November 7, 2015 – Ft. Pierce to North Palm Beach, FL

We were up early for our last leg to North Palm Beach.  It would be a short trip of about 41 nm, but there were a number of potential shoaling areas.  We were out by 6:45am to take advantage of higher tides early in the day.

One Last Sunrise

One Last Sunrise

It was a muggy morning and the forecast called for scattered showers.  Indeed, just before 7:30 am, it began to rain and rained steadily for a few minutes.  Then just as quickly it stopped.  Adrienne was steering and I happened to look behind us and noticed a spectacular rainbow.   It was large and appeared especially brilliant and colorful where it touched the land.

Rainbow

Rainbow

During the rest of the day as we cruised down along Jupiter Island, we had many low hanging clouds but fortunately no more showers.

Low Hanging Clouds

Low Hanging Clouds

Awesome Sky

Awesome Sky

The shoaling areas turned out not to be a major issue and, before we knew it, we were approaching the series of bridges that begins in Jupiter and ends right before Old Port Cove, our home marina for the winter.  Last year, Florida was having some incredibly high tides and we were not able to pass under these bridges without them opening.  This year we had just enough clearance, so we did not have to wait for any openings.  Our biggest challenge was the crush of Saturday boaters who seemed to have little sense and certainly did not care about the rules of the road.  They would wander back and forth across the channel right in front of us without even looking to see if any other boats were in the area.  But we made it without incident.

Our Last Dolphin

Our Last Dolphin

House on Jupiter Island

House on Jupiter Island

Along ICW in Jupiter

Along ICW in Jupiter

By 12:15 pm, we were tied up at Old Port Cove.  Curiosity was home.  It was a good feeling.

Unfortunately our power cord was still not working.  So with great advice from Pat Flaherty at Burr Yachts, I set out to remedy the problem.  Our first thought was that it must be a burnt fuse.  So I swapped the fuses around, but alas that did not solve the problem.  I then got out my voltage meter, which I probably should have done in the first place, and checked the voltages at the end of the power cable where it joins the boat.  The voltage was only 120V, instead of 240V.  Aha!  The problem was the cable itself.  So much for thinking it was the power on the floating docks at the Ft. Pierce City Marina.

I figured it might take a while to fix this issue so we called the dock house and asked if they had a 50 amp extension that we could use with our bow cord.  This would allow us to have air conditioning without running the generator while I worked on the problem.  Fortunately Old Port Cove had an extension and was going to send it over.

Meanwhile, I went back to work on the problem. The shore power connector is covered with a tight fitting rubber seal that needed to be removed to check the wiring.  I tried everything to remove it and it would not budge.  Adrienne and I tried together and still no success.  The only option was to cut it off.  I went in to get my knife, and when I came out the dock master had shown up with the extension.  He also had seen me struggling to get the cover off and in less than a minute he had removed it.  Why couldn’t I do that?  Oh well.  Once the cover was off, it was obvious what was wrong – one of the wires had completely pulled out from the socket.  This looked like an easy fix.  Of course the gods thought otherwise.

The old connector was from West Marine and while it was fine, it was not as good as a Hubbell connector, which I happened to have as a spare.  The dockmaster and I decided it would be best to replace the West Marine connector with the Hubbell.  You would think this would be easy, but dealing with 50 amp wires that are thick and not easily manageable made an otherwise straightforward task a challenge.  Finally, the dockmaster got the wires all in place and put the connector together and went to plug in the cord.  It wouldn’t fit.  The plugs were slightly twisted.  So we took the connector apart again.  However, in the process we broke off part of the plastic fitting that aligns the connector with the plugs.  The dockmaster, however, also had a Hubbell connector in his shop and off he went to get it.  After helping to dock a few boats, he was back and we went to work again.  Finally we had the connector on and plugged in.  I went to check the power.  No power!!

So we took the connector off again.  Perhaps we had the wires in the wrong holes.  We redid everything and tried again.  Success!!  We had power.  It had only taken 2 ½ hours to complete this task.

Now, I could relax.  The boat was safely tied up and everything was in good shape.  We had traveled over 1050 nm in 128 hours over a period of 32 days.  We had generally had good weather and no major traumas. We were home.

Friday, November 6, 2015: Cocoa Village to Ft. Pierce

Friday morning was calm and clear, if a bit warm.  The forecast called for a hot and humid day with east winds between 10 and 15 mph.

Cocoa Village Marina

Cocoa Village Marina

Sunrise over Cocoa Village

Sunrise over Cocoa Village

We left Cocoa Village a little before 7:30headed for Ft. Pierce, 59 nm south.  We cruised along comfortably for about an hour and were surrounded by pelicans, dive bombing for food.  Eventually a few dolphins appeared, but these were not very energetic.  They soon left us to continue looking for breakfast, we think.  It’s been our observation that in the early morning hours the dolphins are less interested in us and seem to be focused on food.  Not too surprising.

At least that’s what we thought.  About 15 minutes later we started to pick up some more dolphins on the port side.  First three showed up, a mother and baby and another one.  Then three more came.  They started twisting and turning under the water and jumping over the waves.  About 10 minutes later, more dolphins showed up on the starboard side.  Before we knew it we had about 12 of them escorting us down the Indian River.  Jim and I took turns watching them and trying to capture their antics in pictures.  The ones on the starboard side really seemed to pick up steam.  They were leaping out of the water and twisting in the air.

We then noticed the strangest thing. Our speed through the water was increasing, and not by a tenth of a knot or so.  It went from our usual 10 kt speed to over 11 kts, but our speed over ground remained the same.  Jim was trying to figure out the physics of this, but it seemed that somehow that many dolphins on both sides of the boat were pushing water under the boat and through the paddle wheel that shows our speed through the water..

Before long we were approaching the Eau Gallie Bridge and would have to slow down.  When we’ve slowed down for bridges in the past, the dolphins have peeled off as soon as the rpms have dropped.  But this time, the dolphins followed us through the bridge at low speed and continued their leaps and turns once we got up to our cruising speed.

We now had two very large dolphins in the pack on the port side.  They seemed to be trying to outdo each other with the height of their jumps.  The largest one at one point came right up to the side of the boat where I was standing and jumped up in front of me.  Had I tried to, I could have touched it easily.  I tried to capture this display in pictures, but it happened so fast and suddenly, the most I got was the back half of its body in the air.

Spinning in the Air

Spinning in the Air

Playing Together

Playing Together

Keeping An Eye on Us

Keeping An Eye on Us

In and Out

In and Out

Flying

Flying

Flipping through the Water

Flipping through the Water

Acrobatics

Acrobatics

The show lasted until we started closing in on the Melbourne Bridge.  I guess they figured they couldn’t spend the whole day playing in our wake.  They gradually left us and went about their business.  All told, they stayed with us for about 40 minutes.  It was spectacular.

The rest of the cruise was uneventful.  How could it not be?  This section of the Indian River is mercifully free of shoaling areas, and most of the bridges had fixed heights of 65 feet.   So, we continued on to Ft. Pierce, thankful that we had had such memorable dolphin experience.

We arrived at the Ft. Pierce City Marina around 2:15 and pulled up to the fuel dock for fuel and a pump out.   All went well with that, except it took a while because we had one of the slower pump.  By this time, the mercury had risen to the mid-80s with high humidity, so it was a long and hot process.  Our slip assignment was supposed to be one of the new floating docks that were located right alongside the fuel dock.  We backed off the fuel dock and past the slip because there was a fair amount of current at that time.  Jim moved us forward, turned the stern toward the slip and backed us in with perfectly.  Within minutes we were tied up.  Then the dock hand plugged in our shore power.  Nothing.  He disconnected and tried again.  Nothing.  He moved to another hook up on the same pedestal.  Nothing.  He moved to another pedestal.  Still nothing.  We all decided we should try another dock, so we moved to a face dock across from the fuel dock.  It was fixed, but supposedly had reliable power.  The floating docks, on the other hand, had had a series of problems with their power.   But when we tied up on the fixed dock we still couldn’t get power.  Frustrating.  It was now about 3:45pm.

We decided to stay at the fixed dock and see if we could figure out what the problem was.  I went to check us in and when I came back, Jim had gotten out our power cord for the bow and connected us that way.  I rinsed the boat off while Jim consulted with Burr Yachts.  It seemed likely that somehow the power on the floating dock had tripped one of the fuses in the stern power line.  By the time Jim finished with that conversation and we had finished rinsing and chamoising the boat, it was almost 5:30.  We decided to leave any further work on the power issue until the next day when we would beat Old Port Cove in North Palm Beach, our final destination.

We were hot, tired, dehydrated and hungry.  We decided to order a pizza at a place within walking distance of the marina and bring it back to the boat for an easy dinner.  It was too bad we were so wiped.  Ft. Pierce was having a Friday Fest.  There were bands playing, lots of street food and vendors selling everything from jewelry to car parts.  We strolled through on our way to the pizza place and then walked around Ft. Pierce a bit while we waited for the pizza to be done.  The pizza place was short staffed that night (of course) so it took longer than normal.  But we got the pizza, returned to the boat and sat down and finally relaxed.  The day had been a great day up until we got to the marina and then just hot and tiring to deal with the multiple dockings, the fueling, the boat chores, and of course the power issue.  But this leg of our trip was almost over.  We turned in early so we could get an early start on Saturday, our last day.

November 5, 2015 – New Smyrna Beach to Cocoa Village, FL

We were up early Thursday morning, and by 7:18 am, we were pulling out of the slip headed for Cocoa Village, some 45 nm south.  It was a beautiful morning with another gorgeous sunrise over New Smyrna Beach.

Sunrise over New Smyrna Beach

Sunrise over New Smyrna Beach

New Smyrna Beach Marina

New Smyrna Beach Marina

As we traveled down the ICW, we could see the diversity of living styles in Florida.  We passed beautiful sailboats, large homes, mobile home parks filled with fixed double-wide mobile homes, dilapidated RV parks, and a small boat whose owner seems to earn his livelihood catching live bait.  A diverse crowd.

Cruising Down the ICW

Cruising Down the ICW

Cruising Up the ICW

Cruising Up the ICW

RV Park

RV Park

Mobile Home Park

Mobile Home Park

Live Bait Boat

Live Bait Boat

After a brief rain shower, the dolphins showed up.  Unfortunately for most of this time, we were in a no wake zone.  However, there was a period when we were up around 9 kts at which point the dolphins came out and played.  One never really gets tired of watching them frolic.

Soaring

Soaring

Leaping in the Wake

Leaping in the Wake

Frolicing

Frolicing

Just before 1 pm, we were turning into Cocoa Village Marina.  Last year, we had been on their face dock and we expected to be there again.  However, some large boat had pulled up for lunch and had taken our space.  So we had to go around the backside of marina into a slip that was a little small for us.  We made it without too much effort, and Curiosity was soon safely tied up.

After rinsing the boat, we headed into town.  Our first stop was at S.F. Travis, said to be the largest privately owned hardware store.  I had noticed a number of screws missing from one of the rub rails and wanted to get replacements.  I took a matching screw with me so that I would get that right ones.  S.F. Travis is a real old school working hardware store – big on inventory, totally lacking in décor.  No air conditioning.  Rows of parts, buckets of screws, nuts and bolts. Three or four guys were sitting around the counter when we entered, shooting the breeze.  I showed them the screw and one of them immediately led me through a labyrinth of shelves and doors with plastic sheathing to a shelf way In the back of the store.  He pulled down a small box and there were the screws.  No computer inventory here – all man-based knowledge.  $1.20 for 10 stainless screws and we were on our way.

S.F. Travis

S.F. Travis

Shelves and Shelves

Shelves and Shelves

Nails and More Nails

Nails and More Nails

Inside S.F. Travis

Inside S.F. Travis

Buying Screws

Buying Screws

When we had been in Cocoa Village last year, it had been a Sunday.  It seemed to be a vibrant little artsy town with lots of restaurants and people milling about.  Unfortunately, most of the galleries had been closed.  We were looking forward to wandering into them and seeing the local art scene.  This was Thursday, so everything was opened.  However, on a weekday, the town did not seem very vibrant.  There were few people around and the restaurants did not seem particularly inspiring.  The galleries were open but the local art seemed rather kitschy and not very good.  It was a disappointment.

For dinner, we decided to try something very different than the usual Florida seafood by going to a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant called Mamasan’s.  It was on the outskirts of town on a busy commercial street (think auto repair shops) about 0.7 miles away.  The restaurant is in a converted donut shop, with maybe 8 – 10 coffee shop type tables.  Three of them were filled, two with Vietnamese locals.  The waitress brought us the menus, including color pictures of their specials, and explained the various items on the rather limited menu.  It was all very Asian, except for the waitress who was your typical all American Caucasian teenager.  I ordered the beef pho and Adrienne ordered caramelized shrimp with rice and broccoli.  The waitress had explained that it takes two days to prepare the broth for the pho and everything is fresh and cooked on premises. It turned out that both dishes were excellent.  Even better there were leftover shrimp for me to have for lunch.  While we were eating, Mamasan herself came wandering out for a few minutes.  Although Mamasans was out of the way, it was well worth the visit.

It was time to head back to the boat.  The sun was just setting.  To get to the restaurant, we had walked through some sketchy neighborhoods so we decided to stick to the main thoroughfares for our return trip.  On our way we passed the Cocoa Village Water Tower.  Now you would think there was nothing exciting about this tower, but you would be wrong.  According to the dockmaster and the flashing neon sign in front of the tower, this was the 2015 Tower of the Year holding the best water in the entire State of Florida!  It was quite exciting to just stand beside such an icon.

Tower of the Year

Tower of the Year

Soon we were back at the boat, ready for our journey to Fort Pierce the next day.

 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015; St. Augustine to New Smyrna Beach, FL

Our intention this morning was to take it easy.  Instead of getting up at 5:30 or 5:45, we planned on getting up closer to 7 or 7:30, eating breakfast before we left and getting underway around 8:30.  Our destination was to be Daytona Beach, some 51 nm to the south.  If we made about 10 kts, we’d get into Daytona Beach in the early afternoon.   This sounded like a much more civilized day to us after three days of 5:30 am alarms and 10-hour days.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Despite our best intentions to sleep to about 7 or 7:30, we were up at 6:30.  At that point, Jim suggested we just get going so we could get into Daytona Beach that much earlier.  So we skipped breakfast in the salon, got the instruments on and left the dock at about 7:20.

One of the reasons for a later departure than 7:20, other than an easier day, was the current, which can get strong in and around St. Augustine.  Low tide at Camachee Cove was not until about 8:40.  Had we left at our original time, we would have had very little current.  Leaving at 7:20, however, meant that we would have about a knot of current once we got out in the main channel and that it would push us toward the Usina Bridge, immediately south of the entrance to Camachee Cove Marina.

I watched a sport fisher leave the marina about 20 minutes before we were going to leave.  It had no problem within the marina or the entrance channel.  But as soon as it entered the main channel it went sideways toward the bridge for a fair distance before the captain got it turned around to face the bridge.  When we left, I took it easy out of the slip and into the marina channel.  But before we entered the main channel I increased our speed some and started angling against the current.  It took a few seconds for the bow to turn up into the current, but once it did we were able to cut across without any problem and turn toward the bridge with plenty of room.

The next problem was the dredge that was parked under the main span, taking up half of the space boats would normally have to pass.  It looked exceedingly narrow to me, especially with more than a knot of current with us and the need to go very slowly under the bridge while passing the dredge.  Jim hailed the dredge operator, who basically said, “No problem.  Bring ‘er on through.”  We didn’t think so. We opted instead to go through the adjacent span.  Plenty of height, no dredge taking up space and so lots of room to maneuver.

Then came the confusing and shoal-filled area known as the St. Augustine harbor.  Because this area is subject to strong currents, storms and winds, the channels are always shifting along with the markers that tell boaters where to go.  In addition, several channels converge in the center of the harbor, so there are numerous marks, some of which mark the ICW route and many of which don’t.  The bottom line was that we couldn’t necessarily rely on the routes we had taken on previous trips through this area since they could be wrong.  We picked our way through the mess and found that our previous routes were still accurate as we approached the Bridge of Lions, passing Castillo de San Marcos and historic St. Augustine.  We arrived at the bridge at low tide and had plenty of height to pass through without having to wait for a bridge opening.

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Historic St. Augustine

Historic St. Augustine

Bridge of Lions

Bridge of Lions

For the next two hours, we had an uneventful cruise down the ICW.  We were going against the current and so couldn’t make as much progress as we would have liked, but we were averaging about 8.3 kts.  Good enough.  There were the usual low spots that required careful attention.  But Active Captain posts provide excellent guidance for getting through these areas with keels and nerves intact; that is, until we reached a known trouble spot, the dreaded Green 81A to Red 82 stretch.

We reached this spot about 2 hours after we departed, a little before low tide.  The ICW here curves to the west and then winds back to the south in a narrow channel that runs within feet of the shore.  We heeded the Active Captain advice on how to get through, but even with that advice hit one spot with only 6.3 feet of water.  We draw 5 feet.  Not a lot of room to get through!  Most of the bottom bounced around between 7 and 8 feet, and it was difficult to determine exactly where the deep water was (if it existed) even with Active Captain.

We went very slowly.  I called out depths as Jim picked our way through.  We made it and soon found ourselves in deeper water.  What a relief!

The morning winds were calm and the skies were partly cloudy.  With the worst of the shoaling areas behind us, Jim started to think about our easy day.  Maybe we should not stop at Daytona Beach.  Maybe we should press on to New Smyrna Beach, about 33 nm further to the south.  If we did, we would pass the Ponce de Leon inlet, another major shoaling area, on a rising tide.  We wouldn’t get in until about 4pm, but we figured that was a small price to pay for an easy transit through the inlet and a shorter day on Thursday.  So we called the New Smyrna Beach Marina to see if they had room.  They did.  We went.

Around noonish we picked up some current and were able to make about 9.5 kts.  That allowed us to get through the Daytona Beach area fairly quickly.  It was also a perfect speed for dolphins.  A pair came racing over and were soon doing acrobatic flips behind the boat.  Quite a sight!

Making a Big Splash

Making a Big Splash

Having Fun

Having Fun

Playing Together

Playing Together

Spinning

Spinning

Soaring Dolphin

Soaring Dolphin

Dolphin Acrobatics

Dolphin Acrobatics

We reached the Ponce de Leon inlet around 2:15 and were at the New Smyrna Beach Marina shortly after 3pm.  Better than we had expected.

The marina is right on the ICW, so very convenient for getting in and out.  We had about a knot of current with us and the marina had assigned us to a slip.  However, unlike Wrightsville Beach, we had a no fuss, no muss docking experience.  To get in, we did not need to turn across the current, we just had to angle the bow to port and straighten out because the slip was the second one in from the ICW and there were no slips across from it. Jim got us lined up with the current on our stern and then eased us back in.  Easy!

We did our boat chores and checked in and then had a little bit of time to attend to other matters, like paying bills and dealing with house issues, like figuring out the window treatments in our family room (very important), getting the mold inspector’s post-mold remediation report, getting the restoration of Jim’s office underway, arranging for the delivery of our furniture from storage, etc., etc.

We decided on an early dinner at the marina restaurant, mainly because during Happy Hour they were offering all their appetizers for 50% off and all their specialty drinks for 50% off.  We figured we could make a meal out of appetizers.  And we did.  It wasn’t the healthiest meal, but it did the trick.  We ordered a jumbo crab cake, a huge plate of nachos with pulled pork (the American Heart Association would not approve) and a stack of fried green tomatoes with goat cheese (another dish that the AHA wouldn’t like).  But, hey, there were tomatoes in there, so it was like healthy.  All three were pretty good, especially for the price!

It was also a very balmy evening, so eating outside was quite pleasant.  This was due to the unseasonably warm weather that we had today and every day since we left Charleston.  Yesterday, New Smyrna Beach broke the record high temperature with 90 degrees.  On November 4!  And it has been very humid every day.  We do not usually run the A/C when we’re cruising.  But yesterday it was so steamy in the pilot house, even with all the doors and portholes open, that we couldn’t take it. We turned on the generator, turned on the A/C and were much happier.  The rest of the week is not supposed to be quite as steamy, but the high temperatures are still supposed to hit 88 degrees.  I know it’s Florida, but I wouldn’t mind an 80 degree day with lower humidity.  We’ll see if it shows up by the end of this week.

 

November 2-3, 2015 –Hilton Head, SC to St. Simons Island, GA to St. Augustine, FL

Leaving Hilton Head

Leaving Hilton Head

Sea Pines Lighthouse at Dawn

Sea Pines Lighthouse at Dawn

We were up early Monday morning, and by 6:30 am, Adrienne was easing Curiosity out of our slip at Hilton Head.  We were headed for St. Simon’s Island – 85 miles south.  The forecast called for 2-4 ft. seas and 10kt winds, so we expected it to be a little bouncy out in the ocean.

By 7:30 am, we were in the Tybee Roads channel heading out to sea.  Winds were gusting up to 17kts and the seas were choppy – 2-4ft with only a 2 second period.  It was bumpy but we hoped it would improve when we left the channel and turned south.  As we began our exit from the channel, we entered a fog bank with visibility down to less than ½ mile.  Fortunately, i t did not last longer than about 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, the waves kicked up to 5 ft with a 2 second period.  Nasty but nothing that Curiosity couldn’t handle.

The ocean was bumpy and not terribly pleasant, but otherwise it was a long boring ride down to St. Simons.  Occasionally, we saw dolphins and a few other boats, but mostly we were on our own.

A little after two, we were entering the St. Simons inlet and by 3:30pm, we were tied up at the transient dock at Morningstar Marina – Golden Isles.

Directly across from us was Meandering Joy, another Fleming 55.  The owner came over and introduced himself and we had a long discussion about all things Fleming.  Meandering Joy is over 20 years old but she looks great.  It is amazing how well Flemings hold up over the years.  The boat had spent the winter at St. Simons, but was heading out on Wednesday for Florida.  We may see them again.

We washed the boat off, did an engine check, and before we knew it, it was time for dinner.  The Coastal Kitchen restaurant was right at the marina and we headed there for dinner.  This is a very nice local place that serves good food.  After splitting a Caesar Salad, Adrienne had the fried chicken and I had the fried shrimp.  Both were very good.  However, Adrienne’s chicken had the typical southern white gravy on it, which she scrapped off.  We will need to work on her Southern roots.

It was off to bed early again because we had one more long ocean run the next day – 55nm in the ocean to St. Johns River inlet and then another 30 nm down to St. Augustine.

Tuesday morning we were up at 5:30 am and by 6:30 we were pulling out of the marina.  It was another spectacular sky as we left St. Simons.  The winds were less than 4kts and the seas were calm.  By 7:30 am, we were out of the channel and heading for the St. Johns inlet.

St. Simons Lighthouse

St. Simons Lighthouse

Spectacular Dawn

Spectacular Dawn

Light Show

Light Show

However, as soon as we began to exit the channel, we heard a Pan Pan announcement from the Coast Guard about an overturned 20ft powerboat just off St. Simons Island, with possible persons in the water.  The overturned vessel had been spotted by another boat that had apparently not stopped.   We checked the latitude and longitude given by the Coast Guard and realized that we might be the closest boat to that location.  We altered course and headed toward the vessel.  Just as we got close to the location, a Coast Guard search and rescue boat arrived on the scene.  We could see the overturned boat but nothing  else.  We asked the Coast Guard if they needed our assistance; they did not and we continued on our way.  We later heard that the Pan Pan had been canceled.  The overturned boat had probably been in the water quite a while.

We continued on south in 1-3ft seas.  It was a little choppy but so much better than Monday.

Calm Blue Seas

Calm Blue Seas

Just before noon, we arrived at the St. John Inlet.  At this point we had a choice, either enter the inlet and continue down the ICW to St. Augustine or continue in the ocean to the St. Augustine inlet.  Staying in the ocean would be faster, but the St. Augustine inlet can be a bear.  Adrienne called Sea Tow in St. Augustine for advice, who advised us that we would be arriving on an ebbing current when the inlet can be quite nasty.  We opted for the St. Johns inlet.

As we entered the inlet, we passed the Jacksonville Naval Base, the Coast Guard Station and many fishing vessels.  It is a very busy inlet.

Jacksonville Naval Base

Jacksonville Naval Base

Aircraft Carrier - Jacksonville

Aircraft Carrier – Jacksonville

Coast Guard Station

Coast Guard Station

Fishing Vessels Along the St. Johns River

Fishing Vessels Along the St. Johns River

By 12:1 5pm, we were in the ICW heading south.  In the beginning we were making great time, over 11kts because we had the current with us.  However, just after 1:30 pm, we entered the Cabbage Swamp Canal, a ten mile no-wake zone in a man-made cut with houses all along the shore.  We slowed down to near idle speed but with the current we were still able to go nearly 7 kts with little wake.  The canal is quite beautiful with a variety of houses along it.

Coast Guard Search and Rescue

Coast Guard Search and Rescue

Cabbage Swamp Canal

Cabbage Swamp Canal

Along the Cabbage Swamp Canal

Along the Cabbage Swamp Canal

Along ICW

Along ICW

Along the ICW In Florida

Along the ICW In Florida

Modern House along Canal

Modern House along Canal

Finally, we exited the canal and were in the Tolomato River.  It felt great to be able to speed up and complete our journey to St. Augustine.

As we neared St. Augustine, we saw a small grey boat with flashing blue lights chasing two other boats.  We couldn’t tell what was going on.  The three boats suddenly turned around and began racing toward us.  As they passed us, we couldn’t believe what we saw.  The lead boat was pulling the second boat at a fast pace.  In the second boat was a series of white dummies sitting in the cockpit.  The boat with the flashing blue lights was chasing the dummy boat.  As it pulled neared, I could see that crouching in the cockpit were several law enforcement officers with drawn guns aimed at the dummies.  I assume that they were not actually firing at the dummies – they were less than 100 feet from us.  Later the boat towing the dummies came racing pass us again.  Obviously the dummies had escaped!

Towing the Dummies

Towing the Dummies

Taking Aim at the Dummies

Taking Aim at the Dummies

The Dummies Escaping

The Dummies Escaping

With this excitement over, we headed for Comachee Cove Marina in St. Augustine.  We usually stay at the St. Augustine City Marina because it is right in the heart of historic St. Augustine.  However, we knew that we would not have time to sightsee and the Comachee marina is protected from the swift current that runs in St. Augustine.  What we had not counted on was that the channel to the marina was occupied by a dredge.  We eased past the dredge with less than 2 feet between us and the dredge on the port side and less than 2 feet between us and the channel markers on the starboard side.  We made it but it was not fun.  Fortunately docking was easier and by 4 pm, we were tied up and done.

We washed the boat, went to the Kingfishers for dinner and headed back to the boat to collapse.  The Kingfisher was okay but was nothing special.

Tomorrow, we head to Daytona Beach.

 

November 1, 2015 – Charleston to Hilton Head, SC

I returned to Charleston from Greenwich, CT and the LLS board meeting Friday evening and Adrienne returned from our home in Florida early Saturday afternoon.  I spent Saturday preparing to continue our trip south – grocery shopping, engine checks, refilling our water tanks.  Once Adrienne arrived, we did laundry, watched a little college football and made dinner.  It was an exciting Halloween.

We were up early Sunday morning to time our departure with slack current at the City Marina and with dawn’s first light.  At 6:15am, Adrienne eased Curiosity away from the docked and out into the channel for our 85 nautical mile ocean run to Hilton Head.  It was a beautiful morning with calm winds and mild temperatures.  The morning sky over Charleston was spectacular – red and orange skies framed by blue skies and some grey clouds.  As the sun rose higher, it reflected down from the skies above.  Simply beautiful.

Leaving City Marina

Leaving City Marina

Sunrise Charleston Harbor

Sunrise Charleston Harbor

Sunrise over Fort Sumter

Sunrise over Fort Sumter

The ocean was calm with seas of about 2 feet with a period of 4-6 seconds.    The seas were empty most of the day – no boats, no whales and only scattered flocks of birds.  There were a few dolphins but none wanted to play.  Eventually we turned on the TV in the helm and watched a silly comedy about a meteor that hits earth and harbors alien life forms that rapidly evolve into menacing creatures; it was Ghost Busters meets Aliens.  It did kill some time.

By 2pm, we were nearing the Tybee Roads Inlet that leads to Savannah and Hilton Head.  Suddenly things began to get interesting.  The radar showed a slew of boats at the entrance to the inlet; it looked like the boats were engaging in a massive orgy.    There were tugs boats pulling barges and going in various directions with no clear pattern to their movement.  There were large container ships anchored about the inlet.  There was a tug with barge heading out to sea from the inlet and another in the center of the channel.  And parked right in the middle of the channel was the dredge Alaska.

Going in Circles

Going in Circles

Dredge Alaska

Dredge Alaska

As we got closer to the inlet, I called one of the tugs, which was on a collision course with us to see what she was doing.  It turns out that the tugs were just circling towing large barges.  We assume that the dredge was dumping its dredge materials into the barges.  The tug turned away from us to give us room to pass and enter the harbor.  The dredge told us we would have plenty of room to pass if we stayed close to the inlet buoy; all of its dredging pipes were marked with floats.

Shortly after 2 pm, we were in the channel heading into Tybee Roads.  What looked from afar like a real mess turned out to be relatively simple.  We turned into the channel just east of the dredge and its floats and had plenty of room.  By 2:50 we were in Calibogue Sound, and by 3:20 we were tied up at Hilton Head’s Harbortown Yacht Basin.  It’s a bit of pain to have to come so far inland to get to the marina, but the free bottle of wine they give you when you dock makes that a little bit better.

We rinsed all the ocean water off Curiosity and chamoised her down and then had a few hours to relax before dinner.  We wanted to have an early dinner because Monday would be another early morning for our run to St. Simon Island, some 85 nm to the south.

We decided to have dinner at the Links American Grill, a new restaurant in a new clubhouse at the Sea Pines resort and a short walk from the marina.  We ran into another couple on our way who told us that the owner of the resort had just spent $87 million renovating the building.  It was beautiful from the outside and even more so on the inside.  It even had the new building smell when we walked in.

Dinner was surprisingly good, although a bit on the expensive side.  I had grilled shrimp over cheesy grits with a very good smoky sauce, while Adrienne had a Caesar salad to start.  For the main course, I had grilled meatloaf with mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables and a side of excellent onion rings.  The slice of meatloaf was massive, and although not as good as the meatloaf at the Annapolis Yacht Club, it was a close second.  Adrienne chose a grilled spearfish, which neither of us had heard of before, with a kale and cabbage slaw, crispy fries and the same excellent onion rings.  The fish was delicious and also a hefty piece, so we had plenty of leftovers for several lunches this week.

We headed back to the marina, expecting a pleasant walk in the mild November air and were greeted instead with pouring rain.  This was completely unexpected.  There was no rain in the forecast (how dare the weather not follow the forecast!), and more importantly, we had neither raincoats nor umbrellas.  So back to the restaurant we went and sat at the bar and watched the end of the Dallas/Seattle football game and yet another Dallas loss.  We hoped that by the end of the game the rain would have at least let up a bit, but it had not.  The Links hostess, however, offered us a golf umbrella so that we could make it back to the boat without getting completely drenched.  It worked beautifully.  Alas, the same could not be said for Curiosity’s interior.

Not expecting rain and having late afternoon temperatures around 80, we had opened the side windows in the galley and the portholes over the bed in the master stateroom and left them open when we went to dinner.  When we got back there was quite a bit of mopping up to do.  Nothing terrible, just a lot of wet.  We were fortunate that we had an extra blanket folded up at the foot of our bed right under the portholes and my jeans on top of that.   These absorbed most of the rain, so our bed could still be slept in.  But we ended up with comforters, towels and clothes draped on sinks, plumbing fixtures and across other beds in an effort to dry them.  Live and learn.

Once everything was cleaned up, we settled in for the evening and prepared for our departure the next day.

October 23-25, 2015 –  Georgetown, S.C. to Charleston, S.C.

We left Harborwalk Marina shortly before 7am.  Our goal was to leave the dock so that we would reach the mouth of Winyah Bay, the body of water that flows from Georgetown to the Atlantic,  as close to slack current as possible.   We were very cautious about running this inlet after our experience last year when we had a nasty 6- to 8-foot chop on our nose.  Things were flying around the cabin for the 15 intense minutes it took us to get out of the inlet and make the starboard turn to the south.  We did not want to repeat that.  The problem was that slack current at the inlet was 6am.  To get there we’d have to leave the dock before 5am since it takes a little over an hour to get from Georgetown all the way down Winyah Bay.   It would be dark; sunrise wouldn’t be until 7:30.  There was shoaling around the harbor and we really didn’t want to go through the harbor when it was pitch black.  So we decided to wait until 7.  We would have some daylight and reach the inlet with only about a knot of current with us on the ebb.

It would also allow us to time the current in Charleston a little better.  Slack current at the Charleston City Marina was not until 5:30pm.  We were going to be on the Megadock, a long face dock that runs along the Ashley River.  There can be several knots of current at the dock when it reaches its maximum, and we have found that docking is so much easier if we can dock at slack or close to slack current.  If we left Georgetown to get the slack at Winyah Bay we would have hours and hours to kill before we could dock at Charleston.  So if we delayed leaving Georgetown a bit, it would help us at the other end in Charleston.

Well, that was the plan.  We left without incident.  The forecast called for north winds at 5 to 10 kts with 3- to 4-foot seas.  We had some fog at around 6am, but this gradually lifted so that we had over a mile of visibility when we left.  All was good until we exited the Sampit River, where Georgetown is located, and entered Winyah Bay.  Then we got socked in with dense fog.  Visibility was less than 1/8 nm.  We slowed down, put the fog horn on and proceeded cautiously.  The sun would be up soon and it was predicted to be a warm day, so we expected the fog to lift as soon as the temperatures started to rise.  We neared the first turn in the Bay and saw considerable improvement in the fog.  But it was short lived.  As we rounded the turn, we got socked in again.  There was a tug and barge ahead of us in the channel and they reported that the fog was lifting in their location.  And indeed when we reached them and passed them our visibility was good.  We increased speed and from that point on we had improving visibility until we reached the inlet.  A sailboat that had made it out about an hour before we reached the inlet reported 10 miles of visibility and 2-foot swells.  Music to our ears!

Tug in the Winyah Bay

Tug in the Winyah Bay

Being Towed Down the Winyh Bay

Being Towed Down the Winyh Bay

But alas, conditions changed by the time we reached the inlet about an hour and 20 minutes after we left the dock.  By that time the current was running about 3kts and the waves from the ocean were coming at us.  We started out with about a 2- to 3-foot swell, but as we left the protection of land this quickly turned into about a 3- to 4-foot chop.  This was much better than the conditions we had last year, but it was still a bumpy ride until got past the jetties and could make our starboard turn to the south.   We were fine, Curiosity was solid, nothing flew around the cabin, but we couldn’t help but wonder how some of the smaller boats with less power would fare in these conditions.  We heard later from one of the boats next to us in Georgetown that several boats that left after us turned back.  We weren’t sure if that was because of the fog (although that should have been improving steadily) or the conditions at the inlet.

Once we got out past the jetties, however, the seas calmed down.  The sun was up and the day was warming up.  For most of the cruise to Charleston we had 3 to 7 kts of north wind and 2- to 3-foot swells that gently rocked us. There was no one around.  We saw maybe two other boats until we approached the Charleston channel.

Fishing in the Charleston Inlet

Fishing in the Charleston Inlet

Charleston Inlet

Charleston Inlet

Normally we’d run the ocean at about 10kts.  But if we did that this time we’d arrive too early to catch the slack current in Charleston, so we slowed down to about 1040 rpm and about 8.5 kts.  Usually when we’re in the ocean there’s some bit of “current” against us, either from wind or tides.  But on this day, one of the few days when we wanted to go slowly, we had it with us. We were inside the Charleston channel and off Sullivan Island by about 2:30pm.  So we slowed down to 6kts and took a tour of Charleston’s harbor.  We circumnavigated Drum Island, creeping along at a snail’s pace while we waited for the current to drop below 2 kts.

USS Yorktown

USS Yorktown

Ravenel Bridge Across the Cooper River

Ravenel Bridge Across the Cooper River

Dockyards on Cooper River

Dockyards on Cooper River

The Old and the New

The Old and the New

Custom House

Custom House

Steeple of St. Michael's Church

Steeple of St. Michael’s Church

As we rounded the north side of Drum Island at about 3:45pm, the current started to slow to about a knot.  I was willing to continue with our slow tour of the surrounding waters, but Jim was getting impatient.  We figured if we proceeded directly to the City Marina we would still have about a knot of current to deal with and maybe (hopefully) less.

As we approached the marina the current was flooding and holding steady around a knot.  We were going to be on the inside of the Megadock at the end.  We decided that the best approach was to back down the fairway one berth and angle Curiosity onto the dock.  This would keep the current on the bow and eliminate the need to turn the boat around and putting the current on our beam, which could get ugly.  The strategy worked perfectly.  Jim backed us down.  The current started to push the bow off the dock as we angled in, but Jim maneuvered Curiosity to hold us steady and before you knew it we were tied up.  No drama!

We rinsed Curiosity off, took care of a few other chores and then relaxed a bit before getting ready for dinner.  Bob and Ronnie had invited us to join them at The Grocery.  We had a fantastic meal.  We shared two appetizers: roasted and fried okra and an eggplant, tomato and mozzarella gratin.  Both were delicious.  For a main course, Jim had duck confit with butternut squash and fall greens, and I had wreckfish in a stew of okra, onions and other stuff I can’t identify, but which was all really good.  Doesn’t get much better than that.  We had another enjoyable evening with Ronnie and Bob.

On Saturday morning, we did some needed housework aboard the boat and then hiked into downtown Charleston, a little more than a mile away, to do some sightseeing and window shopping and to take in some of the many art galleries.

St. Philip's Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

Gates of Saint Philips

Gates of Saint Philips

St. Philip's Cemetary

St. Philip’s Cemetary

We were interested in visiting the Audubon Gallery on King Street because Dennis DelMauro, the wood carver who is carving a piece for Curiosity, had a number of pieces in the gallery, including the piece that he was working on in Swansboro when we met him.  The finished piece was just beautiful.  It has two long-billed curlews perched on a large piece of driftwood.  There were many other beautifully carved ducks and other shore birds by other artists.  The gallery was well worth the visit.

Our next stop was the Robert Lange Studios, highly recommended by Ronnie and Bob.  The gallery has an eclectic mix of artists and sculptors.  Some were doing some more traditional, representational works and others had more contemporary takes on representational subjects.  In addition, the gallery offers studio space to artists.  When we visited, there were at least two artists who had studios in the gallery.  The artists were not there, which was too bad because I would have loved to have seen them in the process of painting.  But it was fun to see their studio set-ups, palettes and paint choices.

After a last stop at Harris Teeter for some provisions, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the boat.  Dinner that night was at Blossom, which is a sister restaurant of Cypress, which we ate at over the summer, and of Magnolias.  Blossom is a little less formal that Cypress and has a menu that emphasizes seafood.  Nonetheless, on our waiter’s recommendation, we had a house-made andouille sausage with mini pancake and mustard appetizer, which was outstanding.  We also split two other dishes: seared sea scallops in a corn chowder with bacon, leeks and potatoes and fried chicken breast with gravy and mashed potatoes.  Very southern and very, very good.

We decided that Sunday would be a day of touristy stuff.  The weather remained good, so we booked some tickets on one of the harbor tours for Fort Sumter, to which we had never been.  The cruise to the Fort took about 30 minutes.  We got a brief history of the Fort and its role in the Civil War as we crossed the harbor to the Fort.  During 1863, the Union began a prolonged bombardment and siege of the Fort in an effort to retake it from the Confederacy.  The bombardment ultimately was unsuccessful, but it managed to destroy several of the fort’s upper levels.  The Fort that we see today is quite different, therefore, from the Fort that existed at the beginning of the Civil War.  Nevertheless, it was a very interesting tour of a location that was a flashpoint for both sides in the war.  The Park Service, which manages the Fort, had a very good presentation of its history after we arrived.  We were then free to wander the grounds.  Many of the cannons and other guns that were used during the Civil War were on display in the locations they would have occupied during the War.  In addition, the four flags that flew over the Fort, the 33-star American Flag, the first flag of the Confederacy, the second flag of the Confederacy, and finally the 35-star American flag, which was installed at the end of the War, were flying over the parade grounds.  It was a very interesting 2 hours.

Ft. Sumter

Ft. Sumter

Ft. Sumter

Ft. Sumter

Cannon

Cannon

Inside Ft. Sumter

Inside Ft. Sumter

The Four Flags that Flew over Ft. Sumter

The Four Flags that Flew over Ft. Sumter

Ft Sumter Parade Ground

Ft Sumter Parade Ground

Shoals of Ft. Sumter

Shoals of Ft. Sumter

After the tour we returned to the boat to watch some football and do some blog writing.  Dinner tonight was at Poogan’s Porch.   This restaurant is located in one of the old townhouses in the city.  It specializes in low country fare.  It, too, was excellent.  We split a wedge salad to begin.  Jim ordered shrimp and grits.  What else?  He’s a shrimp lover and can’t get enough of low country shrimp preparations.  Fortunately, Poogan’s Porch’s shrimp and grits were excellent.  I had a pan-roasted duck breast with arugula and sweet potato gnocchi.  The duck was juicy and tender and went beautifully with the gnocchi and greens.  Another great meal in Charleston!  It is hard to get a bad meal; there are so many great restaurants!

Tonight, it’s finishing up the blog and getting ready for my trip to Palm Beach Gardens tomorrow.  I’m going back for the week to check up on the painting and to manage the marble tile installation and the mold remediation.  So, I need to pack and get my stuff together.  Tomorrow will be a long day of traveling because there are no direct flights from Charleston to West Palm Beach.  Go figure.  In any event, I’ll get in around 3:30 if my original and connecting flights are on time.  We’ll see.  Jim will remain on a the boat for a few day before he is off to New York for an LLS board meeting in Greenwich, CT. We’ll both return on the weekend to get ready for the second part of our southbound trek, Charleston to North Palm Beach.

October 21-22, 2015 – Grand Dunes to Georgetown, S.C.

Just before 8 am, Adrienne eased Curiosity away from the dock and down the ICW.  It was a beautiful day and the ICW was calm and peaceful.

Curiosity easily churned through the chocolate waters.   The water table was high, so even the shallow spots had plenty of water.  However, there were areas along the ICW that were still flooded and there were numerous Coast Guard warnings that boaters should  watch their wakes to avoid damaging structures already affected by flooding.

Chocolate Water

Chocolate Water

For the first couple of hours, the current was against us and we struggled to make even 7 kts when we were outside No Wake zones.  It was a slow passage and I didn’t expect to make Georgetown until maybe 3 pm.

Socastee Swing Bridge

Socastee Swing Bridge

Building A New Bridge Over the ICW

Building A New Bridge Over the ICW

Along the ICW

Along the ICW

Then around 10 am, we enter the beautiful and wide Waccamaw River, with an ebbing current that was flowing between 1.5 – 2 kts.  Suddenly we were cruising at almost 12 kts, with few No-Wake zones.

Waccamaw River

Waccamaw River

Another Fleming Along the Waccamaw

Another Fleming Along the Waccamaw

Hint of Fall

Hint of Fall

Before we knew it, we were exiting the Waccamaw River and entering Winyah Bay, where the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee rivers merge to form a long fast moving bay to the ocean.  A short run up the Sampit River, we were at Georgetown.  We refueled our aft diesel tanks and by 1:15 pm, we were tied up at our slip in Harborwalk Marina, two hours earlier than I would have predicted at 9 am.  It was a fast beautiful run.

Entering Georgetown Harbor

Entering Georgetown Harbor

Harborwalk Marina is located right on Front Street in the heart of downtown Georgetown.  Our plan was to spend two nights there, while we waited for what looked like great weather on Friday.

After lunch, we noticed that another Fleming 55, Mystic Lady, had pulled into Harborwalk Marina.  Mystic Lady is owned by Bob and Ronnie, and Bob walked over to Curiosity and introduced himself.  They were also heading south to their winter home in Fort Pierce, Florida.  I invited them to join us for dinner at a new restaurant that had just opened in Georgetown – the Townhouse Restaurant.

Adrienne and I had a quick walk around town, got dressed for dinner, and then strolled over to the restaurant with Bob and Ronnie.  The Townhouse Restaurant is on Front Street, right next to the old Rice Paddy Restaurant that has now closed.  We started our dinner with some shrimp and corn fritters, which were fantastic.  Adrienne had salmon over cheesy grits and I had the quail.  Both were outstanding.  Even better was the company, as we found that we had much in common with the Bob and Ronnie and thoroughly enjoyed our conversations over dinner.

The next day, we had a lazy morning and then went touring around Georgetown.  The town had been hit hard by the flooding in South Carolina, following all the rain caused by Hurricane Joachin sitting off the coast.  You could clearly see the damage in some stores, but repairs were already underway.  Two years ago, a major fire in downtown Georgetown had destroyed eights stores right along the waterfront.  One of those stores had moved across the street and reopened.  With unbelievable bad luck, the new store had suffered significant damage from the flooding.  Snd bags were still evident in front of a number of stores, but, most stores were open and the downtown area seemed busier than it had last year.  We toured a few art galleries, had lunch at a local deli and returned along the Harborwalk to Curiosity to prepare for our run on Friday to Charleston.

Front Street - Georgetown

Front Street – Georgetown

Jim in Georgetown

Jim in Georgetown

The Ships Booty

The Ships Booty

Didn't Seem to Help this Business

Didn’t Seem to Help this Business

A Line of Sand Bags

A Line of Sand Bags

Site of the 2103 Fire

Site of the 2103 Fire

Along Harborwalk

Along Harborwalk

 

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015; Southport, NC to Grand Dunes, SC

Ever since a front came through this general area last Friday night, we’ve had chilly mornings (40s to 50s) and beautiful, clear and sunny days.  Some days have been windier than others, like Monday and Saturday and Sunday, but others, like today have been calm.  Yes, it was about 50 degrees when we left the dock at Southport at about 8 am this morning, but the day gradually warmed up.  Now, as I sit and write this blog it’s in the mid-70s with a gentle breeze and all the blue sky and sunshine you could ask for.  We’re hoping this weather will hold because we are almost to the end of the first leg of our trip, Charleston, SC on Friday.  Time will tell on that one.

The section of the ICW we traveled today has a couple of bends in the waterway that have been shoaling problems for years.  Every now and then one of them gets dredged, but overall most just get worse and worse with each passing year.  The seminar we attended last night highlighted this problem.  Hank Pomeranz, who gives the talk, prepares excellent handouts with color pictures of Corps of Army Engineer aerial photos showing where the good water is and where it’s grounding hell.  We can get by all of these problems with careful attention to the marks, slow speed, the Active Captain comments of boats that have gone before us and Hank’s handouts, that is, until we reach Georgetown, SC.  Between Georgetown and Charleston there are too many areas that have less than 5 feet, our draft, at all times except high tide.   We decided last year it wasn’t worth the risk to take the ICW route to Charleston.  The same problem exists for all of Georgia, which is why last year we avoided the ICW in the entire state.  We will do the same this year and instead run outside in the ocean.

We are not alone in this.  There are many boaters who choose the ocean over the ICW in Georgia and South Carolina, and it’s such a shame.  Those states have some of the most beautiful waterways along the Eastern Seaboard, with wide open marshes teeming with birdlife and dolphins and nary a beach house in sight.  Missing those vistas is a loss for boaters, but the decreased boating on the ICW is also an economic loss to the communities that line it, many of which have taken a very long time to recover from the Great Recession and could use the business boaters bring to marinas, ship stores, restaurants and the like.  South Carolina apparently got money last year for dredging the ICW, but so far none has been done.   We’re not sure about Georgia’s funding, but we are sure that no dredging has been done.  So when we reach Georgetown, we’ll take Winyah Bay to the Atlantic, turn south and head for Charleston.

But today, it was the ICW.  We passed all the problem spots without touching bottom, always a good thing.  That said, there were one or two places where we were going through a bit more than 7 feet of water.  With a 5 foot draft, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of water to spare.

Houses and Docks Along the NC ICW

Houses and Docks Along the NC ICW

Acres of Mobile Houses

Acres of Mobile Houses

More Trailer Parks

More Trailer Parks

Just Beyond the Trailer Park - More Prosperity

Just Beyond the Trailer Park – More Prosperity

Near Lighthouse Marina

Near Lighthouse Marina

Shrimp Boats Everywhere

Shrimp Boats Everywhere

Seen Better Days

Seen Better Days

Very Nice Houses Along Parts of NC ICW

Very Nice Houses Along Parts of NC ICW

We also went through the “Rock Pile” today.  This is a relatively narrow stretch of the ICW that has submerged rocks on either side.  If you stay in the middle of the channel, there is no problem.  But if a barge or a tug comes by in the opposite direction, there is a major problem.  There is precious little room for a pleasure boat to pass by such a large commercial vessel without running dangerously close to the rock strewn sides.  Some boats have had to turn around and retrace their course out of the Rock Pile (commercial vessels don’t yield to pleasure boats, pleasure boats yield to commercial vessels.  That’s just the way it is).  But even that can be risky depending on where you are because the act of turning the boat can bring you too close to the rocks.  So, it’s always an adventure transiting the Rock Pile.

Like most boats that approach this section, we made an announcement over the VHF that we were about to enter the north end.   I have no idea if this does any good.  We’ve never heard anyone saying they were coming in the opposite direction, and I’m not sure a commercial vessel would bother to announce its presence because it’s going to take the center of the channel against all pleasure craft, no matter what.  But it makes us feel like we’re doing something, so Jim made the call.

We heard no VHF messages in response and proceeded at about 7.5 to 8 kts through.  The only good thing about the Rock Pile (the narrow, rocky section) is that it’s short, about 2.5 nm.  We entered at about 1pm and were through the worst of it by about 1:30. In another 45 minutes we were turning into our destination for the evening, the Marina at Grand Dunes.

Waiting for the Little River Swing Bridge

Waiting for the Little River Swing Bridge

Little River Swing Bridge Opening

Little River Swing Bridge Opening

Entering the Rock Pile

Entering the Rock Pile

Spacious Homes along the Rock Pile

Spacious Homes along the Rock Pile

Along the Rock Pile

Along the Rock Pile

Exiting the Rock Pile

Exiting the Rock Pile

Barefoot Landing Marina

Barefoot Landing Marina

Passing the Barefoot Princess

Passing the Barefoot Princess

The Marina at Grand Dunes is like a lot of marinas that popped up in the early 2,000s.  They were built to accommodate planned communities with space available for transients.  That, of course, was during the real estate boom.  But when the bust happened, the residential development came to a screeching halt.  Some of the developments went bankrupt.  But most of the marinas managed to stay open.  So when we stop at these places, we find a very nice marina with many amenities surrounded by these ghost towns that are only now starting to come back.  That was the case with River Dunes Marina in North Carolina and is certainly the case with the Marina at Grand Dunes.  Here, there are a couple of high rises right next to the marina, and these seem to be more filled than when we stayed here last year.  There is also a grocery store, a Lowe’s and a CVS within walking distance of the marina, so signs of civilization creeping in.

We had an easy docking at the marina’s excellent floating dock.  We tidied up and attended to mold remediators, painters, designers, emails with kids, calls with family, engine checks and fun stuff like writing this blog.  And then we relaxed and enjoyed the lovely afternoon.  We’ll have dinner at one of the local restaurants (another sign of life; there is more than one now) and return to the boat for a good night’s rest before another day of adventure on the ICW.

Marina at Grand Dunes - Curiosity at the End of the Dock

Marina at Grand Dunes – Curiosity at the End of the Dock

October 18-19, 2015 – Wrightsville Beach to Southport, N.C.

Adrienne didn’t get much sleep Saturday night, worrying about how to get the boat out of the slip at Wrightsville and whether the Cape Fear River would be a rough nightmare.  Fortunately, Sunday would turn out to be a good day for our 23 nm ride to Southport, N.C.

Adrienne was up early watching how the other boats at the marina were handling the wind and the current.  We had already decided that we were not going to leave until closer to noon when the current should be at or near slack.  No one seemed to be able to give us a clear estimate of when slack current would be, however.  There are no current charts for this part of the ICW; we called Seatow but they didn’t seem to know either.  So we observed the current during the day on Saturday and noted when it went slack compared to the tide table the marina gave us.  This told us that about 30 to 40 minutes after the high or low tide, the current would be slack or close to it.  Based on this we decided to leave around noon on Sunday.

The wind on Sunday morning was less than the wind Saturday, around 5 -10 kts, but it would occasionally gust to above 15 kts.  It seemed a chilly and blustery day from the front that had pushed through during the night.  As a result, there were not many people on the ICW, and we were glad about that.

Around 11:30am, we were bored waiting and figured the current was slack enough and we would just go.  I undid the lines, Adrienne backed us out of the slip, and in no time we were in the ICW heading south.  Adrienne did a great job and made it look easy.  We were on our way.

UNC Research Vessel - along the ICW

UNC Research Vessel – along the ICW

Fishing in Snow's Cut

Fishing in Snow’s Cut

Entering Snow's Cut

Entering Snow’s Cut

Our original plan was to be at the Cape Fear River around 2:30 or so when there would be slack tide where the river meets Snow’s Cut.  If we were there earlier, we were concerned that the wind blowing from the north would be against the flooding current and create an ugly mixing bowl.  However, although we arrived early, it was 1:00 pm, the conditions on the river were fine.

Cape Fear River - Looking Pretty Good

Cape Fear River – Looking Pretty Good

The wind was blowing about 20kts, but the current was slowing considerably so our cruise down the river was quick and uneventful.  We had to navigate around a tug, a ferry and many sailboats, but just after 2:00pm we were turning into Southport Marina.

Cape Fear Ferry

Cape Fear Ferry

Tug Pulling a Barge Up the Cape Fear River

Tug Pulling a Barge Up the Cape Fear River

By 2:30pm, we were tied up.  An easy day on the ICW.

We quickly washed the boat and relaxed in the salon to watch some Sunday football.  Our plan was to go out to dinner at one of the many restaurants in Southport.  Most, however, were closed on Sunday, although a few local seafood dives were opened.  We left early for dinner and went to the Provision Company in Southport’s Yacht Basin.

Docks Along the Southport Yacht Basin

Docks Along the Southport Yacht Basin

The Provision Company turned out to be a walk up counter where you ordered you dinner, mainly fried or steamed seafood, and then sat outside on the covered patio to eat.  It was clearly a local joint and hopping with lots of local color.  We ordered their special for the night, a fried deviled crab cake and ½ lb. of steamed shrimp, a salad and onion rings.  That was plenty for us to share.  The crab cake was not the best but the shrimp was really good.

While we were eating we were treated to a great sunset over the harbor.

Setting Sun - southport

Setting Sun – southport

Cape Fear Pilot Boat at Sunset

Cape Fear Pilot Boat at Sunset

However, as soon as the sun set, the temperature dropped and soon I was freezing.

While we were sitting, Adrienne thought she saw the Amara Zee tied up at the end of the dock.  This was the ship housing the traveling Caravan Stage Company, which we had seen on the Neuse River.  After dinner, we walked over there to see if she was right and sure enough, there she was.

Sitting on the stern of the boat was one of the crew/actors smoking a cigarette.  We started chatting with him and it was clear that he must have been smoking something else earlier.  Despite his less than sober condition he was able to give us some details about the boat and the theater company.  Apparently the leader of the troupe had required quadruple by-pass heart surgery, which had cut the season short.  The rest of the crew/cast was shepherding the ship down to Miami, while the leader recuperated.  They do about 4kts and were going the ICW the whole way.  The ship was a flat-bottomed, so the ocean was not their best option.  We agreed, not the least because there was stuff strewn all over the deck that would have pitched overboard at the first wave.  We wished him and his crewmates luck on their voyage and bid him good night.

Three Sheets to the Wind Aboard the Amara Zee

Three Sheets to the Wind Aboard the Amara Zee

The Amara Zee - Not Exactly Shipshape

The Amara Zee – Not Exactly Shipshape

Back on the boat, we had a relaxing night, since we planned to spend the next day in Southport as well.

Monday morning, I was up early because we had arranged to have a diver come take a look at the bottom.  We were pretty certain that we had done no real damage when we ran aground on Saturday but we wanted to double check.  Just before 8, the diver was there.  It was 41 degrees outside with a brisk wind.  As the diver said, the water was much warmer than the air!  After his survey, the diver reported that everything looked fine.  We had scraped the paint completely off the bottom of the keel but no other damage.

We spent the rest of the morning, waiting for the temperature to climb and attending to various things like email, bills, the preliminary report from the mold inspectors (water probably caused by a pin leak in the plumbing under the floor. More on this in a later post), etc.  By lunchtime, it was 60 degrees and the wind had died down somewhat, so we decided to tour Southport.  We walked over to the Southport yacht basin and then up Howe Street, the main drag.

Egret

Egret

Southport is an active town with many people out and about.  The main industries here, other than tourism, are shrimping, fishing and the Cape Fear pilots association.  The pilots ferry boats from the ocean up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, N.C., a major port just north of here.  On our walk, we saw the old pilot tower, where pilots waited for ships to require their services.

Cape Fear Pilots tower

Cape Fear Pilots tower

Continuing up Howe Street, we saw many local businesses, some for tourists but others for townsfolk.   Several blocks up from the river is the Franklin Gallery of Art, an old schoolhouse, which was converted into a gallery. It was showing a regional art exhibit, which we toured.

Ade in Front of the Franklin Gallery of Art

Ade in Front of the Franklin Gallery of Art

After the gallery, we continued our walk circling back toward the river.  We passed the Christmas House, a year-round Christmas shop, and walked through a number of old neighborhoods on our way back to Southport Marina.  In comparison to some North Carolina coastal towns, such as Belhaven, Southport seemed vibrant and flourishing.  There are quite a few historic houses, ranging from cottages and beach houses to clapboards and even a few Victorians thrown in.  Many of the houses were being renovated.  There was also a notable flavor of Halloween in the air.

The Christmas House

The Christmas House

Tree Lined Streets in Downtown Southport

Tree Lined Streets in Downtown Southport

The Indian Trail Tree

The Indian Trail Tree

Plaque Explaining the Indian Trail Tree

Plaque Explaining the Indian Trail Tree

The Northrop House - circa 1910 - Dressed in Pink

The Northrop House – circa 1910 – Dressed in Pink

Ready for Halloween - Pirates and All

Ready for Halloween – Pirates and All

Our Selfie in Southport

Our Selfie in Southport

This evening we will be going to a Captains’ Briefing held by Hank Pomeranz of Carolina Yacht Care.  This is one of the highlights of staying at Southport Marina because Hank reviews in detail all the trouble points along the ICW in South Carolina and Georgia.  He gets daily reports from various captains, even including me, as they travel down the ICW.   He puts all the information into an invaluable package, which he updates daily and hands out to all mariners staying at the Southport Marina.  This briefing is so detailed that it lasts between 1 and 2 hours.  I wouldn’t miss it.

Southport Marina

Southport Marina

Ade and Curiosity in the Wind

Ade and Curiosity in the Wind

Tomorrow, we head for Myrtle Beach and the infamous Rock Pile.