We joined the last of the snowbirds migrating south and departed Atlantic Yacht Basin on a late-November morning. The deck was covered in frost, you could see your breath, and the power cord was stiff as a board. Not my cup of tea! The journey south proved to be a bit challenging compared to year’s past. Cruising is not always sunny beaches and cold umbrella drinks. The following anecdotes provide some examples.
We stayed on the ICW down to Coinjock, up the Alligator River and through the Alligator-Pango River Canal. This was to be the location of the first of three arduous events on our journey south. Four miles from the south end of the canal we were meeting an oncoming fully-loaded grain barge. The barge was dead center in the channel and, being fully loaded, needed the depth. So did we. We moved to starboard to pass him on the “one whistle”. Our depth gauge dropped from 6-8 feet under the keel to 3-4 feet. I thought that would be enough and didn’t stop the boat. Mistake. What I failed to remember at that moment was that the depth sounder on Tivoli is located on the port side of the keel. Though we had 3-5 feet under the port side of the boat the starboard fin began dragging the bottom. The barge was now too close; no possibility of turning to port to deeper water without a collision. Though we attempted to stop the boat immediately it was too late. We were aground. I radioed the barge to inform him of our situation. He muttered “OK” and barged on. As he passed within a boat length the suction created by his passing was so great it healed Tivoli onto her port side about 20 degrees. Doesn’t sound like much but the thought of the boat flooding did cross my mind. After thousands of ocean miles I thought it would be an ignominious fate to be sunk by a barge in 6 feet of water. Thankfully she quickly righted herself but remained solidly aground on a sandy bottom. I ran down to the engine room and checked for leaks, found none, then shut down the Lugger and got on the radio to TowBoatUS. They dispatched a boat from Belhaven and within an hour we were again free and on our way. Soft bottom, no damage done. A thorough inspection of the bottom and fins using my GoPro showed a couple scratches in the bottom paint on the starboard fin and that’s it. We were very lucky. In some ways we were lucky we were aground when the barge passed as if we were afloat it could have sucked us into the side of the barge. An important reminder: always remember the location of your sounder on your hull when evaluating depth data. We became complacent after thousands of uneventful miles and simply didn’t think about it at this critical moment.
We anchored in the Pango River, had a beautiful sunset and peaceful evening, and proceeded the next day to River Dunes marina near Oriental. The new bow and stern thrusters are awesome! Docking is so much easier now with the precise control we now have. What a significant improvement to Tivoli!
We departed River Dunes, ran down to Morehead City and out the inlet into the Atlantic. We motored offshore enjoying calm seas, beautiful sunsets and moonlit nights. The minutes and miles tick by. By the time we reach Jacksonville FL we were a bit tired and the seas were picking up. Though we could have continued, we decided to head inshore to rest up and run the ICW for a bit. Getting into St. John’s inlet proved to be the second arduous event. Two warships were waiting to enter the channel, a large ship was coming out of the channel, several shrimpers were dragging nets across the inlet, and the usual assortment of pleasure craft were coming and going. To make matters worse the seas in the inlet were rough. We ran a holding pattern trying to sort out the situation and finally after the outgoing ship cleared the channel we contacted the lead warship seeking permission to proceed in front of them into the channel. They agreed so we turned into the channel. Wow. The further in the bigger the seas. Standing waves 8-10 feet in height ran the full length of the inlet. The height of these seas was not apparent from offshore. Though rough we were able to maintain steerage and continued into the inlet. For 20 minutes we fought to steer a straight course while surfing Tivoli. On two occasions the engine RPMs increased suggesting the prop was partially out of the water. We were not burying the bow but the ride was boisterous to say the least. Eventually the standing wave heights lessened and then dissipated altogether and we motored in calm waters to the ICW and turned south. I would guess my blood pressure was up on that one. We finally stopped at an anchorage just north of St. Augustine at Pine Island; 430 nautical miles from River Dunes, a good run. We enjoyed a calm night on the hook. Next day we ran down to Halifax Harbor in Daytona Beach. By then we were again tired of the ICW hassles of navigation, shallow water, and high traffic and the weather offshore looked good so we left the ICW at New Smyrna Beach and ran out Ponce de Leon inlet bound for Ft. Pierce.
The offshore leg to Ft. Pierce was only 110 nm. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. We knew maximum ebb tide in the inlet would be at 11:30 PM. We tried to slow Tivoli down but a favorable current still had us moving at 7 knots even at 1100 RPM. Tivoli is a slippery one as trawlers go; she never fails to amaze us with her performance and fuel efficiency. We arrived at 11:30 PM, pitch dark, and the outbound current in the inlet was running in excess of 3 knots. This was to be our third arduous event of the journey. Strong outgoing current against incoming seas and wind can produce treacherous conditions in this inlet. My plan was to enter the ship channel and assess the sea state. If conditions allowed us to safely steer the boat we would cautiously continue in. If conditions were worse we would bail out and wait. Conditions were definitely worse. Seas were not as great as the standing waves in St. John’s inlet but they were 6-8 footers and very confused. As a result Tivoli could not be steered on a straight course; we bailed. We headed out to sea to calmer waters. I set up a holding pattern and we ran the pattern for 3 hours. At 3:30 AM, slack tide, we made a second attempt. This time I used a couple of waypoints and the autopilot to steer the boat. We locked on track, ran straight down the center of the channel, encountered no rough water and sailed into Ft. Pierce. We quickly anchored off the Coast Guard station in the inlet and collapsed at 4:30 AM; tired after a large day.
Had we experienced any of these situations in our first months of cruising we may have opted for another avocation! Even after 3 years of full-time cruising they were nail-biting experiences. Yet, because of the knowledge one gains over time we were able to assess each situation and manage each event without injury or damage to the boat and, importantly, learn a great deal as a consequence of the experience. If you stay in port on your boat and don’t challenge yourself you will not gain the experiences and knowledge that make you a better boater. We are still gaining experience and learning, all part of the fun!
2017 was a banner cruising year for Tivoli and her crew: out to Bermuda as part of the NAP2017, watching the America’s Cup, passage to Nova Scotia, cruising Bras d’ Or Lakes, passage to Newfoundland and exploration of its fjords along the southern coast, then back to Maine and down the east coast to Florida. Over 5000 nautical miles and a lifetime of memories.
More adventures to come!