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The last position reports for Tides Inn will be displayed on the map. (Courtesy of Tides Inn homeport is Dare Marina, Yorktown VA

Dismal Swamp to Yorktown

   From the Alligator River in North Carolina, its two long days or 3 short days home with a stop in Elizabeth City. We got underway from our anchorage and, for the first time since leaving Fort Myers, there was rain in the forecast. We got our raingear ready and got to use it as one single heavy 20 minute shower passed over us, and with Murphy always present, it blew over us exactly as we were passing through the Alligator River Swing Bridge. Visibility was way down but the bridge operator timed our passing perfectly and we transited through in the pouring rain with no problems and no delays. Ten minutes on the other side of the bridge the sun was back out.

   I read on the internet ICW website that there was a free dock north of the bridge in Elizabeth City. We checked it out and confirmed an ideal spot to tie up with great protection. The dock belongs to Jennette Brothers trucking firm who encourage boaters to tie up there for free in return for dining, and completing a survey form, at an Elizabeth City restaurant. You check in with the company in their office right at the dock. It was a 5 min walk to town. The only problem was positioning the boat to avoid hitting the tree limbs - and a cockpit full of leaves to clean up.

   The next morning we were off early, 0600, to make the 0830 lock opening at South Mills in the ICW. With the Pasquotank River current against us at 1 kt, it was a real push. We arrived at 0835 and took our place as the 3rd sailboat entering the lock. That works in our favor as the inrushing water is most turbulent at the front.

From the South Mills Lock it is only a couple hours up to the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center and another great place to stop, especially if you haven't been to their nature center. In addition to the displays of wildlife inside, we got to see a mother deer and her children who hang out alongside the center.

   The Dismal Swamp is not so dismal on a bright sunny day. Its one of the prettier sections of the ICW. Sue got this photo that looks like a magazine shot.

   The Army Corps of Engineers is operating a dredge in the canal to deepen the shoaling portions. We passed the dredge north of the Visitor Center. At first it looked like he was blocking the channel and we saw a "stick" between him and the left shore right in our path. As we got close, we saw that there were two poles with red and green paint to denote the channel and there was just room to pass between the dredge and the red pole to his portside.  No problem and we were on our way to the Deep Creek lock.

   Soon we were up at Deep Creek lock and Rivah got to sightsee on deck as we passed through the lock. There is no turbulence when you are going down in the locks and we were soon on our way.

      We had planned to stop and spend the night at Portsmouth since we were in no hurry but when we arrived there, the first basin was full of boats and all the docks in the second basin were taped and posted off-limits under construction. The one boat tied up appeared to be checking out the docks. We passed by and proceeded for home.

   We kept motoring up the Elizabeth River in the light winds and sunny skies, up past the Navy Base and finally over the Hampton Roads bridge/tunnel, past Fort Monroe and into the Chesapeake.

   As we entered the Chesapeake and turned to the northwest towards home, the wind came up at 16-18 kts from the east. Perfect sailing conditions. We sailed the final 4 hours home to Chisman Creek in ideal (if not a bit boisterous) conditions sailing at 7kts.  We anchored in Chisman Creek for the night and pulled back into our home slip early the next morning before the wind came up.

   It was a fairly quick trip home, only 18 days from Punta Gorda, even with the stops to visit friends  and family along the way. We used a bit of fuel, about 80 gallons, motorsailing most of the way in the light winds. But not having to stop at night at a marina to plug into shore power for heat, we only spent $25 on marinas the whole trip home (one night on the mooring ball at St Augustine). And, we caught one Mahi-mahi which will provide a dinner for two, so that makes more than up for the mooring ball fee.
   The boat performed exceptionally well for being in storage for over 2 years before we departed. We had only 3 noteworthy maintenance items: replacing the scupper hoses that we knew was an issue before departing; replacing the fresh water pump which was 15 yrs old, and refurbishing the washdown pump with new pump vanes ($13 in parts). Otherwise, all systems worked properly throughout the trip.
   Back home now we have a long list of normal upkeep and maintenance tasks to keep us busy this sailing season.

St Augustine to Beaufort, NC Offshore

   Watching the weather closely it looked like we had a 4 day window to travel north. If we could take advantage of the Gulf Stream all the way, that would get us all the way to the Chesapeake in just over 3 days and we could arrive home by Saturday morning and see Christopher and Jackson who were in Hampton for a Technology competition and staying at our house Sat night. But that was "best case" and not something to plan on.  When traveling north up the Atlantic coast, it is always best to plan on stopping at Beaufort and only continuing around Hatteras, an extremely dangerous cape, under the best favorable weather conditions.    We were up early Tues morning and through the Bridge of Lions by 0700, heading for the open ocean.

      The Castle of San Marcos at St Augustine quickly passed by.

   The winds were light and sea conditions mild, with just enough wind angle to motorsail towards the Gulf Stream, providing enjoyable conditions for the crew.  It was not to last...

  We would be traveling for 2-3 days up the Gulf Stream so it was time to set up the fishing gear and see what we could catch for dinner. We use hand reels with 200lb test line, line thick enough that you can pull it in by hand - not so we can catch 200lb fish. We use a blue lure to simulate a flying fish and a yellow/green lure that simulates a squid. We tie the line to a bungee which provides both a cushion for when the fish hits the lure and a telltail indicator for when you have a fish hooked.

   We motorsailed all day to the northeast heading towards the Gulf Stream, which we would reach about midnight.  At 1930, less than an hour before sunset, and prime fishing time when the big fish start to feed, we had a fish on the line. Turned out to be a small mahi-mahi, but big enough for a good size meal for two. Actually, these smaller fish are better tasting than the larger ones. This one was bleeding already from the hook as we hoisted him aboard and he made a mess of the boat, but we soon had him under control. We also use alcohol (gin or vodka) to squirt in their gills and stop the thrashing. This one was small enough I could hold down. That doesn't work with the 3-5ft long ones.

   As predicted, we picked up the west wall of the Gulf Stream about midnight and were soon zooming to the north at 10kts, riding a 3+kt current. Unfortunately, the wind and seas also picked up as we entered the Gulf Stream. We had 3-4ft waves riding on top of a 3-4ft swell striking us broadside. That meant anywhere from 3-8ft waves we were bashing through sailing at 6-7kts in the 16-18kt winds. We were making great time and the forecast was for the conditions to ease off over the next couple days. Meanwhile we were in classic Gulf Stream sailing conditions with confused seas, a very rough ride and not at lot of fun, other than going fast.
   Morning arrived 6 hrs later and the crew was not having a good time. Sue was staying close to the rail and made several  contributions to King Neptune. Rivah was not throwing up but clearly not feeling well.  The forecast was for the wind to ease off but instead it was increasing. We knew we could not go another 24-48 hrs in these conditions. This was not a race we were in, it was supposed to be "fun." We decided we could pass on seeing Chris and Jackson, since we hadn't planned originally to see them anyways. We exited the Gulf Stream heading for Georgetown, SC.

   Amazingly, within an hour of turning to the west, we were out of the Gulf Stream, the waves dropped to the normal 2-3 ft and the wind dropped to 10-12 kts as forecasted. In hindsight, we could have just continued to the north alongside but out of the stream and on towards Beaufort but, we had already decided to go to Georgetown and up the Waccamaw River which is the prettiest section of the ICW. We motored all day towards Georgetown as the wind dropped to 5 kts and seas flattened and arrived at the inlet at 2000. We motored up the channel and finally decided to pull over and stop around 2200 in a pocket to the west of the channel. The wind was now down to near zero and we had a quiet night at anchor in the Waccamaw River mouth.
   The next morning, we rethought our situation and realized that heading offshore we could get to Beaufort in 30 hrs, before dark the next day, and save ourselves 3 days of motoring up the ICW and several very shallow spots and numerous bridges. We raised the anchor and headed back out to sea. Along the way out the river you go pass the Winyah Bay lighthouse and, a whole lot of shrimp boats.

   Winds were still very light (as forecasted) so we motorsailed up the coast and around Frying Pan Shoals at midnight and on to Beaufort.

   Once we could make the turn to the northwest around the shoals we were finally able to sail in the southeasterly breeze and by 1400 the Beaufort inlet was in sight. Along the way, we were visited by the USS Eisenhower, CVN 69, that was conducting sea trials off the NC coast. It was amazing how fast the carrier could come over the horizon into clear view then quickly disappear back over the horizon. She must have been doing high speed maneuvering trials as we saw her appear and disappear about 3 times.

   Murphy's Law again met us as we entered Beaufort Inlet at max outgoing current. Like Fort Pierce, Beaufort is a wide and well marked 30 ft channel, so there is no danger entering as long as your motor works properly. Otherwise there are strong currents and shoals on either side of the channel that are quite dangerous for sailboats that can't go in the right direction safely. As usual, the inlets are a busy place with sport fishing boats coming in and out adding to the challenge.

   Safely back in the ICW we had several hours of daylight left to keep heading north. We had several boats in company all heading north after wintering in Florida or the Bahamas. There are always interesting sights on the ICW which this time included a canal motorsailor from the Netherlands working its way north and further on, the first time we have ever seen a sailboat towing a jetski alongside. That's a real bipolar sailor!

   At the end of a long set of days it was time to anchor and sit back and enjoy the sunset. In 3 days of near continuous motorsailing, we had cut 8 days out of the normal ICW trek from St Augustine and had just 2 more days to go until arriving home.

St Augustine

   Sunday morning, after a last coffee with friends,  it was off for St Augustine. Our great weather (for motoring) was holding up and it would be an easy motor up the ICW.

   The ICW is a slow route, but there are many interesting sites along the way. Someone has a keen artistic spirit designing this dock house. The angled lines are constructed by design and give this small house a unique appearance. 

   The weather was nice and sunny but the current was against us the entire trip up the Indian and Halifax Rivers. It would have been just after sunset when we arrived at St Augustine, so we decided to pull over and anchor for the night just off the ICW. Our first attempt to anchor in a small pocket off the ICW in what was charted to be 10 ft of water came to a quick halt as the water rapidly went to 5 ft. Seems some shoaling has filled this pocket. We backed up abruptly and continued on up the ICW, then saw 2 trawlers anchored on the eastern side in a large area charted at 10-14ft. As we slowly entered this area we saw depths up to 18 ft and were soon safely anchored off the channel and away from the other boats for another quiet night. Initially the wind blew briskly at up to 20kts but it died off by midnight.

   We were underway early Monday morning and fueled and moored at the St Augustine mooring field before 10 am. Plenty of time for some sightseeing and dinner with family before departing for sea the next day.

First stop was lunch at Pizza Time along St George Street. They claim their pizza is "Second Best" in America and we can attest that it is pretty good. 

   Another treat was the presence of the Spanish replica of Columbus's flagship the Santa Maria. I was surprised how small this ship actually was. We talked to a crew member who related that the ship "bobbed like a cork" on the ocean providing a very uncomfortable ride. Fortunately they have two diesel engines that can get them from port to port along their America tour so they are not dependent on favorable winds unlike Columbus.

   The real purpose of the stop though was to see again our new great- nephew. We had a great dinner with Johnathan and Sami and Crewe.

Indian Key to New Smyrna

   We departed Indian Key on Wed the 24th, motoring into relatively calm conditions. Now we were on a bit of a schedule as we wanted to visit with friends who were in Florida from Texas and only available on Sat evening the 27th. With good conditions, we could make it to New Smyna by Saturday afternoon.
   The weather gods were cooperating. We motored all day up to Miami and made the turn to the north up the Florida east coast at 6pm. The weather continued to look good up the east coast so we decided to not stop for the night and continue offshore to Fort Pierce.

   Most of the pleasure boats were off the water by 6pm but we still had to watch out for commercial vessels coming and going from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach inlets. Having an AIS receiver allows us to see their location and course and help stay out of their way. Additionally, our experience is these commercial vessels are very professionally captained and we watched several alter course and speed to not interfere with our sailing course where we had the right of way. Here is the Magic of Disney departing from Miami right as we passed northward across the channel.

   The advantage of heading north up the Florida Coast is the Gulf Stream is there to aid you. As we angled eastward off Miami we began slowly picking up the northbound current at about 5 miles out. First one half knot, then 1kt, then building to 3kts as we passed by West Palm Beach. Here is a photo of our chart plotter showing speed made over the ground. Our boat's theoretical max speed through the water is 7.2kts. Here we are going 8.4kts over the ground. Later this would build to 9kts over the ground while we made 6kts through the water. These favorable conditions were speeding us along towards our destination.

  As we sped along, the wind slowly died - good for a comfortable ride but bad for making good time. There were no complaints from the crew though who have experienced far worse conditions in the Gulf Stream (and would again later in the trip).

 All good things must pass and as we passed by West Palm Beach making 9kts and now had to turn to the northwest to proceed to the Fort Pierce inlet we quickly came out of the Gulf Stream. Within a couple hours we were completely out of the stream and back to a much more normal 6.5kts. As we approached Fort Pierce at dawn, there were several other sailboats coming in from the Bahamas, also timing their arrival for dawn.

   While it was prudent planning to time our arrival at the inlet just after dawn, it also matched up with maximum outgoing current flow of up to 3kts. Fortunately their was no significant opposing wind so the entrance was just slow and bumpy, not dangerous. Once we were inside the inlet and into smoother waters, we were greeted by the US Coast Guard, conducting routine safety inspections of vessels. Since it has been over 10 yrs since our last boarding, it was our turn. No problems with the inspection as we are well stocked with safety gear. Rivah was initially not happy with a strange vessel pulling up alongside but she settled down quickly and let the USCG crew do their job. Within 15 mins we were back on our way up the ICW.

 We made it to Vero Beach before 10am for a quick pit stop for fuel, water and oil. It was a well choreographed stop by Sue and we were quickly on our way further north towards New Smyrna and it was still only Thursday morning. Lots of time to make our Saturday commitment with friends. Thursday evening found us at Cocoa Beach where there is a very convenient anchorage just off the east side of the ICW behind the Cocoa Beach bridge with protection from the southeast winds. We spent a quiet night there and were off early Friday morning for New Smyrna.

   The weather continued to be cooperative and we had an easy motoring trip up the ICW to New Smyrna arriving in mid-afternoon. We were greeted with construction on the bridge but there was ample room for one-way traffic through the bridge.

   Unlike during our trip south, there were no restrictions on the parking at the public dock with no special events going on. We left plenty of room for another boat to tie up but we were the only boat there for Friday and Saturday. Our fender boards provided us good protection alongside the dock pylons.

  Its always a treat to visit with Tara and Carol, where the food is delicious.

Homeword Bound from Punta Gorda

   After a month back in Yorktown, it was time to return to Tides Inn and start the trek back home. When we arrived in Punta Gorda, Sally and Conrad had Tides Inn in sparkling condition and ready to go. The moon even cooperated providing us several nights of near full moon conditions for our overnight passages back to the Keys, around Miami and up the Florida east coast.
   After waiting a day for a cold front with strong thunderstorms to blow through, we were underway early Saturday, 20 Apr, with brisk northwest winds forecasted and good sailing conditions. As we sailed down Charlotte Harbor towards Boca Grande inlet and the Gulf of Mexico, the winds and seas steadily built. Even worse, the wind was more west than forecasted and I could see large breakers on either side of the inlet. We would have to motor into the wind and waves to get through the inlet before we could turn more downwind to the south. And then we were looking at downwind sailing in choppy seas that rock you extensively side to side. Not looking like a fun time.

   Sue asked politely if we "had" to go out into the ocean today and after giving it a quick assessment, I agreed "no, not really."  We could head down the protected intracoastal route for at least one day and exit to the Gulf at Fort Myers the next day. It would cost us a delay of one day and the winds would be light the next day requiring us to motor more but, hey we are retired and we have a great motor sailor boat that would have no problems. So, decision made. We turned left down the ICW.

      That turned out to be a very wise decision. We comfortably sailed down the ICW all afternoon towards Fort Myers until we found a nice spot to anchor with some protection from the strong winds. Over the night the winds and seas calmed down and we departed the next morning into much more comfortable conditions. Here is a photo of the anchor down and snubber attached to our chain anchor rode. Anchored just off Pine Island.

   Early Sunday morning we were off, departing Fort Myers enroute the Florida Keys and inside route to Miami.  The winds were forecasted to be light and directly astern. That makes it hard to sail with the main sail blanketing the foresails. The solution is to hold the foresail out opposite to the mainsail with a whisker pole. Setting the 22ft long whisker pole is a chore that we normally avoid, but it would be required for these conditions. Prior to exiting the protected ICW and entering the rougher ocean, we rigged the pole with its topping lift, forward and aft guy securing lines. Once the pole is in place, you can unfurl the headsail and reef it into the proper position for the winds. Unfortunately, if you have to jibe because of a wind shift, it requires the pole to be reset on the opposite side which is a tough job if the waves are up. When the wind shifted on us (and dropped to under 5kts), we just furled in the genoa and motored with mainsail only.

   Sue and Rivah were very happy we delayed a day and they both enjoyed the passage in much calmer conditions.

   As we proceeded south towards the Florida Keys, with a cloudless sky, the Gulf waters took on a very turquoise appearance. Looking through our sunglasses it was quite a surreal "impressionistic art" appearance.  The picture doesn't really reflect the blue and green pastel shades we were seeing.
      Sunsets are always an emotional event afloat. We were hoping for a green flash with the clear conditions but didn't see it. There was an interesting lingering of yellow sunlight beams shining directly vertical above the sun as it dropped below the horizon. I haven't noticed that phenomena before, but was obviously related to the unique atmospherics.

   We were able to sail throughout the night which was great since it is not safe to motor at night in this area because of all the crab pots you might run over and foul their float line around your propeller. At dawn we were just ready to enter the "Yacht Channel" that leads from the Gulf waters through the very shallow Gulf of Florida waters directly to the Channel 5 bridge in the Keys. According to our chart, the waters were supposed to be 9ft deep with some shallow spots and a well marked channel through the shallow areas. As we approached the first shallow spots and had the markers in clear sight just ahead, the waters went from 9ft to 8, 7, 6. 5....and at that point I stopped and turned around. We had to backtrack, fortunately only about1 hour, to a longer but deeper route. It would cost us another hour, but a 2-hr delay was far better than running aground and losing a day waiting for Towboat USA to come get us.   As we transited along the deeper route, I was still getting fathometer readings that were 2 feet too shallow. We broke out our trusty manual fathometer (a lead weight on a graduated string) and lowered it over the side and confirmed the water was 9ft and the boat depth sounder was reading too shallow. My suspicion is that we were getting returns from the sea grass (probably about 2feet high) instead of the true bottom. The sea grass should not echo the fathometer but it could be that a water temperature gradient boundary was being created by the grass and a temperature gradient will reflect the fathometer signals.
   With these inaccurate fathometer readings, I was very uncomfortable proceeding to Miami along the inside route which is only a true 5ft deep in several spots (providing us 2-3 inches of clearance between our keel and the bottom). We decided we would take the much deeper (14-18ft) Hawk channel outside the Keys. That would be rougher ride into the wind and seas but a much less stressful trip. So, we headed under the Channel 5 bridge and by mid-afternoon were approaching Indian Key, a potential anchor spot. We had daylight to proceed onwards but the ride was rough and forecasted to be worse the next day. We decided to stop and wait a day until more favorable conditions were forecasted. It's great to be retired and not on a schedule. We were now safely anchored behind Indian Key and relatively well protected in the brisk winds.

      Of course, boating is always an adventure with a good deal of stressful situations. Just before sunset, a sailboat was towed into the Indian Key anchorage and set on a mooring ball right behind us. There was just enough room for our two boats to stay apart during the night, but it made a relatively okay windy anchorage into a potentially dangerous situation if our anchor were to drag. It would have been better if they had selected a different mooring ball, but we were actually the offending party by anchoring alongside the mooring field, so we couldn't complain. I ended up sleeping in the salon for most of the night so I could jump up and get us out of danger if something went wrong. About 2am, I awoke and the wind and seas were calmer, our boat had not moved a bit, and so I went up to the front cabin and to bed and slept soundly until dawn. 
   At dawn, the broken down sailboat was towed away. We spent the day at the anchorage as the wind blew strong from the northeast directly in our path to Miami. By the 24th, the wind had died down to under 5kts and we set out for Miami, motoring into the light headwinds. Another wise decision.