Saturday, February 18, 2017

Overnight to Florida

For years, we have heard about a Free Dock at Sister's Creek just south of Jacksonville, Florida. It always seemed a little too good to be a true story - floating concrete docks, water at the dock, stay up to 72 hours, park and boat ramp next door. If you are moving down the Intra-Coastal Waterway and are cheap like us, this is really sweet.

Leaving Beaufort, SC. You gotta love a hospital that
has a boat dock.

Our schedule to leave Beaufort, SC was driven by the tide schedule. We needed to run downriver to Port Royal inlet to go out into the ocean for an overnight run to St Mary's inlet at the Georgia-Florida line. Which meant waiting for the high tide to peak out and then ride the outgoing current. That didn't happen, on that day - Thursday 2/16 - until almost 1:00 pm. A little later than we like to get underway normally. However, it set up our timing to arrive at St Mary's on the inbound tide the next morning.





The weather forecast indicated that, from our location, we should be right on the bottom of a weather system. In fact, we had some crazy squalls go over us at anchor in Beaufort on Wednesday with 45 knot gusts. Not insignificant and an interesting couple of hours. The back side of that front should give us west winds for a good ride south. The weather guys are not always exactly correct.

But, they weren't far off. After an easy ride down to the ocean, we turned south into wind on our nose - again. If only we carried a wind-on-the-nose-sail. It was a bit snarky for a couple of hours but it started, slowly, to shift to the west winds predicted. Soon, we had a sail up to help the motor. By 9:00 pm, Junie (on the first night shift) cut the engine and we ended up sailing most of the night. The wind and seas started to mellow towards dawn. By the time we entered St Mary's it was a beautiful, calm morning. We weren't 50 yards past the south fork in the channel when dolphins showed up.

Sunrise on the ocean. I never get tired of that.

We had decided that we wanted to go to St Augustine, Florida again so we were going to take the ICW at least that far. By arriving at St Mary's first thing in the morning, we had some time and a rising tide so we just kept going. We wouldn't make it all the way to St Augustine but, by early afternoon, we could be at - wait for it - the Free Dock at Jacksonville!

SeaClearly - safely landed.
Of course, there are no dockhands at a free dock so we had to manage coming in with no help - something of a challenge for a short crew. But, we arrived right at slack tide and pre-set all of the lines and fenders. Junie, not one to jump off a boat without good reason, made the leap to tie us off and we landed gracefully. Naturally, since all went well, there was no one around to see it.

Excellent floating docks.







The Free Dock is exactly as advertised. Tilly loves the park. After an overnight trip in the ocean, we love being tied up and not having to worry about the anchor, the tides, etc. There is even an unofficial greeter couple - Browne and Nancy - that stop by to check on any cruisers that show up. We washed down SeaClearly (with the free water!), took care of a few boat chores, heated up some Shrimp Creole, decided we were probably going to stay here two days, and were in bed by 7:00 pm.

Tilly - after the bath.




Today, we relaxed a bit, worked a bit, took Tilly on walks. By the way, she still sucks at walks. She chewed through her harness so we switched her back to a training collar. I stopped to adjust the collar and took it off of her for a minute. She saw a drainage pond and took off. My first thought was, "Oh, great. We are in Florida. I'm going to have to jump into the pond and fight the alligators off of my dog." Fortunately, she just did one quick plunge then came back out. No alligators. She got properly fussed at and then had to suffer the indignation of a cold hosewater dock bath.


All turned around and ready to go.





We were sitting outside waiting for the midday slack high tide to turn SeaClearly around facing bow out for a next day departure. The creek is pretty narrow and shallow on the outside, especially at low tide (which it will be in the morning). Turning around would be difficult at that point.



While we waited, we met some new friends, Jack and Pat, who were just walking by. We ended up talking to them for 45 minutes and shared some stories. We mentioned that we needed to turn the boat around so, they helped us with the lines. Nice! And, now we are set to drive straight out.

Tomorrow morning, we should be taking off right after coffee. By tomorrow afternoon - St Augustine!

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