December 10, 2014 – Vero Beach to North Palm Beach

The last leg of this trip was the run from Vero Beach to North Palm Beach.  Our original plan had been to exit the ICW at Fort Pierce and cruise outside down to the Lake Worth Inlet in order to avoid the numerous bridges between Vero Beach and North Palm Beach.  However, the marine forecast continued to call for heavy seas in the Atlantic with waves up to 11 feet.  So inside it was, a 65 mile run down the ICW.

We were up early again and by 7am we were on our way.  It was chilly in the morning and by 9am it was only 55®F. But the sky was clear, the wind light and the dolphins were out to play.  It was a delightful run south.

Sunrise - Vero Beach

Sunrise – Vero Beach

Islands in the ICW

Islands in the ICW

Marshes along the ICW

Marshes along the ICW

Houses Along the ICW

Houses Along the ICW

More Houses

More Houses

Private Canals Off ICW

Private Canals Off ICW

There were numerous bridges along the way, many where the stated clearance was 25ft or so.  If we lowered our antennas, we could easily pass under those without waiting for an opening.  Unfortunately, because of the storm out to sea, the tides were extremely high and the bridges, which normally have a 25ft clearance, only had an 18ft clearance.  Fortunately, we seemed to time the bridge openings well, and the longest we had to wait for a bridge was about 5 minutes.

The Last Bridge

The Last Bridge

By 1:45pm, we were turning off the ICW for Old Port Cove Marina – our new home port.  As we turned into the marina and headed for our slip, we realized that we would be tied up next to another Fleming – a very new Fleming 58.  The owner was out watching us dock as were several dock hands.  Nothing like an audience for docking at a new place!

Fortunately, the docking went smoothly and by 2:15pm, our trip south was finished.  We were home for the winter.

Old Port Cove Marina was as lovely as we remembered it.  It is within a large gated community that has numerous apartment buildings and condominiums, with many grassy areas, gardens and many walking trails.  The people at the marina are incredibly friendly and in a matter of just a few hours, we felt at home.

White Ibis Feeding Behind Curiosity

White Ibis Feeding Behind Curiosity

Casting A Long Shadow

Casting A Long Shadow

That evening, we had dinner at the Sandpiper Cove, the marina’s restaurant, which was quite good.   Then, it was off to bed.

After over 1000 miles of cruising, we would not have to get up early to leave or spend time planning the next leg.  We were done and it felt good!  Now we just have to endure the sunny days and warm Florida temperatures during the winter months.  We will not be in Florida for the entire winter.  We’ll return to Maryland for Christmas and then go back and forth, spending most of February in the sun.  Then sometime in the Spring we’ll start the journey north so that we can spend the late Spring and Summer up in Maryland.

So our cruising is ended.  Now we begin the winter vacation in beautiful North Palm Beach.  More on that in future blogs.

December 8-9, 2014 – Titusville to Vero Beach, Florida

We were up early Monday morning for the long run to Vero Beach.  While there were intermediate stops along the way, after exploring exciting Titusville, we decided to make a long run (~75 miles) to an area that was supposed to be a great place to visit.  Our plan was to stay there for two nights before the final run to North Palm Beach.

At 7:15 am, Adrienne steered Curiosity out of our slip (no drama) and into the ICW.  Unlike the night before, the winds were light, but we did have some light to moderate rain at times.  There was light fog to contend with, and occasionally the visibility dropped to about a half of a nautical mile.  But these moments were episodic.  For the most part our run down the ICW to Vero Beach was more or less a straight shot along the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River without much shoaling and few no-wake zones.

Along the ICW

Islands along the ICW

However, it was not without its exciting moments – particularly for Adrienne. It seemed that every few minutes, we would see a pod of dolphins in the lagoon, heading straight for Curiosity.  Within a minute or two, we would have anywhere from one to four dolphins playing in our wake.  Occasionally, we would have groups of dolphins on both the starboard and port sides.  The dolphins would swim side-by-side just off our starboard or port stern quarter, taking turns jumping and splashing.  The splashing was so loud that it could be heard in the helm over the sound of the engines.

I have to confess that it was really fun to watch them play and Adrienne was totally enthralled.  Using her iPhone, she was able to make several short movies of as they followed us.  She more than made up for her failed first attempt at filming the dolphins.

The last few miles of the ICW to Vero Beach were lined with beautiful homes.

ICW near Vero Beach

ICW near Vero Beach

We pulled into the Vero Beach City Marina shortly before 3pm.  The winds had increased to between 15 and 20 kts, but the marina sits in a protected cove off the ICW.  When we made the turn in, the winds died down and we had an easy side to tie-up along a face dock.  The marina seems to be a popular stop over for many boaters.  In addition to the docks, there is a mooring field with many boaters spending a week or more here before heading either north or south.  There also seemed to be a number of live-aboards.  One was on a sailboat docked right next to us.  Before we finished tying up we were warned about the owner, who apparently was somewhat unpredictable.  I later learned when I checked us in that she had been involuntarily committed by a judge and that the commitment had been extended.  So it did not look like our paths would cross.  Just as well.

We did our boat chores, got settled in and then relaxed a bit before an early dinner at the Riverside Café, which was an easy walk from the marina.

The following day we put on our tourist hats and set out to explore Vero Beach.  The cruising guides and the marina information referred to Vero Beach’s “historic downtown” area.  This looked like a good place to start. But where exactly was this downtown area?  This proved to be more difficult to find out than you would think.

Vero Beach is divided by the Indian River.  Most of the development is on the west side of the river, but the marina and beach development are on the east side.  A free and pretty good bus system connects the two sides and provides transportation around the west section with more limited service on the east side.  We hopped on the bus at the marina stop and headed for the west side.  The bus driver dropped us at a stop with directions to walk to the left to find the downtown area.  Not exactly.  We wandered about for a while, finding nothing “historic” about the area we were in.  Finally, we went into a coin dealer shop who told us that we had to head west for about 2 miles and a bit more south and we would hit the historic area.  It was a sunny but cool day, so we decided to walk.

Once we crossed the railroad tracks we started to see street banners that had “Historic Vero Beach” on them.  This was a good sign. Eventually we came to an area that had a few blocks of buildings that dated from the early 1900s. There were some shops, localbusinesses and art galleries, but there weren’t many people around.  Still, it was more of a typical downtown area than the strip malls that usually line Florida streets.  It didn’t take us long to explore this area.

Historic Downtown Vero Beach

Historic Downtown Vero Beach

Jim in Vero Beach

Jim in Vero Beach

Tree Lined Street - Vero Beach

Tree Lined Street – Vero Beach

We hopped on a bus to return to the ocean side for lunch.  The ocean side area was more blustery and therefore chilly, but seemed to be a more vibrant area.  We walked about a bit along the waterfront.  The weather system that had brought us all the fog and rain over the past few days was still churning out in the Atlantic.  The winds were whipping right on the coast.  The surf was very rough and was churning all the way up the beach to the bulkheads.

Surf At Vero Breach

Surf At Vero Breach

Vero Beach

Vero Beach

We stopped in at the Red Onion for lunch.  The food was excellent.  Great sandwiches made of quality ingredients and interesting food combinations.  I had a roast beef sandwich that had Cajun seasoning and a chipotle mayo that was so hot it made my hair follicles tingle!  It was good though.

Afterlunch we wandered through many of the shops and then headed back to the boat through some of the neighborhood streets.  These were lovely in the late afternoon.  Many had mature live oaks that arched over the streets creating a beautiful scene with light filtering through the branches.

Residential Area Vero Beach

Residential Area Vero Beach

Tree Lined Street - Vero Beach

Tree Lined Street – Vero Beach

We had done a fair amount of walking, so we were happy to get back to the boat and rest the feet.  We took it easy for the rest of the afternoon before setting out again for the ocean side area for dinner at the Ocean Grill.  The food was good basic seafood, but nothing to get excited about.  The interior of the restaurant was decorated to the max for the holidays.  Every surface seemed to be covered with lights, bows, santas, artificial snow, candy canes, etc.   It was actually nice to see this over-the-top display; unlike St. Augustine, Vero Beach didn’t do much in the way of decorating its exterior for Christmas.

We walked back to the boat after dinner and made it another early evening.  Tomorrow would be our last run, the one that would take us to North Palm Beach!  We were both ready for it.

 

December 7, 2014 – Daytona Beach, FL to Titusville, FL

We were up early Sunday morning for the run to Titusville.  The forecast called for increasing winds during the day so we wanted to get docked as early as we could.  At 7:15am, Adrienne eased Curiosity away from the dock and we were on our way.

For most of the trip, the winds were moderate (10 -15 kts) and the cruising was peaceful.  We continued to attract frequent pods of dolphins.  Whenever the dolphins appeared, Adrienne would dash outside like a five-year old.  She was in seventh heaven.

Using the burst mode on my iPhone, I was able to get several shots of the dolphins playing in our wake.  They seemed to be having a great time.

1-IMG_0332

Four Dolphins in Our Wake

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Dolphins Jumping

 

As we neared Titusville, the winds began to pick up to 20kts and it was more challenging to stay on course in the narrow channel.  Just after noon, we turned up the channel to the Titusville Municipal Marina.  Originally, we were going to be on the face dock but, because of the high winds, the dockmaster thought it would be best if we were in a slip.  The marina had a fairly narrow fairway and the slip itself was quite narrow.  With 20kt winds, it was an adventure docking Curiosity.  But we did it and without hitting anything.  By 12:30pm, we were tied up and the wind was howling.

After lunch and boat chores we decided to tour Titusville.  Because of its proximity to Cape Canaveral, Titusville – aka Space City – experienced a renaissance during the heyday of NASA.  However, cut backs in NASA funding have hurt the town.  We walked to town but there was not much to see.  Few people around and nothing opened on a Sunday.  So we headed back to the boat.

We had planned to go out to dinner but given the choices we decided to order pizza from a local pizza joint called Kelsey’s Pizza, which would deliver to the boat.  The pizza was quite good to our surprise.

Because the forecast for Monday was okay but the forecast for Tuesday was for very high winds, we decided that we would make a long run on Monday to Vero Beach and stay there two days to let the wind die down.  Vero Beach is supposed to be a very nice town.  We will see.

 

December 4-5, 2014 – Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine

Thursday morning brought clear skies with light winds.  High tide was at 7:08am. Since we knew that we would have a number of shoaling issues just south of Fernandina Beach, we wanted to leave as close to high tide as possible.  At 7:06am, Adrienne pulled us away from the dock and we started south.

In ten minutes, we were in the problem area, so we cautiously proceeded down the ICW.  We had Active Captain Companion running on my iPad and Garmin Blue Charts (which also shows all the Active Captain warnings) running on Adrienne’s iPad.   Active Captain is a crowd-sourced navigation aid that documents hazards along the marine waterways.  Members of Active Captain, which includes mostly operators of pleasure craft like us, supply up-to-date information on shoaling and other hazards.  For example, in many spots, we had information from other boats that was only two or three weeks old.  This information would tell us not only where there was a problem but also the best course to steer between marks and how deep the water had been.  It is a real blessing, but requires constant monitoring.

Because of Active Captain and our leaving at high tide, we never saw less than 10 feet of water, which was great since we draw 5 feet.

By 9am, we were out of the worst of the shoaling, although there would continue to be a few isolated spots as we headed further south.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.  The scenery along the ICW here varies widely from beautiful houses lining the ICW to trailer parks and dilapidated houses.

Shallow Water with Breaking Waves

Shallow Water with Breaking Waves

Swing Bridge - ICW

Swing Bridge – ICW

Fixed Bridge - ICW

Fixed Bridge – ICW

Just Cleared

Just Cleared

Marshes Along the ICW

Marshes Along the ICW

Private Docks

Private Docks

Nice Estates

Nice Estates

More Modest Homes

More Modest Homes

We made the 1:30pm opening of the Bridge of Lions and by 1:40pm we were docked at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina.  The wind was whistling and there was a strong current that made docking in our slip a bit challenging, but we made it without incident.  It did, however, get my blood pumping.

This was our second visit to St. Augustine.  We had stopped here on our way north with our other boat, Sea BLyS.  At that time, we had only spent one night because we were trying to get north quickly without overdoing it.  We toured a bit of St. Augustine, enough to know that we wanted to return, but not much considering all that the city has to offer.  This time we planned on spending two nights.

After doing our boat chores, we headed into downtown St. Augustine.  The municipal marina is perfectly situated for exploring the city.  It’s just south of the Bridge of Lions (so named for the large concrete lions that flank the entrance to the bridge) and within easy walking distance of the main square downtown.

Bridge of Lions

Bridge of Lions

Snowy Egret on the Dock

Snowy Egret on the Dock

We could tell that St. Augustine was decked out for Christmas.  There were many trees festooned with lights and wreaths and other decorations on the store fronts.  We were arriving late in the afternoon so we didn’t have much time to explore, so we strolled about admiring the Spanish architecture and old streets.

 

Adrienne and Ponce de Leon

Adrienne and Ponce de Leon

One of the main historic sites on the Plaza de la Constitucion is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine built between 1793 and 1797.  It’s currently undergoing renovations, but we were still able to get a sense of the interior design, which is spacious with a beautiful central altar.  The altar is flanked by side chapels.  The one to the left had a gold mosaic behind its altar, reminiscent of the mosaics found in eastern orthodox churches.

Main altar - Cathedral Basilico of St. Augustine

Main altar – Cathedral Basilico of St. Augustine

Side Chapel

Side Chapel

From here we wandered up King Street past Flagler College, a liberal arts college founded in 1968. The campus centerpiece is the Ponce de Leon Hall, which was built in 1888 by Henry Flagler as a luxury hotel.  Quite ornate, but well preserved.  The entire campus was beautifully landscaped and consistent with the surrounding Spanish architecture.

Flagler College

Flagler College

Flagler College

Flagler College

Eventually we made our way to Carmelo’s marketplace, a gas station/pizzeria/market/souvenir shop.  We needed a few provisions, but for all that St. Augustine has to offer, a downtown grocery store is not one of them, at least not within walking distance of the marina.  Fortunately, Carmelo’s market had just enough real food to satisfy our needs.

By this time the afternoon was beginning to fade, so we headed back to the boat to relax a bit and get ready for dinner.  We had reservations at the Columbia Restaurant, which has been serving the folks of St. Augustine since the early 1900s.  They had a tapas menu that looked appealing.  The tapas were good and hit the spot.  We had a lobster flatbread with a garlic pepper aiolie, jumbo fried shrimp and stuffed mushrooms.  We were tired, however, from the long day and ate dinner at a record pace.  The Christmas lights were all around us on our return to the boat.  Very beautiful and festive.

St. Augustine At Night

St. Augustine At Night

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights

The next day we had a leisurely morning complete with, what else? –fog!  It seems that the weather system that brought us fog from Brunswick to Fernandina Beach had not moved off yet.  But this time we didn’t have to worry about it because we weren’t going anywhere.  It started to lift in the late morning thanks to a stiff breeze.

We decided that this day we would be tourists.  There are several trolley tours that take visitors to all the main historic sites in St. Augustine.  This looked like a good option for getting in as much of St. Augustine as we could in one day.  We grabbed an early lunch at the Bunnery and then hopped on a trolley that took us past several sites and eventually to the Castillo de San Marcos.

Trolley

Trolley

The Spanish constructed the Castillo in the late 17th century to protect the city from repeated raids from pirates and the British. Not surprisingly, the Castillo sits on top of a hill overlooking the city and the bay.  The Spanish built it to be impregnable, and so it proved to be throughout its history.  Although ownership of the fort changed several times, it never changed because it had been taken in battle.  Instead, treaties and other agreements among powers caused it to be under Spanish, British or American control.

The fort is now a national park, and they had one of their very informative and knowledgeable rangers on hand who gave a great talk about the fort’s construction and history.  We happened to be in St. Augustine on the first weekend of December when the fort commemorates the 20 years or so that it was under British control.  Hence, there were several people running around as red coats or in local militia costumes.  That also meant there were millions of school kids in attendance.  We tried hard not to step on them.

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

Inside Castillo de San Marcos

Inside Castillo de San Marcos

Jim and the Ranger

Jim and the Ranger

Storage Area

Storage Area

Cistern

Cistern

Four Man Bunk

Four Man Bunk

Bunk Description

Bunk Description

Up to the Cannons

Up to the Cannons

Cannon

Cannon

Bronze Mortar

Bronze Mortar

Mortar Description

Mortar Description

Guarding the Harbor

Guarding the Harbor

The highlight of the fort tour was a talk and demonstration by one of the red coats about the muskets and cannons used in the early 18th century by the Brits.  This included several firings of the muskets and one firing of the cannon.  I got some shots (no pun intended) of the musket firings and tried to get the cannon firing, but the blast startled me and the picture ended up cockeyed.

Red Coat

Red Coat

Preparing to Fire - 1

Preparing to Fire – 1

Preparing to Fire - 2

Preparing to Fire – 2

Preparing to Fire - 3

Preparing to Fire – 3

Musket Fire

Musket Fire

3 Pounder - Ready to Fire

3 Pounder – Ready to Fire

PreparingCannon

PreparingCannon

Cannon Fire - Would Have Been A better Picture if Adrienne Hadn't Jumped

Cannon Fire – Would Have Been A better Picture if Adrienne Hadn’t Jumped

After the fort, we reboarded the trolley and finished the tour around St. Augustine.  The remainder of the tour contained some historic sites, but also a lot of tourist traps, like the original Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum.  We hopped off where we got on and decided to walk some of the pedestrian streets that go through the old city.  These streets were filled with people and interesting shops.

600 Year Old Tree - St. Augustine

600 Year Old Tree – St. Augustine

The Old Senator

The Old Senator

Magnolia Street

Magnolia Street

We ended our tourist day by hiking over to Aviles Street, said to be the oldest street in St. Augustine.  Its narrow street is flanked by restaurants and numerous art galleries.  We entered one and learned that it was also First Friday in St. Augustine, which meant that all the galleries would be open late and feature munchies and music as well as the art.  We decided to return after our dinner at Collage, a French restaurant in the old city.

As evening fell the fog was beginning to return, despite the breeze off the water.  Fortunately, Collage was a short walk from the marina.  The restaurant came highly recommended and for good reason.  We had an excellent meal.  I had a hogfish filet with a lobster bisque sauce, potatoes and green beans.  Very good, and Jim had sliced beef tenderloin with short-rib stuffed ravioli, parsnips and green beans.  He was in heaven.   We finished the meal with vanilla ice cream topped with a strawberry pepper sauce in a phyllo cup.  Really good.

After dinner we returned to Aviles Street and wandered through several art galleries.  A lot of the work was uninteresting, but there were a number of pieces that we really enjoyed.  We then headed back to Curiosity because the plan was to be up early for an 8am departure.  But we knew that there was still a lot to see in St. Augustine and decided to return when we head north in the Spring.

December 3, 2014; Brunswick, Georgia to Fernandina Beach, Florida

We had reviewed the ICW route to Fernandina Beach and all the Active Captain comments about the shoaling and other hazards in Georgia and decided to run inside. The ocean route was also about 40 miles: about 10 to get from Brunswick Landing Marina through the entrance channel in the ocean and to our southward turn mark, about 20 in the ocean, and another 10 from the ocean to the Fernandina Harbor Marina, our destination for the night.  Although the ocean route avoided the shoaling and other issues on the ICW, it didn’t have the scenery of southern Georgia.  Since it was a relatively short run we decided to give ourselves a bit of a break and leave around 8am, which was also high tide, an important factor in dealing with the shoaled spots on the ICW.

Well, that was the plan.  When we got up at 7, the dock, town and waterway were enshrouded in fog.  Thick, dense fog.  We checked the NOAA forecast and lo and behold it had a dense fog alert in effect until 10am. That meant that the ICW route was likely fogged in and impossible to transit as far as we were concerned.  Radar is less effective on the ICW, and it’s important to be able to see the channel markers.  We had seen already in other areas that the chart plotter was wrong. Had we followed the chart in some areas we would have grounded.  Conversely, when we followed the markers, the chart plotter showed us going over land.

We decided to reconsider the ocean route.  Although there was fog, NOAA said the seas were 2 to 4 feet.  And Buoy Weather, one of the weather apps we use, said the seas were 3 feet with a 9 second period. But we were unsure. Waiting to 10 to leave would delay us, but we would still have plenty of time to make the run to Fernandina Beach, either by the ICW or the ocean, although we would be pushing it for the tides on the ICW.  So we waited and waited.

Waiting for the Fog To Lift

Waiting for the Fog To Lift

By 9 the fog seemed to be lifting a little, but NOAA had extended the fog alert to 11am. We waited some more. By now, we had missed the tide and could no longer run safely inside.  By 10:30 the fog had lifted significantly.  We had about 1 nm of visibility, which we thought was acceptable for an outside run.  We left the dock a little before 11.  As soon as we reached the main Brunswick channel the fog returned so that we had about ½ nm of visibility.  But once the channel turned and we were nearing the inlet the skies started to clear.  We could see blue among the clouds and sunshine and our visibility was more than a nautical mile.

All was good until we left the protection of land and were in the ocean channel.  The fog closed in, giving us between a quarter mile and two thirds of a mile of visibility.  Also, the seas were a bit rougher than expected.  The waves were between 2 and 4 feet, but there were more of the 4s than the 2s and the period was more like 5 seconds than 9.  NOAA had extended the fog alert to 3pm. By about 12:20 we were turning south expecting the skies to clear.  And at times they seemed to be clearing, but then the fog would close in again.  We still had cell phone and checked the NOAA forecast again only to find that the fog alert had been extended again, this time to 11am the next day.

We debated turning back to Brunswick, but that would have been more than an hour of cruising in fog.  If we were going to spend that much time in fog we might as well continue to Fernandina Beach. And that’s what we did.  For most of the trip our visibility was somewhere between a quarter mile and a half mile.  The seas settled down to what Buoy Weather had predicted, thank goodness. We encountered a few boats along the way that we readily picked up on the radar and steered around.  We had our course on the chart plotter and just let the autopilot do its thing.

All that said, it was a very intense few hours.  It is unsettling to feel for over 2 hours like you’re driving into a white wall that’s right in front of you.  In addition, for the whole trip we were transiting the right whale critical habitat, which has a 10kt speed limit.  Apparently right whales travel very slowly and get hit by boats in this area.  Whoever was driving had his or her eyes on the water for right whales and the other was looking at the radar for other boats.

In the middle of all this, we had one major scare.  I was driving and I was watching a target I had acquired on the radar.  It was about a half mile off our port side and was heading away from us. It started to pick up speed and made a U-turn right for the stern of our boat.  I nearly had heart failure.  I thought we were going to get rammed.  I yelled to Jim to see if he could see this boat off the stern.  The radar said it was closing in on 0.2nm from us.  He wanted me to slow down, thinking it was the Coast Guard checking our speed (we were going 10 kts).  I sped up trying to avoid the boat.  The target settled in behind us at about 0.1nm.  We watched and watched.  No boat.  Nothing.  We finally concluded that it was nothing.  Our best guess was that I had locked onto a bird (there were a lot of them) that had decided to take off and come close to the stern of the boat and the radar followed it and then locked onto our wake.  But we don’t really know.  All I know is that I lost about 10 years off my life.

The next excitement came when we made the turn to for Fernandina Beach.  The entrance is well marked, but by the time we got there we were down to 1/8 mile of visibility.  Fortunately, the channel markers were clearly visible on the radar.  But as we approached each marker we seemed to be on top of it before we could actually see it.  We called the marina to get a read on visibility at the dock.  They had about ¼ mile, which to us sounded great! We plugged our way through the channel and finally we were in harbor and the sun was shining.  By 3:30pm, we tied up at Fernandina Harbor Marina.  Florida, finally!!  Thank goodness for radar!

Fernandina Beach Harbor

Fernandina Beach Harbor

Massive Crane - Fernandina Beach

Massive Crane – Fernandina Beach

Paper Mill

Paper Mill

As we were washing off the boat, the owner of another Fleming 55 (Walkabout) showed up.  We chatted about the boats and our plans for tomorrow.  He was hoping to run to St. Augustine in the morning, as were we, provided the fog was gone.  There was no way we were going to tackle the ICW with all its shoaling and other issues in the fog.

We decided to have an early dinner in town and chose a tapas place called Espana.  We had Gambas Costa Brava (spicy shrimp), Tortilla Espanola (a potato and cheese quiche), Ensalada Andalusia (a salad with Serrano Ham and Manchego cheese), and Chorizo Encebollado (chorizo with sautéed the onions).   While all the dishes were good, none were spectacular.  The chorizo was best. Nevertheless, they tasted really good, as did the drinks we had to celebrate our arrival in Florida and survival of the fog.

Afterdinner we walked back through town.  Fernandina Beach is a lovely town with many shops.  The city was all decked out for the Holiday Season.

Fernandina Beach - Christmas Tree

Fernandina Beach – Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree

Back on the boat, we were hoping to leave in the morning on the rising tide for an inside trip to St. Augustine.  Hopefully no fog!

 

December 2, 2014 – Hilton Head to Brunswick, Georgia

We were up very early Tuesday morning for the long run on the outside to Brunswick, Georgia.  By 6 am, we were underway.  It was barely nautical twilight and Adrienne at the helm had a hard time seeing.  The Christmas lights in the narrow harbor were very bright and destroyed her night vision.  We came much closer to the sea wall than Adrienne wanted, but she soon had us out into the channel.  Unfortunately, the channel markers did not have lights and there were a number of crab pots.  I stayed on the bow as an extra set of eyes while Adrienne followed the line we had taken the previous day to enter Hilton Head.  While it was somewhat nerve-racking, by 7:30 am we were in the Atlantic Ocean heading for Brunswick.

Sunrise off Tybee Roads

Sunrise off Tybee Roads

It was a cool, cloudy, grey day on the ocean.  It started to rain, so Adrienne went up to cover the flybridge instruments.  Of course, it decided to pour just at that moment and Adrienne got soaked.  The seas were rollers of 2-4 feet, not nearly as nice a day as the day before.  However, as we headed south, the sky cleared a little and by 1:17 pm, we were at the entrance to St. Simons Channel.  Brunswick itself is about 10 nm from the St. Simons sea buoy, so it wasn’t until after 2:00pm that we were turning into the side channel that led to Brunswick and the Brunswick Landing Marina.  The side channel was lined with commercial boats, some being loaded and some just sitting.  By 2:30 pm, we were tied up.  It hadn’t been a fun day at sea but it was not a bad day either.

Entering Brunswick Harbor

Entering Brunswick Harbor

Commercial Vessels - Brunswick

Commercial Vessels – Brunswick

Tugs

Tugs

Brunswick

Brunswick

Brunswick Landing Marina

Brunswick Landing Marina

After the obligatory washing of Curiosity, we headed into town.  The marina was located only two blocks from downtown.  Brunswick is a very attractive town, which unfortunately seems to have fallen on hard times.  It has two main streets – one parallel to the water the other perpendicular.  There are a number of very nice little parks along the streets, and it is clear that Brunswick has done a lot to beautify the city.  Unfortunately, there were many empty store fronts, and several of the stores that seemed to be in business were closed.  Brunswick had also decorated its trees with holiday lights, though not particularly well.

Downtown Brunswick

Downtown Brunswick

Flowers in Jekyll Park

Flowers in Jekyll Park

Adrienne in Jekyll Park

Adrienne in Jekyll Park

Brunswick Business Area

Brunswick Business Area

City Hall Brunswick

City Hall Brunswick

Spanish Moss in Brunswick

Spanish Moss in Brunswick

However, there was at least one good restaurant, Basil Thai and Sushi, which had been recommended by the two women who run Brunswick Landing Marina.  Adrienne and I shared an appetizer of Summer Rolls, a pork salad Nam Sod, and the dinner special, Crispy Fried Duck.  They were all good, though the duck was a little dry, and provided us plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.  While not the best Thai food we have ever had, it was pretty good and we were amazed to find a good Thai restaurant in southern Georgia – guess that shows our prejudices.

After dinner, it was back to the boat.  Our plan was to get up early and leave at high tide, so that we could take the inside route down to Fernandina Beach. We made it an early night and relaxed on the boat.

December 1, 2014 – Charleston to Hilton Head

Our last blog entry covered our arrival in Charleston from Georgetown and departure for Maryland in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.  When we left the polar vortex had arrived, and we saw temperatures in the high 20s.  The temperatures moderated a bit when we got back to Maryland, but not a lot.  We would have been longing for the temperate climate of Charleston, but it was no better!

We traveled to Connecticut for the Thanksgiving holiday.  The temperatures were cold and we had a nasty nor’easter come through on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  But all of the family made it safely despite the cold and bad weather.  We had a wonderful turkey day at my younger sister’s house with her family, my older sister, father, our kids, Andy’s girlfriend, and my brother-in-law’s mother and sister.

Our plan was to drive back to Maryland on Saturday, spend Sunday relaxing and getting ready for our return to Charleston and then flying to Charleston first thing Monday morning.  All during the Thanksgiving holiday we were checking the weather in Charleston and south.  Sunday and Monday looked to be fantastic weather for ocean cruising with conditions deteriorating as the week progressed.  We decided to change our plane reservations so that we arrived in Charleston on Sunday instead of Monday and could begin our cruise south on Monday instead of Tuesday.

We worried that we would have horrible lines at the airport if we traveled on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but the travel gods were with us.  We had one of the first flights out of BWI, got at the airport early, quickly checked our bags and then breezed through security, thanks to TSA Pre.

When we got to Charleston, it was what we had hoped it and the southeastern U.S. would be: sunny, warm and beautiful.  We rented a car so that we could pick up some groceries and the picture for the boat we had purchased before we left, “Thelma and Louise.”  It was so warm we could drop the jackets and sweaters.  Some people were running around in shorts and t-shirts.  It was fabulous.

Thelma and Louise

Thelma and Louise

With the boat stocked, our new painting up in the salon and our course set, we were ready to begin the next leg of the cruise.  The forecast for Monday was perfect: 0-5 kt winds, sunny, seas 1-2 feet.

We left Monday morning just after 6am.  It was dark, but the channel out was well marked, and civil twilight was about 20 minutes away. The tide was ebbing at about 2 kts, allowing us to travel at 11-12 kts out of the channel.   We made the turn toward Hilton Head, our destination for the day, just before 7am.  We could not have asked for a better cruising day.  The winds were virtually non-existent and the seas were glassy.  There were very few boats on the water. We only had dolphins and sea birds for company.

Red Sky in Morning - Charleston

Red Sky in Morning – Charleston

Rising Sun

Rising Sun

The Sun Rises

The Sun Rises

We were able to make between 10 and 11 kts for most of the trip.  As a consequence we arrived at the Tybee Roads Channel, which leads into Hilton Head, about 1:30pm.  The Tybee Roads Channel leads to Savannah, as well.

Tanker in Tybee Roads - Leaving Savannah

Tanker in Tybee Roads – Leaving Savannah

To get to Hilton Head you need to leave the channel to the northeast and travel across an area that has seen significant shoaling the past few years.  We followed the directions on Active Captain to cross this area and had no difficulty.  It helped that we were coming in on a rising tide.  But the tricky part was at Green 3 and a new red nun that marks the western edge of the shoal.  We had plenty of water, but just on the east side of the nun we could see shallow waves breaking over the shoal. Not a heartwarming sight.

After we got through this area we entered a section of 20-40 foot water, which leads to Hilton Head.  It was an easy entrance into the Harbour Town Marina, our destination for the night.  Jim pulled us into the slip and we were tied up at about 2:40pm.

The weather was as fantastic in Hilton Head as it was in Charleston.  Jim actually put on shorts to rinse down the boat. We finished our boat chores and then went for a stroll around Harbour Town.  This was our second time in Harbour Town.  Our first was 4 years ago when we were bringing Sea BLyS up from Florida. That was in May, and the marina was filled with people enjoying the late spring weather.  On Monday, however, things were quite different.  Even though the weather was beautiful, only a few people were out and about.  The area around the marina was decorated for the Christmas holidays and the shops were open, but there didn’t seem to be too many takers.  But it was perfect for us.

Hilton Head

Hilton Head

Christmas Lights - Hilton Head

Christmas Lights – Hilton Head

By about 4pm, however, I was beginning to fade.  We had been up at 5am on Sunday to catch our flight to Charleston and then up at 4:30 on Monday for the cruise to Hilton Head.  Tuesday would be another early morning for our cruise to Brunswick, GA – some 82nm south of Hilton Head.  So it was an early dinner at the Crazy Crab just steps from our slip and an early night for us.

November 16-18 – Georgetown, S.C. to Charleston

We were up Sunday morning early to make the outside run from Georgetown, S.C. to Charleston.  Our plan was to leave at what’s called civil twilight – when the sun has not yet officially risen but where there is still sufficient light to see.  The winds were light and the seas were supposed to be 2 feet with a 9 second period, meaning gentle swells and an easy passage.

Alas, the weather and the sea gods were not on our side.  It turned out to be one of those days where you seriously question why you ever bought a boat and why anyone wants to go to sea.

We left the marina around 6:30am.  Carinya was in front of us and in front of her was the trawler Baghera.  The Bay was quite tranquil, which we foolishly assumed portended a good day for cruising.

Sunrise on Winyah Bay

Sunrise on Winyah Bay

The tide was ebbing and the 5 knot wind was off our stern quarter, so we made great time going down Winyah Bay.  We averaged over 10 kts and soon were at the inlet that led out to the Atlantic.  And then all hell broke out.

No sooner than we had exited the Bay and were in the inlet channel than the wind was suddenly from the east and blowing at 20-25 kts.  As the wind hit the ebbing tide, the waves were suddenly 6 ft or greater with a period of less than 2-3 seconds.  Waves were crashing over the bow and over the flybridge.  We were pounding, going swiftly down a wave and then crashing into the next.  Everything in the helm went flying.  Charts, books, the computer mouse, a can of coke were all instantly airborne, crashing to the floor.  We could see Carinya and Baghera were both crashing up and down as well; at least we could see them periodically when the wipers cleared the wave water off the windshield.  I heard one of the lamps crash in the salon and Adrienne went down to see what was going on.  Cabinets were opening, the coffee pot had slid into the sink, a lamp was on the floor.  Adrienne was using every handhold available to keep herself upright.  No one was happy except for the dolphins diving through the waves ahead of us.

Meanwhile, back at the helm I was just trying to keep us on a straight course.  The waves were hitting us off the port bow and pushing us to starboard as well as attempting to turn us sideways to the waves.  The inlet was fairly narrow and the sea buoys were disturbingly close on the starboard side.  There was no way we could safely turn around; our only choice was to keep plowing ahead.  At one point a huge wave hit us, knocking us over about 20 degrees and turning the bow to starboard.  Fortunately, Curiosity responded well to the rudder and I was able to straighten us out and keep us on course through the pounding waves.

After about 15 minutes of this pounding we were out of the inlet and could turn to starboard and head south to Charleston.  As soon as we out of the inlet and had turned, the seas were better.  The waves and the wind were behind us and the seas calmed down to 3 feet or so, with a wave period of 4-5 seconds.  Not great but tremendously better than what we had just endured.  We were no longer pounding, just surfing the waves south.

As some semblance of calmness returned, both Adrienne and I had the same simultaneous thought – thank goodness we were in a Fleming.  The boat handled beautifully and the only damage was a broken filament in the lamp that crashed to the floor.  Adrienne picked up the charts, the books, the coke, the coffee pot and the lamp, and we both started to breathe again.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  The seas were definitely higher than forecast and the period was shorter, but Curiosity just rolled along.  We made good time and soon were turning into the Charleston Harbor.  Fortunately, this inlet was much calmer, and our entry into the harbor was easy and swift.

We passed between Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie and cruised up the South Channel into the Ashley River.  On our starboard side was the Battery, renowned for its antebellum mansions that look out on the harbor.  Soon we were at the Charleston City Marina.

Charleston

Charleston

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor

Along the Waterfront

Along the Waterfront

Along the Battery

Along the Battery

More Mansions

More Mansions

Charleston Harbor is known for swift currents that can make docking challenging.  We were about 1 ½ hours prior to slack tide, but nonetheless we were able to dock Curiosity quickly and without drama.  By 2pm, we were tied up and exhausted.

After a quick lunch, it was time to wash the sea salt off Curiosity; a thorough rinsing ensued.  With the boat clean, there were other chores, of course, including laundry, filling up the water tanks, and fueling.  One of the advantages of the megadock at the Charleston City Marina is that you can fuel at any spot along the dock, so topping off our aft fuel tanks was easy.

With all the chores done, it was time to enjoy some Charleston food.  We decided to try LowCounty Bistro.  It was not one of the many renowned restaurants in Charleston, but it had great reviews on Open Table.  The marina has a shuttle bus which dropped us off right in front of the restaurant.  As its name implies, the bistro was just that, a casual informal place.  However, the food was outstanding.  I had the Seafood Paella (shrimp, pork belly, beans and rice)  and Adrienne had the Foxmore Stew (shrimp, Andouille sausage and potatoes).  The paella was oozing with umami.  For dessert, we had Cinnamon Bread Pudding with Praline Ice Cream.  Totally decadent!

Monday morning was a day to relax.  We took the shuttle to Market Street and toured all the shops downtown.  Market Street is dominated by a long covered market with many little boutiques.  We then wandered down East Bay Street and the surrounding areas, looking at the historical sites, visiting shops and art galleries as we walked.

East Bay Street

East Bay Street

 

Ade in Front of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Ade in Front of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Washington Square - Memorial to the Washington Light Brigade

Washington Square – Memorial to the Washington Light Brigade

Washington Square

Washington Square

Live Oaks

Live Oaks

Fort Sumner Centennial Time Capsule

Fort Sumter Centennial Time Capsule

We had been looking all summer for a picture to replace the picture in the salon of Curiosity.  We were beginning to lose hope that we would find anything we liked that was the right size and price.  As we were starting to get tired and thinking of heading back to the boat, we went into one last gallery – The Gordon Wheeler Gallery.  Gordon Wheeler is a well-known Charleston painter, known for his pictures of the LowCounty.  We found a print of one of his paintings titled Thelma and Louise, depicting two shrimp boats in the  harbor.  It was perfect.  We purchased the print and it is being framed for us.  We will pick it up when we return to Charleston after Thanksgiving.

Snowy Egret Outside Charleston City Marina

Snowy Egret Outside Charleston City Marina

We spent the afternoon relaxing on the boat and then when out to dinner with Andrew and his wife from Carinya.  Dinner was at Hall’s Chophouse.  We had had dinner here four years ago when we brought Sea Blys up from Florida.  Since then, Hall’s Chophouse has apparently become one of the top restaurants in Charleston.  We remembered it as excellent and it was.  We had a very enjoyable dinner.

After dinner, we said goodbye to our fellow travelers on Carinya; they will be continuing south in a day or two.  We, on the other hand, will be flying back to Maryland in the morning for Thanks giving.  We will return right afterward and continue our journey south.

November 14, 2014 – North Myrtle Beach to Georgetown, S.C.

Well, the polar vortex arrived in South Carolina on November 14.  The high in Myrtle Beach the day before was 68 degrees.  When we awoke on Friday, the 14th the temperature was 48, and that was the highest temperature of the day.  It was a cloudy day, which did not help the feeling that we were in January instead of November.

We left Myrtle Beach at about 7:30 and continued through the infamous “rock pile.”  This section of the rock pile, however, is wider and allows for boats to pass each other a bit more comfortably.  We encountered only two major shoaling areas, but knew of them in advance thanks to Active Captain, and transited them without incident.

Almost as soon as we left the marina we also encountered various sailboats on the southward migration.  We chatted with a number of them on the VHF, mostly about the chilly temperatures.  Almost all of the sailboats have open helms, so the low temperatures combined with the ambient wind and the wind created by the boats moving forward created very cold conditions for these boaters.  Most of them were bundled from head to toe in layers of foul weather gear.  We, however, were quite comfortable in our enclosed and heated pilot house.  There’s a lot to be said for power boats!

The first part of our cruise brought us past the usual ICW development of houses, apartments and businesses.

Myrtle Beach Golf Club

Myrtle Beach Golf Club

Along the ICW

Along the ICW

But eventually we entered the Waccamaw River, which had very little development.  The river winds its way through forests and low country.  It was quite scenic and a pleasure to cruise.  Most of the channel was considerably wider and deeper than the rock pile.  Plus, for once, the current was running in our direction for much of our transit down the river.  This allowed us to reach 10 kts with rpms in the 1250 to 1350 range.

Woods along the South Carolina ICW

Woods along the South Carolina ICW

Marshes in South Carolina

Marshes in South Carolina

By 12:30 we had arrived at Georgetown, SC, our destination for the night.  Jim brought us smoothly up to the floating face dock and we were quickly tied up.  Carinya, who was following us from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown, pulled up behind us.  The two Flemings took up most of the face dock, a fact that was not lost on the marina staff.  They were expecting to be full that night.

And indeed they were.  One by one we watched as sailboat after sailboat pulled in, their crew frozen and weary from the chilly ride that day.  By mid-afternoon the temperatures were in the low 40s.  No wonder they were cold.  We had passed a number of these boats earlier in the day and chatted with them as hopped off, glad to be in and tied up.

Jim and I took our usual walk around downtown Georgetown, despite the cold temperatures.   Most of the historic area is centered on Front Street, which runs parallel to the Sampit River. Attractive storefronts line the street along with several placards that detail aspects of Georgetown’s history.  Georgetown is South Carolina’s third oldest city.  It was in this area that the “Swamp Fox,” Francis Marion, conducted guerilla war tactics against the British during the Revolutionary War.  He was a persistent thorn in the side of the British army and its Tory supporters in South Carolina.  Georgetown has honored him with a plaque and riverfront park.

Front Street, Georgetown

Front Street, Georgetown

Along Front Street

Along Front Street

Unfortunately, the downtown had suffered a bad fire last year that destroyed ten business.  Rebuilding is tied up in the usual insurance debates.

Fire Damage - Georgetown, S.C.

Fire Damage – Georgetown, S.C.

There were a number of stores that we wanted to visit, but we decided to leave that for Saturday.  We had decided to spend two days in Georgetown because the next and last leg of our trip before Thanksgiving was to Charleston.  We had planned on taking the ICW from Georgetown to Charleston.  But the Southport ICW briefing Jim attended made us change our plans; we would run outside in the ocean to Charleston to avoid the severe shoaling along this leg of the ICW.  The offshore forecast for Saturday was not great, but the forecast for Sunday was perfect.  That meant we had an extra day in Georgetown to relax.

On our way back to the boat we stopped in at one of the fish stores along the river to pick up some shrimp.  The shrimp boats literally pull right up to the dock and offload their catch.  You can’t get fresher than that.  It would be shrimp scampi for dinner.

We had some housekeeping chores to attend to when we got back.  We had invited for drinks a couple in one of the sailboats we had passed and chatted with earlier.  They were a fun and interesting couple from Leesburg, VA on their way to Beaufort, SC. This was their first cruise south as well.  We had a great time exchanging boating war stories, future cruising plans, family sagas, etc.  They had decided to make the trek to Charleston via the ICW, so we’ll check in with them about the shoaling hazards.

I was feeling much better, but still wasn’t quite over the cold that had plagued me the past two days.  So after dinner, we watched a little TV and then headed to bed.

It was 30 degrees when we got up on Saturday.  Brrrrr!!!!!  We are not prepared for 30 degrees.   The only good thing about Saturday’s forecast was that it was supposed to be sunny and reach 50 degrees.  Yeah!!
We took our time getting up.  We occupied the morning with a leisurely breakfast (what a treat!) and some trip planning for the Charlestown to North Palm Beach leg, which we’ll start when we return to Charlestown after Thanksgiving.  We then ventured out into the cold.  We had on as many layers as we could find (we really hadn’t planned for daytime temps in the low 40s).  The weatherman was right, thank goodness.  The day was clear and sunny.  It would have been perfect if it had been 20 degrees warmer.

We took our time strolling Front Street and stopped into the stores and galleries we had passed on the previous day.  It was rather strange walking about on such a cold day while admiring the many palm trees that line the streets and adorn the storefronts.  We had lunch on the outside patio of one of the restaurants, made possible by some very powerful heat lamps!

Harborwalk Along Sampit River

Harborwalk Along Sampit River

After lunch it was back to Curiosity for some more trip planning and dinner on board.  Our trip to Charleston is about 75 miles.  At 10 kts, that’s a 7 to 8 hour day.  We’ll leave around  6:30 (sunrise is at 6:50) and hope to get in to Charleston in the early afternoon.   Tomorrow is supposed to be another clear and sunny day with daytime temps around 60. It will be an early evening tonight because of the early rise tomorrow.

November 13, 2014 – Southport, N.C. to North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Today turned out to be an easy day of cruising with interesting scenery and no drama.  Unfortunately, Adrienne’s cold continues and her voice is very raspy.   Not much fun for her.

We left Southport around 8am with Adrienne at the helm and continued our journey south.  The Southport Marina had had an excellent lecture last night on the upcoming hazards along the ICW.  I attended while Adrienne rested.  The information was quite useful, not only pointing out areas of concern but also identifying those areas that had been dredged and where shoaling was no longer an issue.

It was a calm day and we could enjoy the views along the banks as we headed south.  The North Carolina shoreline along the ICW is a study of contrasts – barren shores, small fishing towns with boats that are in use and disrepair, RV parks, numerous small and large houses with docks.

Docks Lining the ICW in Southern North Carolina

Numerous Docks along the NC ICW

RV City Along the ICW

RV City Along the ICW

Not Looking Too Good

Not Looking Too Good

Beautiful Houses Along the ICW

Beautiful Houses Along the ICW

Unfortunately, the many developments along the shore mean numerous no-wake zones where we crept along at 6kts.  These zones make North Carolina seem endless.

By 11:30am we were in South Carolina and by 12:15pm, we were passing the Little River Swing Bridge and beginning our passage through the infamous Rock Pile.  The Rock Pile is a 15 mile man-made waterway cut through granite.  The first 3-4 miles are very narrow.  While the narrow channel is deep enough (15ft), outside the channel are granite boulders just under the surface of the water.  There is barely room to pass another boat.  In fact, boaters radio ahead that they are entering the Rock Pile to let boats coming from the other direction know not to enter.  It can be incredibly bad if a tug pushing a barge enters the channel when you are coming the other way.  There is no room to turn around and in some areas no room to pass.

Fortunately, today all the boats in the Rock Pile were headed south.  If you are not terrified of the rocks, the Rock Pile is actually a very beautiful passage with nice houses and interesting foliage,

ICW in South Carolina

ICW in South Carolina

South Carolina Channel Banks

South Carolina Channel Banks

Houses along the Rock Pile

Houses along the Rock Pile

Beautiful Foliage Along the Rock Pile

Beautiful Foliage Along the Rock Pile

Along the Rock Pile

Along the Rock Pile

Cruising Down the Rock Pile

Cruising Down the Rock Pile

By 1:00pm, we were clear of the worse part and by 1:40pm, we were tied up at the Marina in Grand Dunes in North Myrtle Beach.

Marina at Grand Dunes

Marina at Grand Dunes

ICW Just Outside Marina

ICW Just Outside Marina

This afternoon we will relax.  Adrienne is taking a nap, while I write the blog.  We will go out to dinner at the Ruth Chris House 100 feet from the boat and then go to sleep.

Tomorrow, we head for Georgetown.