The forecast was for storms, so we decided to run this leg “inside” on the ICW. Staying inside gave us many options to tuck in to shelter whenever the sky looked ominous. But it also meant that we were going to be motoring all day, no sailing in those narrow confines, and one of us would be driving at all times, guided to deep water by following a zigzag series of buoys. Very different from the freedom of being in the open ocean and letting the autopilot and the sails do the work!
Remember that “boost” we got earlier in the trip, taking advantage of the Gulf Stream current? Today, that bill came due. Currents were against us all day, carrying us south as we motored north like going the wrong way on an escalator, robbing us of a knot or more of speed. But with four of us taking turns driving, the trip was easy and the passing scenery interesting as the clouds continued to build.
By mid-afternoon the sky was ominous and gray and we were looking for a sheltered place to spend the night. We made arrangements with a small marina a couple of miles ocean-ward of where the ICW crossed the St John’s River near Jacksonville, just an hour or two from where we were. They also had fuel, which was useful since our slogging progress against the foul current had used more than we’d anticipated for the day.
Then began the heart-thudding race. If my life were a movie, this is where they’d cue the suspenseful music in the soundtrack. Melissa’s “marching elephants” were gathering and circling us, the skies were rapidly darkening, and the big boats were headed for the relative safety of open water, where they had room to run from the storm instead of risking being pushed aground. We could see the safety of the marina we were headed for, barely a mile away, but the currents against us grew stronger and our forward progress slowed even more, like one of those running-in-place nightmares. The gathering storm wasn’t slowing, though. It was looking like we were going to get very, very wet. As if that wasn’t enough adrenaline, the needle on the fuel gage was looking up at the bottom of the “E.” Would we run out of fuel at any minute and, adrift in a river too deep to anchor and not enough wind to sail, be helpless in the storm? (We later learned that we had fuel, but the gage was acting glitchy. Too bad we hadn’t known this at the time. It would have saved us some stress. Some, but not all; those skies were scary-dark! And later we learned just how scary: this was what Melissa called a “level 5” thunderstorm – that’s pilot-speak for really big almost off the charts nasty storm – that dropped 2-4 inches of rain in parts of Jacksonville, and a tornado touched down less than 5 miles from us according to NOAA's summary report of the storm [pdf].
We tied up with the help of two sturdy dockhands just as the first fat drops of rain were falling. Another drencher like we’d had on the first night, this time with lots of wind as well. But this time we were all snug and dry and secure. Bad weather like that is almost fun, seen through a pane of glass. Good food and a fair amount of rum and laughter completed the evening, and if the laughter was a bit shrill with released tension and the impending end of the trip, well, who’s to blame us? [to be continued]
|Heading north through the Bridge of Lions on a cloudy day. Today is the only day of the trip we would be "inside" on the ICW instead of out on the Atlantic.|
|Gathering clouds in early afternoon.|
|We had just tied up in the marina near Jacksonville when the thunderstorm hit; here's what that same storm looked like from the anchorage back in St Augustine, about 35 miles away. (photo by Heather Alsobrook)|