Daydream is a Columbia 9.6 originally built in 1977 and professionally rebuilt since 2005 by a boat engineer, ready to sail. She is an ideal boat for liveaboard, exceptionally spacious for a 32 footer and with all the possible comforts, and tons of extra. The boat is on the hard in Clinton, CT and will be available from Spring 2014.
We decided not to continue down to the cruisers’ heaven of Southern Florida as planned. We are a bit worried of what being in Florida might mean: high season prices and overcrowded anchorages/marinas. But the main reason is that we found a cozy place to be in Coastal Georgia that we want to explore deeper, also an ideal and affordable place to give Tranquility the necessary upgrades for extended bluewater cruising.
Georgia has a short but beautiful coastline, with lots of inlets, islands and rivers. The tide here has a big impact, with ranges up to 7 ft. (2,13 m) or more during spring tides, with consequent strong currents. It changes the shape of the coast every six hours. We can only move around at certain times and the tide stream is often stronger than the wind so we have to keep it in mind when anchoring and docking. People here are warm and welcoming and we had the best shrimps so far enjoying what they called “Lowcountry boil” in Jekyll Island. Cumberland Island is what made us come here. Kate wanted to encounter the wild ponies that live free on the island so badly and she made it the liet-motiv of our sail down the East Coast : “I want to see wild ponies! I want to see the wild ponies! When are we stopping to see the wild ponies?“
Departing South Carolina
We had a wonderful beginning of 2014, and thanks to the vicinity of Kate’s family we could explore the surrounding of Beaufort and St.Helena Island, and also enjoy some family time. We left Dataw Island, our previous stop in South Carolina, on 8th January with sustained winds and 6-10 foot waves. Some of them crashed into the cockpit, Kate and I had a couple each during our watches. It was a downwind gybin’ night zigzagging our route past the busy Savannah entrance and the following Sounds. Tranquility surfed downwind the steep waves, but keeping her on course was a hard job with the tiller, even with just the the jib and a deep reefed mainsail.
We approached Doboy Sound with favorable tide and ended up dropping the hook in Duplin River along Sapelo’s Island. It was a relief after the rough surfing and bird and dolphins soon showed up to welcome us in the calm waters. Our idea was to meet friends of ours who were doing some volunteering work on the island but we found out they had just left. After a sound nap we checked the forecast and noticed bad weather approaching from South. Duplin River is exposed to south so we moved the very next day during a thick fog, finding our way into North River, about three miles from Darien, GA.
Bad weather on our way
There we decided it was safe. We kept checking the forecast as something bad was expected for Saturday in the afternoon. We enjoyed being at anchor in the middle of nowhere, with the only company of wildlife, and the sounds of nature with the wind howling and the rain falling. We cooked wonderful meals and collected rainwater for surplus bathing (always a treat), worked on the boat projects. I had wonderful reading sessions. In the meanwhile the thunderstorms alert became a tornado watch. We dressed up in foul weather gear, ready for action.
The blow lasted less than ten minutes, very violent though. Our anchor didn’t drag a single inch but I am glad it was a just very short blast. We had two casualties: one of Kate’s babbucce (italian for slippers) and one of the planks of the companionway door (!!). We are still trying to recover from such losses, especially the beloved babbuccia. In less than 1 hour a double arch rainbow and a breathtaking sunset showed up and everything was calm and cheerful. Later other cruisers in the area told us that their wind instruments went over 60 kts during one of the gusts. It could be the case that sailors are worse liars than fishermen, but even if these top speeds never occurred we had severe winds and we were happy to be in a sheltered anchorage.
There was a break from Southerlies after the thunderstorms so the very next day we had an early start and went back to sea to keep sailing south. Light westerlies were forecasted and we were able to sail as far as St. Simons Sound, that is hands down the busiest inlet we encountered on the East Coast, with cargo ships everywhere. Our destination was Cumberland Island and feral ponies (of course!) but we had to stop in Jekyll Island because the wind dropped and the current was switching direction. After the plantation era Jekyll Island was developed to be the resort island of the very wealthy before yellow fever outbreaks and the Great Depression put the exclusive resort in financial difficulties. It’s also here that in 1910 the Federal Reserve was created, and in 2010 Bernanke stayed on the island to commemorate the 100 years anniversary. Today the island is partly a resort (much less exclusive) but by legislative mandate sixty-five percent of the island is and will remain in a mostly natural state.
Tranquility meets Atom
In Jekyll Island we had a very nice surprise. We received a message from James Baldwin of Atom Voyages who wanted to meet us and show us around Brunswick. I corresponded with him during last summer’s refit asking for information and he started to follow our blog noticing our tracker getting close to the Brunswick area.
After several circumnavigations and ocean passages with Atom (a Pearson Triton) James moved there to dedicate in yacht refits. He showed up with some gifts from his garden (lemons and grapefruits, home made oats biscuits!) and with much curiosity for Tranquility. He was particularly interested in our electric engine set up. I very happily showed him the work we did on Tranquility, and I tried to get any possible advice on all the issues and repairs we still have to do to improve our boat. He very kindly drove us on a tour to the groceries store and to his house where we met his wife Mei and Buddy the dog… and of course Atom, who was resting on boat stands for her third comprehensive refit.
Rested and well stocked we moved forward to visit Cumberland Island. Approaching the island from North was amazing sailing in flat water, we moved fast all the way down to the end of Brickhill River where we anchored close to the dock in Plum’s Orchard.
Cumberland Island is a National Park, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. Several trails and service roads depart from Plum Orchard. We chose the path going East, to see the beach side and the Ocean but soon we found ourselves trapped in the wilderness, the trails meandered through sand dunes and swamps making impossible to continue. We started to worry about alligators. We had closed encounters with wild ponies, armadillos, wild pigs and many birds, luckily no alligators.
After visiting the central part of the island from the Plum Orchard’s dock access we moved south, where the Carnegie Mansion of Dungeness lies. This is a more developed part of the island, where the ferries land to take visitors. The sea was a bit rough and we had some thrilling moments trying to dock Tranquility to the visitor’s pontoon. The pontoon is a public free dock but its use is consented only from sunrise to sunset, so we had to depart after the visit.
This time we made it to the Ocean. The beach on Cumberland Island is very beautiful and wide, full of shells and birds and wild ponies. It was lovely to walk around the ruins of Carnegie’s mansion, see swamps, sand dunes, thick forest. I am glad Kate pushed so hard for coming here, I really enjoyed our stay.
St. Mary’s, GA
Before deciding not to continue further South we thought about visiting St.Mary’s, a little river town that has a mysterious attraction over cruisers. The anchorage is excellent and very protected but the facilities in the town are nothing special. The marina is very cheap, but you get what you pay for: very run down and damaged docks, terrible showers, no wi-fi in a close range, groceries and shopping are several miles out of town. Despite this fact a lot of boats come here and stay around for very long time. The city per se is very pretty, and it’s one of the oldest settlements in the country, the waterfront is very scenic. It is also the gateway access to Cumberland Island. Our feelings were mixed at the beginning, and we still don’t understand what is the main attraction of this place. But here we have been now for a whole week, participating in the social life of the town, so it looks like we are falling for this mysterious place nonetheless.
Our Plan is to get back to Brunswick by the beginning of February, and stop there for few months. The third part of our project is about to begin and will concern how to transform Tranquility into an ocean cruiser while we forge relationships in the area. Our trip down the East Coast resulted in an extended shakedown. The boat is in very great conditions but she needs few enhancements before we can project longer ocean cruising. We feel that a quiet place like coastal Georgia would be a safe environment, reasonably warm and it can help us making the good decisions while moving along the project.
Two months ago we were about to set sails from Fairhaven, MA. We launched Tranquility on Halloween and we were rushing with the preparations for a departure day. At that time I was watching all the episodes of the TV show “Games of Thrones” and the mantra “winter is coming” was ringing in my head as a real thing.
I was scared. I did a winter delivery in the Mediterranean Sea and I rememeber some really cold nights. I also sailed on a late departure in 2012 from Newport, RI. It was the 5th of December when we set sails but that was on SY Aventura, a 110ft sloop, a ship more than a boat, and still the “night watch” (not the military order that watch the Wall in GOT but the shifts at the helm) was terribly cold. How could we possibly sail the North Atlantic in cold weather on a 29ft sailboat with no dodger and minimal living comfort?
I opened a thread on Sailing Anarchy to ask experienced Anarchists for good advices on how we could successfully make a winter cruise along the East Coast, leaving from a northern place.
Lots of users contributed to the discussion bringing their point of view and experience. Many thought that we were completely crazy and we should just renounce the attempt and wait for the next year. Others started to debate on how heating the cabin with no electrical power, the risks of CO intoxication, explosions and other amenities. The most feared topic was condensation, absolutely the worst enemy on board a boat, with tricks of any kind to prevent mold growing everywhere. Some folks focused more on the sailing itself, foul weather gear and the route to take.
When we finally left there was an online community following our SPOT tracker and commenting our progress. Soon in the forum the word “nannies” spread out and we couldn’t wait to reach a internet connection to find out what they were saying about us. I am very thankful to all the people that contributed to the forum because many advices were very helpful for our trip and because we felt supported and supervised.
Now we are almost out of the danger area and happy that this “polar vortex” is hitting us in South Carolina rather than in New England. Still tonight the temperature is supposed to go down to 20F, the dockmaster is closing the water on the docks and we are going to seek refuge in Kate cousin’s house who lives nearby and is kindly offering us a bedroom. We are also thinking about delaying our departure by two days because of this frigid cold. “Winter is coming”.
I learned something about sailing in the cold months of the year and I resumed some of this learning in the following list:
1. Pick up good and consistent weather windows and be flexible
We avoided sailing during rainy days and when the conditions were not good. Nothing is as miserable as being soaked, so avoid it if you can! We preferred cold days to warm and wet ones. We had to sit in many places we didn’t like and slow down our pace but that spared us many uncomfortable experiences. On the other hand, we kept going if the conditions were good skipping destinations we planned for our passage.
2. Wear many layers and have many changes of clothes.
We purchased all our winter clothes in Thrift Stores and we are going to be happy to leave them behind when warmer. After experience with the nice and expensive Ocean Gore-Tex gear on fancy sailing yacht I instead got myself PVC coat and overall from commercial fishing. I consider breathable foul water gear an unnecessary expense. They are very comfortable but breathable is not waterproof by definition, no matter what magical expensive technology is adopted, it is not waterproof in heavy rain and gets very heavy when soaked. Also when you have to do some serious deck work you are going to sweat anyway so I don’t see the point. A more important piece of gear is some windproof jacket, and I found mountaineering jackets more valuable than sailing jackets. Another part of equipment that deserves investment of money are good and warm boots.
During the coldest trips I was wearing:
Three layers of pants (long johns bottom, corduroy pants, and waterproof pants on top or PVC overalls)
Six layers for the body (t-shirt, long johns top, 2 sweaters, 1 windproof jacket, PVC coat)
Warm and stormproof boots over double layer of socks.
Wool hat, wool neck warmer, neoprene mask (they are uncomfortable but they are cheap and effective against wind chill)
Warm ski gloves for steering and work gloves for handling lines.
When sleeping I was taking off the superficial layers and crawling into the sleeping bag. Never attempt to sleep fully dressed or you won’t have any additional layer to put on when you go back to the cockpit and you will feel cold.
3. Open the hatches anytime it’s dry weather.
We didn’t try to keep heat in the cabin because our boat is so poorly insulated that it was a desperate task. Instead we kept the companionway and forward hatch open all the time it was possible to help air circulation. The companionway door was never shut down during passage, luckily the conditions made it possible as no waves ever came into the cockpit . We dried out mattresses and locker as soon as we had a chance, and in few situations we had to fight mold growth with a mix of water and bleach in a spray bottle.
4. Look for shore power.
Our original idea of many nights at anchor changed. We had to face the reality of some extra expenses for good comfort. We have a 30$ electric heater that is simply fantastic, generates dry air and has a thermostat. In wet conditions it’s also good to have a big fan to help move the air in the cabin, especially in the sleeping areas. In New England marinas start to close water at the docks and remove floating pontoons pretty early, but they usually leave shore power. Going South the situation gets better and you benefit from low season rates and you can easily dock at public docks with no drama.
5. Limit night watch shifts to 2 hours per crewmember.
With no autopilot we had to steer all the time so it was hard to be warm for long. During the day it was usually easier to go up to three hours each. We used the change of the watch as a moment to snack and have hot drinks.
6. Eat enough to generate heat.
In cold conditions your body burns more calories in order to generate heat. The diet should vary accordingly. Four thousand calories it’s considered not healthy for the average person but it’s a good daily rate when sailing in cold weather. It is important to eat often and eat caloric food, including vegetables and fruit. It is very important to be able to cook warm dishes. Don’t worry about your waist size, we lost several pounds even if we were eating pork fat everyday for just sitting in the cold.
This list is definitely not exhaustive and represents my current state of thought on the subject. It pays an immense tribute to the Sailing Anarchy posts of various users in the quoted thread. I don’t want to make any claims of ‘best practice’ and maybe in the future I would get more conservative and prudent about some statements. You grow old you grow wiser, or maybe you find yourself developing more extreme and minimalist habits as I like to think. I also would consider changing opinion about breathable Gore-Tex foul weather gear if any famous manufacturer will sponsor me.
We wish you a great 2014. We are in Dataw Island, SC, our temporary home base to explore the Sea Islands, the Gullah culture and maybe see an alligator. We are also waiting for our new SPOT tracker to be shipped here and taking opportunity to visit family in the area.