Sept 8 – Home Again

Madge, home again, unloading at the public dock in Saint Marys.

Our plan for leaving on Thursday morning depended on the turning of the tide around eight o’clock in the morning, which was the low tide. Since we would be transiting the notoriously shallow Jekyll Creek early in the day, we at least wanted to wait for rising water levels. And since I knew the route between Brunswick Sound and Cumberland Sound fairly well, and Matt not at all, Madge would take the lead with Checked Out following. I needed to fuel up and pump out Madge before leaving, and we would have to re-position the boat to do so. Since the outgoing current was behind Madge, we needed to wait for the current to turn so we could safely walk her back along the dock about 100 ft to the fuel and pump-out station. By eight o’clock, however, the current had not shifted, and Matt got anxious to get going on the 50-mile trek, so Checked Out cast off. We would follow as soon as we completed our fueling and pumping, and would “lead” from the rear. Madge eventually pulled away from the dock about 45 minutes behind Checked Out, which put them about 3 miles ahead of us. With good radio contact, and using my binoculars, we were able to chart their location ahead of us, and provide local knowledge about any situation Checked Out might be approaching. We maintained our separation throughout the day, both boats traveling at about the same speed, but we only lost sight of their mast a couple of times. That’s an advantage of traveling through the marshes. A sailboat’s mast can be seen above the grass for many miles. There were only two spots that offered any sort of challenge to an easy transit — Jekyll Creek, and the mouth of the Brickhill River at Cumberland Dividings. The channel in Jekyll Creek is┬ásometimes hard to find, in spite of the regular daymarks. There used to be “ranges” (markers set up like gun sights on the banks) to keep boats in line with the channel, but they don’t exist any more. Near the mouth of the Brickhill River, the charted depths, channel markers and “magenta line” don’t agree, so it’s always been a crap shoot depending on the tide. The magenta line runs on the wrong side of the daymarks, and the daymarks would have the channel running over what the charts show as an island. It has been posted recently that the Coast Guard has corrected the marker locations in this area, and that the “island” doesn’t exist (even at low tide). Even at low tide, it should be safe to transit this area by following the daymarks.

We entered Jekyll Creek about an hour after low tide, but once again our new SonarCharts helped us get through without incident — though I did have one scare where my depth sounder showed us in about four feet of water (Madge draws four and a half). But we never slowed down, so either the bottom was very soft and we plowed right through it, or we passed over some grass that gave us a false reading. Saint Andrews Sound south of Jekyll Island was relatively calm, but it took us a long time to get across it. We made good time in the Cumberland River behind Cumberland Island. The Brickhill River turned out to be no problem. We passed it on a rising tide, a little before high tide — but we saw very deep water as we followed the daymarks, so it appears that the issues with that part of the ICW have been resolved. A few miles south of the Brickhill River we entered the environs of the Kings Bay submarine base. Fortunately, there were no warships moving through the area. The waterway is effectively shut down when a sub enters or leaves, which can really ruin your day when you have to sit and wait for it — and those 18-yr old kids on those fast Navy patrol boats with big machine guns don’t have any sense of humor. We always stay well clear of them. As we passed the main docks, we saw a submarine tied up alongside — on the surface in full view. I had never seen a sub docked like that there. Usually, they are kept under cover in giant warehouse-like buildings. I would’ve tried to take a picture of it, but as we passed, a Navy patrol boat escorted us, staying about 100 yards off our starboard beam, and keeping a position directly between us and the sub. I sure didn’t want them to think I was being too nosy. It’s their job, I know, but it always strikes me as funny. At top speed, it would take Madge about 10 minutes to get from the ICW to the boundary of the security zone — plenty of time for even the worst gunner in the Navy to spot us and blow us out of the water. Yet, I know they have to treat all boats the same, as a potential threat, so we waved politely to our escort when they turned aside and kept our bow turned resolutely south, away from the base. I’m sure Matt and Jan got an eyeful. I don’t think they’d ever seen a sub at that close a distance.

We parted company with Checked Out at the mouth of the Saint Marys River. They continued down the waterway to Fernandina, while we turned west toward home. I called our friend, Bob, from S/V Knot in a Hurry, and he agreed to meet us at the city dock to help us tie up. As we rounded the last bend in the river approaching town, we noticed that there was already a boat tied up at the small dock. There is a time limit for tying up there, and we wanted to unload a lot of our stuff where we could easily throw it into our Suburban and take it home, without having to shuttle it ashore in the dinghy. Then, we would move Madge out to her mooring ball in the river. Fortunately, the other boat cast off in plenty of time for us to take their place at the dock, and Bob caught our lines. He informed us that he had checked our mooring ball earlier in the day, and that the pennant was fouled again. While he took Suzy home to get our truck, I put the motor on the dinghy and got ready to go out and take a look at our ball. When Suzy returned, and while she was unloading the freezer and refrigerator, Bob and I went out to the ball and developed a plan. We would run a long line through a shackle on the top of the ball — ignoring the pennant — and tie off each end of the line on Madge’s bow cleats. After we unloaded the boat of what needed to be removed immediately, Suzy and I took Madge out into the river, while Bob took our dinghy and the temporary mooring line to the ball. The water was a little choppy as the afternoon winds picked up, but Bob got the line to Suzy on the bow, and Madge was quickly secured to the mooring ball. We closed up the boat, hopped in the dinghy with Bob and headed for shore. Suzy and I will return to the boat tomorrow to switch over to our permanent mooring lines, and to remove everything else that needs to be taken off the boat.

It was good to be home, to get really clean and put on fresh clothes. There was nothing in the house to eat, except for what we’d just taken off the boat. We decided we wanted something else. As a reward for Bob, we called him up and invited him out to dinner. Of course, he accepted.