After a really neat summer of cruising up the east coast, we have been headed south for a while. Like Jimmy Buffet, we need to be where the weather suites our clothes, so South past New York, South past the Chesapeake, and onward South around cape Hatteras.
Cape Hatteras is really the demarcation line between North and South for boaters. First, it is a monstrous obstacle sticking way out into the Atlantic. Known as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” you just don’t go there lightly. Second, it is where the Florida Current turns East and becomes the Gulf Stream. That means totally different weather in the colder waters above the Cape than the weather over the warmer waters below.
For our southern rounding this year we left Cape May on the northern lip of the Chesapeake and went all the way to Charleston, 3 days and 2 nights at sea. The weather agreed with our plans, and it was a long but completely uneventful passage. Once again in Southern waters, we spent a week in Charleston visiting old places, and making new friends.
We have done this whole trip “Outside”, in the open ocean, rather than using the Intercoastal Waterway. Country Dancer is a “marginal” boat for the ICW, being too high to fit under most bridges at any but low tide, and too deep to float through many channels at less than high tide. Although the ICW can be FAR more comfortable, we have chosen to avoid it for the higher speed and less nerve wracking open ocean….until now. Here we are in Charleston, basically anchored in the ICW, perhaps we should “run the ditch” for a while, just to see what it’s like. From here to the Florida border should be some of the really pretty stuff, and the bridges are much easier than they are further south.
So we left our anchorage and headed under the first bridge south. From here we begin to feel like Dorthy and Toto, following the yellow brick road to Oz, except we follow a magenta dotted line on our navigation charts that marks the course of the ICW. The further we go, the more the analogy takes hold….and the sillier we get. The bridges become flying monkeys trying to steal stuff off of our mast top, and every powerboat throwing a huge wake became the Wicked Witch of the West, trying to ruin our adventure. The first day we run in the company of “Saltine” a 38′ double ender sailboat also headed south. That night we anchored up a channel out in the middle of the salt marsh, and dropped our dinghies to go exploring. What a charming place. We went for over a mile and looked back across a wide open marsh of sea oats with only our two masts sticking into the skyline. We shared dinner and drinks with Scott and Donna and called it a night under a massive star scape.
In the morning, we pulled anchor before “Saltine” and, as we have dozens of times this year, left our new friends to travel our own way, hoping to meet them again somewhere. ( We did meet again in St Augustine). The ICW is an absolutely charming place here. You travel back and forth from open inlets on the ocean, back upstream miles and miles inland again, always following the Magenta Line. Some nights we anchor alone in areas that feel like they could be a thousand years ago, and others in harbors surrounded by multi-million dollar Mega Yachts glowing blue like some spaceship a thousand years from the future.
But by St Simmons inlet, a days sail north of the Florida border, I have had enough of Oz. Weaving back and forth, worrying about depth, and height, and lions and tigers and bears….oh my! We have to get back to the sea, where we can make some miles. From here, it’s a day sail to Fernandina Beach and Florida. We heard there is a big Cruisers Thanks Giving dinner in St Mary’s, across the river, so maybe we will stay for that?
With “stay”Ing someplace in mind, Jodi set out on a quest to find new bicycles. We had given away our two little ( too little) folding bikes in Portland Maine. On Craig’s list she found two nearly new mountain bikes that the owner would deliver to the marina. They are absolutely wonderful! For the whole trip,our range has been limited to a couple of miles from where ever we can dinghy too. Now we can travel around 8 miles and haul huge loads back from the grocery store. Our week in Fernandina was great, but old itchy feet just couldn’t sit in one spot until thanksgiving, so with the bikes tucked below, we head back to sea….and get turned back by seas and wind so heavy we are unable to get out the inlet! Back to follow, follow, follow the yel…magenta road.
Having only bumped bottom a couple of times, we were able to get to Jacksonville by early afternoon. Once across the St. John’s river, we are headed for St. Augustine. Of course, the height board on first bridge south of the river show 63′ so we are stopped again. Anchor down and wait for the tide. 2 1/2 hrs later, we have been joined by an English couple in a Hunter 46 named “Plan B” and the two of us pass under the bridge just as the boards show 65′. Three miles later we arrive at the “Atlantic Blvd” double bridge. There is a tremendous current running under the bridge, but “Plan B” shoots under without skipping a beat. We get straightened into the current and I reach to power up when Jodi yells “it’s only 64 feet”
Crap, I have our nose almost under the bridge, the current ahead looks like a minor rapids, and now we may not have clearance….crap again. There are two fishermen standing beside the bridge, so while I hold our position 1/2 under the bridge Jodi talks them into checking our clearance. They are sure we will be okay, so we ever so slowly ease under the span. We are going so slow, I can’t even hear the VHF antenna “ting, ting” along under the girders, but we made it. I add some power to climb the rapids under the second span and “clang” . Everything on the top of the mast is sheared off. Our fishermen look completely stunned, Jodi looks completely stunned, I look……like crap.
Once through the opening, Jodi looks back to see the height boards on this side of the bridge say 63 1/2′, almost a full foot
different than the boards on the north side. It take $700 to fix the damage from this “flying monkey”
We spent almost a full month in St. Augustine. Moorings were $20 per night, but your 7th night was free, and stay a month, your last week was free. I think we enjoyed every single day there.
We put our new bikes ashore, chained up to the bike rack in the excellent municipal marinas , and set up the boat for a visit from the grandkids for Thanksgiving. Even with 4 adults, 4 kids, and 2 1/2 dogs (Ragan is a BIG dog) we found places to sleep and eat and play. We walked old town and the fort, and the lighthouse, and had a grand time. The local cruisers net put on a pot luck turkey dinner, and probably 80-90 cruising sailors sat on the lawn swapping stories, plans and lies. Unquestionable one of the greatest times so far, and we plan to do this again!
The day after was naturally a little sad, as we said goodbyes, and got all those great big hugs from little tiny kids. Happy Holidays guys, we miss you already. Drive safe!
The the sadness doubled… someone cut our brand new cable, and stole our brand new bikes. We only hope it is some poor kids that get those nice bikes for Christmas, and not some druggy putting them up his nose.
In St. Augustine, we saw Joe on “Onward” again, and then “Beckoning”. In Ft Peirce, we met “Escapade” again, and meet a new 470 “Samvaro III”. Thats 4 470’s for a total of 17 we have seen this summer. We joined Escapade for the run down to West Palm Beach.
So here we are, 4 days before Christmas, in the warm again. I have work to finish before we leave the states, so we will probably be in our snug little anchorage for atleast another week, and then Country Dancer will add a new Country to her dance card. The Bahamas.