Annapolis to Brunswick September 16th, 2008 to September 23rd, 2008
In our last posting, we said that the cruising was over and we were in delivery mode to get to Brunswick, GA and put Jennifer on the plane to England. I guessed that it would take two weeks (sailing time-lines are always a guess). After all, it took us 40 days to cover the same distance going north last spring. The bottom line is that after one week and three hours out of Annapolis, we arrived at Brunswick Landing Marina; Brunswick, GA yesterday. (Jenny claps and cheers applause.) Details of this amazing feat of seamanship follow:
The salient feature of this feat was that Jennifer bought off on the action plan. Also assisting were strong north winds and dire weather forecasts for wherever we happened to be.
After having our sails and electronics repaired, on September 16th, 0655 hour (that’s 6.55 AM for you landlubbers) we cast off from Eastport Yacht Center Annapolis. (Jenny...We also got to visit with son Mike a number of times, and celebrated Stephanie's birthday a couple of weeks early). We sailed and motor sailed 69 nm that day and anchored at sundown off Sand Point on the Great Wicomico River. Why there? It was the best anchorage we could find close to the rumb line to Norfolk. Nice quiet anchorage, only one sailboat came in after us, Paradise Divide hailing port Mt. Crested Butte, CO. We lost the day money for coming the furthest to the party!
On the 17th, we had another anchor up at 0655, God were we serious! Strong northeast winds and, for Chesapeake Bay, big seas, fortunately going our direction. Motor sailed some, because wanted to go through Hampton Roads in the daylight. Hampton Roads, Norfolk and Portsmouth are the primary heavy maintenance center for the USN. As we learned last time through this way, they aren’t messing around anymore, big guns ready if you get to close to their ships.
(Jenny...coming up the Elizabeth River to the town, we saw a cruise ship...in dry-dock. It was Disney Magic having an extensive overhaul...the lifeboats were off the ship and it was fascinating to watch them unloading and reloading dumpsters and porta-potties.)
We docked in Portsmouth town center harbor next to a sign that said “No overnight dockage”. We learned from Craig Roser (Charmed) last time through that the parking ticket was cheaper than a commercial dock.
The next leg was the start of the Intercoastal Waterway, a shortcut avoiding Cape Hatteras. The gulf stream hits Cape Hatteras, creating a current against south bound vessels and big seas, therefore even big boats use the ICW. The first 15 miles of the ICW has 12 bridges and one lock, best done in daylight. And, the first bridge will not open between 0630 and 0830 (rush hour)! We cast off at 0730 (slept in) and fueled up. By 0830 there were 8 motor yachts, one other sailboat and a tug waiting for the first bridge; we joined the flotilla. By 1130 we were through all the first 12 bridges and one lock. Although the wind was strong and on our stern, the narrow channel made us motor sail almost the whole time. We anchored off the channel behind Bucks Island after a 60 nm day.
Anchor up at 0656. Sailed and motor sailed hard all day. Saw few other boats. 25 knot wind on the stern made for steep waves crossing Albermarle Sound and on the Alligator River and Pungo River separated by canals straight as only the Corp of Engineers can make them. Anchor down at 1854 hours, just as the sun set, after a 100 mile day (that’s about 80 nautical miles.)
Anchor up at 0730 and another 46 nm to go to Beaufort, NC. Strong winds all night increased during the day, we were seeing 20 knots plus on the open sections. We saw very few boats going either way, and the few that were going to windward didn’t look like they were having fun. We hoped to make it to Beaufort in time to shop and do laundry.
There are two types of bridges, fixed and opening. On the ICW, all fixed bridges are supposed to be a minimum of 65 feet (measured from high tide). So this becomes a dividing line when you are shopping for a large sailboat; do want the option of using the ICW or not? That’s why we bought a boat with a 63.5 foot mast. Well, at ICW mile 203.8 you go under the last bridge before Beaufort, the Beaufort Channel Highway Bridge, height 65 feet above high tide. As we were motoring at full speed, I happened to notice that the wash board said 62 feet! The wash board is a board place on the bridge piling that has clearance numbers displayed. If the lowest number not underwater is 62, it means that you have 62 feet clearance. We did a full sped U turn at the last minute, about throwing Jennifer out of the boat. (NOT!! JM) Thankfully we saw it or our trip would have been over. In retrospect, the strong winds had pushed a few feet of water into the channel, raising the water level to at least 3 feet above high tide.
We called the dock master at Beaufort and told him would be in at low tide; he told us of a way around the problem bridge and an hour and half an hour later we were at Beaufort City Docks.
We had covered a lot of miles in the last 5 days and were thinking of resting for a day or two. That is, until we heard the weather forecast for Beaufort and the Carolina coast; full gale force winds up to 50 mph in two days.
So, as we say in Oklahoma, we saddled up the next morning. We cast off Beaufort docks at 0750 headed to sea and an overnight passage to Charleston. We sailed all morning, and with the wind going light and right on our stern, motor sailed in the afternoon to keep our speed up and assure ourselves a daylight arrival. At 2140, after clearing the dreaded Cape Fear Frying Pan Shoals (the home of many shipwrecks) the wind had strengthened to the point we could turn off the engine. We were doing 7 knots plus the rest of the night. Although rain stated right before dawn, we still had a good passage. We took turns sleeping 2 hours on, 2 hours off and, with the engine off, it wasn’t too bad.
The weather forecast continued to worsen. Gale force winds were now expected in Charleston the next day. Although we could always motor down the ICW, we had learned that high winds could cause high water and that swing bridges may not open in high winds. So we decided to skip Charleston and go another 123 nm to Saint Simon Inlet, the gateway to our goal of Brunswick. It turned out to be possibly the best leg of our voyage. Strong winds all night, clear skies (you could see the milky way) and speeds up to an occasional 9 knots. And, most amazing of all, our cat, Sooty, spent most of the night in the cockpit with us. Heavy seas building to 6 feet plus, 20 -25 knots of wind across the deck, gybing twice to keep the apparent wind about 120 degrees, all in all a perfect sail.
(Sorry, the pictures of big waves didn't turn out. - JM)
At 0823 we entered the Saint Simon channel and by 1015 we were tied up at Brunswick Landing Marina docks. A great way to finish the Victory Lap Cruise! 631 nautical miles in 7 days, not bad for a retired couple.