We returned to Vermont having left Big Smile at Atlantic Yacht Basin for a major topsides paint job. AYB estimated 6-8 weeks of work and it was almost exactly two months before we were reunited with Big Smile.
In the interim we had a wonderful time back home in Vermont. It is hard not to enjoy Vermont’s foliage and the crisp, cool, autumn air. We spent lots of time outdoors, hiking, biking and kayaking. We also towed our old Big Smile dinghy to Lake Bomoseen for a fall cruise around the lake. It was our first time visiting the lake.
Milestones were reached as Cath and I both turned sixty while back in Vermont. How we celebrated was distinctly different.
Cath spent a long weekend in NY City with six high school girlfriends. The trip had been planned months in advance and she had a great time.
I spent part of my birthday at one of my favorite local farms.
Thanksgiving was again hosted by my wonderful cousin Nancy and her husband Rob. As always it was lots of fun.
We even received enough snow and cold temps to be able to ski Thanksgiving weekend.
And lastly, prior to returning to Big Smile, we had the pleasure of buying a new truck from the oldest Ford dealer in New England. Ted Green Ford was founded in 1913 and is now in its fifth generation of family ownership. The sales manager, Meredith, represents that generation and was a pleasure to work with. For me to use the word “pleasure” in a sentence about buying a vehicle just doesn’t sound plausible but it’s true.
Back to Big Smile. On December 4th we flew from Manchester, NH to Norfolk, VA. We were very anxious to see the completed work. It was a large project for us and Atlantic Yacht Basin. Friends on another Selene who had been at AYB raved about the work but we had to see for ourselves. A quick Uber ride had us at the dock. The work was gorgeous. The attention to detail was amazing.
We were delighted when we found out that AYB was using Big Smile as the backdrop for their Christmas ecard. They were very proud of the work and were happy to show it off.
AYB is well known for their work on classic yachts of all sizes. One in particular caught our eye. The yacht, “Principia”, built in 1928 and 96′ LOA was hauled up the slipway two days before we left. A classic sight.
Three days after arrival we left the dock for our trip to Longboat Key Marina on the west coast of Florida. We had done a December cruise to FL back in 2013. This trip would be longer and the weather window was tighter. We knew we needed to do one double overnight and one single overnight offshore to allow us to skip large sections of the ICW.
Our first night was spent at anchor in a location we know well. The Alligator River, in North Carolina, is part of the National Wildlife Refuge. It is an uninhabited body of water with lots of room to anchor. We dropped anchor on the west side on December 7th, the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
At 7AM we hoisted anchor. Immediately upon leaving the Alligator River one enters the man-made, 21 mile long Pungo/Alligator River Canal. Eighty Six miles, and over ten hours away Oriental, NC, would be the anchorage for our second night.
Our itinerary would change the next morning. Weather forecasts called for strong north winds with 3′-4′ seas out of the northeast. This would put both on our stern for at least the next 48 hours before becoming more southerly. We decided to take advantage of this window and skip the Charleston, SC stop and head instead to Jacksonville, FL. We left Oriental at first light and 2.5 hours later transited Beaufort Inlet into the Atlantic. Oriental to Jacksonville would be our longest run to date on Big Smile. We would cover 465 miles in 52 hours beating our previous longest run by 100 miles. The passage was uneventful, generally a good thing, with the exception of the shows put on by numerous schools of Dolphin. There were times we counted 8-10 of them swimming off our bow before cutting hard to port or starboard only to reappear a minute later. They were a blast to watch.
We pulled into Jacksonville and contacted the marina where we had made a reservation. The Marina at Ortega Landing lies roughly 25 miles up the St. Johns River. This was our first time to Jacksonville by any mode of transportation so it was all new and exciting. It is a much bigger port than we expected ranking in the top 40 US ports in tonnage. It is also a large car handling port and home to a huge Naval facility.
Ortega Landing Marina was very nice. We took several walks to explore the area and came upon the largest used book store we’ve ever encountered. Chamblin Bookmine has been around for forty years. It is amazing and you can easily get lost in the aisles. If in the area it is a must see.
One more overnite brought us to Stuart, FL a place we know well having spent two winters at Sunset Bay Marina. It was an easy 275 mile run down the coast to the Fort Pierce inlet. This leg offered more Dolphin entertainment and the only close approach to a large ship in open water.
Stuart, FL marked the beginning of our Lake Okeechobee crossing to the west coast of Florida. Lake Okeechobee is the second largest body of fresh water in the contiguous United States. With a surface area of 730 square miles it’s average depth is only 9′. The Okeechobee Waterway stretches 154 miles and requires five locks to navigate the distance. The Army Corps of Engineers operates and maintains the waterway which is open year round. There are 10 operating bridges, some with restricted schedules.
St. Lucie Lock connects the St. Lucie River to the St. Lucie Canal. Since water depth in Lake Okeechobee is the determining factor for lock operations we were lucky in that the lake was higher than normal and thus the locks opened on demand. In fact, one lock, Port Mayaca Lock required no lock thru due to the equal height of water in the St. Lucie Canal and the lake.
The vegetation in the photo above took out our bow thruster. It was a 400 amp/24v fuse that blew but the two replacements we had were made in Mexico and were off a bit dimensionally. It’s never good when it takes a rubber mallet and pliers to install a fuse. We got it working. Just pass the Moore Haven Lock was the town of Moore Haven. They operate a long dock with good electric. It is first come, first served. We spent the night.
We now were on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Another first for us. After locking thru we spent the next few hours motoring past Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Sanibel. We overnited at Chino Island an easy in/out anchorage across from Sanibel Island.
Sanibel to Sarasota was a tight Intracoastal jaunt with a number of bridges requiring openings. Fortunately it was the weekend and most opened on demand. While we could have made it to our slip at Longboat Key Marina we decided to anchor one more night two miles south. We launched the kayaks and explored some of the waterfront homes on Longboat Key.
Finally at 10:30 Am on December 18th, twelve days and 1,122 miles later we backed into slip C7 at Longboat Key Marina. Big Smile will be there till April 1.
After several days at the marina we flew back to Vermont for the holidays. Christmas Eve was spent in Rhode Island at Cath’s brothers house. Her other brother Kevin and family joined and like the last couple of years it was good fun, food and drink.
Christmas Day had us back in VT.
After Christmas comes New Years Eve. And our tradition continues. The Landgrove Inn provided the setting for our New Years Eve dinner as it has for more than a decade. Once again they came thru. The food and ambiance was superb and the staff outdid themselves. Karl was on his game and the owner Tom made it all the better. Nothing beats family, friends, and snow to end a wonderful and very interesting 2016.
See you next year.