Sailing to the East Coast of the US – From Top to Bottom

Having crossed from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, we needed to get ourselves organised to spend the hurricane season out of harm’s way in the north-eastern coast of the USA. For our American friends, getting to and from the USA is a well understood exercise, but for the rest of us that come from the rest of the world, it’s a bit of an unknown adventure.

St Augustine – the oldest City in the USA

The East Coast of the USA is a massive cruising ground, so I‘m just going to touch on our highlights, together with some important pieces of information to hopefully give a useful overview of what to expect, what you really need to know to get by, and how we went about tackling it. There is a myriad of other great articles available on specific cruising grounds that provide much more detailed information than my 20,000 foot helicopter view.

Martha’s Vineyard

The first item on the “Lets sail to the USA” agenda was to organise a USA Visa. The Visa Waiver system I had been using to travel by air to the USA was not an option when arriving by boat. I needed to find a USA Embassy and apply for a B1/B2 Visa. This involved filling in an online application and booking an interview at an Embassy. It then takes about 2 weeks for the visa to be issued, during which time they hold onto your passport so you need to plan to stay put.  In the Caribbean, US Embassies are few and far between. A lot of our friends got their Visa in Barbados and I ended up getting mine in Bermuda as we were there for a month for the Americas Cup.

George Washington’s Mt Vernon House and Museum

The next task was to consider where we would make landfall and how we would get there. The two options we considered were via the Bahamas or via Bermuda.  The Bahamas option involves following the trade winds from the Caribbean to the Bahamas and then hooking into the gulf stream to take you up the coast of the USA to your chosen port of entry. With the gulf stream running at up to 3 knots this sounds like a dream run, but any significant wind out of the north will create considerable wind against current issues that will make this route very uncomfortable and dangerous. Especially if the plan is to head around the notoriously dangerous Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras on the way to Chesapeake Bay. The other consideration when choosing this approach is the stifling heat of summer in Chesapeake Bay and everywhere south of here. We were told to visit these areas in the Autumn when the weather is a lot more pleasant.

Americas Cup – Bermuda

In our case, we chose to go via Bermuda. We were swayed by the prospect of spending a month in the absolutely stunning waters of Bermuda, watching the Americas Cup; which turned out to be one of the highlights of our cruising career. The 820nm sail from Tortola in the BVIs to Bermuda consisted of 2 days of beautiful trade winds sailing under Geneker on a broad reach, followed by 2 days of motoring in the horse latitudes, with the last day back sailing all the way to Georgetown, arriving in mid-afternoon.

Watching the America’s Cup on board La Mischief

Once in Bermuda, we sat down with our friends from Aura, Lady Rebel and Touterelle and decided to head for Newport after the Cup wrapped up in late July. In reality we could have headed anywhere from Nova Scotia in Canada down to New York as the distances from Bermuda were pretty similar. We chose Newport because it sounded straightforward and was a sailing mecca. There was a bit of synergy sailing from Bermuda, the then home of the America’s Cup, to Newport, which was the home of the cup for all those years leading up to 1983, when Australia 2’s winged keel did the job on Dennis Connor.  We were also aiming to get to Newport in time for our first 4th of July, and we had discovered that Bristol, which was a short bus ride away from Newport had the oldest parade in the USA. We were in.

4th July Celebrations in Bristol – the Oldest Parade in the USA

The 635nm sail from Bermuda to Newport was a bit frustrating. It was more motoring than we would have liked, with the only excitement being the gulf stream crossing, which was interesting rather than difficult.  With our Bachelor of Hindsight degree, a better plan would have been to head to Nova Scotia in Canada and cruise one way down the coast to Maine and beyond, thus covering more territory rather than the backtracking that we ended up doing.

Anyway back to what we really did, which was to head for Newport. The approach to Newport was fantastic, with fireworks happening all up and down the coast as we got there in early evening on the 2nd July. Check-in had its challenges, as we were anchoring out and not going to a marina. The first challenge was the US Customs and Border Protection required that we had a US mobile number for them to call us back on. Luckily, my partner Dee is a US citizen so we were able to oblige. In fact, we helped out our friends with this requirement as well using the VHF to pass messages back and forth.  We also needed to find a public jetty to pull alongside and luckily there was a couple of free options in Newport. We found ActiveCaptain to be really helpful for finding dockage and anchoring options.

The third trick to checking in is to ensure that you ask for a US Cruising License. We missed this requirement and had to sign up for an online faxing solution, so we could fax the application in and get the license back using the eFax software running on my Mac. The other option was to drive quite a distance to pick one up. Being a foreign vessel, with the cruising license we were able to cruise the US, reporting our movements by phone whenever we moved locations. It’s very important to do this as you risk a big fine if you forget to report that you have moved spots.

Newport’s a great sailing town, rich in history with the Herreshoff museum and the cute town of Bristol where we saw the USA’s oldest 4th July parade.

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From Newport, we decided to head north east up to the legendary cruising grounds of Maine. In the end, we made it as far as Camden before we had to turn around to get back to New York in time to meet my son, Alex and his girlfriend Sophie. Highlights along the way included Boston (where we were able to pick up a mooring buoy right in downtown); Salem (witches), Manchester by the Sea (cute town from the movie), P-Town (lots of colour and movement – America’s gay capital), Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Gloucester, Newburyport (whaling history) and Mystic (great maritime museum).

Tenants Harbor – Maine

Maine itself was a lovely cruising experience in between dodging countless thousands of lobster pots along its shallow coastline. There’s some wonderfully cute towns and nice anchorages that we managed to visit.

Mystic

Back in New York in mid-August we set about tackling this great city by boat, not an easy task. We started by anchoring in Port Washington on Long Island and taking an hours train ride into New York every day. From here we motored along East river, the strait that separates Long Island from Manhattan Island, before dropping anchor right beside the Statue of Liberty. This is really only an overnight stop as they is nowhere to leave the dinghy and get into New York from here. We did however manage to drop our friends Marco and Penny off at a boat ramp and they were able to Uber home.  From here, we sailed out of the harbor and past Coney Island to Sheepshead Bay, where we got a mooring ball and caught a 40 minute subway trip into New York – much better.

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From New York, we headed down the coast, via Atlantic City and the delightful town of Cape May and into Delaware Bay, before swinging into the C and D Canal, which popped us into the famous cruising grounds of Chesapeake Bay. We checked out a nice secluded river anchorage, before anchoring in downtown Baltimore, a pleasant surprise and one of our favourites. From here we headed to Annapolis, the sailing capital of the USA, where we lifted La Mischief and had some boat work done.

Surprising Baltimore

Originally our plan was to join the Sawlty Dawg Rally from Norfolk down to the BVIs but we had a change of heart and decided to go to Florida and the Bahamas on our way back to the Caribbean, despite the difficulties in heading East against the Trade Winds.

Sassafras River – Chesapeake Bay

We successfully negotiated the notorious Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear on our way to Charleston, anchoring in the river without snagging anything. Charleston was a great stop, overflowing with history, delicious food, great music and wonderful southern architecture.

Like most other international cruisers visiting the USA, we’d done the ocean miles to qualify to join the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) and this gave us access to various Port Officers up and down the coast. Some of these Port Officers have free dock space and we took the opportunity to spend a few days with Ray and…. Like all the other Americans we met, they were friendly and generous people, inviting us for dinner, lending us their car and letting us tie up outside their house.

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Beaufort, SC

Onwards we pressed to St Augustine, entering through a tricky entrance that continuously shifts. Another great stop in the oldest city in the USA with its rich Spanish history. It was here we celebrated my first Thanksgiving in the rain, at a potluck lunch with 85 other cruisers.

Cape Canaveral was our next stop, leaving La Mischief in Cape Marina, so we could hop in a rental car and do some big kids stuff. We spent a full day at the Kennedy Space Centre and a couple of days in Orlando at Universal Studios. We had also timed our visit to do a one day Cruising World Seminar at Cocoa Beach, with Fatty Goodlander as the star attraction. How could we resist?

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We continued down the coast of Florida, stopping at Lake Worth and Ft Lauderdale, the self-proclaimed Yachting Capital of the World. By now it was December and we anchored in Sunrise Bay for a front row seat at the Annual Christmas Boat Parade.

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We left the boat in Ft Lauderdale whilst I travelled back to Australia for a month over Christmas– a 30 hour plane trip. Returning in early January, we then left for the Florida Keys, spending a wonderful couple of weeks in this interesting part of the world, getting an extra 1000W of solar panels fitted whilst in Boot Key Harbor by Seatek Marine. The highlight of the Keys is undoubtedly Key West, with its 28 happy hours, the Hemingway house museum and the Mel Fisher shipwreck museum.

After 6 magical months in the USA we left Boot Key Harbour for Bimini in the Bahamas, 120nm away. Funny thing was, we didn’t have to check out of the USA. You just leave and then just check into the Bahamas.

The Good

  • Friendly and helpful natives.
  • One Big History lesson as you stop along the way.
  • Beautiful coastal towns with cute houses and shopping districts
  • Secluded anchorages with scenery to die for.
  • Iconic cities such as Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington DC and Miami, several with moorings and anchorages right near down town.
  • Plenty of pump out stations – often free.
  • Shopping for boat parts on Amazon. Can get anything.
  • You get to visit famous Sailing Centres such as Newport, Mystic, Annapolis and Ft Lauderdale.

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The Challenges

  • Finding nivce swimming spots. For those of us who have been spoiled with the clear and warm waters of the Med and the Carribean, the water is not that inviting for swimming – being cold and murky.
  • Dodging thousands of Lobster Traps, especially in Maine.
  • Light Winds that meant we did lots more motoring than we expected (on the flip side we largely avoided bad weather).
  • Limited Anchoring options in some places. Often anchorages are overrun by mooring balls.
  • Our air draft of over 65 feet kept us out of a lot of good spots. 99% of the ICW was off limits as was the inside of the Florida Keys because of all those 65 foot bridges.
  • Services were expensive – but quality is good.
  • Marinas were expensive and sometimes hard to find (although we liked to anchor out a lot).
  • Finding a boatyard able to lift a catamaran was more difficult than expected.

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Where We Went

  • 3rd July Arrived in Newport

July

  • Newport
  • Bristol (bus)
  • Providence, RI (car)
  • Martha’s Vineyard
  • Gloucester
  • Boston
  • Salem
  • Portsmouth, NH
  • Portland, Maine
  • Booth Bay, Maine
  • Camden, Maine

August

  • Wells
  • ProvinceTown (P-Town)
  • Newburyport
  • Plymouth
  • New Bedford
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Block Island
  • Mystic
  • New York

September

  • Atlantic City
  • Cape May
  • Delaware Bay
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Baltimore
  • Washington DC (car)
  • Mt Vernon (car)
  • Philadelphia (car)

October

  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Annapolis (on the hard)
  • Perth (Fly)

November

  • Portsmouth
  • Norfolk
  • Around Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear
  • Georgetown, SC
  • Beaufort, SC
  • St Augustine

December

  • Cape Canaveral
  • Kennedy Space Centre (Car)
  • Orlando (Car)
  • Cocoa Beach (car)
  • Lake Worth (West Palm Beach)
  • Ft Lauderdale
  • Perth (Fly)

January

  • Hollywood
  • Angelfish Creek
  • Key Largo
  • Boot Key Harbor (Marathon)
  • Key West (car)

 

  • 1st February – Marathon to Bimini (Bahamas)

 

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