Having filled up with water and washed 7 weeks of laundry in the excellent front loading machines with hot water, we were all set to head north on the ICW to St Augustine for Easter. There was a strong current running through the marina but we were soon motoring towards the first of 16 opening bridges we went through that same day. Lots of radio work and timing to arrive at the bridge just before opening time. I wrote a list of their names and times and mileage between them to make it a little easier but it was busy with no time to relax and much more tiring than sailing offshore!
The reward was a view of the amazing palaces along the waterfront, millions of dollars worth of homes, all immaculate and huge. The depths were fine for our 7 foot draft and the ICW is well marked with green to the starboard as we go north and red to port. What we are used to in the UK at last. All the red markers are pointed, green are flat but all ICW markers have a little yellow sticker above the number so you can be sure you are on the ICW and not gone down some side shoot.
We anchored the first night in Lantana with a couple of feet under the keel and had a peaceful sleep. Next morning we continued to West Palm Beach and were happy to be called up by our friends on ‘Island Kea’, last seen in Trinidad in 2014 but it was a brief reunion as they headed off to the Bahamas shortly afterwards. Hopefully we will meet up later in the summer. ‘Rosa Fascia’ also decided to get to Brunswick as their deadline was looming and they went outside for a 2 night passage whilst we listened to the wind howling happily anchored in Lake Worth.
Monday morning at 0730 we went to the Riviera Beach marina to leave the dinghy, for free, then walked just 5 minutes to the Customs Office. They opened at 0800 and already had several cruisers needing paperwork completing. Office Morris was excellent and gave us our much needed cruising permit without any issues so from then on we just had to telephone in at each port to give our arrival time and permit number, then again when leaving. She had a long queue by 0900, at least 20 people, so it pays to get in early.
Carrying on through less built up countryside, we saw dolphins every day, lots of bird life and lovely white sand beaches. Manatees frolic about apparently but we’ve only seen one diving down so far. It is very friendly as people wave as we go by and the bridge tenders are polite and welcoming too. People use this great facility a lot, canoeing, sailing and camping. Everything is so clean and well organised with picnic tables, bins and places to hire equipment.
It was a nice change to be on our new ‘canal boat’, easy to move around, cook, wash up and potter around. Must be like this on a catamaran. Along the way our plotter chip ran out!! The depths and details disappeared but fortunately we still had our iPads. After a few minutes I vaguely recalled buying another chip in the UK a couple of years ago and found it in the nav desk. Success. It is for the USA and we were back in business. Having the green line, or where we will end up line, is important in the narrow confines of some of the ICW. On longer open stretches we put out a reefed genoa to add a knot to our speed and spare the engine a little. We are putting hours on the engine at the moment but is great not to have to worry about the waves and weather.
What we do need to worry about it shoaling though. We touched bottom at the Jupiter Inlet near the Federal Highway bridge but it is mostly sand and mud on the ICW thankfully. A lot of the areas just off the ICW are very shallow, too shallow for us to anchor in, so we have to check where we can stop for the night well in advance. Hobe Sound was another lovely place to stop and we had half a metre underneath us!
We next stopped at Vero Beach Marina, on a 16 dollar mooring buoy for another peaceful night. They have a really pretty location, a marina, fuel, air-conditioned ‘Captain’s Lounge’, laundry etc. Whilst on the ICW it is easy to forget the ocean is often less than half a mile away and many places have camping sites and lots of amenities for enjoying nature. Following night was another calm anchorage just off the ICW south of Cape Canaveral at Georgiana.
Moving on again we reached New Smyrna Beach south of the Ponce Inlet and although smack bang in the middle of the channel, we ran gently aground on the sand and couldn’t get off. It was an hour plus off approaching low tide as well, so we had to ring TowboatUS, thankful we had joined them back in March before we arrived in the US. The fee is worth every penny as they have a saying here. ‘There are 2 types of boat on the ICW; those aground and those about to go aground’.
Billy duly arrived just as we started to float off but we still didn’t know how to get through the channel. We went aground again, so he had to pull us off and then through the bridge which opened for us. We decided to book into the Inlet Harbour Marina for a night as the next stretch where we might have anchored also had shoals and Billy thought it best not to go that way. He took us via the notorious inlet and sure enough, right over the charted shoals which have moved. Local knowledge is essential, so we telephone different Towboats offices to check on the current situation as we travel.
The marina was badly damaged in Hurricane Matthew but we berthed on the long dock, topped up the water and fuel and had a nice pizza in a local restaurant, 10 minutes walk away. It cost 1.75 dollars a foot, much less than the 3 dollars a foot in Fort Lauderdale. Diesel was 71 pence a litre.
As the frequency of bridges has dropped and most are now 65 foot clearance at high tide, fixed bridges, we can make good time. They still look very close but we measured our air draft carefully and know it is just under 60 foot. The markers at the bridges confirm the clearance and we even sail through them.
Continuing on we passed by more shoaled areas but using the Garmin iPad chart with Active Captain comments has been a godsend. These notes from other cruisers are much more up to date and point out which way to go to avoid the shallows. We managed to navigate within 7 miles of St Augustine, doing 48 miles in the day but ran slowly aground just as we approached a small anchorage at Butler Beach. Backing off, we finally anchored close to the ICW channel but had a good night, swinging with the tide but staying afloat.
So yesterday we just pottered up the river to St Augustine. The Municipal Marina has moorings and a nice marina, good showers, a launderette, launch service, alongside pump out and is right in the centre of town by the famous Bridge of Lions. You can download a photo of the mooring fields for the numbering and to avoid the shoals just east of them. They cost 25 dollars a night. Getting there early meant we could explore and get some food at the huge Publix Supermarket a long walk away over the second bridge. You can dinghy to the public dock there but we got a taxi back for 12 dollars. It is good to have such choice again!
Today we will do the tourist bit, visit a few museums, watch the Easter Parade this afternoon and enjoy the beautiful lanes. It really is a lovely city and I’m glad to have a day off motoring to explore. Happy Easter everyone!