Slip Away

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Logbook:       North Carolina to Florida, November 2007 to January 2008

When we left Wrightsville Beach a couple of days after Thanksgiving, we could have continued along the ICW, but we opted to go offshore, which would be faster and get us south to warmer weather more quickly.  Also, the ICW through South Carolina and Georgia is reputed to have some shoaly areas, and after our experience of running aground in Wrightsville Beach, we preferred the route with deeper water.

From Wrightsville Beach, we sailed offshore to Charleston, South Carolina, and after that, we did a couple more offshore passages - to St. Mary's, Georgia, and Port Canaveral, Florida.  From Port Canaveral, we did a short jaunt down the ICW to Ft. Pierce, Florida, but then we went offshore again to the Florida Keys, where we traveled along the Hawk Channel (on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys), making stops in Rodriguez Key, Islamorada, Boot Key (Marathon) and Big Pine Key.  In early January, we left Big Pine Key on our way to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. 

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, to Charleston, South Carolina (11/24-25, 156 nm, 24 hours).  We left Wrightsville Beach heading south with a forecast of 20-25 knots of wind from the north.  That's a little more wind than we prefer, but it would be behind us, which is a good direction if it's going to blow that hard.  A concern with higher winds is that the seas can get rough, but we planned to go offshore at the Cape Fear inlet and hoped to get some protection from Frying Pan Shoals, which extend south from that inlet  The wind was as forecast, with about an hour of winds in the high 20's, but our sails were reefed, the seas were manageable and we had a good, fast trip. 

Charleston, South Carolina (11/25-11/29).  Neither of us had previously visited Charleston, and we heard repeatedly that we would love it, so we were looking forward to this stop.  Charleston is one of the top U.S. ports for container cargo but is probably better known for its beautifully restored historical buildings.  In addition to touring the city, we also needed to visit the U.S. Coast Guard office here and file the paperwork to renew our Captain's licenses.  It's hard to believe that five years had passed since we took the course to earn our licenses.

Charleston was founded in the late 1600's by English colonists.  It was named after King Charles, and from its beginning, it provided a haven of religious tolerance.  The city is located on a peninsula in a deep-water harbor, and it became a flourishing seaport.  Merchants invested in rice plantations, and slavery was key to their success.  By the mid 18th century, Charleston was the wealthiest and fourth largest city in colonial America.  

Charleston was home to four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and for three years during the American Revolution, it was occupied by the British.  They bombarded and looted the city, and a fire destroyed the waterfront.  After the Revolution, Charleston rebuilt and once again prospered; however the Civil War followed in the next century and took its toll.  In 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.  In 1863, Federal troops began a bombardment of Charleston that lasted over a year and a half, and by the end of this war, the city was in ruins.  Recovery from the Civil War was slow, and hurricanes and a severe earthquake hindered progress.  It was not until after World War II that the economy in Charleston improved. 

Charleston recognized the need to preserve their historical buildings in the 1920's, and they were the first U.S. city to adopt a historic district zoning ordinance in 1931.  Charleston's entire Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. 


Just one of the many beautifully restored
buildings in Charleston's Historic District

 


An old mansion, now a Bed & Breakfast

 


Rainbow Row - these buildings were merchants' houses
along the waterfront in the 1700's

We spent several days in Charleston and found it delightful.  We spent a day touring Fort Sumter, but mostly, we spent our time exploring the city on foot with our "walking tour" booklet in hand.  It's a wonderful city for walking, and the weather was good for most of our visit.  A bonus to our stop in Charleston was a visit with Buddy and Annie, whom we met last May in Key West.  They lived in Charleston prior to sailing their boat (a sister ship to Slip Away) to Key West and living on it there for a few years.  They recently sold their boat and were returning to life on land, and they both seemed very happy to be back in this city. 


Ft. Sumter at the entrance to Charleston Harbor

 


Two of us with Buddy & Annie

Renewing our Captain's licenses took a little time, but it went well, with only one small glitch.  We were required to get a physical exam and a drug test for the renewal, and we got a referral to a local doctor who could do those for us.   The drug test, of course, involved peeing in a cup.  After producing his specimen, Rich thought what a mess it would be if someone spilled it - and he proceeded to do just that - all over the doctor's bathroom!  We spent an additional hour at the doctor's office while Rich rehydrated so he could pee in the cup a second time.   

Charleston, South Carolina,  to St. Mary's, Georgia (11/29-30, 168 nm, 28 hours).  The first half of this passage, winds were variable and we mostly motored, but in the middle of the night, the winds came up to 10-15 knots, and we had a very pleasant sail for the last half of the trip.  St. Mary's sits on the Georgia-Florida border, and it has a well marked deep-water entrance into Cumberland Sound.  Jacksonville, Florida, sits just south of here.  Our destination was the town of St. Mary's, which is a few miles up the St. Mary's River, a motor trip through Georgia's low country. 

St. Mary's & Jacksonville (11/30-12/10).  We had friends and family to visit in St. Mary's and Jacksonville.  Our friends Barb & Rich Newcomb recently moved to St. Mary's from California, so we were looking forward to seeing them and their new home.  Also, Rich's brother Ron and his family live in Jacksonville.  Ron and Kim always welcome us to use their guest room, so we decided to put Slip Away in a marina in St. Mary's for a week, so we could enjoy some quality time with their family.

We arrived St. Mary's on Friday afternoon, spent the night at anchor, and on Saturday morning, we got ourselves tied up and settled into Lang's Marina.  Our friend Rich offered to pick us up on Saturday afternoon and fix dinner for us that evening at their home - an offer we couldn't refuse!  Barb had not yet relocated full time to St. Mary's, and we did not expect to see her until the following weekend because she was supposed to be working in California.  However, when Rich showed up at Slip Away, Barb was with him - what a nice surprise!  She was able to arrange working from home in St. Mary's for the next week.  Rich Newcomb (not Rich Crowell) is an excellent cook, and he grilled steaks for dinner and even baked an apple pie.  It was a good evening catching up with our friends.  Barb and Jan have known each other for quite a few years - they became friends while crewing for sailing races in California.  We've known her husband Rich only a short time, and it was nice to have some time with him to get to know him better.   Both Riches served in the U.S. Navy when they were younger, so they had a lot of stories and adventures to share.

The next day, our sister-in-law Kim and nephew Chad drove up to St. Mary's to pick us up and take us to Jacksonville.  We spent the rest of the week hanging out with them and our niece Brittany in Jacksonville.  Ron was out of town for work most of the week, but he returned on Friday night, so we had that evening and most of Saturday to spend with him.  Jan had a birthday that week, and this was a good place to celebrate - we had cake and ice cream more than once.  Kim helped us run a few errands (getting our scuba equipment serviced and a Costco run), and we enjoyed walks in their neighborhood, satellite television and unlimited internet access. 

After our visit with Ron's family, Barb & Rich offered to pick us up in Jacksonville and bring us back to St. Mary's.  They were Christmas shopping at a mall near Ron & Kim's home, so fortunately we didn't take them too far out of their way.  That evening, we joined Barb & Rich for the Christmas "Tour of Homes" in St. Mary's.  St. Mary's is a small town, but it has a number of colonial-era buildings and homes, which were beautifully decorated for the holidays.    After the tour, we went out for dinner and celebrated birthdays again.  Barb's birthday is also in early December, and she and Jan celebrated their birthdays together several times when they lived in California, so it was fun to be doing it again in their new home of Georgia.


Orange Hall (c. 1830, now a museum)
decorated for the holidays

 


Two of us with Rich & Barb Newcomb

 


This bell player was playing beautiful music
in a tiny historical church

The next day Barb & Rich helped us run a few errands (filling a propane tank and grocery shopping), and then we said farewell until our next visit.  We enjoyed St. Mary's and plan to come back.  Barb & Rich also sent us on our way armed for future cold weather - Rich dug out a propane camping heater and loaned it to us so we wouldn't have to use our oven to heat Slip Away.  That was very much appreciated!

Cumberland Island, Georgia (12/10-11).  Barb and Rich recommended that we not leave the area without stopping to visit Cumberland Island, which sits right at the St. Mary's harbor entrance.  So, on Monday morning, we fueled up Slip Away at the marina and motored to the anchorage off the island, which was just seven miles away.

Cumberland Island is Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island.  It covers over 36,000 acres, and 85% of the island is part of the National Park Service.  It has held "National Seashore" status since 1972.  Most of the island remains in its primitive state.  There are wild horses on the island, as well as several other species of wildlife, and the island is made up of beautiful beaches, saltwater marshes and maritime forest.  The Carnegie family owned most of the island in the past, and ruins remain of their "Dungeness" mansion, which they built in the 1800's.  We spent a day hiking on Cumberland Island, and we absolutely loved it.  We walked through the various ecosystems, saw several wild horses and a few armadillos and visited some of the ruins of what little civilization existed on the island in the past. 

We wanted to stay at Cumberland Island another day to do more hiking, but when we spoke to our weatherman the next morning, he advised us the forecast wasn't favorable for heading south if we waited another day.  So we reluctantly weighed anchor and left this beautiful island behind.

 


Ruins of the Carnegie's Dungeness Mansion
on Cumberland Island

 


A boardwalk through the dunes on Cumberland Island

 


We saw several armadillos - so unusual!

 


One of the wild horses enjoying the beautiful beach

Cumberland Island, Georgia to Cocoa, Florida (12/11-12, 185 nm, 28 hours).  We had light winds for this passage, so it was a motor trip the entire way.  But the weather was warming up, and we were now sailing in bare feet, which made us very happy!  We traveled offshore from St. Mary's, Georgia, to Port Canaveral, Florida, which is another well marked big-ship channel.  After entering Port Canaveral, we transited the Canaveral Lock and Barge Canal and continued to the ICW, which follows the Indian River in this area. 

Cocoa, Florida (12/12-18).  We anchored off the town of Cocoa and were surprised at how much we enjoyed our visit here.  Many cities and towns in Florida try to discourage cruising boats from anchoring in their limits, and some have even tried to pass laws prohibiting it.  But Cocoa has a nice anchorage and even a free dinghy dock.  No wonder there were 20-25 boats anchored here!  "Historic Cocoa Village" was within walking distance, and its restored historical buildings (from the 1920's to 1950's) housed shops, galleries and restaurants.  Since it was early December, everything was decorated in the spirit of the holidays.   Cocoa also has a good bus system, which makes it easy to get around.  We figured out the bus system when we needed to get to a UPS Store to send our wind generator back to the vendor to be repaired (again!). 

Our primary reason for stopping in Cocoa was to visit Marine Pro, the vendor that installed our new engine last summer.  We weren't having any problems with the engine, but this was a big investment for us, and since we were passing through the area, we wanted to have them check it over and make sure everything was in order.  Frank, the owner of Marine Pro, stopped by one afternoon, gave us a "thumbs up" on the engine and answered some questions for us.  

Cocoa is considered part of the "Space Coast" since Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center are close by, and we decided to take a day to visit the Space Center.  We got an early start and arrived when the doors were opening for the day and stayed until late afternoon.  We watched two IMAX films, rode the shuttle launch simulator, climbed an observation tower where we saw the Atlantis Space Shuttle on the launch pad, and we toured the Explorer Space Shuttle replica, as well as the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the International Space Station Center.  It was a full day, but we wished we'd had more time there.  We found the Space Center to be incredibly interesting and were really glad we went to see it. 


Launch Pad with the Space Shuttle Atlantis on it -
preparing for its next voyage

 


Replica of the Space Shuttle Explorer

 


Communication center used during the Apollo launches

Also while in Cocoa, we made some new friends - Scott & Carmen.  Scott owns Magnus, a sistership of Slip Away, and we'd been in touch with him through an internet group for owners of IF41 sailboats.  Scott lives in Satellite Beach, which is close to Cocoa, and on a Sunday afternoon, he and his girlfriend Carmen stopped by to visit with us and see Slip Away.  The next day, we motor-sailed 15 miles further down the Indian River and anchored at Dragon Point, from where we could dinghy to Scott's house and see  Magnus, which he keeps at the dock in front of his house.  Scott even cooked us dinner that evening - what a nice treat!  We enjoyed meeting Scott and Carmen, and it's always fun to see how other owners have refit their boats. 

We weathered another cold front while in Cocoa, so temperatures got chilly again, but it wasn't so bad this time.  We fired up the camping heater, and we were toasty warm.

Ft. Pierce, Florida (12/18-22).  We left Dragon Point shortly after sunrise and motored along the ICW in light winds to Ft. Pierce (45 nm, 8 hours).  In Ft. Pierce, we anchored just off the Harbortown-Ft. Pierce marina, so we could visit with our friends Russ & Ann on Mohini, whom we met in the boatyard last summer when we were having our new engine installed.  While anchored here, we worked on a few boat projects and shared a few meals with our friends.  Russ & Ann were planning to depart Ft. Pierce a few weeks behind us, but we expected to be cruising in the same area for the winter, so when we left, we said good-bye with promises to see each other again soon. 

Ft. Pierce to Rodriguez Key, Florida (12/22-12/23, 167 nm, 33 hours).  We weighed anchor in Ft. Pierce early in the morning and headed out the shipping channel to go offshore.  Timing worked out well that there was a high slack tide early that morning because one can run into strong currents at this ocean inlet.  As we were motoring out the channel, we passed a large ship coming in, and as we hit his wake, the RPM's on our engine dropped and the engine started vibrating.  S*%&!!  Those symptoms usually indicate that a line was snagged and wrapped around the propeller.  The main channel of the Ft. Pierce inlet wasn't a great place to drop our anchor and sort this out, so we turned around and slowly motored to a safe anchoring spot.  Rich wasn't thrilled to be putting his wetsuit on and diving into 60-degree water to cut the line off the prop, but he did so, and we were on our way again in about an hour.  Our delay caused us to miss the slack tide, and this time as we motored out the channel, the current was running pretty strong - fortunately, carrying us out of the harbor and not running against us. 

Once offshore, we set our sails and sailed all afternoon.  Around sunset, the winds died, so we turned the engine on, but a little more than an hour later, the winds came back up and the engine went off again.  We sailed on with 10-15 knots of wind on our beam (near perfect!), the lights of Palm Beach on our starboard side, and a full moon above.  It was a magical evening!

When we do an overnight passage, we take turns "on watch."  Rich takes the watch from 8 pm to midnight while Jan sleeps, and then Jan takes the watch from midnight to 4 am, while Rich sleeps.  At 4 a.m. on this passage, when Rich awoke, Jan stayed up for a bit because there was a cruise ship coming in our direction, and we wanted to be sure we would pass it with no problem.  We tried calling the cruise ship on the radio to let them know we were transiting the area under sail, at first to no avail, but as the ship was bearing down on us, and we continued to call, he finally replied.  Although we were under sail and off their starboard bow (both reasons for us to have right of way and hold our course), apparently this captain felt that "size" ruled in this situation, and he asked us to take his stern.  We weren't about to challenge him, so we tacked north to avoid a collision.  After he crossed our path, we tacked back to our original course, but it was a close call, and our hearts were pounding.  During Rich's watch that morning, he saw several cruise ships lined up along the coast of south Florida - all waiting to dock and pick up their guests for a Christmas week cruise.  He kept well clear of all of them. 

 


Dolphins swimming off our bow are always
a welcome sight on a passage

We continued under sail, passed by Miami the next morning, and as we entered the Hawk Channel to sail down the Florida Keys, the wind died and we turned on the motor for the next several hours.  Late in the afternoon, we dropped our anchor at Rodriguez Key.

Rodriguez Key (12/23-26).  Before we got to the Keys, we were enthusiastic about snorkeling or scuba diving here, but when we arrived, we found the water temperature in the low 70's - that's way too cold for us!! 

It was just the two of us for Christmas at Rodriguez Key, so we celebrated with family and friends by calling them on the phone on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  On Christmas Day, we went ashore looking for a restaurant recommended in our cruising guide, but it was closed (for good).  So we went for a walk, which was good for a little exercise, but there wasn't really much of interest on shore in this area.  There was one other cruising boat with a family aboard in the anchorage, but they were anchored pretty far away from us.  The mom and one of their kids stopped by on Christmas Day to say hello on their way back from a trip to shore with their dog.  It was a pretty quiet couple of days. 

Islamorada, Florida (12/26-30).  From Rodriguez Key, we moved further down the Keys to Islamorada.  We would be returning to Islamorada in the Spring for a wedding, so we wanted to check out the anchorage and its proximity to the locations of the wedding events. 

As the crow flies, the anchorage at Islamorada was about 15 miles from Rodriguez Key, but we were anchored along the Hawk Channel, which runs along the ocean side of the Keys, and the anchorage at Islamorada was on the bay or gulf side of the Keys.  We needed to travel down the Hawk Channel to the Channel 5 crossover, where we could pass under a 65' bridge to the bay side, and then head back in the same general direction from which we came, making the trip a total of 36 miles.  Traveling the bay side is a bit more challenging than in the Hawk Channel because depths are shallower, and dodging crab traps on that side is a bit like driving through a minefield.  But, we made it - at times with less than a foot of water under our keel, and we somehow managed to avoid wrapping a crab trap in our prop.  (With all those traps, we can't imagine that there could be any crabs left in the Keys!) 

 


Slip Away's Christmas Tree

Islamorada has a good anchorage, and we really enjoyed our time here.  We used the dinghy dock at Lorelei's, which is a open-air restaurant with a great atmosphere.  We enjoyed some food and beers there and did a lot of people watching.  Since it was the week between Christmas and New Year's, there were lots of people to watch.  We found the locations of the wedding and pre-wedding party, both of which we can reach by dinghy, with a parking place for us at their dinghy docks.  Perfect!  We did some shopping - there's a big Bass Pro Shop - and in anticipation of all the fish we intended to catch this winter, we bought a couple of new lures.  Rich promised Jan he would shoot lots of good fish this winter if she'd let him buy a new pole spear, so she gave in.  Islamorada also has a very nice library, with free wifi internet, and we spent an afternoon there surfing the internet and browsing through books and magazines. 

One evening while we were in Islamorada, Rich stepped out on the deck and then called to Jan "Hey, come look at this!"  The sea had lots of little lights turning on and off under the surface.  Some jellyfish are luminescent at night, and apparently a school of them were passing by our boat.  They were lighting up as they swam past our boat.  Very cool!  Ten minutes later, the lights were gone. 

Boot Key Harbor (Marathon), Florida  (12/30/07-1/6/08).  Weather forecasts were calling for a "strong arctic front" to hit the Florida Keys in a few days, so we needed to seek shelter.  Boot Key Harbor is relatively close to Islamorada, and offers the best protection from bad weather in the Florida Keys, so we headed there.  We weighed anchor at Islamorada and once again successfully navigated through the minefield of crab traps to the Channel 5 crossover, where we returned to the Hawk Channel, and then set our sails (mizzen and headsail, aka jib and jigger) for a nice ride down to Boot Key (37 nm, 8 hours). 

We had mixed feelings about going into Boot Key.  Boot Key is the destination for a lot of boats that spend winter in the Florida Keys, and we heard that there can be as many as 200 boats in the harbor - that's a big crowd!  Also, the City of Marathon has filled the harbor with mooring balls, leaving only a small area in which to anchor.  But, we were looking forward to the camaraderie of a cruising community, which we knew we would find there. 

Although we'd normally rather anchor than take a mooring ball (one can never be sure how well the mooring balls are maintained), we felt the anchorage was too small and crowded, especially with a storm coming.  Also, the cost for landing a dinghy was only a few dollars less than the cost for a mooring ball, which included dinghy dockage and a weekly holding tank pump-out.  So, we picked up a mooring, dinghied into the marina office to pay and were handed a dockage agreement - with 22 pages of rules!  Cruising in the U.S. comes with a lot more rules than in Mexico and Central America, but this was really ridiculous!

We couldn't imagine spending an entire winter in Marathon, but it was fun for a week.  Shortly after tying up to the mooring, we started talking to the folks on the boat next to us - Bill & Sue on Unchained - and we invited them over to Slip Away for New Year's Eve.  Bill and Sue became good friends, and we ended up sharing several drinks and meals during the week.  From the marina, we could walk to good restaurants (Rich loved the cheeseburgers at Overseas), as well as Home Depot, a Publix grocery store, and West Marine and Boaters' World boat supply stores.  The city marina had the most organized and busiest dinghy dock we've ever seen, and everyone tried their best to follow all the rules. 

Boot Key Harbor offered excellent protection from the storm, which arrived on New Year's Day with squalls and 30-35 knots of wind, and the winds continued in the 20-25 knot range for the next few days.  It brought record low temperatures to the Florida Keys, and once again we were appreciating the loan of that camping heater. 


The leading edge of the storm as it arrives at Boot Key

 


We loved this sign on the dinghy dock!

 


The two of us with new friends Bill & Sue from Unchained

 

Newfound Harbor, Big Pine Key, Florida (1/6-1/8).  The high winds that followed the storm finally blew out, and we left Boot Key Harbor and enjoyed a slow sail with 10-12 knots of wind from the stern to Newfound Harbor at Big Pine Key (22 nm, 5 hours).   

We had some folks to visit on Big Pine Key - Nelson & Alice, who are the parents of our cruising friend Mike on Sculpin, whom we met last year.  Mike was back at work in New Jersey, but when we called him and told him we were headed for the Keys, he told us to be sure and stop by to say hello to his mom and dad, who live on Big Pine Key.  We had a couple of packages we needed sent to us before we left, and Mike offered that we could send them to his parents' home.  

We had a really nice visit with Nelson & Alice.  Jan and Alice spoke a few times on the phone before we got there, and we liked them before we even met them.  They live on a canal, so we could dinghy right up to their house.  We spent a couple hours sitting on their porch, talking and getting acquainted, went out to lunch (and they wouldn't let us treat), and they took us on a little tour of the area and helped us run a couple of errands (filled up our gasoline jerry cans and a stop at the grocery store for a few last-minute items).  One doesn't find people much nicer than Nelson and Alice - it was great getting to know them, and we plan to stop and see them again when we come back to the Keys in the Spring. 

 


Alice & Nelson with their dog George

We had hoped that our wind generator would be repaired and returned to us before heading to Mexico.  But after the holidays, the vendor advised us that he wouldn't have the parts to repair it until the end of January.  We didn't feel like waiting around for it; we were eager to get to the warmer waters of the Caribbean.  We'd been watching the weather and our window was now open for our passage to Isla Mujeres. 

We made final preparations to get underway, picked up our last package at Nelson & Alice's, weighed anchor, motored out of Newfound Harbor and then set our sails and headed toward Mexico.