Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St Mary’s : A little town with a big heart.
18th – 26th November 2011
Overnight passages had almost become a thing of the past to us (having done so many day-hops of late), but reality came crashing back with an almighty thud when we left Rudee Inlet just south of Chesapeake Bay  bound for Charlestown South Carolina, 360 miles to the south. The trip down was a combination of motor-sailing and sailing, in fact we didn’t really have enough wind to fill the sails until nearly twenty four hours into our two day passage. It was so nice to turn off the engines and hear nothing but the sound of the water rushing under the transoms and the occasional flap of the headsail as we clipped along at a modest 8-10 knots of boat speed. As we passed Cape Fear the air temperature suddenly got warmer, at last we had crossed the magical line and left the cold weather in our wake. Charleston, this time, was to be only a pit stop. We had to drop in to collect a couple of packages that we’d ordered a few weeks earlier, do some quick provisioning, top up the diesel tanks, have a well earned sleep and be on our way again the following morning. Stopping here also gave us the  chance to go out for an early pizza dinner with friends off a yacht called Tiger, who we’d  first met when we were in Turkey and again as we headed up the US coast bound for Maine. Renel, Neil and their sons Pete and Ameil, had recently moved off their boat and were now land based in Charleston so that the boys could attend school. Neil was delivering a charter yacht down to the BVI’s, so we didn’t get to see him which was a shame.

At 0700 the next day we were once again underway. Mirror seas and a lack of wind saw our Yanmar engines hard at work for the entire 150 mile leg, until we dropped the anchor outside the small town of St Marys a few miles inland on the Georgia / Florida border. It’s a bit off the beaten path when heading south, but  Annie had read in a cruising magazine that every year the townsfolk welcome the cruising yachts with open arms. Aside from  lots of social activates, they  also very kindly put on a fabulous Thanksgiving lunch for all those away from their land based families, so we decided to detour and check the place out, figuring that it could be a bit of fun, and it certainly was.
This would be our first ever Thanksgiving and  we timed our journey to arrive the day before, on November 23rd. The reputation of the town could not have been more accurate. Within minutes of dropping the anchor our VHF radio burst into life announcing that the local  radio net would be starting momentarily and to switch to channel 68 for info regarding the days activities and  the Thanksgiving  Day lunch arrangements. We changed channels and quickly felt right at home. There were announcements welcoming new boats to the bay, offers from locals to drive you to the supermarket, hardware store, Wal-Mart or to take you to get your propane tanks filled. We never met a community so eager to help the cruising yachtsman. There seemed to be something going on every hour of the day. There were laundry runs, a very popular outing for the ladies, book clubs, afternoon teas, and come 4pm, happy hour rum-punches at a dockside party and, if you still had any energy left, this was followed by an oyster roast at Segals, the local bar-come-restaurant.
PB231643             PB231646

The oyster roast was a lot of fun with each cruiser bringing along a plate to share, and the locals supplying as many oysters as you could eat, and there were some pretty hearty appetites there.The presentation to the table via a shovel was a bit novel, but very practical as they were coming straight from an open fire and they were really hot. It was a perfect way to meet many of the other cruisers, there were around 80 boats in the anchorage, and also get to know some of the residents. As a bonus we also got to catch up again with our friends Frank and Christa off Hun Bun 111, Leif and Birgitta off Persamus and Robbie and Jenny from the English yacht  Maymio, who we’d last seen in Washington DC.

IMG_7242     IMG_8036
Next day was Thanksgiving, and the weather gods weren’t shining on St. Marys. It was very windy, gusts of around 40 knots were common, a strong tidal current swept through the bay and  many yachts were swinging wildly around their anchors, collisions were not uncommon.
The intended plan for the day was that the locals supply the venue, turkey, trimmings, hams, prawns and desserts, while the cruisers would bring along side dishes. Each boat, having made a dish enough for about six people, would deliver their lunch contributions to the organizing folk at Segals restaurant around eleven, and then everyone would head back in for the big lunch just after midday. Well as they say, the best laid plans…. Due to the wild conditions and the carnage that was happening in the anchorage a lot of people, ourselves included, elected to stay aboard a while and keep an eye on our floating homes. As it turned out, more than one yachtie, whose hunger had got the better of them, was summoned from the luncheon with a radio call suggesting they should rush back to their boat as it was drifting or colliding with a neighbour. Around 2.00pm we felt comfortable enough to head ashore, GWTW was well set and not too near any other boats and she appeared safe enough. Although lunch had been going a couple of hours there was still enough food to feed an army, more turkey than you could jump over, side dishes for Africa and deserts that would do a cake shop proud. No one went hungry no matter what time you turned up.

Adding to the atmosphere was the bartender Cindy, with her devastatingly quit wit and a character larger than life, she was really good fun and kept many of us amused all afternoon. If you gave her lip you risked a verbal lashing, in a sporting sort of manner, but she had the ability to make you look more than a little silly with her sharp retorts, and everyone there enjoyed her “colourful” banter.
Lunch drifted well into the late afternoon, and as we were heading out in the morning we declined a few invitations for cocktails aboard our friends’ boats and settled for a rather early night, a little unusual for us but a good call, nevertheless. We had a great  time in St Marys and if you happen to be passing that way on your boat, we would highly recommend stopping there for Thanksgiving.
The weather forecast promised a steady breeze for our next (overnight) passage south to West Palm Beach, and the following morning we slipped out of St. Marys and headed out into a rather boisterous Atlantic Ocean and a 15-20 knot wind on the beam.
It made for a fast, but rather wet, trip. The first day was excellent, we covered 220 miles in 24 hours and were looking at one of our faster passages. Passing Cape Canaveral in the wee small hours we had a good view of  the illuminated launch pad and the Atlas rocket set to to blast off to Mars the next day. And that wasn’t the only thing illuminated out there, we passed  a steady stream of cruise liners lit up like Christmas trees heading into Port Canaveral, no doubt for their customers to watch the launch as well. 
Unfortunately, in the hours that followed, the wind moved forward of the beam, the waves got bigger and rougher and tons of white water, waves and spray regularly washed over our bows, sweeping across the front windows and cascading off the coachouse roof.
The motion became very jerky and it was quite uncomfortable at times. The Gulf Stream flowing north was being challenged by the ocean swells heading south, producing an outcome of steep waves at very close intervals, and we were out there, sailing along in the midst of the conflict. But we had been through this sort of thing before, the boat was doing ok and we had reefed down the main to reduce stress on the sails and rigging, and as always, daylight lifted our spirits, we were now only 60 miles from our destination, Lake Worth / West Palm Beach. As we neared the channel entrance the US Coast Guard broadcast a security call on the radio, a man was reported missing off a nearby beach and they asked for any vessels in the area to keep a “sharp lookout”. We saw boats and a chopper making a search, that we understood some time later, to be futile. As we entered the inlet to Lake Worth we had expected to feel elated, but instead we actually felt a bit depressed. News of this nature is  always disturbing, and when you are in the exact area where someone has drowned it hits home even more.

So here we were once again in beautiful downtown West Palm Beach, a place we really enjoyed some 6 months and 3800 miles ago and do you think we were glad to be there? You bet we were! Along with Fort Lauderdale where we made landfall in the States, this place pretty much marked the start and the end of our journey up and down the east coast of the USA. It represented a big milestone and the finale to one of the most enjoyable sailing seasons we’ve  been lucky enough to experience.
The next week would be spent indulging ourselves while we stayed at one of our very favourite places on one of our very favourite coastlines.

Cruising Notes:Formalities. Call CBP Brunswick, Georgia on # 9122626692. Supermarkets : Wal-Mart and Publix are a taxi ride away,or find a helpful local for a lift.    Propane Refills: Available while you wait from Ace Hardware.Post Office: Across the road from Ace Hardware. Laundromat : A taxi ride away near the Dollar General store.

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