We were poking along the ICW as we did last fall, content in knowing that we were three weeks ahead of schedule compared to last year and hoping that would be enough to keep the cold weather at bay. We had enjoyed a beautiful, leisurely trip down the Dismal Swamp, spent a few nights in our favorite small town of Belhaven, and stopped in Beaufort, NC for the first time where we waited several days for a strong weather system to pass.
It was during that weather system in Beaufort that we discovered tornado warnings are much more stressful than thunderstorms. Take cover and protect yourself from debris?? We ARE the debris!! Setting aside the storm, we enjoyed Beaufort quite a bit and were able to spend a nice evening catching up with Thom and Kath from S/V Spartan. We also had fun playing Hearts with S/V Lone Star for a few evenings before we continued on down the ICW and they finished preparing for their passage to the Exumas. We are looking forward to seeing Spartan and Lone Star again in the Bahamas!
It turned out that the storm in Beaufort signaled a change in the weather pattern. Fall was officially at hand, the fronts were beginning to come down regularly from the north, and it was getting chilly. We rode out another weather system at Isle of Palms Marina near Charleston and enjoyed a few days in Beaufort, SC where on our last day a passing front resulted in it getting downright cold. I’m talking a low of 32 degrees and a high in the mid-40’s cold. Granted, these were record breaking temperatures, but it was enough for us to know that we did NOT want a repeat of last year’s frozen journey where we didn’t warm up until St. Augustine. We could mosey up the ICW on our way back from the Bahamas.
There are always interesting things to see on the ICW:
We sucked it up and froze on a one-day trip from Beaufort, SC to Isle of Hope, GA where we spent several days waiting out pouring rain, cold, and high winds. Looking ahead at the weather it looked like we had a perfect week ahead before the next potential system, so we decided to take advantage of a beautiful, sunny 70 degree day to let the water calm down while we visited Savannah again. The next morning we were up before the sun. It was time to put the hammer down.
Going from sunrise to sunset each day, we went from Isle of Hope, GA to Vero Beach in six days and a few hours, covering 308 nautical miles. The actual weather matched the forecast each day with the exception of the second day. 10-15 knots turned into a steady 20+ knots when we were to cross St. Andrews Sound in Georgia. That is something that no one wants to do in those conditions, especially in a wind-against-tide situation which is what we were facing.
We were at the point of no return and about to call it an early day when I took another look at our Waterway Guide. There was an alternate route we could take that would avoid St. Andrews Sound, but it had to be navigated on a rising tide (Georgia has a tidal range of 6-8 feet). Fortunately the sailing gods were smiling on us because it was 90 minutes before high tide. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, so we decided to go for it.
Jeff and I worked as a team – he steered while I navigated on the fly – and we proceeded along the Umbrella/Dover/Floyd Creek route. We saw 6’ total depth in a few spots on Umbrella Creek an hour before high tide but that was the least we saw. It was five miles longer but we found it to be very scenic and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if the timing worked. High-fiving each other at the end of the day, we marveled again at how much more confidence we have compared to when we started this adventure almost 15 months ago. There is no way we would have had the nerve to try to the alternate route last fall.
The next day we crossed the border into Florida and the rest of the trip was uneventful. Each day we were psyched to be wearing fewer layers of clothing compared to the previous day. Each night we were pleased to see that we needed fewer blankets than the night before.
We wanted to stop in St. Augustine for several days but we had moved faster than our reservation and they were full, so we kept on going vowing that we would stop there next year. And finally, after six days and 307 nautical miles, we happily pulled up to a mooring this morning in Vero Beach. We are wearing t-shirts, shorts, and our Tevas. Now that’s what we’ve been waiting for! YES!