Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pluff Mud and South Carolina. Mile Marker 521

In the past two weeks we have made short work of North Carolina. There have been a few cold mornings and some wind as little cold fronts have moved through one after another. We love the Waccamaw River and it was the first taste of fall we have seen. We stopped in Georgetown but had to stay at the Georgetown Landing Marina, a bit out of town. It was the weekend of the Wooden Boat Festival so when in Rome . . .

We have a love-hate relationship with South Carolina. Her vistas are beautiful, the food is fabulous in every town, even more than fabulous in Charleston, and the weather is why we head south in the winter. But traveling her waterways can be tricky so the glow wears off the Palmettos as we move down the ICW. It is always more challenging in the fall as the days are so much shorter. One can travel twice as far in a day in the spring. This trip we have learned a few tricks from other cruises to help us feel more favorable about the South Carolina portion of the ICW.

In recent weeks we have taken two day breaks in the likes of Georgetown and Dataw Island, not to mention Charleston. Driving those reservations were the timing of tides and the fact we could not get into our favorite marinas. A new experience for us was to stop in McClellenville, a side creek off the ICW, home to many shrimp boats and little else but the Leland Oil Company, which is where we tied up for the night. It was a Sunday so the only restaurant/fish market was closed. They have three available spots on the fuel dock, if you can get in the creek for skinny water. We made it but did not run the air at night as we felt low tide at midnight would plug up our systems. One other boat left with us at dawn, the third boat left later and was stuck at the mouth of the creek. Our goal was to get through the Breeches Inlet (said to be as low as three feet at low tide) at high tide so we took a slip at Isle of Palms for the night, departing with the right tide at dawn again. What we learned from this trip was to pay the dock fee but only stay the four hours needed to make high tide, getting us to Charleston earlier and avoiding this overnight stop.

It was only eleven miles into Charleston, but we didn't get right in. First of all, we had to stay at the Charleston Maritime Center on the Cooper River with its reputation for a much more rolly ride than if we were on the Ashley River. Then our slip was not empty, like "your room's not ready, sir," so we sailed around for two hours. All's well that ends well, we had three lovely days and nights in Charleston. I can't say the rock and roll was much worse than anywhere else; it was water taxi and tour boat wakes that got us, not the cruise ships or river traffic. The location is very walkable to everything we like in town, including groceries, and we met new sailors and docked next to someone from our home port!

One of our new connections was an experienced cruiser and editor of Cruiser's Net, Larry Dorminy. He suggested that instead of sweating the Asapoo-Coosaw Cutoff which is notorious for shoaling, we turn left/south on the Ashapoo River. Seas were calm, sun was bright and we arrived at Fenwick [Cut] about 2:30 or a couple of hours before low. We motored out and down the Ashepoo in calm seaway, went below the Combahee Bank and across St Helena Sound all the way to green 11 below Pelican Bank and found 25-30 ft of water to turn up Morgan Creek to Dataw Marina. That saved us from having to motor up the ICW and then crossing at Parrot Creek.

There is no wind today but the skies are gorgeous. We have just used the day for chores and to see the golf community here on Dataw by golf cart. Tomorrow we venture to Port Royal Landing south of Beaufort, SC, to stage ourselves for mid-tide on the next bridge. Then its into Hilton Head for two days, and then Georgia.

Before we started cruising we followed the blogs of others who made the trip before us. It has been very helpful. We hope that passing on our experiences is helpful to others as well.

Our traveling companions, a trio of
dolphins in our wake on Morgan Creek.

Our traveling companions on the Ashapoo River;
Note the birds on his rig.

The Spirit of South Carolina
docked at the end of our pier.

The fleet in McClellenville, SC.

Sunset over the fleet

Saturday, October 11, 2014

King Tides. Mile Marker 283

Once again, you can't count on good planning to make the day perfect. You must rely on patience and flexibility. Or so we are learning in large measure. 

Yesterday we had to face the Atlantic Bridge just past Morehead City, but facing it meant lapping the ICW for an hour and a quarter until the bridge boards read 64 feet. Why you ask? They call it a King Tide, the highest of the year, compounded with wind driven water. Not wanting to dock in the dark, we shortened our run for the day and tried Casper's Marina in Swansboro. Getting close to the marina was tricky, the channel was full of fishermen in small boats- anchored IN the channel! We were not the first to hail the Coast guard for assistance. A tug and barge preceded us and later we met a power boat captain who said he heard a call on the radio earlier in the day. Once tied up, we walked to town and exhausted it in less than an hour. Back on the boat we spent the night rocking from multiple boats going by or coming and going to fish. The take away here is Casper's is a bargain at a dollar a foot and it breaks up the run to Wrightsville Beach, but you have to "settle" for the night. 

But King Tides need a few days to fall off so today we planned our departure to put us at the Highway Bridge, Mile Marker 252, two hours after high tide. Fate helped us on this one. We were hung up over an hour at the Onslow Swing Bridge, mile 240, due to maintenance. "It'll be just a bit, captain." This was the perfect time for Susan to practice donuts and figure eights, practice waiting for a bridge, and so that's just what we did. Once we reached the Highway Bridge we slid under it at 64 1/2  feet. The down side of this success was that we couldn't make Wrightsville Beach at Seapath before seven or eight o'clock so we tried a new option, Harbour Village Marina at Mile Marker 267. Easy in, nice protection, we expected a good night's sleep before a simple day of two swing bridges into Sea Path at Wrightsville Beach. Tied for favorite thing about today: Harbour Village Marina, or the huge brown bear we saw running through the marshes about noontime. 

We got the sleep we craved, good thing, too. Three hours on the waterway felt much longer today. We had strong winds and our bridge timing was way off. Traffic had been crazy before the Wrightsville Bridge but after that one o'clock opening, hell broke loose! There were three sail and one cruiser under the bridge PLUS at least twenty five small boats, paddle boarders and kaiaks all holding while someone swam across the waterway. Add wind and current and you have a very unsafe situation. The airways were jammed, you couldn't get the Coast Guard to respond and we were really tense. We learned later it was the third annual fundraiser called Swim the Loop (around the island facing our marina.) Thirty minutes later the race ended (apparently this had been going on for hours) and we followed the nonresponsive Coast Guard into our channel and our slip. Enough work for today! No amount of funds could make up for the tragedy that could have happened on the water today. We will protest the poor management of this race on behalf of safe boaters everywhere.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thank you Beaufort, NC

We sailed into Beaufort a week ago for a two night stay. By now we should have made Charleston, SC, but that wasn't in the cards. Rick's injury turned out to be more serious than we thought so we are still in Beaufort, NC., grateful for all the help we have had here. It's a nice town with restaurants and lots of places to walk (if you are up to it.) We love the boardwalk, the businesses, the gingerbread trimmed house, and of course, the water views. We've enjoyed Beaufort yet again, but it is time to move on!

While we watch the winds and tides in order to leave, we want to thank the men at the Town Dock Marina. They were there when Rick fell off the dock and they've been there with concern and help, not to mention advice and a loaner car for the past week. They are among the best dockhands on the ICW, making this tricky current docking as easy as possible. It's hard to know what to do for medical help in a strange place but we were very lucky here. We highly recommend the Moore Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Morehead City as they took good care of Rick and assured us he could travel when he felt up to it.

Beaufort Boardwalk

Shrimp boat returning from
the Blessing of the Fleet
Morehead City Seafood Festival

Town Dock Marina


Love this new bsiness in town! So clever,
 everyone raves about the tours.

Rick's Favorite Restaurants
Beaufort Grocery
Blue Moon Bistro

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Welcome to the Crystal Coast. Beaufort, NC Mile Marker 202

It was the most perfect weather day when we woke on Tuesday morning in Grace Harbor. It was seventy degrees when we cast off, no need to clean the windows of dew or fog, and there was the freshest North Carolina air we have ever experienced. The sun was bright, maybe a little too bright and winds were moderate all day. What happens when all these conditions are present? You get crystals sparkling on the water all day and a nice run into Beaufort. We only had two bridges to address Tuesday.

We have entered the Crystal Coast, the area from Beaufort to Swansboro (our next destination,) know for its beautiful beaches and wild ponies. This trip we took the Rustle Slough Cut to the Railroad Bridge and entered Town Creek the back way. Nice, we'll do that any time over the trip around Radio island sticking out into the inlet. Captain did a good job getting us in here with careful timing for a slack tide and slow current for docking. Winds were light so it was a piece of cake to get into Town Dock. It's a bit intimidating to be here as our dock mates are 75-150 feet long, mostly manned by uniformed delivery captains and crews who clean and maintain the boats impeccably. Remember it is mega yachts first, sport fish and cruisers/trawlers second and sailboats third or last; we are ahead of the pack so we are out of place in the flotilla heading south. 

But, we have to do our own chores. We split the tasks between Tuesday and today, taking a day for rest and to visit familiar haunts. However, it looks like we are here at least another day. While setting up to wash the boat and fill water tanks, the captain fell off the dock! The minor event did result in a pulled hamstring. Can you say rest, ice, and another day in Beaufort?