Saturday, November 28, 2020

Back Home on Land

I left Intermezzo in Hilton Head SC on Monday morning and flew back to my land home on The Ranch near Penngrove CA. I enjoyed a limited, socially distanced family gathering on Thanksgiving and am now easing into the transition from life at sea to life on land. It seems easier this time for me than in the past. My personal life is less complicated now and perhaps I'm getting better at negotiating my way through change.

Lisa is taking care of Intermezzo for a week or so longer until she heads back home to Arizona for the holidays and ski season (she's a private ski instructor). She'll do the final buttoning up of the boat based on a checklist I left with her and guidance/verification via FaceTime. Hopefully, all our mold/mildew abatement and prevention measures will be effective and it won't be much work to "unpickle" the boat when I return in January. 

I've spent some time reflecting on the cruise from Montauk NY to Hilton Head that began on October 21. No big revelations, no strong feelings arise. It was mostly a pleasant trip at a steady pace, not too fast, not too slow. There was little actual drama, though I did my best to create suspense every time we passed under a bridge and for every adverse weather system we experienced. I enjoyed all the places we dropped anchor and all the marinas we stayed in, except for the first one we stayed at in Charleston. Intermezzo performed well, the vibration from the propellers went away, I improved my upwind sailing performance, but water pump failures continue to be an annoyance. Despite her bouts with seasickness and nautical narcolepsy, Lisa was a good crew member and companion who treated me and Intermezzo very well. I will particularly miss the decidedly unhealthy but decidedly delicious egg sandwiches she made me for "elevenses".

So, nothing big to share philosophically about this trip, but a few discoveries seem worth reporting.

I prefer the "outside". Once we made the passage from Montauk to Norfolk VA, most of our trip was along "inside" along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). I'm glad to have experienced boating and life along the ICW and there are many aspects I enjoyed, especially the vast marshlands and birds. The miles of motoring along narrow canals and creeks can get tedious though, punctuated by the frequent unpleasantness of passing powerboats with big wakes. Sometimes it felt like I was driving slowly on an interstate highway through the flatland of the midwest. The ICW also felt like a very American thing to experience, positive in terms of its efficiency and hospitality, negative for me as having very suburban "sliced whitebread" characteristics. Ocean passages remove you from all that, just you, your boat, your crew, the ocean, the weather. Plus you sail 24 hours per day, rather than eight which puts more miles under the keel and allows for more time for R&R in port. In future trips, I'll opt for waiting for weather windows to do outside hops between inlets and enjoy downtime and exploring local waters in between.

I enjoy single handing.  Since we were only sailing eight hours a day on the ICW and Lisa got seasick on the two ocean passages we made, I ended up doing most of the sailing on my own. I enjoyed the planning, focus and discipline single-handing requires and this trip gave me opportunities to hone my skills. There were a couple times when I'm not sure what I would have done without Lisa, like when our anchor dragged in a storm and when docking with strong wind and/or currents, but the rest of the time I felt competent and comfortable, although it tired me out more quickly compared to double-handing.

Meditation makes sailing better. I've practiced meditation for over four years now, guided and influenced by the teachings of Sam Harris through his Waking Up app. One of the most important lessons Sam teaches is to pause throughout the day to step back and observe, become fully aware of what is happening, what you are doing, what you are thinking, how you are feeling. These brief pauses provide opportunities for more clarity, opportunities for you to respond differently than your conditioning causes you to react. During this trip I took many such pauses to be fully aware and I saw more beauty, felt less stress and enjoyed the present moments while sailing. I was far less distracted by my thoughts, which often compromise my happiness and enjoyment of sailing. My journal is filled with descriptions of the sea, sky, animals, weather, light, smells, sounds, small moments of beauty that normally would pass by me without notice or remark. I trimmed my sails better, navigated better, made better decisions which made me feel good and happy. 

I'm a Pacific Coast sailor. I enjoyed sailing along the Atlantic Coast and, frankly, the winds are much better for sailing there and the water better for swimming. But the weather is too variable and often too cool to my liking. I like the predictability of Pacific Coast weather, its warmer climate and less frequent hurricanes. I thought I might like to keep Intermezzo on the east coast for another season, but I've decided to ship the boat back to La Paz, which will be our home port for a while in the Sea of Cortez. I hope to enjoy sailing again on the Atlantic and other waters as crew on OPBs (Other Peoples' Boats), but my "home" is on the Pacific.

So, what's next for Intermezzo and me?

In January I'll return to Hilton Head and continue heading south. I'm planning on cruising The Bahamas and, if time permits, the Florida Keys. I figure on mostly single-handing, but, who knows? I'll be making arrangements for putting Intermezzo on a ship to Mexico in March. I'll probably get some major projects done while in Florida, including replacing the standing rigging and upgrading the engine charging system in addition to dozens of smaller projects on the list.

I'll keep on blogging about it all.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Hilton Head SC, Another Leg Done

Our long journey from Montauk Point NY has come to an end. We departed on October 21 and sailed 963 nm over the past 30 days.

We pulled into Skull Creek Marina yesterday around 17:30 after a short trip from Beaufort. We would have been here earlier but had to drop anchor and wait for the tide to drop a foot or so to get under the McTeer Bridge. This bridge has no vertical clearance boards, but notes on the electronic chart stated that clearance is 62.75 feet when the top of the fourth fender board is showing, which is what I saw on our initial approach at high tide. That's about 1.25 feet too low so we waited about an hour and a half and then passed under with some room to spare.

I haven't really reflected on the journey yet, just feeling grateful that we covered the distance with no injuries or major breakdowns, grateful to have Lisa along for crew, and feeling the slight sadness that often comes at the end of doing things.

The list of tasks required to get the boat put away for the holidays is 89 items long. That's my focus right now. I'll leave the philosophical contemplation for later.

Today I visually inspected the engines, flushed the raw water cooling system with fresh water and wiped them down. The port engine is dripping salt water from the raw water pump and coolant from the fresh water pump, making a bit of a wet mess to clean up and requirng two significant repairs for when I return. The starboard sail drive may be leaking lubricant from the oil seal at its connection with the engine, like the port one was before repairing it in Portland. I hope that's not the case, but with two identical engines that have been run the same number of hours, it makes sense that the same repair may be needed.

I also topped up the diesel tanks from the fuel jugs,  washed the dinghy and flushed the outboard, ran the portable generator to clear gas from its carburetor and tidied up the running rigging. Meanwhile, Lisa cleaned the interior of the boat to be free from sporadic spots of mildew and applied preventer so it doesn't come back and spread. That is a big, time-consuming job.

The marina is in good shape and Intermezzo is in a very protected slip along a floating dock,  a safe home for the next couple of months.

Tomorrow's bigger jobs are defrosting the freezer anbd washing the decks and hulls, plus a myriad of smaller tasks.

I fly back to California on Monday.

Entrance to Skull Creek at the north end of Hilton Head Island, Port Royal Sound

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Charleston to Beaufort SC, Details of the Waterways

I thought it might be interesting for me to describe in some detail the route between Charleston and Beaufort that weaves through the waterways. For me, navigating these inland channels is like hiking through varied terrain on land.

Our journey begins in Charleston Harbor where we cross the Ashley River to enter Wapoo Creek. We cross under the fixed James Island Expressway Bridge and make our way as slowly as we can towards the Wapoo Creek Highway Bridge so as to arrive for its first scheduled hourly opening of the day at 9:30. Wapoo Creek is highly developed, lined with nice homes and private docks, fairly busy with small boat traffic even on a weekday morning.

We arrive much too early, contact the bridge tender on VHF Channel 09 to let her know we're waitng and provide our boat name and home port, and then kill time by slowly motoring back the way we came, turning around and slowly motoring back. The bridge finally opens, a swing bridge where the moveable span rotates on a central pier to open up a gap for us to pass through. We let the bridge tender know we're clear, thank her and wish her a good day. She wishes us well in reply.

We continue along Wapoo Creek for about a mile to enter Elliot Cut, which leads us to the Stono River. Cuts are channels dredged to connect two adjoining waterways. We'll go through several more today.

Stono River is huge compared to Wapoo Creek, a quarter mile wide of water with a half mile of flat marshland on either side making it appear even wider. The current is running strong in the direction we want to go, the cold wind blowing against it and us, producing a light surface chop. The water is brown, the color of cola with a hint of reflected blue sky. We start off heading north, then turn west as we round the top of Johns Island, the river gradually narrowing as we go upstream, yet the marshland on either side continue to create a sense of spaciousness. We're concerned about clearance under the John F. Limehouse Bridge as it's high tide, but the air draft boards tell us we have 66 feet of clearance, about two feet greater than expected, plenty of room.

We continue on for a couple of hours, gradually turning southwest to enter Wadmalaw Sound and then the Wadmalaw River, wider and deeper than the Stono. It's hard to figure out which is a main river and which is a tributary around here- tides dominate over river flows, the current flowing in both directions twice each day. Without aids to navigation, it would be hard to pick out the route of the main channel, easy to run aground in the many shoals and vast shallows. 

The Wadmalaw leads to the North Edisto River which ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean, but we turn off to continue westward on the much smaller Dawho River. Here we cross under our third and last fixed bridge of the day, again with some concern as the cruising guide reports only 63 to 64 feet clearance at high tide, not the charted 65 feet. We figure on having 65 feet and are pleasantly surprised to see 66 feet showing on the boards.

We turn southwest again to leave the Dawho and enter Watts Cut, a canal that connects us to the South Edisto River. Now the current is against us but the wind is behind us, the water the color of coffee with milk as we motor southwards for an hour until we turn right into the narrow, short Fenwick Cut, a quarter mile long connector to the Ashepoo River. The currents are strong at the entrance and exit of the cut and we have to be cautious of the shoals at each end, not cutting any corners.

We turn right again as we leave Fenwick Cut to head northwest on the Ashepoo for about a mile to turn left and head southwest into an unnamed cut and then turn right to head northwest again for a short distance on Rock Creek and then turn into the Ashepoo Coosaw Cutoff.

The Ashepoo Coosaw Cutoff is the most nerve-wracking part of our journey. It's low tide by the time we get there, the cut is shallow and narrow. The chart notes "severe shoaling" and that the Corps of Engineers "has no future plans for dredging due to budget restrictions." It's a bit risky navigating at low tide but the lowest depths are charted at 5 feet, Intermezzo draws 4 feet and, worst case, we run aground on mud and wait for the incoming tide to float us off.

I watch the depth sounder closely, we have mostly 7 to 8 feet of water, but we run through patches where the display goes from 6.6 to 6 to 5.5 feet- at which point I slow the boat down to a crawl - 5 feet, 5.5, 6, 6.5 - and I gradually speed up as the depth increases until normal cruising speed with 8 feet. This slowing down and speeding up, always trying to stay in the deep part of the channel, "feeling" my way along the sides, continues for a mile until the exit into the Coosaw River appears. As we leave the cutoff, the depth sounder shows 9 feet but then decreases quickly- 7, 6, 5, now 4.5 feet. I'm worried that we're not going to make it out and the river current is starting to push us sideways, I can't afford to slow down too much and lose steerage. I decide to put some way on, figuring that if I do touch bottom, I might plough my way through the soft mud into deeper water. The depth sounder shows 4.2 feet but we never bump bottom and the depth increases quickly afterwards as we enter the river channel and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Now we are heading west along the Coosaw, the widest of all of today's rivers. We're motoring into the wind and the current, the bright sun low in the late afternoon sky, producing sparkles and glare on the water surface. It's cold, blustery and I'm tired of navigating all the twists, turns, shoals and bridges. But we still have quite a few miles to go before we turn into the Bull River and then another two miles to the mouth of Wimbee Creek where we will anchor for the night. Fortunately, all the remaining water to travel is wide, deep and the channel route obvious.

We drop anchor in Wimbee Creek, but the day's boating isn't quite over yet as the bottom of the creek is scrabbly with shells and rocks and the anchor bounces around a bit before setting. We back down hard on the anchor to make sure it's set, place a waypoint on the chartplotter so we can monitor our movements during the night. The wind is blowing pretty hard and the current will reverse itself during the night. 

Finally, the day is done, 49 twisty-turny, windy, chilly nautical miles traveled.

Time for a well-deserved rum drink.

Charleston to Beaufort SC

We weighed anchor in Dewees Creek on Sunday morning after waiting for the tide to recede. I had received a weather alert on my phone for coastal flooding the night before and was concerned that an above average high tide combined with flooding might prevent us from getting under the Isle of Palms fixed bridge on our way to Charleston. We ended up passing under the bridge with plenty of clearance but then had to wait for 40 minutes for the Ben Sawyer Swing Bridge to open on the hour. We had tried to delay our arrival by going slowly, but the strong current pushing us along foiled our plans.

Once in Charleston Harbor we headed to Charleston Harbor Marina where we squeezed into a tight pace along a dock between a huge sailing catamaran and sport fishing boat. The marina is across the river from the city but the marina advertised a free shuttle to and from town. We subsequently learned that the shuttle wasn't running due to COVID which left us in a relatively isolated location and having to pay for an Uber or water taxi to the city. 

Monday morning Lisa was on the phone with Charleston City Marina, where Intermezzo had spent time on the "Mega Dock last June through July. They told her that they had a space for us, so we slipped our dock lines and motored over to the other side of the city, within walking distance of historic Charleston. 

We walked around all day Monday and enjoyed a dinner on Poogan's Porch, sharing fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, which I followed up on with a slice of pecan pie and an Old Fashioned. The day was warm and sunny, the night walking back to the boat quite chilly as a cold front approached.

Yesterday we started making our way to Beaufort a route that wound through a series of canals, cuts and rivers which I'll write about separately. The day was clear, sunny and chilly with a strong breeze from the northwest. It was a long ride, almost 50 nm and I was pretty weary as we dropped anchor in Wimbee Creek, two miles northwest off the Coosaw River. It was a pretty sunset and we had a peaceful night at anchor.

This morning we continued on to Beaufort and I was happy to be able to sail almost all the way here, the strong northwesterly breeze fill the jib and a fair current providing a nice boost to our speed. It was another bright, clear, sunny day, but cold.

Much of our route was adjacent to a Marine Corps Air Station with fighter planes were taking off, landing and wheeling about overhead.  "Restricted Area - No Entry" signs lined the riverbank at frequent, regular intervals. I saw two perfectly matched bald eagles on top of the posts for one of these signs facing each other, perfectly symmetric, mirror images of each other. So perfect I took themto be patriotic ornaments adorning the sign and thought, "Wow, the Marine Corps did a good job at making those eagles look real." Then they both took off flying. They certainly are handsome birds.

We pulled into Lady's Island Marina just across the Beaufort River from town early this afternoon and spent the rest of the day and into the evening walking around this beautiful historic small Southern city. It is like a smaller version of Charleston with grand old homes, but with many more trees, draped with Spanish moss. 

In case you didn't know, there are two Beauforts, one in North Caroline, the other in South Carolina .The northern one is pronounced "bow-fort", the southern one "bew-fort". Both are nice, but the South Carolina Beaufort is now my favorite by far. More history, well-preserved architecture, majestic shade trees, delicious food and a lot of craft beers, all surrounded by low-country waterways and marshland.

We'll spend tomorrow here and then we're off to Hilton Head, the end point of this journey from Montauk NY where Lisa ends her tour of duty on Intermezzo and I head back to California for the holidays.

As we were heading to our anchorage yesterday afternoon, a call came over the VHF radio reporting an overturned shrimp fishing boat. The boat had been overdue returning to port and a friend had gone out looking for them. The two fishermen from the boat were nowhere to be found and the Coast Guard launched a major search and rescue effort. It was late in the afternoon, cold and windy and we feared the worst, hoped for the best. This morning the search was still on and I didn't think there was much hope left after such a cold, windy night. However later in the day, one of the fishermen was found clinging to a liferaft and was rescued in stable condition. The search continues for his partner. I hope they find him. After spending so much time on the water, it is too easy for me to imagine the horror of being lost at sea, wet, cold and alone.

Sunset on Wimbee Creek

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dewees Creek: Not What I Planned, Turned Out Better

Well, I planned to sail from Georgetown to Charleston on the outside. The winds were blowing from the northeast to give us a nice downwind ride, mild waves, nice sunny weather. It would have been a 12-14 hour passage, port-to-port, meaning we would arrive in Charleston Harbor after dark. No problem, it's an easy entrance, lots of aids to navigation and I've done it before.

Only there was no space in any of the marinas, being still filled with boats that sheltered from Hurricane Eta. And I don't like arriving at an anchorage in the dark. And Charleston only has a few places to anchor and none of them are good.

So, I decided to make our way to Charleston on the inside along the Intracoastal Watererway. I wasn't too happy about this, anticipating shoals, foul currents, bridges, power boat traffic and nothing much to see. Turned out I was wrong on all counts.

It was a beautiful day, mostly sunny with some sheets of white-grey clouds covering portions of the sky. The brown water had a touch of blue reflecting on its surface. Golden reeds stretched for miles, broken up by small creeks in a vast estuary with dark pines off in the distance. We saw several bald eagles, many other waterfowl and a few pods of dolphins. Quite beautiful.

The shoals reported on the charts and cruising guide were not difficult to navigate. We had a fair current most of the way, along one stretch we loped along at over 9 knots! We averaged almost 7 knots for the day. running on one engine almost the whole way. There were only a few powerboats, all of passed courteously at slow speed.  We only had to pass through one bridge, a private swing bridge that is left in the open position except when a vehicle needs to cross the waterway. 

Plus, we saved a night's docking fee by anchoring out rather than pulling into a Charleston marina, if space had been available. Oh, and Lisa didn't get seasick like she would have on the ocean.

So, it turned out much better than my original plan.

We're anchored in Dewees Creek, a wide deep creek surrounded by marsh grass. The tidal current runs fast here, it will switch directions around 22:00 tonight and hopefully our anchor will set quickly in the opposite direction when it does. It's quiet and calm.

Tomorrow we'll head into Charleston Harbor to a marina where a space will open up for us.

South Carolina Low Country Along the Intracoastal Waterway

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Georgetown SC: Rain, River Flooding and Hurricane Eta

We made it under the nine fixed bridges yesterday along the 24 nm of waterway between the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club and Osprey Marina. My vertical clearance calculations were spot on, except for the last bridge where the clearance per the air draft board was only 64 feet versus my estimate of 64.5. However, since the VHF antenna never touched, I think my calculation was the more accurate figure.

We also passed through three swing bridges, the first two without incident, the third requiring us to anchor in the channel for almost an hour to wait for a new bulb to be installed in one of the bridge's traffic lights. There was quite a line of boats behind us by the time the light was fixed and the bridge opened.

We spent the night in the Osprey Marina, a nice facility in a somewhat remote area between Bucksport and Myrtle Beach, a quarter mile down a private side channel off the main waterway. Our dock was so far away from the marina building that we were assigned a golf cart to get to and fro! We also received a welcome bag full of goodies and marina swag, a first for me.

It rained really hard last night, weather from Hurricane Eta making it's way north. Really hard. I haven't experienced a torrential downpour like that since being in Panama. And it rained heavily for a long time, too.

When we left the marina this morning, it was high tide and the waterway looked swollen by rain to me. We had only one fixed bridge to clear near the end of our day's journey, but I was worried that the rain would raise the water surface above the normal conditions on which the tide predictions are based. Also, the bridge was reported to have no air draft boards, so I would not have any actual clearance data when I got there, I would have to go by calculation and general observation.

We entered the Waccamaw River about a mile downstream of the marina. The Waccamaw is reported to among the most favorite rivers in the country for boating and I could see on a sunny day how beautiful it might be, a wide channel lined with broad expanses of cypress wetlands, surely teeming with wildlife. Today, though, it was grey, rainy and generally dreary, with little to see, all the colors muted and drab, all the birds and animals taking shelter.

I couldn't tell if the river looked so full and high just because it was high tide or if there were also a flood flow. I tried finding information about the current river conditions on the internet and learned that the upper reach of the Waccamaw is expected to crest at near flood stage late tonight. That concerned me.

I decided I would drive the boat over spot depth soundings shown on the chart and see how they compared to observed depth as measured by the depth sounder. A half dozen observations later, I concluded that the observed depths were very close to what they should be considering the state of the tide and that the rainfall was not raising the water surface. This was encouraging.

I had timed our arrival at the bridge to coincide with low tide to give us maximum vertical clearance. As we drew closer to the bridge I noticed that the roots at the bases of the cypress trees were exposed and that the water surface was several feet below the high water line on the day mark poles. Also good news.

"Community Notes" on my electronic charts stated that the bridge has 65 feet clearance if the water is just a few inches below the top edge of the fifth board down from the top of the bridge fender. I needed to observe the water to be at or below the top of the fifth board before I would try passing under the bridge. As I got within range to observe the bridge fenders with the binoculars, it started to rain really hard, obscuring any visibility. A strong current was pushing us towards the bridge and, though I knew the engines were powerful enough to overcome it should I need to turn around, it was still a bit nerve-wracking, moving quickly towards the unknown in driving sheets of blinding rain.

Fortunately the rain eased and I was able to make out the bridge fender boards at last. One, two, three, four, five...six boards showing. Whew, what a relief, something slightly more than 66 feet clearance! A bit less than what it should have theoretically been at low tide, so maybe there was a bit of rainfall effect on the river. I proceeded under the bridge, slowly and cautiously at first, then at normal speed as I confirmed we had plenty of room above the mast. What a relief! I celebrated my piloting and navigation victory with a wee dram of rum.

We pulled into the anchorage in front of the steel mill in Georgetown at about 14:00. Quite a few boats are anchored here, so we had be a bit careful about where we chose to drop the hook. The anchor didn't set on the first drop, which hardly ever happens, but I attributed it to the shallow 6.5 foot depth and short chain length even at a 5:1 scope. We dropped again and backed down long and hard with the engines to make sure the anchor was set, then finally got out of the rain and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. 

The day's drama was not over, though.

Since we have been sailing inland waters, I have been following the land weather forecasts more closely than the marine ones. The land forecasts make only passing reference to Hurricane Zeta and only in terms of rainfall. The marine forecasts mention the hurricane incidentally in the synopsis, but nothing of special note. And I stopped checking the National Hurricane Center reports when I read that Zeta was heading into the Gulf of Mexico. That was a mistake.

The hurricane just passed right by us not far offshore from the coast!

Around 19:00 this evening, the wind started blowing really hard, mid-20's to 30 knots. A boat downwind of us flashed a light at us and yelled across the water, "Are you dragging?" It was difficult for me to fix our position in the darkness. I didn't think we had dragged anchor because our position relative to the boat to our port was about the same. However, it looked like we might have moved relative to the three other boats nearby. I switched on the chartplotter and, lo and behold, we had dragged about 400 feet! The first time Intermezzo's Rocna anchor has ever dragged and quite a surprise to me, given how hard we backed down on it when we dropped. The boat next to us was dragging, too, thus my initial confusion.

We fired up the engines and Lisa did a fantastic job driving the boat in 30-plus knot winds and driving rain while I handled the ground tackle up on the bow. We motored back close to where we originally anchored and dropped the Rocna again, this time with an additional 25 feet of chain, 100 feet total in 10 feet of water.

I set an anchor drag alarm and placed a waypoint at the boat's location on the chartplotter so I could monitor our movements. We seemed to be set pretty well, but we did trip the drag alarm once, our position shifting by about 90 feet downwind. The wind is veering us around quite a bit and I'm thinking that the anchor is getting tripped up a bit in the shallow water as we move from side-to-side. We haven't moved since, so I'm hoping that the anchor has dug itself into the hard mud bottom for the night.

Fortunately, I can monitor all this from inside the comfort of the cabin with my iPad repeating the chartplotter display at the helm. I'll be sleeping in the salon tonight so that I can keep watch and hear the drag alarm if it goes off. The winds are supposed to drop a lot as the hurricane has passed by, so I'm not too worried. It won't be a night of uninterrupted sleep, though.

Frankly, I'm tired of these Atlantic coast hurricanes and fronts. So much more frequent and volatile than what I'm used to in the Pacific.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Little River SC, Tides and Bridges

We made it under the Snow's Cut Bridge yesterday morning with plenty of room to spare above the mast. The air clearance board at the bridge fender showed 67 feet clear, which matched my own tidal calculations to within about a tenth of a foot. Just to be sure, we let the catamaran ahead of us with a similar mast height go through first.

I now believe I have a pretty good understanding and methodology for navigating bridges on the the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). That's a good thing, as we have dozens of bridges to pass through or under ahead of us.

The trick is to know both the tidal height at the time we pass under the bridge and the Mean High Water (MHW) level at the bridge. Almost all of the fixed bridges along the ICW have a minimum clearance above MHW of 65 feet. Intermezzo needs 64 feet to pass with a degree of comfort, just the top six inches of the VHF bending when it touches the bottom of the bridge girders with that clearance. So, if a bridge has a charted minimum vertical clearance of 65 feet and the tide is less than one foot above the MHW, we are good to go. I can lookup the MHW for any tide station at NOAA's website and my electronic charts give me the predicted tides at any time during the day. Voilá!

So, the reason we couldn't pass under the Snow's Cut Bridge on Sunday afternoon was because the high tide was almost 2 feet more than the MHW at the bridge, resulting in only 63 feet of vertical clearance, a height at which the mast would clear structurally, but rip off or damage all the appurtenances above its top.

After clearing Snow's Cut, we proceeded down the Cape Fear River towards Southport under overcast skies with occasional rain showers. At Southport we turned west into the dredged canal that we would follow for the rest of the day, interrupted only by more natural, meandering channels in the vicinity of ocean inlets. As we passed the Southport Marina where we stayed for a few days last July, we observed the aftermath of the damage caused by hurricane Isaisis, which we waited out in Martha's Vineyard in August. I'd seen photos of the destruction caused to the marina's docks and boats piled up on one another along the sea wall. Now, all the docks are gone! The marina is just a big open basin with nothing in it, only a fuel dock operating. I saw construction equipment, too, so I'm sure they are beginning the rebuilding process after removing all the damaged structures and vessels.

As we approached each of the bridges crossing our route, I would do a calculation on the fly to estimate the vertical clearance and then, when a faster boat passed us, called them on the radio and asked them to report back the height shown on the air draft boards at the bridge when they go there. That worked great, my calculations again being within a few tenths of a foot of actual. We passed under the last bridge with a clearance of 64 feet, our antenna scraping the underside of the bridge. The only thing I worried about was a passing boat's wake, which might cause us to rise and bump the mast top hard. Fortunately, the power boaters seemed aware of this and slowed down to let us pass by ourselves with flat water.

We docked at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club just before 3 pm yesterday, a nice marina, good facilities, reasonably priced. 

The weather yesterday was very warm, a high temperature of 80 degrees F. Shorts, t-shirt and bare feet weather- Lisa is loving it. It's going to be sunny and warm today, too. Then it's rain for almost a week straight, the aftermath of yet another hurricane, Eta. So we're staying put today to do a land excursion in the nice weather, save the dreary days for moving the boat along.

The next stretch of the ICW goes through a stretch called "The Rockpile", a dangerous portion of the narrow canal where, according to the chart, "numerous rock ledges have been reported abutting the deep portion of the ICW channel. Mariners should use extreme caution to avoid grounding in this area." Commercial vessels use this channel which is too narrow between the rock ledges to allow vessels to pass. The commercial vessels reportedly announce themselves on the radio and wait in wider spots for recreational vessels to pass through before proceeding. I hope that is indeed the case.

We also have over a dozen bridges to negotiate on the next leg, so my tide calculations will be frequent and numerous. My preliminary figures indicate no problems, but I am concerned about the effect of rain on the water levels, which is not taken into account by tide stations. I believe I can get some hydrograph data from the Corps of Engineers if it rains hard enough to really worry me. I may be consulting with Rick Jorgenson, a good friend and engineering colleague who is an expert in hydrology, should the need arise!

What do non-engineers do to amuse themselves on the ICW?

Lisa watching the catamaran ahead of us clear the Snow's Cut Bridge

The Snow Cut Bridge air draft board (near lower center of photo) showing 67 feet clearance, close to my tidal calculations

The ICW west of Southport

A fishing vessel that didn't fare well near Lockwoods Folly Inlet

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Carolina Beach, Stopped By a Bridge

Last night we made an "outside" passage along the Atlantic coast from Cape Lookout to Mansboro Inlet. We had good winds but messy seas, making for an arduous trip. It was a relief to enter the inlet and get back on the calm but busy Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) until our progress was stopped by a bridge-too-low (or, rather, water too high).

First, a quick recap of Intermezzo's progress and our activities since stopping in New Bern four days ago, on Wednesday.

On Thursday we departed New Bern and motored back down the Neuse River on a beautiful sunny day to rejoin the ICW at Adams Creek. We anchored for the night in a quiet little spot off the main channel, very close to where we anchored last July.

Friday we headed to Cape Lookout Bight, stopping briefly in Beaufort NC to top up with diesel. We had very limited internet access along the way, which added frustration to the suspense of the presidential election results.

Cape Lookout Bight is one of my favorite anchorages, perhaps my most favorite, between Key West FL and Mattituck NY. When we were here last July, we were the only boat anchored or one of just a couple. This time there were a dozen or so boats, mostly sail boats with masts too tall for ICW bridges. After we dropped anchor, we took the dinghy to shore and had a good long run out and a walk back along the mostly deserted beach. It was breezy, the evening light made gloomy by low clouds, but the temperature was pleasant and even the water was not that cold. 

Yesterday (Saturday), after doing some morning boat chores, we took the dinghy to the old lighthouse on the eastern shore of the bight, walked around a bit and then relaxed on the beach for a while in warm sunshine.

We left Cape Lookout last night at 22:00, raising the sails in the calm waters of the bight. The seas became much more boisterous as we came out the inlet and turned southwest. We had a nice 15 knot wind behind us, but the swells coming from the east were 4-6 feet with a period of about eight seconds, making for a very uncomfortable ride, though they were following seas. Intermezzo would just get over the crest and through the trough of one wave only to immediately climb and fall down another. There was also a secondary swell coming from the north east that made for a confused sea state. 

Lisa was badly seasick, but managed to stand her three hour watch. I sailed the rest of the 13 hour passage single-handed. Apart from the crappy waves, everything else was quite nice, the sky clear with lots of stars and a half-moon shining most of the night. I was warm in my foulies and a light fleece base layer. We were even visited by a pod of playful dolphins, the first time for a long while. The dolphins we saw in New England seemed standoffish, busy fishing I guess, no time to play and socialize. 

I was a bit worried about entering the Masonboro Inlet with such heavy seas running. I needn't have been. The inlet is deep, well marked and protected by long massive rock jetties on either side. It would have been an easy entry except for the two large motor  yachts that barreled close past me, throwing up giant wakes that combined with the rough seas to make for a bouncy ride and requiring a lot of attention at the helm. So many of the captains of these yachts are intoxicated by horsepower, very impolite.

Once inside the inlet, we turned left and got back on the ICW. The wind was strong enough and from a good direction, so I was able to sail under the jib along the narrow channel with marsh and beach on the ocean side, houses with private docks on the land side. I liked that we sailed almost all the way from Cape Lookout, hardly burned any diesel at all. 

At Carolina Beach, the ICW turns right into Snow Cut, which leads to the Cape Fear River. The Snow Cut (Carolina Beach) Bridge spans across this cut, the first ICW bridge we passed under on the way north. A strong current was pushing us along towards the bridge which meant a rising tide. I peered at the base of the bridge with the binoculars and found the board showing the bridge clearance from the water surface - 63 feet. Not enough! The mast would make it through, but we'd likely damage the VHF antenna and perhaps even the wind indicator.

I turned Intermezzo around quickly and motored into the current and back to the ICW channel. I saw a nice long fuel dock across the way and decided to pull alongside to wait for the tide to fall and give us more clearance. However, when I looked at the tide tables, I realized it would be too late in the day for us to make it to a marina or place to anchor after getting under the bridge so I decided to stay where we are for the night. Low tide is around 09:00 tomorrow morning and that should give us nearly 67 feet of clearance, more than enough. Then we'll have a long day, having to cover 45 miles to get to our next stopping place.

I think I prefer the open ocean, even with crappy waves, over this stretch of the ICW, a narrow, constrained, busy water roadway. 

The Snow Cut Bridge, a bridge too low

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

New Bern NC, Detour for Sea Ray's

 Short post today.

We biked around Oriental this morning then enjoyed an easy motor up the Neuse River on a warm, sunny afternoon to New Bern.

New Bern was a favorite stop on the trip north and crew change location. It's about a 21 nm diversion each way off the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We did it mostly to have dinner at Sea Ray's Cafe. Big plates of fried soft-shell crab, scallops, clams and fried okra. Very Southern. Very filling. Not so healthy, but tastes good.

Back to the ICW tomorrow to start making some serious miles for a few days. Looking at going "outside" on the ocean between Beaufort and Wrightsville Beach NC. The weather's looking good and it would give us a chance to visit Cape Lookout Bight, a really nice remote spot.

Intermezzo's wake on the calm surface of the Neuse River

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Oriental NC, A Favorite Stop

 We were up early today, clocks set back mean sunrise is now an hour earlier at 06:30. It was cold, but sunny and clear with a breeze from the WNW.

We motored west against the wind until the Pungo River turns south where we raised sails and enjoyed a nice reach down the Pungo and across the Pamlico River. We dropped sails as we approached the south shore of the Pamlico and turned west and upwind to enter Goose Creek and continue southward.

Lots of boats are making their way south on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). I find amusing how they often get close to each other as they follow "the magenta line", a line on the chart that denotes the ICW's route, even when there is plenty of sea room on either side of the line. They negotiate over the radio to pass one another as if on a narrow country lane. This is helpful in a narrow river or canal, but is pretty ridiculous when there is a mile of deep water on either side of the line. Amusing.

Goose Creek does get pretty narrow but then leads into the Bay River which then merges in to the Neuse River, where we turned west again and followed the north shore to the channel leading into the town of Oriental. Oriental was one our favorite stops on the way north and it's nice to be able to visit again.

We docked at the free town dock, at first pulling next to a huge steel fishing boat, a very tight fit between docks. Then I inspected the fishing boat's dock lines and concluded that if any wind significant wind at all came from the east, Intermezzo could be crushed like an egg. So, we moved to the other side of the town dock to be safe.

We took a walk this afternoon and had a snack at Bartley's, whose owner did us a good turn last summer.

It was really hot when we were here last July. It's quite cold now and no electricity on the dock means nbo heat on the boat.

Too close for comfort

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Low Bridge, Low Water

I forgot to write about our experience passing under the Wilkinson Bridge as we made our way through the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal yesterday.

All the fixed bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) have a minimum clearance of 65 ft at mean high water per Army Corps of Engineers specifications. Somehow the Wilkinson Bridge was constructed with a clearance of only 64 feet.

The top of Intermezzo's mast is 62 feet 8 inches above the waterline. The VHF radio antenna extends 18 inches above the top of the mast, which puts its tip at 64 feet 2 inches above the waterline. The water level gauge at the base of the bridge read barely 64 feet clearance. Sure enough, as we passed under the bridge- very, very slowly- the antenna bent as it brushed the underside of the bridge girders. 

I've never been that close before. I hope never to be so again.

Now we have a low water issue.

The high winds blowing from the northwest tonight are sucking the water out of the Pungo River and surrounding sounds. There is a low water advisory (something I've never heard of until now) as water depths are expected to fall far below normal in these non-tidal bodies of water. 

The marina reported that during the last storm like this, the depth of the water at the docks fell 2-3 feet. This storm is supposed to be worse.

The depth sounder showed 5.3 feet deep water where Intermezzo was originally tied up to the dock. We start touching bottom when the depth sounder reads 4.1 feet. So, if the water depth fell 3 feet during the storm, we would be sitting on the bottom. We moved the boat further up the dock where the depth sounder read 7.1 feet for a better chance of staying afloat. So far the water has fallen about six inches.

The bottom is soft and level, so it's not that big a deal if we end up aground. I just have to be aware of what's going on with the docklines and all is clear for when we re-float.

Sometimes the water is too high, sometimes it  is too low, sometimes it is just right.