Fast-tracking it back home to Murrells Inlet and the completion of our Loop!
357 Days Looping
5,502.4 Nautical Miles Total (6,332.1 Statute Miles)
446.2 Nautical Miles This Week
46.4 Hours Underway This Week
9.7 NMph Average Speed
0 Locks This Week, 154 Total Locks
Monday – Mar 30th – 82.7 NM – To: Cocoa Beach, FL
At 7:30 am we dropped our lines and headed out for Palm Coast, about 80 miles away. It was a bright sunny day with only a light breeze. There is plenty of open water so we planned to push the speed a bit where we could. The only hold-up might be other boats.
We pulled out of Harbortown and turned down the Canaveral Barge Canal back west toward the ICW. Once back at the ICW we turned north and cranked up the engines. Because of our early start, the wildlife was still quite active with lots of birds and even a small gator swimming across the canal.
We passed the NASA launch facility on our Starboard, and then the Titusville Marina and mooring field on our port. The NASA railroad bridge was up, so it was a quick run through there to the “Haulover Canal”. This area is an Idle Speed No Wake area as the manatees congregate in the canal. As we crept through, we saw a few “pillows” from their tails, and a snout and a back as they came up for air.
After the Haulover Canal, we had a good run until things started to get a bit congested as we neared Daytona Beach. We passed what looked like a wreck on the side of the waterway, but when we got close, it seems that it may NOT be as abandoned as it at first appeared! Someone had spraypainted “Not Abandonded Will Be Reised Soon” on the side.
We went past one of the Boston Whaler manufacturing facilities. They had a few new boats out on their docks ready for delivery.
When we got to New Smyrna we could see that the bridge had was open in the distance. New Smyrna is an “on-demand” bridge, but if a bridge has just opened, they will make you wait until vehicle traffic has had a chance to clear. When we got there, we could see that as long as we stayed on the “High” side of the bridge, we had enough clearance to make it under without an opening. Just after New Smyrna, is the Ponce de Leon Inlet and Lighthouse which is very classic.
When we got to Daytona, we saw a cruiser boat in front of us and quickly caught up. It was “Destination” with Allison and Gerry on it! We met them coming down the Tennesee River. They were just out for a couple of week trip, and after meeting us “Loopers”, decided to join the AGLCA and just keep going all the way around the loop back to Chicago! We hailed them on the radio and chatted for a few minutes. They were planning on leaving their boat in Daytona for a trip home. We took pictures of each other and shared them. After waving goodbye, we speed back up and ran our last 20 miles through Ormond Beach, Flagler Beach, and to Palm Coast, our stop for the night.
We had planned to stop at Palm Coast Marina for a few days on our return north. We have stayed here several times and there is a nice shopping and residential village called The European Village just a short walk from the marina. We also had been eyeing the condo development across the canal from the marina which has its own private marina with docks right off the back doors. I had been emailing back and forth with a realtor about seeing one of the units, however, when I reached out he said that they were not showing homes due to Covid restrictions. I told him that the next time we were in the area, we would reach out. We did take a walk across the bridge and look at the development from the street. It is a gated community, so we could not go in. It looks very nice. Maybe someday!
The restaurants at the Village were closed as it was Monday and due to Covid restrictions, so we just had dinner on the boat.
Tuesday – Mar 31st – 47.9 NM – To: Jacksonville Beach, FL
Because we were on the fuel dock, we had to be off before the marina opened for the day. At 8:00 we pulled out and headed north toward Saint Augustine and Jacksonville. It was a nice day, with no wind. The run from Palm Coast to St Augustine is fairly easy with only one shallow area, and only one lift bridge.
We saw the St. Augustine Lighthouse, and shortly after, we arrived at the Bridge of Lions which is right in downtown St. Augustine. We had to wait for the 1/2 hour before the bridge would open. While waiting we got good views of the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, the Castillo de San Marcos (an old Spanish Fort), and the old St. Augustine Hotel. After the bridge opened, we went past the St. Augustine Inlet, and toward Jacksonville.
Between St. Augustine and Jacksonville there is an area of the ICW that is fairly narrow and built up on the Eastside. This stretch is about 8 miles long and is an “Idle Speed, No Wake” zone. For us, that means going about 7 miles per hour so it’s about an hour. The ICW here is a dug canal and is pretty straight with just one dogleg about halfway through. There are some nice houses along the way, so at least there is something to look at.
At 1:45, we pulled into our slip at Jacksonville Beach Marina. It has been getting clouder all morning, and shortly after we tied up, the sky opened up. It only rained for about 20 minutes, then it cleared up nicely in the early evening.
Again there were no restaurants open, so we cooked on the boat. I was unfortunately out of beer and Jamesons, so I decided to try a delivery service that I had heard about called Drizly, you use an app to order alcohol, sort of like GrubHub or UberEats for booze! I placed my order and 20 minutes later a car pulled up to the dock and handed me a 6-pack and a bottle of Jameson’s! Isn’t technology wonderful?
Wednesday – Apr 1st – 54.1 NM – To: Jekyll Island, GA
We woke up in the morning to our high water alarm going off. When we swung our feet out of bed, there was easily 6″ of water on the floor. We were sinking! We rushed upstairs and opened up the back door, grabbing our ditch bag with our valuables. When we looked out, we saw that it was “APRIL FOOLS DAY!”.
It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. At 8:30 we cast off. After a few miles, we crossed the Saint John’s River. Our original plan was to turn and follow the St. John’s back south to Sanford (near Orlando) and visit with Bethanny again, but the pandemic has changed that plan. Maybe next year. After crossing the St Johns River we went past the BAE Systems Shipyard where they repair warships. You have to be careful here not to get too close as they have armed patrol boats to protect the boatyard.
From here, you enter a windy marshy creek for the 20 mile run to Fernandina Beach Florida, and the Georgia State Line.
We cruised past Fernandina Marina, and the large particleboard plant, then into the St. Mary’s river and past the St. Marys Inlet. This inlet leads to a large submarine base just up the river and there are large range markers to direct the subs into the channel. At noon, we crossed into Georgia, and shortly after that our engines reached 1,300 hours!
We went past the Kings Bay Submarine Base, here again, there are armed patrol boats that keep the curious (or lost) in the correct channel. There was a large supply ship maneuvering just outside the channel and he looked like he was going to cross in front of us. I slowed down, to see what he was going to do, and he called us on the radio saying that we were good to pass in front of him.
From there we went past Cumberland Island which is famous for the wild horses that roam the beach. We have been passed here several times but never saw any horses, today we got lucky! There were 3 on the beach.
It’s just a short run across Cumberland Sound to Jekyll Island and the Jekyll Island Marina where we were spending the night. We had easy docking on the face dock just before the fuel dock and were tied up by 2:30 pm.
We spoke to the dockhand who said that most of the restaurants on the island were closed with a few doing takeout only. We went up to the office to check-in and had to stay outside while they processed our credit card. We were greeted by the welcoming committee (a cat, a squirrel, and a dog). With nothing much to do, we just went back to the boat and after a light dinner, watched another spectacular sunset. (Every time we stay at Jekyll Island Marina it seems we get a great sunset)
Thursday – Apr 2nd – 62.4 NM – To: Richmond Hill, GA
At 8:00 we left Jekyll Island. We left early to catch the tide as the next two miles are notorious for being shallow and having shifting shoals. As we crossed Saint Simmons Sound, we saw the salvage operation working on the car-carrying cargo ship that flipped on its side earlier in the year. It had just picked up a load of 4,100 new Kia’s, Hyundai’s, Dodge Ram’s, and Mercedes SUVs. As it made the turn to go out the inlet, it rolled onto its side and partially sank. The ship and the cargo were declared a total loss, and they are starting to cut it up in place.
At 3:00 we pulled up to the dock at Kilkenny Marina. The old coot (the best description I can give for him) who took our reservation was there to check us in. So, your “Shit on a Frog”? “Funny name for a boat!” We’ve had a number of people have trouble with the name. “Kissing Frogs” is the most common mistake, but “Shit On A Frog” is a new one!
When we were bringing our boat home for the first time our training captain Geoff Gow introduced us to Kilkenny, if you didn’t know it was here, you would never find it. It’s just a hole in the wall, with a good seafood restaurant. Really just a local boat launch and a shrimp boat dock. The tide here is 8 feet, and when it’s changing, the current is pretty fast. The cleats on the docks are just 2×6 posts nailed to the dock. You just wrap your lines around it.
The restaurant at the marina was doing takeout, but only “Family Sized” meals, and we didn’t need 5 gallons of Seafood Gumbo, so again, we made do with what was on the boat. Given that we only had 3 more days, we wanted to clean out the refrigerator anyway.
Friday – Apr 3rd – 50.7 NM – To: Hilton Head Island, SC
We wanted to stay a little farther north in Beaufort, South Carolina, however, we could not find a marina there that was taking transients so we opted for Hilton Head. The “Mermaid Marina at Hilton Head Harbor” said that we could tie up to the fuel dock for the night.
The sunrise in Kilkenny was spectacular, and the white herons were just waking up and there was mist on the water as we got ready to leave. We left Kilkenny at 9:00 am and wound our way through the Georgia Marshes toward Savannah and the South Carolina border.
Just before Savannah, we passed Thunderbolt Marine, we have stayed here in the past and they have a large boatyard that caters to some pretty spectacular yachts. After Thunderbolt there is a double lift bridge that we had to have opened, then it was a short run to the Savannah River. It’s important to watch for traffic on the Savannah River as there is a large cargo facility there and it’s not uncommon to see huge container ships on the river. The ICW crosses the Savannah river here, and halfway across is the Georgia, South Carolina border. We made it into South Carolina at 1:30 pm.
After crossing the river, you enter Fields Cut a shallow cut that connects Ramshorn Creek with the Savannah River. We noticed a blip on our AIS that was a boat just entering the cut going in the other direction. It was a tug pushing a barge, he noticed us as well and called us on the radio. “It’s pretty shallow and we need to make a wide turn, you may want to pull off to the side and wait for us to go by.” the tug captain said. We’ve learned that if a Tug suggests something, it’s a good idea to follow directions. We crossed over to the far side of the channel and got as far over as we could to give him room. We kept watching the depth gauge, when we saw that we had only 12″ below the boat, we let him know that that was as far over as we could go. He thanked us and said that we would be fine. After he passed, we backed back into the channel as we didn’t trust that there was deep water in front of us and continued on our way.
Once out of fields cut, it is mostly windy channels through creeks and a few small sounds until you reach Hilton Head Island. We arrived at Hilton Head Harbor Marina and R/V Park (formerly known as “Mermaid Marina”) just after 3:00 pm.
After checking in (they let two people into the office at a time) we looked around the small gift shop. The name Mermaid Marina came from a woman who would dive into the water in a Mermaid costume to entertain the guests. She has written a few children’s books “The Mermaid of Hilton Head” and we picked them up for our nieces.
Again, pretty much everything else was closed, but we got a good show from the fishing boats as they came back from a day off-shore. They had gone off-shore about 80 miles into the gulf stream and had a good day! They had one Wahoo that was 48 lbs!
Saturday – Apr 4th – 85.6 NM – To: Isle of Palms, SC
We left right at 8:00 as we had a LONG day planned. It was just under 90 miles to Isle of Palms, on the other side of Charleston, SC. We pulled away from Hilton Head Harbor and headed north again. It was a bit blustery and bumpy crossing Port Royal sound. We were glad that we could cruise at 20 knots and just get it over with. About 20 miles into the day, we passed Parris Island and the Marine training center there. From there it was around the corner to Beaufort, where we had hoped to stay last night.
From Beaufort to Charleston you are mostly in creeks through the marshes. There is one open water section called St. Helena Sound which is open to the ocean. It was VERY lumpy here. We passed a slow trawler called Lark that was getting beat up pretty badly by the waves and felt sorry for them. Once you clear the sound, it’s back into creeks and marsh until just before you get to Charleston. Aside from lots of oyster farms, there is not much there. We were going through at low tide, so had to watch the channel as it’s narrow and there are lots of mudbanks along the shore. We met several barges with dredging equipment on them but there was plenty of space to pass.
When you enter the Wadmalaw River there is a large shipyard that services tugs and larger vessels. It’s always neat to see what they are working on.
As we approached Charleston, we went through Elliott Cut, a narrow channel that can have 6+ knot currents during peak tide changes. We got there just at tide change so the current was moving pretty well in the direction opposite us. You have more control going into a current than with the following current. We waited for a smaller boat that was being pushed down the cut to clear it, then cranked up the engines and ran up the cut without issue. We passed under the Wappoo Creek Bridge, and into Charleston Harbor.
The wind had died down a bit, so the harbor was not too bad. This is familiar territory for us! We went past downtown Charleston, changed course to avoid dealing with a large cargo ship, past Fort Sumter, and the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier. The ICW enters Shem Creek, and our final trip marina, Isle of Palms Marina, was just a short ride up the creek.
We arrived at Isle of Palms just before 4:00 pm. Not a bad run, but we were tired!
When we were on the Erie Canal, we picked up a boat fender that some of our Looper Friends on Swede Dreams had lost in one of the locks. They had emailed and asked us to pick it up for them. We had carried the fender on the bow for the rest of the trip, all through Canada, down the rivers, around Key West, and back up to South Carolina. Isle of Palms is (was) Swede Dreams home marina, since we picked up the fender, they had sold their boat and were living in Europe. They never actually crossed their wake and completed the loop. We took their fender, and our Gold Looper Burgee (we looped with a White Burgee, the Gold Burgee indicates that you have finished), and took a picture of them in front of the Isle of Palms Marina sign. Even if their boat didn’t finish the loop, at least their fender did!
Isle of Palms Marina was open, the restaurant was closed, but their snack bar was serving. We had a light dinner and turned in for the night.
Sunday – Apr 5th – 62.8 NM – To: HOME! Murrells Inlet, SC
Sunday was bittersweet, our last day on the Great Loop. We were happy to be home and to be able to say that we’d completed this epic journey, but sad that we had to cut our trip short due to the pandemic.
“Red skys in morning, sailors take warning” the old saying goes. The morning dawned with a pink and red sky and broken clouds. We were anxious to get home and were underway by 7:45 am. The trip from Isle of Palms to Winyah Bay is 45 miles through old rice fields. The last time we came through here we kept touching the bottom and had to take it very slowly, while we were gone, they had dredged this part of the ICW and we had plenty of water under us. We hoped to make really good time, but there was a lot of other traffic heading north. We passed “Watershed”, “River Gypsy”, “Dreamers”, “Emerald Lady”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Son Ship” before we reached the floating bridge and entered Winya Bay. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!!”
Once into Winyah Bay, we made good time, it is open water to the Georgetown bridge, and then fairly wide once you get into the Waccamaw River. This is our home turf, so we know where the deep water is and where you can run fast. We passed one more boat, Jammin’ as we went through Pawleys Island.
We went past Brookgreen Gardens, and as we rounded the end of Richmond Island, we saw Wacca Wachee Marina, our home port! We saw our friend Dave standing on the dock waiting to welcome us home.
At 11:31 we rounded the fuel dock into the fairway, and officially “Crossed our Wake!” We’ve gone Gold! I’d had a lot of practice over the last 357 days, 6,332 miles, and countless dockings so it was easy backing into our slip. We tied off the boat and said hello to Dave.
Dave took our Official Looping picture with our White Burgee and Gold Burgee. We took off the White burger and carefully packed it away with our original (the burgee we left with started to fall apart and we replaced it about halfway through the trip). Then proudly attached our Gold Burgee!
Tom & Brenda