Bill relaxing with an adult beverage at the end of a long day
Yesterday, April 1st, we left the Fernandina Beach Municipal Marina for our next destination...Brunswick, GA. Fernandina is a lovely town; lots of nice shops and restaurants, all within walking distance of the waterfront. The problem with Fernandina Beach harbor is that it is home to several large pulp and paper mills whose stacks belch nauseating smoke 24/7. When the wind is blowing over the harbor, there is no avoiding the smell.
This transit through Georgia requires a certain amount of strategising. Georgia's portion of the ICW is somewhat shallow so one needs to go through the skinniest areas at high tide. Yesterday's challenge was Jekyll Creek. To that end, we left Fernandina Beach at 10 am, figuring an average of 5.5 kts. And, voila, we arrived in Brunswick, GA right on schedule at 4 pm at the Morning Star Marine. We opted to have dinner at the marina restaurant...great burgers! In the morning we left around 1:00 pm to get through the Mud River and arrive at the Darien River at about the same time.
Lots of cruisers we've met prefer to go off-shore rather than transit this portion of the ICW, primarily because of the depth issue. We actually enjoy Georgia and find its quiet pristine low country very pleasant, although a little stressful as one must be constantly vigilant.
We arrived at the Darien River around 5 pm having transited the Little Mud River, known as the single most difficult stretch of the ICW because it has depths as low as 2 to 3 feet at mlw and must be approached only at high tide...and we had our pick of anchoring spots...we were the only boat there! Just as pretty as the first time.
In the morning (4/3) we raised anchor around 8:15 to make the 60+ mile trip to Isle of Hope Marina in Savannah. This stretch of the ICW is very winding and, without much wind, today it's very buggy. The no-see-ums and biting flies are a nuisance...AND there is Hell Gate to transit. We timed our departure to get us through Hell Gate at high tide and then there was the Skiddaway Island bascule bridge between us and the Isle of Hope. For some, inexplicable reason, Bill had misunderstood the restrictions on the bridge...between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm it only opens on the 1/2 hour. So, we thought we'd have to wait for the 6:30 opening UNTIL we realized that, if we put the pedal to the medal, we could make the 5:30 opening...it's all about the math.
We made the 5:30 opening and arrived at Isle of Hope Marina around 6:00 pm. The marina staff were gone for the day so it was up to me to jump off Ceili on to the dock with the bow line. I'm happy to report that, broken knee cap (2009) and fall in St. Augustine (2012) I still have the mojo and jumped onto the dock easily. We are now docked for the next day or so.
More to follow...
Heading South Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be
On Monday, the 19th, we picked up a rental car and drove to Jane's and Peter's lovely home. The plan for us was to do provisioning for our trip home and for Jane and Peter to arrange to bring Kinvara back to her marina. The only snag in the plan was that Jane's and Peter's refrigerator had experienced some sort of catastrophic event during their months away and had died. Being boaters and quite accustomed to things not going perfectly, Plan B was put into effect for the short term. Happily, a new refrigerator is on the way.
On Tuesday, we dropped Peter's and Jane's cars off at the Little Harbor Marina and all headed back to Vero Beach. Early Wednesday morning we waved good bye to Jane and Peter as they unrafted from Ceili and left on Kinvara with promises to stay in touch. We stayed on in Vero Beach an extra day do some last minute shopping and errands (it never ends!).
Thursday we made a short hop (about 20 miles) to Titusville. The plan was to stop there and then, on Friday, head to one of the anchorages in Daytona. By doing this, we'd be able to by-pass New Smryna Beach, the site of a rather unpleasant experience the previous fall. But, as with all things in boating, you can't ever expect things to work out according to plan. In mid-afternoon we learned there were thunderstorms in Daytona and they were heading our way. In light of that, we decided to stop in New Smyrna Beach. We called the Smyrna Yacht Club, located right along the ICW and were offered transient dockage for the evening. Between the wind and current it took four of us, and lots of lines, to get Ceili tied up to the dock. Once all was secured at the dock, we found our way to the Tiki Hut where we had a chance to chat with some of the club members , including one who so kindly helped us dock. It's a lovely club and the members were very friendly and helpful. As a note of interest, the first question I was asked by the club manager was "Do you belong to a yacht club?" It was only the second time we've ever been asked to show proof that we belong to a yacht club before being welcomed aboard.
At first light we left New Smyrna Beach without incident and headed north to St. Augustine. It was a 63 or so mile passage and we arrived there around 4:30 pm. We had enjoyed St. Augustine on our trip down and looked forward to a chance to spend more time there. We grabbed a mooring on the south side of the Bridge of Lions in the St. Augustine City Marina.
The next morning, we dinghied ashore to sign in and go into town. We took our time poking around the myriad shops, spending quite a while in one of the shell shops on St. George's Street. We also returned to the Pepper Palace where Bill had purchased some hot garlic in the fall. Sadly, they were out of hot okra but that didn't stop us from finding other hot items to bring back. In our search for some stationary items we found ourselves touring Flagler College, winding up at the bookstore. Flagler is a private, 4 year, co-educational liberal arts college. The centerpiece of the campus is the beautiful Ponce de Leon Hall, the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler in 1888, his first in a series of hotels along Florida's east coast. On our walk to the bookstore, we also noted that there is an outdoor pool and beach volleyball court on campus. I suspect Flagler might be much more fun than the place I went to college.
That evening, we had dinner at the Santa Maria Restaurant, located over the water on a long dock. It's very interesting place. It started out in 1763 as a landing for ships to dock and unload cargo. Two hundred years later, in 1949, Louis and Marguerite Connell opened a restaurant on the crumbling dock. It has been a family run business since. A sign on the dock leading to the restaurant encourages patrons to 'feed the fish while you dine!' The restaurant offers casual dining, very good food and something I can say without reservation is an absolute dining first: the restaurant has trap doors next to the tables for feeding the swarms of catfish and mullet that surround the building.
We were seated by a window overlooking the harbor and, along with our drinks, the waitress brought us a basket of bread, which she cautioned, was not meant for us but for the fish. We didn't see any fish coming around for dinner but outside the windows sea birds of all kinds were flocking and staking out their territory. For a moment I thought I'd been transported back to Bodega Bay, with white birds rather than black! A young family was seated at the table behind us and every little while we'd hear the 'Bang!' of the trap door as it slammed shut, the cacophony of the birds outside scrambling to score the piece of bread and the kids' squeals of delight. The birds are so accustomed to this program that they show up in the afternoon expecting to be fed...in fact, those that sat outside our window seemed almost to glare at us as we steadfastly refused to offer them so much as a single crumb. Truly a dining first.
We left St. Augustine on Thursday morning around 7:20 am so as to make the 7:30 opening of the Bridge of Lions. Once through, we motored down in time to make the next opening of the George E. Musson, Coronado Beach bascule bridge. The remainder of the day was spent motor sailing the distance to Fernandina, about 62 miles. It was a beautiful day and we were lucky to see lots of dolphins and birds of all kind. The wildlife of the ICW never gets old to us.
We arrived at the Fernandina Municipal Marina around 4:00 p.m. As it was a long day we opted to have dinner at Brett's Waterway Cafe which is located at the dock. All in all a good trip from Vero Beach so far. This morning's mission is to plot a strategy to get us successfully through Georgia's shallow portion of the ICW.
The photo was taken in the Halifax River; the boat was smack dab in the center of the ICW.
Dolphins Cavort Off Our Bow
On Tuesday, March 13th, we left Green Turtle Cay for Spanish Cay with Jane and Peter of Kinvara. We revised our earlier plan to head to Powell Cay due to weather reports that called for possible squall activities in the area. It was a short hop of about 15 miles and we arrived in the early afternoon. Spanish Cay is a private island resort with an 81 slip full service marina and, for non-boaters, private homes, condos, beach front rooms, and marina suites. The three mile long cay features a beatiful beach and myriad tropical flora such as hibiscus, frangipani, royal poinciana, wild orchids and bougainvillea. It is also home to many birds, including the rare albino owl. For boaters, Spanish Cay is a port of entry offering Customs and Immigration seven days a week.
Spanish Cay has an interesting history. It was purchased in 1952 by Clint Murchison, Jr., of Dallas, Texas, from a businessman of English descent, Sir Oliver Simmons, who was then residing in Nassau. Murchison and Simmons reached an agreement and Murchison purchased the island for $66,000 and he set about developing the island as a personal retreat for his family, friends and business associates. The existing house, named "Point House" by Simmmons was renamed "Shamrock" by Murchison. Beyond the house, and a beautiful coconut grove (one of the things that sold Clint Jr. on the island) there were very few improvements, which Murchison set out to fix. His vision involved perserving the island experience with it's natural beauty for the enjoyment of his guests, while providing them with an unmatched level of comfort and hospitality.
We docked, checked in and after a quick lunch, Jane and I took a short walk to the ocean side of the island. On the way, we could see all the destruction wrought last August by hurricane Irene, which hit Spanish Cay hard. The current owners are in the process of reparing all the hurricane damage and it was nice to see the progress. On our return, Bill and I checked out the well stocked marina store and met Hurricane, a very sweet, and very lucky, dog who was rescued during Irene.
As it was a very warm and sunny afternoon, we all decided that a swim in the marina pool, accompanied by the bar's rum drink de jour, a Spanish Fly, was in order. We swam in the pool, soaked in the adjoining hot tub and relaxed on one of the many wooden gliders found the marina. What a way to end a day!
In the morning we decided to make Great Sale Cay our next destination as it provides the options to head from there to West End, on Grand Bahama Island or to the Little Bahama Banks. We expected to be at Great Sale for only one night but weather conditions in the Gulf Stream delayed our departure and we stayed two nights. On Friday, the 16th, it sounded as if a Stream crossing on Saturday would be possible, so we Gulf Stream-proofed Ceili, and headed for our next stop. As it sounded like conditions on the banks were favorable, we opted to forego West End and sailed out to the banks to spend our final evening in the Bahamas at Memory Rock. And what an evening it was! It will certainly be memorable! The Little Bahama Bank is a shallow area on the northwestern edge of the Abacos. When you're on the banks, you're out of sight of land and it's like anchoring in the middle of the ocean (well, except for the shallow depths!). It is also fully exposed to the Atlantic in all directions, so settled weather is a prequsite for anchoring here. Anchoring on "the Banks" shortens the crossing distance to the US, in this case Ft. Pierce, making it a manageable 70 mile trip.
We left Great Sale around 8 am to head to Memory Rock, a staging point to Ft. Pierce, FL. Shortly after leaving Great Sale, Ceili was joined by 3 dolphins who stayed with us for 25 or so minutes. It was a beautiful sight as they swam back and forth, rode in our bow wake to our immense delight. This time, I was lucky enough to get some photos of these wonderous creatures.
By the time we arrived at Memory Rock (actually just a pole marking what we presumde to be a mostly underwater feature) , the wind had picked up kicking up the seas to 4-5 feet swells with chop. But, anchoring went well and the plan was to get to bed early as we expected to be up and on the road around 6 am the next morning. As were being bounced around quite a bit, plans for any kind of serious dinner were scrapped and we decided to have some soup in the cockpit. At sunset, Bill and Peter blew the conchs for the last time in the Bahamas and Bill lowered the Bahamian flag...a bittersweet moment.
Bill put numerous safety measure in place before he retired for the night, given our exposed position and proximity to traffic lanes. He set the anchor alarm on the iPhone and on our old Magellen hand-held. In addition, since Memory Rock is an area frequently transited by boats heading to the states, Bill used the radar to create an alarm zone around Ceili, Kinvara and Cee Jem, a third boat that joined us in the anchorage. This alarm would alert us to any boats that came within a mile radius of us that may not see us during the night inspite of our efforts to be well lit and visible.
As the evening progressed and the winds began to howl and the seas began to churn and the current turned us 180 degrees, there was little sleep for any. The current turned us stern into the wind which caused waves to loudly slap the stern. While we didn't drag, Bill's intrusion alarm kept him busy. Cee Jem tripped the alarm when their anchor dragged and they opted to pull up and move overnight to their next destination. Later (or maybe it was earlier...who knows?!) Cutting Class, a boat we'd encountered in Marsh Harbor and Hope Town, came by, approximately 3/4 miles from where we were anchored on their overnight passage to Ft. Pierce, and tripped the alarm.
Needless to say, it was a sleepless night for us all. When 6 am arrived, and the sun was rising on the horizon, we pulled the anchor and headed out towards the Gulf Stream. Despite any fatigue we may have felt, we were anxious to get the show on the road...and we did.
It was a beautiful day to be crossing and the Gulf Stream favored us with a beautiful transit. The seas were small, perhaps 3 to 3 1/2 feet, the wind was light and out of the east offering us a lovely sailing opportunity. The Gulf Stream's south to north current moves at approximately two knots. Because of that, it's important to carefully calculate your route so as not to overshoot your destination. For that reason, we plotted a course aimed at Port St. Lucie, 20 miles south of Fort Pierce and allow the Gulf Stream to push us north to Fort Pierce , a crossing of 70 miles. We averaged almost 8 kts. And spent several hours above 10 kts.We had a lovely passage and arrived at Fort Pierce, FL at approximately 3:30 pm. After we passed through the inlet and went under the North Ft. Pierce bascule bridge, we were well on our way to Vero Beach, our ultimate destination for the next few days. It took us about 2 hours to make the trip Vero and on arrival, we rafted with Kinvara at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina, where we'd stayed on our way down the ICW last fall.
Once all the rafting was completed, I made a phone call to US Customs and Immigration, as required by any vessel entering the United States. I spoke with a customs officer who took our information and gave us a number that we'd need the next day, Sunday, at the immigration office, located at the Fort Pierce airport. Once all the necessities were taken care of, Peter and Jane dropped their dinghy and we went over to the River's Edge restaurant on the other side of the bridge to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and have dinner. Needless to say, we slept well that night!
Sunday morning, we arranged for a cab to take us to the Immigration and Border Patrol facility. This being our first experience with this, we weren't sure what to expect when we got there. To our great delight, the process of checking in took us no longer than 3 minutes and couldn't have been any easier. That being done, the cab dropped us back at the marina where we spent a quiet afternoon catching up on the mail (St. Brendan's Isle had mailed 4 months worth of mail to the marina) making phone calls to family and generally relaxing after our busy couple of days.
The plan for this morning is to get our rental car and do the provisioning and many errands we need to do before we start the long trek north.