Into South Carolina Nov 4 – 7

Another year, another few more feet sunk in

Another year, another few more feet sunk in

Mother Nature has blessed us with pleasant cruising weather, more so than average and we have moved right along at a low fuel consuming pace. Wed Nov 4 we crossed into South Carolina on a day with rain and T-storms forecasted but never materialized along the coastline.
Now about that bridge. Warning, I am about to rant. Well maybe not that bad but unless you are a boater/cruiser, you may think I am making a lake out of a puddle! On Tuesday we called Osprey Marina in Myrtle Beach to book space for Wed and were told that the Socastee Swing Bridge 2 miles north of the marina had broken overnight and was not opening. Oh, we didn’t hear any Coast Guard announcement about that, ummm maybe Charleston sector was doing that, but for all of us southbound and still in NC we heard zilch. So I posted a comment on the Active Captain FB Group and that prompted a couple informative replies and a hazard mark got placed before the bridge noting the current status.

Socastee Bridge -our note in ActiveCaptain

Socastee Bridge -our note in ActiveCaptain

Wed would be a long (9hrs, 68 nm) day to Osprey and we needed to know if the bridge would open or not. We booked a spot at a marina 20 miles north just in case but we really wanted to get to Osprey and fill up at $2/gal for diesel.

Thanks to Ann on Traveling Soul you can see us departing Carolina Beach

Thanks to Ann on Traveling Soul you can see us departing Carolina Beach

We left Carolina Beach with a favorable current down the Cape Fear River and passed through the recently dredged but re-shoaling Lockwoods Folly and Shallotte inlets at mid-tide. Still, no announcements heard on CH 16, switch to 22 from the CG. We knew the bridge which is normally on request, was opening on the top of the hour between 7am and 7pm with crew assistance. Once we weren’t seeing any contradictory info, we cancelled Barefoot Marina and booked at Osprey, planning to catch the 5pm opening.

buoy work yay!

Buoy work yay!  Maybe they will put some where they are sorely needed.

Trust but verify is my motto and I remembered that the bridge info for this particular one included a phone number to call if boaters had complaints about the bridge. So I called and after two more calls, I reached the right person at the company who manages the opening bridges. He confirmed the opening schedule, was concerned that announcements weren’t being heard north into NC and explained that a part had to be machined (we figured that, I mean these bridges are old and you just don’t buy a replacement part at Ye Olde Parts Store) and the repair would take at least a few more days.
We vacillated on speeding up a bit to make the 4pm and in the end, with 40 mins to go and a flat calm stretch ahead, we burnt off some carbon and got to the bridge with 5 mins to spare, joining 4 others waiting.

Socastee Swing- opens at 4pm for the hopeful 5

Socastee Swing- opens at 4pm for the hopeful 5

The bridge assist crew stands by

The bridge assist crew stands by

Fueling up we learned that a pin broke and a crew was using a come-along to help the bridge open and then re-align with the road when closed. A good pin was removed and used as a model to have a new one made. Finally at 5pm at the marina, we heard Charleston make an announcement but it was just included with weather, etc stuff. Ok, done. Sorry, but seems the Coasties haven’t smartened up much in two years.
The other reason to get to Osprey Wed night, besides cheap fuel (other prices in SC were $2.40+) was to have a short day Thursday to Georgetown where we wanted to spend the day.
Although the rain had passed, the winds were low and- uh oh that means fog. Not dense here but we heard from you-know-who up at Carolina Beach that the fog was very dense there.

The always scenic Waccamaw River

The always scenic Waccamaw River

The Waccamaw is one of my favorite places, especially in spring when the osprey are nesting. Today was overcast, 71 degrees, low wind and we moved along at 9kts at only 1,800 rpm with decent current assist.

"Honey, I'm Good"! Enjoying the ride down the Waccamaw

“Honey, I’m Good”! Enjoying the ride down the Waccamaw with music from the flybridge

We like Georgetown. We especially like Independent Seafood and I was happy we could stop and fill our freezer with shrimp, crab cakes and salmon. The Red Store Warehouse sits in front of Independent Seafood, closer to the main road (Front St) while as you would imagine, the fish place is at the water’s edge.

Empty a couple of year ago, now with two artisan tenants

Empty a couple of years ago, now with two artisan tenants. A perfect fit for a grand old brick building

At the marina large trawlers surrounded us; a 1998 Fleming m/v Bee Haven in front of us on the face dock. While I finished up laundry, Russ had been chatting with her owners and next thing I know we are getting a tour of this stately vessel; remote-controlled shades, trash compactor, dumb-waiter and all!! At 60ft long you could get lost within her four levels, but I think we have the better dinghy. 🙂

Repeating myself certainly, but after Georgetown lies the 60 mile stretch to Charleston Harbor, much of it through the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge. Not every trip yields postcard-worthy photos but the scenery is lovely and a bald eagle can always be spotted. If you are lucky you might spot a gator, but the one we saw in Georgetown before we left was photo-worthy.

very dead, very bloated as he flaoted by with the ebb tide past the marinas

Very dead, very bloated as he floated by with the ebb tide past the marinas

Friday found Twin Sisters anchored in a creek just one hour shy of Saturday’s destination, Charleston Maritime Center. We passed many sails throughout the day (had a nice chat with s/v Circe II from our home area) but as we approached Inlet Creek, the only boat ahead turned in and AIS indicated at least one other. So what’s the problem? Creek too small? No. But we had to anchor either before (close to the ICW) or past them with a hazard mark warning of an unknown snag problem with the end result one poor boat needed a diver to get them un-snagged. Let’s avoid that shall we?
The Captain had warned that if we had to anchor at all close to the hazard he was going to use the old anchor that we still had tucked away in a bow locker. I voted (more like pleaded) for dropping the shiny hook before the other boats but Russ would have none of that. So he turned the flybridge helm over to his trusty albeit nervous Admiral to motor slowly in, past the anchored boats, wave nicely, maintain position, then spin around and slowly head for the middle of the creek. While I am doing this, he dives into the locker, brings up anchor and rode and rigs up a way to drop it in, bring it to center and put on a bridle once the anchor has set. Thank goodness for very low wind and since I’d handled the helm like this, oh maybe 2 or 3 times, sure, no sweat. The throttles are smooth as glass and a pleasure to use and with the help of eyeballs and a zoomed-in chart view we managed to anchor dead center. All good, right? But looked how “well” we did :

Not the spot you really want to anchor on

We nailed the hazard mark! Using the old anchor hopefully ensured it would raise up fine Sat a.m.

For those not familiar with all this electronic chart stuff and what integrates with what, or not. Let me explain our situation; others will differ. We have a 10-yr-old Raymarine chartplotter/radar screen; call it what you will. In its day, it was darn top of the line. On Ortolan we had newer Garmin instruments, which we liked better but are getting accustomed to old Ray. 🙂  On our new (to us) iPad we use Garmin BlueChart that supports ActiveCaptain, an online cruising guide and then some!

Compare iPad to Raymarine CP

Compare iPad to Raymarine- the iPad screen and chart view is sharper and easier to look at

So we can see ourselves on the Raymarine screens (lower and upper helm), but we only have one iPad and right now it doesn’t have a protective case nor a mounting bracket to place it by the helm. When anchoring today, the iPad with ActiveCaptain and therefore showing the hazard marks, etc sat safe inside at the “master” helm but I was operating from the bridge.

Layers of sunset over Charleston

Layers of sunset over Charleston

A beautiful ending to a pleasant day, but then the grill wouldn’t start and the mosquitoes swarmed and well, we stayed inside.

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Mother Nature Has the Last Laugh

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

The different weather services can and do use different models to create their forecasts. Often two may agree but a third is somewhere out in left field. We always hope that when all the ones we use are in agreement, that they’ve nailed it.. because can they all be wrong???  Isn’t that a leading question? The answer is yes they can!!! And they were and we suffered… but not alone. Thursday was predicted by our two sources to be somewhere around 13-16kts, winds out of the SW, going to west and dropping way down as they clocked around to NW and then north.  Governor’s Harbor is exposed from WNW to NNW so we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of discomfort until the wind and waves moved north and then NE.

The trip began well enough at 8:15 as we began sailing right away in 10-12kts of SW winds. We wanted to sail the entire way before the wind dropped down too much. Oh what a joke. Within the first hour of the 3 ½ hour trip it became clear the forecast was oh so wrong. When the wind hit 20kts we reefed the jib and I began to envision a very unpleasant few minutes when the time came to drop the main. Have I mentioned that this process is not as simple as head into the wind and whoosh the main drops right down into the stack pack? Our speed often exceeded 8kts; great if we’d been racing, but funny, not single other boat departed Rock Sound.

A reasonably good-sized island, Levi Island sits a stone’s throw above the harbor and we briefly considered anchoring there for protection but with SW wind, it wasn’t any better than the harbor. We chose the lesser of the weevils, so we thought, and figured we could tuck in fairly close to shore in the southern corner. Wrong again. Some floating house raft thing with AIS named KhanTiki or something close to that, was anchored exactly where we wanted to be.

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Anchoring with the shore at one’s stern is not desirable and we could have moved to Levi, but the forecast had promised the winds would lessen and so too would the large swells entering the medium-sized harbor. To make things more interesting, the charts indicated “poor holding” unless you could find a sandy spot or get closer to the beach where sand was abundant. Our first attempt was perfect; the anchor grabbed right away, but we found our stern in 4ft and that was not going to work since the swells caused a great deal of pitching which made the rudders touch bottom. We eyeballed a spot that looked sandy further away and dropped the hook. I’m at the bow as usual and if I hadn’t been so focused on doing my job I might have noticed how large the swells had become and how much we were bobbing up and down in them. This was a new one for the log book.

The anchor didn’t grab right away but then it seemed to hold fast and after I attached the bridle and we pulled back again, she didn’t budge. Needless to say, we cursed the weather, watched the chartplotter to be sure we weren’t dragging, set two drag alarms, and waited in vain for the wind to shift to a non-west direction. I was extra bummed because we could see seafood being sold from two fishing cleaning stations over on the shore road that runs along the beach.

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

By 5pm the wind had dropped down to 10kts out of the NW but the swells, which take longer to change direction, were hitting us broadside so preparing dinner was fun. Two monohulls had anchored behind Levi and from a distance they appeared to have made the better choice.

I almost believed Russ when he assured me that, “tomorrow will be a better day and we can spend time ashore.” No doubt he still wasn’t giving up on the lunatic forecasters.  Mother Nature had continued to outfox us all; Friday was quite the weather day; it began with pouring rain at 5am, increased wind and distant lightning. Rain on and off all day, moderate NW to NE back to NW winds with a peak at 24kts one time.

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

During the day a small sailboat about 26ft anchored close to us and one of the two from Levi anchored on our other side a better distance away. Conditions were slightly improved once the wind shifted more north but those boats, especially the smaller one rolled from side to side and pitched in the swells that I was becoming seasick just watching. By 3pm things were looking calmer and a “better day tomorrow” for Saturday was beginning to sound believable. At least all anchors were holding; can’t rely on what the charts say either- for which we were immensely thankful. Note: we talked with the two Levi Island boats on Sat and they said that even Chris Parker was fooled by Mother Nature this time.

Jumpin’ Jumentos!: Swells, Cave and Fast Sail

Two Palms now One Palm.... some day no palms

Two Palms now One Palm…. some day no palms

The move, all one mile (probably less) of it brought us over the two anchoring spots on the cay’s west (protected) side. The preferred place was off of Two Palms Beach, which sadly now is only One Palm Beach. I wonder how long the charts will still keep it as Two Palms? We know it’s been one for at least a year. Two cats- our Aussie friends from Water Cay- were there already so we snuck in next to a monohull and in front of another in 8ft of water with a sandy bottom at the next beach.

First stop, the dinghy drive-in cave just around the corner. Visions of Thunderball Grotto appeared in our heads as we approached and cautiously entered the large cave with stalactites and sky lights.dinghy-in cave

Inside the cave- enough head room at high tide and enough depth for the outboard

Inside the cave- enough head room at high tide and enough depth for the outboard

Looking straight up at one of the cave's skylights

Looking straight up at one of the cave’s skylights

We’d walked Two Palms Beach earlier so landed Bunting on the beach in front of us. Our senses heightened thanks to our osprey friends the day before, we swear we could hear an osprey cry and as we looked up at the abandoned light on the hill, there sat an osprey at the top. Or was it? I snapped a picture anyway. The beach offered several small conch shells to add to those I’d picked up the other day and we found the path up to the light. You know, the small white light with the small solar panel that viewed from a distance at the right angle looks like an osprey. Yes, that one.

We did get a photo of Ortolan at anchor but the sun was right in the way, so it wasn’t blog worthy. The cactus grew well and wide on the hillside, one with flowers and another with large plum-like fruits on the leaves. Perhaps a prickly-pear?cactus

While I did one last beach tour, Russ hung out and got awesome shots of some very vocal birds. bahamian birdAbout that swell; better after we moved over, but worsened throughout the night as the wind picked up. Happy that we’d moved.

Come Wednesday, once we got underway flying those white hankies and moving along at 8kts on a beam reach, the swell was inconsequential. Free Bird provided an updated forecast that indicated more wind (yeah- like right now) and staying upwards of 18kts for at least five days. No front in sight though which always makes us very happy.

The tricky part of our return trip to George Town was transiting Hog Cay cut but not at low tide or within 2 hours of it; but that’s assuming you know the time of low and high tide. Someone decided long ago that Nassau, being the important spot in the Bahamas, should be the area where the tides are “accurately” calculated and most others are based off that. For example, on the George Town morning Net along with the weather, the Nassau tides are given each day. The Explorer charts have the Nassau tides going out several years, but unless you buy a new chart, eventually the tide data gets old. An oft-asked question on the Net is, “how does the tide in Elizabeth Harbor compare to Nassau?” Answer, “Ask 10 cruisers, get 10 different answers. But generally it’s the same, give or take 15 mins.” We agree.

Tide times are a source of lively discussion between the Captain and his Admiral; usually “close enough” is good enough but at a time like this, going through a cut where you KNOW the water is low and you’ve never gone through before, well, it would be nice to get it right. Fortunately we’d talked to others in previous years about the cut and to Free Bird that morning who felt with our draft we could safely go through around 2pm. They needed another full foot of tide and believed that the tide at Hog Cay was roughly one half hour after Nassau, which put low at 1pm. We felt comfortable shooting for 3pm, because even though we trusted their experience we also had tide info for a spot a few miles away that indicated one and ½ hours after Nassau; let’s hedge while still being able to get into the harbor before dark.

So what happens when you are sailing along briskly and comfortably? Going too fast, that’s what. The only way to slow down sufficiently was to drop the main and plod along at 4kts with only the jib. At 2:15 Free Bird passed us and we thought how brave they were and surely we’d be fine when we got there.  About ½ mile away, didn’t they drop their sails, but then dropped the hook. We went ahead, me on the bow to point out any “black things in the water. The worrisome spot is only 3ft at low and while much of the cut is deep with a sand bottom, this 15 yard stretch is a rocky bottom that the water can’t cut away fast enough.

Getting closer to the cut

Getting closer to the cut

Here we are past the shallow hard-bar spot and into deeper water

Here we are past the shallow hard-bar spot and into deeper water

This section is truly one for the books, a classic example depicted in the chart books where you need good water-reading skills, if only just for interest. After expelling a collective sigh of relief, we hailed Free Bird to say that the lowest depth was 5.3 ft.  Sounded like they’d go through soon but probably anchor nearby for the night since dark would fall before they’d get back.

Once past the cut we hung a left and covered twelve miles in two hours of motor-sailing and sailing in the lee of the islands, the wind out of the SE.

Closing in on Elizabeth Harbor's south entrance

Entering Elizabeth Harbor’s south entrance

Dropped the anchor at 5:35 (sunset is 5:48), exactly nine hours after leaving Flamingo Cay. Dropped the main after the anchor to save time. All in all, a swell and interesting day on the water with no mishaps!

NOAA to Deep-Six Paper Charts

A portion of the chart showing the channel into Norfolk from the Chesapeake (to north)

A portion of the chart showing the channel into Norfolk from the Chesapeake (to north)

We read a news blurb about the demise of the heavy paper charts that NOAA has been printing and selling for years. They state that by doing do, money will be saved. Then the article goes on to say that the charts sell for cost, around $20 each. So unless the article left out a few details, which is very possible, since when does break-even mean losing? Just because we all rely, although not solely, on electronic charts doesn’t mean paper isn’t wanted.

We have paper charts on board for nearly every area we go to, and others we talk with say they do too. Yes, many people go to places online or brick & mortar who will print the needed charts. I suppose that meets the immediate need, but what about history? All those aged charts that have found a second life as a framed piece on a wall. All those table-sized chart books with big-picture pages followed by a zoomed-in view, covering several hundred miles in each booklet. Just because many (most?) paper charts are outdated and this supposed money saved could be spent on extensive surveying, doesn’t mean the boating community doesn’t want those heavy paper, cumbersome charts that link us to days of old.
What next? No weather? 
I know that most boaters have outdated charts and they do not update them. If you are diligent and spend the money your electronic charts can be as up-to-date as possible- and that’s a good thing. You should also have redundancy for when your primary electronics go down or get fried, perhaps in the form of charts on your iPad or laptop at least.

So all this being said, we like to supplement our electronic charts with paper for two reasons. One is that with our Garmin charts if you aren’t in the correct zoom level you will not see that small but important buoy or marker. And just to make things interesting, the correct zoom level is not the same all the time. The second reason I mentioned before and that is a paper chart can provide a good big-picture view of where you are and where you are going. When we leave the ICW, are sailing off-shore or in some larger body of water I always want to see the big picture and so does Russ as this helps him get his bearings.

Paper charts are like comfort food; not absolutely necessary just wonderful to have.

My take-away from NOAA’s announcement is that if we keep our paper NOAA charts they could be worth something some day in the future. If nothing else, we’ll have an assortment of wall hangings for our future little bungalow.