This Eastern US coast adventure was undertaken with good friends of ours, involving friendships going back in some cases to early elementary school, people we have since often travelled with over the years throughout Canada, Mexico and Europe.
Tina & John retired a few years ago and purchased a 75’ Nordhavn trawler, (which they named Sockeye Blue), with plans this would be their primary home for the next 5-7 years, traveling the world and having friends meet up with them at different ports. We joined them on their maiden voyage out of Point Roberts, Washington, visiting the USA Gulf Islands with other friends and family members.
Last year they once again left Point Roberts heading south to Latin America. They spent time in Costa Rica, then went through the Panama Canal, into Columbia, over to the Dominican Republic, around Puerto Rico, over to Turks & Cacaos, and eventually ended up in Ft. Lauderdale in March of this year for scheduled maintenance work.
At the beginning of April we joined them in Lauderdale where they were still taking care of last minutes details on the boat, getting it ready for the next trip. On board were Jone & Dan from California and Jan & Greetje from Holland, also long-time friends of John & Tina.
We planned to meander our way up the Eastern Seaboard, going as far as time and preference allowed. We also had planned to take the Intracoastal Waterway, but after talking with other Nordhavn boat owners, we found out that although it is stated on charts that there is 10-12 feet of water depth, that is not always the case. The waterway is continually changing its depths with shoals appearing and then disappearing. The waterway is fine for smaller boats with shallow drafts, but it certainly wasn’t for Sockeye Blue.
We also learned that these are “lowlands”, there is little to no verticalness along this coastline from Florida to Virginia or Chesapeake Bay. And the waters are shallow, meaning traveling quite a ways offshore (so you rarely see land) so it takes a long time getting in and out of ports, especially since many of our visits were up rivers.
We stocked up on provisions, purchasing most of our groceries at the market Harris Teeter, which conveniently features a wine & beer bar which allows one to drink wine while grocery shopping. This really improved the shopping experience!
On April 7th we left the shipyard dock we were staying at and began to make our way down the windy New River, which flows through downtown Lauderdale, to the Bahia Marina. Coming down the river was not easy as it is narrow and busy. The shores of the river are lined with homes that became more and more extravagant as we got closer to downtown Ft. Lauderdale. At first the homes were quite simple, but they had large yachts moored in front of them as they rent out their dock space. And there were so many yachts over 100 feet. Actually that seems to be quite the norm here.
We spent the night at Bahia, did some sea trials to ensure the boat was ready after the work done, and then headed out early in the morning up the coast. Weather was rough and a few were sick from the waves and large swells. I also found out that our port hole was not closed and we got swamped and I lost my laptop because of it. 😦
When heading out of Lauderdale we could see the skylines of condominium buildings lining the coast all the way down to Miami looking south and the same looking north towards Palm Beach. In behind these tall towers were canals, built out like street grids, with homes lining their shorelines. Some of these homes are huge with 100+ ft. yachts sitting in front of them. There is a lot of money in Lauderdale.
Heading north we had the wind behind us so we picked up speed, enough that we had to decide to either slow down so to arrive in the morning in Savannah, or dock somewhere closer. We chose to go in at Brunswick and spend the night there. We had dinner in town together and were in bed early. We didn’t get up in time to fuel and then head out and make it to Savannah before sunset, so we stayed another night. Took us about 30 hours to reach Brunswick from Ft. Lauderdale.
We rented a car since we had the whole day in Brunswick. There really isn’t a lot to see and do in Brunswick so we visited Jeckyll Island where we drove its circumference, went to its museum and had lunch at the restaurant Latitude 310. After that half the team stayed on the island to visit a turtle farm while the rest drove up to another island near Brunswick called St. Simmons. We visited the coastal town of Saint Simons, which is very similar to surf towns in California, where we had ice cream, walked around and then headed back to Brunswick. We bought some fresh shrimp and had a feast of shrimp salad for dinner.
We got up early the next day and started making our way to Savannah. Getting out of Brunswick is not a simple as leaving port and heading up the coast. The water is so shallow that you have to head out way off of shore, guided by markers, which can take up a few of hours. Savannah isn’t far, but when you added three hours to get out of Brunswick and another three hours to get into Savannah, before you even begin heading up the coast six hours of travel time are taken up.
We arrived in Savannah at dusk, time for a cocktail and then dinner on board. We docked right in front of Savannah, which is the liveliest area of the city, as the once cotton warehouses that line the waterfront are now bars, shops and restaurants. A cobblestoned road/walkway separates the docks from the shops and there is always plenty of people walking up and down it. We shared the docks with paddlewheel riverboats that take people out on cruises during the weekends.
On Sunday we purchased all-day tickets for the trolley, which includes a 90-minute tour and talk about the history of the town. Savannah is very charming and to know Savannah is to know its streets, squares and the homes that line them. Laid out in a grid with garden squares throughout, it is a beautiful town to walk. The streets and squares are lines with 100+ year old homes and majestic oak trees that canopy to provide shade, and are covered in Spanish moss draped over their branches. Most of the homes have been renovated and are very well kept, so there is plenty to view when walking. Near Broad Street the homes are much simpler and can be quite small. As you walk west you travel through an evolution of Savannah home styles over the past 200 years, becoming more and more elegant and sophisticated the further west you go.
The Savannah School of Art & Design has purchased and renovated over 89 properties over the years, adding even more to the architectural charm of the town. My favorite walk was down Houston St. from the docks, to Jones Street. Jones St. begins with small but well-kept homes at one end where it meets Broad Street, and by the time you get to the end of it, near Whitaker, the homes are mansions. My favorite square was Polaski, mostly for the homes that surround it. Southern Living magazines wrote that Jones St. is the prettiest street in Georgia.
We had lunch at the Chart House and finally got to taste Fried Green Tomatoes, which are wonderful. We also ate a Pacci’s, an upscale Italian restaurant that is part of the Kimpton Hotel, which we all enjoyed.
When we were heading out of Savannah and heading towards Charleston we had an interesting radio call. It said, “Sockeye Blue this is Warship 586, please state your intentions.” The four of us were on the bridge at the time and we all just looked at each other questioningly, with big eyes; “Warship” and “what are our intentions?” John took the radio and it was because they were coming up very fast behind us and just wanted to make sure we were staying on our current course. Tense for a bit…
We left Savannah early, now two weeks into our journey, and made our way out the river with a large container freighter on our ass, and 18 miles of river to navigate. It took just about as long to get in and out of these coastal towns as it did to travel between them!
Water was basically flat with little wind until about 2/3rds of the way up when the wind came up with gusts over 30 mph and 6-8 ft. waves. Fortunately we weren’t far from Charleston. As we arrived to the Charleston City Marine it was raining, but also time for cocktail hour. The next day we took in a tour by bus of the city and then walked the parts we liked best. There’s a lot more to Charleston than Savannah, as the historic area is larger and the homes seem to be much grander.
Wehad a fun night while in Charleston taking cooking classes where we prepared our own meals and then enjoyed them with wine pairings. It was a lot of fun, all under the guidance of chef Bob Wagonner. Highly recommended, and the food was great!
While in Charleston we rented a car and took in one of the plantations nearby. There are a number of them, most recognized were Middleton, Magnolia and Drayton. We chose Middleton and very much enjoyed it. It was first settled in the late 17th century and for more than 300 years it has been held by the Middleton family, who have played important roles in American history. Today it is a national historic monument, owned by the non-profit Middleton Place Foundation where 100% of the profits raised go towards education. It is America’s oldest landscaped gardens, first laid out in 1741, and it makes for wonderful walking throughout the many garden areas. The Garden Club of America has awarded it as the “most interesting and important garden in America. We had a salad for lunch at the restaurant on the property and our first “mint juleps” (good, but a little sweet and a little strong for lunchtime!).
That evening we had our last dinner all together at the Amen Restaurant (excellent!), as Dan, Yone, Yon and Gretchen are heading off by car up the coast and then flying back home. So it is now just the four of us on board.
We took in the city museum, which is the oldest of its kind in the USA. A lot of information and it was interesting, but the walk we took afterwards proved even better in some ways. We walked through the streets south of Broad Street, where there are some amazing homes that have been wonderfully restored over the years. Most are preserved historical monuments and have a plaque in front that tells who the owners, have been, when it was built and who the architect was. Amazing homes with an amazing variety of architectural styles. I wonder if there is a better residential walk anywhere in the USA. You can tell that Charleston was a very rich town at one time. If time is short, skip the museum and walks the streets south of Broad Street.
Next was a run up to Beaufort, North Carolina. We spent a few days here, waiting for the weather to clear up so we could make our way up to Virginia. Beaufort is a small historic town with homes somewhat similar to what you find in Savannah. The town is not large with little in the way of commerce; it is mostly tourist souvenir shops, restaurants, and for some reason, a lot of lawyer offices who have set themselves up in some of the historic homes.
We had dinner at the Cedar Inn, a nicely refurbished early 19th century home, with small rooms and planked wooden floors. Food was excellent. We were joined by Bradley and Catherine, who are also Nordhavn owners and had their boat at a boatyard nearby.
Beaufort is built along a narrow inlet, which is lined with southern-style homes with their boat slip out front. Across the inlet is the Rachel Carson reserve, which protects Beaufort from winds and high seas. It turned out to be a good place for paddle boarding.
We finally got our fair-weather window on Wednesday morning and headed up to Hampton, Virginia. There’s was a storm behind us and a major one to the east, which was more like a hurricane, both that we wanted to avoid. We avoided both with calm waters most of the ways.
Hampton and Chesapeake Bay
We made it to Hampton, Virginia before the storm and it followed us in the next day with gale force winds up to 30 mph whistling through the marina. It would’ve been higher out on open sea, so we were glad we made it to port. We had 24 hours of wind and rain, but the following day we woke up to sunshine and clear skies.
Very little to see and do in Hampton, so we rented a car and drove up to Williamsburg, one of the first American communities and the first capital of the new republic after the American Revolution. It was a beautiful day, a Farmer’s Market was being held in the main plaza area, and we enjoyed walking its streets and taking in its rich history. We had lunch at a place called Food for Thought, just outside of Williamsburg on the way to Richmond. Looked like a fast-food outlet, but it had been recommended to us a number of times so we decided to give it a try. It was very good. Great variety on the menu, good prices and excellent service.
Traveling the eastern seaboard of the USA, from Florida up to Chesapeake, there really isn’t a lot to see. All the way up the coast is flat, and the water is so shallow you have to remain a long ways off shore if you are in a big boat with a deep draft. Often you don’t even see the shore. If you are in a smaller boat there is the intracoastal, which probably is the way to see this coastline. Otherwise a lot of time is spent getting into a port and back out of it, sometimes taking up 2-4 hours of time alone.
Once into the Chesapeake it is possible to see more and be closer to shore, but it is still quite shallow in the majority of places and you have to be continually diligent. The shores are lined with trees and homes, some being stately mansions with thousands of feet of frontage with large sprawling lawns.
A boat of this size requires a very different means of handling it compared to other small boats we’ve been on. Usually we use the navigation system to see where we are and to navigate, while most of the time using the wheel, or at times the auto pilot but not set to any particular course. On board the Sockeye Blue you don’t leave port or anchorage until a course has been plotted, and from there the boat steers the course, following way points, not the pilot. The wheel is not used, when driving manually a joy stick-type set-up is utilized, or by punching in degree changes into the navigation system. As well, engine checks are done on a two-hour schedule, noting down temperatures and levels of different aspects of the engines and the engine room such as the hydraulics and bilges.
We left Hampton for a short run up to Yorktown, arriving before lunch. It was a Sunday and this was the first day they had been some sun, so there were a lot of people down along the waterfront and on the beach. The waterfront has a few restaurants, shops and a small museum. On top of the bank above the waterfront is the town with a few restored homes, but it is much smaller than Williamsburg or Jamestown. A large monument is on the easterly side of the town in memory of a decisive battle that took place between the British and the allied forces (French and confederate troops). The Americans were assisted by the French, who brought up their naval forces from the West Indies, under General de Grasse, to make it impossible for the British to leave by ship from Yorktown. George Washington, who led the alliance, gave the British the impression he was going to attack New York, but instead attacked Yorktown and ended up taking nearly the whole British army hostage. This, it is said, was the beginning of the end of the American Revolution.
From Yorktown we ran up and dropped anchor in Fishing Bay, just south of Deltaville. We dropped the tender and did a tour of the area, taking in the large homes that lined the shores. There was a lot of wind from the south, however, to which we were open, so the morning we headed up the next inlet of the Rappahannock River to Urbanna.
The Chesapeake must have thousands of miles of shoreline, more created by its many inlets which lead up to many rivers with often Indian names. Chesapeake itself is quite shallow, but these inlets can be even more so. Sockeye Blue has a deep draft, so when tried getting into the town of Urbanna, we grounded out twice before deciding that we just weren’t going to be able to get into that particular marina. Fortunately our next night’s stay was just across the inlet, so we went in one night early.
Irvington is actually one of a number of small towns situated on a peninsula with multiple inlets and bays along its shoreline. One of these holds the Tides Inn, a boutique hotel and marina, where we docked for three days. Because of its location the waters were calm and the inlet was deep, allowing us opportunities to explore the coastline by tender, kayak and paddle board. The inlet goes in quite aways, lined with beautiful homes, each with a dock out front.
There is also a par three, nine-hole golf course, beach and sailing club, fitness center, all within a very lovely setting. Although we played the par three, we also played an 18-hole course nearby. A nice set-up, as we could charge our golfing fees and restaurant bill straight back to the hotel.
We had one incident where we lost the keys for the car we had rented, just before we were due to drive to Norfolk to pick up our friend Jill at the airport. We searched the whole boat, dock and hotel grounds where we had walked but couldn’t find them. We asked the hotel reception and they said they had received nothing. Finally we had to hire a driver to pick up Jill at a cost of $200 dollars. And then we still had to have a key made and delivered to us, which would be expensive. While about to call roadside service to have the key made, our neighbor at the dock walked by and asked if we’d lost a car key. We said we sure had, and he informed us that he had given it to the people at the reception the night before. We immediately went with him and asked, and they looked again, and this time found it. Needless to say the hotel paid for the driver to pick up Jill. But I should say, other than that, the service at the hotel was excellent. You still get a feeling of the south here though, remnants of a troubled American past, as all the help are black, except for management, and all the guests are white.
We stocked up on provisions in the town just next to Irvington, where within one block of Main Street (which was about the length of town), we found a wonderful wine store (which also sold homemade chocolates, fresh bread and cheeses), a coffee shop for fresh ground coffee and homemade quiches, and a place to refill our propane tanks. And as well, in an empty commercial space, there was a sign saying fresh oysters four miles towards the town of White Stone. So we drove to there and at a residential home we bought a 100-box of oysters for $25 dollars. We got only a dozen oysters for that price at the Tides Inn.
We left Irvington and headed now to the mouth of the famous Potomac River. We had chosen to anchor inside Breton Bay, which is wide, protected and offers an average depth of 15 feet. We anchored in time for cocktail hour and enjoyed a couple bottles of champagne with oysters on the back deck. For dinner John served his homemade lasagna that was superb, washed down with superb Italian wine.
We got up early the next day to make our run to Alexandria only to find the back decks of the boat covers in thousands of flies, most of them dead. I guess they were attracted by the lights, like moths, and died from the heat. We had to get out the hoses to wash them off, concerned, however, that they’d clog up the drains.
Alexandria is a wonderful town that survived much of the civil war, in contrast to other southern towns. A great town for walking with a style distinct from Charleston and Savannah, more like Boston with a heavy usage of red brick. The main drag is King Street with plenty of shops and restaurants, and well-restored homes branching out on the streets on each side. It was a Saturday and most of the restaurants were pre-booked and full, so we ended up eating and drinking at a wine bar, (Wine & Bean), tapas style. The next day we took it easy, walked the town some more and then enjoyed a lunch on the back of the boat. Late in the afternoon we made our way to the other side of the river and entered Washington, DC. The Capital marina is very close to the National Mall, providing easy walking distance to explore the area. And the water is protected in the inlet, so it is also good for paddle boarding.
This was our final destination, at least by boat. We docked at the Capital Marina, which is right close to the National Mall. One of the first things you realize upon your arrival is how noisy the city can be. The airport is just across the river so there are jets continually coming and going, flying low over Washington on their approach. And then there is the continual presence of the US airforce and federal security, mostly in the form of low-flying helicopters and Ospreys. And on top of that, a major freeway runs right through the middle of the city, creating more noise. And even more, there happened to be a lot of construction going on while we were visiting. Construction on the docks with pile-driving for new docks and the foundation for a major waterfront condominium residential area. The National Mall was completely torn up, putting in new grass drainage, a project that is supposed to last until 2017.
But we took in the sights such as Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Jefferson Memorial. We only took in one museum and that was the “Newseum” a new museum about the news that was created in 2008. We all very much enjoyed this museum and highly recommend it. Something for everyone and extremely interesting.
We left for New York by bus, deciding not to take Amtrak as it was longer and not as practical. And it was a good thing we did as there was a major accident on the route from Washington to New York, near Baltimore, that killed a number of people and injured many. Train traffic would not resume for at least a week and air prices shot up to over a $1,000 US one way.
We enjoyed the city immensely as the weather was wonderful and walking its streets was fun – so much action. Coming from the south with its southern hospitality and slow pace, this was like arriving in a city where everyone is high on coke. All seem to be in a rush to get some where; they talk a mile a minute (all about money it seems) and they just aren’t as friendly. But they have an energy level about them that is exhilarating, at least for awhile. There is always construction going on, jack hammers blasting, sirens of fire trucks going by, and a curbside action that is so typically New York. Our hotel was Hotel 31 on 31st street between Lexington and Park, but it was nothing special, especially considering it was rated so high in Trip Advisor. After two days, though, we were ready for the slower pace in Nice.
And that was it, a wonderful ending to a great adventure. But now it was time to head back to Nice, France…