The Trip Home
After two months of fit-out and repairs, our Swift Trawler 42 “Kissed Some Frogs” was finally ready to come home! The boat had been in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida during the work, and we planned an 8 to 10-day trip to bring it home to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. We contracted with a training captain, Captain Geoff Gow, to make the trip home with us and provide instruction in the safe operation of our new boat and its systems (special thanks to Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell of Ask Captain Chris for the referral).
Geoff is a professional delivery Captain and yacht maintenance specialist based in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Our plan was to depart on Monday, April 17th, but due to some delays in the fit-out (see our posting Ready to come home! for more details), we ended up having our final Sea Trial to test the repairs and adjust the electronics on Monday, so had to delay our departure until Tuesday. During the sea trial, we discovered an issue with the new exhaust hoses and the trim tabs, so Tuesday morning was spent doing final repairs.
At 2:00 in the afternoon, we were finally ready to cast off and start our journey home! We said goodbye to the team from Hartman Yacht Maintenance and Soverel Harbor Marina and sailed out into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Our first stop was just 100 yards south to the fuel dock, where we took on 310 gallons of diesel. Then, at about 2:30 we cast off and headed north up the ICW!
Day 1: Tuesday April 18th – Palm Beach Gardens to Fort Pierce
Our first destination was Fort Pierce Florida. This is Geoff’s home port, and we planned on using his vehicle (a converted ambulance) to run some errands and pick up a few parts. The run-up to Ft. Pierce was relatively easy. We started our “education” right away, it all seemed a little overwhelming, but Geoff kept it interesting and there was still time to see some of the sights. (including Tiger Woods Palm Beach “Beach House”).
We arrived in Ft. Pierce at 6:15 and given that there was some wind, Geoff docked the boat. Tom and Geoff took off in his “ambulance” and made a run to get some fuel pressure gauges, rope for a bridle at West Marine, a quick stop to look at some property Geoff is interested in. We also checked on a “Project Boat” from Louisiana that Geoff has been working on and trying to broker.
Side note: Having our boat fitted out and
repaired has been frustrating at times, each time my phone ran or I got an email from Mike at Hartman Yacht, I cringed.
The old adage “BOAT = Break Out Another Thousand” really seems to fit. However, as with the rest of life, there’s always someone who has it much worse than you! This boat was custom built for a Doctor in Louisiana. Over a million dollars and some 5 years later, it’s still not finished.
The boat has so many structural and design issues that it’s basically being sold off for parts. I don’t feel so bad about my limited repairs anymore!)
During our sea trial, we determined that our mast height was 21 feet. One of our first lessons was dealing with drawbridges. How to determine if we will fit under without opening and if we needed to have it opened how to communicate with the bridge to get them to open for us. We got plenty of practice on our first few days! Once we got to St. Augustine, there were only one or two bridges that we had to have opened, and there were none in Georgia or South Carolina.
Dinner was at a small restaurant just outside of the marina. Nice place, good seafood.
We ran 5 hours and covered 41 nautical miles (approx 47 statute miles) for the day.
Day 2: Wednesday April 19th – Fort Pierce to Titusville
Wednesday morning we woke up about 6:30 am. Geoff went to use the guest head, and it wouldn’t flush. So…. toilet maintenance! Woo Hoo! Turns out it was another symptom of a boat that had not been used very much. After clearing some, err… hardened blockages…, and installing our new fuel pressure gauges, we got underway at around 1:00 and spent an hour practicing maneuvering around the marina.
We did turns in place, cruising from one side to the other dealing with the wind as we came around the corner by the entrance. At 2:00, we headed out and again went north toward Titusville, with our destination of the Titusville City Marina mooring field.
On the cruise, we had very light winds, and a short shower, but overall a nice day. We arrived in Titusville at 7:30 pm. We found an available mooring ball and hooked it up. We made our first official dinner on the boat (tomato, green pepper, and onion salad) and ate dinner while watching a beautiful sunset.
We ran 5.5 hours and covered 79 nautical miles for the day.
Day 3: Thursday April 20th – Titusville to St. Augustine
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Geoff cooked a great breakfast of cilantro, avocado, tomato with a couple of eggs fried in coconut oil on top. VERY tasty AND healthy! We unhitched and headed north again around 9:00 am. Another fantastic day, clear, winds 10-15. We were able to make good time. At 1:00 we reached New Smyrna Beach and stopped for fuel.
We took on 160 gallons. The fuel gauges are one of the items that are still not working, so we’ve been calculating our fuel long-hand. We had calculated that we’d used about 280 gallons so were pleasantly surprised at our total fuel usage of only 160 gallons. We pulled out of New Smyrna at 2:00 and headed to Camachee Cove Marina in St. Augustine.
We saw several manatees and the Dolphins were everywhere going through the canals joining the various rivers and bays that make up the ICW.
The winds and current had picked up by the time we reached St. Augustine, and we had to hang out in the river waiting for some traffic in the marina to clear and for our slip to become available. I brought the boat into the marina (with Geoff hovering just over my shoulder), and our slip space was basically a 55′ opening (for our 47′ overall length) between two other boats. Ooooh! Parallel parking! With some guidance and a few quickly inhaled breaths, I (we), managed to get the boat safely docked at 7:15 pm! Another first!
After tying up, we checked into the marina office (thanks to Camachee Cove for waiting for us and for the gift of the drinking glass! (We’ll be back again to complete the set!) Dinner was at the restaurant in the marina. The food was good, but there was a guitar player that I think they recruited from under the bridge and gave him a guitar. He was so bad, that it was entertaining in its own bizarre way.
We ran 9.25 hours and covered 90 nautical miles for the day.
Day 4: Friday April 21st – St. Augustine to Fernandina Beach
On Friday morning we took some time to re-provision and take care of laundry. Geoff and Brenda borrowed the loaner car and did a run to the grocery store. Tom stayed back and did laundry. The boater lounge at Camachee Cove Marina is excellent! Large clean showers, two commercial washers, and dryers in excellent repair, free coffee, and comfy chairs!
We had many discussions and some training on checking wind, currents, and weather and decided to go “outside” in the open ocean for the day and make some time, rather than cruising at the slow speeds up the ICW. We wanted to do at least one day in the ocean, and looking at the forecast for the next few days, the winds were picking up, and we decided this was probably our best opportunity.
With fresh provisions and clean clothes, we headed out at 12:30, back under the Francis and Mary Usina Bridge, and out into the open ocean. The water at the inlet was a bit rough with an on-shore breeze and a receding tide, but once we cleared the inlet, it was gentle 2-3 foot swells. We headed out about 2 miles and then turned north. Once we settled into cruise at about 20 knots (23 mph), we just sat back and watched the shoreline go past.
Unlike cruising on the waterway where you are constantly on alert for boats, no-wake zones, shoals, turns, channel markers, “vermin” (Geoff’s term of endearment for small craft like jet ski’s, kayaks, fishing skiffs, paddleboards, etc.), offshore cruising can get a bit boring. Put on the auto-pilot, and just sit back. It gave us an opportunity to play with some of the new electronics that we had installed like the Radar, Autopilot, AIS, and Fishfinders that we had not had the opportunity to use yet on the trip. While the Garmin equipment IS very intuitive, we did have to break out the manuals and call the installers to figure out a few of the nuances.
We did see a few other boats, some quite large container ships, and a Navy destroyer. Also, a few dolphins crossed our wake from time to time.
What did strike us was how “empty” and “alone” you can be even just a few miles offshore! It was a clear day, with gentle seas, in Florida where the water is warm(ish), there were some other boats, but they were miles away most of the time. It was sobering to think that if something went wrong, it could be quite a while before any assistance arrived. Suddenly, the $9.99 Walmart special life jackets seem wholly inadequate! (Note: We now have proper Type 1, offshore life jackets, and a satellite distress beacon on-board) Geoff had brought a survival “Gumby” suit with him as part of the demonstration of safety equipment and we had kidded with him about it, now it seems like it might be a good investment!
Brenda had been a bit worried about sea-sickness. On some of our commercial cruises she didn’t do well in rough seas so was apprehensive about open-ocean cruising. Fortunately, the seas were fairly calm most of the day, and Geoff’s homeopathic sea sickness remedy of chewing on a bit of raw ginger root worked well (the side dose of Dramamine that she snuck in probably didn’t hurt either). She did very well, and while I’m sure that we’ll keep to calmer waters most of the time, it’s good to know that she can handle a bit of rough seas if we need to.
Happily, we pulled into the inlet at the St. Marys River in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The St. Marys River is the border between Florida and Georgia, and we skipped back and forth across it as we made our approach. Our first state line crossing in the boat (even if it was only for a few minutes). We headed south on the Amelia River for a mile or so and pulled into the Fernandina Beach City Marina for the night. The marina was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew and is just starting to get back to normal. After tieing up, we took a walk to a local restaurant for dinner, then headed back to the boat to watch a beautiful sunset.
We ran 3.5 hours and covered 59 nautical miles for the day.
Day 5: Saturday April 22nd – Fernandina Beach Florida to Kilkenny, Georgia
Saturday dawned a beautiful day. We slept in a bit and finally got underway around 10:00. There was some discussion about going back outside to skip Georgia as it’s very circuitous and shallow in places. Tom wanted to see the famous “Jekyll Island Club Hotel” from the water (an old-style resort hotel from the late 1800s), and after bouncing around on the ocean the previous day, Brenda was looking forward to a day in calmer water. We cast off, cruised back up the St. Marys River, and crossed into Georgia for good.
We went up the ICW to Jekyll Island Marina (just south of the hotel) and stopped around 12:30 to fill up with fuel and get our waste tanks pumped out. We took on another 160 gallons of diesel, and with the help of the very friendly dock-hands, were on our way again by 1:30.
After Jekyll Island, there were not a lot of marina options in Georgia. It is miles and miles of salt marsh, with the occasional glimpse of civilization off in the distance. It also lived up to its reputation of being very winding with lots of shallow areas. We passed a sailboat that had run aground by taking a corner too tight. Georgia also has some of the largest tide changes on the east coast at a 9-foot difference between high and low tide.
So, math lesson… KSF has a draft of 3.5 feet, which means that if the water depth is 3.5 feet, our propellers and rudders are scraping on the bottom. We figure that our absolute minimum water depth is 5 feet, and at that depth, it’s a slow crawl so that we can watch the depth carefully. We have our depth alarm set to 7 feet for safety. Now for the math. The depth in many parts of the route was 12 ft at high tide, subtract 9 ft of water at low tide, and that equals “running aground”! The main channel is dredged in most places to be at least 12′ at low tide but is very narrow, and with the large tidal changes, the sand and silt builds up quickly and fills in the channel so we frequently had our depth alarm going off and had to take it very slow in places.
Geoff kept telling us about a place called “Hell Gate”, a very narrow, notorious channel outside of Savannah GA, that is best taken at high tide. So, in the late afternoon, we decided to call Kilkenny Marina Georgia our home for the night. (The next marina was 20 miles away on the other side of Hell Gate, and we were on a receding tide)
We ran 6.5 hours and covered 92 nautical miles for the day.
Day 6: Sunday April 23rd – Kilkenny, Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina
Ever since leaving Palm Beach, I’d been hearing the sound of “water running” in the boat. I had originally written it off to the Air Conditioning unit.
During the night we spent in the mooring field in Titusville, it had been much louder, but the sound of the waves lapping against the hull sort of drowned it out. When we woke up at 5:30 am in Kilkenny, it was 55 degrees out, and we had the A/C turned off. So when I went down into the engine room to do the engine checks and heard the sound of “running water” again, and it was loud, I was concerned enough to ask Geoff. “I keep hearing water running, but the pumps aren’t kicking on and I don’t see water in the bilge. Any idea what it could be?”. Geoff stuck his head down into the engine room and laughed. “It’s the shrimp,” he informed us.
We were in prime shrimp country, and the shrimp make a clicking sound that echoed through the fiberglass hull of the boat, sounds like running water, and is quite loud. It’s sort of like someone crinkling a cellophane wrapper right behind your head! With the mystery of the running water solved, and a rising tide, we cast off at 6:30 and headed for “Hell Gate”.
“Hell Gate” is a half-mile channel between the Ogeechee River and the Vernon River. It’s very narrow, only 20′ wide in places (KSF is 14′ wide) so no room to safely pass another boat coming in the other direction. I’ve read many accounts of groundings from other boaters on the internet, and as the channel is constantly shifting due to strong currents, it’s an unfortunately common occurrence. What we learned was the power of planning! By timing our arrival to be near high tide, we had plenty of water, we picked our way carefully, keeping an eagle eye on the depth sounder, and had an uneventful passing. Much ado about nothing! I would NOT want to pass through during low tide and meet another larger boat coming in the opposite direction!
With Hell Gate safely behind us, we set our sights on Charleston! An hour or so later we crossed the Savannah River and entered our home state of South Carolina! South Carolina was more developed than Georgia, and there were many more No Wake zones and traffic to contend with. We passed Hilton Head Island, and Beaufort and made our way to “Elliot Cut”, just south of Charleston Harbor.
“Elliot Cut”, like Hell Gate, is another narrow channel connecting two waterways that nature had not intended to be connected. It’s narrow, rock-lined, with a fast current. This time we did not have the benefit of a high tide, and we had to wait for another larger boat coming in the opposite direction to clear before we went in. Because it’s narrow and shallow, you want to go slow, but the current which was against us, was strong, so you have to go fast or the boat gets all squirrely (think driving on black ice). Fortunately, the cut is short (only about 1/4 mile) and we emerged on the other end with a sigh of relief and headed toward our destination of the “Charleston City Marina”.
We had called the marina earlier in the day, and they said that they were full, but that if we arrived late, 8:00 or so, we could time up at the fuel dock.
Over the weekend there had been a sailing regatta and there were still a lot of boats in the marina from the days sailing. When we arrived in Charleston at 7:00, we were told that they did not have space after all. There are several marina’s along the Ashley river, but given our height of 21 feet, and a non-operational drawbridge, we were restricted to two.
We called the second marina “The Harborage at Ashley River”, and they were able to give us a space at the end of one of the piers. So, at 7:30, we tied up.
There was no restaurant at The Harborage, so we walked a mile or so back to The City Marina which had a restaurant. When we arrived at around 8:30, there was a small group of people there looking at a sign posted on the door. “Back at 6:45 pm” it said and the place was dark. (To be fair, it didn’t say what day they’d be back at 6:45).
So, we called an Uber and went into Charleston to King Street for dinner instead. We had a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant then headed back to the marina at around 10:00. The sky had been darkening all day, and as we walked down the dock, we could see lightning in the distance and felt the first raindrops falling.
Overnight we had a good thunderstorm with a fair amount of rain.
We ran 12 hours and covered 129 nautical miles for the day.
Day 7: Monday April 24th, Charleston to Home! (Murrells Inlet, South Carolina)
In the morning it was still raining hard. The forecast and radar maps showed that it was going to stay raining most of the day, with periods of heavy rain and thunderstorms. We hunkered down in the boat and waited for a weather window.
About 12:00 the rain let up, so we cast off and headed for the fuel dock. The “cast off” was scary. The slip we had was on the end of a dock, with another boat just 4 ft off of our bow, and another just15 ft beside us. The Ashley river had about a 2-3 knot current going right under the dock, pushing against our stern. As soon as I started to back out, the current caught us and tried to spin us sideways!
Fortunately, Geoff was there and got me out of trouble, but it was the first really scary docking event of the trip. (I’m sure that there were others, but Geoff is an excellent instructor, and aside from saying “You are getting into trouble!” he was very even-tempered.)
Perhaps I just finally learned what “trouble” looks like!
We took on 194 gallons of fuel and headed out into Charleston harbor. We were near low tide as we made our way up, so took it slow in many areas as it was fairly shallow. We were able to stay between two rainbands most of the way so avoided the heavy rain and lightning.
We ran the boat from the lower helm most of the way up and got to try out the wipers! The trip up to Georgetown was relatively uneventful, like Georgia, there were a lot of areas that were just salt marsh (the remnants of the old rice fields).
At about 5:00 we reached Winyah Bay and Georgetown, things started looking familiar! Another 60 minutes and we were in sight of Wacca Wache Marina and home!
We called the marina on the radio and got no response, they had closed at 5:00. Because we were not sure when we’d reach home, we had just reserved a slip bud didn’t have one assigned to us. With no one to tell us which one to use, we found an empty slip that we fit in (and looked easy to get in and out of) and docked the boat. HOME AT LAST!
We had a little celebration and started to get our stuff together. Geoff went to use the head, and after a long session we started to smell “bad things”.
At first, Brenda and I just put it down to his Avocado, Cilantro, and egg breakfasts, but he emerged to say that the holding tank had overflowed and was dumping toilet water into the bilge.
YUCK! Well, at least we were home. While I walked home to get our car, (we live only a 1/2 mile from the marina), Geoff hosed down the bilge and the compartment where the holding tank is with lots of freshwater.
When I returned with the car, I brought a bottle of bleach and we sprayed down the entire area with it and did another rinse. Problem solved for the day! (see below for the rest of the story)
We headed home and had our first night in a non-moving bed in a week. It was almost too quiet with no lapping water or shrimp to serenade us.
We ran 6 hours and covered 80 nautical miles for the day.
Day 8: Tuesday April 25th, Docking Training
During the trip up, we kept planning to spend an hour practicing docking but never got the chance. So on Tuesday, we spent several hours just pulling in and out of our slip.
As it happens, when we picked the random slip when we got in the night before, we got lucky and picked the correct one! We must have pulled in and out of the slip 15 times, stern in, bow in. There was a 5-10 knot wind, so it made it very good practice.
We then went across the river behind Richmond Island to where there is a popular anchorage and got a lesson in anchoring. Then back to the marina for another round of docking practice.
All during the trip, Tom had a habit of applying power at “inappropriate” times and with the practice, we were able to overcome that bad habit as well.
After 4 hours, we’d all had enough, and while not “elegant”, we were able to get the boat in and out of the slip with some confidence. We spent the rest of the afternoon going over some of the boat’s systems and had a nice farewell dinner with Geoff at our favorite local eatery “The Hot Fish Club”.
Geoff flew back to California on Wednesday morning. We really enjoyed our time with him! He’s a fun guy to be around and an excellent sailor and instructor. We look forward to having him on board again for a refresher course at some point. For anyone looking to purchase a larger boat that doesn’t have a lot of experience we highly recommend hiring a training Captain to work with you. It’s the best investment you can make to ensure that you operate your boat safely and learn how to properly maintain the systems. We also suggest that you do it during a multi-day trip, as living on board with your Captain gives many opportunities to learn that you would not get just making day trips in your local marina. We would be happy to introduce you to Geoff or to Captain Chris Caldwell who referred us to Geoff if you are looking for quality instruction.
In all the trip from Palm Beach Gardens to Murrells Inlet took us 7 days, we traveled 570 nautical miles (656 statute miles), were underway 47 hours, and used approximately 750 gallons of diesel fuel. (That’s about 1.3 gallons per mile and you thought you got bad mileage in your car!)
After pulling a cabinet out to get to the holding tank for the guest head, we found that the vent fitting had just been stuck on with what looked like plumbers caulking. There was no physical restraint.
After 10 years of vibration, it had popped off! Also, the vent pipe had clogged at some point when the tank was overfilled and needed to be cleaned out. A couple of hours of working in a very tight compartment later, we had a clean vent hose and the fitting was re-attached with retaining screws so that it won’t come off again.
We also installed a tank sensor system to monitor the levels in the tanks so that they won’t overfill again. When installing the tank sensor on the tank for the master head, we found that the same issue existed, it had just not become a problem because the tank was larger and had not overflowed (yet)!