May 29th – June 2nd: Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, FL is a great place to stay for a few days, whether you need to be in a slip or on a mooring ball. It has a store that sells a few groceries, an onsite restaurant and bar, free loaner bikes and, best of all, really helpful staff.
The town is great, with lots of little stores, bars and restaurants. It’s easy walking or biking distance to most places we needed. About ten minutes’ walk from the marina is the Pelican Cafe. It has no indoor seating, so it is open “weather-permitting”! The weather was lovely, so we sat there, overlooking the water, watching the sunset and listening to live music.
There are several good bars along the water front, but our favorite place was Terra Fermata – live music, good beer, fun people!
The main reason for going to Stuart was to meet with Mack Sails about a new full set of sails. After meeting with Colin, we had a really good feeling about the company, so went ahead and placed the order. We will pick up our wonderful new sails on our return journey down the East Coast, ready for our trip over to the Bahamas.
Next job that needed to be done was to fix the outboard motor. We haven’t been able to use mooring fields or anchor much, as we haven’t had a working motor for the dinghy, so this was an important task. We got very lucky in that there is a marine supplies store in Stuart which specializes in parts for outboard motors. They had the carb kit and throttle linkage that Moray needed to fix the motor. Unfortunately, at some point during the rough crossings, sea water had got into the fuel tank, so before he could work on the motor, we had to get rid of the contaminated fuel. We found a place but it was too far to go by bike, with a huge gas tank, so we rented a car for a day from Enterprise. We reserved the cheapest car we could, but when we got there, all they had was a Dodge Charger! So they gave us that for the same price as the compact we had reserved! We got rid of the bad gas and got some fresh. Once the outboard was fixed we went for a celebratory run around the mooring field! That is probably where we will stay on our return visit.
As we had the car, we took the opportunity to go to Walmart and get groceries, so we were able to stock up on items that are generally too heavy for me to carry.
Our plan was to leave on Wednesday, June 1st and head to Charleston, SC. As I was doing our pre-departure checks, I realized that there was no coolant left in the engine. Moray inspected the engine and found that the freshwater pump bearing had gone and so coolant was escaping past the pulley shaft. That meant we would need to replace the pump. There was a nearby supply store that could get one for us the following day, so we arranged with the marina to stay another day. The part arrived the next morning and Moray managed to get everything fixed in time for us to leave around lunchtime on Thursday, June 2nd.
Thursday, June 2nd – Saturday, June 4th: we left Stuart, and headed for Charleston, SC. We headed out to about 12 miles offshore, where we hit the Gulf Stream, and started speeding along. We made pretty good time and hoped to stay a few days to look around Charleston. However, there was a festival on and the marina could only let us have one night, Saturday, June 4th. We took that and headed in at around 5pm. Now we were aware that there are very strong currents in the marina, but all the Active Captain reviews said that the dockhands were very experienced and would be able to help us. As instructed, we started hailing the marina as we approached, but could not get a response. I called the marina on the phone and managed to raise them, so they told us where our slip was and said that they would be there to help. The current was horrendous. As we entered the slip, I threw the bow line to the dockhand. He asked for the spring line too, so I threw that. Unfortunately, the current had taken the stern of the boat and we were drifting toward the other boat in the slip. The dockhand dropped our lines and ran round to the other boat. He didn’t tie anything off! I jumped off the boat and secured the bowline, but by this time we had already hit the neighbouring boat and were hard against it. I grabbed the spring line and managed to pull us off a little, while Moray steered our horribly unresponsive boat in reverse. Between us, we got Sol Purpose close enough for him to throw me the stern line, and I pulled her into her slip. Once she was tied up safely, we met with the owner of the boat and inspected the damage. Luckily, it wasn’t too severe and was cosmetic, so we came to an agreement and wrote him a check. It seems that if we aren’t spending money on our boat, we are destined to spend it on someone else’s.
We just had the one evening to spend in Charleston, so we walked around the French Quarter and the Waterfront areas. There are some stunning houses there! After dinner and a drink we went back to the boat, for an early night. We needed to be up early to be ready to leave by 8am, as that was when the current would be weakest.
Sunday, June 5th – Monday, June 6th: after re-fueling, we left early and headed back offshore. The plan was to sail to Morehead City, NC. The forecast was good and soon we were under sail. The sun was shining, the motor wasn’t running and life was great! This was more like it! Then an alert came over the radio that the weather around Cape Fear was now predicted to change, with higher winds (which we could manage) and 9-14ft seas (which we can’t!). So we decided to come back to shore and take the ICW to Morehead City. Once again, we were entering a major waterway in the dark – sigh! When this happens, we don’t take watches, but instead both are in the cockpit, and when possible, we take turns to catnap. When it was daylight, we called a couple of marinas in Morehead City. Now it turns out that this weekend there is a huge annual fishing tournament called Big Rock. The first marina would only be able to take us for one night, whereas we had hoped for three. The second, Portside Marina, not only said they would be able to take us, they said that the weather was predicted to take a turn for the worse, with Tropical Storm Colin moving faster than had been predicted. As in Charleston, the currents can be horrendous, and we needed to get in as fast as possible, so we didn’t have the luxury of picking the best tide/current to go in. Denard, from Portside, called us several times during the day to check on our progress, and when we had a reasonable estimate of our arrival time (go figure, in the dark again!), he gave us directions to a public dock where we would have the most protection and would be relatively easy to dock in the dark.
The journey along the ICW was a little stressful. We tried to time the bridges, but got one calculation wrong, so had to wait about 50 minutes for the next opening. One bridge operator required us to be right next to the bridge at the opening time, with no regard for the fact that we had a very strong current, the edge of the channel is about 1ft deep and our boat doesn’t reverse well! It was a very hairy bridge crossing, but by the skin of our teeth, we made it through. Moray showed some seriously awesome boat handling skills! The next event was the shoaling right next to a marker, which we hit. Luckily, it was sand, so we were able to get off the shoal and found our way round it.
Finally, we started the approach to Morehead City. It was dark by now, the rain had started and there was a strong current. The wind was beginning to pick up, but was manageable at this point. We passed a couple of shrimp trawlers, and asked one of them about any shoaling in the part of the channel where he was. He gave us great information and then asked if we were aware of the weather forecast. We said we were, that we were on our way to Morehead City and thanked him for his concern. The final part of the journey was stressful. The rain was so heavy we could barely see, and the current began to pick up. We planned what we would do on arrival and headed towards the town dock. Everything went perfectly! We went past the dock so that we could see what we were dealing with, turned round and drifted gently on to the dock! I was able to step off with no problem and secure all the lines. Awesome!
The next hour was spent getting everything off the deck that could cause a problem in high winds. This incuded the bimini and dodger, the solar panels and stowing the dink on the deck. Once that was done, exhausted, wet through but very relieved, we went to bed for the first time in two days.
I want to pause here to thank everyone who was looking out for us – Edwin Cavazos, Denard (from the marina), the trawler captain, Brad Scott and Joy & Tom Merritt. We really did appreciate the messages, information and general support.
And to my sister, Tracy – I’m sorry I didn’t call to wish you a Happy Birthday, but I have a very good excuse! I hope you had a great day and were thoroughly spoiled!
Tuesday, June 7th – Thursday, June 9th: first thing Tuesday morning we received a call from Denard. He picked us up from the boat and drove us through the pouring rain to Grumpy’s, a wonderful breakfast cafe. Then, he took us back to Sol Purpose to pick up our laundry and brought us over to the marina where we would be staying once the storm passed. It was great to get that all taken care of without delay, rather than wasting a whole morning. By 11:30am, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, so we brought Sol Purpose over to Portside Marina when the current was at its weakest. We spent the rest of the day taking care of some minor repair to a sail, and then headed out to try out the local bars. There we met a really great guy called Clay. He was in town to scuba dive, which got us thinking…. Wednesday, Joy and Tom, friends from Kemah who left to start their cruising life two years ago, drove down from New Bern to visit. They had recommended the marina to us, so they visited with Denard also. They very kindly took us grocery shopping and then we went to the Ruddy Duck for dinner. The food and drinks were great, the company even better. It was so interesting to catch up on all their adventures, and to get some tips on what to do and what not to do! Thursday morning, we were up bright and early, as we had managed to reserve space with Olympus Divers. Up until today, the seas had been a bit rough and the visibility not so good, but finally we caught a break! The seas were smooth and the visibility on dive 1 was about 80 feet. Added to that, the dive site was the U352, a german U-Boat that was sunk just off the coast. Dive 2 had 50 feet visibility, on Spar, a Coastguard Cutter that was sunk to create an artificial reef. I’ll let the pictures and video speak for themselves. Now we are back in the marina, writing the blog and preparing for the next stage of the journey – Morehead City to Norfolk, VA.