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.
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!
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.
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!