St Augustine to Cumberland Is
17 April 2017 | Cumberland Island
April 6 - 16: We enjoyed our time at Green Turtle Cay with dinghy rides as well as rental golf cart rides to New Plymouth on several occasions as well as walks to the beautiful ocean beach. The wind was up from the northwest so moving in a westerly direction was not going to be a good idea. The anchorage got pretty crowded, and folks trying to anchor in the grassy bottom were having trouble staying put. At one point a power catamaran near us was dragging anchor with no one aboard so I and several others got in their dinghies and maneuvered the boat out of harm's way using dinghy power with me at the helm. We were unable to start the engines or operate the windlass so had to be maneuvered with dinghies and hands to the chain for the anchor rode. Fortunately the owner showed up just as we were getting it settled, and chose to leave the area. Anyway, by Saturday (8th) the wind had settled in to its more normal northeasterly pattern and we and many others headed out for a day's run to Great Sale Cay and beyond. We arrived there and anchored around 1600 and relaxed a bit with dinner and increasingly calm conditions. Our original plan was to depart for Northern Florida at daybreak, but weather predictions were calling for increasing easterlies with rougher seas, so we decided to depart later that evening at 2300 in the full moonlight to start our 250 nm passage to St. Augustine in order to experience the Gulf Stream crossing in daylight hours. It was kind of nice to spend our last brief anchorage at an uninhabited cay before hitting the reality of the mass of population we were to experience in Florida. Our track took us westerly through the remaining banks and their shallow depths (15-20 ft) until 0800 on Sunday when we saw our last of the beautiful turquoise waters, then we angled towards the Gulf Stream in order to get that speed boost for our trip north. By noon we were in the Stream with an increasing speed over the ground and warmer water temperature. For the rest of the afternoon we were flying along on a broad reach under full sail and a push from the current to see speeds of 10 to 11.5 knots. The seas were mostly at right angle to the current so it was a comfortable ride. By sunset it was time to angle out of the Gulf Stream and head towards the coast of northern Florida which we figured to be the easiest part of the trip...but not so. At this point a small area of squalls plagued us from the east, but we had just reefed down for the night so we were ready for them. But once well west of the stream we experienced a strong southerly countercurrent that slowed our progress and also made the sea state much less comfortable. So we spent a choppy jerky night on the final leg to St. Augustine and we were glad to arrive there safely in the morning on Monday (10th) to pick up our reserved mooring in the favored north field just off of the historic fort and downtown area. We stayed here for three nights in order to see the sights, tour the various museums and the fort and enjoy the many varied dining options. We were glad to have spent the time to visit here.
Friday (14th) we headed out at sunrise for our first trip up the ICW (intracoastal waterway) on this winter's expedition. Armed with the handy up-to-date notations from "Active Captain" we made our way north through the waterway for the 50 nm trip to Fernandina Beach without incident. This leg involved transiting under eight fixed highway bridges with stated clearances of 65 ft. Our mast height is 63.5 ft above the water, so we had to watch carefully the tide levels at each bridge. On only one did we just touch the VHF antenna so thankfully we made it through the densely populated Jacksonville area without problems or even having to slow down. We made it to the harbor at Fernandina Beach by 1530, which is the northernmost town on the Florida coast. It's an interesting place with two huge paper mills north and south of the quaint old town on the Amelia River. The marina there had suffered some major damage from hurricane Matthew and not yet fully operational, but the mooring field was recently upgraded with new gear and was a fine place to stay. We enjoyed touring the town on foot seeing the many old restored houses and dining at one of the many restaurants. On Sunday (Easter, the 16th) we headed out for the short trip north to Cumberland Island where we arrived by 0830. Cumberland Island is a National Seashore/Park and is a real treasure. It is on the southernmost coast of Georgia and had been settled and occupied hundreds of years ago, but has mostly reverted to its natural state at this point. From the inshore coast out to the sand dunes, the land is covered with the majestic southern live oak trees with their hanging Spanish moss that form a high shady canopy over low lying saw palmettos. We rented bikes at the Ranger station there to get around on the trails and visit the ruins of a huge mansion known as "Dungeness" built by the Carnegies in the late 1800's. It was a really great place to enjoy and we're thankful that our friends Ann and Joe recommended it to us as one of their favorite spots. On Monday (17th) we plan to set out for an overnight passage to Beaufort, South Carolina, taking advantage of the fair weather we're now experiencing.