Hello, Bahamas!

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.

It’s always fun to finally start seeing ocean-colored water on the ICW as we approach Fort Pierce.

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.”

We had very calm conditions as we motored south down the coast.

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!

Sunrise on the Little Bahama Bank.

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.

Absolutely gorgeous colors as the sun came up on Great Sale Cay.
The Q flag is up!

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!

What a sunset off of Crab Cay in the Abacos!

Our Florida home away from home – Vero Beach

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.

An early start on a Sunday morning resulted in our disturbing these thousands of birds on the water. We weren’t sure what they were as we approached, and then they all took off. It was pretty cool!

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!

Pegu Club on “our” ball number one on the far left. We were rafted up to SV Sails Call, a super-nice couple from Georgia that we’re hoping to see again somewhere on the water.
Jeff doing a bit of boat yoga while he installed our single side band radio.

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.

Our view from our mooring ball.

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!

Double the launches, double the fun!

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.

We’ve read that Fernandina Beach has a cute downtown despite the proximity of the paper mill. Maybe we’ll check it out sometime.

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.

It was a beautiful day to briefly hop outside.

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.

Pay no attention to the breaking surf and the sunken sailboat near the St. Augustine inlet!

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.

A beautiful full moon with the launch pad lit up in the background.

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.

The lagoon is WIDE open.

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!

A friend said we were like two kids on Christmas morning!

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.

Jeff could have spent hours poking around in here.

Cocoa Village has countless independent shops, restaurants, and breweries, and we had a great time walking around and checking it out:

The Village Idiot Pub.
We saw this in the Bugnutty Brewery and thought it was hilarious!
During our stops in Florida, we don’t often run across architecture like this community theater building.

There was an an abundance of VERY cool classic cars:

Sweet!

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.

Town officials rode on a classic fire truck.
It’s always fun to see the Shriners.

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.

There was no mistaking it when ignition occurred.

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.

Literally stuck in St. Marys.

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.

There are gorgeous live oak trees throughout St. Marys.

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.

Even the elementary school is pretty. West Hartford doesn’t have any school buildings that compare to this one.
One of the largest and oldest live oaks in 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!

As a huge Hamilton fan, I found the plaque on this house particularly interesting.

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.

Without our Towboat operator, we’d still be in St. Marys.

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!

Beaufort, SC, and an outstanding overnight passage to St. Mary’s, GA.

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.

Beaufort has an abundance of Spanish Moss hanging off the trees.
Great classic car parked on Bay Street in Beaufort!

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.

There is NO way we would stop in Beaufort and not have our tomato pie. We start talking about it a few days before we arrive!

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.

Thanks, guys! We had a great time!

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.

Sunset off the Georgia coast.

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.

Good morning Mr. Sun!

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.

A second visit to Georgetown, SC.

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.

There are always things to see on the ICW, and we have a few favorites we look out for each time.
These homeowners relax in the back half of a boat instead of the traditional table and chairs at the end of a dock.

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.

We think this is the radar for the Myrtle Beach airport, but we aren’t sure. Whatever it is, it’s weirdly fascinating.

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.

This is just one example of the many beautiful houses in the historic district.

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.

The oak trees are everywhere in Georgetown.

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.

I still can’t get over how beautiful this boat is. My picture doesn’t do it justice.

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.

It’s taken four years, but we’ve finally learned to slow down and relax.

So far this has been our best trip along the ICW – even though it’s been more chilly than we would prefer!  One of the things we talked about last winter was slowing down on the boat and taking our time.  Don’t rush unless weather is forcing our hand.  There will always be another window.  While this comes naturally to Jeff, it was much more of a challenge for me.  But I think I’ve finally got it down.  We’ve been poking along, riding the currents whenever we can – even if it means a shorter day – and all in all it’s been working out great.

We knew leaving Norfolk that it would be four or five days before we had a good window to cross the Albemarle, so we poked along the Dismal Swamp.

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Another state down – goodbye, Virginia, hello North Carolina!

 

We had a short, ten mile day to Elizabeth’s Landing where we spent the night after stocking up with groceries at Food Lion.  Then it was another quick eight mile day to Taylor’s Landing (another free dock on the Dismal).

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Cruisers leave their boat name on the wall as you wait to enter the lock. It fades pretty quickly. We couldn’t find our name from 2018.

 

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Waiting for the lock to close to exit the Dismal Swamp. The green is from duckweed.

 

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The stretch between the Dismal Swamp and Elizabeth City is quite scenic.

After exiting the Dismal we had a slightly longer day to Goat Island, and then a quick six mile trip to Elizabeth City where we did laundry and had the best barbecue we’ve EVER had at Currituck BBQ.

Our patience was rewarded with a smooth as glass crossing of the Albemarle Sound and down the Alligator River.  

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THIS is how we like to see the Albemarle Sound!

Normally I find the Alligator-Pungo canal to be pretty boring, but this time Mother Nature entertained us.  In the first few miles we approached a fog bank:

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After the fog we had some rain showers, followed by this beautiful rainbow:

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To top it off, we saw a deer swimming across the canal almost directly in front of us, but I couldn’t get a good picture of it.  I really need to get a real camera.

We had originally planned to skip Belhaven (gasp!) for reasons that I can’t remember any more.  Fortunately common sense prevailed, and we remembered we were taking it slow this time, so we made a spontaneous decision to anchor for two nights in one of our favorite small towns.  From there we had a short day, stopping at RE Mayo for the first time.  

RE Mayo has the cheapest diesel in the area, the freshest and cheapest shrimp straight off of the boat, and VERY rough docks where you can tie up for 40 cents/foot.  We go by every year saying we’ll stop next time, and finally next time arrived.  I don’t know if we’d stop overnight again (the barges going by overnight kick up quite a wake, even though they are moving slowly), but we’ll definitely pull up in the future to top off our diesel tank and buy more shrimp!

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That’s a dockage fee you won’t see often, but honestly it wasn’t worth more than that.

Waking up the next morning, we were keeping our eye on a strong weather system coming in a few days that, combined with a very late hurricane/Tropical Storm, was going to make things pretty snotty for awhile.  Keeping that in mind, we made a reservation for a week at St. James Marina near Southport, NC and put the hammer down.

We skipped Oriental and as we were crossing the Neuse, I saw “Aphrodite” pop up on our AIS.  It was going over 25 knots, and I said to Jeff, “Could that be THE Aphrodite?”  I’ve blogged about Aphrodite before.  Basically, anyone who boats in Fishers Island Sound knows Aphrodite.  She’s stunning.  We decided it couldn’t be – we were a LONG way from Southern New England – and a few minutes later we discovered we were wrong:

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Apparently she heads south to Florida every year.  Lucky delivery captain!

We were hurrying, but we still enjoyed the scenery along the North Carolina ICW.  It’s a stretch I really enjoy because the inlets are so short, leaving you with a great view of the ocean every time you pass one.  Of course the flip side is that you fight the currents part of the way, no matter when you leave.

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You can tell the current is against us from the direction the can is leaning.

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Given the amount of liquid gas this cargo ship was carrying, we thought the size of the “No Smoking” warning was appropriate!

A few short days later, we arrived at St. James Marina.  We’ve stopped here a few times before, always for weather-related reasons.  It’s the most protected marina in the area – a true hurricane hole – and we’re glad we planned so far ahead because they were sold out by the time we arrived.  

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We spent a week barely feeling a breeze as the wind honked at 25-30+ knots.  Our fingers were crossed that once the weather passed we could get a window to hop outside to Georgetown or farther, but the window was much too sporty for our taste.  Time to continue down the ICW!  

Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main!

Note: We are not currently in the Chesapeake – thankfully, given the time of year.  I’m just WAY behind on blog posts.

We have a love/hate relationship with the Chesapeake.  I’ve posted about how the sailing in New England is far superior to the Chesapeake.  But still, there’s something magical about the Chesapeake Bay.  Every time we initially arrive, we think about settling here some day when we swallow the anchor.  Usually by the time it’s in our rear view mirror, we’re cursing its existence after having either wind on the nose, no wind, or 4-5 foot square waves with a 4-5 second period.  But not this time.  This time we had our best trip – hands down – along the length of the Chesapeake Bay.  

We took advantage of several days of VERY favorable westerly wind of about 20 knots or so.  Skirting along the shore to keep the fetch down, we had a splendid (albeit chilly) sail from Annapolis to Solomons.  

Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, built in 1875. It’s the last screw-pile lighthouse on the Bay in its original location.

From there it was another fantastic sail to Mill Creek in Reedville where we hung out for a few days.  The forecast was for light wind, but on the nose, so we figured we’d wait until it was light wind behind us – just in case the light wind ended up being stronger than forecast.

Point Lookout Lighthouse at the mouth of the Potomac, built in 1830.

 

Mill Creek is one of our favorite anchorages on the Chesapeake.  It’s so scenic, and there’s protection from any direction depending on where you drop the hook.

We mixed it up by going from Reedville to Bryant Bay in Mobjack Bay instead of our usual stop in Deltaville.  I’ve never been crazy about the anchorage in Jackson Creek in Deltaville.  The holding has always been suspect to me, and it’s usually pretty tight with a lot of boats.  So we had a longer day to Mobjack which gave us a shorter following day to Norfolk, a new stop for us.  

A beautiful sunset on Mobjack Bay.
An aircraft carrier being worked on in Norfolk.
This tugboat is the “Robert T.” It reminded me of my dad, Robert Thomas.

Our friends Vanessa and Kurt spent a weekend last summer in Norfolk and spoke highly of it, so we decided to get a slip and check it out.  We ended up liking it quite a bit.  We were able to see my Aunt Rebecca who was kind enough to drive down from Charlottesville, and we also did some touring around and eating out.  

Norfolk had an active downtown area, and we walked the Cannonball trail through the Freemason District which is Norfolk’s oldest neighborhood, a national historic district with beautiful 18th century to early 20th century homes.  

The downtown library was VERY nice!

 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is the only colonial-era building still standing in Norfolk. It’s believed the Liverpool, a ship in the Royal Navy, fired this cannonball that became lodged in the church.

Honestly, we barely scratched the surface of Norfolk and will definitely be stopping there again.  The Battleship Wisconsin, the Chrysler Museum, more neighborhoods – there’s still a ton left to see.  But, we can’t see it all in one visit.  For now, it was time to continue heading south.  

It’s always a relief when the Jersey Coast and the Delaware Bay are in our rear view mirror.

We ended up waiting a week in Port Washington. The remnants of Ian combined with another system leaving us hiding in the boat for several days.  The wind blew over 25 knots and the rain poured, but we were on an excellent mooring with good protection so we spent the days reading, surfing the Internet, baking brownies, etc.  Before and after the weather we were able to restock our groceries and the booze cabinet, grab some pizza from Carlo’s Pizza (our favorite), do laundry, and Jeff even was able to go metal detecting for an afternoon.

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A beautiful sunset before the weather came in.

It was clear from the various Facebook groups that the weather had caused a log jam of cruisers in western Long Island, all waiting to continue south. Normally our next stop would be Atlantic Highlands, but it sounded like EVERYONE was going there. It’s a good spot, but the anchorage isn’t huge and if we couldn’t get in behind the break wall we were going to be exposed with a wind shift the following night. So we decided to switch things up a bit and reserve a mooring ball at the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club in Brooklyn.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip down the East River:

Our two-night stay at Sheepshead Bay was excellent. It was a true working man’s yacht club with very friendly members, and it was a no-brainer to decide that from now on it will be our stop to stage for the New Jersey coast. It always takes a good 45 minutes to get from Atlantic Highlands into the ocean, and rounding the point at Sandy Hook is always a sloppy pain in the tail when there’s any wind. From Sheepshead Bay we were out in the ocean within minutes – a much nicer experience.

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Going by Coney Island on our way to Sheepshead Bay.

Before we left Sheepshead Bay we wandered down to Brighton Beach/Little Odessa, and picked up some tasty treats at the large Eastern European grocery store there. We wanted to explore some more, but Jeff’s foot wasn’t 100% yet, so we decided to save it for next time. Despite countless visits to New York City, it was an area we had never been to, and we enjoyed it a lot.

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This is the kind of local joint my dad would have loved. Open since 1970, the decor appears untouched, and the beef sandwiches were tasty!

 

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Artistic sailboats in Sheepshead Bay. I thought it looked cool.

After two nights at Sheepshead Bay it was time to make the trip to Cape May. We had a great forecast with 10-16 knots predicted from the west and northwest, and a full moon rising before the sunset and falling after the sunrise. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

We actually sailed for 2/3 of the trip, which was the most we’ve ever been able to do. The west wind gave us virtually no fetch until it picked up and clocked a bit shortly past Atlantic City. At that point the Jersey Coast demanded her pound of flesh and things were VERY sloppy with a steady 20 knots of wind. The fact that it was only 41 degrees out didn’t help, but we powered through – not like there was any choice!

We’ve noticed that every time we go along the Jersey Coast, the sea state gets lousy in the same area. It’s around where the coastline bends farther away from the rhumb line, just past Atlantic City. So we decided that for future trips we’re going to continue to hug the coast south of Atlantic City, even though it will add some mileage. The motion comfort will more than make up for the added distance.

The flotilla that began on the East River continued, and we sailed with at least 25 other boats that day and night – most heading to Cape May. Cape May isn’t the largest anchorage but we squeezed in, and after a four hour nap we felt very refreshed.

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The anchorage is right by the boot camp facilities for the Coast Guard. We could hear them chanting.

An additional ten hours of sleep that night had us bouncing up with the sunrise to move up the Delaware Bay. With two days of virtually no wind, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions to move up that unholy body of water. While we certainly prefer sailing over motoring, if we’re motoring because there’s no wind on the Delaware Bay, that’s definitely a win in our book!

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Now THIS is what we like to see on the Delaware Bay!

 

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Cohansey Creek is one of the few anchorages on the Delaware Bay. It’s a nice spot, well-protected from fetch with great holding.

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Obligatory nuclear plant photo.
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This is our third time on the C&D Canal, but the first time we’ve had a barge pass us.
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Beautiful scenery on the upper Chesapeake.

After anchoring at Cohansey Creek the first night (we still stay FAR away from that damn Reedy Island), we landed at Bohemia Bay and put Pegu Club in a slip so we could enjoy a few nights of living on land while we visited with our good friends Kurt and Vanessa, and Jay and Tanya from S/V Minx.

After saying our goodbyes, it was another wind-free motor down to Annapolis where we anchored in Weems Creek and enjoyed the last day of the boat show.

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Originally we thought we’d be well south by the time the boat show came around, but the weather delays worked to our benefit. We picked up a few goodies, unexpectedly and delightfully ran into our cruising friend Larry who we last saw in Eleuthera (and will see in the Exumas this winter), and then it was time to continue down the Chesapeake Bay.

“This don’t look like the Coachella Valley to me.”

We ended up staying a week in Mattituck. For awhile we joked that we were going to be spending Thanksgiving there. We were extremely well-protected as several fronts rolled through, and we waited patiently. We read posts from cruising friends who were motoring steadily down Long Island Sound, bashing their way down the New Jersey coast, then bashing some more up the Delaware Bay. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. We weren’t going to do that if we could help it. If that meant sitting around for awhile, then so be it.

While we were in Mattituck we poked around in the Italian market that we had enjoyed last time, we went grocery shopping at the bigger market, and had some of the best damn BBQ we have ever tasted, including in the south, at Meat’s Meat which was new to us. The only downside of staying there was when we woke up one morning to discover that the boat had been thoroughly strafed by the damn cormorants. That sucked, and took quite awhile to clean up.

A beautiful Mattituck sunset.
I loved the name of this local bar.
SO GOOD! Ten out of ten.
Pegu Club hanging out in the anchorage.

Finally our patience was rewarded and it was time to leave.  It was going to be a tack-fest with wind on the nose for the first two days to Port Jefferson and Northport, but the third day would be an excellent beam reach to Port Washington where we would be well protected for the next lengthy weather system.

The predicted wind the first two days ended up being on the higher end of the forecast, so much so that we decided from now on we would take the highest forecasted gusts and assume that’s what we would see for the steady strength.  But it was three wonderful, boisterous days of sailing.  

Pegu Club was a very salty girl after our sail from Mattituck to Port Jefferson.

We were actually surprised at how comfortable we were with the conditions.  I thought that taking the winter off would make us a bit more tentative, but it seems to have had the opposite effect.  We tacked back and forth through winds in the upper teens and low twenties the first two days, and we learned quite a bit about the best sail trim for Pegu in those conditions.  

On the third day we had the forecasted beam reach to Port Washington, but first we had to blast our way out of Huntington Harbor with a steady 24 knots on the nose.  Once again, we were shocked at how we handled it.  In the past, we absolutely would have turned around.  Instead we knew that if we could just suck it up for 15 minutes or so, we’d be banging a left and flying down the sound on a beam reach.  And we were.    

A blustery beam reach to Port Washington.

In fact, we were so thrilled with how great the sailing was that we made our way into the wrong harbor!  As we were sailing along, we started saying “Hmmm.  Wait a minute.  This doesn’t look like Port Washington.”  Or as Bugs Bunny said, “This don’t look like the Coachella Valley to me.”  That’s because it wasn’t.  We were one harbor too soon.  Our punishment was fifteen minutes hard on the wind, blowing 20 knots, before turning off onto a beam reach again.  Ah well.  Lesson learned.  Always put a route in the chart plotter, even if we think we know where we’re going!

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Oops – wrong harbor!

Once we were actually in Port Washington, we took one of the transient yellow moorings and settled down for what we knew would be an extended stay while we waited for decent weather.  It was fine with us, though.  Out of all of the places we’ve been to on Long Island Sound, Port Washington is our number one choice for a lengthy stay.