14 December 2011
Wiley looked like the "cat that swallowed the canary" when David and Cathy radioed that they thought the weather might be okay for us to “go outside” - sail in the Atlantic Ocean to Fernandina, Florida. He had been dreading JekyllCreek, Georgia which is yet another difficult place in the ICW because of shoaling. One of the cruising guide’s said that at MLW (mean low water) one spot was only 2 1/2 feet deep. To make it worse our only chance to get through would be to make extremely good time from the anchorage for some 20 odd miles to this challenging spot. Since high tide did not come until 4:00 in the afternoon we would be going through Jekyll Creek on a falling tide. By contrast, Wiley always dreamed of sailing in the Atlantic Ocean, ever since he read his first Horatio Hornblower book when he was in 4th grade!
We started off from our anchorage early in the morning in heavy fog following Orion Jr., and it lifted in spots along the way out to the ocean. The shrimp boats looked like ghosts with flocks of gulls following them. David and Cathy had kindly made mooring ball reservations for us at Fernandina for the evening. We past the St. Simons’ Island Light house on the way out and followed the channel into the Atlantic. The seas were 3 to 4 feet and were at first unpleasant, but it settled down when we turned south and pulled out our jib. It was great to have our sail out for a change. We noticed a lot of cannonball jellyfish and were surprised to see the beautiful bubbles of the tops of the poisonous portuguese man-o-war jellyfish. Merry recalled swimming in the ocean and telling her sister Diane to come and see the beautiful blue and purple thingy! Diane shouted to get away - that is a Portuguese Man-O-War - ah blissful ignorance - almost! The sun was out, the fog cleared, and we were SAILING! It was just like moving up or down the coast of Lake Michigan except that even though we were about 5 miles from shore we were only in 20 feet of water and were able to see dolphins.
We originally planned to keep going until we reached the ship channel into the St. Mary’s River, but David and Cathy radioed us that they wanted to take a short cut because they had heard radio chatter that a navy ship would be arriving. This would mean that the channel would be closing until the ship came through. Boats are not allowed within 500 yards of a navy ship and the Coast Guard is there to enforce this. In fact, the Coast Guard called us as well as Orion Jr. to ask us our intentions and to warn us away from the ship that was arriving. Then a large armed coast guard cutter entered the channel and with our binoculars we could see a nuclear submarine approaching the harbor. It was escorted by a coast guard vessel on either side. We listened to all of the chatter on the radio as the Coast Guard warned all of the boaters to stay away from the Navy vessel.
We picked up our mooring can (on the second try) and settled in for two nights. We had gale force winds the second day and night on the mooring. We had a very wet trip from Fernandina back to our mooring on the second day as we tried but failed to beat the rain. The temperature dropped to the high thirties and so we jumped at the chance to tie up to a dock and use our electric heater on the third night. Fernandina is a lovely small town with a couple of book stores, lots of little shops, and many restaurants. It is not as old as Charleston or Savannah and Wiley laughed at the historical marker placed at their courthouse, which is 5 years newer than the Kane County Courthouse. There is a historic fort and a beach within 2 or 3 miles of downtown but because of weather we were unable to go to either of these places. It is another place that is on our list of things to do on the way back home. We spent the last day in Fernandina planning our solo trip to Jacksonville - (Ortega River) since Cathy and David decided to leave a day before us in order to take advantage of the weather and get to their destination where they will leave their boat for a trip to see family at Christmas. We missed our “security blanket” and sharing our thinking with experienced cruisers. We were on our own. Merry entered a number of waypoints in the chartplotter to help guide our path to Jacksonville, consulted the tide/currents, and worked with Wiley to note suggested routes from Active Captain. Active Captain is an on-line resource where fellow boaters submit suggested pathways and problems they have experienced along the ICW. Additionally, Wiley reviewed all of the guides where recommendations are offered. We felt prepared after consulting Paul the dockmaster at Ortega Yacht Club Marina. He recommended that we call him when we went under the last bridge at Jacksonville so that he could guide us in.