Happy Independence Day! Down with British tyranny! After an interminable delay addressing mechanical issues, S/V Delancey has been on the move, fairly speeding up the Florida coast, through the southern states, and into the Chesapeake.
Our last post found the S/V Delancey in Vero Beach, Florida, stalled out and drifting into a mangrove shore. After towing her off the mud and securing her to a mooring with the dink, we found a mechanic willing to make a boat call over the Memorial Day weekend. Many thanks to Tom of T&L Marine, who made daily visits to diagnose and repair our usually-reliable diesel engine. Ten days and one fuel pump later, we were off to the races.
Our first day out took us to Cocoa Village, Florida, where we strolled around the colorful downtown and celebrated Deb’s birthday. With all the recent boat repairs, we were uncertain as to where we’d be and had made no plans to mark the event. Blind luck brought us to Crush Eleven restaurant, which had an open reservation, accepted our casual attire, and provided us a fine-dining experience worthy of a birthday celebration.
We motored up the Florida Intracoastal Waterway, anchoring in New Symrna and Marineland before taking a mooring in St. Augustine.
Next stop was in Fernandia Beach, followed by a short hop across the St. Mary’s inlet and goodbye Florida! Now on the Georgia side of the inlet, we spent a day exploring Cumberland Island. The southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, Cumberland Island is largely undeveloped (it includes 9,800 acres of protected wilderness), save for campgrounds and ruins of Carnegie family estate buildings. We walked across the width of the island, through the Spanish moss-covered woods, among clusters of feral horses, to the oceanside strand and back. Despite being occupied over centuries by Spanish missionaries, freed enslaved people, and various Carnegies, much of the island feels like a place entirely untouched by humans (if you ignore the paths on which we walked).
And then we were off again, this time making short offshore jumps to avoid the notoriously thin water in the Georgia and South Carolina ICW. The long summer days of North America caught us pleasantly off guard, allowing us to make much longer daylight passages then possible in the Caribbean. Each evening found us at anchor, usually alone, tucked just inside a rural inlet with nary a cell signal to keep us company. Our first stop was in the aptly-named Mud River in Sapelo Inlet, GA, followed by the Beaufort River, adjacent to Parris Island, SC, finally arriving in cosmopolitan Charleston, SC on the third night.
One of the best, and most unexpected, parts of this journey up the east coast has been the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and cruising pals. While twiddling our thumbs back in Vero Beach, we were lucky to meet up with Crystal and Rob of S/V Kairos, fellow cruisers whom we first met in Turks and Caicos, and have crossed paths with in the Dominican Republic, the BVIs, and Martinique. In Charleston, we rendezvoused with Bo and Ali of S/V Selah, who we’ve known since meeting in Georgetown, Bahamas in early 2016 and haven’t seen since a fun weekend anchored in Culebrita over a year ago. A rental-car day trip to Savannah put us in touch with Monica and Rich of S/V Mata Hari. (In fact, we’d only met these guys in person a few weeks earlier in Vero Beach, but we’ve been so long in the same orbit of cruisers that we fell in like old friends.)
And that’s just the cruisers! We’ve also been lucky to enjoy a number of evenings catching up with old sailing friends who’ve relocated from the New York area to points south (Hi Matt & Kim, Laurie & Dale, Janeen!). In envisioning this part of the trip, I had imagined not quite a slog, but an uneventful, businesslike effort to get into the Chesapeake. We’d already seen much of this stuff on the way down, my theory went, so there wouldn’t be much opportunity for new or remarkable experiences on the way back up. Getting to catch up with these people with whom we’ve shared this special period in our lives has been a wonderful surprise.
After a few days enjoying delightful and expensive Charleston, we were again off in a series of offshore jumps. From Charleston to Winyah Bay to Little River, SC and then to Southport, NC inside Cape Fear. From there, we switched to the ICW, but the distressingly shallow depths convinced us to return to offshore from Wrightsville Beach to Beaufort, NC.
We knew the ICW from Beaufort north to be more reliably maintained and thus more likely to keep water under our 5-foot-deep keel, so we turned our backs on the ocean and toward the ditch for the remaining legs. Back in 2015, when we were making the trip south, we often spent the evenings in marinas as there didn’t appear to be any tenable anchorages in this narrow waterway. 18 months and 4,700 miles of cruising later, our vastly increased experience (and considerably thinner wallet) has allowed us to confidently anchor in spots we would have (and did) pass by on the way down.
The ICW is largely made up of rivers connected by dredged canals and is thus quite protected. Unlike the open ocean, one can make progress in nearly all weathers. On the flip side, and also unlike the open ocean, the ICW is crossed by many, many bridges. About half are high-rise fixed highway bridges that clear our 55-foot mast by at least 10 feet. The other half are kinetic bridges: lift, swing, and bascule types that open to let boats pass through, either on a schedule or at a radioed request. At each bridge, there is a little passive-aggressive game played between boat pilot and bridge tender. The pilot wants the bridge to open while still half a mile away, so that the boat can just power through the opening rather than try to hold a position in a narrow canal, perhaps with a nasty current pushing it around. The bridge tender wants to open the bridge for the shortest possible interval, preferring the boat get in position right in front of the bridge before raising, in order to not impede the flow of traffic. Fortunately, S/V Delancey has a gifted pilot in Deb, who expertly manipulates the throttle and forward/reverse gears to hold the boat steady while we wait for the bridge to open.
I really can’t believe that they actually stop traffic for us.
After three long days, we exited the ICW at Norfolk. On 2 July, we dropped anchor in Hampton Flats, where we’d previously anchored on 4 November 2015 on our way south.
We’re now in Fishing Bay, in Deltaville, VA, where we’ve been resting up and watching fireworks. Soon we’ll bounce our way up the bay to the Annapolis area, where we’ll keep the boat for the summer.
This trip ain’t over quite yet.