Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014/11/12 - Fernandian Beach to Palm Coast, Florida

2014/11/ 12 - Fernandina Beach, FL to Palm Coast, FL

2014/10/30 Brickhill River to Bell River, Fernandina, FL 21 nm
2014/11/04 Bell River to Pine Island, FL 43 nm
2014/11/06 Pine Island to Palm Coast, FL 33 nm

Total Miles to Date: 600 nm
Ibis Headed Home for Night
I find the great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as what direction we are moving; to reach port, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Small World - Jimmy Copelan & Dale Tingle

Friday, the 31st of October, was the day before the Georgia / Florida football game and Fernandina, like all towns within 50 miles of Jacksonville, was packed with football fans gettin' “prepped” for the big game. When in Fernandina Gigi always gets her a “mani and a pedi” and I always go to the Palace Saloon and drink beer – do what ya do best I always say. 

Fermandina By Night

I left Gigi at the “Mani & Pedi” store and headed for the Palace. The town was full of fans dressed in Red and Black with a sprinkling of fans of the “other” persuasion – clearly Fernandina was a Georgia town that just happened to be in Florida. The Palace was filled to overflowing with “Dawgs” already well oiled and it was only 2:00 PM, the day before the game. The Georgia fight song was blowing the doors open on the Palace and sounds of “Ooof Ooofs” were echoing in my ears. The Palace was no place for me today! I headed for the Green Turtle Bar about 2 blocks away to do my duty and suck down a beer or two.
Walk the Dog
As I crossed the street there was a man with a GA shirt sitting on a bench in front of one of the stores obviously doing what most men do, wait for their shopping wives. We struck up a conversation. Being originally from Georgia my self I asked where he was from. He said Edenton to my surprise. I told him I was from Sparta a scant 30 miles from Edenton and introduced my self. His eyes widened. He was Jessie Copeland originally from Greensboro and he had met and had nothing but respect for my Grandaddy, Jimmy Copelan. He said, “Mr. Jimmy”planted and cut hay for his Grandad.” When he called him “Mr. Jimmy” I knew he was the genuine article - a Green County boy that truly did know my Grandad. When you meet someone like Jessie that actually knew your Grandady it, in away, brings him back to life for a warm moment or two. It is a small world. But that was not the only surprise Fernandina had in store for me that day...

Bell River Sunset
After “a few” beers at the Green Turtle and some pleasant conversation with new friends Gigi called and asked me to meet her at the Ice cream Store...don't remember a time I've turned down ice cream. While waiting out front of the Ice Cream Store (you always wait on women..think it must be a rule) I noticed a couple with red and black “Oconee” shirts on some folk. I introduced my self and told them the story of my boat “Oconee.” They were from Watkinsville, a small town that is now part of Athens. My cousin Steve Tingle has a business in Watkinsville and I asked if by chance they knew Stevie. The husband said he did not but...his wife piped up and said “but I'm distant kin to Dale, Steve's wife. Dale and I grew up in the same town.” For the life of me I can't remember names..wish I did. They too were nice folk.

All and all, it was a really good day. I enjoyed the company of some new friends. Drank me some good Florida beer...and Florida makes some good beer. Ate some good food. And had me some real pleasant surprises. But best of all, I got to remember my Granddad.

The Broken Rule:

One of my all time sailing heroes was Dick Bradley. Dick wrote a column for Motor Boat & Sailing in 60s and 70s. Dick's columns on boating (of course) and on life yielded bucket loads of simple wisdom. Dick used to say that you didn't need courses in “seamanship” you needed courses in “landsmanship.” “God,” Dick said, “would teach you all ya needed to know about seamanship.” On land it was a complicated “crapshoot.” He also had a hard fast rule he called the rule of “Chicken seamanship: Never put yourself in a position you might need seamanship.” I have done my best to live by Dick's rule...occasionally I fail.

We left Fermandian and rode the height of the tide down the Amelia River. The first part of the Amelia can be a little skinny and G and I like to have at least a couple of feet of tide under us for this section. We hit 10 knots in places between Fernandian and the crossing of the St. Johns river. I commented to Gigi that we were seeing more current than normal in this section and was not looking forward to pushing that current once we crossed the St. Johns. I had no idea...

1960 Crocker
After we crossed the St. John's River our speed dropped to 4.5 knots - one whale of a current and now we had us a convoy of boats in front of us to add to the mix. The current thru the first bridge turned us every where but loose. The second bridge in this section always has the worst current. The ICW narrows here and all the water of the Sound flows between the fenders of the second bridge. Our friend Dan Boeny often anchors and waits for slack before attempting the passage thru the bridge..Dan is a wise man. Ahead of us was a couple of catamarans, Slow Fight – another Defever 44 like the Turtle, and last in line just ahead of us was an about 60' express cruiser. Express cruisers can create a huge wake when they apply power. Their stern digs a hole in the water – result huge wakes. 

We waited our turn, backed way off on the throttles and put about 100 yards between us and the Cruiser. We could see it was not going to be fun from the way the other boats were getting kicked around but it looked do able. It was all we could do to hold position in the 5 knot current. When the last cat cleared the bridge and the Express kicked her engines to life with all but full throttle and pushed a huge wake thru the bridge. I powered up the Salty Turtle and started to follow the Express thru the bridge. Gigi mumbled something like, “Do you think we should wait..?” At that slim point I had a choice - go or spin the Turtle and wait a bit for the wakes to die down. Right here is where a lifetime rule was broken. I applied more power. I had no idea how big a trouble I was in. 

One hundred feet off the bridge fenders the Cruiser's wake ricocheted off the shore and combined with the standing way under the bridge creating 4' waves that seemed to be coming at the Turtle from all directions – sort of like trying to push a 52 thousand pound boat up a mountain cataract. I pushed the throttles to unknown territory around 2000 RPMs, A-framed my legs to brace my self, and did what the boat told me. This is one of those situations you can't think thru you just have to react. Waves and current were kicking Turtle all over the place. We were rolling 15 degree from port to starboard at the whim of the standing waves and kicking Turtle's stern about like a ping-pong ball. I was making 20 degree rudder corrections and the Turtle was still not responding. It took adding every drop of power we had to port or starboard engines as required (steering with engines) to keep us from careening off the bridge fenders...and even then it was a matter of slim feet. Slowly, ever slow slowly I was able to regain control of the boat. By the time we were exiting the bridge fenders the Turtle was just fighting current and I was able to ease off on the throttles a bit. At this point I glanced at the GPS and we were doing a screaming 3 knots...and safe.

Gigi took a breath..I think her first since we hit the wake...and said,” Were you scared?” I took my first breath and said, “No, too damn busy to be scared.”

Dick Bradley don't ever let me break that rule again!!!!


Memories are our most prized possessions..maybe our only true possession. A good one is like gold in the bank to warm our hearts, minds, and yes..bodies. They can change a back day light and shift our moods in a blink of an eye. It was like that the other evening at anchor South of Pine Island. It had been an especially grueling day (see above). The Turtle was swinging to her anchor and I was sucking down a well deserved “sundowner” when I looked up to see a navy blue Island Packet swing off the ICW and quietly anchor a couple of hundred feet ahead of us in the creek. I knew that boat? I grabbed the glasses and took a closer look. It was... “Slow Dancing” and suddenly, in a flood of memories, it was 8 years past in January and Mike Yount and I had just finished a long wait for weather to cross to Bimini...

Pine Island Morning
The night was dark and there were 29 boats that were crossing at the same time, about 10 going to Bimini the rest headed to Nassau, Morgan's Bluff, or Chub Cay. For some reason we struck up a conversation with Paul and Diane Kline (?), also first timers, on Slow Dancing...and we did not know it at the time but a friendship was born and one of my lifetime memories was deposited in the bank. 

Pine Island Sunset
In Bimini Mike and I ate our first Bahamian lobster cooked by Diane aboard Slow Dancing. We crossed the banks a few days later together and held up for a three day 30-40 knot Northeaster in Fraiser Hog Cay – Slow Dancing at the Berry Island Club and Oconee at anchor. That storm is still the storm by which I measure all others. The Mule and I turned Slow Dancing's bow and pushed them off the Berry Island Club dock after the blow and helped them escape the grip of the dock and bottom (they were aground). We met again in Marsh Harbor in the Abacos and they “shepherded” me a bit since they knew I was now single handing.

Pine Island Moon Rise
  Paul and Diane sold Slow Dancing, moved to (of all places) Washington, NC and took up golf and became a CLOD (that's “Cruisers Living On Dirt”). But..Slow Dancing kept her name and is still cruising fulfilling another couple's dreams...and salting away gold in their memory banks. Me? Just seeing that boat sail once again into my life brightened my day. 

Slow Dancing
We are in Palm Coast waiting the arrival of Victoria Gaye, Temptation, and Skat with long time cruising friends NC aboard. Today there will be one hell of a reunion on the back deck of the Turtle. Tomorrow Salty Turtle will start her plod South again. Next destination Titusville and a visit with Steve and Aggie Knox (another set of CLODs).

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic C.

Monday, November 3, 2014

2014-10-31 Long Creek, SC to Cumberland Island, GA

10/13/2014 Long Ck to Bull River, SC 61 nm
10/14/2014 Bull River to Ladies Island Marina, Beaufort, SC 17 nm
10/18/2014 Ladies Island Marina to Beaufort Anchorage, SC 2 nm
10/20/2014 Beaufort to Bull Ck, SC 25 nm
10/21/2014 Bull Ck to Herb River, GA 18nm
10/22/2014 Herb River to Thunderbolt Marina, GA 2 nm
10/24/2014 Thunderbolt Marina to Buckhead Ck, GA 24 nm
10/26/2014 Buckhead Ck to Thunderbolt Marina, GA 24 nm
10/27/2014 Thunderbolt Marina to Wahoo River, GA 40 nm
10/28/2014 Wahoo River to Brickhill River, Cumberland Island, GA 59 nm
Total Miles To date: 502 nm
Is it possible for us to struggle and overcome fate..or are we merely being swept along a course which all our efforts fail to alter or change?” Elizabeth Cochran (Nellie Bly)

The Boarding:

The Turtle hauled her anchor in Long Ck and headed for the 4 mile stretch of the ICW between the bridges off Mt (un)Pleasant with 2' of tide under us. Over the last 3 years this section has shoaled in and in conjunction with cross currents that move water in and out of numerous small creeks make this area just pain unsettling at low tide. We hurtled S. at a screaming 6 knots, thru the panorama of Charleston Harbor, pushed the 3 knot current down Elliots Cut to the Stono River and started our slow trip South on the Stono. Our plan was to reach the shallow entrance to the Dahoo River and the shallow water of the S. Ashepoo / Coosaw Cutoff at the top of the tide.

About 10 miles down the Stono we noticed a Charleston City Police boat slowly overtaking us. The VHF sprang to life and the courteous but firm voice of a Southern Gentleman said, “Salty Turtle this is US Customs would mind if we boarded you.” Of course it was not really a question..was it. I Southern Gentlemaned right back at him, “We will slow to idle. Meet me at the starboard gate and I'll help you aboard.” I gave Lt.Daniel Maddock, Charleston County Sheriff, and Kenzie Driggers with US Customs and Border Protection a hand aboard. Both were very courteous and allow us to return to speed. They wanted to see the boat's documentation. Gigi keeps all our papers filed so I turned them over to her and I took over on the bridge.

Odd combination, a Customs supervisor, a Sheriff's Lieutenant, and a Charleston Police boat clearly outside Charleston's jurisdiction. Odd? Ten minutes went by, then twenty, and I was beginning to worry when Gigi finally returned on deck and took over the helm while I helped the officers to re-board their vessel and they were off after apologizing in their best Southern manner for our delay. Gigi said all they wanted to see was Turtle's documentation and our driver's licenses...nothing else – not the heads, not lifejackets, not passports, not nothing. They called our licenses numbers in to Columbia and waited for a response. To this day we do not know why they boarded us. Our best guess was they were looking for someone. 'Tis a mystery. Certainly was not normal.
A Mooing in the Marsh:

Once we crossed into Coosaw Sound the current was in our face and (more importantly) it was approaching cocktail hour - by 5:00 our anchor was now in Bull River about a 20 miles N. of Beaufort. We'd make that run tomorrow morning with a rising tide and the current with us.

Bull river has a habit of giving us a dolphin show and it did again this day. We had sundowner's with dolphin doing tail walks and back flips what could be better. That night the sound of dolphin pinging the hull lulled us quickly off to sleep. Mornings just as the sun's first rays first starts to paint the sky a deep blue with hints of color usually finds me on the aft deck enjoying a cup of coffee – a peaceful way to greet the new day. This morning had a surprise in store. I was startled out of my contentment too the sound of “mooing” in the marsh. I've seen deer, raccoon, hogs, eagle, stork, all sorts of wildlife in the marsh but cows? Never. What the heck were cows doing in a marsh..besides the obvious - eating of course. This trip seems to be full of mysteries.
Marsh Cows
Ladies Island Marina – Beaufort, SC:

Cruisers (us included) rush South on a mission to get to “Paradise” in the warm waters of Bahamas and as a consequence miss some great places and people in doing so. It was supposed to blow like a mother with a cold front passing over the area. Usually we anchor off Beaufort and dingy into the town. Gigi said, “Vic, why don't we stop at Ladies Island Marina and enjoy the luxury of a dock for the night. That will put us within walking distance to a Publix and a liquor store (we needed ships stores).” “OK by me,” said I. This was to turn out to be a near disaster.

Steve, the dockmaster, moved some boats around to fit the Turtle in on the T head and Gigi headed for Ladies Island Marina – I handle lines and Gigi steers the boat. Gigi did her usual perfect job of bringing us in and I hustled the lines ashore to eager, competent, hands. When I slowed up enough to look up it seemed almost everyone at the Marina had showed up to welcome the Turtle “home.” Home? This is not home? How could this be home? We are headed South...weren't we?
We planed on staying one night and stayed 4. This is a dangerous place – a dream killer. We had not settled in good before we had offers of a car, a truck, and even a “an ice cream truck” to run errands. Everyone treated us like long lost friends. The marina even has a huge, well equipped shop..did I mention this place was cheap. It even has a restaurant and bar next door...sort of.
“The Filling Station” is a local dive with character of it's own. In the parking lot it is not unusual to find beat up pickup trucks of unknown lineage side by side with brand new BMWs. The bar is run by an former Marine (everyone know that there's no such thing as an ex-Marine) and his Philippine wife. They don't serve food but...on Wednesday you can get a hamburger, hotdog, and fries for $4, Thursday 2 pork chops and 3 home cooked sides for $5, and on Friday a huge ribeye steak and 3 sides for $10. Gigi and I did pork chop night and were wowed...decided to stay to Friday and try “steak night” and were wowed again. Their steaks and pork chops are some of the best I've ever eaten.
Friday night after supper at the Filling Station Steve, the dockmaster, came aboard for a gam and touch of rum and did his worst to talk us into staying thru the following week. When Steve left. I looked at G and she at me. We both said, “We gotta get out of here or we might never leave.” See what I mean, Laddies Island is a dangerous place, a dream killer..a place you could call “home.”

To Hell and Back...and Back:

Cruising boats are really a combination “private island and time machine” that slowly drift with the tides and currents in the general direction their inhabitants wish. Occasionally, we allow special people to share our island and even more rarely we are transported back in time by circumstance and company. John and Nancy Holmes joined us in Thunderbolt, GA for a weekend cruise. It was to be special in both place and time.
Buckhead Ck
John (Monk) Holmes was my best friend in high school. I had met Nancy at our Sparta High reunions but had not had the chance to know her well. This trip was going to fix that. I wanted to give John and Nancy a taste of our life – a little of what it takes to cruise and a little of the beauty the marshes and tidal creeks of Georgia could provide. Within a short 25 mile trip we could do some of both. Hell's Gate is a cut with swirling currents and shallows that should be run at half tide or better and require a little planning or luck (the challenge). Five miles further South lay Buckhead Creek, one of the most remote anchorages on the ICW (the beauty). Buckhead was our destination.
Eagles for Breakfast
Within minutes of John and Nancy coming aboard John had transported me back to the 60s growing up in Sparta, Georgia our friendship a warm as ever. Gigi, usually takes a little time to warm up to strangers. Nancy Holmes turned out to be an exception. Before the anchor was down in Buckhead Ck she and Nancy were (scarily) comfortable with each other. Talking and yes... giggling (quite un-nerving – when ya don't know what a woman is up to, you don't know what a woman is up to).
Buckhead delivered and then some. Beautiful sunsets (and good sundowner's), coffee with Bald Eagles in the morning, time to relax and catch up on each other's lives, time to solve most of the world problems, and most importantly, time to re-discover the joys of each other's company. All too soon it was time to cross Hells Gate for the second time on the voyage back to Thunderbolt Marina and time to part ways. Thank you John and Nancy from the bottom of my heart...time is the greatest gift that can be given.
Vic, Gigi, John, & Nancy
The next day we passed thru Hells Gate for the third time this trip headed South for our date with Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island:

Cumberland is one of the “Sea Islands” of Georgia. Originally a private island owned by Nathaniel Green and developed during the “railroad baron” era of the 1800s by Thomas Carnegie the brother of Andrew as an opulent estate / cotton plantation. Lighthorse Harry Lee, Robert E. Lee's father, came here to die and was buried here for a time. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin on Cumberland. Today it is a US Park and open to us all...and man are we lucky. Cumberland is one of the most beautiful places on this earth.
We spent 3 days anchored in the Brickhill River off the North end of Cumberland Island. Gigi and I had explored the S end near the ruins of Dungeness Estate in past years but had never had seen the N end. We explored the shore line until we lucked upon some primitive camp sites shaded by live oak and were able to beach the dingy there and spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the sand roads canopied with live oak. If you like wildlife this is the place deer, raccoon, pileated woodpecker, snakes (yep), fox squirrel, turkey, and plenty of bugs (bring your bug spray here). Cumberland has a large herd of wild horses but while we saw piles and piles of “evidence” we saw none this day.
Coon Tracks
John John Kennedy was married in the small Black Anglican Church in the Black Settlement on the N. end in a very private, very secret ceremony. I wanted to photograph the preserved settlement but it was not to be for this trip anyway. We were still 4 miles S of the settlement and that was too much of a walk for Old Vic. 
The next morning we jumped in Mule and ran the Brickhill 4 miles S to the Plum Orchard Docks for a little walkabout. Plum Orchard is the second of 3 estates on Cumberland build by the Carnegies and maintained by the Park Service. On an island like Cumberland where every inch is special the beauty of Plum Orchard stands out with acres of sweeping manicured lawn, live oak lined drives, and (yes) Cumberland horses wandering the grounds.
Plum Orchard
Cumberland is personal for me at least. It is my vision of what Eden must have been like...and in some ways still is. While I'm on the island I feel like it is mine and I'm the first and only person here. It is primordially quiet, natural, and breath takingly beautiful. The best part, you don't have to be a boater to visit Cumberland. You can reach the island by ferry from St. Mary's, Georgia. You owe it to yourself to put Cumberland on your “bucket list.” You will not be sorry. It is Eden still.

We are anchored in Bell River off Fernandian Beach, FL and plan to leave here tomorrow for Pine Island and Palm Coast the next day to visit Gigi's cousin Tom and his wife Olga.

Faiwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic C.