Yes, it’s true. We finally had a window and we could hop outside, bypassing Georgia entirely. We had debated stopping at Cumberland Island but decided we wanted to get to Vero sooner rather than later. It wasn’t a long window so we weren’t going to be able to come inside further south than the St. Johns inlet (which leads to Jacksonville), but that was good enough for us.
The night before we left was going to be our coldest of the trip at 42 degrees. Since we planned to leave at dawn and anticipated a travel night with temperatures in the mid-50’s, we dug out our cold weather clothes for the first time in a year. We don’t use them much any more, but we sure are glad we have them!
We raised the anchor, fought the current a bit down the river, and hit Port Royal inlet at slack tide. I’m always a bit nervous before we start an overnight, especially if it’s been awhile, but I knew once we were out the inlet I would be fine, and I was.
With virtually no wind in the forecast until the next morning, it was an easy motor out the channel and into the near shore waters. Auto-Bob, our Pelagic autopilot, had been giving us trouble the last time we used it so we set it up with crossed fingers, hoping not to have to hand steer for 24 hours. Fortunately Auto-Bob worked great from the moment we turned it on, so we kicked back and luxuriated in being off the ICW for awhile. We motored through the largest patches of jellyfish we had ever seen, and we saw two sea turtles swimming along.
A forecasted sea breeze of a steady 10-12 knots picked up for the afternoon, but of course it was too on the nose to sail so we steadily motored. Our new AIS transponder was worth every penny as we approached the Savannah area, allowing us to see at a glance that all of the cargo ships were indeed anchored.
Our running joke is that we don’t do overnights with a moon because the most we’ve ever had is a sliver. But this time we were getting clear skies and a full moon, rising about two hours after sunset and staying up all night. I was fortunate to be the one at the helm as it appeared, and it was gorgeous. Initially a deep-orange red as it appeared over the horizon, it steadily rose and it was amazing how bright everything was. What a difference from pitch black and cloudy skies! THIS is why people like night passages.
The night passed uneventfully until around 3:00 a.m. when the winds that were supposed to arrive later in the day decided to show up early. With 15 knots apparent wind behind us (which meant it was actually 20 knots) the seas started getting rolly, and by 4:30 a.m. Auto-Bob was having a very difficult time holding our course. With Jeff sleeping down below I decided to turn it off and hand steer. It wasn’t a big deal given that we would have been hand steering anyway in a few more hours as we entered the inlet.
We hadn’t set up a preventer because we were only supposed to have light and variable winds (a mistake in hindsight) so we had the mainsail centered because the waves were too rolly to keep it filled. 15 minutes after I had turned off Auto-Bob I heard a loud “BANG” and the boom immediately swung all the way out, mainsail against the spreaders. I hollered to Jeff (which was unnecessary since he couldn’t miss hearing it), and he was up in the cockpit within a minute. The attachment on the fiddle block that held the mainsheet to the traveler had broken. We had just experienced our first broken part while on an overnight passage. Great.
What followed was an hour of Jeff doing yeoman’s work to get the boom centered and tied off (not easy given how much we were rolling around) while I steered. It took a bit of trial and error, but as the sun came up we were squared away and glad that we only had another hour or so to the inlet. We were only in about 40 feet of water so the waves were a bit of a washing machine with the wind still blowing around 20 knots, fortunately from behind the beam.
We knew things would settle down as soon as we were in the inlet, and after dodging several fishing trawlers we entered the St. Johns around 7:30 a.m. with a favorable current, very appreciative of the breakwater blocking the waves. After a quick stop at Beach Marine for more fuel, we kept moving south along the ICW until we dropped the anchor just a bit north of St. Augustine. Another 164 nautical miles in the books.
Despite the broken part, we were glad we had gone outside. Better to have the part break here where it’s easier to get a replacement vs. in the Bahamas. We were able to shake off the cobwebs and get another overnight in the books, saving ourselves 60 miles and significant aggravation compared to going inside through Georgia.
Georgia is lovely, but the sounds can be very uncomfortable when the winds are up, and parts of the ICW have shoaled in since last spring to an extent where even we (with only a 4’4” draft) have to time the tides in those areas. It was well worth the wait for a window – and now we are officially in Florida!