Sunday, April 28, 2019

Alligator Marina to Elizabeth City

You can see the zig zag in the middle.

This was one of the crossings they warned us about. The Albemarle Sound. Experience loopers claim this one can be the worst. I surely hope so. I'd like not to do that again.

Alligator Marina is all that's here -- no town, no village. Just a gas station with a tiny fast food restaurant and the marina. But it's location makes it an ideal spot for loopers, who get ready to make the crossing or wait for the right weather window. The sound is longwise east to west, to any winds from either the east or west can create some bad waves. We'd been watching the weather for days, knowing this was coming.

We woke at 5:30 am this morning to the sound of someone starting their engines. Russ quickly checked the weather, and wouldn't you know it, the best weather window for the next five days was right now. (That wasn't the case when we went to bed, by the way). We didn't eat breakfast. We didn't even have coffee. We just untied the lines and we left. We were leaving the marina just as the sun was coming up, the third boat out in a parade of five.
Leaving as the sun came up

Along the Alligator river everything was fine. The wind was behind us, creating a following sea, making the ride pleasant. Russ made us coffee. Later I went down to the galley and made us some cereal for breakfast. I noticed we started bobbing a bit, which was expected since we got into the open waters. While the wind was southwest, the waves still seemed to be from the west, and getting rougher. Turns out, a small storm was developing in the west and moved eastward. Both the height and frequency of the waves intensified. By the time we got half way, our auto-pilot was having a hard time maintaining a direction, and the beam sea rocked us side to side. 

Russ turned the boat direction 45 degrees (you can see that in the map) so we'd take some of the wave energy on the quarter beam. That was a great strategy except off the known channel the sound was filled with crab pots. These are identified with some kind of floater bobbing on the surface. The problem is the rope that connects the floater to the crab trap below, and it's tendency to get tangled in your propellers. Not only are we fighting waves, but we're having to turn and spin to avoid the crab pots.

After we traveled that direction for about twenty minutes, we tacked back 90 degrees, taking the waves on the head. We bumped and slammed a number of times into the waves. We stayed on that course for thirty minutes or more before tacking back again another 90 degrees. Throughout all that, we kept dodging and weaving between crab pots. 

We made it. Then we hung out on the bow under
the new bimini to recover.
The weather predictions failed today. That weather Russ read about? We had none of that. Winds were supposed to be from the south, they came from the west. Seas were supposed to be 1 foot, they were closer to 2 - 3 feet. Winds were supposed to be around 8 knots. I glanced at our weather station readout a number of times; we had steady winds of nearly 20 knots (over 20 mph).

As we neared neared the Pasquotank River, things calmed down. Once on the river, is was almost like it never happened. The water smoothed out and the wind settled. By the time we docked in the free city docks, there was hardly any weather to speak of.

It only lasted about an hour. But it. Was. HORRIBLE!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Belhaven to Alligator Marina

We continued along the Pungo River, crossed the Alligator cut, and then upwards on the Alligator River. The name Pungo River makes me laugh. It reminds me of an obscure journal entry from some turn-of-the-century pith-helmeted explorer. "We continued down the Pungo River in search of the elusive white rhino." We saw no rhinos, white or otherwise.

The waters here are red. That's from the trees around here, which make the water tannic. Locals say that back in the day ships would come here to fill their water tanks with this water. The acidity keeps the water free from bacteria, so the water is safer to drink and won't get "funky" on you.

Not that I'd drink it...

Fuzzy bills, EVERYWHERE!
While here we've experienced our first bug swarm. We're expecting a couple of those along the way. Fuzzy bills, the local call them. Midge flies. They resemble mosquitoes a bit, but they don't bite. Said our dockmaster, they come from the soil, fly around, land on stuff, then die. Largely, it's about cleanup. They are everywhere the wind is not. We washed the boat a couple of time during our stay, then again once we reached Alligator Marina.

These are more open waters, which means wind can have very bad effects. Our ride was choppy, and a bit chilly. We hoped that would changed as the week went on, but it looks like things will get worse. In fact, we're changing our plans. We wanted to go to a couple of little towns on the Albemarle Sound, but any east wind would make the travel rough. We watch the weather day by day, but we think we'll abandon the sound and slowly make our way to Norfolk.

That is, that's what we think right now...

Kudzo covered trees along the Alligator Canal

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Campbell Creek to Belhaven

Very short ride today, only a couple of hours. Another open water run. The weather and wind cooperated, so the crossing was placid. Warm weather (finally!!!) and lots of sun made it the perfect day to be on the water.

We planned on being here for two nights largely due to weather. The prediction is another storm will blow through tomorrow. While the last few predictions did have wind, we haven't seen much rain, and certainly no thunderstorms. If we weren't overly cautious, there were some travel days we let go by. We are ahead of schedule now, so we're not worried about wasting a couple of days here and there. We're just a few travel days from Norfolk, and we're not due to get there until May 5.

Sunrise on Campbell Creek
When Russ called the Belhaven Marina, which is downtown, he got an answering machine. He left his contact info, but the marina never called back. Meanwhile, he read about River Forest Marina, who just remodeled and are AGLCA sponsors. They had room, and that's where we docked this morning. Free laundry, free use of golf carts (they have three), exceptionally clean bathrooms, and a glorious manor (an event facility) on sprawling green grounds. We plan on taking a tour tomorrow. 

Safe for another storm in Belhaven
The place is fabulous, and just three blocks from downtown. 

So there, Belhaven Marina!

We'll just call this art

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Morehead City to Campbell Creek

Two days ago Richard Spurlock (of the Jill Kristy) called me. They were going to anchor beyond Oriental on Campbell Creek. As they headed up the creek they got messaged by some folks who are loopers. They live on that creek and have a dock, and invited the Jill Kristy to dock there. The location and the hosts were so wonderful, Richard thought we'd enjoy it, too.

We agreed that sounded pretty nifty. We decided to head there this morning.

It's a bit unnerving waking to 16 mph winds when it's a "go" day. We planned on pumping out before we got underway. But the winds made me uneasy. Various weather apps claimed the winds would calm as the day went on, and as you can see, we headed north, further inland, away from the windy ocean. We stuck to the plan, but one change -- we'd pump out in Oriental on the way.

To be fair, the winds did make it easy to get off the dock so getting underway was pretty quick and easy. So off we went.

This would also be our first open water crossing in a while. Any east winds (NE, E, SE) would make the trip rough. Our winds came from the south, and the first bit of open water into Oriental was mildly chopped, but very doable.

Crazy parking job for the pump out
Oriental has two things that loopers like; a free dock, and a tiki bar. We thought we'd take advantage of the free pump out. We'd have to find it first. We crept into the little marina, working our way back to where the shrimp boats were. Russ hailed them, hoping for some instruction since we didn't see a handy "Pump Out This Way" sign. Someone answered and told us where to go. However, the pump out dock had two boats tied to it, one on either side. Our options were to dock behind them (and we'd stick waaaay out into the fairway) or park on it t-head style. We did the latter. One of the sailboat owners came out to give us a hand, thankfully. He helped tremendously get the boat stable on such a small pier.

Then we attempted to pump out ourselves, but the mechanism didn't work. Russ went to look for help, I just called them on the radio. The manager was going to come down and give us a hand.

...why he just didn't do that to begin with...

He gets the pump working, which is finicky. It's woefully under-powered, and has to move your "stuff" nearly 200 feet to land and 12 feet up to reach the city sewers. It also shuts off after 10 minutes, so you need someone on the dock to press the button to start it again. It took us 30 minutes to get the deed done, but done it got.

Wide open waters
You see the craziest things on the ICW
Back onto open waters, and as predicted, the winds did calm. The crossing was wonderful. No twisting and turning, no worrying about depths and shoals. In fact, it was the first time in a long time we could eat lunch side-by-side while watching our progress. Usually, one of us has to "drive." After days of ICW craziness we can see why folks choose to go outside.

Crossing complete we got onto a cut that took us up to the Campbell Creek. Just as we got to the mouth of the creek Rip and Beth Tyler hailed us -- they'd been watching our progress on Nebo. They talked us to their place, and met us on the dock. After dogs got a break, we had them over for some cheese and crackers and sangria. 

Beth and Rip

Sunset on Campbell Creek

The only stat that's changed was the deer-fly count, which went up by 7. Total: 14

Monday, April 22, 2019

Hammock Bay to Morehead City

When we got up this morning we were one of fourteen boats in our anchorage. There were nine when we went to bed, so a number of sailboats snuck in after dark. We were the third boat out.

Continuing up the ICW the first obstacle was a very low swing bridge, only twelve feet. No gettin' under that. To make matters a bit frustrating, the bridge only opens every half hour. You have to tell the bridge operator that you're there, and he won't hold it for anyone. We arrived with a twenty minute wait to go, first ones there. By the time he opened, there were eight boats clustered, all heading northward.

Sunset at Mile Hammock Bay anchorage
Not a long day, and most of it was very straight. We had to watch for the occasional shoal, but the trip went smoothly. 

At the end we caught up with a boat we knew from Isle of Hope, R Time. I hailed her, asked how they were doing, and told them we didn't want to pass because we were heading to a nearby marina. Turns out they, too, were going to that marina. That meant we'd have to stay put and wait while they got docked first, but that's good practice for bridges (like we did today) and locks.

R Time hailed the marina. We listened to their chatter, assuming we'd get similar instructions on where to dock. They were being put on a wall. We were told we too would be there, right in front of them.

After a five or ten minutes the marina hailed us, ready for us to come in. But he changed our docking location, since we were going to stay a couple of days. He put us on a t-head.

Just go straight.
Nevermind that sunken shrimpboat on the left...
Sadly, I'm still new at this whole boating thing. Otherwise, I would have realized that the current (mid-tide by this time) was really strong, and we were approaching the pier with it. If you ever have the option, you want to go against the tide. Things would have gone much smoother if I (a) had spun the boat 180 degrees and approached the dock against the current or (b) passed the pier, then backed up into the t-head against the current. But I tried to do what I always do, which is bow-in with the current. Every time I did (and I made several attempts), the current twisted the boat and pushed us away from the t-head. After several tries two men were on the pier trying to help. Someone said something about stern-in. I cranked the engines to swing the back end in and Russ tossed a line. That did it. Even secured the current and wind still pushed us away. It wasn't easy -- the two dockmen struggled even with my engine help to bring Cat-n-Dogs out of the current. 

Just some pretty pastel boats.
These things are fast and wake like crazy.
Nobody likes them. But they are pretty.
I'm happy to report that we had no property damage of any kind. But it took us a good 20 minutes to get it done.

I'm also glad we were behind R Time. I would have hated for those folks to wait for all that.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Southport to Hammock Bay

Not our first choice, nor second, but Hammock Bay is where we decided to anchor tonight. 

Mostly, tonight's stop was largely determined by tomorrow's stop, which is Morehead City. Looking ahead at our travels Morehead City seemed to have a vet close by. Not only does Savannah need another eye check-up, but both dogs are due for annual vaccinations. So, I made them appointments for late Tuesday, which gave us Sunday and Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) to get there.

Based on that, Russ looked for marinas around half way. He decided Topsail would be ideal, but since the weather made a departing day unclear, he waited until Saturday to call. By then it was too late. They only had 3 spaces for boats our size and all were taken Sunday night.

Further searching led him to call Swan Point Marina. Sounds so lovely, don't it? Yes, they had room. The guy Russ talked to gave him his cell phone number in case we couldn't hail him on the radio. So, a plan is set.

Of course, none of us were thinking that Sunday is actually EASTER Sunday.

Hank's handout. Avoid red, if that isn't obvious.
Saturday night, we attended "the briefing." This is quick overview on what to expect along the North Carolina coast by Hank Pomeranz. An excellent talk, Hank covered everything in detail, from what parts of the channel are shallow (or shoaled) to what to expect from some of the bridges (some of which only open once an hour). When we set off this morning, I was a bit daunted by all the info. But having a marker-by-marker guide made the trip easy.

In fact our only thrill during the voyage was at one of those bridges. It's height is 19 feet. In theory, so is our boat. Many boats stopped and waited for the next opening which was 50 minutes away. Russ encouraged us to try it, moving slow. He dropped our antennae, then popped his head out of the hatch on the fly deck. He reported from there that his head was the highest thing on the boat. Proceed! Slowly I inched us forward, aiming for the highest part of the bridge. "You're good," Russ said a number of times. As we went under it, he extended his arm and touched the steel structure.

The rest of the day went swimmingly, until... Swan Point Marina. So gonna give them a bad review.

We hail them. No response. Russ calls them. No one answers the phone. We knew that there would be a face dock on the ICW, and that's where we were supposed to be. However, a barge had taken our spot, leaving us no room. At that point we probably should have just drifted along, but we noticed a long pier inside with space. I suggested we try to tie up there. Russ agrees.

The challenge was getting in there. The barge and pier are on the north side, and some pilings are on the south, making a small channel to go through to enter the marina. The current is pushing us toward the barge, so Russ suggested I stay closer to the pilings. I do. We run aground. In fact, the bow is stuck and the current is swinging our stern toward the barge. Dashing to the back, Russ tells me to let that happen, that we will clear the barge and swing into the marina, and then I can reverse and free the bow. My legs shook with worry, since I had to crank the engines to continue the swing, otherwise we'd be stuck there until higher tide (or Boat US towed us out). As he claimed, we cleared the barge and I reversed the engines. Freedom! We were now in the marina. Backing up I move toward the long, empty pier. Still reeling from the gate-swing maneuver I slowly bring the stern into the pier. Russ gets a line around a cleat, dandy! At least we're now connected to the pier. The plan is I'd use that line to pivot the front end in as Russ gets bow fenders in place. As I increase power to do that I hear a crack, and the boat moves sideways. I report to Russ that we've ripped the cleat clean off the pier. I'm done. We need to go somewhere else.

First, we need to get out of this friggin' marina. Only then do I realize the amount of disrepair the place is in. The end of the pier we were trying to dock at is partially sunk, and the the pier next to it is mostly sunk with a sunken ship. This time, I plan to exit coming close to the barge and with enough speed the current doesn't take me into it. "No wake" zones be damned, we were getting out. I throttled ahead.

Once we got back into the ICW, which we did without further frustration, Russ found us an anchorage about a mile or so away. Plus side, lots of space, good mud, well known. Minus side, all the land around us is military, so we can't take the dogs to shore. 

It reads "Tank Xing". Probably a clue.
Of course, we didn't know that until we'd docked at a pier and walked them, finding the sign that essentially read "No Civilians." No one shot us, so, we're good.

Updated stats:
   Anchor nights: 6
   Aground: 4

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Last night in Southport

View from the Creech porch
While here we met up with the Harbor Hosts of Southport, Robert and Kay Creech. Their house sits on the little road folks walk passed on their way to town, facing the water. He invited us to stop by, chat a bit, and take in the view.

Turns out there was a small fair going on in town. Between rain storms we took a walk to see the sights. Southport has a cute downtown, with eateries and shopping -- everything but groceries (which is the only drawback to the place). We were pretty well provisioned for the three days so that didn't bother us.

Vendors at the fair -- decent day, as it turned out
The wind was the biggest part of the storms. But we barely moved in the marina. Quite unlike the last storm in Charleston.

After the worst of the storms passed (leaving still blustery and colder days) we took the time to catch up on some chores. We cleaned the boat (which it sorely needed) and added marks on the fender lines. A bit of colorful whipping that symbolized "water line" would help the deckhand know where to set the fenders as we pulled into a dock. 

Whipping some lines, side by side
We head out tomorrow for Topsail, then onto Morehead City where we'll spend a couple of nights. That stop is largely for the dogs -- not only should Savannah get her eye recheck but both due for annual vaccines.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Myrtle Beach to Southport

Tick off another state. We left South Carolina first thing this morning and crossed over into North Carolina.

Travel today was easy and without incident of any kind. In fact, we spent the four hours in a small cluster of boats, with Soul Shine ahead of us and Sea Trolley behind us. All loopers. As it turned out, all of us came to the same marina.

If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air,
quaint little villages, here and there...
Soul Shine hailed the marina, wanting to fuel up before docking. We hailed them requesting to be docked, and so did Sea Trolley. We knew the crew of Sea Trolley, Rob and Lee, since we'd run into them a couple of times on this trip thus far starting way back on the wall in LaBelle.

We slowed down as Soul Shine pulled off the ICW and headed for the fuel dock. We received instructions to proceed to A dock and someone would meet us there. Stern in. Once I made the turn down the small fairway I realized I probably wanted to back down, which might be easier than spinning 90 degrees given the size. But I committed and, since things were calm, we spun without issue and backed into our slip.

Gratuitous dog pic. Savannnah rests her head
on Lizzie's belly
After we docked we walked the dogs (early day for them, too, as we got here right around noon) then headed for lunch. Walking in the little town we ran into Rob and Lee. We shared some of our stories, telling them about running aground almost two days in a row. They confessed that just now, as they were turning into this marina, they ran aground. Badly, too. It took a while for him to back off whatever he got stuck on. Sadly, it wasn't even his fault. The dock person he talked to gave him bad instructions. Because they were behind us we didn't see any of that.

Those folks are loopers but they're about done, crossing their wake when they get to the Chesapeake. In other words, we're in for a long year of mistakes.

A neighboring boater confessed that he too is quite new to the whole boating thing. We decided to start a newbie boaters club. We'll call it the "Oops! Sorry!" Club.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

McClellanville to North Myrtle Beach

Looooong day. There's a storm coming on Friday. This way, it's a very short day Thursday and we can hunker down for the next Spring blow.

Russ did want to add another statistic to our metrics: The number of deer flys we kill. Right now the count is 7.

You can't have a long day without some interesting stories to tell. When we started off around 7:15 am the morning was cool and misty, making the travel quiet and peaceful. Russ set up a space heater to help keep our feet warm, which worked wonderfully.

Right away we went through what we believe to be our last shallow section. Leaving early also had the benefit of a high tide, which made that trivial. 

We had a couple of dolphin hitchhikers. They don't stay long, but they're still awesome to watch.
Misty morning

By 10 am the sun was out and temps got moderate, mid-70s. We took turns getting some excercise in as we wandered through the section called Waccamaw River. Wide, twisty, and lined with cypress trees most loopers think this is the prettiest part of the ICW. We'd have to agree.

Russ at the helm, we used the auto-pilot. We had our speed up a bit, trying to shorten the day just a little, running about about 9.5 knots. Now, you'd think the auto-pilot would take our speed into consideration, but on a particular turn it seemed sluggish. Russ decided to steer himself and reached to turn off the auto-pilot. Instead, he knocked the controls out of their cradle. Then he quickly reached for that, and knocked the throttle into high speed. At this point I lept from my seat and slammed the throttle down. There was a loud thunk as we came to a slow stop, just a few feet from the bank.

No, we didn't run aground (at least we don't think so). Given the trees we believe we kicked up a log that bumped into the hull. We could navigate (and if you run aground typically you can't -- sadly we know this from experience) so we managed to turn her back into deep waters and continue. We checked all the hull compartments, though, just to make sure we didn't puncture anything. 

One of two swing bridges we passed through.
That's As You Wish ahead of us.
Nerves rattled, Russ insisted on piloting for a while, kind of a "get back on the horse" thing. We emerged from the river unscathed.

We had to call for a couple of swing bridges to open for us. It seems like such an outdated technology, kind of a "days gone by" thing.

When we attended the looper-con in Fort Myers, the man who talked about this section of the trip warned the room about "The Rock Pile." Sounds ominous, don't it? Just past Barefoot Landing they had to blast the channel from rock. It's deep enough, but fairly narrow. Wander too far and you won't be hitting soft sand or mud. You'll be hitting rock.

Russ let me pilot that part. That was a shame, too, because it wasn't a big deal at all. If there hadn't been such hoopla made over it, we wouldn't have thought a thing about it. All day I was amping up for "The Rock Pile," which was the last part to navigate before our marina, I fretted over how tired I'd be by then, and ... nada. Nothing. Just no big.

We caught up to As You Wish (who got off the mud yesterday and passed us last night). Both of us headed for the same marina, the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. We followed her to the fuel dock where we tanked up, then I parked Cat-n-Dogs on a T-head nearby. By the time we sat down to eat dinner, it was 6:30.

The plan is another early start tomorrow, but travel a very short day. We hope to be in Southport, North Carolina, by noon... and get ready for the next storm.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Charleston to McClellanville

A change in metrics. We've run aground 3 times. Technically, that's inaccurate, since we touched the bottom of the ICW three times, but that all happened within a thirty minute period. So we're counting it as one.

Gotta say, this changes my position on global warming. When my boat is struggling in a well marked channel I say melt those icebergs!

We knew today would be through some very shallow waters. Russ monitors looper chats and we were prepared for the run into McClellanville, which is notorious in its depths, or lack of them. That's was why we left Charleston at 11 am. Low tide would be around 1 pm. Our arrival would be around 3 pm, mid-way to high tide. Should be perfect.
Sunrise in Charleston. You can see Cat-n-Dogs on the right

However, they were dredging (again with the dredgers!) a thin section about a third of the way en route. As we approached we could see a boat tilted nearby. As You Wish had run solidly aground. Her crew hung out on the back, reading and biding their time, waiting for a rising tide to save her. But she loomed like an omen near the channel.

There was a boat ahead of me (Water Dog) and a boat behind me (Wanderlure). Both Russ and I watched where Water Dog traveled, since they draft more than us, surely that would be safe. But somehow we missed their path by a few feet, and that was all it took. We bumped and stuck a bit. I backed out and turned, but the wind pushed us back in. We bumped again. This time I backed out and kept it in reverse until I was well and clear. By then Wanderlure caught up with us so we let her pass. Then I tried to follow her, and danged it! Again, we bumped. I almost panicked. Where was I supposed to go??!! I was able to back out, easily. All of this is in soft mud, so nothing was being harmed. In fact, the channel is a little deeper now.

Behold, the bimini!
We noticed that Wanderlure had stopped -- we thought maybe she ran aground. She hailed us, saying the dredge was moving so she was waiting until they stopped. So did we, although nervously, worried that I'd drift back over some mud. Eventually she moved and we followed her, coming close enough to the dredge to have a quick conversation with its crew. 

I have to say that one of our many navigational aids contains pretty recent depth information. Up until today, it was very accurate. But what we saw on the chart and experienced didn't quite gel. Nerve racking.

Note to loopers: Leave Charleston at a rising tide!

By the time we reached the section of the channel we knew would be an issue, the tide had come up (as planned) and our depths were excellent -- 7 to 9 feet below our hull. 

In addition to the tidal charts, we chose McClellanville for their seafood. There's a restaurant here that many say is one of the best on the loop. They are only open for dinner on the weekends, however, and their lunch service ends at 3. We arrived close to 4.

We took the rest of the afternoon to install the new bimini. So, there's that. Now we're really ready for some sunny days.

Nope, don't wanna be there.

Monday, April 15, 2019

It was too much for me

On foot in Charleston
Yesterday the storm came in. Slowly. Slow enough that we got to enjoy most of the day and took an amazing walk, covering most of Charleston. I think we both logged over 25,000 steps on our fitness trackers.

Then the night came, and with it the wind. We had gusts over 20 mph, which doesn't seem like much unless you're living on a boat in an unprotected marina.

It's such a shame, really. There are three marinas in the Charleston area and none of them are protected. Most marinas, especially when they are on a large body of water like the sound, have breaker walls of some kind. Without that, when any boat goes by you get waked. When the wind picks up you get waked. When the cruise ships, car haulers, or freighters go by ... well, you get the picture. So when the storm hit its height, starting around 9 pm, I couldn't deal. I abandoned ship, leaving my dogs and husband. 

I checked into a hotel.

Luckily one was within walking distance from here. And upon hearing my story about rolling seas and roiling stomach, they gave me a substantial price break for the night. I checked in at 10 pm and out at 5:30 the next morning so I could help Russ walk the dogs.

That said, Charleston is an amazing little town. The Charleston Maritime Marina, while small, is ideally located to the French Quarter and restaurants. We will be back. However, if we boat here, we're making our hotel reservations in advance.

If you're interested, I stayed at the Ansonborough Inn. It is glorious.

PS. I talked to the neighboring boat this morning and asked how they slept. They confessed that, due to being sick, just fine. They took some benedryl. I may need to go to the drug store tomorrow...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Beaufort to Charleston

Our path is now more east than north
What a crazy past 24 hours!

Our tale starts the night before. Despite the calm winds, the current at the marina, which is right on the ICW, is crazy. Crazy! When the tides shift between high and low, the currents run very fast. So fast they batted our boat around while on the moor. From midnight to 2 am we jerked and jostled while the water noisily splashed on the hull. As a result we didn't get a solid sleep. And we had plans for an early rise and long day on the water.

We got up 5:15 am to dinghy the dogs to shore. We came back, made coffees, and scrammed. We were underway before 7:30. 

Russ at the helm
Right off the day was perfect. Calm wind, placid waters. On this trip we had a number of cuts to get through. Built by the Army Core of Engineers they "cut" passages over land to create the ICW. These are not very wide, and (after years of shoaling) not very deep. We were going through a few of them at low tide. They were at times a bit of a nail-biter.

During a slack period we traded off piloting while the other did their jumpy-things. We feel pretty virtuous about that.

The first half of the day was lonesome. We knew it wouldn't last, being a weekend with nice weather. As we neared Charleston, traffic picked up. 

The last cut we needed to go through is Elliott Cut. By that time many boats zipped around us, to and fro. While tracking them I realized that someone is calling out Cat-n-Dogs over the radio. Which shocked me, since usually we are the ones who hail. 

"This is Cat-n-Dogs," I answered.
The American Star exiting Elliott Cut

"This is the cruise ship, American Star. We're about to enter Elliott Cut, southbound and see you're heading northbound. We can pass in the cut, if you want to."

"Nope, no sir! We'll cut our engines and wait out here."

Which we did. Since the American Star used AIS (as do we, which is how she knew who we were and where we were going) we watched her progress as she made her way through. Amusingly, GMaps for some reason thinks we spent that time shopping at The Sound Factory.

She hailed us again when she was about through. "We'll be out in about five minutes. You can start your approach."

We slowly made our way to the opening and watched her emerge from behind the island. The captain was on the deck, waving at us, and she gave us a "thank you" honk. That made our day.

After she cleared, all sorts of boats zipped with us into the cut. While narrow there didn't seem to be any speed limits. Boats flew by, waking everyone -- so we did too. That was all just preparation for the Charleston Harbor. 

Boats, boats, everywhere!
Our destination was the Charleston Maritime Marina, which was on the other side of the peninsula. As we entered the open water we could see sailboats -- hundreds of them -- between us and our marina. Apparently, the was a race going on. Add to that hundreds of boats just out for the day, a fair number of them filled with young men and women enjoying the immortality of youth. Between them all, and the wind, the seas were bouncy and choppy, one of the worst we've ever had to deal with. Minding my direction and the traffic around me we made our way to our port and hailed them. They gave us directions in, but told us to hold our position (tricky staying in one place, surrounded by speed boats and sailing vessels, while bobbing in 2-3 foot seas). Once they got in place and could help us dock, they gave us the green light.

That did buy Russ some time, who set up the fenders for our slip. Stern in. Port side.

Tucked in for a few days.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in the distance.
I hoped that once we got into the port a bit the waters would calm for docking. No such luck. Moreover, the space I needed to turn around in was not abundant. I turned her carefully, so as not to hit the pier across from us, and backed into the slip at an angle, pivoting into the slip. It went well, although Russ had to push us a bit to keep us from nicking the finger pier. But it was bumpy. Even after we were tied in, the boat surged and tilted.

Now we're exhausted. The activity has slowed down a bit, so I'm hoping we'll both have a good night sleep, even though we continue to do a bit of bobbing.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Isle of Hope to Beaufort

Another state down as we're officially in South Carolina now. Also, we bump up the anchor stat by one. Technically we're moored, but I say that counts.

Nights anchored: 5

Before we got out of bed this morning we heard rain. We knew this day would be questionable. By the time we walked the dogs, however, the sun was shining and the wind was calm. Various weather apps and info told us that rain was likely, thunderstorms possible, but as the day went on the weather would improve. We decided go!

First we pumped out, which meant leaving our dock only to get on another dock in the marina. A little tricky, but done without incident. Then we backed out, spun around and headed north. We didn't get two miles when we were met with a steady rain.

One of several rain squalls. At least it was warm.
Meanwhile, we dealt with some technical issues. Our new navigation system kept crashing every time Russ tried to plug in a course for Beaufort. Finally he deleted all the previous data, and tried again. With success. That particular system isn't key, per se, since we have three other systems (all with course plots) as back ups. We're big on redundancy. However, that is the only system that allows us to navigate with the auto-pilot. Not crucial, we can steer the boat the old fashioned way (and did while we resolved the problem), but when there are strong currents or winds, the auto-pilot does a much better job of keeping the boat on a straight course, while I tend to zig and zag from being pushed about.

Townhomes on Hilton Head
Once plotted and on auto-pilot, the next two rain squalls were trivial.

Auto-pilot (on our boat, anyway) isn't a "set it and forget it" kind of technology. When you plot a course there are waypoints, that is, points along the way that to boat needs to change course. Given how snaky the ICW is, there can be many in a small distance as the waterways twists and turns. Once you set the auto-pilot, it beeps at every waypoint demanding that you push a button to accept the change of course. So we can't just say "Go to the Bahamas" and go below and take a nap. We have to be present on the bridge the entire time. (Fun note: The auto-pilot only manages the course, not the speed. And if we fail to push the button -- you guessed it -- it maintains a straight line at that speed. So, we're doubly motivated to be on the bridge.)

Parris Island.
The water tower says "We Make Marines"
The biggest risk of the day would be crossing the Port Royal Sound, just beyond Hilton Head. It's a wide open inlet, about two miles across. We'd been warned if the wind is from the east (NE, E, or SE) it can be rough. Today it was SSE. Cautiously, we approached, checking it's activity with binoculars, with a clear understanding that we might just turn around and stay overnight near Hilton Head. Once we got on it, it was swelly, but not choppy. I took the opportunity to open up our Yanmar engines and blaze across as quickly as possible. We got up over 12 knots -- woo hoo! 

Once done we only had to find a mooring ball in Beaufort. Since we'd never moored before I assumed it would be easier than anchoring. I figured wrong. Mainly since the winds (which were supposed to be calmer now, but were reaching speeds of 18 mph) made moving the boat around difficult. I had to keep the boat in a position while Russ grabbed the mooring ball and attached our bridle to it. That was way too long, and we worried we'd hit another boat during a tide swing. So I moved the boat forward while Russ wrapped the bridle lines on t-heads to shorten it. After a while it became apparent even that wasn't ideal. Lastly, he took a line, fastened it to one bow cleat, ran it through the moor, and attached it to another cleat. That worked well.

Cute downtown Beaufort
And just when that was accomplished, of course, the winds died down.

Not ours anymore

There's a saying in the boating world, that the happiest days of a boater life is the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. This...