Monday, August 31, 2009

On the Road Again...Heading South, Part I

Sunday, August 23 - Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Greetings, friends and family! If you haven't heard yet, we've left our northernmost spot for this year and are on our way south again. After leaving Charleston Sunday morning, we've arrived in Steamboat Creek, near ICW Mile 497 and the Dawho River/Edisto River intersection. It's an absolutely lovely spot with some of the best stargazing either of us has ever seen. What sliver of moon there was set early, and there's no ambient light to speak of. We can see constellations, planets, and the hazy "clouds" of the Milky Way. Gorgeous!

Monday we get an early start and arrive at Beaufort's Lady's Island Bridge at 4:45pm. The bridge is restricted during rush hour, so we drop an anchor and take a breather until the next opening at 6pm. The bridge tender is kind enough to hail us five minutes before opening, giving us enough time to raise the anchor and get into position for the opening. We get the anchor up, maneuver into place, and wait for the alarm to ring and the traffic gates to descend. That done, we get ready to rev the engine as soon as the bridge begins to open; after all, these guys don't like to keep traffic waiting for long! The swing bridge slips free from its locks, it moves a fraction, and we begin to move. Then...nothing! The bridge stops moving, and it remains in a closed position as we begin to get caught by the current. Rene drops us into idle, then into a harder reverse as the bridge STILL fails to move. We realize we have to abort and circle around again, just as the bridge begins to open. We might've made it, but we would've gone through the bridge sideways - not a great option! We let the bridge tender know that we're circling to pass through; he doesn't say anything about the bridge getting stuck, but mentions those "awful currents" near the bridge. Uh, yeah... After some black smoke (diesel engine) and a quick doughnut, we're through the bridge and heading for our anchorage. Our Beaufort neighbor, Robert, is still there, along with a new boat anchored where we were 3 weeks ago. We find a good spot with plenty of swinging room behind the two boats, and drop both anchors as a precaution against the swift currents and 8' tides. It's 6:15pm, and we're back in Beaufort. It really does feel like we never left. Life is good!

Tuesday morning Rene dons his SCUBA gear. He's fed up with the horrendous layer of gunk that has accumulated on the bottom of the boat, so it's time for a bottom-cleaning (Pipe Muh Bligh's, not Rene's!). Rene's just about ready to get in the water...he's wearing his microprene (0.5mm) wetsuit, along with his BDC, mask, and fins. He plugs his computer into a tank, expects to see 3000psi - the reading he saw after filling the tanks in Marathon, FL - and gets only 800psi. Not good...that'll make for an awfully short bottom job. He disconnects the first tank and tries the second one...just over 700psi. What in the...? The tanks must've leaked in the lazarette over the past 3 months. The air compressor is on the floor of the lazarette and isn't coming out again until we reach the Bahamas. That means Rene will have to do a quick cleaning job, and we'll take the tanks to a dive shop for inspection and filling once we get to Fernandina Beach.

Rene heads in and manages to clean half the boat with a single tank. Out of the water, he realizes that he's had a few "friends" down below; when he comes back up, he's covered with brine shrimp. How many of you remember "Sea Monkeys" from when you were a kid? Same thing. They're tiny little shrimp, and they cling to EVERYTHING - hair, wetsuit, BCD, skin, you name it. We rinse Rene off with the stern shower head as much as we can, and he takes a break before going in with the next tank for the second half. He's covered with even MORE brine shrimp after the second dive. These little buggers are persistent! It's a disgusting task, but a few days later Rene figures we've probably gained a knot of boat speed thanks to the cleaning. Nicely done!

Wednesday evening we head to Hemingway's to say hi to everyone. Our anchorage neighbors, Jason & Ray, are there, and we have a great time swapping stories. Jason came over from New Orleans, and Ray sailed from the Bahamas to Florida and is continuing up the coast. After enjoying happy hour, we head to our other Beaufort fave, Emily's, for tapas. We go for a couple of favorites - garlic beef & lobster ravioli - plus some new faves: she-crab soup, jalapeno shrimp, & bacon-wrapped scallops. Absolutely amazing!

Thursday, our nav computer finally arrives! We track it via the FedEx site all morning, and run to the UPS store (where it's been delivered) just after noon. After a quick stop for lunch, we get back to the boat and Rene hooks the computer up to the navigation equipment. Nooooo! All the nav systems are still broken. How can this happen??? Rene calls the Raymarine repair guy, and after about 5 minutes he determines that our first two calls to Raymarine after the lightning strike resulted in bad information. It probably wasn't only the nav computer that was hit, and we now have to send EVERYTHING in to Raymarine for review/repair...including the wind gauge at the top of our 62.5' mast. Happy climbing, Rene! We need the depth gauge and chart plotter (even if it only works as an electronic chart for now) until we get to Fernandina, but we'll send everything in then. Hopefully they'll be able to fix the system and get it back to us by the time we return from Seattle. Still, not having our nav system up and running as hoped is a huge disappointment. We decide to hit the proverbial road again to speed up our arrival date in Fernandina, and head ashore to Hemingway's for a goodbye drink with Sherry & Sparky. We sure hope we meet up with them in the Bahamas next Spring!

Friday we're off to Hilton Head for a quick overnight. We arrive in Skull Creek off HHI Friday afternoon and have dinner with Gary & Denise. First we stop by their house where we get to see their view of the ICW and Pipe Muh Bligh at anchor. What a magnificent view! We can certainly see how they spotted us on our first trip through HHI, and can imagine how relaxing it must be to watch the world go by drinking coffee in front of the window on a Sunday morning! Afterwards, Gary & Denise take us to the Sea Trawler Restaurant for dinner. It's just across the ICW from Hilton Head, and is built "in the round" for gorgeous views. Our meals are all fantastic, and we're thrilled to have had a chance to spend time with Gary & Denise again. We'll see you two when we come back through HHI next Spring!

The next day we travel 30 miles down the ICW from Hilton Head to Herb River near Thunderbolt/Savannah. We arrive by 3pm, just in time for a massive downpour (no lightning, fortunately). We consider continuing on, but decide that it's been a long enough day already. After an early start, we managed a soft grounding in Fields Cut, which is generally known to be shallow. Apparently we got too close to the northern bank, and depths dropped to 5' before we knew it. On the plus side, Rene was able to get us out of there before we get stuck enough to require a TowBoatUS call...barely!

Sunday morning we take on a new (to us) portion of the ICW, and manage to ground within an hour of leaving our anchorage. As we head into Skidaway River and Isle of Hope, we veer too close to shore while trying to follow the magenta (ICW) line on the chartplotter. (Remember - no GPS, so we're doing this by feel and "guestimation".) We're about halfway between high and low tide; since the tide is going out, we need to get out of here before the water gets any more shallow. Rene tries to rev the engine to break us loose, but no luck. We make the call to TowBoatUS - yes, we've increased our coverage to "unlimited" - and they come to rescue us. We're finally freed, and it's off to "Hell Gate" (no, we're not kidding!) Hell Gate has been a major shoaling spot in the ICW for years, but was allegedly dredged earlier this summer. A few miles downstream is Florida Passage, which is still shallow and should be traversed at a rising mid-tide or even two-thirds tide. Not great timing on our part since low tide is at 11am - about three hours after our departure. As it happens, Hell Gate's dredging project must have been a great success, and we have no problems. Not wanting to push our luck, we anchor outside of Florida Passage for 2 hrs to allow the tide to rise. Rene has a chance to call his mom and Stacy makes lunch. We head into the passage at 2pm, three hrs after low tide. This gives us plenty of water to push through, and we have no problems; in fact, we see 15' depths throughout the trip - this definitely doesn't match up to the warnings online! We finally make it to St. Catherine's Sound Sunday afternoon and work our way around a sand bar (thank you, handheld GPS) to get to Walburg Creek. We stayed here on our way up in June, and loved the spot. We've decided to treat ourselves to a rest day, meaning we'll stay for two nights and will try to get a few boat projects done before continuing southward. Our rest day on Monday ends up being anything but:
--we re-measure and re-tag both anchors in 25' increments
--Rene dives into the bilge to clean the a/c, genset sand engine strainers
--He also uploads and edits pictures for the blog
--Stacy gathers navigation and tide info for the next 60 miles to Brunswick
--She also works on the blog and makes reservations at the Brunswick Landing Marina

As we're working on the anchors, we see a mega-pod of dolphins pass by the boat. There must be 50 of them, and we watch in awe as they swim around the boat, tails flapping, eyes turned our way, and the sight of a baby in the mix. Awhile later, they come back up the creek and circle the boat again. As often as we see them, we never tire of our "dolphie" visits!

Tuesday morning our loving kitties wake us up at 6:45am. They want food, and take turns annoying the $&#! out of us. For Tux, that means licking Rene's hair and pulling threads out of Stacy's pillow; for Tawny, it's jumping on and off the bed and scratching her claws against the door (picture nails on a chalkboard). Since we're up already, we decide to get an early start. We were planning to leave by 7:30 anyway in order to take the southern Walburg Creek entrance (which has a 4' shoal at MLW), rather than going the long way around through St. Catherine's Sound. We start the engine and turn on the windlass; Rene begins to raise the anchor and sees sparks in the anchor locker. He finds a loose contact, and the extreme humidity has caused the sparks. Rene loosens and cleans the contacts, treats them with some sort of electro stuff, and reconnects the wires. Everything looks good, and we're on our way. We make it out of the southern entrance with lots of water, and are on our way towards Sapelo Sound via Johnson Creek. Later in the day, we're passed by another sailboat, Sandra Lee, whose skipper hails us on the VHF...Dave & Sandy are also headed south and ask what we know about the depths in Little Mud River. This spot has shown up as a trouble spot on a bunch of sailing blogs, and the latest US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) survey from June '09 says it's 4' at the centerline at MLW (3' in the east and west quadrants). Their boat draws 5' - not much less than we do - so we all decide to drop anchor in the Darien River for a couple of hours until the water rises enough to get through. Low tide is sometime between 1:00pm and 1:30 (depending on your source), so we wait until 2:45 before we head back out. We have plenty of water through Rockdedundy River, as well as in the initial part of Little Mud River. Soon enough, though, we begin to see our depth gauge drop...8'...7'...6.5'...YIKES!! We watch Sandra Lee test the depths to port of the centerline, and we do the same to starboard. 6.5' is scary enough, but it doesn't seem to be getting any worse. The water finally creeps back up to the 8-9' range, and we make it safely out of Little Mud River into Altamaha Sound. Insert "big sigh" here. But our dynamic duo (or quad if you count the kitties) isn't quite out of the woods yet! What's the saying about "out of the frying pan, into the fire"? The USACE's June survey warns cruisers about shallow depths in Little Mud River, and the next line shows 6.5' depths in Altamaha. Oh, joy! To add to the excitement, Dave from Sandra Lee radios us with news of a storm cell about 3 miles ahead of us. We all slow down to give the cell time to pass us, and decide to stay on channel 68 in case anything else comes up. It doesn't take long for us to get another message from Sandra Lee - they've just passed marker 208, and they've seen 6' depths. We thank them for the heads up, and go through the same area a few minutes later. Yep, there it is - 6.2', and that's nearly 3 hours after low tide! it safe yet? Not quite...Dave radios us again to say that one storm cell has dissipated, but we're heading into another one and things are going to get wet. The sky looks pretty black, but fortunately we don't have to deal with nearby lightning. There's plenty of rain, though, and we quickly learn that our bimini needs a new coat of ScotchGuard. We finally get through Altamaha Sound and into Buttermilk Sound, the last area before Brunswick that's filled with USACE warnings. Thank goodness, 'cause we're ready for a break! Buttermilk Sound is a 4.4 mile stretch that shoals to 4' at MLW (2.5' on the edges in some parts). By now we're nearly 4 hours past low tide and don't expect any real problems. Still, Rene sticks to the range markers, where available. After all - we're still maneuvering without GPS. With all the excitement, Stacy manages to miss the turnoff to our first anchorage option. Not to worry - the next one is only 4 miles away. Ugh...we probably would've turned back if we'd realized it would take us over an hour to get there! We finally arrive at Jove Creek; by the time we're anchored, it's after 6:30pm. Sundowner time!

Today is Wednesday, September 2nd...Happy Birthday to Stacy's Aunt Susie!! We hope she's having a fantastic day today. Ours is starting off wet. It's been raining since 3am, and it's a real gullywasher. We need to get out of Jove Creek within an hour or two of high tide since it gets pretty shallow (3-4') at the entrance at low tide. We wait long enough to let a storm cell pass us by, and then we head out into the ICW. Just as we exit, we see Sandra Lee come down the channel. It looks like we're all on the same schedule. The rain starts coming down even harder, but we can see the St. Simons Island bridge in the distance. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, and we get a rude awakening when we arrive: the water levels haven't dropped as much as we'd expected, and there's only 63.5' of clearance under the bridge. Our mast height is 62.5', and we like at least 64' before we go under the bridge. Anytime a sailboat goes head to head with a bridge, we know who's going to win that one! We say a quick goodbye to Dave & Sandy, explaining our situation with the bridge. They keep going, and hopefully we'll see them again, either in Florida or maybe the Bahamas. We head for the eastern shore to anchor, but soon find strong currents and poor holding. After two tries, we switch to the other side and find a good temporary anchorage. We call Brunswick Landing Marina (a great place, by the way!) to let them know what's going on, and they tell us that they have a slip ready for us whenever we get there. It's so nice not to have to worry about check-in times!

That's it for now...we'll post another update once we get to Fernandina Beach. We'll stay in Brunswick today (Sept. 2) and tomorrow, and should reach Cumberland Island on Friday. We may stay there for the weekend, and will be in Fernandina by Monday. We think a couple of friends that we met in Marathon may still be anchored in Fernandina...fingers crossed!

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