We were up at 3:15am on Wednesday and made a 4:00am departure from Bald Head Island. This was a little ahead of our original schedule of a 4:30AM. At 4:00 we were going to have about 2ks of current running across the exit from the marina, whereas by 4:30 the current was going to running closer to 3kts. We didn’t think we’d have too much trouble getting out. After all, we have two 500hp engines to push across that current before we turned south.
We checked the radar and AIS to make sure no other vessels were out in the Cape Fear River. We had the FLIR camera going so we could easily see the path out and we had our spotlight on the water about a 1000ft in front of us. We were ready. As soon as I got close to the channel exit, I upped the rpms and we were out in the Cape Fear River. The current was ebbing so I turned us south and let the current pull us around and we were on our way. A lot of worry and preparation for what turned out to be an easy exit.
The mouth of the Cape Fear River is wide and well-marked, and we had an easy transit down the river and into the ocean. Sunrise was not until after 7AM, so we had about three hours of darkness to get through. But the forecast was for northeast winds 10 to 15 ks with waves 2 to 3 feet about every 9 seconds. Great conditions! And so it was. The cruise to Charleston proved to be uneventful and calm. The day was warm and when the sun came up, blissfully sunny. The view from the flybridge was fantastic. The big excitement was about 4:30pm when a pod of dolphins started to play in our wake a bit. But I guess we weren’t that intriguing because they were off for better prospects after a few minutes.
We arrived in Charleston at the City Marina’s Megadock just after 5PM. The current, as we planned, was running at about a half knot. In no time we were tied up with plenty of room in front and back of us.
It was a very long day and we were tired. We organized the boat, had a simple dinner on board and called it an early evening.
The weather forecast looked bad for any ocean voyage for the next five or six days, and we were not excited about picking our way through the shallows of the ICW. Normally we would spend one or two nights in Charleston and then head to Hilton Head and then to either Brunswick, GA or St. Simon Island, GA. From there we would cruise to Fernandina Beach, FL, and then down the ICW to our home port in North Palm Beach. Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew made landfall right around Hilton Head and all the marinas there, in Georgia as well as northern Florida were hit hard. They were either closed for repairs or, if operational, had so many local boats, they had no room for transients. There were anchorages we could have used, but many of them were far inland and others had 7-foot tide swings, which were okay but would increase the chances of our anchor dragging. Our only option seemed to be an overnight run to St. Augustine, but when we looked on Wednesday the sea conditions just didn’t look good for days. I was not excited about any overnight run, I hate not being able to see the water, but I was even more concerned about an overnight passage if the seas were not going to be near perfect. Thus, our plan was to spend 5-6 days in Charleston and hope the weather broke soon, while we try and figure out what to do. At least we would have a lot of good food in Chalreston.
We slept in Thursday, had a leisurely breakfast, rinsed the boat and started to fill our water tanks. All while doing this we were discussing how we were going to get to Florida.
So we stewed around about our options as we puttered around the boat that Thursday morning. By about 11:15AM we were finished with our chores. We looked outside and it was a beautiful calm day. Jim did a quick check of the ocean forecast for that night using an experimental NOAA program that allows you to plot a sea route and see the wave heights you would encounter over time. Lo and behold, the forecast was for conditions similar to what we had during our cruise from Bald Head Island, and the conditions would be good through Friday afternoon off the Florida coast. “What if we left now,” he asked, “and we run all night to St. Augustine?” Okay! It looked like the best option we had. We quickly readied to the boat to leave, called the Megadock dock office to let them know we were leaving and we were off by noon. Seemed a crazy, off the cuff decision, not like our usual neurotic planning, but it also seemed like the right decision.
Once underway, we checked with Camachee Cove Marina in St. Augustine to see if they could take us. They were full. Jim then tried the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, which had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew but was partially opened. They could take us but only for one night. We wanted two so we could have a day to recuperate. We made the reservation anyway and figured we could push on Saturday if we had to. Jim started looking at other options beside St. Augustine, one because the St. Augustine inlet is not without issues (some of the channel markers were still off station from the hurricane); and two because there would be considerable current that we’d have to contend with at the municipal marina at the time we were probably going to arrive on Friday. If we could make it to New Smyrna Beach farther south we would avoid all of those problems and a lot of the ICW in Florida. We called New Smyrna Beach Marina, and they could take us for two nights. Yeah! Jim plotted a course to New Smyrna Beach and we were on our way.
The seas and winds were calm for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening as the sun slipped below the horizon. We decided on a 3-hour shift with the first shift running from 9PM to midnight. That was my shift. It was completely uneventful except for some false alarms from the radar. Jim had set up some perimeter alarms that would sound if a target penetrated these perimeters. This happened a few times, but there was nothing there, probably birds. We had a few commercial vessels to avoid, but they were clearly visible on the radar and AIS and so were easily dealt with. When I had my second shift, however, things got more interesting. There was a half hour period when the perimeter alarms went off every few seconds. I could see a line of targets right in front of us. I changed course to avoid them, but they persisted and kept setting off the alarms. I tried to acquire some of them to get more information, but the radar couldn’t lock onto any of them. It was nerve wracking. Finally it was over, and I was very happy to hand the helm off to Jim.
Morning finally arrived. As we continued down the Florida coast, the weather continued to be perfect. We had gentle rolling seas and winds under 10ks. We welcomed the sun and pushed on to New Smyrna Beach.
Our only issue with New Smyrna Beach was its inlet. We’d never used it before and it was not a major shipping channel. It was used primarily by pleasure craft and fishing boats. We called SeaTow and Boat US for some local knowledge about the inlet and both mentioned that some of the entrance markers were missing, but that we should have no problems if we came in close to the north jetty and followed the channel markers around for the south channel. That would lead us straight to the ICW and the marina would be a short distance beyond on the west shore.
We followed those directions and had no issues. At around 2pm we entered the inlet. There was a low spot as we were approaching the jetty, but we never saw less than 15 feet. Once we proceeded along the jetty we had 18 to 20 feet and this continued as we made our way around to the south channel and into the ICW. By 2:30pm we were tied up along a face dock at the New Smyrna Marina.
What could have been a rash and impulsive decision seemed in retrospect to have been a brilliant move. We were finally in Florida, and we had had an easy, if long, voyage.
Tired though we were, we rinsed the boat, finished filling our water tanks (we had interrupted that process in Charleston so we could leave) and then proceeded to take it easy. We both tackled the Friday New York Times crossword and were pleased to find that our brains were not so fried by the overnight cruise that we couldn’t finish the puzzle. It was another early night dinner, this time at the marina’s restaurant, which was hopping even at 5:45. We tucked into some ridiculously sinful nachos with pulled pork and some kind of highly fatty cheese sauce. But it tasted good. Jim opted for fried shrimp (cause he didn’t get enough fat from those nachos) and I went for the angelic fish tacos with grilled mahi mahi. The food was good, not great, but tasty and required only the effort of lifting our forks to our mouths. That was about all we could handle. We made a valiant effort to stay up to 9, but just barely made it. We crashed and slept soundly until Saturday morning.
Saturday was an easy day. We took our time getting up and having breakfast. We were running low on a few supplies, so we took an Uber cab over to the local Publix supermarket and did some shopping. The afternoon was spent doing engine checks, planning our route home (we expected to be in our home port, Old Port Cove, by Tuesday, Monday if we pushed it) and watching some college football, something we didn’t have much time for until that day.
For dinner, we decided to take in the culinary delights of New Smyrna Beach outside of the marina. So it was once again in an Uber cab with our destination The Garlic, an Italian restaurant that was reputed to be the best that New Smyrna Beach had to offer (this from the dock hands, which are not typically authorities on food, but we were willing to go for it). The Garlic took no reservations and when we arrived at about 6PM, the place was already packed. We waited for about 20 minutes for a table. Not too bad.
The restaurant made its reputation by being over the top. We were given enough food to feed 4 people with leftovers. They started us out with a baguette and two whole heads of roasted garlic, which our waiter smashed with a fork and then drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We ordered roasted shrimp in garlic oil as an appetizer, which we split. This was good with lots of flavor. We were then informed that someone in the kitchen had knocked over our salads so there would be a wait. To tide us over the waiter presented us with a cup of cream of potato, and with what else but garlic, soup. This was very rich and totally unnecessary. We took only a few spoonfuls, knowing that our salads and entrees were on their way. The salads were the usual and about twice as big as they needed to be. Then the entrees came. I ordered grilled salmon on a cedar plank with roasted vegetables and Jim ordered a lasagne made with ground filet mignon. Sound decadent and it was, and it was huge. Jim thought it was very good, but lacking in some spice that would have made it excellent. My salmon was blessedly simple and refreshing, but also huge. Needless to say we took home the leftovers and planned to have them for dinner Sunday night because we expected to be in Titusville by then where we have been before. Let us just say that Titusville may have some NASA space history to boast of, but it will never be known as a culinary destination.