"Splashing" Azaya at Thunderbolt Marina on the Wilmington River near Savannah.
We left Fairbanks, Alaska on November 3, 2008, and have almost been in the Southeast U.S. for 3 months now. We headed down here with visions of sailing to the Bahamas after about 6-8 weeks of getting Azaya "ready" to go and then also doing some sea trials. Well, needless to say, most aspects of this endeavor have taken longer than originally planned, and we are still working on preparing for longer cruising. It's been a steep learning curve for us, and frustrating at times. But, we've also learned tons about our boat and believe she will be a good boat for us and our traveling goals.
We started off at Thunderbolt Marina, near Savannah, Georgia on the Wilmington River. Our boat was in dry storage, and we basically lived and worked on our boat, daily, except for occasional mental health days, spent exploring the Savannah area.
View of typical marshland landscape in southern, coastal Georgia.
Lots of the first week was spent making lists of things needed on board. It was like moving into an empty house and having to supply everything from bedding, to towels, to kitchen and desk items. In addition we had to look at all the safety equipment and tools and lines and filters, and...... Each day was the discovery of more items that were required, adding them to the list, and scheduling the shopping trips. It took almost 2 weeks to set up the boat for being a live aboard while we worked on it.
Thunderbolt Marina mainly works on big, gigantic, mega-yachts of the rich and famous. Truly! Floating hotels, with most registered offshore in the Cayman Islands. We were small fish in a huge pond, and our welding needs were always at the bottom of the list. While waiting for welding, we decided to fix the major leaks in our teak decking.
View of typical marshland landscape in southern, coastal Georgia.
We ended up pulling up the foredeck, as far back as the cockpit, and discovered tons of corrosion and holes due to saltwater getting under the teak deck and being unable to exit through scuppers that extended too high up into the teak for the trapped water to escape out of. Repairing this area included: removing all the deck hardware,pulling up the teak, cutting all the screws down, grinding the deck smooth, filling corrosion pits with marine tex, backing some of the larger holes with aluminum plates first, faring wavy parts of the aluminum deck, priming, and finally painting it with a Sahara Tan color of grizzly bed liner. This is similar to Rhino Liner used on pickup truck beds. It's touch polyurethane and a textured non-skid surface. Most of this work was done despite the weather which fluctuated between rain, and unseasonably low temperatures with howling wind.
Bridge opening for our 65 foot mast.
Calm, sunny days were few and far between, and we worked like crazy when they came our way. Finally, in early January, this deck work was far enough along that we were almost "water tight from above". However, our hull situation still hadn't been resolved.
Back in December, when we knew that we wouldn't be in the water when our adult children arrived for the holidays, we made an adjustment and booked a vacation rental in New Smyrna Beach
, Florida, for a week. Both Erik and his girlfriend, Meagan, and Karlan and her boyfriend, Mason, were able to join us for a week of family time. The weather was warmer in New Smyrna and we had a great chance to walk the beach together, ride bikes on the miles of hard sand by the water, kayak, sightsee, fish (Karlan caught a shark in the surf one evening), play charades, play tennis, and enjoy an active week together.
Mason and Karlan manning the helm for an early morning departure at high tide in order to pass Hell's Gate.
My brother, Jack, also came over from the Orlando area for a short visit, and Meagan's brother, Derek, joined us for several days as well. On Christmas Eve, Karlan and Mason drove back to his mom's house in Hiliard in northern Florida. We spent Christmas with Erik and Meagan at Meagan's family's house in Tampa
, Florida and then headed back to Georgia.
When we were returning to the Savannah area we decided to look for alternate marinas where we could get some welding done in a warmer and less urban area. We discovered Tiger Point Marina in Fernandina Beach
, and found a very talented welder there as well.
Christmas Eve Day Family Photo
Once back at Thunderbolt we decided to finish getting Azaya ready for going down the Intracoastal Waterway to Fernandina Beach. Karlan and Mason were able to join us for
this sea trial transport part of our adventure.
It took us seven days, counting a layover day, to get to Fernandina Beach. We stayed inside the waterway for the entire time, mostly due to weather considerations, but also because our GPS and computer charting system were only working sporadically and we could more easily navigate the inland waters with just charts and binoculars. Our weather was mostly quite cool, and we wore lots of layers and piled on interesting combinations of clothing as we attempted to block the cold winds and damp air. We had mainly packed Bahama bound clothing and longed for the Alaska sailing wardrobe we'd left behind in Fairbanks.
Mason, Karlan, Erik, Meagan, Derek, Mary Clare, Axel at Cape Canaveral National Seashore Turtle Mound Overlook
The Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, in Georgia has the reputation as being the shallowest part of the waterway. Many boats avoid this section of waterway and prefer to head out to the Atlantic rather than risk grounding in the many shallows and shoals. Our boat draws 6 1/2 feet and we were warned by many to use caution in this section of the ICW. We found the Georgian ICW to be an interesting combination of tidal rivers and estuaries, many different sized sounds, and various narrow and shallow passages between these. The topography of the area is FLAT, so navigation was done almost entirely by following buoys noted on our charts and mentioned in various narratives in books we had. We mostly anchored overnight vs. docking at marinas, finding this not only more economical, but it also let us spend evenings, nights, and mornings in more wild and isolated areas.
Moonrise at our anchorage between Possum Point and Beaulieu on the Intracoastal Waterway.
By paying close attention to tides and currents we were able to safely and easily navigate some of the areas with tricky reputations such as Hell's Gate and the Mud River. We were traveling during a time of extreme tides, with only one high tide during daylight hours. We had to carefully watch our depth, and pay close attention to markers, sometimes getting up before dawn to catch the right conditions. But the whole area was quite manageable by our 48 foot boat. We got into shallows and ran into some mud 2 or 3 times, but always going slowly with plenty of warning that we had gotten a bit out of the deeper channel. Our boat was able to reverse out of these situations easily.
We loved the beauty of the area and its relative wildness. We only saw two other pleasure boats the entire time, and mainly saw shrimpers and some small boats out checking crab pots.
Finally finding the time and energy to drink the champagne we bought in Savannah to celebrate the splashing of Azaya.
The barrier islands were beautiful, and the times we were able to take a break and anchor and dinghy to shore to explore were onto areas that were empty and isolated. At times we felt as if we were traveling through Southeast Alaska, or Prince William Sound, but without the mountains or shoreline to navigate by. One detractor was the muddy color of the water which stayed consistently brown through the entire trip, even when crossing sounds. The vistas through the marshlands were lovely, and we saw many dolphins and a large variety of herons, egrets, pelicans, cormorants, oyster catchers, sandpipers, and migratory shorebirds. Some of our favorite places were Ossabaw Island, Sunbury and the Sunbury Crab Company Restaurant, Jekyll Island, and Cumberland Island. Many more lovely areas for hiking exist, just depending on a boat's itinerary and timeline.
Atlantic side of Ossabaw Island. This is an uninhabited island with a gorgeous coastline.
Truly, weeks or months could be spent exploring these barrier islands and the waterways behind them.
We've been making steady progress here in Fernandina. Welding is half way done now. We still need to do some touch-up bottom painting, put the new name on the boat (I scraped the old letters off a couple of days ago. Now we're waiting for the new lettering to be delivered.), reattach some deck hardware, work on an engine injector case leak, trace out some electrical glitches (nothing should be grounded to the aluminum hull as some circuits now are!), replace some sail hardware bearings, and work on the pump out for the head. Except for the bottom painting and the lettering, we hope to be in the water to do most of the rest of this work. It's much more aesthetically pleasing to be in the water vs.
A view out to the Atlantic from Ossabaw Island showing the shallow coastline with lots of shoaling.
dry docked in a marina work yard.
While we wait for the next "splashing" or lift transport back to water, we've rented a small condo for two weeks. It has wifi access so I'm able to indulge in lots of computer time. I'm also able to bake cookies and brownies and pizza and roast vegies. I've missed this since our boat doesn't have a working oven, yet! (Oven parts are on order.) We both have bicycles and are able to ride to most errands. These bikes are actually folding bikes, and will be our land transportation once cruising begins. My bike just arrived less than a week ago, sent by son Erik, who manages a bike shop in Logan, Utah. LOVE my new bike! Axel rides both ways to the marina, about 16 miles round trip daily. I am close to two grocery stores, the P.O. and am only three blocks from the beach.
Anchored off of Cumberland Island. Taken from our kayak shortly after anchoring.
It's nice to have consistent heat (we were relying on a tiny electric space heater on nights that dipped into the 20s and 30s), showers, laundry, and even a T.V. (just in time for watching as this new national administration debuts, and we even get free on demand movies). Axel took yesterday off from the boat, and we biked around the bike trails in Fort Clinch State Park, and visited the Fort as well. It's nice to get some exercise and not be as boat bound for a little while.
Well, this is where we're at right now. We've had to be patient, and flexible, and willing to modify our Bahama Bound goal for this year. We've learned a lot about our boat and what it needs for us to cruise safely and efficiently. We've really been busy repairing, outfitting and provisioning Azaya.
Aft view of Azaya taken from kayak.
Lots left to do, but closer each day to our goal of being ready to set sail for warmer waters during the cold, arctic months of Fairbanks. I'm also uploading some photos from the last few months. Later!