We are finally underway. We got all of our critical commitments out of the way, and we had to leave a few things behind, but we have departed St. Marys and are on our way. It wasn’t a grand start — we only moved about ten miles from St. Marys to Fernandina Beach — but we got off our mooring ball and left town. Suzy and I were both to the point that we felt if we didn’t leave immediately, we’d never get away. We didn’t even bother to stow everything we packed. We just loaded the boat up with our clothes, food, gear and charts, and took off. We left Saturday.

It was not a good day for traveling on the water — cold and drizzly. We didn’t care. We were only going a few miles, anyway. Then, when we hit Cumberland Sound, we ran into a brutal fog. I’d never been in fog on the water before. We could only see about a couple hundred yards ahead. The trip to Fernandina was nerve-wracking but uneventful. We took a slip in the Fernandina Harbour Marina by mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening rearranging every locker on the boat and stowing all our stuff. By the end of it all, we were amazed at how much we could hide in all the little nooks and crannies on Madge.

We are now, officially, cruisers.

It wasn’t an easy transition. I have to admit that I’ve had some periods of anxiety about our cruise. It is sobering to realize that I’m now totally responsible for the safety of ourselves and the boat, embarking on an adventure like none other I’ve ever experienced. I’ve tried to foresee and plan for every contingency; I’ve talked to every cruiser I know who has been to the places we plan to go; I’ve read dozens of articles, bought guides and charts, studying until my brain is weary. Things got better for me after Thanksgiving when Suzy and I moved onto the boat. I felt like I had a handle on things. We would go ashore for periods of time during the day, but take our meals and sleep on the boat, just like we’d do cruising. I fixed some things; changed some things; and fiddled with the engine. We wanted to take some short trips, but local commitments kept us tied up. Then the cold weather hit, and our warm bed ashore called to us. We decided it would only be for a day or two, but it ended up being a week. Then our wind turbine — which had been previously fixed — started acting up again, and we felt like we had to shut down the refrigerator to keep from draining our batteries. We took all the perishable food off the boat. By then, Christmas was rolling around and we visited our children and grandchildren for the holidays. Just after New Years, our newest granddaughter was christened, so we were traveling for that. In addition to those distractions (pleasant as they were), we decided that there were some last minute things we needed to do to secure the house for our extended absence. Not only that, but I cracked a couple of teeth and had to have TWO crowns.

Back after Thanksgiving, when we learned Number Four would be christened on Jan 3, we tentatively set our departure date for Jan 6. This departure would depend on having good enough weather to go offshore from St. Marys and hopscotch down the Florida coast to the St. Lucie Inlet. If we didn’t get our weather window within a couple of days after the 6th, our plan would be to begin heading down the ICW — which would take more time than going offshore — but keep looking for opportunities to jump “outside.” When my teeth cracked, I was able to get an appointment with my dentist for Jan 4, since I would be in the Atlanta area for the christening on the 3rd. (There was never any doubt that I would go back to Atlanta for the crowns. My dentist — who I call “Dr. Painless” — has looked after my teeth for 32 years, and he’s the only guy for the job, as far as I’m concerned.) On Tuesday, Jan 5, when I checked out the boat before we started loading up, I discovered that the wind turbine — which had been fixed — had malfunctioned again. It had to be removed and sent back to the manufacturer for warranty repair. Then the weather forecast took a turn for the worse.

Adhering to a time-honored tradition, I began cursing like a sailor. Then we saw a silver lining. The weather situation that prevents our offshore sailing out of St. Marys means we will have to travel down the ICW for a while, meaning we will be using our engine most of the time. Sure, it will take longer than offshore, but using the engine will charge the batteries in lieu of the wind turbine. As long as we mostly motor during the time that the wind turbine is being repaired, we should be able to run the refrigerator as normal. So, we removed the wind turbine on Thursday, shipped it off on Friday, and cast off on Saturday — only three days after our target date. We suffered more angst that we should have. We spent more money than we wanted to. But we got all the necessary tasks completed and said the hell with the rest. Time to go cruising.

What did I learn from all of this? As I’ve said before, I’ve been taught that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. By training, as a Project Manager, I’ve planned projects from the beginning through to the end, trying to figure out how and when each bite should be taken. As a nascent cruiser, I’ve learned that I should still take just a bite at a time, but I don’t have to know everything about all the bites before the meal. All I really needed to do was to get from St. Marys to Fernandina. Then I just have to get to St. Augustine. Then Daytona Beach. Just the next bite. I can adjust as I go. The wind turbine can be returned to us somewhere down the ICW. There are grocery stores, drug stores and repair shops along the way. Whatever comes up, we can deal with.

Our plan is to get to Key West to meet some friends on Feb 18. They’re all land-based, so they shouldn’t have any trouble getting there on time. As for us — well, we’ll try to get there on time. Then we’ll head for the Bahamas.

What now? Fernandina is as far south as we’ve ever been by boat. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be in new territory each day. The weather in the morning should be sunny and 40 degrees with North winds at 10-15 knots. I’ll let you know when we get south enough to thaw out.