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ADDITIONS TO THE BLOG as of April 2017: Shamal and her Crew being Mum and Dad are in the Cayman Islands * Should you want to contact us, you can do so by clicking on the Contact Us tab below. * PLEASE subscribe to the Blog, so that new posts are emailed to your inbox.



18 October 2016

Life in Manatee Pocket, Stuart, Florida/Hurricane Matthew


 

 
Our Local Café and Bar

Yes we are STILL in the “Pocket”.  Three months have passed since we first dropped anchor here to start the next round of maintenance and repairs after leaving St. Augustine.

We have settled in and are now nearly one of the “locals”. To some we are somewhat of a novelty still, coming from that far away corner of the South Pacific – many have no idea actually where NZ is, and others surprise us saying they have travelled there. We met a lovely gentleman in his eighties in the supermarket and we are now the best of friends.  He and his wife have taken us out on a sightseeing drive around the area, then out for a meal.  They too were keen boaties up until about five years ago and have given us lots of tips about the Bahamas.  After some considerable consideration we decided as our jobs were taking longer than we first planned, that we would stay here for the Hurricane Season, well most of it,  and as it turn out that was a good decision.
A meal with new friends
 

Thunderstorms are still a very regular occurrence, but I can’t get use to them. About six weeks ago we had a phone call from friends whom we met in the St Augustine Marina, and who were then out in Freetown in the Bahamas.  They were devastated as their 52ft catamaran has been hit by lightning.  They have lost ALL their electrics. After a couple of weeks they managed to motor back into Fort Lauderdale, and have been hauled out of the water to start the job of major repairs.  Since then we have brought a lightning rod which Alec has fixed to the top of the mast.  Now no one can say for sure that they work, but we are prepared to give it a go.

The Four New Solar Panels
As for our “boat jobs”, well they have progressed slowly, but are now almost all complete.  The new Hard Tops are in place, and sitting on top of those are two new solar panels, plus we replaced the two which sat above the dinghy davits with higher powered ones.  The old ones were 125 watts each, we now have two 250 watts. The two on the new roof are also 250 watts each, so we now have a total of 1,000watts.  With the panels and the wind generator we are now a mini power station.  It is great as we don’t need to run the engines anymore to top up the batteries, and with the new generation panels, they even make power on dull days. One day it was raining and the solar panels were still producing 12 Amps.
The Florida Keys

After much research Alec found a place here in Florida to get our solar panels. It was down in Marathon on the Florida Keys.  A young Canadian named Andrew, living on his boat here in the Pocket had befriended us and we were helping him out with a few jobs.  He said he would run us down there to check the place out which was so nice of him as he has a car.  It was a full day trip as it is about 400ks each way. The keys are a string of Islands extending south west off the Florida Peninsular.  From Elliott Key to Key West is an area of National Parks, coral reefs - with excellent fishing and dive spots, and low lying Islands.  All different types of boating activities from kayakers, paddle boarders and canoeists, to sport fishing and dive boats, and sail boats, all use these water. Marathon sits midway way down the Keys. It is home to some commercial fishing and lobster boats, plus a number of sizable marinas and boat shops.  So off we set.  Once south of Miami you enter into a bit of a time-warp. Here I felt things still dated back to the seventies – buildings painted in blues and pinks, and a slightly tacky appearance.   It is nice that it is not all high-rise, but it is a little dated and dowdy. I do understand that from the water it is a different story with lovely beaches to drop anchor and enjoy the sparkling waters.
Alec & Andrew lunch in Marathon

When we arrived we checked at the solar shop to find the guy we needed to talk to was out.  He did know we were coming as we had phoned ahead!!  So we found a restaurant on the water for lunch then headed back to the solar shop to check the panels out.  We left with Alec asking the guy to send us a quote for parts and labour.  At this stage we were thinking of taking SHAMAL down there to have the work done.

Marathon
A few days later the quote arrived.  Parts were what we expected, but as Alec replied to him “you have blown me out of the water with your labour costs”.  He quoted $120 US per hour, a total of $3,000 !!!! and, that was only an estimate. Strange as in his shop at the counter he had a notice up saying his labour costs are $90 per hour!!!!  He saw us coming and though, just another stupid foreigner. 

Florida Keys
So the outcome of this was we did not take SHAMAL down to Marathon, but did the work here in the Pocket. Our Canadian friend lent us his car and Alec and I drove back and purchased the panels and all the parts, then Andrew along with a friend of his helped Alec remove the two old panels and put on the four new ones.  We then got a local solar panel guy come out to wire them up for us.  His labour costs were only $60 per hour.  He is the most efficient worker we have ever had working on the boat and did a superb job.

Next we had our sun shades modified so we can now roll up the portion which covers the solar panels on the roof to allow them full sun.  We have also had two new side clears made, and these DON’T leak at all. They slide into a track which runs a good foot forward past the helm area which directs the water forward then down the side windows. At the moment we are just waiting on rear shades, which will also slide into the track, to be made for both sides.  That should be the last of our jobs here in Stuart.
Andrew & Joe help with Solar Panels

As the weeks have passed while we have been waiting for things to be done we have filled in our time going for long bike rides, and yes it has been hot, some say one of the warmest Florida summers on record.  The nearest supermarket is about two miles away.  Like many places here shops line the highways – what they call Strip Malls, so some days we bike for miles to find things.

Life in the Pocket is interesting.  There are about 13 other boats in the outer Pocket with us, but only six had people living aboard.  Two have now left, but a new boat has arrived flying the South African flag.  Andrew returned to Canada and another guy left his boat here and returned to New York.

Tow Boat US are regular visitors.  They seem to hunt like wolves looking for prey, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs.  Occasionally we see one towing in a poor wounded boat who is unable to come in under their own power.
A Sad new Neighbour

A Watery End
Then there are the numerous water police which motor in under various names with “authority” written all over them.  Their bark is worse than their bite.  In fact we wonder just how much power they have. We had an example when as small yacht was towed into our anchorage one evening and the pick dropped.  It did look a little worse for wear.  There it sat for about three weeks until its closest neighbour – a hermit who speaks to no-one and only leaves his den once a week for supplies – phoned the local Sheriff with regards to the close proximity this small yacht was to his. Duly the Sheriff arrived, spoke to the Hermit, motored over to the “offending” boat, had a look and left.  An hour later Tow Boat US arrived, spoke to the Hermit, motored over to the “offending” boat, had a look and left.  The following morning we woke to find the “offending” boat on its way to a watery grave!!!!  Within several hours it was sitting on the bottom with only the top of the cabin and its mast showing.  Why was nothing done the day before??????  The Sheriff is called again and he motors around has a look and leaves, followed by Tow Boat US doing the same.  Good gracious has no one got authority to do anything????  So there our small yacht sits for another three weeks before a barge finally arrives, pumps it out and lifts it and tows it out of the Pocket.
Raised, but all too late.

Another time while out on our bikes, Alec spots a notice regarding a “Gun Show” that was coming to town.  Oh help, on the offending day off we go to the “Gun Show”.  It was a very causal affair, only one security guard at the door, and masses of guns of all sorts.  Alec could not quite understand why I showed little interest in the hand guns for women.  I could choose from a selection of different colours – pinks and purples, with a hand bag with a concealed pocket to carry it in!!!!  The only part that did interest me was outside a restored WW11 Willys Jeep – the same model jeep that my younger brother taught me to drive in on our parent’s farm many years ago.
Alec at the Gun Show

Ann at the Gun Show
Hurricane Season is now in full swing with mid-August through to mid-October being the most active times.  We are now watching the weather charts each day following any activity that forms on the West Coast of Africa, out to the Cape Verdes, and then crosses the Atlantic towards the Caribbean.  They start out as a Tropical Depression, then can turn into a Tropical Storm, and then develop into a Hurricane. Initially what has been forming has petered out in mid-Atlantic, or turn north and moved up the central Atlantic without making landfall.  Apparently the high air mass contained too much dry air.  But then things changed.  Towards the end of August we had a depression forming out there and heading into the mid-Atlantic.  It also turned north, but built to hurricane force and was given the name “Gaston”.  It became a category 3 hurricane with max. winds of 115mph.  We decided that if one should come our way we would move SHAMAL further inland up the north fork of the St Lucie River and into the mangroves.  Now we felt it was time to do a reconnaissance as another system was forming out there, so we upped anchor and motored the ten miles to a spot we had found on the chart.  It looks ideal with no houses about with rock walls or docks.  Just high mangroves surrounding a bay no more than a quarter mile wide.  We returned to the “Pocket” to wait and see how this next system would develop.  By the end of August we could see it would pass into the Gulf of Mexico, then, on the 2nd. August hurricane Hermine makes landfall S.E. of Tallahassee on the Florida Pan Handle.  This was the first hurricane to hit Florida in 11 years. 

The Grandchildren
The charts next show a period of more settled weather, and as we hope to be leaving the States soon we decide we will make another trip north to Connecticut to visit  Dan, Brigitte and the grandchildren as it will be some before we may come back this way.

We decide to buy a one way airfare so we could return any time without losing a pre-booked return ticket.  As it turned out the day we leave, another system is developing off the coast of Africa.  We have made good friends with Mark on the boat anchored next to us, and he drives us to the airport at West Palm Beach about 45 minutes away.  We spend just over a week up north and it is lovely catching up with the family, but, this system has now developed into a tropical storm as it passes near St Lucia in the Windward Islands, and is threating to become a hurricane as it moves across the warmer waters of the Caribbean.  We buy our air tickets and return to Florida on Monday 3rd October.  Mark is there to pick us up.  Our storm has now very quickly developed into a category 4 hurricane (that is winds between 113-136 kts or 130-156 mph) with the name “Matthew”.  Also it is now heading our way.  Mark tells us we should move our boats out of the Pocket in the morning and head up into the mangroves before the bridge is closed which opens to let boats pass through.



Stripping SHAMAL
Up in the Mangroves
Tuesday 4th October, we up anchor along with Mark and his cat James on board “Rainbow”.  We motor our boats the 10 miles up into the north arm of the St Lucie River and into our spot in the mangroves to find we are the only ones here which is even better.  Then we start the job of stripping our boats down.  Mark has TV on board and is giving us update as to Matthews’s path all the time. We remove anything and everything that could be damaged or cause damage.  The only thing we can’t get off is our main sail.  It is new, heavy and battened.  So we lash miles of rope around the sail cover and then lash the boom etc. to the targa roof.  We even remove our wind generator and put out two anchors.  One 15mts shackled to the chain after we have dropped the first.  So we have a total of 45kg holding us to the river bottom.  We have out 40mts of chain and are sitting in 4mts of water.  The bottom is a mixture of thick mud and sand which is ideal, so we pray we will hold.  This takes us into Wednesday.  Mark has very kindly made arrangements for us to go ashore with him and stay at his daughter’s home back by Manatee Pocket.  We decide to leave our boats that evening and take his tender up the river to where his son-in-law is waiting to pick us up, including James the cat.
Boarding up windows

It was an airy feeling driving back to his daughter’s house.  Lines of cars at the gas stations.  People out doing their last supermarket shopping, shops and homes being boarded up.  The people here really know how to prepare, but it has been a number of years since a hurricane has hit this area, they all have stories to tell.

The next day, Thursday, we help Marks family put the last of their garden furniture and children’s toys inside, and the men finishing boarding up the windows and doors.
Hurricane Matthew

Boats are Lifted
We spend the rest of Thursday, and Friday glued to the TV watching “Matthew” track between Haiti and Cuba and on towards the Bahamas.  And oh what destruction is left it its path. As Matthew leaves the Bahamas and heads towards Florida it looks like Stuart is in for a direct hit, but then he gets the wobbles.  At 12.20am the outer eye wall is approaching us. The pressure is down to 938mb with winds gusting 145 mph at the eye and forecast to pass 25 miles abeam Stuart. A little later the eye passes Stuart 35 miles off the coast at around 2.00am.  Our boats are another 5 miles inland giving them a better clearance. By morning the worst is over for us, but Matthew has now moved closer to the coast and doing more damage than when he passed us.  During a break in the rain that morning we walk back to the Pocket.  Two of the boats that stayed have dragged their anchors but not too far. The others are just where they were left and no damage.  Everyone we spoke to were so relieved we did not get a direct it. If it had the area would have suffered horrendous damage.  As it was we just got “another very windy Wellington day”!!!!
A Yacht Washed Ashore

Later that day I go out for a drive with Mark and his daughter as we visit a friend’s home to pick up a boat part.  We have been so lucky here in Stuart.  The palm trees have had a good pruning and some trees have blown over.  There is very little building damage.  Many homes are without power, but it stayed on at our place.  When it is all over we believe our strongest wind gusts were around 70mph.
Locked out of the boat park

Friday afternoon the winds have dropped to around 25kts and Mark Alec and I real need to return to our boats.  Marks son-in-law drives us back to the boat ramp, for us only to find the police have locked the access gate.  After a call to the Sheriff’s office, an officer arrives and unlocks it for us.  We launch the tender and head back down river, round the corner into our anchorage, and oh what joy and relief to find our boats exactly where and how we left them.

The following morning we up anchors and return to the Pocket.  We sadly passed half a dozen boats that were damaged.  Two others had sunk at their docks and a couple more yachts had been washed up on the rocks.  People’s private docks had been damaged as well.  The next few days we have seen more of a storm surge come into the river and Pocket than at the actual time of the hurricane.  Docks here in the Pocket have been under water at times.
The Storm Surge

Extra High Tides
So we have come through our first hurricane unscathed.  Let’s hope that is the last for this season.  There is still a lot of cleaning up to do further up the coast.  We have made contact with other yachting friends who were scattered from Fort Lauderdale further south, and north to St Augustine, and Brunswick in Georgia.  Everyone is safe and their boats also.  We have so much to be grateful for.  We did spare a thought for the homeless people here who live in the dense shrubbery and trees next to the highways.  I suppose they moved into the shelters that open for people.  We have been told that these mini communities which we have seen so far, increase in number down here during the winter months as the homeless from up north move south where it is warmer for them.  New York with a winter snow blizzard blowing in would be no fun for them.

Our next plans, weather permitting, are to leave here with our boating buddy Mark and head out to the Bahamas.  This we hope to do in the next couple of weeks.  Mark has lived and sailed out there for years and we are looking forward to have someone with local knowledge show us around.
James watching Mark

So on this note we will finish off for this newsletter, but before I do we would like to thank everyone who made contact with us before and after the hurricane to check up on us.  We really appreciated this.

Lots of love from

The Admiral and

The Commander

 

 

 

 

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