Charleston, SC to Oriental, NC; April 14 to April 19, 2016

We began the next part of our journey northward on April 14 at a respectable 9:50 in the morning.  This allowed us to catch the slack tide in Charleston, although for once it probably didn’t matter.  We had a boat length in front and behind us at the dock, so we had no worries about trying to squeeze out between boats.  But our later departure also allowed us to go inside on the ICW through some perennially terrible shoaling areas on a rising tide.

One of those areas is around the Isle of Palms.  We were told that this area had been dredged over the winter, and in fact, when we went through we had plenty of water.  But there were several other notorious trouble spots beyond the Isle of Palms and not all of these were dredged.  McClellanville is one of those areas.  We went slowly and made it through.  We learned later in the day from the dockhands at HarborWalk Marina in Georgetown, SC, where we were docking in the evening, that two Sabres had run hard aground in that spot the day before.

As mentioned, our destination on the 14th was Georgetown, and our plan for the rest of the trip was to run inside on the ICW all the way to Norfolk.   This also meant that not only would we have to contend with the shoaling just north of Charleston, but myriad shoaling areas through the rest of South Carolina and up to Oriental, NC.  South and North Carolina have not maintained the ICW for years and the result has been extensive shoaling.  Fortunately, we have the comments of fellow boaters on Active Captain to help us negotiate these trouble spots.  Boaters who have gone before us report their experiences and how they navigated through the shoal areas on the Active Captain website.  It’s invaluable.

The other piece of information that’s very helpful is the cruising packet that Hank Pomeranz ,at the Southport Marina in Southport, NC, hands out.  Every evening during the spring and fall migrations Hank holds a seminar, complete with power point presentation, on the shoaling areas north or south of Southport, depending on the season.  A lot of this information is also on Active Captain, but many boaters report to him directly, so he is able to provide information before it appears on Active Captain.  He also prints out color aerial photos of the latest Corps of Army Engineer surveys of many of these areas.  These photos clearly show the location of the shoal and the deep water.  Although Hank had not started his seminar when we arrived in Southport on the 16th, he very kindly dropped by Curiosity with a packet of photos and comments.

Hank’s information proved to be essential when we left Southport on the 17th heading toward Hampstead, NC.  Our trip that day took us north on the Cape Fear River, through Snow’s Cut and into Carolina Beach Inlet.   There is one spot in the Inlet where severe shoaling has moved from the red side of the channel, through the center to the green side.  The area is almost impassable even at high tide, except for shallow draft boats.  We made it through, however, because we had a copy of the Corps of Army Engineer survey for this area.  That survey showed almost 20 feet of water if we went outside the marked channel and left the green mark to our port.  That’s exactly what we did and we got through with plenty of water.  But it took some faith in the Corps survey, because going that far outside the channel is usually something we’re trying to avoid!

We encountered many more shoaling areas on our way to Oriental.  We got through them all, and were very glad to get to Oriental without any major problems.

Not Everyone is So Lucky

Not Everyone is So Lucky

I have to say that contending with all these shoals is one of the things we don’t like about traveling the ICW.  The rest of our trip, however, has very few shoaling problems.  There are other things to contend with, but skinny water, for the most part, is not one of them.

Dredge Heading to Norfolk; Hopefully After Clearing Channel

Dredge Heading to Norfolk; Hopefully After Clearing Channel

Our departure from Charleston also marked the beginning of cold and incredibly windy weather.  It was 57 degrees when we left Charleston at about 10am.  Doesn’t sound too bad, but the temp didn’t really go much higher that day.  And the wind was blowing, making it feel colder than it was!  We clocked 30k winds on the 17th when we were in the Cape Fear River and the temperature was 41 degrees!  Those winds diminished as we got out of the river, but it was still blowing between 17 and 25 knots for the rest of that day.   On the 15th, it was 48 degrees at 9am with 17 to 25kt winds. On the 16th it was 60 degrees at 10am and made it only to about 65 with 17 to 25kt winds and 40kt gusts. On the 18th it was 40 degrees at 7am, but the winds died down to the 10 to 15kt range.

Ade Enjoying the Weather

Ade Enjoying the Weather Outside

Jim Enjoying the Pilot House Warmth

Jim Enjoying the Pilot House Warmth

And then today, we had 5 to 10kt winds and temps up to 85 degrees!!  Crazy weather.

On the positive side, we’ve gone through some rural areas, like the Waccamaw River just north of Georgetown, where we saw many ospreys with chicks in the nest.  When we were heading to Southport from North Myrtle Beach, we passed many small islands between the ICW and the ocean, and on one there was a pair of goats, male and female!  We assume they were wild because there were no goat farms anywhere to be seen.  The highlight though was seeing a pair of bald eagles as we were traveling from Charleston to Georgetown, as we were passing Cat Island.  We also had some dolphins play in our wake at various points along the way, but none stayed too long or jumped too high.

Showing Off

Showing Off

They clearly didn’t measure up to the dolphins that have followed us in Indian River in Florida.  Those dolphins are spectacular.

We are now at Mile Marker 174 on the ICW.  We started at MM 1014 at Old Port Cove in North Palm Beach.  So we’ve come quite a long way.  We have 174 miles to Norfolk, VA and then the trip up the Chesapeake before we arrive in Annapolis.  If the weather holds, we expect to be in Annapolis on Monday, the 25th.  We’ll see if the weather gods are kind to us.

April 7 to April 13, 2016; North Palm Beach, FL to Charleston, SC

We’ve started our cruise up to Annapolis aboard Curiosity.  Since we began on the 7th, we’ve had long days, although today, the 12th is by far the longest.  Most days have been uneventful, and that’s a good thing, with the exception of the weather.  We’ve had to contend with high winds on some days. And after we get to Charleston, we’ll have a string of bad weather days with high winds and heavy rain.  But we’ll worry about that after we get to Charleston.

We went as far as Vero Beach on our first day, and we had good weather.

Sunrise at Vero Beach

Sunrise at Vero Beach

Our second day, which was a repeat of the previous day until the end, took us to New Smyrna Beach.  We were going to stop at Titusville, which is about 30 miles south of New Smyrna Beach, but the winds were only about 10 k and we knew the next day we’d have high winds.  So we pushed on.  But about four in the afternoon the winds started to pick up and began blowing between 15 and 20 K.  By the time we reach New Smyrna Beach at around 6pm, the winds were close to 20 k and we had about 2 knots of current to contend with.  It made for interesting docking, but we got in without any problem.

The New Smyrna Marina put us on a face dock behind a 55-foot sailboat.  They had arrived shortly before us and we introduced ourselves in between checking into the marina and doing boat chores.  We joined them on their boat for drinks and snacks and then had dinner with them at the marina restaurant.  The food was nothing to write home about, but the company was very interesting.  Paul and Nancy have owned their boat for about 10 years and have taken it around the world twice.  They regaled us with stories of their adventures, fortunately, no horror stories about life and death on the high seas.  Most of them were about their fishing for food while cruising and catching all kinds of fish, including one tuna that was so big it gave them 50 steaks, which they froze.  That is one big tuna.  It was a fun evening; we hope we run across them again as we both sail north.

Saturday, we were off to St. Augustine, a 7 ½ hour trip.  Even though it was supposed to be fairly windy, the trip was again uneventful, and by late afternoon, we were tied up at Camachee Cove Marina, a two-mile walk from historic St. Augustine.  We were going to relax on Sunday, tour the city and get ready for a long overnight run to Charleston on Monday.  So, Sunday morning, our first order of business was to talk with TowBoat US about the conditions at the St. Augustine inlet, an uncharted inlet that can be a great entry or exit point to the Atlantic or a nightmare.  The Towboat US captain was great, giving us an aerial photograph of the inlet and the markers and assuring us that the conditions for leaving tomorrow from the inlet would be fine. Then we were off to St. Augustine.  We had planned on calling an Uber cab to take us downtown but none were available for at least 40 minutes.  So we walked.  It was a long walk but soon enough we entered the old city.  We wandered for a while, had lunch, and then visited a number of art galleries.  One gallery, Brilliance in Color, had a collection of Frederick Hart sculptures in both bronze and acrylic.  The multidimensional acrylic sculptures were fantastic, and there were also a number of Jacarte Glass vases that Adrienne loved.  I think we will be back one day to purchase a sculpture or vase, or both.  We’ll see.

As I mentioned, our plan was to leave St. Augustine on Monday morning around 10am, cruise all day and night, and arrive in Charleston at slack tide around 7:30am Tuesday morning.  When we went to bed Sunday night the weather forecast was for 3-4 ft seas diminishing to 2-3 ft as we traveled north.  The waves would be short and choppy, but behind us, so maybe a little uncomfortable but quite manageable.  We woke up around 7am on Monday only to find the seas were now predicted to be 5 feet with a 5 second period, with some 6-footers thrown in for good measure.  In addition, it was not clear that the seas would improve as the day wore on, as we had thought.  Within a few minutes we had an alternative plan and within a half-hour, we were headed out of the marina to Fernandina Beach by way of the ICW.  There are a number of significant shoaling areas between St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach but our timing was perfect.  We reached each of the bad areas around high tide.  The gods were smiling on us after nixing our ocean plans.  By mid-afternoon, we were docked at Fernandina Harbor Marina, which fortunately had space for us.  We had a great dinner at 29 South café, a small farm-to-table place that emphasized southern cooking with a twist.  So we had some small plates to start and fried chicken over mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.  Basic but delicious.

Our plan for the next day was to leave Fernandina Beach around 4:30a and travel directly to Charleston, hoping to be there around 8pm when there would be slack tide at the Charleston City Marina.  We wanted to get to Charleston on Tuesday because after Tuesday the weather looked pretty lousy for at least the next four days for running in the ocean.  So, Tuesday morning we were up at 4am and, naturally, it was pitch black.  Adrienne eased us out of the slip and up the channel, relying on our radar and the few lighted buoys along the way.  The current was ebbing quickly and soon it was at 4kts.  As soon as we turned to go out the inlet, the wave action began.  At first it was just a little choppy, but as soon as we progressed the waves increased, perhaps to five feet.  It was hard to know, because we could not see anything.  It was pretty scary to be in rough seas with no idea what was coming next.  Adrienne handled it perfectly and after about 15 minutes, we were able to turn out of the inlet and head north.  Immediately things improved and the seas while a little choppy were fine.  By 6:30am, we could just begin to see the horizon and by 7am the sun had risen.  Life was much better now that we could see.  Even better, the seas calmed down and for the rest of our trip the waves were generally only 2 feet.  Virtually no one else was out on the water, and it was a long peaceful ride to Charleston.  We saw a few dolphins and sea birds but mainly we were all alone.

The weather was generally overcast.  We had a few bouts of drizzle, but no real rain.  When we were about 2 hours outside Charleston one of those drizzle episodes started to clear, with blue sky and sun peeking through the clouds.  We looked up and saw a spectacular double rainbow that arced completely from on point on the horizon to another.  The photos we took don’t do it justice.

Arcing Rainbow

Arcing Rainbow

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow

It was a very welcome sight after a very long day on the water.  By dusk the rainbow had faded, but we were at the Charleston inlet.

Passing Tanker -Charleston Inlet

Passing Tanker -Charleston Inlet

Just as the sun set, we were tied up at the City Marina.  It was great to be docked!

Charleston Sunset

Charleston Sunset

Wednesday was a day to recoup.  We got fuel, got pumped out and went grocery shopping.  For dinner, we ate at High Cotton;  Adrienne had a tempura-fried soft shell crab and I had shrimp and grits.  Both were excellent.  For dessert, we shared a blueberry bread pudding with vanilla cream  Adrienne threatened to lick the plate; it was that good. Life is rough in Charleston.

Tomorrow we head for Georgetown.  Because the seas will be rough, we will take the ICW; we have never had the Fleming in this part of the ICW because there has been major shoaling just north of Charleston.  This area was dredged over the winter and we hope there will be plenty of water.

So, it took us about a week to get from Old Port Cove to Charleston.  Except for the inlet at Fernandina Beach, the trip has been uneventful.  Adrienne is disappointed that there were very few dolphins who wanted to play in our wake along the Indian River in Florida.  During this stretch on previous cruises we’ve been treated to extended displays of multiple dolphins playing in our wake.  It’s always been  a highlight of our Florida ICW travels.  Hopefully, their absence was just a fluke and not the result of the releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.  We hope they will be back in the fall.