• Warwick: ICW Mile Marker 715, anchored in Fernandina Beach, FLA
• Wendy: El Paso, TX
Weather: Low to mid 70s (in both places) during the day; 50s at night (in TX)
Boat Names: None to ‘write home about’
When Wendy left for Texas last Thursday to visit with Naomi, Jesse and granddaughter Amaia, we had the dilemma of how to get the boat down to Florida as she was returning to the Jacksonville airport. There was the possibility of having her change her return flight so she came back to Savannah, or to rent a car and pick her up and bring her back to Hilton Head, but neither was particularly attractive. So we began to talk about having me (Warwick) take the boat alone to northern Florida. In sailing language that is called ‘single handing’ the boat.
Before we made that decision, I did attempt to look for crew willing to accompany me for the overnight, approximately 120 mile journey. I went to 3 marinas and came up with 8 leads, but in the end it was all to naught.
All our weather sources (NOAA weather, passageweather.com and a mackerel sky) suggested that there was a good weather window for Sat afternoon and night and that the weather might deteriorate after that.
Our friends Leo and Lana, and Ken and Claire (just arrived for a short visit) took me to the marina where Belum was anchored. I said farewell, rowed out to boat, hoisted the dinghy and tied it down.
Preparation: I installed blue jack lines on the deck, collected my life jacket, tether, the autohelm, and did a battery check.
Departure: I started the motor in idle and forward, moved quickly to weigh (raise) the 100 ft of anchor chain. That took a while and when the anchor was finally off the bottom, Belum was heading for shore! I made a quick run to the cockpit, put the motor in reverse and I was off – with engine and one sail flying.
At start the waves were small and wind light. It was time for cup of tea.
Shortcut to open sea: With tides running higher than normal, I speculated that I could take a shortcut, so I set the autohelm and went to make lunch. When I looked out a little while later and saw breaking waves ahead, I knew it was too shallow. I raced to the wheel just as the depth sounder went off and I went aground. Luckily Belum backed up when I reversed. So I turned 180 degrees and gingerly retraced my steps to the last mark, watching depths all the way. Lesson learned: no shortcuts from here.
Open sea: I manually took the helm till I was out in open sea. Once away from land the sea was quite rolly, with 3-4 foot waves and 15 knot winds. Belum could take it, but could I stand it for close to 24 hours? I was feeling a bit off color already. I thought about going back, but it would be dark on arrival. I knew I needed to eat, but could only manage 2 dry pieces of bread and a cup of tea. Around midnight the wind dropped to a steady 5-10 knots; the sail was giving good momentum but I still had the engine on. It never lost a beat.
Because there are unlit markers in the sea I needed to keep track of them. I started recording my longitude and latitude from the GPS and marking it on the chart. I could then see the direction of my travel and change course if necessary. I catnapped in the cockpit, never more than 15 minutes. A big wave would jolt me awake and then I would check out the horizon on all sides. I was always tethered to Belum. It was getting colder; by now I was wearing long pants, waterproof bib pants, a jersey and 2 parkas.
By then, I was ready for a more substantial meal and ate spaghetti leftovers in a sandwich and more tea.
Fernandina Beach: And so the night continued till dawn. At about 6:45am I saw the markers to Fernandina Beach, but it took another 2 hours to navigate the inlet and reach the Fernandina Harbor Marina (where I wanted to stop for ice). After trying to call the marina on the cell and vhf radio and getting no response, I decided to single hand up to the T-dock. Wind and current were in same direction, I set fenders and dock lines, came in slowly, stepped off Belum and tied up for a near-perfect docking. I tenderly patted and thanked Belum for keeping me safe and walked to marina for ice.
Although in the early part of the night I thought my decision to take this trip alone was questionable, by the morning I felt pretty good about making it safely and getting closer to the Jacksonville airport to meet Wendy on her return Weds.