Each year in October, boaters queue up at the Annapolis Boat Show to begin their journey south for the winter. For over two decades, we have witnessed this migration of friends and fellow boaters with interest and wishful thinking.
This year has marked our transformation to winter snowbirds, sailing south in search of warm temperatures, sunny skies and clear, aquamarine-colored water. Looking back, this journey has been one of the highlights of our lives.
Our winter cruise aboard Cutter Loose began in Rock Hall, MD on a brilliant autumn day in late October, 2011. Our journey took us south along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, making new friends, renewing acquaintences with old friends and visiting towns and remote anchorages along the way. Special places such as Portsmouth, VA, Beaufort, NC, Charleston, SC and a cruiser’s Thanksgiving dinner in St. Mary’s City, GA added to the enjoyment.
In early December, Cutter Loose departed Cumberland Island, crossing the border from Georgia into Florida just in time for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Fernandina Beach. In the ensuing days and weeks, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, St. Augustine and cruiser-friendly Vero Beach. Further south, we enjoyed a stop in Palm Beach and a layover in Fort Lauderdale where the generosity of friends made us feel particularly welcome. By Christmas, Cutter Loose called at Miami Beach before moving on to Coconut Grove and some wonderful sailing in Biscayne Bay. The gorgeous weather caused us to pinch ourselves frequently. Is this winter? Were we dreaming? Or is this a dream come true?
After pausing in Tavernier on Key Largo for New Years, we sailed Cutter Loose south to Marathon alongside the reefs in the delightful and colorful waters of Hawk Channel. At the Harbor Cay Club in Marathon, we reunited with friends and set off on an Island Packet flotilla cruise to the west coast of Florida, visiting the Snake River in the Everglades, Marco Island, Naples, Fort Meyers Beach, Pine Island Sound, Cayo Costa and the town of Punta Gorda, tucked neatly into the northeastern corner of Charlotte Harbor.
After retracing our steps to Marathon and Coconut Grove, we sailed Cutter Loose across the Gulf Stream for a two month visit to Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos. Without a doubt, our visit to the Bahamas was the pinnacle of our winter cruise. Our Bahamas Epilogue posted on April 19, 2012 summarizes this unforgettable experience.
We re-entered U.S. waters on April 17th, making landfall at Fort Pierce. From here, we returned to the Chesapeake Bay via the AICW and an outside run from Fernandina Beach to Port Royal Sound and the attractive village of Beaufort, SC. In Beaufort, NC, we took a few extra days to enjoy an overnight anchorage in the bight at Cape Lookout.
On May 21st, we departed Hampton Roads and entered our home waters of the Chesapeake Bay, only to be plagued with a diesel engine problem that forced us to sail north in the Bay to our home port of Rock Hall, MD. On the morning of May 25th, we docked Cutter Loose in our slip at Osprey Point Marina, just in time for the Memorial Day holiday. Subsequent diagnosis of our engine problem revealed a malfunctioning turbocharger, which has since been repaired.
Our winter cruise covered 3,641 nautical miles and spanned 215 days. Taken together with our cruise to Maine during the summer of 2011, we have lived aboard Cutter Loose for a total of 309 days while exploring nearly 5,500 nautical miles of the U.S. east coast and the Bahamas.