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Sloop Les Miserables
Going Outside!

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.

12/17/2011 | Regenero
Visited Fernadina while near Jville...lovely town, glad you had the chance to sail there. Keep coming...St.Thomas is only a few miles further!
Who names these places? Hell Gate, Muddy River, Bloody Marsh...

You would think that whoever named the water ways would consider the impact of names like the Rock Pile or Hell Gate - but then maybe they are sadistic or masochistic! Hmmm... as I think about it - I guess all sailors are one or the other! Anyway, upon leaving Isle of Hope outside of Savannah, Georgia we waited for rising tide once again to be sure to make it through the skinny waters of Hell Gate. We once again were able to take advantage of our buddy boat sounding the water for us. After Hell Gate we motor sailed on the Bear River to St. Catherine's Sound. We anchored in a Wahlberg anchorage and headed out for the Frederica Anchorage at o dark thirty (sailor talk for a very early morning).

As we travel mile after nautical mile we admire the wide open creeks, rivers, sounds and marshland. The marsh grass looks like golden wheat alongside the water, the green water is perfectly flat with the exception of the ripples off of the boats, and the colors look like an old Dutch painting. Trees are few and far between. Pelicans glide in formations just above the water looking for breakfast. There is only the murmur of the boat motor and the birds. In the evenings the blue heron come on the docks or nearby on shore - if you approach them or startle them they give off a loud sound - much as we imagine a pteradactyl must have sounded.

We are once again part of a string of pearls heading south on the ICW. There are sailboats, trawlers, and power boats of all sizes, shapes and speeds. This includes a farmer we met in Isle of Hope whose business involved the harvesting of bull semen. You can imagine how the conversation between David the farmer and Wiley might have gone. David, the farmer, owns the boat (Montego),which is 25 feet long. He has a 15 hp outboard motor and starts later than us but blows past us every day at an amazing speed. He owns another boat but trying out a 25 foot boat because it is easier to use in the shallow waters. However, he and his partner are finding 25 feet a bit too small for them so they plan to sell it when they get further south.

Our goal on the second day was to arrive at the dreaded (Wiley's words!) Little Muddy River (which has a spot reported to have only 3' at MLW - mean low water) at 3/4 tide around 1400 in oder to get through. Isle of Hope Marina waits for us to call them with a report when we do; Wiley calls both days first after Hell Gate and then after Little Muddy River so they may share the information with other sailors.

We anchor in Fredricka River near the fort of the Bloody Marsh Battle and go ashore in Dimples to tour the grounds. The area is full of tall evergreen, cedar, and many trees with hanging Spanish moss. Since we go ashore near dusk and the place is empty except for the two of us it is a bit erie. We keep waiting for the Ents to start talking to us!

General Olgethorpe (previously mentioned when we were in Savannah) had prepared for and fended off the Spanish in the Bloody Marsh Battle at this location. There are remnants of the town and the fort. If Olgethorpe had not fended off the Spanish, English may not have been the native tongue of the south. The town layout is marked off by foundations and these are labeled designating where the blacksmith, bakery, etc. previously existed. A portion of the fort and some cannon remain. We scurry around reading the signage before dark and paddled back to our boat just as the sun set. We noticed that a few other boats have joined us in this anchorage. There are 5 boats settled in for the night.

The Fredericka River cuts around and flows down back to the ICW. We have concerns about leaving Fredericka opposite of where we came in because of shoaling - but trust once again that our friends will lead us through. We plan on starting just before o'dark thirty at a high, but falling tide, so that we can either make it all the way through some shallow and twisting waters of Georgia or go "outside" - sail in the Atlantic to make our way to Fernandina, Florida! We learn that there may be 4-6 feet waves and feel that may be more than we want for our first experience on the Atlantic and for David and Cathy's 25 foot boat. We decide not to decide until the morning - we will check in early in the morning after we review weather (; Boat US, and the weather channel).

12/14/2011 | Pete Baan
Sounds like you are having one heck of an adventure. Make sure that you get a hold of us if you're in our neighborhood.
12/26/2011 | Diane Lidman
Thank you for sharing in such vivid detail! So enjoy the vicarious living...A very Happy New Year.
Miss you.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

When we arrived at the Isle of Hope Marina David and Cathy had pulled in ahead of us and arranged for us to check out the courtesy card for the evening. They really wanted to do some provisioning and we were eager to see Savannah. We drove to Savannah that evening. Downtown Savannah parking is similar to Chicago parking - it is hard to find a spot or you must use an expensive parking garage. However after driving around for a while, we did find one in the historic district. We noted that a lot of people in Savannah were walking around drinking cocktails. It turned out that even while this was part of their Christmas Walk in downtown Savannah it is also a common practice any time. In fact, we are told that the people of Savannah love to bar hop and each bar/ restaurant has "traveling" cups for you to take your drinks with you. We were able to find Paula Deen's Restaurant - Lady and her store. Southern cooking must be dearly loved because it was packed! We dined at a Tappas Bar, stopped at the Piggly Wiggly on the way home (our boat) to provision.

David and Cathy are economically wise travelers and they found out about the buses that run in the area. We were able to take buses to downtown Savannah the next morning. Merry had found Savannah Bike Tours - 41 Habersham Street. The day was sunny, clear, and perfect for a bike ride. Savannah's city was planned around a number (22) squares (parks) planned throughout the city. Our tour guide Dee was charming, knowledgeable, and he even extended our tour for an extra hour. We heard all about the places that are mentioned in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt If you have never been to Savannah you must read this book either before or after a tour. Dee showed us the house that was General Sherman's headquarters during the civil war - the owner prudently offered it to General Sherman so that Savannah would not be burned nor pillaged. The statue of General Oglethorpe - he founded and designed Savannah as well as defeated the Spanish at the Battle of the Bloody Marsh. As we toured we saw many gorgeous old homes, including the Mercer home (This is where the murder happens in the book.) This was a home that was once owned by Johnny Mercer's family, thought he never lived in it. Johnny Mercer is a famous lyricist and composer who was born and returned later in his life to Savannah. There is a bench and statue honoring Johnny Mercer who wrote Accentuate the Positive, Blue Moon, Jeepers Creepers, Lazy Bones, etc. Dee shared that Johnny Mercer was a humble man and when the city wanted to create a statue to honor him they knew that he would insist that he "not be put up on a pedestal" and he had expressed that he did not want to be in the center of the park. After his death his statue was put in place and is where there is often free music. He appears to be watching a performance off from a corner of the park. We also so the home of Julliete Low the founder of the Girl Scouts. Dee pointed out the fancy iron work on many of the older homes - including iron storks, acorns, filagree etc.. We toured the waterfront where "king cotton" was shipped many years ago. We went to the city graveyard - which is also used as a park. We rode our bikes on a path through Bonaventure Cemetary where Minerva worked her voodoo magic. Dee informed us that Savannah is a very Irish city and that St. Patrick's Day is considered a non-working holiday. Savannah is a very social, friendly, fun place and one where we understand "partying" is a high priority. We wandered about Savannah for a while after the bike tour. We stopped and dined at The Olde Pink House on Abercorn - a fabulous home of a revolutionary soldier that included cozy fireplaces, lit Christmas trees, and lots of holiday garland. Everything about the experience at the Olde Pink House was fabulous. Our bus ride home turned into a somewhat lengthy experience , as well a dark walk back to our boat. We laughed as I attempted to use the "flashlight" on the IPAD to light our way - or at least keep cars from running us over. Savannah will definitely be a "party" stop to look forward to on our way back up the ICW.

12/13/2011 | Ron Ramer
Merry and Wiley,
I continue to marvel at your fortitude and sailing expertise, that gets you through the shallows and currents to safe harbors. Just amazing.
Do you have a date when you will hit land, back home and how long you will be here?
Take care, and Merry Christmas

“Don’t Worry - Be Happy” - 4 days to Savannah

Getting out and away from Charleston required exquisite timing. There is a passage just after leaving Charleston called Elliot's Cut, which on the wrong tide can generate currents much faster than our boat can go. Also, we needed to have the right current to move from the marina down the Ashley River and into Wapoo Creek to get to Elliot's Cut , which of course is different than the current at Elliot's cut, and to further complicate it there is a bridge right after you enter the Creek which only opens on the hour and half hour. After meeting with David and Cathy, co-captains of Orion Jr. - our new "buddy boat", we concluded that we would leave at 10:00. It worked! Following in the wake of Orion Jr. we made it through the bridge opening and found largely slack current in Elliot's Cut. The only difficulty of the day was an increasing wind from the SW, which reached 26mph by the time we entered Wadmalaw Sound. This made for a rough ride, with waves of four feet or so. At one point the hull of Les Miserables was coming out of the water, smashing into the waves, and making a great "drum" sound each time she hit it. After getting through the sound we decided that we wanted an early anchorage and we found it at Tom Point Creek. The wind continued to howl. However, we didn't have any difficulty setting "Bruce" (our anchor) but the creek seemed narrow to us and we worried about swinging into shoal water into the night where we might end up aground. This did not happen, and instead each time we went on deck to check the anchor we saw the Christmas lights that Orion Jr. had on their boat. There are no buildings or other lights around this anchorage so the holiday cheer glowed brightly. The Christmas lights were a reminder that if all went well we would soon be home for Christmas.

We rose prior to sunrise and had the anchors up before 7am. We had a scare at the very beginning of our day as we left Tom Point Creek when the water suddenly became shallow and our keel bumped its bottom. Fortunately, we were able to find "good water" and managed to continue to float all the way to Port Royal. The fearful challenge, at least for Wiley, of this day is the Dawho Creek. The Dawho Creek is the first of many places on the ICW where the channel has either not been dredged or has been dredged but has shoaled in afterwards. Dawho Creek is only 4 feet of water at low tide and strong currents. One of our cruising guides recounted the sad story of a couple who actually wrecked and lost their sailboat on Dawho Creek. The solution to this dilemma is to go through on a rising tide. The tide here is 6 feet, so at high tide you have a generous 10 feet of water - which at low tide is merely 4 feet and impassible. We followed our buddy boat procedure for the rest of our time in South Carolina and Georgia; we would follow Orion Jr. as she "sounded the bottom" with the depth finder and give warning by radio when shallow water was encountered. There is a saying that life happens while you spend time worrying about all the things that might happen. It held true and the potential disastrous grounding in Dawho Creek never occurred. We got through without difficulty. Cathy and David continually encourage us to take what we read lightly and not overemphasize what might happen. Just before reaching the Port Royal Marina where we planned to spend the night and visit Beaufort, South Carolina we encountered the Ladies Island Bridge. This bridge it turns out only opens on the hour ( a change from what we had read) and we had to wait and circle for a half hour or so waiting for the opening. The compensation for this consisted of multiple dolphin sightings - some very close to our boat. Merry went up to the bow to maintain "a dolphin watch" until the bridge opened. We never tire of seeing dolphins!

After getting through the bridge we arrived at the Port Royal Marina. We were able to borrow the marina's courtesy car, for 2 hours. David and Cathy joined us for a whirlwind tour of downtown Beaufort, S.C. Wiley is fascinated by graveyards and we visited a "good one" with graves going back before the Revolutionary War. The graveyard contained tombstones of two British soldiers killed in that conflict which were marked with British flags. Along with the graves of the British were many Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The Confederate soldiers had small Confederate flags placed upon their grave sites. We saw a small sampling of Beaufort, South Carolina to know that we really wished we had more time in Beaufort. However, everyone was eager to get further south and we resigned ourselves to planning on spending more time in Beaufort, S.C. on our way home.

It took us two more days to get to Savannah. From Charleston south to Florida it is all "lowland" country. Southern South Carolina was once "rice country", and you can still see the remnants of dikes used in the cultivation of rice prior to the Civil War. There are very few trees and you seldom see a house or building. Boats snake through a combination of rivers, creek, cuts (canals), and sounds which open to the ocean. It is very beautiful, but it was always in the back of Wiley's mind that if something went wrong with our engine it would be challenging to try to get a mechanic out into this wilderness! As we crossed Royal Sound we saw shrimp boats at work with their nets extended on either side the way a 19th century lady might pick up the 2 sides of her dress to enable her to step over a puddle. The wind had finally died down but it was frosty in the morning. We each wore 4 or 5 layers of clothing with the last layer being our "foul weather" gear to break the wind. (30's to mid 60's by midday) As the days warm up we take off layers, but we are fearful that our days of wearing shorts and a T-shirt may be over for a time to come. Our first nights anchorage was at Bull Creek which has a strong current. We got into the anchorage and "got Bruce down" without difficulty. We then backed the boat down to set the anchor. David and Cathy invited us to come over to Orion Jr. for some wine and cheese. As Wiley was readying our dinghy "Dimples" - the boat had moved forward on the anchor rode which now went off toward the stern and was fouled on the keel. The waters around the boat whirlpooled in multiple directions. We radioed Cathy and David for advice, and as usual they knew what to do. It turns out the same thing has happened to them on more than one occasion. What you have to do is turn the boat by pulling it by the bow using a line to "unwrap" it. Wiley worked hard pulling the line as he rowed the dinghy in many attempts to force the boat to turn. However, even with many attempts and Wiley tiring from the effort of rowing against a current while pulling a line - prove to be unsuccessful. Finally, Merry was able to wave down a small fishing boat with three young men in it. They willingly helped us out and pulled the bow of the boat clockwise - and we were once again in a good anchoring position. We backed down on the anchor again to be sure it was set and tightened the wheel over to starboard to maintain our position so this would not happen again. We rowed over to Orion Jr. for the "sundowners" and spent another peaceful evening at a beautiful anchorage. Once again, Cathy and David's Christmas lights illuminated the mirror like anchorage waters.

The next day we faced another challenge, getting through the shallow water near Daufuskie Island. Cathy and David went ahead in Orion Jr., keeping a watch for the shallow water again and again we got through. As we approached the Savannah River on the ICW we saw what we first thought were the buildings of Savannah. It turned out that this was a HUGE container ship moving down the river. Just before we reached the river there was a large tug boat that had pushed a barge into a bank and was keeping it there with its powerful engine. We past too close to the stern of the tug and the wake almost turned our boat in a circle, but after regaining control we moved into and across the Savannah River. One highlight of our day had occurred when a dolphin left the water and splashed back in again apparently feeding followed by a swarm of gulls looking for left overs. Another reminder of where we were occurred when we past the Savannah Yacht Club and observed a large sign commanding boats to maintain "idle speed" to "protect our manatees". We arrived at the Isle of Hope marina which is just past Savannah.

Our greatest lesson on our way to Savannah is summed up - with "Don't Worry - Be Happy"! Most of the perils we anticipated from all of the resources we have gathered about traveling the ICW did not happen because we carefully planned each day. This is very different from the Great Lakes because of all that needs to be considered (tide, current, shoaling, weather, bridge timing, etc) - but once the puzzle is figured out and you have the security of a buddy boat it is all good.

Charming Charleston

We spent our first Thanksgiving away from family in Charleston, S.C. While we missed everyone we were able to participate in a potluck Thanksgiving. Merry made a turkey and Bob, the harbor master - brought a ham and all together there were about 20 boaters who shared in the pot luck.
While in Charleston we were able to take advantage of many of the tourist sites - Fort Sumter, The Aircraft Carrier - the Yorktown, a carriage ride through historic Charleston, shopping at the Market (a long strip of multiple vendors), a walking tour, the farmer's market, and more. We found a great sports bar to watch 2 of the Chicago Bear's games - Mac's Place. The owner is a Bear's and Cub's fan. We were treated to extra beers because of wearing Bear's wear. The bar was filled with people wearing Brian Urlacher Shirts! We dined at the lovely restaurant Magnolia as well as enjoyed southern barbecue at Sticky Fingers - a photo of Colbert, a South Carolinian, is hanging at the restaurant. While at the harbor we met a lovely couple - David and Cathy who are currently sailing their 25 foot sailboat and they also own a larger sailboat. They live on their sailboats and this is their first trip on Orion Jr. They have sailed for over 5 years and have kindly offered to allow us to buddy boat with them. It is great having someone to think through the tides, currents, etc. - especially someone as calm and knowledgeable as these two. We love the safety factor of having a "buddy" for those just in case moments. They convinced us to stay longer in Charleston because they had not planned on leaving so soon and the weather,tide, etc. was not in our favor. So, we gladly agreed and had even more time in Charleston. We spent a total of 10 days in Charleston. Most all of it was absolutely wonderful, however there was one minor glitch. We walked into an area that was protected by the Port Authority Police and homeland security. I was just taking some photos of the cruise ship and the facade of an old Rice Mill. Wiley was furious with me because we were detained by the Port Authority Police and they would not let us go. I thought it was a bit ridiculous - what could a couple of old folks wandering around taking photos far from the ship be doing that would cause such a security breach?! However, this shows just what a crazy world we live in and while they detained us (I was laughing - mostly because Wiley was crazy angry and I thought the whole thing ridiculous). However, Wiley is quite upset that we are now in the "database" for the Homeland security. Maybe when we get on the plane to come home for the holiday our names will pop up - we may be listed as the "evil doers"! However, the evening ended well because we were able to attend a Gullah performance. Gullah is Creole language a combination of English and African that goes back hundreds of years. The Gullah lived on the barrier islands. They were slaves. Before the evening was over we were both clapping hands and singing in "Gullah" along with Cathy and David. The enthusiasm, joy, and willingness to include everyone in the experience ended in a song and dance where Merry was pulled up on stage. Take a moment to check out some of the Charleston photos.

Ice, current, and bridges - oh no!

We woke up to ice on the dock in Georgetown. We "slipped" out of the marina with no problems with current, wind, or tide,but Merry did need to shout to Captain Wiley who was saying goodbye to fellow sailors that another sailboat was in the channel (which we almost collided with)! The day was mostly uneventful except that at one point we (surprise!) almost went aground. However, almost does not count! The depth finder showed 3.8 feet - of course the sounder is almost a foot below the water line so there was a bit more water than that - we draw 4 foot 3 inches. The best we were able to find at this point was 6 feet - which is still uncomfortably shallow. On the plus side, we both experienced multiple sightings of dolphins in the inlets and Merry saw a bald eagle. It was a sunny but cold trip. We had originally planned on anchoring, however with temperatures dipping down into the 30's we decided to stay at a marina where we could run our electric heater at night. Isle of Palm marina is located on a short channel off of the ICW and they placed us on the end fuel dock. It was easy to get into and also away from. We were able to fuel, pump out, and play with marina cats. We were warned about very shallow water between the marina and Sawyer Memorial Bridge. We were advised that it was important to wait until a rising tide in order to get to and through the bridge. That night Merry studied the charts and tide tables and determined we should leave at 11:30 in order to make the 1:00 bridge opening. However, the next morning one of the local boaters who works at the marina advised Wiley that we should leave between 10:45 and 11:00 - which is what we did. Because of the tide we were able to get over the shallow spots without difficulty, but we arrived at the bridge at 12:10, and therefore had to spend 50 minutes going in circles and trying to stop the wind and current from sending the boat into shallow water where we might go aground. This was very difficult. At one point when we were too close to the bridge we needed to turn to port to avoid shallow water to starboard but the boat would not respond to her helm until Wiley pushed the throttle all the way forward. Finally, the swing bridge opened and we proceeded a short distance into the area where three rivers and the ocean inlet merge that lead to Charleston. We really studied the charts before entering this area. Charleston is a busy harbor with large commercial ships, tour boats, and pleasure craft. We were lucky enough to get a reservation at the Charleston Maritime Center (thanks to the recommendation of John and Kathy Noland) which is close to the historic downtown Charleston. We were enticed by the harbor master to stay for 5 days, include Thanksgiving in our stay, and receive 2 extra free days. We were able to maneuver into a dock in the marina in spite of strong winds with the help of Bob and Chip from the marina. From our boat we looked across the river and saw the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, Fort Sumter, as well as dolphins swimming in the inlet waters.

11/26/2011 | James Doyle
ICE! I thought that's why we left the NORTH! Keep coming south...only Ice down here is in the Pina Colada's

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