More Abacos, then back to USA
19 April 2019 | Georgetown, South Carolina
We continued to enjoy Elbow Cay and the picturesque Harbour of Hopetown for two more weeks on a secure mooring. This was a great place for a base of operations as we easily went ashore for long ocean beach walks and strolls through the narrow streets in the little town with its densely packed colorful houses and shops. Longer walks on roads through residential/vacation home areas to the north and south of town were also fun. One day we took a long dinghy expedition down the west coast of Elbow Cay to famous "Cracker P's" for lunch on the small cay of Lubbers Quarter followed by hanging out at "Tahiti Beach" with friends across from it back on Elbow Cay's southern end. It's a popular spot with boaters of all types featuring a white sandy beach that extends on a narrow spit well out into the bay at low tide, and of course a floating beach bar. Several other times we'd leave the harbor with a 'reserved' float on our mooring ball for overnight trips to Marsh Harbour, and to Mermaid Reef for some great snorkeling and to more secluded spots off of smaller cays in the Sea of Abaco. One nice day we organized to go out on a deep sea fishing trip with friends on "Sea Jules" and "Fancy Free" aboard "Local Boy". We had a good time trolling around east of Elbow Cay late in the day and the ladies landed two nice specimens, a Mahi and a Wahoo. We hoped for a few more but it was not to be and there were plenty of delicious meals for all three boat crews once the spoils were divided up.
Finally on April 4 we left Hopetown for the last time and sailed the short distance west in the Sea of Abaco to Great Guana Cay, anchored there and paid a visit to the famous "Nipper's Beach Bar & Grill" for lunch. On Friday we sailed across to Treasure Cay and took a slip at the marina there to do a little maintenance and enjoy the shoreside amenities. This put us in position to make the 'jump' around the Whale Cay passage to Green Turtle Cay and points west of there. To do this safely and comfortably one has to be patient for the right sea state and tidal current direction. During much of the time in the winter months, the Atlantic rollers from the northeast make the cut too rough especially during ebbing tides. By April, however, it seems the seas were down and we sailed through the cut and around "the whale" with no issues to arrive at Green Turtle Cay's "White Sound". We arranged for a five day long mooring ball rental in this cozy harbor and enjoyed the time with our friends on "Fancy Free", visiting the community of New Plymouth to the south in Black Sound by dinghy and later on by golf cart. As we did from Hopetown, we left the mooring on an especially nice day to anchor off another cay for the night. Manjack Cay was one such special place with a few private homes many beautiful beaches and a mangrove river to explore. The residents there have created a number of excellent trails and welcome boaters to visit their bit of paradise via dinghy and on foot. We explored the mangrove waterways at high tide to see dozens of turtles, stingrays, and juvenile fish hideouts through the crystal clear waters. At the end of the long winding mangrove creek we were surprised to find an open basin with a dock and slips for three substantial sized boats. Then the owner (of thirty years) appeared on the dock and we got to talking about the time he safely rode out a cat 5 hurricane in those mangroves with his sailboat wedged into the mangroves there.
By Thursday, April 11, it was time to make a move towards home. We had a nice motor-sail westward from Green Turtle Cay on the banks for 61 nm to Double Breasted Cay. We had hoped to spend the next day exploring this group of uninhabited islets and beaches, but our anchorage was too unprotected from the south and southeast winds we were experiencing. As a result of this and the decent forecast for a passage to Florida we hoisted anchor before sunrise and headed west to the fringes of the Little Bahama Banks on April 12, Friday. From there just south of Mantanilla Shoals we headed northwest for the Gulf Stream and on to northern Florida. We made our way to the forecasted middle of the Gulf Stream for a maximum speed boost which we rode for about six hours going at over ten knots over the ground. Fortunately (and unfortunately) we had winds behind the beam, but much of it was so far aft as to be problematic for sailing. Seas were heavier than we would have liked being in the 4 to 7 ft range and mostly on the beam, making for a rolly ride. In any event we made great time, arriving at the St. Augustine inlet at about 2 in the afternoon to go in with the flood tide there. Some data for the trip follows: Distance 263 nm, time 32.4 hr, for an average speed of 8.1 knots--thanks to fair winds and the Gulf Stream and our trusty diesel engine! Check-in with US Customs and Border Protection was made easy with a new smart phone app that we had previously populated with our information. We then simply reported our arrival via the app and waited a few minutes for an officer to text us that our re-entry had been approved. Not bad at all. Once in St. Augustine at a mooring just off of the old "Castillo de San Marcos" fort, we rested up for the evening to be ready to enjoy several days here in this bustling tourist destination.
For the next few days we enjoyed St Augustine's restaurants, a few museums, and walking the town and the fort run by the National Park Service. Our friends on Fancy Free were here a few hours ahead of us and we joined them for activities ashore, as we had done in the Abacos, but had to say goodbye for the season on Monday evening. On Tuesday (Apr 16) we headed out early at high tide and rode the current up the ICW to the St Johns River (where Jacksonville FL is situated further upstream), then out with the strong ebb tide to the ocean once again. From there we motor sailed north to the next inlet at St Marys at the Florida, Georgia border, a 62 nm trip in total. We anchored for the night well off the channel to the north of Fernandina Beach so as to be situated for another overnight run up the coast the next two days.
Wednesday, April 17, we picked up anchor just at daybreak and headed back out the inlet and on to the northeast, aiming for Georgetown SC by the following afternoon. This turned out to be quite different than our passage from the Abacos four days earlier in that the seas were nearly flat with light winds on the beam. It was time of the full moon, so we had a nicely lit up sea for the entire overnight run. We once again had to motor-sail for most of the trip, the winds providing only a boost of a knot or two, but not enough on its own to drive us for a daytime arrival at Winyah Bay. It was a pleasant overnight passage for the most part, with the only set-back coming at the end as we had to make our way up Winyah Bay against a strong ebb tide. With a full moon the tides were at maximum, and the current that day seemed well above its predictions as we saw 3 and some 4 knots against us at times. But we had plenty of daylight left and made it up the bay to Georgetown and the marina at Harborwalk where we planned to stay a few days. Forecasts are for strong storms Friday (Apr 19) with very strong winds for a few days, and we love the quaint town of Georgetown which is right on the waterfront, so I'm sure we'll enjoy the weekend stay here. Our plan is to make our way further up the coast and home on the Chesapeake by early May, both via the ICW and hops out on the ocean as conditions make reasonable.