35 miles offshore: Georgetown SC to Wrightsville NC

Georgetown SC to Wrightsville Beach NC
4/11/2008

We departed the Harborwalk Marina in downtown Georgetown about mid-day on Thursday — to set anchor at approximately 1 mile from the mouth of Winyah Bay. Georgetown was 90 minutes (at 6 knots travel speed) from the mouth of Winyah Bay — so our goal was to eliminate this portion of travel for Friday’s early AM anticipated 130 mile sail to Wrightsville NC. We set anchor in 10 feet of water in an area called Mosquito Creek. Mosquito Creek is a completely remote area — populated only by sea grass and pelicans. Or so we thought.

Can we talk about bugs?… In Charleston (and Georgetown) — no-see-ums are downright brutal. You wake up in the AM – and parts of your arm is missing. All that is left are huge itchy welts — that will itch for weeks. From a bug standpoint, I was glad to be leaving Charleston & Georgetown.

For some reason, it didn’t occur to us that a place named “Mosquito Creek”….would be full of — you guessed it — mosquitoes. They were everywhere…and many layers thick. By early Thursday evening, a dense fog rolled in. We could see it rolling toward us – and within 5 minutes – we couldn’t no longer see the bow of our boat from the cockpit. At about the same time, the first wave of mosquitoes appeared. Thursday night felt like I was giving blood at the Red Cross.

To avoid the mosquitoes…we spend the night hiding inside the salon – with the doors and hatches shut tight. (it didn’t really matter…the mosquitoes somehow found their way inside!).

Our original plan was to depart the anchorage by 3AM — for a long day of sailing to Wrightsville. This would allow us to skip the stop at Southport — and just get this northward trek moving along a bit faster. But, the pesky fog was just too thick. We do have radar and lots of computer navigation equipment — BUT, in an unknown port with a tricky channel into the ocean – it just made more sense to stay put. By 6:30AM we had some visibility in the fog – so we pulled up anchor – and began motoring to the channel.

The weather forecasts indicated that the seas would be calm, and the winds very light in the AM. By mid-afternoon we were projected to have 10 knots from the south…and by evening 15-20 knots. Winds and seas would increase after midnight.

Our departure from Winyah Bay was on a flood tide – with currents at 2 ½ knots. There are some very strange currents, tides, land surface action going on in this Inlet – and it was a surprisingly rough ride out to sea. I was glad that I hadn’t elected to eat breakfast before we left. About 3 miles beyond the jetty’s — the water action relaxed…and the seas were calm with 2 foot swells. At some point, we would need to decide if we would attempt to go to Wrightsville (130 miles) or Southport (70 miles).

Sunrise at Winyah Bay. It looks like the fog is about to lift eh? It lifts for about 30 minutes…and suddenly a new wave of fog starts setting in. We had gotten offshore at this point – and watched the fog remove all reference to land — and move toward us. Guess we were moving fast enough — as we didn’t get fogged in offshore.

We had been motor-sailing for a few hours, when suddenly the ocean water turned this beautiful shade of turquoise blue. I tried to capture this with my camera — and I can assure you that this is TRULY the color of the water — no photo touch up here! I am guessing at this point that we are about 20 nautical miles offshore. The air was light in the morning – so we continued to tweak with the sails and the route — to see if there was anything we could do to improve an arrival time to Wrightsville. Presently, at a speed of 6.5 knots — we wouldn’t arrive into Wrightville until 2AM the next morning.

By early afternoon — a light breeze started to appear — and we were able to muster 8 knots motor-sailing. We had both the main and jib hoisted — and occasionally we even reached 8.3 knots. Woo hoo!

We made the decision to attempt to get to Wrightsville. The air should freshen up by early evening — and with any luck — we could improve our arrival time. At one point, Pat informed me that we were at our greatest distance from shore — 35 nautical miles. OK, I didn’t really need to know that. I thought we were only at most 20 nm from shore. 35 nm seemed to be pretty far out for moi. Only a few times do you actually see other boaters/humans. You are pretty much on your own. This can be eerie. With the sense that you are “all alone” out there, we get pretty excited when we see anything that moves (other than the water). We saw a total of 5 sea turtles (they look like big brown blobs…until you get closer and can actually see the head and huge feet). The turtles just float & sunbathe at the surface – and then when they are good-n-ready – they do a deep dive and you no longer see them.

By 6:30PM, we had rounded Frying Pan Shoals, and could begin a new tack for the remaining 30 miles inland toward Wrightsville. By 8PM — the sun had set, and by 8:30PM the remaining twilight was eroding. The winds did pick up – and we did an easy 8 plus knots with just the main sail. Even though we were still 30 miles until we reached Wrightsville — I could now see land (via lights). It was a clear night — so we were also treated to moon and starlight. A well-lit evening sail. By 9PM, the seas were beginning to get bigger, as the winds kicked up to 20 knots. We brought down the main sail, and just unfurled the jib for the remaining short distance. Navigating into the Inlet for Wrightsville was a bit stressful — because there are a zillion blinking navigation lights, lots of land lights – and I’m trying to call out headings to Pat via the navigation software. He is hand steering the boat – as we are getting pushed around pretty good by the swells and winds. The autohelm is pretty useless in keeping a heading. Any little deviation and you are into 1 foot of water. By 11:45PM, we had anchored for the evening…and within 30 minutes — gale force winds kicked up. We got in to Wrightsville – just in time!

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