[photo: barge and backhoe; the view from the cockpit down the (very looong) slip we're in]
The tidal range here in St Augustine is 4 – 5 feet, and well, all that water has to gosomewhere when it ebbs. Where it goes, is out the inlet, and because the inlet is small, the water goes very very fast. The current can be intense, 4 knots at maximum ebb. (For comparison, the tidal range in Annapolis is only a gentle 1 foot, and currents are only rarely even as much as 1 knot.) We can only motor at 6 knots with the engine, which means that when the current here in St Augustine is at its strongest, we can’t move against it, we just have to wait it out. When boats come into the marina unawares and try to dock without accounting for the current, it can get … interesting. The current can push the boat off course, making it difficult to get into or out of the slip or stay centered in the fairway. You can get a lot of insight into personalities by how people respond to these surprises. Some yell, some curse, some panic, and some merely abort the attempt, learn from it and try again. Sometimes we just sit in the cockpit and watch the docking drama; it’s like free entertainment. I feel sympathy for the commercial tour boats on the dock that have to come and go by the scheduled departure time no matter what the current is doing. Recreational boaters like us, who have the luxury of time, just wait for slack tide when the maneuvering is easier.
But that fast current also shifts and changes the shape of the inlet – so much so that the original Spanish colonists called the entry the “Crazy Banks” because it was so unpredictable. In modern times, that shifting and depositing of sediments clogs structures that don’t shift, like marinas … so periodic dredging is needed to keep the slips deep enough for the boats to get in and out. They float a backhoe on a barge into the right location in the marina, and dig up bucketloads of stinking muck to be carted away. We watched dredging begin last week and saw the crazy current catch the barge, laden with tons of muck, and push it off course to crash into a slip next to ours. Yikes! That could have been our boat in there! Maybe it was karmic revenge for all the times we’ve watched and smirked at boats who were having trouble with the current, but this was waaaay too much docking drama for me!
Compounding my concern, we were going to be gone for a bit. All night I had visions of coming back to find our boat crushed, ruined by a wayward barge. The marina’s pretty empty right now, it’s the quiet season, so the sympathetic manager allowed us to move the boat to a more out-of-the-way slip, although it is also rather too big for our boat. (Those who know our location in our Annapolis marina, may wonder if grossly-oversized slips are a kind of trend for us. Not by choice, but sometimes it just works out that way. In the Annapolis case, our big slip was the only one available at the time with a full finger pier on the outside of the marina.) Currently in St Augustine, the slip we’re in is even bigger than the Annapolis one. Here’s little s/v Cinderella, 33 feet long, tucked into a slip designed for a boat twice her size – rattling around in a 62-foot slip with no one on either side of her. Looks kind of ludicrous, and a bit lonely, but I slept much better with the near-certainty that no one and nothing was going to damage our home while we were gone. We even got an email from the marina manager while we were gone with the subject line “nothing to report;” assuring us that there had been no further incidents with the barge and our boat was just fine. Hmmm. You would think that a blog writer with “nothing to report” would be frustrated at the prospect of a blank page and casting about anxiously for some subject to write. But in this case, “nothing to report” suits me just fine!
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