sense of humor.
After their closing on Thursday good-byes were bittersweet. We celebrate how perfect timing has been for their adventure and for the sale of their boat, and we anticipate keeping up with these lovely folk. We took photos for them the next morning of that pretty blue boat zooming off for Miami to facilitate a party lifestyle for her single owner.
Our rhythm, though not really changed, felt different with Velsignet gone. Steve and I hopped on our bikes and made an exciting day of errands—Verizon store, Auto Zone, Home Depot, UPS. Each led us further toward town until we were hungry and decided to have happy hour at one of our favorite spots, Off the Hook. And then we were SO close to downtown, where a favorite dress shop was calling….
We played single-deck euchre and shared Key Lime Pie with our dock mates and Gold Loopers Rick and Monica on Best Mate. Lovely folks.
We celebrated Sunday with a bike ride to brunch at Louie’s Backyard, an iconic restaurant on the most beautiful beach in Key West. A hoity toity spot where the folks from the Astoria dine in their swimsuits, we found white table cloths and bike helmet hair totally congruent.
We have been watching the weather for a couple of weeks now. High winds have clocked and are from the north, making a cruise north to Fort Myers imprudent at this time. We have hoped to have our generator repaired and to purchase a new dinghy engine there, but that will have to wait. We finally decided to rent a car and drive to Fort Myers, leaving Red Pearl in Key West for another two weeks, and are off to meet our grandson Wesley and to give his exhausted parents some respite. I will then venture into New York City for some girls’ time with our daughters.
While weather guessers back home warned of snowy, sleety conditions, temperatures soared into the high 80s in Key West this week. These were some highlights:
Our flybridge grill is repaired and functional and, thanks to a fine fiberglass craftsman, it is now “better-than-old.” The last bit is to find replacement grates for an out-of-production unit at a less-than-extortionist cost.
Our week was shaped by Bev and Joel Eikenberry’s arrival on Friday. While it’s always a challenge to clear space for overnight guests aboard Red Pearl, it was delightful to spend mornings with friends from home on the flybridge over coffee during animated discussions covering many topics.We introduced Bev and Joel to Hogfish Bar and Grill, which we have frequented during our stay here. They serve the best fish and chips ever.
Having seen the highlights already, Steve and I visited second-tier tourist attractions in Old Town while Bev and Joel visited our favorites. We viewed the entire island from atop the lighthouse which functioned from 1848 until its decommissioning in 1969. We were amazed by the stunningly beautiful Fresnel glass lenses, designed for superb light refraction; but we puzzled as to how these massive glass and brass cylinders rotated before the advent of electric power, in order to create the flashing signals which differentiated them from other, steady light sources. *
The view from the lighthouse included the Hemingway house and, of course, the ocean.
The four of us shared afternoon drinks at Moon Dog Cafe and delicious tapas for dinner at Santiago’s Bodega.
We rented a car and drove up to Marathon Key, exploring the Sea Turtle Hospital in which veterinarians and volunteers work to protect and rescue these magnificent creatures and educate the public. After a delightful but windy lunch on the deck at Burdine’s, we ventured on to the Dolphin Research Center, where injured wild dolphins, too, are rehabilitated. These athletic and intelligent guys crave human interaction, and it was fun to see them both cooperate and also exercise their own will with their trainers and to witness their sense of humor. Males and females travel separately in the wild and here, tooare separated here, but there is a corner of the system of pools in which the males hang out, eaves dropping and chatting with the girls in the nearby pool. At sunset, we returned to Key West just in time to watch the sun set over Smathers Beach.
* After stumping the young docent with our question, a Google search revealed that clock works rotated the heavy glass Fresnel lenses, creating unique flashing coastal warning signals to seamen.
Our second week in paradise was marked with finding an island rhythm. The touristy highlights having been hit, we are beginning to slow down. These were the highlights:
Days lost to reading, crosswords, and conversation around the pool.
Boaty punch-list tasks, like polishing isinglass, removing rust, passing our Vessel Safety Inspection, and messing with the outboard motor again to finally determine that we need to buy a new one for the dinghy.
A solo escape for a haircut in Old Key West by a Hoosier stylist. We had an in-depth conversation about her girlhood experiences showing livestock at the fair!
Docktails with our dock neighbors from Evansville on Best Mate.
Two bike rides to Smathers Beach, one without and one with bike locks 🙄
Discovery of the nearby Cuban French bakery, which specializes in croissants—and toooo many tempting restaurants! It’s Steve’s and Mike’s mission to rate the Key Lime Pie at every one of them.
A Valentine’s Day dinghy flotilla “around the corner” to Hurricane Hole for lunch. After an unusually big lunch, we nixed our dinner reservation and enjoyed eclectic dining on leftovers, steamed mussels, and wild rice and edamame salad on Mike and Brenda’s aft deck. The girls whopped the boys at Bid Euchre AND Pinochle!
Here are photos of the dinghy flotilla:
Today we eagerly await news of our grandbaby’s arrival!….