This is my fourth annual north-to-south repositioning for the winter season from Charleston, South Carolina, to Bahia Mar Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. While I enjoy the ease of cruising the ocean on my 58-foot Ocean Alexander, Lady Gigi, this year I wanted us to slow it down and take our time by cruising the ICW as much as possible, and staying a few extra nights in my favorite cities along the way. Waking up knowing you're relaxing each day truly makes a huge difference in your trip.
This year marks my sixth time visiting the Sea Pine Resort's Harbour Town Yacht Basin (843-363-8335, harbourtownyachtbasin.com). It's conveniently located on the ICW and offers easy access to the ocean via Calibogue Sound. The dockhands, Cindy and Leslie, helped us navigate Lady Gigi through the sound, as it can be a little tricky. Docking is easy, with no current, and the wind is usually blocked by the surrounding condos.CQ's Restaurant is just a three-minute walk from the marina and has been a local staple for years, offering an array of freshly caught seafood, but my favorite dish is the beef short ribs! There is a small market within the marina complex for provisioning. To ease into my trip, I played a round of golf at Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage Tournament, and enjoyed a quick bite to eat at the café overlooking the course.
Lady Gigi accessed Fernandina Harbor Marina (904-310-3300, fhmarina.com) through the St. Mary's Inlet, three miles north. Easy docking is available in the current, because they dock all transient vessels on the long face dock. The marina offers high-speed pumps for both gasoline and diesel, a captain's lounge and laundry and shower facilities. A courtesy car isn't necessary because the marina is located just a stone's throw from Main Street, which has great restaurants and ample shopping. Don't miss LuLu's for its excellent New Orleans-style food - their po' boys are the best! We also ventured to Palace Saloon, said to be the oldest drinking establishment in Florida.
We traveled 80 nautical miles south down the ICW to Conch House Marina (904-824-4347, conch-house.com). It is fairly easy to access the marina from the ICW at the mouth of the St. Augustine Inlet. The inlet is very exposed to wind, so always be aware of the direction it's coming from. The marina staff was very helpful docking Lady Gigi, but we still had trouble with a 20-25-knot wind. Once safely tied, we had a great view back over the sand dunes to the Atlantic Ocean. The onsite restaurant, a local hotspot with a Caribbean flare, also offered live music. We grabbed a taxi to the city's downtown, which is not to be missed. It's the oldest city in America, and wandering the streets you can really absorb the history. We ventured into the candlelit bar Taberna Del Gallo, which was established in 1734 and where all the bartenders wear period dress. Make sure you try the amazing sangria!
Fort Pierce City Marina (772-464-1245) is the usual stopping point for our journey south. This is the perfect marina stop to decide if the ICW or the Atlantic Ocean is your best choice from this point on. Construction on the 137 new floating docks and new sea wall continues, scheduled for completion in early May. There is a very strong current as you approach the new entrance of the marina, just an eighth of a mile south of South Bridge. The friendly staff changed our slip to one on a face dock. The onsite Original Tiki Bar offers great drink specials and decent bar food. Downtown Fort Pierce is steps from the docks, with seafood and grocery markets just a few blocks away.
One of our favorite marinas in all of Florida is Palm Harbor Marina (561-655-4757). They have the most professional staff that we have ever encountered and surprisingly good transient rates. Access is fairly simple through the Palm Beach Inlet. Just make sure to be aware of the current when approaching. Once inside the docks, the current is not an issue. The marina staff is always waiting at your slip to assist you and will then usher you away by golf cart to the office. No need for a car, as you are a block away from all the restaurants and nightlife offered on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. I suggest grabbing a bite at Rocco Tacos and Pistache French Bistro while you're in town. Provisions are an easy courtesy bus ride away. And from West Palm, Fort Lauderdale is an easy cruise.