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If you’ve spent the last few months in Newport, Martha’s Vineyard, or Sag Harbor, chances are you’re already preparing your fall trip south in search of warmer weather, or you may even be en route as you read this! Whether you’re berthing in Florida for the winter or using it as a jumping off spot for the islands, why not take a little extra time to explore all the east coast has to offer along the way?
Aboard your yacht, this trip can take you anywhere from 10 days to 2 months. We’ll assume you’re cruising the majority of the daytime on the navigable and protected Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW), unless you opt to go oceanside to increase speed and decrease travel time; if you want to cruise at night, you’ll want to strongly consider going outside, as it can be tough navigating the ICW in the dark.
The northernmost part of the trip will not technically be on the AICW; (it officially begins at mile marker MM 0.0 [36°50’54” N/76°17’54 W] in Norfolk, VA). The Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey is considered by many to be the unofficial northern end, as it allows smaller boats to travel south through NJ’s channels, but for those of you cruising in larger vessels, beware—NJ’s ICW is rife with several fixed bridges with no more than 35 feet of clearance.
As you cover the approximately 1,500 miles from the northeast to Florida, there are plenty of things to do and see along the way, and several wonderful marinas with abundant transient slips to keep you rested, fueled, and ready for more. We spoke with experienced captains to get the inside scoop on the best places to stop and play along the way.
First Stop—Atlantic City, NJ
Welcome to “America’s Playground”; why not stay and enjoy a day or two? There are, of course, myriad casinos (including one with a favorable transient marina), but don’t forget about the other delights the AC has to offer. But first, where should you dock?
If you’re pining for the full-on Atlantic City casino/resort experience, we recommend you dock at the Senator Frank S. Farley State Marina—a public facility of the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, but managed by the Golden Nugget. Situated in a sheltered natural harbor adjacent to Golden Nugget resort in picturesque Absecon Bay, the Senator Frank S. Farley State Marina boasts 630 floating slips, dockage for a variety of crafts up to 300 feet in length, and a 24/7 self-service fuel dock with a high-speed diesel dispenser. When renting a slip here, you’re afforded exclusive marina and resort amenities, such as access to the swanky rooftop H2O Pool & Bar.
If you’re looking for a more laid-back vibe, check out Kammerman’s Marina, also in Absecon Bay (opposite the Coast Guard station). Family owned and operated since 1961, this AC mainstay features slips with floating docks for vessels up to 50' with a 5' draft; a fixed dock for boats up to 100' with a 6' draft; and a fuel dock that can accommodate vessels up to 160' long and a max 7' draft.
Both of these AC marinas feature quick and easy access from the ocean and the ICW, pumpouts, electric and water hookups, laundry, and everything else you’d expect from a top-notch facility.
Now that you’re settled, it’s time to explore. It’s Atlantic City, so, yeah…casinos. There are tons of ‘em. If that’s not your thing, don’t fret, there’s still tons to do, and at the top of that list should be visiting the legendary Atlantic City Boardwalk. Granted, it’s getting cold and some of the shops and rides might be closed (including the Steel Pier; opens after Easter), but don’t let that deter you from experiencing this bastion of American history (the boardwalk dates back to 1870). From simply strolling along the seaside and soaking up the amazing views, to dining, shopping, and pub-crawling, you’re sure to find something that caters to your tastes.
If you have time, we also recommend you stop by the Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in NJ, and one of the oldest in the country.
Second Stop—Ocean City, MD
The next captain-recommended stop on this trek is Ocean City, Maryland. By the time you arrive, you should be recovered from Atlantic City, but you’ll still be ready for an easy in and out. Well thank goodness for the Sunset Marina.
This full-service marina resort can accommodate vessels up to 130 feet and features 204 surge-free slips, with a depth of 12 feet as you enter, and no less than 8 feet (minimum) throughout the marina. Add in the 21 acres of well-protected water in the man-made basin, ¼ mile direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, and spacious 90 foot fairways, and you can see why this is a favored stop for those making this southern journey.
The 77-acre mixed use parcel also features three clean climate controlled bathhouses, two swimming pools with expansive sundecks, fully equipped fitness center, and on-site laundry. For gas, 80 slips are fuel-fitted and ready to serve.
If you want to stay close by for good food, you’re in luck—the on-site Sunset Grille was voted Maryland’s favorite restaurant for two consecutive years.
If you’re looking to unwind on the links, you’ll find five courses within 12 miles of the marina. Ocean City is also big on eco-tourism, with one of the top draws being the wild ponies of Assateague Island. You will not regret watching these majestic animals roam free and will most certainly feel a twinge of the olden days, when stately equines were a regular presence across the countryside.
Still have energy, and up for another boardwalk? Head down to Ocean City’s classic three-mile wooden beauty and experience why National Geographic named it one of the top 10 in the U.S. and The Travel Channel anointed it America’s best wooden boardwalk. And if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to nab a famous Maryland crab cake.
Third Stop—Beaufort, NC
When you arrive in Beaufort, according to our captain friends, there’s no question of where to tie-up—Beaufort Docks Marina, a deep-water marina in the center of the downtown’s waterfront. In addition to those making this eastern seaboard jaunt, Beaufort is a big jumping off point for those heading south to the islands (the Gulf Stream is typically within 30 miles); that, combined with the town’s historic charm, makes it and Beaufort Docks one of the most popular stops for boaters on the waterway.
Catering to this crowd, the marina is an all-transient facility, featuring 98 berths, all of which are floating docks and can accommodate vessels up to 250'. It features all of the expected full-service amenities as well as a wide, deep, well-marked channel and fuel available at every slip.
When you step off your yacht, you’re right in the thick of this beautiful, charming throwback. If you’re feeling a bit famished, you’ll find 17 restaurants and eateries within a short walk, but before you head inland, turn your attention to Carrot Island on the other side of Taylor Creek, and you may spot wild horses in the distance.
If you’re looking to do a little shopping and experience some of the local attractions, head over to Front Street in downtown Beaufort. One such place, where you can learn about this southern town’s vibrant nautical history, is the North Carolina Maritime Museum. One of their crown jewel exhibits boasts artifacts (including canons and grenades) from infamous pirate Blackbeard’s wrecked flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, which went down in Beaufort Inlet in 1718. If you’re swinging back through Beaufort in early May on your way north, try and time it so you can experience the museum’s annual Wooden Boat Show, the largest in the Southeast.
If possible, make time for a nature-based day of fun. Grab your kayak or a ferry, and head across Taylor Creek to the group of small islands that make up Rachel Carson Reserve. Here you can explore the tidal marsh, spot more wild mustangs, view Shackleford Banks (an isolated barrier island) from the boardwalk on Carrot Island, and catch glimpses of the 200 species of birds that call the protected salt marshes home.
Fourth Stop—Charleston, SC
Charleston is ranked as one of the top cities in America. Its combination of history, modern city life, coastal beauty, and southern charm make it a truly unique destination. For our money, there’s only one marina for your stop—Charleston City Marina, smack in the middle of historic downtown Charleston. HMY loved it so much, we opened an office here!
Open since 1994, Charleston City Marina features 19,000 feet of linear dock space covering 40 acres of water. Their MegaDock measures in at 1,530 feet, making it the longest free-standing floating fuel dock in the Southeast, and it includes “MegaPower for MegaYachts.” Also accommodating the larger vessels are their deep draft slips with no height limitations. And don’t forget the high-speed, in-slip fueling. They also offer complementary downtown shuttle service that gives you easy access to Charleston’s celebrated dining, shopping, and historic destinations.
Speaking of food, Charleston features a myriad of nationally-recognized establishments. On the high end, check out legendary Halls Chophouse for a succulent dry- or wet-aged steak, or some of the freshest seafood around.
If you’re looking for that more casual, lowcountry vibe with innovative takes on Charleston classics in an eclectic spot, check out Coast Bar & Grill. The stars are their custom-made hickory and oak wood burning grill and the full raw bar.
Of course, there’s more to Charleston than its phenomenal food scene, so be sure and check out the historic Charleston City Market, shopping along King Street, and the Charleston Farmer’s Market (to load up on fresh goodies for the final leg of your voyage).
Fifth Stop—Savannah, GA
Just a hop, skip, and a jump down the Atlantic coast is another historic gem of a city—Savannah. Like Charleston, there’s plenty to do here, but we recommend you check out the trendy, upscale communities of Isle of Hope and Sandfly just south of downtown Savannah.
Here, you’ll dock at the Isle of Hope Marina, which was founded in 1926. It is located directly on the ICW and is nestled in the middle of a picturesque historic district that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features 4,000 feet of new concrete docks, 600 feet of deep-water face docks that can accommodate yachts up to 220', and all of the full-service amenities you expect.
They offer complimentary loaner cars and bicycles, which are perfect for exploring Isle of Hope and nearby Sandfly. Isle of Hope is an island surrounded on all sides by water at high tide and is dotted with historic plantations (including Wormsloe Plantation, the colonial estate of one of Savannah’s founding fathers) and exclusive waterfront properties that offer stunning views of the ICW.
Next, head over to the neighboring enclave of Sandfly, which has become one of the trendier stops for those in Savannah due to the emergence of unique shops and excellent restaurants. Driftaway Café and Sandfly BBQ should be at the top of your list.
Sixth Stop—St. Augustine, FL
Completing the trifecta of historic southern Atlantic cities is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental U.S. Depending on your vessel size, we recommend two marinas here—St. Augustine Municipal Marina and Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor.
The St. Augustine Municipal Marina is steps from historic downtown (just south of the Bridge of Lions) featuring 75 slips, but only for vessels up to 80'. Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor is only two miles away from downtown, in a more secluded area, and features 260 slips that can accommodate boats up to 125'
Both have all the full-service amenities you’d expect and give you easy access to everything you need. If you’re exploring Old St. Augustine, give yourself plenty of time to meander around its 144 blocks, eat, drink, see a few museums, and maybe take a buggy ride. If you want to stay out at Camachee, you’ll find condos, offices, stores, restaurants, and other businesses surrounding the docks on all sides that make this marina a true authoritative boating community.
Whichever marina you choose, the one destination that should be at the top of your list is the magnificent Castillo de San Marcos. Finished in 1695 by the Spaniards, this fortress is based on innovations by earlier military engineers such as Leonardo da Vinci. Here you can spend a relaxing afternoon touring the grounds and soaking up harbor views from the battlements.
From all of us at HMY, we hope you have a safe and memorable trip. Bon voyage!
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