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Passage Debrief: Charleston, SC to Miami, FL

Updated: Mar 28

November 12th 2022 to November 15th 2022

437.72 Nautical Miles

Crew: Captain Forrest, Ross G. and Chris P.

After a couple days in Charleston, we battened down the hatches for the approach of Hurricane Nicole. Luckily by the time it reached us, it had weakened to only a tropical storm. While it was fairly windy and there was a lot of rain, Serenity was in a comfortable position for the couple days it lasted. As the storm cleared, new crew Chris and Ross arrived at the boat. We grabbed some dinner, provisioned the boat and planned to leave at the slack tide the next morning around 8am.

The plan for this winter sailing voyage was to depart Charleston and sail as much of a straight line as possible to Cape Canaveral while avoiding the Gulfstream current running roughly North East at about 2.5kts. We plotted waypoints that would keep us just West of the Gulf Stream, about 60 nm offshore. Winds were forecasted to be WSW at 10 to 15 kts that would slowly clock West and then North over the next 36 to 48 hours.

Advised course from WRI Weather Routing

Gulfstream Forecast on 11/13/22

Chris, Ross and I had an uneventful departure from Charleston motoring to sea alongside plenty of other boats that had rode out the storm in the safe harbor of Charleston before continuing their voyage south. We had to stay close to the breakwater on the way out to make room for several large ships inbound to Charleston. Once in open water, we were able to turn South set main and jib and begin sailing close hauled in a general SW direction. However, as the wind built it became clear that it was from a more SSW bearing than forecasted and we would be beating upwind for the next 12 hours. As the wind hit 15 knots sustained, the seas steepened and we started to pound off of the steeper waves. It then became a game of finding the right speed and angle to the waves to keep the ride smooth without sacrificing too much upwind progress.

Sailing motoring out of Charleston, passing the historic Fort Sumter

It was a beautiful sunset at sea but a tiring first night. Between constantly having to adjust the boat heading and speed to avoid pounding the flat hull of the Beneteau and having to tack a slalom course after we became hemmed in by a fishing fleet to the West and the Gulf Stream to the East, it was hard to stay in our bunks, let alone catch some sleep. Thankfully, the wind began to shift behind us at around 3 in the morning and by sunrise we were happily sailing along at a speedy beam reach.

The rest of the day passed by quickly with minimal shipping traffic and easy sailing. The highlight of the day was passing a defunct Navy Radar Tower from WWII. Back in the 1950's the US Navy built a string of offshore platforms that look similar to oil rigs to house radar dishes all up and down the South East coast. Now they are all abandoned, unlit and, while charted, they can be a real danger at night. For us it was just a strange sight to see a big yellow platform spring up on the horizon while we were sailing about 60 miles offshore. The birds that have clearly taken up residence in and on the tower kept a keen eye on us as we sailed by.

Navy Tower R4

The wind continued to shift through North and then to the North East and as we sailed the rhumbline to Cape Canaveral we found ourselves sailing downwind. We spent a few hours sailing at a broad reach and then closer to a run. With a moderate sea state of 4 to 6 feet, every time we dipped lower than a broad reach, the sails would lose their apparent wind, go limp and start to flog. We had set up a preventer on the boom so an accidental gybe wasn’t a concern, but with a 115% genoa and without a whisker pole, the genoa would alternate going completely limp and then snapping back full as we yawed back and forth. We were forced to turn the boat North of Cape Canaveral in order to sail at a high enough wind angle to keep the sails full and happy. By 2 or 3 am that night we were within 5 miles of the coast near Port Orange and prepared to gybe.

After the gybe we were able to sail directly to a waypoint just outside the Cape Canaveral Shoals. At this point, the goal was to stay as close and parallel to land as possible to avoid being affected by the Gulf Stream which at that point was flowing directly South to North. We enjoyed a clear day of sailing watching the various launchpads and of Cape Canaveral slide by, even catching a clear view of the new NASA Artemis Rocket. Winds lightened as the day went on and we began to motor sail. We took another look at the chart and found that we had less than 150 miles to go, less than a day’s sail, so we decided to pull into Fort Pierce for the night and anchor. That way we would be able to enjoy a full nights sleep before beginning our final approach to Miami. It was especially nice after having spent the last 48+ hours on a 3 hours on, 6 hours off watch schedule.

We pulled into Fort Pierce at about 9 that night. The entrance to Fort Pierce was narrow but straight and clearly marked but was made trickier by a strong flood tide pushing us inland at 2.5 knots. With the throttle at forward idle, just enough to maintain steerage we found ourselves speeding in at a speed of 5 knots over the ground. After a quick transit through the breakwater we found an easy anchorage off to one side of the channel. We dropped anchor in about 8-9 feet of dead calm water. When we turned off the engine, we found ourselves surrounded by tons of fish flopping in and out of the water. After a brief discussion about whether or not we should close the companionway doors to keep the alligators out (we left them open, gambling with our lives), Ross, Chris and I turned in for the night.

The next morning we left around 8 am after a quick breakfast and began motor sailing due South, as the wind had shifted West but was still light. We spent next the day and night motor sailing. Sunset was a special treat as we were joined by multiple different pods of dolphins swimming alongside and under the boat as we sailed by the famous “Mar-a-Lago” Beach Club being sure to remain outside of the Secret Service "Security Zone". As the sun dipped below the horizon, the water was illuminated by a half moon to our West and the lights of West Palm Beach and Miami to our right.

Dolphins everywhere! Mar-a-lago in the background

That last night had a special surprise in store for us. After months of delays the NASA SLS Artemis rocket was finally cleared to launch from Cape Canaveral. Even though we had passed the cape a few days before we were able to see the rocket launch clearly from just abeam of Fort Lauderdale. The rocket took off around 1am and appeared as an incredibly bright light streaking across the sky. We were able to watch it for about 45 seconds before it flew across the horizon. Once it disappeared from view we turned our focus back to the ocean ahead and the busy Miami shipping lane we were preparing to cross.

Launch of the NASA Artemis Rocket

We saw a few cargo ships in and around the port of Miami shipping channel but none that conflicted with our course. Instead of transiting the busy and sometimes closed main channel into the port of Miami we decided to sail south of the city and dock at Dinner Key Marina in Biscayne bay. This would mean that rather than dealing with traffic we would have to navigate our way through a tricky and hard to see set of sandbars. We ended up threading our way through Biscayne Channel, motoring right down the middle of “Stiltsville”, named for the several houses/structures on stilts that seemingly rise right out of the water.

Views of Stiltsville

Stiltsville was created in the early 1933 when "Crawfish" Eddie Walker built a small shack on a sandbank just off the coast of Miami. At the time gambling was legal so long as it took place one or more miles offshore. By building a shack on the sandbar he was just outside of the line and could legally host a gambling club in addition to selling bait and beer. Over time more and more people built on the surrounding sandbars until there were several social clubs and a popular party scene in the 1940's and 1950's.

Ross and I went slow and could barely pick out the daymarks marking each side of the narrow channel. Even with a spotlight the “Stiltsville” buildings just appeared as silhouettes. We successfully made it through the channel and after a quick sail north we anchored in the lee of Key Biscayne and spent the night.

Amazing view of the Miami skyline from our anchorage off of Key Biscayne

The next morning we quickly motored across the bay and through the narrow channel into Dinner Key Marina. After settling into our slip it was time to head over to the famous “Monty’s” for dinner, a frozen drink and some live music. A great way to gain sailing experience, the route from Charleston to Miami never fails to be memorable.

Another happy crew after completing a 437 mile passage!

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