We have started our journey on the water – finally! What a great feeling to finally add the Wander part to the Wander, See, Share moniker of our KDSeefari adventure. And we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our first week of cruising. But to pick up where I left off at the end of the last blog, I mentioned the last-minute snafu with getting the truck picked up and off to Virginia. They were supposed to pick it up on a Saturday, notified us late Friday (by email) no-can-do, don’t-have-a-driver, and will-call-you-Monday, putting us in a holding pattern. On Monday, it became Tuesday. Tuesday became Wednesday when the driver’s semi had air-conditioning issues. The car carrier company said we didn’t have to be there, but they hadn’t given us a lot of reason to trust them so far. And since the car was sitting in the marina parking lot rather than our own driveway, the ‘worst case scenario’ was a competition between the car getting towed, stolen, or never picked up and we’d be trying to figure out what to do from miles away. Our boating plans were being held hostage by a freakin’ car, the irony of which was not lost on us once again.
So on Tuesday we decided to go anchor off the beach across the street for the night, just to feel that we were moving, and to get an overnight anchorage under our belt. That turned out to be a great decision. It gave us the illusion that we were starting our sea-going adventure, and the evening spent watching the full moon rising over the lights on shore and falling asleep to the sounds of the water around us did wonders for our frustration. Okay, so there was a lot of waking up and checking to make sure we weren’t dragging anchor with the swift current. The dinghy rides to the beach for Roxy Walks were fun. We awoke with a renewed itch to get moving, patience depleted, said ‘to hell with the truck’ and told the company the key was in the car. We hauled up the anchor and by mid-morning we were northbound on the Intracoastal Waterway, heretofore known as the ICW and our home turf for the next month, and commenced the Wander part of our adventures!
It was a perfect day for being out on a boat, and we cruised at a leisurely 6-7 knots (about 8 mph). We saw lots of dolphins, osprey nests in the channel markers, all kinds of shore birds. Jumping fish and the fishermen in pursuit of them. Big mega-houses and beach shacks, colorful beach chairs lines up on docks facing the ICW made us feel like entertainment for the locals. Mega-yachts, paddleboards, seniors packed onto pontoon boats fishing, jet-skis, kayaks, people in creations that really shouldn’t be floating. Everyone waves as you pass – even the jerks that scream past too close and too fast and leave you bouncing in their wake. There’s the smell of diesel mixed with salt air, the humid breeze tinged with sea spray coming through open windows and leaving your face feeling a little sticky and tasting a little salty, and the changing angle of the sun with every turn we made and as the hours passed. All of this to the background music of droning engines, VHF radio chatter, and wave-slaps against the hull. It’s a sensory microclimate like nothing else, and we love it!
Our first day’s destination was Melbourne. Once docked, we took a short walk into the nearby artsy area and found a burger joint to celebrate our successful first day of cruising. It was a cute downtown area, and surprisingly lively for a Wednesday. Roxy was happy to be able to chase a squirrel or two, having found a serious paucity of critters to stalk on the water and thus had spent the whole trip snoozing. Daytona was the next destination, and the second day’s travel was a bit different from the first. Instead of the slow, meandering crawl of the previous day, this was more large areas of water (though still on the ICW, not out in the open ocean) and so Dave was able to ring up “all ahead full” and we spent a good chunk of the trip running at 16+ knots. There’s this really cool phenomenon as he throttles up gradually and the boat surges forward, bow rising, being pushed from behind by the dual diesel engines. Then it hits a point where the bow settles back down gently, the two hulls cutting through the water and the resistance falling away as the engines settle into a more harmonious hum. It’s not really ‘getting up on plane’ because our boat doesn’t really do that, but it’s as close as we come – more like an unfettered ‘sweet spot’ where she just hits her stride. We spent a good part of the morning at this speed, but as the amount of traffic increased we had to keep slowing down so we wouldn’t be ‘that boat’ making everyone else rock and roll in our wake. A couple times we had a boat hail us after we passed to inquire about the boat, since we’re rather unique. Dave gets a real kick when this happens.
My favorite part of the day was passing through the Haulover Canal. By this time, the narrowing channel had a procession of boats headed north, and we fell into the single file line. There was a drawbridge in the middle that the boats ahead of us had to call for them to open, but we were low enough to pass under at only 15’ (a source of pride and will come in handy when we’re doing The Loop with its numerous bridges and locks). But following behind the slower boats meant we could enjoy seeing manatees and dolphins in the canal, shout a greeting to all the fishermen and kayakers, and partake of the birds and view along the banks. I rode up on the bow deck to see more during the 20 min traversal, and afterwards Dave could punch it on the other side and pass all the boats we had been following.
Once arrived, we headed out with Roxy to stroll to the Old Historic section of Daytona just a few blocks away. In contrast to the vibrancy of Melbourne on a weeknight, Old Daytona was a ghost town. Almost no restaurants were open and we couldn’t tell if it was because they were closed for good or just for that night. The area had some really cool old architectural elements that were fun to see, but a lot of it looked tired and worn. Perhaps if there had been more life the faded paint and dusty windows wouldn’t have been as noticeable. We might have just caught the town between major tourist seasons, but just an observation on our part.
But what about the truck, you ask? No, we didn’t forget about it with the therapeutic sea-going time. They did finally pick it up late Wednesday night, and we got a call Thursday evening that they were 30 min from delivery to Dave’s brothers’ house in Virginia Beach. Of course, this made us wonder if they were delivering the right truck, since it had been less than 24 hours since they picked it up. But it turned out to be true, and now we were completely unencumbered on our further travels. Hooray!
Our third day we traveled to St. Augustine, whose claim to fame is being the oldest city in the US (although it was Spanish and then British and the Spanish until 1821 so I’m not sure it can really say it is the oldest American city, but don’t tell anyone I said that until we have left the state). The marina where we stayed was definitely an old sailors’ marina with some salty characters living on their boats, but all were friendly. The lesson we learned is that being a ‘featured marina’ in Waterway Guides (one of the cruiser’s bibles) only means they’ve paid more money than everyone else and NOT that they meet any particular quality standards. But it was very convenient to ride our bikes into the Historic District, which also equated to the Tourist District with all the kitschy shopping you would expect alongside some beautiful old architecture and history. It was an enjoyable full day exploring the very unique St. Augustine.
We did discover a wonderful fruit stand right next door to the marina, and for $17 walked out with a box full of Florida blueberries, California oranges (but I thought Florida was the citrus capital of the world???), Texas grapefruit, Georgia peaches (at least that’s the next state over), and veggies that I am certain do not grow in Florida. It was run by an old guy who was as crusty as the potatoes he stocked. He touted his produce by taking a bite out of something and then walking around showing everyone the inside of it, all the while carrying on a rambling monologue about all the different produce items. Meanwhile, his son (grandson?) silently and rapidly totaled up everyone’s purchases in his head by reaching into the basket with his left hand, tossing it across to his right hand like he was juggling tennis balls, and depositing it into the box you walked out with. If there was an award for Best Performance in Fruit Sales, this operation would win the Golden Banana.
Besides the Fruit Stand team, we’ve enjoyed meeting many other people along the way, both colorful locals and fellow cruisers. Everyone has a story, and I find most people are happy to tell theirs with minimal invitation. A guy in Daytona who had just bought his boat as well, and was planning a solo circumnavigation of the world. One of our marina dockhands helping us turned out to also train German Shepherds as service dogs for disabled vets. Shortly after we arrived in St. Augustine, the couple in the boat docked alongside noted that our homeport on the stern was Stillwater, MN. They are from Afton, MN – right next door. They – along with several others we’ve talked to – are also doing The Great Loop, but also have it on hold until next year because of the persistent Canadian border closure.
And then there was Alex, who we met in a park while taking a break from the heat with a cold drink in St. Augustine. Alex saw Dave’s UMN ballcap from afar and came over – shirtless, shoeless, slightly sunburned, a little disheveled but clean, the cold drink in his red solo cup definitely not the same as our cold drink, and a small cooler slung over his shoulder. He greeted us with a “Hey! Are you from Minnesota?” as he drew closer. Then in a rambling and chronologically jumbled conversation, we heard how he had been recruited to play football for UMN but chose El Paso because he couldn’t imagine the winters in MN, somehow ended up in Chicago and now in Florida, had a niece going to school in North Dakota, the White Sox/Cubs rivalry, TX football, other MN pro sports. In the middle of this, he reaches into his cooler and pops open a beer to refill his red solo cup. Then he looks at us sideways and says in a low voice, “You know what that is, over there, don’t you?” nodding his head furtively toward a nearby picnic shelter at the edge of the park. “It’s where they sold slaves,” he advised us even more furtively. Then murmured partial sentences about our history and people who wanted to bury it by tearing down the shelter, while looking down and shaking his head as we just nodded agreement.
After about 20 min of conversation, he left us with a friendly “Enjoy your visit and have a nice afternoon!” and a smile. We couldn’t help but wonder at what might be his full story, perhaps involving a family somewhere who seemingly cared for him, the ravages of a substance use disorder and mental health issues, maybe thwarted dreams and life disappointments. Or for all we know he could be a quirky millionaire, still with a substance use disorder, a believer in social justice, and happens to be in St. Augustine as a weekend warrior who likes to talk to strangers. In our brief interaction he was pleasant and respectful and even giggling at times. He asked for nothing other than to have a conversation and seemed genuinely interested in our comments, a free spirit without a doubt. I prefer to think his story is more one of someone living whatever life he wants and is happy in his own way, and can only hope that he finds a path out of the substance abuse/addiction rabbit hole. But he somehow left an impression, and I find myself rooting for him. Hoping that maybe he wasn’t so different from us, and this was his version of seeking adventure, of having a plan without a schedule, wandering, seeing things through the places he visits and the people he meets.
Dave and I feel very fortunate that we had opportunities and advantages that have enabled us to be where we are right now. After our first week, I would wish for everyone to find their own personal adventure – big or small – to pursue in life. I know it’s not always going to be glorious days on the water and serendipitous chance encounters, but it sure is a good way to start.