November 21, 2002
It's been a while since I've entered the log here. We sailed down the Chesapeake to Norfolk VA, and began the long trip down the ICW on October 30th, right according to plan. At this point we have passed VA, NC, SC and GA and are in the northernmost town in Florida: Fernandina Beach, FL.
After Crisfield in the Chesapeake we went to nearby Tangier Island for a night. Amazing fishing village all built on very low marshy land. The crab shacks line the channel into the town and are built right on the water. Most things were closed but we tied to the marina for a night and walked all around the island.
We wanted to make it the 60 miles down the Chesapeake to Norfolk in two days so we picked a spot halfway down on Mobjack Bay for the night. Quiet with few houses and a beautiful salt marsh. The next day we sailed the remaining 30 miles down to Norfolk.
Back in Civilization for a day, which ended up being three nights waiting for a big front that brought 3 cold rainy days. So we ducked between the rain to explore Norfolk and then Portsmouth across the channel. Norfolk is a big city with stores, theaters and great restaurants. By the morning of Nov. 30th we had a clearing forecast, waited for the morning rain to clear and headed down the ICW. Our anchorage in Portsmouth was conveniently and symbolically at mile 0 of the ICW: 1080 to go in 50 months. That's about 22 miles a day average not including stops, visits and waiting for weather.
10/30 - 11/1 Dismal Swamp Canal, VA to NC
The Dismal Swamp Canal route was spectacular! Most of the canal was a straight run between treed banks only 80 feet apart. There were two locks on the canal that raised us up 8'. The locks were on a schedule so they tended to bring a batch of ICW cruisers together. Also there is only one dock in the canal at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center so we rafted up with some friends we had met and met some new friends. In the morning it was so cold I was able to make a snow ball from the frost on the cockpit seats. Brrrr.. In some areas the trees are so overgrown that I had to steer the boat to miss their branches with the mast. I pulled a few leaves off some trees with the rigging. But all in all the canal was beautiful and gave us a hint of the nature we'd see on the ICW.
11/1 Elizabeth City, NC
Elizabeth City is at the south end of the Dismal Swamp Canal and the beautiful winding river. There we tied up for a night and enjoyed the town's hospitality: the town dock is free there and every night they throw a wine and cheese party for the arriving boats. There we met Steve, Kate and Helen on Shanty. We spent quite a few days after sailing and anchoring with Steve and Helen. Kate was done with her crew time at Elizabeth City and was headed for the Boston area to live. Whiskey Dream was also there and our three crews enjoyed a dinner and movie together.
The next day we sailed across Albemarle sound to the Alligator River Marina for a night. There are a few open sounds in NC and we were to pass several. Next day we traversed the Alligator - Pungo Canal which was very beautiful.
We anchored one night in the small town of Belhaven, then a night in lovely Eastham Creek, then Broad Creek for two nights waiting for a front with strong north-westerlies to pass. Broad creek is a tricky entrance, especially for our 6' draft. We bumped the bottom on the way out. We stopped for a mid-day in Oriental NC, then to Cedar Creek, then through the Adams Creek Canal to Beaufort, NC where we met Annie and Sarah for a day. They made the long drive from the western part of NC for a visit. We had a great Friday evening and Saturday day. The weather threatened to get messy with strong thunderstorms and possible tornadoes the next few days so we said good-bye to Annie and Sarah and headed to Mile Hammock Bay which is part of the marine base there. Next day to Wrightsvile beach where we tied to a marina for the night. The next day we tried to go to Carolina State Beach Marina but there wasn't enough water for our 6' draft. so despite the threatening weather we headed for Cape Fear River and Southport for the night. We got rained on quite a bit those two days and hit by one big squall, but the ICW protection is good even in heavy winds. Our buddies from Ontario got hit by a 60 knot gust and grounded in the ICW until a friendly trawler helped get them off.
Our welcome to South Carolina was a free dock at the Barefoot Landing, near Myrtle Beach. Great outlet mall with restaurants, theater, a House of Blues, and a nature preserve area. Then to lovely Georgetown and a stop at the Big Tuna raw bar. Then to a secluded creek, then to Charleston where we spent two nights. It was pretty rainy, but we got into town to enjoy the beautiful homes and to shop and eat a bit.
In one of the creeks we stopped with Shanty's crew Steve and Helen, who taught me to use a dip net to fish for shrimp. After about an hour we each caught two shrimp. A local fisherman came by and felt sorry for us and donated a couple of buckets of shrimp and a bucket of blue crabs! We ate really well that night. Steve says that the strategy of attempting to fish and having the locals feel sorry for you works in many places.
Then to another secluded creek and to Beaufort SC. The homes there are also beautiful with live oak trees and Spanish moss everywhere. At Beaufort we had a decent weather window to sail outside (in the ocean) to Fernandina Beach Fl on one overnight sail.
Georgia: OOOPS we missed it.
We went outside to the ocean just once since New Jersey: 125 nM from Beaufort SC to Fernandina Beach FL in one 22 hour sail. This saved several days of motoring and we got to sail quite a bit. We arrived at 6 am this morning and the troops are recovering today from staying up most of the night. The conditions were a bit rough with 15+ knots out of the NE and some 6'+ waves, but once we got the rhythm it was OK. We mostly did it to earn a few layover days in St Augustine FL.
So what is the ICW like?
The ICW is pretty amazing. Most of it is isolated with salt marshes, swamps, cedar swamps, and forests. Then there are areas with homes, fishing villages, marinas of course, and some cities, some industry. The boat traffic is mostly power and sailboats heading south, but lots of weekend boat traffic, tugs and barges in some sections, and lots of commercial fishing boats, both large and small.
But mostly it's 1100 miles of nature, which we have all greatly enjoyed. Birds everywhere, fish, dolphins jumping nearby, turtles, occasional water mammals, deer....
Sailing the ICW is mostly motoring at 5-6 knots. The currents vary a lot and the best you can do is guess them. Sometimes we get a big boost, sometimes we're slowed way down. Simply passing a minor inlet to the ocean can change the boat speed 1-2 knots. The tide varies from 1' inland NC to 8' in Georgia. Our typical day is 35 miles with a handful of 40 mile and one 50 mile day so far.
Navigating is 99% sailing from mark to mark and staying in the channel. The ICW is very well marked. In some places we play "Find the channel" by motoring from side to side to find the deepest part. So far we have run aground a few times, mostly entering and leaving harbors or trying to find depth for anchoring swing room. We ran aground once on the ICW taking a corner too tight. But so far we can either back off or run out an anchor to deeper water and 'kedge off' by pulling the boat with one of the cockpit winches. We hand steer sometimes but mostly we let "Otto" steer and keep adjusting his course to stay in the channel. This can be dangerous: more than once we've come close to a mark while on autopilot. Oops!
We try to anchor out as much as possible and most anchorages are very secluded. The past few days we have anchored in creeks in salt marshes with no civilization visible for miles and miles. Breathtaking.
The people? Sooooo friendly. Since Delaware we have met the nicest, most friendly people everywhere: Maryland, VA and all the southern states. Something we staid New Englanders aren't used to.
Since Oct 30, we motored nearly every day we could including some with thunderstorms or strong winds predicted. For 24 days we didn't sail on only three days: two for rough weather and one for a visit from my sister Annie. This is a bit of a burnout rate. I suggest a couple of more layover days in the nicer places.
The weather? Colder than we'd like, we wear mostly jeans, sox and sweatshirts, with an occasional cold day where more layers are needed. we arrived at the Chesapeake we have worn shorts only a few days, but here in Florida it is definitely warmer.
Our plan is to take 2 layover days here in Fernandina Beach FL to rest and catch up school and wait for another front to pass, then to St Augustine and then leave the boat there 4 days over the Thanksgiving holiday while we rent a car and visit Amy and her family near Orlando.
12/15/02 Jensen Beach FL
Thanksgiving at Amy's house in Apopka was great! Amy, Jeny and Susie were great hostesses and we relaxed, shopped and ate much turkey. We left the boat at a funky marina just south of St Augustine and rented a car for a few days. Enterprise is amazing: they pick you up, drop you off, and have the lowest rates by far.
We worked our way south on the ICW from St Augustine to New Smyrna. On the way there we called Julie and Jose Valle who moved recently to Florida, and sure enough we would be close enough that night to meet them all for dinner in New Smyrna! It was great to see old friends. Then to Titusville, then to Cocoa where we met "Shanty" and "Whiskey Dream". Mom and Aunt Phyllis flew to Florida to meet us for a day and then to visit with Phyllis' kids and grandkids in Eustis FL. We had a great time checking out Cocoa and spent Friday at Kennedy doing the complete tour. Just amazing. Then we stayed in Cocoa to spend time with Steve and Helen and with George and Leslie while the Cocoa Holiday Crafts fair was on.
We left Cocoa and headed to Vero Beach, affectionately known as Velcro Beach because people tend to get stuck in this lovely, convenient, cheap, and comfortable place. We stayed for 5 days and did our provisioning for the Bahamas while there. The town has cheap moorings and rafts up 3 wide typically, but the protection is excellent there. A free bus will take you to to the beach and to the shopping areas. We had Michelle's birthday there and met several other cruisers of the 100+ boats that were there. Great place.
Now we're in Jensen beach, a bit of a beach/party town, for one night, and getting ready to head for Lake Worth to wait for the right weather to cross over to West End on Grand Bahama Island! There we plan to meet the Garsides in Freeport for Christmas. The 'wait for weather' is frustrating since it can be weeks before the right conditions happen: southerly winds
12/20/02 Ft Lauderdale FL
We sailed to Fort Lauderdale to try and make a short "Weather Window" and sail to the Bahamas today. But alas, it was not to be. Here is the tale:
Our magic day to get ready to cross to the Bahamas is 12/15. We figured it could take a week to get a "weather window" to cross over, and want to be in Freeport by 12/23 to spend Christmas with the Garsides. What is a weather window? This time of year the winds are predominantly northerlies and strong easterlies. The northerlies (anything from NW to NE) will kick up dangerous waves in the gulf stream which flows north at about 4 knots. And easterlies are on-shore from Florida with 50+ miles to kick up chop and waves. Also the course to the Bahamas is almost due east when you compensate for the current in the gulf stream. Strong south-easterlies are also bad. So that leaves southerlies, south westerlies and westerlies. The winds tend to clock around clockwise and the time between a southerly and a north-westerly can be as little as one day. Add the fact that you need to be in the Bahamas before dark, and the window of opportunity can be very small indeed. As we started to meet others doing the ICW to the Bahamas trip we learned that some years the weather window can take weeks, and some people even give up on the Bahamas and sail the Florida Keys.
So we made it to Lake Worth (Palm Beach) on Dec. 15th. Many sail from there to West End on Grand Bahama because it's the shortest direct path. But there was no window forecast until last night, the 19th, and it was a narrowing time window. And it was from the south and SW mostly, so we sailed the extra 60 miles south to Ft Lauderdale to take advantage of it. Every day this week forecast 15 knots from the south then SW then West, then by night the NW. Short but perfect. We and several other boats planned to leave at 3 AM last night. But the wind which had been 20 knots SE for days, didn't shift until after midnight. And it didn't moderate, staying 20+ knots. The seas were forecast 3-5 feet but were higher because of 3 days of strong SE winds. A few boats bailed out. We decided to head out and see what it was like, then either go or return. We headed out the channel, got 2 miles past the sea buoy, and a few larger waves crashed into the cockpit. Too much. Other boats were heading back, one with a ripped mainsail. We headed back in. Now we're here wondering how to get together with the Garsides for Christmas. And when we'll get a window for the crossing.
Meanwhile the trip south from Vero Beach was nice. South of Vero, the 120 mile long and quite wide Indian River ends and the ICW narrows. It turns from a mix of nature and houses to mostly houses (big ones!) on both sides. The density of bridges that need to be opened for us increases from 2-3 a day to 7-8 a day. The day after Vero Beach we stopped at the town of Jensen Beach and enjoyed a Saturday afternoon walk thru a neat beach town. I found a great open air restaurant with a live bluegrass/rock band and ate some yummy shrimp there.
The next day we were in Lake Worth. On the way there we were part of a group of three sailboats waiting for bridges. I met a single-handed live-aboard working south on a nice traditional boat. As we were waiting for the last bridge I looked back to see major smoke coming out of his cockpit. We raced back to try and help and saw flames as his dodger caught fire! We thought his boat was a goner. The smoke was incredible. I dinghied over to lend him a couple of fire extinguishers, especially our large one, knowing that engine fires can take several to put out. He had anchored and I helped get lines from his boat to a nearby dock in the strong current so the fire department could reach him with hoses. He finally opened the engine hatch and put out the flames. By then the tow boat services, fire department and coast guard were there. We all felt bad about this poor guy's home being ruined. It was probably an electrical fire. We expect he'll have a long stay in a boat yard getting things fixed.
We stayed in Lake Worth two nights and headed down to Ft Lauderdale for the weather window. On the way we stopped at the anchorage in Boca Raton for a night. Then to the Municipal Marina at Ft Lauderdale. As we sailed south I gave Greg Harris a call. Greg picked us up, gave us a quick tour of Ft Lauderdale, and we went back to see his condo. His ocean view from the 9th floor is spectacular. Then we went to dinner that night and had a great time at one of his favorite spots on the New River. The next day was Alex's birthday and we met Greg for lunch. He drove us around for a few last pre-Bahamas and pre-Christmas errands and dropped us off early so we could get sleep before our 3am departure.
12/22/02 Ft Lauderdale FL
We decided that Christmas with the Garsides was too important to miss so we booked the same cruise from Ft Lauderdale to the Bahamas and back with the Garsides. We'll leave the boat at a mooring her and Mikey at a Kennel (We miss you already Mikey!!). And put off the crossing a week. We leave tomorrow morning 12/23 and return 12/27. Merry Christmas to all!!