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.

And just like that, the weather turned.

We had been at the marina in Belhaven for a week and had a one-day window to get up the Alligator River and across the Albemarle. If the weather was accurate, we’d be in Elizabeth City by the end of the day. If not, we’d be at the Alligator River Marina for at least three nights – if not longer.

Albemarle Sound is 50 miles wide (from east to west) and anywhere from 5-14 miles long (north to south).  It’s deepest water is only 25 feet, but the route cruisers follow to get to Elizabeth City or Coinjock is generally about 10 -15 feet deep and 10 miles across.  Because it’s so long and so shallow, any wind over 15 knots creates a nasty chop and tends to be a no-go for most boaters.  On our first trip south we had 15-18 knots from behind and we surfed our way across, making a note never to cross it in winds over 15 knots (although we’d be willing to bump it up a tad once again if the wind was on our stern).  Our forecast was for 15 knots from the northeast and dropping throughout the day, so with a reservation in hand at the Alligator River Marina in case it proved necessary, we set off with all of our fingers crossed. Continue reading “And just like that, the weather turned.”

Shaking off the cobwebs.

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! Continue reading “Shaking off the cobwebs.”

Back to the U.S.

Once we made the decision to head back to the U.S., we had to get the boat ready for a passage. The forecast showed excellent conditions for sailing most of the way which was good because we wanted to make the trip non-stop from Lee Stocking, and we didn’t have enough diesel to motor the whole way. Some of the marinas in the Bahamas were closing so access to fuel wasn’t guaranteed.

Being able to use the white floppy things on our boat is always our first choice, and now we were REALLY glad we had them vs. owning a motor boat and being dependent on fuel. An added bonus was that our weather window was several days longer than what we needed, giving us added flexibility to creep along under sail if the wind was lighter than forecast. We really couldn’t have asked for a better situation, giving us the additional confidence that we were making the right decision.

The wind had been blowing 20+ knots for several days (a theme for our stay this year), so we wanted to stay on the bank side of the Exumas. We were going to need some help from the tides to pull that off because heading north on the banks from Lee Stocking requires boats to go through the Pimlicos, which is shallower than what our boat draws. Fortunately a quick check of the tide tables showed they were in our favor, sparing us from very boisterous conditions on the Sound side. With everything stowed and the jacklines installed, we set the alarm to leave at sunrise on Saturday.

Continue reading “Back to the U.S.”

An unholy body of water.

It was another fun ride down the East River from Port Washington.  High winds the day before had stirred up the water but it wasn’t noticeable until after we went under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.  Then it was VERY sloppy for a few hours with the wind on our nose and against the current until we were inside the tip of Sandy Hook.  45 minutes later we were anchored in our regular spot behind the Atlantic Highlands break wall (I think three visits makes it a regular spot, don’t you?).

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Getting closer.

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Rikers Island

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We’ll just stay out of this guy’s way as he makes his way towards New York Harbor.

Now I will readily admit that I was NOT looking forward to going down the Jersey coast.  Even though we had a windless, uneventful trip from Cape May to Atlantic Highlands a few months ago, this was going to be the same direction as our trip from hell last fall, and it was absolutely messing with my mind.  My nerves were NOT helped when I saw the waves near the hook as we went inside towards Atlantic Highlands.  

Continue reading “An unholy body of water.”

A tale of two passages – part two.

We had hoped to get off to an early start for our second passage, but the slip that Beach Marine had put us in was bit too shallow for our draft.  We were going to need to wait for the tide to float us off.  On the plus side, we knew this ahead of time so we were able to sleep in a bit. 

By 10:00 a.m. we were off, fighting the current up the ICW towards the St. John’s inlet.  It took us much longer to get into the ocean than we had hoped (making only 3.5 knots against the current will do that to you), but finally we were out and on our way.  Well, almost. 

Continue reading “A tale of two passages – part two.”

A tale of two passages – part one.

We spent several days waiting out a weather system at our hidey hole by Green Turtle Cay before moving to Great Sale Cay where we would leave for our crossing back to the U.S.  We have spent approximately one week in this Green Turtle anchorage during our time in the Bahamas, and we really do love it.  We have had it to ourselves every time except for one night, and the protection is superb.  Turtles and rays come by every day and we discovered some nice snorkeling on this last stop.  However, it was time to go so we sadly waved goodbye until next time.

Why hello there!

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A beautiful sunset.

After many discussions over the past few months, Jeff and I agreed that we were ready to try a multi-night passage.  Up to now we had only done two single overnights.  We had the awful one down the New Jersey coast, and we had a mostly wind-free 20 hours when we crossed from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay in early February.  We had gained a lot of confidence while sailing in all kinds of conditions in the Bahamas, so it was time to push our comfort zone a bit more.

We set up custom weather routing with Chris Parker who is well-known among cruisers for his forecasting.  Although we wouldn’t have cell service off shore and we only have an SSB receiver, he would be able to send detailed forecasts through our inReach device.  When a good weather window opened up, it was time to go.

Our hope was to go from Great Sale Cay to Georgetown, SC or even Beaufort, NC if the stars aligned, but we agreed that we wouldn’t hesitate to bail out early if we wanted to.  That proved to be a very good plan. 

We left Great Sale on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. and had good wind for sailing all day.  The wind angle was a bit different than forecasted so right away we weren’t going to be able to aim for one of Chris’ suggested waypoints, but we kept chugging along with Bob (our Monitor windvane) steering like a champ.  

Continue reading “A tale of two passages – part one.”