Looking at the travel time the trip wasn't really that long. Before we got underway we needed to pump-out and fuel-up. At least an hour of that was waiting/fueling time.
Today was what yesterday was supposed to be -- sunny, warm, and calm. Just lovely.
The last time we were in Jacksonville we spent 2 months in Ortega Landing in 2020. That was at the apex of COVID, and being a "transient" was getting very difficult to do. Fewer marinas would accept us. But most everything was closed during that time. We didn't really feel we enjoyed what the area had to offer. This time we're right downtown, hanging on the new town docks. We'll be here for a couple of nights.
Blue skies, warm, calm... glorious!
We're with the crew of Gypsies Palace, Debbie and Steve Russell. Once we both got docked (since they didn't have to fuel up they beat us here) we headed into town and grabbed some pizza.
We purposely waited 3 days in Brunswick for the nice weather to happen come Sunday. That is, today. There's a particular body of water, the St. Andrew's Sound, that we want to traverse with little to no wind. The sound has a massive shoal in its center so you must go all the way into the Atlantic, then make a quick u-turn and head back in, a trick you'd like to do on calm seas. On our way up this season the sound was a little spicy. Friends of ours, who came just 1 day later, were met with 6 foot seas. Nope. Not doing that!
But the weather system moved just a bit slower than predicted. As a result, the wind was still a little high and the water a little unsettled.
This is the normal voyage thru St. Andrews. The track is from our trip up this year.
We'd known of an alternate route called "the west route" for a while but never felt we needed to take it. We made it plan B. Coming around Jekyll Island we started toward the Atlantic and almost instantly had a head sea. It wasn't awful, but we weren't even 3 minutes into a 45-minute, against-the-current run when we were slamming. Looking into the distance it was tough to see if it would only be this bad or get worse. Rather than be unhappy, we did an about face and headed to plan B.
Plan B did have one caveat. Given the north wind once we made the turn back to the ICW we might have beams seas, and they might be intense. There's a creek out of the very back end called Floyd Creek. Friends of ours traversed it in the past. While insanely thin we were on a rising tide so even if we got stuck it wouldn't be long until we could float off. We called that Plan C.
The land on the left is Jeklly Island. We turn left (east), then do a
180 and head west. While still bumpy it's on our stern, so
more comfortable. The water is calmer once we turn hard
left, then flat back on the ICW.
But Plan B worked like a charm. Oddly, the waters on that side were eerily calm for the weather. Overall, we were pleased with our decision.
It was supposed to be sunny, warm, still, and calm. Sadly, today was none of those. So icky, I didn't even take pics.
Our ballots were sent to the Brunswick Marina and the weather is going to turn blustery for a couple of days, so we decided to bite the bullet and stay in a marina for a while. We've only been in one once since Baltimore. It is going against my "rule" but we're soooooo close to Florida from here. We missed getting there by only 1 day. Sometimes you gotta says you tried and call it a day.
Yep, ballots were here, filled out, and Russ is mailing them now. Voting in Florida is a little like tilting at windmills but, hey, they might be giants.
Anchor is already up!
We knew today would be longer so we had the anchor up at nautical twilight. Overcast skies darkened the view on an off and the wind came and went, but overall it was a lovely ride. Lots and lots of big, wide bodies of water with very little water in them. Stay in the channel! On the other hand, most of the day was on a rising or falling tide (which is around 8 feet here), so there was more water than the charts claimed typically.
inQuest is Brunswick. First time we've sterned-in in a long while!
Plans for the next few days include house cleaning and laundry.
This is why I'm not a big fan of marinas. They mean "time to do some real work."
South Carolina is behind us and we are in Georgia. If the weather held up we could be in Florida by the weekend, but alas, that is not to be.
The skies were overcast most of the day. We kept seeing threat of rain but nothing happened. The front that should have brought rain will bring wind over the next few days. Cooler temps, too.
As we neared Savannah we could see container ships in the distance. I can't remember seeing so many on that river before. Three huge vessels, all at the same time. One hailed us, seeing we were going to cross the river (and his path) to continue on the ICW. He told us he'd be at that location in 15 minutes and he ain't waiting for us, so we high-tailed it across the channel to stay out of his way.
Being on anchor benny: lovely sunrise...
... and sunset.
Dolphins apparently are on their southern migration. They are just everywhere! One night while at anchor Russ went to look at the stars. He could hear them breathing around us. They seem interested in our boat but none have some play with us, yet.
If we thought the day would be this long we would have started out earlier. The dense fog this morning that was the real reason we waited. The lovely day was why we kept going.
The forecasts said the fog would dissipate around 10 am, so we got underway around 9:30. Turns out it lasted well past 11. We didn't have any issues -- we really don't mind traveling in fog. Largely it made us miss an awesome outgoing tide -- we could have run 10 knots or faster but, well, safety first.
Once the fog lifted it was gorgeous.
We targeted an anchorage near Beaufort that we'd used before, thinking we'd get there around 2 pm. As we got closer we noticed the wind would pick up tomorrow. Port Royal is a larger body of water, and today was lovely... so we pressed on.
Just passed Hilton Head we dropped the anchor on the May River that heads to Brighton Beach.
Long vid. It gives you an idea of foggy boat life, tho.
The mail arrived at the St. Johns Marina around noon-ish. Once Russ picked it up we had some lunch then looked at weather and charts and whatnot. It was a shame since the weather was so awesome today it would have made a good day to go outside. We decided to take a short dash to a recommended anchorage, Toogoodoo Creek. Maybe try tomorrow. Worst case scenario, we ICW all the way back to FLA.
Passed this today. It didn't look derilict to us at all, so we thing it was poor judgement anchoring. Once the tide comes up, they'll be on their way.
The ballots have shown up in Southport. We're having them sent to Brunswick, Georgia. It should be there in 2 days. It will take us about 5, we think.
But at least we'll get the deed done before the big day.
Here's something interesting about voting. Recall I mentioned I'd love to do this by phone. Russ called the Sarasota office to get another set of ballots sent to us, since these seemed MIA. The woman we talked to told us we could go online and fill them out there... then realized that we weren't military, and that's only a service they provide for overseas troops. So... the tech is there!
Nope. Not a clue. This is 1 vessel, clearly it saw better days. No idea what it is or what it does. Or did.
Two challenges loomed as potential issues for traveling today. The first was tide. Specifically, around the area of Isle of Palms there were reports of intense shoaling, with depths as bad as 3 feet in some places. While that's at low tide, we have 4 feet to our draft. So we wanted to pass through the area before low tide. And that meant either waiting until noon, or going very early. Guess which we chose?
The second issue was the Charleston Bay. The winds were supposed to be up today, so it could be a choppy and unfriendly piece of water.
Nautical twilight. Anchors up!
I'm happy to report neither caused us any trouble. Yes, we noticed shallow depths but we got through them. And the winds weren't near as high as predicted. That had got to be a first. Certainly rare, in our experience. But we'll take it.
We're anchored just on the other side of Elliot's Cut by the St. Johns Marina. We had stuff sent there, and we're expecting it to arrive tomorrow. No. The ballots are still missing. But given our luck so far we might be here a couple of nights.
We get up early. This time of year that means "in the dark." It was a moonless morning with clear skies, and the anchorage wasn't near any place with light pollution. So I shot a couple of night photos.
With coffees and breakfast in our tummies we hoisted the anchor and kept heading south. Yesterday was a longer day so we purposely picked a short run today, about 4 hours. We were on the hook by 12:30.
You have to click on these to see them. This is my favorite constellation, Orion.
Cypress trees in the night.
Only a few of you will know what Russ and I are doing. Hint: Rainbows are hard!
Packages and mail has been a bigger issue for us on this trip than any before. We still haven't received our mail-in ballots. They never did get to Southport, and we affirmed that they had been sent. So it appears the USPS has lost them. And it's the weekend so there's nothing we can do until Monday.
I so want the ability to vote by phone. I find this paper-stuff to be aggravating.
Worst case scenario, we rent a car and drive to Sarasota and vote in person.
There were 2 good things that can be said about today's travel. The first is we're out of North Carolina and into South Carolina. Boaters just seem to be more polite here. I made the comment once on Facebook about how North Carolina boaters often wake and never hail. A North Carolina boater responded, "You are a guest in my state. You're comfort is not my concern." So, um... yeah. I think he proved my point.
Back in the south. Spanish moss on cypress trees, with knees poking out of the water.
The other fun thing happened right at the end of the day. We'd just gotten through the Socastee Swing Bridge when we were hailed by a boat in the distance off our bow. He wanted us to wake him. "Say, what now?" "We're on a sea trial and I want to see how we'll handle." Russ at the helm put the spurs to 'er and they did the same, coming right at us. I felt like we were in some kind of water jousting competition. inQuest has a very odd wake, really square. And we made a big one. They took some air, but came out just fine. "Did we satisfy?" I asked. "You just sold the boat!"
Sometimes when you anchor you drop the hook, back down, and done.
If you watch at just about Russ's head level you'll notice bubbles
keep coming up. Every time we backed down, bubbles.
After 4 tries we moved to a different location in the anchorage.
Took on the first try.
Otherwise the day was really long, slow, and uneventful. Some skinny sections required some concentration here and there. It's largely a man-made canal so not a lot of anchoring options. The trip was only supposed to be a 6 hours but between really, really slow zones and bad timing with the tides we voyaged nearly 8 hours.
This was a mildly frustrating day. We forwarded our voting ballot from Longboat Key to Robert Creech, the AGLCA Harbor Host for Southport. He hadn't received them yet, but after 3 days on the hook and a glorious day for traveling we decided to meander that way.
Quick note: Wrightsville Beach is now our favorite anchorage. The have an awesome dinghy dock, and from there we Uber-ed to the Costco for provisions. That could not have been more perfect. Even with the winds the anchorage was protected and solid. We're putting it on our "always go there" list.
Southport wasn't far so we took our time getting underway. We did want a decent travel day since we had to traverse a bit of the Cape Fear River, which can be nasty. Totally a pussy cat for us. Almost a pond.
Sunset in Wrightsville
...and sunset. Never gets boring.
We arrived in Southport around 11 am and docked her in front of one of the restaurants, Provisions. The docks were free. But we did feel a bit like we owed them so we ate there. Meh.
From the patio you can see inQuest. Looks like we're about to crash!
Robert contacted us when his mail came that day. Nope, no ballots.
Should we stay another day? Should we go and rent a car later to come back? Man, was a time when the post office was a lot more dependable.
By 3 pm we came up with a plan -- we'd leave some money with the Creeches, and once our ballots show up they'd contact us. We'd give them an address to overnight the suckers. With that we headed south to St. James to fuel, pump out, and get more water. And, much to my chagrin, a spot on a t-head for the night.
Oh, yes. I will do whatever I need to to get my vote in.
They said it would be windy and, boy-howdy, were they right. Winds around 18 knots with guts in the low 20s. All of it right on our nose.
That's why we even bothered to travel today. We're fairly protected this entire day. Besides, it was relatively warm out, around 77. Being comfortable always helps.
Not too many boats out other than the snowbirds. There are a number of sailboats from Canada who make this journey annually. Sail boaters love the wind, so that's never a deterrent for them.
Wrightsville anchorage. The land and houses on the right is between us and the Atlantic.
Since we've been on anchor or at town docks for a while we needed to take on some water. Just after the Wrightsville Beach Bridge is a marina with a fuel dock. They let us dock there to fill the water tanks.
We do have a water maker but we've been reluctant to use it on the ICW. The depths are shallow and the water is filled with tannins. While what we'd get out would be drinkable it would also fill or clog the filters. This particular run might have been decent -- reasonable depts and clearer looking water. But we didn't think of it until it was too late.
We tried a couple of different places here to set the anchor. We always swing different than other boats, and we seem to use more rode. We found a spot far from the others, but at deeper depths -- around 20 feet. We've set the hook for a couple of blowing nights.
While we didn't have a long way to travel we were up and out early. Windy weather was coming, and we wanted to be dug in by that time.
The only big water was right around Beaufort today (the big right-hand turn on the map). Given the early start we hit is by 8 am when things were still calm. We did experience decent gusts as the morning went along, around 20 knots. But by then we were on the skinnier part.
Derelict boats abound in these parts.
Most of the day was spend being buzzed by a hundred zippy, over-powered, little boats. Was a time those all would have had Trump flags on them. So, some things change. We did get hailed a number of times from larger, bigger boats asking for slow passes. Kinda shocking, after months of big lobster vessels screaming by us without a word. We were beginning to think our radio didn't work.
Sometimes it's like whistling passed a graveyard.
Mile Hammock Bay is on the large patch of land used by Camp Lejeune. It even had an entrance for amphibious vessels. At times, boaters are prohibited along this section of waterway due to maneuvers and live fire. We know people who heard gun shots along here, wondering if they missed the "turn around" sign. They're fine, by the way.
What looks like beach is a huge cement boat ramp so amphibious vehicles can get into the water.
The alarm clock went off at 5:30. I went to the top deck to look out at the brilliant stars above. While chilly there was no wind. It was a gorgeous morning.
But in the next hour the fog snuck up on us. We headed out going a bit slower than usual -- running lights on, fog horn blaring, and radar and AIS up and running. As a rule we do travel in the fog. Others put that in the "no go" category, but being from Florida, we're prepared. We also have special sun glasses we wear that brighten up everything.
It took a couple of hours for the patchy soup to eventually burn off. The day was, as predicted, flawless. Every body of water we traversed was calm. The sun was out, the sky was blue... what more could we ask for?
Fog creeping in from the port. It did catch us, eventually.
Once off the last bit of big water we dropped the hook. We discovered Cedar Creek on the way out, using it to wait out bad winds on the Neuse. Now that's all behind us for another year, we're ready to make some Sheppard's Pie, vegetarian style, of course.
Originally we thought we'd spend 2 days in Elizabeth City. But there was a slight change in the weather. Sometimes, you gotta run when you have the chance.
A quick front moved through last night, right around 4 am. With it the winds changed, making them strong from the north. Travel today was all to the south, so water should be on the stern, and we like that. Also, there's a number of large bodies of water we need to get through over the next couple of days. Tomorrow continues to look stellar (one of the reasons we were waiting, initially). So if we can get all those behind us, it's just a lot of ICW channel travel ahead. For the most part.
Once the rain passed us yesterday we got a glorious rainbow. Bella Gatto and us in E. City.
With that we tackled the Pasquotank River out of E. City, crossed the mighty Albemarle, and slid south along the Alligator River. All sizeable. All something we want to be aware of.
The Pasquotank was fine. The Albemarle was a little spicy. While the winds were from the north, and that did give us some following sea, there were remaining swells from the east that beamed us. It was a little like being in a washing machine. Not horrible, but not a silky ride, either. Once on the Alligator, the seas were strictly following (so pleasant for us), but fairly strong. We would not have been happy traveling north against it.
With those challenges out of the way we dropped the hook at the mouth of the Pungo canal. Tomorrow we'll get an early start to knock out the next 2 hurdles, the Pamlico and the Nuese.
On the back end of the Dismal, heading to E. City.
At high speed you feel like you're on one of those air boats!
The Dismal Swamp is a 2 day journey, so I've combined them in 1 entry.
For the last couple of weeks we've heard many tales of how the Dismal was clogged with duckweed. Duckweed is a fine leafed plant that floats on top of water. When dense it makes the water look like land. Very swampy.
There are 2 routes from the Chesapeake that get you south: the Dismal and Coinjock. We're not fans of Coinjock. It's more popular for other boaters which makes it jammed this time of year. In addition the next hurdle was crossing the Albemarle Sound, and the best day to do that will be Saturday, so far as we know. If we had to hang out somewhere for a couple of nights, we'd rather be in Elizabeth City.
When we arrived at Top Rack...
When we left. And they STILL were the cheapest!
Duckweed on the Dismal
We left Top Rack early, and doubled back a bit to get to the Dismal Swamp canal. We were at the first lock by 8 am, and the lock opens at 8:30. (These locks only open 4 times a day so you have to manage the time.) While we stood station the lockmaster there did everything he could to discourage us from going. "The duckweed is 3 to 4 feet deep in places." Not at all true, by the way. Clearly, these lazy men (there were 3 there) didn't want to bother opening the lock.
Turtle on log... look far left.
But we insisted.
Duckweed was not the issue, for us anyway. In fact it kinda made the trip, well, trippy. The swirls and patterns of the greeny texture made me feel like we were floating along Van Gogh's "Starry Night". What was a problem -- and something the lockmaster could have mentioned that would NOT have been a bold-faced lie -- was debris. We bumped and banged on more stuff on this trip then any of our trips through the Dismal. There were many logs and drift below the surface, which was further obscured by the duckweed. This was partly due to all the rain from Ian remnants. But largely due to lack of vessels constantly pushing stuff aside.
BIG mushrooms! Spotted on a walk at the Welcome Center.
We docked at the Welcome Center for the night. Bella Gatto joined us and we did docktails on the bank. Russ checked our strainers to make sure we weren't getting clogged. They were totally clear. No duckweed!
Engines on at 7 am we shoved off to finished the voyage, getting into Elizabeth City just before noon.
Duckweed be damned!
inQuest at the Visitor Center. We left space for the 2 boats we knew were coming behind us.