One of the many anchorages we’ve been meaning to check out in the past is Prime Cay. We didn’t even know about it our first year, but on our second trip we read about an anchorage that is only accessible for our draft on a rising tide. Once in, you are rewarded with very nice protection, several beaches, an abundance of marine life, and some hiking. For various reasons we weren’t able to explore Prime on our second or third trip. This trip, the fourth time was going to be the charm.
We had a lovely, lazy sail from Staniel to Rudder Cut Cay where we anchored for the night. Once again, there were 14 boats anchored by the Active Captain anchorage, so we went around the corner and had the anchorage to ourselves. Go figure.
The next day we did some calculations to figure out when we could leave for Prime Cay, knowing that we were going to be navigating through some skinny water. We added a buffer but should have added more, because the trip was a bit of a pucker-fest. We didn’t find the bottom, but there were more than a few occasions where we had less than a foot under the keel. No big deal under calm conditions, but with a steady 20 knots of wind it was choppy so it was stressful. However, the color of the water was stunning, and after a tense few hours we successfully slid into the anchorage.
We ended up staying for five nights, sometimes having the anchorage to ourselves, but never sharing it with more than one other boat. We saw plenty of turtles and rays from the cockpit, and we enjoyed snorkeling and checking out a different beach for every day we stayed – beaches we had all to ourselves.
At low tide the area next to the anchorage drained of virtually all water, creating an extremely large sand flat. We enjoyed exploring one day, looking at the small fish waiting in pockets of water for the tide to return, and doing a bit of hiking.
After a very enjoyable stay, it was time to tear ourselves away from Prime and head back up towards Staniel. Once again we had a very nice sail – cruising the Bahamas is fantastic if you like sailing the vast majority of the time!
After dropping the anchor south of Staniel to try a new spot for one night, it was time to go back to our anchorage at Big Majors. We had an outboard being delivered on the mailboat!
The Exumas offer beautiful cruising grounds, but they aren’t perfect. Protection from westerly winds when winter fronts arrive is hard to come by. More than a few cruisers base themselves in Georgetown or Red Shanks and do what’s known as the “Georgetown shuffle”, moving as necessary depending on the wind direction. But long-time readers of this blog know that we have spent enough time in Georgetown and Red Shanks to realize that those spots are not for us.
In the past we’ve kicked around the idea of basing ourselves out of Staniel Cay, but always found ourselves being sucked down to Georgetown (“Maybe this time it will be better!”) and getting pinned down there. This time, my best friend and her husband were going to be vacationing in an Airbnb in Black Point in mid-March, so we decided to avoid going farther south than Lee Stocking until after they leave. And that’s how we discovered that Staniel Cay is definitely the winter base for us.
But before we arrived in Staniel for the first visit of the season, we upped anchor on our second morning in the Exumas and spent several lovely days at Shroud Cay, even sitting out a mild cold front.
We would have stayed longer at Shroud but the trash situation was getting critical, and we needed to replenish the snacks and the booze which was even more critical. So off we went on a beautiful sail to Staniel.
Staniel Cay is a regular stop for us, and typically we anchor right by the settlement. But since we were last here the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (i.e. marina) has installed moorings along our preferred anchor site, so we decided to round the bend and try Big Majors Spot – a place we had previously stayed for one night.
Being sure to anchor far away from Pig Beach (too many go-fast power boats with tourists who want to swim with the pigs), we tucked ourselves close to land and were VERY well protected from the strong easterly winds. Yes, there were more boats than we prefer and it was a wet dingy ride into town (more on that in another post), but it was comfortable and had a good “feel.”
Between the number of boats in Staniel and nearby Black Point, I was surprised that there wasn’t a cruiser’s net. So I took the script that I had from Vero Beach and started one up, which was a lot of fun.
The first morning I was concerned I’d be like the person who invites everyone to a party and no one shows up, but to my surprise there was good participation. Encouraged, I kept it up for the next 8 days, including while we were tucked away in Rat Cay for a cold front. I had a lot of fun with it, and by doing it we met several cruisers.
It was when we moved to Rat Cay for the cold front that we were convinced that Staniel would be our winter base in the Exumas. While Rat isn’t the PERFECT spot for a cold front, it’s good enough. Great holding, and it’s a short hop from Staniel.
While we waited for the weather to improve, we relaxed, baked bread, and even had a visit from Joyce and Matt who we met at Shenny back in 2017 when they bought their first cruising boat. We hadn’t seen them since New Year’s Eve in Miami, right before Covid hit, so it was wonderful to catch up.
But once the front passed it was time to go explore. I couldn’t get any volunteers to take over the net, so it went silent until we planned to return. But we were definitely planning to return – we had to pick up our new outboard that was going to be delivered on the mailboat! More on that in the next post.
Our strategy for this trip was to get down to the Exumas as quickly as possible. Typically the water is a bit warmer and the air temperatures are a bit higher than in the Abacos, and ideally the cold fronts don’t make their way that far south quite as often. Of course as we’ve seen, that doesn’t always pan out, but we were willing to give it a try again.
Towards that end, we had a great sail from Green Turtle to Marsh Harbor where we stocked up at Maxwell’s and picked up an Aliv card so we could finally have reliable internet again (yay!). We spent a few days there waiting out a cold front, meeting with cruiser friends and making new ones, before we had another fantastic sail down to Lynard Cay.
We spent one night at Lynard and then motorsailed across to Royal Island in Eleuthera where we connected with cruiser friends we had made in Marsh Harbor. Two nights later, we were up with the sun to the Exumas!
Typically we go down Eleuthera and leave for the Exumas from Rock Sound. We’ve shied away from dropping down from Royal Island because the chart makes it look like you have to dodge a minefield of coral heads. After talking to other cruisers though, we decided to go for it.
The lines on the Explorer charts are usually bang-on for avoiding obstacles, but in this case we did find ourselves having to dodge the occasional coral head that was right on the line. But, they were easily seen with a lookout on the bow (they look like a black puddle of oil on the water).
It was a bit stressful, and we wouldn’t take the route again in anything but settled weather and sunny skies, but we WOULD do it again. That’s because before we knew it, we had the anchor down in Highborne Cay and we were basking in that beautiful, gin-clear Exuma blue water!
We typically check in at Green Turtle and stay a few days at a time, but this year we changed it up a bit and stopped for a week. It wasn’t our original plan, but checking in turned out to be a bit of an unexpected saga.
Check-in at Green Turtle used to be in the center of town. Unfortunately, the office was destroyed in Hurricane Dorian so the location was switched to the Green Turtle Club once the Club was up and running again. However, this means that there isn’t a full-time customs and immigration officer on the island any more. She comes on the ferry, ostensibly daily. More on that later.
The Green Turtle Club is a marina and resort on the other side of the island. We’ve stayed there once before, but the docks are fixed and it’s difficult to get on and off the dock at high or low tide, so we decided to stay for two nights at Donny’s Marina. It’s a 10 minute walk into town, which we prefer over the more remote location at the Club. We rented a golf cart for the day, and I drove over to the Club on Thursday to check in.
Green Turtle Cay is pretty small, so these signs above are usually sufficient to find your way to where you want to go. Of course I made a wrong turn the first time I left the Green Turtle Club, so I stopped to ask directions from a resident who was walking down her driveway. She asked if I could give her a lift to the trash drop off – no problem! – and sent me on my way with excellent directions. By the end of our stay, we were driving around like a local and didn’t even need the signs.
Now, one key to happy cruising in the Bahamas is to remember it’s not the United States. Island time is a very real thing here. If you come over and expect things to happen immediately and start getting impatient, it’s not going to be a happy experience for you. You have to get your chill on. The ATM is out of money? Try again in a a few days. The store isn’t open despite the hours saying otherwise? O.k., check back later. No hurries, no worries.
So when I drove over to the club and the office staff wasn’t sure if the customs and immigration officer was going to show up that day, it was no big deal. If this had been our first year, I would have been stressing out because I’m a rule-follower, and technically you’re supposed to stay on the boat (except for going to check in) until your paperwork is approved. But now, on our fourth trip? No hurries, no worries.
The office staff tried to call the officer on the phone, but she didn’t answer, and they didn’t know when she would back. So I texted her that I needed to check in and drove back over to Donny’s. I told Donny we hadn’t been successful and he said not to worry about it. Just try again later, and in the meantime take down the Q flag so we don’t draw any attention. LOL! We love the Bahamas.
We had only rented the golf cart for one day, but now we obviously needed it for a second day. It was all good though, because we were starting to get into major chillax mode.
We asked Donny if we could switch to a mooring and stay for a week. Donny thought about the logistics and then asked if we would want to stay at the dock for the mooring rate. Otherwise he was going to have to move an unoccupied long-term boat off the mooring to the slip, and he said he just didn’t want to hassle with it. No problem! We extended the golf cart rental for a week, and started to settle in.
Ultimately, checking in took three trips to the Green Turtle Club (or maybe it was four?), but it was all good. It was a fun ride in the golf cart, and everyone knew we were trying so we weren’t stuck on the boat in the interim. By the second-to-last trip the staff was letting me hang out in the air conditioned lounge for the afternoon while I waited to see if the official would come. I had good wifi, caught up on blog posts, and chilled. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t giving a fist pump once we were finally, officially, checked in! And since by then everyone at Donny’s knew about our saga, we got some cheers when I came back and announced we were official.
Our stay at Donny’s Marina and on Green Turtle for the week was fantastic. The boaters at the marina were the friendliest we’ve ever met, and there were several happy hours on the lawn during our stay.
We had an unexpected thrill when we arrived, and the happy surprise just set the tone for the whole stay. Our first year in the Bahamas, our friends on SV Minx met a Canadian couple who were cruising the Bahamas on a Bristol 29.9, SV Quick Sticks. Minx passed their boat card to us, and I sent them an e-mail to say hello. They said they were planning to leave the boat in Green Turtle that summer.
Fast forward three months and Hurricane Dorian hit the Abacos, virtually destroying Marsh Harbor and severely damaging Green Turtle and other communities. I immediately thought of the other Bristol 29.9 and was curious how it had made out, but I figured it had been destroyed and didn’t want to add salt to the wound, so I didn’t send an e-mail.
As we pulled into Donny’s, I said to Jeff, “That looks just like a Bristol 29.9.” Then I saw the boat name and said, “It is! It’s Quick Sticks! The boat survived!”
We were so happy to finally meet SV Quick Sticks and spend time with them. Their boat had been damaged but had since been repaired, and they are spending the winter cruising the Bahamas once again. We toured each other’s boats, hung out at happy hours, and really hope to run into them again this winter as we bop around.
When we weren’t hanging out with fellow cruisers at Donny’s, we were roaming around the island on the golf cart and plugging into the community.
Marilyn runs the golf cart rental business that we used, and we greatly enjoyed chatting with her. She found out that Jeff used to manage a bicycle shop and mentioned she had two bicycles in the back that needed new tubes and tires. She had the parts but no way to put them on, so Jeff and I went over one morning with some tools and he got the bikes up and running again.
Another evening we went to go get ice cream with Donny at the local shop, and hung out listening to residents shoot the breeze. It was there that we discovered that people greet each other after dark with, “Good night” vs. “Good evening.” It’s those little things that I love about traveling around.
We went to various beaches during the week so Jeff could go metal detecting and I could chill with my Kindle.
Jeff is very methodical about where he puts things, and I am more haphazard. I thought this day on the beach captured our different styles perfectly:
We also went to Island Greens for the first time for fresh produce. The gentleman who began it several years ago passed away within the last few months. His son has decided to try to keep it going, and we are VERY glad about that. Everything is grown hydroponically and it was all SO fantastic. It’s hard to source extremely fresh produce in the Bahamas because most of it comes over from the U.S. on the mailboat.
We truly had what may have been overall our best week ever in the Bahamas. I wouldn’t be surprised if we book a month at Donny’s and Green Turtle in the future, and we’d be VERY happy to do it.
In the meantime, our week was up, and it was time to start making our way south to the Exumas. But we knew when we left that we’ll definitely be spending another week at Donny’s when we come back north later this spring!
Typically we cross to the Bahamas from Lake Worth and anchor at Great Sale Cay, then check in at Green Turtle (our friends on SV Cutting Class used that route for over a decade, so we copied them). We like leaving from Lake Worth because the current sets us north to enter the Little Bahama Bank at Memory Rock. Once we left from Miami and checked in at Bimini, but we didn’t like that route and won’t do it again.
This time however, we were in Vero when the Donald Ross Bridge north of North Palm broke down, preventing us from going inside to Lake Worth. We don’t have any problem with going outside between Fort Pierce and Lake Worth, but the closer you get to Lake Worth the more you start fighting the Gulf Stream which is a pain. With weather windows being what they are, often it’s easier to just suck it up and make the run inside – not an option with the bridge not opening and no sign of it re-opening for at least two weeks.
So now we were looking for a window that wouldn’t involve bashing into south winds so we could head south to Lake Worth before crossing. Amazingly we got it pretty quickly, so we waved goodbye to Vero Beach with a plan to head out the Fort Pierce inlet.
We got lucky and timed the Fort Pierce bridge perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. We had a little help from a patient bridge operator. But thanks to her we didn’t have to wait an extra 30 minutes. We were on our way with a plan to head south until we started fighting the Stream, then hang a left.
While we were motoring south, I commented to Jeff about how confident we’ve become over the past four years. We’ve gone from our first overnight being a huge deal of 120 nautical miles with great trepidation to “Eh, let’s see when the Stream starts pushing against us and then just go for it if we feel like it. It’s only 145 nautical miles from Vero.”
Another thing that has changed for us is to start our watch system right away. We used to both stay up all day and then each take a four-hour shift for a single overnight, but that left us pretty tired. Our friends on Lone Star told us they start their watches immediately, so we tried it when we did our overnight to skip Georgia. What a difference! We both were substantially less tired in the morning, so we did it again this time with equal success.
It was an uneventful crossing, just the way we like it. The clear skies gave us plenty of stars to see by, and the bioluminescence kicked up by Pegu Club as she chugged along was so cool to see.
The crescent moon rose when Jeff was on watch, and he told me when I got up to switch shifts that he had forgotten all about it until he saw an orange dot on the horizon. At first he thought it was a ship, but as it was rising it got bigger and bigger, and he thought “What’s on fire over there??” Then the other point came up (because the crescent was at an angle) and he thought, “Duh! It’s the moon!” LOL!
We dropped the anchor at Great Sale around 30 hours after leaving Vero and grilled a celebratory boneless ribeye that we had bought specifically for this occasion before falling asleep around 7:30 p.m.
The next day we anchored at Crab Cay for the night, then we were off to Green Turtle so we could check in. Our season in the Bahamas had finally begun!
So would we cross from Fort Pierce again? Ideally, no. We were fighting the Stream quite a bit to make the necessary southing to go in at Memory Rock, and that’s not something we need to do when we leave from Lake Worth.
We could have entered the Little Bahama Bank a bit farther north, but we were coming in at night so we weren’t entirely comfortable doing that. Our route via Memory Rock is tried and true for us, so we didn’t mind entering at night that way.
Bottom line, leaving from Lake Worth works for us and it’s our number one choice. But if the Donald Ross bridge (or another bridge between Ft. Pierce and Lake Worth) breaks down again? Then we’d definitely leave from Fort Pierce vs. waiting the extra days for a repair. Under those circumstances, it’s definitely worth fighting the Gulf Stream for awhile!
We’ve only skipped Vero once – on our first trip north when we went from the Abacos straight to Jacksonville. I was adding it up and realized that we have spent more days in Vero than any other single location (except for Groton) since we started cruising. So it definitely feels like our home away from home, and even more so when we were able to get “our” ball in the mooring field – #1.
This time we stayed in Vero for around five weeks. We spent a week loafing around, then drove to Rochester, NY for Christmas – JUST missing the major snow storm that impacted a great portion of the East Coast. Fortunately Rochester didn’t even get a fraction of the snow that Buffalo did (which is only 70 miles to the east.). Same wind and cold temperatures, but no snow.
I told Jeff that my plan was to go from the car to the house when we arrived, and I wasn’t going outside again until it was time to get back in the car to drive back. And with the exception of going to Jeff’s sister’s house for Christmas breakfast, that’s exactly what happened. LOL!
Once we arrived back in Vero, more loafing occurred because Jeff had caught a cold (not Covid), but after he recovered we went back to doing our Vero things with a few twists – the Farmer’s Market, going to the beach, Publix runs, provisioning for the Bahamas, visiting cruising friends, a few boat projects, and even a few more rocket launches!
Vero has a morning Cruiser’s Net on the VHF radio, so I volunteered to take a segment. Eventually I found myself anchoring the Net every day until we left, which was great fun. I met a few people through it, and really liked picking out a morning song to open the Net – just a 30 second snippet of course (the Net runs around 15 minutes max). Song choices included everything from “Monday, Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas, and “Good Morning, Good Morning” by the Beatles, to “Wake Up Stop Dreaming” by Wang Chung. I’ll definitely volunteer again when we’re return in November.
One morning we had a surprise phone call from a fellow Shenny member who spends the winter at his home about 20 minutes away. He invited us and two other cruisers he knows to a dinner at the Vero Beach Yacht Club, which is right next to the City Marina. It was delicious and the company was wonderful – thanks, Bill!
We had planned to stay in Vero until late January or early February before crossing to the Bahamas, but we were getting tired of the noseeums (Vero Beach’s only negative for us) so we decided it was time to get a move on. We figured if the weather was lousy in the Bahamas, we’d get a ball in Green Turtle or Hope Town and hang out there.
Lucky for us, a few days after we made the decision a weather window opened up. It was time to return to the beautiful blue water of the Bahamas!
When we were in St. Marys we discovered that there was a SpaceX launch scheduled for Tuesday. While we’ve seen parts of a launch from St. Augustine, New Smyrna, and Vero Beach, it has been a bucket list item of mine to watch the whole thing while anchored in Titusville.
A quick check of the calendar showed us we could make it if we skipped stopping in St. Augustine. The decision caused a bit of hesitation since we had several people we wanted to see while we were there, but this looked like the perfect opportunity between the weather forecast and the launch schedule, so we decided to do it.
After being set free from St. Marys, we stopped at the Sister’s Creek free docks near Jacksonville for the night. The current between Jacksonville and St. Augustine is strong, and it was going to be firmly against us on the ICW. But a check of the tables showed we could ride the current out the St. Johns inlet, then ride it back in at the St. Augustine inlet. We’ve heard horror stories about St. Augustine’s inlet and had always shied away from it, but the forecast was going to result in perfect conditions. It was time to rip off the bandaid and see how it really was.
We should have left the free dock a bit sooner, because by the time we untied the dock lines the current was ripping which resulted in a bit of a clusterfuck getting away from the dock. But with the help of two fellow cruisers, we were soon off with no damage to anything but our pride, and we shot out the St. John’s inlet at over 8 knots.
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough wind to sail, but we were traveling at over 5 knots while using our AIS to keep track of the boats going down the ICW. There was a similar-sized sailboat that was slogging away at between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 knots for over 10 miles, and we were SO glad we had decided to go outside. Speeds like that are incredibly frustrating.
Our timing to enter the St. Augustine inlet was perfect, and like most things, it proved not to be nearly as intimidating as the stories we had heard. Sure, you absolutely wouldn’t want to do it in a wind against current situation, but if the conditions are right we won’t hesitate to use it again. As it was, we arrived five minutes before the Bridge of Lions opening and continued to ride the current all of the way to our anchorage at Fort Matanzas. It couldn’t have been a more perfectly-timed day.
The next day we were heading to our regular anchorage in New Smyrna (riding the current again), when we saw the launch had been cancelled. Damn! We skipped St. Augustine for nothing! But the following day it was on again with a one-day delay. Okay. We’ll hang around in the Titusville anchorage for an extra day.
When we anchored in Titusville we saw that it had been delayed another day. Doh! Now we were going to be boat-bound for two days. This was starting to test Jeff’s patience, so we came to an agreement. Any more delays, and we were going to move along and try again another time.
Keep in mind, the weather we were experiencing is nearly unheard of for December. Typically, cold fronts drop down every few days bringing higher winds, and while our anchorage was great for watching a launch, it wasn’t great for hanging out unless the conditions were calm. We were in the middle of a huge lagoon without any wind protection, but clearly the stars were aligning because we were looking at several days of 5 knots of wind in the forecast, so it was completely fine.
It was finally launch day, and even if I had been able to convince Jeff to wait another day in the event of a further delay, the weather wasn’t going to let us. The winds were going to pick up to 15 knots the next day, so it was tonight or nothing. And it ended up being well worth the wait. We watched the rocket launch, watched the booster return to the launch pad, and had a double sonic boom which startled literally hundreds of birds that had been hanging out on the lagoon. It was SO MUCH FUN!
We were up early the next day to head to yet another new destination for us – Cocoa Village. I have no idea why it took us so long to stop here to begin with, but we will definitely be returning.
Cocoa has an amazing hardware store called S.F. Travis. It was established in 1885, and I’d say it’s the size of a city block with aisles filled from top to bottom. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.
Cocoa Village has countless independent shops, restaurants, and breweries, and we had a great time walking around and checking it out:
There was an an abundance of VERY cool classic cars:
While we were there, the Christmas boat parade and land parade were on the events calendar, and those were both fun to see. The boat parade had over 40 entries (it went right by Pegu Club), and while the land parade was smaller, it had a classic small-town charm.
Of course being on the Space Coast, there were several space-themed floats:
And every Christmas parade ends with Santa, this time on a bulldozer:
To top it all off, there was another launch while we were there. I set my alarm for the middle of the night and watched it light up the sky (getting up at 3:00 a.m. wasn’t Jeff’s idea of a good time, so he kept sleeping).
It was interesting to compare the difference between the two locations. We weren’t that much farther away, but the noise was much quieter. Perhaps it also had to do with the wind direction.
All in all, we had experienced several days of fun and adventure. But now it was time to point Pegu Club towards Vero Beach, our Florida home away from home.
We’d heard nice things about St. Marys and always meant to check it out, but until now it hadn’t happened. For some reason it seemed like it was too far off the beaten path from Cumberland, but it was actually only around a 20 minute detour. After our stay, we knew we would return – despite our difficulty leaving. But more on that in a bit.
St. Marys is a small, friendly town, and it’s well-known in the cruising community for having a great Thanksgiving celebration for cruisers. The night before Thanksgiving there is an oyster roast and pot luck social. On Thanksgiving day, local volunteers bring the turkeys and ham and cruisers bring all of the side dishes. Everyone helps to set up the tables and chairs while enjoying free coffee and donuts. Then on Friday there’s a swap meeting and book exchange.
We haven’t been to their Thanksgiving because in our perfect world, we’re a bit farther south. But now that we’ve been to St. Marys, if we are in the area for the holiday we will definitely go.
Our first night we heard Christmas music coming from the waterfront. A quick Google search showed that it was the annual St. Mary’s Christmas parade (on a weekday – odd), and lighting of the Christmas tree festival. We couldn’t hop in the dingy to watch because we didn’t have our Porta-Bote assembled yet, but a little while later we heard cheers. I poked my head out of the hatch and saw to a large Christmas tree lit up with silver holiday lights, so that was a nice introduction to the town.
St. Marys “downtown” is tiny, but the district was filled with lovely houses and gigantic live oak trees. The welcome center even had a walking map that showed you where the larger trees were, listed by diameter. The waterfront park was very nice, and there was a submarine museum and one of the oldest cemeteries in Georgia, neither of which we got around to seeing. There’s always something saved for next time!
On departure day we planned to head out the St. Marys inlet and back in the St. Johns inlet. It’s only about 20 miles, but the timing was such that we could ride the current both ways. This would let us avoid fighting the current for part of the way on the ICW. To our surprise though, when we started raising the anchor we raised about five feet of chain and that was it. We were caught – hard – on something. Well this was a first.
We tried the usual things we had read about. Circling around, putting the boat in forward and reverse, but our options were limited since we could only raise the chain those five feet. After 20 minutes or so, we knew we needed to call TowBoat. Hopefully he could get us off without our needing to hire a diver.
It was 7:00 a.m., but fortunately there was a TowBoat operator in Fernandina Beach, so he arrived about an hour later. He let out a ton of line, drove wide circles around our boat until the line caught on something, and then he started pulling on the “something.”
It took his two 150-hp outboards awhile, but eventually something gave and a stanchion came up. He told us to start raising our chain, and shortly after that a metal pole for a cabin top light came up. Apparently our chain had gotten caught on the remains of a sunken power boat. No wonder we hadn’t budged during our three-night stay! LOL! Luckily we hadn’t dropped the anchor on the boat, or I suspect we would have needed a diver.
We were free about an hour after he started, but it was enough to lose the timing for hopping outside to Jacksonville. We waved goodbye to the TowBoat operator after thanking him profusely and giving him a tip, and continued motoring down the ICW.
Despite our difficulty actually leaving St. Marys, we’d definitely return. We just won’t anchor in that spot next time!
We had a great stay in Beaufort – but when have we not? Over the past four years we’ve spent 33 days there, and to date nowhere has been able to knock it off of its perch as our number one U.S. choice to live when we swallow the anchor.
Tucked into our regular spot on Factory Creek, we enjoyed another week-long stay, walking around and hitting our favorite spots: Low Country Produce for tomato pie, The Chocolate Tree, Bill’s Liquor for great cider choices, Olde Timey Meats for excellent steaks to grill, and of course multiple runs to Publix. In fact, Publix was responsible for us having our first traditional Thanksgiving dinner on the boat since we started cruising.
Our first year we spent Thanksgiving freezing in Carolina Beach, NC waiting out horrible weather. Thanksgiving dinner was some sad squash with sautéed onions. Not good.
Our second year was better. We were in Vero Beach where a local church hosted an annual cruiser’s Thanksgiving. The church members supplied turkeys, ham, and other meats (and some people brought sides), and the cruisers brought more sides and desserts. There were easily over 100 people and the food and camaraderie was wonderful. Of course, little did we know that Covid would upend everything a few months later, and to my knowledge the Vero Beach Cruiser’s Thanksgiving hasn’t yet resumed. Maybe next year.
For the third year we were in Vero again, but it was post-Covid so there wasn’t a gathering. We were scurrying to leave the next day to head to West Palm so we could cross to the Bahamas, so I have no idea what we did. My guess is nothing, since I can’t remember it!
But this year, since we had easy access to a Publix, we had a Thanksgiving with all of the trimmings. A thick cut of Boar’s Head turkey breast from the deli, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, gravy, green beans, pie. It was great, and definitely felt like Thanksgiving on Pegu Club.
Even better than Thanksgiving though, was getting together with Anthony and Annette. Now land-based, they were long time cruisers on M/V Magnolia and we met them a few years ago when they stopped at Shenny to see their good friends Al and Michele from M/V Kindred Spirit. Magnolia, Kindred Spirit, our friends on S/V Minx, and Pegu Club had a very enjoyable evening back then, sharing cruising stories over snacks and sundowners.
Anthony saw we were in Beaufort, and he suggested a get together a few days after Thanksgiving. He and Annette kindly drove us to West Marine, and then we went to a local brewery before heading over to the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club and eventually wrapping it up at a great pizza place. They’ve settled down in Beaufort, and they patiently answered all of our questions about what it’s really like to live there.
Lots of laughs were had while we all shared cruising stories and just yakked away. We had a WONDERFUL time, and really enjoyed seeing a slice of Beaufort when you live there vs. when you just pass through on a boat. It was great to get together with them, and it will definitely be a recurring event whenever we stop there.
Eventually though, we had our weather window to hop outside from Beaufort to St. Mary’s. It wasn’t a great window – some sailing at the beginning and then mostly a motorfest – but it was the best we were going to get for a while so we decided to grab it.
We timed our trip so we could ride the current out of Beaufort and the Port Royal inlet, and then ride the current back in at the St. Mary’s inlet. As predicted, we had some very nice sailing for four hours or so, and then the wind died leaving us with VERY flat seas as we motored along. It made for easy sleeping for the person who wasn’t on watch, and it felt wonderful to set the autopilot and kick back.
The only thing that could have made it more perfect was more sailing, but as the sun rose I was literally dancing behind the wheel, listening to music and feeling SO happy and content. I LOVE being off the ICW. It absolutely has its benefits, but nothing beats being outside.
We hit 8 1/2 knots of speed over ground going into the inlet at St. Mary’s (sure glad we didn’t have the current against us), and instead of making a right to go to Cumberland Island like we usually do, we kept going straight and then hung a left to St. Mary’s. Yep, we were mixing it up again, keeping it fresh and going someplace new.
One advantage of our delay at St. John’s was that we were now looking at a full week of favorable currents in the morning for motoring down the ICW. Our first year south we weren’t experienced enough to use the currents to our best advantage. We felt like we needed to just get started first thing in the day, no matter what. We’re much smarter about it now, and will sleep in and have breakfast (or cut the day short) if it means riding along with the current vs. fighting it. Big Red is only a 16 horsepower engine, so fair and foul currents make a big difference.
We rode the current to our regular anchorage on Calabash Creek, then started off a bit later the next morning to ride the current to the Enterprise Landing oxbow, which was a new spot. Typically we would go farther to Cow House Creek, but it’s impossible for us to ride a fair current all the way from Calabash to Cow House, so Enterprise is now our new anchorage for this stretch.
Consistent with our goal to keep things fresh, we decided to stop in Georgetown, SC for a few nights. We hadn’t been there since our first trip south, but we had enjoyed our first visit and decided it was time for a second. We rode the current down from Enterprise to Georgetown and tied up at Harborwalk Marina where we had stayed before.
Our timing was excellent, because a cold snap was approaching with record-breaking low temperatures. Instead of freezing overnight at anchor in 30 degree temperatures, we plugged the heater into the electric at the marina and stayed nice and cozy!
Once again, Georgetown proved to be a nice stop. It’s the third oldest city in South Carolina and has a beautiful downtown district with more than 250 historic homes in and around the oak tree-lined downtown. More than 60 of them are on the National Register of Historic Places, and they’re gorgeous.
Georgetown was a huge producer of rice back in the 1800’s, with its port exporting more rice than anywhere in the world. Of course there’s a Rice Museum, and I had wanted to visit it last time we were here, but we didn’t have time. I was hoping the second visit would be the charm, but between gazing at the houses and taking care of a few items (like stocking up on groceries and buying a new hotspot), the Rice Museum was a no-go again. So now we have another reason to come back!
As an aside, people in these southern coastal communities are so friendly. Buying the hotspot involved a walk of over 2 miles one-way, but we didn’t have to walk that far on the way back because a woman pulled over and offered us a ride. They can spot a cruiser at 500 yards! That’s happened to us several times – always in southern states – while we’ve been cruising.
In addition to beautiful houses and a cute downtown, Georgetown has plenty of restaurants. We were able to meet up with our friends Tom and Anita from S/V Lone Star for lunch at Aunnie’s, a solid restaurant serving basic Southern comfort food – think fried chicken, Mac and Cheese, and sweet tea that practically curled my teeth. I really like sweet tea, but I debating asking if I could have some tea with that sugar!
It was so much fun catching up with Tom and Anita. They met us at the dock to help with our lines before we went out to lunch, and seeing good friends again left me glowing. We hadn’t seen them since we left Shenny in September, although we did wave to each other as we left Port Washington, NY and they were coming in.
Over lunch we discussed the idea of buddy-boating together on a hop outside from Georgetown to Cumberland Island. It was VERY tempting, and the weather window was great, but it was still going to be VERY cold, and we simply didn’t want to freeze for over 24 hours straight. We also were reluctant to skip our #1 favorite town of Beaufort, SC, so we decided against it and waved goodbye a few days later, opting to continue riding the current down the ICW and be warmish down below each night.
After stocking up on fresh-off-the-boat shrimp for a song from the building next door to the marina, we left Georgetown wondering why we had taken so long to return. We definitely will not wait four years until the next visit.
We rode the current for three days of quick travel to Beaufort, and on our third day we were passed by this stunning 1926 Trumpy, MV Freedom. At 104 feet long, this beautiful wooden boat was completely restored in 2009, and I am totally jealous of the delivery captain.
We could hear him making passing arrangements on the radio as he approached boats for several miles before he passed us, and almost everyone on the radio was complementing him on the boat. I could see him getting closer on the AIS, and I was very curious as to what the boat would look like as he got closer to us. Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed.
Only a few hours after picking our jaws up off the floor, we were anchored in our regular spot on Factory Creek. It was time to enjoy Beaufort – a place we definitely don’t mind waiting as long as necessary for a weather window to hop outside.