A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The final "letter from America"

We have spent the time since the last posting playing tourist in the Georgia/Sth Carolina area. We remained in Beaufort for 2 nights, but took a drive up to Charleston to see the USS Yorktown - yes, yet another military museum!

We had a "typical" navy lunch in the Petty Officer's mess that came served in the separated stainless steel trays used on the ship. I remember we had a couple of these at home when I was a kid, growing up at Whenuapai Airforce base. I guess my dad knicked them off the airforce, and I remember they were around for years....I wonder what happened to them? Knowing my mum, she probably kept them and they are still up at the farm with Aunty Lyn! Our meal was meatballs and rice with veges and was quite yummy. Not a bad feed for $6.99 each (plus tax, of course)!

Charlie got a turn in the captains chair, but the navigator must have put him crook, because when we got off the ship, it was aground - but that's the ICW for you!
After Beaufort we thought we would go take a look at an old southern Plantation. There seemed to be a bunch of them at Hilton Head Island, so we drove down there and stayed another night.


Hilton Head Island is a resort, and all the "Plantations" are gated communities with multi-million dollar homes. We found this out when we went to the first one and the (armed) security guy at the gate told us, with some bemusement, that it was a common misconception and there was nothing like what we were seeking for many miles around. The island is also littered with golf courses - like DOZENS of them!!! So, instead of sightseeing old plantations, we decided to go and have a picnic on one of the Atlantic Coast beaches that extend down the eastern side of the island. The first problem was that there are only a couple of beaches that have public access and the carparks are quite some distance from them. The second was that there was a golf tournament on down at the bottom end of the island where the public beaches were, and traffic was backed up for miles. The third problem was that it was blowing a 40 knot Northerly so the Atlantic was in an ugly mood, it was bitterly cold (northerlies are cold winds up here) and to try and eat anything on the beach would have resulted in the term "sandwich" being quite literal.

We did go down and take a look, but finished up having our picnic in the employee car park of the Sonesta Resort where, even though it was quite close, the beach was completely blocked off  by residential properties. The whole island was rather posh, and even the public toilets and showers showed the affluence of the area.

It was a shame we picked a hotel that didn't live up to the same standards. The "Quality"  Inn we stayed at was somewhat lacking and we ended up with Charlie and Pauline changing rooms once and me twice due to inoperative equipment -  ie they couldn't unlock the door on their first room....I couldn't lock mine! Then the smoke alarm kept going off - even after being fitted with new batteries. Then in the next room, the TV wouldn't work. 

We gave up on Sth Carolina after that and decided to return to Savannah where coincidentally, our Gulf crossing buddies Don and Freya of THE LAST RESORT were also headed. We managed to catch up in  downtown Savannah and spent a great hour or so reminiscing about our experiences and catching up with Looper gossip. Charlie and Pauline went on a Trolley tour of Historic Savannah, while I tripped around the local marinas offloading the last few surplus items from Loopy Kiwi. I can tell you, one marina owner got a very good deal on a couple of Y adaptors!!!

We are now in an airport hotel and we fly out of Savannah tomorrow, spend a night in Los Angeles then do the 13 hour trek back to New Zealand. I have done that Pacific crossing many, many times over the past 33 years and it feels peculiar that this will be the last. The trip over the last month has been interesting, although missing the "fun factor" of our earlier experiences with the Loop and certainly not quite the same without the Admiral aboard. While I am saddened to have not been able to do the rest of the Loop, particularly the Canadian bit, I can honestly say I will not miss skinny water that you are unable to see more that 6 inches into. Nor will I miss the continuous worry of grounding that the ICW can bring, regardless of how good your navigation aids are, and how careful your attention to them is.
BTW folks I am proud to say that during our time on the Loop, although I know we touched bottom in several places, we never required a tow. Also when we were hauled out for pressure washing at Hinckly's and then at the Port, I can honestly report that there is not a single ding, bend or even scratch on either of the propellors or any of the running gear. (So much for the doomsayers in the AGLCA that insist that you shouldn't do the Loop without a protecting keel to ensure you don't spend thousands on repairs to those articles).

The next post will be from home, and I hope those who have been following will continue to do so and see what Loopy Kiwi gets up to in our familiar waters (and some not so familiar). To the future Loopers, I reiterate; do it now, while you still can.

Even so - half a Loop is better than no Loop at all!

Bye Y'all (for now)

Friday, 19 April 2013

And here endeth the Loop

We left our final anchorage in the Wahoo River in thick fog, thankful for GPS and radar. Fortunately we managed to tuck in behind another Looper so he could find any "too shallow" water on our behalf. Before the fog cleared, we came across these 3 shrimpers rafted up but travelling down the ICW (presumably saving fuel). Our guide is the fella to the left.
We stopped that night in a marina near Savannah on the Isle of Hope, which was recommended by our friends at Hidden Harbour, who also had a courtesy car that we used to go out to dinner. The following day we travelled another 5 miles down the ICW to Hinckley Marine, where we had decided we would stay and stage the final preparations for Loopy Kiwi's lift out at the Port in Savannah, some 8 miles away (by water - about 2 by land). After all, we had a whole week to get ready so there was no pressure!!!

Yeah right.

At this stage I may need to recap events that may not have been published on this site. Way back, after making the initial booking for the return of Loopy Kiwi to New Zealand on a fixed date and making travel arrangements accordingly, the sailing was cancelled, then re-instated within our period of stay. On arrival, we received an email saying the loading had been put back 11 days, some 6 days after we were scheduled to fly out of Savannah. Port charges for the boat would be $350 per day if we pulled out as scheduled, but we were offered as an alternative to leave the boat at a marina for $75/day and pay a professional skipper $200/hr to take it to the Port for liftout - conservatively estimated at $1700 in total. Considering the stress involved in having a total stranger take care of the arrangements plus the cost involved, we found it more effective to change our travel plans and stay an extra 9 days. After all, it was just a few days and shouldn't be that difficult!

Yeah right!

Air New Zealand were easy and took 10 minutes - it just cost money for the transfer plus penalties. United Airlines - what a joke! 40 minutes on the phone and USD184 to change a USD326 airfare. But it was done and all was OK

Yeah right!!!

Several days ago, Charlie pointed out that our travel insurance, which was part of our using airline supported credit cards, was only good for 35 days. This was fine for the original 33 day trip, but the rearrangements had us staying 42 days and the insurance would lapse. Having no insurance in the USA being somewhat unacceptable, surely, when we explained our circumstances to the insurance company they would just extend it for us, even if we had to pay a little more....

Ha, Ha freakin ha!

Nope - no extension. So what about the alternatives...our NZ  health insurance provider? Nope! The airline? nope! The bank? nope! - all required insurance to be taken out prior to leaving NZ. After 3 days of effort, we finally managed to get coverage through a travel agent friend of Charlies in KeriKeri....but what a (stressful) rigmarole.

So....back to the story. Here we are at Hincklys. We spent the weekend taking a full inventory of all the loose gear aboard in anticipation of  taking the boat to the Port early Friday morning for an immediate loading. Knowing that the hull needed to be fairly clean for NZ Agriculture, I queried with the forwarder and shipping company where a waterblast (pressure wash) of the hull would take place. On Tuesday afternoon I was informed that the  Port would NOT allow this to be done on the loading wharf so we had to hastily arrange for the boat to be hauled and waterblasted at Hinckly's on Wednesday. This disrupted our last day for last minute purchases to be arranged, but we still had all day Thursday to prepare the boat for lifting on Friday morning.....

Yeah right!!!!!!!!!!

At 4.00pm on Wednesday afternoon, we got a call saying the Port was insisting the boat be there for lifting at 2.15pm on the Thursday. As it was a 2 hour trip to the port, that meant we had to leave Hincklys at noon. We were also informed that, despite making the booking 3 months ago, the cradle was not yet finished, but should be by the time we arrived. At this time the forwarder, shipping company and the port authorities were still asking for dimensions of the boat!!!

We started the day at 3.30am and got underway from Hinckly at 12.30pm still arranging stuff in the boat. Fortunately we had an incoming tide and arrived at the Port at the scheduled time, and were met by an army of men who proceeded to swarm aboard to lift the boat, which made any further preparations impossible. (I have not mentioned yet that we had not been issued with the correct documentation that allowed us to step off the boat onto the wharf - but that was duly arranged). The Port guys were great and very helpful - other than the one who said, in response to my asking the workers to ensure the sundeck doors were secure during the lift; "you should leave them open - it will help it sink faster when I drop it off the crane". She was picked up by one of the gargantuan container lift cranes and (when I was able to actually watch), looked tiny against it, particularly when she was suspended 300 feet in the air above the concrete wharf:

After a stressful hour that felt like 10, she was on the cradle but we were not allowed to reboard and finish our preparations until she was firmly lashed down to the "pallet" in which she would be shipped. This was going to be the following day, so we cadged a lift back to the marina from the cradle guys to get our rental car and find a place to live. The cradle folk, who again were superb, arranged the documentation to get back onto the port the next day (and believe me it was not easy).

We had a few more issue today getting back there - like the train with 69 railcars that shunted across the entrance to the port for just under an hour, completely stopping all traffic from coming or going - but finally got to see her squared away and ready to be loaded

Note the judicious use of fenders to keep everything from flailing about!

After that we "got out of Dodge" as I don't want to see anything more of her until she is sitting on the wharf in Tauranga in a little over a months time. We are up in a motel in Beaufort (pronounced Bewfort) South Carolina trying to chill out a little before returning to Savannah to start the journey home. My experience of 35 years in the importing business, and dealing with forwarders, shipping companies and their colleagues was invaluable during this process and without it I probably would have gone insane with frustration. However, I have learnt a lot about shipping boats from the USA to NZ, and could do it a lot easier a second time - but am glad I will never have to! If anyone ever needs a few hints - give me a call.
And here endeth the Loop

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Nearly there

After leaving St Augustine, we continued up the ICW towards the St Johns River and Jacksonville, to where we intended to divert and visit Jack, Denise and Beatriz on their new 65’ De Fever, LAPUS LAZULLI. As we move further north, the tides are getting higher and the currents stronger…but, as the water isn’t getting any deeper in the waterways, we are having to be more mindful of when we travel and where we anchor. As we approached the St Johns River the waterfront residences became more numerous and the banks of the ICW were lined with houses, most of which had private jetties (docks). There were many miles of “no wake” zones which, along with counter-currents made for quite slow travelling.

We stopped at a small marina on the ICW named Palm Cove, at Jacksonville Beach about 22 road miles from downtown Jacksonville, and planned to go the additional 21 sea miles the next day to visit Jack. The weather, however, had different ideas and the next day was YUK. Thunderstorms and rain made it easy to redo the math and figure out it was safer and more economical to hire a rental car and drive to Jacksonville than to take Loopy Kiwi. So we did – had a great visit with our Brazilian friends before returning home. Before I left New Zealand, Carolyn instructed me that I must give Beatriz Loopy Kiwi’s mascot that Beatriz played with whenever she visited, and had named it (wait for it….) KIWI.

 The next day we dropped off the rental and went to depart, but Stan’s start batteries had finally had enough and wouldn’t even turn him over. We put them on charge, but also went to the marina office to see if we could locate some replacements. Unfortunately, as it was a Saturday, the office was closed, as was the adjacent service company. We tried the nearby fizzboat store, but they only had small batteries for outboard motors. The sales guy told us that there was a West Marine down the street and when we told him we were on foot and 2 diesel start batteries may be a bit heavy to lug that far, he tossed us the keys to his Silverado and told us to go get them with it. Gratefully we did so and were even more delighted to find the necessary batteries were on special and had been reduced by $40 each! On our return, we plonked them into the boat where Stan gratefully responded with an immediate start.

The next stop was another anchorage at Bells River, adjacent to Fernandina. We had come across Nassau Sound at low tide and the water in the channels got as low as 4.5ft at times, which made for interesting, but tense, navigation. A note to our kiwi navigators here… the charts in the USA show soundings at Medium Low Water (MLW) not the Spring Lows that we are used to on our charts. Accordingly the tidal range can run into negative territory at low tide so you have to keep that in mind when you are transiting through skinny water or anchoring, as a 5ft sounding can mean you only have 4ft at low tide. Fortunately, the Navionics app we use on the iPad has a “tides and weather” function which gives up to date data continuously – but you need to be on your toes over here!

However, in Bells River there was 20ft plus of water and it seemed to be a popular anchorage, with 3 sailboats and 2 other motor yachts on the hook. After dark, Charlie dropped a line over the side and within a few minutes hooked up a small (around 2ft) shark. This was followed by a very small stingray, which we released and then another shark of the same size. Finally he brought up a fish that we couldn’t identify that looked edible, so they all got skinned and boned (not that a shark has any bones) and put in the fridge for the next days brekkie. It turned out when we searched the internet later, that the mystery fish was a Gulf Kingfish, aka Whiting and when we ate it, it tasted like flounder. So much so that Charlie, who doesn’t like the taste of flounder, left it all for me to eat. Still – the shark was pretty good as well.

 After breakfast, we travelled the mile or so to Fernandina Marina and found another delightful wee town, full of tourists and associated shops. We also unloaded the bikes and went for a ride to the real shops (Walmart of course), but didn’t actually buy anything…as true as I sit here!! Fernandina is right on the border of Florida and Georgia, so I made the last call to CBP Florida’s check in number (yes….I HAD been religiously calling in at every stop, although CBP Florida are the only ones who make it easy). Shortly after, there was a knock on the window and a lady stopped by for a chat about New Zealand. It seemed she and her husband are going to visit NZ in September and, as the conversation progressed and began to sound very familiar, we realized that she had already contacted me on the subject back in January and had no idea I was back in the States, and I had no idea that she was in Florida (in fact she lives by one of the marinas we stopped at last week). Howzat for yet another coincidence.

The next day we moved on and passed inside Cumberland Island, once owned by the Carnegies as a vacation getaway and now a State Park with bands of wild horses running around on it. Coming up the inside, we traversed Cumberland Sound, where the water was very deep and the channel lead up to Kings Bay Submarine Support Base. This was the first place where we saw the ICW markers overridden by the standard buoyaging system of “red, right, returning” ie where yellow triangle ICW marks were on green square buoys and markers, and yellow squares were on red triangles. As we passed the base, we noticed a submarine docked with high vis netting surrounding it. We were also “guided” towards the ICW by a couple of navy escorts and once we were back in it, escorted by another until we left the security zone.


 Another anchorage the following night in the Umbrella Creek. Arrived at low tide, but at high tide the “island” we were sheltering behind had all but disappeared and the wind had strengthened, so we opted to pull up and go to the lee of nearby Jekyll island and anchor, although we were only half a mile or so from a marina. We took on some fuel there the next day so didn’t feel quite so bad about not partaking of their hospitality. 

We did, however, stop at another marina that night. At first it was going to be one off the ICW named “two way fish camp”, but Active Captain’s reviews made it sound a trifle dodgy, so we stopped at Hidden Harbor Yacht Club, near Brunswick. This was obviously a facility originally built for the residents of the gated community of which it is part. However since only one of the 3 blocks of villas was ever completed, it appears they are now making it available to transients, and what a little gem of a place it is! The facilities are excellent and the cleanest we have seen since Lake Michigan. Plenty of water to get in and alongside. They don’t have fuel but they do pump out and good shopping is nearby. AND they have a courtesy car..AND it’s a Mini Cooper S AND a convertible, to boot. Kev and Judith could not be more gracious and helpful and urged us to go visit St Simons Island, which turned out to be excellent advice. We visited Fort Frederica, Christ Church and Hampton Marina, at the very end of the island, then did some grocery shopping on the way back, and had a Barbie on the dock for dinner.

Reluctantly we left Hidden Harbor this morning, but urge all our boating readers who may be coming this way, to give them a try. We have travelled 40 miles today to what will probably be our last anchorage in the USA, in the Wahoo River. I am writing this on Word, but won’t be able to post it until we reach wifi, which will probably be at, or near, Savannah. And while the lines look fairly straight, the ICW in Georgia winds around like the Heartland rivers, so you can travel a lot of water miles to travel a few as the crow flies.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Another tale of two more Cities

Titusville and St Augustine to be exact - but more of that later. In the meantime....back to the travelogue.

After Melbourne we travelled about 20 miles and anchored just behind a mooring field in the ICW at a place called Rockledge, just south of Cocoa Village and surrounded by condos. One of the locals was on his sailboat and on his way back to shore he swung by and awarded us the trophy for the "furthest away boat registration ever from Rockledge". The next day we moved on to Titusville, where we planned to stay several days and explore the Space Coast attractions as, although I had seen them before (some time ago), Charlie and Pauline had not. We decided to stop at the Municipal Marina after the recommendation in Active Captain's newsletter and, other than there being no courtesy van as described in the newsletter - which was no real issue as we intended to rent a car anyway - the marina facilities were as described. The marina was alive with wildlife, particularly Manatees, and over the next three days we saw many of them "up close and personal".

What surprised us, though, was the absolute lack of....well.....anything in the downtown area, especially people. There were only a couple of restaurants and no bars, and compared with Melbourne it was a ghost town. You could have fired a shotgun down Main Street and not hit a single person!!

I first visited Kennedy Space Centre in 1999 and it was fabulous! It was free to get into the Visitor Centre, and the bus was $19 to take a tour of the Vehicle Assembly Bulding (VAB), the Shuttle launch viewing platform, and the Saturn V centre. The whole place was a museum, full of space and rocket memorabilia. Carolyn and I also visited the Astronaut Hall of fame which was similar, but had a few groovey attractions, like a (very violent) ride that simulated a dogfight in a jet and a ride in a centrifuge that provided  a simulation of a jet doing aerobatics over the Mojave Desert and even gave the experience of a 4 gravities climb. Great stuff!!!

18 months later, we returned and boy...how things had changed. The Visitors Centre charged $20 for admission and, although the bus tour was still $19, you had to get into the Centre first. I did go in and found that many of the "museum pieces" had been replaced by interactive attractions that targeted children.

Regrettably (but not unexpectedly)  it is now even worse. Most of the good stuff has gone and it is now more of an amusement park than a museum. Even the full scale model of the Shuttle had gone from the rocket garden, along with its fuel tank and solid booster rockets...although we did find the shuttle model later at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I am sooo glad I went to the facility at Huntsville, which is far more like Kennedy used to be. Having never visited such a place before, Charlie and Pauline enjoyed the experience but I left the Space Coast with a great deal of sadness and disappointment.

Our next stop was an anchorage in a river near the Ponce inlet, named after Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer. The inlet is very tidal and has many exposed white sand bars, which were covered in partygoers travelling in dozens of fizz boats. The little river we were in was called Rockhouse Creek and had a small sandy beach, again covered with party people who (fortunately) all went home at dusk. There were also about 8 other boats anchored up for the night - more than we have ever seen in any one anchorage over here. We had a bit of an issue with a guy who anchored too close and then took off to a restaurant with friends leaving his boat and dinghy to swing into ours when the tide turned, but we managed to avoid collision with judicious adjustment of our own anchor rode.

Dayton was the next port of call but, being Easter Sunday, it was closed and nobody was about. Since it was also going to be closed on Easter Monday, we decided to move on to St Augustine that day and..... what a difference!!!! Some of the shops were shut but everything else was open, and the place was just buzzing. St Augustine is the oldest city in the USA and is very picturesque. We took a walk around the historic downtown area where all the restaurants and bars were humming, many with live music, and the streets were packed with people.

We had dinner at Harry's restaurant where their Jambalaya was the best value for money meal I have had for a long time, and the live music was provided by this lady using a Roland Cube amp the same as mine, and it sounded real good outside.
The next day we were off to take a bus to the shops for provisions, and we noticed a commotion near the Marina. It turned out that there was a re-enactment of the landing at St Augustine by Ponce de Leon on April 3rd 1513, exactly 500 years ago. Howzat for coincidence!

You can only see their backs because I couldn't get near the front of them!

On return to the boat, the weather took a downturn and it began to rain for the first time since we were in Melbourne. Also Charlie, who has had a cold for the past week or so, finally managed to pass it on to Pauline and me so we had a quiet night and expected we may have to stay another day while a thunderstorm front passed over. As it turned out, the weather lifted a little today and we decided to run further north towards Jacksonville. After 36 miles we are on the outskirts, at a place called Palm Cove....right here

Till next time.