About our boat – Vitamin Sea

Vitamin Sea is a 2004 Meridian 408.  Meridian Yacht Company produced three series of boats, Sedan Bridge boats, Aft Cabin Motor yachts, and Pilothouse yachts.  Vitamin Sea is one of the Aft cabin series.

When Kathy and I decided to go on this journey we began looking at boats online, about every evening for almost a year we “cruised” yacht broker websites looking at boats.  You think car shopping is confusing, try shopping for a live aboard boat.  My RV friends can relate. There are so many styles and lengths of boats it is overwhelming.

Early on we joined the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA) so we could attend their Rendezvous, which consisted of meeting and informational sessions for current Loopers and aspiring/planning Loopers.  One of those speakers said when boat shopping, make a list of must haves for your boat and a list of would be nice items.  Our list of must have items consisted of full walk around decks (important with the number of locks we intend to go through), stairs instead of ladders, two complete heads (bathrooms) cabins separated (for visiting guests), a complete galley, adequate sized salon (living room), and twin engines.

Most Rendezvous afternoons consisted of a boat crawl, where current Loopers would open their boats to show them to us uninitiated.  This was the best for us dazed and confused wannabees.  I had produced a checklist to record the pertinent information on each boat we toured; must have items in the left column, nice to have on the right.  This was the best way to keep us organized.  (We both fell in love with a Navigator 44 – more on this in another post)

More searching on the web, narrowing it down with our broker, we found the Meridian line of yachts.  Harmony was docked in Beaufort, South Carolina.  We both felt good about her and decided to pursue the offer.  The next time I have a complete day to kill I’ll write about the boat buying process.  

Back to Vitamin Sea – a 2004 Meridian Aft Cabin Motor Yacht.  She is 40 feet long and consists of a fiberglass hull that has a beam of 14’ 3”, a draft of 3’ 8” and a displacement of 29,000 pounds, with a bridge clearance of 16’ 9”.  Propulsion power is by a pair of turbocharged Cummins BTA 5.9 370hp engines, electrical power is from an Onan 11.5 kw generator.

Floor plans of the Meridian 408 Aft Cabin Motor Yacht

Entry to the boat is from a rear swim platform for floating docks and a pair of side doors for fixed docks.  Up five stairs from the swim platform brings you to the enclosed rear lounge.  Up three more stairs is the pilothouse or helm station.  With wrap around seating and the captain’s chair, there is room for up to eight people along with a refrigerator.   Down three stairs, from the rear lounge, through a sliding door brings you into the full width salon, consisting of a convertible table, an L-shaped couch on one side and three recliners making up a sofa on the other.  Going aft you’re in the owner’s cabin with separate head and shower.  Going forward you pass through the complete galley to the queen sized bed guest cabin, including its own complete head.  The galley has an oven, three-eye cooktop, microwave and refrigerator/freezer.  Under the galley stairs is the combination washer/dryer and vacuum system.  Below the salon floor is the engine room: all mechanical systems, fresh and black water tanks, Vacuflush toilet units, battery charger, water heater, fire suppression system, along with the engines and generator.  

We did get what we thought were must haves – full walk around decks, stairs, two complete cabins and heads, a galley and a comfortable salon.  My only reservations on the Meridian 408 were the over sized engines for the sometime slow speeds of the Great Loop.

June 13, 2020 Crossing Our Wake

Anticipating higher than desired winds at Hilton Head, we planned an early start, as that is usually the calmest time.  Lo and behold, we awoke and there was only a gentle breeze blowing.  We prepared to leave and then motored the boat to get fuel.  Surprisingly, as expensive as everything else is at Hilton Head, the fuel was the cheapest we had found since Jacksonville.  Go figure.  Clouds covered the area, but looking to the horizon we saw some lighter sky.  We were feeling very blessed.  We cruised out of Harbour Town on the last leg of this incredible journey.

The water was a little choppy, but not concerning.  As we continued, the clouds got lighter and brighter.  We could see blue patches peeking through cloud breaks.  We both started to reminisce about this journey.  We had recently been commenting that if we had known how LITTLE we knew about boating before starting this trip, we never would have left the dock!  I guess ignorance IS bliss.  We have been SO blessed to explore some of the waterways of our country and Canada, and to have met so many kind and caring people.  This journey is NOT made alone.  There have been many helping hands, wisdom from the more experienced boaters, camaraderie from fellow Loopers, and much encouragement from friends and family members.  We have no doubt that we also had Guardian Angels hovering around us day and night!  

As we crossed Port Royal Sound, the sun came out like a blessing on our shoulders.  We were expecting some friends to meet us at the dock in Beaufort, and, as we were ahead of schedule, we slowed down and tried to savor every bit of this last day.  We talked some more about the people we had met and experiences we had, and were SO grateful for all of it.  

Still a little ahead of schedule, we spun a donut or two before we got to the bridge at Port Royal Marina, and then we saw the Beaufort City Marina where it had all started.  We wouldn’t be pulling in there, as they were full and couldn’t accommodate us.  Ahead we saw the Lady’s Island Bridge, and we kissed as we passed under it, just as we had done on March 28, 2019, the day we started. In Looper terminology, we were now “crossing our wake.” For our non-boating readers — A “wake” is the ripples of water behind a moving boat. If a boat turns in a complete circle, the boat would cross-over its own wake. We had now turned the boat in a BIG Circle of several thousand miles.

Turning into Factory Creek, we could see Lady’s Island Marina ahead.  As we got closer, we could see some people and balloons on the dock.  What a wonderful sight – friends from home – Kathy, Steve, Felicia, Jim, and Jeremy.  Ed did a masterful job of turning the boat 180 degrees and sliding it to the face dock.  All tied, we got some hugs and smiles, then it was time for some bubbly.  It was still before noon, so we celebrated with mimosas and the Looper Toast:

There are good ships and wood ships, And ships that sail the seas, But the best ships are friendships, And may they always be.

We had lunch aboard Vitamin Sea and caught up with news from home and more stories about the journey.  It felt wonderful to see these dear friends again.  After lunch we had a “Changing of the Flag” ceremony.  Loopers who are on their first loop fly a white AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association) flag on their boat.  When they have completed the Loop, they are awarded a GOLD flag.  For those who have completed more than one Loop, there is a platinum flag – not currently in our plan.

Later in the day, some left, but some stayed and we got takeout dinners to eat on board.  More talking and laughing.  The celebration continued in the morning with breakfast, and then the company departed.  Just Captain Ed and myself left on board.  It was a beautiful day, but we were both tired.  We streamed Sunday Mass – still hard to get used to that – and then relaxed for the rest of the day.  I was determined to catch up on a few more blogs, so I sat with the computer in my lap for a good while.  I wanted all these memories recorded for a life time of reading and remembering.

June 9 – 12, 2020 Hilton Head-the Last Hurrah

At Isle of Hope, we had moved IN to our inside spot during slack tide, and we knew we would have to move OUT at slack tide.  Checking the tides for Tuesday, high tide was late, about 12:30 PM, so we’d have the morning to do whatever.  We awoke early, about 6:20 and looked out – water was as still as could be.  We hadn’t thought about leaving at low tide, because we thought we’d need help again, and the staff didn’t come to work until 8.  But if we were moving FORward, it would be much easier than the day before. The decision was made to leave NOW.  I don’t remember when we have ever gotten ready so fast to leave a dock.  A friend was there to help with lines and OFF we went, shortly after 7 am.  

It was another hot and muggy day, but we opened almost every window we could to catch whatever breeze might blow.  We were on a rising tide, so we didn’t have any problems with water depth, and 27 miles later we saw the lighthouse at Harbour Town in Hilton Head – home of The Heritage golf tournament. We called the marina to let them know we wanted to get fuel.  Their response was that another boat was taking on 2000 gallons of fuel (yes, you read that right), and it would be awhile.  Oh well, we’d get it when we left in a few days.  Ed drove the boat right into our slip – no current, no wind — wish every docking could be so easy.  

From the boat we could see that the harbor was bustling with people – not 6 feet apart, and not a mask to be seen.  Did they hear about the Corona Virus in South Carolina?  The dockhand had all the paperwork we needed to check-in, so we didn’t even have to go to the office.  THEN, he asked the question – “Do you prefer red or white wine?”  WOW – each boat is greeted with a bottle of wine from the marina.  We had picked a pretty classy joint for our last Hurrah before we would cross our wake.

The next few days were sunny, hot and muggy.  We hadn’t been on this boat in really hot, humid weather.  Last summer we were in Canada, and the temps were SO much more pleasant,  This was just reinforcing our decision that it was TIME to head home.

So what to do?  We first walked around the harbor area just to see what was there.  We found an ice cream shop and shared a very refreshing Root Beer Float – JUST the thing for a hot day.

Hilton Head has wonderful walking/biking trails, so we did both.  There were so many cyclists on the paths, that we decided biking would be easier than trying to walk.  We biked to the Stoney-Baynard Ruins.  These ruins are on the site of what was the Braddock’s Point Plantation in the first half of the 18th century.  The shape of Hilton Head Island resembles a side view of a foot, and this plantation was the entire “toe” of the island.  Sea island cotton was grown there.

During the Civil War, Union troops invaded the island, and the main house was burned.  Outbuilding materials were salvaged for other uses.  Over the next many years, the forest reclaimed the land.  In 1956, 5280 acres in this “toe” area were purchased for the development of Sea Pines resort community.  The land on which the ruins stood was established as permanent open space.

We rode to other areas of the Sea Pines area and then also rode our bikes on the beautiful beaches. We passed birds and alligators and even checked out the local cemetery – where so many stories could be told.

Many of the live oak trees were preserved on the island when all the building began. One of them, the Liberty Oak is adjacent to the marina and right next to where we were docked.

We kept looking at weather/wind apps each day, and every time we looked, it was something different.  We planned to leave Saturday, but then Friday looked better.  Friday morning we looked again, and there was a doozie of a rain storm coming from the north by mid day.  We estimated that we would be driving right into the rain by the time we got to Beaufort.  We decided to stay with our plan to leave Saturday.  Sure enough, the rains came to Hilton Head and what a downpour it was.  Water was coming into our helm area from places we didn’t even know could leak!  Looking at the weather apps again after the storm, conditions had changed and now Saturday was iffy for leaving Hilton Head.  What to do?

We can’t control the weather, so we went out for dinner, climbed the interior of the lighthouse which is also a museum with LOTS of documented history, then we enjoyed one of the most incredible sunsets we had seen on this trip – and you KNOW that we have photographed many.  The sky was STUNNING!  After that, we laundered some very wet towels that we had used to sop up the interior of the upper helm, and then we went to sleep.  What would be, would be.  In between fitful moments of sleep, I did a lot of praying that the winds would be calm enough in the morning for us to leave. 

June 6 – 8, 2020 Georgia-Days 4, 5, & 6

We left Sunbury and headed towards Savannah.  When we had left Fort Myers, it was because we were concerned if marinas would be open in light of the Covid Crisis.  Now we were finding that the marinas were open, but many were full because so many people had delayed coming up from Florida for the “northern migration.”  Boaters are often heading back north for the summer during April, but because of the virus this year they were waiting until late May and now June to make their move.  Marinas were full and for the first time on this trip, we were having to make reservations, and often had to call several marinas before finding a spot.  This happened on our way to Savannah, but we finally found a place at Isle of Hope Marina for the weekend.

This was going to be a special weekend.  Our friends on Honey Queen, our Gulf Crossing companions, were going to “cross their wake” in Savannah.  This means that they would be crossing the point at which they started.  It wouldn’t be long before we would be doing the same.

We traveled on Saturday.  It was easy to tell that we were in Georgia; there was still lots of flat marshland and it was HOT and MUGGY.  We’ve been fighting high winds during this whole trip, but a few breezes thru Georgia would feel pretty good.  

As if the heat and humidity weren’t bad enough, the marshlands are home to some BIG flies and we had lots of them hitching a ride on the boat.  We have an electric bug zapper and we were making good use of it.  We threw the dead flies overboard.  I think the fish were well fed that day.

This day’s challenge had an interesting name – “Hell Gate.”  That should give you some idea of how many boaters have had problems going thru it.  When we attended seminars regarding the Great Loop Route, this was always a hot topic of conversation.  Notoriously shallow, we had been warned to never go thru this area except at HIGH tide.  Well, things do change.  The State of Georgia must have taken pity on boaters and dredged the area sometime over the past year.  It is now much more manageable and less frightening.  We survived the crossing of Hell Gate and cruised into Isle of Hope.

We were pleased to find some other Loopers there.  Short Vacation and Nectar were new Loopers to meet, and Inquest was a boat we had met several times.  Pam on Short Vacation told me about a nearby WalMart and Ed and I jumped on the bikes on a quest to find another electronic bug zapper to give to Honey Queen when they arrived.  They didn’t have one and had been complaining about those pesky Georgia flies!

Isle of Hope is a charming island community where people ride bikes, know their neighbors, and walk baby strollers down the streets.  There is a shopping/restaurant area there known as Sand Fly.  Seems someone could have come up with a more appealing name.  Anyway, we passed that, rode over a bridge and found WalMart AND the bug zapper.  Back on the docks, we saw Pam and John from Short Vacation and invited them over for docktails.  They had been on the Loop for four years, stopping for extended periods of time at various locations.  We discovered that we knew many of the same Loopers – of course, they had been on the Loop long enough to meet almost everyone!

Sunday morning brought rain, but it was due to clear before Honey Queen was to arrive.  Close to noon, we tried summoning a ride to go to Delegal Marina for the crossing.  Another domino effect of Covid is that Lyft and Uber have far fewer drivers.  We waited about a half hour for a ride.  We had a real character for a driver – the kind that makes you think you should get out of the car.  He was quite the conversationalist and there seemed to be one strange story after another.  We were glad to arrive at the marina.

We knew that some of Amanda and Wes’ family were coming and slowly people began to arrive.  I texted Amanda to get a more definite arrival time.  She said 1:00, then a few minutes later texted that they had hit a shoal!  Probably every Looper’s nightmare; less than 30 minutes from home and the boat is stuck.  We soon got another message that they were on their way.  With few options, Wes turned the wheel, gunned it, and hoped for the best.  Guardian angels must have been with them – the boat moved off the shoal and right into deep water.  They cruised into the marina amid waves and cheers; everyone so glad to see them.  They pulled out their GOLD Looper flag to exchange for the white “rookie” flag, and then popped the cork on a champagne bottle!  Let the party begin! (The Gold flag signifies that they have completed the Loop.)

For our return trip to our marina, a couple of friends of Amanda and Wes were so gracious to offer to take us. Miss Dixie and her daughter Rachel not only drove us to our marina, but gave us a little tour of Isle of Hope. It was nice to get a little “insider” scoop on island life.

We had originally scheduled only two nights at Isle of Hope.  When we wanted to stay an extra day to spend more time with Honey Queen, they told us that they had no open spaces, but they would let us know if any of the boats called to cancel.  We got a phone call on Sunday evening that we could stay, but we’d have to move to a different spot.  We were comfortable on the outside face dock, but the only open space was going to be an INSIDE spot.  To get there, we had to back up between other boats, and we needed to let the Marina know immediately, because we could only get there at slack tide, which was right then.  Slack tide is about a half hour on either side of high or low tide when the water isn’t moving much.  It’s a sort of “rest time” between the water moving IN, and the water moving OUT.

We looked at the spot, and we looked at the narrow passage we’d have to traverse to get there.  We tried to guesstimate how much space was between the boats, if we could move forward IN and turn around once we got inside, all the options of how to maneuver the boat.  We must really think a lot of Amanda and Wes, because we decided to give it our best shot.  We unhooked electric and water, untied lines and started engines.  Ed slowly moved the boat and got it in position to back up between the boats.  There were dock hands on the decks of the boats we had to pass, and I had a boat pole in hand in case I needed to push us away from any of the boats.  Every fender we had was positioned somewhere on the sides of the boat – yeah, we were feeling a little pressure.

Ed did well moving the boat in reverse – slowly, slowly.  He was using the bow and stern thrusters to keep us in line.  When we got to the open area where we had to move sideways into the slot, he hit the thrusters again.  One worked, the other didn’t.  He surmised that the stern thruster had over heated and wouldn’t respond.  Good thing there were a couple of people on the last boat we passed, because they had to push us off and at the same time I was using the boat pole to push.  We made it – no harm, no foul!

The next morning we rode our bikes to Historic Wormsloe Plantation.  The home and fortified walls were built by Noble Jones, a contemporary of James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia.  The house was built to withstand invasion by the Spanish.  A military contingent was housed on the plantation grounds.  The house was not occupied much after Jones’ death and started to deteriorate.  When his grandson, George, decided to move to the plantation from downtown Savannah, he found that it was beyond saving and built another house at another location on the property.  That home is still occupied by his descendants.

A notable feature of the property is the 1.5 mile scenic oak alleé (driveway).  It is lined with huge live oak trees which are around 125 years old.  Absolutely stunning!

Amanda and Wes picked us up and we joined them and friends Susie and Steve from All Talk II for lunch.  We got take-out BBQ  and took it back to Amanda and Wes’ home.  After lunch we all went to a marine parts store, then the ladies dropped off the gents and we made a Target run.  After 5:00 docktails, it was time to eat again.  We went to Wes’ favorite Mexican restaurant – Jalepeños – and chowed down again.  We had a cheese sauce with chips that was great!

After dinner we said our goodbyes.  This is the end of our Loop Travels with Honey Queen, but we hope to do some local trips with them – just so we can remember how to drive the boat.  

Friday, June 5, 2020 Georgia – Day 3

Leaving Brunswick, we were unsure how far we would get on Day 3 in Georgia.  Coastal areas tend to get late afternoon thunderstorms. We looked at some possible anchorages as bailout spots, but set our sites on a tiny dockage adjacent to a much recommended restaurant.  It seems throughout this trip that the best docking recommendations always have some kind of restaurant attached to them.

It wasn’t long before we found out how absolutely boring the intracoastal waters of Georgia are.  For hours, all we saw were flat marshlands.  No trees, no houses, no alligators, no flying fish, no NOTHING!  We passed several areas that were marked anchorages along the way.  We  looked at them and there was NO protection from potential winds, nothing to see, and unless you just like being out in the hot sun and humid Georgia summer nights, nothing appealing about them.  I hate to say these things about our home state, but we REALLY hoped that things would get better.

Today’s challenge was Little Mud River.  Again, we planned to go thru on mid tide and we breezed thru it.  We had read a comment from another boater that had gone thru this area in less than ideal conditions.  I think his comment was – it’s soft pluff mud on the bottom and when we hit bottom, I just accelerated and plowed thru it!  Somehow, we didn’t think that was a great idea.

Seventy miles, and 7.5 hours after we started, we arrived at Sunbury Crab Company.  We had to divert about 7 miles off of the Intracoastal to get here, and I can’t say that we were particularly impressed with the dock, so we had high hopes that the restaurant would be better!  One of the owners came out to help us with electric and water hookups and we talked a little about the area.  He mentioned that Fort Morris Historic Site was down the road about a half mile, so we took off to stretch our legs.  

A half mile may have underestimated the distance, and when it’s SO hot outside, it seemed much longer.  We did get there, but it was closed.  We were still able to walk the grounds. The remains there today are from Fort Defiance which was built during the War of 1812 from the remains of Fort Morris.  Fort Morris dates back to 1776 and was built entirely of earth and wood.  The Sunbury area was once an important port area, rivaling Savannah for business and ships.  The fort was built to defend the city. 

From the Georgia State Parks publication:  When Lt. Colonel Lewis Fuser surrounded the town and fort under scattering shots on November 25, he demanded its surrender.  In one of the most well known quotes of the Revolutionary War, American Col. John McIntosh replied, “We, Sir, are fighting the battle of America…Come and Take It!”  

The British did back down, but returned many months later with reinforcements.  Sunbury became the last post overcome by the British during the war.  The town never recovered, and the once bustling town was overgrown and reclaimed by nature,

It was good to be “sightseeing” again.  It had been a long time since we had been able to go to tourist destinations.  This is what we had missed in the last couple of months on this journey.

Some people call the Sunbury Crab Company “a fish dive.”  It’s an appropriate term, but it also has good, fresh seafood.  We enjoyed dinner and speaking with Elaine who runs the marina and restaurant.  She was so kind and welcoming.  We decided it had been worth the detour off the Intracoastal.

June 3 – 4, 2020 Georgia-Days 1 & 2

On June 3, we were up early, so we saw the beautiful sunRISE.  Great start to our day.  There is a low area at Jekyll Island, so we wanted to leave early and have a higher tide level when we got to Jekyll.  Chuck saw us off at the dock and it looked to be a BEAUTIFUL day for cruising.

After a very short distance of about 2 miles, we cruised into Georgia.  Couldn’t see the border line in the water, and no motor patrols were at the border to check passports, but we DID cross and knew this was now the home stretch.  Happy and sad thoughts were in our heads.  Ed went to the bow and put up the Georgia flag.  We thought it appropriate to fly it since we were now entering our home state.

We passed Cumberland Island and have intentions of returning to see it (via highways) when Ranger tours resume.  We’d like to learn more about the history of the island and do some exploring on bicycles.  As we continued, we heard chatter on the radio from various boats we recognized.  The boats were going different places; that’s sort of what Loopers do.

We had two challenging areas to get thru this day. All required mid to high tide water. We were now in an area where tides can change the water levels 7-8 feet. That’s a lot of difference in water levels. Our first challenge would be St. Andrew Sound.  This area is an inlet from the Atlantic and we had been warned that is was necessary to go through on a descending tide so that Atlantic waters would not be coming IN and pounding the boat.  Winds here are also a problem as it is necessary to make a 45 degree turn and strong winds can blow a boat off course and into shallow waters.  We had a good day.  We entered the Sound with low winds and an outgoing tide shortly after high tide.  Even so, it was a bit of a bumpy ride as we traveled towards the Atlantic.  It got much smoother as soon as we made that turn.

True to information given us, Jekyll Island has a low area next to it. We made it through a cut/dredged waterway that is somewhat narrow, but plenty wide.  When we reached the open water of St. Simon Sound, it looked SO wide open and we always like to see 30+ feet of water under the boat.

On this day, we only traveled 34 miles, but it took us 4.5 hours.  We are now in winding waterways of the Intracoastal and there is a lot of time spent winding back and forth.  If it were a straight shot, we’d be back in Beaufort in a couple of days, but we are not traveling “as the crow flies.”

We made our way to Brunswick Landing Marina – a bit out of the way, but a recommended place to stay.  Turned out to be a pretty big marina, and very nice with lots of amenities including free laundry, a really large ”library” of swap books, and free beer in the lounge.  Boaters really like that last one.  

We headed into town for lunch and take a “look see” of the area.  It’s a small town; very walkable and some businesses had reopened.  We had a tasty chicken panini at the Arte Pizza restaurant and then did some walking.  It is an “Oglethorpe” design, which means it is laid out in a grid pattern and there are squares of parks throughout the area.  Green space in towns/cities is such a welcome site.  We also saw some restored buildings and some very pretty homes in the historic district. 

Brunswick produced Liberty Ships during WWII.  These steel ships served as both cargo and troop carriers. Over 16,000 men and women worked in the factory that made these ships.

We planned to leave after one night, but when we awoke the next morning, the weather forecast wasn’t looking very good.  Some other boats left, including one Looper boat.  We began to have second thoughts about whether or not we should go.  Ed finally reminded me that we had not taken chances on bad weather days for all of this trip – now was not the time to start.  Not ten minutes later, the skies opened up and there was a downpour.  We couldn’t  see a quarter mile up the waterway.  We later heard from the Looper boat that they seriously thought about turning around – and probably should have.  I have a wise captain.

We spent the day piddling on the boat and did a little biking around town.  We got take out for dinner and as we walked back to the boat, we saw several different law enforcement vehicles in the parking lot.  On the dock were GBI Swat members, Dept of Natural Resource people, and local police.  What in the world??  Turns out that there was a planned protest in town regarding the Ahmaud Arbery killing.  A boat had anchored a short distance from the marina, and there was some unease by marina staff when they noticed an Antifa flag waving from the boat.  This is one of the groups that has been stirring up some of the trouble at the protests.  The man on the boat had taken his dinghy up the river to the protest area.  Law enforcement was trying to locate him, and eventually saw him returning to his boat, where they intercepted him, searched the boat, and brought him ashore to our dock.  We watched for quite some time to see what would happen, but eventually just went down into our boat.  Don’t know what the outcome was, but we were probably the safest place in the town with all the law enforcement people who were there on the dock.

May 27 – June 2, 2020 Fernandina Beach II

Hurricane Season begins on June 1, so time to head north.  We left The Ortega River, traveled thru Jacksonville, FL, and headed back to Fernandina Beach again to visit with Ed’s brother Chuck for a few more days before heading to Georgia.  On our way, we saw several cruise ships that were docked – silent and lifeless.  No one is crowding on to those ships these days.

Back in Fernandina Beach, we saw that businesses and restaurants were re-opening.  The empty streets, that previously we rode thru on our bikes, were now crowded with cars, and the sidewalks had lots of people.  We confined our walking thru town to early mornings – before the tourists were out and about.  We were glad to see some other Looper boats at the Marina. In Quest – we had met in New York as Cat and Dogs, but had bought/sold boats along the trip;  About Time, also Meridian owners, we had first met back on the Erie Canal in June;  As You Wish, we first met at Great Kills Marina at Staten Island; and Sea Jamm, also from Georgia, we had met at one of the AGLCA Rendezvous meetings before we had even bought our boat!  Funny how we keep reuniting with people we have met along this journey.  It was nice to catch up – have some socially distanced docktails — and share a sunset or two.

So what to do for a few days here in Fernandina?  The boats that do local cruises were operating again, so we decided to do a morning cruise that went past Cumberland Island.  It was kind of nice to sit back and let someone else do the driving.  The operator did a great narrative of info about the Fernandina Beach area (Amelia Island), as well as Cumberland Island.  Cumberland was first inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Mocamas.  The island was found by the Spanish and thereafter ensued a history of many “take overs” and different inhabitants.  It played a part in the War of 1812, and wood from the live oaks on the island is said to have been used to build the USS Constitution.  The Carnegie family eventually bought 90% of the island, and built several estates for various family members.  Over the years, the island has been designated a National Seashore and much of it is in the care of the National Park Service.  Carnegie descents still maintain property rights there.  It’s a beautiful island, home to much wildlife including wild horses that are free to roam.  The island is only accessible by boat.  We hope to return in the future to explore the island in person.  

Back in Fernandina Beach, we rode our bikes to Old Fernandina.  Somehow we had missed this historical area during our past visits.  This was the area of the Spanish Fort San Carlos, built in 1816.  The fort was overtaken numerous times which lead to Amelia Island being known as the “Isle of 8 Flags.”  The town of Fernandina surrounded Plaza San Carlos until Senator David Yulee brought the railroad to town – almost.  The railroad tracks ended about a mile away, and thus was born “New” Fernandina, as the center of town shifted to that location.

We had a real treat one morning.  We noticed a couple of people looking into the water over the side of the dock.  Curious as to what they were seeing, we walked down and saw a manatee eating the “green stuff” that was growing on the sides of the dock.  It swam along the dock, just munching and munching.  It was SO big.  It was really exciting to see one so close and to be able to see most of its body.  In the past, we usually only got a glimpse of the snout as one came up for air, but this was “up close and personal.”  

One of the other Loopers, In Quest (formerly in a boat named Cat and Dogs), presented us with a “gift” one evening.  It was a jig saw puzzle that they had decided to pass on to other Loopers.  Complete the puzzle, take a picture as proof, and pass on to another Looper.  It had already been done by some of the other Loopers in port.  Ed’s brother Chuck and his girlfriend Lori are big time puzzlers since the Covid Crisis started, so we took the puzzle to Chuck’s house and employed their help.  Oh my goodness – glad we did, because it would have driven me nuts!  The pieces were in shapes of dogs and cats, were very small, and they didn’t necessarily “lock” together.  Sometimes the pieces just lay in place next to each other.  Between the four of us, over a couple of days, it got done, but was definitely a challenge.  We eventually passed it on to Doc’s Aweigh — hope they don’t curse us too badly!

Our time is up in Florida – time to move on to Georgia.

May 17 – 26, 2020 Ortega River

On Sunday, we left Palatka and headed to the Ortega River in Jacksonville, an offshoot of the St. Johns.  Loopers often spend extended time on the Ortega, because it is a hurricane hiding hole – very well protected.  There are several marinas in the river – the area is called “The Marina Mile.”  But before we could go in there, we had to get this boat cleaned off –  we’d be too embarrassed to show up at a marina with a boat that looked as bad as ours.  We left Palatka covered in bugs, and decided to stop at Green Cove Springs again to use the water hoses on the dock to wash off the bugs – hopefully.  After 45 minutes, the stains were left, but at least the boat wasn’t covered in bugs.

Many Loopers were at Ortega Landing, but when we called we couldn’t get in because they weren’t taking new boaters who didn’t already have long term reservations – another virus issue.  Two marinas farther was Ortega River Marina and they welcomed us!  There was a pool there that other boaters hardly used, so we definitely jumped in that.  SO refreshing and I was able to do some of the water exercises that I used to do a lifetime ago! 

The marina was well located for walking and biking.  We enjoyed biking thru some of the neighborhoods, and the grocery store was an easy walk.  We thought about getting haircuts, but just couldn’t quite get ourselves to do that yet. And every day, for some part of the day, we were trying to clean the bug spots off of the boat.

Throughout the trip, we had replaced some of the plastic windows on our helm area, but we had two more that really needed to be replaced.  Turns out that the canvas company that had originally done our canvas top and windows was just across the street from the marina —The Boatswain’s Locker.  When we had previously tried to get these two windows replaced, there had been too long a wait time at places we had checked.  We took a chance.  We walked in on a Monday and asked if they could do the job by Friday.  They said they thought they could fit it in, and since they already had all the original patterns for the Meridian boats, they didn’t even have to come to the boat to measure.  They finished a day early and did a great job.  So nice to have windows that weren’t cracked and taped, and we could see through them like a clean window!!

We visited with several Loopers at Ortega Landing.  We had docktails a few times and even a Memorial Day get together.  We were cautious because of the virus, but we knew where we had all been and knew that we were all careful.  Being out on the water and fresh air is probably the best place to be during all this mess, but Florida isn’t the best place to be because June 1 is just around the corner and that’s the start of hurricane season.  We can’t postpone heading north any longer.

May 4 – 16, 2020 Traveling the St. Johns River

The virus situation was not improving and tourist places were still closed.  We decided there was no need to continue north.  We were only 180 miles from completing the Loop, but why finish and go home just to sit there?  We decided to turn around and explore the St. Johns River.  This was not a side trip that had lots of tourist sites to see, it was mostly an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the river.

Chuck decided to join us for part of the trip.  We left Monday morning and started making our way back south thru the marshes and twisting waterways of the Intracoastal.   We had heard about Bob 423 who published way points on the Loop that were especially useful in some tricky areas.  We’d found some low spots on the way IN to Fernandina, so the info was helpful as we returned south.  

We headed towards Jacksonville, which turned out to be much farther inland than we had expected. There was a free dock area near the stadium at Metropolitan Park – home of the Jaguars.  As we approached, we experienced the strong current  about which we had been warned.  We finally made our way to the inside docking area, but the face dock we were against was much too short for us to stay.  We powered out and made a couple attempts to put the stern in to a slip.  Between the current and the wind, we had no luck.  We were finally able to power the bow into a slip and said “good enough.”  Adjacent to the marina was a park where we walked.  We noticed a bunch of flashing police lights nearby and wondered what was going on.  It turned out to be the Covid 19 testing area at the stadium.  That was a good spot for us to AVOID.

We needed some fuel and found Arlington Marina nearby that had fuel for $1.68/gallon.  WOW – we hadn’t seen fuel that cheap during the whole trip.  The one caveat was that we could only get to the fuel dock on mid to high tide.  Not a problem. The problem was trying to get OUT of our slip the next morning. Again, the current was not our friend, but after some twisting and turning, we finally made it out.  We headed to the marina for fueling and found we had some winds to wrestle.  After fueling, we had Chuck and the dock hand walk the boat back the length of the dock.  Chuck hopped back on and then we had to turn the boat while the dock hand held on to the stern line.  Worked out great and we were again on our way.

We planned to anchor at Black Creek.  We had heard that it was a beautiful anchorage.  Coming off the river we had to wiggle thru some shallow spots, but once in the creek, there was lots of water.  We found the spot and tried to park it.  The first attempt hauled up a log.  The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts wouldn’t grab the bottom and each time the anchor came up clean.  Tried a couple more places and finally decided to move on up the river.

We got to Green Cove Springs in some winds, but had help docking from one of the boaters who was already there.  The city dock was only $20 a night including water and electric.  What a deal!  The area was once very popular – known as the “Saratoga of the South,” there were lots of hotels and people came for the healthful qualities of the sulphur springs.  The park area around the springs is still very lovely, but the small town was mostly closed due to the virus.  We did manage to find a great shaved ice store, and that tasted awfully good on those hot days.

Due to winds, we stayed at Green Cove Springs for three nights.  Chuck’s neighbor came to pick him up.  What took us two days to travel, Jim came by car in about 1.5 hours!  We continued up the river, planning to stop at Palatka, but it looked too windy to dock when we passed there.  The river north of Palatka is very wide and open in many areas.  Past Palatka, the river narrows and starts to look more like the Old Florida that we heard people talk about.  It was really pretty to ride in that area.  We found Acosta Marina and they had space for us.  

The marina  looked like the kind of place that time forgot.  There were boats in the water, there were boats up on wooden stands.  There were a few RV’s, there were some rental cabins, and there was a beautiful old home where the owners lived.  Jane and Bob had bought the place just a few years ago and were diligently working to upgrade the place and bring it into this century.  They were very welcoming as were the other boaters.

Weather kept us at Acosta for a few days.  One thing we didn’t like was the Blind Mosquitoes.  The river changes from salt water to fresh water around Palatka, and it seems these mosquitoes breed in fresh water during warm weather.  They don’t bite, but they cover the boat!  They don’t have a long life, and when they die, they leave green and black spots on the boat,  What a mess.  We were rinsing the boat every day.  When we weren’t doing that, we rode our bikes into town.  We found a really good seafood restaurant for take out, and then just rode up and down the streets to check out the area.  We rode to a “Lodge.”  OK, it was a row of rooms – sort of like an old motel.  There were also lots of RV’s.  One caught our eye as we went by.  It was completely covered with stickers of all kinds.  What really caught Ed’s eye were the words “Combat Photographer.”  The man was standing outside of the RV, and Ed struck up a conversation.  He had some really interesting stories to tell from his time in Viet Nam, including going down in a helicopter.  Everyone has a story to tell – people just have to listen.

We decided to move on — Little Lake George and Lake George were next.  Some of the boaters had given us some good ideas of anchorages and places to stop.  We heard that the State Parks were reopening, and there was one that we were especially looking forward to seeing.  We had a beautiful day on the lakes, and then just south of Lake George we found an anchorage called Zinder Point.  It was a pretty area – protected from winds – near a marina that could accommodate small boats.  We took our dinghy out and did some exploring.  The evening was beautiful and we even saw an alligator swim by.

Ed called a marina in Sanford – our end point on the river – and they weren’t very encouraging that they would have any room for us there.  Then he called the State Park – yes, they were open, but only for day use and we couldn’t stay overnight at the docks.  Then we woke up in the morning and the boat was covered in those blind mosquitoes.  OK, no one has to hit us over the head to know that all signs were pointing for us to turn around!  We headed back, hoping to get to Palatka, but before we even got halfway thru the big lake, there were white caps on the water and the winds were blowing.  We got near Acosta Marina and called to see if they could take us again.  

We stayed another three nights at Acosta sitting out some rain.  We rode our bikes into town again and found the Welaka National Fish Hatchery.  The museum was closed, but we went into the office and started talking with two of the rangers who were there.  It was interesting to talk about what they did at the hatchery and where the fish get sent – some of it to Georgia.  They also have an aviary where they are handling birds.  Never know what you’ll learn just asking a few questions.

Riding a little farther, we came across Joe’s Boats.  The man works mostly on wooden boats and he had some beauties there.  We got to see one of the boats he had restored.  It was a former US Coast Guard Boat and it had been converted to a cruiser.  It was a labor of love – we hope he’s able to sell it.

Time to leave Acosta.  We continued north to Palatka – where we couldn’t go originally because of winds.  No room at the marina, so we were hoping to get on the free city dock.  There weren’t too many spots for a boat our size.  Fortunately we got a face dock space.  No water or electric, but we were right in town.  A friend from home had told us her cousin lives here and that we should call her.  We did and Molly was just delightful.  She gave us a walking tour of the town.  The town has lots of murals and each had a website connection to an explanation of the history portrayed in the mural. 

We stayed for two nights, enjoying town sites such as the Ravine Gardens State Park, but NOT the blind mosquitoes.  We weren’t far enough north to be away from them yet, and unfortunately there was no water on the dock to wash them off.  Yuck! Between the heat and the bugs, it was time to move on.

April 6 – May 3, 2020 Month at Fernandina

Hoping that this Covid Virus would somehow burn itself out and life would be normal again, we booked a month in Fernandina Beach, FL.  Ed’s brother Chuck lives there, and there were VERY few cases showing up in Nassau county.  So there we were.  What to do for a month?

Docked ahead of us were fellow Loopers Kathy and Mike on Happy Trails. They were also there for a month, so we would be spending a good bit of time talking with them.  The first time we had docktails (sitting a good distance apart), Mike made Oysters Rockefeller.  WOW — we’ll go to docktails with him ANYtime!  Delicious!

Everyone was starting to wear masks, but by this time you couldn’t just walk into a store and buy one.  I got out the sewing machine and was able to purchase some fabric at JoAnn’s, where only 10 people at a time (including employees) were allowed in the store.  Working with a pattern I found online, I made several masks.  For Easter, we filled them with candy and gave them to Loopers as well as Chuck and his girlfriend Lori.  We had Easter dinner at Chuck’s – a traditional ham dinner.

Ed and I did LOTS of bike riding and walking.  We could ride down the streets of Fernandina and not pass five people.  It was like a ghost town. We enjoyed seeing all the lovely homes in the historic area of the town.  All different designs – and lots of color combinations.

Fernandina is well known for its Shrimp Fest, but not this year.  Many stores still decorated their windows and we even found a few Pirates at the docks – bemoaning the absence of shrimp!

As some other Loopers would pass thru on their way to wherever…we would get together, weather permitting, on the large deck of the closed restaurant adjacent to the marina.  Having to spread so far apart made it difficult to have conversations.  We were missing all the good food everyone used to bring.  Sometimes people got really creative and they brought individual portions of food items to share – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

When we arrived at Fernandina, there was a 170 foot boat on the dock named Big Eagle, but the virus had it “on hold” and it was staying in port for an indefinite amount of time.  We thought THAT was big until one day the Bella Vita came in — with a length 247 feet!  The width of the boat is four feet wider than the length of our boat.  We were beginning to feel like a dinghy!

For some reason, after the outbreak of Covid 19, people were hoarding toilet paper, and in many stores, there was none to be found. A couple of stores in Fernandina, found a new market…

Ed went thru his TO DO list for the boat and completed just about everything.  Additionally, he cleaned the boat from bow to stern – inside and outside.  While he was doing that, I was looking for something to do other than make masks.  I contacted the local Salvation Army and they were in need of volunteers, so for a couple of weeks I spent my mornings doing various tasks there at Hope House.  It felt good to be doing something useful and I really enjoyed talking with some of the other volunteers there — not too many — we kept ourselves “socially distanced.”

Toward the end of the month we got a wonderful surprise.  Our friends on Adagio came thru Fernandina for a few days.  ALWAYS wonderful to catch up and spend time with our boater friends.

What else did we do? Well, I REALLY needed a haircut, and with no place to get one, I had to trust “Monsieur Edward.” He did a pretty good job. Then he went to help Chuck build a “Little Library” to put up in the neighborhood. Neighbor Pam made a big contribution of books. We managed to keep pretty busy for the month. Now what? The virus was still in full swing and we didn’t see a reason to go sit at home.