When we departed on this journey back in October, several cruising friends said they envied us a bit because it was our first time. And we would never have another first time like this one. Our first time cruising. Our first time down the ICW. Our first time at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. Our first time white-knuckling the Rock Pile, but also our first time anchoring in the peaceful marshes of South Carolina and Georgia.
But with all virgin experiences, there’s a learning curve. In our case, the learning curve was quite steep because this was also our shakedown cruise. What is a shakedown cruise? Glad you asked, and super glad that Wikipedia provides a really good definition: “Shakedown cruise is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested. Generally, shakedown cruises are performed before a ship enters service or after major changes such as a crew change, repair or overhaul. The shakedown cruise simulates working conditions for the vessel, for various reasons. For most new ships, the major reasons are to familiarize a crew with a new vessel and to ensure all of the ship’s systems are functional. A vessel is typically not committed to any timetables or tasks until it completes its shakedown cruise. As such, problems detected during the shakedown cruise can be fixed at minimal cost.”
Hmmm. Although needed, that underlined section above was not heeded with Belle Bateau. Against conventional wisdom, and I’ll admit, with a lot of urging by me, we began our sailbatical without the benefit of a proper shakedown cruise. We hadn’t planned it that way. We had hoped to sail quite a bit last summer. But amid full-time employment, there was a house to sell, and that preparing, purging, packing, preening, and process consumed all of our time. And then some. When Belle Bateau set sail on October 19, it was only the fifth time the refitted Belle had left her slip in 2015. Therefore, the sailbatical became our shakedown cruise.
On Day 137, when we began our return north, it occurred to me that perhaps our shakedown cruise had concluded. After more than four months at sea, the major boat systems, mechanisms, nautical do-hickies, and sea faring thing-a-majigs have finally settled to a reasonable pace of prudent maintenance rather than critical repair.
And as we began to retrace our journey, revisiting towns and traversing waters that now had a certain familiarity to them, the relaxing began. Most of the mystery had disappeared, and with it, much of the anxiety. We returned to marinas, already familiar with shallow waters or currents, and with knowledge of their slip-numbering system. We anchored out, knowing where the dinghy docks were and how far to anchor away from bars with live music that continued past our bedtime.
We also knew where we wanted to spend more time, and less time. Cocoa was high on the list for another visit, since we had only stayed there one night on our journey south. We arrived Cocoa Village Marina on Friday, March 4, in time to watch the 6:35 pm SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch, which had been scrubbed several times in previous weeks. As the sun was beginning to set, the second floor deck of the marina offered an excellent view of Cape Canaveral, about twelve miles away as the crow flies.
And yes, this time they didn’t scrub the mission! We were able to see, and hear, the rocket! It was quite the experience to see the big fiery glow, the rocket rise, and then eventually hear the boom. Since light travels faster than sound, it was a long delay before we heard anything, and in my excitement, I forgot to count seconds. Using the manner in which we calculate distance of storms based on lightening and thunder, with sound traveling about one mile in five seconds, it must have been a full minute (12 miles x 5 seconds = 60 seconds) before we heard the boom. We watched through binoculars at first, and then with naked eyes to see the separation of the first and second stages, occurring over a total of 6 minutes 14 seconds.
The launch was mesmerizing, and I finally remembered to take a few photos when the separations began. I wished I had thought of snapping a photo of the big fiery ball at takeoff! If you want to learn more about this particular launch, here’s a link with fascinating details: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2016/03/spacex-falcon9-ses-9-launch/.
Cocoa and its quaint historic village continued to entertain us during our stay. We arrived at the beginning of an arts and crafts weekend festival, so that added some hustle, bustle, and music to the town. On Sunday morning, I attended the First Baptist Church of Cocoa and was warmly welcomed.
And we rendezvoused a few more times with fellow-Gozzard owners, Christina and Bob. The women enjoyed a long walk one morning that resulted in me exceeding 20,000 steps with my FitBit by the day’s end.
We grilled some burgers on Belle Bateau one evening, and discussed route options for our respective voyages back to the Chesapeake.
Dudley and I had planned to stay longer in Cocoa, but winds were forecasted to steadily rise throughout the week, so we moved up our departure in order to continue north. On our last evening in Cocoa, the four of us took the public bus to the beach, 7.7 miles east of the marina, and had a delightful dinner overlooking the Atlantic Ocean watching cruise ships in the distance on their way to the Bahamas. A nice way to end our second visit to Cocoa (but our first visit to its beach).
Retracing, and relaxing. We’re looking forward to more of that.