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South on the Blue Hen: From Lewes to Vero Beach

Jerri and Paul Ives

September 2011


Party at Eue Gallie YC

Lockmaster and assistant at Dismal Swamp Canal
 
Blue Hen of Lewes Heads South 2011

Yes, somehow the summer has quickly passed by, and here we are on the first leg of our southerly migration in Blue Hen of Lewes. Flushed with the success of my earlier efforts, rave reviews, accolades, etc, etc., I decided to write a few chronicles of our present voyage from Lewes, Delaware, to our winter home in Vero Beach, Florida. If you find this tiresome, please feel free to simply hit the button, I assure you I will not be offended.

Blue Hen left the dock at 0900 this morning, September 13, 2011, with the assistance and well wishes of sister Nancy, neighbors Earl and Louise Eggers, Carl and Carol King, and Jason Burris who filmed the whole thing. With uncommon good luck, the docking master was able to get the boat away from the pier without disgracing himself in the presence of such an august group.

It was a beautiful day to run up Delaware Bay on a fresh flood current, marred only by the rafts of driftwood and debris floating down the river from upland flooding during Irene and more recently, Lee. The heavy duty stuff, floating docks, refrigerators, soda machines seemed to have mostly dissipated, there were plenty of whole trees, telegraph poles, and large (2 - 3 foot) logs left to spoil your day. We felt a few bumps on the hull, but fortunately we managed to weave our way through the heaviest of it. Above Reedy Island, just below the entrance to the C&D Canal, there was a continuous string of heavy stuff stretching at least a mile. We were forced to go out into the channel and make a "container ship" approach to the canal jetties; at least I remembered how to do that.

We are anchored tonight in Fairlee Creek, a beautiful, secluded spot on the Maryland Eastern Shore about 20 miles north of the Bay Bridge. Tomorrow, we will have a leisurely run of only 18 miles down the Chesapeake and over to the Western Shore where we will join our fellow members from the Tred Avon Yacht Club and a group from the Poplar Island Yacht Club for a reception and dinner at the Gibson Island Club, just north of Annapolis. Thursday we will leave early for the 165 mile run down the Bay to Norfolk and the protection of the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW). A strong cold front is predicted to arrive Thursday afternoon which will lower temperatures to the mid 60's and bring some heavy wind. Stay tuned, we'll let you know how that all turns out.

Alongside Ocean Marine and Yacht Center in Portsmouth, Va, Thursday night, just below Mile 0 on the Intra Coast Waterway, only 951 statute miles to go to Vero Beach. We had a wonderful time at Gibson Island Club with the Tred Avon Yacht Club and Poplar Island Yacht Club last night. Many old friends, a great cocktail reception on the dock, and delicious dinner at the Clubhouse. Underway at 0510 this morning, we proceeded cautiously in the dark as there is still much debris floating in the water. We were anxious to make the 165 mile transit down the Chesapeake Bay ahead of a strong cold front with rain and high winds predicted for late afternoon. As sunrise approached and we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at Annapolis, we increased speed to 15 knots. The familiar landmarks passed by quickly, the wind was light and the sea smooth. We arrived in Norfolk at 1700 just as dark clouds started rolling in from the West. We filled up with fuel, water, and ice. A few minutes after we had all lines secured in our slip, the skies opened up and the wind gusted up to 30-40 knots. Rain came down almost horizontally in sheets, as we enjoyed a nice steak dinner prepared by the first rate chief mate. All is snug and dry in the cabin.

An early start from Portsmouth Friday morning, we proceeded down the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River (Norfolk Harbor) negotiating the railroad bridges successfully with the exception of the last one at Gilmerton where we waited about 20 minutes for two trains to clear. After a night of wind and rain, the predictions for today were for over 20 knot winds on Albemarle Sound, so we decided to take the Dismal Swamp Canal route and spend the night at Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River. We locked in at Deep Creek, just below the I-64 highway bridge, and were raised about 12 feet. An interesting conversation with Robert Peak, our friendly lockmaster, and two members of the Dismal Swamp Historical Society who treat us to a cup of coffee on the lock wall. The Dismal Swamp Canal was originally planned by an investment company formed by George Washington in 1764 to provide a protected, inland shipping route to facilitate commerce between the colonial cities of Virginia and North Carolina. The canal prospered from the late 18th century well through the 19th century, playing an important role during the War Between the States. Today, it is used mostly by slow speed pleasure vessels as a pleasant respite from the Virginia Cut Route which is the present commercial waterway between Norfolk, Albemarle Sound, and Eastern Carolina. After 22 miles of leisurely cruising under a canopy of large trees and wildlife along the banks, we are locked down at South Mills and complete the journey down the almost equally beautiful Pasquotank River. The locals have a little poem:

Away down yonder on the Pasquotank, Where the bull-frogs jump from bank to bank, And the tide moves slow mid the cypress knees, And the pools are dark 'neath the arching trees;

We dock Saturday at the town piers at Elizabeth City, NC, another attraction of the Dismal Swamp Route. About 25 years ago, two retired gentlemen, Joe Kramer and Fred Fearing convinced the town fathers that they should rebuild the docks on the town's waterfront. Every arriving yacht was greeted and offered a free slip. Joe and Fred delivered a newspaper, tourist literature, and a red rose out of Joe's garden for every lady aboard. They became known as the "Rose Buddies" and were honored by Willard Scott on the NBC Today Show, they were also presented with a golf cart to facilitate their activities. We arrived years ago in one of our sailing Blue Hens just as construction was being completed, and we have stopped there since at every opportunity. When a sufficient number of boats arrive, they often host a free wine and cheese party on the dock where the visitors and town people can get to know each other. This trip we are only one of three boats there, we meet Randy and Sue Overbey aboard their Harden 47 sloop, Celebration. A pleasant gam over drinks aboard Blue Hen, we learn they are moving from Dover, New Hampshire to their new home in Beaufort, NC. Early Sunday morning we head down the Pasquotank and into Albemarle Sound. The NE wind is a steady 20 knots, driving rain, and the seas are running about 3 feet or a little more. We run full speed to make short work of it, but soon we are in the Alligator River where the wave action is a much smoother. A 21 mile smooth transit through the Alligator-Pungo Canal then into the Pungo River, across Pamlico Sound, into Goose Creek, a land cut connecting to the Neuse River. We decide to leave the treacherous Neuse for another day, we are anchored tonight in Gale Creek, a well protected and secluded little branch into the marshes and pine forests. We have been five days and 467 miles since leaving Lewes. We have seen very few other boats underway. Tonight, the wind continues to whistle, but we are comfortable in the warm cabin, enjoying a libation, catching up on the log, and wishing you all well.
 

Dismal Swamp Canal VA/NC Welcome Center

View of Dismal Swamp
 
Sunday morning, September 18th, we are underway from anchor in Gale Creek in pre dawn light, chilly 64 degrees, light drizzle, and moderate breeze. The Neuse River turns out to be manageable, perhaps because we are so early in the morning. The boat runs well with a following sea of 2 to 3 feet. We meet tug Beaufort Belle pushing a large phosphate barge. Two large pusher tugs, Beaufort Belle and Pamlico, with their barges, run a continuous shuttle with phosphate from the factory near Washington on Pamlico Sound to Morehead City. In Morehead City, the cargo is loaded into large ocean going bulk carriers for shipment overseas. Meeting them in some of the narrower land cuts can be an interesting experience. We are happy to see the commercial traffic, they have a much stronger influence on dredging and aids to navigation matters that helps keep the waterways open for recreational boats.

Morehead City, North Carolina's second major port, was very quiet this Sunday morning, not much activity around the docks, only a few hardy fishermen out braving the elements. There were a lot of small boats in the waterway at Swansboro where the Coast Guard was broadcasting warnings of dangerous bar conditions in Bogue Inlet due to the high winds. This has been a real northeaster going into its third day now. We are warm and dry in the cabin. The weather is slowly improving as we get further south. We breeze through the Marine Corps firing range at Onslow Beach, no activity there today, but we meet a very large tug and barge squeezing through the swing bridge. We wait a few minutes until he clears. We stop at New River Marina at Sneads Ferry to take advantage of $3.32 diesel fuel, a good price. All through the land cuts we notice broken trees, many stripped of leaves, and some with bark completely blown off by Hurricane Irene. There are quite a few houses with the windows still boarded up. Evening finds us alongside at the Bridge Tender Marina in Wrightsville Beach. We treat ourselves to a nice dinner ashore at the Bridge Tender Restaurant. Monday morning we are away early, down Bogue Sound to Carolina Beach, through Snow's Cut into the Cape Fear River for the 12 mile run to Southport at the entrance. There is very little wind, the current is with us and it is one of our more pleasant trips. An uneventful passage through Myrtle Beach, and down the beautiful Waccamaw River. We are making good time, passing by Georgetown, SC, down Winyah Bay and enter the narrow Esterville-Minim Canal that takes the waterway through salt marshes and old rice plantations. We spend the night at anchor in Minim Creek a pretty little creek with deep water and sandy bottom. br />
Tuesday we have an easy run past McClellanville, the Cape Romain area, and through the sea islands north of Charleston. We go alongside the Charleston Pilot Office and top off the fuel tanks, shift over to the Carolina Yacht Club next door just ahead of one of many rain squalls. Our friend, Anne Poulnot, meets us and we spend a couple of very pleasant days at her home. Rain continues off and on during our stay. Out and about Charleston, taking in the sights, which include a visit with our pilot friends, and lunch (dinner) aboard one of the 65 foot pilot boats at the dock. The tradition of feeding amply on pilot boats is still alive and well as the captain enjoys baked ham, boiled greens and potatoes, and home made biscuits. The crew invites me back for a whole prime rib dinner tomorrow, I can only imagine. The Carnival Fantasy is in port, and probably not coincidentally, there is a big meeting at city hall to determine if cruise ship calls should be further curtailed. It seems many residents, and interestingly, some merchants, are offended by the cruise ship passengers walking around town in their tee shirts and shorts, apparently not in keeping with the more dignified character of the city. A few maintenance jobs on the boat, we plan to depart early Friday morning. We have extended our stay in Charleston by another day. If all continues according to plan, we will celebrate the captain's birthday Tuesday at Eau Gallie Yacht Club in Melbourne, a short run to Vero Beach Wednesday morning.

Alongside tonight at one of our favorite stops, the Jekyll Harbor Marina at the southern end of Jekyll Island, Georgia, also home to the very old and exclusive Jekyll Island Club. We tried it several years ago, very elegant and 1920's. We'll forgo the formal dress tonight and have some fresh local seafood at the little grill here at the marina.
 

Kennedy Space Center

An interesting house along the ICW in North Carolina
 
We had a wonderful 2 1/2 days in Charleston with our dear friend, Anne Poulnot. We left the boat at the Carolina Yacht Club, and enjoyed a few days on dry land. We visited, shopped, explored, dined, and even managed to work in a Cajun chicken snack at Bojangles. We were away from CYC early Friday morning, a light shower, otherwise warm and calm. A beautiful trip at dawn up the Stono River and up and down rivers through the low country with fascinating historical names like Wadmalaw, Edisto, Ashepoo, Coosaw. This was the home of many large and beautiful plantations, in historical novels you will often find the area referred to as ACE Country. (Ashepoo, Coosaw, Edisto). We passed through Beaufort, SC, another beautiful, old and historic town. In South Carolina it is properly pronounced Bew ford, the same town in North Carolina is pronounced Bow fort. Leaving the Beaufort River takes us by the Marine Corps training base at Paris Island and across Port Royal Sound. This was a major shipping port in colonial days and through the 18th and 19th centuries. The plantations' production of cotton, indigo, lumber, naval stores, and agricultural products were an important export that kept the world's ships coming and going. Some years ago I took a small freighter out of Philadelphia, the captain told me he was going to some small port in South Carolina nobody had ever heard of. He was surprised when I told him to say hello to Port Royal's one and only remaining pilot, my friend Eddie Rodgers.

We are brought back into the 21st century as we pass well developed Hilton Head through Skull Creek and Calibogue Sound. Hilton Head boasts several marinas, including one on a small man made lake, accessed from the waterway through a lock. Of course everybody has watched the golf games at Harbor Town, another one of our favorite places. We sail on by this time, passing around Skidaway Island just south of Savannah. We anchor for the night in Moon River (wider than a mile ....), a pretty little spot made famous by Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini, and Andy Williams.
 

Eau Gallie Yacht Club

Gibson Island Yacht Squadron Launch taking us ashore
 
This morning we head down the Vernon River, through Hell Gate, and begin "tacking" east and west through the endless creeks and passages of the Georgia savannahs. Although Georgia is only 100 miles across, you travel almost twice that far weaving through the waterway. We cross the often treacherous sounds, St Catherine, Doboy, Sapelo, St Simon. The ICW takes you out into the mouth of these sounds, almost into the ocean before turning back inland. It can be nasty in bad weather, today all is quiet and calm, the boat hardly rocks. We pass through Brunswick Harbor, St Simon Sound. This is the location of the Golden Isles and the famous Cloisters on St Simon Island. It is a short hop down a narrow channel to Jekyll Harbor Marina. There is a good WiFi Internet connection here, so we catch up on e-mail and write the log. A long shower (we have dock water available), a pleasant libation in air conditioned comfort in the cabin, then up to the grill for some of the local delights.

It is interesting how the weather during this trip has changed as we venture further south. The Chesapeake was wet and stormy, we had high winds in Virginia and North Carolina, since Charleston, there have been a few rain showers, almost no wind at all. We had the heat on in Norfolk, now the temperatures are almost 90 and we run the AC whenever we are alongside the dock. Tomorrow we cross into Florida and will anchor just north of St Augustine. Monday, we will dock at Smyrna Yacht Club in New Smyrna Beach. Although the club is not open on Mondays, we'll take advantage of our free dockage courtesy of Florida Council of Yacht Clubs. Tuesday night, we'll meet some friends at Eau Gallie Yacht Club in Melbourne and celebrate the captains birthday. An easy 36 mile run on Wednesday morning into Vero Beach where we should arrive in time for lunch at the yacht club, no doubt more celebrating. We'll open up the house and begin unloading the boat. Choir practice Wednesday evening is a definite possibility.

This may be the last of our chronicles this trip, I hope you have enjoyed sharing our pleasure as we travelled the beautiful waterways just inside the Atlantic East Coast. We will soon be engrossed in all our many activities in Vero Beach, we plan to fly back for Thanksgiving with our family and enjoy the rest of the holidays in Lewes and Chester County, Pa.
 

A sunrise in Georgia

Smyrna Yacht Club as storm rolls in
 
I know I said that iteration IV would be our final chronicle of the 2011 Fall voyage south, but I didn't take into account that we had almost 250 miles and three more days to go. We left Jekyll Island, Ga this morning in the dark at 0600 and proceeded into St Andrews Sound. This is one of the open sounds where the ICW takes you almost out into the ocean before doubling back into the Cumberland River. Fortunately, the seas were calm and we made easy work of it while watching a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. While running up the Cumberland River, around the north end of Cumberland Island, we encountered a very large pod of porpoises (porpi?), at least 50 or more. They swam along with us, and when they went under the boat, we could sometimes feel them rub the hull, the boat would roll just a bit. They are beautiful creatures and very agile, you don't have to worry about injuring one of them. They know exactly what they are doing and quickly move out of the way of the propeller.. We entered Cumberland Sound at Kings Bay, the US Navy's principal nuclear submarine base. One of the subs was alongside the dock, they are big, black, ugly looking things. There were security boats all over the place; we passed by without creating an international incident.

Cumberland Island, at the southern border with Georgia and Florida, is the site of Grayfields, a large home and estate founded by Andrew Carnegie. It has been operated as a bed and breakfast hotel by the grand and great grandchildren of the founder. The federal government has taken over most of the Island and has preserved it as a national park. We were fortunate to visit the Carnegies some years ago through the good graces of our friend Bill Kavanaugh, a seventh generation resident of Fernandina Beach and the port's one and only harbor pilot. He ran us over in the pilot boat and we spent a wonderful day exploring and visiting with the family. Everything had been preserved as it was in Carnegie's day; the library even smelled of his musty, leather bound books.

We continued on down the west side of Amelia Island, across Nassau Sound, crossing the St Johns River at Jacksonville, Florida. An uneventful run, down the Tolomato River (the tomato river ?) and on into St Augustine. The entrance to the harbor is marked by a large cross on shore commemorating the good Saint. This is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the new world. On previous voyages we have taken the time to explore the beautifully preserved Spanish quarters. Henry Flagler's influence is evident here with Flagler College and the extraordinarily beautiful Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church. Built in 1889 in memory of Flagler's daughter, the architecture resembles a large and very ornate Spanish cathedral, not at all what you would expect to find in a Presbyterian church. The church houses a magnificent Aeolian Skinner pipe organ which we have been privileged to enjoy on several occasions. The organ has been well cared for, and recently a rank of 32 foot Bombarde was added in the pedal division. They shake the walls. Tonight, after taking on fuel, we are at the municipal dock in air conditioned comfort while a gentle rain patters on the cabin top. We decide not to explore, settling instead for a nice dinner on board.

Underway before sunrise, a beautiful Florida morning. The large constellation Orion, one of our favorites, is shining brightly overhead, with his hunting dog, constellation Canis Major, nipping at his heels. We pass what is left of Marine Land, once Florida's premier water attraction is now a condo development. The opportunity to see natural sea creatures has been replaced by the more popular modern theme parks and aquariums. We passed some men surveying for a new dock; part of the team was chest deep in the water holding up the target pole. We also passed a canoe pulled up on a sand spit while a father and two young sons fished. The canoe had a short mast in the bow supporting a GPS receiver. There's nothing like technology. The kids probably have Facebook aboard for when the fish weren't biting. We tied up at Smyrna Yacht Club at New Smyrna Beach. Although the club is closed on Mondays, Fleet Captain Lee Smith was on the dock to welcome us. We had a refreshing swim in their pool, swarms of love bugs invaded the boat. We closed up and air conditioned. As we enjoyed a delightful birthday steak dinner in the cabin, a thunder squall moved through giving the boat a nice fresh water wash down. As a finale, a small manatee swam around the boat keeping us company. We felt truly welcomed back to Florida.

The ICW below Ponce de Leon Inlet and New Smyrna Beach takes you down a 20 mile channel through the aptly named Mosquito Lagoon, then a right angle turn west through a small land cut (a haul over before the canal was dug) and into the headwaters of the Indian River. Proceeding south on the Indian River we pass Titusville, Cocoa Beach, and the Kennedy Space Center, an area that will see big changes as the current space program winds down.. We're beginning to feel we're almost there. The Indian River is long and quite wide in many places. It runs through Vero Beach all the way down to Stuart. Unlike other parts of the waterway, there are often large expanses of deep water outside the marked channel. We pass the Canaveral Barge Canal, a deep cut with one large lock connecting the Indian River to the port and the sea. It is heavily used by commercial tugs and barges, we saw three tows as we went by. Our destination for the evening is the Eau Gallie Yacht Club at Indianatlantic Beach, near Melbourne. We planned a quiet evening with dinner, possibly with another couple. As we approached the dock, we are surprised to see a large delegation from Vero Beach Yacht Club who have come up in their boats to meet us, welcome us back to Florida, and celebrate the captain's birthday. The dockmaster fires the club's 10 gauge cannon, and Past Commodore Bill Walker hands us a glass of Champagne as we step ashore. Is this southern hospitality or what? A fun afternoon around the pool with our friends that included Bruce Macintyre and Charlie Jacobs, principals in the conspiracy, their wives, and friends. We all enjoyed a gala party and dinner in the clubhouse, winding up with a birthday cake on a beautifully decorated plate. A fantastic evening, thanks guys and gals !

An early start from Eau Gallie Wednesday morning, September 28th, for an uneventful 36 mile run into Vero Beach. We pass through some of the widest parts of the Indian River, passing a couple of our favorite lunch stops, Captain Hirams and Squid Lips. Alongside Vero Beach Municipal Marina to top off the fuel tanks, then shift next door to our winter slip at Vero Beach Yacht Club. Bill Walker, who overtook us coming down from Eau Gallie, and Dockmaster John Barringer are on the dock to help with the lines. We ring up "Finished With Engines" after yet another wonderful voyage from Lewes, Delaware to Vero Beach, Florida. We were underway a total of 15 days including two and a half lay days in Charleston, We recorded 1,149 nautical miles on the ship's log, 122.9 hours on the main engine, averaging 9.34 knots. We consumed 442.9 gallons of diesel fuel averaging 3.6 GPH for the trip. Blue Hen will make mostly day cruises around Vero Beach with a possible cruise next year to the west coast of Florida and perhaps the Keys. Hope you have enjoyed sailing along with us and sharing our adventures. As Bugs Bunny used to say in the movies, "That's all folks !".

Jerri and Paul Aboard M/Y Blue Hen of Lewes

[The above document is a collection of five chronicles of the voyage of Blue Hen of Lewes, a 32’ Lobster Yacht, from Lewes, Delaware to Vero Beach, Florida in September 2011. They were e-mailed to family and friends of Paul and Jerri Ives as we progressed down the Intra Coastal Waterway toward Florida.]

Vero Beach, Florida 30 September 2011


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