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Old 01-06-2013, 06:46   #1
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Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

We ( wife and I) are planning a mid June offshore sail from St Augustine to the Sassafras River (Chesapeake Bay), and are looking for advice from others who have made this trip. Most likely tuck inside at Beaufort, but would consider non stop around the Cape if conditions allow. Please advise with any first hand experiences as to estimated time, routes, or other useful info that you would like to pass on. Thanks in advance.
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Old 01-06-2013, 06:58   #2
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

The strongest current is usually found out in the middle of the Gulf Stream, but I have found that is also where there is very often a build up of thunderstorms, especially now that the weather is heating up. I've found that you can often avoid the worst of the storms by traveling a few miles one direction or another from the center. It probably makes the most sense for you to stay west of the center, and that also gives you a shot at heading into an inlet if a frontal passage is expected to come off the coast, or at the very least to get out of the stream where it is rough with northerly winds. Make sure you have at least the charts for the major inlets, and probably the ICW too. I have several times left Florida with the intention of making a straight shot to Beaufort and then instead have had to duck inside at Charleston or Southport.
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Old 01-06-2013, 17:48   #3
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

I would not make that trip without a stop in Charleston, it just too great of a place to pass by. It's about a 30 or 35 hour sail from St. Augustine, spend a couple days in Charleston, then its about the same distance again to Beaufort, NC. From Beaufort, you have the option of going inside if the weather isn't great. Keep in mind that if you follow a rhumb line from St. Augustine to either Charleston or Cape Hatteras, the coast tapers off to the west and you are 40-80 miles offshore when adjacent to the Georgia coast. That makes it a more serious passage than if you were to follow the coastline, no option to quickly duck in if the weather turns ugly. It's no problem with a good boat, but something to keep in mind depending on your timing and comfort level. If you have more time, there are other great stops along the way...Fernandina Beach/Cumberland Island, Savannah, Hilton head, Beaufort, SC.....etc. All have good inlets, good anchorages, and good restaurants!
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Old 02-06-2013, 15:31   #4
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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I would not make that trip without a stop in Charleston, it just too great of a place to pass by. It's about a 30 or 35 hour sail from St. Augustine, spend a couple days in Charleston, then its about the same distance again to Beaufort, NC. From Beaufort, you have the option of going inside if the weather isn't great. Keep in mind that if you follow a rhumb line from St. Augustine to either Charleston or Cape Hatteras, the coast tapers off to the west and you are 40-80 miles offshore when adjacent to the Georgia coast. That makes it a more serious passage than if you were to follow the coastline, no option to quickly duck in if the weather turns ugly. It's no problem with a good boat, but something to keep in mind depending on your timing and comfort level. If you have more time, there are other great stops along the way...Fernandina Beach/Cumberland Island, Savannah, Hilton head, Beaufort, SC.....etc. All have good inlets, good anchorages, and good restaurants!
I did Ft Pierce to Cape Fear recently, about 60 hrs. The stream is much closer down there, and you'll have a little ways to go to get out in it. If time is no issue and you are cruising up to Chessie then coastal hopping/ICW is great. From your post it sounds like ideally it is in one shot.

If I'm coast hopping, I don't go around Frying Pan shoals but rather in Cape Fear and back out MAsonboro (Wrightsville Beach) to Beaufort. That's a straight shot and is a more conservative approach. Take care to time the tide, as you'll want to tie up at Bald Head Island marina or perhaps one in Southport and wait for a flood tide. There is no point in going up the Cape Fear in a falling tide .....

I use Cape Lookout as a place to come in at night or leave at night, rather than Beaufort. I can easily put out to sea there singlehanded without some of the fuss of Beaufort inlet - or frickin Taylor Creek for that matter! (Safety note: Cape Lookout is my home waters, I don't want to encourage anyone to come in a strange inlet at night) You might consider a layover there if forecast gives you pause or call on Beaufort first for tankage, etc. Once you have a favorable forecast you can head out around Cape Lookout in the AM and be past Cape Hatteras in 18 hours or so and in Little Creek or Kiptopeke or Cape Charles in 36 or so. That's from memory, so by all means plot it out, but hopefully it gives you some ideas as to ways it could go. Flexibility, proper charts, and a way to get good forecasts out of VHF range would be key to making your decisions when offshore GA/SC.

My inclination is to maximize Gulf Stream current once you've made the trek out there from St Augustine, but only you can know what the right route is for crew, boat, and weather.

Hope you get to make it in one shot, it is pretty awesome out there in the right conditions, and you certainly have a competent boat. It is also fun to hop up so either way you win.
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Old 02-06-2013, 17:19   #5
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

I just completed a departure from Ponce De Leon inlet to Beaufort and it took about 60 hrs. I like to leave Florida when a large high pressure system is leaving the coast of the Carolinas. This pretty much guarantees 3 days or so of fairly placid weather in the Gulf Stream and the wind coming from the south as the high passes. Leave when the wind goes east or just south of east in Florida. Leaving from St Augustine means that you will have to head a bit more easterly to hit the Gulf Stream than I did from Ponce which will present a bit of a problem when the wind is more easterly. Once you get off of GA you will want more of a SE wind. This keeps the wind on the beam and prevents a wind opposing current situation in the Gulf Stream. You definitely want to wait long enough to leave to make sure the wind is SE when the stream is heading NE. Be aware there are some bottom structures that cause patches of rough water on the surface off of GA and SC. They aren't dangerous and they are marked on the charts as turbulence zones. You can be going along in glassy smooth water and then get a mile or two of nasty chop and then smooth water again. I was unaware of these my first time. Also look at a site like passage weather to get the Gulf Stream position forecast. The Gulf Stream does not always flow in a nice straight line. Last week there was a big bend to the SE for a hundred miles or more that started just off Savannah and went SE. We were in the "charted" Gulf Stream until about half way between frying pan shoals and Cape Lookout and we got no boost at all past Savannah. If you decide to go all the way to the bay on the outside give Diamond Shoals a wide berth and be aware of the opposing current north of Cape Hatteras, which is not at all like the Gulf Stream but will slow you down slightly.

If you go into Beaufort be aware they are currently closing the railroad bridge on the ICW at Highway 70 from 8:30 at night until 7:00 in the morning for maintenance. I don't know when they'll be finished with that so you should be aware of it if you are coming in at night. The Beaufort channel through the highway 70 bascule bridge is much trickier at night. Once in the ICW at Beaufort expect about a day's run from Beaufort to the Belhaven area. One more day from Belhaven to the north end of the Alligator river. If you draw less than 5 feet of water then you have a choice of going the Coinjock route or the Dismal Swamp route from the Alligator river to Norfolk. I prefer the Coinjock route myself. I found the Dismal swamp route very boring. Unless you enjoy travelling in what's no more than a wide ditch and looking at a highway on one side and a pile of dirt overgrown with weeds on the other, I suggest the Coinjock route. It will take a short day between the North Alligator and Coinjock or the entrance to the Dismal swamp. Expect another day to Norfolk on either route. After you get in the bay pick your stops depending on what you want to see. Solomonís Island and St Michaels are good stops in the Chesapeake, though there are people on the form that have a lot more experience in the bay than me who can give you better advice about that part of the trip.

If you've not done overnights at sea before this might not be the best place to start, but if you're comfortable with it it's not a bad trip if you pick your weather window correctly. The thing to remember is when your off of the coast of GA/SC The Cape Fear river is just as close as Charleston which is 100-120 miles, so a quick bailout is not a speedy thing. Goint out to the Gulf Stream from St Augustine if you are agoing to go to Charleston is a complete waste of time and effort. It's only worth the time if your going to go at least as far as Cape Fear and of course if the stream is in a position that it helps you.
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Old 02-06-2013, 17:22   #6
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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Originally Posted by westsailwill View Post
Most likely tuck inside at Beaufort, but would consider non stop around the Cape if conditions allow. .
I had to duck into Beaufort last year when I did a similar passage (Bahamas to New York) due to some bad weather forecast to Hatteras.

If the weather is good stay outseide and do it in one shot. You will save days.

If the weather turns bad then hit Beaufort and decide to do the last bit up the ICW or wait for the weather.

But the straight shot is the best.
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Old 02-06-2013, 17:31   #7
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

I personally love the Dismal Swamp route, but it does take a day longer due to two locks you have to time. I don't find it boring at all. Compared to the main route you will have many fewer waking powerboaters blasting you. For most of the route you can't see the road at all, and it feels very cozy with the trees arching overhead. There is free dockage at both Elizabeth City and the North Carolina visitors center. The canal was originally surveyed by George Washington, and it feels like you are traveling back in time.
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Old 03-06-2013, 11:57   #8
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

Have done Ponce de Leon > Southport in about 43hrs.. if the weather is milder you can go around cape fear and in at Morehead city/Beaufort NC.. if you enter Morehead city around dawn you can get to Oriental by late afternoon... another +1 for dismal swamp route..
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Old 07-07-2013, 15:32   #9
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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I personally love the Dismal Swamp route, but it does take a day longer due to two locks you have to time. I don't find it boring at all. Compared to the main route you will have many fewer waking powerboaters blasting you. For most of the route you can't see the road at all, and it feels very cozy with the trees arching overhead. There is free dockage at both Elizabeth City and the North Carolina visitors center. The canal was originally surveyed by George Washington, and it feels like you are traveling back in time.

Dumb question but don't you have to motor the whole way along the ICW?

Arent sailboats meant to sail eg better to go in the atlantic.
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Old 07-07-2013, 16:04   #10
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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Dumb question but don't you have to motor the whole way along the ICW?

Arent sailboats meant to sail eg better to go in the atlantic.
I have sailed most of the ICW. I only motor when the wind is on the nose or there is no wind. There's not enough room in much of the ICW to attempt to tack upwind, but im many places there is. I've never had more fun than sailing at 10 knots through the natural river channels in GA on a 20-25 knot day. It keeps you on your toes and you find out really quickly if your tacking and gybing techniques are a bit sloppy.

That being said I prefer to go out in the ocean if weather conditions permit it.
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Old 07-07-2013, 16:06   #11
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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I have sailed most of the ICW. I only motor when the wind is on the nose or there is no wind. There's not enough room in much of the ICW to attempt to tack upwind
Thanks, i'm not from the USA originally so never seen the ICW and was curious if I was missing something
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Old 07-07-2013, 16:16   #12
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

So much good info here and much depends on you, your boat and weather conditions. Always have a backup plan or two. I agree, Charleston is not to be missed, but then again Savannah, Cumberland Island and Beaufort, SC and Beaufort, NC are pretty great too.
But have you even been out the St Augustine inlet? Not one to be taken lightly, even though it's been recently dredged. In anything other the most calm conditions it can be daunting. One day we even did it twice and it was not pleasant.
Good luck to you both. Take your time and use the weather to your advantage.
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Old 07-07-2013, 16:31   #13
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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Thanks, i'm not from the USA originally so never seen the ICW and was curious if I was missing something

Much of the ICW is in a dredged channel perhaps 100 yards (almost 100 meters if you are not familiar with how we measure things over here) wide. Outside of this channel water may be only a foot or two deep and in some areas is dry land. In some places it may not even be 60 yards wide. In other areas it is simply a marked route in otherwise fairly deep water, at least for small boats and yachts. For instance in NC the water is often 15-20 feet deep, but the ICW will route you around shoals that may only be 2 feet deep. In these areas you can make reasonably long tacks outside of the marked channel as long as you pay attention to your position with relationship to the shoals. I typically have no problems sailing in the channel if the wind is far enough off of the bow to allow me to hold a course inside the channel. The rest is simply sail trim.
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Old 07-07-2013, 16:35   #14
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Re: Offshore sail St Augustine to the Chesapeake

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Thanks, i'm not from the USA originally so never seen the ICW and was curious if I was missing something
I forgot to add, that you are missing something if you don't do the ICW at least once. With just a few exceptions it is an incredibly beautiful trip.
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