where to homeport?
I''m an Atlanta-based sailor who deals with the same question. What I found is that within a 10-hour drive you can get from the bottom of the Chesapeake to the the top of ''South Florida'' so that''s become our ''cruising ground.'' We just brought our boat into Jacksonville, a 6-hour drive, from Merritt Island, an 8-hour drive. Next will most likely be St. Simons (5 hours) or Savannah (4 hours) and then up to Charleston (5 hours). We pay a bit more for our transient fees than an annual contract, but we see some great areas. St. Simons, for instance, costs $8 a foot per month for the annual slip, but $9.00 a foot for transient monthly. This is about the same rate difference I''ve paid at other marinas, so I''ve found I''d rather pay a little more, and go explore. Some marinas have a limit how long you can be ''transient'' but I''ve always just used this as a reason to shove off and go find a new place.
If you want to do the annual contract thing, you''re nearby choices are limitted. Savannah doesn''t have much to choose in terms of marinas (Palmer Johnson is the best...but I was just told that they''re not doing annual contracts anymore) but it is the closest drive. You''ll have a hike to the ocean though. St.Simon''s/Brunswick is an hour down the road, only serviced by Delta with expensive Turboprops (you can fly to Savannah on Airtran for $39) but the cruising grounds are nicer. An hour south of this gets you to Jacksonville, which has reasonable priced marinas. Going north, you have Hilton Head (technically our home port) which is expensive and of course Beaufort. We love the Charleston area, but this is getting to the northern end of what we consider and easy drive.
Mostly I''d enjoy the sail from St. Pete to Georgia''s coast and worry about details later. Once you get past the shear madness of south Florida, it''s a great cruise, either up the ICW or on the outside.