Friends And Free Docks

One of the benefits of cruising as a couple for over 20 years is the fact that we have met some wonderful people and made many friends for life. Whether traveling by land or sea, we can't travel very far without needing to stop and visit with one of those friends. And Lord help us if we travel past and fail to visit. Many of our friends are former cruisers that are now land dwellers and some are still into the live-aboard lifestyle. So we would still have a few more friends to visit on this transit of the ICW. But the next day would be for just cruising and relaxing at our next destination, the free town docks at New Smyrna Beach.

Leaving Palm Coast, the waterway is a narrow channel until near the L.B. Knox Bridge. Here, the channel widens into the Halifax River towards Ormond Beach and Daytona. Near statute mile 840, the currents are dictated by the Ponce de Leon Inlet at New Smyrna Beach. This is a busy stretch of waterway with many marinas and a lot of boat traffic. The New Smyrna Beach town docks are on the mainland side just north of the 65-foot Harris Saxon Bridge. The docks consist of two near semi-circular fixed docks that adjoin a nice park. This makes docking a bit of a challenge. There is only room for two large boats or three medium size boats on each dock. At the time we arrived, a "Relay For Life" event was going on in the park and everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. Previously there had been signs on the docks saying "no overnight docking," but none were in sight when we arrived and two other boats were already docked there. No one said anything to us about a time limit.

The historic downtown area of New Smyrna Beach is a short block away. The town was busy and the main street was lined with shops, boutiques and restaurants with lots of different options for dining. The park at the docks has walking trails, a promenade along the waterfront, public restrooms and picnic areas. On Saturdays, there is a small farmers market in downtown with vendors selling fresh produce and local items. The Post Office is a short walk away, but there is no place to buy supplies or groceries without transportation. After spending the night and a quick trip to the Farmers Market, Beach House and crew continued the trek south on the waterway. After all, we had a friend to visit in Titusville.

The trip along the Mosquito Lagoon is always interesting. The channel is narrow, albeit well-marked, and the depth in most of this very wide body of water is only a foot or two for the most part. A strong cross wind can quickly put a boat out of the channel, so the best advise is to keep a watch on the channel markers behind the boat to get a better perspective of just where the boat is in relation to the channel markers. Soon the channel makes a turn into the Haulover Canal. This narrow canal is almost always full of small boats fishing along the sides and even in the channel. The canal is also a manatee hangout so care needs to be used at all times, and the entire length is a slow speed, no wake zone. The drawbridge that spans the canal opens on demand so delays are rare. Once through the canal, the Indian River stretches wide and long, and as the winds began to build, the river became very choppy. Fortunately, the wind and chop was coming on our stern so the ride was fine, until it came time to dock at the Titusville Municipal Marina.

This would be the second time we would have to squeeze into a slip here with 20 knots of wind on our beam. The fairway is barely wide enough to match the length of our boat, and the slips consist of two outer pilings with a very short finger pier. This means coming in on an angle at a pretty fast speed, getting the boat straight in the slip and then stopping before we come crashing into the main dock. Usually everyone on the dock and on our boat has some seriously tight sphincters until we finally come to rest with no damage to boat dock or neighbors. It does get the adrenalin pumping and is one of those times we would love to have a bow thruster or at least twin engines for maneuvering. Somehow we manage to come through unscathed. Thank goodness for lots of experience. The marina tends to put transients on this dock. It is the only dock open to the entrance and the swells roll in when the wind is out of the east. Our visit went well and too soon we pushed farther south.

From Titusville, the trip south on the Indian River can be bumpy under the wrong conditions. This would be one of those days. The strong wind was forward of the beam all day and spray swept over the boat on a regular basis. We violated two of our own traveling rules, not to be on the water on a weekend and not to travel when winds are forecast to be 20 or higher. Since this was a Sunday, we had hundreds of small boats zipping around at full speed and coming at us from every direction. By the end of the day, it was a big relief to have the anchor down in a fairly remote spot, and with the sun going down soon, the weekenders would all go home. We had left the docks at 0830 that morning and arrived at our destination anchorage just south of the Wabasso Bridge by 1730. On this night we would be the only boat in this anchorage, which was fine with us.

Passing under the Wabasso Bridge heading south, turn immediately to starboard and you will find water depths of 10 feet almost to shore. There is a dock for the Environmental Laboratory that sticks out into the waterway and we anchored between the dock and the bridge. Near the bridge is a small sandy spot that can be used to land a dinghy if the pets need to go ashore. The anchorage is just out of the waterway channel, but there was not any boat traffic after dark and even the bridge had very little traffic noise after the sun went down. Wind protection is good from every direction and that was a good thing since the winds had steadily increased all day. After some relaxing time on the flybridge, we retired for dinner and a good nights' sleep. The winds for the next couple of days were forecast to increase and switch direction so they would be right on our nose all the way to Stuart, our next stop.

Every once in a while the Weather Service gets it right. When the forecast called for 20 to 25 knots out of the south, we were not terribly excited to be getting underway. This was expected for days so sitting it out was not an option. The Indian River is wide and open to wind so it isn't like there would be any protection. Even a dawn start to try and make time before the winds built during the day didn't work. Within an hour of getting underway it was already blowing 10 to 15, and by 9:00 a.m. had reached 20. A boat underway has to factor in wind direction, boat speed and boat direction to come up with the apparent wind. We were not traveling at maximum speed, but were making about 7 knots. Once the winds blowing on our nose reached 20 knots and we added our boat speed to that, we had apparent winds of 27 knots. Now everyone knows that the winds don't blow at a constant speed, so in gusts, this would be even higher. And so it went from the Wabasso Bridge until we made the turn at the Crossroads for the ICW and the St. Lucie River. Sailboats heading north were having a glorious sail under headsail alone.

The Crossroads is another area of the ICW that shoals often and is constant need of dredging. Fortunately, the St. Lucie Inlet and the Crossroads had just been dredged, and other than watching to be sure the strong currents and wind didn't push us out of the channel, the depths were just fine, and the turn up the St. Lucie River was a non-event. Our stop here in Stuart was another visit to see our long-time friends that we had met the first time on a Bahamas crossing some 20 years ago. They now live in a townhouse community that has its own docks, and the dock right next to their beautiful Krogen trawler was available for us to use for a day or two. It was nice to be in a well-protected creek and tied to a dock by the end of this day. It's also always good to see old friends, and a dinner out sure helped to relieve the stress of a long day pounding into wind and waves. Actually the waves weren't too bad considering. Once again, the visit was all too short, mostly because we were under a rare time schedule to keep appointments that had been made months before. We were also looking forward to making another crossing of the Okeechobee Waterway and exploring some places we have not been before or for a long time.

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