June 3, Aboard Krogen 50' Open "TOGETHER"
Leaving the Bahamas was bittersweet. On the one hand, it meant our first journey to the land of turquoise blue waters was over, but on the other hand, it meant the beginning of another new journey: Janet's first overnight passage. A few weeks before we left the Bahamas, I began to look at distance from a few islands to various places back in the US. We knew that we wanted to do an overnight passage which meant we could cover a lot of ground (water!) in the 30 to 40 hours - some 200 to 400 nautical miles depending on our speed.
I knew that I wanted our landfall to be at an all weather inlet, just in case mother nature was not cooperating upon our arrival. As we looked at various inlets along the coast of Florida and Georgia, it turned out that we did not have that many choices once north of Cape Canaveral. Actually, there were only three choices-- Jacksonville, St. Mary's River (between Fernandina Beach and Cumblerland Island), and St. Simons Sound. We decided to head for Cumberland since there was no good place to stop once at Jacksonville without having to run for a few more hours, and St. Simons was really pushing the limits of making landfall before dark the second day. Cumberland turned out to be an excellent choice.
We waited until we were virtually certain we had a perfect weather window and departed Treasure Cay at sunrise and headed toward the ocean via the old ship channel near Whale Cay. As we cleared the islands and settled-in with the Bahamian Out Islands to our port, the wind was greater than the forecast of five to ten. It was more like a solid 15, which is really no big deal for us, except that for the first part of our journey we were travelling along an underwater shelf which went from several thousand feet to under a hundred feet in less than half a mile. With the winds out of the southeast, the gentle swells from thousands of miles of open ocean began to stack up as they hit the shallower water and we found ourselves in four to six foot rollers right on the stern. It was a very intimidating if you looked aft when we were in a trough as you would see this wave coming at the stern that was taller than the transom. The ride, however, was very comfortable as TOGETHER would just lift her big ol' self up and let the wave pass right underneath. It was like being on a merry-go-round except on straight rails. Just a periodic up and down without yawing from side to side. By mid-afternoon, we had two to three footers from the stern and even less later in the trip as the photo shows.
Janet and I stood four hour watches and since this was her first overnight, I setup the schedule so that she had 8PM to midnight and 4AM to 8AM thereby minimizing her time at the helm in the dead of night. I slept in the pilothouse in order to be able to answer any questions that she might have. Her first watch had a fair amount of activity on the radar which she handled with flying colors. While she had a few questions for me, I was able to get several hours of sleep. Actually, I had enough sleep and enough coffee and chocolate covered espresso beans that I stayed on watch from midnight to 6AM, and wouldn't you know it, not a single target on radar! After a few hours, I became so concerned that the radar was not working that I went to manual settings, tuned it so it picked up some of the larger waves and thereby verified its functionality. Once convinced it was working, I settled back in to snacking!
After 40 hours and 375 nautical miles, we entered the St. Mary's River between thunderstorms, and just after the sun set. The wonderful thing about the St. Mary's entrance is that it is setup for U.S. Navy submarines and is better marked than any entrance I can think of. Those folks leave nothing to chance. Heading to Cumberland Island off the St. Marys, getting to our destination that night was like playing a video game as we picked up each of the more than three dozen buoys and six sets of range lights within nine miles.
In this chart snippet alone, there are three sets of range lights in just a three mile section! Just a little over an hour after we entered the river, the anchor was down and the celebratory bottle of wine was open!
The next morning after a long night's sleep for both of us, we headed ashore to Cumberland Island. Twenty-one years ago, when our daughter was one year old, we took a year off work and came south on our sailboat. Cumberland was a highlight of the trip, although I remember sitting in the cockpit contemplating the scenic juxtaposition surrounding me. To the south were paper mills belching smoke. To the east, was the beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore with its sand dunes, wide beaches and wild horses. And to the west, the buildings housing the weapons of mass destruction at the Kings Bay Naval Base, the Atlantic Fleet's home port for their ballistic missile nuclear submarines armed with Trident missile nuclear weapons, aka "the boomers". We decided just not to look west!
Once on shore, we found that nothing had really changed in the 21 years since we had been there which was fine by us. The live oaks with their Spanish Moss created beautiful canopies over the paths around the island, and the sand dunes and ensuing beach looked none the worse for wear despite a hurricane and tropical storm last year. The dunes were still nearly a quarter mile deep in places and stretched north and south for 16 miles alongside the beach which was 500 - 600 feet deep at low tide and hard as cement. My words simply can't do it justice. If there was the perfect place to make landfall after the Bahamas, Cumberland was it and we were "home".