The Log of Moira

 

Florida, Georgia, and the IntraCoastal Waterway to Hilton Head (May - June 2010)

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These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>.

 

“Welcome Home”

 

Moira's Track, May-June 2010The order, precision, and wealth that are embodied by the United States come across clearly to those of us sailing into United States waters after a long absence. The navigation buoys, lights and day markers are exactly where the charts say they are. In addition, they are properly painted and lit with working lights, usually powered by small solar panels. While this may not seem unusual to the casual United States cruiser, to us—returning after six years in Central and South America—it was a fine and refreshing event. Navigation aids in South and Central America a few and far between and often do not work. It was good to be coming back with Moira.

 

Another novelty to our sailing after all these years was the US Coast Guard. As we entered the navigation system for Key West, a large USCG cutter was standing guard. While we did not see much of the Coast Guard from Key West to Norfolk, we heard them every day on the VHF radio. It is almost like a soap opera in the crowded waters of Florida, but I must admit it felt good to hear them. The countries we visited in the past six years had small navies, but there was little to help the cruiser in trouble. A good cruiser does not rely on the Coast Guard. Being self-reliant is a large part, perhaps a defining part, of the cruising experience. But it was good to know they were around in case of need. <Larry: These days, of course, the US sailor in trouble in US waters is more likely to be assisted, for a fee, by a commercial service such as TowBoat/US or SeaTow, a layer of infrastructure which is also absent in the Third World.>

 

Checking into our customs and immigration services was straightforward and not unpleasant. In preparing for our return to the US, we applied for and secured the required decal from the Department of Homeland Security late last year. The annual decal, which cost us $27.50, assigns a number to your boat that can be used to identify you to immigration. We called the USCG when we arrived in Key West, reported our arrival, and were told to present ourselves to immigration and customs within 24 hours. The next morning, we walked from the marina to the Federal building several blocks away and reported in. The process seemed like it would be easy until we were told that no cell phones were allowed in the building! Apparently this is a requirement of the federal courts in the building, not of immigration and customs. I am surprised that such a requirement hasn’t about shut the federal court system down. How do all those folks communicate?! So we went in one at a time, the other guarding the cell phone outside! The immigration and customs staff were courteous, professional, and welcoming to us. The attractive immigration officer greeted me by saying “Oh, you are the other half….I won’t say what your husband added!” In anticipation of an agricultural inspection, I had brought our fresh vegetables with us, including onions, cucumber and several jalapeño chiles. We ended up spending about twenty minutes going thorough the whole process, which resulted in the loss of the jalapeños but nothing else. Customs was not interested in taxing the new sail covers and awnings we had made in Mexico, and waved us though as they welcomed us back to the USA. No one had any interest in inspecting the boat. There was no interest in booze on board or meats. Our stocks of both were well under our usual amounts because others had warned us about possible customs duties (taxes).

 

<Larry: When one enters the waters of any country, one must fly a “Q” (yellow) flag indicating—among other things—that one has not yet properly cleared formalities, and we had ours flying as we came up the channel. Once through the process of clearing-in, one can take the flag down. In the hustle of the day, I forgot to take down our “Q” flag, and that afternoon, as I was tidying up Moira, a small posse of armed DHS men showed up at our bow and demanded to know when we proposed to clear in. Oops.>

 

Key West, Florida

 

The Coast Guard cutter identified Key West as American, but Key West carries the architecture and building habits of the tropics we had seen over the last six years, the difference being its affluence. Coming back into our “land of milk and honey,” the evidence of wealth and power and prosperity stands out. Key West, the southernmost port of entry to the continental United States, is 4.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, linked to the mainland of Florida by air and by freeways over a long system of bridges. Key West no longer supports itself by the spoils of wreckers but by rather by despoiling hundred of thousands of tourists who come by boat, air and freeway. <Larry: “Wreckers” made their living by salvaging goods and equipment from vessels that ran into trouble on their shores. Some wreckers assisted fate by posting false navigation lights on shore.> Many folks anchor out in Key West, but we decided to stay in a marina to ease our assortment of boat jobs and provisioning. And I enjoyed the freedom of just stepping off the boat to the dock to shop, visit restaurants and just enjoy being around and speaking to English-speaking Americans.

 

Once we got settled in Key West, we started to plan our trip up the coast. We had planned to sail to Maine for the summer, coming back down the coast to the Carolinas or Florida as the temperature dropped. But by the time we arrived at Key West, a month later than we had anticipated, we began to look at the Chesapeake as a more realistic destination. Key West kept us busy for several days. At $147 per night we began counting the days and planning our escape.

 

Key West is a big tourist center. The town and surrounding residential area were quiet during the day but the place came awake at night with lots of music, good restaurants, and different activities at every corner. Charming residential areas abound with lots of wood structures, large porches adapted to the semi-tropics, and much gingerbread on the houses, identifying the carpenter who worked on the building.

 

Culture Shock

 

Toilets in the US tend to be in good shape, clean and working. The toilets usually have toilet seats, which is rare in the other Americas. And toilet paper goes into the toilets! Now that may seem obvious to you, my reader, but let me tell you it is not the case elsewhere. In Central and South America, toilet paper goes into a small waste basket by the side of the toilet, not the toilet bowl. The sewage systems outside of the US, with the exception of parts of western Europe and Canada, cannot tolerate toilet paper plus our wastes. When I come back into the States, I marvel at the toilets that we all take for granted. <Larry: And in a small boat, the sewage system can be made to function much better by following a similar “dual track” practice.”>

 

I might add that it is refreshing to return to a place where people do not hesitate to look you in the eye and saying clearly “I don’t know.” Saying “no” if you do not know or can not produce this or that is common here but not so in Central and South America. It seems to be difficult for the “other” Americans we have been visiting to say “no” because it seems to be a loss of face to them. I have talked about this before on this site but coming back to the States emphasizes it.

 

Inside vs. Outside: The Intracoastal Waterway

 

It is possible to sail from Key West to Norfolk in one passage, but we did not find the prospect appealing. If nothing else, the weather is unpredictable and the prevailing winds are often not cooperative. From Florida the coast runs north and north east, which is the same direction as the winds often come from. Sailing or motoring into the wind is not pleasant and commonly is known as a “bash” We were interested in avoiding “big bashes” so we watched the wind forecast. Wind speed directs the state of the ocean waves. Anything over 4 feet of wave action is unpleasant, and if included as part of a bash is unacceptable. Fortunately, along the East Coast there are choices in how one approaches this journey.

 

The elements that eventually became the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (the ICW, sometimes AIWW, or just “the ditch”) were in place over two hundred years ago along the Atlantic Coast. The ICW is an intricate chain of rivers and estuaries, linked by man-made canals, and crossed by bridges. The federal government initially tried to make the ICW work as a chain of rivers and privately-dredged canals, granting the canal operators the authority to charge tolls for boats seeking passage. After years of spotty maintenance, perhaps because the toll revenues did not live up to expectations, the system was turned back to the federal government and is managed by the Corps of Engineers. <Larry: The feds today still chronically fail properly to fund the necessary maintenance of the ICW. Nothing ever changes.> But it wasn’t until World War II that the system was finally brought together as a whole, uniformly dredged, widened where necessary for commercial traffic, and pronounced workable and safe for commercial and governmental boats during the War. <Larry: The ICW was heavily used by commercial traffic during WWII to avoid the very real threat from German submarines offshore.> Pleasure craft were and are an afterthought for the ICW, though they account for the vast majority of the traffic. The use today seems to be mostly pleasure craft, the occasional barge being pushed by a tug, and the occasional deep-sea commercial fishing boat heading to or from the ocean. <Larry: We saw barges carrying fuel, construction equipment, rock, and scrap metal. During the spring and fall migration periods, the pleasure craft are all traveling in the same direction, almost in lockstep. Sailboats tend to travel at about the same speed, in a happenstance cohort, so you see (or hear on the VHF) the same boat names day after day.>

 

Power boats predominate in the ICW, some going by at 20 knots. <Larry: Most of the powerboat operators we encountered were considerate, and slowed down to avoid hitting us with a big wake. There were the exceptions, of course, but at Moira’s size the exceptions were never more than an annoyance. In another element of “culture shock,” we were continually amused by the whiners on the VHF, sailboat operators complaining about so-and-so’s wake, something we never heard while outside the States.> The amount of traffic on the ICW outside of Florida in May and June was surprisingly sparse. We could go for a day and only see a few other boats. Around the towns on the ICW, local traffic picks up, but never to the level we saw in Florida. The Keys of Florida and the Florida ICW were “power boat territory,” perhaps because of the shallow waters. Most sailing boats over 40’ like to see 7’ of water or more. More is better. Motoring or sailing along at 7’ depth is rather unnerving.

 

Powerboats generally are in heaven in the ICW. With flat water and little concern for weather they can go 20 knots with little adverse motion. Sailboat captains view the ICW differently. Sailors like my captain are frustrated because of the lack of sailing and “real weather.” Larry disliked the ICW and wished only to be on the ocean even if it meant waiting for the weather to cooperate. <Larry: And one must hand-steer, and power for hours on end, and mind the potential for collision with other boats or navigation markers, and there’s the potential for grounding, and.…> Rather than wait for the weather I would rather make progress in the safety and monotony of the ICW. But, in lieu of the ICW, there is the ocean. When the weather cooperated we “went outside” in Florida and Georgia to use the ocean.

 

One benefit of the ICW is the flat water at most times. Protection from the wind is substantial but depends on the direction of and amount of wind in addition to the location. In some areas the ICW is adjacent to the ocean but separated from it by a narrow spit of land. In other areas the ICW takes advantage of a river or sound that is inland from the coast by 2 or 3 miles. The passage through the ICW feels safe and secure, mostly untroubled by weather.

 

ICW marker, Albemarle & Chesapeake CanalThe ICW is generally well marked. The day markers are well maintained and lit with regular positions that usually avoid needing to get out the binoculars to look for the next marker. The buoyage is marked so that the northbound boater keeps the yellow “ICW square” always on the starboard side regardless of whether “red right returning” is in effect. Usually the green marker is on the starboard side when northbound, unless you are coming in from sea to get back to the ICW, or if the river you are on is entering from the sea into travel lanes from a major city.

 

The Corps of Engineers is supposed to maintain the ICW at 12’ (though the standard depth varies by State), but funds to dredge have not been uniformly forthcoming. Due to continuous shoaling, largely near ocean inlets, and the spotty dredging, the ICW experience is also about going aground. The groundings are usually soft because of all that good Georgia and Carolina mud. To avoid the extraordinary expense entailed in being towed off the mud by a commercial towing company, we purchased towing insurance with Boat US. We grounded in the ICW three times while northbound because shoals had formed within the channel. On one grounding I did call Boat US, but we floated off with the rising tide before they arrived. I cancelled the call but it more than paid for the insurance.

 

Traversing between the ICW and the ocean is sometimes problematic. If the ICW can be reached from the ocean inlet via a short channel, movement between the two is no problem. But if it takes 6 or 7 miles (an hour’s travel for us) to get from an ICW anchorage out to the ocean in the morning, and a similar amount back again at night to anchor, transition between the two transportation paths is time-consuming. So, once in the ICW, we mostly stayed in the ICW. <Larry: There are some 30-40 or so inlets bridging between the ocean and the ICW. Most are shallow, with shifting channels, dangerous and sometimes impassable in bad weather. There are only about 14 so-called “Class A,” all-weather inlets in the 1,200 or so miles of the ICW (shown with red dots in the chart at the top of this page), so for long stretches, once you’re in, you stay in, and once you’re out, you stay out.>

 

Bridges

 

Once on the ICW, there are the bridges and the monotony for company. <Larry: And the shoals. And the traffic. “Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” or at least annoyance.>

 

Wappoo Cut Bridge, openingAlong the roughly 1,200 miles of the waterway, there are some 64 bridges.

 

“Fixed” bridges are generally built to provide 65 feet of clearance in the center, to allow the typical cruising sailboat to pass safely under. <Larry: There are a couple of notable exceptions along the route. In general, a sailboat that comes to market with a mast more than about 63’ high will have a limited market among those planning to traverse the ICW. Our mast with lights and masthead antenna included is about 63’ high. A fixed bridge that nominally provides 65’ of clearance may have less on any given day, due to the tides. Even in the supposedly “tideless” stretches of the ICW, water levels can be pushed up or down by several feet if a strong wind blows up or down the channel for more than a few hours. It pays to watch the tide gauges mounted at the base of most bridges. One bridge showed 62’9” of clearance, and we watched the antenna on the top of our mast tickle the bottom of the bridge as we went under it. Many bridges have no tide gauge, leaving one without guidance on whether one’s mast will clear.>

 

Lower bridges along the ICW are built to open, either at specific times or upon request. There are different types of opening bridges: bascule bridges (French for “scales” that you weight things with) Sullivan's Island Swing Bridge, openingwhich tilt up like a scales or see-saw; swing brides that pivot on a central point; railroad bridges that lift while remaining horizontal; <Larry: and pontoon bridges that float and are pulled to one side of the channel to allow boats to pass, now obsolete>. These varied bridges are attended 24 hours a day and the bridge tenders in charge can be reached by VHF radio. Some of the bridges will open on request. <Larry: Others open only on the hour or half hour, or some other period.> Many bridges around major cities do not open during rush hours. All of this takes scheduling and patience to await the bridge openings.

 

<Larry: If you have a bridge that opens only on the hour, and the next bridge on your route, four miles away, opens only on the half hour, and you can only make 6 miles per hour, it gets discouraging. The calculus is made more difficult because of the tide-driven and wind-driven currents, which often advance or slow your rate of progress by 25%. The water that drives the tidal currents enters the ICW (or drains from it) at the inlets that connect the ICW to the ocean, or at the points where the ICW intersects some river or estuary. These intersections happen frequently, so you may get a boost for a few hours followed, as you enter the influence of the next inlet, or the tide reverses, by a slowdown for a few hours. In the long run it tends to balance out, but if you’re trying to make a bridge opening, watching your speed drop from a current-assisted speed of 8 knots to a current-retarded speed of 4 knots is disheartening.>

 

Development along the ICW

 

Stiltsville, Key BiscayneWhen we reached Key Biscayne, I felt I had not seen enough of the Keys to satisfy, but I am not sure that there was a better approach with a sailboat with a 6’ draft. We just did not fit in this environment. My previous experiences with in the Keys had given me the image of them as a very pleasant extension of trips to Miami to review curtain walls for office buildings in Glendale and Long Beach. But that was thirty years ago! I wondered if any of the Keys looked good now.

 

Key Biscayne had an interesting entrance statement: Stiltsville. Along the entrance channel, there are several colorful houses on stilts over the water irregularly placed about 1,000 feet apart. The boarded-up houses are two or three bedrooms in size, with a wharf for landing a dinghy. The story seems to be that these houses were privately built as small fishing shacks before government regulations were pertinent to this area. As time went on the fishing shacks were enlarged to houses until permission to continue was denied after a very bad hurricane in 1965. Even so, the State of Florida granted Bay leases for 25 years to the existing house owners but the leases were not renewed in 1999. Then the Federal Key Biscayne Park was extended to include the area now known as Stiltsville. Now both Key Biscayne and the federal government want the houses removed but the arguments go on and on and the owners no longer have the right to occupy them. So the houses, though colorful, now look forlorn and a sign of something very wrong. Maybe demolition is next.

Scene on Wappoo cut

St. Augustine looks to be a lovely town from the waterfront. I look forward to seeing it from a different perspective this fall. Once we got to the Carolinas, I wanted to see the small towns that express the southern way of life, and I found the real estate along the ICW to be an interesting lesson.

 

All along the ICW residential real estate rules. Most of the pads along the ICW are filled with luxurious, sometimes quiet beautiful, large houses. In Florida from Miami to Fort Lauderdale along the Atlantic Ocean the residential construction facing the ocean is high-rise, one tower after another with little architectural distinction. I expected that, given the high value of waterfront property in the Miami area.

 

But beyond Florida along the ICW, the wealth represented by the residential development amazed me. The luxurious, expensive houses continued even through the Carolinas. I never realized how successful the Carolinas have become. I had thought South Carolina was a poor State! Now maybe as we explore the Carolinas this winter we will find all that poverty somewhere else, but it is not evident one bit on the ICW. Until this trip I had little appreciation of the ICW and no idea of the value of the land for residential development. But it is certainly there and goes on all the way to Norfolk.

Scene on Wappoo cut

<Larry: One other signal that was sent by the housing along the ICW had to do with insects. In some stretches, the back porches (facing the ICW) and in some remarkable cases, entire back yards, were screened-in. In these areas, we knew to take extra precautions with our bug screens and repellant.>

 

The Evils of Reservations

 

I wanted time away from the boat in a normal house environment. My nesting instincts were coming on strong. Also, the Chesapeake in July and August is often very hot and buggy. Unless we put an air conditioner on the boat, I was afraid it would be too hot for comfort. If we used an air conditioner, we were really tied to staying in marinas, not an exciting prospect. So we rented houses for July and August. <Larry: As it turned out, the summer of 2010 had many days which set records for high temperatures.>

 

We needed to get Moira to the Chesapeake for our first rental reservation, which began July 1st in Woolford, a small Maryland town on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake. While reserving the properties made certain that we had a place to go when we reached the Chesapeake, it meant that we also were now “on a schedule,” not the best scenario for a sailboat <Larry: Cruisers know the evils of having a schedule—it drives you to move the boat on days when you might better sit out the weather. But we forgot that a reservation implies a schedule!> Then for August we had decided to spend the month in a small house in the historic district of Annapolis. Our schedule would get us out of Florida by the end of May, and we would need all the remaining time in June to get to the Chesapeake.

 

We had found these properties on the internet by looking at HomeAway.com and Vacation Rentals By Owner, which appears to be an affiliate of Home Away. Both sites have been useful to us in other rentals all around the world. They connect you to the owner, and you can sound out the owner and even get references to be sure of what you are renting. We have always liked what we rented, though we never have seen the properties before contracting.

 

Florida

 

Miami skylineThe south end of the ICW is at Key West, Florida. “Mile 0”, the north end, is in Norfolk, Virginia. The ICW in the Keys was way too shallow for us, with average depths of 3 to 4 feet. That was too bad because it did look to be a lovely tiptoe through some very beautiful waters. Instead we took the Hawk Channel, which is a passage bordered on one side by the Keys and on the other side by a long reef that edges the Atlantic Ocean from the Keys to Miami. The benefit of the Hawk Channel is the protection that the reef provides from the ocean swell and waves. The wind is unchanged, but the seas are flat. So off we went in the Hawk Channel, doing day-hops up the Keys, taking our time and enjoying the casual feel of towns like Marathon, about 40 miles from Key West. We could stay in Marathon for three days for what one night cost in Key West! We used Skipper Bob’s Anchorages to guide us through the Keys, stopping at Long Key Bight and Rodriguez Key anchorages before stopping at Key Biscayne/Miami. Opportunities to explore the Keys, other than Key West and Marathon, were limited by the shallow depths. The small towns and most of the marinas and good anchorages are on the ICW, a haven for power boats and small sail boats, but too shallow in this stretch for us.

 

Key Biscayne was a particularly good anchorage. We were close to Nixon’s old haunts, anchored off shore of the site of his old house, which was torn down in 2005. We could see the sparkling skyline of Miami without visiting the city, I would like to have had some Cuban food in Miami but by now we were on a “delivery run.”

 

Waterspouts over MiamiLeaving Key Biscayne/Miami, we headed “outside” up toward Fort Lauderdale, but once we got started we found the wind to be northeast and strong, not the predicted slight wind from the south. <Larry: The weather was thunderstorm-y, and we were treated to the show of a couple of funnel clouds in the channel outside of Miami. As far as we could see, they didn’t touch down, but it was unsettling to have them in the neighborhood.>

 

<Larry: Fort Lauderdale was, of course, the old haunt of Travis McGee, and we were told that the Bahia Mar marina has a plaque commemorating “his” old slip. Our entry to Fort Lauderdale was delayed because a catamaran had run into one of the bridges on our path, dismasting the catamaran and causing a delay in the bridge openings while the bridge was checked for damage. We’re not used to being the smallest boat in a marina, but it was so for us in Fort Lauderdale. How small were we? As we got under way to leave Fort Lauderdale, one of our mooring lines snagged the dock, and before we got it freed up, Moira did a 180-degree turn inside the slip without touching the sides! Some days you get lucky.>

 

We headed “outside” from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach. Off of Boca Raton, Florida, we became acquainted with a new abomination: kite fishing, in which small power fishing boats use a large kite to dangle their live bait into the water a half-mile downwind of their boat. <Larry: So it’s inadvisable to sail downwind of one of these boats, which has no visible connection to the kite way over there. You may wind up, as we did, with a mackerel flapping around in the rigging!> We ended up cutting the line after trying to untangle it. These lines are nuisance on the water and should be outlawed for safety reasons.

 

We went into Palm Beach after a day of “bashing” and glad of it, as we discovered an oil leak in two engine hoses. We got anchored in Lake Worth, and looked around on the internet for a “custom industrial hose” store, finding several. A very pleasant prospect. <Larry: We could have ordered the hoses as built by/for the manufacturer of our engine, but getting them made locally seemed likely to be faster and cheaper, and so it proved.>

 

Getting ashore in Florida is not all that easy because many shore-side Floridians have decided that anchored sailboats are not a value-enhancing prospect. Many ingenious ways have been tried to legally remove any right to anchor off of these towns. One tactic has been to limit the time one is allowed to anchor (48 hours in some towns). With all of the shoreline in private hands, there are also few options on where one may land one’s dinghy. <Larry: No California-style Coastal Commission here!> After calling around, we were advised by a local marina to tie up our dinghy at the local sailing school. So the next morning Larry rowed across Lake Worth and sneaked ashore without being challenged. <Larry: Sunrise, Titusville, FloridaI dragged our dink onto the beach at one corner of the property early, before anyone had showed up.> After an epic and expensive taxi ride to the hose shop in the far western reaches of the city, he had a pair of hoses custom-made with the necessary special fittings on either end. <Larry: That afternoon, after another expensive and epic cab ride, hoses in hand, I skulked around the corner from the adjacent city park to the dink and was gone before anyone could object. It’s funny that the last 50’ can be the hardest.> Larry has become very proficient at repairing anything and everything on the boat. This is a critical skill in Central America and a very useful skill even in the US, as good repair technicians are few and far between, and expensive.

 

With northerly winds predicted for several days we set forth “inside,” via the ICW at Palm Beach. We moved 50 to 55 (statute) miles a day, keeping up the tempo until exhaustion set in. So after about the fourth day so we settled into days of 35 to 40 miles when we could.

 

<Larry: One of our stops along this ICW stretch was at a marina in Titusville, just inland from Cape Canaveral. The night we were there, we’re told that there was a launch of a new GPS satellite in the wee hours. We didn’t stay up to watch.>

 

Anchorages along the ICW, Recognized and Impromptu

 

Decent anchorages were usually well-spaced, but on a few occasions, when we could not reach the next decent-sounding “real” anchorage, we just stopped along the side of the ICW. <Larry: We called it, “Making an anchorage.> In such cases, anchoring so that we were truly outside of the ICW, even if only barely so, was tricky but do-able. <Larry: In the dredged stretches, the profile of the ICW is a trapezoidal trench, some 14’ deep and perhaps 200’ wide, with shallows or mudflats on either side. In such areas the anchoring space, such as it is, is a very narrow strip parallel to the axis of the ICW, right along the edge. We looked for places where the channel markers were a little way into the dredged area, and tried to drop anchors bow-and-stern right at the very edge of the dredged area. In other words, we went out of the channel until we ran aground, and dropped the hooks to hold us parallel with the channel, with the expectation that the morning tide would lift us off the mud. Definitely a desperation maneuver, and not recommended.>

 

Remember that the ICW is open for business 24/7. Commercial boats run the ICW at night with impunity. In one of our “made” anchorages on the ICW two very big barges passed us at night. Fortunately they did not hug the markers and did not get too close but if we had been in the channel we could have easily been hit by the barge. So we looked very carefully at anchorages not traditionally identified in the books.

 

<Larry: Of course, we prefer water deep enough to float us, at all tides, well out of the channel. Even when one is looking at an anchorage that’s “in the book,” recall that we’re in an environment where the shoaling is constant and shifting (the anchorage that was there last year may have silted up), and the water is opaque. The depth sounder is useless for such explorations—it looks straight down, and only confirms that you’ve already run aground. As far as I can tell, the “forward-looking depth sounders” don’t really perform in depths less than about 10’, whereas we need an instrument that can tell the difference between, say, 5’ and 7’ about 50’ in front of the boat. I would sell my soul for such a tool, and at a discount!>

 

Outside through Northern Florida and Georgia

 

The ICW is poorly maintained in Georgia, and many sailors avoid it, though we have heard from several deep-draft boats that the area from Beaufort, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia is acceptably dredged. We did not try the ICW in Georgia, but rather “went outside” by short day-hops via the ocean from Saint Augustine, Florida to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

 

From St. Augustine we day-hopped to Saint John’s Inlet (Mayport, just downriver of Jacksonville), a well-dredged and well-lit entry (because of the commercial traffic that enters here for Jacksonville). We entered when the current was opposing the wind, finding ourselves in rough waters with considerable winds howling down the passage. After about two miles into the river the passage way began to widen out and the conditions moderated, but we were put on notice that these inlets had to be treated with extra caution and consideration. Narrow passages with contrary conditions did not make for a pleasant entry. The big commercial ships did not care either way, but to our sailboat it was a big, rough waterway.

 

From Saint John’s River we hopped outside again to Saint Mary’s Inlet, and anchored at lovely Cumberland Island, which does indeed have “wild” horses frolicking along the island. We also found good inlets and anchorages at Saint Simon’s Island (Brunswick) and at Saint Catherine’s Island, which (with Cumberland) was the least developed of the barrier islands we stopped by for anchorage.

 

St. Catherine’s is used as an rehabilitation center for sick or injured animals and birds from many areas beyond Georgia, and the center is known internationally for its work. This was our favorite anchorage in Georgia. We were anchored midway in the river behind the island, with lovely birdlife and calm waters. Getting into St. Catherine’s was a challenge because of a thunderstorm that was chasing us in. We won the race, but it was close. All the way in it looked like we would get hit hard by the thunderstorm but just as we rounded the corner of the island to safely the storm seemed to give up and lose interest in us. Oh well, a good thing.

 

From St. Catherine’s Island, we headed to Tybee Roads Inlet, which ended with our passage to Hilton Head through the Calibogue Passage. After four days of “outside hops” and anchoring I was ready for a marina, if only to do the wash (including our boat). Our engine was also exhibiting signs of a prop shaft leak that Larry wanted some extra advice on from a diesel mechanic. The dock master of Harbor Town Marina in Hilton Head, whose marina was too shallow for our draft, recommended Shelter Cove Marina. Shelter Cove worked well for us. The marina was well run and there were plenty of amenities including a number of restaurants to chose from, as well as a shuttle that deposited me at the swimming pool and the grocery store. Larry was referred to a young, excellent diesel mechanic who determined that our shaft seal had slipped, and just pushed it back into position so that we were set to go.

 

After Hilton Head, we “ducked inside,” and the rest of our trip to the Chesapeake was via the ICW, about which more in our next installment.

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

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The Log of Moira by Laurence & Susan Shick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.