I'm with Mystic 38, to a degree. If you are a great student of weather, by all means, point yourself at the Cape Fear entrance and cruise!
However, you need five days of good weather to do that, and if you have not cruised much, it might be hard for you to work through weather forecasts to determine when to leave.
Your idea of cruising along the coast can work, but it is important to plan for the inlets, not for the time. From Miami, the next easy inlet is Lake Worth
. It's an easy cruise
if you leave Miami around 6AM or 7AM. You have the Gulf Stream with you all the way, 3 miles out or 6 or 10. It will give you a nice ride about 5 miles out, and that should be comfortable for you if you were careful about the weather. When you look at the weather, think about how you will feel if, instead of 20 knots max, it is gusting 25 all day. Remember the rule
about no northerly in the Gulf Stream, because a day run at 3-10 miles offshore from Miami to Palm Beach (Lake Worth inlet) will put you in the Gulf Stream all day. It's wonderful in the right conditions, so watch for 15 or so from SE to SW.
If your run takes longer than planned, entering the Lake Worth
inlet is fine at all hours. It is very well lit. You do not want to enter on an ebb tide against easterly winds, which is part of the reason I emphasized a southerly component for your passage
You can sit tight in Lake Worth until you are ready to make the next segment. You don't want to do Jupiter or St. Lucie inlets. Period. So head for Canaveral. That inlet, too, is big, well lit, and you can anchor
west of the lock, which only goes up or down about 6 inches.
If weather traps you, run farther west to the ICW
At Canaveral, if you depart outside, bound northward, you need more than 24 hours to get anywhere you want to go. First, Canaveral is a storm problem, always. Activity in the Gulf flows eastward across the peninsula at the latitude of Canaveral frequently. You don't want to be caught in a line, or two, of thunderstorms off Canaveral at sunset. The day will come when you can choose whether to weave your way north anyway, but this trip is not when you want to do that. This is a good place to think about making an overnight to Jacksonville
, to Fernandina Beach or to St. Marys. After Canaveral, Ponce De Leon and St. Augustine inlets are not for the faint of heart and the inexperienced.
Both the Jacksonville
and St. Marys inlets are well lit, but you need to have good weather for 48 hours to be sure you will get in and get comfortable without issues. We found ourselves sitting beside the St. Marys channel waiting out a line of thunderstorms the last time we entered there.
Once inside at St. Marys, you can anchor
at Cumberland Island if you want to be close to the exit, but even that location is pretty far inside. St. Marys and Fernandina are both even farther.
Another choice, if you want to go farther north, is Brunswick. It is easy in, easy out, well lit, and a great marina, but you are extending the passage
From St. Marys or Brunswick, (which, by the way, is a NW-SE channel outbound, meaning that on a northbound passage, you travel 2 hours or more in that channel before you get back to the latitude at which you started) you can go to Charleston in 24 hours, but it isn't a hop. There are other inlets, but the journey in and back out is long, just like Charleston. Furthermore, along the Georgia
and South Carolina coast is a current NE-SW, running against you if you are northbound. If you go out far enough to miss it, your only sane choice is to point at Cape Fear entrance. It is less than 48 hours, depending on conditions, but you need to check the weather carefully and be sure you don't run out of good weather before you get inside to Southport.
From Southport, you will want to follow the Cape Fear River and the ICW to Wrightsville Beach, where you will be happy to rest until you are ready to make the short day run from Masonboro Inlet to Beaufort
Inlet. It is counterproductive to leave the Cape Fear inlet bound north.
You could plan a non-stop run from Miami to Beaufort, too, but as I said earlier, that will take about six good days, and you need both confidence in your understanding of weather forecasts and a good knowledge of your options if you do need to head to shore at any point along the way. On that run, it will be most of a day before you can get inside. It is important to recognize that running in is not just whipping off the interstate to a convenience store. For long runs like that, you need a good meal plan that is comfortable for the cook and pleasing for the crew. You need a plan for unexpected weather--food, clothing
, and so forth. If you have never done it, just plan and think smart. Everybody who is experienced once did it for the first time, and lived to tell the story.
Always, Always, Always, check your weather before you head out. Recognize that the National Weather Service
has a scientific view of weather. They tend to predict the best possible conditions based on all the options. If you download the PassageWeather app, or go to Sailing Weather - Marine Weather Forecasts for Sailors and Adventurers - PassageWeather
, you can see a slightly more sailing oriented prediction. I find that they tend to err on the side of telling you more of the undesirable possibilities. I also use the National Buoy Database before I depart any location, because that is my eye on the sky far out at sea. There are many other weather apps that I am not qualified to discuss. I am sharing what works for me.
We have never left Miami and cruised to Cape Fear, but we have left Lake Worth inlet and cruised to Cape Fear or to Beaufort Inlet several times. I love that run, but I repeat that it takes close attention to weather. The real challenge is Canaveral, then Cape Fear itself, and finally the Georgia/South Carolina coast, where little storms sometimes blossom into big ones rather quickly. Weather. Weather. Weather. If I wanted to go Miami to Cape Fear non-stop, I would want to think that I had six days of good weather, and be prepared to live with only four, just in case things changed dramatically. Our mantra is, choose the best weather you can find, and live with whatever comes. The boat will make it if you never give up on her.
Whether you take it in small bites or make the long leap, you will have a wonderful experience. Wishing you well.
S/V No Boundaries