Tuesday morning we got up early and drove to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited National Park, with over 12 million visitors a year. And it is stunning.
We made it up to Newfound Gap overlook, which lies on the Tennessee/North Carolina State line, as well as the Appalachian Trail.
Then we drove up to Clingman’s Dome and walked up the steep climb to the observation tower for 360 degree views above the treetops. Clingman’s Dome, called Mulberry Place in Cherokee, was sacred to them. It is 6643’ high – the highest point in Tennessee.
After the park, we drove another 9 1/2 hours to Little Rock. One more National Park and then home tomorrow.
We left Virginia early Monday morning, headed for the newest US National Park – New River Gorge National Park. It took us into West Virginia, my very first visit to the state.
The park is home to the New River and a 3000 ft long steel arch bridge, which was the longest in the world when it was built in 1977. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the New River is actually one of the oldest on the continent, according to the NPS app (which I highly recommend if you’re a National Park geek).
Visiting the park was a 2nd first for me. The 3rd first was grabbing my first geocache in West Virginia, for which I earned this nifty virtual badge. 🙂
Tuesday morning we’re in Tennessee, headed for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stay tuned!
We left Annapolis yesterday, driving home to Austin. Our route takes us very close to four US National Parks along the way. So, we must see them!
Sunday’s park was Shenandoah National Park. It was the created in 1935 amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winding, two-lane Skyline Drive takes you through the park along the ridge-tops with dozens of overlook parking areas along it. We drove it for 60 miles. The trees were turning red and gold. It will be even more stunning in a week or two.
Yesterday Monte and I drove out the Texas wine trail to our favorite wine-club vineyard to pick up our May box of wine. It’s a big deal for us. We’ve deferred picking up our wine boxes for over a year because of COVID. But the winery is now open by appointment, so I booked us for a pickup, a tasting, and some lovely charcuterie.
I’ve missed our drives out here. The visit to the winery was very nice. The wine was delicious, we saw the tail end of some lovely wildflowers, did a little antiquing, and grumbled about the return of traffic on the way home.
We left Winyah Bay Wednesday morning with E to ESE winds predicted which would make for a great sail around Frying Pan Shoals. But… while you can buy weather guidance, you can’t buy good weather. Turns out the wind was not as predicted at all, it was out of the NNE, exactly the direction we wanted to go. And the seas were big enough to slow us down if we tried to motor directly into them. So, we sailed some big tacks to make more headway than motoring. FINALLY after rounding Frying Pan Shoals the winds did eventually turn out of the east, about 1 or 2 AM, so we were able to sail nicely after that. While the wind has not always been cooperative, the weather has been beautiful.
We made it to Cape Lookout by about 4PM Thursday afternoon, and anchored in a beautiful spot in the bight in front of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We grilled up some salmon for dinner and got a good night’s rest.
Friday we motored into Beaufort Inlet and stayed at a marina for the night. We were able to do some laundry, take a nice land shower, and restock some provisions.
Saturday morning we biked to the local farmer’s market and scored some basil, which will be good for a pizza night on the boat. Then we left the marina and headed up the Intracoastal Waterway for the remainder of the trip. Neither one of us fancies going around Cape Hatteras with a crew of two. Going from Charleston to Beaufort on the outside allowed us to miss all the shallow, shifting shoal areas of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. So we’ve got that going for us. 🙂
Saturday we crossed the Neuse River and anchored overnight in the Bay River.
Today, Sunday, we cross the Pamlico Sound, and head up the Pungo and Alligator Rivers, and will anchor overnight on the south side of Albemarle Sound. We should be in Chesapeake, Virgina by tomorrow night.
‘Tis the season of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count! I met up with Doray and a team of birders at Reimer Ranch yesterday. We hiked all day and saw so many birds. The first half of the day was cold, but by 4:30pm I had shed 3 layers. The former ranch, now a park, overlooks the Pedernales River. It’s a beautiful place to spend the day.
We pulled out of Brunswick, Georgia, on Saturday morning, heading down the ICW for our last 2-day leg to our destination, St. Augustine, Florida. So many birds, so little time.
Cumberland Island is situated right along the ICW, it is an undisturbed island and a lovely spot, with wild horses roaming about.
We motored past Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, a place my family almost moved to when I was in high school, but my dad’s assignment ended up being in Madrid, instead. We anchored in a lovely spot right off the ICW after about 35 nm.
The next day was uneventful, other than a rainstorm that we went through right before arriving at the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine for the 2pm opening.
It was GREAT to pull into the slip and tie up. Michelle greeted us with bubbly to celebrate our arrival.
Our journey of over 920 miles is completed. Now I just need to get home to Austin by Thanksgiving!
After Carolina Beach, Lori and I stopped in Southport, North Carolina at a marina on the Cape Fear River for one night. We used Lori & Mike’s folding bikes to go into downtown. It was t-shirt and shorts weather again!
We grabbed nibblies at the bar, watched a little football to keep up on our fantasy football team scores, and then headed back to the boat.
The next day, Tony joined us, and we left North Carolina, heading south in the Atlantic Ocean bound for Charleston, South Carolina. That is an overnight sail, so we took turns at the helm overnight; in the cockpit for 4 hours, sleeping 2 hours, repeat.
The sail to Charleston was great! We were able to sail with main and jib up all the way, pretty much on the same tack, in a straight line to Charleston ship channel entrance. It was, however, brutally cold. You take what you can get.
We stayed at anchor overnight in the Ashley River, across from the Battery in Charleston. Then, in order to keep moving, we opted to go south on the ICW. We enjoyed a beautiful night at anchor in the Ashepoo River.
The next day, we continued on the ICW, exiting out to the ocean in the afternoon at Port Royal Sound, bound for Brunswick, Georgia. It was not as cold as the other night, but this sail was an uncomfortable one. NNE winds, 15-20knots, gusting in the 30’s, almost directly behind us, with seas around 6′ which got bigger towards the morning. A bonus was a squall that hit about 3 AM, with rain and gusts up to 40knots. It was warmer, but it was 15 hours of pounding up and down waves. We couldn’t use the autopilot, with the stern being thrown with each wave, so we hand steered – or as I like to call it, wrestling the bear. Not to fear, though, we made it safely into port yesterday morning. As we entered St. Simon’s Sound at dawn, we went by the wreck of the MV Golden Ray, a massive car carrying cargo ship that heeled over and was run aground a year ago. Lori, Monte and I saw it last December when there to move Trident to Brunswick.
With a not-improving weather forecast, Trident will be heading down the ICW into Florida today. We hope to be in St. Augustine, Florida, by sunset tomorrow night.
Our original plan, to leave the ICW and head offshore in Beaufort, was intended to avoid the challenges associated with the ICW south of there. These include transiting the dozens of ocean inlets that the ICW crosses south of Beaufort where significant shoaling always occurs, often changing the ICW channel depth, making it dangerously shallow, and passing under a number of bridges that are less than the required 65′ vertical clearance with tides than can vary from the mean water level by up to 4 feet. But, alas, the weather offshore has been unfavorable, so we continued on south.
There is a kind soul on the internet, Bob Sherer, who maintains a blog called Bob423 ICW Tracks and Routes where he provides tracks (collections of GPS points) that he has carefully taken and mapped out for maximum depths. The tracks are available for download as GPX files into chart plotting software, like the openCPN that I use on my laptop and the Garmin chart plotter that Lori has at Trident’s helm. Fortunately, Bob’s latest track is as recent as a week or two ago, so it contains safe tracks around hazards that even the Corps of Engineers haven’t moved the red and green buoys around yet. There have been reports of multiple boats running aground this week in those spots. Not wanting to be one of those boats, we have been following Bob’s track. It can be a little spooky when Bob’s green track goes outside the marked channel. But so far, so good.
The bridges are a challenge of their own, especially with the flooding in North Carolina rivers currently going on, and an especially high tide. We have had to wait for the water level to go down on some bridges before passing underneath, but even so, we have bent the springy VHF antenna at the top of the mast back as we passed under 2 of them. That’s a little too close for comfort.
Hopefully, we only have one more bridge and one more shallow spot, at Snow’s Cut, today. Then we will be at a marina in Southport tonight, and pick up Tony tomorrow and head offshore for a leg south tomorrow afternoon. We think there is a 24-hour window that will allow us to get to Charleston without weather drama. But we’ll see how that plays out.
Even with those challenges, it’s been a nice few days since Beaufort. It’s been sunny, with wind to put up a sail. We anchored one night, and were on a mooring ball last night. Very nice.
On the last leg of our planned ICW-portion of the trip, we enjoyed a day of sailing with jib and main up in stiff breezes, arriving in Beaufort, North Carolina, by 2:30 Monday (Day 6).
We intended to stay here 2 nights and then pick up our third crew member, and head offshore to for the second half of our trek to St. Augustine. However, there is a mess of bad weather arriving Thursday, so that has impacted our plans. Thankfully, we were able to extend our stay at this marina another night.
It’s been nice to take long showers, walk around, bike into town, and do laundry after a week on the boat. It’s shorts and t-shirts weather here right now, which is a treat. Yesterday we did boat chores. Today, re-provisioning. Thursday, hunker. Friday, we’ll likely leave Beaufort and head south. Unfortunately the bad weather offshore persists, so we will need to spend a couple more days on the ICW. Perhaps to Southport, the next major inlet from the ocean. We’ll have to see what the weather looks like early next week.
We picked up anchor at 6:15am Friday in a thick fog.
We left before sunrise because we had a long goal of making 68 nautical miles (nm), and a backup plan to go about 45 nm instead. The challenge is being able to gain more speed than the 5 to 5.5 knots (nm per hour) of the engine. Fog can hurt. Current can hurt or help. Wind can help.
We can’t just anchor anywhere along the way because there are long stretches of the ICW that are land cuts; very narrow, and the channel takes up the whole width of the cut. And you can’t anchor in the channel.
The fog eventually cleared and we had a little boost from the wind, so we made the farther anchorage after 11 hours.
As we exited the 20-mile Alligator River – Pungo River Cut the sun was setting. We went a few miles farther, anchoring right in front of the land on the far horizon in the picture above.
Last week I flew to Maryland to join Lori and help take her boat to Florida. Theoretically it is post-hurricane season, but you can’t tell these days. On one nice day, we drove to Mount Vernon to tour George Washington’s estate and mansion.
Mike left over the weekend, driving the car to Florida so it is there when we arrive. We spent a few days in the slip at the marina at Solomon’s Island waiting for some bad weather remnants of Hurricane Zeta to pass. On a rainy, freezing, blustery day, we cooked some meals to freeze for easy prep underway. I even grabbed a quick geocache, my first in Maryland. Tuesday the 3rd looked good for our departure from Solomon’s Island, Maryland, and so we did.
Day 1, we froze, with temps around 40 F and a very chilling wind around 15 knots. Nonetheless, we made our way south down the Chesapeake, anchoring in a lovely spot. It turned out to be the only day we were able to sail on the bay.
Day 2 was windless, but WARMER! So we motored 9 hours and anchored in a beautiful spot inside Mobjack Bay by ourselves. I even put out a crab pot overnight.
We saw dolphins, the water must be getting saltier, and lifer birds.
Day 3 started with a beautiful sunset, and when I pulled up the crab trap, we had a wee one! We let him go, but it was fun to catch something. Today is windless, again, but warm enough to take off jackets. The bay is as smooth as glass. The only thing we have to battle are the tidal and river currents going against us. This afternoon we will exit the Chesapeake Bay and anchor at Norfolk, Virginia.
Tomorrow, Day 4, we will start down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway for a few days.