The Georgia low country did not disappoint with some of the best sailing of the trip south this year as well as numerous wildlife sightings. A side trip up the Darien River and a stop in the quiet town of Darien was a nice break from the ICW. As usual, the Thanksgiving celebration in St. Marys Georgia was a great time with about 150 of our fellow cruisers in attendance. It’s real nice to see a town so welcoming to cruising boats with all the issues going on in south east Florida and the attempts to ban anchoring and close dinghy dock access. Leaving Georgia our first taste of Florida was at the Kingsley Plantation were we learned about life as a slave on a sea-island cotton plantation in the early 19th century.
For the past few years Ron has been contemplating the side trip up the St. Johns River about 120 miles into central Florida but with a 45’ fixed bridge near the beginning and our mast at 44.5’ he needed to develop a plan. So with all the expensive hardware off the top of the mast and measuring the mast height two more times we were off to give it a try. The tide board on the bridge read 44’ with an additional 2’ in the center so under we went. Success! The VHF antennae just tapped each girder. We are now at anchor behind a small island. Kathy sat on the fore deck this afternoon watching a heron flying back and forth building a nest. The highlight of this anchorage was the dinghy ride to Welaka Springs and watching manatees swim all around and under the dinghy. One of them surfaced and blew at Ron. It smelled quite fishy. Last Tuesday was filled with the company of our cruising friends, Scott & Donna as we biked around the Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka FL. We are so glad we took the chance on the low bridge giving us the opportunity to enjoy all the wonder of this often over looked cruising ground.
Don’t forget to check out the Photos 2015 page. I just added 98 new pictures!
Tonight we are anchored in the Beaufort River enjoying the South Carolina Low Country. The rivers meander through miles of salt marsh as the tide rises and falls 8 feet twice a day exposing mud banks at low and almost covering the grasses at high while birds fly overheard and dolphins escort us on our way. Leaving the sounds of North Carolina in our wake with their brackish water and no tides we were greeted to South Carolina by the great cypress trees of the Waccamaw River and water resembling that of the Dismal Swamp.
With stops in New Bern, Washington, Southport, NC and Charleston and Beaufort, SC we had the opportunity to visit some new places and some familiar ones as well as visit friends and family along the way. This year we didn’t lose any anchors to the Charleston Harbor and had a wonderful time walking the historic streets and wondering what it would have been like to have been here in the early 18th century. With the gas lamps, wide porches with ornate iron railings and formal gardens you can just imagine the struggles as the colonists were trying to get established in a new world.
As we make plans to leave South Carolina behind and head into the sounds and rivers of Georgia we are looking forward to many more miles of salt marsh teeming with wildlife and then the cruisers’ Thanksgiving in St Marys, Georgia.
It has been 3 weeks, 415 nautical miles, and only 38 engine hours since our last blog. Visits include Cape May, Chesapeake City, Worton Creek, Annapolis, Solomon’s, Reedville, Deltaville, Hampton Roads, Hampton River, Portsmouth, then 6 slow days exploring the Dismal Swamp Canal, and Elizabeth City. We are now way up the Alligator River tucked around a bend anticipating 25 knot winds tonight.
There are 4 fighter jets circling around and banking above our boat. As we arrived, there was smoke in the marsh then it dissipated. Hmmm, I wonder what the jet may have dropped?
Leaving Atlantic City, heading off shore, we met our friends, Tom & Sue, onboard “Sandcastle” briefly before they continued on to Florida. They are currently about 750 miles further south than us slowpokes.
The Chesapeake gave us the opportunity to play with our new sails using our asymmetrical spinnaker numerous times. As you can imagine, Ron doesn’t sit still. In a few hours, he had tried 5 different combinations of rig.
The highlight of our Chesapeake cruise was the anchorage in Spa Creek and attending the Annapolis Sailboat Show. Leaving the Chesapeake and heading into the ICW, our timing was perfect as the schooners from the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (http://www.gcbsr.org/) just departed Portsmouth allowing us to stay at the free waterfront dock. A walking tour of the historic homes ended with a visit to the Commodore Theater. The Commodore is a restored 1940’s art deco theater where the rows of seats have been replaced with dining tables and comfy chairs and dinner is served while watching a movie, Bridge of Spies in our case. (http://www.commodoretheatre.com/)
Leaving the urban setting of Portsmouth/Norfolk led us to the peace and quiet of the Dismal Swamp Canal as two cruising rallies, one sponsored by Sail magazine and the other sponsored by the Waterway Guide passed through. We spotted an eagle overhead and encountered numerous turtles sunning on the logs while enjoying the fall foliage and the root beer colored water. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest, continuously operating canal in the United States, originally surveyed by George Washington. We sat in on a talk of the history of the canal by Robert, the Deep Creek Lockmaster. 35 feet of peat filters artesian water filling Lake Drummond, the water supply for the canal, making it quite unusual. Due to tannic acid from the Cypress and Juniper roots, bacteria doesn’t grow and it is famous for being used on sailing vessels of old because it would stay fresh in barrels for many years. (http://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/)
While docked at the Visitors Center in the canal, our daughter and son-in-law, Dawn & Juan, drove down for a wonderful 2-day visit.
We are enjoying our time sailing as we anticipate further adventures and visits with our friends as we make our way down the waterway.
Today, Tuesday, October 6th, begins our 5th sailing journey south since retirement. Unfortunately, we missed sailing north to Maine this summer.
At the end of April as we were happily motoring on the ICW approaching Georgia our engine made a loud bang then quit. Ron quickly diagnosed it as beyond repair. We had Stormy Petrel towed to Tiger Point Marina in Fernandina Beach where we dismantled her and tied everything down for trucking to Cedar Creek Sailing Center & Marina in New Jersey.
While waiting the six weeks for our boat to arrive, we helped our good friends and owners of the marina, Tom and Liz with their spring rush. Then it took another 4 weeks to install the new engine. We not only installed it, we rebuilt the engine bed and replaced every other possible component related to the engine at the same time.
After completing some other maintenance projects on our boat, we decided to overhaul our daughter’s 24-foot Greenwich sailboat for her 30th birthday. We Awlgriped the hull Flag Blue then repaired and repainted the decks and finally sewed all new canvas including a Bimini she never had before and a complete winter cover.
Next we were talking to Dave, the new rigger at the marina and found out his sailmaker was slow and could make us new sails quickly. We decided to go for it and ordered a new reaching asymmetrical spinnaker and two new jibs (solent rig). We are very pleased with the quality and shape of our new sails. I’d say we are all set now!
Tonight we will be anchored in Brigantine and plan to sail in the ocean tomorrow from Atlantic City to Cape May, anchor there and leave on Thursday in the hopes of having favorable winds and the current in our favor all the way through the Delaware Bay and the C&D canal. If all goes well, we will be anchored in Spa Creek and attending the Annapolis Sailboat show on Sunday and Monday.
It is so great to be cruising once again!
The time we spent with Dawn & Juan then Scott & Sara sailing, snorkeling, and hiking the Exumas was fabulous! We visited Eluthera, Cambridge Cay and Wardrick Wells within the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park as well as Allen’s Cay with its endangered iguanas. The weather cooperated for the short time they had to visit and we sent them home rested, exhausted, and a bit tanner. After Scott and Sara headed home we settled back into our routine of just the two of us onboard and started working our way back up around the Berry Islands for a bit more hiking and snorkeling while preparing to return to Florida and head north for the summer.
Cruising with a buddy boat was a new experience for us and allowed us to help each other out with equipment repairs. Sandcastle had alternator and a few overheating issues and we had a failed watermaker. Ron helped work on the issues on Sandcastle while Tom and Sue made water for us. We also managed to break our spinnaker pole and tried to put on a replacement end fitting but the 1968 tubing was not the correct size for the new end fitting so we’re in the market for a whole new pole.
The 132 mile sail back to the US from Great Harbor Cay delighted us with fair winds, calm seas, and good sailing on a beam reach. The only time our navigational skills were challenged was when we entered the deep waters of the Gulf Stream at the intersection of the Straits of Florida and the Northwest Providence Channel where we shared the waters with many freighters and cruise ships heading in and out of the busy ports of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and on to Nassau and ports around the world. Crossing paths at several points we had to dodge more than one ship at a time. Coming within 1 mile of a 1,000 foot long freighter going 19 knots in the dark can be an interesting experience. We are so glad we installed our AIS (Automated Identification System) which receives the location, course and speed of all ships in the area as well as broadcasting our information to them. Knowing their location and “closest point of approach” allowed us to make adjustments to make it a much safer and less stressful situation.
We are now anchored in Manatee Pocket, Stuart, Florida looking forward to visiting Kathy’s Aunt Barbara and Uncle Stretch then our friends Ed & Patty tomorrow. The nice thing about being back in the US is convenient access to phone and internet.
We have the rest of the photos from the Islands uploaded to the 2015 Photos page so check them out for a taste of what it’s like over there.
We are spending a few days back in civilization at a marina in downtown Nassau anxiously waiting the arrival of Dawn and Juan for 11 days then the arrival of Scott and Sara a few days later. We had the opportunity to get a Wi-Fi connection while enjoying ice cream at a Dairy Queen so I uploaded a bunch of photos from the Islands to the 2015 page. And yes that is the color of the water!!! It’s really cool sailing along in 15′ of water and seeing the coral and fish on the bottom. We have been doing a lot of snorkeling. The Exumas are amazing!
Hopefully all our friends and family up north are starting to thaw out a little as spring gets under way.
Just a quick update on our Bahamas cruising. After leaving Bimini and the comfort of the Bimini Sands Resort we sailed across the northern edege of the Bahama bank to the Berry Island chain. The Berrys are on the road less traveled and we had the joy of uncluttered anchorages with nice snorkeling and hiking including the hike to the blue hole on Hoffman’s Cay. Today we left the remoteness and crossed the Northwest Channel to an anchorage off Rose island near Nassau which we are sharing with about 10 other cruisers. Watching the sun set behind the light of the city is in contrast to the past week’s sunsets over the water of the bank with the elusive green flash which we were able to see each night.
Tomorrow morning will see us taking advantage of a northeast wind and sailing to our first stop in the Exuma Island Chain to either Allen’s or Highborne Cay.
We are continuing to cruise with our friends Tom and Sue onboard Sandcastle and enjoying their excitement as they discover each new aspect of the cruising lifestyle.
Kathy and I are very excited for the upcoming visit from our children, with Dawn and Juan coming to Nassau on the 25th for 11 days followed by Scott and his friend Sara the day after Dawn and Juan head home. We hope to share with them the wonderful snorkeling with the beautiful fish and coral in the crystal clear waters that we have been enjoying.
Ron and Kathy
S/V Stormy Petrel
Our trip across the Gulf Stream was a bit different for Stormy Petrel since we are cruising in the company of two other boats, “Saltine” a Pearson Invicta with Scott and Donna and “Sandcastle” a Catalina 42 with Tom and Sue. The arrival into Bimini brought with it the awe inspiring beauty of the crystal clear waters the Bahamas are famous for as you quickly leave the very deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream and enter the turquoise waters of the of the reef protecting the entrance. In a second departure from our normal cruising routine we are currently tied up at the Bimini Sands Resort Marina enjoying the amenities including the beachside pool, snorkeling, and walks along the nature trail while waiting for the next weather window before we continue on across the Great Bahama Bank toward the Berry Islands.