En-route Hilton Head to St. Augustine, Florida

November 18th, 2020

A thrilling sleigh ride, or the most harrowing passage of my life.  Not sure what the right title is…

We yanked up the hook and headed out from our anchorage at Hilton Head, down the river and into the ocean.  It seemed like the same conditions as our trip from Wilmington, generally benign.  We rolled out the sails but this didn’t help to stabilize us, as it usually does, because big 4-8 foot waves were coming fast on the beam, rolling us 20 degrees to one side, and then to the other.  After a couple hours, we turned SW and were able to take the rollers more on the aft quarter.  A lot more comfortable.  At least I didn’t hear all the bottles in the liquor cabinet crashing against each other every 6 seconds.  I urgently need to buy more wine to get those cardboard dividers to fix that situation.  TOO stressful.  Back to the wind, the forecast we had waited for was 15-20 knots behind the boat.  Downwind sailing was the plan.  When you sail down wind, the “apparent” wind is less because of the forward motion of the boat.  20 knots, if you are going dead downwind at 7 knots, feels like just 13 knots.  It is a very cool feature, and is the basis of the sailor’s edict; gentlemen never sail to weather (upwind).  When you sail to weather, you get to take the 20 knots, and added you boat speed to get a thoroughly unpleasant 27knots.  To understand sailing, stick your head out of a moving car at 30 MPH, in the rain, and leave it there for at least 24 hours.  You will find this becomes tiring.  It’s also noisy.  Note to self regarding large waves: They are better in the inky darkness, because you can’t see how scary they are.  Second note to self:  So lucky I retired so I could relax and get all the stress out of my life.  Back to the story…

The float plan called for 15-20, downwind.  What we got was different, as in, 25-30 knots, and 4-6 ft waves all the time with the occasional 8 footer, and once an hour or so, a 10 footer to make sure you weren’t relaxing.  This was a lot, but sailing gives and it takes.  We were also going a steady 9 knots and surfing up to 12 knots.  Our float plan speed was our usual 7 knots. Sailors are happy and feel productive at this speed.  9 knots is SCREAMING along.  Our nominal hull speed (the theoretical limit of how flat we can go without surfing down a wave) is 9.1667 knots.  Yes, that’s right; I just did some physics to get that number.  Fluid dynamics are involved.  Anyway, it was a steady 9 knots, with significant time spent at 10 knots, so that we only called out to each other if we saw the SOG (speed over ground) go to 11.  Yes, these speakers go to 11.  At one point, just for a second, I saw 12.8 knots.  A new boat record.  Let me tell you, if you can’t tell already, it was exhilarating!  Like a roller coaster that lasted 19 hours.  That’s how long the trip took.  Oh, and I wasted my time getting out the long underwear.  It was cool on the water, but never got below 65 in the cockpit.  The water temp was 70, so I thing that helped even with the cold northerly wind. 

Getting into St Augustine, we dialed into the local cruiser’s radio net that just happened to be broadcasting as we were about 30 minutes out.  Another cruiser radioed us on a separate channel to give us his 3 way points he used to get in over the shifting shoals of the inlet, so we didn’t run aground.  The recent hurricane had taken out, and worse, repositioned, some of the channel markers.  We had planned to get local knowledge from Sea Tow, but the call center couldn’t seem to connect me to the local guy, so it was great to have this helpful cruiser go out of his way to turn on his chart plotter and painstakingly call out all the coordinates to us and my verifying them back to them – it was a 10 minute procedure.

Safely in the inlet, the next thing is to anchor in the tiny anchorage that is crammed with boats and crab pots.  The wind and tide are fierce.  We pick the only spot left, at the front closest to all the waves coming inform the ocean, but we are being blown into shallow water.   Jeff starts dropping the anchor while I’m at the helm, when I notice a crab pot buoy next to us, half buried in the surf.  I try to power forward, but not fast enough for the leeway.  We go over it.  I think the prop cuts the line, but maybe something goes into the bow thruster and the anchor gets caught on the line too.  Jeff runs back for a knife, cuts the line, and we abandon this crummy plan.  As we turn away, a crab fisher powers at full throttle right at us.  Well, sorry, not sorry.  There is no actual confrontation.

Jeff is captain for a reason.  I’m ready to circle the anchorage, but Jeff tells me to grab a mooring ball in the mooring field right there.  It was a bit panicky for me, to have to unlock the dogs on the anchor locker to get out a line, grab the boat hook, extend it, uncoil the line, and then flip the mooring pennant on a cleat while the current was whipping the boat by it…. But then we were settled.  Ahhh.  However, I had tried to reserve a ball a couple days ahead of time, and they said sorry, we will put you on the wait list.  It never would have occurred to me to just grab a random empty ball, but Jeff made the command decision.  We needed to rest and let the wind and current settle down.  We called the marina, and they said that ball is reserved, you will have to leave, but we could rest there until the other boat arrived.

We were not able to relax though, knowing our situation was uncertain.  We didn’t want to go the anchorage for a week of high wind and waves.  I got on the phone with the marina guy, and begged, and he agreed to try to work the wait list and move boats around.  An hour later, we had our mooring for a week.  YAY!!  I was ecstatic, and now I was cleaning up the boat, making some food, taking a shower, where minutes before, I was shattered, too tired to sit up.  What a relief.  I like to think my friendly, charming approach to calling the guy on the phone, not over the radio where everyone could hear us, and explaining I needed rest after “the most harrowing passage of my life” helped him to want to help me.  Anyway.  We are good for a week.