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Adventures of Avalon, Part 3

In this the third and final part of our journey on Avalon, we travel from Key West back to North Myrtle Beach.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

So I skipped a few days of blogging to go along with how life has been lately; very laid back. Even the ride up from Key West was like a pleasant walk in the park -- a park with calm seas, light blue water and classical music playing in the background. Captain Ken got me liking Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel and Beethoven a whole lot more on this trip. I do have to say though, the great composers do have the wide open, serene ocean to enhance the whole experience of listening to their music. Not that it's not good music anyway. The ocean and classical music just go together.

Here in Marathon again, we've kind of made ourselves at home. Monday, the day of our arrival, was unusually humid, at least compared to what I've experienced down here. It was a pleasant change from the windy days we've had though, which actually started right back up the next day. The past three days we've seen wind up to 25 knots again. It's made many of the things we want to do, like diving and snorkeling out on the reefs, a little to risky too venture doing.

After about six weeks cruising down the coast, we finally put our bare feet in some beach sand today. There really aren't many beaches in the Florida Keys, believe it or not, but there is one on Marathon just at the end of Sister Creek. After taking the dinghy down the creek we dragged it up onto the beach, worked on getting rid of all our strange tan lines, and then took a dip in the cool water. On the ride back we explored some of the quieter creeks off Sister Creek. The mangroves all around us made it easy to pretend we were deep in the Amazon or Congo.

We then spent the evening at the tiki hut in the Marathon marina. After having some pizza, we talked with some locals who are also living on their boats. Perpetual travelers, nomadic sailors, rambling spirits, they were the kind of people you felt like you knew your whole life. They gave us some fresh sweet corn, and homemade chocolate chip and pistachio cake, while we listened to Sublime, Pearl Jam and Bob Marley in the tiki hut. Then we rode back to the boat in the dinghy in the dark of night with boat anchor lights guiding the way and the wind at our backs.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost Sunday I went to San Pablo Church and took some pictures. It was the pastor's last day, so the church was filled with jovial farewells and much gratitude for the priest's 19 years of service to the parish. The farewell was fitting since it was also my last day in the Florida Keys.

Entrance to the Pilgrim's Path on parish grounds

More photos from San Pablo Church:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Well, we left Marathon at 6:15 a.m. and arrived at Virginia Key just off the coast of Miami 12 hours later. The 112 mile trek shattered our former record of 90 miles in one day. So farewell, Florida Keys. A month of good times with you will not be forgotten.

Sunrise over Marathon 5/20/13

Hawk Channel seemed to live up to its reputation with big waves for about half the ride up to Miami. We passed through a storm around Rodriguez Key, and thought about anchoring there for the night, but the weather soon after cleared up so we pushed on. So our journey home has officially begun. Many of the sites we saw on the way down will be revisited with more attention. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

We've traveled so much the past few days that it's tough to remember many details. As we passed through the Golden Coast of Florida, with cities that have as many canals as streets, we saw many multi-million dollar mansions that didn't cease to impress us even when we remembered seeing the same ones on the way down.

One extra thing we did notice though was that many of the mansions seemed empty. They were well-kept with manicured lawns, well-maintained pools and all around pristine grounds; but not one mansion had a single person lounging in the backyard, or doing some yard work. The lack of life in these supreme edifices was perplexing, and I soon began to realize that the lifelessness kind of symbolized how lonely it must be to be rich.

Trolling along the waterway with these mansions on either side, we continued to see many mega yachts with names like "Sexy" and "Cool Cat". But all of this excessive wealth didn't make us blind to the fewer, and therefore more cherished, wonders of nature that came in sight. Near Ft. Lauderdale we saw a large creature swimming quickly past us. It was too fast to be a manatee, and it didn't come up for air so it couldn't have been a porpoise. We concluded that it thus must have been an alligator, and said nothing more about it. So that's how the story will remain. No one else saw what we saw. Not to say seeing an alligator is even that much of a novelty in this area, but it was the first time we "saw" one on this trip.

We left Virginia Key Tuesday and traveled to Boca Raton, which is really only about 45 miles, but after factoring in all of the no wake zones and bridges we needed opened, the trip wound up taking about 8 hours. The next day we traveled much further, starting in Boca Raton and anchoring out near the bridge at Jensen Beach.

The first part of the day was slow going because there were still many low bridges that needed opening. We tried our best to time them just right, figuring if a bridge opens on the hour and half hour and is about 10 miles away, and it's now 10 a.m., we should slow our speed to about 5 knots to get there without having to sit in idle speed for the next opening. Then there was always the risk of getting there too late, and having to wait even longer for the next opening. At times I would have preferred the choppy Hawk Channel, with the seasickness and all, over lethargically moving through these tedious ICW passages of Southern Florida.

The Southern Coast has the Palm Beach cities, which I found to be architecturally authentic and pleasing to pass on the water. The downtown's buildings had a sort of neo-art deco look to them, but they also had the bright colors of the Florida landscape rather than the earth tone colors of older northern art deco buildings.

After another early start and long day, today we are staying at Titusville City Marina. It's the first time we've been hooked up to shore power since our stop in Jacksonville on the way down about five weeks ago. In case you were wondering why this post is unusually long, having shore power means we have all the electricity we can possibly need on a boat, and we don't have to run on the generator when we want Internet access. One of the best parts of this trip is having simple conveniences and pleasures become like luxuries. After checking into the Marina we walked down the road to get KFC for dinner. I'm not a big fan of fast food, but when you only have it after traveling on the sea all week, and then you have to walk a mile from the marina to get it, the fried food and free refills become less of an indulgence, and more like a reward for surviving so many days without the creature comforts so many Americans often take for granted. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

On this trip down and up the coast, I didn't see many of the things I expected to see, but I'm also seeing many things I didn't expect to see. I didn't see little remote cays in The Bahamas with sandy beaches, but so what. I did see a Titan submarine near the Florida-Georgia line, I saw the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Gulf of Mexico in the same day, and today, to add to the list of unexpected sights, we saw a Delta 4 rocket take off at Cape Canaveral.

I apologize if that seemed to come a little out of the blue. I failed to mention in my post yesterday that Titusville is just across the Indian River from Cape Canaveral. Many of you might have known that already, but to me the many cities along Florida's east coast just form one major urban conglomeration, so I only knew of Cape Canaveral, and was oblivious to what cities were nearby.

We knew about the launch yesterday, which was when it was originally scheduled, but it was postponed to today due to stormy weather. Yesterday's storm was, by the way, quite a storm by my reckoning, a show in itself. But when we didn't know the launch would be rescheduled for today we were kind of disappointed to hear of the postponement, because we thought we would miss the launch altogether.  "How hard can it be", Captain Ken said, "to conduct a launch in a thunderstorm? It's not like it's rocket science."

After the storm, God's promise appeared in the sky and never do I think I saw such a strongly defined rainbow. If a pot of gold could be found at the end of rainbows, I might have been convinced to go journey to the end of this one since its bottom was so clear to see from where I stood.

Then, after a boisterous night with trains passing through Titusville every few hours, we spent some hours getting provisions at Publix, and then adjusting the lines on the boat to keep it from hitting the wooden sidings on the dock. Afterwards, we were ready to see the launch.  

We took a walk to the bridge where we could get the best view. There were people all around, even some people partying at a live concert at the foot of the bridge. A beautiful sunset on the side opposite of Cape Canaveral, and a full moon right above the base, added to the ethereal atmosphere of the whole celestial show tonight.

Sunset over Titusville

Cape Canaveral to the north and the full moon to the south

We cruised the waterway expecting to experience the adventures and thrills of life on the sea, and here we are watching rockets take off into the sky. So goes life. You expect one thing and it doesn't happen, but the things that do happen wind up being even more phenomenal, coincidental and serendipitous. What are the odds that we just happened to be in Titusville the night of a launch? The timing for us was very providential, but perhaps just as provident, and appropriate, was the fact that this Delta rocket kicked off, or I should say launched, Memorial Day weekend. What better way to salute our veterans than by watching a massive piece of American ingenuity light up the sky? Not to mention, the rocket was bringing into space a military satellite, and one for Boeing.

View May 24's original entry on Blogspot for video of the launch.

So after another long day, we're hitting the sack and then getting up at "0 dark hundred" as Captain Ken said, to travel about 80 miles to Factory Creek. From there we'll go to St. Augustine, then Cumberland Island, then Jekyll Sound, Vernon View, Upper Rock Creek, Charleston, Minim Creek and finally North Myrtle Beach. Or at least that is what's planned, although as you can see what actually happens on this trip is often far from what was planned.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Where does one begin when speaking of the city that began before any other European settlement in the United States? St. Augustine can’t be summed up in a blog post, and despite its relatively small size it’s still tough to see all of its landmarks in two days. Nevertheless, I tried. The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica is in the northwest corner of the city’s main plaza and the first parish established in the United States. Spanish missionaries began missions in Florida 100 years before those in the West. St. Augustine Cathedral could be considered the archetype of Spanish Mission architecture, with its adobe walls, surrounding plazas and smooth arching shapes. It’s remarkable to see an architectural style common in the West within an East Coast city.  

Unlike many basilicas that are awe-inspiring with their celestial domes and elaborate grounds, the authenticity of St. Augustine Basilica is in its intimacy. As soon as you enter, the low ceilings remind you that you're in a church that was built in an outpost of the Spanish Empire, not some booming capital city. The dim lighting makes you feel like you've been transported to a time when the only interior light came from windows, candles and oil lamps. 

Just down the road from the basilica is Flagler College, with spires rising up more distinctly than any other building in the city. The great entrepreneur and philanthropist, Henry Flagler, built the structure, which was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil and the Florida railroad, made many other large contributions to the city, but when it came to sharing his business success in the city, he wasn't as generous. Rumor has it that Frank Smith, a Boston millionaire, had ambitions to build a hotel right by Flagler's, but Smith couldn't get all the materials he needed down to St. Augustine without using Flagler's railroad, and Flagler would have none of that. He closed the railway to the train bringing down Smith's furnishings for the hotel. Naturally Smith's establishment didn't succeed. 

Castillo de San Marcos volunteers fired a canon for visitors on Memorial Day. To watch a video of the event, visit the original entry for this day.

The fort was built by the Spanish in 1696 as a stronghold to guard their ships, which traveled up the Florida coast from the Caribbean and used the Gulf Stream to get back to Spain. The strategic location of St. Augustine was coveted by the French and English, but Castillo de Marcos successfully defended every attack from these enemies, even after the city burned down in 1702. As long as the fort stood the Spanish were able to maintain control of the settlement. 

Returning to the more civilian side of town, there's George Street, a pedestrian only street lined with stores and restaurants. It was packed with tourists passing through the historic city or locals enjoying a day trip on Memorial Day.

As I continued to intentionally wander and take in as much of the city as possible, a majestic dome peered out above the palm trees in the corner of my eye. It was the dome of the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church. Built by Henry Flagler in memory of his daughter who died too soon, the church is the only Presbyterian church I’ve seen built in the Venetian Renaissance revival architecture style.

As I passed and took pictures, I heard someone say that this was the city's basilica, basing their comment on the fact that they heard the city had a basilica. Err, wrong. The basilica is right in the middle of the city, just north of the main plaza. They wouldn't tuck a basilica behind the campus library, for goodness sake!

Although, I was a bit jealous in noticing that the Presbyterians might just have a more beautiful church than Catholics in one of the most historically Catholic cities in the U.S. But they had a millionaire philanthropist build theirs, so that's not fair. No hard feelings though. I celebrate all beautiful churches simply because they glorify God. As those tourists I mentioned earlier passed by the church they said nothing more about it except "It's very old". 

One of my favorite sites in my St. Augustine wanderings was a locale that wouldn't be worth much at all to anyone else, but I must include it anyway in my snapshot of the city. As I was looking for a place to buy milk, I wandered off the beaten path a little and found myself strolling down this side street that most accurately depicts the humble Americana culture of the South.

Why does this street mean so much to me? It was maybe two blocks from the city's renowned historic section. No one would care to pay it much attention on their visit to St. Augustine. Nonetheless, it is still St. Augustine, the part of the city that makes it more than a tourist spot, the part that makes it feel like home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Yesterday we traveled from St. Augustine to Cumberland Island, about 68 miles. Cumberland Island is a 17-mile long nationally preserved barrier island in Georgia right on the Florida-Georgia line. I spoke of its historic significance in an earlier post, but didn't provide many pictures of the wild horses that roam the island. Today we wandered through the national park's north end, and got to see all of the wild horses we could ask for. Most of them were hanging out on the Dungeness mansion's grand lawn, because it's probably the best opportunity for grazing on the island.

Some were also hanging out by the water near the Dungeness dock, like this filly and her mother.

We walked about a half-mile to the beach, and saw this surreal tree to our left from the wooden walkway.The only way it could have been more peculiar is if it extended its limbs out to the walkway to grab us. 

The Dungeness mansion was the home to Andrew Carnegie's sister-in-law, Lucy Carnegie. She and her family left the island in 1925, and the mansion burnt down about 30 years later, alleged to be arson.

There were also turkeys, deer, and curious little fiddler crabs that we saw on the island. It is a very enjoyable place to explore. Trails guide the way to sand dunes and the beach, and there are a few dinghy docks providing easy access to the island for transient boaters like us.

We got to Cumberland Island early since we left St. Augustine at sunrise yesterday. It was a good thing we did arrive early because the tricky 8-foot tidal range had us looking all around the northwest side of the island for a good anchorage. Getting up early for its own sake also has its own perks though, like this sunrise over St. Augustine yesterday.

So I'll end today's post with a picture from the beginning of yesterday. Seems appropriate in a backwards sort of way. Tomorrow we head for Umbrella Creek just off Jekyll Sound. It's only about 22 miles away, but we can use a short day of travel.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The waters along the Georgia coast are blessed with dolphins, but infested with swamp flies. As we crossed Cumberland Sound after leaving Cumberland Island, the waterway became narrow and meandered like a sidewinder snake through the Georgia marshes -- making the waters calm enough for the dolphins to play but also stagnant enough for the flies to pester us.

There is no sane geometry to the course taken by the network of rivers that form this part of the waterway. Sometimes we could be hundreds of yards in front of a boat and see it heading towards us along the river bend we just passed. These rivers connect yet another network of wide sounds that were luckily relatively calm today.  

As we zig-zaged through these waters today, many dolphins played along our bow and in our wake -- often jumping high out of the water. We saw many dolphins in this area on the way down as well, but this time around they seemed more comfortable around us -- as if they remembered the last time we passed through and saw no need for caution.

I know we said we would anchor in the same places we anchored at on the way down, but after stopping in Cumberland Island we decided we could go further than Umbrella Creek off Jekyll Sound. So yesterday we stopped in New Teakettle Creek instead, about 50 miles further north. Subsequently, today, when we came to the place we anchored on the way down, Vernon View, we decided we can once again go much further and wound up another 25 miles north on the New River just past the Georgia-South Carolina line.

So we're back in the state we began. This actually didn't even occur to us until we had settled in for the day. After observing the guide and charts closely, we noticed that the Savannah River was the border between the states, something unbeknownst to us as we crossed the river.

On the way down, the area we traversed today was the most treacherous probably along the whole trip, with various wide and windy sounds, and the infamous Florida Passage and Hell Gate. Today the waters had no chop though, and we passed the narrow passages mentioned in high tide. We sort of subconsciously employed a different technique too. On the way down, since it was our first time passing through the area, we payed extra attention to Hell Gate and were consequently petrified when all the dangerous portents we heard about the place turned out to be true. This time around we approached the area with much more leisure, in fact we came to the passage a bit unexpectedly, and ironically passed through it with no trouble at all.

Perhaps a good lesson in life could be learned from these experiences on the waterway: Life takes no patterned course. It's full of twists and turns like the rivers along the Georgia coast. And there's no reason to worry about what's ahead because, as Tom Petty said "Most things I worry about never happen anyway."  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I'm sure Charleston is a wonderful city; in fact it has been voted the number one U.S. city, whatever that means. Forgive me though, for I must dwell on the city's shortcomings for two reasons.

Number one, we didn't have the privilege of debarking in Charleston on this voyage, so to find some contentment in just passing by the Holy City, I've decided to pretend it's not a very marvelous city at all. And I'm sure it's not.

Number two, the harbor is treacherous beyond reason. We planned on anchoring there today, but competitive winds swung us all around the designated anchorage across from the marina and almost pushed us into surrounding boats. After struggling to get the anchor up and find a more favorable spot, we decided to leave Charleston altogether.

Alas, on our voyage down the coast, as we left Charleston after staying in the marina for the night, I felt a nostalgia come over me in bidding farewell to the Southern gem. I remember Edwin McCain's song ringing in my head, "In the Holy City, I heard the spirits in the steeple singing 'You'll be back again.'" And for sure I thought we would be back, and see more than the city marina. I thought we'd see the churches and carriages, the Southern architecture that comes into its own in that cherished setting. But it was not so. Charleston Harbor blocked the city from us like St. Peter guards the gate of heaven from those who haven't finished their purgation.

But I haven't stayed true to my promise. Charleston is after all a wretched city. It is no good for a northerner like me. Its residents would probably see me as a nuisance, and all the parks and churches would all be closed to me. There is nothing in Charleston for me to see.  So on we went from that insipid place (I already forget its name), and afterwards headed northward along South Carolina's calm, straight and very pleasant portion of the ICW. When I was steering the boat along these stretches, I barely had to touch the wheel. Avalon stayed her course from marker to marker with the help of the gentle current. 

I haven't spoken much about the every day routine Captain Ken and I have on the boat. It's quite simple actually. When we're on the move, we get up early -- often around 6 a.m. -- pull up the anchor if we're anchored, untie the mooring if we're tied to one, or untie from the dock if we're at a marina. Then we take turns driving while the other either navigates or relaxes. Most days are much more pleasant than stressful, but every now and then we have trouble with the anchor or run into inclement weather. Then, after reading the GPS, charts and guide, we decide the best place to stop for the night. We usually anchor out since it's free.

Today, for instance, we anchored in a place called Awandaw Creek just south of McClelanville, SC. There's a small town in the distance to the south called Andersonville, but other than that the spot is surrounded by wide vistas of Southern marshes. We can see forever. Tomorrow we plan to get up early and see if we can get to Barefoot Marina, North Myrtle Beach, where we began our trip. It's about 80 miles away now. Today we traveled 80 miles from Upper Rock Creek.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Last evening a rusty, rugged little boat called Dynasty came up Awendaw Creek where we were anchored. The crew of five seemed to come out of the distant unknown yonder since the water and marshes stretched as far as the eye could see all around us. These visitors passed our boat with a wave as if in a dream, and thus began the last 24 hours of our voyage.

After pulling up the anchor at about 6:20 a.m. today, we were soon met by rain that would follow us on and off well into the afternoon. Thunder and lightning came too close for comfort at times, but other than that the rain was welcome because it gave the boat a good rinse and kept those exasperating swamp flies away.

We traveled over 1650 miles through swamps, sounds, oceans, rivers and channels. We went through seaside metropolises, empires of marsh, jungles of mangroves, and neighborhoods of mansions fit for royalty; but I believe my favorite part of the Intracoastal Waterway is just a few miles from where we started. In the central part of South Carolina, the Waccamaw River meanders through the pristine forests of the state's Low Country. Fresh water creeks empty into it from far away places known by few people. We came to the river about midday. I dozed off in the love seat on the sun deck while still in the South Carolina marshes, and when I awoke I found myself surrounded by this endless landscape of graceful trees gently rising from the banks and  hanging their branches over the river.

Many writers and travelers have discovered what I just did: There's only one meaningful reason to travel, and that's to better appreciate where you started.

In the middle of this forest we passed the Socastee Bridge, the first bridge we needed opened since central Florida. From there was the home stretch. We passed a dock along the waterway that had a random McDonalds sign on it, and the fact that it made our mouths water was proof that we'd been away from civilization for too long. We passed the Grand Dunes and all its wealthy homes one last time, and recalled how the development was the end point of our five-mile test runs before starting the long haul down the coast.

We tied up to Barefoot Marina around 4:30 p.m. and shed all our worries of going aground in shallow water, capsizing on the open ocean, crashing into other boats or becoming stranded in the middle of a wide open sound. We survived without having to endure any serious turmoil. We were a bit shaken by the waves, and maybe a little less accustomed to the ways of civilized man, but we've also seen much proof of other mariners who fared much worse. Like this poor guy.

Upper Rock Creek anchorage

Upper Rock Creek

Trip stats

To those who have followed this blog, thank you. You journeyed with us the whole way. I hope you shared each moment with enjoyment. We plan to spend the next few days tidying up the boat, and then we'll drive up to New Jersey, which will always be home sweet home.


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