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North on the Blue Hen of Lewes

From Vero Beach to Lewes

Jerri and Paul Ives

May 27th to June 8 th 2012

Hi Folks,

It's that time of the year again, hard to believe that yet another sunny winter season in Florida has quickly passed. I am sincerely flattered that so many of you have asked me to write another account of our trip up the waterway, one that we have done at least three dozen times over the years in two sailing Blue Hens and now our 32' Maine lobster boat. Like a lifetime of piloting over 8,000 ships on the Delaware River, the scenery changes little, but each trip is a unique experience. It never gets boring.

After enjoying nearly a month in Lewes, opening the house and tending the garden, Jerri and I flew back to Vero Beach on Tuesday, May 22nd. After a few days spent preparing the boat, several delightful dinners and socializing with dear friends, we said good bye, and closed up the condo. We departed Vero Yacht Club docks at 0600 Friday morning, May 25th. The weather was warm and sunny with a light breeze as we ran up the Indian River passing Captain Hirams and Squid Lips, two of our favorite lunch spots. There were fishermen here and there, but few if any cruising boats on the waterway. Most of the Spring migration is well ahead of us by now, and except for local boats out enjoying the Memorial Day weekend, we don't expect to see many larger boats on this trip. The 315HP Yanmar engine runs like a clock, we alternate between hull speed, about 7.5 knots, and cruising speed on a plane at about 14 knots in more open waters. The Intra Coastal Waterway is marked in Statute Miles, from habit I think in Nautical Miles and Knots. We work it both ways, multiply knots by 1.15 to get miles per hour.

We have run about 110 statute miles, anchoring in Spruce Creek behind the Ponce deLeon Inlet at New Smyrna Beach about 1800. We originally intended to anchor in Rockhouse Creek, about a mile away, but it was full of local boats of all sorts, rafted up, partying and enjoying the holiday. We have the this creek to ourselves, although there are numerous small boats pulled up along the beaches with a few tents pitched here and there. The First Rate Chief Mate and Chef Extraordinaire whips up a tasty dinner as we watch the sun sink into the Halifax River. A peaceful night after a long day.

We are underway at daybreak Saturday morning, spurred on by news that Tropical Storm Beryl is 300 miles off the Georgia Coast and headed southwest toward northern Florida. So far we have calm winds and smooth sailing We enjoy another beautiful morning as we work our way through a maze of bridges in Daytona Beach, all of which we can easily clear. The waterway is narrow in much of this area, we pass through a long land cut at Palm Coast, populated by nice houses and condos on both sides. We stop briefly at the Municipal Marina in St Augustine and top off the fuel tanks. The wind pipes up a bit and we take on a little spray as we speed up to make Jacksonville. We pass Pine Island, a beautiful little anchorage and our original destination, but it would not be very comfortable in a gale of wind. We arrive at Beach Marine, Jacksonville Beach, just a few miles below the St Johns River, and make fast in a secure slip in a snug harbor. The wind is predicted to be blowing hard by morning, but we awake on Sunday to another sunny and calm day. A lazy day in port is not a bad thing, we get lots of little jobs done around the boat including catching up on the log and correspondence. We enjoy a nice Sunday Brunch at the local restaurant as the clouds roll in and the wind gets up to 25 in gusts. The brunt of the storm is expected to hit overnight, hopefully we can get underway later tomorrow. We'll keep you posted, in the meantime we have shore power and fresh water, a good Internet connection, lots of bumps on the cell phone, and enough food aboard for an ocean voyage.

Tonight finds us in a snug anchorage in the Herb River, across from the Savannah Yacht Club near Thunderbolt in Savannah, Georgia. The rain is coming down in sheets as the remnants of our old friend Beryl pass by about 100 miles west of Savannah. We have plenty of anchor chain out, we enjoyed a nice steak dinner in the cabin, and even have an Internet connection through my Verizon phone.

The weather continued to deteriorate as Beryl approached the Jacksonville area on Sunday, we found lots of things to do on board, and we enjoyed watching the rain come down and the wind blow from our snug cabin. During the evening the marina and the beach area lost power, but we were in the enviable position of being on a boat that rose with the tide and even had a generator. During the wee hours, as the center of the storm went directly over us, the wind never went above 40-45, although there may have been some occasional higher gusts. By daylight on Monday morning, the wind had diminished considerably, and the rain had slacked off to a light drizzle. By 8:30, we took in our lines and headed out into the ICW heading north. We cruised along in well protected waters, crossing the St Johns River, Nassau Sound, and up the Amelia River toward Fernandina Beach. We did not see another boat of any kind, the dire warnings being broadcast by the weather stations and the Coast Guard certainly spoiled a nice Memorial Day for a lot of folks. As the morning progressed and the storm continued to move westward away from the area, the winds dropped to 15 knots or less, mostly from the south, a nice sailing breeze. We made good progress up Cumberland Sound, and around the west side of Cumberland Island. The waterway here winds around and through salt marshes and grassy sand hummocks. Although there were a few blasts of wind in an occasional shower, the water stayed flat and calm.

The only real challenge was heading out St Andrews Sound, a large body of water where you have to go out nearly to the ocean before turning north again into the protection of the waterway. We came up on a plane at 15-16 knots and the Maine lobster boat hull performed as she was designed to do. Spray flew everywhere, but the boat handled confidently and safely. We were soon at the southern tip of Jekyll Island, tied up at Jekyll Harbor Marina. We washed down with a fresh water hose, although a short time later mother nature opened the skies and gave us a real rinse. A nice dinner at the little restaurant near the marina, and early to bed for all hands.

We awoke this morning to overcast skies and 10-15 southerly winds. We proceeded up Jekyll Creek and out the Brunswick River, turning north into the Mackay River. A large power boat came out of Golden Isles Marina at St Simon and fell in behind us. This is the first boat we have seen moving in three days. More winding passages through the marshes, a trademark of the waterway in Georgia. We met two sailboats coming south, and a fast, plastic fantastic went roaring by at about 50 MPH. We figure his overall speed must be diminished somewhat by the necessity to stop in every other marina and buy fuel. We have some wind gusts of 20-25 in heavy rain showers, but the water is smooth and we make good time. The storm has turned north and is running parallel to us about 150 miles west. Rain bands continue to drop considerable rain along the coast, a not unwelcome thing since this area has been in drought much of the Spring.

Tomorrow we will take our time, anchoring somewhere in the Edisto or Wadmalaw Rivers. We expect to arrive in Charleston Thursday morning where we will spend a few days with our friend, Anne Poulnot. By the time we resume our voyage on Saturday morning cruising through the Coastal Carolinas and Virginia, Beryl should be ancient history and perhaps we will begin to enjoy real Spring weather.

The weather has been improving somewhat as we move steadily northward. On Tuesday, after leaving Brunswick, we negotiated the six remaining sounds of coastal Georgia. The wind was a bit gusty with a few rain showers, but it was all mainly from the south which resulted in smooth water most of the way. Beryl is inland and northwest of us now, running faster toward the South Carolina Coast. The rain bands extend out over one hundred miles and wash us down frequently with heavy showers. We approach Savannah, passing Skidaway Island, the site of many beautiful homes, and Isle of Hope where we have stayed a few times. The marina there is famous for their vintage Lexus sedan that you can borrow to drive into town for shopping or dinner. We press on into the Wilmington River, passing the Savannah Yacht Club, turning into the Herb River just short of the famous marine center at Thunderbolt. We have been in this river several times before, finding a snug anchorage about two miles above the mouth. We enjoy a well deserved libation and a nice dinner while the rain pours down in torrents. We go to sleep listening to rain drops on the cabin top, a soothing sound after a long day underway.

Underway from the Herb River and northward in the ICW crossing the Savannah River into South Carolina. We come out into Calibogue Sound across from Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island. The wind is light northwesterly, temperature about 75, and we see the sun for the first time in three days. We always knew it was up there somewhere. We enter Skull Creek passing several marinas on Hilton Head. Two sport fisherman roar close by at twenty knots throwing five foot seas, we roll in their wakes with everything flying around in the cabin. Makes you wish you had a cannon. We are soon out into Port Royal Sound and head up the Beaufort River passing the Marine Corps Base at Paris Island and the pretty little town of Beaufort (Beau_fort), S.C. The upper Beaufort River leads us out into the Coosaw River, a wide river running out to sea. We turn off into the Coosaw-Ashepoo Cutoff, a narrow land cut that connects several smaller rivers through extensive salt marshes. This is open, desolate country with no sign of life. We run up the South Edisto River and anchor outside the channel in a wide bend of the river. It is calm with one brief light shower, a pleasant night.

Underway Thursday morning for the 35 mile run into Charleston. A warm, clear day, through another land cut into the North Edisto River, and up the Wadmalaw River. This is the heart of South Carolina Low Country, we see a few boats but not many people out and about. The Wadmalaw narrows and then becomes the Stono River entering South Charleston. We speed up to pass a tug with a large barge about to enter Elliott Cut, a narrow waterway with strong currents. Under the Wappoo Cut Bridge and out into the Ashley River, around the Battery into the Cooper River and tie up alongside the Pilot Office where we top off the fuel tanks and do a bit of visiting with some of our pilot friends. We shift back into the Ashley River and tie up in a friend's vacant slip at Ripley Light Marina, very close to our friend Anne Poulnot's home. A pleasant two days ashore in Charleston with dinner Friday evening at the Boat House at the Carolina Yacht Club while we watch the start of the Charleston Ocean Cruising Club's overnight race to Georgetown, SC. The wind is fresh and it is quite a sight to watch eight large sailboats cross the starting line right in front of the club.

We spend the night onboard anticipating an early start Saturday morning. Out into the Ashley River at first light, crossing Charleston Harbor to enter the waterway at Sullivans Island. Apparently there has been some kind of collision between two small fishing boats off the Battery, lots of flashing lights and activity on the radio. We give all that a wide berth and soon are proceeding up the waterway, through Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge and Isle of Palms. We overtake our CCA friends Harry and Malinda Keith in their pretty sloop Lani Kai. They are on their way from Marathon, Florida to Annapolis, Md. This stretch of the waterway takes us up through marsh and sandy islands, crossed by numerous little creeks and small rivers. We pass McClellanville, home to a large fleet of shrimp boats. We are soon out into Winyah Bay, turning north and passing Georgetown, SC. We pass under the route 17 highway bridge and enter the Waccamaw River. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of the waterway, bounded on both sides by trees and old rice plantations. Tonight, Saturday June 2nd, we are alongside Wacca Wache Marina in the upper reaches of the Waccamaw where we enjoyed a nice fish and shrimp dinner at the little grill at the dock. Tomorrow, the long stretch through Myrtle Beach. More later....

Blue Hen of Lewes is in the home stretch and flying the homeward bound pennant. After several long days and all the excitement in Norfolk with the ship parade, we decided to quit early and head into Hampton, Virginia, just inside Old Point Comfort, at the entrance to Hampton Roads. With all the festivities, the place is packed with boats, but we secure a comfortable slip at Blue Water Yachting Center. We spend a pleasant afternoon straightening up the boat, showers, catching up on correspondence and the ship's log, even a little nap. The wind pipes up and we congratulate ourselves on making the right decision not to head out into the Bay. We pass up the opportunity to partake of the self proclaimed "best crab cakes in Virginia" at the local restaurant, enjoying, instead, a delicious dinner onboard prepared by Chef Jerri. Needless to say, we crash early. Many long days and short nights are catching up with us. Maybe, one of these days when I really retire, we'll run slow and smell the roses along the way.

Underway shortly after five this morning, the sky is perfectly clear and the water is flat calm. We head north on Chesapeake Bay at full cruising speed, about 14 knots. This is a little rough on our fuel economy, but we have a lot of miles to cover while the weather is so good. We cross the York and Rappahannock Rivers. Just below the Potomac River we pass a fleet of large Menhaden fishing boats operating out of Reedville, Virginia, on the Great Wicomoco River.

There were two Menhaden fish processing plants in Lewes when I was a young boy. Every summer, a large fleet of boats would come over from Reedville and fish in the Delaware Bay and along the coast. The captains brought their families with them, five families rented apartments in an old country hotel next door to my parents house. I grew up with the sons and daughters, they were wonderful people, and we became best of friends, looking forward to seeing each other every summer. Often I would go out on the boats for a day or two of fishing. Menhaden are a small, oily, smelly fish that swim in large schools. The captain would climb up into the crows nest at the top of a tall mast, when he spotted a school of fish, the mate would launch the two motor life boats loaded with purse seine net. The boats would drag the net around the fish, pulling it together like a purse, hence the name. The large boat would come alongside, and fish would be dipped out of the net with an oversized crab net operated from the gaff on the mast. When the boats were loaded with a million or more fish, they would come into the processing factories where the fish were boiled to get the oil, the rest was dried and sold for animal feed. The oil is used in paint, medicine, and many other everyday products. When the wind was from the east, the smell of the cooking fish would often engulf the whole town of Lewes. This was reported to have helped keep the tourist population under control, not a bad thing according to many of the natives. When asked "what is that awful smell", the local folks often replied, "it smells like money to me".

Technology and environmental concerns have changed the industry over the years. Delaware, along with some other coastal states, has banned fishing for Menhaden in their waters. The fish are now "spotted" from small aircraft whose pilots direct the boats to the schools. Instead of dipping the fish out of the nets, today they are sucked out with powerful hoses on the mother ship. It was a tough life, you could grow calluses a quarter inch thick on your fingers from pulling in the nets. Our family stayed friendly with the Reedville families for many years, many of the sons became captains or spotter pilots, and I still hear from one or two. .

An interesting side note, there was a small wholesale oil company located on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal just inside the inlet from Delaware Bay. After discharging their catch at the fish factories, the Menhaden steamers used to come into the oil dock to load fuel. Wescott Oil Company and the old boats are long gone, but our home now stands on this same property where the boats came alongside, and Blue Hen ties up out in front where the old docks once stood.

We charge along, seeing a few other boats and a few ships heading into the Port of Baltimore. A heavy thunder squall passes across the bay just ahead of us as we approach the Bay Bridge at Annapolis. We get a few gusts of wind and a sprinkle or two. Thursday night we are anchored in Fairlee Creek, on the Eastern Shore. We have come 175 nautical miles up the bay in about thirteen hours. A snug hole, we have been here many times. Tonight, we are only one of two boats in the whole place.

Friday morning, June eight, day fifteen and the last of our voyage. Day dawns bright and clear, temperature 68 with a light westerly breeze. We discover the axillary generator will not start. After checking all the obvious, likely faults, the Chief Engineer determines that we really don't need it, and rather than crawl around in the engine room all morning, we dig out the little portable gas stove we keep aboard for such emergencies. Soon we have hot coffee and breakfast well underway as we steam up into the headwaters of Chesapeake Bay. We are running at our normal, slower speed of 7.5 knots making good time through very familiar water where we have sailed all of our lives. We pass the mouth of the Sassafras River where we kept several of our earlier boats, entering the Elk River at Turkey Point. We are actually cruising on waters where I am licensed to pilot ships of "any gross tons", The remainder of the trip will seem like old times, but it is always interesting. Passing Chesapeake City, we note with interest that the docks at Shaefers Canal House seem to have been completely rebuilt, although there was no sign of activity. The place was famous for many years as a fine restaurant where diners could watch large oceangoing ships pass by while we changed with the Maryland pilots. For the last four or five years, it has been closed, with the building and docks in disrepair.

An uneventful passage through the C&D Canal, we clear at Reedy Point and turn south on the Delaware River. The River and Bay are like glass, we speed up and take advantage of the remaining ebb current. A smooth trip down the Bay, we pass through the Big Stone Beach anchorage where five large oil tankers are in various stages of lightering before going up the river to the refineries near Philadelphia.

We enter the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and tie up at our summer home, ably assisted by sister Nancy, nephew David and his wife Sue, and several neighbors. We ring up Finished With Engines at 1430 Friday afternoon, the faithful Yanmar diesel shutters to a stop and breathes a deep sigh of relief. We have traveled about 1100 miles in fifteen days, including a lay day in Jacksonville and a day in Charleston.

Jerri and Paul

Aboard Blue Hen of Lewes
June 8, 2012


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