Cruising Down the Florida ICW: Our Shakedown Cruise

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sailing luna sea cruising blog

I am so far behind on the blog, and I apologize.  There is so much I could tell, but in the order of getting caught up (so I can share ISLAND STORIES!) I am going to summarize our time in the States, up until we crossed over to Bimini…

Often times you’ll hear or read about someone getting a new-to-them boat and doing their “shakedown” sail or cruise.

We’d had s/v Luna Sea for 3 years before we set out to go cruise the beaches of the Atlantic and Caribbean.  So just how exactly was this our shakedown?  Shouldn’t that have been the first year when we spent 2+ weeks going south from Savannah to Daytona and back?  Or maybe some of the many day/weekend/week long trips we took in the interim?

Maybe. For the rigging and sails, yes. (The rigging is what holds up the mast/sails and keeps us from toppling over – as well as powering us forward on the wind)  But we spent those 3 years customizing the boat somewhat – upgrading/updating systems, adding a hard top, and replacing the battery bank/solar set up.

Basically, we spent our time this October/November working our way down the ICW fixing/learning about/adjusting one “failure” after another.  Failure is a strong word.  Nothing was broken – in fact, more often it’s just been operator error.  But as “they” say, you don’t know what you don’t know.

So here you have our trip down the southern Georgia/Florida ICW – based on what was broken and fixed in each location.

St. Simon Island

We had a great time in St. Simon Island.  Until the morning we got up to leave.  The boat wouldn’t start.  This coincided with the batteries refusing to reach full charge, so initially we thought it was a low/dead start battery.  Nope, not the case.  Turns out it was the actual starter.

Mark took it apart.  He’d never done this before, but we were expecting to need to get a new one sent from Brunswick, so why not crack it open and look inside?  It was basically a rust bucket.  He cleaned it thoroughly and coated the wire connections with Noalox (a godsend and required equipment on this boat) and BOOM!  She started right up.  In fact, she still starts up (a month or so later?) faster than she ever did in the years we’ve had her.  There’s some of that maintenance you didn’t know you didn’t know about…

Cumberland

Our new outboard on our new dinghy has been giving us fits since we got it.  Mostly it just won’t get it us on plane.  But more times than not, it would randomly die.  The dinghy is our “car” when we’re cruising.  Sure it’s annoying when we can’t get from the boat to the beach or vice versa.  But it’s also a safety issue.  If we are out snorkeling and a storm starts rolling in, we have to get back to the boat pronto.  If we’re on an island provisioning or exploring, and the seas pick up – we need to trust the dinghy engine to run, and get us back to the boat safely and reliably – and preferably on plane, even with a load of food. (beer)

In Cumberland, we pretty much threw in the towel on our Tohatsu.  We decided to get ourselves to Jacksonville and find a used but stronger hp engine.  Even when we feel like the engine is purring like a kitten, it will only get one person on plane.  If we are both in the boat – or god forbid, we have bikes or scuba gear or food, the dinghy just plows through the water, never truly getting on plane.

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Blue Angels Airshow – just for Mark!

Jacksonville, FL

We were in Jacksonville for about 5 days.  Mark was searching for used dinghy engines and I was troubleshooting our battery charging situation.  Thankfully, we have friends in Jax, and we got to visit.  Trudy, as always, jumped in to save us by giving me her car any day/time that I needed it.  I was able to contact our solar charger controller company and discuss our charging issues and arrange to have a newly programmed controller shipped to her house.  We were anchored in the middle of a river, and apparently UPS is not fond of delivering to anchorages…

Our visit to Jacksonville coincided with Mark’s birthday.  I arranged to have the Blue Angels fly over our anchorage for a few days.  (ok, maybe it was the weekend of the Air Show) So while we waited on our new part, and picked up little bits and pieces of things we realized we needed, we also had a good time.  But after 5 days, it was time to move further south.

Daytona, FL

We motored on down to Daytona, FL.  All of the motoring vs sailing actually helped to charge our batteries.  So I felt like our mystery was solved – we simply use the energy faster than it can go back into the battery bank.  We hopped on our bikes and decided to spend the day at the beach/exploring the boardwalk.  We dinghied over to Caribbean Jack’s Marina and Restaurant, just near our anchorage (so cool to anchor right in the middle of a city!) and started heading toward the (giant) bridge that leads to the beach.  My bike had started making a weird clicking noise in Jekyll but we were distracted by my asthma attack that day and forgot to look into the clicking noise.

Our bikes are exactly the same except for the seat and seat post height.  Mark took the seat post out and we swapped – so he could trouble shoot it.  We thought it was something simple, some sort of adjustment that needed to be made.  As our journey progressed, he realized it was something more serious.  A quick search led us to The Bike Shop in Ormond-by-the-Sea.

sailing luna sea cruising blog

2 of the 3 teeth are missing…

The technician removed the cog from the hub and found 2 of the 3 teeth had broken off.

Turns out the bikes came from the factory with some ridiculous tension on the belts.  (They are belt driven, not chain driven – less to rust on a boat!) That tension caused the failure of a potentially faulty cog. The technician checked the bike I was on, and it too had way too much tension.  He adjusted it, and we hope to avoid any problems with that cog.

Also turns out that we had a faulty MC4 Connector on one of our solar panels.  Problem solved!!  Right!??  For a few days, anyway.

*We LOVE our bikes.  But if you buy one, and you can only get them online, take it to a local bike shop and have them give it a once-over.  This is exactly why we try to buy our bicycles locally.  It just wasn’t an option for this brand/model.

Mark contacted both the distributor of the bike and maker of the cog.  Gate – the cog maker, immediately arranged to ship us a new cog.  It was waiting for us in Miami, all happy and shiny.  We never did hear back from the distributor…

New Smyrna Beach, FL

After what felt like a successful visit to Daytona, troubleshooting and resolving issues, we decided it was time for fun!  We motorsailed down to New Smyrna Beach and dropped anchor in a spot we’d last visited in 2013.  We have friends in the area and we wanted a comfortable, familiar place to wait for them and rest.  Turns our we were anchored right in their back yard!

Mylene and Jim were literally diagonal across the water.  We hopped in dinghy and headed to their house for the day.  We had the best time.  There was an antique car show, beers by the pool, lunch by the beach, happy hour at a local place – and dinner and drinks back at their place. They even let us do a load of laundry.  I think that’s the last time we’ve used a washer and dryer…  Such a nice day.  Heads up Mylene and Jim – if we ever need to head back to the States to pick up parts etc, we’re camping out in the river behind you!

Cape Canaveral

We left NSB and headed south to Cape Canaveral.  There is a lock system there that puts you out into the Atlantic.  We’d never done a lock in Luna Sea, so we thought Why not!? It was a beautiful trip down, but the anchorage (due to our draft) was awful.  We got almost no sleep whatsoever, before getting up before sunrise to get through the lock when it opened.

There was a bit of confusion between Mark and I about how to tie up in the lock, but we eventually got her secure and passed through.  And then it was a 27.5 hour offshore sail to Lake Worth!

Lake Worth

Initially, leaving Canaveral we were only hitting 3.5 knots.  It was painfully slow, but we were enjoying the sail after so much motoring in the ICW.  During the day we fished, and rested.  As the sun went down, the winds picked up – and so did our speed.  We were racing down the coast at 11 knots under wind power alone.  This is pretty amazing speed, which we’ve only seen one other time on Luna, but it was faster than we cared to go.  We reefed further and brought her down to 7-8 knots.  A much more comfortable ride – and still great speed.

Slowing her down also meant that we got to our inlet after sunrise.  No need to enter unknown waters in the dark, so we chose not to risk it.  We dropped anchor safely and tried to get some sleep.  Unfortunately, the coffee we enjoy while trying to stay awake on our shifts (and stay warm!) didn’t let us sleep at all.  So we puttered around the boat and crashed early.

After 12 hours of sleep, we crawled out of our bunk and headed over to snorkel at Little Peanut Island.  We were finally in the land of warm clear water and beautiful fish!  It was a  fantastic land break, but we were also ready to keep moving south.  On to Hollywood Beach!

Hollywood Beach

In Hollywood, we were able to meet up with Terri and Dean.  I love playing with friends all down the coast!  Terri had graciously accepted our packages and brought them to us.  We took time to eat and visit at Le Tub, right on the water.  But after a couple of days of provisioning (5 cases of beer for the Bahamas isn’t quite enough, FYI) and a few nights at anchor, we were on the move again.

Miami

Our plans for Miami were basically to wait on a weather window, get the dogs their international vet paperwork, do some final provisioning, and then cross over the Gulfstream.  We got some of it right.  Some of it, not so much.

We enjoyed a few nights at anchor near Marina Stadium, snorkeling, visiting with Terri some more, and watching the weather. Let’s just say that we’ve learned a lot about weather in the past few weeks.  Unfortunately, we needed to know then what we know now…

We picked our window – the time to safely cross the Atlantic.  We headed to Dinner Key and got a mooring ball so that we wouldn’t have to worry while we took the dogs to see the vet nearby.  Dinner Key is a great little town, and I look forward to maybe checking out more of it later.  But this go round we rushed.  And that mooring ball?  Man, the boat was rocking around like a bucking broncho.  We would’ve been much better off if we’d crossed the bay and staged at No Name harbor, or somewhere nearby.

Timing-wise, theoretically, you are supposed to check into the Bahamas within 48 hours of getting the exam/paperwork from the vet.  So we felt once we had it, we needed to go… And with a decent forecast, we decided to go for it on Thanksgiving Day.

Unfortunately, our lack of weather comprehension, combined with an inaccurate weather forecast combined for a bumpy ride!

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Crossing the Gulfstream with Our Eyes Closed!

6 Comments
  • Candy Hicks

    Reply

    WOAH ! ! ! FANTASTIC catch-up, feels like I’m right there with you…..Baha ha ha ha ha ! ! so glad you’re LIVING LIFE ! ! ! ! MERRY CHRISTMAS ! ! ! <3

  • Tammy Campbell

    Reply

    So loved reading this. Can’t wait for the next installment.

  • Stacey

    Reply

    A great update…but a cliff hanger, I wanna read the crossing with your eyes closed now! x

    • Jennifer

      I haven’t brought myself to write that one yet. You will have to settle for some sunny beach posts for now 😉

  • Richard Schulze

    Reply

    Hi Jennifer and Mark: I think of you guys often, and just now have caught up with your adventures on your blog. I just started a sailing novel you might enjoy: Before the Wind, by Jim Lynch, available on Kindle. It’s about a sailing family on the west coast……

    If you’re ever back in Savannah, look us up! We’ll never forget your hurricane sailing debut.

    Richard Schulze

    • Jennifer

      Thanks Richard! We are always looking for more books.
      Nothing like a good hurricane to start a journey off right. At least we all have good stories to tell. We will certainly let you know whenever we get back to Savannah. Thanks for tagging along virtually!

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