South Carolina to Fort Pierce, Florida
15 December 2020 | Fort Pierce, Florida
Nov 13 - Dec 15 We did end up staying in Myrtle Beach at the marina until the following Tuesday due to the high water in the Waterway and the Waccamaw River. There is a well placed NOAA water level gauge at Socastee where a fixed bridge crosses the ICW, and there is information that correlates the water level with the bridge clearance heights so that we can know when we are able to pass under safely. That didn't happen until eight days after our arrival here. By Tuesday (Nov 17) we were ready to go early and were off the dock by first light at 0630. It was a pleasant motor south in the waterway, crossed safely under the bridges and continued south in the wider Waccamaw River to Georgetown SC which we passed by at noon. From there we continued on in Winyah Bay then to the ICW to cross the North Santee River, then detoured into the South Santee River near Brown's Island for an overnight anchorage. This is a very nice spot with plenty of room in the midst of marshland that was long ago farmed as rice fields. We purposely started late on Wednesday (Nov 18) to avoid being at the fixed bridge at Isle of Palms at high tide where overhead clearance is an issue. After crossing under that bridge at 1300 we learned that the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge was closed at midday for maintenance. This was an annoyance since we had called two days prior to confirm with the bridge tender on duty that the bridge was not going to be closed this day. Anyway we ended up anchoring in a side creek until the opening at 1600 at which point the tide was nearing its low and we had to watch for shallow spots along the way. Once through we headed out into the wide open Charleston Harbor where we headed north to the area near Patriots Point Park. We decided to anchor just south of the large marina there and stayed there for two nights while waiting for warmer weather to head back out into the ocean again. The winds were northeasterly which made this spot just fine but would have been a little exposed to be comfortable from other wind directions. The next morning it was 40°F and pretty breezy from the north so we were glad we waited one night more until Friday (Nov 20) when it was 15° warmer and headed out for an overnight run to St. Augustine FL.
It was good sailing under full sail all day with 19-22 kn wind on the quarter. Late in the afternoon some squalls were about so we furled the main and continued downwind with genoa alone. The seas were still up and seem to be building but the wind was down to 12 kn astern by 3 AM, so we motor sailed for comfort until morning at which point we decided to head in to harbor north of St Augustine at the St Johns River entrance. We would not have arrived at the St Augustine entrance until after the tide had switched to ebb and did not want to attempt that entrance with the seas and wind from the northeast. So we made it into the wide and protected St Johns entrance by 1030 with the flooding tide and it was an easy non-eventful transit. We later heard from a boat that was tied up next to us in St Augustine that they transited the St Augustine entrance on the 20th and could not see the entrance buoys in the seas and experienced having their cockpit flooded from overtaking waves. After hearing of that we were doubly glad we waited a day and went in through the St Johns inlet. Once in the St Johns River we were pushed along by the flooding tide for an extra 1.5-2.0 kn of speed that continued as we turned south into the ICW. We motored on until we made it to a beautiful anchoring spot near mile marker 765 on a bend off of the waterway near Pine Island (30° 03.5'N, 081° 21.3'W) by 14:20. After that we had an early dinner and were happy to be in bed by 7 PM for a restful sleep.
This spot inside the Guana River Wildlife Management Area was worth the stopover and was only 12 nm north of St Augustine, which we then headed for on Sunday (Nov 22) to arrive just after 1400. We took a slip there for five days over Thanksgiving week and enjoyed walking around town, though sad not to be comfortable in dining in the many places available here due to the pandemic. Still we found a few places with outside tables and uncrowded spaces in the midafternoon on a couple of days. For Thanksgiving day, we had ready from home a traditional turkey feast complete with trimmings and made a pumpkin pie too. We were thankful to be able to do such a trip in these difficult times, but missed the usual social event with friends and/or family or with newly made friends as in past years.
On Friday (Nov 27) we departed St Augustine for several days of easy travel south in the ICW. There were a number of fixed bridges to cross under and we were again worried by reports of high water, but fortunately we made it through all unscathed. We traveled 60 nm the first day to anchor off of the waterway at New Smyrna Beach for a peaceful calm clear night. The next day (Sat, Nov 28) we continued motoring south and made it to a spot south of Melbourne, near Malabar, between some spoil islands just off the waterway. We'd been here once before and shared it with several other boats also on trips going south. Sunday (Nov 29) we were underway early for the final leg to Fort Pierce where we wanted to be situated before a predicted frontal passage and rainy weather set in. By 12:30 we were tied up at the floating docks and set ourselves up to be there for weeks to come, as we had made a multi-month reservation back in July. The total trip distance from Rock Hall was 939 nm, done over a 26 day period with several long pauses along the way.
Over the next week we got settled in to life on the waterfront here in Fort Pierce. We were pleasantly surprised to find our friends Al & Arlene on their trawler Arion tied up here in the marina for a month as well, and has been fun to catch up with them. Our friend Scott on Star Reacher from our same marina in Rock Hall arrived here later in the week too, There is a great farmer's market every Saturday just adjacent to the marina grounds. By Friday (Dec 4) we walked down US1 to a rental car office and picked up our car for a month rental. It's been nice so far to explore the parks and nature preserves along the coast here as well as visiting the beach and planning longer trips. The Round Island Beach and Riverside Parks near Vero Beach are a great place for short hikes and exploring nature, and where we saw our first manatees of this trip: https://www.ircgov.com/Departments/General_Services/Parks/Round_Island_Riverside.htm The Hawks Bluff trail near Jensen Beach: https://floridahikes.com/savannas-preserve-hawks-bluff And the Heathcote Botanical Gardens http://www.heathcotebotanicalgardens.org/ with its largest (>100) collection of bonsai trees in the U.S. are highlights of places we've visited so far.
On Friday (Dec 11) we took a drive north to Vero Beach to see our WSPS friends Don and Sue over a nice lunch outside at Mr. Manatee's Casual Grille--oysters & burgers were great. The next day we had the unique experience of visiting friends Ann & Ted on the infield at Daytona International Speedway as part of his "crew" for a track-days event. This was about a 2 hour drive north up I-95 from the marina in Fort Pierce. Ted was there with his Porsche where we watched him zip around the course at speeds up to 160 mph with 45 other cars on the track during three 30 minute time slots that day. The required safety features, track-side observers and standby rescue crews were impressive. They had a great spot on the infield where they 'camped' for several days in their new RV. This is really an event for drivers with no access to any of the grandstands or concessions, so it was easy to maintain outside-only social distancing as is our 2020 norm by now.
So we're settling in nicely to marina based life here on Florida's "Treasure Coast" and plan to continue that into the New Year. Blogs will likely be pretty sparse from here until we make another move on the water, not likely before the end of January.