On November 25, we arrived in Oriental N.C. Our stop here turned out to be one of our most enjoyable stops since we started transiting the ICW. Heavy rain and strong winds were forecasted for Wednesday, November 26 and Oriental’s little harbor not only offered good protection from the storm but the town offers free dockage for transient boats up to 48 hours. Bonus! We like free!
While enjoying a couple beers at the Oriental Marina’s Tiki bar, Tim and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving a day early. We had planned to sit tight in Oriental for Wednesday’s storm and Thursday’s forecast looked great! It just seemed to make better sense to celebrate the holiday when we would be stuck inside due to crappy weather and then take advantage of the nice weather on Thanksgiving Day to continue south.
For our Thanksgiving feast I roasted a nice turkey breast, prepared stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade dinner rolls and a raspberry peach crisp for desert. I made way too much food for just the two of us so we decided to invite the cruisers who were docked alongside of us over to celebrate the holiday. Holiday meals are always more fun with more people!
Our guests were Paco and Theda Ortego, and their incredibly adorable 9 month old son Frank, and Richard Nista. Paco and Theta helped us dock when we arrived in Oriental and we had spent some time that afternoon getting to know them. Richard arrived in Oriental shortly after we did and docked directly behind us. He is cruising alone on his 28’ Choy Lee.
The meal was yummy and it was nice to spend time with our guests, exchanging stories and experiences about the places we have visited, and as all cruisers do, talk about our boats, boat problems and repairs, electronics, navigating etc.... Richard won the prize for worst cruising experience on the ICW. Several days before, he had an issue with cooling water leaking from his exhaust inside his engine compartment and filling his boat with warm seawater. He saw the water rising and did not know where it was coming from so he purposely grounded the boat in the mud of the Alligator river. After a long tow to a marina and some repairs Richard is underway again but now has to deal with his insurance company and any small problems that might occur later which often happens after a boat takes on salt or brackish water.
My hat is off to Richard. He is quite a hardy soul! The weather has been pretty cold and wet and he doesn’t have a dodger or bimini to protect him from wind or waves and he doesn’t have autopilot! A great guy with an even greater amount of optimism!
We left Oriental on Thanksgiving Day and spent our evenings at the town dock in Swansboro, N.C. and at marinas in Hampstead, N.C., Southport N.C. and North Myrtle Beach S.C.
On December 1, we anchored for the night just off the ICW in a place called Minim Creek. It was a beautiful and remote anchorage and we had it all to ourselves! Once the anchor was set and the engine turned off we immediately noticed a couple owls hooting close by, ducks flying overheard and the sounds of many different bird calls. Shamus noticed too! The bird calls really sparked his hunting instincts! He could barely contain his excitement as we dinghied to shore. We rafted up to an irrigation lock and then walked along the top of a short levy. The levy and irrigation locks separate the creek from water level control canals running for long distances through acres of tall stalky plants. The canals were inhabited by several different breeds of water fowl of various shapes and sizes and who were the source of many of the different bird calls we had been listening to.
Poor Shamus! He was pretty close to being in doggie heaven considering he was surrounded by water and brush filled with birds but it turned out to be more like doggie purgatory! Normally we would let him let him off leash to run free, play in the water and chase the birds but we were now in alligator country. Tim and I are fairly sure if Shamus saw an alligator there aren’t enough ducks in the world that would be enough of a distraction to stop him from running up to one and most likely becoming an alligator appetizer. So we kept the poor pup leashed and he had to watch all those birds from afar!
We climbed an old tower that was nearby on the levy. Not sure of its purpose but considering it was the highest point around for miles we had a great view of the Estherville Minim Creek Canal that we had transited earlier in the day, our boat at anchor in Minim Creek, and just how far the levy and canal system we were walking on extended! Miles!!
Shoaling is issue in many places on the ICW. Believe it or not it is kind of expected that if you are transiting the ICW you will run aground at some point. Along our way south we have heard many people calling over the radio to report they were grounded and needed a tow and our navigating resources such as Active Captain and the ICW Waterway guide are full of accounts of boaters who have run aground. The bottom of the ICW is soft and silty and shifts around a lot. Because the bottom is soft we would likely not damage the boat if we were to run aground but we would really rather not find out. Also there is always the possibility that if you run aground in a narrow section of the channel you could block other boating traffic trying to get through. Needless to say we would prefer to stay afloat!
The section between Minim Creek (ICW statue mile 415) to just south of McClellanville S.C. (statue mile 450) is one of the worst sections for shoaling on the entire ICW. In fact at low tide the bottom of the channel is often exposed. That was the section we needed to navigate when we left Minim Creek on our way to Charleston S.C. Oh Joy!!!
We pulled anchor in Minim Creek just after daylight and shortly before dead low tide so we had enough depth to clear the shallows where Minim Creek enters the ICW. A few miles later we dropped anchor in the North Santee River to wait for the tide to rise enough to give us better depth in the worst of the shoaling areas. A while after we anchored a couple, Mike and Linda, who we had met a few days earlier passed by on their boat, the C-II, headed south down the ICW. The C-II’s draft is about the same as ours. We reached out to Mike and Linda and asked if they would let us know the depths they recorded when they passed through the shoaling areas. The tide would be higher by the time we hit those areas so if the C-II made it through so should we – maybe! We couldn’t know the exact track the C-II had taken through the shoaled up areas and the depth can change dramatically in just a few feet so running aground was still a high possibility. Mike was happy to help us out and texted Tim to report he had made it through with a little depth to spare so we pulled anchor and set out for Charleston.
By the time we reached the worse section of shoaling we were behind a sailboat and in front of them was a tug boat. Behind us was a large motor boat. The tug and sailboat were talking on the radio and we overheard the tugs captain say his boat tug draws 9’ which means he was dragging along the bottom and relying on his powerful engines to push through. So now we had two boats ahead of us and if either of them were to run aground at least we knew where not to go! On the downside, because the tug was literally pushing through he was stirring up the bottom and mixing thick silt up into the water. Then the motor boat following us decided to pass us and stirred up the bottom even more! C’Mon Man!!! So by the time we hit the really bad area there was so much silt stirred up in the water neither of our two depth sounders could get an accurate reading. CRAP!!!!! At times we showed less than 1’ of depth but somehow we kept moving even though a couple times it was clear our keel was dipping into the mucky bottom. Then we came around a bend and there was a northbound tug that had pushed a barge up the ICW and was waiting in the middle of the channel to rendezvous with the tug we were following. Over the radio we learned the tugs would switch places and the tug we were following would turn around and tow the barge north to its final destination and the other tug would turn around and go back south. Really!!! The tug boat captains were kind enough to let the three us pass by before switching places. The ICW is not that wide in that particular location and in order to get around the tugs and barge we had to leave center channel where the deeper water usually is and move to the side of the channel where it is usually shallower. How shallow we couldn’t tell because our depth sounders where still not getting accurate readings! Well we made it through the entire length of the shoaled up area including squeaking by the barge and tugs! PHEW!!!.
We arrived in Charleston, S.C. late afternoon and got a slip at the Charleston Maritime Center and broke out a couple beers and said hello to a few friends who were already there including Mike and Linda from the C-II and our new pal Richard Nista who spent Thanksgiving with us and who we have run into several times since! What a day!!!
The Charleston Maritime Center is located right in downtown Charleston so we spent Wednesday, December 3, exploring the area. Charleston is beautiful. It is one of the oldest cities in America and many of the buildings date back to the early 1700s. Charleston has very strong laws in place to preserve its historic buildings. We learned there is a law that once a building is over 75 years old it can’t be torn down! In the downtown section of Charleston that is apparently not a problem. The houses there are beautifully maintained. In other areas of the city there are some old decrepit buildings that have been abandoned but it’s against the law to tear them down. We were told that property owners tear down their buildings before the 75 year mark to avoid the law and the restrictions that come with owning a historic property.
I made reservations to fly home to NJ on December 4 for a pre-Christmas visit with my family. I enjoyed helping my mom and sister decorate the Christmas Tree! It was even more special doing so when my brother Kevin joined us. I think it is the first time Kevin, Colleen, Mom and I have decorated a tree together since we were kids. We got a good laugh looking at some of the ornaments we made in school as kids! They are definitely our “back of the tree” ornaments! It was also great spending time with my dad.
Tim and pup stayed back in Charleston. Tim did several little projects on the boat and also rented a car and mountain bike so he could see a little more of the area. I am not sure “mountain biking” is an accurate description for off-road bike or trail riding in S.C. as Charleston is considered the “low country.” We were told the highest point in the Charleston area is only 32’ above sea level! I think the most elevation you will gain walking around the city is on a treadmill where you can raise the incline! Still he had fun riding!
December 9 – December 11: A Family Reunion
I flew back to Charleston on December 9. I arrived back at the marina around 12:30 P.M. We dropped our lines immediately and continued south. We anchored about 15 miles south of Charleston in a place called Church Creek. The following night we anchored in Beaufort S.C. A charming little town that I would recommend making a side trip to if you are travelling in the Charleston area.
On December 11, we stopped at the Thunderbolt Marina in Thunderbolt GA which is right outside of Savannah. We had a reunion with Tim’s cousin Andrew Reilley. Tim and Andrew hadn’t seen each other since they were teenagers and I had never met him. Andrew lives about 10 minutes away from the marina with his three sons. He is a busy single dad but he was able to stop by for a few hours. Tim remembered Andrew as a really great guy who always had a smile on his face. Tim and Andrew had a few good laughs about getting in trouble together at the annual Reilley Christmas Party called the “Gathering of the Clan” that was hosted by their Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Lee. It was fabulous getting together with Andrew. Unfortunately his sons were spending the night with their mom so we didn’t get an opportunity to meet them. Next time!
December 12 – 14
We spent our last night in Georgia anchored off Sapelo Island and the following two days at Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island in Florida. We arrived in Fernandina just after sunset and as it turned out shortly before the start of the towns Christmas parade. We strolled up Centre Street which runs through the heart of the downtown historic district and was the main route for the parade. The town was beautifully decorated and it was fun to see everyone so excited to see the parade. After walking Shamus we found a relatively uncrowded corner right where the parade made its turn up Centre Street. It was a great spot to view the parade and it was close to the marina so we could make our escape to the boat without having to push our way through all those people when the parade ended. Turns out we didn’t need to wait for the end of the parade to leave. BOOM!!!!!! The pirate ship parade float blasted a canon about 6’ away from where we were standing! It deafened both Tim and I and nearly gave us heart failure. Poor Shamus, who is terrified of guns, panicked and tried to bolt. I was holding his leash and thank goodness I had a good grip or we might still be looking for him! Never did get to see Santa! Damn pirates!
On Sunday we watched the N.E. Patriots, play football at a pub called the Salty Pelican surrounded by other Pats fans. I couldn’t believe all the people wearing Patriots jerseys when I walked in. As it turns out the owner of the bar is from Boston, and the bar tender from somewhere in New England and the rest of the Pat’s fans in the area congregate there to watch the games. So much fun!!!
On December 15 we departed from Fernandina Beach and the ICW. We motored down the Atlantic Coast of Florida and came back into the ICW via the Jacksonville Inlet and anchored for the night. Our next port-o-call was St. Augustine where we spent the next several days. In a way we had come full circle. In February of 2010 when we were looking for a boat we could live aboard we had visited St. Augustine to look at a couple boats we were interested in. We had found a tavern in the old Spanish quarter of the city that had no electricity and was lit entirely by candlelight. It also had no heat and it was only about 30 degrees that night. Yup – a freezing cold night in Florida. Tim and I were the only two patrons in the bar and we had a blast. We revisited that tavern our first night back in St. Augustine. It was fun to go back.
The old section of St. Augustine is very pretty especially when it is decorated for Christmas. Lots of decorative snowflakes hanging from the trees and off the balconies of the houses and the Christmas lights were festive. At night there were trollies that drove tourists around to see towns Christmas lights and decorations. The trollies would ring their bells or toot their horns and everyone on board would shout Merry Christmas! The trollies were zooming all over town. At first we thought the dinging of the trolley bells and the shouts of Merry Christmas from the very merry people aboard the trollies was entertaining and made us smile but not for long. It seemed like a trolley was stopping next to us every couple of minutes and all the ringing bells and shouting started got annoying. Bah Humbug!!!!.
We were surprised to run into Paco, Theda, and little Frank Ortega who had spent Thanksgiving with us. They had been in Charleston S.C. the same time we were but left a few days before us. We thought they were well ahead of us and it was unlikely we would see them again. Turns out they had taken a side trip to Darien S.C. so Theda, who is a photographer, could photograph some of the Shrimp boats and local fisherman which allowed us time to catch up. It is amazing how quickly you strike up friendships with other cruisers and seeing them was like reuniting with old friends!
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm was a neat experience. We enjoyed strolling through the zoo and viewing all the alligators, various breeds of crocodiles, birds, and even tortoises and lemurs and snakes. The exhibits were set up to safely allow you to get a relatively close view of the alligators and crocodiles which was incredibly cool. I had a little moment of unease in the snake exhibit. We were looking to see a rather venomous snake in a rather small aquarium. For the life us, Tim and I could not locate it. Neither could one of the employees who worked there when we asked her to point it out to us. She even went to talk with a co-worker to see if the snake had been removed so they could safely clean its aquarium. They hadn’t removed the snake. I could only imagine the damn thing had gotten loose and was slithering around somewhere nearby. Another few minutes of looking with my nose practically flat against the glass I finally spied the little bugger coiled up on a branch. The snake was small and so well camouflaged Tim still had difficulty locating it after I told him where to look. I was just glad to see that the snake was in its aquarium. Phew!
We anchored out the next couple of nights after leaving St. Augustine and pulled into Vero Beach on December 22. We stayed at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina which as it turns out is a very popular place with cruisers. We were instructed to raft up with a boat named Baloo. Our neighbors were Bob and Anne Beck who explained they named their boat Baloo because it has as a big butt just like Baloo the bear in Disney’s “The Jungle Book”! They were great neighbors. They gave us the run down on the bus schedule, and the best times to try to get internet.
Vero Beach is the first real cruisers community that we have stayed at. Obviously we have run into cruisers at our various stops along the way but this particular marina seems to be especially set up to cater to cruisers who stop off at Vero to rest and reprovision before heading over to the Bahamas, or the Caribbean Islands, or just heading further south to the Florida Keys. The moorings are pretty cheap at only $14 per night. There is a free bus that stops right at the marina about every hour that runs practically all over town. Conveniently, for those of us cruisers travelling with our dogs there is a huge dog park right next to the marina where our pups can run off-leash and play with other dogs.
There were a few people who lived aboard permanently at the marina but most of the people there were other cruisers. We ran into several people that we had met previously including our buddy Richard Nista and made several new friends while we were there.
We had a potluck Christmas dinner with about 60 other cruisers. There was tons of food and lots of chit chat and laughter. Tim and I bought some scuba diving gear and folding bikes as our Christmas gifts to each other.
The Saturday after Christmas we spent the morning finishing our preparations to leave Vero Beach. We rode our bikes to the beach and went swimming in the ocean. The water temperature was a perfect 65!!! Not many of the locals agreed with us. It is the first time we have been swimming since we left Maine!
I tried to highlight my own hair the night before we left and it is now somewhat orange with streaks of blonde. I will have to get that fixed professionally somewhere along the way. Oh well!
December 28, 2014 – January 3,
We left Vero Beach on the 28th and continued south down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We anchored in Fort Pierce and off Peanut Island near Lake Worth and then went outside to the Atlantic and headed to Miami. By leaving the ICW in Lake Worth we avoided approximately 22 drawbridges. Some open on demand and others that have scheduled openings. Also there is a fixed bridge on the ICW just as you come into Miami that is too low for us to pass under. All those bridges were just too much of a pain in the ass to deal with. We traveled in one day in the ocean what takes others 3 days in the ICW.
We anchored in Miami just off the Miami Yacht Club for 3 nights. New Years Eve in Miami was loud. There were one or two parties nearby blaring music and explosive fireworks that were set off in several locations around us. 5 simultaneous fireworks shows in all. You could the colorful displays in just about every direction.
So far we have not enjoyed our experience in the Miami area. Most of the motor boats ignore the No Wake Zones and could care less how close they come to us and how big of wake their boat throws up. When we were coming from the Atlantic to Miami via Fishermans Channel we were passed by a large speed boat that had to be going 60mph. It was crazy. The channel is narrow, and there were several boats coming and going and we all had to avoid the dredge barges working in the channel. Ridiculous! We have met a couple nice folks, mostly other cruisers but have had several instances of people being downright rude. We miss the nice folks from Nova Scotia and Maine!
We are preparing to cross over to the Bahamas from here. Yesterday we mailed our application to obtain a permit to bring Shamus into the Bahamas. In the meantime, we will start provisioning for the Bahamas and have some fun. We hope to do at least one dive here in the keys before we leave.