Hilton Head, S.C. to St. Augustine, FL.

Moonlight Sailing

Ocean Song left the Palmetto Bay Marina dock at 7:00 am on Wednesday, April 5th. There was no wind and we slipped off the dock unassisted. It was slightly foggy, but the visibility was still good. From Palmetto Bay to the open ocean takes about 2 hours. Around 11:00 am we were joined by a pod of more than a dozen dolphins. They swam in our bow wakes for a good while. We posted a video on Facebook. Anyone looking at our track will notice some odd course changes. Around noon Linda suggested we head out on a course taking us farther offshore. There was a predicted wind shift later in the day and her thinking was to set up a better sailing angle overnight. We motor-sailed for 2-1/2 hours on the new course, then established an almost rhumb line course for St. Augustine. Our early course change turned out to be a good idea, as we had an assist from the wind for the remainder of the passage.

It was a nice overnight motor sail with a full moon. The moon was bright, and it never got dark on the entire passage. We were only 15 miles from St. Augustine Inlet by sunrise. We decided to make water, so we slowed down to a crawl, turned on the generator, and water maker for a little more than 2 hours and filled our tanks. One of the nice things about having a water maker is we don’t have to sail with full water tanks. Our tanks are just forward of the saloon and although not in the very front of the boat, they still put extra weight forward which is to be avoided offshore. With the water maker we keep the tanks 1/4 full (and less) until we’re close to our destination, then we fill them up. We slow the boat down to avoid getting bubbles and air locks in the system.

St. Augustine inlet is well-marked but has a few shallow spots. We followed another catamaran and a monohull into the inlet. An approaching motor yacht radioed to let us know it would be close to the red markers outbound. As we acknowledged and moved into the middle of the channel the yacht’s skipper reminded us not to venture too far “toward the green” and that the “red is preferred”. We never had less than 12 feet of water, so it was all good.

A catamaran moored behind us in front of The Castillo de San Marcos

Once we were at the St. Augustine waterfront, we anchored briefly across the Mantanzas River from town. Later we moved to city mooring “14”.  We checked in at the marina office and had a light, early dinner on the waterfront. Then it was back to Ocean Song where we spent the night in front of the Castillo de San Marcos. The next day we were assigned a new mooring buoy, #32. We had to go through the draw bridge at the Bridge of Lions a few hundred yards to our new mooring.

Now The Mooring Buoy Is Centered Between The Hulls

We did have some unwanted excitement during the evening. There was a strong and constant SE wind blowing. When the tide reversed, we had the dreaded “wind against current” situation. Literally in a span of 15 minutes the mooring field went from calm to calamitous. Boats swinging in every direction and doing so violently. Our mooring buoy (which is very large) was pushed by the in-rushing tide under the boat as the wind pushed Ocean Song in the opposite direction. The problem was the bridle connecting Ocean Song to the mooring buoy was pinning our bobstays back and folding our bowsprit down. It was a recipe for damage. Also, Ocean Song was “sailing” over the buoy (or perhaps the buoy was diving under Ocean Song) resulting in the buoy and bridle sliding along the underside of our port hull before popping up between the hulls almost to mid-ships, then reversing, then back again.

We have a ForewardScan underwater radar mounted just forward of the keel on the port hull. The ForewardScan hangs down a few inches and if the buoy or bridle hit it, the radar would be ripped off the hull. The force on the bridle was incredible, but by putting Ocean Song in reverse and re-tying the bridle to the port forward cleat and the port midship cleat we were able to keep the buoy and bridle to port and slightly away from the boat. We maintained that configuration from 8:00 pm until mid-night, discussing various bridle configurations and options the entire time. Ocean Song stayed in idle reverse, and we monitored the buoy’s location all the while. Just before mid-night the current had slackened. We took our anchor off the anchor roller; I got in the dinghy and removed the bobstays and folded the bowsprit up against the sea gull striker. We un-cleated from the port midship cleat, added a bridle line over the anchor roller, tightened the port, starboard, and center bridle lines as tight as possible and got things under control. When we took Ocean Song out of reverse, she was just where we wanted her to be, and the mooring buoy was where we wanted it to be – in front of the boat. Linda came up with the new bridle arrangement and it worked great. Linda is the docking, anchoring, mooring, and line-handling expert on Ocean Song. She can figure out how wind, current, and line arrangements will affect the boat better than I can. She comes up with the plan, I try to help her execute the plan.

The rest of the night was calm. We hadn’t noticed other cruisers out adjusting lines on their boats or struggling the way we had that night. We did see other catamarans sailing over their mooring buoys and the buoys pinned underneath, but we never saw crew making adjustments. However, the next morning a couple came over from another catamaran and told Linda how they had struggled with their mooring buoy all night. They were looking for a solution. Linda and I got in our dinghy and went by every catamaran in the mooring field to look at bridle arrangements. Folks were using regular 2-tie, some 3-tie, and several other variations. The catamaran beside us, S/V Argos, seemed to have kept its mooring buoy in the proper location all night. Argos had the mooring pennant tied tight to the starboard, forward bow cleat and the port, forward bridle line was tied through the eye on the mooring buoy, not through the pennant eye. Pretty simple, that arrangement should keep the mooring buoy slightly in front of the boat, but if the tide and wind were opposed the buoy would go only a few feet between the hulls, not into a position to cause damage or cross under the hulls. We went back to Ocean Song and adjusted our mooring lines accordingly, getting rid of our center-tie off the bow roller. We have researched what others do in this situation and the answer is … everyone has an opinion and way of doing it, there is no absolute “right way”.  In retrospect we should have anticipated the strong currents and had a better initial bridle configuration, but we didn’t. Hopefully we’ll find out if our “new way” is one of the right ways.