Monday, April 30, 2012

Whitaker Pointe Marina and Oriental NC

Oriental NC (pop. 875). calls itself “The Sailing Capital of North Carolina” and with good reason. The Neuse River is wide with plenty of wind to fill a lot of sails but we haven’t seen too many sails out on the river from our vantage point.

Our marina, Whitaker Pointe Marina, is absolutely lovely. It is very modern with a drop-dead gorgeous clubhouse that is only about five years old with all of the needed amenities. The bathrooms and showers are very large and extremely clean. The docks are fixed docks as there is no tide swing here, other than what the wind blows in and out. It is quiet and picturesque and we are really enjoying our stay here.

The marina has a loaner car so we were able to get into to town for a while on Saturday and checked out all of the other marinas and took in the sights of this quaint little town. And little it is. There is a West Marine Express store, a grocery store, hardware store, a few sundry shops, a marine consignment shop, a few restaurants and that’s about it.

We ate lunch at a restaurant called M and Ms and our server was a very nice and friendly young lady named Amelia.

On Sunday we had a very surprising experience that illustrates why we love this lifestyle and why boaters are some of the best people on the planet. Our marina is on the east side of Whitaker Creek. This makes it a looooong walk to get into town because it is on the west side of Whitaker Creek. There is a loaner car to use and it worked on Saturday but not on Sunday when we needed to get back into town for just a few more things. So we decided to dinghy over to a very nearby marina on the other side of the creek, tie up and walk to the grocery store.

We got the boat down in the water, hooked up the trolling motor and silently motored over to Sail Craft Marina. We crawled down the marina looking for the dinghy dock but couldn’t see it. There was a gentleman named Rusty on his sailboat cleaning so we asked him if he could direct us to it. He told us where it was but offered for us to tie up on the stern of his boat and we could walk in from there. But then he had a better idea. He was so nice and hospitable he told us that he would drive us to where we needed to go and help us find an electrical part we needed. Now get that – he drove us around the town in his pick-up truck! How cool is that?! Oh yeah, and this was after he rummaged through his parts stash on his boat, his garage and the garage of three of his neighbors looking for the small parts he needed. Awesome.

As I sit here early Monday morning, April 30, we have just a few things we have to accomplish: laundry, setting the chartplotter and the like. We will head out Tuesday morning with favorable conditions to head out back on the Neuse toward Pamlico Sound but tweaking up into the ICW before we hit the sound itself. We have a cruise plan to Norfolk VA of four daily legs in a six day window. So far the weather looks good. Should be able to make it.

Sometimes My Timing is Good. Sometimes Not So Much.

We pulled out of Portside Marina at Morehead City about 10 am Friday April, 27 after our daily perusal of weather data. Everything looked aok for a short cruise up to Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental, North Carolina which is reported to be a mecca for boaters. I even called Whitaker Pointe from Morehead City to see what the conditions were like. I was told that it was calm which was music to my ears as there was to be a storm system moving into the coastal area sometime on Saturday lingering into Sunday. And since we need to be in Norfolk by May 6th for the American Great Loop Cruisers Association Spring Rendezvous May 7 through 10 I didn’t want to get stuck down in Morehead City. From Oriental it would only take 4 more days of moderate travel to get there. So off we went.

The leg up to Oriental is only 22 miles which is barely enough time to get the engine warmed up. My departure was a bit rough because there was still some moderate winds pushing the boat to the dock. Why Knot has a new light scar on her starboard quarter as a result with a scrap on a dock corner. The majority of the cruise was easy with winds quickly dissipating as we continued north to the point where it was dead calm. Great conditions.

The last part was not so good. We had to navigate a few miles down and across the Neuss River to get to Oriental and Whitaker Pointe Marina. Earlier in the morning I did plot a course in the chartplotter that if you remember from previous posts had not been used very much and was very problematic. I did this preparation so that I could test the chart plotter out and to test me out using it, all with the expectations that the conditions would be favorable if something went awry.

As we approached the end of Adams Creek which dumps out into Neuss River we could see dark clouds building to our north directly over the river. I selected the course I laid into the chartplotter earlier now expecting that this would not be a test but a real navigating need. The moment we entered the river seas swelled to three and four foot waves with very short durations: big enough waves coming fast enough to make things very miserable, and dangerous. It was very grey outside with heavy cloud cover. Water sprayed in great plumages over the bow as we ran and dove through the waves at about a 30 degree angle. Objects in the cabin were flying around. We could not make out any landmarks on the other shore to be able to get our bearing. We could not possibly see where the marina was. Only the rebellious JRC 1800 chartplotter knew where to go and I followed it every waypoint after waypoint. Sometimes I would have to make course corrections larward putting the boat parallel with the waves for a few moments until I could be on the down side of the chartplotter course so I could maintain a heading pointed back somewhat into the waves. During all this time we would dive, climb and roll in all directions. Our decks would be awash. It was crazy. I put the throttle full on to get as much forward momentum working in our favor. Lisa was a rock keeping a look out all the time and keeping me encouraged and focused.

Waypoint after waypoint we crossed. Then as the last waypoint came into view on the chartplotter which I had set dead-on at the head of the marina’s marked channel we could see ahead enough to see the markers. Passing by them we rolled heavily until we got passed the spit of land that sheltered the marina where we were able to get the boat inside the marina into a slip. We tied up with the help of the dockmaster, Butch. And then just moments after we tied the last line, of course, the sun came out and the winds subsided some. Butch said it was a freak thing, that it just came out of nowhere. I don’t know that for sure but this was certainly contrary to the forecast.

In hindsight I take four things out of this experience. First, I think I handled the boat and situation well, and that Lisa and I have grown into a good crew. Second, I can now trust the chartplotter and will use it whenever I hit any kind of open water situation. I certainly will have to use it almost exclusively north of Norfolk. Third, Why Knot, a Nelson 45 foot trawler did very well. It got bounced around but never lost its grip on the course and motored through just fine. One of the things that Thompson / Nelson trawler owners share is the knowledge that these boats were based on a line of very successful shrimp boats that Thompson built for many years before making trawlers. This same hull design was not changed when Nelson bought the molds and carried on building the trawlers. They have a reputation of being very seaworthy boats able to take a pounding and keep on going. And fourth, always plan for any and all conditions in open water.

More on Morehead City. Morehead City is VERY windy. VERY!

We pulled into the Portside Marina in Morehead City on 4/25 with stiff winds. As I mentioned in the previous post docking was relatively easy because the wind did all the work pushing Why Knot onto the dock as I eased her close and parallel to the dock. We did a quick walk of the downtown area and ate at a restaurant called The Ruddy Duck and returned to boat for the evening. We slept well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 was a different story.

There were strong westerly winds the entire day with sustained winds at 20+ knots and gusts up to 50 knots – 50! Needless to say we were rocked around pretty darn hard. Enough so that about 10:00 am we decided that it would be best to be ashore, and we pretty much stayed ashore the entire day. And from ashore we could see Why Knot and all the other boats hopping and popping in the hard winds.

There is a nice shielded gazebo up near the marina office that all the boat owners and transients hang out. We talked to a couple of nice guys that were crewmembers of a delivery crew on a 50 foot sailboat that was tied up just to our bow on the floating dock. They told us stories about the cruise to deliver this boat to New York. One of their big struggles is that this boat is a deep sea sailboat with a 10.5 keel. This means that they spend all of their time out in the ocean and their choice of inlets and marinas are limited. At this marina and at their anchoring position the depth is about 9 feet or so. Lets see…10.5 – 9 = negative 1.5 feet. That means that during low tides especially their keel was sunk in the mud a foot or two. While we were talking a young fresh faced couple came to the gazebo and gathered them together to go into Beaufort for the afternoon. They looked young, college age young. Turns out the guy of the couple was the captain of the crew. That struck me as odd.

Portside marina is on the south side of a spit of land that goes via a bridge from Morehead City to Beaufort which is the larger town of the two. On the other side of this spit is another marina and we went over to take a look. We almost immediately spotted a familiar boat, The Pumpkin, a 34 foot American Tug that belonged to Henry and Edith from New Jersey. We knew them as part of the bad experience waiting for the swing bridge at Surf City (see previous entry) and talked to them at the Beach Home Marina. We knocked on their door and Edith came out and we talked for a bit. She told us that the marina had a loaner car, that they were going out at 3:00 to do some errands including a stop West Marine and would we like to go along.  “West Marine?”, I said with excited anticipation. Of course we said yes and we were able to make some important purchases at West Marine and pick up a few things at a grocery store. Very timely and handy.

We ate dinner at a terrific restaurant called Floyd’s 1921 and the food was delicious. It has a good reputation with boaters and it is well deserved. I had a Reuben sandwich which was to die for. Lisa had an oysters tempura on a bed of grits that she like a lot too.

Our evening on the boat was aok. It was still pretty rough but as it approached our 9:00 pm bedtime it had slacked off a tad bit. There was less rocking and more bobbing up and down. However as I write this it is 3:00 in the morning. Both Lisa at I were awoken by some more violent rocking around 1:00 am. On top of the winds a thunderstorm has rolled into the area. And what does the National Weather Service say as its forecast for Morehead City for today, Friday April 27th? Sunny, coo and almost calm winds. I’ll believe when I see it.

If this is the case our next leg is a short hop to a marina at what is described as one of the east coasts boating havens, Oriental, NC. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Out of the T-Mobile No-Man's Land

Google Map Link,-76.671696&spn=0.038306,0.084543

Sorry for the lack of entries recently. After leaving Georgetown we cruised into what could only be described as a hole in our T-Mobile coverage. Most of the time it was only 2G which is fine for phone calls but lousy for data.

Barefoot Landing Marina in North Myrtle Beach was wonderful. The marina itself is first class. Great docks with all the amenities. Its a little isolated from shops and stuff but we had a wonderful stay there. The main reason for this opinion were the people, the other boaters that we met. First there was Jean and Judy and their Great Harbor GH-37. They are full time live-aboard boaters and they don't even own a home on the land anymore. They are experienced boaters and hosted a happy hour for the rest of us on Saturday evening where we all sat around the beautiful boat and swapped stories about cruising. We covered the gamut from technical to navigation to great places to visit to food. And there was Rick and Margi on their 42 foot Endeavor catamaran cruiser. They are from Baltimore and are also cruising the loop just like us. We'll see them again at the American Great Loop Cruisers Association rendezvous up in Norfolk VA in a couple of weeks.

This was what cruising is all about -- the people. Navigating, planning and sightseeing is all good, but this is the payoff -- meeting new people and making new friends. It was great.

On up to Southport, NC and Cape Fear

When leaving The Barefoot Marina northbound our course immediately took us through a three mile section of the ICW called The Rockpile for its narrow channel and stratified rocks that sweep in from the shores at several places along the way. The stretch is considered so harsh that it is greatly recommended that only one vessel pass along its way either north or south bound. Sailboats, with their deeper keels, seem to have a harder time of it than power vessels. The cruising guides generally suggest going in at low tide to better see the rocky obstacles but this seemed counterintuitive to me. We launched from the dock at around 8:30am with a flooding tide so that we would enter The Rockpile at or near high tide. Now we did radio ahead to see if there were any south bound vessels (None.), stuck to the middle of the channel and we traversed the stretch easily never sounding any depths shallower than 11 feet with our 3.5 foot keel. The only cause for concern is that we heard radio chatter that the Little River swing bridge up ahead was malfunctioning and not able to open or close all of the way. We were prepared to turn around and head back. Fortunately the news changed for the better when the bridge operator was able to get it open and we powered on through.

We passed the Little River Inlet around 10:00am and quietly passed into North Carolina. Of course we both spit over the side of the boat as we entered a long straight section of the ICW that took us North by Northeast pretty much all of the way up to our destination of Southport NC just at Cape Fear. We found our marina, The Indigo Plantation Marina and Yacht Club and pulled into a slip rather smartly I think. The boat next to us was an older but nice Executive 44’. We met the owner, a very cordial man named Paxton who told us he had just bought the boat down in Fort Lauderdale and he had just got it up to Southport. 

Now, follow this a bit…When we were down in Georgetown SC Lisa and I went for a walk to “downtown”. We popped by one of the nearby downtown marinas for a look and as we continued our walk we engaged in a short conversation with two ladies who were on a boat that was coming up from Florida. The one lady’s name was Shay. I don’t remember the other lady’s name. Well, as were up at the little marina office in Southport we mentioned to the young office lady that we had a contact in Southport  named Shay that offered to help us out when we got there. The office lady said that was interesting in that Paxton’s wife was named Shay too. (Shay had told us she worked for Southport Realty. Prior to arriving in Southport I went to Southport Realty’s website and found out her last name was Watkins – Shay Watkins.) We went straight back to the boat and asked if Paxton’s last name was Watkins. It was! This was Shay Watkins’ husband and the Executive 44’ was her boat. We all laughed and a little later on in the day Shay came by our boat and offered to loan us one of their cars on Saturday so we could run some errands. What a great offer! On Saturday when Paxton came back to their boat to do some work he tossed us the keys to his car and off we went. And what a loaner car it was, too. It was a Mercedes Benz E350 sedan. Not bad at all. We took a quick cruise downtown and had lunch at the Fishy Fishy waterside restaurant and ran to Walmart to provision up for our next set of legs up to Norfolk.

Surf City, NC

Cape Fear has a reputation of being a risky piece of water but it was tame for us because the winds were light and we hit it at the right time. The advice that we had read about was to enter it at the south end going into high tide and with some kind of winds other than a northerly. As the water runs north and south trying to go northbound against tide and with northerly head winds would at least slow you down a bunch and make your leg that day excruciating long. We though timed it perfect launching out with a flooding tide about 8:00am (high tide about 10:00am) and mild southwest winds. Heck, we virtually screaming up the channel at times as high as nine knots! 

The first two thirds of the cruise was very nice and pretty uneventful. There wasn't much traffic and the weather was good. The third third of the trip was a different story. The winds kicked up significantly. It was a swirling mischievous wind that had me constantly checking my rudder. The auto pilot was useless as it had to constantly had to check and recheck its bearing to the point that it would sometimes kick out and sound the "holy-cats-I-can't-do-this-any-more" alarm. It was better for me to pilot the boat myself.

Our marina for that night was called the Beachhouse Marina in Surf City, NC. As normal for my route planning I would look at the satellite photos of each stop online using as our route planning tool. This was a small marina with limited turning. But it would do. The channel to the marina was just north of a swing bridge for the main road getting onto the beach that was Surf City. This bridge only opened at the top of the hour, so of course we had to wait 45 minutes for the next opening. 

Remember the winds? They were terrible. Fast and swirling winds mixed with shoaling on both sides of the channel. Oh yeah, there were five other boats all wanting to get through at the next opening so we all jockeyed for position for 45 minutes and it got pretty hairy. Actually it was downright scary. We did though make it through the bridge at the top of the hour, made the turn into the marina's channel and found an open slip directly in front of us. 

I have been pretty critical of myself for my docking and undocking recently but only due to lack of repetitions. Indigo Plantation Marina was a tight marina and my maneuvering was good there but conditions were calm to mild. Docking at Beach Home Marina was going to be difficult because of the high winds were picking up and they were swirling, and Why Knot has a lot of windage and dances with the slightest puff. But I got her in just fine.

Morehead City, NC

We pulled out of Surf City about 9:00 am to make a long run for us (50 miles) to Morehead City NC. It was grey with fairly low clouds that dropped a drizzle on us about 8:30 am. At the time Surf City was right on the northeastern cusp of a storm system sitting on the area. To the south were storms and poor boating conditions. To the north was clear, sunny and warmer conditions. We could see it clearly. We got out onto the water without incident. The clouds did slide northeast a bit so the first half of our cruise were in cloudy but calm conditions.

The first big possible obstacle was cruising through Camp Lejeune, the marine training base. The ICW goes right into it between the mainland and the barrier islands and they do occasionally close it to traffic for training maneuvers or live gun, rocket or artillery practice. It can be closed for hours at a time but fortunately for us there was only cannon fire in the distance and the ICW was open for business. Except for one giant helicopter we did not see anything military-like but we could hear (and sometimes feel) explosions in the distance.

North of Camp Lejeune the route straightened out and we soon entered Bogue Sound, a long wide body of water again between the mainland and barrier islands. The winds started picking up again and by the time we approached Morehead City they were sustained southerlies blowing right up our starboard quarter pushing us up giving us more speed, as well as constantly pushing us to the left side of the narrow marked channel. 

We called out to our stop for the night, a marina called Portside Marina where they had a nice piece of facing dock for us. As we approached the marina the winds were very very strong and I was nervous. Fortunately this would be an easy docking even in these windy conditions. The wind was blowing almost directly into the dock. All I had to do was ease Why Knot into a position, keep a light throttle in reverse to stop my momentum and the wind did the rest of the work by gently pushing us against the dock. The owner of the marina and another dock hand were right there to take the lines and once the spring line was set to hold us in position we were tied down in a hurry and were set for the night.

Very rough conditions for a dockage.

The marina was right in downtown Morehead City, a nice harbor town that kind of lives in the shadows of it's close-by bigger sister city, Beaufort, NC. We had some dinner and went back to the boat for the evening, watched some tv and went to sleep. The conditions are still very windy and the windy conditions are going to persist so we will stay here until Friday when things are going to get better. But we are abandoning our plans to anchor out as the weather is going to get dicey again. 

I have some route planning to do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Myrtle Beach, SC – Beware of Elephants in the ICW.

We made a quick change of plans on Tuesday, 4/17. We had planned to stay in Georgetown until the 19th but we decided to cast off early and cruise the next leg up to Myrtle Beach, SC for two reasons. First, the marine electrician that we had been waiting for to come on the boat and do some work informed us that he would not be able to get to us until Thursday or Friday, which was too long of a wait, and there was a storm front coming in for several days that could sock us in for a while, and we didn’t want to linger in Georgetown any longer. So it was time to move on to our next stop to the Barefoot Landing Marina in Myrtle Beach.

We got out of Georgetown a little later than usual, about 11:00 am. Our normal daily float plans are about forty to forty-five miles long so this trip would get us to the marina about 6:00 pm. The cruise would end up being in two halves. The lower half would be the same of what we have been accustomed to. It wound through low lying marshes like southern South Caroline and almost all of Georgia. But this was a bit different. The Georgetown region has a very interesting history. During the 19th century and early 20th this region was one of the leading rice producing areas in the entire world. As a matter of fact for several decades, lets say from 1870 to 1920 it was the largest rice exporting sea port in the entire world. So these marshlands we were cruising through north of Georgetown were not marshlands at all but are abandoned rice fields. Looking at the charts and when visually inspecting the banks of the ICW we could see numerous little canals either still wet or dried up that were used to channel rice harvests down to Georgetown.

The upper half of the cruise straightened out considerably to the point that the ICW would point in one direction for several miles at a time. The scenery was wonderful in it’s own way. Towering cypress trees formed a wall on each side and the channel was deep and forgiving. We would cruise miles up these bordered lanes. And as we spent so many days earlier in the marshes which to me were boring this new scenery was a very welcome change of pace. The water though is ugly. Instead of it being green or blue or even a bit grey it is dark like really bad dark-brew coffee. The rule is to rinse your boat’s hull down every day at dock but don’t wash it down as it will only get dirty the next day. This lasts until a bit south of Norfolk, VA when the ocean water starts to take over.

Ok. Now I get to the highlight of the day. During our cruise we have seen a lot of wildlife including porpoises, rays and birds of every type. But on this day we saw a new critter on the banks of and in the ICW: and elephant! Cruising through South Myrtle Beach the starboard shore of the ICW was lined with houses on fairly large plots of land and as typical there would be an occasional empty lot. Well, I glanced over to one of these empty lots and saw two people riding an elephant! …A freaking elephant approaching a boat ramp into the water. Just before the top of the ramp the two people got down removed the saddle and let the elephant get down into the ICW and play in the water. I can hear the Coast Guard navigation warnings now. “All stations, all stations, all stations. This the Coast Guard, Charlotte sector. Break. There is a tree sticking out of the water mid channel at Barefoot Landing swing bridge, marker red 44 is missing at Enterprise river and, oh yeah, there’s a pachyderm in the ICW at South Myrtle Beach. Use caution when navigating these areas.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

North from Savannah GA to Georgetown SC

Latest Map,-79.212112&spn=0.290964,0.676346

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.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jacksonville to Savannah – Sounds, Shoals and Submarines

We pulled out of Dames Point Marina on Tuesday Morning, April 3rd at 8:30 am on the first leg of our resumed Great Loop cruise. The weather was clear and calm and the waters were at high tide. These conditions were important for several reasons. First, even though Dames Point has plenty of depth at the slips it can be a bit tricky to get in and out of with the strong currents that can whip up during tidal changes with a strong breeze. Second, we were going to take another shot at using the free pump out at the Jim King Park city “marina” just north of the St. Johns River on the ICW. I use the term “marina” loosely as it’s really just a very large boat ramp facility with a rather short facing dock where the pump out station is located, and going in there at high tide makes getting in and out easier.  All that went well and we started up the ICW towards our first anchorage some 25 more miles further up from Jim King.

As we headed North the dominant feature of the surrounding terrain became, well, nothing, except hundreds of yards of marshland in all directions. Now, I like a good marshland just like the next guy, but a little scenery along the way, (let’s say…trees.) would be nice. The route is very twisty and turn-y going in all directions except maybe south.

As in this blog entry’s title let’s talk about the sounds. There are a bunch of them, and I am not going to take the time to mention them all. The first (excepting the St. John’s River, though I guess technically it is a sound) was Nassau Sound. A lovely piece of water with nice depths and an easy cross to the other side. The hard thing about Nassau Sound is that shoaling at the mouth at the ocean (the second feature of the entry title) is so pronounced that it is considered a closed sound except at the highest tides. North of Nassau Sound the next features are Amelia City and Fernadina Beach.

The next sound is Cumberland and the Cumberland Divides. This is called the St. Mary’s Entrance with great depths and a very deep channel. Very much a deep water port. And it has to be because of the third point of the entry title…submarines. Going north into the Cumberland Sound is a nuclear submarine base. Don’t see many of those in Missouri. In crossing this sound we cross over from Florida into Georgia, and at this point we established a new tradition aboard Why Knot: spitting over the side of the boat when we cross into a new state.

Our first anchorage was at a very wide and hospitable spit of water just to the east of the ICW route and west of Dungenees on Cumberland Island. Nice anchorage. All went well. Good waters.

A word about weather forecasts – a lot of people like to complain about NOAA and NWS. I am not one of them. I think they do a great job, and even though they aren’t 100% right, considering the monumental complexities of a planetary environmental system and trying to regionalize it all down to a prediction of if it’s going to rain during your barbecue next Saturday, it’s a pretty daunting task and they do a great job. But after reading and paying so close attention to their forecasts as boaters must you do see a bit if CYA start to creep in. This is certainly the case in the spring time when every forecast says something like “Today – Clear, sunny, high of 80…and a slight chance of thunderstorms after 3:00 pm.” Their covered. If it rains during your afternoon drive time they can say, “See! We told you!” The above mentioned forecast is pretty much the daily norm. Sometimes it clouds over and rains, sometimes not. But as a boater I must error on the side of their CYA-ishness and try to make sure I am at anchor at around 2:00 pm. Well, on this second day there was a little twist. They did get the Tuesday night rain CYA right as it did rain a bit Tuesday evening. But they added a period of rain Wednesday morning. This bothered us in that the dreaded Jekyl Creek was on our route for Wednesday. Along with the Little Mud River (Thursday’s route) they are the two most distained stretches of water on the entire ICW known for their vicious shoaling. Our plan was to head out very early Wednesday morning (7:00 am) to try to catch Jekyl Creek at something resembling high tide. But we were delayed until 8:30 as the NWS was right and we had to sit out a passing rain system. And unfortunately that 90 minutes made a difference. After traversing Jekyl Sound we hit Jekyl Creek late and it was VERY shallow and VERY much a shoal hazard. We gingerly made our way up. We did fine for about three quarters of the way. Then we started shoaling. We still had prop power available as Why Knot has a pretty pronounced rudder skine. So I powered through using the channel walls and sometimes available rudder to get us through. We made it through but to be frank it sucked big time. We then emptied out into St. Simons Sound winding up the Mackay River and dropping anchor for the night in Buttermilk Sound with the plan being that we would again head out early on our third day to hit the dreaded Little Mud River a hair before the morning high tide. Then make our way to a point just south of the Isle of Hope Marina near Savannah for a short fourth day trip where we would pull into the marina for a few days.

In this case the NWS was right on the mark as the weather was perfect. We pulled up our anchor at 8:00 am for our third day and joined a small flotilla of boats that all had the same idea. The Little Mud River is not much to look at: just a meandering narrow river in a marsh. But its reputation is wide spread as a shoaling disaster in the making. Fortunately our strategy worked and we passed through without incident. But I must admit I was a tad freaked out. This combined with the Jekyl Creek incident made me wonder who it was that said that boating was relaxing. The late Jim White, a well know radio personality in St. Louis was an avid boater and looper. I think he best described the experience: “Boating is long periods of boredom punctuated with moments of sheer terror.”

We proceeded North on a very convoluted route. The weather was for clear conditions until after 8:00pm. We continued to wind our way up until we got to our primary anchorage site for the night. We weren’t overly pleased with our choice. Even though the depths and swing room was fine there was absolutely no wind protection to be found on any side…just marsh grass. And as the NWS predicted thunderstorms in the evening (which they, it would turn out, were right) some coverage would be a good idea. It was 2:30 pm and we were only 17 miles from the marina so Lisa made a quick call to them to see if we could come in a day early. They said it would be ok so we pushed on. This resulted in a cruise of 71 statute miles and nine and half hours. Our longest day.

A quick engineering note – Our cruising “speed” is established by running at 1500 rpm and having our speed be whatever prevailing currents and winds will let us have. Speed can run anywhere from 5 knots up to a tad over 9 knots. As the marina closed its office at 5:30 pm and our facing dock space was going to be bit tricky getting there by 5:30 was the thing as the dock hand would wait for us until 5:30. Currents were in our favor we were able to proceed the rest of the way at about 8 knots. There was one more nasty little piece of water left, a very suitably named stretch called “Hell Gate”, a very narrow churning bit a garbage with a very sharp turn with no forgiveness outside of the maintained channel. We got to it on a rising tide and made our way through. We got to the marina right on time, docked and relaxed.

So, here we are at Isle of Hope Marina, a very quaint but modern marina. They have free loaner cars available so we are going to provision the boat and get ready to set out on Monday. Next stop – Charleston, SC.