Yep, we’re on a roll and heading north. We spent less than 24 hours in Lake Worth; just long enough to clear customs, stock up on some non-perishable groceries (those not requiring refrigeration of course) and top up our diesel and water tanks. We made 60-70 mile days, starting early and ending late, with the promise of a new fridge waiting for us down the line.
In St Augustine, we caught up with good friends Corning and Tita Townsend on Blessed Spirit, a Passport 47, who had made the Gulf Stream crossing four days earlier. We swapped news over dinner and the next day we both pulled out of St Augustine harbour at 7 am heading to Fernandina Beach. No wind that day and a glassy flat ICW made for a long slow stretch to Fernandina Beach but the time passed quickly as we chatted back and forth with Blessed Spirit. I love their boat name and there was something calming and more than a little bit saintly to hail them, pronouncing it as â€œBless Ed Spiritâ€ like we were in church.
That morning, and every morning since, the dew has been heavy. The water temperature in Florida was still around 25 C but the air temperature dropped each night; enough that we needed blankets, a first since December. Overhead, flocks of Canada Geese are heading north to lay their eggs up on Canadaâ€™s tundra (or perhaps only going as far as the Toronto Zooâ€¦.).
Weâ€™d ordered our new refrigerator to be sent to Fernandina Beach and in anticipation of much hard work and the necessary power for installing it, we pulled into Fernandina Harbour Marina and secured dockage. Itâ€™s an easy place to be based; close to excellent restaurants, an historic downtown area, good laundry and helpful marina staff. Blessed Spirit stayed on dock with us that night and we shared an excellent meal at Restaurant 29 â€“ the same restaurant where Iâ€™d had my birthday dinner way back in November.
The next morning we bid farewell to Tita and Corning with hopes to see them again soon. This was after pointing out the â€œICW mustacheâ€ theyâ€™d picked up the previous day. The ICW water is muddy brown and full of tannin which quickly gives white hulled boats distinctive tan bow mustaches. Blessed Spirit had spent a goodly amount of time in St Augustine cleaning their white hull, yet one day later, after a 57 mile trip to Fernandina Beach, their brown mustache had reappeared on their bow.
Our good friends and fellow sailors, Steve and Sandi of Princess/Hillary had graciously received our new fridge via trusty UPS and dropped it off at Strathspey early the following morning. Steve came with sleeves rolled up, ready to lend his engineering and planning expertise and he and Blair had our new fridge installed and fired up that very day. It was too funny to hear the two of them, both high octane people in their own right, discussing, then discarding and then figuring out new ways to install the fridge. They worked well together and the end result was a fully functioning refrigerator installed in minimal time. Yippee kiyeah I say.
We joined Steve and Sandi and a group of their good friends for an excellent dinner at Pablo’s in downtown Fernandina that night. A bonus for Blair and I was the gracious after-dinner offer of the use of Dick and Tina Devoe’s car to run errands the following day. We hit the West Marine for “boat stuff”, Radio Shack to replace the salt-corroded base station for our Sirius Satellite radio and most importantly the Harris Teeter for groceries to fill our new fridge.
We stayed three nights in Fernandina Beach, working on boat projects and waiting for the weather to clear a little for the trek north. The marina staff said 3 pm thunderstorms are common this time of year and we were treated to them a few times. In a fierce storm on Sunday, the thunder rolled and lightning flashed as we nervously edged away from Strathspeyâ€™s chain plates. We could see the squalls coming on our radar screen and ended up staying an extra night on dock so as not to be anchored out in this weather.
On our trip through Fernandina Beach last November, we decided that we would always associate this town with fine dining and this time was no exception. As well as eating out for dinner a few times, Steve and Sandi served us up that southern treat, Pulled Pork, slow cooked all day and wonderfully tender and tasty. Surprisingly, over this past year of cruising, despite all the gastronomical raving I’ve done in these posts, Blair and I have actually lost weight. Initially, while heading down the St Lawrence and during our overnight sails, I wasn’t eating much, trying to stave off wooziness brought on by rougher seas than I was used to. But our healthy appearance right now, I’m attributing to constant fresh air and exercise and probably due in large part to a diet of mostly fish, fruit and vegetables.
We finally slipped the dock lines despite overcast skies and headed north into Georgia. Life is looking decidedly much rosier now that we have groceries in the refrigerator. Amazing what lifeâ€™s small pleasures can beâ€¦. We headed north via the ICW because the wind was blowing strong from the Northeast and will stay there much of the week. We can motor north into these winds in the sheltered waters of the ICW but it would be foolhardy to attempt that on the open ocean in the big waves that are sure to be kicked up.
Georgia has always been a bit of a bugaboo for cruisers because of all the skinny spots. We think Georgia is beautiful, wild and remote but weâ€™re paying close attention to the tides and currents so we transit the shallow areas at high tide or at least on a rising tide. Georgia has HIGH tides (7 feet worth) which consequently mean she has corresponding LOW tides that in spots cause our depth alarm to sound. In preparation for our trip through Georgia, Iâ€™ve flagged five trouble spots where weâ€™ll be doing the â€œole soft shoeâ€ through the shallow waters if we hit them close to low tide.
These days, weâ€™re noticing that weâ€™re part of an extremely small group of boats heading north right now. We see one or two sailboats or powerboats on the ICW each day but mostly we are by ourselves. Each night as we anchor, we are usually the only boat and so as a safety precaution I put out an extra anchor light in addition to our masthead light. Granted the weather hasnâ€™t been top shelf but I also think weâ€™re a few weeks ahead of the crowd right now. Interestingly enough, now that weâ€™re headed home, Strathspey has that horse headed towards the barn mentality. That makes us sail/motor long days and often we try to determine the date when we anticipate busting loose of the ICW up in the Chesapeake.
Georgia was cold. As we headed north, we were layering more than one polar fleece plus our foul weather jackets and toques. While anchored in the Frederica River, we put on polar fleece jackets to eat dinner in the cockpit. As the evening progressed, we added thick throws to wrap around our legs and then we figured why fight city hall and we put up our enclosure, aka â€œthe house of dogsâ€, aka â€œthe doghouseâ€. Our doghouse is a total cockpit enclosure that basically adds a relatively airtight, warm room above deck. Its see-through thick plastic walls let light in and if itâ€™s a warm but buggy night, we can unzip the plastic to expose mosquito-proof screens. Pretty it ainâ€™t (hence the name doghouse) but it sure is functional. Finally, one day while anchored about 30 miles south of Savannah, Blair said â€œenough is enough, Iâ€™m coldâ€ and he turned on our Espar heater. Brrrrrâ€¦..
We’d been moving steadily northward at a good pace, everything falling into place, with tidal currents and skinny spots well accounted for but all it took was for us to plan to be in Charleston two days hence to meet Blessed Spirit for dinner before they flew home to Maine. Foolish sailors who take to the ICW rather than sailing! Even more foolish to try to schedule anything while on a boat! We up-anchored at 7 am and were well in place, sliding through the infamous and shallow Hell Gate on a rising tide. A flooding current was pushing us along at over 7 knots. But we came to an abrupt halt two hours later at the Skidaway Narrows Bridge which was undergoing some maintenance and could not open for us. We dropped anchor and as the day progressed, four other boats dropped anchor behind us. All of us cooled our heels, as all the motorboats puttputted on by, smiling and waving and privately saying amongst themselves “aren’t you glad we don’t have one of those silly tall masts that require the bridges to open”. I had a shower, washed my hair, baked some scones, read a bit, organized a cupboard or two and then five hours later, the bridge tender announced that he’d have an opening in ten minutes and he wanted us through quickly. All five sailboats took off like a herd of turtles, quickly making for the nearest anchorage as it would be low tide shortly.
The next morning we woke up to dense fog. Fog so thick that the cockpit and companionway steps were wet, droplets of water hung on our lifelines and the close shoreline was barely discernible. It definitely seemed that we’d tempted fate to plan further than a day in advance. We sent an email to Blessed Spirit to say we would be into Charleston very late that night and it seemed likely we’d not see them again on this trip. The fog finally lifted at 10 am and that morning’s delay meant we had a better tidal current than expected pushing us along all day at up to 7.5 knots and, even better, there were no tense moments transiting shallow spots. It’s always a juggling act to take advantage of daylight hours, tidal currents and rising tides and I must admit, this delay resulted in our best passage on the ICW to date. We arrived at the Wapoo Creek bridge just south of Charleston with plenty of time to spare before the last pre-rush hour opening at 3:30 (arrivals after 3:30, must wait til 6:30 for the next scheduled bridge opening). Tita and Corning picked us up in their rental car to go to Hanks Seafood in downtown Charleston. The food was excellent, the conversation scintillating and Tita snagged us a parking spot right in front of the restaurant; a pretty nice end to a day that didn’t look terribly promising. Best of all, the weather has warmed up considerably and we have shed our polar fleeces for the time being.
So, weâ€™ve been putting in long days these past few weeks. For folks at Trident Yacht Club, itâ€™s basically like sailing from Trident to Waupoos Island every day. For non-sailors, think about driving from north Toronto to Barrie every day (at 7 mph!). Either way, weâ€™re making tracks northward.