After spending a week in Beaufort, SC Eric and I were antsy to keep moving south. During our short break Eric fixed the whole ‘boiling a lead acid battery’ issue, and replaced the solar charger to properly utilize our solar panels. We finally had power we could trust! Mwahahaha. We felt like we could take on anything, and so we looked to the ocean. We were ready.
The weather window we aimed for kept shifting, but with ice on the dock our last morning at the marina, we decided to high tail it outta the sound and into the open ocean. We planned a three day, two night excursion that would land us near Daytona, Florida. We had decided to skip over the state of Georgia after hearing reports about the slog of the Intracoastal Waterway with winding channel passages, a plethora of shoals to run aground, and extreme tidal sweeps. We wanted to sail!
That morning as we shoved off the dock one of our marina friends ran over, tossed a bunch of limes into our cockpit and handed me a bottle of rum just before the current took us out of arm’s reach.
Before we left the sound Eric reminded me to put on my prescription strength motion sickness patch, just in case. I had only needed to use it once before when we were docked in Elizabeth City, NC and the wind driven waves had shoved us about all night. Up until this point I’d been pleasantly surprised with how well my body handled the water despite my balance issues and past history with motion sickness. I almost didn’t put it on, but I am ever so grateful that I did – those things are a miracle in rough times. And rough times came that first night.
See, we’d watched the forecasts and knew that the wind and waves would eventually move in the direction we wanted – south. However, when we first reached the open ocean we realized that we were too early – the waves and wind were still blowing to the north. Soon the wind would clock around, we told ourselves, and so we pressed on. Just a few hours of choppy seas, and then it would be fine. We raised the sails and turned east for a beam reach, happy that although we were heading further out into the ocean, at least we were sailing.
But the wind didn’t shift in any kind of reasonable fashion, and the waves grew bigger as the sunset faded and we continued to beat against the ocean. Then Eric puked.
Never had I imagined that Eric would be the first to chuck it on this boat. I forget if it was after the first or second time he lost it, I made the executive decision we needed to turn to land and find a safe place to anchor for the night. However, we were already 20 miles offshore, and remember when I said the wind was going to shift? By then it had shifted to blow directly from the east – the direction we were now heading.
Eric powered through his motion sickness to help me lower the sails, and I had to step up, take charge, find an anchorage, and get us to safety. As the boat thrashed around I studied the charts and picked the nearest inlet that looked deep enough for us to pass through and find shelter from the wind. We were never concerned about the boat’s integrity – this boat is stronger than we are, however the churning ocean became too much for us to handle.
In the dark I couldn’t see to aim the boat in an optimal direction, and so the waves would slam into the bottom of our sailboat. Again and again and again. There was no time for fear, although I’m sure in those moments I was terrified, however I remained entirely focused on the shoreline, discerning whether any of those twinkling lights in the distance would guide us to the inlet I’d found on the maps. They didn’t. At one point the GPS told me we were 25 feet from a channel marker, but I couldn’t see it. I had to trust our equipment enough to help me navigate through the narrow channel, and I kept a sharp eye on our depth sounder to make sure we wouldn’t run aground.
After midnight, we set anchor tucked just inside Ossabow Sound, Georgia, and passed out.
In the morning we sat quietly eating our breakfast and had to make a decision – to go back out there, or continue along the Intracoastal Waterway. After studying the maps some more, I made the call that we try the ocean passage again. This time we were armed with bail out points an hour, two hours, and four hours into our journey in case the conditions were still unfavorable. I knew that if I didn’t at least face the ocean, I would remain too afraid to try again. And I am so glad that we were willing to take that risk – it was a beautiful day!
The wind blew us south, and the waves had calmed down overnight. Without the choppy seas we could use our autopilot effectively, which made sailing a breeze. These were the moments seasoned sailors raved about, and this justified our decision to go on this crazy adventure. That second day was entirely uneventful.
I took a two hour nap before taking my first night shift, which started at 11pm. We had decided two hour shifts seemed reasonable. The moon lit up the sky and sparkled on the water. Quiet, peaceful. We crossed a couple of shipping channels and could see lights off in the distance, but other than a few commercial vessels we had the whole ocean to ourselves. In the tranquil twilight I sat watch, and it wasn’t until 3am that I drowsily roused Eric for his shift. He ended up letting me sleep the rest of the night.
Christmas morning we cruised into the St. Augustine inlet and docked at the municipal marina. In those three days on the ocean we had traveled the equivalent of 242+ miles along the Intracoastal Waterway, which would have taken us more than five days to travel the ICW.
We spent the afternoon walking around the city, visited some beautiful historic buildings and the old fort.
I video chatted with my family before dinner, the best Christmas present. That night we went for another walk around town, shocked by the number of tourists crowding the sidewalks and congesting the streets. We couldn’t figure out where all these people had come from, or what they were doing. It wasn’t until later we realized that St. Augustine was quite the destination famous for its Christmas lights.
This ocean cruise taught me a lot, about myself and about sailing, and I’m looking forward to our next sailing adventure.