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Compass, Staniel & Sampson Cays

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

(24⁰11.005′ N by 076⁰26.912 W -  Mile 3467.80 - Big Major’s Spot, Bahamas)

At Anchor Near Compass Cay

At Anchor Near Compass Cay

On January 18th, 2010 we left Wardwick Wells traveling south 15 miles to Compass Cay.  We were now far enough south to enjoy the tropical winter sun which allowed us to stop and explore different anchorages and the occasional marina when either wind, current or wave conditions precluded staying in an open anchorage.

We quickly found our favourite place in Bahamas in the area of Compass, Samson and Staniel Cays.  Not only were the islands post card perfect examples of what you think the Bahamas should be but, the area had special attractions such as Thunder Ball Cave, the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, the swimming pigs at Big Major’s Spot and the sharks which swam around the docks at Compass Cay.  The area also afforded us the opportunity to frequently dinghy between these cays and to visit the local watering holes and beaches.

The cut into Compass Cay allowed us our first real experience in anchoring in tidal currents.  For five to six hours we would be pushed in the direction of the ocean as the tide flowed away from the islands only to reverse for the next five to six hours with the incoming tide.  At three to four knots we would test the limits of our Bruce anchor’s holding power.  From this anchorage, we could dinghy a very short distance to the Compass Cay Marina to enjoy the noon hour burgers cooked on an open grill on the deck and watch the sand sharks circle the short pier by the office looking for their daily rations.  Many people would climb into the three feet of water surrounding the dock and join

Sharks At Compass Cay

Sharks At Compass Cay

the sharks as they swam around in lazy circles.  No need to fear these creatures.  Sand sharks have no teeth and virtually inhale their food rather than biting it.

We also made our mark (literally) in Compass Compass Cay.  For those that chose to stay overnight, Tucker, the owner has brushes and paints to paint your own sign with your boat name on it.  These are mounted around the marina office.  You only have to find a piece of drift wood to use as your pallet.  We chose to leave our mark with the largest piece of

Our Sign At Compass Cay

Our Sign At Compass Cay

drift wood we could find.

The beach on Compass Cay is also one of the most beautiful and unspoiled in the Exumas chain of islands.  White sand, that feels like walking on icing sugar facing the ocean to the east.   From north to south it extends more than a mile in a gradual arc.

The island itself is virtually deserted except for the buildings and cottages near the marina.  Take a walk to the north and the path winds across the small hills for

Yes, Swimming Pigs!

Yes, Swimming Pigs!

roughly five miles to Rachel’s Bubble Bath a small lagoon which rises and falls with the incoming and outgoing tide.

After four or five nights at Compass we decided to move south about three miles to Samson Cay and Big Major’s Spot.  Samson Cay is a lovely marina location that is protected from nearly all winds.  We sought shelter at Samson Cay a couple of times seeking protection from the strong westerly winds which sometimes made sleeping at anchor without protection nearly

Staniel Cay

Staniel Cay

impossible.

Big Major’s Spot is a large island located between Samson Cay and Staniel Cay and it was here we were introduced to the swimming pigs that live on the island.  Yes, I said swimming pigs!  A local farmer leaves the pigs on the island year round letting them forage for food on the island.  Pigs are smart though and they soon learned to swim out to the boats and beg for bread, vegetables or any other thing you chose to feed them.  Don’t get too close.  In their

Island Homes on Staniel Cay

Island Homes on Staniel Cay

competition to get food they have been known to climb right into a dinghy to get right to the source.

Around the corner from Big Major’s Spot near Staniel Cay is grotto named Thunder Ball Cave from the movie of the same name.  If you go to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club you will find pictures of James Bond and all of the production crew from the 1960’s when the film was being produced.  Staniel Cay has quite a history if you read about it and today it is one of the largest settlements in the Exumas after

Cruising The Caves Near Staniel

Cruising The Caves Near Staniel

George Town.  Its long, paved runway makes it a great spot to change crews or welcome guests aboard since there is both regular scheduled airline service and charters available.

Highbourne Cay to Wardwick Wells

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

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About the Bahama Islands

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

(25⁰43.4580′ N by 079⁰17.8755 W -  Mile 3250.64 - Bimini, Bahamas)

To quote Kurt Russell, the star in the movie Captain Ron -  “This isn’t the Pirates of the Caribbean boss!  This is the the Spanish Main!  The land of who-do, voodoo and all sorts of scary stuff!” We have finally arrived in Bimini, Bahamas the destination that we had dreamed about visiting by boat for many years.

Pirate's Plunder?

Pirate's Plunder?

Bahamas is the location of the pirate stories that you heard when you were a kid.  History records Christopher Columbus as the first explorer to reach Bahamas but, he was just the first to record his landing. In the 10th century, Lucayan Indians (a branch of the Arawaks) settled in The Bahamas. The Lucayans had fled the Lesser Antilles to avoid the Carib Indians, who were their enemies, astute warriors and cannibals. The Lucayan Indians were a very peaceful people, who farmed, lived in thatch huts, used stone tools and made their own pottery. They were politically, socially and religiously advanced. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 on San Salvador (the former name of Cat Island), he enslaved them and coupled with new diseases brought by Columbus and crew, wiped out the entire tribe within 25 years.

The Bahamas became a favored hunting ground for privateers, pirates and wreckers from the late 1600’s through the early 1700’s. This was largely due to the ineffective governors and the many inlets, islands, islets, shoals and channels that provided hiding places to monitor the main passageway for merchant ships and Spanish Galleons.  Of course, England, France, the Dutch and other European countries turned a blind eye to the privateers who plunder the Spanish fleet.  Spain after all, was profiting from the New World and they wanted their share without the investment.

Notice the "Down-Filled Vest"!

Notice the "Down-Filled Vest"!

Today, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas consists of 700 Islands and nearly 2,500 cays. About 30 of these islands are inhabited. The capital city of Nassau is located on New Providence Island. Close by is Paradise Island which is accessed by bridges from Nassau. The nation’s second city, Freeport, is located in Grand Bahama Island along with the port city of Lucaya. The other populated islands and cays are called the Abacos, Andros, Eleuthera and Exumas chains of islands, the later being commonly known as the Family Islands.

The many islands and cays of The Bahamas stretch southeast off the Florida coast.  The closest Island to the U.S. is Bimini, about 45 miles off the coast of Florida. The islands and cays sprawl across nearly 100,000 square miles of ocean, beginning at the northern point east of Palm Beach, Florida and spanning practically 350 miles to the southeast where they come as close as 50 miles of Cuba and Haiti.

For our first trip to Bahamas by boat our plan was to cross to Bimini where we would clear Customs & Immigration then move on to Nassau and finally move south to the Exumas Chain farther south.  The logic in our minds was simple.  The further south you go, the warmer the weather.  True but, we were to learn that winter of 2010 proved to be one of the coldest and windiest since the 1960’s.

570-274-0879

570-274-0879

We crossed the Gulf Stream on January 9th, 2010 leaving Fort Lauderdale early in the morning.  The forecast predicted low winds and calm sea conditions and for once, the weatherman’s predictions proved to be correct.  Steering 130 degrees opn dead flat water conditions we cruised at a leisurely 8 to 9 knots across to Bimini.  Good thing we did not wait for another day because, as predicted the next day brought winds out of the North West at 20 knots which kept us pinned in Bimini for the next three days.

The weather did give us a chance to walk around North Bimini and we found that as an island that is dependent on fishing and tourism from the United States the US recession had direct effects on the local economy.  Bimini Big Resort once noted as a destination for the South Florida game fishing community was closed and you could tell that unemployment was rampant in the village of Alice Town.

The little village that once advertised Hemingway’s Bar (lost to fire) is now in a state of disrepair waiting for the next economic boom to build its economy.  (This is where Hemingway set his book Islands in the Stream when he wrote it in the 30’s.)

Bimini Bay Island Resort

Bimini Bay Island Resort

To the north of Alice Town on North Bimini lies Bimini Bay Island Resort a new development carved from the mangrove swamps.  Environmentalists fought this development over their concerns to the damage it would do to the eco-structure but, in spite of numerous protests the development proceeded.  Today, the development has its own electrical, water and sewage treatment plants as well as a small shops, a hotel, single family homes and condominiums.  All of this sets the back drop for a full service marina.

We had finally arrived in Bahamas and our education was about to begin to learn how to survive on a boat in the islands!

A Guide to Crossing From Florida to Bimini, Bahamas

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(25⁰43.4580′ N by 079⁰17.8755 W -  Mile 3250.64 - Bimini, Bahamas)

Leaving Fort Lauderdale

Leaving Fort Lauderdale

When you cross from Florida’s east coast to the Bahamas Bank you will encounter one of nature’s most formidable forces, the Gulf Stream. This stream of warm water runs northward along the American coast traveling from two knots up to four knots with a mean average of 2.5 knots.

In fact it is part of a much larger ecosystem which constantly circulates in a constant, clockwise rotation north along the Atlantic coastline past the US and Canadian eastern seaboard, north easterly past Greenland and Iceland touching Great Britain then turning southward along Europe’s western shoreline to the Azores then westward back to the Caribbean.

This constant clockwise rotation brings life to Bahamas steadily streaming warm water and plays a large role in determining the weather for the region.

For the cruising sailor several factors must be considered before attempting to cross from Florida to the Bahamas Bank.

Wind velocity and direction play a major role in determining the frequency and the height of the waves in the Gulf

Leaving Fort Lauderdale Cut

Leaving Fort Lauderdale Cut

Stream. Winds from the southwest (traveling with the Gulf Stream) typically tend to quell the height of the waves while winds from the northeast tend to “stack” the Gulf Stream waves making them higher and with shorter wave intervals. The higher the waves the rougher the crossing will be not only making the trip unpleasant but possibly dangerous as well.

Crossing the Gulf Stream in a slightly north bound direction will give you the advantage of a free push from the current. Remember, for every hour you are in the Gulf Stream the current will push you two or more miles north bound. Why not use it to your advantage? Conversely, taking a course with a south bound direction will only add more miles to your trip.

Plan to arrive on the Bahamas Bank during the day. If you are crossing from Florida to Bimini for example, the sun will be at your back and will give you excellent visibility of the bottom contours and obstructions.

Prior to leaving, purchase up-to-date charts (both paper and electronic) to help you avoid the hazards of Bahamas shallow waters. Experience tells us that Explorer Chart books are an excellent source of hard copy information. Nobeltec VNS charts as well as Garmin and C-Map charts provide a wealth of information while Navionics charts

Arriving In Bimini

Arriving In Bimini

(used by Raymarine on their latest chart plotters) leave vast sections of water with little or no information.

If possible, travel with another boat to ensure if difficulties arise assistance is near.

Ensure you have suitable safety gear on board with redundancy where practical. For example, take an extra GPS if you have one and include a 406 EPIRB in your emergency kit.

The Gulf Stream is 10 to 15 miles off the southern coast of Florida around Miami and Fort Lauderdale. While waves might be a moderate four to six feet off the American coastline seas in the Gulf Stream could be considerably higher. Watch NOAA weather reports or internet weather resources such as www.passageweather.com, www.buoyweather.com, www.hamweather.net or www.windguru.com . If you find wave and wind conditions are worse than forecast, don’t be afraid to return to shore and wait for a better day to cross.

On arrival in Bahamas territorial water you are required to display a solid yellow “quarantine flag” indicating to authorities that you have not cleared Bahamian Customs and Immigration. Once you land the dock master will either direct you to the local Customs and Immigration offices or the authorities will visit your boat.

Even The Pro's Can Miss The Bimini Cut!

Even The Pro's Can Miss The Bimini Cut!

It is a good idea to have the following ready to present.

a)   Ship documentation with an extra copy to give to customs officials;

b)  Passports, photo drivers license or birth certificate for each crew member;

c)  If you have weapons the serial number for each along with a count and caliber of the rounds;

d)  Documents for your dingy indicating the serial numbers;

e)  Serial numbers for value items like computers, GPS, scooters or bicycles.

Once the lengthy forms are completed you will be cleared to Bahamas. The cruising permit for vessels 35 feet and under is $150 and for vessels over 35 feet the fee is $300. This fee covers the captain and up to three crew members with an additional $15 to be charged for each person in excess of the first four on board.

Normally, cruising permits are good for up to one year while immigration permits may vary from 90 days to 12

Sunset In Bimini

Sunset In Bimini

months.

If you have safely crossed the Gulf Stream and negotiated your way through Customs and Immigration, “Welcome to the Bahamas!” Cruising in paradise is about to begin.

Christmas In Florida

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

(26⁰07.040′ N by 080⁰08.465 W -  Mile 3171.29 - New River Marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Karen & Peter In Florida for Christmas

Karen & Peter In Florida for Christmas

On December 22nd, we left Stuart, Florida on our way to West Palm Beach where we would meet our daughter and her boyfriend on the 23rd. They were flying in for a week on board for Christmas and they would cruise south to Fort Lauderdale and Miami with us since neither had been to the boat when it was in Florida in 2007.

West Palm Beach Marina has been refitted with new floating docks, new electrical power and water lines and when we arrived the Captain’s lounge was still not open. It was a great place to stop since you are literally only four or five minutes to the downtown business district of West Palm. There are a number of good restaurants and entertainment in the area. We’ll stop back here once we get back to the ICW just to enjoy West Palm’s ambiance.

The weather in December leading up to Christmas was still cooler than normal with periods of overcast and occasional rain.  As long as the rain held off we were content to travel in the comfort of the bridge on Prime Time albeit with the heat on making it a comfortable ride south to Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Two Manatees (Note The Prop Scars)

Two Manatees (Note The Prop Scars)

Unfortunately, with the dismal weather we did not encounter very many manatees or dolphin as we traveled along the ICW.   Manatees are a hazard since their nose barely clears the water when they breath and their 600 to 800 pound body lies just below the surface easily within striking distance of the propellers on the boat.  These two were spotted sleeping in the Miami Beach Marina their propeller scars clearly visible on their backs.


An ICW Bascule Bridge

An ICW Bascule Bridge

On Christmas eve, we pushed south on the ICW taking seven hours to travel 36.5 miles to the Swimming Hall of Fame Marina in Fort Lauderdale. It is a slow process since there are 19 bridges between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Prime Time V’s air draft (from the water’s surface to its highest point) is 18.5 feet which requires us to wait for many of the bridges to open. All Southern Florida bridges that open are either single or double bascule bridges and while most open on demand some are on a half hour operating schedule requiring you to wait some times.  There are also a few bridges that are 65 feet or higher that do not open thus restricting the air draft for very large sail boats.

Ely's First Florida Christmas

Ely's First Florida Christmas

We arrived in the Swimming Hall of Fame Marina to meet the crew of Melanie Bear once again. This time the “crew” had grown from two to seven. This was a special Christmas for Bob and Debbie since not only did they have their son and daughter and their spouses there but also their three week old granddaughter who came to Florida to visit grandma and grandpa.

With only one day left to Christmas and the boats decorated with lights around the decks and garland and lights on the interior it seemed like a perfect if not different Christmas celebration with family. Christmas day dawned and we spent the morning opening presents on the bridge with the television on showing a picture of a fireplace with a decorated mantle and fire burning on the hearth. The Christmas presents were arranged around the television.

The Christmas Television

The Christmas Television

On Christmas Day, we received a call from a friend of ours who’s daughter and son-in-law asked us on the spur of the moment to join them for Christmas dinner. While at first reluctant to take them up on their offer Neil’s daughter Marilyn explained she would be pleased to have us. After all, four more people in addition to the ten or eleven that were already at the table wouldn’t be a problem. It was a great evening for a traditional Christmas Day dinner in a very beautiful home on the ICW with their boat parked at their back door by the pool.

We cruised to Miami to stay at the Miami Beach Marina within walking distance of Miami Beach with Karen and Peter on December 28th allowing them to see the sights of South Miami Beach for the first time. For those of you who have not been to Miami Beach it is a great spot to spend a day on the beach, chill out in a restaurant, catch the night life in one of the bars along the strip or just chill-out watching the people. It is what you have seen of South Beach on television and more.

If South Beach not your cup of tea try Lincoln Road which has been turned into a pedestrian mall for about six or seven blocks and has many of the fine shops you read about but seldom see. It is another great spot for dining as well as watching the beautiful people of South Beach and frequently their dogs.

Karen and Peter had to get back to Canada to visit Peter’s family so, they left to go home on December 30th from

South Beach At Christmas

South Beach At Christmas

Miami while we ran the Atlantic Ocean from Miami back to Fort Lauderdale our kick off point to Bimini, Bahamas.

It was a great family Christmas before we were to leave to cross the Gulf Stream.

Jacksonville Beach, Florida to Stuart, Florida

Friday, February 5th, 2010

(28⁰24.474′ N by 080⁰40.673 W -  Mile 2988.20 - Stuart, Florida)

Following the ICW South

Following the ICW South

When most people think of the Intracoastal Waterway they think of Florida’s ribbon of protected water on the eastern shoreline. Florida boasts the greatest length of protected coastal shoreline access of any state on the Eastern Seaboard. It stretches from Fernandina Beach just south of the Georgia state line to Key West in the Florida Keys a distance of 572 miles.

Don’t be fooled in thinking that is Florida’s only protected waterway though. The western shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico has another 406 miles stretching from Key West to Apalachicola on the Florida Panhandle.

This does not even count the St. Lucie/Okeechobee Waterway system that runs from Fort Meyers on the Gulf side to Stuart/Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic coast or the fresh water access provided to the inner state by the St. Johns River. Certainly count the Sun, the Surf and Florida’s Waterways as the things that attract tourists and residents to the Sunshine State.

Most people, when they think of Florida will inevitably also imagine a picture of unprecedented develop with new homes, shopping malls and high rise buildings and that would be an accurate picture. But, we were about to stop in St. Augustine a town know for some of the oldest history in North America with many of the original structures still standing in place.

Flagler College - St. Augustine, FL

Flagler College - St. Augustine, FL

St. Augustine was founded in 1565 as a Spanish military outpost. It is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. Traces of the city’s Spanish heritage are everywhere and the Spanish Quarter where the conquistadors strolled has been recreated for the 21st century visitor and we were keen to take in its charm.

Before getting to the old-town, we walked from the boat along King Street to the downtown district to Flagler College which occupies Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel, built in 1888. Henry Flagler is honored in many places in Florida (primarily on the East Coast) since he was the business man who built the ribbon of steel which carried the railroad from the northern border of Florida all the way to Key West opening up the state for commerce and tourism in the late 1800’s. You will find a street named after Flagler in nearly every city and town in Florida.

Across the street from Flagler College is the Alcazar Hotel (also built by Flagler in 1887) which has been carefully restored to its original condition and now houses the Lightner Museum. Nearby, the Casa Monica Hotel houses an upscale restaurant and bar and the city offices are located within the court yards of these two structures.

From here, we walked down the narrow streets which were lined by homes that were built as early as the 1600 and 1700’s. We took a tour of a small local hotel which was operated by a single woman and her staff. The tour guide told us that at the time, St. Augustine although prosperous and was protected by a military garrison was under attack by the local Indian population. Consequently, most stayed within its walls for security and protection.

Alcazar Hotel (St. Augustine City Offices & Shopping)

Alcazar Hotel (St. Augustine City Offices & Shopping)

After lunch, we went to the local tourist district, San Augustin Aquino which has been recreated to depict Spanish colonial life. Of course, being America, all of today’s tourist attractions are there (Starbuck’s, Ice Cream, Taffy, Tee-Shirts etc.) but, the buildings and the interpretation of life in the 16th century is accurately depicted.

From here it is just a short walk past the ramparts of a fortified city and on to the battlements and dungeons of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. This fort has been maintained in as close to original state as possible today.

On November 4th, we left St. Augustine promising that we would return to this city to explore it once again. Our objective now was to travel south on the ICW to Palm Coast and New Smyrna Beach to reach Harbortown Marina on Merritt Island near Port Canaveral which is just south of the Space Shuttle launch sight.

Over the next three days we slowly worked our way down the ICW watching the scenery change from deciduous trees to palms, from mangrove to sandy banks and to see dolphins and manatees for the first time. For the most part, we were also required to go slowly to not only protect the manatees and ourselves from prop strikes but to protect the boats and the shoreline that were on either side of the ICW.

We arrived in Harbortown Marina on the afternoon of November 6th to park down the dock from Dealers Choice, the first time these boats had parked close together in a year. Although Brian was not at the marina, he had given us the name of some local skilled tradesmen who could conduct some engine tests and repairs as well as cabinetry repairs

The Walled City of St. Augustine, FL

The Walled City of St. Augustine, FL

that we were anxious to take care of before leaving for Bahamas in the New Year.

Six days later, repairs and maintenance completed for now, we headed south to Stuart, Florida with a stop overnight in Fort Pierce.

Stuart would be our home for the next five weeks. This is Prime Time V’s original winter home port and the place I first discovered the boat in the fall of 2006. When we bought the boat in 2007 it became our winter home port as well (part of the deal) for four months.

I felt comfortable here since we knew where most of the needed marine supplies could be purchased and that the local shopping allowed us to provision with the staples we would need when we crossed to Bahamas. It was also a good place to finish some key maintenance to the diesels as well as to install a water maker, something we considered essential for longer term cruising in the islands.

For Melanie Bear, this was a good time to stop as well. Not only for repairs and supplies but, as an easy access point to the Palm Beach Airport. After all, they had to get home for the arrival of their first grandchild.

Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Friday, January 29th, 2010

(30⁰17.421′ N by 081⁰25.915 W -  Mile 2854.06 - Jacksonville Beach, Florida)

We left Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday, October 29th continuing south on the Intracoastal Waterway and traveled 58 miles to Beaufort, South Carolina. Not to be confused with its namesake in North Carolina (pronounced Bow fort), Beaufort, South Carolina is pronounced B-you-fort. Pronounce it with the North Carolina pronunciation and the locals will quickly correct you and laugh.

A Beaufort, SC Home

A Beaufort, SC Home

Beaufort, South Carolina was established in 1514 and was first settle by the Spanish, then the French followed by the English. It endured Indian uprisings, occupation by the British and Union forces. It is in the heart of what has been aptly called “Low Country”.

As you will see from the pictures, film makers have used Beaufort as the location for movies like The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides and Forest Gump. The main attraction is the homes that have been lovingly restored to their original style which is unique compared to the homes of Charleston.

The style is more West Indian with a T-shaped floor plan, elevated first floors (rising waters in hurricanes and a place where the staff were sometimes housed), high ceilings and porches on the first and second floors which not only allowed a place to sit outside but offered shade to the inside of the building as well.

Magnolia and Dogwood trees take priority over sidewalks, roadways and traffic and some of these trees have obviously survived for over 100 years.

While we were here, the local merchants closed the main street of the town to hold a “Halloween Party” for the local

It's For Sale!

It's For Sale!

children who attended with their parents. Each shop offered the Trick-or-Treaters candies under their parent’s supervision and it was great to see all of the children dressed in costume.

Quick Fact (An Extract From Waterway Guide 2009)

Gullah Culture

The Low Country region of South Carolina and Georgia is home to the Gullah people. African-Americans whose ancestors were transported from Africa to the Carolina Colony in the late 1500’s. The Gullah region is focused in the Low Country, which includes the (Carolina) coastal plain and the Sea Islands.

Slaves from the West African rice-growing region were selected for transport to the American plantations for the skills in cultivation of the crop. Those slaves were retained and sent to the colony through the ports of Savannah and Charleston. By the 1700’s, the Africans had transformed the agricultural Low Country into a booming cotton and rice industry. A large, enslaved work force combined with disease and the Civil War, forced many white inhabitants out of the region and resulted in African dominated populations, complete with its traditions and language, throughout the Sea Islands.

Magnolia Crossing - NO TRUCKS!

Magnolia Crossing - NO TRUCKS!

The group became known as the ”Gullah”. Gullah speak an English based Creole language which has its roots in African language. In addition to their language, their cuisine, music, crafts, farming practices and folk beliefs all have strong ties to the culture of their West and Central African ancestors.

On Friday, October 30th we fueled up and took a 26 mile passage on the ICW to Hilton Head, South Carolina, a community literally built by sea-side golf resorts. It was a short day but we were setting ourselves up for the right sea conditions and visibility to jump from Hilton Head, bypassing Georgia and coming back to shore at Jacksonville, Florida a distance of 122 miles.

Georgia’s section of the ICW has long been ignored by the US Army Corp of Engineers the agency that is responsible for maintaining it. Silting and tides have created many sections which are today impassible by cruising boats with drafts greater than four feet. Many have claimed to successfully negotiated the passage while others tell of their groundings along the way. We chose wait for the right day and leave Georgia to others more adventurous.

We arrived in Hilton Head to stay the first night in Palmetto Bay Marina, nothing special but we felt we only needed secure overnight accommodation for our early start the next day. The next morning we woke to find a fog bank that

Halloween In Beaufort, SC

Halloween In Beaufort, SC

literally swallowed cruisers going into this curtain.

After two tries which took us late into the morning we decided to stay for the night at Harbour Town Yacht Basin closer to the channel leading to the ocean. This is also the home of the large, candy cane lighthouse you see in many of the post cards and pictures of Hilton Head. Climb to the top and you can see the 18th hole of Sea Pines Golf Club one of the more famous on the PGA Tour. By visiting the marina’s website you can see what we saw from the top of the lighthouse by live, internet camera. Just visit www.harbourtownyachtbasin.com and follow the links to the camera.

The next morning the fog had cleared and off we went on our first open-ocean running since we left Cape May. The sun was shining and the waves were less than two feet. Just a perfect day for a 122 mile, 8 hour ocean run!

We’ve made it to (northern) Florida and although Jacksonville is not quite the warm sunny weather we are looking for crossing into America’s southernmost state takes us one step closer to our goal. Warm winter weather.

From Harbour Town Lighthouse Internet Cam

From Harbour Town Lighthouse Internet Cam

Beaufort, North Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina

Friday, January 29th, 2010

(32⁰46.571′ N by 079⁰57.019 W -  Mile 2694.55 - Charleston, South Carolina)

Church in Charleston, SC

Church in Charleston, SC

If you were left with the impression that so far the trip south was just a process to get the boats south that would probably be correct.  Other boaters have confirmed that the weather had been very poor for an ICW fall journey.

As we left Beaufort, North Carolina after one day of rest our decision whether to take the ICW or the ocean route was determined once again by the weather. Waves south of Cape Fear near Beaufort were 4 to 6 feet and in some areas even higher and the day dawned with what else, rain!

On our first day we cruised 8 hours and made it 83 miles to Wrightsville Beach, NC.  Wirghtsville Beach has little to claim other than its access to the ocean from the ICW. A quiet night on board and we were off again the next day traveling 6 hours and 67 miles to Myrtle Beach, SC. Once again, a raining day from the heavens and 4 to 6 foot waves on the ocean.

By our third day, October 27th, we arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a good day since we had traveled 115 miles in 7 hours but, best of all, the sun was peeking out of the clouds as we arrived. Charleston was a place we had been reading about. A city with southern charm and history so, after three solid days of running the crews insisted on a lay day to convert from sailors to tourists.


Brick Architecture Charleston, SC

Brick Architecture Charleston, SC

Charleston’s architecture and history are probably the two things that bring travel magazines back frequently for a source of articles and it is not without reason. The city’s history, culture and love of good gourmet restaurants all conspire to make this a special place to visit.

The British founded Charleston in 1670 and was named after King Charles II. Colonists on the ship Carolina had originally planned to settle at Port Royal but the chief of the Kiawah Indians convinced them to move farther north. Within 10 years they had relocated to what locals refer to as “The Peninsula” or the site of the current downtown. The Peninsula is formed by the convergence of the Ashley River and Charleston Harbor. Within two years there were nearly 100 houses built establishing a vibrant community.

Of course many people are amused by the slow drawl of the southern belles and men of South Carolina and Georgia but it has a historical background that justifies their speaches tone and intonation. In the 17th and 18th century, English blended with the language of French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution. Many came by way of Barbados adding a Caribbean flair to the language and city’s lifestyle. The Spanish were also here and slaves certainly had a huge impact on the food, arts and language. Gullah, a patois of all the languages is still spoken on the sea islands in the area today.  (More on Gullah follows.)


Front Porches in Charleston

Front Porches in Charleston

This is also Confederate country as well and there is no doubt denial in theri minds whether the Unionists of the Confederates won the war, at least in South Carolina. Fort Sumter sits across from Charleston and according to local lore this is where cadets shelled to begin the Civil War. Maintained by U.S. Park Service, the rangers (northerners?) have a slightly different interpretation.

While we were walking through the park at the tip of the Battery I came across a bronze cast sign as you viewed Fort Sumter. According to local record at least the Confederate General in charge of the fort did not lose the battle to Union forces but instead “Ceased to Defend”. I thought this was not only a humorous description of a historical event but an indication of the southern pride and use of language that still exists to today.

And, as you have seen by the pictures, the historic architecture of Charleston is very interesting. The Battery is an area along the water front is where wealthy merchants built glorious homes reflecting their wealth and power in the community. There are also single homes, unique to Charleston which were built one room wide. You enter through a door onto a piazza giving the occupants privacy in the town.

All of these homes are surrounded by main streets and small lanes and the community was bonded with churches, the Old Exchange Building that used to house a prison and the Old Market that really was a market for food items, not slaves (the slave market is a few blocks away).

A Street, But No Cars!

A Street, But No Cars!

The best part of Charleston is its citizens. Stand on a street corner with a city map for even just a few seconds and the locals will offer directions or recommendations on what to see and do. Definitely a place we want to come back to.

Old Exchange Building

Old Exchange Building

Market Building

Market Building

Great Bridge, Virginia to Beaufort, North Carolina

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

(34⁰43.926′ N by 076⁰39.926 W -  Mile 2370.51 - Beaufort, North Carolina)

Traffic Jam on the ICW

Traffic Jam on the ICW

We woke up the morning of October 12th at Great Bridge to sunshine and 72 degree weather.  No rush since the first bridge only a couple of miles away in the ICW did not open until 9:00 AM.  We knew this would be a day of slow, relaxing cruising but with plenty of south bound traffic.  After the five days over rain we had received the previous week every cruiser was anxious to put in some miles in search of warm weather.

The same group of cruisers could be heard on the VHF radio for days on end.  Breezy Rider, Sun Cat, Pretty Penny and others, all with similar requests for bridge openings, slow passes and general exchanges between friends who were on the same ICW journey.  Considering the differences in size and speeds of the boats it was amazing how courteous each was to the other.

This section of the ICW takes you through the Dismal Swamp area which is a good description of the area we would travel through.  Low land and in some cases swamp with tall, thick mangrove areas that reminded you of scenes from the Burt Reynolds movie, Deliverance. Seen the boats with big, brown stains on the bow commonly referred to as a Carolina Smile?  The staining is caused by the rotting vegetation and turns the water to a tea coloured brown.  This is the area where they get these stains and nothing short of muriatic acid will remove it.  That and lots of elbow grease.

Brackish Water ICW Near Abermarle Soung

Brackish Water ICW Near Abermarle Soung

This section of the ICW serves boaters well though since it provides protection from wind and waves from Norfolk, Virginia to Moorehead City, North Carolina.  It if did not exist you would be forced into the open ocean with no refuge for more than 100 miles.  The other option would be Pamlico Sound which is very shallow, open and most likely very rough in stormy weather.

As I said, traffic would be heavy and the area requires you to go slow.  Today, we would travel only 37 miles of roughly 220 to Beaufort, NC where we would decide whether to go out on the ocean or stay on the ICW.  Our first day would take 7 hours as we encountered bridges and generally tight conditions in the ICW.  Our plan was to go to Coinjock, North Carolina a spot that Bob and I had stayed in when we brought the boat north with Brian and John in 2007.

Coinjock’s only claim to fame (other than the marina) is its restaurant which the staff and owners were quite emphatic offered “Best Roast Beef In America”. Big - yes.  Tasty - yes.  But loaded with MSG to tenderize the meat.  Nancy and I both were staring at the ceiling all night unable to go to sleep since we both react to MSG’s affects.  A great place to stay though!

Hotel at Bellehaven Marina, NC

Hotel at Bellehaven Marina, NC

The next day we woke to more sunshine and 75 degree F weather.  Our trip would take us on through waterways named Albemarle Sound and the Alligator and Pungo Rivers.  We had passed most of the slower vessels and the open waters of the Albemarle allowed us to spin up the Cats and cover 89 miles in 6 hours.  Much better time, 2-1/2 times the distance in one hour less than the previous day.

We arrived in Bellehaven, North Carolina in the early afternoon in time to walk through the village which while quaint was quite a depressed area.  The marina had a hotel on the property in an old columned home reminiscent of Gone with the Wind. You could almost see Scarlett on the front porch waiting for Rhett Butler.  In the lobby, which was be refinished, there was an advertisement from Sear Roebuck circa 1908 advertising complete home kits that delivered all the materials to build this exact home.

We walked about the village taking in the afternoon sunshine.  We didn’t expect too much from this Bellehaven but, it was one of our more pleasant stops along the ICW so far.  Although it was near Halloween, Nancy and Debbie collected pine cones for a center piece on our boats for Christmas.  Probably a little premature but, both of these ladies had their hope set on seeing the children at Christmas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Wecome to Beaufort, NC

Wecome to Beaufort, NC

The next day, October 23rd, our 80th day on board since we left Honey Harbour, Ontario in August, we pushed on to Beaufort (pronounced Bow-Fort), North Carolina.  72 miles through the ICW in 8 hours left us with the desire to take a day of well needed rest.  Besides, the winds were rising, the forecast was for rain the next day and it was time to make a decision.  Run outside directly to Hilton Head or continue on the ICW, the more protected route.

With a day off, we left the decision to the weather Gods.  The next day was for rest, then we would make the decision on which route we would take.

New York City to Great Bridge, Virginia

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

(36⁰43.246′ N by 076⁰14.278 W -  Mile 2172.35 - Great Bridge, Virginia, Maryland)

We left Liberty Landing Marina across the Hudson River from New York City on Sunday, October 11th after our daughter and her boyfriend left to return to Canada for the balance of Thanksgiving Weekend with his family.

Melanie Bear Leaves New York City

Melanie Bear Leaves New York City

Bob and Debbie and Nancy and I were eager to get moving since the weather had a definite fall feel. We joked that we wanted to get south quick enough that we would never have to put long pants or jackets on this fall. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.

Once you clear New York Harbor and then pass Sandy Hook, New Jersey we turned south in the North Atlantic. This is one of the few places on the east coast south of New York where there is no inner channel such as the Intracoastal Waterway offers further south. For that reason, you have to carefully choose which day the wind and wave conditions will be favourable for the trip. It is roughly 150 miles from NYC to Cape May where we were to enter Delaware Bay the first inshore route of the ICW.

Fortunately, the wave conditions were a reasonable 3 to 4 feet and we cruised on plane as we left. About 35 miles from New York the starboard motor began to slow which normally signals fuel starvation. Considering the time of day and the possibility that it could be something worse than a clogged filter we decided to stop in Brielle, New Jersey.

As we pulled in to get fresh fuel we noticed that there was a strong current flowing out the river to the ocean. Later, tied to the dock we experienced our first strong tidal surge with currents up to 4 knots creating eddy pools around the docks and a tide change of 7 feet. We watched a young fellow about 12 years old fishing from the dock wondering if his parents even knew he was here. One slip and he would be lost to the ocean.

We left the next morning to run roughly 100 miles to Cape May. Although I had changed the filters on both engines and the boat was now running well, we decided to have a Caterpillar mechanic check the engines just to be sure everything was all right. A quick check indicated all was OK but since it was late in the morning, Nancy and I decided to take a short break for the day to see Cape May.

Main Street - Cape May

Main Street - Cape May

Cape May is a very historic town with a history linked to the sea. Fishing, crabbing and tourism are today’s economic drivers but the history of the community lies intact in the buildings in its downtown core. This was the year that town was celebrating its 400th anniversary. While we spent the better part of a day here Cape May is on our list of places to return to to enjoy the atmosphere and the activities that are available in the summer.

The following day, we left Cape May heading west into Delaware Bay to the C & D Canal, a 15 mile waterway that links the west end of Delaware Bay to Chesapeake Bay. It was here we caught Melanie Bear once again as they had left Cape May one day earlier. The weather had turned cooler and was now overcast with a forecast that looked even worse (rain) for the next five days. We pushed hard passing Annapolis, MD for Herrington Harbor.

The marina facilities were good but the weather forecast delivered on its promise. We were locked into this port for five nights until the rain and fog cleared.

A trip to the Annapolis Power Boat Show which was underway provide the distraction (if not wet) that we all needed.  Nothing better than going to a boat show in the rain.

Yes, It Is A Snake!

Yes, It Is A Snake!

It was here that even the local fauna was trying to stay dry. We returned from a walk (in the rain) to find a local snake lying on the swim platform and quite convinced he was not interested in getting back in the water.  Even after a thorough soaking with the water hose this snake  only left reluctantly.

Sadly, we would push on missing Chesapeake Bay but knowing we will return sometime in the future.  We left Herrington Harbor at 7:00 AM on October 19th staying that night at Deltaville, Maryland.  Nothing exciting to report here except that despite the overcast we managed to cruise “with no rain”, a first in at least six days.

The next day we pushed on through Norfolk, Virginia one of America’s largest naval bases.  We can not even begin to explain the size and scope of the naval establishment here.

Literally miles of ships lining the shores with project management barges close by to supervise the ship’s refit.  What did surprise me though was the lack of military security around the shoreline and the floating vessels as we had seen in 2007 when we brought Prime Time V north to Canada.  With the current “high security” alerts that have been posted in the USA there were no small patrol vessels around  watching for pleasure craft coming too close.

In Dry Dock

In Dry Dock

What is truly amazing about this yard is the size of the vessels that they lift in the dry docks for repair.  I am sure someone can identify the class of warship this is in the picture but small it is not and this dry dock is obviously up to the task of lifting it out of the water to facilitate the repairs.

As fascinating as the naval shipyards were, we pushed on just south of Norfolk to Great Bridge, Virginia the first “noticeable” time that you are in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway  and Great Bridge is a small village that has a lock separating the brackish run-off of the Dismal Swamp from the Atlantic Ocean.  For the first time since the Erie Canal we would be relegated to a slow passage through the narrow ICW south of the Chesapeake.

When we cleared the lock and the bridge we tucked into the local docks for the night knowing that we would not be facing any open water unless we chose to for some time.

In spite of the cold and sometimes overcast or rainy weather we knew this would be a slower and easier part of our journey south to Florida and Bahamas.