Belhaven to River Dunes

Tuesday 11-26
We’re in Belhaven. . . a very, VERY small town in the dogleg of the Pungo River. . . Belhaven Waterway Marina The town calls itself the birthplace of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) and they have a celebration in September that brings thousands of boaters. It would be great fun to come and check it out!
We’ve hunkered down here due to “weather.” This is part of THE major storm that disrupted so much of the Thanksgiving travel this year, with ice, snow, heavy rain (VERY heavy rain, we had 2.5” last night) and wind. Mostly in other parts of the country, from Texas to New Hampshire, thankfully, but we are getting our share, and it is NOT BOATING weather.
The wind is really what has pinned us here, as it whips up waves and makes travel difficult, uncomfortable. We are an elephantine, lumbering, rocking-and-rolling trawler. Imagine rolling your living room 15 degrees left. . . pause. . . then 15 degrees to the right. Or 20, 25 degrees. Sometimes there isn’t a pause, sometimes it’s a “snap,” and you are rolling back the other way. Things fall, including things that you were sure were tied down, wedged in, secured. As for us, WE are more fragile than the boat. So we just don’t care to be out in it.Belhaven Marina 2
We came into Belhaven early afternoon Tuesday with winds and waves urging us on. It’s a tiny spot, interesting, friendly. Les the dock master is passionate about wooden boats, their history, construction, preservation, reconstruction, appreciation. And is very happy to talk about it all, with a lot of knowledge and experience.Belhaven Marina
A very bouncy overnight and day, with driving sheets of cold rain coming through periodically. COLD! Les took us to the Food Lion which was a couple of miles away. If the day had not been so nasty (cold, very cold blowing rain!) we would have walked the three blocks up to the local museum. Evidently among other things in their collection there are fleas dressed in wedding attire, and a button collection that boasts 30,000 buttons. I truly regret missing these things. . . they sound as if they make a return trip worthwhile!! (Have I said COLD??)
We decided to go to dinner “in town” which is literally three blocks long, and boasts several restaurants. Our choice was “Spoon River” which gets rave reviews, but we discovered it closed. Almost directly across the street was “The Tavern at Jack’s Neck.” Our decision was made. This is a restaurant built in a space which dates back to the 1930s. Open with a full menu for only three weeks, they were doing a good business on the night before Thanksgiving. The space itself is beautiful, with a variety of rich woods milled locally. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the staff welcoming and attentive. Dinner was not “perfect,” but the experience was, and it too was worth a return visit.
Thursday 11-28
We traveled on Thanksgiving Day down through a canal from the Pungo River to Bay River, passing through an area that was home to some of the local shrimpers. These are huge boats, and I cannot imagine them quietly tied up during the NON-shrimp season, but there they were.Sharon Nicole
Out into the Pamlico Sound and then in to River Dunes. This is a resort about which we have heard rave reviews from everyone. EVERYONE. I don’t think anyone has given it 4 stars. And we agree, it is worth 5 stars. Inexpensive for transient boaters, it’s extremely protected, has floating docks, and the amenities are amazing.River Dunes merge A swimming pool, a clean and incredibly inexpensive laundry, an exercise room with all sorts of major equipment, a beautiful “clubhouse,” with pool table, and free wifi. The showers . . . we have a bathtub on Aqua Vitae, but the showers at River Dunes get bigger raves than anything else about the place, so I had to try. Four small shower heads aimed just above the belly button, and a rain shower above, then you press the button for steam . . . OH MY!River Dunes 4
There is quite a contrast between Belhaven and River Dunes.Contrast
We took the loaner car into Oriental, which is about 6 miles from here, had a disappointing lunch at M & M’s Restaurant, which we had remembered as “good,” bought some cable Hans needed for a repair to one of the engines and back again. Loaner car – wow! Check this out: and you’ll see what I’m talking about.River Dunes 3River Dunes 2
Tomorrow we are off to Morehead City, North Carolina. I wouldn’t mind staying here for “the duration,” but onward, ever onward. . . . Our goal is Marathon, Florida. In the Keys. Sometime.

Stuck in the Cold and Wind

We left Solomons, Maryland after being there almost a week, thanks to our wonderful friends Nancy and Ted. Our trip to Deltaville, Virginia went smoothly, always the best kind, and we had a peaceful night at the Deltaville Marina.  The area is quiet and picturesque.ImageImage

Getting in and out of that little Creek is “interesting.”Image

The first time we did it was about 6 or 7 years ago, and following an overnight there I was driving the boat, exiting the creek. Somehow I missed the last green mark at the dog leg (I’ve marked it with a green circle here), where it turns right to return to the Bay. And ran aground. (Hans has never let me forget this. . . ) So leaving there on Friday morning I was driving the boat. And yep, somehow I missed the last green mark at the dog leg, and ran aground AGAIN. For SURE Hans will never let me forget it, and from now on, when leaving Deltaville I’m going to let him drive!

It’s always an interesting ride through Portsmouth, with all the military stuff going on. There was a supply ship coming in from the Atlantic and we sort of crossed paths a couple of times getting situated. Interesting stuff! And of course we passed several aircraft carriers. They are huge!


We pulled into Top Rack Marina in Chesapeake Virginia at about 2:15, fueled up, and got our slip assignment. Image

We are next to a 60 foot Romsdal boat. It’s gorgeous, although Hans says the inside is “tight,” with narrow doors and passageways. It was built in 1960 or 1961, and the people who own it are permanent liveaboards.Image

This is not a glamorous or picturesque place, but it’s “relatively inexpensive” and we knew we were going to wait out the coming gale force winds here. Monday morning we will go through a bridge and then the Great Bridge Lock at about 7 am, continuing on our way south. In the meantime, after a lovely Saturday, Sunday has been about 30 degrees, blowing 25-30 knots with gusts of 40. It’s cold. The groaning of the lines holding us to the dock is unnerving, and we’re running out of bread and milk. . .

Although Top Rack Marina has about a dozen transient slips (and invites visits with promise of free dockage with dinner at their very good Amber Lantern Restaurant), it is primarily for smaller boats. There is a humongous building with stacks of little “cubbies” that hold boats up to about 30 feet. Instead of having a home slip, these boaters simply call up and ask that their boat be launched, and the fork lift takes them out of the cubby and deposits them in the water.Image

We’ve been watching a number of them being winterized and put away until spring. . . on a day like today, I think that’s what I would prefer to be doing.

On Our Way South!

We’re under way!
We left the dock at 7:05 on Friday morning, heading south.
This is the Francis Scott Key Bridge, about 45 minutes from our slip (at our normal speed of about ten miles an hour). We feel that going under this bridge signals either the end of our voyage, or the beginning. So here we are, beginning a new season.FSK Bridge
We had smooth seas, just the way we like it.Leaving Patapsco
Our fingers were crossed that the next three days will continue this way, as the Chesapeake Bay is the part of this trip that can get “really interesting.” The average depth of the Bay is 12 feet and for such a huge body of water to be so shallow, the waves that can kick up with any wind will be short and steep. Trawlers don’t like waves anyway, but short and steep can be extremely uncomfortable.
This little gadget is our “SPOT.” When we turn it on it sends a signal every ten minutes showing our location. I’ve put a permanent link on the front page of the blog in the column on the right so you can check it out. If you save it to your favorites you can watch our progress.Spot
There weren’t many people out there, but this Bay built boat named “Shameless” passed us heading north. He was definitely loaded down with all of the equipment needed for his trade, which is crabbing. He’s probably heading home for the season from the looks of it.Shameless Crabber
Niya was in her accustomed place for the day, guarding my feet. She gets up every time I do, just to make sure she’s not missing anything, but this is how she generally travels when we’re under way.Niya guarding my feet
About three hours out of Baltimore we realized that our generator was overheating – it kept shutting down after running for only a short time. Almost immediately we also realized that our inverter/charger wasn’t operating properly either. These two pieces of equipment are key to our AC power when we aren’t plugged into shore power. Without them we knew that there would be no anchoring out tonight, as we would have no heat, and hey, this is November!
We called our friends Nancy and Ted, who have a lovely condo – and a slip that they were not using – in Solomons, Maryland, about 65 miles south of Baltimore. They are very generous friends, and we are grateful to be tied up at their dock and plugged into shore power. Monday morning at 8 am we are due at Zahniser’s Yacht Repair Yard, just down the creek from where we are. In the meantime we will have an opportunity to get ourselves more organized. I will NOT post the photo I took of what the inside of the boat looks like. Nothing is put away yet!
But look, wouldn’t you agree that if you are “stuck” somewhere, this is the place to be?AV at Solomons Landing
Unfortunately our stay here has lost us our “weather window.” Monday and Tuesday are supposed to be unpleasant on the Bay, so we will stay put until things calm down.

Jew Point Dawn on Card Sound

ImageThis was a spectacular dawn on our first night out. . . as you can see we shared the anchorage with one other very distant boat.

Yes, we’ve left Marathon, and are on our slow way back north. Our Marathon winter was wonderful, and we’ll be doing it again.  I’m afraid our blog has suffered while we were there. It’s been over two months since we’ve posted, and while I have a lot of photos and thoughts I’ve put into the blog folder on my laptop, that’s where they remain.

I’m going to try to pull together what I have and post new entries in the next week or two, but for now we will tell you that our Jew Point anchorage at the bottom of Card Sound was about as perfect as you can get for the first night on this part of our journey.

On to the Keys

Click on the Title

We left Ft. Lauderdale Monday morning, finally on our way to the Keys, our goal. The winds had subsided — not entirely, but enough, and we both wanted badly to be at our final destination.

We had planned to leave on Wednesday of last week, and ended up staying five extra days due to winds and waves down that way. . . call us “wuss,” when we’ve never done it, never seen it, never experienced it, Biscayne Bay looks GIGANTIC on the charts, and open to the weather! We were pretty sure that at the other end of it we would say, “What were we THINKING! We SHOULDA JUST GONE. . .” But we didn’t, and the week in Ft. Lauderdale was great. It’s a happening city, worth a visit, and we were located beautifully at the municipal marina.

More amazing boats lined the waterway of course. . . Image

South of Ft. Lauderdale is Hollywood, with many incredibly tall condo buildings. 


Miami. Whew! What a sight.Image

This is one of the many bridges we went through. Most of the bridges are “just bridges,” but a few, like this one have character.Image

And the cruise ships, all lined up ready to go!


Then we were in Biscayne Bay, Image

and below that several much smaller sounds, divided by incredibly narrow cuts through the mangroves. ImageImageYep, we had some wind and waves, in fact the boat was covered in salt at the end of the day, when we anchored off Key Largo in Buttonwood Sound. This is where we chose to anchor:Image



We’ve learned that Key Largo is really, REALLY long! And that the Keys are many, many, MANY small islands. Duck Key, Nest Key, Whaleback Key, Shell Key, Butternut Key . . . and on, and on, and on!ImageMost of these little islands are uninhabitable, but some of them of course house the rich and famous. In fact they are so exclusive that they (reportedly) have armed guards at the docks, in case you should be foolish enough to want to go ashore. We didn’t try. . .

In the meantime, we were traveling through the Everglades National Park. It looks like you could go forever — but DO NOT STRAY off the path! Although the water is very wide, the channel running through it is very narrow, and the water on either side is very shallow. We could see birds standing (NOT floating, STANDING) nearby as we passed. And IN the channel in some places we had just 1 foot of water under the boat . . .  in those places we went very slowly. You don’t want to hit bottom very hard.

When we got into Florida Bay, that large body of water between “Southern Florida Mainland” and the big swooping curve of the Keys, the color truly turned to turquoise.Image The sky held scattered clouds, and the sun playing on the water left dark areas that were opaque, then big streaks of brilliant aquamarine (golly, I wonder where THAT word came from!!) and crystal clear. ImageWe could see the bottom as we cruised over it at our 9 or 10 miles an hour. Again, it was very shallow, our depth sounder showing only two or three feet of water under us, and . . . there were CRAB TRAP FLOATS. ImageImageWhen I say there were crab trap floats, they were everywhere, as far as we could see, crowded together only 50 or 60 feet apart. It was a challenging maze as we worked our way through them.

In the photo below, you can see the white sand trail we kicked up from the bottom in the super shallow water. The curve is because the channel actually turns there.  Image

Finally, we could see the Seven Mile Bridge! ImageThe Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight’s Key (part of the city of Marathon, Florida) in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. It is one of the many (MANY!) bridges on US 1 in the Keys, where the road is called the Overseas Highway. The old bridge was built by Henry Flagler, a hotel tycoon who built a railroad to attract people to his fancy hotels in Key West. The tracks were heavily damaged in a hurricane in 1935, so he sold the span to the US Government who turned it into a public road. A new bridge was completed in 1982, and the old bridge is still there and is used as a fishing pier. We haven’t walked out on it yet, but I understand that you can see many fish, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles when you look down from there!

We went through the bridge and were in the Atlantic Ocean.Image

Image The winds and waves were very much in evidence — as were the crab pots — as we made the eastward turn to our left — Marathon and Boot Key Harbor ahead!ImageOur friend Robin was on her kayak as we came near, and she took these photos as we passed her at the entrance to the harbor.Image


The “Mooring Field” takes up a massive amount of space in the middle of the harbor, and is occupied ­by many more sailboats than power boats — and is designated as “International Waters.”Image

And finally to our slip at Marathon Marina Dockside. This is what’s in front of us. . . Image

and this is looking off the stern. . . Image


We have arrived!



In Ft. Lauderdale

We stayed at the Las Olas Municipal Marina at the foot of the Las Olas Boulevard bridge. 01 Las Olas Marina 401 Las Olas BridgeJust two blocks to the beach, convenient to all the restaurants and dives of the “boardwalk” area, 01 Las Olas Marina it’s a beautiful marina, clean (no bird droppings on the docks — WOW!!) with security, scenery, an amazing laundry facility (don’t laugh — this is a cruiser’s priority!), recycling (we’ve found that a rarity in marinas, believe it or not) and a really great place to walk the dog. We were rubbing shoulders with The Big Boys there: “Bookends,” which seems to be permanently waiting with her 8 person crew for any command from the owner, is 163’ long.

One of the "Big Boys!"

One of the “Big Boys!”

The Lazarra (perhaps the world’s fanciest yacht, and very likely the most expensive) that was at the end of our dock was at least that big, and the one that replaced it was over 200’ long. So we’re not one of the big boys, we’re a little guy, very, VERY little, at 43’. We were certainly the dirtiest, still carrying some of the Baltimore grime, and the most loaded down with evident “stuff,” like bikes and kayaks — the Big Boys all have garages for their “stuff.”
We discovered that the piper who greeted us on our first night here does a regular performance on the on the other side of the bridge just before sunset. It was wonderful!01 The Piper
We walked every day to the “Boardwalk” area, really just the retail area across the street from the beach, and saw the sights.
A1A, this is "the main drag"

A1A, this is “the main drag”

Bars, restaurants, shops and people. Sitting with “2-4-1” drinks (buy one drink and get the other free) Bloody Mary and Mimosa, or with a little snack


(these were awesome!) the people watching was fabulous. You cannot imagine who believes they can wear a bikini. You would not believe who thinks they are still some young thang because they can still fit into it, whatever “it” is. There is a point in aging when “slender” turns to “scrawny,” and it is just as scrawny when blessed with a tan as not. And because you were once a young buck with long hair, a tan, a fancy fedora and a stogie, does NOT mean that you can carry it off today!
The two gentlemen sitting on the wall over by the beach . . . one is Peter, the other is Pan. Pan is the one with the fedora and stogie.

The two gentlemen sitting on the wall over by the beach . . . one is Peter, the other is Pan. Pan is the one with the fedora and stogie.

This wonderful sculpture is made of empty plastic bottles — what a great way to recycle! — and it is lit with LED lights at night.
Ft. Lauderdale Fish

Ft. Lauderdale Fish

On Sunday, our last day there, we stopped in at our favorite ice cream place. It’s a “pump your own,” sorbet, low fat yogurt, soft serve ice cream, and everything in between. Lots of flavors. . . pistachio, red velvet, cookies and cream, vanilla, peanut butter, cake batter, peach mango. . . you get the idea. In case you can’t decide which to choose, the guy behind the counter comes out with these little paper “pill cups,” and an offer to let you taste whatever flavor you might like to try. Gotta tell you, taste ‘em, pump ‘em, and you are in possession of delicious flavors worthy of a return trip.
Ice Cream and People Watching

Ice Cream and People Watching

All yummy! But WAIT! There’s MORE!!! Sit on the shady bench outside the ice cream place to savor your choice, and just watch. . .

On to. . . Fort Lauderdale

We spent three nights total in Cocoa Village, thanks in part to our friends Robin and Jim Roberts who gave us the “One Free Night” certificate they had gotten at the DeFever Rendezvous (another boaters’ group we are in) and which they couldn’t use.

Continuing on the Indian River, which seems to go on forever paralleling the ocean shoreline, there are many bridges. Some bridges are high enough so we can go under them without asking for an opening, others we have to have opened for us. We have what they call an “air draft” (translated to “height above the water”) of 27’. Our mast carries our radar, a TV antenna, lights, a weather station and some GPS antennas and is VERY HEAVY. Image

We could lower the mast if we had to, although it would take four strong men and a winch, OR. . . a clever Hans with a VERY clever rig he has devised for doing it single handed, but  . . . with no small effort. We do not lower the mast. So for a bridge with 9’ clearance, or 16’ clearance, or 24’ clearance, we ask for an opening via the VHF radio. The answer will be something like this:  “Opening in 24 minutes, Cap’n,” if they have a posted schedule, which is usually on the hour and half hour, or every fifteen minutes. Or it will be, “Yes Cap’n, get a little closer and we’ll open for you.” Sometimes they do it immediately, and sometimes you just hang there, waiting. But you almost always have observers.Image

So you’re traveling along the Indian River forever. There are barrier islands between you and the ocean, where there is often development and sometimes not, but there is also often a second set of barrier islands, sometimes east of the ICW, and sometimes west. On the chart they look like a string of beads, and in actuality it looks like some of the islands are big enough to live on. Or not.Image

ImageWe had many dolphins join us along this stretch, with one group that followed us for a good ten minutes. There were four of them; the smallest would leap fully out of the water in a big arc, and re-enter with a determined ­­­­­splash; the largest one would splash his/her tail really hard after every couple of “soundings” or whatever they call the graceful arcing into breathing time. . . ; the third had apparently lost its dorsal fin at some point, although it didn’t seem to affect its swimming;  the fourth one was sort of speckled, and swam on her side with one eye focused on us the whole time. Niya was overjoyed, and she squealed so much I thought she might lose her voice.

On Saturday, January 5th, we stopped at the Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce. A longish walk to the nearest supermarket let us replenish our stores. We’ve been pretty successful with the groceries. I think the inclination on the part of most boaters (or possibly just those of us who are new to long term cruising?) is to carry more food than you can possibly use. The unfortunate truth is that after carefully stocking refrigerator and cupboards, local restaurants and eateries are often too tempting and you eat out rather than on the boat. Which of course we did that night, as there was a restaurant/tiki bar right there at the marina. . . Sometimes what you can fix in your own tiny galley with limited ingredients and a creative mind is better than what you can get at the local tiki bar. Okay?

Getting farther south we’re seeing bigger and bigger personal yachts.Image

ImageA “Personal Yacht” is beyond what we have. What we have is a . . . well. Let me think about the perfect definition, because sometimes with our peeling paint and worn varnish (both of which are on our list of “things to fix when we get to Marathon”) we don’t really look like we belong in some of these marinas.

­­Passing through the Jupiter area was interesting. There are many bridges at or near the Jupiter Inlet that were low enough that we had to wait for openings, so it’s slow going. The ICW takes a little snaky curve there, and with all the bridges and Sunday boaters in their small go-fast boats, water police were very much in evidence. That area felt almost carnival-like in atmosphere. Image

LOTS of Golf Courses!Image

And getting into Lake Worth in North Palm Beach — YIKES! Wide open water, lots and LOTS of Sunday boaters, many of them no longer so small, gave us a pretty bumpy ride down to our Sunday stop just north of the Port of Palm Beach at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina.

The marina is undergoing a major renovation, as they are adding floating docks. These were still not available to the public (next week is “launch” apparently), but were fully occupied by birds. Evidently birds can be a real problem in Florida in the winter, as this is where many of them come when they “head south.” The docks — and boats! — can be pretty disgusting with bird droppings.Image

Our dock was right across from the Tiki Bar, which looked to be VERY popular.

Our plans to head out Monday morning at 7 were cancelled when we realized that our Port transmission was not working. Several years ago we replaced the Starboard transmission with one that is more modern and is definitely smoother in operation. It’s not an easy or inexpensive job, but we had decided to replace the Port transmission before we left Baltimore. . . unfortunately the wrong part arrived from Volvo, so we are still limping along with the old transmission. One of the parts of this mechanism is called a “damper plate.” It is the weakest link in an archaic system, so we carry spares. Hans has had experience in changing the damper plate, but it still took almost three hours of hard sweaty labor.Image

After getting underway again, we realized that we were seeing water that was that wonderful green that means you’re in the southern waters! ImageIt’s a gorgeous color, and unlikely when paired with blue skies. It just doesn’t look real!

Lake Worth narrows down at Boynton Beach, and we travelled through a long canal of attractive condos and homes. As we neared the megacities of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami there were more canals on both sides of the waterway lined with expensive — or derelict! — homes, and pretty much everything in between.Image


Image It’s very odd to see lavish homes with carefully manicured gardens and lawns and swimming pools (frequently guarded by life-size bronze or stone Grecian water nymphs for some reason) flanked by falling down and sometimes clearly abandoned homes that look like they were built in the ‘50s. It brings obvious questions to mind: where is the owner? Still alive? Was it a place of wonderful memories for a generation or two and then forgotten? Are the heirs not aware of the property? Where IS the owner??

We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale Las Olas Municipal Marina after they closed, but before dark. With our slip assignment already taken care of by phone, we took Niya for a quick walk and then scrambled to the flybridge for sunset cocktails. Across the ICW, at the foot of the Las Olas Bridge on the other side, a bag piper was playing. Can I just tell you how awesome our arrival was??

An unusual weather system has brought “unseasonably warm” temperatures in the 80s, and strong south/south-east winds to Southern Florida and the Keys. We are sitting tight here until those winds subside and we can cross Biscayne Bay comfortably. There are many, many worse places to be stuck, wouldn’t you say?Image

A few things I’ve learned so far:

  • You can vacuum up “half-a-dog’s” worth of hair one day and the same amount two days later, but there’s still a whole dog here.
  • House plants that we nurture at our windows up north make great hedges when cut and trimmed correctly.
  • It may look delicious in the supermarket, but the temptation of a menu on the board outside a restaurant almost always wins. Unfortunately.
  • The floating thing in the water in front of your boat is not likely to be the head of a swimmer or even, God forbid, a decapitated head. It is a coconut.