Northbound Routing Advice - SailNet Community
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Northbound Routing Advice

I am planning to take my CSY 33 early this June from Ft. Lauderdale to Charleston, SC. What would you suggest as the best route? Would you stay in the Gulf Stream or play it more conservatively and stay close to the coast? If that is the case, where do we need to look out for traffic, particularly larger ships? 

Mark Matthews responds:
Thanks for the question. I actually just finished delivering our 'new' 1965 boat up from Florida to Charleston. Whether you should go out as far as the Gulf Stream really depends on the forecast at the time. In my case, strong northeast winds had blown for close to two weeks and a large swell was running as the northerly winds blew against the Gulf Stream. We felt it best to avoid those conditions.

The forecast was for nine to 11-foot seas, compounded by head winds—a scenario we decided we'd rather not face. So, we opted to motor from New Smyrna Beach up the ICW to Jacksonville. While I’m not a big fan of the ICW for a number of reasons (traffic, daylight-hour only operation, the sheer number of things there are to run into, etc.), it was nice to be able to make some headway toward our destination. And when we anchored off a thin ribbon of beach separating us from the booming Atlantic, I found a new appreciation for this well-trafficked waterway.

Halfway through our trip, the wind finally switched around to the east and then to the south, and we were able to make a slightly lumpy two-night, one-day passage up from Jacksonville. We thought about heading out to the Gulf Stream, but a forecast for approaching northerly winds prompted us to stick to the rhumb-line. The sargasso seaweed we saw 40 miles off the coast hinted that we were on the edge of this great current. Had there been a forecast for steady south breezes, we might have ventured further out for the boost the current gives, but at that point we were happy to be taking advantage of the weather window we had, and content not to be in the Gulf Stream with approaching northerly winds. So my long-winded answer to your question is that the decision to head out depends on the forecast.

As far as ship traffic goes, nearly all the ships we encountered seemed to be running along east and west routes. The commercial traffic off Savannah, GA was the heaviest, and we did have to alter course once to avoid an inbound bulk carrier. After we got close to Charleston there were several tugs and an inbound ship to keep an eye on. And we did see several pleasure boats heading north. Ofcourse it's important to keep a lookout--you could see none of the above, or traffic moving in any number of directions. Finally, know that though the range lights here in Charleston are quite clearly marked, there's a lot of dredging going on inside the harbor and negotiating the half-sunken jetties is easiest done during daylight hours at slack or flood tide. Here's hoping you have a great trip.

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