Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Norfolk, VA - 4/28-5/17/03
Day 1, 4-28-03: It was mostly cloudy, with isolated showers, warm (in the high 80s), with wind ESE @ 10 knots, 2' seas with 3' rollers, and we got a late start with a modest objective of making it to the Lake Worth Inlet. We wanted to go offshore to avoid all the bridges in the ICW north of Ft. Lauderdale. So after getting Cable Marine service for one last window caulk of a persistent leak during a heavy downpour the night before, we motored down the canal to Lauderdale Marina for fuel. As it turned out, Port Everglades entrance channel was closed till noon anyway because of the arrival of five US Navy destroyers for display during Fleet Week.
The cruise up the coast was delightful except for one thing; we could not get "normal performance" out of Souvenir. Maximum rpm out of both engines was 2450, whereas normally wide-open meant 2650-2700 rpm. And at that, we could barely clock 13 knots which hardly kept the boat on plane (normally we cruised comfortably at 15-16 knots around 2300-2400 rpm, and "touched" 20 knots wide-open). We talked by cell phone with the Cable Marine folks, and later with the Cummins service person in Palm Beach. They both felt before we concluded that we had engine problems (both engines behaved the same), we should line up a diver at our destination to check the running gear for "growth" (there was no unusual vibration). Upon arrival at Sailfish Marina in Lake Worth three hours later, we discovered another effect of our "problem" -- the entire back end of the boat was black with diesel soot -- too much fuel pushing through to maintain planing speed. So we arranged for Scuba Scrubbers to do a bottom inspection first thing the next morning, did a quick and "dirty" cleaning of the boat, and called Drew & Judy Davis (former 3M boss now living in Palm Beach Gardens) who offered to pick us up for dinner at the Kee Grill -- an excellent end to a "shaky" first day of our trip up the east coast.
The next morning, two young divers showed up as expected, and entertained Billie Jo with their bubbles and bobble-heads, scraping and clunking under Souvenir. Professionally speaking, they said the coating of small barnacles and slime were probably bad enough to cause the performance problems. Hard to believe that sitting at Cable Marine and Las Olas Marina for three weeks was long enough for growth to be that bad. While at Cable the first week in April, they had pulled the boat out of the water for other reasons, and inspected the bottom to be clean. Talk about "job security" for divers in the Ft. Lauderdale area...all those mega-yachts sitting there must have regular bottom-cleaning contracts!
That evening, we were invited to the spectacular new home of Drew & Judy Davis for a fabulous home-grilled meal. And even Billie Jo was included with the invitation to visit their Golden Retriever. What a treat!!
Day 2, 4-30-03: Mostly cloudy and warm (84 degrees air and water temperature, with a light chop on the ICW, we departed Sailfish Marina on Singer Island next to the Lake Worth Inlet. The first opportunity we tested Souvenir's performance. Hallelujah! The bottom cleaning did the job. We could easily plane at 2400 rpm and 16 knots! We crossed the Jupiter Inlet on the ICW and passed the 1000 mile marker (from Norfolk) before noon. As we approached the St. Lucie Inlet, I began to recognize the area from my experience at the Chapman School of Seamanship last November. We were eager to make some headway up the coast, so the mid-day timing wasn't suitable for a side-trip into Stuart. But the winds looked calm, and with encouragement from the First Mate, we headed out the Inlet that I had traversed in a Chapman School boat. Seas looked like about 2', so we set a course up the shoreline for the Ft. Pierce Inlet. There we re-entered the ICW and turned north toward Vero Beach.
About 3 pm, as we approached the first high bridge at Vero Beach, the cloudy skies darkened, and it started to rain. Very quickly, we were in a heavy downpour, and slowed to low speed idle between the bridges, anticipating some gusty winds with the thunderstorm. About 3:15, a distinct "hook echo" appeared on the radar screen, ahead and to starboard less than a mile away, over the Barrier Island just south of Vero Beach. But the wind never affected us, and the rain began to subside as we slowly approached the second bridge. We contacted Vero Beach Municipal Marina to get approach and docking instructions. An immediate right turn past the second bridge brought us to the well-marked entrance channel. The main fuel dock of the marine was under re-construction, and backing into our assigned slip on the next dock was a little tight. But the rain cleared just in time to tie up for the night.
Later that evening, while checking e-mail in the marina lounge, I over-heard another boater talking about a water-spout he had seen earlier. I interrupted and asked about the timing and location. Sure enough, it was just off-shore, south of the marina about 3:30! I had seen it on my radar with visibility less than 1/4 mile in the heavy rain. I can't believe we had no wind! Also docked in a slip behind us was a sailboat named "Why Fret." We met the owners, Fred and Anita, and learned of their ambitious sailing experiences for four summers in Europe. As it turned out, the timing of our travel and stops caused us to pass and be passed by "Why Fret" several times over the next few days.
Day 3, 5-1-03: We'd been told of a "dog park" just up the road from the Vero Beach Marina, so on our "morning walk," Billie Jo and I set out to find it. As we approached an open field with a ball park in one corner, we could see a group of people and dogs on the far side. Soon a departing owner with a dog on a leash came toward us and enthusiastically described the rules and "protocol." A key factor was that all new dogs were met by a big Old English Sheep Dog named Oscar, who was generally regarded to be The Mayor of the park. Sure enough, as we crossed the open field, The Mayor wandered toward us from the "pack." In a very non-threatening way, a lot of "sniffing" ensued, then a mild little romp; then Oscar disappeared back into the crowd. Apparently Billie Jo had been cleared to participate with 15 widely varied breeds, shapes, sizes, and colors, ranging from an elegant black Standard Poodle, to a racy little Schitzu, to some plain, old, friendly mutts. Billie Jo seemed very intimidated by the crowd at first, but was adequately admired by the owners, and soon was racing with abandon around and through the crowd. We learned that the park had been so successful, the "Town Fathers" had wanted to provide more "amenities," but the people had staunchly defended their preference to not "fix what was working." It was a grand, badly needed, richly deserved experience for our patient and tolerant boat dog.
So with a bit of a late start, we departed Vero Beach to head up the ICW about 10 am. It was cloudy with a light chop on the waterway. North of the Ft. Pierce inlet, there really was no convenient access to the ocean until we got up past Cape Canaveral, well over 100 miles. So we were pretty well committed to the ICW for most of the next couple days. But it was fairly easy cruising, and we passed the Melbourne, FL, area about noon. Then around 1 pm we spotted the giant NASA Vehicle Assembly Building with its huge American flag, quite a few miles away. As we crossed the entrance to the east-west Canaveral Barge Channel, we were close enough to get a decent photo, and could even make out the two launch pad towers on the horizon. With binoculars, it appeared there were no rockets/shuttles in place on the pads, which was understandable considering the recent Challenger accident and subsequent grounding of the fleet.
With a brief hold-up at a highway swing bridge, we decided to call it a good day at the Titusville Municipal Marina, and headed for their fuel dock. By 4 pm, we were tied-down at their end-T on A Dock, just inside the entrance, with a magnificent view across the Indian River. It looked like a good time and place for our seldom used grill on the swim platform to provide a steak dinner. So while Diane found her way to a local supermarket, Billie Jo and I roamed the marina. As we were about to step from the floating dock to our swim platform, I noticed a large gray, crusty object bobbing slightly in the water between the boat and the dock. At first I thought it looked like a large inflated, dirty "fender" with barnacles all over it. It filled the space a couple feet wide and about 6 or 7 feet long. Then on the forward end, against the piling I spotted the head! It was a Manatee!! Munching on some weeds collected at the water surface around the piling. Then I looked at the other end which clearly was the tail fin. I could have reached down and touched it!! My first thought was to get the camera on the boat. Billie Jo stepped over the Manatee onto the swim platform without even noticing it. But then would she cooperate by going up the steps into the aft deck area? No, she wasn't ready to get back in the boat!! After a couple of minutes of cajoling and getting a treat to bribe her, she finally went in, and I scrambled for the camera. Of course, by the time I got back, the Manatee was nowhere to be seen. The next morning, a neighboring boater indicated the Manatees were so common in that marina, they often came to the docks to drink fresh water from hoses held by boaters. Had I known, I could have given one a drink. Our hose was handier than my camera!
Unfortunately, Diane missed the Manatee, but she soon returned with a couple of beautiful T-bone steaks and two potatoes to bake. So I fired up the grill, and we really enjoyed a wonderful meal with a gorgeous sunset shining on a row of towering anvil clouds passing to the south. About then, Fred & Anita in their sailboat, "Why Fret," pulled in. They're keeping up, and their days under-way are much longer, but no doubt with a lot less fuel!!
Day 4, 5-2-03: We departed Titusville, locked into the ICW at least for the morning, with a goal of spending the next two nights (Friday & Saturday) in St. Augustine, 101 miles north. It was mostly sunny and warm, with a NW wind about 5-10 knots. The Indian River was easy cruising until the marked channel made a turn to the east and approached the "Haul Over Canal" which connected the river with Mosquito Lagoon. Shoaling at the canal entrance made it pretty shallow, and fishermen lined the banks making for "no wake" passage under the bridge which we cleared with our VHF antenna down. As we cleared the east end of the canal into the Lagoon, the ICW course made a sharp turn to port to follow the western shoreline.
The Cruising Guide warned of shallow water encroaching on the marked channel. We caught up with our cruising colleagues in "Why Fret" who had made an earlier departure that morning from Titusville. Our "two whistle" passing provided a good photo-op. But it appeared we had forced ourselves a little too close to the next red marker (which we were to keep on our left; there was no green marker at that point), and the water depth was well below 10'. So after clearing "Why Fret's" bow, and before resuming a higher speed, I angled Souvenir more to the right to find the deeper channel "center." Directly abeam, and less than 100' east of R14 marker, Souvenir "shuddered" to a stop and the starboard engine stalled. We were in about 4' of water, with our 4.5' draft! Fortunately, it seemed to be a muddy bottom. "Why Fret" went gliding by between us and the red marker. Using the bow thruster and the port engine, I pivoted the boat around, heading from whence I came; started the starboard engine, and carefully wiggled my way back to 6' depth; turned north again and eased past the red marker, calling ahead to "Why Fret" for another pass! About that time, a 32' Bayliner named "Takin' It Easy" called from behind to check our cruising speed. Since we hadn't achieved cruising speed for awhile, it was a moot point. But he ultimately wanted to cruise a few knots faster, so it was good time to let him pass. Little did we know we would get well acquainted with the skipper over the next few days.
As we approached the north end of Mosquito Lagoon, the channel between the western shore and a string of tiny islands maintained consistent depth over 10'. So we picked up speed for about an hour. But the number and size of islands on our right increased substantially till we were back in a canal south of New Smyrna Beach that was lined with cottages and homes; each one with a dock and a small boat -- "no wake" time again for several miles! There were also Manatee Zones marked and a boat we met advised us of a Manatee sighting just ahead. Sure enough, Diane spotted one surfacing soon after that.
As we entered New Smyrna Beach itself, we came upon a northbound 40'+, double-mast sailboat "trolling" at exactly the wrong speed for us; could not get by him without a wake, yet so slow that St. Augustine was beginning to look out of reach before dark. Between two bridges, the waterway made a right angle turn to the right, then back to the left. The width and commercial/industrial shore activities looked like an opportunity to pass. Calls to the sailboat from Maryland (the name was covered by a hanging dinghy) went unanswered. A man was standing on the bow, apparently giving directions to the woman skipper. Would he have her throttle back and let us pass? Apparently not! I eased Souvenir up about 100 rpm, and slowly pulled up on her port side. If I could edge ahead and round the red marker in the sharp left turn, I'd be past her before the lift bridge. Simultaneously, she aimed left to cut me off, and a voice on the radio hollered about "Souvenir's wake!" I was dead meat till after the turn and the bridge. I confess I didn't feel very "considerate" of my wake as I passed the sailboat after the bridge.
But it was time to turn attention to the next challenge: obtaining "local knowledge" about the Ponce de Leon Inlet, then making a decision about going "outside" to make up the time lost in canals, shallow water, and no wake areas. I knew the seas off-shore were favorable (1 to 2 ft), but I'd been warned several times that this was a "tricky" Inlet, with heavy shoaling at the inside entrance, and along the south bank of the marked channel. We were about an hour before high tide, so it was decent timing from that standpoint. An open radio call for local knowledge brought a response from SeaTow at a Coast Guard station just south of the inlet. At that point, the ICW course made a turn "inland" around an island with trees to the west. SeaTow advised that I could proceed straight ahead, out of the ICW, past his position to the Inlet. On the chart to the left was a "gray area" labeled "Disappearing Island" and I could see very shallow water between me and the trees, right in front of the channel markers at the inlet. SeaTow advised me to stay close to the shore on the right, continue to the far side of the inlet, then make a sharp right turn, and stay within 60 to 70 feet of the north breaker wall, all the way out of the inlet. Then I "shouldn't have any problems!"
With the nagging memory of my grounding experience at Government Cut off Apalachicola where I followed "local knowledge" precisely, I decided it was worth a try.......very carefully. The weather and wind and tide would never be better. And SeaTow's directions sounded credible. It was 12 noon, with lots of fishing boats all around, and a bunch of jelly-fish in the Inlet. We made it! No problems! We pushed Souvenir up on plane, set the auto-pilot on a heading of 350 degrees, two miles off-shore, and 3 and a half hours later, we were at the St. Augustine channel entrance. A great afternoon!
Fortunately, the First Mate had thought about the weekend the day before, and a cell phone call determined that the recommended St. Augustine Municipal Marina right on the ICW in "Old Town" was booked up. So we had reservations at the Conch House Marina, accessed by a long, winding marked channel just inside and to the south of the main inlet channel entrance. By 4 pm, Souvenir was safely backed into slip D12 for the duration of our St. Augustine visit. While Diane made arrangements for an Enterprise rental car, and got a "quick fix" for her "outlet mall withdrawal syndrome," I spotted the Bayliner, "Takin' It Easy," on the next dock and made a face-to-face introduction to Ray Hayes from Long Island, NY. He was alone, making his third return trip from a winter in Florida. Ray joined us later at the Conch House Restaurant for a wonderful sea food dinner.
It had been a hot and humid week in the south, with lots of storms with tornados passing through the middle of the country to our north. In the middle of the night, we were awakened with a heavy sweat and a panting dog. Our hard-working air-conditioners had shut down! A frantic check of all the circuit breakers, pumps and hoses, and cleaning of the strainer for the AC water intake were all to no avail. No water was coming in. We had a clogged intake. I opted for cushions on the floor of the aft deck with Billie Jo, while Diane suffered down in the stateroom for the rest of the night. Daybreak brought our second experience getting a diver. Fortunately, Seahorse Diver was available on a Saturday, and he quickly "rescued" a jelly-fish that had been sucked into the intake; ACs were back in business!
We really enjoyed our first visit to St. Augustine. The weather was gorgeous. I climbed the 266 steps in the lighthouse where I had a fantastic view of the Inlet area, including our boat in the marina! We toured all the old sights; the Conch House resort complex was an interesting place to stay; Diane did some shopping, and Billie Jo and I actually got in a nice run part way around the island our last morning.
Click on More Photos to see more of St. Augustine..........
Day 5, 5-4-03: While cruising offshore between the Ponce de Leon Inlet and the St. Augustine Channel, the seas generally were 2' or less, but we did get surprised by one "6 footer" (well, maybe not quite!) from a bad angle that thrust the bow sharply to the right. Unfortunately I happened to be in the galley at the time (really!) and didn't see it coming. I lost my balance and hit the floor against the dining table and chair. No apparent damage or injury. Only later, after docking that evening, did I notice that somehow the mirrored panel on the bulkhead forward of the dining table had been knocked into the wall in a way that left about a one inch gap around the frame. I must have unknowingly hit or leaned on the panel with my shoulder when I fell.
I couldn't see any way that I could pull the panel back out flush with the frame. And I couldn't get at it from behind or below, because of the wall/ceiling covering in the third stateroom behind it. I needed professional help, and had heard of a Carver dealership in the Jacksonville area. On the internet I determined that Beach Marine, on the ICW at Jacksonville Beach, just 29 miles north of St. Augustine could be of service. So I wanted to be there when they opened Monday morning, May 5th, which meant a short cruise on Sunday. It was sunny and warm (high 80s), with a light breeze, so we could have gone back out the St. Augustine Channel and easily cruised off-shore for 91 miles to Jekyll Island. But it was worth the chance that Beach Marine could take care of the mirror panel and get that "fix" behind us. So we made a leisurely departure from the Conch House Marina about 11 am, and started up the ICW. Though it was a short day, it was a good thing. The last ten miles toward Jacksonville was a narrow channel lined with homes and docks which dictated about an hour and a half of "slow wake" (1200 rpm @ 6.5 knots). We got a taste of sailboat/trawler speed.
We got tied up at Beach Marine's transient end-T about 2 pm. Billie Jo and I scouted the area to be sure we knew where the Carver Dealer was located and left a voice message for them while Diane borrowed a courtesy car for some provisions. We had a decent dinner at Billie's Boat House at the marina, and before dark I had a chance to do some good diesel soot cleaning on the transom with the "Spray Nine" bottle from West Marine in St. Augustine. As recommended, it cut the grime much better than all the traditional cleaners I had tried up to that point. Souvenir was almost white again!
Day 6, 5-5-03: Promptly at 8 am, a woman from the Carver dealer called as requested by my message the night before. Unfortunately, after describing my problem, she informed me that they had no cabinetry/carpenter type capability. Their service was limited to minor rigging and delivering of new boats. I wondered how they could possibly support new boat owners? We had wasted an overnight stop.
Now it was sunny and HOT (over 90 and humid!), with SE winds at 10-15 knots and 3-4' seas off-shore; a little more than we're normally comfortable with; but at least it was a good direction. So we "putted" the rest of the way up the ICW to the St. John's River and followed the main ship channel to the inlet. We decided to try going the 62 miles to Jekyll Island "outside" and followed a large empty cargo ship toward the mouth. Just before reaching the outside channel marker about 11:30 am, the Pilot Boat pulled up to the side of the ship right in front of us and retrieved the Harbor Pilot. We made the turn north and set the auto-pilot, and the following seas seemed manageable. About 1:40 pm, we passed the St. Mary's River Inlet, crossing the border into Georgia. Souvenir was out of Florida for the first time since last October 23rd (six and a half months).
I had the waypoint set on the channel entrance marker to St. Andrews Sound. We arrived at 2:30 pm, and I hit NAV course change button. Unfortunately, by the time the auto-pilot locked on the new waypoint and executed the turn, we had over-shot the red channel markers. Of course it was trying to correct back on course, but it meant we were headed directly for the north channel breakers (maybe 5' deep water over the rocks) with 4' beam seas. How quickly we can go from a "delightful cruise" to "urgent action required!" Obviously I had made a simple mistake of not disengaging the autopilot, and manually steering us into the channel. I had to do an immediate 180, and go back around the channel entrance marker, and do it right. But in the process, the 4' seas took on a whole different effect; i.e. wave spray well over the top of the boat. The only problem with that? It had been so hot, we'd been running with the "sun roof" wide-open! Result? Salt water spraying freely inside the bridge and down into the aft deck! Not a popular moment with the First Mate.
Corrective action taken, we entered St. Andrews Sound, re-connected with the ICW, and motored the few remaining miles inside Jekyll Island. As we passed a small marina and went under a bridge, I called to confirm our reserved arrival, only to find that we had just gone by our over-night stopping place. I double-checked, and sure enough, the marina symbol is not accurately displayed on the chart plotter. With another quick 180 (this time in calm water), we passed back under the bridge, tied up for fueling, then moved the boat back along the transient dock for the night. It was still only 3 pm, so we had plenty of time to get acquainted with the area.
Diane corralled a courtesy car to explore the historic summer homes of the wealthy. We were told the ocean beach was only a half mile walk east, and met a woman with a very nice 2 year old Portuguese Waterdog named "Chessie." She and Billie Jo really wanted to play. Diane dropped the four of us off at the beach. The tide was out, so there were about 100 yards of hard packed sandy beach; and only a handful of people could be seen for miles. We let the dogs off their leashes, and they really romped! In and out of the surf. Playing with sticks for nearly an hour. It was wonderful for a couple of very patient, cooped-up boat dogs. We walked them back to the marina and hosed them off with fresh water. Diane had actually returned from her island tour and taken a quick dip in the cool marina pool (she had it all to herself). So everybody was happy, and about that time, our old friends in the sailboat "Why Fret" showed up. Just can't get ahead of those people. Then we had dinner at Sea-Jay's at the marina where I "pigged-out" on their Shrimp Boil Buffet. It was outstanding! I think we all slept well that night on Jekyll Island in Georgia!
Day 7, 5-6-03: We wanted to get an early start in hopes of making 103 statute miles via the ICW to the Palmer Johnson Marina in Thunderbolt, a suburb of Savannah. The charted route through the backwater canals and cuts, skipping from river to sound to river looked like it might be slow going. And we'd had plenty of warning of shoaling and shallow water in the channels starting just north of the Jekyll Island bridge; i.e. "Give the red markers around the bend a wide berth....we call it the "snowbird graveyard!" Enough local knowledge for me! A 55' Fleming named "Wild Duck" on the transient dock ahead of us was already gone when we left at 7:15 am. They probably had at least as much as our 4.5' draft, so I thought they might be good to follow. We did catch them about St. Simon's Island, and followed them to Doboy Sound. But when we were able to run in deeper water across the Sounds, they maintained trawler speed that made me worry about making time when we could. So we wound up passing them and taking the lead.
Soon we were called by a 55' custom catamaran power boat named "Barbara Mae" who wanted to take the lead, so I said, "Be my guest." Our comfortable cruising speed was only a knot or two less, so with all the twisting rivers and cuts requiring slow speed, we were able to keep up, all the way to Obawasso Sound south of Savannah's Wilmington River Inlet. As we entered the Sound, Barbara Mae courteously eased by a north bound sailboat. As we were about to do the same, a parade of six faster boats (3 of them Sea Ray's!) powered by all three of us without so much as a radio call. In fact, they didn't even respond to our call for consideration of their wakes. To weave between their successive wakes without wallowing out of control, we had to maintain some steerage. Unfortunately, the poor sailboat in the middle thought we were part of the problem, and offered "Souvenir" some unsolicited advice on the radio. Ironically, about a hour later, we passed the Isle of Hope Marina where all six wave-makers were tied up for the night. I had a real struggle complying with the no wake zone as we went by.
Bahia Bleu, the recommended marina had some dock construction going on, and they weren't taking transient reservations. So we arrived at Palmer Johnson, and easily tied up inside their long transient dock for a planned three night stay. I was astonished that we had made it by 2 pm! With all the shallow, slow speed travel, I had hoped to average 10 mph and make it by 5 pm. I couldn't believe we actually averaged almost 15 mph (12.8 knots). The slow miles had seemed a lot longer than that!
It turned out Palmer Johnson was a fascinating place to stay. Not only was it close to Savannah, but it was the site of their "mega-yacht retro-fit" facility. Two giant service buildings across the harbor were the scene of lots of activity with their mechanized yacht handling equipment for moving and launching the "big boys." A gorgeous 150 footer was in the water undergoing final detailing for delivery. A beautiful dark blue hulled 125' 600 ton(!) trawler was in one building undergoing an overhaul of the fuel system under the lights at night. Then the day before we left, they moved it out of building, onto the launch platform, into the water, and towed it to the dock. I was told the fuel filters for the new system hadn't arrived, so it couldn't be moved under its own power. Quite a process to watch, and photograph! Click on More Photos to see more of the operation at Palmer Johnson, Savannah...
Another coincidence was meeting up with Ray Hayes whom we'd met back in north Florida. Unfortunately, his Bayliner, "Takin' It Easy" was out of commission with a serious engine problem. While he was getting it diagnosed and planning the repair, we enjoyed his company for several dinners and some sight-seeing in Savannah. He ultimately wound up flying home to Long Island while the repair was expected to take several weeks. Our rental car allowed us to visit the Wilmington Plantation where our neighbors back home (Bob & Georgann) plan to spend retirement in a few years. It was quite a project to convert the old Sheraton Hotel into a luxury condominium complex, and we were granted a special tour by the owner, Bill Foster. We really enjoyed exploring the beautiful city of "squares," and the riverfront development of Savannah. And our sampling of restaurants included the Pirate House, Six Pence Pub (with a movie-making history), and the Tubby's Tank House near the marinas in Thunderbolt. We had met the owner of five Tubby's restaurants who was one of the early residents at Wilmington Plantation. We got acquainted with the people on the catamaran we had followed, and learned the boat had been custom built in South America, and cruised up the Caribbean, spending the winter in the Bahamas. Also on our dock was a Florida Bay Coaster; a rather unique vessel named "Irony" with a home port at Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island where we'd been north of Ft. Myers. The couple serving as the full time crew had a very friendly and well-behaved Golden Retriever named "Montana." So it was a very full three day visit to the Savannah area, more than living up to our expectations.
Day 8, 5-9-03: Our next planned major stop was at the well-known Harbour Town Yacht Basin, Hilton Head Island, SC, which was only 20 miles up the ICW. It was an easy cruising day, basically crossing the two branches of the Savannah River. Good thing, because I had tried to get a Palmer Johnson carpenter to look at our mirror panel in the dining area. I'm not sure how we ranked on their priority of mega-yachts, but they finally promised one "first thing" the morning of our departure. He showed up promptly at 8 am and quickly concluded that to "do it right" would require dismantling the third stateroom headliner to get at it from the backside; which meant removing the washer and dryer. But he also came up with a "quicker fix worth trying." He would apply a bead of special adhesive, then use suction cups on the mirrors to pull the panel back to the frame, and tie them up for a couple hours to cure sufficiently for us to move on. "Sounds good to me!" With Billie Jo supervising, he implemented Plan B, and we were on our way before noon.
It was mostly sunny and HOT (93 degrees and humid again) with a light breeze. Before 1 pm we were across the Savannah River, and as we rounded the bend toward Hilton Head, we passed a small marina on Daufuskie Island. The First Mate spotted a sign for diesel fuel at $1.269. We only needed a couple hundred gallons, but on a short day, it seemed like a good time to lower our average fuel cost. So we gave them a call, pulled into the fuel dock and filled 'er up. Then we eased across to the entrance channel at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, and got docking instructions which included a "follow me" boat with two dock hands showing the way. This is a first class marina! But the configuration of docks are laid out in pie-shaped sections inside a large circle. And of course, our assigned slip 43 was way back in a corner requiring a wiggling, reverse mode between several larger boats at different angles, with a stiff cross-breeze. Thankfully, my "cheater" (the bow-thruster) was very effective. But now we were set for another three day, weekend stay.
We took full advantage of another rental car to tour the island, stopping at a dog park and a beach club. It was beautiful, as advertised! The island consists primarily of a half-dozen gated communities called Plantations. So we only had access to the one in which our marina was located. We mostly enjoyed the amenities of the immediate area, which included a couple of dips in a swimming pool, two excellent dinners at the Crazy Crab restaurant, and a romp for Billie Jo on the "muddy" beach by the marina entrance. I climbed the scenic lighthouse "mock-up" for a spectacular view and photos, and each evening Billie Jo attracted lots of attention as we strolled the shops and board walk around the marina. I met four young men from Minnesota who were in the Army Reserve. They were male nurses who had been called to active duty, and one of them was departing for Qatar the next morning. I got a great photo of them at the top of the lighthouse with their patriotic smiles, as the sun set behind them. It was a touching moment in a very festive and luxurious setting.
Click on More Photos to see more of Harbour Town Yacht Basin, Hilton Head, SC.
Day 9, 5-12-03: Several years earlier before I retired, we had visited Charleston for a Conference Board meeting, and really had a chance to enjoy the city and the plantations in the surrounding area. So we had decided to pass by during this voyage. This meant a good day's cruise might get us 108 miles to Isle of Palms Marina on the ICW, just north of Charleston. The forecast was for 15-20 knot wind out of the west, with 3-4' seas "outside." Plus, from this point north to Norfolk, most of the inlets that were navigable for us required back-tracking several miles south or southeast. So we departed Hilton Head on the ICW about 9 am, and for the next six hours, cruised through backwaters and shallow winding cuts, crossing rivers and sounds. One cut was so narrow and shallow when we met a small working tow with one barge, that I called and asked him if he wanted me to turn around and retreat about a mile to the canal entrance. Much to my surprise, he offered to "beach" himself on one side, and cautioned me about his prop wash as I SLOWLY passed his stern. The channel was about 6' deep in the center, and ANY deviation from center decreased it alarmingly. Another obstacle behind us.
About 11 am, we passed Beaufort (Byoo'-furt), SC, where a visit had been recommended; but we decided to keep on "truckin'" to try to make Isle of Palms. About 1 pm, our generator shut down, and I couldn't get it to re-start right away. Must have been an over-heat for something sucked up against the water intake screen. It was a little cooler than it had been (about 86), but without ACs the strong sun made our "green-house" bridge pretty warm, even with all the windows and sun roof open. Of course, as we got within five miles of Charleston, the homes and docks along the channel required "slow wake" speeds. FINALLY, about 3:30, we made it to the Ashley River around Charleston. As we cruised around the tip of the city, and between the city and Ft. Sumter, heading for the ICW canal on the other side, of course it was more "slow wake." But by 4:30, we were about ten miles up the ICW canal, and arrived at Isle of Palms where we docked in slip G3. As I shut down the engines, I gave the generator a try. A check of the strainer showed it to be clean......Hallelujah, it worked! Whatever was clogging the intake had apparently been washed free.
Day 10, 5-13-03: Another gorgeous day, clear skies, warm in the mid-80s, calm water with a light breeze, but no easy access to the ocean. So we headed out at 9 am on the ICW with sufficient depth (10+ ft) and clear cruising without substantial "slow wake" zones all the way past Georgetown about 1 pm. The Waccamaw River in particular was nice cruising. Then we entered the lo-o-o-ong, dock-lined canal in the Myrtle Beach area....SLOW ZONE for about 20 miles! With significant tides in the area, most of the boats at the docks were on lifts that raised them high out of the water. And there were some remnants of past hurricanes of years gone by. We also passed several "crab boats" setting their pots...another "impediment" to cruising speed! Then there was about a 15 minute hold-up at a swing bridge about 3:45. While waiting there, a small herd of goats ambled up the shore line. We finally made it to the Dock Holiday fuel dock in North Myrtle Beach by 5:30....our longest day yet. After fueling, we were tied up in slip A4 by 6:30 with another 108 mile day behind us.
Day 11, 5-14-03: The original plan was to stop at Harbor Village Marina about 80 miles up the ICW from North Myrtle Beach. This is the home port of Winston & Sue Fowler, the 3M retirees we had connected with in Ft. Myers and Key West. Unfortunately our timing was off to see them as Sue had just flown out of town, and Winston wasn't able to get to the marina till the next day. So if we got there by mid-afternoon, we probably would press on to another over-night stop. The Cruising Guide indicated Swan Point Marina at Snead's Ferry, NC, could be a possibility at 101 miles for the day. We had a Plan A & B, and departed Dock Holiday's on the ICW about 8:30 am. It was sunny, with scattered high clouds, slightly cooler in the low 80s, and a light breeze. After a 15 minute wait at the first swing bridge, we crossed into North Carolina about 10 am. Then it was pretty good cruising as we passed Southport about 1 pm, except for another 15 minute wait, this time at the well-known Sunset pontoon swing bridge; a two lane highway bridge with a center section on floats that they literally "towed" aside with cables. A warning in the Cruising Guide cautioned that boaters should be careful to wait to pass long enough for the cable across the opening to be dropped into the water! Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of that action.
Then we snuck under the Figure Eight and Wrightsville swing bridges with 22' of clearance, and passed Fowler's Marina about 3:30. So we put in a call and made a reservation at Swan Point, estimating arrival around 5 pm. This was soon out of reach as we arrived at another swing bridge we couldn't clear just as it was closing about 4:10....only to learn that it opened "on the hour!" Fifty minutes later, we were on the way for a 5:45 arrival at Swan's Point. We soon met Betty and Lee who ran the place, and lived in a houseboat in the small marina. I had been warned by Betty on the phone when making the reservation that they "couldn't compete with next door" on fuel. They were $1.47 and next door at New River Marina, it was $ .94!?! She said they opened early in the morning. And later in the office, I overheard her on the radio telling a sailboater they'd better tie up next door and wait for morning. Then she turned to me and said, "I'm not draggin' my hose all the way to the end of the dock for 8 gallons!" Guess she didn't want to do it for 200 gallons either!
We were secure at their transient dock by 6 pm, and learned that a local restaurant, the Riverview, would send a car to pick us up for a good dinner. It turned out to be Danny, the Riverview manager who took us on a "high speed" tour of Snead's Ferry. It was a very clean, friendly, "homey" place, with a simple menu......and EXCELLENT seafood! I had their fried sampler with shrimp, oysters, and grouper. I was stuffed-to-miserable, and Danny had us back at the boat before dark. While walking Billie Jo, I noticed the "service area" of the marina was well stocked with more "fixer-uppers" than I had seen in a long time. Diane got their "courtesy car" for a few minutes to find the local Food Lion for some staples, and we turned in for a well-deserved night's sleep.
Day 12, 5-15-03: With the day's objective to reach Belhaven, NC, 112 miles up the ICW, we got an early start about 7:30 am. With a stiff breeze and no help, Diane had trouble with a stubborn stern line that was stuck in the dock around the piling (nobody uses cleats in this area!). I couldn't hold "Souvenir's" bow any longer, and give her slack on the stern line, so she made a decision to leave it behind. We did a backward 180 in a tight space at the end of the dock and headed out the entrance. We could see the 94 cent fuel dock next door was open, but a large boat was just pulling in. So another decision was made to pass on the cheap fuel and get going. At the Onslow Swing Bridge, we had a half hour wait with "Sea Rose," a boat we had passed several times the last few days. By 8:30, we were on our way again up the ICW, immediately adjacent to the Camp Lejuene Practice Artillery Range; all kinds warnings on the shore line (and on the charts) not to land!! There were also warnings about shoaling and submersed rocks "encroaching" on the channel. We did see some aircraft in tight formations flying over, including a Harrier jet fighter that literally "hovered" in place with it's vertical lift "fans". Fortunately, no contact with rocks or sand. About 10:30, we passed through the Morehead City/Beaufort (Boh'-furt), NC ship channels. Again, the Beaufort Docks had been widely recommended as an interesting place to stop. But the timing wasn't right for us, so we kept on plugging northward. After that, the waterway allowed good cruising speed across several rivers and sounds, and we came upon "The Mac," a 48' Bayliner (Dave & Judy from Michigan) we had first encountered at Hilton Head. They too, were headed for Belhaven, so we followed them into River Forest Marina, docking about 3 pm.
The Marina had a very attractive, full-page ad in the cruising guide. In person, it looked like they had spent more money on the ad than the marina. Again, in a stiff cross-breeze, we backed into the narrow fixed dock with front pilings, and a relatively "untrained" dock hand. For a small marina, they had several of the longest fuel hoses I'd ever seen, with a practice of in-slip fueling. So we topped 'er off @ $1.259. The positive feature of the marina was the on-site restaurant which offered a wonderful smorgasbord in a lovely dining room, in the beautifully restored Manor house (southern mansion). We enjoyed trading stories with Dave & Judy, and also met three men from the Maryland Fish & Wildlife agency who were bringing home a new boat from Florida to Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. They overheard us talking about our Great Loop journeys, and how we had left MN last October. They asked Dave how long he'd been doing it. He answered "three years." The guy said, "Don't you people ever stop and ask directions?" The hoot of the evening! Billie Jo met a cute little Shitzu named "Oui oui" and enjoyed some exercise in the yard, before we turned in within 135 miles of Norfolk, VA. It was time for "can we make it in one day?" Coinjock, VA, was an alternate, but the Atlantic Yacht Basin at mile marker 012, with their "wet storage" was a good destination objective.
Day 13, 5-16-03: Another early start on the ICW about 7:20 on a cloudy, foggy, cool (70s) day, with a light breeze out of the southwest. As we ran the length of the Alligator River toward the sea, the ICW course took a hard left turn past an anchorage where a small fleet of saiboats (about six) was getting started toward the entrance of a narrow canal. We only got by one of them, before being "trapped" behind the leaders as they entered a dense fogbank. It was 8:30 am, and we were stuck in a narrow canal behind five sailboats with about 1/8 mile visibility. And we could hear the lead sailboat on the radio cautioning its followers about "lots of debris" (logs) floating in the channel. So we settled in with the parade at a snail's pace. The question was, how long would it last? It was the canal connecting the Alligator and Pungo Rivers, so we knew on the chart that could be 20 miles! Not only did making it to Norfolk become a serious question; what if we couldn't make Coinjock by dark?? Fortunately, about 1/2 hour later, visibility increased to 1/4 mile. By 9:30, we were in the clear, cautiously passing sailboats, and a small trawler caught in the middle. It was another lo-o-o-ong hour! And it was still a lo-o-o-ong canal. The water was so brown ever since the "Georgia Red Clay" country, that most boats developed a serious "mustache." But Souvenir's bow remained clean. Apparently the buff/wax and 3M Finesse polish job in Ft. Lauderdale at least kept us from getting the mustache. Then of course it was good cruising across huge Albemarle Sound, and by 12 noon, we were at Coinjock, with Norfolk well within reach!
By 1 pm, we made ICW mile marker 34, crossing the state border into Virginia. Only 22 miles to go to Atlantic Yacht Basin. We soon discovered the increasing population density on the canal also meant more swing bridges (North Landing & Centerville) only five miles apart; but they only opened on the half hour. So our timing meant a full hour to go those five miles! At least we were entertained by the collection of other boats waiting, and some unusual sights along the shore; like a floating dock furnished with upholstered furniture; and another one with a couple of fishermen "taking a break" with their Confederate flag proudly hoisted by their lawn chairs.
By 3 pm, we were tied down on the transient dock at destination, right before the Great Bridge Lock. Plenty of time to connect with our old neighbors from several years ago back in Minnesota, 3M retiree, Howard Bogner and his wife, Gail. They actually live on Pawley's Island which we had passed a few days earlier. But they had gone to visit their son in Chesapeake, VA. They had planned to leave there to return home on Saturday, 5/17. So this was the only evening we could have connected in-person. They visited us on Souvenir, then took us to Lock's Point restaurant nearby for an excellent dinner. We really enjoyed renewing our friendship after about an eight year gap.
The next day, 5-17-03, we moved Souvenir from the transient dock back to the "wet storage basin," rented a "one-way" Avis vehicle with Minnesota plates, and made preparations for an early-June home visit. We expected to be gone for about 3 to 4 weeks, and return with our grandkids for the next leg up the Chesapeake Bay, and on to NYC to visit our son. After cruising 1,052 miles since leaving Ft. Lauderdale on April 28th, and making 552 of those miles the last five days since leaving Hilton Head, we were ready for a boating-break. And two days on wheels for almost 1400 miles to get home actually sounded pretty good.
The end of Stage 5 of our Great Loop Adventure!