Top East Coast Anchorage #2: Flagler Island, South Beach and the 25th Street Cleat

This was our first SQUEAK. After the first time, I vowed never to do it again.  Or, at least, never to look when we did.  Phillip asked me from the helm if we were going to make it and I had no answer for him.  No words.  Were we?  I had no clue.  It sure didn’t look like it.  Not from my angle.  *nnnggh* I closed my eyes.  And then it was over.  We had just motored our 62.5-foot mast under an (alleged) 65-foot bridge.  The water table said it was 67 feet.  I didn’t buy it for a minute as we passed under.  I will never look again.  But, I’m glad we did it, and we’ve done it comfortably several time since.  Because our first squeak took us to our second favorite anchorage during our cruise down the East Coast this past winter:

South Beach Miami, anchored near Flagler Island

A fun collage from our stay in South Beach!

We would have never even known this anchorage was possible for us without having fortuitously met and befriended some fellow cruisers in No Name Harbor who told us about it.  (Glen, Debbie, if you’re reading this – thank you again!) Even after you navigate the two semi-scary (but not so scary) 65-foot bridges to get there, on the chart it doesn’t look like there is enough depth to motor along the Venetian Islands to get into the anchorage.  But Glen and Debbie explored it via dinghy, checking the depths throughout the inlet, and they found it quite doable.  So they did it!  While I’m sure their first trek in with the “big boat” was a little hair-raising, by the time we met them, they had anchored there several times and were confident and comfortable with it as long as they made it from No Name over to the two 65-foot bridges that were required on the way in at low tide as the mast height on their Island Packet (with instruments) is approximately 64-feet.  Hence, the squeak.

This reminded me a lot of the “bear rule.”  You don’t have to be the fastest person running from the bear, just faster than the person behind you.  Terrible thought, but true.  One of our rules of cruising had always been: If you’re going to navigate into a shallow anchorage, always travel behind a boat deeper than you.  We were now learning the same rule applied to potentially short bridges and boats taller than us.  Phillip and I more than happily followed Glen and Debbie—and their 64-foot mast—into South Beach.

This anchorage is approximately a two-hour motor/sail from No Name, so it is fairly easy to plan and time it to accommodate the tide.  Sailing around in the Biscayne Bay is also very fun—nice depths and no crab pods—and the Rickenbacker bridge is  very tall, so no trouble there.  One issue is the crazy Miami boat traffic that can make the narrow channel just after the Rickenbacker Bridge feel a little tight and uncomfortable, so it would be ideal to make the move on a slower weekday, as opposed to a busy weekend day.  Phillip and I didn’t plan that incredibly well the first time and found ourselves making the trip over on Easter Sunday which proved to be quite chaotic on the water in Miami.  There were a lot of “Jersey Shore” type motor boats and yachts blazing through that were courteous enough but not fully aware of (or concerned about) our significant draft and clenched fists.

But, Phillip had a plan.  We deployed what he dubbed our “dragon wing” (the mainsail) while motoring the channel to remain highly visible and remind other boaters: yes, we are a sailboat, with a big tall mast and a deeper draft which means less maneuverability. I doubt that’s what the Miami dudes thought when they saw us, but at least—with the dragon wing up—they saw us.  Coming just after low tide, the two bridges were 67- and 68-feet respectively, so we felt confident enough.  Not comfortable, mind you, for our first time.  It still looks decidedly not doable every time I look up.  But we made our way under both bridges behind Glen and Debbie with the 62.5-foot mast on our Outbound, and we had no problem.  Here is what we saw coming in:

Low tide was at 14:28 that day. We came to the first bridge at 14:02 with the tide at -0.26 ft. The water table showed 67′ under the bridge.

We came to the second bridge at 14:08. The water table showed 68′ under the bridge. We dipped under both just fine.

We had decided to come right before low tide, as opposed to just after. Although in hindsight, we should have come just after to give us more depth after the two bridges coming in near the Venetian Islands. We have a 5.6’ draft on the Outbound, but we always like to consider ourselves 6’ for good measure and the chart showed several patches of only 6′ of depth.  But, with the zig zag pattern Glen and Debbie had advised us to use, we had no issues.  After navigating the bridges, the lowest depth we saw coming in near the Venetian Islands (at 14:17, seven minutes before low tide) was 6.7′. Whew!

We anchored here, just to the north of Flagler Island. 

With the ~ 3-foot tide, our depth ranged from 9 to 13 feet.  The holding was great.  We had 25+ knots of wind (with gusts of 30) blow through for days and we never budged.  The dinghy ride in was a little longer than our normal treks, but still an easy 5-7 minute ride in.  It also took us through “Shantyville,” a hodgepodge of boats that have been anchored (likely for years) with tons of barnacles and other strange growth on them.   Odd kayaks and makeshift floating rafts tied up to them.  That was one down-side of Florida.  Lots of ramshackle, unattended boats just anchored out making some anchorages look derelict and rendering them a bit dangerous as many boats were not anchored well and they were unattended.  But the temps and waters of Florida are beautiful so you have to take the good with the bad.  Thankfully, Shantyville was across the channel on the other side and not a threat to us near Flagler Island.  We only saw 3-4 boats anchored near us at any time (often 1-2 of them being our cruising buddies).

When we dinghied in, we docked here.  It is a bit of a ramshackle floating dock, but the cruisers use it.  Ironically there is a sign there that says “No Docking” yet I saw many dinghy lines tied right to it.  Oh the irony!  We never had anyone give us trouble docking there, and it is just across the street from Publix (super convenient for provisioning) and just down the road from Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, a hardware store, UPS, a laundromat, etc.  The wealth of cruiser amenities this South Beach anchorage offered was one of its biggest draws. 

Not to mention the plethora of restaurants at our fingertips.  I mean, it is South Beach and offers a particularly wide variety of ethnic food, which Phillip and I love.  We ate exceptional Peruvian at Ceviche 105,

Cuban at Bella Cuba,

Italian at Pane & Vino, and exquisite cocktails and bites (I had a fried anchovy I can still taste) at Tropezon.  

We drank on the rooftop bar and saw flaming fire dancers at Mila

We spent an afternoon biking through the Wynwood District, a reclaimed art ghetto where exceptional street artists showcase their talents on every building surface imaginable.  It’s like strolling through the most eclectic graffiti art gallery for free. 

We decided to check out Little Havana inadvertently when they were hosting a huge 40-block street festival on Calle Ocho with live music, sizzling meat grills, plenty of cigars, rum, meat, cigars, and more rum. 

We jogged on the beach and pretended to be like some of the beefed up P90X folks who work out at Muscle Beach

We were mesmerized and moved by the haunting Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach.

We booked an Art Deco tour that fascinated me and has prevented me from forever not seeing buildings with curved corners, movie marquees, pastel colors and parsed into threes. 

We saw an incredible play, When Monica Met Hillary, for its world premiere at the Colony Theatre.  Highly recommend.  

Although every drink cost $20.00 and the meals were quite pricey, the price for lodging (on our hook) was right.  We spent many days perusing the streets and shops and eating an interesting lunch out during the day then cooking aboard at night.  The many party-goers and bachelorette parties that liked to blaze around Flagler Island provided more than enough free entertainment from our cockpit.  Thankfully, the marine police patrol frequently and stop anyone who tries to throw up a wake around Flagler Island.  This not only prevents us from suffering a rolly anchorage but also lets us watch the show every time a jet skier gets pulled over.  Sweet revenge!

In all, South Beach offered us protection, convenience, entertainment, a kaleidoscope of exceptional food, shopping, and theater options.  And, I haven’t even mentioned the best part.  For us, anyway.  Phillip had heard they regulate kitesurfing pretty heavily at Miami Beach, allowing it only at designated locations and sometimes for a fee.  Meaning, you cannot just pump up and kite anywhere.  For this reason, Phillip and I hadn’t planned on being able to kite in South Beach … until.  We were walking the beach one day and saw a few kites in the sky about a half mile north.  Phillip and I walked over to them and found about a 50-foot patch of beach that is reserved for kiters.  The fact that it was so confined actually made it quite pretty to see 10-15 colorful kites covering the sand on only one patch of beach.  Phillip and I were intrigued. 

We started scouting around to see if we could dinghy to that location (rather than schlep all our kite gear the half mile along the beach we had just walked—a lovely stretch, but it would be a haul with our boards and pumps and kites and harnesses).  And, what did we find?  The canal we had been taking into town this entire time snaked around and (in theory) could take us right to where we were standing by the kite beach, on 25th Street.  What’s more, there at the edge of the canal on 25th Street was a lovely, lonely cleat.  It felt like the Kite Gods had put it there just for us.  “The 25th Street Cleat!” we dubbed it.  The next windy day, Phillip and I decided to pile all our kite gear in the dinghy and see if the canal was deep enough to let us dinghy all the way to the 25th Street Cleat.  Turns out, we could.  Dinghying the canal even felt a bit like a nice, cruise down the river on a gondola in Venice.  Almost.  Once at the beach, we kited our brains out.  And, I got to see some of the highest jumps I’ve ever watched kiters perform.  They were even jumping to incredible heights.  On foil boards no less!  It was amazing to watch!  And, I got out in some pretty big surf that several other female kiters were a little hesitant to get into.  It felt nice to not be the most frightened one on the beach that day.  Another little fist bump from the Kite Gods.

While it was a little tough for Phillip and me to narrow down the East Coast anchorages to our top three, this anchorage made it pretty easy to say: “Oh yeah, South Beach, that’s definitely one.” 

We liked it so much we stayed about 10 days on our way down (a long time for us at any anchorage) and a whopping 16 days on the way back up the coast.  It was that good.  Next up, we’ll share our Favorite East Coast Anchorage #3.  Any guesses where it will be??

Our Top 3 Anchorages Down the East Coast: 1) Cumberland Island, GA and Lucy Carnegie’s Impressive Dungeness Estate

Our choices may surprise you.  This past cruising season was a wildly different one for Phillip and me—beginning where we purchased our Outbound 46 in Annapolis, MD and taking us down the Chesapeake, around Cape Hatteras, and down U.S. east coast for the first time.  Every anchorage was new; every inlet was novel.  There was a lot of learning involved and local intel required.  Phillip and I made many new cruising friends, several of whom gave us the critical scoop that allowed us to get in/out of these places safely.   Some were quiet and isolated.  Some were wild, whooped-up parties.  But, of the dozens of stops we made along our way down the coast October, 2021 through March, 2022, Phillip and I definitely discovered a few spots that stood out.  For those planning to cruise the east coast, we wanted to share our top three, show where we anchored, how we got to shore (and what we found there!), and the reasons these three anchorages were our favorite while cruising down the east coast:

  1. Cumberland Island, GA and Lady Carnegie’s Impressive Dungeness Estate
  2. Flagler Island, South Beach and the 25th Street Cleat
  3. Lake Sylvia, Ft. Lauderdale and the Clothing Police

ANCHORAGE #1: Cumberland Island, GA and Lucy Carnegie’s Impressive Dungeness Estate

We should have spent a week there. Next time we will. After a glorious overnight passage from Charleston, SC (roughly 200 miles north) down to Cumberland Island, GA, Phillip and I navigated Ubiquitous into the St. Mary’s River to anchor near, and explore, Cumberland Island. Phillip chose this magnificent place for a reason, of which I was unaware. I had no idea what awaited me ashore. The might and gumption of the woman who assembled this kingdom.  The sprawling breadth of the estate she built.  The crumbling structures laying testament to the elegance that once was.  The wild, tangled beauty she spent a lifetime preserving. Simply put, the Dungeness remains are stirring and breathtaking.  I have a distinct memory of one of the wild horses who roam the Island, standing in what was once a tiled, heated pool in the Recreation Hall of Dungeness, munching grass and blinking at me while he chewed—completely unaware of the grandeur that once stood there.

The heated pool that once existed in the Recreation Hall of Dungeness.
The crumbling remains of the tiled pool where wild horses now roam and nibble.

Everything around me was in decay. But I felt like I could close my eyes and see the magnificence of the past mapped into the present.

Lucy Coleman Carnegie and Thomas Carnegie (brother to the Pittsburgh steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie) purchased the Dungeness property (1,891 acres) in 1881.  They moved to the Island in 1884 and built a modest home on the site that was completed in 1885. 

Lucy Coleman Carnegie

The following year two pivotal things happened: 1) Thomas and his business partner purchased a whopping 8,240 acres of Cumberland Island; and 2) Thomas Carnegie died.  At that time, Lucy had only been living on the Island for two years, yet she—a recent widow—decided to stay and raise her nine children on the Island. 

Lucy (in black in the back) and her nine children on the front steps of the Dungeness Estate.

Lucy bought out Thomas’s business partner and continued to amass her estate, eventually acquiring roughly 90% of Cumberland Island.  From 1890 to 1905, Lucy spearheaded a massive construction project to expand her and Thomas’s original modest home to a 37,000 square foot Queen Anne gothic mansion with over 50 rooms that required more than 150 full-time staff members to maintain. 

Lucy also had a massive Recreation Hall and other, smaller mansions and estates built for her own children all over the Island over the years. 

Overview of the Recreation Hall and other facilities of Dungeness.

Walking the remains of Lucy’s legacy, the stunning Dungeness estate, it is almost as if you can feel her there.  Savvy business woman.  Entrepreneur.  Worker of the land.  Single mother of nine who devoted much of her life to preserving Cumberland Island, the largest part of which was declared a national seashore in 1972, a posthumous, but still shining, jewel in her conservationist crown.  Lucy was described in her obituary as a “keen hunter.”  She was also a boat captain.  A racer, hosting dozens aboard her steam yacht, Dungeness

Lucy’s steam yacht, Dungeness.

Lucy ruffled feathers.  Stirred fires to become the first woman permitted to join the New York Yacht Club in 1894.  Lucy mystified and intrigued me.  The beautiful tangle of trees that cloak the Island I imagine are an accurate reflection of her complex mind. 

I had no idea this sense of inspiration and awe awaited me as we glided into the St. Mary’s River but I can still close my eyes and see sights from Cumberland Island.  Wild horses whispering behind the bushes. A tapestry of 19th century brick and tile, woven with young grass. Spanish moss fluttering. Sticky mud smacking under the sun. Phillip and I spent one memorable day exploring the Island and Dungeness estate. A promising weather window that would allow us to comfortably and quickly sail the next leg of our journey south to St. Augustine, FL encouraged us to leave the next day, but the next time we come to Cumberland Island, Phillip and I will stay longer and explore further.

We anchored here in the East River, a short dinghy ride across the River from the public dock (near the Ice House Museum) that allows access to the Island.

Cumberland Island does not have a bridge to the mainland.  To preserve its historic seashore beaching of boats is not permitted.  Private vessels can tie up to the Sea Camp Dock and then pay the park entrance fee to visit the island.  Phillip and I anchored in the morning and spent the afternoon perusing the park, walking along the Atlantic shore, and exploring the decaying Dungeness estate.  I wish we could have spent more time exploring the other structures on the island, the cottages and other “mansions” Lucy had built for several of her children (Plum Orchard, The Cottage, Greyfield Inn). I found a great blog post here from a Blue Ridge Mountain blogger that really showcases the other estates on the Island. But, honestly, I could spend a full day simply walking all of the shade-chilled, tree-roofed paths, listening to the horses.  If you are traveling down the east coast, put this magic Island in your path.  Come humbly, with open eyes, and I think you will find this Island, and Lucy’s legacy, will touch you as well. 

Our First Time Cruising Down the East Coast (NC to FL): Top 3 Lessons Learned

This cruising season proved very different for Phillip and me.  For our first nine years cruising, when we headed out for offshore voyages, Phillip and I, aboard Plaintiff’s Rest, had always left out of our home port of Pensacola, FL and either shot straight across the Gulf of Mexico down to the Keys (or straight to Cuba in 2016!) or dotted our way down the west coast stopping at some of our favorite ports along the way: Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg, Venice, etc. before ending at Key West/Stock Island and eventually the Bahamas.  When we weren’t traveling south, Phillip and I usually spent our weekends at local anchorages around Pensacola Bay: Ft. McRee (our favorite), Little and Big Sabine, Red Fish Point, and sometimes over to Ingram’s Bayou and the Wharf for longer in-shore cruises.  This year, however, we started our cruising season very far from home—in Annapolis, MD—and cruised, for the first time, down the east coast of the U.S.  It was no more sleepy, Forgotten Coast towns. We were in the big shipping lanes, making the same trek all the east-coasters do on their way down to palm trees and margaritas.

What did we learn along the way?

  1. The anchorages are far smaller and more crowded;
  2. The tides play a much bigger role in navigating inlets, docking, even anchoring; and
  3. The diversity of cities, restaurants, and history to explore makes it all well worth it.

Lesson One: Smaller, Crowded Anchorages

Phillip and I (and likely many other Pensacola cruisers) just didn’t know how good we had it in Pensacola.  Aside from Ft. McRee on a Blue Angels weekend, there would often only be 3-4 boats in a spacious, good-holding anchorage during the week, maybe 10-15 boats on a typical weekend.  We’d have our pick of locations within the anchorage and typically throw out 125 feet of chain no matter the weather, simply because we could.  Why not, right?  Boy, those times were grand.  This year, those times were gone.

Sailing down the east coast in late-October into November is not a lonely jaunt, I will say that.  You’ll have lots of company.  Every other cruiser who is hopping down toward the islands is often making the same stops you are.  Which means you’re all looking for similar weather windows and often moving (and landing) at the same time.  These are the stops we made along the way (and we found them typical for many cruisers headed down the east coast). 

When Phillip and I and UbiQ rounded Hatteras and pulled into our first anchorage after the Chesapeake—Beaufort, NC—we knew immediately space was a thing of the past.  There were 15 other boats jammed up on the east side of the river with us. 

We could only put out about 75 feet of chain in 15-ish feet of water (a ratio that is much lower than our usual, but required) to ensure a safe swing radius.  Then a three-day blow came through Beaufort that had us all twirling and dancing.  The new Hylas 54 from the Annapolis Boat Show came in the evening we arrived and had to re-anchor several times before he found a spot he could squeak into, but that made everyone around him a bit uncomfortable.  “At least I know he has good insurance,” Phillip joked.  Unfortunately, it was not the typical, spacious setting we are used to on anchor.  Any time we were sitting below and saw a mast move by our port light, Phillip and I both would jump up and look about to make sure we weren’t getting too close to anyone.  I often spent my work days aboard sitting in the cockpit or up on the galley counter simply so I could see out at all times to make sure we weren’t getting too close to anyone, or that anyone wasn’t getting too close to us.  It wasn’t exactly peaceful. 

Wrightsville Beach was bigger and better, but the anchorage by the Yorktown in Charleston was a little tight and required us to re-anchor and move after we started swinging too close to a boat that had anchored there before us.  (P.S. That is boat code: if you dropped last and the boats get close, YOU have to weigh anchor and move.)  Thankfully, we had Cumberland Island all to ourselves (I don’t believe many people stop there, although it was one of our absolute favorites – more on that little gem later on the blog).  But, in Lake Worth (West Palm) and Lake Sylvia in Ft. Lauderdale?  We could see what our anchor neighbors were having for dinner each night.  We could hear their morning chats over coffee.  We knew their backgammon score.  It was … tight.  I didn’t like that at all about east coast anchorages, but it was just our new reality.  We had numerous near-misses, many mandatory re-anchorings (some at night), and even an unfortunate collision (with an unmanned boat) in West Palm (more on that later, too, with several important lessons learned). 

What was worse?  The boats all seemed to have a mind of their own.  In Pensacola, we were used to anchoring in “somewhat tight” anchorages—on occasion—but it was much easier to gauge space and a safe swing radius when all the boats fell back on their anchor in the same manner and all swung together—like a well-synchronized dance—in the same fashion when the tide or wind shifted.  But, when they don’t?  When one boat can ride all the way up its 75 feet of chain while yours pulls back all the way on its?  When the guy next to you has his bow pointed at your hip, and the gal behind him has her stern into the wind?  The anchorage turns to chaos. 

An 8-boat raft-up in Lake Silvia, Ft. Lauderdale

This unnerving phenomenon opened our eyes to the next important lesson we learned while coming down the east coast.

Lesson Two: Dangerous, Dictating Tides

In Pensacola, we never rarely even thought about the tide.  There was always enough depth to navigate any channel or cut that was required and travel to any anchorage we wanted to go to.  While we could sometimes feel the current when swimming or paddling, whether the tide was going in or out never entered our minds when anchoring.  It simply didn’t matter.  And, although we were aware of the slight current when docking, it was always out shadowed by the wind and we never envisioned a time when we would need to plan to dock or de-dock only at slack tide.  It was also a rare day where we had to plan an offshore voyage specifically to arrive at an inlet not simply in daylight, but at a specific hour to ensure entry with an incoming tide (St. Augustine requires this).

Much like spacious, deep anchorages, such gayeties became a thing of our past.  In certain marinas along the way (Charleston and St. Augustine come to mind), the currents are so swift and powerful, the dockmaster will not allow you to come in when it is not slack tide.  They accomplish this by not telling you your slip number until close to slack tide to ensure you make a safe entry.  Leaving at slack tide is also highly encouraged, but with help freely offered from one, if not two, dockhands upon both entry and exit.  And, their precautions proved sound, particularly in Charleston, where the currents run 90-degrees to the slips, swift as a river, and are powerful enough to push boats around like toys. 

Although we didn’t stay at many marinas on our way down, it wasn’t simply to avoid the treacherous dockings.  This year, cruising on our Outbound 46, we have the luxury of living aboard a wonderfully self-sustained boat.  But, we also found the marinas were crowded as hell!  Many were booked for months.  “Try us in March” they would tell us over the phone … in November.  There were several times when we would have liked to have had a slip so we could wash the boat thoroughly and enjoy some AC and other step-off-into-downtown amenities.  But, the answer was “no.”  We simply could not get a slip because the east coast is so crowded.  Everyone is marching south in the same direction at the same time.  Booked-solid marinas took some getting used to. 

However, the tides and swift currents proved our worst enemy not at docks, but on anchor.  I still can’t get my head fully wrapped around it, but each boat responds differently to the pull of the current.  Some hull shapes (full keels in particular) are gripped and dictated by it, while others (often catamarans) did not see as much impact, particularly when the wind is a stronger force.  But, when the wind and tides opposed each other, the anchorage would look like a handful of boats had been dropped from the sky, each laying a different way.  Some cock-eyed, some laid side-ways to the wind, while others marched way up the entire length of their chain (UbiQ did this often), which was an odd sight. 

This unsettling reality made it sometimes impossible to determine, when an incoming boat dropped their hook near you, if they were “too close.”  Neither of us could answer that question without knowing what would happen a few hours down the road when the conditions changed.  Phillip and I quickly fell into the habit of dinghying around and dropping off our boat cards to all neighboring boats and telling them to call us if things in the anchorage got “funky”—a practice that proved invaluable later on (and helped us make many new friends, although that is startlingly easy to do out here). 

Many times we held a boat off while the owner weighed anchor and tried to find a safer place (some times that owner was us).  Many times we saw boats cinched together in an unintentional raft-up (not the best way to make a new friend).  Many times we saw owners pay out chain, or pull up chain, trying to avoid contact with another boat, often with the intended result being the exact opposite thing that happened.  Many owners kept fenders out all the time—a practice we first snickered at initially, thinking they had forgot to stow them, but then adopted ourselves for two purposes: 1) to hopefully prevent damage if contact is made; and 2) to remind everyone around that contact is often, if not always, possible.  We also now keep the dinghy down and ready to be maneuvered and wedged in as needed as a big-ass mobile fender anytime things got funky in the anchorage and contact seemed possible.  We avoided many unwanted contacts by wedging our (or another’s) dinghy between UbiQ and an approaching boat.

After an unfortunate encounter in West Palm—that resulted in multiple boat-to-boat contacts and gave UbiQ her first real cruising scars (bummer, but it happens)—Phillip and I decided the tight tidal funk of the anchorages was the most unfortunate aspect of cruising down the east coast.  Never in all our nine years of cruising had we had a collision while on anchor.  Then, in the matter of a few months, we had experienced many more than we would ever have liked, several resulting in scratches, gouges, and other damage, albeit fully repairable.  Even when there was no contact, we often had less peaceful evenings and nights aboard because we were constantly worried about other boats, popping up topside often during dinner, movies, midnight even, just to make sure everything was okay out there.  And, the worst part, was the only answer you could give was “for now, I guess.”  It was stressful.

But, the good news?  Even this unfortunate element of east coast cruising cannot and did not out shadow the extreme pleasantries and eccentricities only the historic, diverse east coast can provide, prompting Phillip and I—time and again—to highly recommend cruising the east coast despite the crowds and occasionally uncomfortable tides.  Why?

Lesson Three: A Diverse, Unparalleled Collection of History, Food, Art, and Entertainment

Given the crowded anchorages, the wicked currents and challenging inlets, and the occasional boat-to-boat contacts, would we cruise the east coast again?  The answer is absolutely!  In fact, we will be doing it this very summer as we make our way, this time, up the east coast to the northeast area (New York or Rhode Island perhaps) for hurricane season.  Phillip and I were awed and enamored by the history and culture we experienced all along the east coast. 

  • Beaufort, NC—with its quirky bars and sea glass and soap shops;
  • Wrightsville Beach—with its mesmerizing display of daily surfers of all skill levels;
  • Charleston, SC—with its impressive, stick-with-you history and horse carriage tours;
  • Cumberland Island—with the mind-boggling Dungeness estate, history, and wild horses;
  • St. Augustine—the second oldest settlement in the U.S. (Pensacola folks get it); 
  • West Palm Beach—with its monstrous sand sculptures and nightly light show;
  • Ft. Lauderdale—all the little canals, mega mansions, and the daily dock show at Raw Bar;
  • Miami (South Beach)—with restaurants of every ethnicity, Muscle Beach, bikinis, hair gel, and outstanding kitesurfing;
  • Marathon—with its tight cruiser community, memorable margaritas, and entertaining morning net;
  • all the way down to the funky, live-music and Bourbon-Street-vibe of Key West. 

Phillip and I went on many tours that taught me so much I hadn’t really soaked up about the history of our young country and our inspiring, bloody battles for independence from British rule.  We perused old forts, churches, apothecaries, and graveyards.  We took trains, trolleys, and carriages through these grand cities.  We gorged ourselves at a full gambit of eateries, ranging from food carts to five-star dining rooms.  We didn’t say ‘no’ to a single distillery tour (particularly those that included tastings : ) and even bought several hand-made tonics and sour mixes that elevated our cocktails to entirely new levels.  We watched plays at local theatres and absorbed gallery after gallery of eclectic art. 

We ate too much.  We drank too much.  We walked blisters into our feet.  We went through two pairs of flip-flops each.  We dinghied down canals, under bridges, and up to public parks and tied to trees.  And, we would do it all over again.  Every stop was new, which brought its own challenges and unknowns, but also its own fresh feeling of exploration.  Local intel proved invaluable, and necessary just about everywhere.  It was fun meeting new fellow cruisers, making friends, and getting that intel and then turning around and passing it onto the next incoming newcomer.  These anchorages and cities are well-cruised by many and have a wealth of experiences and new adventures to offer. 

While the crowded, tight anchorages do pose their own potential threat, they also make it incredibly easy to make new friends and meet fellow cruisers.  I guarantee you will not be lonely cruising the east coast.  It’s quite popular.  And, Phillip and I now know why.  It was very different from the more isolated, sleepy Florida west-coast cruising we were used to on our Niagara—with its large, spacious anchorages and sugar-white, unpopulated beaches.  But the dozen, diverse cities we were able to experience and explore along the way outweighed the challenges for us.  Phillip and I learned while we love pristine beaches and remote islands, we also love (maybe just a bit more) the bustle and culture of cities, their bars, restaurants, and live music, the laughter and shouts of people, and (my God) the food and wine.  This cruising season has been a dizzying, delightful new experience.  One, we would be happy to repeat.  East Coast, we’ll be back.  Next up on the blog, we will share our three favorite, unique stops on the way down.  Uncovered island gems and sweetly-kept secret anchorages await.  Stay tuned!

Happy Hattereen!  Our First Offshore Voyage on the Outbound: Norfolk, VA Around Cape Hatteras to Beaufort, NC

“Hattereen” was definitely an easy way to remember it.  Phillip and I weighed anchor in Norfolk, VA preparing to head out into the Atlantic for the first time on our new Outbound on October 31, 2021, Halloween.  It was a spooky day as we were preparing to make the voyage that had caused us the most fear of our entire cruising this season—the arduous passage around Cape Hatteras.  The name of this body of water around the Cape—the Graveyard of the Atlantic—definitely conjured ghosts and goblins.

Sunk ships give me the heebie jeebies.  While I have mentioned my thalassophobia here before, one particular item that I do not like to see submerged is a ship.  My mind populates it with the sailors that may have sunk with it, their souls lurking below in the dark bellows.  Knowing the Diamond Shoals which we would be sailing over has claimed over a thousand ships (a thousand!) with its uncharted shifting sand ridges hidden beneath the turbulent sea did give me a healthy dose of nerves mentally preparing for the trip.  And, yes, “uncharted” is accurate.  Even in this day and age the area is considered technically uncharted because the bottom shifts so often that hydrography and charting is out of date before it gets published.  These waters deserved some serious respect. 

Also, rounding Cape Hatteras would be our first offshore sail on the Outbound—not quite the first jaunt you want to make on your new-to-you boat, but we were dying to take her offshore.  We technically have a mast height (63.5′) low enough to allow us to utilize the protection of the intracoastal waterway, so that was an option.  ObiQ’s former owner had utilized that option in a pinch previously.  However, we wanted to embark offshore and SAIL south rather than motor. 

Phillip and I spent a (very fun) week in Norfolk watching the weather patterns and planning our trek around the deep jut of Cape Hatteras out into the Atlantic Ocean.  Two major ocean currents—the Labrador Current (a weaker current flowing to the south) and the Gulf Stream (a wicked, strong current flowing to the north)—converge off the Cape.  Combine that with the shifting shoals, depth in the mere teens, and low-lying hard-to-spot barrier islands and we had ourselves a very challenging body of water to sail through.  As for weather, we wanted enough wind to sail—because: a) we like to and prefer to sail; and b) the boat would have better steerage and make better, more steadfast headway if she was under sail as opposed to trying to motor through a formidable sea state—but not so much wind that we would be uncomfortable.  While wind behind the beam would be ideal, the north fronts that kept coming during that time of year typically carried stronger winds than we wanted to sail offshore in: 25 knots or more.  In the end we found a two-day window of winds that were predicted to be out of the NNW to W at 12-17 knots. 

It looked like a nice passage window and both Phillip and I were giddy at the thought of finally (finally! after our summer-long saga with the lost riser/elbow) sailing our new Outbound offshore.  Her offshore performance was one of the main reasons we purchased this boat and, after a summer living aboard, we were finally going to be able to truly feel what she could do when she got out there in the ocean and stretched her legs.  Damn, does she have some legs.

The voyage kicked off with a boding omen when I raised the anchor out of the water to find it cloaked in this dreary, haunted cloth.  Turns out our anchor had dressed up for Halloween!  A pretty nice ghost rendition if you ask me.  This was October 30th. 

We weighed anchor that morning to get the two-hour motor over to Comfort Point behind us and get staged up there just for the night so we could jump out before sunrise the following morning.  We were planning on 200 nautical miles for the voyage.  Estimating a boat speed of approximately 5-6+ knots (although we were hoping to go faster, we’re always conservative when voyage-planning) that would be, roughly, a 30-35 hour trip.  So, leaving at 5:00 a.m. on October 31st would put 24 hours behind us at 5:00 a.m. the following morning and give us the entire day to log the remaining 6-10 hours and make our way around and into Beaufort so we could navigate the inlet and get anchored in the remaining daylight hours. When voyage planning, one of our primary goals is to arrive in daylight and with a favorable tide.

We spent an incredible day sailing.  The winds were a little more WSW than W or even NW.  We were surprised to see NO north in the wind.  None.  That put it a little forward of our beam, but not uncomfortably so.  The Outbound just absorbs and picks up speed without the old groan and heel we would typically feel on the old boat at winds approaching 15 knots on the beam. 

We had the Gulf Stream pushing against us which slowed our actual speed, but she was making 7-8+ knots speed through the water with such ease it was astonishing.  This voyage told us we were definitely going to have to re-plan our voyages at a much faster average speed.  While our new super-sonic sail speed took some getting used to, boy, the boat did not.  She is unbelievably comfortable underway.  Solid, sound, and just in her element out there.  After all the work and struggle that went into this decision to buy a new boat, the purchase of Ubiquitous, and the summer we spent aboard, THIS was our reward: the bridle off and our gal galloping out in the Atlantic.  You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. 

As night approached, so did the Cape. 

We were poised to round around 1-2 am.  Of course.  The diciest part of the passage was set to occur at nightfall, but we were prepared for that.  What we weren’t expecting was the shift in conditions. 

Night view aboard UbiQ

Although Phillip had read that the temperature gradient around the Cape can cause its own local weather pattern, with the possibility for sharp storms and shifting winds, it’s one of those little facts you tuck away hoping it’s not entirely true.  Turns out, it is.  As we neared the Cape, the temperature fell at least ten degrees and the winds picked up from the 12-16 knots it had varied between during the course of the day and evening to 20+ and rounded further south, even more on our nose.  Phillip and I decided to furl in the genoa and pull out the jib to get the boat more comfortable.  The solent rig on the Outbound offers a great option in that regard in that it’s easy to switch from a larger headsail to a smaller one (or vice versa) as they’re both rigged and ready to deploy.  Furling the genoa took some effort as the winds continued to increase, but once we got the jib out and trimmed, we knew it was the right call because the winds continued to climb to 23-24+ knots.   

UbiQ took it in true stride.  She picked up speed and pushed thousands of gallons of water out of her way.  While we found we were spending most of our shifts under the protection of the dodger, watching intel on the display mounted above the companionway, when I stepped out during our most severe conditions to check the rigging and look for chafe, I was shocked by what I found.  The experience under the dodger, and particularly below, was worlds away from the reality of what the boat was doing out there.  She was thundering along, charging through the salt and spray.  It was surprising to see and experience the exciting, noisy, wet world topside but thoroughly comforting to know a mere step down below the dodger seemed to pack all that away and close the lid on it.  I knew then and there, wherever we wanted to sail on Ubiquitous, she was capable of taking us comfortably.  I felt like UbiQ and I got our deepest introduction to one another out there.  I hope she was just as pleased with what she found in me as I was with the strong, salty spirit I discovered in her. 

Our auto-pilot also found this the perfect moment to introduce himself as well.  We have Sirius satellite radio on the boat and we’ve found it is an everyday asset for nice dinner-making or morning-coffee music but it’s also a great entertainer during offshore passages.  We would often listen to not only music, but podcasts, interviews, and particularly stand-up comedy (my favorite during night shifts).  We had the Sirius playing while we were switching from the genoa to the jib and as soon as we got it dialed in and the boat took off—making 9.2 SOG—it felt like a bit of a record scratch moment when the radio kicked over to a new song at a seemingly louder decibel than it had been, all on its own.  Or, all at the direction of “Maestro” we later concluded, when we decided that was the name of our auto-pilot as he orchestrated our passage and hand-selected the music that would accompany it. 

As we whipped around the Cape at record speed at two in the morning, Maestro picked the perfect song to kick off.  “IN YOUR HEEE-EAAAD. IN YOUR HEAAA-EEYAA-EAAD.  ZO-HOM-BIE.  ZO-HOM-BIE!” Phillip and I shouted the lyrics into the wind, our voices swallowed by the Atlantic.  “ZO-HOM-BIE.  ZO-HOM-BIE!”  This trip around Cape Hatteras had definitely got in our head in the weeks prior, picking at us, worrying us, stressing us.  And, here we finally were, thundering around the bend in the new boat just slaying it.  Phillip and I couldn’t sing loud enough to match the exuberance that was flowing out of us.  We were doing it!  Really doing it!  Galloping offshore in our new boat.  It is a moment I will not soon forget. 

And, it was in that same moment that Maestro reminded us, with his wickedly clever music selection, who’s in charge and who decides the vibe of our voyages.  As the last Zombie lyric slowly spun out and the winds seem to calm just a bit to match it, Maestro strolled his fingers through his record collection and picked the next perfect record. 

“Party in the city where the heat is on … ” pumped out as we put that infamous Cape in our rearview mirror because that’s exactly what we were in the process of doing.  “Going to Miami.  Welcome to Miami”  It was as if the boat knew.  Maestro knew.  UbiQ knew.  And, Phillip and I knew.  This boat was going south.  Finally. 

Amazingly, we sailed almost the entire voyage around the Cape.  With winds mostly forward of the beam but it wasn’t uncomfortable.  Ultimately, we sailed 210 nautical miles in about 32 hours and recording our fastest offshore speed yet at 6.6 SOG, average.  We made our way into the inlet to Beaufort, NC around 2:00 p.m. and, many thanks to the enormous tankage on the Outbound, we were able to give the boat a nice rinse-down and scrub. 

She certainly deserved it.  The scrub was our thanks to her (and Maestro) for carrying us safely over the Graveyard of the Atlantic, while handling mostly everything in the process, including the entertainment and song selection.  The boat had no tricks for us.  Only treats.  And, she gave us a Halloween for the books! 

Sailing Down Chesapeake Bay: Annapolis, MD to Norfolk, VA

“Boat show, then it’s time to go!” was our motto.  After our infuriating saga (part one, part two) with the lost elbow/riser that pretty much consumed our summer in the Chesapeake, Phillip and I vowed— once our Yanmar was finally reassembled and roared back to life—that we would be leaving Annapolis as soon as possible after the October Boat Show.  Our good friends, Megan and Chris (who purchased our impressive Niagara) were coming into town for a week to stay aboard, experience Ubiquitous, and do the boat show with us.  It was kind of surreal to be welcoming them aboard our new boat—one Phillip and I never dreamed, even within months of our purchase, we would be buying—while talking to them about “their boat,” our Plaintiff’s Rest.  The swiftness with which time changes, moves, and molds us sometimes baffles me.  It can be a little frightening, but, for me, also comforting, to know things are always changing. 

One of the wonderful things about UbiQ (and one of our reasons for purchasing) is the ease with which we can host other “boat people” (aka cruiser-minded folks) aboard.  While Phillip and I always felt our 35-foot Niagara was plenty of space for the two of us, we would be the first to admit she was not enough to space to share comfortably with others for passage or visits.  The Outbound, however, to be only 46 feet—actually 44 with a 2-foot scoop off the stern—is not only a comfortable size boat for two people to handle, it also offers comfortable space for others to join intermittently.  Megan and Chris snapped in beautifully and, we hope, felt like they were treated to an elegant waterfront vacation on the Chesapeake. 

Chris and Megan even treated us to a circus show to boot!

We also had a great time reuniting with other friends, our former dock neighbors, Stephen and Beth, from Pensacola, who ran into these folks you may recognize at the show!

As well as Neil and Janet, with crew Larry and Tracy, who sailed across the Atlantic on their newly-built Lagoon 40, behind us from La Rochelle, France to the Caribbean in 2018-2019. 

Now that I’ve introduced the cast and crew, roll that beautiful boat show footage!

As much fun as it was to have Chris and Megan aboard and visit our many friends who came to town for the boat show, I can’t lie in saying Phillip and I were looking equally forward to the next phase of our fall: when the boat show was behind us and it was time … finally … to cast UbiQ off for good and sail south to warmer climates.   Immediately after the show, we made some massive runs to the store for paper goods and non-perishables.  Also, with the new age of things and Whole Foods who delivers through Amazon Prime (what a wondrous thing), we were able to have a large fresh food delivery made to our former owners’ Jim and Ann’s condo in Annapolis to stock the boat. 

In addition to our usual boat spares as far as zincs, fuel filters, impellers, gaskets, etc. (the small, common stuff), Phillip and I also decided to stock some larger, more critical boat parts this time.

  • For the generator: a spare riser and elbow and raw water pump.
  • For the engine: a spare riser and elbow, starter, raw water pump, and fresh water pump (because we’re never letting that happen to us again).
  • For the auto-pilot (the most important crew member on the boat): a back-up drive unit and computer for our Raymarine hydraulic auto-pilot.

We must send out a huge thanks to UbiQ’s former owners, Jim and Ann, as well as Peter and Patty on Outbound Hull No. 7, Serendipitous, who went above and beyond during these hectic weeks to help Phillip and I run around town to get all of the necessary parts, food, clean clothes, spares (and wine!) aboard for our passage. It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of fellow cruisers.

UbiQ, up to some of her old tricks, decided to throw us a curveball the day before we were set to depart by emitting a rather large brown pool under the engine that freaked me out.  Turns out it was transmission fluid rather than oil.  I do not like that the transmission fluid in the Yanmar is the same color as oil as opposed to the obvious pink I’m used to.  I’ve written a strongly-worded letter to Yanmar about it … haven’t heard back yet. But, what we discovered was that this transmission fluid leak was likely caused when the dipstick/cap on the transmission fluid bin, at some point (we don’t know when exactly) got mis- or over-threaded and broke off.  Part of the yellow plastic cap (plastic threads) were still lodged in the metal threads on the bin, while the other half came off with the cap. 

Thankfully, we were able to connect again with Bayshore Marine there in Annapolis who had a replacement cap in stock that we could pick up that day to replace it … that is, after we dug the plastic threads out without dropping them into the bin (not a super easy feat). 

It was annoying, though, to find Bayshore carries an adamant supply of this cap because “that thing breaks all the time,” the gal at Bayshore told me.  Apparently, its plastic design causes it to break frequently.  C’mon Yanmar … step it up with a metal cap/dipstick next time, would ya?

Once that mini-crisis was averted, our plan was to make our way down the Chesapeake in essentially two hops, each roughly 60-70 miles (day sails, if we left early each morning).  Following the advice of fellow cruisers in Annapolis, we decided to sail first from Annapolis, MD to Solomon’s Island, MD. Our next hop would be to Deltaville, MD then on down to Norfolk, VA.

October 22, 2021:

While it is strange to look back and see us in three layers of foulies what feels like just a few short months ago, temps were in the upper 40s and low 50s when we left Annapolis in late October.  Phillip and I decided, in the future, we will probably get further south quicker.  While we certainly love boat shows.  What we love more is sailing in warmer climates.  But, this was our first time beginning our cruising season on the upper east coast of the U.S.—as opposed to Pensacola, FL where we usually depart—so we had plenty to learn.  Our first morning heading out from Back Creek in Annapolis and down the Chesapeake was quite memorable.  Cold, crisp pre-dawn light.  An engine warming to life.  Still, calm waters in the creek.  We slipped out at 5:00 a.m. like a cat in the night.  Our first sunrise on passage on the new boat is not something I will soon forget.  One small sail for UbiQ; one giant leap this new Outbound 46 crew!  We were finally doing it!  Sailing south for the winter. 

While we had intended Solomon’s Island as just a quick tuck-in for us—a place to drop the anchor for the night to relax and pop back out at dawn the next morning—we arrived rather earlier in the afternoon than had planned (UbiQ is definitely faster than our Niagara 35) and found ourselves quite pleased with the sleepy little coastal town we found ashore.  There is a nice waterfront with lots of history and a wide promenade to stroll the coast. 

A few little shops and eateries along the way and, most importantly, a tiki bar just a short dinghy hop from the boat.  Phillip and I rarely miss the opportunity to belly up to a little tiki bar. 

And, UbiQ seemed rather happy on her hook as opposed to the dock.  It seemed she was just as eager to get this maiden south voyage underway as we were. 

Although I could have seen us spending a few quiet days at Solomon’s Island, Phillip and I were too eager to beat feet south.  Deltaville was just an easy day-sail away and a quiet, protected place to drop the hook for the night. Next up was Norfolk, VA—Hospital Point up the Elizabeth River, to be exact, which our new Outbound cruising buddies, Peter and Patty, had recommended to us—where Phillip and I expected to spend a few days, at least, waiting for a good weather window to jump out and round Cape Hatteras. 

We rose again around 4:30 a.m. to utilize as much daylight as we could to sail down the Chesapeake from Solomon’s Island to Norfolk.  The sunrise that morning was even more stunning.  Probably my favorite of 2021 I can now easily say, bathing both our faces in neon pink and vibrant yellows.  Despite the bundles of layers, our faces, at least, look warm in the photos … because they were!

And boy did we sail that day!  With a nice WSW wind, we flew down the Chesapeake at an average of 7.0 knots—a seemingly impossible speed on our Niagara.  Ubiquitous was quickly showing us what a difference a longer waterline makes.  I think Phillip and I both could have just kept on sailing, had the weather window been right, for us to round Hatteras.  With the months of work and toil we had put into not only finding and purchasing the Outbound 46, but also breaking our budget (with the unexpected riser/elbow drama) and breaking her in over the summer, this was our reward.  Voyaging on the Outbound 46. 

I’m quite confident, weather permitting, Phillip and I could have kept going that day all the way down to the Bahamas or beyond.  Maybe next time … weather permitting.

This time, it was not only weather that required we tuck in to wait for a better weather window for Hatteras, it was also our desire to check out as many cool new spots along the Chesapeake and the east coast as we could on our way down.  Neither of us had done Virginia by boat and we were eager to see what Norfolk had to offer.  Coming into the Elizabeth River put us face-to-face with some rather large container ships.  The riverfront there is a very industrial space but beautiful in its own way.  The size and scale of the shipping industry there is mesmerizing. 

We found the anchorage near Hospital Point fairly full but with enough space left to afford us a nice spot to join the pack and settle in for the night.  Seeing big city lights from our portlights was definitely a new sight for us.  One that took some getting used to.  Phillip and I both spent a good bit of time anchored that night just staring out the windows in awe. 

The next day we were also pleased to find a large city dock on the sea wall across from Hospital Point where dinghies are welcome and it allows you to step off the boat right into the heart of downtown Norfolk, a city that surprised us with its overflowing food, art, history, and night scene. 

We toured the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy that earned five battle stars during WW II. 

We walked through Asian/Thai-inspired Pagoda Gardens.

We ate at the Glass Light,

And checked out their art gallery.

We drank at the rooftop bar at the Hilton, The Grain.

And, we made a new friend …   

We named him Peta (pronounced “Pee-tuh” like the character in Hunger Games, because he seemed like a Peter Rabbit, only a far more dramatic version).  If I had to guess, this guy is a major drama queen.  Just look at him …

We ended up staying in Norfolk for over a week waiting for the right window to round Hatteras.  That voyage was easily the one we stressed over the most on our way down the coast.  I mean, anything that has the word ‘graveyard’ in it—Hatteras is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”—does not give me the warm fuzzies.  We’d heard some grueling tales from fellow cruisers of horrific passages made whipping around that rough, jagged, somewhat uncharted edge of the coast that juts out into the Atlantic.  This was not a voyage we were taking lightly, and it required patience and time to wait for the right window.  But, boy did we have a helluva time flying around the bend.  UbiQ is an absolute beast in the Atlantic!  Next up on the blog: Happy Hattereen around our wicked whip around Cape Hatteras.  Stay tuned!

“Tacking On a Header” — Article in SAIL Magazine

This was an incredibly fun article to write for SAIL. And, perfect timing on its publication as Phillip and I are just about to come up on a year from the time we bought our 2015 Outbound 46, s/v Ubiquitous (lovingly called “UbiQ”), in March, 2021. How time flies … The idea for this article—Tacking On a Header—came to me as I was sitting one day, working, at the end of Ego Alley in Annapolis (where we spent most of our time last year) and I saw a little sailboat tacking back and forth up the tight alley, harnessing the wind brilliantly. As soon as the old sailing adage hit my brain it felt like the perfect analogy for what Phillip and I had done in making the very difficult decision to sell our old 1985 Niagara 35, which we absolutely loved, and buy a newer, more complicated but spacious and capable boat. We tacked on a header and now, a year in—with the beauty of hindsight—we have found it was most definitely the right call. Our Outbound 46 is … well, to put it frankly, a dream boat.

I hope the article helps explain some of our thought processes when making the transition and what we considered our top priorities in shopping for a new(er) boat. Be sure to pick up a copy of SAIL’s March issue and let me know what you think. Many thanks to the entire crew at SAIL Magazine for selecting my piece and putting together such a nice spread. It was a lot of fun to share with the former owners of UbiQ—Jim and Ann—when the issue came out! (You’ll find Jim in several photos in the spread sporting his bright orange toboggan! : ). Phillip and I were lucky in that we didn’t just get a boat in the deal, we made two very good new friends as well. Enjoy the piece!

Snapping a fun pic with UbiQ’s former owners, Jim and Ann, with the SAIL March issue!
There’s Jim in the orange toboggan!

Our survey/sea-trial (back in March, 2021) was such a memorable day. Both brokers and the surveyor, who have all participated in dozens, maybe hundreds, of survey/sea-trials, said it was the most congenial, fun, smooth-and-easy survey/sea-trial any of them had ever attended. I think all parties involved just knew this was the right move for UbiQ! I like to believe that anyway! We certainly love her and can only hope we take equally good care of her as Jim and Ann did. They’ll be joining us aboard here and there to make sure we do! : D