18 November 2020
We went into the Windmill Marina in Hilton Head. What makes this marina both unique and, to many cruisers, not worth the hassle, is the required lock at its entrance. While the process of going through the lock takes a little extra time, the protection offered once inside the marina basin and the beautiful residential surroundings made it a very pleasant place for us to get our land legs back and to meet family and friends.
We had a lot of fun visiting with Eric, Sara and the kids and Sara's aunt and uncle, both at the marina and and at Polly and Stetson's lovely home in Bluffton. We were also finally able to catch up with Prue and Burt Preston after several years of crossing paths with them! They gave us a wonderful tour of their brand new beautiful home and surrounding neighborhood.
We had expected to spend a few days in Hilton Head but our visit ended up being short and sweet as we saw a weather window to go offshore and bypass Georgia, straight to Florida. Although the Georgia ICW is wild and beautiful, it is very long and winding with several very shallow areas. In addition, much like in Florida, waterfront homeowners are trying to enact legislation which restricts anchoring in many locations along its ICW.
Our goal was to go into the St. Augustine inlet but, as we watched the weather, it looked like wind and seas would be worsening and our timing would put us into the inlet with the wind opposing the current. Wind against current can be unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, as the opposing currents can produce standup, breaking waves. No, thank you.
While we knew we'd be doing it in the dark, we went instead into the St. Mary's inlet while conditions were still pleasant. While going in at night is not ideal, this inlet is uncomplicated and we were able to get in without difficulty and anchor right off the channel. When it got light we jumped into the ICW and made a short day of it.
We made it to St. Augustine the next day and requested a mooring for a week, anticipating the approach of Hurricane Eta. They could only give us 6 nights but, according to the forecast at that point, 6 nights would be enough. We really enjoyed being positioned in front of the Castillo de San Marcos and watching the boat traffic waiting for the Bridge of Lions to open. As always, we enjoyed our walks around the fort and historic downtown.
By the time we got down to Daytona Beach, Eta had sped up and turned north, putting us just inside the "cone" of tropical storm warnings. Anchorages in that area are limited to begin with and there are none that offer good all around protection. We did the best we could and anchored with protection from the expected east winds. Winds were in the 20s, gusting 30s and we didn't get much sleep after the anchor alarm sounded around 11 p.m. By morning the wind had clocked to the southwest and we had swung closer to shore than we were comfortable with, so we left in high winds and rain rather than attempt to set the anchor again. We went into a popular, more protected anchorage a little further south, and managed to ground on an uncharted shoal. We hoped to float off with the incoming tide but the wind was continuing to clock and kept blowing us back onto the ridge of shoal. We were finally able to get off on our own and, after trying unsuccessfully to get a set right nearby, we gave up and moved south until sunset. We finally anchored in New Smyrna with the sun shining and the winds all but gone. Not our favorite day...
After slogging down the Indian River for a couple of uneventful days, we decided to stop in Vero Beach. The marina here typically has boats raft together 2 and 3 deep, which has never appealed to us. With this year's pandemic concerns, however, they are only putting one boat on each mooring. We're in a quiet, scenic spot.
Vero Beach is a beautifully maintained community with easy beach access, quiet residential tree lined streets and several parks with trails. We're here for a week but may consider staying longer!
Don't forget to look in the gallery!