Week 4: Overnight Passage from Charleston to St. Augustine

Our first doublehanded overnight passage is a wrap: we hoisted anchor in Charleston, SC, around 7 am yesterday and grabbed our reserved mooring ball in St. Augustine, Fl, shortly after 2 pm this afternoon.

Sailboats at sunset in St. Augustine
A sunset view of the south mooring field at St. Augustine Municipal Marina.

We’ve done a multi-night offshore passage on Vinyasa before with three onboard, which made splitting the night watches easier as each of us had more time to rest.

This time, it was just Allan and me.

It was an opportunity to experience an array of deep emotions: joy, elation, awe, trepidation, exhaustion, and gratitude, lots of gratitude.

On passage, we take turns napping or sleeping, and avoid reading while on watch. That delivered many quiet or shared hours for enjoying the antics of too many dolphins to count along our route, marveling at a large sea turtle floating on the seas’ calm surface southeast of Jacksonville, and admiring pelicans, terns, gulls, egrets and other birds soar, glide or dive into the sea.

Time seemed to have a different texture while appreciating a gorgeous sunset that started when the sun dropped behind the horizon and increased in breathtaking intensity for the next 40 minutes…quite the splendid show.

A mesmerizing sunset between Charleston and St. Augustine.

The first four hours we each stood watch in the dark flew by. For me, it was a meditative state of tuning in to the boat, our route and the surroundings: being fully absorbed noticing myriad nuances, such as the sounds of the boat, or the flicker of light on the many shades of green, blue or dark gray water.

And the joy of frolicking dolphins, by day and by night! Who knew you can see the glow of their skin beneath the surface of the water on a moonlit night? Or hear a high-pitched pssssszzt as their dorsal fins break the surface with a luminescent spray a few feet away?

Dolphins swam next to us for much of our first day and night.

My main moments of trepidation were determining distances to lit markers on my second watch, from 2-6 am. I find it challenging in the dark, and disconcerting to notice how a slight change of our course made a stationary object suddenly appear much closer than it at first appeared. It renewed my empathy for the sailboat that ran into a structure on the Chesapeake Bay as we were anchored nearby last month.

Our joint moment of trepidation was approaching St. Augustine inlet. We were both quite tired, and the inlet has a reputation for being tricky. Fortunately, the sea state was calm, and we squeaked through the inlet just in time to make it through an every 30 minute opening of the Bridge of Lions to grab our reserved mooring ball.

We were then cheerfully greeted over VHF radio by friends moored aboard SV Marguerite that we were about to ground ourselves on a shoal pulling into the mooring field. A tour boat, the Victory III chimed in over VHF at the same time, so our grounding was averted, which we greatly appreciated.

Why can’t the St. Augustine Municipal Marina put a shoaling marker in a spot that apparently trips up many a sailor? Or perhaps have a map on their website with the mooring ball locations to avoid common, last minute confusion? DEC. 9 UPDATE: I’ve since stumbled upon a helpful map of the mooring field.

Oh, well…not every marina is as wonderful as Herrington Harbour North or every municipal mooring field as detailed as that in Annapolis, Md.

In St. Augustine’s favor? The municipal marina’s reservations system is pretty sweet, their staff helpful, and the town, little as we’ve yet seen, pretty amazing. We count our blessings and look forward to catching up with cruising friends and exploring St. Augustine thoroughly over the next few days!

Map of Vinyasa’s track from Maryland to Florida
The yellow line indicates Vinyasa’s miles south from the Chesapeake Bay, including the offshore leg from Charleston to St. Augustine’s red dot.