It’s Tuesday, the 19th of May and we are in the Camachee Cove Marina, which is on the north side of St. Augustine, Florida. It’s a good place to be, the Camachee Cove Marina; especially when you consider that it’s rained non-stop and the wind has howled relentlessly at 20 to 45 knots (23 to 52 m.p.h.) since 10:00 am yesterday and we were on the water during a thrilling seven hours of it.
When we left Daytona yesterday, at 8:00 am, the weather was drop-dead gorgeous. 82 degrees with clear skies, a light southerly breeze at 2 knots and no humidity made us think we were going to have a really good day of it, but that warm, fuzzy feeling soon changed. As we rolled north on the ICW at 6.5 knots, we noticed that the wind began to swing around to the northeast and towering black clouds billowed up out of nowhere on the southwestern horizon. The temperature decreased as the wind speed increased and in a matter of 30 minutes or so, as the rain started coming down in sheets, it looked and felt as if we were on a different planet from the one we started out from this morning.
Now if you’ve ever been sailing, than you’re probably aware that a sailboat “heels,” or tilts over, when running with the sails up. Depending on the wind speed, wind direction and amount of sail deployed, a boat can easily heel over 10 to 15 degrees as it runs before the wind. While this is kinda’ scary the first time it happens, it soon becomes a normal part of sailing and something that one prepares for before getting underway. You pack things away a bit better, tighten things a bit more securely, pad things better, and make sure that nothing is where it will slide out, fall over or break when the boat heals over. Heeling, however, is not supposed to occur when you’re just motoring, but yesterday became an exception to that rule.
As the wind picked up to a steady 25 knots, it settled in to blowing straight at the side (abeam) of the boat. One can’t really change their course or direction in the ICW to diminish the wind’s effect, so you become a pawn of the environment and just have to play out the cards you’re dealt. To compound the problem, our boat has so much freeboard (body above the water), such a tall mast (61’) and an enclosure that’s like a tiny sail, that it amplifies the effects of any wind. The net result was, the wind heeled us over at a steady 5 degrees and, when the gusts kicked up in the 40 knot range, as much as 10 degrees for short bursts.
And then there were the drawbridges. The ICW has many draw (bascule) bridges that must be opened for almost all sailboats and many of the larger powerboats. Normally, one calls ahead to the bridge operator, who acknowledges your presence and opens the bridge so as to best service both the boater’s needs and the needs of highway traffic. This usually results in some sort of waiting for the boats at the base of the bridge, until traffic is stopped and the bridge opens fully. The bridge operators, however, must have known that the storm would create problems for any boat waiting in the wind, because we never had to wait on any bridge yesterday. They were fully opened before we got to them and we passed through all safely and without incident.
We passed through the Port of St. Augustine, making the 4:00 pm opening of the Bridge of Lions right on schedule. From the bridge, we had to point into the wind and go almost all of the way out of the St. Augustine Inlet, before making a U-turn and reentering the ICW and points north of the city; all of this in a 30 knot breeze. When we got back in the northbound ICW, it was a short half-mile to Camachee Cove. We had to turn west and go across a current of about 4 knots to gain their channel. Once inside, we lost the current, but the wind was now blowing at our backs and pushing us on into the marina. Fortunately, there’s a pretty large turning basin between the channel and the main part on the marina, so I was able to flip the boat around 180 degrees, head back east and pull up to a long floating dock that ran east and west on the south side of the marina. Boy, did it feel great to be tied to something solid!
So, here we sit, in a really nice spot, riding out a storm that wasn’t supposed to be a storm, looking for a weather window to head northward that may, or may not come in the next couple of days. But, we’re safe, dry, have internet and a firm little piece of land to enjoy while we wait for the storm to pass.