Much as we like St. Augustine, we’re on a mission to get Escape Velocity Pacific-ready and we can’t do that here. We stayed long enough to get measured for new cockpit seat cushions, then took advantage of the first reasonable weather window to make a jump south. Saturday dawned clear and cold, and we said goodbye to our excellent view of the Castillo de San Marco.
We timed our passage through the inlet perfectly, but the markers aren’t charted because the bottom shifts and changes so frequently. We consulted a passing launch operator for local knowledge and felt confident we could manage. We made it about halfway out before we could see that the markers were leading us toward a line of breakers. The local advised us to favor the red side, which we did, and we went through a very shallow section, rising up over the waves and slamming down again on the other side, but as soon as we were safely out and on our proper course, things calmed down again. It was a straight shot down the coast, with a little jog around Cape Canaveral.
When we do these overnight sails it’s hard to know when to start the watch schedule. We’re both always too excited to start right away but it’s wintertime and it gets dark early. We decided to designate 6pm to 6am the nighttime, and arranged our watch schedule accordingly. Often during the day Jack takes over the helm, even if we’re running the autopilot. I have a hard time sitting still –even on land — so I do the running around and cooking and watermaking and fetching and logging and navigating. By 5pm I booted Jack off the helm and sent him below to eat before dark, then start his first off-watch nap.
I was pretty wide awake and I managed to stay on watch for an uneventful five hours. I only had to do minor course corrections, and never saw another boat, let alone a ship. The wind died down, forcing us to motor, but at least it stayed behind us. We expected a change by morning around to the south.
At 10pm I woke Jack and he took over, just before the tricky bit around Canaveral. There are a lot of shoals there, but instead of sailing way out and around, it’s possible to save time and mileage by picking through the various shallow parts. I mapped a route that looked safe and briefed Jack before heading off watch, and curled up on the sofa with Izzy and a blanket.
My alarm woke me at 2:45 and I washed my face and brushed my teeth, which always makes me feel more awake, and went out to relieve Jack. No problems, wind the same, meaning none, no ships, waypoints working. Goodnight. And I was alone with the stars and the ocean and a faint line of lights on shore about six miles away.
I have ways to occupy myself on night watches. On warm clear nights I mostly just look at the stars, listen to the sounds and let my thoughts wander. But on cold nights, like this one, I huddle in the corner of the cockpit under a blanket with my iPod and listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I have the iPod set to alarm every 15 minutes so I can get up and look for ships, check the course, make sure everything’s working properly and make notes in the logbook. If I’m sleepy and doze off I can’t believe it’s been 15 minutes since the last time I left the warmth of the blanket, but both Jack and I are very disciplined about keeping watch so I get up and do it all again.
Good thing too, because not 30 minutes after Jack went below I saw a well-lighted ship off our port bow. I kept an eye on it for a while and I could see that our bearing wasn’t changing which means we’re on a collision course. We were approaching the only big ship channel we would pass on this trip, and our intended course took us at an oblique angle across the channel but that didn’t seem prudent, what with the ship right there. I fired up the radar, then checked to see if we were close enough to shore for a cell signal. We were, and I loaded an AIS app on the iPad. AIS tells you what ships are in the area, and unlike radar which just shows a blob on a screen, AIS tells you the name of the ship, the course and speed, last port, destination and sometimes a photo. It was Freedom of the Seas, and sure enough, he was heading in to Port Canaveral. Then I heard the ship calling the Port Canaveral pilot on VHF and they discussed his arrival time and berth assignment. The AIS screen showed two more cruise ships further out, Disney Dream and Carnival Sensation, both making their way toward Port Canaveral.
Meanwhile, I was back at the helm watching the radar and still our bearing on the first ship hadn’t changed. I decided the best thing for us was to alter course slightly away from land to allow it to pass safely in front of us long before we reached the channel. Then I planned to sail directly across the channel to get to the other side as quickly as possible before the next two ships were anywhere close. After Freeedom of the Seas passed about three miles ahead of us I turned back toward the shipping channel, but now the radar was showing the second ship coming up much faster than I originally thought. Ok, back on the other course to stay out of the channel and let this guy pass. The third ship was very far away at this point.
And then alarms started sounding.
The GPS lost its fix. No, it was the autopilot. Damn! It’s been working perfectly for months, and suddenly we got a Trip error, which we haven’t really figured out despite conflicting suggestions from various quarters. With no autopilot, I had to hand steer. I held course until the ship passed. I was less than two miles from the shipping channel and the third ship was well away so I altered course once again and got safely across and out of the way.
Meanwhile, my mind was racing. Why the autopilot error? It’s been running well for many many hours, under both power and sail. What’s different? The only thing that changed was that I turned on the radar. The trip error occurred about 10-15 minutes later. I have no idea if the two are related but now that I was safely across the channel and there were no more ships in sight, I turned it off. Miraculously, the autopilot worked again. Huh. I’ll have to look into that.
The rest of my watch was uneventful, and after watching the sun come up I woke Jack to take over and had another nice long nap.
We motored through the Ft. Pierce inlet about 1:30pm Sunday and left Escape Velocity at the City Marina fuel dock while we made a beeline to Importico’s Bakery for a much-needed caffeine and pastry pick-me-up. But sadly, they are closed on Sundays.
We walked around the corner to our second choice, Uncle Carlos Gelato, for coffee and pie.
Ft. Pierce is just as we left it last June, but we wish we’d been here in time for the Saturday farmers market on this spot.
We moved EV to the anchorage across the river and I set about Christmas preparations, first mixing up Jean’s Philadelphia Sticky Buns, and then making a Christmas Curry.
Jack called Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, another of our favorite towns, to see if they have a mooring for us. We plan to stay there for a week or so while we assess what needs to be done to EV to get her ready for ocean passages. We’ll either do the work there or move to wherever we need to.
And it’s sticky buns for breakfast!