Summer motor-sailing up the East Coast and through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW)

The middle of July, and Mira was on her way again. We pulled out of Charleston Harbor just before dawn. The harbor can be a little tricky with currents and tides – so we timed our exit to coincide with slack current.  The “outside” sail from Charleston SC to Beaufort NC was about 18 hours for Mira. We left at 6 am and arrived in Beaufort about noon the next day.  It actually wasn’t a sail, but more of a motor. Another overnight passage under Pam’s belt! We were quickly learning that there is not much wind (other than squalls) during the summer along the East Coast.

We did have an amazing pod of dolphins greet us in the ocean. They had the most fascinating stripes and markings.

We were also rudely disturbed during the night by a school of flying fish. One little guy even managed to fly through the port light on the starboard side and scare the daylights out of a soundly sleeping Glenn! They were scattered all over Mira – on the bimini, tramps, sugar scoops, and in the dinghy. I’m sure they were as startled as we were!

Beaufort, NC, is a scenic waterfront town with charming shops, restaurants and an iconic main drag, Front Street. We enjoyed wandering and exploring and were even able to catch up with friends from our Caribbean travels – Fletcher and Kris from s/v Lovely Cruise!

We were excited to explore the ICW after leaving Beaufort. The ICW can be a bit tricky for some larger sailboats. One – the depth varies greatly from section to section, and in some places the depth changes frequently with storms and tide.  Mira only draws 4 feet so we aren’t so worried about that.  Two – there are many bridges along the ICW.  Some are “swing” bridges that open either on schedule or on command, and others are fixed. The lowest height for fixed bridges on the ICW is supposed to be 65 ft.  Antares quotes the mast height as 63 ft, but since we had heard that there is at least one bridge along our route with a posted height of 64 ft., we needed to measure Mira’s mast for ourselves. While Mira was tied to a stable dock in Brunswick, up Glenn went with a long tape measure. We needed an exact mast height including antennas before we attempted to scoot under the ICW bridges. Verdict? 63′ 3″  OK – we are gonna give it a try!

We ventured out of Brunswick Landing Marina early one morning and had a lovely first day coasting up the ICW. It was exactly how I had imagined – quiet, peaceful – almost like going down a river.

We stayed just outside of Oriental, NC, at the River Dunes Resort the first night – relaxing!

We never get tired of the sunsets off the back porch!

The next day dawned grey and cloudy with some rain and a rough ride down the Neuse River. The wind was whipping up and we had an incredibly stormy night in Belhaven at the River Forest Marina. Our amazing dinner at Spoon River made up for the bad weather!

We snaked our way up the Alligator River – barely making it under the first fixed bridge. Luckily a very nice motor yacht went ahead of us and radioed back the height. The water was rising rapidly from the Noreaster – so we needed to get moving if we were going to make it under the bridges!

 

This was our first swinging bridge on the ICW. Just after this we stopped on a concrete dock loosely called the Alligator River Marina.  An awesome black bear greeted us across the way the next morning at dawn.

We left the Alligator River early the next morning to sunny skies. No storms, but little wind, which was great because we needed to cross the infamous Albemarle Sound.  The Sounds is a large body of water that opens to the ocean – notorious for choppy waves and wind whipping up easily. The wind didn’t start to pick up until we entered the North River. We wound our way up the North River and arrived in infamous Coinjock early afternoon. Again, tied up to a concrete dock – loosely called Coinjock Marina. Their restaurant is famous for their 32 oz. prime rib – Glenn couldn’t resist!

It poured and stormed all night in Coinjock, and Glenn was up at 0 dark 30 prowling around. He was nervous about the water rising, and we had 4 bridges and a lock to make it through that day. We were off before 7. The first bridge was a swing bridge, and the water level was getting precariously high. The operator warned us to go very, very slowly so as not to splash water in the electrical system. We later learned that this bridge was forced to close early that afternoon for 5 days because the high water shorted out the system. We were SO lucky to get through!!

This was the next fixed bridge we came to – the river kept rising, and we were barely squeaking under each bridge. The sign shows the current bridge clearance to be 63’6″ or so – we are 63′ 3″ – nerve wracking!!

We were excited about going through our first lock near Great Bridge, VA. The actual height of the water doesn’t change more than 15 ft or so, but it was still an experience.

The Lock at Great Bridge on our way to Norfolk.

In the Elizabeth River nearing Norfolk, we encountered lots of military ships and construction cranes and freighters. A very busy place!

We stayed for a few days in Little Creek Marina in Norfolk, VA. Finalized plans with the Volvo dealer for the engine recall that we would do later in the summer, and had a chance to see my very best friend from college, Babs, and her sweet husband, Bob! They hosted us at their home and explored Virginia Beach and Norfolk with us.

A few days later, we were headed for Annapolis, but took a quick detour to visit a good friend. Jim sailed with us to the Bahamas earlier in the year, and was the source of great sailing experience and MacGuyver-like talents. We were happy to stop in downtown Yorktown to explore and visit with him.

The beautiful Coleman Memorial Bridge on the York River – lit up at night.

We were off by noon, headed up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. It was a very interesting motor up the Bay – amid staggering thunderstorms and bolts of lightning. As each squall passed through – the wind would whip up to 30 knots or so – then completely die until the next storm.

Finally a peaceful sunrise as we approached Annapolis – the tankers lined up waiting for their time to dock in Baltimore.

We arrived in Annapolis around 6 am or so. We were able to cruise up the Severn River, around the Naval Academy, and Annapolis Harbor – before we could head into Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard. It was the end of July and little did we know it – but, this would end up being the farthest point north of our East Coast Tour.

“Outside” Sailing from Brunswick GA to Charleston SC

Mira was safely tucked into a marina in Brunswick, GA.  After a brief hiatus in Atlanta, we returned and started making sailing plans for the summer.

We wanted to sail up the East Coast to see family and friends along the way, to explore some new and old towns, and to get some boat upgrades done in Norfolk and Annapolis.  And, by the end of October, we planned to be in Portsmouth, VA, to join the Caribbean 1500 Rally. This rally sails about 30 boats nonstop offshore from Portsmouth to Tortola, BVI – about a 7 to 10 day sail.

There are two ways for boaters to sail up the East Coast – “outside” or “inside”. “Outside” refers to sailing off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. “Inside” refers to sailing along the coast in a canal called the Intracoastal Waterway. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), or “The Ditch” as many refer to it, provides the boater with a continuous, and for the most part, protected passage just inside the Atlantic Coast. Beginning at mile marker (MM “0.0”) in Norfolk, VA, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway stretches 1,243.8 SM (1080.8 NM) south to Key West, FL.

We decided to try a little bit of both. “Outside” is usually quicker, but more difficult with long overnight watches for the two of us  The ICW is more scenic and protected, but with little wind, tricky depths, and fixed bridges for Mira’s tall mast to squeeze under. So, we made plans to sail “outside” from Brunswick GA to Charleston, SC and again “outside” to Beaufort, NC then “inside” from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA then work our way north up the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis MD. A very busy July!

We have done a few non-stop overnight passages since commissioning Mira in Argentina…. 11 days from Brazil to Grenada, overnight from St. Martin to the BVI’s, and 5 days from St. Thomas to Exumas, Bahamas. Somehow Pam had managed not to have taken a single overnight watch. She was a little nervous…but, she was ready to give it a try.

Glenn planned the sail from Brunswick GA to Charleston SC to be about 24 hours or 141 nautical miles. We left Brunswick about noon with light winds and motor sailing in mid-July. The plan is always to arrive into a new anchorage during daylight hours.

After an early dinner, Glenn went to bed in the salon (easy access if Pam needs help) about 8 pm. Pam’s plan was to stay awake as long as possible and then switch with Glenn. Because Glenn can literally sleep anywhere and anytime on command – he got the first sleep shift!  Her first nighttime watch turned out to be delightful and much easier than she thought. Winds were light and that really helped – not having to make sail changes in addition to watching the AIS and radar screens. She is still getting used to all of the lights of nighttime marine traffic and gauging their distances – but, radar and AIS make it much easier. Following a huge tanker’s track in AIS and knowing that Mira won’t cross its path is reassuring! She woke Glenn about 1:30 am, and then was off to sleep until about 6 am.

We arrived into Charleston Harbor around 10 a.m. and settled Mira into her new temporary home at the Charleston Maritime Center.

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Charleston – both gastronomically and architecturally! We ate, drank and rode bikes through Charleston.

So much fun exploring all of the alleys and nooks and crannies of Charleston by bike!

So happy Lori and Mark drove up to visit Mira and explore Charleston with us!
Dinner at Hank’s Seafood – I still have dreams about their delicious grouper!
Drinks at The Rooftop Bar of the Vendue Hotel.

Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina, and its history is written in brick and wood.  Wealthy Charlestonians traveled the world and brought back with them a desire to imitate the opulence they found abroad. The result is a city that boasts 8 different styles of architecture, from Georgian to Art Deco. The culmination of our time spent in Charleston was used exploring some of the most beautiful areas of town on a guided walking tour.

Sadly, we had to say good-bye to Charleston!  Time to move on!

 

Video Tour of Mira – Inside and Out!

Finally, a video tour of Mira (for those requesting “..less Glenn and more boat” 🙂 ) – exterior and interior. We had a chance to straighten Mira for guests in Charleston and decided to take the opportunity to film her. She has been our live-aboard home since January, and has far exceeded our expectations in all categories!

British Virgin Islands – snorkeling, sailing, & relaxing – always beautiful!

Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only.  The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window.  In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.

Sirenitie – our buddy boat for the passage

We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed.  I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep.  It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002.  These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.

Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI.  Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.

Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.

 

A shout-out to my children for my delightful Mother’s Day present – a donation to the post-hurricane BVI relief fund! I can’t think of a better present – thank you all SO much!!!

But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.

Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI.  It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.

Mira and Sirenitie in the marina at Oil Nut Bay.

We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.

One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.

View of the Baths and the anchorage from the Top of the Baths resort.

Cathy and Sam enjoying the ride.

 

Our anchorage at the Bight on Norman Island. Sadly the iconic Willie T was destroyed in Hurricane Irma.
Lounging on Pirate’s Beach with Glen and Marilyn – a fun alternative to the Willie T on Norman.

 

Magnificent snorkeling at the Indians – just off Norman Island.

 

 

There’s always time for a rum punch after a long snorkeling trip!

We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.

 

We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!

Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!

Oil Nut Bay Resort

Beautiful end to our time in the BVI

Saba – Island kingdom in the Clouds

Mira sailed next from Nevis to island of Saba – about 44 nm or a 7 hour sail to the north, around the middle of March.

Saba is a magnificent volcanic island that rises straight up from the sea floor with very deep water on all sides and appears to extend straight up into the clouds. Only 5 square miles, it reaches 3084 feet.

As you sail past Saba, the ruggedness of the island strikes you. Huge jagged brown mountains litter the island. Saba sits isolated and unprotected from the swells and wind of the Atlantic Ocean, which creates this stark topography.  Despite the forbidding perimeter of the island, we discovered that the interior of Saba is a hidden paradise, a Caribbean Shangri-la.

Like all good hidden kingdoms, Saba doesn’t come easily to visitors.  Saba only has one harbor for entry of all boats and people. Many sailors have been known to sail by this harbor and just keep going. It can have wild waves crashing against the concrete piers – making it very difficult to land a dinghy or small boat.  Glenn studied the weather and felt that the swells from the previous week should have diminished, since the winds had been lessening for days. When we sailed up to Fort Bay – the only anchorage on the island – we were met with huge waves crashing against the rocks surrounding the harbor and no discernible dinghy dock or place for us to tie up to clear customs. By VHF radio the harbormaster informed us that we should pick up a mooring in Ladder Bay about 2 miles away and dinghy in! As we motored around the west side of Saba, the winds miraculously dropped, and we were secure in a beautifully calm, picturesque anchorage. But, we still needed to dinghy around to customs. We steeled ourselves for the rambunctious ride – donned foul weather gear and PFD’s – and proceeded through the waves to Fort Bay. The ride was indeed a wild one, and all of our subsequent trips to the island were by larger tenders owned by Saba. 😦  Once ashore, we arranged an island tour for the next day, and also planned to do some hiking on our own.

Saba’s history is fascinating. Until the 1940’s the island was almost completely inaccessible. Some 800 steps up a sheer cliff in Ladder Bay was the only way for people and goods to come onto Saba. You can see the original steps if you look closely in the photo above – just beyond where we were anchored.

The 2000 full-time residents of Saba are descendants of hardy Dutch, Scottish and English settlers. The original settlers fought hard in the 1950s to hand-build a series of winding roads throughout the island – after being repeatedly told that it was impossible. Today the island is a wonder – beautiful white houses trimmed in green with red roofs, clean roads, happy and helpful Sabans welcome all visitors with open arms. We were charmed by both the people and the island of Saba.

 

Fascinated by the lush interior of Saba, we were anxious to hike up into the mountains and explore. We hiked a very steep, windy trail for several hours into the mountains of Saba.

The trail started out very lush but rugged.

The trail wound its way up into the mountains – for some startling views of the coastline below.

Even got a glimpse of Mira far, far below.
Exhausted by our long day of exploration, we were treated to another beautiful sunset to end the day.  We would have loved to spend more time on Saba, but it was time to press North to our next island.  Saba, we’ll be back for sure!

Nevis – on Mira? or at the Four Seasons?

Our travels took us next from Antigua to Nevis – a 50 nm – or about an 8 hour sail in early March. Beautiful weather.

When Glenn and I were sailing in Antigua about 4 years ago, we were having a few problems with our charter boat, and things got a bit tense. I remember distinctly saying – I just want to go to the Four Seasons on Nevis and lay on the beach!! 😔 Needless to say, I didn’t get to go, and here we are on Mira today – on Nevis!  And, I am so happy for that!

We spent 3 nights in a beautiful quiet anchorage off Pinney’s beach, just down from the Four Seasons, with a view of Nevis Peak – over 3,000 feet high – off our bow.
Nevis has a quiet and peaceful population of about 12,000 with lovely views, picturesque houses and delightful people. Nevisians have been careful to preserve their architectural heritage, and we enjoyed the history and their traditional Caribbean buildings.

The Nevisians are proud to call Alexander Hamilton a native son. We visited his modest home which has been restored and is a now a museum.

Abba, our well-versed and stoic guide for the day, toured us around his island for more than 5 hours. “Gingerland” is the area of Nevis just south of the Mountain. Many large, old plantations have been converted to small, luxurious hotels with magnificent grounds and views.

The Hermitage and The Montepelier are some of the most famous.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis – six acres of plants from all over the world, and include orchids, cactuses and over 100 species of palms, flowering trees, as well as rivers and fountains.

The Golden Rock Inn’s gardens close to the rainforest  are vast, lush and spectacular.

We chose to return to the Golden Rock Inn the next day for a 4 hour round trip hike into the rainforest to the “Source” or the water source for the island.  An amazing trail wound its way up into the mountains – finally culminating in a narrow path with hundred foot drop off. We were rewarded by amazing views down to the ocean.

Monkeys were darting in and out of the forest.