Last season when we finished working on our new-to-us trawler, Nomadic Spirit, we circumnavigated the southern part of Florida. The Florida Mini Loop was the perfect "Shake Down" cruise for us and we stretched it into three months. The blog is out there if you want to read it. Being that we had been in the keys a few times on our previous boat it didn't really feel like we were 'Looping' even though we were flying our American Great Loop Cruising Association burgie. I think the reason for that was that we met very few Loopers as The Keys are not really on the main Loop route. The mini loop was a very enjoyable with clear waters and sandy beaches, something that you don't often get on the Intracoastal Waterway.
This year, when we finally were able to throw off the dock lines, we headed to the Abacos in the Bahamas. (the Bahamas adventure was my last blog post). We then started up the east coast section of the loop. By doing the loop in segments we could take the time for several side trips without worrying about staying ahead of the seasons.
We finally visited Vero Beach, a popular winter cruisers hang out. I didn't see the attraction but maybe that is because we were out of season and most boaters had already moved north. After Daytona Beach we wanted to get off the ICW for the weekend because of huge wakes from inconsiderate sport fishing boats. An opportunity arose in Palm Coast to visit some MTOA hosts that we had met at a Rendezvous and meet more fellow cruisers. We enjoyed the stay immensely and hope to see more of the Colkets, they were wonderful hosts!
Saint Augustine is always special and this time was no exception. Anchored next to the historic Bridge of Lions, we were afforded spectacular views of the city. The lions that adorn the bridge were a gift from a philanthropist of this ancient city that spent decades putting art in public places. The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fortress in the United States and is surrounded by early Spanish architecture. This is definitely a town to walk around to take it all in.
A visit from other cruising friends on M/V Tika, Kevin and Marlene, joined us for lunch and delivered some of our mail. The thing about always being on the move is that it's hard to order anything without wonderful people that let you use them as a mail drop!
Now the plan was to explore the St John's River and a few of its crystal clear springs. The St. Johns River is home to some of Florida's most stunning freshwater springs, which sit along the Ocala National Forest. At a constant 72 degrees they attract manatees in the winter months.
Jacksonville has two free docks and one of them even supplies electricity for a small fee. We appreciated being able to run the air conditioning when temps rose into the 90s. Our timing was perfect to join the Marine Trawler Owners Association mini cruise weekend at Ortega Landing Marina. MTOA, like AGLCA has port host that we can contact as we enter new areas and might require a ride or help finding needed parts. They can even be used for mail delivery and some have dockage available. We met many wonderful new friends and enjoyed get togethers and pot lucks. From Ortega we were heading father up the St Johns but were thwarted by the heat. I realized we needed to get back closer to the Atlantic coast and the ocean breezes. It was late June and we were still in Florida and it was HOT so we headed north on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The Springs will be another visit.
Just north of Jacksonville, at Cumberland Island National Seashore we crossed into Georgia and left most other traffic behind. Wild Horses, beautiful beaches and miles and miles of national wildlife areas replaced the busy ICW and bad wakes of Florida. I joke about growing up in God's Country but the scenery here was outstanding with plenty of great anchorages. Some boaters find this stretch boring but i can't imagine why. A variety of birds, jumping fish, and dolphin escorts kept our spirits high. We had decided not to travel up river to the busy port of Savannah as we had just visited there in our motorhome. If you do visit be sure to eat at Mrs Wilks Dining Room, southern cooking served family style.
Our anchorages through Georgia were quite remote areas and were often visited by alligators, turtles and dolphins at sunset and sunrise.
South Carolina started becoming more populated in areas and our first anchorage was a lunch stop at Hilton Head. Boats everywhere, tourists para-sailing, groups on jet skis and passenger ferrys abounded. To busy for us after the tranquility of Georgia! Beaufort, our first overnight stop, was charming enough to extend our stay to three nights on a mooring ball at the municipal marina. Several restaurants overlooking the delightful waterfront park, historic downtown with antebellum mansions, museums, and water dishes for DeeO'gee everywhere. The marina even had a courtesy car so we could make a provisioning run and I even manager to get a haircut. A large town dock is complementary for day stops and there is certainly no reason to pass by without taking advantage of this hospitality.
After two more peaceful anchorages we arrived in Charlston, South Carolina's oldest city, and our first marina since we left Florida. I will also add: the first air conditioning! Our air only runs with shore power and the cool air was wonderful. We had planned our arrival to take advantage of the fireworks. The Maritime Center was perfectly located for the event and we had a 'Looper' cocktail party with six boats and the AGLCA Home Port Crew. It was nice to meet Kimberly Russo, the current director of AGLCA, and add several new boat cards to our file. Boat cards are must haves on the loop to pass on your contact information. Several times I've said 'We know that boat' and quickly looked up the boat card so I could remember names. We often remember the boat name and the dogs name before remembering the owners.
Georgetown was the third historic town we visited in a row. Actually that makes three of the four oldest towns in S.C., a state rich in history. Georgetown has a boardwalk along the waterfront and again free dockage for day stops are provided. Street concerts, farmers markets and southern charm makes this darling town another top pick. We would have loved to stay a bit longer but the anchorage was small and crowded so sadly we moved on after the leisurely afternoon to find an isolated spot.
Boat traffic was really picking up around Myrtle Beach so we pulled into Osprey Marina to get off the ICW for the weekend. Rates were so good we stayed through the following weekend. Another Looper cocktail party with two gold loopers we already knew and one new boat flying the platinum flag ensued. A gold flag indicates that you have crossed your wake and completed the loop. A platinum flag is the badge of honor for multiple loops. Meeting other Loopers is one of the most enjoyable parts of doing the loop.
DeeO'gee had several friends to play with at the marina and enjoyed access to land several times a day. We took advantage of the time to work on some bright work and Steve analyzed battery issues. We are still fighting refrigerator and charging issues. Cruising will always be 'boat maintenance in exotic places'. When boaters get together the conversation always turns to maintenance, batteries, solar, and heads.
Moving on again, we headed to an inlet to take advantage of some beach time. We've been traveling parallel to the Atlantic but rarely get a glimpse of that big expanse of water. Sometimes, even though we are loving the scenery and visiting small towns on the waterways, we miss sailing and anchoring in crystal clear water. Bird Island was just inside North Carolina and it took just a second to get our toes in the sand. Temps were more comfortable and evenings more pleasant as we moved farther north.
North Carolina continued to impress us with its historic towns and free docks. Our first free dock was Southport just south of Wilmington. Friends from our Caribbean sailing days live near and came for a visit. Not far was Carolina Beach State Park and we parked at a dock there for a day where Eric and Jackie visited us again and took us on a tour of Wilmington. Carolina Beach was a lovely anchorages the next night but the forecast made us move early to get ahead of bad weather coming in.
That forecast stretched on and forced us to keep moving towards the Neuse River. New Bern has very affordable marina and we spent a week of heavy rains there. A few times the sun peaked out, or at least the monsoon let up, so we could enjoy another darling town. Eric and Jackie drove over for a marathon card playing day and a stroll to take in the 'Bears'. New Bern has a variety of whimsical bears on many street corners. Painted as a doctor, lawyer, pirate, british soldier etc. and they only add to the ambiance of what has become another one of my top picks for places to visit by land or by sea.
The night before we left the rains let up enough to attend the waterfront park weekend concert with new Looper friends on M/V Jim's Joy. The band featured Buffet style music and the obvious Parrot Heads were in attendance.
Oriental also has a free Dock in a working shrimp and scallop boat harbor. The town is about as big as a minute although it has a certain appeal and very fresh seafood.
From Oriental we crossed Pamlico Sound, heading to the Outer Banks and the island of Ocracoke. Part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the visitor center provides a large dock with electricity and water. Another boat, S/V Journey, that we had met at the last two stops joined us and DeeO'gee had two friends to play with. Those dogs humans, Kevin, Charlene and Matt were up for card games (and air conditioning) each evening. The beach here is listed as a top U.S. Beach and ferrys come and go all day long bringing tourists for the day or longer. The notorious pirate Blackbeard was from this region and was killed just off the Outer Banks here.
Our next stop on our way north was the dock of Rip and Barb Tyler, AGLCA Harbor Hosts. These harbor hosts go out of their way for fellow members, they provide a dock, electricity and a ride for reprovitioning. We had mail and even had a replacement refrigerator sent to them. M/V Lab Partners will continue their loop this coming winter.
Little Washington, or Original Washington, is a short side trip up the Pamlico River. The weather has been hot during the day but cools down nicely at night. The free dock here like so many others is along the waterfront park, and small shops and restaurant dot the main street. Gailey painted crabs, not bears, are scattered around the town.
If you think you are seeing a pattern of free docks, you are correct. Lunch stops, overnight stops, small historic towns wanting cruisers to stop by, walk the town, spend some money.
Now we have come to the end of our journey north on the waterway. At Albemarle Sound we left the ICW to follow the shore around the sound and that will be the next blog.
I love North Carolina! Town after cute historic town and so many free docks.