Monday, June 22, 2015

Living What I Write - Part V

North up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway

“Do you think we should wait on a decent forecast and then run up the Gulf Stream to Beaufort?” Leslie asked, as we flew our sails at anchor to dry them out before we put them away.

“I don’t trust the stern rail for another offshore passage,” I said. “I vote for going up the waterway to Vero Beach. I can get some U-bolts there and try to patch it together."

Vero Beach is a convenient spot to regroup. The municipal marina is right on the bus route, so it’s easy to get around town to find things.

“We’ve never been up that stretch,” Leslie said. “Let’s do it. Besides, the weather doesn’t matter if we’re in the ditch."

We left Miami the next morning. The waterway’s route through the northern parts of Miami was far more attractive than we expected, with wide open vistas and interesting homes. As we got closer to Fort Lauderdale, we had the sense that we were sailing through the streets of a city, with towering apartment buildings perched on the edges of a narrow, dredged channel. We were truly in a ditch, or a concrete canyon.

We lost count of the drawbridges between Miami and Palm Beach. Most of them opened on restricted schedules, and we lost hours of travel time waiting for them. We made it into South Lake Worth shortly after dark and anchored for the night.

The next morning, we went in search of diesel fuel, as we were running low. We were surprised at how few places sold fuel, given the large number of boats. We managed to find a place and filled the tank. Of course, once we had our fuel, there were fuel docks every few miles as we worked our way north, still dealing with bridge restrictions. At least the scenery got better the farther north we got.

North of Lake Worth, we were no longer in new territory, and we amused ourselves by remembering how the shoreline had looked 12 to 15 years ago. We anchored just south of the Fort Pierce inlet in a spot that we knew from years ago. We were surprised to see an endless condo development on islands that had been covered with scrub mangrove when we were here last. The islands were built up from dredged spoils; we were surprised the filled land would support multi-story buildings.

We had a three-hour run to Vero Beach the next morning and found the marina much as we remembered it. We arrived on a Sunday, so the buses weren’t running. We walked a couple of miles to a grocery store that we remembered, because we were out of bread.

We were stunned at the sprawling shopping area that had grown up around what had been a small strip shopping center. The grocery store had expanded; we were overwhelmed. It comprised enough space to house the entire population of most of the islands where we’d spent the last 11 years. The stock would have fed the all the people of most of the islands for months, and there was another store just as big right down the road.
Along a less-developed stretch - an osprey's waterfront home on a channel marker
On Monday, I found what I needed to mend the stern rail, although I still didn’t trust it offshore, so we decided to continue up the Intracoastal Waterway. Besides not having to worry about the weather, we were curious to see the rest of the ditch.

The banks of the waterway through most of Florida are heavily developed now, and to us, unattractive. The residences range from rabbit-hutch-like condos to mansions. A few of the single family homes weren’t bad looking, but neither of us could imagine sitting in the den of a million-dollar-plus home staring across a 100-foot-wide ditch at someone else’s backyard.

Closer to Jacksonville, the shoreline began to give way to scrub and salt marsh, and the development was farther from the waterway.

Fernandina Beach, almost on the state line with Georgia, didn’t appear to have changed much, although the depth of the Amelia River approaching Fernandina certainly had changed.  It was low tide, and there wasn't enough water for our six-foot draft.  We ran hard aground in the middle of the channel, in sight of the marina where we planned to stop for the night.  We had the choice of calling a towboat or waiting six hours for the tide to come in.  Since we had the foresight to purchase towing insurance before we left Miami, we opted for a tow.  After we were floating again, I asked the towboat skipper where to find the deep water.

"Hug that eastern shore real tight," he said, "and then go around that green daymark so close you scrape the paint off the side of your boat."

We followed his instructions, finding 15 feet of water along the eastern shore.  As we scraped by the green daymark, our depth sounder indicated that we were in trouble again.  We came to an abrupt stop, hard aground once more.  The towboat came alongside, the skipper red in the face.

"Did I misunderstand?" I asked.

"No, sir," he said.  "You did just right.  Reckon it's done shoaled in some more.  I'm gonna get you 'round to the marina, though."

We attached the towing line to our samson post, and he pulled us off the shoal with more difficulty.  True to his words, he stayed with us until we picked up a mooring at the marina, once again in deep water.  He grumbled that the river had shoaled significantly in the last several years, perhaps because of all the construction in the area.  The irony of this is that the inlet at Fernandina, less than a couple of miles from where we went aground, is the approach channel to the U.S. Navy's Kings Bay submarine base.

We were soon having sundowners in the cockpit, looking forward to seeing Georgia's marshlands the next day.

Next week: A few places are untouched, still.

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