23 January 2015 | Green Turtle Cay
Cross that one off the bucket list - we are now in the Bahamas! We crossed from Florida a few days ago with 3 other boats and spent the first two days traveling and anchored out on our way to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos. The first night we arrived near sunset and anchored in what seemed like the middle of nowhere on the Bahamian Banks between Memory Rock and Mangrove Cay. We had to pinch ourselves the next morning as we sat in the cockpit with a coffee at 05:30 watching the day start with beautiful sunrise. The 8 foot deep turquoise coloured water was so clear that the white sandy bottom sprinkled with sea grass and the occasional starfish seemed just inches below the surface. We took a quick dip to start the day. Could it get any better than this!
We left Lake Worth at 6:00 am to cross with 3 other boats - Sanderling, Alderaan and Modaki. It was interesting in that we started with the recommended S curve course to manage the Gulf Stream and then promptly forgot to make the swing to the east when we entered the Gulf Stream. A common, rookie mistake. We were very thankful to an unknown but experienced boater who offered advice over the radio when he heard Modaki bemoaning the lack of boat speed. He pointed out that if we turned east vs trying to follow the rhumb line to cross the current of the Gulf Stream we'd solve the problem and sure enough our boat speed promptly went from 3.5 to 6.5 (and even 7.8) knots.
Of course, the weather is never as predicted, no matter how long you wait for a good weather window. The forecasted south winds were mostly east (that would be on the nose) and the 4-5 ft waves, instead of 2-3 ft, made for a bumpy slow ride. Once we began using the Gulf Stream to push us along, we also shifted our course further north and by mid-day switched our destination from West End to Memory Rock and possibly Mangrove Cay, a little further on. Not bad for a first transit, with special thanks to Bob on Sanderling for his more experienced, fatherly advice along the way.
Modaki developed engine problems just as we were entering the Bahamas Banks around 17:00. It was a couple of hours further to Mangrove Cay, so the decision was made to move out of the channel and drop the hooks where we were - it had been a good crossing and we were in the Bahamas! It was so quiet and peaceful; except for the occasional radio call to offer suggestions to Modaki on what the problems could be (including some from a couple of other boats that were traveling within listening range.)
The interesting thing about Modaki is we had sat through their seminar at the Toronto Boat Show last January (as had Greig and Caroline on Lequesteau). It really is a small world...or maybe it's the boating community.
The next morning, the winds and waves were very calm. Modaki's engine was running fine and we had a beautiful trip along the turquoise waters that seemed to stretch on forever. We were on our way to anchor near Great Sale Cay and then on to Green Turtle Cay the following day. The water has been deep and clear for most of the route - and we've been closely following the Explorer chart book and Dodge guide to make sure we're steering clear of any shoals and coral heads.
There are clumps of sea grass here and there in the water and mid-morning we noticed the engine temperature creeping up from the normal 160F to close to 180F. We shut the engine off and sea grass fell off the intake strainer but then some caught on the prop. A touch of reverse caused lots of shuddering until the grass flew off behind us. Our boat speed went up half a knot, the engine settled back in at 160F - happiness and joy all around.
For the most part we've been motor sailing past the various cays, atolls and coral heads - although yesterday we were able to enjoy 40 minutes or so of a pleasant sail with no engine running as we went down the Sea of Abaco - aahhh!!!
We neared Green Turtle Cay around 16:45, took the sails down and motored into the newly dredged channel with minimum 7 ft of depth... hmmmm, our depth sounder saw 6' 1"! However we didn't touch bottom and the entrance is well marked. If you stay in the middle of the 40 foot channel no problem mon!
We're going to stay here for a few days, maybe more...we'll see. For the time being, we're enjoying the wonderful feeling that there's no where we need to go and nothing we really need to do. We know that today we're going to rent a golf cart to explore this island. It's so hard to believe that we're finally where we signed up for on this trip!
December in Florida
07 January 2015 | Palm Beach
It’s the end of December and we’re back in Palm Beach – enjoying the 80F weather and gradually getting ourselves and the boat ready for spending a couple of months in the Bahamas. We’ve been down to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Key Biscayne (the last two by car) and are planning to cross to West End from here, perhaps within the next week or two. We’re in no rush – and finally feel that we can relax and enjoy where we are instead of always heading to the next destination. We know that eventually we’ll cross over to the Bahamas and we’ve talked to several folks who have done this trip and have gathered lots of information about crossing the Gulf Stream, route options and places to go once in the Bahamas. But in the meantime we’re enjoying exploring Florida and continue to discover wonderful places along the way to spend a night or two (or five). We’re getting quite used to summery weather in December (it might finally be safe for us to pack away our wintery clothes – yes!!)
Florida offers some unique aspects to this journey. The ICW channel is typically deep and straightforward, but often a 2-3 foot shoal is just a few feet on either side of the channel. A day’s trip is minimally affected by tidal swings, but can be immensely slowed down by the various schedules of a multitude of bridges (eg 23 in the 50 mile stretch between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale!). There are very few crab pots and not as many dolphins in the waterways, but lots of floating coconuts and apparently manatees are everywhere (although we’ve only caught sight of a couple of them).
There is a startling difference in the shoreline from our earlier travels with affluence now showing in some of the spectacular new estates mixed in with the original styled homes from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Designer lawn furniture, outdoor kitchens, and toys are strewn about the perfectly landscaped and often screened in properties. Many of the private docks lining the ICW have lifts to raise multiple boats out of the water and the waterway is full of power and fishing boats of every size, style and budget.
We’ve had a few pretty strange and/or humorous coincidences on this leg of our journey. The first was a few weeks ago when we spent a chilly but pleasant evening at Palm Coast Marina gathered with a group of cruisers around a table with a gas fueled fire in the centre (great invention!). A wonderful camaraderie developed through the sharing of stories, jokes and travel tips. Several of the others had travelled this path many times and we picked up lots of information about traveling to the Bahamas. One of the fellows, who had traveled all over the world in different boats, left shortly after us the next morning in his current boat Stern Mistress. He ended up following closely behind us for the entire day as we transited several bridges. More than one comment was elicited from the bridge tenders as we would call to request a bridge opening for Mistress followed a few moments later by one for Stern Mistress. Too bad the boat that was tied up near us in St Augustine hadn’t been travelling with us that day as well. We could have then requested openings for Sea Mistress, then Mistress followed by Stern Mistress...
A few days later we met up in Titusville with Scott from Airagon Stryder. He was heading out early the next morning to fly home to Vermont for a couple of months and we helped him to celebrate his last day on the boat with a farewell dinner on Mistress. In the morning, long after Scott had left for the airport, we stepped out of our boat to head down the dock for showers, and found it so bizarre that the first boat we saw across the dock was called ‘Scott Free IV’! How strange, but apropos.
We had another strange coincidence in Vero Beach. Just before we arrived, Brad sent an e-mail to Jim, the boater from Hamilton who loaned us the charts we’ve been using for this trip, to let him know we were in Florida. We knew that he has a winter place somewhere in Florida, but didn’t realize it was just around the corner from where we were heading. Shortly after we tied up, we were so surprised to have Jim come by in his 27 ft. ‘winter’ sailboat to say hello.
The next day we thoroughly enjoyed lunch with Jim and his wife Barb on a restaurant patio at Waldo’s on the Beach overlooking the ocean. Not only are they very friendly folks, but they have done the trip to Bahamas a dozen times or so and had lots of info and practical advice to share. It was reassuring to have them confirm what we had been thinking lately ...there’s no need for us to keep rushing to the next destination on this trip. They reminded us that we need to take the time to enjoy where we are and wherever we end up going is where we should be. Vero Beach and any of the next stops now are beautiful destinations and getting to this point has been a wonderful accomplishment and an amazing trip. Their advice, especially as we sat on a beautiful summery day in December looking out over the ocean and beach, really made sense to us.
We had finally met up again with Lequesteau in Vero Beach and were rafted up to their boat for a few days. What a great place – mooring balls for $15 with use of the club facilities and a free shuttle bus into town and/or the beach. We enjoyed spending several days with Greig and Caroline and sharing stories over a few sundowners and dinners. They were busy with final provisioning for the Bahamas as they were going to grab the upcoming weather window of mild south winds to cross from Lake Worth on the weekend. We wanted to see further down the Florida coast before crossing so said farewell to them as we left to head to Fort Lauderdale. Hopefully our paths will cross again in the future!
The stretch south of Palm Beach is notorious for the plethora of bridges...some that open on the hour and half hour, then 2 miles along one that only opens on the :15 and :45. Not to mention the ones that are under construction and now only open once each hour, but not during certain hours...it gets confusing!!. It is impossible to get to each bridge in time for its scheduled opening and frequently we were held up waiting our turn in a line of circling boats. We finally decided that we might as well relax, enjoy floating around and watching the other boats, houses, look for manatees while waiting. We also learned to plan for much closer anchorages at the end of each day.
We spent several nights in Fort Lauderdale – five tied up along a wall in New River right in the heart of the downtown area and then four anchored in Middle River surrounded by multi-million dollar estates. In New River we were within walking distance to just about everything through the riverfront pathway as soon as we stepped off the boat. It was also like Grand Central Station on the water with a continual line of sunset cruise boats, huge yachts with Christmas decorations, free water trolleys and water taxis going by the boat. A couple of days, between the traffic, current and the wind picking up – our boat was really rocking! Thankfully, everything calmed down at night...this was quite a unique setting for us.
We had another strange coincidence shortly after we moved to anchor in Middle River. We would take our dinghy into the town dock at a nearby park and then a short walk to the Starbucks, grocery store or the Fort Lauderdale buses. One day as we were leaving the dock another couple came by slowly in their dinghy and asked us if we were from Mistress. They were from the boat Wind O the Wisp and we had followed and chatted on the radio with them a couple of months ago. They have a much shallower draft than us and were so helpful guiding us along a very shallow stretch of water in South Carolina. It was great to finally meet them and hear about some of their journeys through the 12 years that they’ve been traveling on their boat.
Miami is only about 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale, and we decided to rent a car and take a leisurely drive down the coast to see it, South Beach and Key Biscayne on Christmas Day. Frequently through the day we were driving parallel to the ICW or across some of the bridges that we would have gone under – and found it interesting to recognize the ICW buoys, anchorages and marinas along this route. South Beach is a trendy area with miles of beaches, unique architecture and great restaurants, bars and cafes lining the coastal highway. Key Biscayne, a much more natural setting, is accessed through a state park that feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of Miami. We stopped for lunch overlooking a small lake (that is also one of the ICW anchorages), had a few calls and video chats with family back home and thoroughly enjoyed the day. We’ve been enjoying traveling on the boat, but it was nice to have this change in our journey.
When we headed to Fort Lauderdale, we weren’t sure if we were going to cross to the Bahamas from there or return to Palm Beach. But it didn’t seem that a good weather window for crossing was going to be open for a while, so once we felt we’d seen enough of that area, we decided to return to Palm Beach and cross at some point from here. We’ve been tracking the weather patterns and when we do cross it will be with a better understanding of the cycles. We’ve crossed off most of the items on our lists for provisioning food and boat parts. There are more grocery stores in the islands these days and you won’t starve if you don’t bring it with you - but you might go bankrupt eating and drinking as some things (eg beef, paper products, water, beer) are quite expensive there. It has been interesting trying to figure out how much of everything we typically use in a week (and then multiply X 8).
We’ve been anchored in Lake Worth for a few days and have discovered the Palm Beach Sailing Club which reminds us of LSYC. We dinghy over each day to use the showers, clubhouse and WIFI and even joined them for their Friday night dinner (much smaller turnout than LSYC!). We are becoming experts (usually) on figuring out the public transit system and have found our way to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, the Boat Owner’s Warehouse, a 30 ft sand castle Christmas tree and even a TD bank. We won’t be crossing for at least a week given the recent weather forecasts, but that’s ok with us. We know that what we are seeing and experiencing now will be a stark contrast to the next couple of months. So we’re just enjoying our time here with no time table, agenda or pressure to go anywhere or do anything - just spending time in the moment is wonderful!
Georgia on My Mind
10 December 2014 | St Augustine FL
Warm the Cool
What an amazing and interesting leg of the trip Georgia was! We had read and heard many warnings and opinions along the way about how difficult, shallow and unmaintained most of the 140 mile ICW stretch is through Georgia and that all or part of it should be avoided by going out to the Atlantic. But, we decided to continue on the ICW and are so glad that we were able to experience this amazing state.
There were challenges and we had to become diligent in timing our travels with the tides to make sure there was ample water to transit several well-known shallow water sections (eg, 2-3 ft deep at low tide). That said, we only saw a handful of those areas and had plenty of water (10-20 ft) elsewhere. We also saw Georgia’s beautiful scenery and met some great folks along the way.
Much of the ICW path through Georgia follows meandering rivers and creeks surrounded by natural shoreline with only a few pockets of modern development. There’s very little boat traffic other than the odd shrimp boat with its long arms and nets either up in the air at rest or down for the day’s catch. Our first night was in the serene, secluded Bull Creek, a great anchorage just off the main path that would have been perfect except for the heavy rain and strong winds that blew all night! But Mr. Rocna did his job once again and stayed set in the mud.
It was still pouring the next morning, (we would have been calling for Noah if we weren’t already on a boat) but we decided to leave early anyway as we wanted to catch high tide in a few stretches ahead where the water was skinny. That 7-8 ft tide can make all the difference! We easily got through those sections and then stopped by early afternoon when the tide was getting too low to help with the next challenging stretch. Having a better understanding of how to use high tide rising to get through shallow waters will definitely help us in the Bahamas!
We tied up a few miles outside of Savannah at the Morningstar Marina in Thunderbolt. Although it was our first time at one of these marinas, we were given gold status at the chain, with fuel and dock discounts, loaner cars etc (not sure how we qualified but we’ll take it).
Once we were settled, the rain let up and just as we were trying to figure out the best way to get to Savannah (the loaner car wasn’t there) someone knocked on the boat. Joe, from the Hinckley Sloop down the dock, introduced himself and offered us his new jeep for the afternoon. He suggested the best route into downtown Savannah and local grocery stores as well as a side trip through the infamous Bonaventure Cemetery.
What a beautiful city Savannah is! Its layout is almost like a checkerboard as it was built around 24 square parks – each surrounded by various architectural styles representing its 300 year history. There was so much to see in just a few hours – from the Factor’s Walk with restaurants and shops built out of old warehouses along the Savannah River to the City Market of galleries, shops and pubs on closed off streets where folks are invited to walk around with a cocktail (no temperance movement here)! We drove through the immense Bonaventure Cemetery (featured in the movie ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’). It was very eerie with huge drooping trees and ancient tombstones and would be fascinating to walk through and explore – but only in daylight!
The next morning we were ready to leave at high tide to get through the nearby Hell’s Gate and Mud River, one of the shallowest sections of the ICW. There were forecasts of afternoon thunderstorms with possibly up to 60 kt winds and we were trying to decide if we should leave for an early day run or not. Our decision was helped when a marina near Mud River that we had contacted earlier, called us back saying the fog was so thick he couldn’t see the ICW 100 yards away (gotta love local knowledge and southern hospitality rolled into one). But we did continue with our plans to anchor that night and went around the corner to Herb Creek, advertised as a local hurricane hole. While we waited for the storm, surprisingly the sun came out, the wind dropped and we enjoyed 80 F for an hour or so. This was followed by torrential rains and 40 kt winds - not the forecasted 60 kt but enough to get our attention!
We continued on through Mud River the next day and everything went fine...until the engine started to falter off and on that afternoon. Luckily, even though it seemed that we were in the middle of nowhere, there was a little marina, Kilkenney within a couple of miles. We couldn’t believe that it could be the fuel pump again (we had just replaced it in upper NY) – but it was! Thankfully, the owner of the marina knew a mechanic who was not only able to find a replacement pump, but willing to drive a couple of hours at the end of the day to pick it up, bring it to the boat and install it.
We were soon approaching the most challenging and notoriously shallow section of the ICW - Jekyll Creek, Georgia. We had been advised that although we could probably manage transiting the other areas, we should seriously consider avoiding this section by doing an outside run from St. Simon Sound, GA to Fernandina, Florida (about 30 miles). We planned to do that until the day we arrived at St. Simon’s with unforecast 38 kt winds. It was US Thanksgiving Day and we knew that no staff would be available to help us dock because of the holiday. We were concerned about how difficult it might be to dock as the blowing winds would be pushing us off the dock while the strong flooding current would be pulling us forward. Thankfully, there were a few other boats on the transient dock and the boating community is amazing! Many hands were there and helped make a challenging situation much easier. It was so reassuring as we approached to hear one of the fellows say, ‘It’s all good - we got ya’. We followed in kind and joined the crew to help the next several boats as they arrived – everyone had experiences to share once they were secured to the jetty. Later we enjoyed a ‘makeshift’ Thanksgiving dinner with Scott, our American friend from Airagone Stryder.
The winds continued overnight and the resulting swells meant that it would be an uncomfortable day for traveling down the Atlantic. So after talking to other boaters and the dock staff, a group of us headed down the ICW for the ‘dreaded’ Jekyll Island transit. Once again, timing was everything - the 2/3 rising tide not only gave us the depth we needed but had us trucking along at 7kts for a good portion of this leg.
Soon we were bidding farewell to Georgia and hello to Florida! There’s no mistaking Florida along the ICW. It seemed that as soon as we crossed the state line, speed boats began whizzing by, the shore filled with huge resort-like homes and fancy docks and the weather turned much warmer.
We anchored out a couple of nights before finally reaching St. Augustine harbour. We could have arrived a day earlier, but by mid-afternoon as we were about 10 miles away from the harbour, the current started to change and our speed was dropping. It was going to be pretty tight to make sure we arrived before sunset (which comes very early these days!) and there was a lift bridge that only opened every ½ hour just before the marina. We decided to make it an easier day so found a side river to anchor in and enjoyed the sunshine as it warmed up the cockpit. It was also great to know that we only had a short trip ahead.
The next morning as we cleared the fixed bridge from the ICW to St. Augustine, it was terrible to see a boat washed up on the beach at the harbour entrance from the ocean. What a heart wrenching experience that must have been for the captain and crew. The ocean forecast that morning was fog and 8 -10 ft waves with a 7 second interval. The ride onto the beach would have been a violent one that couldn’t be avoided if the captain had missed an aid to navigation on the way into the harbour. We weren’t sure how much damage was done to the boat, but later that afternoon (at high tide), it was finally towed off.
St. Augustine is a quaint town steeped in old world culture and architecture as ’the nation’s oldest city’ (as the radio stations continually remind us). Much of the historic waterfront area is definitely aimed at tourists with side streets full of shopping, pubs, restaurants, and every imaginable tour. It’s an easy town to get around with lots to see and do within walking distance of the waterfront and anything else (eg grocery stores and outlet malls) is a $1 local bus ride away.
It’s funny how through this trip we meet up with some folks at unexpected places and times along the way! We met up again here with Julie and Dwayne from Boom de Yada. They’re from Oakville and we met in Annapolis, then Lady’s Island Marina, SC and now here. It’s fun catching up with them to share experiences and get to know them better. Each time, we’ve left with very different departure days and route plans and then days or weeks later end up unexpectedly in the same place at the same time! They were recuperating from a challenging night with engine problems during an overnight run in the ocean – thankfully it all ended ok and they are now on their way again. Who knows where we’ll see them next!
We hope to meet up with Scott from Airagone Stryder in Titusville before he catches a plane back to Burlington Vt to spend Christmas with his wife. We don’t think we’ll catch up with Nick (and his cat Wilbur) from Arden as they were heading to the Gulf Coast for a side trip home before continuing on their journey around the world. Greig and Caroline from Lequesteau are further south down the Florida coast – maybe we’ll see them down that way or the Bahamas – who knows!
We’re staying in St. Augustine for 10 days or so. The first couple of nights were on a mooring ball in a busy marina just beside the historic downtown area. This was a great location – only $20/night with a free shuttle to the dock and a free pumpout boat (that comes to you!). The other nights we’ve paid a bit more ($1/ft) to be on a dock at Riverside Edge, a smaller marina up San Sabastian River around the corner from the harbour. We wanted to be at a dock so that the boat (and Maureen) will be secure and comfortable while Brad goes back to Toronto to close up the house and make sure everything is good until we return in April.
St. Augustine has been a great stopover and a good introduction to Florida. It’s a beautiful city – but what we’ve enjoyed the most is the summery weather for most of the week. Mid 70s and sunshine – now that’s more like what we signed up for on a trip south!!
Highs and Lows in ‘Lowcountry’
28 November 2014 | 31 25.000N 81 25.000W
Southport Marina, NC near Cape Fear - first real docks in several weeks (usually pilings or small wooden docks) in a quaint town that has been the site of several TV and movie shoots such as On Oak Island, Weekend at Bernie's and most recently Nicholas Spark's Safe Haven. The best part was the seminar run each evening by Hank, a retired naval meteorologist to share the most current information, warnings and weather considerations for navigating notoriously challenging sections of the ICW. Invaluable especially as we were soon approaching several areas and shoals where there's less than 6' of water in low tide (we draw 6').
Remembrance Day - Caroline from Lequesteau called us all on the radio at 11:00 to read a reflection commemorating those who served at sea...very touching and memorable from our recently retired Navy friends - thank you to all who served!
Leland Oil Co, McClellanville, SC - small marina with large commercial shrimp boats and small fishing boats. Quaint little town with beautiful old houses and oak trees up to 1000 yrs old (many wearing the flowing Spanish Moss beards). Bought fresh shrimp near the docks and were later given freshly filleted fish (with details on how to cook it) from some of the young fishermen we had fun chatting with about country music and comparing sail and fishing boats - speed, fuel use, travel distances etc.
Lady's Island Marina, Beaufort, SC - 'over the top' helpful and friendly folks managing the marina and arranging group gatherings for dinner at local pub (aka Riverside 2), meeting up with Boomdeyada (from Oakville) and Linda Bryant (from Burlington sailing &boating club).
Food - so many delicious, reasonably priced meals. Our recent favorites are:
• McCellandville - fresh fish; W. Graham restaurant dinner of fried oysters, shrimp, okra and sweet potato fries
• Fillin' Station, Beaufort SC - $5 for 2 BBQ pork chops, scalloped potatoes, beans, corn and $10 steak, baked potato, corn (each more than enough for two)
• Pearlz Oyster Bar, Charleston - steamed oysters (opened through Brad's recently learned shucking talent), fresh made potato chips (still hot) and a fish taco that was out of this world.
Weather - sunny days with temperatures mid 70s - 80s in early November eg, sitting around the pool in shorts and sandals at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club (despite its name there was no beach in sight). Of course there was no one else around the pool, it was mainly for a photo-op to share with snowed in friends back home (sorry guys!) and the warm weather did bring the bugs out (that's a low).
Touring Yorktown in Charleston (see previous post)
Amazingly helpful, friendly folks, such as the shuttle drivers (Henry and Mac) in Charleston who frequently drove us to locations off their regular routes and the small independent hardware store in Beaufort that provided free replacement part to honor the warranty for an unseen Honda generator.
Dolphins and more dolphins - although they are a daily occurrence, we never get tired of seeing them...and have noticed they'll often surface when we're trying to get through challenging spots.
Tidal ranges of 8-9 feet - we're learning how to use the tides to plan our daily runs and navigate through notoriously difficult sections of the ICW.
Weather - unusually cold temperatures (eg below freezing for a couple of nights)
Getting stuck in the mud twice recently - once while we were following local advice to avoid notorious shoaling spots and another time when we were in the marked channel moving slowing with the current waiting for a bridge opening (thank you once again, Lequesteau ...or is it 'Request - tow')
Extremely narrow 'cuts' with continually shifting shoals such as Elliott Cut, Ashepoo Cutoff, Rockpile and the upcoming Hell's Gate and Jekyll Creek.
As we reflect on all of this, it looks like there have been many more memorable highs in the 'lowlands'. We're now going to be traveling through Georgia, Florida and the Bahamas and look forward to finding the highs and lows they have waiting for us.
Brrr...Arctic arrives south!
19 November 2014 | Charleston, SC
It's Nov 19th and was 25 last night...and that's farenheit not celcius! Thankfully we have a little heater, extra blankets and some winter clothes on the boat (and were able to buy longjohns yesterday). Who knew Alaskan winds would be heading south with us?!
We're in a marina in the busy harbour of Charleston, SC and have been here for four nights. It's one of the more expensive places we've stayed and we thought we'd be here for only a night or two. But, since arriving have had extremely strong winds, rain, fog, and now a deep freeze. We've decided that it's worth the extra costs to stay in order to be safe and warm. It's supposed to warm up just a bit today, but is sunny and not as windy so should be better for traveling and anchoring out.
Just a side note with our thoughts about anchoring vs staying in marinas along this trip. So far we've stayed in marinas far more than we've anchored out. That ratio will change significantly when we get to the Bahamas. Each day, we consider the route, tides, weather conditions and the options ahead for staying overnight (called Plans A, B, C & sometimes D). We have enjoyed some beautiful, peaceful anchorages but most days, feel it is worth the $30-55 to be able to tie up to a dock (or pilings), plug the boat in, use the facilities (showers, laundry) and have a chance to meet folks and explore the little towns along the way. We know of several boats that anchor out most nights and only pull into marinas to fuel up or to stay over in extremely bad weather. This trip can be done in many different ways with very different experiences and expenses along the way.
The marina we're at in Charleston is quite unique in that it is linked with the resort next door and we can use the resort facilities. We've taken the free shuttle several times to visit the historic downtown area, shops and friends at another marina. There's also a beautiful pool, hot tub and sandy beach - too bad it's been too cold to do much beyond scurry past those on our way back to the boat!
We're also moored within a few hundred meters of the Yorktown. Brad took a tour of the war memorial at our bow and walked through an aircraft carrier, submarine and a destroyer. The films that played throughout the ships provided an interesting spin about boats that were commissioned in 1943-45. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see the size of the 3 ships and imagine how the crew lived. He was able to sit in the space craft, (Apollo was picked up by the Yorktown) and some of the fighters, tour the engine room and bridge deck. It was interesting to walk on the flight deck and see the planes as well as the cable that stopped them when they landed. He managed to keep his 'head down for most of the things that can smack you, but not all of the bulkheads were missed by my noggin'.
The other boats we've been traveling with left yesterday for Beaufort, SC - a two day trip with only anchorages in between. They are much hardier than us and didn't mind anchoring on the coldest night for this area. We're leaving today and will join them tomorrow on mooring balls in Beaufort. The currents are strong through this next part so it's best for us to leave during slack or flood tide, which will be around 11:30 today (much later than we'd usually head out).
The sun is shining and there's little wind so the cockpit enclosure should be pretty comfortable. We plan to stop these days by 4:00 or 4:30 as sunset is earlier and we always like to leave a little 'wiggle room' as we're never sure how fast we'll be traveling. With the changing currents our speed can vary from up to 7 kts to barely 4. It's not supposed to be as freezing tonight, but will be cold - we'll be running the heater off our new generator - hope that works and isn't too noisy! We'll add a blog later about some of our experiences from Swansboro to Charleston (eg Myrtle Beach, going aground X2) ...stay tuned and stay warm!
Carolinas and soon beyond
18 November 2014 | Charleston SC
Nov 18, 2014
We're in South Carolina - and the last couple of weeks seem like a blur as we try to recall some of the steps, folks and stops along the way.
Lamb's Marina just outside of Elizabeth City, NC was a great place for shelter during the overnight storm. But the next morning, the water level was 3 feet lower and we were firmly stuck in the mud. Although this was a non tidal area, the storm winds had sucked the water out of the marina basin. Once again, a reminder of the power of nature and especially a storm!
So we spent the next couple of days catching up on laundry and chores on the boat and sharing stories with the other boaters - those also travelling south and those who lived there. We hadn't planned to stay at Lamb's, especially for three nights, but it was a great stop (or stuck). It was $30 a night with free use of a loaner car, and had an amazing restaurant, friendly folks and a captain's lounge with laundry and showers. Other marinas charge $1.50 or more per ft and then add $5 to use the power at the dock. Bill, the dock master was a wonderful guy who not only loved to share stories and jokes, but also whatever he had (e.g., cap for fuel can) and wouldn't take anything for it.
Since then we've been traveling with two other boats that are being single handed - 'Airagon Strider' with Scott and 'Arden' with Nick (and Wilbur the cat). Scott is taking his boat to Florida to then be joined by his wife; Nick is beginning his dream of sailing around the world. Scott had some fuel issues so they needed to stay at Lamb's a few hours later than us on the day we finally were leaving. We planned where we'd meet up either later that day or the next, and we headed out to begin traveling down the Alligator River.
There are several bridges along this journey. Many are tall enough for us to travel under, but the smaller ones either open at certain times (eg. every hour) or when called on the radio by each boat going through. We usually hear the boats one after another politely requesting an opening and then thanking the bridge tender when through. The first bridge that day was the Alligator River Bridge. We cracked up when the boat ahead radioed the bridge tender, requested the lift, then added "I just want to say - see you later alligator." This was followed by a pause and then the reply from the bridge tender, "In a while, crocodile."
We anchored that night in the Alligator River, just off the ICW in a beautiful place with only 7 or 8 other boats and 100 yards between each of us. We enjoyed a brilliant sunset, followed by a quiet night and then a magnificent sunrise. The wake of a shrimp boat was a 06:00 rocking and rolling alarm clock - good thing we were already awake.
We traveled to Belhaven and stopped to fuel up and pump out at the first marina we passed. Why does it always have to blow 20 knots when we're docking and why are so many pump outs not working? This small marina, River Forest, was a hive of activity with a new owner of two weeks affecting repairs, renovations and dock improvements after multiple years of hurricane damage and neglect.
Once we fueled up, we carried on down the channel to meet up with Lequesteau at a free dock they had read about on Active Captain (worth downloading for information and recommendations along the way!). There weren't any amenities at these docks, so we wandered down to the main marina in town (Belhaven Waterway Marina) and asked if we could pay to use their shower. We knew there was a possibility they wouldn't let us, but after a night at anchor thought it would be worth a try. We didn't expect their abrupt response that their showers are only for paying customers - so much for southern hospitality. We continued walking until we were back at River Forest Marina and asked there if we could buy a shower. The owner immediately agreed, even apologized that the showers were under repair and refused to take any money. Our faith in southern hospitality was restored. We'll definitely stop back in here to stay at their updated facilities in the spring - and add a glowing review on Active Captain - the other marina not so much.
The other two boats, Arden and Airagon Strider finally caught up with us in Belhaven and early the next morning all 4 boats were off the dock in a conga line heading for Oriental NC. As usual we started out motoring - but finally were able to sail for a while. The quiet was deafening but wonderful (how do you spell 'aahhh!!!') until we made the turn in the channel and back to 'head to wind' motoring.
The forecast 15 kt winds with 20 kt gusts were somewhat understated and the 20-30 kt winds made the last few hours of the ride and our entrance to Oriental harbour pretty bouncy. We had planned to either anchor or stay at the town docks, but there weren't any logical or safe places left to anchor and the town docks were full when we arrived. Thankfully there were some spots available on the face wall of the harbour marina. It took many helping hands to make sure everyone had a safe landing as the wind forcefully blew each boat into the wall. Oriental was a pleasant little place, but it was a bit underwhelming especially as it is advertised as the 'sailing capital of the Carolinas.'
Our next stop was Moorehead City - and when we pulled into the marina to fuel up and arrange to stay for a night or two, Danard, the elderly owner of the marina made a point of learning our names, thanking us for the business, telling a story or two, then walking us back to the boat. More southern hospitality!
The next day was a stationary day that we used for maintenance, cleaning, laundry and provisioning. Thanks to Greig's friend, Sean who lives in Morehead City, we finally got the motor hoist we bought at the Annapolis Boat Show, thank you Garhaur. What an amazing piece of gear! It's installed and working - just needs to be fine tuned a bit and we will be golden. Scott was anchored just across from our docks and Brad and Greig took the dinghy over to help repair his depth sounder.
That day was also the Veterans Day parade in town. What a huge turnout and an amazing line up of floats, vehicles, etc. for this relatively small town. Amazing how these folks honored the members of the military that served; it was heart warming to see the support and ovations that the WW2, Korean, Vietnam and current vets got as they went by.
We had been hearing about the impending Alaska cold front with 20 degrees below normal temperatures a week or so away and were trying to put as many miles south as we could. So the next day we headed out early for Swansboro, NC. On the way, dolphins swam past the boat on several occasions - what a great sight, especially as we weren't expecting to see them in the small rivers along the ICW.
We tied up at Dudley's Marina for 0.75 a foot - it wasn't fancy but was once again, a friendly place with helpful folks and an interesting combination of boat yard, gas station and marine/fishing store (with many things you don't need but might be good to have). We got a ride in the loaner truck into the nearby town of Swansboro and were surprised to see it all decked out for Christmas on Nov 8th! We meandered around the touristy shops for a while, then stopped at an outdoor patio to have some appetizers while overlooking the waterway. On our walk back to the marina, we passed several pelicans sunning on nearby pilings. Pelicans and dolphins are becoming our other regular companions along this leg of our journey.