Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Sigh of Relief

Beaufort, NC
May 24, 2014

The Waterfront at Swansboro
We have reached Beaufort, NC, (bow-fort, as opposed to bew-fert where we spent so much time this winter), and I say this with a bit of trepidation because you never know what the gods have in store for you, but we feel like we are done with the worst part of the ICW. We spent the last two nights in the village of Swansboro, gathering our courage for the transit through Bogue Sound. Many "thin spots" in the water and one serious grounding just before reaching Mile Hammock Bay on the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base, our intermediate stop between Southport and Swansboro, had rattled the skipper's nerves, so we took a day off to do some boat maintenance and explore the village.

Bogue  sound is a wide body of very shallow water with a very narrow channel through it and a couple of shoaling areas. A cross wind had the skipper a little nervous about the 20 mile transit, but we made it through without incident, with Captain Braveheart doing much of the steering. So now we are anchored in Town Creek Marina, looking forward to a good dinner at the Aqua restaurant and a quiet night on the hook.

                                    These guys have saved our behinds a couple of times.

Swansboro offers quite a few opportunities for "quaint" photos.


Muscovy Ducks are the town mascots. They wander the streets freely.

Yana's is a popular breakfast and lunch spot.
Fresh, locally caught grouper for dinner!

This is NOT us!

Discarded Crab Pots

Monday, May 19, 2014

More Drama on the Waterway

Angie's Journal  
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina Monday, May 19, 2014

Crabber, Wynyah Bay

There’s never a shortage of drama. The day before yesterday we came into this spacious anchorage in Wrightsville Beach, NC, only a few boats, settled weather. So we get up the next morning and there is a little blue boat, no name or registration number, anchored kind of close to us, but Jim thinks it is going going to be all right. Well we get up this morning, and when we look out he is uncomfortably close. The wind is opposing the current, and when that happens, Bel Canto has the habit of riding up on her anchor chain. It is not all right—Bel Canto is about twenty feet from the blue boat. Jim starts the engine to avoid a collision, and the captain of the other boat comes up to see what is going on. Jim says, “We are too close. One of us has to move.” Well, the law, or at least the custom, is that the first boat to anchor has the right of way, but this guy tells Jim that he is having a problem with his transmission. So we pull up the anchor and find a new spot. Anchoring in a crowded anchorage is not my favorite maneuver, but about an hour later we are set again in a spot far enough from all of the other boats. Then this afternoon, Sea Tow brings in a disabled boat and they anchor about a hundred feet from us. Jim radios the captain of the Sea Tow boat and tells him that he thinks they are too close. Sea Tow says that as long as we all swing the same way we’ll be fine, but Jim tells him that that isn’t what happens. Sea Tow knows the rules, and reluctantly moves the disabled boat away from us.
We Share the Cape Fear River
After the excitement at McCellanville, we made it up to Georgetown without any problems. There’s no good place to anchor there, and we had reserved a space at Hazzard Marine. Hazzard Marine has a face dock, a long pier parallel to the water, which I like because it makes it easy to dock the boat, and Susan, the dockmaster did a great job of helping us with the lines. Across the dock from us was the boat Salt Shaker, that had been on a mooring near us in Beaufort, SC. Walter and Gwen, the crew on Salt Shaker, told us about the mooring field in Beaufort drama that we had missed. The winds were blowing about 25 knots, and a boat anchored just outside the mooring field began to drag into the mooring field. It just missed Salt Shaker but dragged into a boat near them and did about two thousand dollars worth of damage. This boat also had a faulty transmission. TowBoatUS towed them to to the town dock, which made the rest of the boats in the mooring field happy.

From Georgetown we went up the waterway and anchored in Bull Creek, one of our favorite anchorages on the Wacamaw River. It is a fairly deep creek, fourteen to eighteen feet all over, and surrounded by trees, so a lot more protected than the marsh grass anchorages farther south in South Carolina. We were all alone, but the next morning as we were pulling up anchor, another blue hulled double ender, Grace,  passed us. They had come in when we were below and anchored farther up the creek. We met them later in Southport and they told us that when they came into the creek and saw us they said, “Look, we are already here.”

In Bull Creek we studied the waterway on up to Southport, NC, and decided we’d rather avoid all of the shallow spots and problem bridges, so we back tracked to Georgetown and anchored in Wynyah Bay, near the ocean, waiting for the right time to make another ocean passage so that we would arrive in Southport after daylight. At five thirty we pulled up the anchor. It took us two and a half hours to make it out into the ocean clear of all of the shoals against a two to three knot current, but we made it before dark. We had a southwest wind of about 10 knots and were able to sail for about four hours and motorsail the rest of the way. It was a pleasant sail under a full moon, and we got into the channel of the Cape Fear River around seven a.m.

The man made harbor at Southport is tight with fairly shallow water. We had hoped to dock at the face dock, but the harbor master told us they were saving that for “bigger boats,” and directed us to a T-dock behind a big catamaran. It was a tight turn, and Jim was going as slowly as possible, as he always does. The wind caught the bow and we could see we weren’t going to make it. Jim threw the boat into reverse. Bel Canto has a mind of her own in reverse, and as we neared the bank behind us we hoped that there was enough water that we wouldn’t go aground. Jim got the boat turning the right way, I threw the dock hand a spring line, and we eased in behind the catamaran.
Shipboard entertainment, Beaufort
Southport turned out to be a timely stop. When we plugged into shore power, we discovered that our inverter/battery charger had crapped out. We already knew that the pump to the hose that we use to clean the mud off the anchor chain had failed, so we got them both replaced. Steve, the service manager, and Jeff, the electrician, knocked themselves out and we were soon ready to go again. Jim thought he had died and gone to heaven because he no longer had to dip a bucket to wash down the anchor chain.

At first I didn’t care much for Southport. After we arrived we set out looking for a breakfast/lunch place. We walked about a mile before we found a place called “Locals,” the only place that serves a full breakfast in Southport. By the time we got there we decided that lunch was more appropriate and ordered fish and chips. Most of the food on the menu was deep fried, not our usual fare, but hungry and dead tired after a night on the water, we just needed food. So my first impressions of the town weren’t very good.

Attentive Audience
But on the way back to the boat we passed a place called the Wine Rack. We stopped in and the owner told us about the Friday night wine tasting. He showed me the list of featured wines, a pinot noir, pinot grigio, chardonnay, Barbera, and a Tempranillo, all my favorite wines. I told him we would be back. He also sold premium coffee, and we bought a pound of Guatemalan. Then we kept walking and discovered the really cool section of Southport, down by the river. After we rested up this was where we hung out. We had some great sword fish, salmon, and grouper dinners at the Fishy Fishy and at Provision Seafood. They are both funky little places that reminded me of Key West in the Seventies. We listened to some great music at Fishy Fishy by two guitarists, one of whom had been on the road with Tina Turner among others.

The Friday night wine tasting was another hit. It cost five dollars a person, but if you bought a bottle of wine you got the five dollars back. They had great snacking food, crackers and cheese, salami, chips, spinach dip, and salsa. A glass of wine was five dollars for a generous serving. We ended up getting a bottle of the Barbera. So after further exploration of the town, I changed my opinion. Good food, good wine, good music and kind people will do it every time.

Just another sunset on the ocean

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"For All In Tents and Porpoises. . ." a poem

If you have been following our blog, you know what a thrill we get from the dolphins that we see almost every day and that sometimes come to play around our boat. After our first sea adventure 28 years ago, as we were passing by Marine World, we saw two dolphins coming from that direction, and we fantasized that they were escapees. The first line and a half of this poem started circulating in my head (at that time I mistakenly thought we were seeing porpoises). Many years later the line materialized into a poem. With apologies to those who may have seen it in our 2010 blog, I am repeating it here.

For all in tents
and porpoises and whales
kept captive for our delight
I apologize.
Nor do I think it right
to discriminate
against beasts of the field,
although there may be some debate
about the food we eat--
I love my meat.
But it makes me sad
to see hogs and cattle
stuffed into pens like sausages.
I would rather we take
just what we need
from all the gods have given--
that would be heaven!
We have grown too many,
but at the least
I will take my pleasure
from seeing the beasts
where they freely roam
in their native home--
or not at all.

Jim George

Friday, May 9, 2014

Back up the Ditch

Sunrise, Minim Creek Anchorage

We had our plans all worked out for the next leg of our journey, from Beaufort, SC, up to Georgetown. This is a problematic stretch of the waterway, with several patches of low water and a couple of bridges we had to be careful going under. This meant getting just the right timing of high and low tides to have clearance on both ends. So we delayed our  departure from Beaufort for a week to get it just right. (No problem—we love Beaufort!) Well, you know what Robert Burns said about the best laid plans of mice and men.
Roof Party

Monday, the Cinco de Mayo, was a beautiful day to set out. We slipped our mooring just in time to make the nine o’clock opening of the Lady’s Island bridge and passed under our first bridge with a good foot and half to spare over the tip of our mast. As usual, a few dolphins showed themselves as we were setting out, and in spite of a fair amount of traffic ranging from paddle boarders to jet skiers, we looked for a pleasant day on the water. The goal was to reach the notorious Ashepoo-Coosaw cut, a five mile stretch where we had calculated 3 feet of water at low tide, on a rising tide, then anchor for the night on the other side.

All went well until we reached the Marine Air Force refueling station about an hour out of Beaufort. We were passing the Marine base dock when Angie noticed this guy in a life jacket frantically waving and yelling at us. We wheeled around to see what the nutcase wanted and were informed that we couldn’t go through because the marines were conducting firing practice up ahead. No guard boat, no sign, just a guy on the dock waving his arms. He told us the firing would go on until noon, and that we would have to anchor some place and wait to go through. While we were doing that, several more boats came along and would have passed on through if we hadn’t radioed them to tell them what was going on. One power boater was very skeptical of our “rumors” and kept spouting off on the radio about how this didn’t make sense. Well, just before noon a marine launch did show up from the firing area and tell us that the firing would be over at one thirty. A little after one a power boat came through from the other direction, evidently missing whatever warnings the marines had placed on that end, and that ended their playing war. This put us three and a half hours behind schedule and would get us to the Ashepoo-Coosaw cut on a falling tide.
The Marine who was supposed to stop traffic
We started thinking of alternatives and decided that we could go down the Coosaw River and toward the ocean on St. Helena Sound, and then up the Ashepoo River. That would take us about an hour and a half more, but it was deep water all the way. We were a little nervous about it, since it was off the waterway and an unfamiliar route to us. As we passed the cut and headed down the sound, we radioed the crew on Night Watch, a smaller (and shallower draft) boat than Bel Canto, and asked then to tell us the depth of the bar when they entered the cut.

Night Watch reported nothing less than seven feet, so we turned back toward the cut. I must have misjudged the entry, because as we went between the entrance marks, our depth gauge went to five feet and and Bel Canto started slowing down. We must have plowed a furrow through the silt, because she kept going and soon we were back in 7 to 10 feet of water. The next day was a “normal” day on the waterway, and we set anchor in the Stono River, just South of Charleston, in order to take Elliott’s Cut at slack tide in the morning. You might remember us writing about going through Elliott’s cut on the way South. The current was four or five knots against us, and it took us 40 minutes to go a half mile. This time we breezed through on the end of the ebb tide, crossed Charleston Harbor, and in an hour or so we were back on the waterway.  Our timing was perfect, rising tide for the problem areas, but not so high that we couldn’t make it under the troublesome Isle of Palms bridge.

The day was hot, but it would have been a pleasant day, with dolphins surfacing next to the boat a couple of times. Would have been except for the plague of small black beetles that descended on us. Fortunately they didn’t bite, but they did drive us crazy landing on us and on everything around us. They usually died when we brushed them away, leaving an ugly yellow stain where they had been. At the end of the day, Angie must have cleaned up a thousand corpses. Fortunately a breeze came up and blew most of the beetles away. With a straight stretch of the waterway ahead, we were even able to sail for our usual 20 minutes. A little after three thirty, we decided to pull into the Awendow Creek anchorage where we are now, about half way between Charleston and our destination of Georgetown.

That probably wasn’t the best decision we could have made. (I should say that I made.) Angie suggested that we could go on to the next anchorage, about fifteen miles up the ditch. It was high tide and there was a problematic stretch of water ahead of us. But that would have meant another two and a half hours on the waterway. I declined, thinking that the low tide the next day (today) was at nine-thirty and that if we left by eleven we could still make Georgetown before the marina where we had a reservation closed. Miscalculation.  Low tide was at eleven. We checked our log and found that on the way down we recorded six feet in this stretch at just past half tide (on a falling tide). So today we should be able to make it through a little after one. That means we won’t make it to Georgetown today, but what the hey. Georgetown will still be there tomorrow. That’s what it’s like, the good and the bad, on the waterway.

Sunset, Awendaw Creek Anchorage

The Next Day

That was supposed to be the end of this blog entry. But I lost the layout and didn't have time to do it over before it was time to take off on the rising tide. As I said, we had a five mile problem stretch of water ahead of us, sometimes called the McClellanville stretch. From our anchorage in Awendaw Creek I could see a couple of trawlers heading up the waterway, so I radioed them to get a report on the water levels. The report was positive, and at a little after one, we hauled anchor and started up the waterway again. We tiptoed our way along for most of the five miles. I was steering and trying to judge from the inlets where the shoaling would be. Well I misjudged (I should have followed the advice of my co-captain and just aimed for the next green marker). Suddenly the boat stopped, and the depth sounder showed three and a half feet of water under us. We were stuck. We were still on a rising tide,  but a fairly stiff wind was blowing us toward shore, so I doubted if we would float off this time as we had before. We asked the crew of a passing power boat to go by us at full speed, hoping their wake would bounce us off, but they demurred, saying it wasn't their boat. After a few attempts to motor us off, I reluctantly called TowBoatUS in Georgetown for assistance. (We have insurance that covers this). We were told that their estimated arrival time was in 50 minutes, so in the meantime we set to work to do what we could to get ourselves off.

The procedure for getting yourself out of a situation like this is called kedging. You load an anchor into your dinghy and drop it as far out from your boat toward deeper water as you can. Then you haul on the anchor and try to pull your bow around and work yourself off the bottom. This doesn't sound too difficult, but we had a stiff wind and a strong current to contend with. And first we had to get the motor on the dinghy using the hoist on the stern of the boat. And remember, Bel Canto weighs sixteen tons! We were winching on the anchor rode with little success when another power boater came along and offered to create a wake for us. He did a great job spinning his boat on our shore side and creating about a two foot wake. After two passes we were able to pull ourselves off, just as TowBoatUS showed up. They helped us retrieve our anchor, which was stuck firmly in the hard mud of the bottom, and we were on our way again.
Dolphin Playing

I was totally exhausted after that ordeal, and captain Angie took us to our next anchorage, where we are now. On the way the dolphins rejoined us and seemed to be having great fun playing in our wake. Just before we reached the anchorage, Angie asked me to take the wheel. "Do you trust me?" I asked.
"No," she replied, "but I have to go pee."

Sunset, Minim Creek