Fall 2013 ICW Trip: South Carolina
Thursday, October 17, 2013: North Myrtle Beach to Bull Creek
After 6 exhausting days of preparation–which included a solar power install–we finally managed to leave North Myrtle Beach via the ICW. We aimed at a 10AM departure since we are doing shorter legs than most, averaging 25 miles a day. We pulled out of the slip and up to the gas dock where, as has been the case for the last three days, we were greeted by friends. We able to say goodbye, and to hug people and all wished us well. When we finally motored away Cadence began sobbing and cried for a good thirty minutes. (Ok, ok I was pretty choked up too.) She will miss her friends: Jimmy (who had us over for pizza and chocolate cake the night before) and Lori and Rick (who brought her Barbies for her birthday.) Everyone said that they would miss us a lot. Over the last 5 months we walk the docks more than anyone. Cadence brought a special ‘family’ feeling to the marina. There will be no more pink dresses, no more big wheels rolling up and down the docks, no more princess curtsies, no little girl laughing and singing in the showers, and no more bizarre dockside temper tantrums. The hardest part of being a full time cruiser is saying goodbye so many times. If we get the opportunity to go north again we will definitely stay at the Barefoot Marina, which was a great place to call home for a while.
The weather was nice, sunny and only slightly windy. We motored slowly, needing to only call one swing bridge. It was so calm and beautiful, and the fall weather kept it from being too hot or buggy. We were passed on the way by motor boat friends from the marina that were all heading to Georgetown for the wooden boat show, a great time—apparently–but one that needs to be planned way ahead if you hope to take your boat in. We meant to stop there but will skip it since it will be a zoo.
It was around 3:30pm when we pulled into Bulls Creek and decided on an anchor spot. We had to set the anchor twice. The first time I ran the windlass and the anchor dragged so that we didn’t like the location once it took. In pulling it back up the windlass crapped out. Mishap #1. So now when anchoring Matt muscles the chain and I work the engine. The second time was a success. It was so odd turning off the engine and just floating, surrounded by Mother Nature. We set the alarm twice in the middle of the night to check the anchor but besides silently drifting in circles we didn’t budge. We don’t think the anchor buried as much as the weight of the chain simply held us still. There was almost no current and the water was like glass. We saw only two small fishing boats with single fisherman speed by late at night and otherwise we had the creek to ourselves. We had AT&T cell coverage. We had egg salad sandwiches and beer at dinner. Matt played his guitar in the cockpit. It was so peaceful I regretted leaving it the next morning. I don’t think Matt slept well worrying over the anchor. It’s something to get used to. On to day–and anchorage –# 2.
Friday, October 18, 2013: Bulls Creek to Minim Creek
We woke up at 7am to ready for departure. WOW was it beautiful on Bulls Creek. The water was so still and the cypress trees were dripping with Spanish moss. The anchorage got 4 out of 5 stars for us. It was gorgeous and quiet. Our only complaint would be that the anchor did not seem to take, almost as if it were rocky on the bottom. We put out over 100 feet of chain and quite frankly I think the lack of strong current and the weight of the chain is what kept us in place.
We were underway by 7:30am. Our little boat checks include checking engine fluids, turning off anchor lights, pulling in solar panels, microwaving our coffees before we turn off the inverter and it won’t have power. It’s funny to see Matt unshowered and unshaven. He’s so fastidious about morning showers. He looks rough and salty. I like it. It was a little chilly early on but warmed up later. At one point it was chilly in the shade on the starboard side of the cockpit and hot in the sun on the port side. The landscape changed to marsh pretty quickly. We went through Winyah Bay which was fun as it is a larger body of water, more sea than river in looks and feeling. We passed right on by Georgetown. There was a lot of motorboat traffic, partially due to the boat show in Georgetown but it was a huge pain for us. Every time we get passed we have to turn hard and hit the wakes perpendicular on the bow or we rock and roll. We were waked hard by a big boat and found out the hard way what was not secured properly on the boat. Luckily the little girl was fine but her dollhouse slid off the table, and some cutting boards and a dish rack flew off the counter and cracked the trim to the step to the walk through. Easy to fix and I temporarily duct taped it to keep us from getting splinters. Also the fruit went rolling in all directions. Bruised apples anyone?
We inched into Minim creek with only 5 feet below the keel, but right on time. You have to negotiate crab pots but if you go past the old derelict dock it is nice and wide and the anchor stuck hard in the mud. It smelled strongly of marsh there. Shortly after anchoring Cadence and I took showers but Matt decided to do it the salty way and jumped in the creek. Then he climbed up, soaped up and jumped in again. I wish I had a picture of that white bum in the water. We have the anchorage to ourselves and made good time so we had a long restful evening at anchor. The water seemed choppy but the boat was completely still, so much so that eventually Matt checked the depth to make sure we are not sitting on the bottom. Nope 5 feet under the keel. It was a strange sensation.
Unfortunately the reports on Active Captain of biting bugs was dead on. God bless our full enclosure. We had dinner and then went up in the cockpit to hang out. The bugs landed on the screens and stared at us hungrily, like little zombies. Cadence and I colored until the lantern light was not enough then we all went down. Matt disappeared to the back bedroom while Cade and I colored and watched Looney Toons. Bedtime was an hour earlier today for her. It was her first day without a serious fit. Bonus. Cruising is a lot more physically and emotionally exhausting than any of us anticipated. After she is down Matt and I plan our route for the next two days, and then turn in early ourselves.
Minim Creek gets 3 stars. It was pretty and easy to anchor, and we had it all to ourselves. But there is noise from what we think was both the ICW and a road somewhere, and the biting bugs are a bummer. There are lots of water birds and fish jumping everywhere.
Saturday, October 19, 2013: Minim creek to Price Creek
The anchor came up easily but a little muddy and we were underway by 7:30am. It was raining for the first few hours. Again, god bless a full enclosure. Other than the weather it was a pretty nice day out. This part of the ICW is often more shallow and after one wake our depth gauge started freaking out, jumping from 0 to 10. Well what is it 10 feet or none, because that is a significant difference to us! I had to climb into the engine room to get the distilled water and Matt topped off the transducer, which is under the floor under our galley table. That seemed to take care of it, but depths at low tide were as low as 6 feet. What are people with drafts deeper than that thinking bringing their boats down here?
The only other mishap, if that is what you want to call it, is that we realized that there is a leak having to do with our cutlass bearing area. This is something Matt worried over and the surveyor told us it should get us to Florida. Well maybe she still will, but let me tell you, there is a certain psychological weight to realizing your boat is taking on water. Sure it is only a drip a minute. But it is amazing how heavy a bummer a drip a minute is compared to bone dry. We will watch it closely and hope we can nurse it to Florida before needing to pull the boat out and fix it, which was on the to-do list before the leak anyway.
The best part of the day was seeing dolphins. We saw them multiple times although they totally ignored us while they fished. Cadence was thrilled.
Oh I lied. There was one other mishap. When we tried to pull into Price Creek to anchor around 2:30pm we ran aground. That is par for the course in these waters and Matt got us off fine. We tried the approach from the south and that worked out fine. There is always shoaling at the mouths of inlets and it was low tide. The Price Creek anchorage was poor. It was an ocean inlet, so it was beautiful with some dolphins. But the holding was crappy, I lost the backend of the boat during anchoring which made us unsure of how well it was done, and the tide was fierce. There were weird little shrimp-like critters that crawled all over the hull all night making a loud sound like dish soap bubbles popping on a larger scale. There was also a rushing water sound with the strong tide, and strong winds. Oh and there were a lot of biting bugs. We hardly slept and for myself, what little sleep I did get was filled with nightmares about the boat or Cadence. It had good reviews but I think that is mostly because people with dinghies with engines could go up to a beach where there was good shelling and beach combing. The current was so strong that we didn’t think rowing in it was sensible so we barricaded ourselves against the bugs inside, and had a quiet evening in. One star for Price Creek and we wont likely won’t visit again.
Cadence: “Nice parking spot Dad!” “Are we in Florida yet?” “Mommy will you play with me NOW?” “I need new water, this water isn’t Fresh.”
Sunday, October 20, 2013: Price Creek to Charleston
What a day! We were glad to get up and find ourselves still anchored in place in Price creek. I had only slept maybe two hours and those two hours were nightmare filled. So with an attempt to switch on our brains with caffeine and adrenaline we hurried to leave the anchorage. We pulled anchor and carefully edged out of the creek inlet. It was easy at high tide. Back in the ICW we made our way towards our first timed opening bridge. The Ben Sawyer Memorial Bridge only opens on the hour on the weekends and timing your approach can be difficult.
It was a day of novice mistakes as we were verbally spanked on the radio for timing a passing of a barge in an inlet. The currents are wacky and can cause problems with such little wiggle room. Grumpy Barge Captains aside we got to the bridge with ten minutes to spare. This can be problematic when you take into account the number of other boats that may be waiting, the current and its direction, and the fact that many boats don’t have a reverse that doesn’t cause prop walk or an uncontrollable spinning out of your back end. Watching a line of sailboats wiggle all around and spin circles trying to keep some sort of orderly line that oncoming boats may pass must be amusing for onlookers. At one point the guy in the sailboat in front of us came out and yelled that the Bridge Tender was trying to hail us on channel 9. Oops. We usually have our radio scanning but for some reason it wasn’t. He wanted our boat name and hailing city. Finally the bridge opened and we all powered through.
Now in Charleston Bay we got to feel how the boat handles in ocean settings. Of course this was also the first time the wind was not directly on our nose so Matt just had to pull out some sails. The end result of this was fine sailing and me having a meltdown because I screwed up navigation. I don’t mind the occasional multi-tasking but I would prefer it to not be when I have no idea what I’m doing. I took over the helm and then Matt handed me some rope and told me to watch the screens in front of me and stay on the magenta line. Then he disappeared out onto the deck. The rope started to pull across my hand and I noticed a funky looking buoy. What did that say? Where are those binoculars? Wait, I don’t have free hands. Matt! Whatever I’ll just keep going straight on the magenta line. Wrong. The magenta line turned left directly after the bizarre buoy that was, indeed, an ICW marker. In my defense the magenta line also kept going straight so I was keeping to some sort of channel, just not the right one. Once the mistake was noticed, amongst some stress, I started crying. Hey. I had two hours of sleep and it’s been a hard four days. And I probably had PMS or something, ok?
On the far side of Charleston Bay we saw the city marina and a huge 80 room private yacht. We also noticed a lot of boats anchored. That should have been warning number one. We headed under the bridge and towards another timed opening bridge. We were the only south bound sailboat around. That was probably warning number two. This bridge opened on the hour and half hour, and is a bascule (which means it doesn’t swing but rather it opens upwards.) Once past it we noticed the current getting stronger. By the time we got to the narrow cut called Elliots Cut Matt was stressing out. The current was out of control. Elliots Cut is a tiny channel where the current gets squished such that you can get 6 to 8 knots, and it is lined with rock and so narrow that two boats passing is a joke. HOLY. CRAP. Matt had our engine up to 2500RPM’s and her heat was rising. He had to keep the nose of the boat directly straight because if that gushing current got the side of you it would swing you around, chew you up on the rocks and spit you out the other side of the channel where you should have anchored and waited out the tide in the first place. I think we made like 1 mile per hour forward…white knuckled.
When we cleared the cut we then called St. Johns Marina and had to dock on the face dock in a strong current. Honestly, before Elliots-holy-crap-Cut the docking might have stressed us out, especially since we were being directed in front of a motor boat on the wrong side of the current, but after just coming out of current hell, Matt handled it like a pro. We tied off and then looked at each other and said. WHAT THE HELL. Perhaps we should pay closer attention to the notes on tides on Active Captain.
St. Johns Marina was nice. We originally planned to stay one night. Oh, to feel hot showers and catch up on sleep sorely lacking! However, we just made plans to meet up with Matt’s Mom who lives in Charleston, so we extended it to two nights. I promise I’m not crying about that! What a freaking day. What crazy mistakes! How exhausting! What an adventure!
Monday, October 21, 2013: Charleston: St. Johns Marina
We had a happily mellow day of boat chores, relaxing, Internet access and having a late dinner with Matt’s mother. On the way back to the boat after dinner Matt was leading us down the dock and I said “Uh Matt, look up.” About 20 feet in front of him was a huge Heron walking across the dock nonchalantly. It stood 4 to 5 feet tall and it was a strange feeling watching it walk around the docks like a person. We heard them bickering with each other on the docks all night.
Tuesday October 22, 2013: Charleston to West of Watts Anchorage
We left St. Johns Marina at 8:00 am. St. Johns Marina gets four stars by the way. The facilities were great, the staff were helpful, the residents were nice, and they had a courtesy car which is SO convenient. We were going to use it to go to dinner with Matt’s Mom but ended up taking her car. Anyway it was a nice stop over and it was really nice to meet up with Carol . Definitely worth the extra day. We originally planned the trip at about 25 miles a day to be conservative. We are averaging 30 to 35 so there is wiggle room for days off here and there.
The day’s trip was pretty nondescript. We passed some interesting ships and managed most of the trip on high tide so the shoaling warnings were no problem. We were careful to look at all the hazards on the map this time, and luckily had an uneventful journey outside of some rain. We dropped anchor in West of Watts anchorage around 2:30pm. Anchoring is still difficult mostly because we have not done it more than 5 times and each time the sea bed and conditions are totally different. The anchor seemed to take fast and hard this time (and I bared down on it hard and long and it didn’t budge.) It was a nice and wide anchorage. Again, we had the anchorage to ourselves but there would be room for quite a few other boats. Strong winds were predicted for the next day and none of the anchorages seem to offer any mild tides or great wind protection. So we tend to choose them based on getting out of the ICW (too much traffic) and depth and width. We don’t want too much depth or you have to put out too much chain. We don’t want it too narrow or we wont have swing room. Current seems inevitable but isn’t a problem if the bottom allows the anchor to sink in easily.
Once anchored it takes a while to decompress after a run. I think the noise of the engine sort of scrambles our brains and it takes a while to smooth out the mental chaos. Cold beers help. A lot. Matt did most of the driving this run and was wiped out. Cade was tired too. Hell I was tired too but somehow they both fell asleep and sat there tiredly trying to get inspired about dinner. We discussed staying in the anchorage another day rather than pushing against the forcasted winds. In such a case I had to plan dinner around conserving our electricity. It was tuna sandwiches and canned pears for us, and mac and cheese with mango juice for Cade.
Wednesday, October 23, West of Watts Anchorage
We woke up at 6:30am to discuss whether or not we move on. The winds were beginning to pick up but the rain had stopped. We decided to stay put. The anchor seems to be holding and although we don’t have much protection from the wind there is no need to prove anything by trying to push against a wind that is forecasted to be 20-30 mph sustained. The next leg had a couple of those narrow cuts and the stress of trying to keep a straight line in those winds was not worth it. We considered a move to Raccoon Island anchorage, which is said to have more protection from a west wind, but we decided to stay put. We watched our anchor closely and had an anchor alarm set.
It was so sunny that our last minute install of solar panels totally paid off, and they happily charged our batteries for us. The winds were nuts. It was really loud. And the boat was at a constant heel of 3 to 5 degrees to the port. It was really nice and sunny though. Again let me reiterate how much I love our full enclosure. It works like a sunroom, blocking the wind and collecting the heat of the sun. We can open both companionways and heat up the boat. It even warmed up the boat enough that I showered voluntarily. This trip has proven the life quality that our canvas enclosure brings and it has moved to the top of the list for repair and care. It keeps out wind, rain, and bugs. It keeps in toddlers, and can be opened to cool off the boat or closed up to warm it up. This all ups my happiness level. And ain’t nobody happy if Mama ain’t happy, right?
We discussed our timing. As for the rest of the trip we will have to hit it constantly with no days off. We have 2 more days of travel to get into Georgia, and at least 6 days in Georgia. There are a couple of runs that can’t be done at any time but high tide so that could add days. We also can’t make the run into our Marina in Jacksonville against the tides or bridge schedules so we might have to stay a night at the free dock there to wait it out. The point is that we agreed that the days off for fun are done, the rest of the trip was to be dictated by the weather and the water.
On a side note, I was stressing because I had no idea where Cadence would be celebrating her birthday/Halloween. Thankfully I had stashed presents, decorations and Halloween candy on the boat to try to make it festive. I wondered if I’d have a chance to go ashore in a town and find cake or cupcakes. I thought we would do more of that than we had done.
Thursday, October 24, 2013 West of Watts Anchorage to Beaufort
We were up at the crack of dawn and man was it chilly. As soon as the sun goes down the boat starts getting cold. By the time we are tucking in to bed I would find it unbearable to be nekkid unless under the covers. Of course I’m a wimp. The morning was chill enough that we broke out jackets, gloves and hats. We ran the engine for a while so we could use the space heater and warm up the cabin, which seemed almost futile because as soon as we pulled up anchor and left, the open hatches made it chilly again. Thankfully, as soon as the sun could shine into the enclosure it started to warm up. We passed a few other sailboats with people in parkas in their rear open cockpits. Brrr. We didn’t complain as we sat in long sleeve shirts slowly shedding layer by layer.
The trip was pretty. I saw a bald eagle snatch a fish out of the water, not more than 25 yards from the boat. We discovered that we had left our handheld radio on over-night, which was a real pain since the other radio is down in the walkthrough and even on top volume we can’t hear it in the cockpit. We went through one tight stretch called Ashepoo Coosaw Cutoff but once past that it opened up into the Coosaw river which is wide enough and long enough to sail. We pulled up the sail for a while but there was not enough wind to really keep it from luffing. We pulled into the Beaufort River and decided to anchor before the timed bridge, on the opposite side of the river from the free docks, around 2pm. The anchorage is called Factory Creek. This was the busiest anchorage we had been in. We looked at various spots but ended up closer to the entrance. There appeared to be a few boats that are moored and a few anchored. We picked our little spot and besides a crab pot buoy that was annoying close we were pretty happy with it. I thought having other boats so close would be nerve wracking but it wasn’t.
It was so warm and sunny Cadence and I did some silly yoga on the deck since we didn’t intend to get off the boat. We did the tree pose, seeing who could balance on one foot the longest on a bouncing sailboat. Then we played some Simon Says. We are very close to the highway and must have made for some great entertainment for the cars. There was a screech and a crash and I couldn’t help but wonder…did we cause that? Oops. It was also so sunny that we closed up all the canvas and let the cockpit and boat get down right roasting in preparation for the evenings chilly temperatures.
Matt thought this was one of his favorite anchorages. He liked the town being all around us. Personally, if we aren’t getting off the boat to explore the town I rather not be anchored so close to other yahoos.
The next day the bridge doesn’t open for the first time until 9am so we slept in. We debated going offshore instead of trudging the ICW some more, but I think the fact that we haven’t had much of a chance to test the sails had Matt nervous. Actually, I made him nervous by reminding him that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when sailing. So if everything is going along swimmingly I’ll gladly take my shift, but if there is a problem I’m basically only moral support. It was decided to stay inside. Lol. It was a bummer because hopping out would save us days and days. Better safe than sorry I suppose. We intend to use the St. Johns River in the next few months to shake down the sails and give me some lessons; everything in its time.
Friday Oct. 25, 2013 Factory Creek to Bulls Creek
We had to wait for the first opening of the bridge at 9am to get underway, one of our later starts on this trip. Its a bummer when you have a time agenda and can’t check out all the towns you go through. I wondered if we’ll ever actually go in to the town of Beaufort since everyone always says that it is so nice. There was this really weird boat next to us that looks permanently anchored. The thing was half sailboat half fishing boat, with a plywood cabin, painted white. On one side was a giant smiley face and on the other was a bible verse. I was sort of glad to leave that hunk of junk behind.
Today’s trip was uneventful. We dropped anchor with 4 other sailboats in Bulls Creek (another bulls creek) at 3:20pm. I almost took Matt’s fingers off when I misunderstood an ‘ease’ backward command for a “set the anchor” command which has considerable power differences. I had another meltdown about that. Anyway, it was a decent anchorage, if a little windy. We anchored closer to the mouth of the river than any of the boats and thus had less wind break from the trees. It was a cold night and we all went to bed early.
Soon I will post about Georgia…