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akavishon 09-13-2010 06:54 PM

Boston -> Florida winter escape?
I suspect this may not be the right forum for this question, alas I'm not sure where else it would belong. My apologies, in advance.

In short, cooler days are here, and I am intrigued by the idea of setting sails in late october and hopping down the coast to warmer climates (Florida?) to escape the New England winter. I am out of work, have a decent boat (32' Ericson) in reasonably good shape, a few seasons of RI-to-ME coastal cruising experience, some savings to keep me afloat, and precious little reason to stay in Boston. I am not fully committed to this yet ... simply evaluating the idea, at the moment.

I would mostly be single-handing, hence prefer to take it easy and harbor-hop down the coast in 20-50nm increments, instead of going for distance off-shore. I prefer to anchor at night and sleep, and I prefer to wait for weather/wind instead of motor.

Surely, I'm not the first to do this :rolleyes: trip ... I was searching the web for accounts and guidance, but have not found much ... any pointers, or your personal experiences and guidance would be very welcome. For a start,

1. what books (guides, pilots, charts etc) would I need?
2. suggestions on routes (& stops) given my 20-50nm/day style?
3. suggestions on destinations where to spend the winter in Fla?
4. miscellaneous DOs, DONTs, etc?

Many thanks to all in advance,


sailingdog 09-13-2010 08:10 PM

First, I'd aim for doing 40-50 NM per day at a minimum... otherwise, you'll looking at an awfully long trip. Avoiding the ICW would be a good idea, since much of that is not really good sailing due to channel restrictions, etc.

I'd also recommend hopping offshore to go from NYC to Cape May, since there really isn't a good ICW route there. Be aware that most of the harbors on the New Jersey coast are horrible and not advisable as ports of refuge in bad weather, so plan your trip accordingly.

I prefer going offshore from Cape May to Norfolk, but singlehanding, that is a bit more difficult. However, it does cut a good distance off your passage. It also avoids the C&D Canal and the Chesapeake.

Going inside the ICW at Norfolk, which is where it really starts, and taking it down to past Cape Hatteras has basically two routes—the Chesapeake-Albermarle canal route, normally called the Virginia Cut route; or the Great Dismal Swamp route. Both are pretty much mostly motoring, and the beginning portion is the same for them both.

Some good marinas along the Virginia Cut route are:
  • Tidewater Yacht Agency Marina
  • Atlantic Yacht Basin, which is an excellent jumping off point for making the series of bridges and single lock at the northern end of the ICW route heading south.
  • Coinjock Marina
  • Alligator River Marina (not one of the better ones IMHO, but the pickings are slim in this particular area) :p
  • River Forest Manor Marina—While I didn't stay at this one, I did work on one of the boats I was delivering there, and the people there were aces.

From Belhaven, where the River Forest Marina is, it is a fairly short run, about 45 nm, to Oriental, and only about 25 nm more to Beaufort.

Going out at Beaufort and hopping down to Cape Fear isn't a bad run, but it is about 90 nm. The Bald Head island Marina is a great place to stop, but the facilities there are a bit lacking... only a single shower/restroom for a fairly large marina. Eb and Flo's has great food and pretty waitresses. ;)

Hopping from Cape Fear to Charleston is about 130 nm. Winyah Bay is a possible stop between the two, but I've not been there, so can't say much about it. It's been a few years since I stopped in Charleston, so can't really say what's good there anymore. :D Ditto for St. Mary's.

Charleston to St. Mary's/Fernandina Beach is about 165 nm or so outside... and I'd do that to avoid the Georgia section of the ICW. The ICW in Georgia is really pretty in place, bug-ridden in much of it, and not very straight, being made of a lot of oxbows and such. It also has been neglected and not really maintained all that well for the past ten years, though that has started to improve.

St. Mary's to St. Augustine is a nice short 55 nm hop outside, a bit longer, inside the ICW. Definitely stop at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, which is one of the best marinas I've been to, especially considering it is a municipal marina. Even if you're anchored out, you can pay a dinghy dock fee and get use of the facilities there, which include laundry, showers, a lounge and bathrooms.

As for books and such...

You'll probably want Cruising guides for the east coast... Maptech's embassy guides are a good start.

You'll definitely want Skipper Bob's ICW guides, although I try to avoid the ICW like the plague that it is.

You'll want charts, chart kits or waterproof chartbooks of the entire east coast. I prefer the Maptech type waterproof chartbooks, but the chartkits definitely have more detail.

As for Florida—are you planning on anchoring out most of the time, using a mooring or staying in a marina? That will make a big difference.

luken7 09-13-2010 10:05 PM

We will be sailing our B361 from Connecticut to Oriental, NC late in October and was going to do a post with the same type of questions. We're planning on coming down the LI Sound and East River and then off shore to Cape May, NJ. We're probably going to avoid the Cheasapeak and continue offshore till Norfolk then down the ICW canal to the Albamarle and Pamlico.

akavishon 09-15-2010 11:10 AM

Sailingdog, muchos gracias ... I guess the first step would be to download the free NOAA charts so I have a clue where all these places are that you mention ;)

For me, the journey is the destination. Besides escaping the northern winter, I would also want to visit and explore places I've never been to (which is really any place south of DC and north of Miami). No hurries here, there's really nothing waiting for me in Florida.

While cruising, I'm cheap and generally prefer anchoring to mooring to slips, but this may be different as I would live on the boat through the winter. Once in Florida, I would most likely be looking for a comfy marina where one doesn't absolutely need a car too get around.

tx, Z

sailingdog 09-20-2010 10:22 AM

LOL... downloading the charts and getting a free nav program to read them with is a good start.

If you're up for exploring...then by all means, hit the ICW, and explore away.

As for Florida. St. Augustine isn't a bad place to stay for a while IMHO. Anchor there and pay the dinghy dock fee and you'll get use of the nice shower, bathroom and laundry facilities there.

My friends live on their boat down in the Keys, and I'll see what they recommend. :D

seadaddler 09-27-2010 06:35 PM

Great Idea
Every sailor only get to dream about what you are thinking of doing and would give anything or everything to make the trip.
Just as said sail out side when ever possible with good weather and than along the ICW annd get to stop along the way stopping at some great places where ever you like to visit.
I sailed from NY to Florida OCT.2008 all mostly offshore and missed all the fun along the way.

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