Friday, April 13, 2012

North from Savannah GA to Georgetown SC

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This is kind of a long post. Sorry. But there’s a lot to talk about. Enjoy.

North from Savannah GA to Georgetown SC

We prepared to leave Isle of Hope Marina around 8:00am-ish. We were docked in a great location on a very long facing dock (at the very north end) so disembarking was easy. As soon as Why Knot got to the channel I came about and headed back down a tad so I could swing back around to get to their service dock for a pump out. Why Knot has a 40 gallon holding tank (sewage) and we can go about 4 days between pump outs. You cannot just dump your waste. You have to have the holdings sucked out at pump out stations which pretty much are large fluid vacuums. After that we cast off again and headed out to the north just entering into high tide. Our 4 day objective is to get to Georgetown SC which is about 15 miles north of Charleston.

It’s important to plan around the tides because of the vast tide swings. Down in Florida the swings are not that big of deal. Extreme south Florida the difference between low and high tides may only be a foot or two increasing slowly as you progress north. In Savannah the swing is normally about eight feet. On the seventh of April due to the confluence of tide patterns with a full moon the swing was 11 feet. The low tide was lower and the high tide was higher. As mentioned in the previous post the effect of not hitting tides right could result in, shall we say, very inconvenient shoaling. The potential for shoaling while not eliminated is less of a problem in South Carolina. But a high tide is a friend.

The trip up into and through our first day in South Carolina was actually pretty uneventful. The terrain is noticeably different. There are less marshlands (boring) and more trees and topographic diversity. The first major landmarked we passed was Hilton Head, SC. The houses lining the route and sounds were very beautiful: much less ostentatious then the mansions down in Florida around Boca Raton and Palm Beach but every bit as nice. The sounds that we passed through were much more welcoming and easier to navigate than the ones in Georgia. All along the way there was plenty of depth and the piloting concerns were more about what was ahead than what was (or wasn’t) below.  As is part of our float planning we selected a large “creek” called Cowen Creek for our anchorage, a tad southeast of Beaufort, SC. Our standard plan is to approach an anchorage at low tide thinking that if we can get in, drop anchor than get out without any problems than the entire experience will be AOK as well. This was the case in Cowen Creek, except for strong tidal currents which are part of the reputation for these parts, and a big tidal swing (still). At low tide (5:30pm) our sounding depth was at 8 feet. At the high tide at 9:00pm our sounding depth was 18 feet. And all this tide stuff happens four times a day – tow lows and two highs, each a little less or a little more than six hours apart.

Our second day on this four day leg found us leaving Cowen Creek about 9:30 am with our first stop being at Port Royal Landing Marina for a pump out. Our head is acting up again. It flushes but the water level stays high, and without getting too gross, the waste flushes better the deeper in the tank it is, closer to the actual drain at the bottom. I sent off an email to Raritan, the makers of the unit, for some help. I am expecting a fairly a quick response as I have received from them in the past. Troubles with the head is an ongoing problem and I am concerned that it is not mechanical but cause by the location of the head vertically against the tank. The waste has to up a hose to get to the tank inlet at the top of the holding tank. And you know the saying about what does not run uphill.

We anchored at a very lovely spot on a small creek called Tom Point Creek. Again surrounded by marshes it was a very suitable anchorage and we had a nice relaxing evening. Nice thing about this spot is that there is very little light pollution save for Charleston way off in the distant north. This means that the starry night shown wonderfully for us.

Day three would be a whole different story.

It started out normally enough. We weighed anchor and set off easily enough and started once again to plow north. The lower part of the route was the typical pattern of meandering in the marshlands. But we could tell we were approaching Charleston as there were more buildings, houses, cars and houses with their own little docks. We entered the harbor in Charleston with our route set ready to cross over and head back up the ICW on the north side. Then the sheriff showed up.

As we were proceeding on the route through the harbor we noticed a police boat alongside a sail boat off to our port side. As we proceeded past the boat separated from the sailboat and came around and headed in our direction. It first tacked back behind us to read our boat name and homeport on our transom. Then it veered along our portside and announced that it wanted to board us. What!? Turns out it was the sea patrol of the local county sheriff department and that these boardings were common. We had heard from some of the folks back in Isle of Hope Marina to be prepared for it to happen.

I reduced to idle forward and their boat came along side. Lisa let down the metal strap that closes off the rail entrance to our deck and two deputies smartly hopped on board. They entered the salon and asked if they could see our identification and the boat’s papers. They were very polite and professional: rather pleasant in fact. They did a quick safety inspection (fire extinquishers, life vests, etc). They asked a lot of questions about where our homeport was, where we had been, had we visited any foreign ports, where did we last anchor and if we had seen any criminal types. Turns out that the charted course goes by some kind of security area and these inspections were common.

Everything about us was aok by them so they gave us a little certificate saying that we were beacons of civic responsibility. During this time the police boat had dropped a few yards back for safety and when the deputies were done with us they walked out of the salon onto the deck, the police boat swooped over to our side and they hopped off of Why Knot and they were gone. Lisa and I looked at each other in one of those glances saying something like, “What the heck was that?” We laughed, turned out sights ahead and moved on.

Proceeding north on the ICW from Charleston was easy enough with a fairly straight channel. A few miles up we ended up in some more twisty-turneys through more marshland until we got to our anchorage in a little slip of deep water. We dropped anchor, watched some TV then headed off to sleep.

Now we did have some apprehensions about this spot. It was narrow and there was a bit of breeze. The tide swings were still about six feet. After a while we decided that with the amount of anchor chain we let out and the possibility of the boat swinging that the current spot that we dropped anchor at was not a good one. So we weighed anchor again moved about twenty more yards toward the north shore and dropped it again. Turns out that this didn’t work either.

I woke up about 4:00am to go to the head and as a precaution I popped out onto the deck to see what our situation was. I expected to see us sitting perfectly still except that we would have swung up or down the channel with the tides. What I found instead was that our starboard quarter (landlubber: right back corner) had swung itself counter clock wise into the marsh right at high tide! We were grounded! Holy cats! We scrambled and tried everything we could to get her off. Lisa quickly went to the anchor and hit the windlass to use it to pull us free. That didn’t work. The prop was not in anything so I gave it a go but it didn’t work either. It was 4:00 in the morning with a corner of our boat stuck in soft mud and the tide was going down. Then out of the blue we saw a boat with flashing blue lights out in the ICW channel not more than two hundred yards away. And it was stopped and shinning a search light at us. It was TowBoatUS! It quickly came to us and positioned himself to throw us his tow line. I slipped the end loops around the king posts, he swung himself around and with a big rush of his engines he pulled us free. Geez. Talk about perfect timing. This was the ultimate case of “right place, right time.”

So here’s the story as Trip, the tow boat guy, told us. A short time earlier he was summoned up from Charleston to help another boat, the Indigo Falcon, a Grand Banks 42, that was in a similar situation. But he saw us first thinking it was them. He said that he actually came up to our boat talking on the radio of the captain of the Grand Banks. But the Grand Banks captain would keep saying something along the lines of, “Uh, I hear you but you’r not here. You must be at another vessel.” So Trip left us and went to help the other boat, but, he said, he would return to wake us up to help. When he had returned he saw us scrambling on the deck. So he gave us a tow and pulled us out of a real bad situation. So as I’m writing this now it is 6:30 am and we are sticking our heads out the door every few minutes to see what the situation is, still at anchor but ready to move the boat around so that we stay in the middle of pool area of the little inlet. We kept station like this from about 4:45am to 8:30am watching our position swinging on the anchor, every now and then hitting a forward throttle at idle speed with a full left rudder to swing us back into the channel as there was still a light wind that kept pushing us back towards the shore. It was a bit nerve racking but all’s well that ends well.

Our cruise for the rest of the day was comparatively easy. Depths were fine and the route straightened out so that we could make some noticeable progress northward. This compared to the constant weaving and turning of northern Florida, all of Georgia and some of southern South Carolina. Noticeable results in a reasonable amount of time. We pulled into dock in beautiful Georgetown, South Carolina. It’s a very nice marina with really reasonable rates for dockage. We were going to cast off from here on Sunday April 15 but because their weekly rate is soooooo reasonable we ended up paying for a week anyhow. So we will be staying here until April 19. This is just as well as there are some electrical problems cropping up (VHF radios are acting up, the engine key and button start on the lower helm are not working and I think the alternator on the engine is weakening.) and the local marine electrical technician can’t get to us until sometime next week. So here we are.