Back in the US
We delayed our departure an extra day due to weather, and ended up spending almost a week back at Great Harbour Cay, where we’d cleared into the Bahamas in early December. Some of the cruisers there hadn’t moved since we’d been there, and while it is a great marina, it wasn’t the same to be there and not able to walk along the beautiful endless beach, or even to socialize with N76’s Trixie and Tango who had pulled into the marina the same day as we did. We had all been visited by Customs and told we couldn’t leave our boats for 14 days, even though we had come from islands with no Covid 19 cases.
The day after we arrived at Great Harbour was Anzac Day, the Australasian equivalent of Memorial and Veterans Day. There was an Aussie/Brit on the dock, Ronald, and he was proudly flying his Australian flag. We put up a new NZ ensign, played our NZ and Australian music loudly, and gave Ronald some ingredients to make Anzac biscuits. He brought some over for us while we were playing Scrabble later in the day.
There was a massive storm one evening, which could be seen forming to the north of us during the afternoon, and we hunkered down, very happy to be tied up in the marina where we saw 55kn winds, horizontal rain and almost zero visibility for about 45 minutes. The wind was so strong at times it even pushed the N76’s around. Glad we weren’t at anchor for it. We heard on the radio that boats dragged in the anchorage outside the marina.
After moving to the anchorage on Thursday night, we left at first light and had a bumpy 12 hour run over the NW Providence Channel with current against us. Things smoothed out a bit in the Gulf Stream, and we were doing 9.9knots by midnight. I was on watch in the early morning when I saw a Coast Guard helicopter circling over a boat in front of us, and which then flew over us with its spotlight. Anticipating a call and possible demand to board, I had to wake Ted. They did hail us, but to request that we divert to offer assistance to the boat with problems, and relay communications back to them. So we turned 10 degrees and went from doing 9.9knots to doing barely 3knots against the current. Ted turned our huge Carlisle and Finch searchlight on the boat, and I spoke to them, then relayed to the Coast Guard chopper above, that they had engine failure, but all were ok, all had lifejackets on, and the boat was otherwise fine. Coast Guard had a rescue boat in route so we were given the all clear to continue on our way. No questions asked about where we were going – we didn’t even have our Q flag up, as we were still technically in international waters, about 30 miles offshore.
The Gulf Stream gave us good speed, but we did have a swell from the north east which although not particularly big, made the ride uncomfortable, and we elected to sacrifice speed for a better ride. This was a good call, and by the time we were off Cape Canaveral, we had absolutely flat seas, no wind, and had a lovely run north along the Florida Coast. The wind picked up a bit from the west as we approached the Brunswick inlet, but we picked up an incoming tide, and were doing 9 knots through the channel and up the river to the marina, where we arrived after around 55 hours of run time.
We had elected to enter the US at Brunswick in the hope that I wouldn’t encounter the problems I did last year where US Immigration in Fort Lauderdale almost didn’t let me into the country. We arrived too late to go to the office on Monday, but Ted was able to clear the boat in using the ROAM online application with Border Patrol. Surprisingly it also cleared me in, as it had my passport details loaded, but I didn’t believe it. We needed the cruising permit documentation anyway, so the next morning, well rested, we walked into the village, with our masks, and visited the Brunswick Customs Office. What a great experience. While one guy organized the cruising permit for us – the first one they had issued for this season – the Immigration officer told us that the clearance with ROAM was all I needed. But he offered to stamp my passport if I wanted that, which I did. So he had to go hunt out his stamp, which had dried up, so needed ink, plus Ted had to remind him to change the year…. The officer asked how long I wanted, and I asked for the six months my visa allows. How painless, and what a huge relief it was.
As it had been more than six weeks since we’d been able to walk anywhere, we wandered through Brunswick, stopped at the hardware store to get me another mask, and picked up some groceries and some booze for Ted. Georgia had opened up the week before, and while things were much more relaxed than in the Bahamas, most people were still wearing masks in the stores, and keeping distance. The marina did not have its usual social calendar going, although I was able to exchange some books at the great library at the clubhouse. And we took long walks each day.
Our friends Bryan and Cheryl on N68 Floating Stones were on a T head, and we invited ourselves over for a drink with them before we left Brunswick. We were going to sit on the dock, but their boat is big enough with a lovely outdoor seating area that we were able to keep our distance in comfort.
On arrival at Brunswick we received some terrible news from our good friends Mike and Esta who we’d cruised with for a month in Eleuthera, and who I’d spent time with at Emerald Bay Marina when Ted flew back to Lauderdale for the stabilizer part. They had decided to sail their Oyster sailboat back to the UK where they are from, when the Bahamas started to close down. The last we’d heard they’d stopped in Bermuda with an engine problem, which had been fixed, and they had continued on. About 500 miles north of Bermuda they got hit by a huge mid-Atlantic storm, and lost their steering completely. They put out a distress call, and in what was apparently hideous weather, were finally rescued by a passing container ship, which pulled them aboard as they watched their boat Sundowner drift away, taking on water. It is a sobering reminder that this lifestyle has its challenges and also significant risks, and we are so thankful that Mike and Esta are safe and well and now back in England.
Our next stop turned out to be Hilton Head, where Clark and Michelle on N55 Roam were sitting at anchor, so we did a short overnight run of 105 miles from Brunswick to join them. We both moved into a marina which had been rebuilt after Hurricane Matthew a few years ago. They were so welcoming to us, and are really trying to get up and running, so it’s devastating that Covid is preventing that. Hilton Head has great bike and walking trails, and each day Michelle and I would do a six mile walk, while the boys took the electric bikes to West Marine, or the grocery store. When we fare welled them in the Ragged Islands back in February, we really thought that might be the last time we saw them. But they got stuck in Puerto Rico and made the decision to abort their plans to spend the summer down in Grenada, and returned to the US before we did. So it was a real bonus to reconnect with them, and we are enjoying spending time with them again.
Ted’s note: Saying good bye, often forever, is the hardest part of this lifestyle. When we meet someone we can only know that our time together is short lived. We do often get to see each other again, as in this case. But we do have to say ‘goodbye’ very often. It does make you appreciate the time you have with new friends.
While at Hilton Head, we met Paul and April from N55 April K, who we’d encountered previously at Great Sale Cay in the Abacos, and at Fishing Bay in the Chesapeake, but who we’d never spent time with. We had a lovely evening on board Roam, with drinks and pizza.
From Hilton Head we moved up to Beaufort, South Carolina, which is a gorgeous southern town, full of antebellum homes beautifully restored. The restaurants were doing outdoor dining, and some shops were open. Again Michelle and I did a long walk around the streets lined with old trees dripping with Spanish moss, and admiring the fabulous houses.
We had a weather window to move north, and decided to make the 40 hour run up to Beaufort, North Carolina. We left on the outgoing tide, doing 8knots down the river and out the channel, but it got bouncy and for the first 8 hours it was pretty miserable as we banged along into an almost head sea with more wind than predicted. However it calmed down overnight and we had a comfortable day run up to Frying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear. The swell picked up a bit again, and we were ready to get in by the next morning. Roam continued directly to the marina in Beaufort, but we chose to spend a night at anchor at Cape Lookout Bight, which is a beautiful anchorage, very popular with locals.
Tomorrow we move into Homer Smiths marina, to rejoin Roam, and to also reconnect with Gale and Mary on N57 Worknot, and Karl and Nora on N63 Bravo. We will also meet up with Jerry from N68 Grace of Tides, which is up at Jarrett Bay waiting for Dee to join so they can start their season.
So it has been a very fast re-entry to the US for this, our fourth season here. Today is 15th May: we left Great Harbour Cay marina two weeks ago today. Since then we’ve done 800 miles. We’ve never been this far north this early before – it is usually mid-July before we get to North Carolina. One good thing about being this far north this early is that the weather is still coolish. We have to wear sweaters, and shoes ashore. No air conditioning required
In fact the last two years we have spent 4th July at Bald Head Island Marina at Cape Fear, 100 miles south of where we are now. But with the virus still very much present in the US, we feel it makes sense to keep moving, especially as the further north we go, the more rigorous the states are in their management of opening things up.
Our slip is waiting for us for the summer at York River Yacht Haven, which feels like our US home port now. We may take a couple of weeks to meander our way up there, which is about 200 miles north of where we are. After that we have no plans, other than to enjoy our time with our friends, and to stay safe and healthy.