Jun 30, 2005 | ARCHIVE: STORIES

Cape Hatteras to Straits of Florida
Zoomed in Bahama Map

By Captain Bob Smith

We left South River, Annapolis, Wednesday, November 2 at 0700 and almost ran into SKOOCH as we joined the Chesapeake. SKOOCH is a Hatteras 42 LRC motoryacht, a fellow member of the Trawlers and Trawlering mailing list (T&T) and the Hatteras LRC club. Cruising with SKOOCH was MASTERPLAN, another Hatteras 58 LRC and club member. We had that wonderful combo: following seas and a favorable current, keeping the seas from mounting. MARY KATHRYN anchored just north of the Rappahannock behind Dymer Creek’s Grog Island, which has all but succumbed from Isabel’s onslaught.

Friday’s wet run into SW winds brought us to Norfolk to take on 1,700 gallons of fuel at $2.139 at Portsmouth Boating Center. MARY KATHRYN’s 4-71 Detroit Diesels are still burning about 8 gallons per hour including genny. Consequently, we take on fuel just twice a year. That night we docked at Waterside Marina Norfolk. Sunny and kinda warm…life is good.

Continuing south… We slid out of Waterside Marina on Friday at 0800, joining the throng of boats trying to get through the many bridges and one lock spread over the next 13 miles. After waiting out the rush hour bridge restrictions, we exited Great Bridge Lock at 1100…that was slower than usual, but not ridiculous. The throng filled both sides of the 600-ft lock…twice. I did briefly chat again with SKOOCH south of Norfolk, he was heading to New Bern for the winter. Anchored south of Coinjock behind Camden Point (MM61) at dusk.

Saturday had continuing great weather convincing us to skip the dreaded Alligator ditch and head south along Roanoke Island through the Pamlico to the Neuse River, where we anchored in Broad Creek just after dark. If we had more time, Trawler Phil, a fellow T&Ter, would have gotten a housewarming visit by dinghy! Next
time Phil… Sunday, we headed offshore at Beaufort for Wrightsville Beach, arriving just in time to navigate the inlet at twilight. Offshore again on Monday at Bald Head Island for the short hop to New River Inlet and the Calabash River anchorage. Almost dead calm offshore, with the same forecast for Tuesday (well, “winds 10 knots and variable”), so we are offshore again to Charleston before dawn…YEAH! Certain parts of the ditch are simply best avoided (i.e. behind Mrytle Beach and Georgetown to Charleston, Waccamaw is a most pleasant exception…not to mention fresh shrimp from the McClellanville docks). Yes, offshore is boring…hehehe… Sunny and 80 forecast…

2 Electrical problem did crop up: the voltage regulator on the inverter alternator on starboard engine got stuck in bulk charge (29.2 volts), gassing the already charged batteries badly. On advice of my electrical expert in Annapolis, Bob Campbell, I just unplugged it…and generously re-watered the batteries. I re-plugged it an hour before anchoring tonight and it stopped at 27.4 volts…perhaps it healed itself…?

Southward from Calabash… Upped anchor at dawn on Tuesday to navigate Little River Inlet in the fog. Stupidly, I did not trigger the tracking feature of my navigation program (aka the “cheat sheet”) as I entered the uncharted inlet the night before…leaving me at a substantial disadvantage in the dense fog. Will not make that mistake again. Nonetheless, we had an uneventful exit to the North Atlantic, a almost calm passage, arriving at Charleston breakwater at dark. Without significant big ship traffic, this is a very easy entry with great range lights. Docked at the Charleston City Docks, which is one big boat show every night.

Wednesday morn brought fog again, but we got safely underway at 0700 bound for HarbourTown on Hilton Head. Although we had good offshore conditions, it is substantially shorter to use the ICW due to significant exits and entrances from Charleston and into HH, both heading in the wrong directions. At brutish Nordhavn 72, THE GOOD LIFE, had anchored close by Tuesday night and headed offshore minutes before we headed down the ICW…and they beat us into HH by about one hr…heck they admitted to cruising about a knot faster than the MARY KATHRYN! HarbourTown may be a bit pricey ($1.75 per ft, I think) but very pleasant.

Thursday was an eventful day. Left HH before dawn, heading offshore with an optimistic outlook on the forecast 3 to 4 footers from SW. Once out Tybee Roads, it was the 6 footers on the nose that had us turning
around. Sure, the boat was fine, but we are definitely NOT rigged for such conditions. Stuff was going everywhere. So, we chickened out and headed back in to the ICW. Heading up the Savannah River to the ICW, we heard a Security call from THE GOOD LIFE, which draws 7 ft 4 in, aground in Fields Cut, just north of where we reentered the ICW. We chatted with them, giving the local info we gleaned from Skipper Bob’s ICW update. They chose to sit tight awaiting the rising tide—about 6 ft in this area. Why they were not offshore…?

Immediately thereafter, we heard a MAYDAY from a sailboat, which claimed the Causton Bluffs Bridge simply closed on them. Their mast was grabbed by the two sections of the closing lift bridge and caused their cockpit to be pooped before the bridge tender realized his error and reopened the bridge. We passed by 30 minutes after the incident, already fully attended by Coast Guard. No injuries and the pooped cockpit was bailed. The view from the tenders perch could not really see the southbound vessels close to the bridge, but come on… I expect that tender has opened his last bridge. Moral: if you are the last vessel, make your presence known!

We anchored behind Sapelo Island in the Duplin River. Very pleasant, great holding and a dog beach. Forecast to blow out of NW tomorrow, keeping us in the ICW, and giving sleeping temps in the 50s. Having wind contrary to current part of the night was only slightly disturbing, waking me as the tide changed…because things just did not sound right. But holding was great, curtailing any excitement.

Off at dawn south behind Georgia’s many coastal islands and through the sounds betwixt, gazing longingly offshore, but we still saw galloping elephants, reinforcing the prudence of remaining with our wonderful ICW. It really is a luxury to keep moving despite the weather. We entered Florida in early afternoon and an uneventful day closed at Beach Marina in Jacksonville Beach. Good adjacent restaurant with live band on this
Friday night.

Saturday we made Daytona Beach, and ran into two T&Ters along the way. We waited only a bit for the hourly Bridge of Lions at St. Augustine and continued south. Two trawlers left the San Sebastian River soon after our passing. As we communicated prior to the notoriously skinny Mantanzas River 3 intersection, Mike on ADAGIO recognized MARY KATHRYN from the list and introed himself. His cruising buddy was DUET, which we had seen many times–but never met–over the last few years. ADAGIO and DUET passed us as we stopped in Daytona Marina & Boat Works (where they have free donuts and coffee in the morn!) and anchored somewhere near Ponce Inlet.

Sunday’s run was completely uneventful down to an anchorage off Melbourne. ADAGIO and DUET stopped at Cocoa and we ventured another 25 miles. We are on a schedule to try to cross to the Bahamas on Tuesday, the best day in the next few with 10 to 15 knots out of the east, waves 2 to 4 or 3 to 5 depending on when to look. Wednesday shows a switch to North, something the Gulf Stream really gets POed about. I use the web (via cellphone) to bring up NOAA weather…much easier to comprehend and you can get any geographical location, allowing us to monitor the Tuesday forecast off Palm Beach, our jumping off point.

The best VHF exchange so far occurred as we entered Daytona. An individual blasted LADY VICTORIA (a beautiful Huckins eading north) for its wake to which LV replied, “and you are a f—ing a–hole, so what’s your point?” Coast Guard Ponce could not let that go and broadcast a $1000 fine warning…to which LV said, “Blow me!” Very crude, but struck us as VERY funny. And gutsy, since LV called a Daytona Marina on
VHF soon thereafter and docked for the night. Wonder if Coast Guard caught up with them…?

Boat is running fine. I am playing with the voltage regulator, which malfunctioned, and at least it is doing no harm. The port trans has miraculously healed its —again!—and is no longer getting spillover engine oil through the rear seal. Once again, proof that you should not necessarily rush out to repair problems from which there is no immediate harm. Contain and watch…be patient. Sunday night we were anchored near Melbourne behind a spoil island, which provided a great dog beach. It proceeded to blow like stink in the wee hours, but our 90-lb SuperMax anchor did not care.

While Monday was uneventful staying inside the ICW, the mounting east wind and deteriorating forecast killed our hopes of crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas anytime soon. This same thing happened in 2002 and now, as then, we just parked the boat in Palm Beach and I headed back to work in DC.

After Thanksgiving, when air travel drops to nothing till Christmas, I hoped to see a good weather window and pop down to make the crossing. Finally, it looked like Tuesday, November 29, was going to be good weather. SE to S winds, waves 2-4 subsiding to 2 or less in PM. Unless we see galloping elephants on the horizon, we are off at dawn Tuesday from Palm Beach. I flew back to Palm Beach late Monday afternoon, expecting the Tuesday forecast of fine weather to become reality and allow a crossing to the Little Bahama Bank…silly me…it continued to blow a steady 15. (Yes, I am a sissy, or at least  practical. MARY KATHRYN is not rigged for seas above about 5 ft and we like it that way!)

However, late on Tuesday, the SE wind did drop to nothing, but a switch to north was predicted by Wed afternoon. We powwowed with Jim Bartley on a 47 Great Harbor named SOUTHERN CROSS waiting with us and decided to leave very early in the AM, if conditions remained calm.

Off the dock at 0200 Wednesday in dead calm conditions and through the crowded inlet (two freighters coming and going at that hour!) to gentle rollers out of the ENE. Soundings went from zip (400 fathoms) to 15 ft around 0830 with no land other than Memory Rock in site. Love watching the shadow of the boat on the sandy bottom. Anchored 1430 at Great Sale Cay, dropped the dink, explored the beach, watered the dog and invited SOUTHERN CROSS to dinner on MARY KATHRYN. Delightful night with not-too-strong winds out of the forecasted NW with the lights of Freeport.

Off at dawn on Thursday after watering dog looking to make Marsh Harbour, about 80  NM. Wonderful sunny down-wind run on the Sea of Abaco with a hot, artificial calm…until we got to the Whale Passage. The same, gentle, ENE rollers from yesterday’s Gulf Stream were breaking across the 12 ft bar to get around Whale Cay! All the excuse we needed to visit Green Turtle Club (GTC) in White Sound, 45 minutes to our stern. GTC credits the 90-cent slip fee against food and booze, not bad, but electricity was $23 per day! BTW, Whale Cay is the only time you have to leave the almost always calm waters of the Sea of Abaco and enter the North Atlantic…and only for about two miles…but it can be treacherous. There is a shallow draft alternative over the sand bank between Whale and the big island of Abaco called Don’t Rock passage, which is said to hold 4 ft MLW. Friday we took advantage of the GTC’s secured, but free, WiFi to catch up on email and we dropped the dink to run to New Plymouth to go through Customs. At the bar Friday evening, we colluded with SOUTHERN CROSS to take the MARY KATHRYN dink to the Whale at dawn on Saturday. About 0900 would be high tide (+3 ft), allowing us enough time to check conditions out, get back to GTC and return to the Whale at slack current.

Saturday morning our sly planning proved to be unaffected by the sobriety of the planners and both SOUTHERN CROSS and MARY KATHRYN passed the Whale with ease…albeit on different passages. The Great Harbor 47 draws an amazing 2 ft 10 in and Jim chose the Don’t Rock passage, holding at least 6 ft at the shallowest. Incidentally, the current local recommendation is to pass Don’t Rock to port, not starboard as most guides recommend. MARY KATHRYN is currently at the Jib Room in the most protected portion of Marsh Harbour. We have stayed here two other seasons and like the more secluded location and the hands-on owners ( 50 cents/ft/day with 3 months upfront…beats Florida rates! No connection, etc… Of course, I immediately flew home to go back to work…!