A Private Lock and Running Offshore

Windmill Harbor on Hilton Head Island offered us a delightful and secure overnight stop before skipping the Georgia ICW entirely by running “outside” to Amelia Island.

Day 49 – 50, December 2 – 3

After delaying our early Sunday morning departure from BEW-fərt, South Carolina because of thunder, lightning, downpours and threatened tornadoes, we were chomping at the bit to get under way.  At 11:00 am, with gray skies and rain still splattering around us, we cast off from the Downtown Marina of BEW-fərt.  We didn’t know where we were going, but that’s normal for us.  We don’t plan, remember?

The Beaufort River was gray, calm, and empty.

The forecast for the rest of the day was R.A.I.N. but with our cozy pilot house, we were good with that.  Weather radar showed the stormy stuff had passed through.  The Beaufort River was empty.  We crossed a calm Port Royal Sound and looped around the north side of Hilton Head Island, all empty.  It seemed everyone else had given up for the day and decided to stay put.

Our challenge was to figure out a plan for the next few days.  We were facing the Georgia ICW which is notorious for being tedious, shallow, winding, lengthy, and short on options for overnight stops.  While we knew we could figure something out, we also contemplated the option of running outside to get beyond it fast.

Miraculously, we began to see a weather window emerging that might allow this to happen.  To pull it off, we needed a good forecast for calm conditions offshore, accessible inlets at a distance we could cover during daylight, and accommodations at each end for secure overnight dockage and getting the dogs ashore.

Originally we were looking at a window two days off — on Tuesday.  But over the previous 24 hours, Monday had begun to look plausible also.  Monday would be even better, because it would allow for an easy Sunday run to Hilton Head, then out early the next morning at Calibogue Inlet to either Jekyll Island or Amelia Island. A front would be threatening during the day, but I was confident that it would stay to the south of us and that we would have calm seas all day.

With this tentative plan in mind, we had an easy 18-mile Sunday run from BEW-fərt to Hilton Head.  We selected Windmill Harbor at Hilton Head because two years earlier while cruising aboard our Sabre in Maine we met a couple from Windmill Harbour who told us that when we did the ICW we absolutely had to stop in Windmill Harbour Marina.  They described a lovely small development with a totally protected lagoon and it’s own private lock for boat access.  A private marina with its own private lock!  How cool is that?!

Considering the weather we had in BEW-fərt early in the day, we had a calm and pleasant — but damp and gray — ride to Windmill Harbor.  When we arrived, the marina staff got the lock prepped for us and in we went.  It took all of about three minutes.  As guests, we needed staff to operate the lock for us but residents can get trained to do it themselves. Once inside we tucked in at a floating dock.

Windmill Harbor was all lit up for the holidays and had a magical feel to it.

It was a great spot.  Attractive, clean, and totally protected from both wind and sea.  The place seemed empty, partially because of the time of year, but also because of the wet and threatening weather.  We headed out to explore with the dogs but after a few minutes the heavens opened once again and we retreated to the boat.

Home made shrimp and grits with fresh Edisto shrimp!

As the sun went down behind the thick clouds and it got dark, Windmill Harbor glowed with Christmas lights all around us.  It was quite beautiful, and after the front pulled out, absolutely still and silent.  We enjoyed a simple meal on board of Edisto Island shrimp and grits. A lovely overnight stop.

We had set our alarms for early the next morning, hoping the weather window for an outside run down the Georgia coast would hold.  I got up, made coffee, and checked the forecasts.  There was indeed still a powerful front that would be moving in from the west, but it seemed that it would stay well to the south of us and pass out to sea.  We solidified our plans, but unfortunately we couldn’t leave until the marina staff arrived at 8:00 am to handle the lock for us.

Executive Office heads for the lock at Windmill Harbor.  We follow minutes later.

We got the boat ready to leave and took the dogs for a walk, hoping to explore a bit before leaving.  As we looped around the harbor just before 7:00 we saw another boat, Executive Office, casting off lines.  Bruce flagged them down and learned that they were headed out the lock with the help of a resident friend.  They said he would lock us through too if we wanted, so we said Yes! and scrambled back to the boat.

Locking through at Windmill Harbour.

We were off the dock in about three minutes, and the friendly resident worked the lock for us.  We were out and under way by 7:15, which was great because we had a long run ahead of us and daylight is gold.

As we headed out, the Facebook Coconut Telegraph kicked into high gear with dire warnings of death and destruction.  That front to the south of us.  Folks were in a panic for us.  Indeed, the Jacksonville area was getting pounded and there were tornado warnings along the front, but everything I was looking at continued to confirm that it would all stay to the south of us and pass out to sea.

We had originally planned to go inside at Jekyll Island and stay at Morningstar Marina at Saint Simons Island, but as it turned out, they were full (no one was moving because of weather fears) so we called ahead to the Amelia Island Marina and they could take us.  This added about twenty miles to the outside trip for a total run of 107 miles, and brought us in at the St. Mary’s entrance at the Georgia-Florida border near Fernandina. Because we had gotten that welcome early start through the lock at Windmill Harbor, we could still do it during daylight so on we went.

img_1479During the day we kept a close eye on the front moving through to the south of us.  We saw some dark clouds at times, and hear of tornado warnings, but nothing came anywhere near us.

img_1472Our conditions were glassy calm pretty much all day.  It was gray, and there might have been a shower or two, and the fog (surprise!) descended thick like Maine for an hour, but that was it.  We had a fantastic flat and fast run.  By the time we approached the St. Mary’s Entrance, the entire frontal mess was well to the east of us and we had a nice trip in the river to the Amelia Island Marina.

Shrimping off the Georgia coast.

We had hoped to stop at Fernandina during the trip, but sadly that wasn’t possible because of major reconstruction at the Fernandina Harbor Marina.  The alternative Amelia Island Marina has little to recommend it beyond convenience.  When we arrived they had no idea where to put us in spite of our reservation.  We had to idle in the narrow fairway for almost half an hour while they figured things out.  Eventually we were assigned a slot and got ourselves secure.

While all this was going on, a nice spiffy red American Tug 41 Antares Star arrived.  We wandered over to say hello as they tied up, and later on Walt and Ladonna came over to Esmeralde for a chat.  Delightful folks!  We hope to catch up with them “down the road” sometime.

The marina was a little run-down, and the boats there were a little run-down.  The restaurant was closed that evening but I wouldn’t have walked into the place anyway.  There was a big sign on the front of the building: “Closing Permanently December 31”.  I know why.

There was a nice spiffy new Hanse in the slip next to us.  We met the owners the next morning.  They had left the boat at the marina while they returned home to Canada for a week.  When they got back to the boat late that night they discovered that their power cord had been unplugged and taken by a different boat.  All their perishables were spoiled and their batteries were dead.  The marina didn’t handle the situation well.  These folks were new to boating and were as nice as they could be.  When we left we were not feeling warm and fuzzy about Amelia Harbor Marina.

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