Happy 4th of July!

July 2nd, 2018

We left Beaufort for the trip to Charleston, SC. Rather than go all the way to the Charleston Maritime Marina, Amy and I decided to stay about 10 miles short of Charleston. We understand that tides and late afternoon winds can create havoc so we found St. John’s Marina and decided to stay there.

Of course, I would break tradition by not sending the sunrise photo just as we were pulling out of Beaufort, SC. Such a beautiful southern town and a charm all its own.

The marshland in this area seems to go forever and we can sometimes go 2 hours without seeing another boat or any signs of civilization. It is so peaceful and serene.

We are having a minor issue with the boat… The entire day we were plagued with an intermittent forward bilge light. It seemed to happen at higher RPM’s. I handed the controls over to Amy while I went down to tear into the boat to see if we have water. I have an issue with water coming in the boat from unknown places. This could be as simple as a stuck float valve so I am going to keep an eye on it. If it becomes more frequent or, if the other bilges decide to join in the fun, I have a bigger problem and we will have a pro take a look.

Once at St. John’s, Amy and I grabbed the loaner car and headed to the grocery store. Marina courtesy cars are so funny that we have started taking pictures of them. This is actually one of the nicer loaner cars we have driven so far. It even had AC!

July 3rd, 2018

We left St. John’s Marina and continued north through a series of sharp turns then coming to a very narrow cut. I had to double check the charts to make sure it was still the ICW. I guess a wayward sailor didn’t realize it either since he anchored in the middle of the channel. We were likely the first boat through that particular morning and he looked a bit surprised as we passed.

In no time we saw the immense waterfront that is Charleston, SC. While Charleston may be a relatively small town it is big when it comes to boating. After days of marshland, we are now competing with container ships and LARGE vessels. We crossed the two channels to get to the Maritime Museum and Marina. We radioed that we were in range and requested a dock assignment. It was fun to see the other boats Sea Fox, Blue Sky, Spirit and Leap of Faith already berthed and folks coming over to help us tend the lines. This is an expansive “working” marina with water taxi’s, charter tour boats and fishing charters all transiting in and out. What we didn’t realize was that there was a strong easterly wind that turned this marina into what felt like the middle of the ocean. For two days we contended with the winds and it was very difficult to maneuver around the boat without being thrown from one side to the other. Everyone made the best of it by touring downtown Charleston and finding any reason at all to stay on land. We had “docktails” the first night and were very happy that Kim Russo, President of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association joined us along with Mike Martin from Curtis Stokes.

Kim shared the fact that more people climb Mount Everest every year than complete America’s Great Loop. On average, only about a hundred boats will cross their wake and complete the journey. Five times that amount will start the loop or do some portion, many only completing the InterCoastal Waterway.

The marina was so rough that Amy and I decided to grab a hotel room for the two nights that we were here. We might have caught a bit of gruff from the others but we really didn’t care. I slept like a baby and we both emerged so well rested after the first night we walked over 6 miles to see the sights in Charleston not related to the waterfront and then enjoyed a fabulous fireworks display over Patriots Point.

July 5, 2018

The easterly winds were still howling when we left this morning. Crossing two large shipping channels, we (along with Blue Sky) reentered the ICW and were transformed back into the calm waters we had taken for granted. After the 36NM trek, we landed at Leland Oil in McClellanville, SC. It was like night and day and we all appreciated how quiet everything seemed. Leland is more of a fuel dock for the shrimp boats that call this area home port. They could not have been more welcoming and we felt as if we stepped back in time.

We decided to ride our bikes into the small town and see the 100 year old tree. I don’t think this town has changed much since the 1950’s and I hope it doesn’t anytime soon.

We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow since we are only going a short 27NM to HarborWalk Marina in Georgetown, SC.

We have been on this adventure for 3 weeks as of today and traveled 759 nautical miles using 642 gallons of fuel. We have travelled all but 3 days and… yes, stayed in one hotel!

I have plotted the next several days knowing that we will stay extra nights in Southport, NC and Beaufort, NC (pronounced Bo-Fert) keeping a clear delineation from its neighboring city to the south. Below is the map outlining our planned stops.

Beaufort, SC

June 30th, 2018

Today began with a 46NM trip from Morningstar Marina in Thunderbolt (just south of Savannah) to Beaufort, SC. As usual, we shoved off just before 6:30am and caught a quick picture of the sun coming up from across the river. These early views never get old to us.

The ICW takes us along the west side of Hilton Head, Island and had no major areas of concern on this leg. After Hilton Head, we passed the infamous Parris Island, the location for the United States Marine Corp. boot camp. Talk about a dichotomy of difference between these two Islands that are so close together!!

We docked at the lovely Beaufort City Dock that sits adjacent to the small town of Beaufort, SC. We have been here a few times by land and it was one of the top spots that we always wanted to visit by sea. It was a little surreal for us as we docked here.

July 1st, 2018

This is our first well deserved non travel day in a week. We were happy to take a day off and enjoy the sights of Beaufort. This is old south at its best and the location for many movies such as The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, Prince of Tides and many more. I know I promised not to waste your time on restaurants where we ate but one spot must be mentioned… Blackstone’s Cafe! As we were eating breakfast, they rang a ships bell three times precisely at 8am. An employee apologized for surprising any newcomers but it was tradition at Blackstone’s to stand and say the National Anthem every morning at 8am. We were so glad we were there to be a part of that tradition.

We rode our bikes around the downtown historic district and took so many pictures as each home was more beautiful than the next. The first shot below is “Tidalholm Mansion” where The Big Chill was filmed. The house was recently on the market at $4.5 million and someone purchased it for $1.5 million. As you can see, the home is under renovation.

We really appreciate all the questions and comments from everyone. A couple of you asked how we prepare and know where to stop along the trip. I thought some folks might be interested so here’s what we do. Seems every looper has their own method and this is ours.

We use Active Captain and Navionics Charts on the iPad and “Skipper Bob’s InterCoastal Waterway Guides”. Blue Horizon moves at an average of 9mph or 7.5 knots per hour. Planning the stops takes a bit of time.

We plan for marinas and/or anchorages in that range given back up locations closer given any bad weather. We check the tides and currents looking for the optimum time. Make sure the boat has fuel and all systems are working properly. Check to see if we need pumped out, Ugh! Add potable water and make sure we have enough drinking water and whatever provisions we need. Ensure everything is stowed properly (since we are a slow moving vessel, we often get “waked” by larger, faster vessels. Remove and store our shore power cord and switch all systems over to battery power. A last check of the weather and Amy starts removing lines and fenders. We almost have it down to a science now…. Easy Peezy!

Next stop, the 64NM trip to Charleston’s St. John’s Creek and then on to the famed Charleston Maritime Marina & Museum. Until then….

Savannah, GA

Thursday, June 29th – Kilkenny Creek, GA

From St. Simons, GA to Savannah is a long 78NM trip that includes Hells Gate, the second notorious spot for the ICW. We decided to employ the same logic we used for St. Andrews Sound and stop as close as possible before the gate. We found a small marina – Kilkenny Creek that is only 16NM south of Hell’s Gate. We have been told that this area is not a problem if you approach 2 hours before high tide. Since high tide on Friday would be 9:30 we left at 6:45am to allow for time back up Kilkenny Creek to the ICW. We were surprised to see Leap of Faith along with Sea Fox pull into the marina not long after we did. There was one restaurant within walking distance so we all enjoyed a post rain stroll to this out of the way find.

Friday, June 29th

We awoke to the most beautiful sky just after dawn and was able to capture the early landscape shot before everyone started moving about.

Leaving the marina, we noticed both boats following behind. At least if there was a problem at Hells Gate, we would have some help. I had mentioned the night before that I was thinking I would like to follow one of them through since they have done it many times. The captain of Sea Fox replied… “oh, is that what you are thinking”. It was right that we do it on our own the first time and I didn’t want to rely on others navigation.

It was truly a non event with more than 8 feet of water below us during the most shallow part of the trip. We did another celebratory “high five” and it was back to business. As we passed Isle of Hope Marina, where Blue Sky had docked, they were able to snap a shot of us passing by.

Just after passing Isle of Hope, we picked up a dolphin escort up the river.

We only traveled 36 miles up the ICW today to Savannah’s Bahia Bleu Marina. Much different than yesterday’s accommodations. Nice, wide floating concrete docks, close to facilities and “free” laundry. The latter being a big draw for live aboard boaters

We have now completed 15 days of the trip of which we traveled 13 for almost 650 miles. Hard to believe that we are a tenth of the way around the loop. We will start to slow down after Charleston and we are looking for where and when to dock the boat during our hiatus this winter.

Here are the top ten things we have learned after 15 days living aboard a boat:

10/ Travel on the water in the summer is so much nicer when you leave early
9/ It takes longer than you would think to really slow down… You. Not the boat!
8/ The world doesn’t end if you don’t get the news everyday. We prefer coffee on the bridge rather than watching GMA
7/ Really good binoculars are a must
6/ Long, hot showers are a luxury we took for granted. When we are anchored or on a mooring ball, we really have to conserve our fresh water. It’s spritz, lather, rinse! No singing or dancing!
5/ Uber is a great concept. We use Uber when we need to get supplies or groceries
4/ Buy water in bulk! 2.5 Gallon containers vs bottles
3/ Less really is more! We are really learning to conserve our space
2/ Don’t ever argue with your wife when you are limited to 40 feet! I am pretty sure this is why the gangplank was invented.
1/ We brought way too much stuff!!

Be safe and have a great weekend. Dale & Amy

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St. Simons, Ga

Fernandina Beach, FL Tuesday, June 26th

We left St. Augustine yesterday and had a great 64NM trip to the coastal city of Fernandina Beach. The Fernandina Beach City Marina was devastated from hurricanes and storms. More than half of the marina was unusable at mid tide. The dock master put us in the commercial area since we required 50 amp power rather than 30 amp. The marina had a very confused freshwater alligator that followed a manatee in several months ago and just decided to stay. Not a bad spot considering fisherman clean the catch right there and provide a constant food source. This is the area that really changed in scenery to transition more to the marshland, a preview of what the next 140NM will look like. We purposely made this leg longer to position us for the very challenging St. Andrews Sound. Winds and weather will be the determining factor for a go-no go condition in the morning.

The above reminded us of Star Wars!!!

Blue Horizon at dock with sunset settling in.

Fernandina Beach, FL to St. Simons, GA Wednesday, June 27th

We woke up to a beautiful day so it was a relatively easy decision to transit the 36NM waters into Georgia. The route calls for you to go Northwest into the Atlantic Ocean and then a sharp turn to the Northeast in between red marker 32 and green marker 31. These markers are hard to see until you are within a half mile. Amy was vigilant on the binoculars and watching the depth. The other piece of this is that this area goes very quickly from 54ft to 8ft. If you cut the corner too sharp the water becomes less than 3ft and we will run aground. The other option is to traverse inside the sound as many boaters recommend saying its much easier. I made the decision to follow the charted path.

The trip starts with a beautiful view of Cumberland Island National Seashore. We were hoping to see the wild horses as I did when I made this run many years ago on Coastal Pirate 1 – but no luck. This is such a beautiful area we said we will definitely be back.

As we approached the markers we were certain this was our turn …BUT we only saw the red marker – no green marker. I made the decision this had to be the right spot and we made the turn back slowing the boat to a snails pace and watching the depth gauge click up very quickly. After a few rather tense moments, we were back in the safety of deep water and we did a few celebratory high fives! About a mile later, we passed a Coast Guard vessel and Amy started laughing. She told me to look closely… The boat was transporting…. You guessed it…. Green Marker 31! Mystery solved.

Once docked at St. Simons, we unloaded the bikes and rode to the beautiful downtown area and over to the lighthouse. While walking around town, we experienced a true Jimmy Buffett moment… Amy blew out a flip flop! With a crisis such as this, we decided to eat at the marina restaurant instead of going to the downtown areas. It was a good thing we did, as we were walking back to the boat at dusk it was apparent we were going to get a really bad storm. NOAA weather described it as a severe thunderstorm unleashing 60mph winds. I was so thankful we decided to tie up to a slip rather than anchoring out.

St. Augustine, FL

We made the relatively short 18NM (Nautical Miles) trip from Marineland to St. Augustine yesterday just before noon so we would arrive on a slack tide. Slack tides are the times where the water is transitioning from high tide to low tide (or vice versatile) and the water is less challenging to maneuver. We are getting into the areas now where tides are tough if you catch them at the wrong time. I bring this up now because as we get into Georgia and South Carolina, the tide can very 8-9 feet and cause wicked currents.

St. Augustine Municipal Marina is easy to locate as it is right before the famed “Bridge of Lions”, a very unique bridge as you can see below.

Before leaving Marineland, we met one of the nicest couples and it reinforces that boaters are some of the most interesting people around, Artie and Laura Ortmann living aboard Leap of Faith. The couple is from New York and decided to sell their home and become live aboard cruisers. As they were making all the necessary arrangements, Artie’s car was hit head on by an oncoming vehicle. As they assessed his many injuries, they found that Artie had pancreatic cancer. As he recuperated, they realized that the accident was actually a blessing in disguise as they caught the cancer early enough to treat with a high success rate. They left on their voyage as soon as Artie was cleared by his physician. They went on to become “Gold Loopers” and have become a wealth of knowledge for new cruisers like ourselves.

Laura shared with us that one of the best places to see 4th of July fireworks is at the newly renovated Maritime Marina in Charleston, SC. They advised that the marina just started taking reservations and they, along with four other “loopers” would be there. I was able to get a reservation for Blue Horizon for July 3rd and 4th. Since we are a trawler and move much slower, it is going to be a bit of a challenge getting there given that we have to stay an extra day in St. Augustine for repairs. I went to work plotting a course and overnights that could work for the holiday in Charleston but it does include some rather long days that will cover 3 states, 7 stops in 10 days and 315 miles. I have added the map below for those keeping up with our progress.

So, back to St. Augustine… We arrived yesterday and decided to take a hop on- hop off Trolly around our country’s first city. We saw Fort Castillo San Marcos, Flagler College and the Fountain of Youth.

We had dinner with Mike & Melissa, Crew of Blue Sky, and made it an early night. Mike, an accomplished pilot, is the founder of Air Gizmos and holds patents on several of their unique products for small aircraft. In his spare time, he built two airplanes. Melissa coordinates events for with Disney Magic Kingdom. Blue Horizon and Blue Sky have traveled together since meeting up halfway across the Okeechobee Waterway and they are excellent partners as we head into coastal Georgia. They will move ahead of us shortly after we transit Hells Gate later this week.

You really never know what to expect living on a boat. We woke up this morning to a White Egret that decided to guard our boarding door.

So long for now, it is 8:30pm and we are going to have one quick cocktail on the fly bridge before turning in. Our plan is to shove off promptly at 6am for the 63 mile journey to Fernandina Beach Marina where we will grab a mooring ball rather than a slip in the marina. Until later…. All the best, Dale and Amy

Marineland, FL

Saturday, June 23, 2018

We left Cocoa Beach yesterday morning just as the sun was about to rise. Both Amy and I have gotten used to rising about 6am as we (I) tend to run out of gas about 10pm! We both laughed at how we rarely woke up this early without an alarm before. Two major benefits of an early departure: 1/ We tend to beat the Florida thunderstorms on a 5-6 hour leg if we leave at dawn and 2/ The sky is absolutely gorgeous during this time and all the wildlife is active. We snapped a few shots below of us leaving Cocoa Beach for Marineland yesterday morning.

This was an especially delightful leg since we passed the NASA Space Center, Cape Canaveral National Seashore and Ponce De Leon Lighthouse. Not enough room in this blog to send all the shots of wildlife but we saw more manatee (adult and young) and dolphin than we have ever seen in a days time. We’ve included a video of a couple of them swimming by our boat below. They are amazing to see in their natural habitat. This was a 54 mile leg and we are now at 380 miles total for the 8 days. We have spent 48 hours at the helm and burned 274 gallons of diesel fuel.

 

It’s a little hard to see, but the vehicle assembly building and launch tower at Kennedy Space Center are in the distance.

This is as close as we get on the ICW. We really wish we could have seen a launch but the next one is schedule for June 29th.

We arrived at Marineland early yesterday afternoon and decided to walk over to the beach to get cooled off. We learned that Captains BBQ was about 4 miles south and they had the best BBQ in the area. We assembled the folding bikes and, along with Mike and Melissa from Blue Sky, we made the trek. It was a great casual dinner and I felt the trip justified the extra calories.

This is a very remote spot as the town of Marineland has only 35 residents. This area was built for movie and film 80 years ago TODAY! We happened to be here on the 80th anniversary. Shows including “Sea Hunt” and “Creature from the black lagoon” were filmed here. It is definitely old Florida but a great stop. Since it is Saturday, we will leave the waterways to the weekend boaters and stay put. We are getting our groceries, laundry and maintenance on the boat chores knocked out. Still trying to make it a little fun!

Amy found a bench on the boardwalk at the Marineland that had a dolphin carved out. She shot the ocean through the cut out. I would have never thought to do that!

We will make the short 20 mile trip tomorrow to St. Augustine Municipal Marina. I’m not looking forward to the crowded waterways but we must position the boat there for Monday where we will be taking yet another day off from travel. The Salon AC unit will not cooperate and has a mind of its own. Early diagnosis is the blower but I don’t want to replace a part on a unit that is twelve years old. They will install a new AC unit on Monday.

Cocoa Beach June 20th

We were able to get off the boat a bit and walk around the quaint town of Cocoa Beach Village. We kept seeing references to “I Dream of Jeannie” and remembered this was the home of Major Tony Nelson, the astronaut that all boys growing up in the 60’s wanted to be. We also went to the Ron Jon Surf Shop’s flagship store as it is open 24/7/365. This store is massive, taking up almost an entire city block.

Some of you really liked the map so I am doing another. I’ll find a better way of doing this….

Vero Beach, FL

June 19th – 6 days / 5 travel days

We left LaBelle and completed the western portion of the Okeechobee Waterway and decided to stop just prior to crossing the Lake. It took some extra time due to the Ortona Lock had just become operational and working out a few kinks. We would definitely stop again at LaBelle City Wharf. We loved it and met some really nice folks that have been boating for a long time.

In Clewiston, we met another couple doing the loop. Great people and we have a lot in common with them (outside of doing the loop). We had dinner with them on Sunday and again on Monday at Stuart.

As Monday was going to be a long travel day, we started just after sunrise. I exited the lock system and directly into Lake O. It is the largest lake in FL and you cannot see the other side so you normally follow the magenta line on your GPS and carefully follow the markers as there are many shoals.

This Monday morning was very different!!

Mother Nature treated us to a different line to follow. In my many years of boating, I have never had the reflection of the sun split the bouys!!! I had to take a picture of this to share. I know there will be days on this trip where things will not go perfect. Boat, Weather, crew, other boaters, etc… I will look back on this picture and remember it with fondness. It actually gave us chill bumps!!

Mother Nature’s Guidance Positioning System!

Here are a few other shots as we completed the 140 mile journey that splits the state.

Is this a railroad track or boat guillotine?? Whew! Made it through!

Tuesday, June 19th

We made the turn north to the InterCoastal Waterway! Finally!! One beach town is as beautiful as the next. We decided to pick up a mooring ball at Vero Beach Municipal City Dock for our overnight rather than stay in a marina slip. We fired up “Little Blue” for our transportation to the dock and town. They have a free bus that picks you up right at the dinghy dock and takes you around the city. This is a beautiful beach town and we will be back.

Tomorrow we move on to Cocoa Beach where we will pick up a slip at Cocoa Village Marina. The trip is 52 miles and should take around four and a half hours. We hope to leave at 7am after we take on some diesel fuel.

La Belle, FL

At 7:45a on Thursday, June 14th we slipped the lines at our home port of Punta Gorda Isles, FL and headed south to Ft. Myers. Our wonderful neighbors were on the lanai to see us off. It’s hard to imagine that after so many years of thinking about this trip, we are finally off the dock.

If all goes well, We will “cross our wake” at the spot below sometime in late 2019. I thought it appropriate to have Amy document the spot. This is the outer edge of the PGI canal system.

Our plan was to overnight the first night at Legacy Marina in Ft. Myers. We kept Coastal Pirate II there and lived next door for several years. Our second night would be at Moore Haven and then cross Lake Okeechobee on Saturday and start the next leg North on the InterCoastal Waterway. Excellent plan… What could happen!

While we were docked at Legacy, we learned that Ortona Lock, which was closed for maintenance and set to reopen on Friday had delayed its opening until Sunday. Ortona is on our side of the Lake so we are essentially “stuck” until Sunday morning. As we were rethinking our plan, the main AC unit stopped blowing cold air. Hmmm! At least the bedroom was still cool for sleeping.

Friday, June 15th

Working on getting the marine AC guy out on quick notice took a bit of persuading but we did it. We were very lucky and it was just low on coolant but a slow leak. He said we will need to address it in six months or so… Great! No huge expense right away and we really shouldn’t need the AC that much while in Canada and the Great Lakes in the spring. Problem for another day!

We were lucky enough to coax Marv & Carol Market to have lunch with us. Marv is one of the most accomplished boaters I know and has helped me tremendously over the course of our time living in Ft. Myers. I will always remember setting off from Royal Palm Yacht Club very early on a December morning and Marv came out on his Yacht to wave goodbye… In his Green Bay Packers pajamas! For those AGLCA followers, this is the same Marv from “Marv’s Buoy Weather Report” the definitive weather site we all check everyday. He really does exist and I have the picture below to prove it. Marv has logged thousands of hours aboard Dee Light and other vessels including seven trips to the Bahamas.

We hoped to get some last minute advice and just catch up with the pair as it had been several years since we saw them last. Marv offered to be on call during our trip in case we needed any advice including weather briefings. Excellent!

Saturday, June 16th

We decided to leave early on Saturday to get even closer to the Ortona Lock for its grand re opening on Sunday morning. We departed Legacy Marina at 8:10am bound for LaBelle, FL just west of the lock. We arrived as planned just before 1pm to find an available spot at the LaBelle City Wharf. This is a free dock with power… Something very rare along the loop.

Some shots along the way, including our first lock at Franklin. This is a beautiful stretch of waterway with everything from trailers to multi million dollar residences. The river had very little traffic and proved to be a relaxing 36 mile trip.

Below is a map of this leg of the trip. As I mentioned, we are just now in LaBelle and will not reach Stuart, FL until Tuesday. Not a problem, just a delay.

Stats

Miles Traveled- 100 / Days 3 / Travel Days 2 / Hours underway 11.5 / Locks 1

T minus 4 days

It is hard to believe that, after all the planning and work, the time is upon us!  I picked up the boat from having the bottom painted and prop work accompanied by my nephew Tyler and we headed out to Cayo Costa for an overnight. All systems would have been go except I had neglected to put the 10 foot markings on the new anchor chain.  I “guessed”at the rode needed for our anchorage and we stayed on board a few hours anchored soundly in Pelican Bay. Then came a Florida thunderstorm packing 30mph winds that sent us dragging anchor within 10 feet of a nearby sailboat giving Tyler a bit more excitement than he bargained for.  Once clear of the other boats, I let out additional rode and the anchor held for the remainder of the trip. Sorry T!

 

 

Now Amy and I are in full on provisioning mode.  It seems that almost every sentence starts with “do you think we need…” and we now have more than Blue Horizon can handle.  We hate clutter and wanted to have everything in its place by Wednesday.  That said, here is a shot of the salon before clothes & food.  We will get this under control before departure.

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Crew Change

I was happy to have Randy come to Florida and help with the second shakedown cruise. We anchored out the first night and made the 43nm trip to Ft. Myers, FL. Nothing is better than catching up on a boat trip with a great friend. Of course, I put him to work and we tackled a few of the items on the punch list before starting our big trip. Thanks Randy! Your bunk is here anytime.


The return leg was just as much fun and a beautiful day for boating. Amy drove Randy’s car to Legacy Marina and she was first mate on the way home. We were able to sync the new electronics to the Auto Pilot and let the boat take control. On our upcoming trip, an autopilot is essential. Always on the lookout for other ships and traffic.