Sweating the Small Stuff

I’m (Steve) a planner and I admit it! I spend a lot of attention on the details – certainly when it comes to route and passage planning. Perhaps I over plan…well not “perhaps”… I do. Not a bad trait to have (I guess) but I do get worked up over the small stuff – especially to ensure the safety of our boat and crew. Our recent sail from Port Royal, SC to Jacksonville, FL is just the example.

We just arrived in Jacksonville, FL from Beaufort, SC. Although an overnight plus a full day, it was a great sail and all went well. As I mentioned before, I put in many hours on planning this one for a few reasons. First, and most obvious, was when would weather permit us to put the 141 miles behind us to get there. Second, what was in the way of a safe and successful passage? From my previous post, this trip would be an easy, outside transit in good weather so winds and sea state were great! The challenge (or compromise) would be tides, current and Bridge height at our Jacksonville destination.

A bit of history before I explain…This is our first time cruising South back toward Florida. It’s been 3 years since our Northbound trip and three hurricanes have affected the ICW. From the Chesapeake to North Carolina, we saw a lot of the ICW and very little infrastructure damage that had not been repaired although many shoaling alerts and channel changes were in our way and we did bump Hard once in New River – no damage. South Carolina had some marina damage under repair in places we stopped (Charleston, Beaufort) but nothing that troubled us.

Our Jacksonville destination troubled me. Not many places to put a 60 ft sailboat in the St John’s River that we “wanted” to go! We found a wonderful marina at Palm Cove though (where we are docked as I write this). It was a bit interesting getting here…here’s why:

1. Current in the St John’s River is strong. We timed our approach to arrive at low tide so we could negotiate the Pablo Creek ICW bridge that was reported as having a narrow passage lane; a stiff current rip, shoaling and tide boards that didn’t agree (North different from South).
2. The entrance to Chicopit Bay heading toward Pablo Creek has a particularly strong current and is a busy ship channel as well.
3. Palm Cove Marina (our destination) has a shallow approach – especially a MLW…6 ft reported….we draw 5 ft.

So…how’d it go. Successful but with a few stress points.

1. As we entered the St John’s Inlet – the outgoing tidal current was nearly 4 knots. Plenty of water though so we powered through at 2.9 knots while dodging a few cargo ships and a ferry. We are grateful again for our big John Deere Turbo Diesel. We timed it right and arrived at Chicopit Bay at full ebb and a current of 5 knots. It was the right timing to get through the next bridge set but shoaling in this spot had temporary markers that did not accurately show us the deeper water of the ICW channel. We circled before entering and watched a trawler go through far left of the greens and as we hugged greens behind him, we saw very skinny water and had to constantly adjust course…but we slipped through.
2. The Pablo Creek ICW bridge did have a dredge in the bridge cut and the passage was narrow but doable. Water was near slack tide by this time so current wasn’t an issue. However, as we crept a along “feeling” out the depths an impatient local sailing vessel passed us with no courtesy call nearly cutting us off in the bridge passage lane – Rude! We made it and continued on to the Palm Cove Marina.
3. The entrance to the marina is a private channel. We saw 5 feet depths at 2 hrs on a rising tide and squeezed in to the fuel dock but had to do a 90 point turn to get in and oriented correctly to push off to our parking dock.

The lessons learned in on this trip were:

1. You can get there quickly but timing is everything and may make the transit longer. We planned to go slow to go fast. We could have made this trip (to Within 2 miles of the marina) in 16 hours but the compromise would have been we would have to anchor and wait for a rising tide to deal with bridge clearances, depth and current. I think we got it right at around 30 hours.
2. 30 hours in great weather was nice! Motor-sailing was necessary due to lack of wind. Boredom in the cockpit was a topic of conversation between Kimberly and I…we will plan accordingly to decrease it next time.
3. AIS is invaluable. When crossing the Savannah shipping approach we saw many large cargo vessels anchored that appeared (from long distance) to be moving to sea. We adjusted course until I realized they weren’t moving..we adjusted course again…they didn’t care.
4. Current is a matter of direction and how to best control the vessel. We prefer driving into current when negotiating obstacles for more control. Additionally, you must consider and respect the vessel approaching you (traveling with the current) as having less control in narrow spaces since he is being “pushed.”
5. Successfully navigating shallow water can depend on the type of bottom.  Shallow water and soft mud is easier to power through than hard sand where your hull might stick like a lawn dart when touching. Fortunately, Palm Cove Marina owns their own dredge and keeps up with the controlling depths in their marina and private channel…they do a great job of keeping up with chart accuracy reporting and they do a good business here … since they are almost full.
6. We are not alone out there as “first timers”… we briefly paralleled Jim and Meryl on MV Kokomo (first time overnighters) as we bobbed along from Charleston to Jacksonville. Jim hailed us and offered to snap a photo of SV Take Me There with Jib & Jigger flying. Thanks guys! We reciprocated with a photo send to them of Kokomo.  See you in the Abacos!





It was a great trip and the boat did well. We sorted out our water maker issue. I had two lines reversed so we have taken another BAC-T sample and expect a negative result with good clean product water soon!  The parts arrived for the raw water pump so I will be rebuilding it this week and we will be back in tip-top shape!

Stay tuned…