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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Twenty-Seven

We stayed in Wilmington over the weekend of October 28th and 29th in order to give the new engines a good workout before we left the knowledgeable and capable hands of the local Yanmar dealer, who had installed them. The extra time also gave us an opportunity to have a farewell dinner with good friends. Our extra days were spent partly running up and down the Cape Fear River and partly tied up to the city pier adjacent to the Hilton hotel. Since it was the weekend, there were many visitors to the waterfront "boardwalk" and some would stop to chat with us. The first question most of them asked was whether we were really from Houston, Texas. The second question was, what brought us all the way to Wilmington. After breaking the ice with those questions and answers, many people would then ask where we were going next. Our answer, which was usually, South, always brought more questions and after a time we would explain that we had a general idea where we wanted to go, but after 40 years of working by the clock, where schedules and duties ruled our lives, we were now thoroughly enjoying life in a more reactionary attitude. In other words, we wanted to be spontaneous and go see what looked most interesting as opposed to following a plan. This usually elicited funny stares, but every now and then we would see a glint of understanding in someone's eyes. There would be a brief flash of comprehension followed almost instantaneously by a whimsical expression. We knew then that we had connected with someone. If we did connect in terms of common interests, we usually had great conversations about the important role boats can play in one's well being.

We left Wilmington early on Halloween of 2000. Our first stop was Southport, which is located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where we filled the fuel tanks and headed offshore for Florida shortly after noon. The weather was beautiful, if not the best sailing conditions. In fact, there was very little wind. But, that worked out well, because we needed to put some hours on the new engines. As it turned out, we motored for 48 hours in a straight line from Southport, North Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida. Because of the curve of the shoreline we were 45 miles off shore for a time. On average the seas were gently rolling ocean swells, but a great deal of the time we were almost on flat calm water. The days were warm and sunny and the nights were crystal clear and cool with an incredible array of stars. We took three-hour watches at the helm this time and it worked better than our usual two-hour shifts. We both enjoyed the night watches because of the magnificence of the nighttime sky. The Milky Way was ghostly bright in a sky already glowing with stars, planets, constellations, countless galaxies and other objects only a trained astronomer or perhaps only God could identify. An occasional meteor streaking across the sky in a blaze of blue, green, yellow or white gases rounding out evenings of peaceful contemplation of the wonders of the universe. There is nothing else I know of that compares with the personal contentment experienced while alone at the helm in the wee hours of an absolutely gorgeous night at sea.

We arrived in St. Augustine just as the sun was setting on November 2, 2000 and anchored just North of the Bridge of Lions, so named because of the Italian marble lions at each end. We stayed two nights in St. Augustine to rest and do some routine maintenance on the boat, which included changing the oil and filters on the engines. After buying fuel and filling our water tanks we departed St. Augustine on the 4th and motored South on the Intracoastal Waterway. This area of the waterway is very pleasant in that it is lined with beautiful homes and wooded areas as well as some open wetlands. The country charm slowly faded however, as we got closer to the major population areas of Florida's East coast. High rise hotels and condominiums became ever more common on the waterway and the private homes became larger and more ornate. Some private homes looked large enough to be small hotels. We spent two nights enroute, anchoring just to the side of the waterway each night. We reached Melbourne and anchored just North of the Eau Gallie Bridge at 1300 on the 7th.

Our anchorage left us a short dinghy ride to Conchy Joe's Restaurant pier, which is next to the Eau Gallie Public Library in the city of Melbourne. Eau Gallie, which is pronounced O-Galley, was settled in the 1860s and was annexed by Melbourne in 1969. Adjacent to the library is the civic center, which was the location of the Seven Seas Cruising Association annual meeting. We have been members for two years and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see what the association was all about and meet other cruisers. The organization is non-profit and encourages cruisers to share information and be safe, courteous and responsible boaters. The annual meeting included a small exhibit hall where about 30 vendors showed their products, as well as many seminars that provided much appreciated information on first aid and safety at sea, fishing, diesel engine maintenance, refrigeration, cruising the Caribbean, lightening safety, email options, insurance, sail repair, water maker operation, and even how to cut hair. We were very impressed with the organization. We got so involved we even volunteered to deliver six boxes of school supplies to the elementary school in Georgetown, Bahamas. It seems that many members collect school supplies and books during the year and then other members, who are headed to various locations throughout the world deliver them. It is a cheap way to get needed materials to children, who would probably otherwise not have adequate supplies or books. We're looking forward to personally delivering the boxes to the school. Weather permitting; we hope to accomplish the delivery sometime before Christmas.

About a thousand cruisers attended the annual meeting and the anchorage soon held over 70 boats. It was fun meeting people we had heard on the radio during the past year. In addition to the many cruisers, who came in their boats, many members drove from homes or anchorages from all over the Southeast. We made many new friends and made many promises of rendezvous in the Bahamas and or Caribbean. We even met yet another couple with a 12-meter catalac just like ours. We have now met over half the 12-meter catalac owners in the states. also attended a picnic sponsored by the Waterway Radio Cruising Club, which operates the Waterway Net, which is a Ham radio service for cruisers. The service includes weather reports, relays of information and position reporting as well as float plan filing. It's all volunteer work provided by interested Hams. It was great fun meeting the people we had been communicating with for over a year. Once again, we were impressed with the generosity of people and their willingness to provide communication and weather services that would be incredibly expensive if one had to pay for them. The generosity of other members, who had cars and provided transportation for shopping, was also greatly appreciated. the meeting, we stayed at our anchorage for a few extra days to pick up our mail, do laundry, buy some more groceries, refill one of our propane tanks, install some new reading lights over the settee, change filters in and reactivate the water maker, change the raw water impeller in the diesel generator and adjust the valves on the new engines. The first valve adjustment was recommended sometime between the first 50 and 100 hours and then every 500 hours after that. I was a bit apprehensive about doing the work myself until I attended the diesel seminar at the meeting. With newfound knowledge and confidence the job turned out to be easier than I thought. also cleaned the heat exchanger for the generator and installed new sacrificial zincs. A heat exchanger works like the radiator on a car, but instead of using air to cool fluid in the radiator, it uses seawater. Seawater is very corrosive, so a zinc insert is placed in the flow of the seawater. The theory is that the zinc will corrode first, thus protecting the metal parts that come in contact with seawater. After that job, we installed the stop solenoids on our engines. The solenoids were out of stock when we had the engines installed. So they were mailed to us. A diesel engine is stopped by shutting off its fuel supply. This is usually done by hand with a simple cable that connects to a fuel shutoff on the engine. Ours have this feature, but we now have big red buttons on the instrument panel that can be pushed to stop the engines. They're most impressive.

I'll leave you with part of a poem by Thomas Stearns (T. S.) Eliot, an American born, but later naturalized British citizen, who lived from 1888 to 1965 and who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1948 and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Stay tuned.

Dates: 2000-10-28, 2000-11-07
Locations: Wilmington, Southport, NC; Offshore; St. Augustine, Melbourne, FL
Keywords: T. S. Eliot quote

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.