After two months in the beautiful Bahamas its time to head towards home.
Andante and I have a long trip ahead and, frankly, photography and blogging have not been high on my list of priorities. I will try to keep folks updated on my whereabouts and will share interesting experiences. Eventually.
We departed the Exumas on April 5. Today (April 20) we arrived at Little River Inlet close to the border between South Carolina and North Carolina and roughly the halfway point of the 1500 nm return trip. The weather hasn’t been conducive to long offshore legs but we keep pushing forward everyday regardless.
The legs completed so far have been the following:
Staniel Cay, Exumas to West Bay, New Providence
West Bay, New Providence to North Bimini
North Bimini to Fort Pierce, FL
Fort Pierce, FL to Melbourne, FL
Melbourne, FL to New Smyrna Beach, FL
New Smyrna Beach, FL to St. Augustine, FL
St. Augustine, FL to Fernandina Beach, FL
Fernandina Beach, FL to Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC to Price Creek, SC
Price Creek, SC to Georgetown, SC
Georgetown, SC to Little River Inlet, SC
As always you can check our current position using the link found on the trip page.
We’ve spent the last couple of days anchored offshore of the old Nixon winter white house site near the Key Biscayne Yacht Club. This spot is also just a few blocks from where Paula and Cheese and Basil and I lived in the mid 1990’s.
Through the magic of reciprocal privileges and a timely letter of introduction from our RBHYC commodore I was able to gain access to the club to use their dinghy dock to access groceries and water and covid testing. It was fun walking around the town again after so many years. The yacht club itself is much bigger and fancier than when we lived here — but the people are still super friendly and helpful and the view of downtown Miami across Biscayne Bay is still spectacular.
All the water tanks are topped off, fresh fruits and veggies are loaded, I’ve got my health visa, the weather forecast looks good and we’re ready to go. We’ll depart late this evening for the quick overnight trip across the Gulf Stream to Bimini. The plan is to stay at a marina in Alice Town for the first night (or possibly two) to get my bearings and wait for the next front to pass. Then I expect to head further east across the bank to the Berry Islands. Or not. From here on there is no real schedule or itinerary.
Off to a staging harbor to prep for the next few months.
The Banana River west of Port Canaveral was a really interesting anchorage. Lots of wildlife pressed right up against a major industrial area. Interestingly the wildlife (birds and dolphins, in particular) seemed not to care. The pelicans seemed happy to roost on man-made structures and the dolphins have figured out how to use the locks to go back and forth between the ocean and the lagoon.
We said goodbye to Port Canaveral in late morning and headed for Fort Pierce. On the way out we passed a couple of gigantic cruise ships which has arrived overnight. Andante felt very small and secretly wished for a water slide of her own.
So what next? After considering several scenarios I think the most compelling option is to head from here to the Bahamas. From Fort Pierce it is only 80 nm to West End. Getting from here to there will require completing some maintenance items, restocking food and supplies and waiting (and waiting) for an appropriate weather window. And all of this needs to be coordinated with obtaining a Covid test that is required for entry.
I chose Fort Pierce as a staging location exactly because it provides access to all of the products and services I need for this logistical puzzle while also providing the option to anchor out (free) for an arbitrary duration. I’d be much less inclined to wait for perfect weather if I was trapped in a marina paying more than $100/night. The dinghy ride to shore is long and can be wet — but the City Marina provides a nice secure dinghy dock that they encourage visiting boaters to use. A Lyft ride to downtown or the grocery store is about $7. So the infrastructure is here to make this work.
I’m still looking at options for Covid testing. The Bahamas will accept a rapid antigen test but it seems that appointments for a drive-through PCR test are more widely available. Never mind that I don’t have a car. The real trick is that the test result must be no more than 3 days old when you enter the country. With a typical 2 day wait on PCR test results, uncertain weather and the moderately slow nature of our travels it will be tough to meet that requirement.
I understand that the 3 day test age requirement can be waived if arriving by private vessel provided you can prove you haven’t stopped anywhere since the test. So at the moment my working plan is to wait for a good weather outlook, schedule and get a Covid test (hopefully Lyft is OK with a drive-through swabbing) and start sailing south along the Florida coast staying in cell range without stopping until I am emailed the test result. Then I can divert east across the Gulf Stream with an intended target of West End, Grand Bahama. Or if the test result takes really long to deliver, Bimini.
So I’ve made a decision and have something like a plan. It remains to be seen if it is a good plan but fortunately I’m flexible and in no rush. We’ll make the best of whatever happens next.
Our trip down the long and winding ICW from Beaufort has not been unpleasant. But it was definitely a pleasure to get out into deeper water and really sail for the first time in several months. After an enjoyable two nights dockside in Charleston (and many long walks around the city) we took advantage of a brief weather window to run offshore South Carolina and Georgia to the St Mary’s River inlet and Fernandina Beach, Florida. There was great sailing weather for the first third of the 28 hour trip. We covered many miles on a three-sail broad reach about 5 miles offshore before the wind got fickle and died. That left us with an overnight motor in glassy seas under a nearly-full moon. Not unpleasant at all.
At the entrance to the St. Mary’s River we were greeted by the guns of Fort Clinch. Andante was not intimidated. We were a bit taken aback by the industrial waterfront of Fernandina Beach and the odors of the pulp mill but we found a nice secure mooring to hold us through the gale that arrived overnight. My instruments recorded a max wind of 52 knots. Wheee!
Its still blowing 35-40 kts as I write this –so expect to stay put until at least tomorrow to allow the wind and seas to moderate a bit. The goal is always to sail the boat so wind is good — but wind direction and sea state matter a great deal. As we head south along the east coast of Florida the ideal weather is something like 15-20 kts from the west. These conditions would allow us to sail at full speed a few miles offshore where the wind is strong but locally-generated waves are fetch-limited. We might still see swell from distant storms but even large swell is more comfortable than short steep waves. These are the general conditions expected beginning late Monday through Tuesday and into Wednesday. I hope to take full advantage of them. The near-term plan is to push south to Port Canaveral and possibly further (Ft. Pierce? West Palm?) as the weather allows.
We should be in South Florida (somewhere between West Palm Beach and Miami) by the end of next week. Once there I’ll take some time to decide whether to head further south to the Florida Keys or make the short hop (around 60 nm) to the Bahamas. Either way, things are definitely looking warmer and sunnier. Yay!
Later today I’ll work on updating the “Trip” link, above, to provide a summary of the 2022 trip legs.
From southern North Carolina into South Carolina the ICW is extremely narrow with many areas of severe shoaling. Driving this stretch required a lot of concentration to keep Andante in the center of the channel and out of the mud. And we’re definitely driving and not sailing. There have been a few rare occasions to hoist a sail and gain an extra knot of boatspeed (and a smile) but the engine is on all day long.
From Camp Lejeune we pushed south with brief overnight stops in Wrightsville Beach and then Southport where we loaded up on fuel, water and some fantastic shrimp and grits. The next day we weathered a gale in the marshes of Little River Inlet, SC before continuing on past Myrtle Beach and into the amazingly beautiful Waccamaw River. The owls were frighteningly loud but it was too cold to see any alligators. This was definitely one of my favorite overnight stops so far. Probably buggy in warmer seasons so perhaps lucky to enjoy it now.
We arrived in Charleston, SC on January 12 and plan to stay here for a day or two until a weather window allows a coastal passage to Georgia. South of Charleston and all through Georgia the ICW is essentially impassable due to shoaling except at mid/high tide. It will be much more efficient (and fun) to sail outside. This short break gives me a chance to top up fuel and water tanks and stretch my legs with walks through the city.