Murals of Marathon

Marathon is a vibrant city, and I don’t just mean the people.  Many of the buildings are painted with colorful murals, and they are often in the most unlikely places.  I enjoy hunting them down and photographing them.

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No mural catalog would be complete without the one we see every day on the side of the City Marina building.

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This is one side of the Marathon Laundromat.  Not only is the painting well done, but it even extends into the third dimension, as shown below:

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Marathon Boat Yard’s mural spans almost the entire front of the building.  The rest of it is below:

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And, of course, there is the huge Wyland mural on the front of K-Mart.  Because, you know, where else would you find a giant work of art from a famous artist?

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There are too many pictures to put in one post, so there will be more to come later.

Posted in FL

Hurricanes Can’t Keep Marathon Down

When we were done having Mack Sails install our mast-mounted whisker pole in Ft. Pierce, we knew we had a little over a month before we planned to head to the Bahamas.  Where to go? Immediately we decided on Marathon.  We had such a great time there in the spring that we just knew we had to go back.

Hurricane Irma devastated the Keys in September, and Marathon was no exception.  Like so many other boaters, we were heartsick at the satellite images of sunken and pulverized boats, houses and businesses turned to rubble, and mangroves littered with debris.  We had been keeping up with reports on Marathon’s progress since that time, and we knew that we could offer two things if we came down:  a helping hand and tourist dollars.  Honestly, the latter is what places like this need.

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This may well be the new Marathon motto.  It’s been hard for businesses to find enough staff as so much housing was destroyed.

I am happy to say that in an amazingly short period, Marathon has sprung back.  Most businesses that we see have reopened.  Yes, there are piles of debris on the side of the road that are awaiting pickup.  Yes, there are (now) vacant lots that need to be cleaned up.  But in general, this place has had a miraculous recovery, and I think it’s all attributable to the “Keys Strong” mentality.

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Roadside debris awaiting pickup.

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Near Burdine’s there is a boat destruction area.  Recovered boats are being brought there any way possible–by tow, by barge, whatever–and then broken down.  See the pile of masts to the right? 

Most importantly for us, the Marathon City Marina’s mooring field is in full swing.  There are fewer mooring balls (I heard about 200 down from 226), but all of the marina’s services to renters are available except for wifi.  For wifi, there is the library, which is a short walk away.  The dinghy dock hasn’t been rebuilt, but dinghies are being put where boats used to dock in front of the office.  Except for those two issues, all of the usual amenities have been restored:  water, showers and heads, laundry facilities, garbage and recycling, pump outs, bicycles, mail and package receipt, work rooms, the common area, book exchange, and the list goes on.

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The temporary dinghy dock, full of dinghies before Christmas dinner.  The building to the right houses the office, laundry room, showers, common area, and work rooms.

When we were here in the spring, we had to anchor out as the mooring balls were full with a waiting list.  We were thrilled to be able to catch a ball when we came down in December.  This mooring field is unique in that you must live aboard your vessel to be eligible to stay here; there is no wet storage.  So (at least theoretically) every boat here has someone aboard, and usually that someone either lives here full time or comes for a season.

That results in a mooring field and associated city-run anchorage that is every bit like being in a neighborhood.  Each morning at 9 AM, there is a cruisers’ net on the VHF.  The net controller of the day asks for new boats who want to introduce themselves, asks for departing boats to say goodbye if they wish, and then runs several sections where we all get to chime in:  announcements, questions/comments/need help, buy/sell/trade, and trivia.  The net can last an hour if people are feeling chatty, and it’s amazing how quickly you get to know your neighbors.

There are many “neighborhood” activities like senior softball (women over 40 and men over 50—for God’s sake, we’re seniors!), yoga, and potluck brunches.  Residents restored the destroyed organic community garden, and it looks amazing.  The Seven Seas Cruising Association has a weekly lunch meeting.  There’s also a Facebook page (Boot Key Harbor Cruisers) where people can post questions, comments, pictures, and whatever else.

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Volunteers did an amazing job of rebuilding the community garden.  It had been completely destroyed.  It has been newly replanted with vegetable plants, herbs, medicinal plants, and native fruit trees.

Boaters generally don’t hesitate to help each other, and that sentiment is magnified here because the people who need help are our friends and neighbors.  Some people row their dinghies to the dock, and we’ve towed quite a few folks who just needed a break (it’s hot here!).  People loan each other tools and machinery and help each other fix every type of boat problem under the sun.

I hate to go on and on, but there’s something special here.

But on to news.  Christmas was quite an extravaganza.  On the night of December 23, marina staff dressed up in Santa hats, put tons of lights on the pump out boat, and went through the mooring field offering each boat spiked or plain eggnog.  It was totally unexpected and utterly charming.  On Christmas morning, a boat with more Santa-hatted people went through the mooring field offering homemade mango rum (which was fantastic if mouth-blisteringly strong).  On Christmas afternoon, we attended the potluck in the common room.  There were well over a hundred people, and the food tables were absolutely groaning with both traditional and exotic choices.  There are people here from all over the world, and the menu reflected that.  We had a Christmas tree and live music, and it was just great.

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New Years Eve was also a hoot.  We actually managed to make it until midnight for the first time in years and watched the fireworks displays going off all around us from a variety of celebrations.  We had folks blowing conch shells and those little paper horns, people shooting off aerial flares, and just general good-natured mayhem for about 10 minutes.  Then it settled down, and we conked out.

It’s going to be a good 2018.

Posted in FL, Moorings

December 3-12, 2017: St. Augustine to Ft. Pierce, FL

We left St. Augustine on December 3rd bound ultimately for Ft. Pierce.  Between St. Aug and Ft. Pierce was our only stretch of ICW on this trip, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

December 3 saw us going from St. Augustine to an anchorage at Daytona Beach.  We made it through the historically treacherously shoal area around the Matanzas Inlet with no problems, primarily because we hit it at high tide.  Our luck held through the Crescent Beach Bascule Bridge, where we squeaked though the bridge just before a thick fog bank descended upon the area.  A fair current had us screaming along for most of the day.  We anchored in 8 feet of water at our usual anchorage in Daytona Beach, adjacent to the red 44 just south of Memorial Bridge.  This day was 8 1/4 hours for 47.2 nm/54.7 sm.

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The usual view when travelling the ICW; we are like ducklings all following each other.

On December 4 we set off along the ICW to Titusville.  We paid for yesterday’s fair current by having a foul current for the majority of the day.

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I’m happy to report that while many, ahem, rustic boats were cleared out by Hurricane Irma, Grill Guy is still around! We passed this boat this spring and were absolutely taken by his ingenuity.  Looks like he’s spruced up the boat a little, too.

The ravages of Hurricane Irma were evident on this stretch, as virtually every dock south of New Smyrna Beach was completely destroyed.  A highlight of the day was passing through the Haulover Canal; the manatees were out in force, and we must have seen 25 of them feeding, snoozing, and slowly swimming.  They are so gentle and charming, and I don’t get to see them up close as often as I’d like.  Titusville Municipal Marina is now down to 16 moorings thanks to Hurricane Irma, and they were all taken by the time we arrived.  We anchored in 11 feet of water south of the Max Brewer Bridge.  There is no tide in the area, and the holding was great.  This day was 8 ¾ hours for 41.7 nm/48.3 sm.

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We saw quite a few barges with debris recovered from the waterway.

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We also saw salvage operations for sunken vessels.  These guys attached float bags to this sunken catamaran, raised it, and are towing it away for disposal.

On December 5 we continued along the ICW to an anchorage in Melbourne.  We had another day of foul current but other than that, it was a pretty mellow day.  Boats moving south are out in force, and it’s kind of fun seeing the same sailboats every day.  The motor yachts leave us in their dust, of course.  Due to a south wind, we anchored in our usual spot in 10 feet of water north of the Melbourne Bridge.  As in Titusville, there’s no tide to speak of in that area, and the holding is great.  This day was 7 ¼ hours for 34.0 nm/39.2 sm.

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We’ve been trying out a new (to us) anchor alarm app named Anchor.  It uses the GPS in our iPad to determine our location and sets off an alarm if we exceed a certain radius from the point where we dropped the anchor.  You can see how much the boat moves with the tides and currents overnight.

On December 6 we made it to Ft. Pierce (8 ¾ hours for 43.3 nm/49.8 sm).  We’ve gone in and out of the Ft. Pierce Inlet many times but never stayed in Ft. Pierce before.  This time we got reservations at the Ft. Pierce City Marina.  When we arrived at the marina’s entrance channel, it was on a strong ebb tide.  The marina’s entrance channel runs at almost a 90 degree angle to the Indian River, so we had to cross the current to get into the marina.  The cross current was absolutely vicious, and the Captain had to navigate us through a narrow entrance channel leading through huge piles of boulders and rip rap.  We have been in some dicey situations before, but that minute or two passing through the boulders was truly one of the most terrifying moments of our sailing life.  We were balanced on a knife edge, with success or disaster being equally possible.  But we made it.

The Ft. Pierce City Marina is super nice.  The transient dock is new, and it’s a floating concrete face dock.  The facilities are extremely clean, and the dockhands and office staff are helpful and funny.  There’s laundry (4 washers and dryers), a lounge with TV and full-sized fridge, showers (2 each), diesel and ethanol free gas, and a gift shop.  They can also receive mail and packages.  Marina guests get 20% off gift shop purchases and a one-time 20% off anything at the Tiki Bar, the on-site restaurant.  There’s wildlife galore, including dolphins, pelicans, cormorants, gulls, and grackles.  The mullet were about to spawn, and they were practically jumping out of the water they were so crazed; the hormones were so thick, it was like being in a high school cafeteria.

The marina is centrally located downtown, right next to the library.  Marina guests can also get a free library card.  There are tons of restaurants within walking distance, and the downtown area is really cute.  There is a great fishing pier right next to the marina for those with a Florida fishing license.

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Downtown Ft. Pierce.

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This theater looks small, but it actually encompasses the tall building behind it as well.  I wish we could have seen a performance there.  Maybe next time.

From a practical perspective, all within a mile-ish radius are a Publix, Staples, West Marine, multiple tackle shops, multiple pharmacies, a liquor store, Dollar Tree, and lots of other stores.  We rented a car for two days at Enterprise to take care of some provisioning and also to have some fun visiting specialty shops in other towns (Florida Freedivers and two quilt shops).

We also took care of two important needs for the Bahamas.  First, we had our interviews with Customs and Border Patrol for the Small Vessel Reporting Service.  Now that we’ve been vetted by them and assigned an identification number, we can reenter the United States from international boat travel by simply calling on the phone.  The alternative is to find a port of entry, raise the Quarantine flag, have me stay on the boat, and have the Captain find the nearest CBP office and check in personally.  Now we can avoid that hassle.

The second item was to have Mack Sails install a mast-mounted whisker pole.  When we are running downwind (e.g. with the wind behind us, pushing us), the genoa has a tendency to flog if we aren’t just on the right angle.  The whisker pole extends from the mast to the bottom corner of the genoa, poling it out and forcing it to stay extended.  Having it mounted on the mast means that theoretically it can be set by one person; since we are a two-handed crew, this was important to us.  Mack Sails sent two guys to install the pole, and they were very professional.  They had the job done within a couple of hours, and it looks great.  I’m excited to be able to use it.

We left Ft. Pierce on December 13 and did a 36-hour offshore leg to Rodriguez Key and then to Marathon.  I’ll post about that soon.  We will be spending the month in Marathon and heading to the Bahamas in January.

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I’m still getting used to Christmas trees and palm trees.

Posted in Anchorages, FL, ICW, Marinas, Offshore

November 25-December 2, 2017: St. Augustine, FL

I realize that I kind of glossed over Brunswick, where we stayed the week of Thanksgiving.  It was a great stopover made even better by the Brunswick Landing Marina, which gets top billing in our book.  But on to more recent events.

Our offshore passage from Brunswick, GA, to St. Augustine was a pretty short one, 18 hours overnight for 87.7 nm.  While leaving Brunswick on the 25th, we saw fireworks in two separate towns.  I don’t know if post-Thanksgiving fireworks are a thing now, but it was sure cool to see at night from the boat.

Thanks to the Captain’s meticulous planning, we hit the St. Augustine inlet just right.  It is notorious for being short and narrow, aiming you between a beach and a bulkhead, and having strong, surfy conditions. Hitting it at anything other than daylight and slack tide was a deal-breaker for me.

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We weren’t the only ones out at dawn at the St. Augustine inlet.  This fishing boat brought a zillion of his closest friends with him.

We took a mooring at St. Augustine Municipal Marina for one week; at $143 for a week including launch, nice dinghy dock, laundry (4 washers and dryers), nice bathrooms (2 showers each), generally good wifi, and the ability to receive mail/packages, it’s a deal that cannot be beaten.

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Wherever there’s cruisers, there’s dogs.  And dogs are always on the bow of anything moving fast.

Hurricane Irma tore up the dockage quite badly, and the many of the slips that are available lack power.  There is no gasoline available, but there is one diesel pump working.  The dinghy dock was mostly destroyed, but now the unofficial dinghy dock stretches along one of the deserted slipways, so it all works out.  Most of the moorings appear to have been replaced, although it’s clear that some are missing.

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I loved these dinghy chaps.  Having made ours, I can commiserate with the “patch ’em with whatever you’ve got” mentality, because there’s NO WAY you are making new ones!

I wish I could say that our stay was seven days of blissful relaxation, but things rarely work that way.  The outboard on the dinghy was running weakly.  After hours spent diagnosing the issue (bad gas? fuel supply? spark plugs? carburetor?) and then removing and taking apart the carburetor piece by piece, it became clear that carburetor would have to be replaced.

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Ah yes, another beautiful day on the water slaving over something mechanical.

We called the local Yamaha dealer, Backwater 2 Bluewater, and ordered a new carburetor and gaskets, plus expedited two-day shipping since we wouldn’t be in St. Augustine for very long.  Insert “cha-ching” and “ouch!” here.  Thank goodness for the marina launch, otherwise we would have been rowing the dinghy to shore for a couple of days.  I want exercise and everything, but let’s not be stupid.

The dinghy is now spiffed up with a new carburetor, new spark plugs, and a new fuel filter and bowl.  She’s humming along like a champ.  We made our usual contributions to the local economy at West Marine, Advance Auto, Winn Dixie, and the liquor store.  We found Bota Box wine for $15.99 a box, and at that price, we stocked up on five of them for the Bahamas.  The Captain carried four of them in his backpack the two miles back to the marina—now THAT’S dedication! Four boxes = 16 bottles of wine.  I carried the really important stuff, though (Oreos) as well as the other groceries.

We also did some tourist-ing through the beautiful old buildings.  There really are some lovely nooks and crannies in this town.  I love all of the little alleys that are paved with bricks.

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Not all of the beautiful sights are small and unobtrusive.

We did manage to visit Borrillo’s, our favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza place; Yummy Wok, the excellent Chinese takeout next to West Marine; Gaufres and Goods, a Polish and Greek restaurant where we had cake and lattes; and Carmello’s for pizza.  I swear we do eat on the boat, although you’d never know it from the list of restaurants.  For soft taco night I made corn tortillas from scratch and used my new Norco tortilla press, and they were pretty freaking awesome if I do say so myself.

One night after showering, we walked through downtown to see the beautiful lights.  The entire downtown area is completely draped in Christmas lights, and it was truly lovely.  There was a choir singing and everything.

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I will never get used to Christmas lights on palm trees.  But I like it!

Then the next day we accidentally saw the Christmas parade, which was a hoot.

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A parade is not a parade without the Elvis impersonator.

We are headed to Ft. Pierce and decided to take the ICW down.  Our plan is to go St. Augustine to an anchorage near Memorial Bridge in Daytona Beach, to a mooring in Titusville, to an anchorage in Melbourne, and then to Ft. Pierce City Marina.  We may add a stop in between Titusville and Ft. Pierce, we’ll see.

Posted in FL, Moorings, Offshore

A warm and welcoming Thanksgiving in Brunswick, GA

There is no one type of cruiser.  We are men and women, young and old, gay and straight.  We are from different places, backgrounds, ethnicities, and races.  We speak with different accents and different languages.  We fall along a wide spectrum of political beliefs, incomes, and pursuits.  But there is one thing we all like to do:

Eat.  Preferably together.

Today we took part in our first Cruisers’ Thanksgiving.  This is a tradition in many parts of the country with large cruiser populations, and for once we were at the right place at the right time.

The celebration was held at the Brunswick Yacht Club on the Brunswick Landing Marina grounds.  The marina generously provided the turkey, ham, rolls, drinks (wine, beer, soda, and water), and paper goods.  Attendees brought a side dish or a dessert.  The offerings were varied and outstanding, and we think there may have been about 200 people attending.

The room was full of good smells and laughter amongst friends.  Short of being with our family, we couldn’t have picked a better way to spend the day.  We are truly thankful to be part of such an inclusive and friendly clan.

To our friends and family across the country, we hope you had a wonderful day.

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Line #1 formed on the left side of the room.  The promised land is the island shown in the upper right side of the photo.  Line #1 was popular because it went past both the beer and wine section and the dessert section, both on the left wall.

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Line #2 had dispersed by the time I took this photo.  At the height of the frenzy, both lines snaked the length of the room and curled back on themselves.

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Michael, the General Manager of the marina, and his wife, Erin, kindly served up food.  They also photographed attendees to add to a photo montage that is made each year and then hung on the wall.

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The dessert table groaned under the weight of cakes, pies, brownies, tarts, dumplings, cupcakes, fudge, fruit, and Reddi Whip.

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Beer flowed freely from the legendary Free Beer Tap.  Beer is free at this marina, all day, every day.  And there’s free wine at Happy Hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

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A slightly addled-looking turkey managed the beer and wine station.  That’s about how I looked after eating as much as I did.

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The Captain’s meat-atarian plate.  If you look veeeeeeery closely, there is a tiny hint of green vegetable smothered in copious amounts of turkey gravy.

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My vegetarian plate.  I didn’t photograph our dessert plates so that we could retain at least some shred of dignity.

 

Posted in GA, Marinas

Nov. 16-17, 2017: Port Royal, SC, to Brunswick, GA

We left Port Royal at 1:00 PM to begin our overnight offshore leg to Brunswick.  We were raring to go as we were pretty tired of getting pounded into the transient dock by the prior days’ strong winds.

It was a beautifully sunny and brisk day when we left, and the winds were forecast to be 10-15 knots.  Since we only had a few hours of daylight remaining after we left the marina, we put one reef in the main.  Ironically enough, this turned out to be totally unnecessary as the winds never got over 5 knots all night.

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Another ridiculously beautiful day on the water.

We don’t like to eat dinner in the dark, and since the sun set at 5:15 PM, we ate an early dinner in the cockpit.  As I am prone to sea sickness, I always make our offshore dinners ahead of time so I’m not below for too long.  I have a few standards that are hearty, easy to premake, store well, and reheat easily in one pot.  Usually it’s black beans and rice with cheese and The World’s Best Sofrito (thanks, N!), penne pasta with garlic and olive oil, or vegetarian green chili.  This time we had sandwiches because we had eaten an enormous lunch from a takeout Chinese place in Port Royal.

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Winter sailing means short days, but the sunsets are sure worth it.

After dinner, we started our three-hour watches at 6:00 PM.  I really like the three-hour schedule as I find it gives me a large enough chunk of time to get some decent rest but pushes the boundaries of how long I can stay awake and alert.  Going below and sleeping comfortably in a sea berth is the key; we have set up a lee cloth on the starboard settee with lots of pillows and a comfy blanket, a flashlight and headlamp, and a kitchen timer for an alarm clock.  It’s like heaven.

The Captain usually takes watches from 6:00-9:00PM, midnight to 3:00 AM, and from 6:00 AM on.  I take 9:00-midnight and 3:00-6:00 AM.  I catch an hour-ish sleep in the cockpit at 6:00 AM so that I can help the Captain spot buoys if we are entering an inlet and then get up to make coffee and greet the day.

It was a beautiful night’s motorsail.  The sky was clear and absolutely packed with stars.  We left the cockpit enclosure up to knock down the chilly wind and keep us comfortably warm.  Boat traffic was minimal except when going past Savannah, but it can get so boring that the smallest thing seems very exciting.

The entry into St. Simons Sound Inlet from the ocean is straight forward, and the transition to Brunswick Harbor Inlet is roomy.  This was our first time coming in to St. Simons Sound Inlet, and it’s a breeze.

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The St. Simons Island Lighthouse is still operational.  It was built in 1810, destroyed by Confederate troops to prevent its use by Union forces, and then rebuilt in 1872.

We were heading for Brunswick Harbor Marina, which is easily located by passing under the Sidney Lanier Bridge and hanging a right.

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Some of our neighbors on the way to the marina.

We were planning on staying only a few days in Brunswick before heading offshore to St. Augustine, FL, but the offshore weather is getting ugly again.  Instead, we will be staying in Brunswick at least through this week and will make our next leg a three-day passage from Brunswick to Ft. Pierce, FL.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the amazing hospitality at this marina (which will be its own post) and are looking forward to our first Cruisers’ Thanksgiving celebration among our tribe.

The journey from Port Royal, SC, to Brunswick, GA, was 21 hours for 106.9 nm.

Posted in GA, Marinas, Offshore, SC

Nov. 11-15, 2017: Hanging Out in Port Royal, SC

We were planning on staying in Port Royal for three days, but unending offshore winds convinced us to stay an extra few days.

Port Royal is due south of Beaufort and just north of Parris Island (of Marine Corps fame).  Both Beaufort, which we visited earlier this year, and Port Royal are on Port Royal Island.  Port Royal was one of the earliest British settlements in what was to become South Carolina.  We have been watching season four of Black Sails, which is a television series about pirates, and in the episode we watched last night, the embattled governor of Nassau is fleeing to Port Royal.  How cool is that!

If there’s one thing that this area never seems to lack, it’s strong current.  Add the honking winds that have been blowing, and it’s been quite a rodeo here at the dock.  The transient dock at Port Royal Landing Marina consists of two facing docks that also house the gas and diesel pumps in the middle.

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There we are in front, bracketed by large and gorgeous motor yachts.

We chose to be on the outside of the dock because coming to the inside meant a little more maneuvering than Kestrel can easily manage.  Being on the outside of the dock means no protection from waves, and man, have we ever had waves.  I was making enchiladas one night and seriously considered unlocking the gimbal on the stove so that it could swing freely and keep my sauce from slopping out of the pans.

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These poor fenders really had their work cut out for them.  Not only were they squished from the incessant waves, but it was cold, so at one point they seemed like they were about an inch thick.

This has been primarily a “business” stop rather than a sight seeing stop.  We visited Beaufort earlier this year, and while we walked through downtown and ate lunch at Low Country Produce this trip, that was about it.

Port Royal would not be a good stop for cruisers needing to provision without access to a car, but fortunately, the marina has a courtesy car.  With a car, there are tons of resources for the cruiser:   groceries (Publix, Food Lion, Piggly Wiggly, Walmart), hardware stores (Lowes Home Improvement, Graco Hardware), pharmacies, and propane refills (Graco Hardware).

Port Royal Landing Marina is a very nice marina and one I would stop at again.  The staff is exceptionally friendly, and the docks (both floating and fixed) are in top shape.  There’s Valvtect diesel and gas on site, two washers and three dryers ($1.25 each), immaculate bathrooms with two showers, and a small ship’s store.  The wifi is okay but nothing to write home about.  There’s a small lounge with a book and DVD exchange.  The marina is located in a small residential community that is really lovely.  The standout, though, is the staff—they are remarkably helpful and genuinely nice.

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A view of half of the marina and the Ladies Island Bridge.

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This is the view from the docks looking inland.  It’s a truly lovely area.

As much fun as we’ve had here, it’s time to move on.  The winds have died enough for us to head offshore to Brunswick, GA, today.  We will arrive tomorrow and have a whole new city to explore.

Posted in Marinas, SC