We got underway from Stuart, Florida a bit later than we had wished. A last minute problem with the propane system required some expert help be called. With a bit of assistance from the broker who sold us the boat and an email to the former owners, Ken and Becky Gunderson, who are in Thailand, we got a hold of a competent electrician. So about Noon we cast off and proceeded down the river towards the ICW. It was my first time to transit an opening bridge, so you can imagine I was experiencing some trepidation added to the already existing fears of conning a new to us sailboat. All seemed to go well though I realized right off that this was not West Coast sailing where there is nothing between your boat and Japan except a few small island. Here on the East Coast I have to pay attention to everything; depth, radio, buoys, direction, tide, GPS, charts and other boats and ships. I’m talking some stress here, if you can feel what I was feeling.
At any rate, we got to the ICW, made the turn north and proceeded towards Vero Beach where we figured we’d spend our first night. We got as far as Fort Pierce and just before sunset we made a right hand turn into recommended anchorage just before the Fort Pierce North Bridge. Now it is said that there are two kinds of sailors; those that admit to going aground and liars. Well, I’m no longer in the latter group which claims to have never touched bottom in a boat. The first spot we chose was listed as 14 feet, but we found it to be less than that. Backing down sharply eased us off the shoal and I tried a little farther east, but found the bottom again. A bit of backing and cursing later we got off the mud and tried one more time with better success. We spent a quit night, enjoyed the sunset, ate supper, and sat down with the charts to figure another day’s run up the coast.
The morning saw us greet the sun as we continued our journey. It was warm and sunny all day and we found an open spot east of the ICW near to Merritt Island to spend another easy evening on the hook. The next morning we continued motoring up to Titusville, where we picked up a load of fuel and topped off the water tanks. Interesting note here; I was told that there were two water tanks and there were two water fill stations on the port side of the cockpit, so, assuming that they were the ones I started filling them. The forward station seemed full as the water backed out of the fill hole after just five or ten gallons and the after “tank” took quite a bit more until I heard water coming out of what I thought was an over flow vent. So I secured the plugs and went about getting ready to get underway. Later that day the fresh water stopped working and during the investigation of the problem I discovered that there was no hose connected to the after fill hole. “Where had the water gone” we wondered. Everything in the lazaret was dry; the bilge was dry as well. It was a mystery. But our fresh water pump was not pumping water and we had to fill the three five gallon water jugs and lash them to the rail so we would have a supply of fresh water for cooking and dish washing. We were bummed, but willing to sailor on never the less.
At Haulover Canal we discovered that Florida fishermen think the middle of the channel is the best place to fish. Constrained on either side by the walls of the canal I resorted to evil thoughts and fantasies about just ramming them and then tossing them a bit of chain as a life ring. We did make it through the canal without any mishaps, other than those tantalizing visions in my own head, and made the hard to port turn to proceed north again. That night we anchored near Ponce de Leon inlet, just across from the Coast Guard Station. A lot of boat traffic until well after dark, but it was quiet after we finished supper and we had a good night’s rest. Not an anchorage I would recommend, however it was adequate and the only one available to us considering time and distance.
The weather held another day as we made miles pass beneath our keel. These long narrow passages fraught with shoals and missing markers made navigation difficult. Even with a reliable GPS, dedicated ICW charts, and intense mark-one-eyeball attention, we still managed to touch bottom a couple of times. Some quick reactions kept us from getting stuck, but unnerving never the less. I, up until now, considered myself a pretty fair sailor, but the ICW has humbled me and I’m not nearly as confident as I was. Hailing Marineland Marina on the VHF secured us a safe dock to spend the night. A bit shallow getting in, but the welcome was superb, and the courtesy extended (a loan of a car, free laundry, and WIFI) was beyond expectations. We had to wait until high tide to get out the next day, but that gave us some time to clean up ourselves and the boat some.
The weather went to pot as we reached Fernandina, Florida. We dropped anchor in Bell’s River, just to the west of town. The wind was blowing twenty to twenty-five knots and it was getting real cold. The weather report said it would be gale force winds with a wind-chill factor of 19 degrees. Even with a limited fetch the chop on the river was wicked and the wind sounded like the demons of hell had been loosed in our rigging. I was worried about the anchor dragging, what with the boat sailing around wildly on the chain. I spent most of the night getting up to check and finally just sat in the solon reading and looking out at the lights on the shore to see if we had moved. We encountered our first horse’s ass the next morning. It was freezing cold and with a fixed dock we could have used a hand tying up. We called and they sent a fellow to the fuel dock. He looked as us approaching, went into the office, and closed the door. We came around twice before he came out to the dock. My daughter, handling the lines is a slight 5’2” and he stood there looking as she tried over and over again to get a line on a piling 15 feet above her head. I had to shout at the man to get him to lend a hand, and he just stared at me for a bit and then took a line. If the dock had been one I could have climbed up on I would have deep sixed the creep right there and then.
We wanted to go out the inlet and sail the rest of the way. It was not to be, however. We agreed that we didn’t know the boat well enough to take that risk and at any rate the mizzen topping lift needed replacing and there was some chaffing on the leach of the main sail that I thought warranted attention before placing it in an off shore duty status so we motored on. Entering Georgia waters felt like we were making progress. Getting out of Florida seemed a lot like driving across Texas; you just go on and on and never seem to be getting anywhere. The Jekyll Sound crossing was uneventful as we ventured further into Georgia and proceeded up the ICW until we crossed St. Simon’s Sound. We hailed Morningstar Marina in Golden Isles requesting a place to tie up as well as fuel and were welcomed by a nice young man who directed us in and helped with the lines. After tying up and loading fuel we took a tour of the Marina. We inquired about propane and they said they had a free loaner car and gave us a map to places on the island where we could get supplies. The place reminded me of Ventura in California; a marina bordered by offices and shops along with restaurants and condos. We checked out the showers and laundry then stopped to chat with the folks running the dive shop. They were interested in our trip so we spent a little time telling them of our adventures so far. While at the dive shop I got a call from the lad at the marina saying the loaner car was available for an hour so we hurried back to the boat to get the propane bottles and the key to the car. Following the directions he gave us we promptly got lost, but thankfully it was an island so we found our way onto a road that we remembered him mentioning and found Ace Hardware and the supermarket. Supplies loaded into the trunk we returned to the marina, dock carted our stuff to the boat and decided that after taking a shower that we would go out to eat. Marina was particularly happy about that, in as much as she had been doing just about all the galley duties (except washing dishes which she had pointed out was only fair as she was cooking). The restaurant at the marina was quite good; we both had shrimp and grits, but different styles. Sleep came easy after a long day and in the morning as we headed topside to get underway; we discovered the marina had left us with a newspaper and two large blueberry muffins. Now that was very cool in my estimation.
Leaving Golden Island we motored back into the Sound and then doubled back up the Mackay River to get back on the ICW. We proceeded mostly north with a few north east and east headings on the compass and the occasional west or north west headings thrown in just to keep things confusing. We kept at it until we reached Savannah, GA. We had hoped to stop here for a night or two to visit with my good friend Rose Anne, but she had left out of town and even though her family was willing to let us stay at their dock we decided to continue on north in as much as school and job responsibilities were pressing us to get home soonest. Leaving Savannah behind we got as far as Calibogue Sound, just off the Cooper River where we fueled up at the Harbor Town Marina on the west side of Hilton Head Island and then headed north west back across the Sound to Bryan Creek where we spent a very peaceful night in ten to twelve feet of water with plenty of room to swing on 100 feet of chain. Under way in the morning it was chilly but clear as we advanced north towards Beaufort, SC. As we passed Paris Island I looked but couldn’t see servicemen there and I wondered if the base had been closed but latter I check the internet and see that it is still in the training business. Passing through Beaufort the charts and GPS give up on marking the ICW so we had to guess a bit as to where we were to go, but luckily we got it right. We stopped on Mosquito Creek just past B and B Sea food and fuel, where we got both diesel and shrimp; one to feed the boat and the other to feed us. Marina made a shrimp chowder that was heavenly to say the least. It was another quiet night for us and in the morning we pulled up the anchor and made our way back to the ICW.
Moving NE through marsh and creeks we came to the Stono River which is just south of Charleston, SC and we ran aground. Per the GPS, charts, and keeping the markers on the proper side we grounded hard. The river current pinned us and no amount of engine or rudder efforts were working. Factor in that it was high tide suggested that I call BoatUS for a tow.
Now touching bottom and backing off are disconcerting, but running full aground and getting stuck felt very embarrassing and I sat there in the cockpit not really wanting to look at passing boats or their skippers waiting for a tow. Admittedly, I was glad I had purchased the BoatUS unlimited towing package, but I was feeling quite chagrin at having to use it. At any rate, they got there in a bit under 40 minutes and with the help of a passing trawler’s wake the tow boat pulled us free. Paper work and information exchanged hands and we were back to motoring again. Making the turn into Elliot’s Cut we got under Wappoo Creek Bridge and into the city of Charleston. We stopped at the Charleston City Marina for fuel and the lads that were waiting for us had a golf cart to carry me to the marina office after we got fuel and water onboard. Those docks are the longest I have ever seen outside of those used by Navy war ships. It might not have been a full mile along the floating dock, but dang close to it.
I caught another golf cart ride back to the boat and we got underway heading past the Coast Guard Station towards Fort Sumter. There was lot of traffic in Charleston Harbor as we navigated towards Cove West Inlet to get back on the ICW. Coming into the inlet we realized that we wouldn’t make the hourly opening of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, so we dropped the hook in the middle of the channel and waited for the opening. A few small power boats came by but we were of no consequence to them as their draft was insignificant and they just came around us with a friendly wave which we returned. Not long after passing through the bridge we made a turn westward in Dewee’s Inlet and found a spot in Long’s Creek to anchor for the night. The depth was 18 feet, but it took some looking about to find anything less than 20 to 40 feet. Surrounded by marsh grass with a nice sunset and a full moon we spent a quiet night with heater on low to keep thing toasty and nice. Interestingly enough, I’m going to bed early, around 2000 hours and sleeping just about all through the night, only getting up to go to the head once. Normally I’m up three or four times a night, so this is a real treat. I wake up just before 0500, go to the head, and get dressed, put on some tea water to heat, and get busy with the handheld GPS I picked up at West Marine. The little Garmin unit has been a life saver on this trip. The one that came with the boat will give me coordinates, but the ICW chart booklet that I have does not have a compass rose on each page, so regular navigation is dicey in the confines of the ICW and it wouldn’t tell me if I were in the channel or not. Anyhow, I put in our route for the day following the magenta line as close as I can on the GPS and marking up the chart booklet with any information I gather from Polar Navy’s points of interest (POI) uploaded from ActiveCaptain, such as bridge openings, possible anchorages, and fuel prices that are all current data feeds.
About 0500 Marina’s alarm goes off on her phone. Now you have got to understand something about my darling daughter, she is a night owl and normally stays up until one or two in the morning and gets up around ten or so. The rescheduling of her life, what with needing to get up, cook breakfast, hoist the anchor and then pilot the boat all before the sun is above the horizon is not normal for her body clock, but she sailors on never the less, at least until she can say, “Daddy, will you take the helm? I need to take a nap.” This normally happens between sunrise and about 0830 most every day. Breakfast is oatmeal with cranberries and a large cup of tea, then up with the anchor and we are once again heading north along the ICW towards home. The shore is marked by long piers that traverse the marsh from the houses to the ICW, some times over a quarter mile long. I wonder to myself how much something like that costs. It can’t be cheap, I’m guessing. It must be nearly equal to the cost of the house and land. Likewise, I wonder what the rules are for how far into the water way they can go with their pier and dock; it would seem to me to have some sort of limit. Ambling along at five or six knots, with a glance at the GPS every minute or two, a look at the engine RPM, oil pressure, and heat, leaves time to let my mind ponder such questions.
By late afternoon we have come quite a ways and when we make the turn west to head up the Winyah Bay towards Georgetown, SC, I’m feeling anxious for the day’s run to be over. Passing Rabbit and Hare Islands, we hail the Boat Shed Marina on the VHF to request a transit slip and fuel, and they give us directions to find their dock. A couple of lads are there to take our lines and help with the fuel hose. A short walk up the dock to the office where we pay for our fuel and a night’s stay, gives us a chance to get some information about laundry and propane in town. Our propane use is about one 15 pound tank every two nights using the heater. The stove uses a lot less, but we figure we will fill up all three tanks never the less. Marina loads up a dock cart with the propane bottles and laundry, and then heads into town to find a bank, propane, and do laundry; me, I stay aboard to clean the boat up, continue to investigate the fresh water system problem and do a bit of charting. After an hour or so I get a call from Marina saying that she found a bank and had filled the propane tanks but was too tired to do the laundry and is heading back to the boat. I agree, saying that if push comes to shove, we can always do a bucket of laundry and dry our underwear in the engine space if need be. I walked up the boat yard’s entrance to watch for my daughter and visited with a lady who was walking her dog. She indicated that she likes to come down this way to see the boats and sometimes visit with the people on them. We talk for a while until her dog insists on moving along. I notice a number of cats hanging around the boat yards. They are friendly enough, if a bit rough looking. Clearly these are not house cats, what with the notches out of their ears, patches of hair missing, and an overall look of streetwise bad ass feline. The Boat Shed Marina is not a posh, pipe the captain aboard, white shorts and cap kind of place. It is more of a small industrial and fish bait kind of establishment. A place where work gets done, beer gets drunk from a can, and fish stories get told. The showers are clean but the heater is not working, but I’m not complaining, the hot water works just fine and feels wonderful as I scrub away the day’s grime. With my hair a bit damp we finish our chart work and enjoy a bit of WIFI before I give up and head to my bunk. Marina has some school work to do on the internet so she stays up. Morning finds us heading up the Great Pee Dee River in the fog. Marina tells me about a visitor we had during the night while I was asleep. An orange cat came aboard (see photo) and my daughter, being a major cat person, spent quite a bit of time petting it and missing her own three cats who are back home being cared for by one of her friends. At any rate, we continue along, passing by Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle beach with their shopping malls and tourist destinations. I’ve been to Myrtle Beach a couple of times on my motorcycle, and I think it’s a pretty cool place to visit but not some where I’d like to stay long. We gave the Light Keepers Marina a call and arranged for a slip for the night. Following local knowledge on how to enter the marina we ran aground and had to back off and try a couple of times before finding the way in. The marina is part of a large condo/office complex and the dock master was a very accommodating individual, who loaned us his car so we could run into town and visit Wal-Mart. After getting back from the store we took showers in the large and very clean facilities and I suggested to Marina that we eat out at the onsite restaurant. The look of gratitude on her face was worth every penny of the $50 bill. The next morning the weather was expected to be less than favorable, and the dock master offered to let us stay another night for free if we wanted to ride out the storm in port. It sound nice and I’d have welcomed the extra day of rest, but Marina was anxious to get home due to work and school, likewise, my office was wondering when I’d return as well. Funny thing is, I had told my staff that they couldn’t take extra time off during the holidays due to workload and staffing constraints, and then I take off for three weeks to bring the boat back from Florida. Some folks were not so happy about that, as you can imagine. In the morning the dock master came down to see us off and encouraged us to stop by again. We motored over to the fuel dock and topped off our tanks and then headed back out to the “ditch” to carry on our travels homeward. The rain caught up with us as we proceeded towards North Carolina, but our cockpit cover, even without the front of the dodger in place, kept us mostly dry. As we passed Southport, I called Priority Sailing School to tell them that their former student, Marina, was sailing her own 37 foot ketch up the coast, and I thought they would like to know. Captain Carolyn Pryor was happy to hear from us and asked for some photos to put in their news letter. Making the turn up the Cape Fear River after passing Southport, we entered a confusing stretch of waterway, what with its plethora of flashing lights, buoys, and big ships. It was nerve wracking to say the least, as the light began to fail due to storm clouds and we were still an hour or more away from our anchorage. Making the turn at Green flashing 33, we entered Snow’s Cut as a bit of light came through just at sunset, making the transit of the narrow canal a tad easier. Exiting the cut we angled a bit south passing a marina to enter a small anchorage just west of Canal Street on the south side of Carolina Beach. There were three other sailboats anchored but we found a spot a little closer to the marsh in about 15 feet of water. It was well after dark as we dropped the hook and laid out 90 feet of chain. We ate supper, and did our nightly charting duties, planning on stopping for fuel first thing in the morning and then making as much progress as possible. The lack of places to anchor is disturbing as we examine the charts. Most of the marinas want $2 a foot in this area and the drain on my funds has been disturbing as of late. Later that night the wind picked up again and we were swinging wildly and rocking about as the gusts pushed on our rigging. I finally gave up around 0300 and got dressed and went into the solon to read and check the shore lights every so often to see if we were staying in place. We got underway a little before 0700 and headed over to Joyner’s marina to fuel up. Most of the fuel docks we have stopped at have been open at 0700; not so at Joyner’s. We had to wait for an hour for them to open so we walked about some and looked over the place. I was reading over the marina rules and while “no major repairs and no open fires” were permitted, I was surprised to see a prohibition against “co-ed showers.” What is up with that? Don’t they believe in conserving water? Where is their green spirit anyhow? After a little over an hour a cute young lady opened up the office and came down to the fuel dock to help us. While we were pumping she offered us fresh coffee when we were done. Finishing up, we paid our bill, got that coffee and then cast off from the dock. We continued up the ICW in clear, cold, and breezy weather very much glad for warm gloves, sweaters, and foul weather suits. We passed through Wrightsville Beach, thinking of my good friend Collin Hackman, the weatherman for WECT in Wilmington, wishing we could stop and visit, but we needed to keep moving to get my girl and myself back to work. It was cool to pass beneath the North Topsail Beach Bridge thinking of all the times we had crossed over it looking down on the ICW and fantasying about being on a boat. Fantasy comes true! Coming up to Onslow Bridge we just missed the half hourly cut off and had to wait 30 minutes for the next opening. Passing through we proceeded past a sign indicating that if the lights were flashing we could not proceed. I thought, well if that were true then the bridge operator would have said something. My assumption was proven false as the Navy patrol boat hailed us and ordered us to immediately anchor. They told us that there was a “live fire” exercise going on and that we would have to wait until it was over before we could move on. “How long”, I asked? The patrol boat said not too long, maybe an hour and a half to two hours. This was not good news, as we were constrained by time due to not getting away from Joyner’s fuel dock and a couple of bridge hold ups. This delay was troubling because there wasn’t any place to stop before Swansboro. As the guns thundered from ships off shore and shells exploded ashore, we sat listening to the Navy talk on the radio warning ships to stay clear. If we had gotten this message earlier, we would have anchored near the Marine Corp base in Jacksonville. However, some time later we were given permission to move on. As the sun set we were still an hour and a half away from where we expected to stop. It was cold, dark, and windy as we neared the basin near Casper’s Marina. No one was responding to our radio calls, so we entered what we thought was the basin, going slowly as we could in the current and wind. It was “navigation by brail” using the keel to feel our way along. Backing up when we would touch and try again. I was getting very frustrated with it all and this was acerbated by my inability to see the handheld GPS in the dark or to identify lights on the shore. Continuing on in the dark was not an option I was very enthusiastic about, but I considered it until Marina came back from the bow to look at the GPS. She was able to get us back on course and we found a spot to drop the hook. With a hundred and twenty feet of chain laid out, we hoped to feel secure, however the wind and current, along with the extended fetch, made for a very rough ride. I didn’t sleep much at all that night; worried that we would drag anchor and be pushed under the highway bridge or against the piers of the port. It didn’t ease up all night, so come morning I was wore out. We weighed anchor before 0700 and continued our journey home. We had been underway for seventeen days and we were looking forward to getting home to New Bern. Heading up the Bogue Sound with 25 knot winds blowing up our stern and building waves that looked to be 3 to 4 feet high racing along to push our rear end around and making steering difficult. Between the current and the waves, we got off course and ran aground again. Nothing I did freed us from the mud our keel was stuck in so I called BoatUS again. In twenty minutes they were there and with a short tug we were free again. I am so glad I bought that insurance. With the bridge in Morehead City in view we found our way to the Newport River and got out of the waves and wind to a large degree. Moving into Adam’s Creek we stopped at Jerrett’s Bay Marina to get fuel. In as much as we had gotten the fresh water pump working again, we wanted to fill the water tank. The folks at Jerrett’s went the extra mile to fashion a water hose long enough to reach our boat. This was done in freezing weather without complaint or excuses. I’ll have no difficulty stopping here again when we head back to Morehead City in the future. Leaving Jerrett’s, we continued up the creek towards Neuse River. According to my figures, we would not make New Bern before dark and I didn’t want to try the bridge and an unfamiliar marina in the dark without anyone to guide me in. Fortunately Marina agreed and we dropped anchor just east of the Chanel at Royal Thurman in about 8 feet of water at near low tide. A quiet night was good to have, however, in the morning we found ourselves stuck in the mud again. I’m guessing that all the steady wind had affected the tide level and we were not going anywhere until the tide changed. By 0700 we were able to free ourselves and start the last leg of a long journey. It was sunny, windy, cold, and a little bumpy heading up the Neuse towards New Bern. It was nice to use the auto pilot and have a bit of lee way depth wise in the river. Marina went below to nap and I remained topside watching for the ferryboats and the buoys, checking the GPS every so often to make sure we remained on course. Marina brought some snacks up to the cockpit and we watched the bridges slowly grow before us until it was time to pass beneath them. I was feeling anxious about the bridges because of the wind and current, as well as my seeming inability to spot the passage beneath them. However, Marina told me not to worry because as we got closer she would be able to see where we should go. She had the right of it and giving the Bridgeport Marina a call we got directions to our slip and after passing beneath the drawbridge we pulled into our new home without any difficulty or drama. Eighteen days out of Stuart, Florida and 844 Nautical Miles total distance covered, we were finally home where we will begin outfitting ourselves and the boat for the rest of the adventure.