Apr 5-15 We finally cast off at Jacksonville. As always, we felt a tad sad leaving the friends and the close knit community behind. At the same time, we were thrilled to be on our way again, as we anticipate the adventure that lies ahead. We took it easy the first day, traveling only 25 miles to our favorite anchorage at Fort George River, where we spent a couple of days adjusting to the rhythm and life on the hook again. Our next stop was Fernandina Beach, a charming place with plenty of restaurants and shops. Many boats were anchored here, and we would see them over and over at the usual stops along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
After we crossed the state line to Georgia, we anchored at Cumberland Island. This beautiful April day was perfect with temperatures already in the 80s. We eagerly set up the dinghy to go ashore so we could hike to the beach. The canopy of the trees provided shade as we walked from Dungeness (ruins of the Carnegies' mansion) to the beach and back to SeaCamp (campground), probably 3 mile walk. This place was owned by the Carnegies, and they have since donated it to National Park Service. It is accessible only by boat (from St Mary's and Fernandina Beach) and is thus very rustic with hiking trails to 17 miles of hard-packed sand beach and beautiful dunes leading to it. We saw lots of wildlife - wild horses, a vast array of birds, and armadillos.
Two days later, we moved up the ICW and discovered another entrance to the same island. This is where the ferry from St Marys is docked when it brings passengers over for tours. We dropped the hook in the narrow Brickhill River, where we spent four blissful days drinking in our million-dollar view, which overlooks Plum Orchard, the house built for the Carnegie's son. Everyday, at low tide, wild horses wander into the river banks looking for food. One night, the captain even caught a glimpse of an alligator.
There is nothing like an adventure to get a rush of adrenaline. After four days of solitude, we decided to move up the river for
a change of scenery. No sooner had we leave our anchorage than we hit a
mud bank and went aground on an outgoing tide. Had it not for the wind gust that
kept pushing us further into the mud bank, we might have gotten ourselves out.
We called TowBoat US (on land, this would be your AAA) to give us a hand. While we spent most of the day waiting for the
tide to rise back up, the Captain went out to take some pictures. The mud was so
soft he almost couldn't pull his sneakers out of it! A dolphin swam by, poking its
head out of the water, as if to ridicule us. The tow boat took us back to our
previous anchor spot. The boat seemed
to run fine, much to our relief. We stayed
for a couple
more days to recoup our energy and
confidence. Further up the ICW, we fueled at Jekyll
Harbor Marina, where we spend several months here two years ago. They
let us tie up for a few hours to visit our friends Lynne and Frank of Milly B,
who were so sweet as to lend us their car so we could run some errands . The next several days found us anchored at Fort Frederica in St
Simons, and Darien.
Apr 21 -28 We had longed to visit the famous resort island of Hilton Head, but every time, managed to pass it by. This time we were determined to stop. Granted, it is a bit touristy with timeshares galore (in certain sections), but the developer did a wonderful job planning the area. With bikers in mind. Miles and miles of bike path lined the sneaker-shaped island. It is also a haven for golfing, biking, tennis and kayaking We were anchored at Broad Creek, with lots of wildlife in our "own backyard." At low tide, egrets, blue herons and other birds would patrol the shores. Pods of dolphins would swim close to the river banks looking for dinner, and literally go into a feeding frenzy, as they chomp down on their bounty. This is the only place we've seen them in such action! They were so close to our boat that we were able to capture them on video.
Apr 29 - May 31 Our next leg took us to irresistible Charleston. Unfortunately, it rained heavily for two days. On the one good day, we dinghied over to the city marina, paid the $5 to tie up there, and took their shuttle to town. Walking around this southern city is always delightful, what with its myriad restaurants and distinctive architecture. Before leaving, we fueled up at Ashley Marina. Casting off from the fuel docks scared the daylights out of us when the swift current swept us towards a bridge! Thank God we have twin engines with 250hp. Next, we stopped at Georgetown, a charming town that caters to boaters. Over the years, the waterfront had been revitalized, with nice shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfast complementing the well-kept centuries-old home. This is shrimping territory still, so you can get fresh seafood here at very reasonable prices. At N. Myrtle Beach, we tied up at the free docks at Barefoot Landing, a shopping outlet complete with shops and restaurants in a nice setting with ponds, fountains, and boardwalk. A bus takes you to a mall or the SuperWalmart. Now, you understand why this is a favorite stop for most cruisers. You have to come here early to get a space 'cos boats could be rafted up three deep. We were admiring Chandelle, an Endeavor 44' Catamaran tied up here, but did not have the opportunity to meet them. Several days later, we docked next to them at Carolina Beach State Park! When Bill and Joy learned that it was Sophal's birthday, they had us over for hors d'ouevres and even popped open a bottle of champagne. It was so sweet of them. Apart from traveling, what makes cruising so fun is meeting the people who share the same dreams. Sophal's birthday was made even more memorable when several deer caught our attention as they wandered into the park.
The approach to Morehead City, N. Carolina, was not as shallow as we remembered it. As we turned into the Beaufort Inlet, with all the fishing boats lining the channel, the starboard engine temperature went beserk. The gauge at the upper helm died; at the lower helm, the alarm was on and the gauge froze at 250 degrees! Startled, we slowed down and checked the engine temperature with a laser gun, and it read a normal 188 degrees. When we turned the engine off and back on, the gauge got reset back to normal, and all was hunky dory. Even though the National Weather Service had reported a benign 10 – 15 knots from the SW, going through the Beaufort Inlet to Cape Lookout was rough, with waves climbing to 5 feet. We were thrown about and of course we forgot to tie things down again! This anchorage at Cape Lookout, raved by many magazines and friends, better be worth it. And it was. The lighthouse was astern of us, and what a gorgeous view. The sunset was quite beautiful, but just 5 minutes before it set, it was completely covered in haze. Winds predicted to increase to 20 knots with waves of 5-6 feet had us running back to the mainland the next day. Discovery of Shackleford Banks (a local hangout) was our consolation - glorious sunrise, wild ponies roaming the dunes and beaches, and great shelling - indeed a memorable place to spend our anniversary. When we got ready to leave, the windlass died. It spun around, but the chain would not catch. Earlier, we had toyed with the idea of having some work done on the boat at Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge, Va. Now, the decision is made for us. Alas, Ocracoke will have to wait. At Bellhaven, we got into another grounding incident that required TowBoatUS help. Admittedly, a stupid mistake, so we won't even dwell on it. Lets just say if you haven't been aground yet, chances are you will if you cruise long enough.
Our next big crossing was the Albermarle Sound, which is notorious for its choppiness since it is pretty shallow. With 15 knots wind from the north, it wasn't too bad a trip. But then, after having gone out the Beaufort Inlet the week before, this was a piece of cake! We then took the Dismal Swamp Canal to Elizabeth City. The Canal is a scenic alternate route that cruising guides say to do "at least once in your lifetime." It's a good thing we did as it may be shut down after this year, due to budget cutbacks. We tied up at the free docks. Rose Buddy Fred, came by in his golf cart and presented roses to all the first mates, and invited all the boaters - WhistWind, Land's End, Old Bull, Wants-N-Tides, Swallowtail - for cocktails at his home. We all had a great time hanging out for a few day, and cruised to Virginia together.