St. Augustine at Last!
06 January 2011 | St. Augustine Municipal Marina
The days never seem to turn out like I expect. And I'm still worrying about things that in the end are not issues. Today I was worried that there would be too much wind and the St. Augustine Inlet would be a problem, we would either go aground or face very rough seas (memories of Cape May Inlet came to mind). We had decided to sail the last leg, but the information we had said that the St. Augustine Inlet was shoaling and mariners should "seek local knowledge" before attempting to enter. I had talked to the folks at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina and they confirmed the shoaling, but said if we kept to the north side of the channel we should be OK. I also asked about the report that the channel could be very rough. They said it could get nasty if the seas were more than three feet. Well that had me worried because it's pretty common for the ocean have waves bigger than three feet.
I woke up at 4:30 listening to the wind and worrying about getting off the dock and getting back in the St. Augustine Channel. Bud wasn't sleeping too well either, and we were up and ready to leave early again. Happily the dockmaster at Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina was there before seven. Bud asked him where we could turn the boat in the marina, as it was pretty cramped. He offered to come help us turn the boat using lines. He did a great job, but even so, it was about the tightest situation we'd been in. The boat was being blown away from the dock, and the channel between the docks was not even as wide as our boat is long. The dockmaster pulled our stern around, but Bud needed to make about a 6 point turn to get us out of there. We got away clean. Great job, Bud.
We just made it out of St. Mary's Inlet in time. As we were heading out the very long channel we heard the coast guard checking on other boats and advising them that they had "an outbound event" and would need the channel clear. Something must have been happening with the subs. I thought the channel went about three miles out, but when I went down to plot the first point where we could comfortably turn and set a direct course to St. Augustine, it was closer to 8 miles out! We left the dock at 7 AM and didn't turn to set our course until 9:30. (About a half hour after we turned they shut the channel and that section of the ICW down.)
Once the course was set we saw we had about 48 nautical miles to the inlet buoy at St. Augustine. We needed to get to that buoy no later than 4 to get comfortably in before dark. The St. Augustine channel is shorter, but it would still be about another 3 nautical miles and one lift bridge before we got to the marina. We set our sails and the 15-knot wind from the west that was predicted proved to be 8 knots from the northwest. We were sailing nicely at between 5 and 6 knots, which would get us to St. Augustine well after dark. After about a half hour with no change and no improvement we broke down and turned on the engine. With engine and sails we were doing just over 7 knots, which is the pace we needed.
There wasn't too much wind, so far there was too little. We finally got a good amount of wind about an hour and a half from the buoy. We put the genoa back out (we'd taken it in when the wind died so much it wouldn't fill) and added the staysail and were sailing at 8 knots. Very nice. In the end we reached the buoy right about 3:30.
I called our friend Gary Gaskill back just before we reached the buoy. He lives near St. Augustine and had called and set a plan to come down and see us. I told him it looked like we'd be to the lift bridge at 4 and to the dock by 4:15. He was coming about 5.
We held to the north side of the inlet channel as instructed and had no issues. The waves were maybe a foot. We got to the lift bridge at 4:04. Bud had called the bridge on the radio to tell them we were coming hoping he'd hold the bridge (it opens on the hour and half hour). The bridge hadn't opened yet as we approached so we thought we were OK. Bud called the bridge again and the bridge tender told him it would open at the next scheduled time of 4:30. Thanks, guy. So we had to wait in the channel for another half hour. We motored back away for a while and then came up and Bud held the boat against the wind and a slight current for what seemed like a very long time, but was a little under 10 minutes. Finally the bridge opened (pretty much right at 4:30) and we were through. We did just over 61 nautical miles and were on the water for 9 hours and 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, Gary had arrived and both he and the dockhand were there to help us dock. After a quick tour of the boat and taking care of Fuzzy, Gary took us out to dinner at a local seafood place. I ordered their fresh catch, which was flounder, and was really good. We played typical tourist and asked our waitress to take a picture of the three of us.
We'll be staying here a few days. This was our first stated goal and it is great to be here. It's still cold tonight, we're still at a dock and plugged in for heat, but the day did get sunny, and as Bud said, "I am almost not cold." Which is as good as it's been since we left Wilson.