Day 14 - 16: Charleston, SC to Ft. Pierce, FL
Finally on Thursday, Oct 21 we had the weather we were looking for to go outside.  High Pressure had moved to just west of the East Coast and an intense low pressure system was developing between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda.  This was expected to provide a strong N or NE wind flow off shore of the SE US.

The low pressure was expected to provide gale force winds, but those would stay N of our course.  We expected initially to have winds in the 10 to 20 kt range, increasing to 15 to 25 on Friday then dropping on Saturday.  By the end of the trip on Sunday we expected to be motoring or motor-sailing into Fort Pierce.

The chart on the right shows our planned course (black line).  This can best be viewed by clicking on the chart to see a full resolution image.  Our planned course paralleled the Gulf Stream and the coast, staying between each.  We hoped to pick up a counter current from the north and get a boost to the south.  It was critical that we not move into the influence of the Gulf Stream as it would push us back to the north at about 2 - 3 kts.  Even more important, with a strong NE wind the Gulf Stream will often produce very dangerous breaking seas, which are likely the source of much of the Bermuda Triangle mythology.  Therefore our course was intended to sail the most direct route to Fort Pierce, while remaining clear of the Gulf Stream.  A rhumb line course from Charleston to Fort Pierce would require sailing directly into the stream for nuch of the distance.

The total distance for this course was approximately 325 nm.  At an average speed of 5 kts this trip would take about 65 hours or nearly 3 days.

We left the Charleston City Marina around noon on Thursday and motored out of the harbor and past the entrance breakwater.  Once in the open ocean we set sail on SSE course.  The wind was out of the NE, so our intended course would have been straight down wind - a slow point of sail for Sarah.  Instead we would tack down wind around the course to maintain better boat control and speed.
The Raymarine chart plotter guides our course toward Fort Pierce.  We also kept a periodic log as a backup should our electronic navigation instruments fail enroute.
As we motored out through the Charleston Breakwater we encountered the local shrimp fishing fleet.
Throughout the voyage we had periodic visits by schools of dolphins.  Several times the dolphins swam along side for nearly an hour.

Mike is in the bow observing a visiting school of dolphins.

By Friday the wind and seas were building as forecast.  Friday evening the winds were in the 20 - 25 kt range with occasional gusts to over 30 kts.  The seas were also building.  By this time most of the seas were in the 6' range with periodic larger waves in the 8' - 10' range.  This made for a rolling down wind sail, which at times made sleeping difficult, but Sarah handled the wind and seas with ease and we maintained speed between 7 and 8 kts. under full control.

By Friday we put in a second reef on the main sail, furled the genoa 40% and reefed the mizzen.

We had expected the winds to diminish by Saturday morning, but the overnight NOAA forecasts called for continuing winds in excess of 20 kts until Sunday. 


We were making great time Friday night shown on the illuminated instruments in the cockpit (bottom left).

By Saturday dawn we were off Cape Canaveral.  If we continued at this speed we would be off Fort Pierce that evening, but probably not before dark..  I have never entered any of the inlets on the Florida coast.  Although the Fort Pierce inlet is reported to be one of the best all-weather inlets, I was reluctant to plan on an entry after dark.  We decided to enter at Port Canaveral and continue to Fort Pierce on the ICW.

Fortunately Mike called to get a marina berth for that evening and we were told the lock in the Canaveral Canal was closed until some time in December.  We could get out of the ocean at Port Canaveral, but we could not get to the ICW.

So the only viable inlet remained Fort Pierce.  As we turned and headed toward that destination our instruments projected an ETA about 30 minutes before sunset.  I had decided that with a chart plotter and radar we would not have great difficulty entering Fort Pierce at dark, but it would be a lot easier with some daylight.

Fortunately our boat speed held for the rest of the day and we arrived at the entrance channel a few minutes before 6:00PM.  We entered the harbor without incident although we were impressed with the current (>2kts) flowing into the entrance.  With the engine in idle we were still moving at in excess 4kts over the ground.


Click on image to view at full resolution


Shortly after 7:00PM we entered the Harbortown Marina and were directed to my slip on H Dock (red arrow on chart).

Because we elected to tack down wind rather than sail the planned route, the total distance sailed was 376 nm, an additional 50 nm.  The entire trip was accomplished in about 55 hours for an average speed of 6.8 kts.  Pretty good for a fat old cruising boat (some would say that applies to the fat old cruising sailor as well).

My main regret is that Steve Angst couldn't be along for this sail.  Steve joined us in Coinjock specifically to be a 3rd crew member for the off shore leg.  By the time we finally had an opportunity to jump outside, Steve had used up all of the vacation time he allocated for the trip and had to return home the day before we left Charleston.

I also regret pushing as hard as we did to get to Fort Pierce.  I was trying to arrive in time to attend a HAM radio license class prior to the SSCA GAM the following week in Melbourne.  Click on chart to view at full resolutionI was not aware until after we arrived in Harbortown that the class had been cancelled.  We could have spent another week on the ICW rather than rushing to Fort Pierce.  Now I have to either find another class or prepare for the Technician and General license tests on my own.



Like the rest of Fort Pierce, Harbortown was hit by two Hurricanes last month - Frances and Jeanne.  Fortunately Harbortown came through with significant, but by comparison to the rest of the community, manageable damage.  Most of the docks took some level of damage and several of the boats were severely damaged.  Nothing here compared with the damage at the Fort Pierce City docks.

Above on the left is a picture of the boat storage barn at Harbortown at the time I arrived in late October.  On the right is the same barn as it appeared during my visit in Feb, 2004.  Most of the damage appears to  be to the siding.


On the left are pictures of the Fort Pierce City Marina (blue arrow on chart above), where the real marina and boat damage occurred.   Top left is how these docks looked in February, 2004.  Below that is how the floating dock area looked in November, 2004 (gone!). Below those pictures is a November shot of the inner docks at the City Marina, which sustained damage more on the lines of what Harbortown experienced.  The inner docks are where the charter fishing fleet was located. 

On Friday, Oct 29 I noticed a pile driver barge working in this area.  It looks like the city plans to rebuild these docks.  Hopefully with a lot more storm surge protection.  More likely they will mandate an evacuation of all boats when a Hurricane threatens.