Little did we know that from the moment we left Beaufort, SC it would be an almost continuous slog against some massive currents. It seemed like no matter what we did or when we traveled, we were lucky to be making four knots which is damned frustrating – typically we like to see five knots or more.
The first day we fought the current the whole way, anchoring south of Charleston. We planned to go outside the next day from Charleston to Carolina Beach, NC which would have taken us a bit over 24 hours, but by the time we fought the current to Charleston Harbor we weren’t comfortable with the size of our weather window and continued inland, still fighting the current. Our friends on S/V Mer du Jour did go outside that day, telling us later that we made the right call given the conditions and slower speed of our smaller Pegu Club.
The next day we hoped to catch a fair current as we approached Georgetown, SC, but it was so strong against us that by the time we hit the area where we would get a boost, the period for the flood current had almost passed. Gah!
What the heck was going on? Was our propeller and boat bottom filthy after sitting for a week in Beaufort? Jeff got in the dinghy the next morning to check the propeller which was surprisingly clean. Then he took the deck brush and cleaned as far down to the bottom as he could. Fortunately he was almost finished when he accidentally bumped the release button against the hull and we watched the brush swiftly float away in the current. Ooops. Guess we’ll add that item to the replacement list. But overall, he said the boat bottom was pretty clean.
It turns out we were being impacted by all of the heavy rain that had been falling north of us. This was causing significant flooding on the ICW, resulting in a huge amount of water pushing south with each ebb current. Bridges on the ICW have a vertical clearance of 65′ (except for one bridge in Miami), and boats with masts close to that height were stuck in marinas waiting for the water to recede so they could safely clear the bridges. We’ve never measured from the waterline to the our instruments at the top of our mast, but we know it’s under 50′ so fortunately bridge clearance wasn’t an issue for us. The only issue was that damn current.
Fortunately we ended up catching a break on the fourth day. Our friends on S/V Barry Duckworth were a day ahead of us and they texted to let us know that they had fought the current for miles from Georgetown almost to the marina that was their destination for the day. They said to be sure to wait for slack before the flood tide. So we did. And although we fought a decreasing current for about an hour (current predictions are part science, part art), we finally got some relief and cruised the rest of the way to the anchorage in Calabash at over six knots.
Unfortunately when we arrived at our regular anchorage we discovered that three derelict boats had been plopped in there since our stay last fall. It’s not an anchorage with a lot of space to begin with and between the crab pots, the channel, and the spacing of the boats, there was very little room left for us. We made a decision on the fly to try Bird Island a few miles away, which is an anchorage I had read about over the winter with positive reviews. I had tucked it away in my mind as an option in case Calabash turned out to be full one day.
That day the wind had been gusting to over 20 knots but we had been pretty protected from it going down the ICW. The Bird Island anchorage is near the mouth of the inlet leading to the ocean, and as we made our way there the wind steadily increased until it was blowing a steady 20+ knots. The fetch was building as the wind honked against an outgoing current, the sun was setting, and this was starting to feel all wrong.
By the time we were getting close to entering the anchorage, my mind was screaming, “This is a bad idea!” and I was shaking from nerves. I was at the helm and although we had read there was plenty of depth, suddenly our depth sounder quickly dropped to less than 1 1/2 feet under the keel so I made an immediate decision to abort, saying to Jeff “This feels wrong! This feels wrong!” In the words of Monty Python, “Run away!”.
Perhaps it is a lovely anchorage, but this was not the day to find out. There was a time when I didn’t listen to that voice (and ran into the damn Reedy Island Dike on the Delaware Bay), but the lesson I learned from that experience was to ALWAYS listen from that point forward. Ultimately it may have turned out fine, but I have a feeling that we were close to having it turn out very wrong. The only thing I would have changed was to turn around sooner.
We ended up squeezing ourselves into Calabash just after sunset, anchoring uncomfortably close to a washed up boat – but better than the alternative at Bird Island.
It’s too bad because previously Calbash had been the only anchorage (unless you count Bird Island, which we certainly won’t anymore) in a stretch without any other anchoring options. Smaller and slower boats like ours simply can’t make it from the anchorage at Carolina Beach to the next anchorage south of Myrtle Beach in one day, especially in the fall when the days are shorter. Calabash also had the added bonus of delicious, inexpensive fresh-off-the-boat shrimp just a dinghy ride up the creek from the anchorage. But I guess we’ll have to skip all of that and stay in a marina in Little River this fall instead. Damn derelict boats. But that’s a post for another day, I guess.