In my last post, which some described as being a little tedious, I wrote about boat projects we were completing. I ended that post with a mention that we were preparing for our first offshore passage and that it would take place through the night as we traveled from Beaufort, SC to St. Mary’s, Ga. Well, we made it and I wanted to share our experience.
In the final days and hours before departure, we worked almost nonstop to get all our systems fully operational and to clear the decks of clutter. On Monday, we decided on a midday departure which would have us arriving at the St. Mary’s inlet just after sunrise. The engine, despite not being run for almost a month, cranked up beautifully. My parents met us at the dock for hugs, pictures, and to throw us the docklines as we backed away. We timed our departure to take advantage of the 11 o’clock opening of the Lady’s Island bridge, gassed up at the Beaufort Downtown Marina, and were headed on our way south toward the Port Royal Sound.
The incoming tide made for slow progress down the river toward the inlet, so we took advantage and enjoyed our last tour of the Beaufort area with clear sunny skies. So many great memories of friends and family on the waters of the Lowcountry. We even passed by the very spot on Parris Island that Laura and I were married over a decade ago. As we approached the sound and the ocean inlet, we took a moment to appreciate our life here with the bittersweet understanding that we may not return soon. From this point forward, where we go and what we do is quite uncertain.
On this day, the inlet itself was busy with several tugboats and barges stretching an enormous pipe across the waterway. There were also several cruising boats behind us that eventually made contact and shared that they were headed to St. Mary’s as well. This was very comforting to us, knowing we wouldn’t be making the passage alone and could have assistance if we needed it. At the very least, they could keep me company through the night as I stood watch at the helm.
The seas were incredibly flat and the winds were calm as we moved through the channel markers and out 8 miles into open ocean. The conditions gave me confidence that we might just be able to pull this off after all. Certainly, things can change, but for now Mother Ocean decided to be kind and let us get settled as we left Beaufort, and all sight of land, in our wake.
It was an exciting moment to pass the final channel marker and turn the boat southwest to a heading of 200 degrees, knowing that 90 nautical miles straight ahead was the St. Mary’s inlet in southern Georgia. No other turns to make, no depths to be concerned about. Just one, long open water run. Much different than the experience of the ICW over the past several months. Unfortunately, for the moment, the calm winds were directly out of the SW, so sailing would have to wait. I remember thinking somewhat nervously how much we would rely on our Yanmar diesel engine to make this passage quickly and safely.
Laura managed to get the girls to lay down in the v berth and by 4 o’clock, both Avery and Leslie were fast asleep. Would they sleep through the entire night? Time would tell, but, for now, our passage of firsts couldn’t be going any easier. Calm seas, children asleep, buddy boats nearby.
In literature, that last paragraph might serve as a setup. A kind of too-good-to-be-true foreshadowing. And certainly, some drama would help to grip the reader and keep the pages turning. Fortunately for us and perhaps disappointingly for you, the reader, the hours and miles of our passage that night came and went fairly uneventfully. For most of the night, I successfully fought off the beginnings of seasickness and anxiety. The weather changed, but only slightly, with a little more wind and waves that were a bit larger. Those waves came from an annoying direction that caused the boat to wobble awkwardly as she rode in and out of troughs and crests. That wobble gave the autohelm some difficulty holding its course. But not too bad. The girls woke up, but at separate times. And while they were awake, they were especially sweet and friendly, most likely because they were enjoying their one-on-one time with Momma down below. The engine had an oily smoke exhaust at times, but kept on running. At one point, a strange flash on the horizon caused some concern, but it turned out to be the Coast Guard marking the location of a capsized vessel adrift, most likely pulled out to sea by Hurricane Matthew weeks before.The stars overhead were mesmerizing. I even saw a few shooting stars. And then dawn began to break. To the East, like the glow from a distant city, the horizon slowly illuminated, growing in color and intensity until the sun finally came into view. I’m sure the sun’s appearance that morning gave me the same mental and physical boost that ocean voyagers have anticipated and relied upon for hundreds of years.
We entered the St. Mary’s River inlet at 7:30 am, fought an outgoing tide all the way up the river until we reached the anchorage, dropped the hook, and it was over. We’d done it. I hadn’t slept a wink, but, riding the effects of the adrenaline rush I was feeling, we rewarded ourselves with an enormous coffee and breakfast at the Cedar Oak Cafe.
Currently, we are still at anchor in St. Mary’s, Georgia and have participated in the Cruisers Thanksgiving that is hosted here each year. There are nearly 70 boats at anchor in this small turn of the river and approximately 175 people in attendance. It’s a great event that takes place over the course of several days with oyster roasts, happy hours, potluck dinners, open mics, and the big meal on Thursday as the highlight. While we did meet one liveaboard family that is staying in St. Mary’s for several months, we were disappointed that there were no other travelling kid boats in attendance here. We’d really hoped that this event might be the beginning of some connections for the girls. We’ll weigh anchor sometime on Friday and head south with excitement to be cruising new territory once again.