Northern Migration

6/1/2009

In the springtime, every year, we all witness the northern flight of Mother Nature’s best creatures. The departure time is different for each group but the pattern is unmistakably the same. It’s time to return to destinations north, escaping the impending hot southern summer for the warm cool breezes of the north. There are a few early birds that head out first, followed by a natural migration that keeps building until they’ve all departed. Golden eagles do it, humpback whales do it, and even elephants, salmon, sea turtles, and antelope do it. So it is for boaters.

I’m talking about the seasonal flight of boaters who begin their trek back up the east coast, mainly on the protected waters of the east coast Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), to Chesapeake Bay, Canada, the Great Lakes, or a continuation of the Great Loop. Our own migration plans were to work our way north to the Chesapeake for the summer. Lisa and I will make our home base the Solomon’s Yachting Center, a convenient place to take side trips over the late spring, summer, and early fall, before we again migrate back south.

These are just two vessels migrating north, one from New Hampshire and the other from Ontario, Canada.

For us the migration started when we left Fort Pierce, Florida, for our own 1,000-mile voyage up the ICW. Although not as arduous as a Monarch butterfly’s 2,500-mile migration from Mexico, ours will take us about five weeks. Before we started the trek north we decided on a three-day layover at Fort Pierce, a place we hadn’t been before but about which we’d heard good things. We had the added benefit of three other Looper boats overlapping one night to create a big happy hour and dinner outing to the local Greek restaurant. We were also surprised to run into Jim and Sue Brown on Water Dancer. We first met them in 2006. They’d just bought a house in the area and were moving off the boat for good.

The City Marina is conveniently located next to a waterfront park where community events are held. While we were there we experienced one of the finest farmers’ markets we’d ever visited; Lisa was in heaven. There was also a Friday night festival with food stands and arts and crafts. Another night it was “Bike Night,” where locals lined the downtown streets with their motorbikes. As we work our way up the coast we’ll run into various community events such as car shows, fireworks, art shows, softball games, and more. Most will be unplanned by us as we’re being somewhat spontaneous in our itinerary. It’s this element of the unknown that we enjoy about the adventure as we head north.

St Augustine at 444 years old never looked so good. Here’s a view down one of the historic old streets. Ross and Jim enjoy a walk through one of St Augustine’s old streets.

We left Fort Pierce on the first Saturday of April with our first stop being an anchorage on the Banana River. This is one of the well-protected anchorages we’d visited before. We decided to spend two nights on the hook, reading, writing, and relaxing. During the second day, two events entertained us. The wind had kicked up and an unoccupied sailboat decided to take an unescorted ride upriver past several boats before the owner showed up. The other event was a pleasant, surprise visit with some Looper friends of ours who live on the Banana River, only a few hundred yards from where we were anchored. They spotted our boat and dinghied out to invite us to their home for happy hour and commiseration. We met Mike and Bobbie Huck in 2006 in Beaufort, North Carolina, and had the pleasure of having them visit us in Charlevoix that summer. Now, we had fun catching up.

Our migration north continued with stops in Cocoa, New Smyrna, and Palm Coast – all in Florida. Our son Ross joined us from Portland, Oregon, for a week’s worth of adventure and exploring. Ross’ visit was planned so we could make stops in towns and anchorages that he’d never visited before.

Ross shoving off for his two-hour self guided tour of Cumberland Island National Park. The only way to get to the island is by boat.

Our first stop with Ross, as our migration continued, was St. Augustine, Florida. We enjoyed walking around “The Oldest City in the United States,” which was settled in 1565 by the Spanish, making it 444 years old. Another highlight was going to a local, authentic Cuban restaurant called Habana’s. Ross enjoys different cuisines as much as we do, and this was a unique treat.

Cumberland Island National Park is Georgia’s largest barrier island with a spectacular anchorage. When we arrived it was already late afternoon and there were already eight vessels that had called it a day from their own migration treks. Ross had had enough one-on-one time with us so he departed in the dinghy for a trip to the island to scout things out for our group outing the next morning. He returned a couple hours later with tales of wild horses roaming the island along with an armadillo, raccoon, and a great horned owl that he’d encountered. He was on the island long enough to know the lay of the land and it was as if we had our own private tour guide during our group outing the next morning. As we departed for Jekyll Island we noticed that the cast of boats migrating north on the ICW had increased.

Once onto the Cumberland Island we were able to see the wild horses with ease. They’d only let you get with five feet and they’d be off, making sure they maintained their freedom.

Each day on the VHF we heard the chatter of other boaters as they discussed the shallow or troubled areas ahead, where they might dock or anchor at day’s end, who’s having happy hour on their boat, or even the food details of a potluck being organized once everyone stopped for the day. The cast of boat names, as we traveled from northern Florida into Georgia and up to Savannah, included mostly sailboats with names such as Temptation, Plumputtet, Waterparke, Drakes Dream, Sweet Chariot, Sea Smoke and Whipperwill to name a few. They were returning to New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Ontario, New Bern, and other, northerly destinations, as happens during most migrations.

The Jekyll Island Club where, turn of the twentieth century, well-healed folks dined and stayed.

Once we arrived at Jekyll Island Marina, Ross found a loaner bike at the marina office and again headed out to do a little pre-scouting for our next morning’s exploration of the historic section of the island. When he returned he told us all about the Jekyll Island Club and informed us that the compound is 240 acres and a National Historic Landmark. Lisa and I had been to Jekyll Island in 2006. However we’d never eaten at the Island Club Hotel. We left the boat early the next day for a nice walk to the Club property and had one of the finest breakfast buffets of our lives. The dining room, hotel, and entire grounds are reminiscent of what’s called the “Gilded Age” – grand in every way.

This is one of the 21 parks (there were 24 originally) that were laid out by the Savannah founding fathers. Here Ross and his dad sit on a bench relaxing from our walking marathon.

After breakfast we departed for a four-and-a-half hour, 40-mile run to an anchorage where we dropped the hook to set, or at least we thought we had. The wind was much stronger than predicted and the bottom was too soft and weedy to get a good hold. The combination of wind and muck prevented our anchor from holding; we ended up dragging about 140 feet before we pulled up anchor. We tracked back to another more protected area nearby where we ran into some boats already settled in for a peaceful evening. The next morning we headed out for Georgia’s oldest city, Savannah.

Ross looks right at home in Lisa’s galley, where he’s preparing our lobster gourmet meal.

Thunderbolt Marina is on the ICW and conveniently located for getting into Savannah, and back, by a short 10-minute cab ride each way. Because we arrived late in the day we decided to relax at the marina and go into town the next morning to explore. Ross offered to cook dinner so Lisa broke out the last of our Bahamian lobster for him to use for the meal. Ross is a chef by trade and it’s always a treat when he prepares a meal for us.

When we arrived at Thunderbolt, Lisa and I only had two more days with Ross before he returned to Portland, but they were very special days because Ross has lived out west for 10 years and we don’t usually get to spend the day with him on his birthday. This year was different because of how we planned his arrival, so we were happy to be able to celebrate his special day on Saturday, once we got tied up to the dock, one-on-one and not by phone, Skype, email, or mail. It’s hard to believe he’s 29!

The riverfront buildings of Savannah appear much the same as they did 200 years ago, except today the storefronts are mostly tourist based.

The first thing we did in Savannah was to take a Grey Line tour of the historic downtown area. Savannah is Georgia’s first city, being founded in 1733 with 21 parks set within a planned city grid. The best way to see the sights and get the lay of the land is to first spend an hour on a trolley tour bus. This gives you an overview of Historic Savannah, some basic knowledge that makes it easier to know where to return by foot, saving time by not having to walk around aimlessly searching. We enjoyed our walks around the many parks, taking in the sights of all the magnificent old houses, touring the cemetery and wondering what it would be like to live in Savannah. We saw the park where Tom Hanks sat on a bench pondering “Life is like a box of chocolates” in the movie Forest Gump as well the Bonaventure Cemetery where the book and movie In The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is set. After a full day taking in Savannah we returned to the marina to find that some of the migrating boats we’d traveled with on and off had departed only to be replaced by new ones. And the trek north continues.

This is a typical anchorage where migrating boats might spend a quiet night with Mother Nature. This is one of our favorites, Tom Point Creek in South Carolina.