Friday, April 30, 2021

What is Groating?

On April 6 we drove to Maryland for a whirlwind tour of doctors appointments.  It was actually quite nice to get all of those annual checkups done at one time.  The wonderful part of the trip was that I got to see my family (original nuclear family) for the first time in 18 months.  Staying with my dad for a whole week was awesome!  I also enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my brother and sister.  My nephew has grown about a foot since I saw him last.  I will definitely confess that the worst part of cruising is being so far away from the people you love.

That includes friends...
Our wonderful friends Sherry and Wray hosted a spectacular dinner in our honor.  It was so nice to see our dear friends from the neighborhood!  And look at the size of those steaks...delicious!  

Everyone is thriving in this new realm of vaccination!

We returned to Fernandina Beach on April 13, and prepared for the next leg of our journey north.  We stayed in the marina, and kept the rental car, for two extra days to make our errands and re-provisioning easier.  Fernandina Beach is a lovely town to visit, and if you are coming by boat the new marina is fabulous.  However, if you like to anchor out, which is our preference, there are a few negative aspects to this town.  Anchoring can be a challenge due to the strong currents and deep water.  Only boats with adequate anchor chain should attempt to anchor here.  

Depending on the direction of the wind, you could be in for a stinky stay.  There are two paper plants, located on either side of the town.  I frequently found myself watching the smoke direction and mentally willing the wind to keep the smoke away.  If the wind changed for the worse I would run through the boat yelling, “close the windows the stink is coming!”

Always plenty of interesting sights to see, and things to learn.
This vessel caught my eye, while anchored at Fernandina, and I had to investigate the web address on the side.  As it turns out these guys are preparing for a 3,000 mile race (in open ocean)...seems crazy, but for a good cause.  

Visit their website to learn more

We will miss Matt, Beth, and Anna terribly, but it is time to head north.  

As it turns out, we had a stowaway who decided to bring her schoolwork along and join us for the next leg to Charleston.  

Do you remember the ship that overturned in St. Simon inlet nearly two years ago?  This was the picture we took on Dec. 5, 2019 during our trip south.

And here it is now.  They have removed the bow and stern, and are cutting what you see here into five cross-section pieces to be removed by barge.  Each section will be transported to a scrap yard in Louisiana.  The apparatus constructed for this job is people are amazing!

Sharing my love for dead swamp trees!

If you are ever near Beaufort, SC, please visit!  This was a beautiful waterfront town!  We thoroughly enjoyed the wood fire pizza, ice cream and chocolate shop, and the beautiful waterfront playground, before returning to the boat.

Next stop...Wadmalaw Island (just south of Charleston), where Anna is super excited to be reunited with her cousins, and I am super excited to have my grand babies together on the boat!

Everyone has heard of glamping (glamour camping), and I recently read an article describing gramping (grandparents taking grandchildren on vacations) so I would like to coin the new term ‘groating’ (grandparent/grandchild boating).  We have been doing a lot of groating, and I must say groating is a wonderful experience for all!

Yippee...this beach has a mud hole!

This beach also has an abundance of hermit crabs.  Every shell we found was occupied!  Perfect environment for hermit crab races!  Believe it or not, hermit crab races are surprisingly boring😉

Kayaking is always on the agenda when groating!  This isn’t the best picture, but it clearly shows how proud we both are, of Maggie’s paddle skills!

And for the first time Lucy was not tied to my kayak, and handled her boat like a pro...even in a very strong current!  She might become my Olympic kayak competitor.

Ugh...that water is cold, but my girls are tough and brave (and maybe a little crazy)!

Pop and the girls just finished their dance party...everyone is happy, sweaty, and tired.

Do you see a theme here...tire them out!

A snorkel lesson was the last agenda item that needed to be done before we could leave.  We gave all of the girls snorkel gear for Christmas and they were anxious to learn how to use it. Unfortunately, Anna left us on Monday to return to Fernandina Beach, so the snorkel lessons just included Lucy and Maggie.  They quickly caught on and were ready for me to stand back and let them snorkel!

Maggie did a great job...too bad there were no fish to see!

Lucy was eager to impress with her diving skills.  Her first time using a snorkel and she could purge the water like an expert.  I can’t wait to get these girls into the clear waters of the Caribbean!

We have loved our time groating, but it is time for us to continue our northward migration.  Plus, we are exhausted!!!  Groating with three small children can be a taxing endeavor.

On Wednesday, April 28 we left the Edisto River inlet for a 75 mile ocean leg to the Waccamaw River.

Conditions were calm, and the shrimp must have been running, because within three miles of land we were surrounded by 15 shrimp boats all dragging nets on this glorious morning!

Friday, April 9, 2021

65 Million Gallons?

Our 12 days of isolation were wonderful.  We left Fernandina Beach and traveled south to explore the St. Johns river.  

Jacksonville was an easy city to transit.  The waterway is wide and deep, and there are few bridge issues.  In fact, the only bridge we would need to wait for is the railroad bridge you can see open in the distance (the brown bridge span is sticking up on the left side of the picture).  Yay, if that RR bridge stays open we can cruise through with no delays...this is where Keith starts humming, ‘hi hopes, you have high hopes, high apple pie in the sky hopes’

Oh well, the train only takes a few minutes to pass, and the bridge opens automatically after it passes.

Of course there is plenty of room under this bridge, but from this angle I felt like I should hang back and let the ‘Bob Hope’ pass under the bridge first.  Rule #1...stay out of the way!

This is the most elaborate boathouse I’ve ever seen.

A very wet osprey shaking the water off before digging in to dinner.

Fort Gates Ferry is the oldest operating ferry in Florida.  It has been in operation since 1853. The small barge & push boat design can transport two vehicles at a time.  If you are visiting the Ocala National Forest this $10.00 ferry can save you a 40 mile drive.

The northern part of the St Johns River is a very large body of water, but approximately 35 miles south of Jacksonville it narrow significantly into a beautiful winding river with plenty of interesting sights.

First place award for most elaborate osprey nest.  Chesapeake Bay osprey would be very jealous of the Spanish moss curtains!

Ever since we left the Keys we have had serious withdrawal from our ability to snorkel in clean, clear water.  Thanks to information from our friends Ken and Barbara, we planned a visit to Silver Glen Spring (located off Lake George).  I feel no shame in confessing my ignorance on this topic, but my experience with springs consisted of tiny rivulets of cold clear water that usually flow from a mountain or hillside.  I had never experienced this...

This is a spring?? Are you kidding me?  AMAZING!  Sixty-five million gallons of crystal clear water (that happens to be 72° year round) comes out of the ground every day!  Keith dove down to the spring head (about 20 ft deep) and was propelled back to the surface by the force of the strong flow. The water creates such a strong current that gravel at the bottom dances like popcorn as the water shoots from the four foot opening.

We found a large school or striped bass (rockfish) hanging out at the spring.  You can see the depression that leads to the spring head  in the background of this picture.

This is the Google Earth view of Silver Glen Spring.  The actual spring is deep, but the depth from the sandbar to Lake George is only 3-4 feet.  The run that carries this fresh water to Lake George is a half mile long.  Boats (with shallow draft) can easily anchor, or beach, anywhere along the run.  A float-line clearly separates the boating area from the swimming area.  Luckily, we visited this site midweek in the ‘off’ season, but we have been told that during holiday weekends in the summer up to two thousand boats have tried to cram into the half mile shallow run.  The spring is also accessible by land, so the swimming area can get very crowded.

There were few swimmers that ventured into the deep water over the spring, but it was a funny sight to turn around and see the legs of the people hanging out on the sandbar.

Keith spotted this hogchoker sole.

We had to anchor in Lake George and bring the Whaler into the run.  There’s our wonderful little tender awaiting our return.

The run looked like an alligator nursery.  We saw several small gators along the shore.

This is where the run connects to Lake George.  Here the water is still crystal clear, but when we reached that sign we were floating in coffee, once again.

I have been a little behind in blogging, but this post catches us up.  That last picture was actually taken two weeks ago. Since that time Keith and I returned to Fernandina Beach, left Right Hand in a marina, rented a car, and drove to Maryland for our week of nonstop doctor appointments.  We will return to the boat and continue our journey north early next week.  If you are a MD friend waiting to meet up with us, we should have the boat here in mid May.  Hopefully, we will be able to hold some (Covid safe) open boat events so we can visit with all of you!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Lunch with Wild Horses

We’ve been in Fernandina Beach for three weeks, and will probably remain here for two more weeks before continuing our migration north.  Keith was able to get his first vaccine shot soon after we arrived, so now we are in a holding pattern until he can get the second shot.  Additionally, we will be driving to MD next week for planned doctors appointments (since we haven’t seen our doctors in 2 years).  

Clearly my ‘planning’ was a little off in my thought that we might have the boat in MD during the second week of April, and therefore I scheduled 14 appointments...for every type of check-up you can imagine.  Oh well, this is the best place for us to leave the boat since my son will check on her regularly.  Hopefully, I will be able to get the one-dose vaccine the week we return, and we can head north with confidence, and our masks!

We have enjoyed our time here, and had an opportunity to take Anna on a second boat trip...this time to Cumberland Island during her Spring break.
Of course, the best way to start a trip is to be boarded by the Coast Guard.  It has been a little over a year since we were last boarded, and I think they needed to practice trying to get the boarding party onto a moving boat in windy and rough conditions.  They originally asked me to maintain course and speed, but after several failed attempts they asked me to slow down.  After several more failed attempts they asked me to put my vessel in neutral.  Then...Success!  A large party of 6 came aboard and after a thorough inspection of our vessel and safety equipment we were given our second gold sheet (that means we passed👍).  

This retirement life we live has certainly helped us to appreciate the wonderful National Parks we have access to explore.  We anchored on the west side of Cumberland Island (just over the Georgia state line), and took the Whaler to Dungeness dock.  Most people visit this site by ferry, so we feel incredibly lucky to have ‘front row’ access to such a fabulous place.  The green highlight shows the route we took on our adventure.

Immediately upon leaving the dock area you enter a beautiful path surrounded by large live oak trees.

We walked to Dungeness Ruins, and had our picnic lunch on the lawn.

The ruins are of a mansion built by Thomas Carnegie (brother to Andrew Carnegie) and his wife Lucy, in the 1880s.  Unfortunately, Thomas died two years after its construction, but Lucy and their 9 children lived there.

The mansion was last used in 1929 for a wedding of a Carnegie daughter.  After the Crash and the Great Depression, the family left the island and kept the mansion vacant.  The mansion burned in 1959, in what is believed to have been a fire deliberately set.

Today wild horses roam freely. After lunch we walked around to the front (marsh side) of the property.

At the marsh we were greeted by mud crabs.

Tens of thousands of mud crabs.  As you approach, they run across the mud flats and disappear into their holes.

We hiked through a fairly extensive sand dune trail to find a wide expanse of beach, at low tide.  We quickly discovered that many organisms were stranded by this low tide.

Stone crab claws are worth a lot of money around here!  I’m not sure why we could just pick them up. They didn’t seem to be nearly as feisty, or as fast, as the blue crabs we are used to wrangling.

Have you ever seen a sea cucumber?  These two are in distress due to their beaching predicament, but they show evidence of a defense mechanism that many people find hard to believe.  Sea cucumbers have the ability to jettison a portion of their intestines when they feel threatened.  This behavior is thought to either scare the attacker, or confuse them with an easy meal while the sea cucumber escapes.  The sea cucumber will regenerate the intestines in a few days.  We did relocate these adorable cukes to the ocean...hopefully they survived. 

I have found many empty Stiff Pen shells on the beach before, but this is the first time one contained a live organism.  We stuck it upright in the sand and waited. “If we are very patient and very quiet it might open a bit so you can have a peek inside.”  Yes, we both got to see our first Stiff resembled an oyster, but has a creamy yellow color...SUPER COOL!!  And as soon as we touched the shell it snapped shut😁

We had a fabulous week beach combing, baking cupcakes, playing games, and doing craft projects.  I think she might have been a little disappointed in my grandmom skills on our first trip, but I’m pretty sure I earned some grandmom ‘cred’ this week.  It was sad to take Anna home, but she was going on another trip, and we needed to start our isolation before our trip to Maryland.

...right after we meet up with our friends on Northwind...

It was so wonderful to spend an evening sharing great food, good stories and happy times with Ken and Barbara, and it was so exciting that Bill, Mike, Ryan, and the boys were all able to join us (clearly their boat holds way more people than our boat can accommodate👍). Also, very thankful that the vaccine provided a much safer environment!  One of the best parts of this cruising lifestyle is meeting new people and forming long lasting friendships!

At this point, Keith and I headed south to explore the St. John’s River.  We will be isolating for 12 days before our trip to Maryland, where I will safely visit my Dad for the first time in 18 months...I am sooo excited!

What is Groating?

On April 6 we drove to Maryland for a whirlwind tour of doctors appointments.  It was actually quite nice to get all of those annual checkup...