Posted on November 16, 2016
Working our way south
I thought that by the end of South Carolina, I’d be able to ship some stuff back to Michu’s sister’s house for storage: the warm sleeping bag, most of the fleece, the long underwear. Except I’m typing this under the warm sleeping bag, while wearing lots of fleece and my long underwear. The cold is advancing south faster than we are.
From Charleston, we spent a couple of pretty uneventful days in the Intracoastal Waterway, timing our route so that the tides were high over the shallow spots. We found ourselves in Beaufort, South Carolina for a few days, taking advantage of their library and relaxing on their beautiful waterfront. On our last night in Beaufort, we were lucky enough to meet up with two other families heading south; together, we took an outside hop down to the St. Mary’s River.
Our passage was just one night, but once again, it was not our finest hour; in addition to the uncomfortable swell (worse than we expected) and lack of wind (as predicted), we were able to tune in NPR down the whole coast, and had the unreal experience of listening to the election results come in while drifting along in the dark of the ocean. It was difficult to connect what we were hearing with reality, and really hard to have a measured response—we just felt to unmoored from our country, and what the election was saying about the people living behind those lights on shore. Somehow, it still didn’t seem plausible, even as we motored back towards shore the next morning.
We anchored off of Cumberland Island and met up with our new friends to commiserate and explore the island. We’d been hearing conflicting reports about access post-Matthew, and I’m not sure what conditions were like on the north side of the Island, but where we were, the park service piers were not available to visiting sailors. We were also asked not to land our dinghy on the beach, so we all headed up to a pier belonging to an inn and bribed them to let us park for a few hours. Then off to the very chilly beach!
The next day, we felt like no one would really mind if we did beach a dinghy, so we shuttled in to shore in one boat and landed with the intention of hiking to the ruins on the island and then beaching it up. Unfortunately, where we landed was essentially a minefield: deep, soft mud laced with oyster shells. The mud would pull you down up to your knees, and then suck off your shoe; then you’d cut the bottom of your foot. We ended up with one pair of blown-out flip flops (Michu); multiple abrasions (everyone); and one really deep toe wound (Miguel) that required a trip back to the boat for serious first aid (Michu).
Eventually, we all made it to the ruins of an old Carnegie mansion for a picnic lunch surrounded by exotic wildlife—armadillos and wild horses. The horses were descendants of Spanish shipwrecks, and had been living on the island for around 500 years. Not sure how long the armadillos have been there, but we did some research and found out that to cross a river, an armadillo can float by inflating it’s small intestine. As Miguel pointed out, you don’t want to be around when they deflate.
We’d heard about a really nice free dock in Jacksonville, and thought it would be a good stopping point on the way to Saint Augustine, so we headed as a group to the biggest city in Florida. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize how far out of the way the dock was; it took a couple of extra hours to get there. To make matters even more exciting, Milou had an unexpected break in the day when we ran aground. We were just a little on the wrong side of the channel, and had to sit and wait for the tide to come up and float us off the bottom—a delay of about three hours. That put us in to the pier just before six o’clock, which is sadly pretty dark here in Florida. So, after a long and disappointing day of motoring farther than expected and being stranded in the mud, we ended with challenging navigation into an unfamiliar harbor in the dark, replete with lots of commercial traffic (including freighters) and with a backdrop of multicolored city lights to throw us off. Days like this one make me reflect thoughtfully on the resale value of the boat, combined with the savings still in the bank, and how we could translate that into a nice, warm house that doesn’t run into things.
We liked hanging out with other families in Jacksonville, and had a great day exploring their Museum of Science and History (MOSH), but eventually we were kicked off the free pier in favor of the football fans and had to backtrack a couple of hours to make our way to the ICW. This time, our downfall wasn’t skinny water—it was swiftly flowing water. The next stretch of ICW is home to the strongest currents on the East Coast, and our timing put a six-knot current right in our face. When your boat only travels at around five and a half knots, there’s really no point in trying to fight that battle. Instead, we anchored for a few hours right above the entrance and watched pods of dolphins play around our boat.
Much like our delayed entrance to Jacksonville, our delayed start on the ICW had us navigating in the dark to try and find our anchorage. It’s hard to decide which I find more stressful: a city harbor, with traffic and confusing lights, or a small creek crowded with boats, no lights, and rapidly shallowing water. Both situations are, ahem, less than ideal, and I find it really frustrating that we’ve put ourselves in that position not once but twice in the last week. We are not finding Florida particularly amenable to either our draft or our speed; there aren’t a lot of places for us to stop, and the distances between anchorages is sometimes just outside our capacity to travel in a day. Throw in a king tide to really get the current ripping against us, or to push low tide below chart datum to get us solidly stuck in the mud (the supermoon is not our friend), and I’m not particularly enjoying this stretch of our trip. We like our new friends very much, and everyone is safe and healthy and well-fed, but the cold weather is just the cherry on top of our rather grim week. We’ll be taking a couple of days in lovely Saint Augustine to recover.
Our general feeling: we must move south.