Giving Thanks in Fernandina

2020 has been quite the year, yet on this Thanksgiving Day we have much to be thankful for: good health, always a blessing and even more so during a pandemic; a solid, comfortable boat to call home; and the ability to work remotely while continuing to cruise U.S. waters.

Champagne on the foredeck
Champagne on the foredeck after learning that Joe Biden won the presidential election.

Traveling on weekends and alternating Fridays, we left Herrington Harbour North in early morning darkness on October 31, and tied up to a mooring ball in Fernandina Beach, Florida on November 22.

In between, we sailed the Chesapeake Bay, motorsailed the ICW from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC, and hopped offshore from Beaufort to Fernandina.

Needing a strong wifi signal for work, we spent 5 or 6 days each at Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA; Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven, NC; and Homer Smith’s Dock and Marina in Beaufort.

Sunrise at Homer Smith’s Dock in Beaufort, NC.

It’s always a good thing to have some redundancy built into your plans, because only Homer Smith delivered a reliably strong wifi signal. Given we also enjoyed biking and walking around Beaufort, we will be happy to dock at Homer Smith’s again on our way north in the spring.

This fall migration south on the boat is our second, and a few things were markedly different this time around.

Sunday brunch after a bike ride in Beaufort, NC.

Vinyasa’s recently installed cockpit enclosure kept us warm and dry while underway and increased our “living space” at anchor or at dock. It was an expensive upgrade, so we thought long and hard before deciding to have Canvas Connection make it—and we are so glad we did.

Sailing on the Chesapeake with new cockpit enclosure
Vinyasa’s new cockpit enclosure made sailing south much less frigid this year.

This time around, we learned that navigating in the dark and thick fog is best avoided when possible. We left Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth in foggy predawn darkness and quickly turned around to wait for daylight before setting out again.

Heavy fog in Portsmouth, VA.
Heavy fog delayed our departure from Portsmouth, VA.

On our trip north in May, Vinyasa was the only boat locking through the Great Bridge Lock. This time, vessels were packed in tight on both sides of the lock.

Boats on both sides of the Great Bridge Lock
This time through, Vinyasa was packed in tight with boats tied up on both sides of the Great Bridge Lock.

The ICW’s many bridges can be a challenge for sailboats. Is the water level too high to pass safely beneath a 65-foot span? Will we make it to a swing bridge in time for the next scheduled open, or will we miss it by a few minutes and need to hover for half an hour or more? Bridges that open on request are a delight, and none more so than the Alligator Swing Bridge where coordinating via VHF radio the friendly, capable tender has it down to where the bridge swings open as you arrive.

Approaching the Alligator Swing Bridge
“Maintain your speed, captain.” Approaching the Alligator Swing Bridge, where the bridge tender expertly swung the bridge open as Vinyasa drew close.

We had long heard good things about Dowry Creek Marina, but hadn’t yet stopped there on our previous trips north or south. The strong reputation is well-deserved, and it was delightful to see our friends aboard SV Tortuga pull in while we were docked there.

Sunset at Dowry Creek Marina
Sunset at Dowry Creek Marina In Belhaven, NC.
Early morning view of Dowry Creek
A still morning was an irresistible invitation to SUP in Dowry Creek.
Exploring Dowry Creek by SUP
Exploring Dowry Creek by SUP, before I read about how its best to avoid this type of habitat in waters where alligators are present.
Allan up the mast at Dowry Creek
Allan troubleshooting Vinyasa’s loud hailer at the dock at Dowry Creek.

Cruisers quickly learn to avoid traveling on a schedule, knowing that the weather cares not at all about dates on our calendars. So we kept a flexible mindset, thinking we could hop offshore from Beaufort, or Wrightsville Beach, or Charleston. At most we would go offshore for two nights, if a weather window aligned with my days off work. When we saw a window allowing us to hop from Beaufort to Fernandina, we set off with Florida in our sights.

The red dot marks Vinyasa’s location as we motorsailed between two fronts on November 20, 2020. The yellow lines are for old and new tracks.

Allan and I have done longer passages with a third person onboard, and about four or five overnight sails together. This two and a half day passage was our longest short-handing together, and we were pretty tired when we arrived in Fernandina.

Sunset off the North Carolina coast
Sunset off the North Carolina coast.
Tying up at the Fernandina dinghy dock as the sun sets
Tying up at the Fernandina dinghy dock as the sun sets.

This weekend we’ll head just a bit further south to St. Augustine, where we’ll spend the next few months.

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