Slip Away

'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness' - Mark Twain




About Us



Sign our Guestbook

Current Location
(enter callsign KG6NNZ)

Boat Refitting

Contact Us


Logbook:    Virginia to Florida - October 2008 to February 2009

After cruising the Chesapeake in late September and October, the days were getting cooler, and hurricane season was winding up down south, so it was time to start making our way to the tropics.  We traveled this part of the U.S. coast at about the same time last year and had expectations of a similar experience this year, but not so.  Last year, we had a few cold days, but overall we had fairly decent weather and enjoyed some good offshore passages.  This year, the weather was unseasonably cold and blustery, and opportunities for sailing offshore were harder to find.  Also, some evil spirits must have stowed away on Slip Away, as we had a series of unlucky events.  Although frustrated by this spate of bad luck, we reminded ourselves of how lucky we are to be living this good life.   

We arrived Norfolk, Virginia, in late October with plans to travel down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to North Carolina with our friends Fred & Debbie on Early Out.  We spent a day in Norfolk before continuing south -  Debbie and Fred went sightseeing for the day, while we ran errands with the help of our friend David on Blue Yonder, who is from the Norfolk area and schlepped us around with his car.  We picked up our recertified life raft, filled an empty propane tank, shopped for a few groceries, and found a great Mexican restaurant for lunch.  At the end of the day, David joined us as we shared a few cocktails on Early Out

Debbie & Fred on Early Out arriving Norfolk


Slip Away arriving Norfolk

Norfolk, Virginia to Buck Island, North Carolina (October 22, 52 nm, 10½ hours).  When we traveled this stretch of the ICW last year, we weighed anchor in Norfolk at 5 a.m. in order to get through several bridges which do not open during rush hour traffic.  That plan worked well, but this year, none of us was feeling particularly motivated to get going at o'dark-thirty, and since we were in no great hurry, we opted to sleep in and get underway at about 8 a.m.  We had no idea that we would run into such a traffic jam on the waterway.  There was a plethora of other southbound boats on this same schedule, and the waterway was packed.  Most of the bridges in this area open on schedules (usually every half hour), and boats would stack up while waiting for an opening.  This part of the ICW also requires transiting the Great Bridge Lock, and when we arrived at the lock, there were too many boats to get through in one shot, and we ended up waiting about an hour while they locked through the first group, and then we got in on the second.  Among the crowd, however, we did run into an old "friend" on the sailboat Spirit.   Bill Chase, the captain of Spirit, is a tug captain and had chatted with Jan on the radio during her middle-of-the-night watch several weeks prior off the coast of New Jersey.  (At that time, he was on a tug towing a load of fuel to Baltimore; we were sailing toward Cape May.)  While waiting for a bridge opening on the ICW, Bill heard us talking with someone else on the VHF radio, hailed us, and we ended up right behind him in the Great Bridge Lock.  Small world!  After a somewhat stressful day along the waterway, we dropped our anchor as the sun was setting near Buck Island (just north of the Albemarle Sound).  We shared cocktails and dinner on Early Out before turning in for the night. 

Line-up of southbound boats passing through
one of the bridges in Norfolk


Locking through at Great Bridge with Spirit just in front of us

Buck Island to Tuckahoe Point, North Carolina
(October 23, 41½ nm, 10½ hours).  The next morning, we weighed anchor early (7 a.m.) hoping to get a head start on the big mass of southbound boats.  As we were entering Albemarle Sound, the winds were starting to build from the north (as forecast), and we raised our sails, looking forward to some good sailing conditions for the next few hours as we crossed the Sound.  Just as we got the sails set and were about to turn off the engine, we heard a horrible ker-plunk and clatter and immediately knew that we had snagged a crab pot in our propeller.  S*&%!!!   We quickly put the engine in neutral and turned it off.  We were making way under sail, but we needed to get the crab pot untangled.  We were really bummed - we had been so careful not to catch a lobster pot in Maine this past summer and successfully avoided them.  There are not nearly as many crab pots in this area as there are lobster pots in Maine, but their dark-colored floats are sometimes hard to spot, and it was just bad luck that we would run over one while distracted with setting our sails. 

We snagged the pot in an area that would soon be busy with traffic - all those other southbound boats would be getting underway and crossing the Sound in this same general area.  The Sound isn't very deep, so we sailed out of the main path of traffic, dropped our anchor, and Rich prepared to get in the water and untangle the pot.   One of the reasons we were so diligent in Maine is that Rich has a strong aversion to swimming in cold water.  Jan checked the water temperature, and groaned - it read 58 degrees, which is the same temperature as the water in Maine in August.   Fortunately, Rich had a heavy wetsuit to help keep him warm since he's lacking in the body fat department.   

Rich suited up, and with much reluctance, he went into the frigid water with his snorkel gear and a sharp knife.  The water in the Sound is very murky, and visibility was only about one foot.  Normally, clearing an entangled crab pot is a matter of cutting away some line and its attached float.  However, Rich found a much bigger problem.  The line and float were easily cleared, but we had apparently pulled the entire trap up into the propeller, and we had a three-foot piece of rebar (¼ inch metal rod used to reinforce concrete) wrapped three times around our prop.  With a snorkel, Rich was not able to hold his breath long enough to clear the rebar.  Jan stayed top side and handed him tools - first a hack saw, and then a rigging cutter - but he had no success with those.  Early Out was standing by and offered a larger rigging cutter, but Rich was still unable to clear the rebar.  He would need a scuba tank in order to stay under the water long enough to clear the prop.  Normally, we have scuba tanks on board Slip Away, but our luck was really running bad.  We left our tanks in North Carolina in the Spring because they needed to be hydro-tested (required every five years).  We would be picking up the tanks on our way south, but at this point, the tanks were about 100 miles away from us.

While Rich was in the water trying to sort things out, Jan was on the VHF radio and cell phone.  She first put out a "Securité" call on the VHF to alert the other boats traveling across the Sound of our situation so that they could keep clear and pass with minimum wake.  She also called TowBoat U.S. because we have their unlimited towing coverage.  When she asked if they could send a diver to help us, they informed us that they could tow us at no charge to the closest marina (30 miles in the wrong direction), but they would not pay for the diver.  They could bring us a diver, but we could expect to pay at least $500.  Ouch!  Not an option.  So, Jan put another call out on the radio, and asked if any of the passing boats had a scuba tank we could borrow.  Finally, a stroke of good luck!  A boat named Renaissance with Al and Judy on board answered our call.  They were about a mile from us, changed course and sailed toward us, and Rich dinghied over to them and picked up the tank.  At this point, the wind and seas were picking up in the Sound making it difficult for Rich to work on the problem.  Also, he was cold and fatigued, and needed to warm up and rest a bit.  Other boaters who had passed us and were into the Alligator River on the south side of the Sound reported that the seas were calmer there, so we weighed anchor and sailed in that direction.

As an aside - we normally use the engine when setting and weighing our anchor, but since we had the crab pot in the propeller, we needed to do this under sail.  This was the first time we had ever set or weighed anchor under sail, and we're happy to report that we managed to do it without too much trouble.  It didn't go perfectly, but Fred & Debbie on Early Out said they were quite impressed with our display of competence. 

It took us a couple of hours to sail across the Sound, but the wind cooperated, and we safely navigated under sail through the somewhat tricky entrance into the Alligator River.  Early Out had gone ahead to scope out a good anchoring spot and was waiting for us when we arrived.  Once anchored in the river, Rich suited up again and went back in the water.  It was still a difficult job to untangle the rebar from our prop, but the scuba tank made it possible.  It took about a half hour, but the prop was finally clear.  We started the engine, put the boat in gear and breathed a sigh of relief when everything worked as it should - no apparent damage to the prop or shaft. 

Slip Away sailing into the Alligator River


The rebar that was wrapped around our prop

After getting underway again, we motor-sailed down the Alligator River, and at the end of the day, we met up again with Renaissance, at the Tuckahoe Point anchorage just before the Alligator-Pungo River Canal.  We delivered the scuba tank back to them, as well as some beer and wine, and thanked them profusely for their help.  We drank a beer and visited with Al and Judy a bit - very nice folks from Massachusetts.  While we were on their boat, Judy was busy in the galley whipping up some crab cakes from some crabs they caught.  They shared the crab cakes with us, and they were absolutely delicious!

Tuckahoe Point to Bonner Bay, NC (Oct. 24 - 52 nm, 9 hours).  The next morning, we again weighed anchor early and continued on our way.  As we passed through the Alligator-Pungo River Canal, we kept an eye out for black bears, hoping we might see one like we did last summer.  A boat that was about 3-4 miles ahead of us called out on the radio that one swam across their bow, but all we saw were some deer along the shore.  In any event, we were pleased to have an uneventful passage to our next anchorage.  We were expecting unsettled weather the next day and found a well-protected spot to drop our hook in Long Creek off Bonner Bay (between Belhaven & Oriental).  The wind blew hard the next morning (about 30 knots from the south).  Early Out and Slip Away took a day off from our travels and comfortably rode out the weather.  The weather settled down later in the afternoon, and we did some further exploring of Long Creek by dinghy.  We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with only one large house nearby, but the large house was broadcasting an unsecured wireless internet signal, so we took advantage of that to download email. 

Bonner Bay to Oriental, NC (October 26 - 21 nm, 4½ hours).  Our destination of Oriental, NC, wasn't far from Bonner Bay, so we slept in a bit and got underway about 9 a.m.  The wind came up enough for us to sail for about an hour, which was a nice break from the motoring we had done over the past few days.  Early Out got underway earlier than us because they were going a bit further.  They were headed up the Neuse River to New Bern, NC, where we would all be attending a "Southbound Cruisers Rendezvous." 


The two of us sharing a drink with Fred on Early Out

Oriental, NC (October 26 to December 1).  We anchored for one night in Oriental, and then early the next day, we had Slip Away hauled out in the Sailcraft Services Boatyard.  Boat maintenance is an ongoing chore, and we needed to stop and do some before continuing south.  We had stopped at Sailcraft a couple times in the past, liked the folks there, and decided to come back again. 

The Southbound Cruisers Rendezvous was getting underway that afternoon in New Bern (about 30 miles away).  We rented a car for the week and headed to New Bern, where we hooked up with Fred & Debbie on Early Out.  Fred & Debbie offered us their guest berth on Early Out during the Rendezvous, and Jan took them up on it, but Rich did the drive back to Oriental to get a couple of the boat projects underway at Sailcraft. 

The Rendezvous was fun - we met a lot of nice folks, attended some good seminars and on the last night, we enjoyed a traditional southern barbeque dinner.  The great majority of the cruisers attending this seminar were Bahamas-bound; those of us headed to the Western Caribbean were few and far between.  During the time we traveled down the ICW, Slip Away and Early Out were working on one another - we were trying to convince them to sail with us to Isla Mujeres, Mexico; they were trying to convince us to sail with them to the Bahamas.  Although we found the Bahamas-bound cruisers to be a very nice group of folks, our hearts were really set on going to Mexico.  Since Early Out's was set on the Bahamas, we went our separate ways.  We were sad to say good-bye to them, but we're hoping we will cruise together again some day. 

When a bunch of cruisers gather together, such as at this Rendezvous, it should come as no surprise that one might run into old friends.   We were delighted to run into John & Sue on Uno Mas, a couple we met five years ago in Ensenada, Mexico.  It was great to see them again and catch up a bit on the past five years.  From Ensenada, Uno Mas did a fast run down to the Panama Canal, transited and made their way to Ft. Lauderdale, where they joined a Nordhavn rally across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.  They spent a couple years in the Med, then returned to the U.S. and cruised the East Coast of the U.S. this past summer.  We unknowingly spent a lot of time in close proximity to one another this summer. 

On the first day of the Rendezvous, the weather turned cold, and it stayed cold for the entire six weeks we spent in North Carolina, with temperatures averaging 10 degrees below normal.  Brrr!!  The cold weather really caught us by surprise.  We were in North Carolina in November last year, and for the most part, the weather was quite pleasant.  This year, we saw a few snow flurries, had one day of sleet and had several mornings of frosted decks.  We got out our heaviest clothing and invested in a couple of new space heaters since the old ones that traveled with us from California decided not to work. 

The weekend after the Rendezvous, while we still had the rental car, we did a road trip to Durham, NC.  Our niece Erica (the daughter of Jan's brother Jeff) recently graduated from Kent State University and was hired as the Office Manager for a new Dental Works office that opened in Durham last fall.  The fall colors were beautiful that weekend, and we had a really nice time with Erica - touring her new office, sampling some of the local restaurants, hiking in Eno River State Park, visiting the campus of  Duke University (one of the most beautiful college campus we've ever seen) and sometimes just sitting around talking. 

Erica & Jan at Eno River State Park


Pretty fall colors at Eno River State Park


Beautiful stone building on the campus of Duke University

After the weekend in Durham, we needed to focus on completing our boat projects so we could continue south.  The big item on our to-do list was to install a PYI Max-Prop feathering propeller.  We'd been lusting after one of these props for quite a while and finally decided to bite the bullet and install one.  The instructions from PYI were simple - cut six inches off the existing shaft and put it on.  But, things never seem to work that easily on Slip Away, and this was no exception.  After the six inches were cut off the shaft, the propeller sat back too far in the aperture and could not turn because it hit the rudder.  The estimated three-hour job of installing the prop turned into two-and-one-half days, and required cutting the exterior cone on the shaft log, installing a new cutlass bearing, and doing some fiberglass work to patch it all up.  The crab pot incident also did some damage to the fiberglass in that area, so we needed to repair that as well.  Some of the other projects we completed included:  replacing our outboard engine rail mount, installing self-tailing winches for the main and mizzen sheets, reinstalling the wind generator (for the fourth time), installing Harken lazy jack systems on the main and mizzen, replacing some defective wire on our mizzen rigging, replacing our broken depth sounder (for the second time), a couple of interior painting and varnishing projects and a few other miscellaneous jobs.   

During our time in Oriental, we accomplished a lot of boat chores, but we always made sure to try and have some fun.  Our friends Charles and Maria arrived from Switzerland, having stored their boat Blue Moon in Oriental for the summer, and we enjoyed some time with them before they headed south.  Our niece Erica visited from Durham for a weekend, and she and Jan had some girls-only time together touring Oriental and Beaufort, NC.  Our friends Jay & Danica drove down from southern Virginia, and we spent hours just talking, sharing food and drinks and catching up.  And, we made some new friends in the boatyard - Ben & Kristen on Wind-Borne and Brian & Alicia on Sarabande, both young couples in their 20's taking a few years off and heading out to go cruising for the first time.  We all worked hard on our boats during the day, but managed a few happy hours in the evenings.  When we found ourselves still in Oriental on Thanksgiving, we shared a potluck dinner with about a dozen other "orphans."  A couple of the guys built a grill in the parking lot of the boatyard, and they barbequed two turkeys.  We had most of the traditional dishes, as well as some new-to-us traditional southern dishes - all were delicious.

Finished installation of the feathering prop.  Fiberglass
repairs at bottom of aperture were related
to crab pot incident.


Mark from Sailcraft re-installing our
wind generator after its third trip
back to the manufacturer for repair.


Saying good-bye to Wind-Borne
as they depart the Sailcraft boatyard.

Jay & Danica (s.v. Alkahest) now live in
Southern Virginia and drove to Oriental to visit us. 


Our niece Erica in front of the historical
Sloo house in Beaufort, NC.


The Thanksgiving potluck dinner.

Oriental, North Carolina to St. Mary's, Georgia (December 1-4).  The weather along the coast had been pretty unsettled for several weeks, and most southbound boats were traveling along the ICW to avoid the high winds and rough seas offshore.  When we were ready to depart Oriental, there was a short weather window for going offshore on the horizon.  Strong south winds were forecast for the day of our departure from Oriental, but we would spend that day traveling in the protected waters of the ICW to Beaufort/Morehead City, where we would anchor for the night before going offshore to St. Mary's. 

We departed from Sailcraft's docks, which are in a canal and very protected from the winds, so it didn't seem all that bad as we motored away.  However, as we turned the corner to head across the Neuse River, we were hit with 30 knots of wind on the nose.  The wind was opposing the current, so the waves were short and steep and crashed over our dodger.  We pushed on - fortunately, it was only 5 miles across the river, and once across and in the Adams Creek Canal, we found protection from the wind and much calmer conditions.  As we approached Beaufort and Morehead City, we lost our protection from the canal, and winds were gusting 30-35, but the waves weren't as bad as on the Neuse River.  We arrived in Morehead City late afternoon and dropped our hook (23 nm, 5 hours).  Shortly after starting this passage, our wind generator started making an awful sound.  We were beginning to wonder if it was going to blow apart (and since we'd had such bad luck with it, we wouldn't have been too disappointed if it did).  By the time we got to Morehead City, it had quieted down, but it wasn't putting out any power.  After anchoring, while it was still blowing 20-25 knots, Rich pulled out his climbing gear, and climbed to the top of the mizzen mast to turn the wind generator out of the wind and tie it down. 

As forecast, the strong winds dissipated during the night.  The next morning, we fueled up and motored out of the Beaufort inlet - it was raining and cold, but the seas were relatively calm.  The wind blew from the west about 15 knots for most of the day, but since we were headed southwest, it was a bit too close for us to make any speed under sail, so we motor-sailed.  The weather had been so cold that we were eager to get south quickly, and we had only a couple days to get to St. Mary's before the weather was forecast to turn bad again.  It was a cold day, and that night we were expecting temps in the low 40's or upper 30's.  Running the engine helped create some heat and also kept the batteries fully charged, so we decided to warm things up a bit more by turning on our inverter running a heater while underway.  That worked quite nicely until just after midnight when an error light on the inverter went on and the heater quit working.  We tried hitting the reset button, and it worked for a short while, then quit again.  $&%#!! 

The next morning the sun came out, and the air warmed, and it was a beautiful day.  The wind completely died, and we powered on through flat seas, while Jan celebrated another birthday at sea.  We arrived in St. Mary's 50 hours after departing Beaufort, a 350 mile trip, so we averaged 7 knots.  We had burned a fair amount of diesel, but we were just happy to be in warmer temps.

St. Mary's, Georgia (December 4-8).  We had stopped in St. Mary's last year and really enjoyed this small town on the Florida-Georgia border.  Our friends Barb & Rich Newcomb live in St. Mary's, and Rich's brother Ron and his family live in Jacksonville, which is close by.  One of the first things we did upon arriving in St. Mary's was to put a call into Xantrex to sort out our inverter problem.  They recommended a hard reset - cutting all power to the inverter for about 45 minutes - and so far, that seems to have taken care of it (knock on wood!). 

We were in St. Mary's over a weekend, which was quite fortuitous since everyone was off work.  Ron and his son Chad drove up from Jacksonville on that Saturday - we spent some time at the Christmas festival on the waterfront, made chili for dinner on Slip Away and played some serious games of Farkle.  Barb & Rich came over to Slip Away for dinner on Friday evening, and then they invited us to spend a Sunday afternoon at their home - a nice day of relaxation, while Rich (Newcomb) made an outstanding rib roast dinner.  The weather turned very cold on the day we spent at the Newcomb's, and the temps were expected to dip down into the low 30's that night.  Barb & Rich asked if we wanted to spend the night at their house, and we quite happily accepted their offer. 

Rich with his brother Ron and nephew Chad in St. Mary's


Rich & Barb Newcomb on St. Mary's Docks


The Newcomb home decorated for the holidays

On Monday morning, Barb & Rich dropped us off at the dinghy dock, and we returned to Slip Away and got underway continuing south.  The winds were forecast to blow from the south that afternoon and over the next several days, so we resigned ourselves to burning more diesel and motoring down the ICW.  We stopped in Fernandina Beach, Florida, and fueled up.  On the bright side, diesel prices had dropped significantly in the past few months, and we paid just under $2 per gallon.   

St. Mary's, Georgia, to Vero Beach, Florida (December 8-15, 216 nm).  We spent the next week motoring down the ICW to Vero Beach, Florida.  Some days we traveled all day, and some days we just went a short distance, but we stopped each night to anchor and get a good night's sleep.  Our stops were in Jacksonville, Ft. Matanzas, New Smyrna Beach, Titusville, Cocoa and Pine Island (just before Vero Beach).  We spent one day hunkered down in an anchorage in New Smyrna Beach when a bad weather system passed through.  Although it's a great option to use the ICW to keep moving south in bad weather, traveling it isn't always easy.  When we sail offshore, we're in deep water and normally we let our autopilot do the steering.  In the ICW, we have to hand-steer most of the time and pay much closer attention, watching the buoys and markers to make sure we stay in the channel.  It's pretty easy to wander out of the channel and run aground, and we did it twice in one day - once when Rich dropped a fender in the water and we tried to turn around in a narrow channel and then later that same day, Jan didn't see one of the green markers, and the next thing we knew we were out of the channel and in shallow water.  Fortunately, both times were soft groundings, and we were able to back off and continue on our way with no damage.  (The new propeller gives us more power in reverse, and it really came in handy here!) 

Pretty houses along the ICW in Northern Florida


Following the chartplotter along the ICW -
keeping the boat on the blue track


Passing through the lift bridge at St. Augustine

When we got to Titusville, it was time to get off the boat for a walkabout.  We thought Titusville might be a neat little town to explore, and we found a great little farmers market to buy some fresh fruits and veggies.  Other than that, it was pretty deserted and appeared to have seen better days.  We also stopped at Cocoa, one of our favorite stops in Florida from last year, and we once again found it to be quite charming.  We walked to a favorite restaurant - Murdock's - and during lunch, we had a great conversation with a couple seated at the table next to us.  

The second day of our travels down the ICW, we started having trouble with the engine starting.  Normally, it starts as soon as we turn the key, but it was now cranking for a while before starting.  Rich also noticed a small amount of oil in the bilge - not a lot, but there is normally none.  We had an appointment with a mechanic in Vero Beach for some preventative maintenance, so we were eager to get there and have him diagnose this problem. 

The weather was cold for most of the trip - it seemed to be following us down the coast.  It felt odd to be wearing turtlenecks and long underwear in Florida, but we needed them until we finally reached warm weather in Vero. 

Vero Beach, Florida (December 15-30).  We pulled into Vero Beach ten days before Christmas and with plans to stay a few days.  Shortly after we arrived, we learned that Vero's nickname is "Velcro Beach", and like others, we got stuck here and ended up staying a couple of weeks.  It's a popular stop for cruising boats, and there were lots of nice cruising folks to meet and spend time with.  Additionally, the City Marina has inexpensive mooring balls, and there is great local bus service (no charge, but they accept donations).  There are several good grocery stores on the bus routes, as well as Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, so it's a good place to pick up provisions.   

We had reserved a slip at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina for a few days because we had an appointment with a mechanic from Helseth Marine, who was going to help us with some preventive maintenance on Slip Away's engine.  Specifically, the engine needed a valve adjustment, we needed a lesson on cleaning the turbo, and now we had the starting issue and oil leak for him to check out.  The day after we arrived in Vero, the mechanic arrived and got to work on our engine.  He diagnosed our starting problem and oil leak as a problem with the turbo, and it needed to be replaced.  He then set about adjusting the valves.  One of the adjustment lock nuts on the valves was so tight that he had a hard time loosening it, and he accidentally bent one of the valves in the process.  $%&#!!!  This was a huge bummer.  Repairing this would require a major tear down of our 18 month old engine - the head needed to be removed and taken to their shop.  Although both repairs would be covered under warranty, we were stuck paying $70/night for the marina slip while the work was being done.  Helseth worked as quickly as possible to complete the repairs, but we ended up in the slip about four days longer than originally planned. 

During the engine debacle, we were lucky enough to have a couple of visitors to distract us.  Aunt Flo and Uncle Paul (Jan's dad's brother) spend their winters in New Port Ritchie, Florida (near Tampa), and they drove over to Vero Beach to see us.  Jan comes from a big family, with 28 first cousins on her dad's side of the family, so it isn't often we get to spend one-on-one time with an aunt and uncle.  We had a great visit with them - we went out to lunch, ran some errands, cooked dinner on Slip Away, and played several rounds of Farkle.  They spent the night at a nearby motel, and the next morning, we went out for breakfast before they headed back home.  Their visit was a real treat.

Boats moored at the Vero Beach City Marina


Two of us with Uncle Paul & Aunt Flo


Working on our engine

As the repairs were winding up on the engine, we had another visit from an evil demon in the form of a computer virus.  On a Saturday night, just a few days before Christmas, our laptop froze up, and nothing we could do would make it work.  We had a backup of our data, but we didn't have a spare computer.  $%$#!!  Our engine mechanic recommended a local computer repair shop, and first thing Monday morning, Jan hopped on a bus to take it to them.  They did their thing with it, and returned it to us in working order the next day (the day before Christmas Eve). 

As soon as the engine repairs were completed, we moved Slip Away out of the slip and on to a mooring ball, which cost a more reasonable $12/night.  Christmas was only a couple days away, and after the unwelcome excitement of the past week, we were looking forward to relaxing a bit and enjoying the holidays.  Over the previous weekend, we had attended a "Festival of Carols" at the local Methodist Church, so we were starting to get into the spirit of Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, we went to a Seven Seas Cruising Association breakfast, which was a lot of fun.  On Christmas morning, we went to mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church, which was one of the most beautiful modern churches we've ever been in.  Vero Beach is a fairly wealthy area, and even though we put on our best church clothes, we felt we were a bit underdressed (and Rich said he thought his shirt smelled like the engine room).  On Christmas afternoon, we attended a potluck dinner with about 80 other folks at the marina.  We met some really great people in Vero Beach, a few who became very good friends and with whom we traveled further down the road. 

Festival of Carols at Christ by the Sea Methodist Church


Christmas potluck in Vero Beach

After Christmas, we hung out in Vero Beach a bit longer, enjoying the community and waiting for a good weather window to continue south.  We didn't really want to continue traveling on the ICW because we figured it would be busy with holiday traffic, and we preferred to avoid all the bridges along the way (41 of them that would require opening between Vero Beach and Miami).  After a few days, we got a good weather forecast to go offshore.

Vero Beach to Miami, Florida (12/30-31, 142 nm, 27 hours).  When we left Vero, we weren't sure of our exact destination - we thought we'd just play it by ear and stop wherever it worked well for us timing and weather wise.  We left Vero Beach and motored down the ICW to the Ft. Pierce Inlet, then headed out the inlet, turned south and set our sails wing-and-wing, with light winds (8-12 knots) pushing us down the coast.  This was the first time we had the chance to sail since installing our new feathering prop, and we were extremely pleased that it worked as advertised.  Our previous prop free-wheeled while we were sailing, creating noise and vibration, and we were concerned it would cause wear on our transmission.  The new prop is stationary when we sail, and Slip Away was now quieter and smoother under sail.  Very nice!  We sailed for the next eight hours in light winds and gentle seas.  A couple hours after sunset, the wind died, so we turned on the engine and continued under motor.  About that same time, we were passing by North Lake Worth, which was having a fireworks show.  Our timing was perfect as we passed by with a great view of the display. 

We arrived Miami mid-morning the next day and decided to stop here for New Year's Eve.  Initially, we planned to anchor at Hurricane Harbor off Key Biscayne, but the local yacht club would not let us land our dinghy on shore.  (Sometimes folks just aren't very friendly to visiting boaters!)  So, we said the heck with them, and motored across Biscayne Bay to Dinner Key, where we knew there was a dinghy dock we could use.  From Dinner Key, we could walk into Coconut Grove and go out for lunch.  An added bonus is that our friends Jayne & Peter live in Coconut Grove.  We gave them a call and caught them at home, so after lunch, we walked to their house, and spent a couple hours visiting with them that afternoon.  They invited us to go with them to a New Year's Eve Party that evening, but we were both tired from our overnight passage, and headed home around sunset.  When we got back to Slip Away, we shared a bottle of champagne and hit the sack pretty early.  At midnight, we heard fireworks and cries of "Happy New Year!"  Jan lifted her head off the pillow and looked out the back ports but couldn't see the fireworks.  She dropped her head back on the pillow and went back to sleep.  Rich didn't even open his eyes. 

Sunrise as we arrived in Miami on New Year's Eve morning


Our friends Peter & Jayne with their "girls" Kaya & Satu


Miami to Rodriguez Key, Florida (January 1, 50 nm, 8½ hours).  As others were sleeping off their hangovers from New Year's Eve, we were rising early to get underway and continue south into the Florida Keys.  We weighed anchor at 7:30 a.m. and motored across Biscayne Bay to the Hawk Channel, which runs along the ocean side of the Florida Keys.  As we entered the Hawk Channel, winds were blowing from the northeast at about 10 knots (as forecast).  A reef provides protection and keeps the seas fairly calm in the Channel, and with the winds off our port quarter, we thought this sounded like a great opportunity to fly our spinnaker.  The skies were a little grey, but we went ahead and hoisted the big sail.  A short time later, the wind built to about 15 knots with higher gusts and veered to the east, putting it off our beam.  We were flying along at 7 knots with just the spinnaker, and although most racers would think this was great fun, as cruisers, we were sailing beyond our comfort level, so 15 minutes later the spinnaker came down.  We have a spinnaker sock, which pulls down over the sail and "snuffs" it, and normally that's not too difficult to do, but with the building winds, it took about all of Rich's strength that morning.  After taking the spinnaker down, we unfurled the headsail, raised the mizzen and sailed comfortably along at a speed of 6-6.5 knots in the 15-20  knots of wind.  Near the end of the day, a spotted eagle ray jumped out of the water right next to our boat.  Very cool!  We planned to spend the night at the Rodriguez Key anchorage, which unfortunately provided little protection from east winds, but there were no better options that we could reach in daylight, so we resigned ourselves to a somewhat bumpy night with the wind continuing to blow at 15-20 and 2-3 foot seas.  (Although those are great sailing conditions, we prefer calmer seas in an anchorage.)  When we dropped our anchor, we thought it set, but we must have dropped in some grass because it didn't hold, and a couple hours later, our anchor alarm went off to let us know we were dragging.  We had plenty of room behind us, so we put more chain out and it held with no further problem.  

Our short-lived spinnaker run
on New Year's Day

Rodriguez Key to Boot Key Harbor, Marathon (January 2, 46 nm, 9 hours).  We weighed anchor early again the next morning and continued along the Hawk Channel.  Winds were a bit lighter, 10-15 knots, and veered more to the southeast, but we were now sailing southwest, so they were right off our beam, and conditions were great.  The winds continued to lighten as the day went on, and as we traveled further along the Keys, our course became more westerly, and the winds fell further behind us.  The changing conditions resulted in several changes in our sail configuration during the day, but we were able to sail the entire way.  We started out with jib and mizzen, but a couple hours into the sail, when the winds got lighter, we put up the main.  Just after lunch, when the winds lightened a bit more, we brought out the spinnaker - this time conditions were perfect for it.  We sailed with the spinnaker for about an hour and a half, but when the winds lightened more and fell further behind us, we snuffed it, poled out the headsail and finished the passage sailing wing-and-wing.  We anchored for the night, on the outside of Boot Key, and the next morning, we moved into the harbor and hooked up to one of the Marathon City Marina mooring balls. 

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida (January 3-February 11).  We'd been in Marathon a couple times in the past.  It's a popular cruiser hangout, a well protected harbor, and there are good restaurants, a couple of grocery stores, a Home Depot and numerous other conveniences easily reached on foot, bike or by dinghy.  From here, we intended to sail to Isla Mujeres, Mexico in the Caribbean, but first, we planned to spend a couple weeks completing a project.   

When we bought Slip Away, there was carpeting throughout the boat.  We never liked the carpeting, quickly pitched it, and for the past seven years, we've lived with a few throw rugs on the plywood floors.  In the fall of 2004, while in Southern California, we purchased some vinyl planking flooring (looks like a hardwood floor, but it's vinyl) from Home Depot.  We intended to install the flooring somewhere along the way, but this job remained on our to-do list for over four years.  It often worked its way up to the top of the list, but then repairs or other maintenance items became a higher priority, and the boxes of flooring continued to ride around in our v-berth.  We finally decided that this job needed to get done, and Marathon was an ideal place to accomplish it since there was a Home Depot close by, so if we needed something we didn't have, we could get it there. 


Wildlife Sighting - We were thrilled to have our
first close encounter with manatees in Marathon. 
They love to drink fresh water from a hose. 

In addition to the flooring project, we were planning a trip to Key West to rendezvous with our friends Susie & Mike.  Susie & Mike were vacationing in Ft. Myers with a couple other friends - Betsy and Steve - and they were coming to Key West via ferry.  For us, it was an easy bus trip to Key West from Marathon.  We arrived on the bus a few minutes before they arrived on the ferry, and the fun began in short order.  Jan knew Betsy from the days when she, Susie and Betsy worked at Procter & Gamble and played softball together, but they hadn't seen each other since then - 25 years ago - and they enjoyed getting reacquainted (even finding out that Jan's uncle was Betsy's elementary school bus driver!).  The six of us had a great time tooling around Key West.  We went to the Butterfly Museum, watched the sunset and entertainment on Mallory Square, stood on the southernmost point in the U.S., ate sloppy joes at Sloppy Joe's, and quaffed a few adult beverages at some of the other drinking establishments along Duval Street.  Key West was as uncrowded as we had ever seen - an indication of the slow economy in the U.S.  We spent one night in Key West, the six of us staying in a cottage which was recommended by Mike's son.  The weather was warm and beautiful, it was a fun get-together, and we were sorry to see it end the next day as we boarded the bus back to Marathon. 

Hanging out at Sloppy Joe's -
the two of us with Susie, Mike, Betsy & Steve


Sunset entertainment on Mallory Square


Although it doesn't look like much from the outside,
Pepe's is one of our favorite restaurants in Key West


Shortly after we settled into Marathon, Rich got to work on the flooring project.  We had chosen a light oak color, which we thought would contrast well with our teak interior and match the white oak trim on our overhead.  Rich started in the v-berth, and quickly realized this job was going to take a while.  Slip Away has 14 floor hatches which provide access to storage and equipment in the bilges, and he had to fit the flooring around all of those hatches.  Rich is a bit of a perfectionist, so it wasn't going quickly.  It took him several days to get the flooring installed in the v-berth, and when we sat back and looked at it, neither of us liked it.  The floor hatches showed up as dark outlines on the light oak floor, and it looked like crap!  Back to the drawing board...

Conveniently, the Home Depot was close by, so we walked over to the store to see if we could find another option.  We found more vinyl planking in a darker color (cherry), and bought a box to try it out.  Rich tore up the light oak flooring he had installed in the v-berth, installed the cherry flooring, and it looked great!  The Home Depot had plenty of the cherry flooring in stock, so there would be no problem completing the project, and we donated the light oak flooring to the local Salvation Army.  By this time, two weeks of our intended three-week stay in Marathon had passed, and we were just starting to make progress.  Rich continued working diligently on this painfully tedious project, but his efforts were paying off, as the floor was looking beautiful.  In the meantime, Jan kept busy with some projects of her own but she spent a lot of time serving as Rich's gopher - running to the store for more supplies and hauling boxes of flooring, as well as keeping him fed and buying him small gifts like bottles of rum. 


New flooring - a significant improvement

Although our focus in Marathon was on the flooring installation, friends provided diversion, and made our time here much more enjoyable.  We saw our friends Nelson & Alice Francis, who live on Big Pine Key, a couple of times.  We met them through their son Mike whom we met cruising in the Caribbean, and he was visiting them in early January, so we got to see him, too.  Friends we made in Vero Beach (John & Cheryl on Wind Drifter and Bob & Debbie on Velissa) were also in Marathon, and by some stroke of good luck, we all ended up on the same row of mooring balls, so we didn't have to travel far to get together with them.  One night, we had a "progressive cocktail hour."  Everyone brought their own drinks, each boat provided a snack, and we moved from boat to boat in our dinghies, spending about an hour on each one. 

The two of us with Mike Francis, whom we met
cruising in the Caribbean, and his parents Alice & Nelson
who live on Big Pine Key


The start of the progressive cocktail hour on Slip Away with
Debbie & Bob from Velissa, John & Cheryl from Wind Drifter
and Roy & Bertha from Serenade

After three weeks in Marathon, the flooring project was not yet complete, but we started watching for a weather window to head to Isla Mujeres.  Some of Jan's family were planning to meet us in Isla Mujeres in mid-February, which was about 2½ weeks away.  The passage to Isla Mujeres was only three days, but the weather had been unsettled so we wanted to take the next weather window to make sure we got there before our guests.  If necessary, Rich could finish the flooring when we got to Mexico. 

The weather window did not open in the next week, and Rich completed the flooring project.  The weather window remained shut for another week and a half, and our plans for Jan's family visit in Isla Mujeres went up in smoke.  We were also missing an opportunity to see our friends Mike & Linda Lundequam, who were vacationing in Cancun in early February.  We were incredibly disappointed.  On the bright side, Jan's family had not purchased airline tickets since Jan's brother Jeff works for Comair (part of Delta Airlines), and they were intending to fly down on his buddy passes.

The weather is a constant source of conversation among sailors, and it was especially so this year because it was a harsh winter for most of the U.S.  When we first arrived in Marathon, the weather was great - warm and sunny.  We thought we had finally escaped the cold, and we packed away our heavy blankets and warm clothes.  However, it changed shortly afterward, and during most of our time there, it was cold and windy, and the heavy blankets and clothing came back out of our storage lockers.  Temps dipped down into the 40's several nights, and on some days, the mercury barely got above 60.  (Although these temperatures in January might not sound so bad to many people, this was frigid weather for the Florida Keys, and we don't have heat on the boat.)  One night when a big storm came through, the Marathon airport clocked 60 mph winds.  We were glad the City Marina does a good job of maintaining their mooring balls, as the harbor was full of boats, and had any of the moorings broken apart, it could have been a real mess.  The weather window for folks traveling to the Bahamas was also closed for a few weeks, and boats were stacking up in the harbor.  The marina's 226 mooring balls were all occupied, and they had a waiting list.  The small anchorage area inside the harbor was packed with boats, and others were anchored outside the harbor.  There were so many boats using the city marina's facilities that at times, it was difficult to find a parking space at the dinghy dock.  Also, one needed to get up very early in the morning to get hot water in the marina showers, and if one was not one of the first to get to the washing machines in the morning, doing laundry could take hours.  The marina was building a new shower house and laundry facility, and it was nearly finished, but the construction was halted due to a dispute.  (The unconfirmed rumor was that the waste water pipe size was spec'd incorrectly.)  In the meantime, over 500 people in the harbor had access to three showers and three washers and dryers (most of which were long past their useful life).  At times, it was a bit frustrating. 

Stormy weather passing through Marathon


Jan needed her gloves to keep her hands warm
while reading in bed at night

Although the bad weather put a wrench in the works for our family visit, we did get some benefit out of our extended stay in Marathon.  First, the local hospital in Marathon and the University of Miami hosted a health fair on a  Saturday, and we participated.  Students from the University's Medical School received training under the supervision of doctors, and we got a whole range of medical tests (from exams, to skin cancer checks, cholesterol screenings, and "male" and "female" exams), most of them for free.  We spent a good part of the day at the hospital, but it was well worthwhile. 

Additionally,  there was a very talented marine electrician in the harbor, and he helped us trouble shoot our wind generator, and we got it working.  It still needs a repair, but it's one we can put off for a bit, and at least now our batteries are being charged when the wind is blowing.  Yippee! 

And last but not least, a couple of days before we left for Isla Mujeres, our friends Gary & Celeste on Sol Surfin', sailed into the Boot Key Harbor from Tampa.  Gary & Celeste are from San Diego, and we first met them on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.  We cruised through Central America with them and celebrated Christmas 2006 on their boat in Costa Rica.  We last saw them in Panama, when friends gathered for a send-off party for us at the Balboa Yacht Club, and Jan & Celeste had a great time dancing to some oldies music.  Gary & Celeste transited the Panama Canal about a year after us, and we'd been in touch and knew they were headed toward Florida.  We were hopeful that we could connect and were glad when it all worked out.  We had a short but great visit with them, catching up over dinner on Slip Away the day they arrived, and then sharing rum drinks the next evening, which was the eve of our departure for Isla Mujeres.  They came over to Slip Away with a bottle of 7 year Flor de Caña Rum (our favorite rum from Nicaragua) - what a good send off!

We were half way into February when the weather finally improved, and we were on our way to Isla Mujeres.  The weather window was open for travel in all directions, and boats were dropping their mooring balls, filling up at the fuel dock and heading out.  There are two fuel docks on the way out of Boot Key Harbor, and when we pulled into one at 9:30 a.m., the attendant told us we were his 26th customer that morning.  We were very happy to finally be on our way!


Our last night in Marathon - sharing a Flor de Caña
rum drink with Celeste & Gary from Sol Surfin'