On December 4th we pulled anchor at noon and made our way out of Port Royal heading for Florida. We started out with little to no wind so decided to motor. The wind started to build as the day went on but it was dead astern, along with a significant swell that was directly on the beam made for an awfully uncomfortable passage. Cadence was literally rolling on her beam ends the entire passage. To make matters worse, at around 10pm we ran into a fog bank that was very thick. The visibility was literally 50-100 feet max. We each took our watches of 4 hours each and pretty much hated every second of it. There was constantly things breaking free in the boat or coming off their shelves and landing everywhere. There was little to no sleep for either of us but its only a 150 mile trip so the misery was supposed to be short lived. Because St. Augustine inlet has significant shoaling that changes with each storm that hits the area, there are no published aids to navigation. There is an offshore buoy that is about 1 mile from the inlet and the recommendation is to go there and visually find the aids that the Coast Guard puts in place to mark the channel. These aids are small and don’t show up on radar or have any lights on them so the guide books say to arrive in daylight and use “local knowledge” to make your way in. Local knowledge means to ask another boat in the area that uses the channel to give you information, or to call one of the local St. Augustine tow boat companies and get their intel on the channel. We figured we would arrive at noon if we kept an average of 6 knots for the entire passage. We arrived at the STA buoy around 11am.
Expecting the fog to lift as the sun was overhead, we circled the buoy for the next hour. We called Tow Boat US for their local knowledge but all they would tell us is that the first set of buoys was 273º magnetic and then after the second set of buoys turn to port. They sent me via email a satelite image of the entry that showed the markers as well. We decided to make an attempt at it, we had roughly 20 knots of wind with a significant swell coming from offshore. We knew this would make for some big beach rolling waves that would be flanking either side of the entrance. There is a sandbar at the beginning of the entrance that is reported to be about 8 feet deep and then quickly gets deep again once you are over it. On either side of the channel there are breaking waves. With zero visibility we left the STA buoy on 273º course and found the first set of markers. Once we found them and continued on the same course with Jess at the wheel and me looking over the bimini for markers we quickly lost site of the buoys we found and I could see not far off our starboard side these long beach waves rolling in. With the hair on my neck standing straight up and a knot in my stomach I decided we needed to abandon the attempt and head back to the STA buoy and deep water. We again circled the buoy for another hour hoping for this heavy fog to lift. No such luck on the fog but then we literally almost ran into a fishing trawler that was heading into the channel. We tried to hale him on the VHF but could get no answer. We decided to try and follow him in anyway. The fog was so thick that unless we remained within a boat length of distance from him we would lose him in the fog. After starting in we quickly lost him and decided again to head back out to the offshore buoy. Over the next hour and half just offshore we had 2 other yachts of the same size circling the outside buoy with us, Ushuawa and Sanderling. We asked Tow Boat US, all of which we were members of their club, to provide us with a pilot boat to come out and show us the way in. They were unwilling to do so and told us that putting another boat in jeopardy was not safe and we had to find our way in. These guys know the channels like the back of their hand as they transit it several times a day, not to mention they have “breadcrumb” trails on their GPS screens that show the way in and out. But they still would not help out. I think they were more interested in having one of the yachts land on the sandbar so they could then come and make some serious money. Tow Boat US was less than helpful. Over the radio we were hailed by another catamaran sailboat, Irish Rover, that was on the way to St. Augustine. They had been listening in on the VHF all the communication between us, Tow Boat US, and the 2 other yachts circling offshore in need of some help transiting the channel. The catamaran came up with a plan that we would all follow him in as he only draws 3 feet and he would announce of the VHF depths and sightings of any aids to navigation. We decided with the other yachts that we would stagger our approach from one another as to have a better chance of finding the channel markers. This plan quickly went to crap. The catamaran being pushed by the heavy current was being pushed outside the channel, not to mention having 4 different boats talk on the VHF at the same time makes for impossible communication. We quickly lost visibility of the catamaran and Sanderling. Because we were so close, say 150 feet away, we could not make them out on radar. The radar just showed on large blob of boats. Once past the first set of markers, not knowing if we were in or out of the channel, we were picked up by one of the beach rolling waves and started to surf down the frontside of its wave. We used our motor with full power to pick up speed and then made a sharp 180º turn to face any other waves on the bow and searched again for deep water and the offshore buoy. Ushuwai did the same as us and followed us back out. We kept in touch with Sanderling via the VHF and they continued into the channel. We never heard again from Irish Rover. Sanderling called us back and gave us GPS coordinates of each buoy they found on the way in. While circling, Jess input the coordinates into the GPS and we had a clear definitive path into the harbor. Ready for attempt number 4, we radioed Ushuwai and had him come right behind us to keep us in visibility. Just as we started to head in, out of the dense fog, comes the U.S. Customs ad border patrol in a power boat.
These guys were dressed up like a SWAT team and pulled along side us. We thought we were going to be boarded. We asked them if they could pilot us in and they agreed but said we do so at our own risk. They could not have come at a better time, it was close to sunset and if we didn’t get in on this attempt our plan was to heave to offshore and wait for morning to try again, hopefully without fog. We ended up at a mooring right in town and quickly dropped the dinghy and engine and made our way to a watering hole, to eat and have a few drinks that were much needed.
We made our way down the ICW to Palm Coast where we would stay for the next 6 weeks. We wanted to come north for the holidays and also spend some time with my father and his wife. I also needed to do some catch up at O.R. Specialties which has been taking an enormous amount of what I had hoped would be free time. And we had copious boat chores to do as well.
December 17, 2014We are excited to go to our NYC loft for the xmas week vacation and have Grace and David there with us. Jess went up to spend some time with her father and step mom in Queensbury. We spent Xmas eve at my moms house and she threw a big party. Once back we enjoyed NYC for a few days and then caught a flight out to Colorado Springs where we would meet up with Jess’s family to celebrate xmas. Oh boy was it cold. 5 degrees but we managed to have a really nice time with Jess’s mom Patty, brother Steven, sister Sky and husband Bob, and their adorable kids Henry and Sydney. Thank you for all the hospitality and laughs.