For those who would prefer to move quickly along the coast but without multiday passages, I can recommend the following route (see above map). You’ll be anchoring out, but avoiding the twists and turns on the ICW that consume so much mileage and time. This route is intended for a south-to-north transit because fall days are typically too short for most sailboats to make these distances in daylight. Most of these passages can be done during daytime hours, assuming an early start and a 5-knot average speed. Mileage is approximate and calculated from inside the inlet to the proposed anchorage.
Note that an adverse tide in the bigger inlets such as Winyah Bay, Charleston and St. Simons will add many hours to your day. You should time your entry for an incoming tide for this reason. Also, with the prevailing onshore winds in the spring and summer, you’ll avoid wind-against-tide conditions, which can get very rough in the big inlets.
With the exception of St. Catherines Sound, these inlets are all used by big ships or are at least reasonably well-marked. If you anticipate a nighttime landfall, choose only a big-ship inlet — St. Marys, St. Simons, Charleston, Georgetown, Southport and Beaufort — and then only if you have considerable experience with night sailing. AIS is strongly recommended because you will encounter commercial shipping in these inlets. You should also carry a powerful spotlight and binoculars.
If you choose to anchor in Beaufort, North Carolina, and arrive after dark, it is important to realize that Radio Island Channel is not lit and is extremely difficult to negotiate after sunset. As well, the anchorage will have unlit boats, making it challenging to anchor safely. Alternatively, Beaufort’s public docks are open 24 hours.
Visibility is typically adequate as much as an hour before sunrise, giving you extra time to make your daily landfall. You can follow your entry’s “bread crumb” trail on your chart plotter back to the ocean to maintain a safe course, with proper consideration given to the state of the tide.