East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 19

IMG_2496Friday, 4/13/12:

Charleston, SC

We needed to decide whether to continue heading down the ICW or go outside into the Atlantic. Unlike much of the coast north of here, South Carolina and Georgia both have lots of places (about every 20 – 35 NM) that are safe to duck into to get to more protected waters. Another complication is that the ICW is not as well-maintained in south SC and all of GA, or as one of the cruising guides puts it, “…the depths listed are more for historical reference than [reflecting] reality.” And, finally, although up until now the ICW has been reasonably straightforward, going north-south, as one goes further south, it makes a series of lazy loops with a lot more east-west legs. It reaches a point in GA where you may travel for 2 SM or more in an easterly or westerly direction for every 1 SM of progress south.

We talked to Chip at the Charleston Maritime Center about favorable weather and wind conditions for making the Atlantic run down the coast, and with his advice, we felt reasonably confident that we’d be okay on Saturday to go outside.

IMG_2522Leaving Charleston Harbor, we were reminded that we weren’t in the ICW any more:  navigational aids were reversed, with red to port and green to starboard because we were heading out to sea, and we didn’t have the banks of the ICW comfortingly close. After all those days in the Great Dismal Swamp Canal and the ICW, it felt very strange indeed to be in open water.

Although it was a fast run (188 NM in about 34 hours, for an average of about 5.5 knots), as the wind strengthened well beyond predictions (sound familiar?) and veered more to the south, conditions got rougher, though nothing like the Falmouth-Cape May run. It was quite a relief to get to the St Mary’s entrance, however!

Sunday, 4/15:

St George’s Harbour Marina, FL (yes, they spell it the British and Canadian way, you American philistines),

We got to the St Mary’s entrance to the St John’s River in Florida in the mid-afternoon, and no sooner did we stop than we noticed how hot and muggy it was. Welcome to Florida! Not much nearby the marina, but they had showers, water, electricity, and ice, and – added bonus – a vending machine with cold sodas. OSD was happy to escape DW for a much-needed walk, and OSC was just happy to have the motion stop.

IMG_2524The marina is very nice, with concrete floating docks. Left behind are the fixed wooden piers from farther north, as the tidal range here (and in SC) is sufficient that fixed docks are impractical. This is great for a short, not terribly agile person like me:  I had all sorts of problems managing the fixed docks when the tide was out. Paul broke down and bought a plastic stepstool for me early on, and it was very helpful (even he used it a few times). The marina has something we’ve never seen before: a free washing machine and dryer, which we were very happy to put to good use.

Monday, 4/16:

Jacksonville, FL

We’re staying at a free dock tonight, and what a dock it is:  concrete piers and slips, all floating and all new! Water is available at no charge and power is available for about $7.50. Very nice, indeed. The only problem is that the marina is a long way from a grocJacksonville Metropolitan Marinaery store or other services, so even though the limit for staying is a very generous 72 hours, we’ll probably leave tomorrow, as we’re starting to run a little low on supplies. As Paul cruised around (at very low speed) deciding where to dock, there was a blue heron guarding the dock on one side, and across the marina on the other side, a large egret. Quite the elegant bird, sleek and pure white, later in the afternoon, it reached down for a drink (the St Johns River is fresh, not salt, water, of course):  it stretched out its long neck and took a sip, then repeated its actions. Watching it was thrilling!

Later, we talked to another cruiser in a trawler tied up at the marina. He travels back and forth between Florida and Long Island every year and told us about Jacksonville Landing, just up the St Johns River a couple of miles, where we’ll probably go tomorrow.Jacksonville 1

Tuesday, 4/17/12:

Jacksonville Landing/Green Cove Springs, FL

We waited to leave the free marina until nearly 0815 because we had to have a bridge open (mast is about 43′, and the bridge 31′), and it doesn’t open during rush hour, 0730-0900. Paul called on the VHF just before 9, and the tender could not have been nicer. Bridge tenders have run the gamut from silent (no response to our hails, but the bridge opening at its appointed time) to IMG_2536quite friendly, but in this instance it was surprising because the bridge’s opening disrupts a fairly heavily-travelled roadway. He responded immediately to Paul’s hail and had the bridge open promptly at 9, and waited to close it until a slightly-late sailboat (not us, I’m happy to say) had a chance to rush through. Some bridge tenders are very hard nosed about it:  If you’re not ready to go through at exactly the the scheduled opening time, you will wait for the next scheduled opening, which could be an hour or more. Sometimes there is current to deal with, so it can get a bit dicey.

A few minutes later we arrived at Jackson Landing, which proved to be just beyond the bridge, and only about a mile from the Metropolitan Park Marina where we’d stayed the previous night .After a bit of confusion over the “no mooring” signs (space reserved for water taxis), we found a place to tie up along the nearly empty dock, another free 72-hour dock. In season, it must be quite a zoo: signs everywhere saying that boats cannot raft (tie up next to each other) more than five boats deep and that the third and fifth boat out from the dock must have lines tied to the dock! (Sorry: not a zoo, but three-ring circus!) A nice couple who happened to be strolling along the dock stoIMG_2532pped to take our lines and waited while Paul maneuvered to get close enough to dock, normally not an especially fast process (nor was this an exception).

As usual when we dock reasonably early, I was hoping for breakfast ashore. Cheerios get a little boring after a while. Jacksonville Landing didn’t have any places open for breakfast. We started walking and found a policeman doing paperwork in his car, and he didn’t seem to mind the interruption, directing us to a breakfast spot. We found a different place along the way, called “International Cafe,” where Paul and I got to speak a little Spanish and I ordered eggs with chorizo (a spicy Mexican sausage that we both really like) in half a pita, then Paul walked back to DW and I went to a bookstore we’d passed. Chamblin Bookmine isn’t the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in, but it has far and away the best selection of books I’ve ever seen. In short order, I found six or seven great books, put several back, then knew I’d regret not buying one of the books, so added it back to my pile. Things like this really make my day/week/month. Of course, I now have five rather large books that I’ll be lugging around until we get back to Vashon …..

Afterward, Paul reminded me (by phone) to stop at the Visitors’ Center, which was just across the street from the bookstore. The staffer was great! She had maps, gave me directions, showed me where West Marine and Costco were on a map, explained how to get there, and did research for me about veterinarian clinics nearby in case we needed to get health certificates for OSC and OSD.

A little later I went back to the boat. It was maybe 1030 or so and already getting very warm (low 80s) and sticky. A municipal worker was sweeping the plaza at Jacksonville Landing and I asked him what Jacksonville is like in the summertime – it’s only mid-April, after all – and his response, “It’s absolutely brutal. Just unbearable.” There’s a fountain in the plaza and he said that he sometimes goes in it just to keep from getting heat stroke.

Jacksonville has been an unexpected pleasure all the way around. We both vaguely knew about this city in north Florida, but never thought much about it. It’s a huge city in area, bigger than LA or Phoenix (turns out it’s the largest city in area in the entire country), and larger than Miami in terms of population. (I’d have thought that Miami would be the largest city in FL, but that would be wrong: it’s Jacksonville.) People are so nice here! There were all sorts of galleries and museums we didn’t get to because Paul was anxious to continue on to our final destination on this leg, Green Cove Springs. Like Charleston and, earlier on, Boston, I’d love to return one day, though not during the summertime.

After a few hours at Jacksonville Landing, Paul was ready to continue on to Green Cove Springs, farther up the St Johns River and our final destination for now. DW will get hauled out at Green Cove Springs Marina, spending the rest of April through November or December on the hard, until we resume our trip. We got to the Reynolds Park Yacht Center (not quite as grand as it sounds, but it has all the requisites: water, power, showers, laundry facilities, and – bonus! – a guest lounge that’s air conditioned!)

We fly to DC in a few days, then collect our car in Deltaville, VA, where it’s been stored at the local Napa Auto Parts dealer, and start heading west. Next December or January, we’ll continue down the ICW, which Ellie, another cruiser here at the marina, says is just fine, well-marked and with adequate depths, and leave for the Bahamas from West Palm Beach, which is a good place to cross the Gulf Stream.

As my friend and former boss Chris would say, TTFN (ta-ta for now). I’ll be posting occasionally about our road trip and our move to Costa Rica (which should happen in August).