After aborting our initial attempt at an outside run to Florida from Georgetown, SC, we reviewed the weather again for a run the next day. Although the wind would be on the nose, it was predicted to reduce in strength, which should also reduce the wave height and make for a reasonable trip to the St. Mary’s inlet on the Georgia / Florida line. (Thereby accomplishing our goal of bypassing the dreaded shallow water in Georgia.)
We seriously considered a last-minute change of plans to spend Thanksgiving in Charleston, when an opening suddenly appeared at the Charleston Maritime Center. This would have given us a chance to spend time with Dave and Donna on Merlin. Unfortunately, one of the slips would have been a little too shallow at low tide, causing us to reluctantly turn the offer down and commit ourselves to St. Mary’s instead.
Fred’s problems with his refrigeration (which had been the cause of our change in plans to go to Isle of Palms) were determined to be a broken bolt, which he was grateful had been discovered before serious damage had been done to the engine from a compressor breaking loose. Luckily he had the right replacement bolt on board, so the problem was easily fixed before heading out the next morning. Another surprise for Marianna on the trip to Isle of Palms was a problem with their recently upgraded chartplotter chip. (Apparently, Navionics knew that it had a problem in the Raymarine C80, but had neglected to let their customers know this.) It turned out that the chips available in West Marine stores would not work either, so the only alternative was to live without the charts until we would be in a place long enough to get a replacement shipped. It’s always something.
We headed out early on the morning of Saturday, Nov, 16th from the Isle of Palms Marina in order to clear the Ben Sawyer bridge and make our way out the Charleston inlet by mid-morning and into St. Mary’s mid-morning on Sunday. Typical of Charleston’s busy harbor, we had a couple of large tankers passing us as we headed out the inlet, both passing each other as we slipped outside the channel to give them the room they needed.
The trip was uneventful, maybe a little stronger winds than predicted earlier in the trip, but they did indeed calm down as predicted. We were escorted briefly by some dolphins leaping high out of the water just off the cockpit, which made for a fascinating diversion in an otherwise uneventful trip.
Thanksgiving at St. Mary's
As the week in St. Mary’s drew to a close, we realized we needed a plan for our travel further south. We decided to build our plans around two dates – one was the upcoming shuttle launch on December 6th; the other was the date we planned to get to Riviera Beach for a month-long stay to allow us to travel back north for the holidays. This meant we had very few miles to travel over the next 3 weeks. So, we laid out a leisurely trip south through Florida.
Our first stop was back in Fernandina Beach, where we picked up a mooring ball for 3 nights. The mooring balls had been added since our travel through here last fall. Given our problems finding a place to anchor with the uneven bottom, and the number of boats in the anchorage, we welcomed the change. The odd thing about the mooring balls was that the pennant had a thimble in the end instead of just a splice to go over the cleat. Dave attached some shackles to the thimble so we would have a sturdy bridle to hold us for the three days. Since it had only been a few days since we had been aground at dockside, we weren’t surprised to learn that Marianna had been placed a mooring ball too shallow for them. As the 8 foot tide reached its ebb, they stopped swinging with the rest of the field, letting them know that they were aground. The next day, they moved to the ball next to us (which had been assigned to them, but was occupied when we arrived on Monday), giving them plenty of water. Pat and Fred are beginning to feel paranoid. We used the time in Fernandina to see a little more of the town, which included a trip to the Happy Tomato for some great BBQ, Fantastic Fudge for ice cream and fudge, and a trolley tour of the island. Pat and Fred were also able to get the new Navionics chip sent to them here, so their chartplotter was working again.
We left Fernandina on Thursday morning (Nov. 29th) in thick fog. We had heard that the fog was lifting shortly outside Fernandina, but that was short-lived. It closed in again and visibility shrunk to less than a quarter of a mile. We slowed to a crawl and picked out each mark and with the help of the chartplotter stayed in the channel. It wasn’t till after 10am that it finally lifted for good. We then proceeded at regular speed toward St. Augustine.
We actually planned to stop just short of St. Augustine at a restaurant with a free dock called Cap’s. We arrived shortly before they opened for dinner, so the dock was empty. Coming upstream in a wicked fast current, Marianna docked first, only to find the current was not only pushing them back, but pulling them away from the dock. After spending some time securing the boat, Fred called back and suggested we raft with them, instead of trying to pull up to the dock. We managed to do this successfully, but soon realized that the hazard here was not the current or the flimsy cleats on the dock or the 6 foot tidal range. It was the wakes from passing power boats, which sent us rocking violently against Marianna. Using every fender we owned between us, we managed to keep the boats apart, although we did find some “Marianna blue” stripes on our fenders. Pat and Fred spent time the next day cleaning the streaks the fenders had created on their hull.
Didn’t we say already, it’s always something.
Once we had secured the boats to each other and Marianna to the pilings, we settled in for some excellent shrimp cocktail on Marianna, thanks to a friend in St. Mary’s who had given them what must have been 5 pounds of jumbo fresh shrimp. It was the last of what we had been feasting on for days. Then we enjoyed an excellent meal in this restaurant, which was in a beautiful setting under live oaks, with a wonderful view of the waterway.
On to St. Augustine, or rather, Daytona Beach
Our next planned stop on our leisurely trip south was going to be a short 4 miles to St. Augustine. Arriving early, we thought we would be able to easily find a good place to anchor on the south side of the bridge. We made it through the bridge at 8:30am only to find the anchorage disturbingly full. Cathy then made a turn into the anchorage just short of mark 10A, in what the charts indicated would be deep enough water. Not so. We quickly ran aground, but managed to spin around and back out to the channel without any damage to Orion, only to our confidence. After poking around a little more with Pat and Fred, we decided to move on further south.
It didn’t take much review of the anchoring alternatives south of St. Augustine to realize we might as well head all the way to Daytona Beach. We had planned to travel there on Sunday anyway. This would get us there a couple of days early and in time to get to the Angell and Phelps chocolate factory on Saturday. We also discovered there would be a farmer’s market on Saturday. What more could we ask for?
So, our ridiculously short day became a pretty long day. We had to make it to Daytona before the last opening bridge went on restrictions. This seemed to be no concern, since we were making good time down the waterway. Then, we saw Marianna’s dinghy go sailing forward of her stern when we realized she was aground. After quickly reversing off, we moved on, thinking we had missed a bullet. However, it was only a few miles further, when Orion was in the same shape, aground and frantically backing off the shoal. This was getting old. We got off easily, but it makes for a tense ride when the depths are that low in the channel. We made it in well before the bridge restrictions at any rate and into the marina well before dark.
Shortly after arriving, we found that the holiday parade would be passing by at 7pm, just outside the marina. After dinner, we strolled over to the street to watch the parade. Since we were at the start of the parade, there weren’t too many people lining the streets, which had the beneficial effect of making more candy fall our way. Not bad.
Toward the Launch
So, we’re on our way further south toward the prime spot to watch the Dec. 6th launch. The weather is gradually warming up as we continue south, but we haven’t put the jeans away completely yet. Maybe next week.