Thursday, December 04, 2008

Charleston SC to St-Augustine FL. – Overnights…Second Time is the charm!

Traveling the ICW for Pat and me has been a front row seat to help us understand the values that makes the United States what it is today. From the secessionist manifesto of the Rhett family in the late 19th century to the ever present reminder of America’s military might (not a day goes by without seeing the Navy, Air Force, Army or Marine Corp in action); from the tacky kitsch of Myrtle Beach to the refined modern chic of Charleston; and from the crews of the multi-million dollar mega yachts to the humblest of floating homes, we have had the privilege experiencing first hand modern American history by passing up close and personal most of the original colonies.

The ICW is an amazing piece of engineering and a testament to the notion that a good idea will rise above all. To even exist, it has over the years surmounted and continues to surmount the challenges of economics, politics, geography and weather. It is the Highway 66 of the cruising community and the slice of American Civilization that is served up as one travels the system of natural rivers and man made canals, cannot be rivaled. Perhaps preserving it as a national heritage site would be a way to obtain the funding needed to adequately maintain the system?

As an added bonus, Pat and I were invited to join several other crews from the cruising community to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday. While we all agreed that going out for dinner was not exactly the same, the logistics of large crowds on small boats dictated that some concessions needed to be made. We are truly thankful that we have made the acquaintance of Chris and Divya from s/v Maggie M, Ron and Dawn from s/v Dawn Treader, Jim and Ann from s/v Ubiquitous, and especially to Mike and Georgie from s/v Alcyone, who made the effort to seek us out to extend the invitation.

Pat and I enjoyed the experience so much that we had an impromptu repeat of the experience aboard Threepenny Opera the following night with Bob and Debbie from the s/v Valissa with whom we had crossed the Gulf of Maine over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October. If it were not for the confidence we gained from following their lead, Pat and I may not have ventured out onto the Bay of Fundy alone, and we would still be much further to the North and much colder as a result.

We had not seen Bob and Debbie since the crossing but we have often wondered where they were; so it was through pure serendipity that Debbie heard me speaking to another boat and realized we were nearby. I was equally surprised and delighted to be hailed by the long lost Valissa, but that is the way things work on the ICW. It took a stretch run in approaching darkness and rain to make the anchorage, but Pat managed to get the hook down at dusk, and cook a turkey with the trimmings by 6:30. She is a miracle worker on a boat.

Despite the richness of the cultural experience however, the ICW has a tedious side that is found in the numerous uncharted shoals, the bridges that force one to adapt to their rhythm and the tidal currents and flows that can make planning a relatively simple trip into a complex stochastic modeling exercise. Pat and I entered the ICW early in November and after almost 4 weeks of relatively short day hops we were ready to get on with the business of going south. Perhaps we were motivated by the uncharacteristically cold temperatures, or perhaps it was due to the confidence that one builds from spending the last 4 months on our boat, Pat and I decided to leave the ICW in Beaufort SC and head out into the open Atlantic for an overnight passage to Jacksonville FL.

The decision to go “offshore” was accompanied by some trepidation of course, but in discussions with other more experienced sailors the feelings are normal and very common. While only a fool will do anything unsafe, anybody, no matter how experienced who voyages away from the protection of safe harbours, can only do so with the permission of Mother Nature. We have been sent to the principal’s office more than once for not heeding her lessons, so naturally we were a little apprehensive that this time we had learned our lessons well.

No doubt there will be more advanced lessons, but for newbie cruisers like Pat and me the 135nm mile passage from Beaufort SC to the mouth of the St. Johns River, which leads to Jacksonville FL, is a great mid-term test of skills. If one passes, then longer and more complex passages are within reach, but if one needs remedial tutoring, there are many less challenging day sails on the open Atlantic that one can make to gain additional experience. Unlike our first blue water night passage, this time Pat and I were traveling solo. We were in communication while enroute with other boats via VHF and SSB but the trip planning and execution were based solely on our efforts so it was comforting to know that others were also out there with us, even though they were unseen.

In the end we went to the Palm Cove Marina in Jacksonville Beach FL because the Jacksonville Marina was under repairs. The total distance was ~140 Nm and we covered the distance in just under 23 hours. For the first 15 hours of the voyage we enjoyed perfect beam reach sailing on relatively flat seas. Our biggest challenge was to slow Threepenny Opera down so that we would not arrive before sunrise. For the last 8 hours of the trip the wind died so our challenge was to try and speed Threeepenny Opera up so that we would arrive before sunset. We finally gave up at 4:30AM and fired up the iron sails to motor the last 30 odd miles. Most importantly I managed to keep my dinner down, so I am hoping that I have started a trend for future night passages….mommy I’m a big boy now!

Today we are in St. Augustine after a very short 28 SM hop from our marina last night. We are looking forward to visiting the city, but even more importantly we are looking forward to going to Montreal in a week’s time for the annual cooking baking party that Pat’s family puts on. In the meantime we will enjoy a little more of the Florida ICW which looks a little different than the parts of the ICW further north. I think we have earned our intermediate cruising badges because Pat is busy with the charts and guides planning an overnight passage so we can get as far south as possible before we take our break.

Have a great week. I know we will!


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1 comment:

Carol & Helmut said...

Photos are once again wonderful. Enjoy your time in Montreal, you must be looking forward to reconnecting with family.