December 01, 2008
Our overnight run from Charleston to Cumberland Island was relatively straightforward. The wind was not as westerly as forecast so it was mostly from the southwest straight onto our bow and not particularly strong. With the scent of "home" in our nostrils, we opted to motor on a direct route, using the jib to assist where possible, rather than sail a more ponderous series of tacks. A bit of a "cop-out" but the prospect of warmer weather is a strong incentive. The night sky was clear and afforded a splendid view of the stars. By now we had expected to have spent more time learning new constellations but agreed that this would be a more comfortable prospect in warmer weather, when keeping one’s head outside the shelter of the cockpit would be more pleasant.
During my 10 pm to 1 am watch, we crossed the very busy shipping channel to Savannah. A one time, there were at least 11 ships showing up on the Automatic Identification System, the lights of 8 of which were visible. I had to take evasive action to avoid a close encounter with one large container ship, making sure that we cleared its stern with plenty of room rather than crossing its bow with less than 0.2 nm separation as the AIS predicted (assuming they held their course and speed). We saw relatively few vessels on the rest of the trip and only as we approached shore at St. Mary’s Inlet and started to hear people who were on the ICW, did we realize how quiet the VHF radio had been compared to the almost constant chatter we had heard since we left Hampton.
We arrived at the Cumberland Island anchorage, at the very southern edge of Georgia, in the early afternoon of Thursday (Nov 27th), Thanksgiving Day. As anticipated, it was fairly busy with about 10 boats, but the area is large and we found a good place to anchor not far from the dock where the ferry boat lands. We had debated about going to the town of St. Mary’s, a little further up-river from our anchorage, because it is a tradition there that the townspeople host a huge Thanksgiving Pot-luck dinner for any boaters in the area. Apparently there were about 100 boats involved last year. It sounds like a delightful idea and we had heard various comments about it from fellow cruisers on the VHF but rather tired after the overnight passage and not expecting to know anyone else there, we decided to save that for another year. Getting so close to Gainesville, I was focused more on seeing our old friends there rather than using the opportunity to meet many new ones.
Randall is a keen turkey-roaster so Friday was dedicated to preparing a Thanksgiving meal for ourselves, for which he did most of the work. It takes a bit of planning with a small oven (completely filled by the precisely measured bird) and only two small burners but we had a wonderful meal in the early evening with all of the trimmings. As usual, we had plenty to spare for later meals including a large pan of turkey soup. Staying at the anchorage on Saturday and Sunday, we started to attack our long list of things to be done before we leave for the Bahamas in January. This included a few minutes putting up our Christmas decorations, a process that used to take several days at the house. Low-power LED Christmas lights for inside the boat are on our shopping list. The weather was unpleasant on Sunday with wind and rain forcing us to postpone our planned trip to shore on Cumberland Island. We have been ashore there several times in the past and there are beautiful oak woods and beaches so it was a bit disappointing, but we will try again before we head south. I made the most of the rain by going out on deck in my swimsuit to wash off all the salt spray that had accumulated since we last rinsed the boat at the dock in Charleston.
Our anchor held well despite the 20+ knot winds on Sunday but given our misadventure at this anchorage at the beginning of our trip (when the two anchors we had put out got twisted and dragged), we checked our position regularly throughout the day and night. There were about five other boats in the anchorage at this time and just as it was getting dark the closest boat, which had appeared to be getting closer all day, was clearly dragging towards us. It was lucky that Randall noticed that they got within 20 ft of us because the occupants were down below and clearly unaware of their movement. Some loud whistling got their attention and with apologies and thanks they quickly started their motor, pulled up their anchor, and moved to a more open position downwind of us. So the curse of dragging anchors at Cumberland Island continues!
On the whole, had not had a problem with our anchor dragging since the beginning of our trip largely because we had learned that our single, large claw anchor with plenty of chain rode could hold us very well. The only exception was when we were near Boston and we moved a bit in the strong winds because we had a huge rock caught in the anchor. However, we had actually be hit by another boat dragging in Hampton, VA. It was a fairly small boat and the problem occurred within a few minutes of the captain setting his anchor (apparently not very well). It was only a gentle impact near our bow but the sound brought me scurrying up on deck. No damage and he was able to set a better anchor the second time but it was a healthy reminder that one should never that the process for granted. This is why we had decided to pay for a mooring for the month in Fernandina Beach rather than anchor for free.
December 1st dawned with clearer, colder skies and we greeted the end of hurricane season and the six-month anniversary since we set off from Fernandina Beach with some relief that all was well. We moved to the mooring just off the City Marina at Fernandina Beach and after launching the dinghy we made the short trip into town. It was good to be back and we were very happy to be in a familiar place. Some things had changed in six months (the West Marine Express store had closed, for example) but the ice-cream and fudge shop was reassuringly the same. We look forward to seeing how Gainesville looks at the end of the week.
This is the end of this blog of our shake-down cruise along the East Coast of North America. We plan to spend December in north Florida making improvements to the boat, visiting friends and attending appointments in Gainesville, and spending Christmas week in Duluth, MN, with Shev, Martha, Roxy (our dog) and Indy (Shev’s dog) while Heather, Kaeden, and Atleigh will be visiting family in Spokane. These are things that we will enjoy doing but are not the focus of these sailing blogs. Our next trip will start in January when we head to south Florida, where we hope to catch up with some of our many friends there, before crossing over to the Bahamas. We hope to meet up with our Nova Scotia friends in the islands and my eldest brother, Mike, is planning to spend a few weeks with us there too. Our intention is to relax in the Bahamas without having to rush anywhere too fast, but also to spend time testing ourselves on sailing techniques (such as sail-reefing and storm-readiness, using two anchors, etc.) in preparation for longer passages. By late March we will have made our way to the southern Bahamas so that in early April we will make the 1 – 2 week passage to Panama (around the east end of Cuba). Our plans after passing through the canal into the Pacific will depend on how things have progressed and our confidence about making the really long passages to Hawaii and then Alaska, or staying around Panama and Costa Rica before easing up the west coast. The latter is a slow route against the prevailing winds and currents but without the pressure to be anywhere by a particular time, we will have the luxury of choices once we are in the Pacific and west of the Caribbean hurricane belt. So the plan is to start a new blog in January and continue documenting our travels then. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and thank you for joining us on the Part I of our cruising adventures.