Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the tag “beach”

Letting the Days go by

We made the quick jump from south of Boston to north of Boston with no problems and little traffic, landing in Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The campground was the opposite in every way from Wompatuck State Park. The sites were wide open, close together, and had electric and power. While it wasn’t as close together as a typical tourist area private RV Park, they were really close together for a state park. Looking back at our pictures, neither Mike nor I stopped to snap a few of the campground. Probably too excited to be back at the beach!sal61sal62

We did quite a bit of touring in the area, and not much hanging at the beach, though. There are so many wonderful towns to check out!

We went as far north as Cape Porpoise, a village just past Kennebunkport, a town we loved when we had visited about 15 years ago. It is still a beautiful town, though it is getting kind of crowded. On the way back, we drove Shore Road, where the Bush compound is located and stopped to admire the view.

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Pier 77/Chowder House restaurant entrances. Too bad it was 10AM, too early for chowder.

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Views along the Maine coast

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more views from Maine

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and yet another. Can you blame me? The coast is beautiful!

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St. Ann’s Episcopal Church – right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view.

Our favorite town to visit in that area of Massachusetts is Rockport. It is a beautiful little town right on the coast with some of the best lobster rolls outside Maine.

For me, this is the perfect New England coastal town to set down roots – too far from a city to commute but close enough to a city to visit, plenty of things to do and places to eat, and an unhurried attitude in the people who live there. If only it wasn’t so far North! Though the weather is somewhat tempered by the sea, the winters still get a little too cold.

We also passed through Gloucester, a town that used to be my favorite New England town. Over the years, it has gotten so big and so crowded, it is hard to even find one’s way around, let alone find a place to park. We did manage a spot down at the waterfront where we waited out some of the traffic before heading back to camp.

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We didn’t spend much time in Surfside, a beach town right next to Salisbury Beach. Our initial first impression was that it was a miniature version of Ocean City, MD and we just weren’t in the mood for crowds and boardwalk fries. We did run around Newburyport though most of our time there was checking out the boats. We were still debating the merits of different traveling styles and whether or not being live aboards was a viable option.

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We even managed a stop in Salem for a day. Unfortunately, we picked the one day a week the Peabody is closed. We did manage lunch and a beer at Beer Works. We weren’t thrilled with the fruit beers (a little perfumy) but the pale ale and the witch city red were good.

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One of the historic wharves of Salem.

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The Burying Point cemetery, right next to the Witches’ Memorial.

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The “Friendship of Salem” just before the haul out.

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Stickworks, art by Patrick Dougherty

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Because buried deep inside my brain somewhere is Beavis. Or Butthead.

Most of the time we were in Salem, our thoughts were on getting to the local ASPCA. We had finally decided we didn’t want to live without a dog or two in our lives any longer and we wanted to find a dog that needed a family. We struck out in Salem. There were only five dogs in their shelter, all pit bulls. The wonderful volunteer did tell us that they would be receiving a ‘shipment’ by the end of the week, but we would be gone by then. As we would find all over New England, there aren’t as many dogs needing families up here as there are down south so the shelters here rescue them and get them shipped north. We decided we would continue to look as we headed north anyway.

We had a great time in Salisbury Beach. The weather was perfect, fellow campers are friendly, and there is a lot to do in the area (maybe too much). Some day we may return and will definitely include this campground in our list of places to stay.

 

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Watching the ships roll in

Scenes at the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the railroad crossing for the Cape Cod Canal. Trains still use it though we were never able to catch one on it. The bridge goes up and down, spending most of its time up for boat traffic.

At the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is free to get in and great for kids (or adults who love sea life). It isn’t very big but they do have touch tanks and lots of information. Mike and I both grew up on Jacques Cousteau and followed the explorations of Alvin, so  visiting Woods Hole was a no-brainer. The small town ended up being one of our favorites though we didn’t get to spend much time there.

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Probably the prettiest lighthouse we visited was Nobska Point Light just outside of Falmouth. The location is sublime (even in the rain) and just what one would expect of a New England Light house.

Falmouth is also a boating town, with a fairly large marina (by Cape Cod standards) and tons of mooring balls. They have a very good, small farmer’s market and a great, walkable downtown core. During our stay, we tried Maison Villatte for desert (amazing chocolate and almond croissants and bread). We had lunch at La Cucina Sul Mare and really enjoyed their lunch specials and their incredibly reasonable prices; definitely a place I would go back to. The food was prepared well. We met a friend for burgers and beer at Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub. Both were good as was the conversation. While we couldn’t stay for the daily live music we were assured that it was the big draw for the standing room only crowd. If you go, get there early!

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We thought the red boat would make a perfect Great Loop Boat. Its a little larger than we want but the big windows and all that deck space would be a wonderful place to watch the world drift by.

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Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich. They still grind corn here, and they sell it, too. In the pond, we watched fish mark and protect their territory, making small circles free of debris which they circled to keep other fish out.

On another rainy day we passed through Barnstable and stopped at the Coast Guard Museum for a visit. Our actual reason for being there was the Old Jail, built in 1690. Its history is pretty cool but we didn’t get to see any of it – no one was there. It sits on the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, so we wandered through that instead. The museum had displays starting from the beginning of the existence of the coast guards, right through modern times. What I found most fascinating was the light ships – boats that were constructed to be used as light houses where light houses couldn’t be built. Yes, I lead a sheltered life; I had never heard of them. There are none operating in the US (as commissioned light ships) at this time, but they can be found in places like New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Delaware. None currently on Cape Cod.

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See that little point sticking up on land way way over there (about center right in the image)? That is the Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable. Unless you have a boat, a resident sticker, or the ability to walk ten miles (round trip) in sand, that is as close as you can get to it. I had none of the above (okay, we could have walked the ten miles but had absolutely no desire to) and so we viewed it from the Barnstable Beach. Two things we noticed about parking on Cape Cod: the beach parking is expensive ($20/day, every day) and people go to parking lots and sit in their cars, especially parking lots with a view. All over Cape Cod, from the time we arrived to the time we left, there was not one parking lot we visited that did not have at least one car with a person in it just sitting. In some places, there were ten or more; some reading, some napping, some eating, some just staring. But there was always a person hanging out in their car. We go a lot of places. We have been all over the country and hung out in a lot of parking lots. But we have never seen anything like the parking lot vigils in Cape Cod.  Why? We will never know.

There was even a car parked at the Sargo Tower in Dennis. Okay, that is our jeep and it was us. The Scargo Tower was built specifically for the view. While we didn’t get the full view the day we were there, the view was pretty impressive. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Provincetown, which is where my camera was aimed for the bottom picture. We could see the Cape Cod Bay, but not any further.

We visited Chatham one day, a very pretty town at the elbow of Cape Cod. We caught the “Sharks in the Park” installation but missed out on the “Lifeboats in the Shops” scavenger hunt. I guess we don’t shop enough.  We managed to find (and get up close to) the Chatham Lighthouse and the beautiful beach attached.

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As you can see, the beach has some great sand bars off shore. From a map, it seems they stretch for miles. If we ever return, we will head here with our kayak. It looks like a great place to play Robinson Crusoe for a day.

We then headed up to Chatham Pier and Fish Market but it wasn’t open. We did get to see a few seals though, and a lot of work boats.

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If you want to buy a float, this is the place to do it. They also have wicked fudge. Eastham.

We also found another lighthouse, Nauset Light which had been moved a bit away from the coast. Fascinating fact about lighthouses – they each have their own light pattern. This enables boat/ship captains to verify their location at night or in fog when land masses can’t always be seen. This particular lighthouse is the one on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.ma301

We also spent an entire day wandering around Provincetown. It is like Key West of the North with the same funky beach vibe and far out people.

 

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This picture was taken a few hours earlier than the one before it. The streets get crowded as the day progresses.

The Pilgrim Memorial can be seen from just about everywhere in the town.

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The remains of the Provincetown Theatre

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We ate lunch at the Lobster Pot. Good food but pricey, a tourist location.

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lots and lots of boats in P-town.

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We also spent some time wandering the coast of Provincetown – there is a lot of it!

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The bay is taking back the land, including the parking lot. Way off in the distance (near center) is another lighthouse (Race Point Lighthouse).

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The causeway will take you to Woods End Light Station on the Provincetown Spit. The lighthouse is that bump above the couple’s head.

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Our two weeks on Cape Cod went very, very fast. We only saw and did about half of what we planned to. We never made it to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Cape Cod National Seashore.  We didn’t eat a gazillion lobsters or gallons of chowder. Time got away from us. If we had been ‘vacationing’ for two weeks, we probably would have done all that and more but we would have been exhausted afterwards. We tried that last year in Alaska and burned out after about 10 weeks of non-stop go. So we took it easy in Cape Cod and still enjoyed every minute.

One thing Cape Cod did was solidify our desire for a boat. We spent hours looking at boats and debating the kind of boat we want. Like RVs, there isn’t a single boat that can do everything we want well. But there are a few that can do much of what we want well enough. Being raised around the Chesapeake Bay, we love gunkholing. Sailboats are very limited in their gunkholing ability (don’t tell a sailor that!) so we are looking at shallow draft trawlers. Our previous boat would float in 18 inches of water and we loved getting all the way into little creeks to hide away from the deep vee and sailboat crowds of the bay. With that settled, we debate on towable vs. non-towable and keep going back and forth, debating live aboard size vs. ability to drag the boat around the country visiting water from coast to coast. Depending on the day, we vote for one or the other. Some day we will figure it out. Or, the perfect boat will magically appear in front of us one day like a rainbow and it will be too good to resist.

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taken while driving.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Back when we decided we were heading to New England for the summer, at the top of our list was Cape Cod.  Neither of us had ever been there so we really wanted to plan ahead to make the most of our trip. After a couple of weeks of back and forth about campgrounds – how often to move, where to move to – we decided we would like to chill at one location for the entire two weeks, moving our Jeep from place to place rather than our bus. Our place of choice: Scusset Beach State Reservation in Sandwich, MA. The location for us was perfect – not in the middle of all the ‘to-do’ (read traffic) in Cape Cod but close enough to anything we might need or want to do. The campground itself was also perfect. While it only had 50A and water hook ups, it had nice open sites right next to the beach and the Cape Cod Canal.

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The campground from the beach parking lot. In the fog. The short bus is on the right.

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From our site, #98, we could see the end of the canal and the tall ships that passed by. We lucked out in that the Mayflower II, on its trip from repairs in Connecticut  back to Plymouth, passed right through the canal.

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We were also an easy walk to the beach, which was very popular. Even in the fog.

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There was a lot to do in the campground itself: walking, hiking, fishing, swimming, and what we did most, lazing around in the sun. While we did have some foggy days and a couple of rainy days, most were warm and sunny. There is a fishing pier on the canal, a breakwater that extends 1/2 a mile out into the bay, and access to the Canal Path, a seven mile end to end bike path.

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The light at the end of the breakwater, about 1/2 a mile from shore.

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Tug and barge passing the breakwater

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rock detail. there were some pretty cool rocks.

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Looking back to land from the end.

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Foggy day at the beach.

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We were there for two weeks so we had to visit the dump station on day seven. Word of warning: the dump station is only open until 3:30 PM every day. I have no idea why. Also, the setup is kind of strange; rather than a pipe straight down, it is off to the side. Mike says it smells really bad, worse than a normal dump station. I had to make sure our chairs didn’t blow away 😉 so I didn’t get the pleasure.

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The campground is just outside of Sandwich, which is on the other side of one of two car bridges that cross the Cape Code Canal. In Sandwich, there are two grocery stores (I highly recommend the Market Basket both for prices and fresh foods), quite a few restaurants (definitely stop in Cafe Chew), and the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. On the campground side of the bridge is a McDonalds, a gas station and a tourist visitor center. Based on my experience, I will never attempt to cross over the Canal Bridge on a Sunday ever again. To get from the grocery store to the campground took almost an hour. It is 4.8 miles away. Most of that time was spent waiting in traffic for 1/2 a mile of the entire route, to get onto the bridge. Once on the bridge, the drive was all of five minutes. I have heard that crossing onto the Cape on Fridays is also time consuming.

All in all, we had a great time at Scussett Beach. We had family stop and visit for an afternoon and met up a couple of times with friends in the area to catch up and hang out. We also did a ton of sightseeing which I’ll post in the next entry.

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Sunset, our second to last night. Pretty amazing and bested all the other things we saw.

“You can’t always get what you want…*

While in Connecticut, we were not only able to fix our vacu-flush problem, we managed to secure a site for a few days at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in Rhode Island. Someone  canceled a two day reservation in the water view area with full hook ups and then someone else canceled four more days in the same area! We were set for the week before memorial day, though we still didn’t have a site for Saturday and Sunday.

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Fisherman’s Memorial State Park is a very nicely kept park. The grounds are impeccably landscaped, the full hook ups are well placed, many (but not all) sites are very level, and the location is great – not too far from the beach, Narragansett and pretty much the entire state of Rhode Island (it is a very small state). We really enjoyed our six days here and didn’t want to leave.

When we weren’t being lazy, we wandered around Narragansett, a beautiful small coastal town with a bit of history. We also wandered around for the day in Newport, one of our favorite towns we have visited so far.  One of the highlights was The Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile wander along the coast past huge mansions and beautiful views. It just so happened to be a sunny seventy degree day so the walk/hike was one of our favorites so far.

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One of the many mansions along the Newport coast.

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Used to be a mansion, now being used by the college.

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The view at “the steps.”

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We also spent some time wandering around the pier and old town. All told, we probably walked seven miles or more just seeing the sites. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera on that day.

While at Fisherman’s, we hunted for a place to stay Saturday and Sunday nights, Memorial Weekend. The pickings were pretty slim. We also needed a place to stay Monday and Tuesday. Charlestown Breachway had a few spots available so we drove the fifteen miles to the campground to check it out. It is dry camping but right next to the beach, so we were hoping for the best. We figured out why there were sites available still, despite the location: it was a parking lot. Literally. There are 75 sites in the parking lot, all of them about 15′ wide and 40′ long. While we were desperate, we just weren’t desperate enough to squish in with 74 other RVs during the heat and the holiday, with generators running non-stop. My claustrophobia kicked in just looking at it.

So, we resigned ourselves to boondocking at a rest area or a Walmart. On Friday morning, luck smiled on us. Someone canceled their site at West Thompson Lake, a COE park about 60 miles away in Connecticut. It would be back tracking just a bit, but it was an electric and water site long enough for us to fit. So Saturday morning we packed up and headed that way.

The park itself is small, very wooded, and very quiet. It isn’t my favorite campground, but the parking situation was way better than the Breachway. We spent a quiet two days hiding out in the woods, dodging gypsy moth caterpillars. I did get the opportunity, during the down time, to make my first ever batch of hamburger buns using the breadmaker to knead the dough. I just used a basic recipe from Food.com and they turned out excellent. Way better than what I typically get at the grocery store.

I also had a craving for Naan bread, so I gave it a try. I substituted heavy cream for the lowfat milk, olive oil for the canola oil, and added a bit of garlic. It turned out amazing, way better than I expected (I gotta start getting pictures of bread!). I whipped up some tzatziki sauce, browned some chicken, and we had a great meal.

Sunday morning we were wondering if we should stay put for two more days or chance a Walmart. We were both a bit claustrophobic by then, as the woods seemed to grow closer with each passing hour. And then someone cancelled their days at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts. I don’t blame them – the weather report was for cold and rain and the sites were dry camping. But the site they canceled was on the beach! So we booked it and took off Monday morning for Massachusetts.

I completely fell in love with Horseneck Beach and could probably have spent the rest of the summer there. Our site was right on the beach and, in spite of the fog our first day, the place is beautiful.

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Our beach front camping site. Rated to hold a 40′, which it easily could.

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Sunset over the beach sites.

While we only spent two days here, it was as relaxing as an entire week. We drove around the area, the highlight being Westport Point, 17th and 18th century houses leading down to the docks. We enjoyed a good lunch at The Bayside Restaurant, and oogled the RVs parked on lots on the ocean. It was a great way to end the month of May.

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These beach roses smelled amazing and added to the atmosphere here. There were tons of them between the beach and the campsites.

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The singing rocks. The beach is rocks and pebbles. When the tide was going out, it was strong enough to pull smaller rocks towards the water. They would bounce and skip over each other, sounding like ‘singing.’ It kept us enthralled for a good hour a day.

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*…But if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

s%&t happens

If we had won the day before at the casino, we may have stayed another day there. As it was, we woke up in a wandering mood so we packed up and headed east. We crossed over the Hudson at the Newburgh Beacon Bridge, our usual choice to avoid traffic. The tolls are cheaper, too. We were headed to Croton-On-Hudson, to visit Zach, my son.

Croton Point Park, a Westchester County Park, is a great place to stay right on the Hudson River. It is about a mile from the train station that takes commuters into New York City, so it is a great alternative to Liberty RV Park at half the price. While Croton Point Park is pricey for just a couple of days stay ($55/night) a weeks stay is only $250 with full hook ups. There are some full timers and seasonals there but for $650 or $900 a month, I completely understand why. Rent, even this far outside the city, is three times that.

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Our spacious site with full hookups

Croton Point Park has great bike trails and walking trails, a swim area, and lots of space to just while away the day.

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While in the area, we had to stop by Lefteris Gyro in Tarrytown. It is becoming our favorite place for greek salad. On warm days, it is great to sit outside and people watch. We also had chance to try Wild Fusion, sushi in Mohegan Lake. The sushi was very fresh and the rolls were creative and artfully assembled. We enjoyed our time with Zach, caught up on the latest news, and enjoyed relaxing by the river.

We still had no reservations for any place before June 1 but did find out that Hammonasset Beach State Park, in Connecticut, was opening on Friday morning and was non-reservable for the weekend. We packed up Friday morning to head east.

Part of our pack up ritual is to flush the toilet one last time after dumping. This insures there is some water in the black tank to slosh around while driving, helping to keep any build up in the tank to a minimum. So I flushed the toilet. Everything worked fine for the first 30 seconds. And then for another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds. UhOh. We have a vacu-flush toilet – a vacuum generator sucks the waste down a tube into a black tank. Vacu-flushes are typically used in boats but many RVs also have them so that the floor plan doesn’t have to conform to black tank placement or so an RV can have two toilets and just one black tank. This also keeps black tank odors down as there is a vacuum between the tank and the bottom of the toilet rather than just a straight open drop into the black tank. Typically, the vacuum generator will run 30 seconds to move the waste from point a (the toilet) to point b (the black tank). This time, it took three minutes. We had a leak.

We tried it again, just to see if it was a one time fluke or a persistent problem. Again, three minutes to create a vacuum. At least, though, it was holding a vacuum. This meant it wasn’t a blown line. The idea of chasing a line leaking toilet water was not something I wanted to contemplate. So we finished packing up and moved on, planning to hopefully diagnose and fix the problem in Connecticut.

During the hour and half drive to Hammonasset, we researched all we could about vacu-flush toilets. We knew the problem wasn’t a toilet leak – the bowl was holding water without problems. We knew it wasn’t a blown line – it eventually formed a vacuum. We knew the generator was working – it sounded the same it always did, even if it ran for what seemed like forever. We got a site in the electric area of the campground, about 200 yards from the beach and set up camp. Then we ate lunch. Then we remembered we had no working toilet. Well, we had a working toilet, we just didn’t want to flush it.

In the 2014 33C, the vacuum generator is located under the bed, behind the SurgeGuard. There are two ways to get to it: the panel behind the surge guard or the panel in the rear pass through storage bay. We tried the panel behind the surge guard first. From this spot, we could see the vacuum generator. I flushed the toilet while Mike watched. Splashes of water came out of the top of the vacuum pump, where the bellows is located. Either a seal had popped or the bellows had cracked and was allowing water to come out the top. We decided to open the other panel to get a better look – Mike was too big to do much from the surge guard panel and I was too short to reach anything through that panel.

Once we got a better look into the space, we were able to remove the pump motor, remove the pump top, and get the bellows out. The most difficult and messy part was getting the bellows out; there was a little splashing involved. Somewhere, someone posted a tip about raising the front of your RV when you do this so the ‘water’ isn’t hanging out in the pump. We saw that afterwards.

The great thing about the construction of the pump is that most all the bolts/screws are the same size. The worst part about the whole task is the location of the pump itself. I guess Fleetwood figured it out because, at least beginning in 2016, the vacuum generator was moved to an easier to get to location (we discussed trading ours in just so we didn’t have to do this). During the job we needed at least three different sized screwdrivers and sockets because sometimes we had mere inches to work in and other spots required something tall to get around something else. In other words, it took us two hours to do a 15 minute job had the pump been located in a place where one could actually see it.

We thought about it for a while and discussed our options: fix it or pay someone else to fix it. Since it was late Friday afternoon, the chances of anyone having the part and coming out to fix it in the next two days were slim. We were resigned to using the campground bathroom. Personally, I hate public bathrooms. No, really, really hate them. In fact, when I get on a plane, my digestive clamps down, refusing to do anything until I have returned home. I knew it was going to be a long weekend.

Saturday morning I started looking at marine supply stores. Since SeaLands are very common in boats, I thought my luck would be much better there. Plus, we were on the coast in a very active boating area. I struck gold! They actually keep the part in stock at West Marine, the Camping World for the boat community. We needed the part RIGHT NOW so the premium for buying there was worth it. We spent the rest of the day running from place to place but were unable to find the O Rings that went with the pump;  we hoped that the old ones would work.

Sunday, we managed to get the bellows into the pump with the old O rings and seal the whole thing back up correctly. If you ever have to do this, put the motor on last – it will save you an hour of frustration. Just make sure the pump top is lined up correctly as the wires are very, very short. Putting it back together also took about two hours as by this time, our bodies ached and we had bruises in strange places from crawling into and out of the rear storage bay. I’m kinda curious what our camping neighbors thought as they passed by our bus and saw our feet hanging out of the bays.

Finally, with everything back in place except the panels, we turned on the toilet and held our breath. It worked! 30 seconds and done!  No water splashing out the top! I cannot express how happy we were that it was done and that we had managed to fix it correctly.

For what it is worth, we are pretty sure that the pump out at Lake Laurie was the beginning of our problem. A couple days after the pump out, we noticed that the vacuum generator sometimes ran longer than usual. Since it had performed perfectly for 20 months before then, we think the extra suction may have cause a small crack that grew over a weeks time.

We stayed at Hammonasset State Park in a W/E site about 200 yards from the beach but all we saw was our site and the bathroom. The bathrooms were clean, our site was large, and the electric worked fine. We would probably stay there again if in the area but we really don’t know much about the park itself. I will note, however, that there is a great bagel shop down the street. The bagels are amazing, especially when just pulled out of the oven (are bagels baked?)

 

 

Fort De Soto

Finally, back to the beach! The gulf side this time, as we had lucked into someone else canceling their reservations. Fort De Soto is definitely in my top 10 of Florida campgrounds. It has many large, very level sites, good power, strong water pressure, washers and dryers, some privacy between sites, and a beautiful location on the Gulf. What’s not to love? While we didn’t get a site that backed onto water (there are many, especially if you don’t have pets), we did have a very large site with plenty of room.

But what we came here for was the water. And there is a lot of it.

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Sunset from the tent campground

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Sunset from the camp store.

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And, another sunset.

We did more than just gaze at sunsets, though not too much more as we only had four days.

We blew up our kayak and headed over to Shell Key, a little over two miles from our put in (an empty waterfront site in the pet campground).

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The ride over was pretty uneventful, if you don’t count the part where we didn’t tighten the valve cap on one of our side chambers and we had to make a detour back to the campground for our air pump (Our new rule: carry the air pump). We saw a dolphin, a sting ray, and lots and lots of fish. The water in the lagoon is not really deep until you get to the channel – two feet in some places – that one could practically walk halfway there.

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We wandered around Shell Key for a couple of hours on foot. Please, if you are in a remote spot, carry out your trash! Leave the place as you found it so others can enjoy it, too.

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I had always wanted to find a giant whelk on the beach. We found one, but it was still being used so we put it back.

Being the beginning of March, we had to tear ourselves away from the idyllic beach paradise and make our way into the absolute chaos of Sarasota traffic. It is Spring Training Baseball Season! We hit Ed Smith Stadium for the Orioles Opening Day.

It took us as long to drive there as it did to kayak to Shell Key. Even including the detour. The Orioles lost but we had a great time – we hadn’t been to a live baseball game in well over a year. Yes, it is great to watch on tv, but people at a baseball game are generally very happy people and the happiness is infectious.

While at Fort De Soto, we also ate out twice. Our first night, we didn’t feel like driving far so we went up to Tony and Nello’s, just outside the park. The place was empty as we were between lunch and dinner, so we didn’t know what to expect. I had pizza, Mike had pasta, and both were very good. Good enough that, when we didn’t feel like cooking after kayaking all day, we went back. And the food was just as delicious. While I wouldn’t order the house chianti again, the wine list did have some great choices. We took some cannolis to go and they were almost like being back in Vaccaro’s in Baltimore (yes, they were good). So Tony and Nello’s is on our list for a revisit, the next time we are in town.

On Friday morning, our departure day, I logged on to the Fort De Soto camping reservations site. At 7AM, they make available about 10% of their sites for booking for the next week. There were plenty of sites available (for the first five minutes) and I contemplated adding some more days to our stay. I loved it here, I can book a site, and we have no where to stay for the night. I ended up taking a pass. We had more baseball games to see, places we hadn’t explored, and if we were going to move an inch, we might as well move a mile. So we packed up and headed off the island.

The beautiful town of Flagler Beach

Flagler Beach will now be my gauge of what a perfect beach town should be. It is small, laid back, mostly uncrowded, and beautiful. There are great restaurants, parks galore, and plenty of places to just stop, sit, and relax. Gamble Rogers State Park is the perfect place from which to enjoy all the town has to offer.

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There are two sides to Gamble Rogers: the beach side and the river side. Both sides offer electric and water hook-ups, access to showers and washing machines, and enough space to keep one comfortable. Neither campground provides much shade, which may be a problem during the hot summer months. The beach side is right on the beach, with a few sites overlooking the beach. The river side sites are a little more spread out and the facilities are much newer. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to either campground again and again.

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Because I booked the campground in December, I took what I could get as far as sites go. But I got lucky! We ended up with four days in site 23, with a view over the bushes to the beach, and four days in site 8, which backed to A1A. The noise on A1A wasn’t so bad, especially at night. Even on a beautiful weekend, with a surf competition going on in town, A1A wasn’t a super highway. I was surprised by how quiet it was. Of course, it was January and not many people head to the beach, so it could be worse during the summer.

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The full moon from our bus.

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Sunrise from our campsite.

We did check out the river campground during our stay and were quite impressed with how clean and well organized it was. It wasn’t far from the boat ramp, so it would be a great campground if one has a canoe or kayak. While the campsites aren’t very private, they are well laid out, level, and spacious.

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Boat ramp at Gamble Rogers

There are some good restaurants in Flagler Beach, though we limited ourselves just a little. A short walk from the campground, along the beach, is High Tides. There is indoor/outdoor seating, a great happy hour, an amazing view, and some pretty good grub.  I think the hush puppies are great while Mike would advise to avoid the chicken – it was very overcooked. The tuna steaks were extremely well cooked, and done perfectly to order. They have a decent beer line up and, while I’m not sure it was allowed, we walked our happy hour cups back to the campground to finish out the sunset. Another popular place a little further in town is Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill. While the food isn’t inventive, it is well priced and tasty. The sandwiches and salads are fresh, the service is good, and one can see the beach across the road. The best place we found to eat was Break-Awayz. Had we known it was there and that good, we probably would have spent more time there. You could tell that who ever was cooking really cared about how the food tasted; he/she worked hard to blend  unexpected flavors. While it looked like a biker-beach bar from the outside (and from the inside for that matter), the food was anything but standard bar food.  There was also an excellent selection of on-tap micro-brews, local and not. This would definitely be my local hangout if I lived in Flagler Beach.

There isn’t much hiking to be done at Gamble Rogers but there are other parks not too far away. We took a morning walk at Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park to check out the kayaking and the sugar mill ruins. While we never made it back with our kayak this trip, we did mark the spot for a future trip; the creek was serene and looked to be a great place to while away an afternoon.

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Sugar Mill Ruins

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Fall comes to Florida. Kind of.

We spent an afternoon at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, a lovely place with both lagoon access and ocean access. We spent some time wandering in the gardens where many people hold weddings (there was one while we were there) or just come to relax and take in the views. In spring it is probably a magical place with everything abloom.

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a path along the lagoon to the gardens

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the garden gazebo

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some winter color in the garden

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coquina rocks along the beach

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The lagoon side of the park where one can watch the boats pass up and down the ICW

Most of our time at Gamble Rogers was spent wandering up and down the beach or hanging out and watching the birds. We hated to leave but our reservations were up and we had to go.

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Hitting the Beach in South Carolina

We decided to leave Washington, DC on December 26. The cold was moving in and we were a little tired of the close quarters provided by Cherry Hill RV Park. The price was getting to us too, as three weeks there cost us as much as two months anywhere else.

We stopped in Wakefield, VA, down in the southeast corner, to visit a little more with family and to offload more stuff we didn’t think we would need (goodbye winter coats!). We also picked up about 25 lbs of venison, enough to keep our tiny freezer full for a few months.

At the last minute, we managed to find a site in Huntington Beach State Park for two days and Myrtle Beach State Park for three. This would tide us over until our reservations at Hunting Island State Park, probably one of our favorite parks in the Country.

This was our second stay in Huntington Beach State Park, our second favorite of the four South Carolina Beach Campgrounds. We arrived in the dark but, because the sites there are fairly open and well spaced, we had no problem backing in. While the campground isn’t directly on the beach (a short walk takes you there), there is quite a lot to do there: watching birds in the marsh, hiking the hammocks to the jetty, or visiting Atalaya, the fascinating ruins located in the park. There is enough to do there that one could easily spend a week and never have to get into their car. We did make a break for it one night though – we hit up the happy hour at Wahoo’s for half price beer and sushi on their great outdoor deck overlooking the marsh. While the sushi was only okay, the sunset made the trip worth it.

Myrtle Beach State Park is only 15 miles north of Huntington Beach, which is a problem when checkout is 11AM at one park and check in is 1PM at the other. So we stopped by Larry’s Auto Clinic for a much needed oil change. The owner is a really nice guy and they work clean and fast.

This was our first visit to Myrtle Beach State Park. We booked the last available site in which our rig could fit. While we were grateful for the space, we probably wouldn’t go out of our way to book in the park again. The campsites are tight with trees in awkward places and require work to get into. It ends up as our least favorite of South Carolina’s beach campgrounds (we visited Edisto last year and rank it third). There really isn’t much privacy and a lot of noise but the wifi is campground-wide and screaming fast, even with the park mostly booked. While there, we did manage to meet up with friends at Gordon Biersch for good beer and excellent blackened mahi mahi and burgers. We also hit up Toffino’s Italian Deli for excellent cannoli. Don’t let the exterior fool you – inside is pure New York deli with the accents to match.

We then packed up and headed down to Hunting Island State Park right outside of Beaufort, SC. We fell in love with the area on our last two trips through so the park is becoming a yearly spot for us to stop and relax. Because we booked quite a few months in advance, we got one of the best sites in the park.

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Yes, there are about half a dozen sites right on the beach. In fact, it is so close to the beach that, if there is an extremely high tide, you might get a little wet. The highest we saw the tide was +7.5′ which was just between the furthest tree on the left and the little tiny palm in the above picture – about 30′ from our front bumper. We had to back down the one way road a bit to get into our site facing forward but it was definitely worth it – we had a beautiful view in our panoramic windows and we didn’t have to risk being stuck in the soft sand like the person in the site before us (he got pulled out with a tractor).

If I could make one suggestion to anyone, it would be to visit this park! And do it soon – the beach is eroding into the ocean. A site we stayed in last year wouldn’t fit us this year – a dune had to be built in the space we used to back in. The dune holds back the sea during really high tides. Down the beach, one can find the remains of part of the forest that once stood between the beach and the marsh. But, those trees are a veritable playground for wanderers, and a nice place to set up a hammock for a relaxing day on the beach. When the park was first built, many years ago, beach houses were lined up down the coast; the last one finally succumbed to the sea. They are using groins to hold on to as much beach as they can but each storm takes away a little more of the island. For images of each site, check Campsite Photos. Keep in mind though, the images are a couple of years old. The beachfront sites might be configured a little differently than the images show.

There is plenty of hiking and beach combing to be done here. Walk to the left of the campground and you end up in tidal flats at low tide, where the river meets the sea. Walk to the right and you end up in the jungle. A short path through the woods takes you to the lighthouse. Other areas of the island hold a tidal marsh, a pier, and an area to kayak, though we didn’t take advantage this trip – it got too cold.

For food, we checked out two spots: The Red Rooster and Emily’s Restaurant. The Red Rooster is a locals place, with wonderfully fresh salads and sandwiches. It was packed at lunchtime, on a Monday even. This is the type of place we would eat once per week and never grow tired of. Emily’s Restaurant was empty when we got there and stayed empty while we were there; not sure if that was due to the time (5-6PM) or the town. The food was good – excellent taste and presentation – it just didn’t wow us. We went there to sample the shrimp and grits. The sauce was more cajun than low country and could have used a bit more time cooking down – it was closer to soup than sauce. The tapas, a simple bacon wrapped scallop, was undercooked also.  But, again, the food was good, just not up to expectations.

All in all, we had an extremely relaxing week on the beach, unwinding from the weeks of go-go-go we had done. We are ready to start a new year.

 

 

 

 

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