Amberjack Log





The following log is an account of our journey from New Jersey to Florida in the fall of 2000.  There, we lay the Amberjack IV up for the winter to go skiing.  In April, 2001, we plan to go to the Bahamas, and travel further down the island chain in the Caribbean. 


Wednesday, September 21,  Forked River to Atlantic City.  It’s been windy for the last two days.  I’m hoping for a rather smooth run to Cape May, so I take an hour to drive over to Long Beach Island to check the sea conditions.  Seas are placid, with 2-foot waves creating rather languid surf.  I go back to Forked River, and we set out. 


By the time we’ve done a few last minute errands and run the seven miles out to Barnegat Inlet, the seas have gone from two feet to four feet.  The boat is more stable on plane in water like this.  We’re trying to keep the fuel costs down, so planning is not the preferred method of travel.  But comfort wins out over cost and we go up on plane.  By the time we reach Atlantic City, the seas are above five feet and we decide not to continue.  We anchor off the Coast Guard station inside the inlet and spend a quiet evening watching the gulls circle in the light of Trump’s Marina casino.


Thursday, September 22, Layover at Atlantic City.  The wind blew hard last night, and it is still blowing this morning.  We take an early morning run out the inlet, but the ocean is no place to be today.  I’ve run down the inside to Cape May once, and it is no place for a boat that draws 40 inches.  So we head over to the Farley State Marina and take a slip for the night.  After a meal at their buffet, we hit the casino, where I’m able to take exactly 25 cents away from the Donald.  At least I didn’t make the usual donation. 


Friday, September 23,  Atlantic City to Chesapeake City.  The seas are quiet, and we want to maximize the benefit today.  We’re already about a week behind schedule.  We depart at 18 knots and move swiftly south to Cape May.  Once through the Cape May Canal, we find a 2-foot chop right on the nose in Delaware Bay.  On plane again, we make a straight run for Ship John Shoal and the upper bay.  By the time we pass the Salem generating plant and make the turn into the C&D Canal, the waters are flat.  We pull into Sheaffers and refuel.  The trip has been costly.  We’ve used 215.7 gallons of diesel fuel to cover 136 nautical miles.  At a cost of $1.59 per gallon.  This is $ 2.52 per mile.  We aren’t going to Florida this way!


While fueling, we find that Sheaffers has conveniently discontinued offering pumpout service.  I think there should be a federal requirement that any fuel seller must discontinue selling fuel while their pumpout is not available.  This attitude that they can just claim their machine doesn’t work is not acceptable.


After fueling, we move across the canal to Engineer’s Cut and take a place at the free town dock that Chesapeake City offers.  To our delight, they’ve added a floating dock to the bulkhead now. 


Saturday, September 24, Chesapeake City to Havre de Grace.  We awaken to a warm but rainy day.  This day’s run is short, and in protected waters and we have no problem with the rain.  We treat ourselves to breakfast at the restaurant in Chesapeake City and get on our way.  The trip down the Elk River is uneventful, and we soon turn off to the northwest for the run up to Havre de Grace.  We get a slip for two days at the Tidewater Marina in the center of town.  This old town at the mouth of the Susquehanna River has a long and varied history.  But we’ve come here because it is nearest to our daughter, Leigh Ann and her husband, Michael.  They have a new home in nearby Abingdon, and she is expecting their first child (and our first grandchild) in late November.  They are finishing their basement, and I have some electrical wiring to complete before we get on with the rest of our trip. 


Sunday, September 25,  Layover at Havre de Grace.  The wiring is a long and hard day’s work for Michael and me.  While we’re struggling, Marilyn and Leigh Ann go shopping to bring the ship’s stores back up to full. 


Monday, September 26,  Havre de Grace to St. Michaels.  It’s quiet but rainy again as we slip our lines and leave the marina.  We slide down past Pooles Island and turn east around Rock Hall and enter the Chester River.  To atone for the scandalous fuel consumption, I shut down one engine and run at 7.5 knots.  The wake is minimal at this speed, and I know the fuel consumption will be way down.  We slide through Kent Narrows and head on down to Miles River.  The rain is now stronger and the wind has freshened, but we’re in protected waters and not affected.  The flybridge is fully enclosed and I’m still dressed in a tee shirt. 


We pull in to the Chesapeake Maritime Museum at about seven o’clock.  They’ve closed for the night, but we find an open dock by the pumpout station, which we need more urgently now.  Tieup is a damp affair, complicated by some other skipper who wants us to leave space for his friend.  But we’re soon enjoying a strong drink in the saloon.


Tuesday, September 27 thru Thursday, September 29,  Layover at St. Michaels.  We like St Michaels, and generally try to spend some quality time here.  Besides, I’ve got some new toys to play with.  One significant addition to the boat is the latest EPIRB, with GPS position info.  There was a ‘special’ which included a Garmin 12 GPS with the beacon.  Of course, the GPS will only run on batteries and they run down in two days, but I’m able to hook it up to the GPS which feeds the navigation computer.  This system will provide an important safety link when we leave the US.  If the beacon is activated, rescue organizations will have our position to within 50 feet.  The rest of the time is spent shopping, doing laundry, perusing the museum, and watching the comings and goings of other vessels. 


Friday,  September 30, St Michaels to Annapolis.  There is a brisk breeze and clear skies as we set off for Annapolis.  Seas are low, however.  We stop at a point in Eastern Bay where large boils indicate schools of baitfish.  Several offerings go untaken and we continue our way around Bloody Point.  As we make out into the bay proper a large naval ship is proceeding up the bay.  This cruiser (I think) anchors in the deep water of the eastern shipping channel.  Several 50 to 60 foot shore leave boats commence shuttling navy personnel both ways for the time we are in Annapolis. 


We enter the harbor.  It is midday, and all the moorings are taken.  We are pleased to note that the Karen J., a 43-foot Grand Banks is moored to mooring # l.  The Karen J. is owned by Bill and Karen, neighbors on the same dock at Forked River.  They’re not aboard, so we go on to the inner harbor.  We find a spot on ego row and tie up.  Shortly after we get settled, Karen and Bill come by and we all end the afternoon sitting on the back deck with a drink, watching the people watch us.


Saturday, October 1, Layover at Annapolis.  Karen and Bill tag mooring #2 when it comes available in the morning.  After a quick washdown and a water tank fill, we move out of the high rent district and take up the mooring.  It is only good for tonight.  Tomorrow, all moorings must be vacated to allow the staging for the Annapolis Sail Boat Show, which is next weekend. 


Leigh Ann has come up with an attractive proposal.  She has tickets for us for a preseason exhibition hockey game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals.  What makes it especially attractive is that the tickets are for a corporate sky lounge.  We wangle a couple more tickets and we all set off for Washington.


This is the way to watch a hockey game!  The sky lounge is occupied by our party of six and one other couple.  The entry opens on a living room sized space.  Just inside the door is a private bathroom for the lounge.  The lounge has a couple of easy chairs, a sofa, and coffee table.  Against one wall is a buffet with hot wings, hotdogs, and all the garnishes.  A refrigerator is stocked with beer, soda, and spring water.  Everywhere there are peanuts, chips, and all the junk foods that I really don’t need.  At the arena side is a bar overlooking 12 comfortable spectator seats.  Several televisions let you watch the action wherever you are in the lounge.  We spend one great time watching the Capitals win the match 2 to 1. 


Sunday, October 2, Annapolis to Solomons.   The ride is uneventful, except that it is busier than usual on the bay.  Many boaters are taking advantage of that autumn sailing that the Chesapeake is famous for.  We pull into Solomons in late afternoon and take up an anchorage off the Calvert Maritime Museum there.  It takes two tries to get the anchor to hold, but I’m able to back down on it without it slipping.


Monday, October 3, Layover at Solomons.  There are several things we want to do before moving on.  We need to pump out and fuel up, and we both want to see the museum, something we’ve never taken the time to do.  So we decide to lay over for another day. 


We go to the fuel dock and take care of the necessary things.  I’m pleased to find that the more leisurely travel rate has resulted in a fuel consumption rate of 1.6 nautical miles per gallon.  The fuel cost of $1.229 translates this into $0.76 per mile.  This is less than one third the per mile cost of the earlier legs.   It just goes to show that speed costs.


Anchoring again in the same area shows how difficult anchoring can be.  This time, we make seven tries at getting the anchor to hold.  This area is used daily by as many transient boats as can fit in.  The bottom is mud, and all the anchoring and dragging turns the mud into a soupy mix that simply won’t hold against a strong pull.  I’m using a large Fortress (Danforth Style) anchor with 50 feet of chain.  In addition to the chain, I have 100 feet of nylon rode out.  We’re talking a scope of 14 to 1 here!  Even with a 15-pound messenger on the stock, the anchor simply will not set.  Eventually, on the eighth try, I’m satisfied that we’re really fastened.  All this, and the wind never exceeds two knots.  I could hold the boat with the messenger on a piece of eighth inch line.  But if it blows during the night, I want to stay where I am.  2:00 am anchor exercises are not my idea of a good night’s sleep.  It just goes to show.  You can anchor a hundred times, and the next time, the anchor won’t hold when the wind comes up. 


The Calvert Museum is a jewel that is well worth the visit.  A section is devoted to the archaeology of the nearby Calvert Cliffs.  The focal point is a replica of the head and mouth of the largest shark ever to roam the earth.  This large shark, as it was known, had rows of teeth, like all sharks.  But these teeth were 6 to 8 inches in length.  Other sections of the museum address the area during WWII and get into the boats of the area and the flora and fauna of the area.  They have a pair of otters that are a pleasure to watch as the swim and play in their tank.  There is also a nature walk through a marsh representative of those in this area.


Tuesday, October 4, Solomons to Norfolk.  Touring and whatever out of the way, we get an early (for us) start south.  I run part of the way on one engine and part ons two, but at less than planning speed.  The seas are astern, and not very high.  As we make our way south, we pass the several large ships that fish commercially in the lower Chesapeake.  These guys use a spotter plane to look for schools of fish.  When the plane locates a school, the mother ship moves in and drops several 40-foot boats that encircle the fish with nets.  The whole catch is hauled aboard and processed.  I’m not a raging environmentalist, but this whole process strikes me as being a little too industrialized.  There can’t be many fish left in the bay when these guys are done.


The day passes and we move steadily southward.  The weekend warriors are now back at their marinas, toasting the day’s events.  We cross Thimble Shoal close in to the entrance to Hampton Roads, and enter the harbor.  It has been a long day, but the sight of carrier row is always invigorating.  There are two carriers there as we pass by.  The first is the Eisenhower.  The second I cannot identify, as it is docked stern to.  The navy does not place the name anywhere on a warship but on the transom.  Even there, it is not very big.  You have to read it with binoculars. 


We proceed on down the Elizabeth River and drop the hook off the navy hospital opposite downtown Norfork.  I’m disappointed to find that the lovely beach in front of the hospital has been clearly marked NO LANDING by the navy.  Duchess and I set off on a somewhat longer trip by dinghy to a more accessible but dirtier beach in the public area. 


Wednesday, October 4,  Norfolk to Great Bridge.  We arise to a lovely day, and start to plan how it will go.  After the morning dog walk, I call the Waterside Marina, across the river at downtown Norfolk and ask if we can come in for a few hours.  The answer is yes, we can accommodate you.  We take a slip, plug in the power, and the hose…all for five dollars.  I scrub the boat down, recharge the batteries, and visit Nauticus, the large naval museum.  (They have a full bridge from a navy destroyer set up overlooking the harbor.)  They also have a lot of really neat interactive computer ‘games’ that you can play.   You can pilot a 900-foot freighter up into Oakland harbor.  You can fly an F-18.  You can operate a Gulf oil drilling rig.  You can design a ship.  You can do a dozen other things.  You can also pet a shark.  These were sand sharks like one catches off NJ.  But the kids don’t know that. 


With our need for knowledge, water and power slaked, we depart Waterside for the 12-mile jaunt down to Great Bridge.  This can be something of a gauntlet, as there are four or five heavily traveled bridges, several railroad bridges, and one lock to deal with.  All goes smoothly and we are tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin below the lock and the Great Bridge bridge by cocktail hour. 


Thursday, October 5, Great Bridge to Coinjock.   The morning dawns clear and pleasant.  But we have some chores to do.  There is laundry, and there is some light shopping.  Atlantic has a courtesy car, which is one of the reasons why we stop here.  We drive off to the nearest Food Lion, hit a few other places, and get back to the boat by eleven.  Soon as all the purchases are loaded aboard, we slip the lines and head for the rest of the canal.  The trip is pleasant, punctuated here and there by bridges.  We have to accommodate their opening schedules, but we largely run on one engine. 


The canal pops us out into the Currituck Sound.  This is an interesting exercise in piloting.  The channel, which is wide and deep, is clearly marked with daybeacons.  The challenge comes in realizing that there is a row of pilings below the surface along the east side of the channel.  These mysterious pilings, which are placed next to each other in the manner one would build a bulkhead, extend for many miles.  Who placed all these piles, and for what purpose, remains a mystery to me.  What I do know is that I do not want to wander over that way.  So considerable oversight is required to assure that all the computers on the vessel are doing their job.  This is not the time to try explaining to an insurance adjuster that “I was just checking the chart!”


Without incident, we leave the sound and enter Coinjock Bay.  This leads to the Coinjock Canal and the end of this day’s travels.  We tie up at the Coinjock marina.  I’d like to buy fuel here, ($1.16/gallon) but we filled up (at a higher price) at Great Bridge, and it isn’t worth starting the pump.  While we can’t avail ourselves of the fuel, we can surely take advantage of the wonderful food at the restaurant at the marina.  It is rather unimpressive on the outside, but quite memorable on the inside.  Marilyn chooses the fried chicken, but I can’t resist trying the 32-ounce prime rib of beef.  The food, drink, and service are excellent, and we come away with rather heavy doggy bags, enough for two more meals, in fact. 


Friday, October 6  Coinjock to Belhaven.  The morning is pleasant, warm and clear.  Our departure is delayed a little by the ever present obligation to empty the holding tank.  Once underway, we make steady progress southward through the canal, then across Pamlico Sound.  At the southern terminus of the crossing, we start the long transit of the Alligator River.  At the end of the Alligator, we enter the Alligator and Pungo Canal.  This canal is so long and straight that you can actually see the earth’s curvature.  Vessels go hull down as they disappear in the distance. 


I had planned to anchor at a spot at the south end of the canal, but we’ve made rather good progress, and so we push on ten miles down the Pungo to Belhaven.  Belhaven is a good anchorage spot with a launch ramp right next to the small town.  A launch ramp is also a great dinghy dock and hence quite valuable.  We put down the anchor opposite the ramp and get a good set on the first try.  Through the night, I check the boat’s position every couple of hours, as is my custom.  She never puts enough strain on the rode to pick up the chain. 


Saturday, October 7,  Belhaven to Oriental.  The Weather Channel says that the only place east of the Mississippi it’s raining is in our area.  When I open the door, guess what?  They’re absolutely right!  I walk the dog in a steady rain.  It’s Saturday, and the launch ramp is full of pickups and empty trailers. 


We up anchor and head south once again.  The Pongo has a little following sea running in a freshening wind, but it is no problem.  There is a strange sight dead ahead of us.  Even with glasses, I can’t discern it, but it is coming our way.  It looks huge.  As it approaches, it resolves itself into a two barge tow with a tug towing and a tug following as a steering tug.  The strange sight is a dredge I’ve heard of, called the ‘Vicksburg.’  She is fitted with some kind of turbo driven mud grinder with flushing jets.  The whole thing is the size of a small house.  In the up position, it is about 75 feet above the water. 


Once clear of the tow, two small center consoles come racing up the river.  The skipper of the nearest jubilantly waves two large bluefish at me as he races past.  It is a short but bumpy ride across the Pamlico River and into Goose Creek.  A short canal ride takes us past  Hobucken and into the Neuse River.  But before we reach Hobucken, a marine drama overtakes us on Channel 16.  It starts with a MAYDAY call.  In all my hours of cruising, this is only the second bona fide mayday I’ve ever heard. 


The first call occurred decades ago in the Chesapeake.  Marilyn and I were guests aboard a DEO’s boat headed for a District Council meeting and Rendezvous.  A distressed vessel was in an area of poor radio coverage and was taking on water faster than the bilge pumps could handle it.  The problem was that the Coast Guard could not communicate with them.  We, on our vessel, could hear both parties clearly.  My host skipper tried several times to call the Coast Guard, to inform them that we could act as a relay.  Each time, he was ordered off the air with a SEELONCE MAYDAY! order.  Being the chairman of marine electronics, I politely asked if I might have the mike.  My MAYDAY RELAY, repeated three times brought an immediate (and relieved) response from the Coast Guard.  We were able to relay messages regarding position and condition.  Fortunately, the distressed vessel was beached in shallow water with no injuries or loss.  However, this drove home to me the importance of proper radio procedure. 


Back to the present.  Once again, I’m hearing those dreaded words.  MAYDAY..MAYDAY..MAYDAY.  The Coast Guard response is immediate.  They determine that the distressed vessel is a 40-foot pleasure trawler which has lost power and, consequently, steering in the rough waters of the Neuse River.  They have GPS Lat/Long coordinates.  The master states that the vessel is taking on water, is in shoal water on a lee shore, and, when asked, states that he is in immediate danger.  As all this is being radioed, I’m passing the Hobucken Coast Guard Station.  Several Coasties are in the wheelhouse of their 44-footer, glued to the radio.  Why aren’t they getting underway?  What’s happening here?? 


Further CG questioning, and some belated plotting on my part, shows that the distressed vessel is off Maw Point, the eastern end of the ICW on the Neuse River.  We’re just starting the 2-mile run to the light off Maw Point.  The CG asks if the skipper has put out an anchor.  He says, no, but he’ll do so immediately.  He duly reports back that he has an anchor out and it seems to be holding.  The CG commences to try to arrange with the skipper for a commercial tow when he announces that he’s had three heart attacks and is now having chest pains due to the stress of the situation.  This, of course, galvanizes the CG into action.  In a couple of minutes, we see the 44-footer tearing up the water astern of the Amberjack.


In the meanwhile, the airwaves get more and more chaotic.  A good Samaritan doctor who has passed this way an hour ago offers to turn his trawler around and assist.  A CG bureaucrat gets on the radio and starts asking questions which obviously are coming from a form.  “What is the nature of your illness and when did you first notice it?”  The distressed skipper took all this in stride, calmly answering questions while dying.  The CG passed us, reached the distressed vessel, and put two men aboard.  Curiously, the 44-footer’s VHF radio died at that point.  And there was no other radio aboard, not even a handheld.  Eventually, with the CG standing by, a commercial tow boat came by to take them into a port. 


The interesting questions that came of this are the following.  First, with the vessel GPS coordinates placing him in 25 feet of water, why was he reporting 5 feet?  Second, he reported being blown ashore, but he was really being blown up the Neuse River, 5 miles wide and 20 some miles long.  He had a long way to go before he went aground!  Third, why did his heart symptoms come when nothing else worked, and disappear when the CG was on the way?  And what about that ‘taking on water?’ He later stated there was no water in the bilge.  Like so many of the dramas you hear on Channel 16, we’ll never know the truth about this one.   


We chug out, abeam to the seas,  and make our turn around Maw Point.  By this time, the Neuse River is showing why it is so infamous.  It is a nasty chop, running right up the river.  Fortunately, so are we, so the waves are square on the stern.  The seas are 5 to 6 feet, but this is a bathtub compared to Delaware Bay.  I try to sync the Amberjack’s speed to the wave speed, but they are traveling about 12 knots.  This is that black area where the boat is neither fully in the water nor fully planing.  It is a quiet ride, but it is more costly than running on plane.  So I open the throttles, and off we go.  In fifteen minutes, we’re in the calmer waters off Oriental.  We round the breakwater and:  Lo! Our favorite freebie spot at the town dock is waiting for us.  We tie up and settle in for the night. 


Sunday, October 8.  Layover at Oriental.  BRRR!  It’s cold!  That huge air mass from Canada has caught up with us.  At seven am it’s 56 degrees outside.  By ten am, it has dropped to 45 degrees.  And the weather men are telling us it’s going to get colder yet tomorrow.  I go out for a run, which goes very well in this brisk air.  Then it’s a bit of TV watching, and some chores like writing this Amberjack Log.


Monday, October 9,  Oriental to Sneads Ferry.  It’s even colder this morning.  We get an 8:00 am start from Oriental and head out into the Neuse River.  The wind is blowing steadily from the north.  Seas build as we make our way across the river.  By the time we slip into the protected waters below the river, the following seas have built to about four feet.   Soon we’re in quiet waters and headed down the ditch.  The next open waters will be the very shallow waters of Bogue Sound.  After that, it will be the Cape Fear River, which can get rather nasty with a 2-knot current bucking a sea wind.


But for now, it is windy but protected waters.  The large challenge is keeping the boat headed in the right direction.  ‘Protected’ means narrow, with little leeway for error.  The snarling gusts tear at the boat, and it takes continued vigilance to keep us in the deep and narrow. 


Swansboro Marina is very tempting, but their high fuel prices put me off.  I know that the lowest cost fuel on the ICW can be had ten miles further south in Sneads Ferry.  Since the fuel dock is separate from the marina, we probably should have stayed in Swansboro, and fueled the following morning.  But I press on, and shortly, we are at Swan Point.  They do not fail to satisfy.  The cost of fuel is $ 1.139 per gallon.  For this tank full, the statistics are:  1.3 nautical miles per gallon, or $ .87 per nautical mile.


Having fueled, we tie up at the adjacent Swans Point Marina.  This is not exactly a good move.  These folks are still ‘recovering’ from the hurricane of 1996.  You get water and electric, but they have to be brought in from 100 feet away.  Further, every yahoo who comes down the ICW rocks the Amberjack and throws her against the dock. 


Tuesday, October 10, Sneads Ferry to Wrightsville Beach.  In the early morning hours, I go out for a walk/run and a look at the neighborhood.  There are lots of small homes, with well tended lawns and a few trees.  There is no store or place where one might buy a newspaper.  So I go back to the Amberjack and we set off to the southwest.  The wind is still much in evidence, but it is not so insistent and nasty as it was yesterday. 


I can tell I’m getting complacent and careless.  I forget to check the restrictions on a bridge.  Most bridges open on the hour and the half hour.  This particular bridge is one of a handful which opens only on the hour.  Several planing boats and trawlers have been politely passing me for the last hour.  By the time I tumble to my error, it is simply too late to make up the lost time.  We’re in for an hour’s wait.  We make the most of the situation by dropping the anchor and having a nice lunch. 


By the time we’re clearing the lunch dishes, a whole assortment of vessels have gathered for the next opening.  Since we’re all sitting there with 15 minutes to burn, I call them on channel 16 and have them meet me on channel 13.  It takes a short time to determine who is planning to travel at 19 knots, who will be doing 16 knots, and so forth.  Being the first boat at the bridge, I get everyone lined up so that they can depart with the fastest boat at the front, and the slower boats in the rear.  That way, we don’t have to go through a tedious passing routine after the bridge. 


It all works great, except for one sailing vessel from Atlantic City.  He doesn’t like the whole process.  HE wants to go FIRST.  He ignores my radio calls.  He does the most he can to block other fast vessels from moving into their positions in the lineup.  When the bridge raises, he cuts into the procession ahead of several power boats, including yours truly.  Well, he got through the bridge where he thought he should be.  And he got no sympathy from any of the power boats as we gunned our engines and passed him.  One of the other power boaters, who was new to power, but a long time sailor, later called me on the radio and complimented me on my efforts. 


We chug down the waterway, taking care to time our approaches to the bridges.  I’m able to hit the Wrightsville Beach bridge just as it opens.  It is another of the once an hour bridges.  We proceed south of the bridge and make a ninety degree turn to port.  A short run brings us to Seapath Marina where we tie up for the night.


Seapath is always a pleasant respite on the ICW.  In addition to fuel and a good pumpout, they have all the first class yacht marina amenities.   They also make available a very good courtesy car.  The greater Wilmington area offers great provisioners like West Marine, Home Depot, and Sam’s Club.  Needless to say, there are also countless food stores, and other purveyors of staples.  


Wednesday, October 11, Wrightsville Beach, NC, to Southport, NC.  The wonderful high pressure system which has had us snuggling under a comforter is still strong, but the morning air is a little warmer.  The morning is consumed with errands in the courtesy car.  By noon, we’re underway again.  Today will be a relatively short run.  We go down some more of the protected canal, and then enter the Cape Fear River.  This body of water, driven by the inlet at Cape Fear, produces very awesome tidal currents.  They peak at 2.5 knots.  Our passage is marked by currents this strong, and I’m happy to relate that they are going our way!  We’re soon seeing speeds as high as 12 knots.  Not bad below hull speed on one engine.


We round the point at Southport and head southwest once again.  There is a small harbor there which is extremely well protected.  The shores are lined with boat docks, but there is a town dock, and there is a freebie space for one boat at the head of that dock.  Our luck has run out.  Two sailboats are rafted at the freebie spot.  Not to worry, we anchor in the harbor.  A short dinghy ride gets relief for the dog.  Then a short ride in another direction brings excellent takeout seafood dinners from one of several shoreside restaurants. 


On the way back from one of these trips, the dinghy engine dies within feet of the Amberjack swim platform.  I’m out of gas!!  If you’re going to run out of fuel, it’s great to do it in a protected anchorage, within 10 feet of the mother ship.  It also is most important to have a mate who can accurately cast a line on the first try!!


Thursday, October 12, Southport NC to Myrtle Beach, SC.  Another lovely morning.  A walk around town shows the usual dying town turned to antiques and professional offices.  We raise the anchor and head on down the ICW.  The weather is good, and we make good time.  North of Myrtle Beach, the ICW gets very narrow and one has to be careful not to stray far out of the channel.  This area also has a lot of floating debris.  While waiting for a bridge to open, I hear a clunk and see a 4-inch branch come out from the starboard quarter.  I can’t tell whether I’m imagining it, but there seems to be a little vibration.  Oh well, it happens every thousand miles or so.  At least, it’s not bad enough to do anything right now. 


We pass the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach and tie up at the long float at Barefoot Landing.  This free dock is a favorite stopping place.  There is a factory outlet center here, the ‘Alabama’ theatre and museum, the House of Blues, and many restaurants.  There is no water or electric, but the dock is well kept and the price is right. 


Friday, October 13, Myrtle Beach, SC to McClellanville, SC.  I go out for a morning run.  It’s about a mile to the beach, and I get in another half mile on the beach.  This is the first time I’ve run on the beach in a couple of years.  Back at Barefoot Landing, we get underway.  The weather is sunny and pleasant, hope this never ends.  The ICW feeds into the PeeDee River, and then goes off to the southwest again.  In late afternoon, we turn off to the west and run a mile up to McClellanville.  We make this a must on our port list.  The dockage is very reasonable.  You’re tied up among working shrimp boats.  The shrimp are awesome.  The people are nice.  And it is at just the right place as we’re staging up or down the ICW.  You look for places like this. 


McClellanville is like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Live oaks shade the streets, only a few of which are paved.  Friendly dogs come up for a pat on the head while not so friendly dogs bark at the ends of their chains.  Kids run up the street and yards are full of swings and toys.  People wave to you as they drive by.  But the thing we like about this town is that it is the major shrimp processing complex for the entire region.  I ask the marina owner (who is campaigning for the state legislature) when the seafood store closes.  He says, “They close in five minutes, but why don’t you see if Joe, fueling up there will sell you some.”


Joe indeed will sell me some.  He gets a plastic supermarket bag and scoops what yielded three pounds of dressed shrimp into the bag.  Asked about price, he has no idea.  He turns to the would be congressman, who suggests ten dollars.  I pay it.  A minor drawback is that these are whole shrimp.  Marilyn gets the task of removing head and antennae.  But when they are cooked up, they are delicious.  They make any supermarket shrimp tasteless by comparison. 


Saturday, October 14, McClellanville, SC to Charleston, SC.  I go out on foot to see a little more of town.  There are many churches.  There is one combination store, tavern, etc., but there is no place where I can buy a newspaper.  Ah, well, you can’t have everything.  We’re ready to slip the lines when a 60-foot shrimper comes in to dock.  The helmsman does everything just right, and he slides by our port quarter inches away.  After the landing, however, things aren’t so good.  Seems Marilyn and the deckhand are of the opinion that the approach was too close.  The deckhand gives the helmsman a dressing down about the matter and we let it end there.  It would not have been an easy accident, as that was one very heavy boat. 


Once again we are plagued with sun, heavy at times, no relief in sight.  We’re also plagued with weekend warriors, heavy at times, no relief in sight.  We make our way down the narrow waterways, slowing to avoid pitching fishermen off their perches on bass boats, taking the wakes from small boats, and always doing defensive driving.  In Charleston Harbor, we decide to get a slip at the marina on the east side of the city.  This marina is less protected than the marina on the west side, but it is within easy walking distance of the supermarket and other stores.  We rock and roll a bit, but it seems a good location.


Sunday, October 15, Charleston, SC to Beaufort, SC.  The wind is up this morning, but the skies are still clear.  We are in the grip of a high pressure system which is just beginning to generate wind in our area.  Marilyn goes shopping while I go jogging.  The town is full of tourists, who are out from the many inns and B&Bs for a morning stroll.  I go through the old market.  Several blocks long, it dates back centuries.  The vendors are busy setting up their wares on the tables provided by the city. 


Our trip today takes us behind Edisto Island and into St. Helena Sound.  It is one of those doglegs that take you literally to sea before you can clear a shoal and get back into protected waters.  The trip seaward gets progressively worse, and I’m tempted to start the other engine and get the hell around the tip.  My temptation turns into a necessity when we make the turn to west.  The following seas are heavy and we need speed and control.  Soon, we’re back in the lee of land and can get on with the trip. 


Beaufort enforces an idle speed no wake zone through all their riverfront.  The city runs a very nice floating marina with easy access to downtown.  The only tricky thing about the floats is the current.  It is very strong, 3 or 4 knots.  Fortunately, the floats lie in the axis of the current, and docking is just a matter of using the engines to hold the boat in place until the lines are on.  This is definitely a place for an after bow spring and a forward quarter spring. 


As the shadows get long, the sound of music emanates from the park adjoining the marina.  A female vocalist entertains the large crowd which has gathered.  On one of my walks, I note that there is an extensive mooring field south of the marina.  There is also a rather large dinghy dock to serve this field. 


Monday, October 16, Beaufort, SC to Hilton Head, SC.    Marilyn and I take a walk around the town to view some of the antique properties.  A visit to a cybercafe allows me to assure that there is no urgent email waiting for me.  After departing, we run down past Parris Island military base and across Port Royal Sound.  Our destination today is Harbourtown Marina on Hilton Head Island.  Harbourtown is the circular marina with the lighthouse at its entrance. 


The marina is a little expensive, but the service makes it a treat.  There is a bottle of wine for the boat’s crew on arrival, and a newspaper on deck every morning.  Several nice restaurants and numerous shops surround the marina.  Sixty feet is perhaps the average size of boats docked here.  The Amberjack looks dwarfed.  Once settled in, I attempt to email the first installment of the Amberjack Log.  Harbourtown provides a private phone line at the slip.  It is necessary, however, to use a credit card for outgoing calls.  I have the credit card, but I’m unable to get my software and the phone company to work together.  I give up and we treat ourselves to a seafood dinner at one of the restaurants. 


Tuesday, October 17, Hilton Head, SC to Savannah, GA.  I go out to find a way to email the first installment.  I find a shop that offers Internet access and it appears my problem is solved.  They sit me down in front of a machine.  Alas, it is a Mac, not an IBM.  All they have is Macs.  Foiled again.  I give up and mail it.  Priority mail will have to do.  The walk to and from the shopping center is quite pleasant.  All of Hilton Head Island is carefully manicured to look natural, without any of the unpleasantness of natural.  Hilton Head Island was purchased by a family for the purpose of logging the hardwood trees.  When the logging was completed, a younger brother decided to turn the island into a fancy resort, complete with golf courses and other attractions.  The rest of the family thought he was crazy, but they indulged him.  What a vision!


We get underway with not a cloud in sight.  We take the ICW past Daufuskie Island, and soon near the point where the ICW crosses the Savannah River.  For the past hour I’ve been following the progress of a large tanker up the river.  When we come to the river, he announces that he will be crossing the ICW in the next few minutes.  The currents here are very strong, and the ICW jogs upriver for a hundred yards before disappearing to the south.  This is no point to tarry.  It is either get across the river quickly or turn back and wait for the tanker to pass.  I put the Amberjack up on plane and we cross well ahead of the ship.  Still, it is a scary view to see that giant bow moving swiftly toward you in very narrow waters. 


We shortly arrive at Thunderbolt, GA, and tie up at the Palmer Johnson floating dock.  Palmer Johnson is one of the premier shipyards, servicing megayachts in the hundreds of foot range.  They have a dry dock that can handle vessels close to 300 feet.  A 100-footer was sitting on the dock when we were there.  It looked like a little toy.  Security was stringent, and I had to be content with watching from afar.  A man in a very large cherry picker was servicing an antenna about 100 feet above the ground. 


Wednesday, October 18, Layover at Savannah, GA.  We’ve often wanted to take a tour of Savannah.  Not just any tour, but one of the specialized tours which focus on the book (and movie), “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  We are lying over for a day in order to do this.  The tour is most interesting, but I won’t bore you with details here.  We recommend it.  It was also amusing to see the park bench where Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump uttered the words, “Life is like a box of chocolates……”


The tour ends with a visit to Bonaventure Cemetery, where much of the “Midnight” movie was filmed.  The cemetery is a couple of miles above the dock where the Amberjack is tied up.  We’re able to get the driver to drop us at the marina, saving us the return trip to Savannah, and then back.  I don’t know how the other people on the tour felt, but he kept up a steady patter about the area as he detoured to drop us off. 


Thursday, October 19, Savannah, GA to Sapelo Island, GA.  It’s another beautiful day in Paradise.  We set off for an unknown destination.  This part of the ICW winds among marshes and islets, and is the most remote and undeveloped part of the entire journey.  The tidal currents are strong, and there are many front and back ranges to keep you in the channel.  There are quality stops, such as St. Simon’s Island, but we feel that we should get back to anchoring out. 


Afternoon finds us approaching Sapelo Island, which is a wildlife preserve and research area.  It is operated by State and Federal facilities.  We drop the hook in the channel off the ferry dock and I take Duchess ashore.  There is no place to tie up, although I’m sure I could have used the state float for the half hour we were there.   A shell bank abuts the parking lot, so it is easy to beach the dink on the shells and get the business done.  When I return to the Amberjack, I’m impressed with the velocity of the current.  It must be doing 4 knots.  I’m very deliberate and careful about everything here.  This current would sweep me away before I could get out a shout. 



Friday, October 20, Sapelo Island, GA to Fernandina Beach, FL.  Morning means another dinghy trip.  This one is a little different.  Last evening, the tide was high, now it is low.  My shell bar is much thinner at low tide.  Under it lies some of the stickiest mud this side of the Mississippi.  Further, there are very sharp clumps of shells in the shallows leading to the bank.  Next time, I’ll use the float.


Good weather again.  We get underway and weave out way down behind St. Simon’s Island.  It is a long but uneventful run and by 5:00 pm, we tie up at Amelia Island, just south of Fernandina Beach.  This is a popular stop for us.  The marina has a courtesy van, and we’re able to get out for a little shopping.  It has also come around to that time again, I have to change engine oil.


Saturday, October 21, Fernandina Beach, FL to St Augustine, FL.  The weather is still clear, but the prediction is for strong winds today.  So much so that the return of the space shuttle has been postponed.  I get an early start on the oil change.  By the time I’ve changed oil and filters, gotten rid of the old oil, and pumped the holding tank, it is noon.  We get underway at dead low tide.  The water is so low, I’m afraid we’ll go aground before we travel the quarter mile to the ICW.  All goes well, and we’re soon back in 10 feet of water.  We pass miles to the east of Jacksonville, and continue to St. Augustine. 


Here, an elongated cove east of the city can be used as an anchorage.  We drop the hook a couple of hundred feet off a launching ramp and settle in.  The current is nil, the area is a no wake zone, and there is a strong onshore breeze from the ocean just a few hundred yards away across Conch Island.  We go to sleep listening to the surf.


Sunday, October 22, St. Augustine, FL to Daytona Beach, FL.  It was our intent to run a dozen miles to the south and stay over at Marine World.  It is not to be.  When we arrive at their docks, we’re greeted by a large sign telling us that they are closed.  We continue south and travel to Daytona Beach.  The wind is still with us, and it makes piloting the boat a challenge.  You cannot divert your attention from the wheel for long, or the wind will have you out of the narrow channel. 


Monday, October 23, Daytona Beach, FL to Titusville, FL.  It’s still windy but clear.  The run down mosquito cove is done on plane due to strong waves rolling in on the port beam.  Not more than a quarter mile from the slow speed zone of the Haulover Canal, where the ICW crosses over to the Indian River, we slow down.  Not so the jerk who is overtaking us with a 65 foot boat.  He goes past on full plane, making a tremendous wake.  It is a rare breech of etiquette, fortunately. 


We cross the Indian River, a couple of miles wide at this point, and head down to Titusville.  The shuttle launch complexes and the Vehicle Assembly Building of the spaceport are clearly visible in the east.  The Titusville marina shows in pictures and on the chart as a rectangular basin, enclosed except for a small entrance opening.  What their slick ads don’t tell you is that the transients are docked just inside the opening.  Swells from the open river give us a rolly tieup.  Another challenge is the fact that the waterway between docked boats on either side is just a few feet wider than the Amberjack is long.  The wind is also coming right down the waterway, making docking a beam wind job.


Tuesday, October 24, Titusville, FL to Sebastian, FL.  More wind and more sun.  We watch as another 40-footer from District 5 makes his departure from the slip next to us.  He chooses to turn into the wind as he exits the slip.  After much shifting and backing and filling, he barely misses the dinghy on the yawl ahead of him, and gets his bow up into the wind.  When it is time for our departure, I choose to let the boat pivot on the head piling and swing downwind.  Then I back into the wind until clear of the slipway, where I can comfortably turn.  I think this took place much to the relief of the skipper of the yawl opposite. 


The wind moderates as the day passes.  This run down the Indian River is a pleasant run.  We can often move well out of the ICW in 8 to 10 feet of water and let faster moving vessels pass without everyone slowing down.  When we’ve grown weary, we turn to the western shore and dock at a little jewel called Captain Hyrams Marina.  Captain Hyram features a motel, a restaurant, a Bahamian bar, and an imported sand beach.  Dockage is reasonable, and with it comes a complimentary drink at the Bahamian bar.  It is just a pleasant place to spend an overnight.  


Wednesday, October 25, Sebastian, FL to Stuart, FL.  Back on the ICW, we make a long trip today.  There’s something about it.  We’ve covered more than a thousand miles, and when we get to Fort Lauderdale, we’ll sit for a month before leaving.  But still, these last few days, we seem anxious to get there.  The wind is still making enough of a chop that the wider parts of the river are not comfortable.  Ever so slowly, the river narrows and the ride becomes comfortable. 


By afternoon, we’re at the junction of the ICW and the St. Lucie River.  This is the point where the Okeechobee waterway joins the ICW, at Stuart.  Off to the southwest is a major boating center called Manatee Pocket.  This natural cove is ringed with marinas and boatyards.  It is such a popular anchorage that there are signs stating the limits on anchoring.  There is easy shore access via launching ramps and parks.  But for some reason, the captain wants to go to a first class marina this last enroute night of the trip.  So we dock at Pirates Cove Marina, which is a sportfishing mecca. 


Thursday, October 26, Stuart, FL. to Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  We refuel and pump the holding tank.  It is another long haul with a lot of bridges today.  The good weather is holding, and the wind has finally subsided.  We grind along, dealing with bridge after bridge.  Late afternoon finds us at the last bridge, the Las Olas Avenue bridge at Fort Myers.  This is the bridge with a neon sign that says, “Welcome to Fort Lauderdale, the Boating Capital of the World!”  When the bridge opens, we survey a scene that defies description.  Large ships are lined up in a row where there were no ships before.  I-beams have been driven into the bottom to serve as temporary pilings.  There are boats everywhere.  It dawns on us that we’ve arrived in the middle of the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show.  This year, it is the largest boat show in the world.  The ‘ships’ we see are super megayachts, being offered for sale. 


We move past the show and turn to starboard for the run up the New River to Cooleys Landing.  There is a big question whether there will be any space for the Amberjack and I’m not able to raise anyone at the marina by radio or phone.  I am able to talk to the Fort Lauderdale harbormaster who assures me that there is space.  We clear the Seventh Avenue Bridge and come to the marina.  There is indeed space, and we moor the Amberjack for the last time on this trip. 


Friday, October 27, to Monday, November 20, Layover in Ft. Lauderdale.  Our first order of business on Friday is to go to the boat show.  It would take a week of dedicated shuffling to cover this monster of a show, but we just want to be there.  We prowl boats, chat with vendors, and do all the things one does at a boat show.  I must say it is nice to be in 85 degree sunny weather while shuffling.  We don’t buy anything, and when we tire, we get a cab back to the boat and sit and have a drink of the aft deck. 


The aft deck becomes a busy place the next Monday and Tuesday when the show ends.  We’re docked bow to, with the aft deck out on the river end.  Many of the megayachts are kept right on the New River up beyond our marina.  These vessels, some of which exceed 200 feet, are too large to run under their own power in the narrow, twisting river.  There is a tug company that transports them.  They put a tug on the bow and a second tug on the stern.  The tug on the stern faces rearward.  These guys move these monsters around the hairpin turns of the New River. 


Marilyn flies out to Maryland on Sunday, October 29.  She’ll visit with our daughter, Leigh Ann, who is expecting at the end of November.  She will then go to New Jersey and pick up our van.  She’ll spend a day there, and then a couple of days driving the van to Fort Lauderdale.  She arrives Wednesday afternoon, November 1, dog tired.  She wants nothing but a couple of days of R&R in the warm sun.


At 5 am on Thursday, November 2, the phone rings.  My son in law informs me that we’re grandparents.  We have a 7-pound grandson, born three weeks early.  Leigh Ann went into labor, they rushed to the hospital, and she delivered after an hour.  Marilyn, who’s been back for 24 hours, leaves the next morning to help out with the new arrival and spends ten days in Maryland. 


Meanwhile, the maintenance chores of the end of season loom long ahead for me.  Transmission oil changes, crankcase oil changes, endless filter changes, watermaker maintenance, this thing, that adjustment, all must be done. 


Sundays, several of the marina occupants, all of whom are transients, arrange a party.  It is an interesting mix of boat people, with some Germans, Australians, Canadians, and Yanks.  One of the skippers produces an accordion and we have a songfest.  We have three of these gatherings while we’re in residence at Cooleys Landing. 


Monday, November 20, Cooley’s Landing to Jackson Marine.  We’ve searched for storage spots for the Amberjack from Stuart to Ft. Lauderdale.  We really prefer dry storage under cover, but there is none to be had on the east coast.  I even consider going back to the marina in North Fort Myers where we stored in 1998.  But that means several days travel in the spring to get back here.  We find a storage marina that wet stores under cover, and the price is reasonable.  The security is very good, and the boat will be watched.  So the deal is made.  Jackson Marine will store the Amberjack for the winter.


We get a couple of volunteers from the marina and we set off while Marilyn drives the van around.  The trip up the New River is new to all of us.  In some places, it is a scant 50 feet wide.  Everywhere there are boats, and there are narrow canals running a mile off the river.  The boats on the canals are longer than the turning space.  They must back in to get to their slips.  As we near the I-95 bridge, the river widens a little.  Here are the yards with the megayachts, some of which are still being outfitted.  Just beyond the interstate is Jackson Marine.  Boats are packed in here like sardines.  Shortly, a space is made for us and we tie up for the winter.  We spend the day in a flurry of last minute activities.  At 5:00 pm, we climb into the van and head for the frigid north.