The ocean erupts OFFSHORE from Wrightsville to Beaufort NC

Wrightsville Beach to Beaufort NC

“without fear. . . there would be no courage.”Captain Blackburn infamous Pirate on Sailing Vessel Queen Anne Revenge run aground in Beaufort NC Inlet in1718

All weather forecasts were calling on 10-15 knot winds from the west-southwest. The only area of the forecast that wasn’t to my liking was that the seas were predicted to be in the 3-5 foot range. Not sure what this would look like — as all other offshore seas I was in — were 2-4 feet. However, the winds were light as we pulled up anchor from Wrightsville – so it seemed like a good day to depart and attempt to make another leg north. The weather forecast further stated, that later in the afternoon — the winds would increase to 20+ knots. We know that the next 4 days would be gale force winds from the north — so it was either today — or lay in wait.

The Masonboro Inlet proved to be much easier to navigate OUTbound, in the daylight, and with relatively calm seas. Our course to Beaufort NC was a straight-shot of nearly 70 miles, which positioned us less than 10 miles offshore.

With just a main (with 1 reef point), we motor-sailed for the first few hours – as the winds were very light. The seas were a bit bigger than I had previously experienced – probably residual turbulence from the prior day 30 knot gale. But if this was representative of 3-5 foot seas — than I decided I could deal with it. Eventually we unfurled the drifter sail (used mainly in light winds) to try to improve our speed. Around 10AM, Pat rechecked the NOAA offshore weather forecast. I could sense concern.

Apparently the forecast had changed. They were now calling for winds to increase to 25 knots this afternoon. “It might get a little feisty out here later today” Pat relayed to me. I thought about this for a bit, and got a tad nervous – but eventually decided that it would probably be fine. Maybe if we improve our speed now — we can beat the projected arrival – and projected increased winds? So, for the next 3 hours – my mission was to figure out how we could improve our time. We increased the speeds of the diesel engines – and pulled out the jib sail (as opposed to the drifter sail) — just to be safe in case the winds came up quickly. The jib sail is much easier to work with. I wanted to remove the reef in the main to better our travel speeds — but decided that we had better leave it alone. Better to sail safe….than get caught in compromising conditions where we were not able to control the boat. Unfortunately, the best speeds we could average with this mix — was barely 7 knots.

Around 12:30PM the winds had begun to shift. The winds and waves were coming at us from our stern beam, and you could feel the air change. Every hour I recorded our fix locations, and checked remaining distances. I wished we could be moving faster. I really wanted to beat the changing weather – but it just wasn’t happening. I checked the apparent wind speeds every 15 minutes, and they were increasing by ones and twos every time I looked.

Pat decided to check the NOAA weather forecast one more time. I knew conditions were about to change – and I just didn’t want to know how bad it was going to be. I made sure that I was out of hearing range of the weather information. I didn’t need to know what they were forecasting — and I didn’t ask Pat to relay the information to me. At some point, Pat stopped checking on the NOAA information too.

The seas were starting to grow. The winds were increasing. I was looking around the boat to see if there were any loose lines or potential problem areas that needed to be corrected NOW — as opposed to becoming a big problem when conditions worsened. We repositioned a few reef lines that were flapping outside of the sailpac, and pulled in the drifter lines and made them fast.

The apparent winds were registering steady 18s with gusts to 24. I didn’t want to ask Pat what the true winds were registering. Pat casually informed me that when we get to Beaufort NC — we would have to visit the Maritime Museum as they had a map of all of the shipwrecks from the southern tip of the outer banks (Beaufort) and north. I completely tuned out this comment.

Now, the seas were erupting and there was only one option for me to get thru this. I had to shut out all elements that could cause panic — and focus only on my tasks. I checked the navigation software. We had 19 miles to go to get to Beaufort. The big picture meant that we would be in this feisty brew for at least 2-3 hours. Like the tune 99 bottles of beer on the wall, I was only interested in checking off 1 mile at a time. The seas are raucous — with large tailing swells that push us high to their crest, and then Cat Maudy surfs to the trough….only to be hoisted up again on the crest. The breaker for the autopilot blew a fuse. This meant that the boat had to be steered by hand. I furled in the jib sail to 1/3 of its full size to gain better control of the boat. Pat was focused entirely on steering – and I was responsible for everything else — so that he could steer the boat. Physically, steering the boat is no easy task. He is really doing battle with the seas.

It became quickly apparent, that the main sail was too big for the seas and wind — and we needed to reef it in further. Oh god. I have to go forward on the boat….and muscle down the main – while Pat holds Cat Maudy upwind (directly facing the seas head on). I grabbed a winch handle and tethered to the jackline that surrounds the foredeck. The last thing that Pat said to me before I went forward was “You are going to hear a lot of wind when I head up”. I nodded OK. I knew I had to brace myself. Carefully, I worked my way forward to the mast before Pat began changing direction of the boat. I was glad to be tethered to the boat, but was also staying low and hanging on to anything I could grab. Once I was in position at the mast – I prepped the lines so that I could lower the mast, and Pat began changing the boat direction to head up – facing into the winds.

Immediately, I was hit with a blast of wind – head on. It sounded like fighter jets 100 yards from your ears. Nope – I couldn’t think about it. As a matter of fact – I couldn’t even look at the swells and waves while on the foredeck. I knew they were crashing over the bow…but I had to put this out of my mind too. With one hand holding onto the rigging, I lowered the main to the 2nd reef point. Pat yells out to reef it down all the way….so I brought the main sail down to the 3rd reef, and then tightened the reef lines. All the while, there is a LOT of wind and swell and wave action going on all around me — but my mind miraculously shut out all of this data. My next task was to get back to the safety of the cockpit. Pat turned the boat to head back downwind – to our combination of broad-reach / run — and I crouched my way back to the cockpit. Time to check the navigation software again. We had 13 miles to go. OK…I kept telling myself, we can do this…13 more miles ’til land.

My mind took me straight into survival mode (some might call this la-la land). I decided to think about how much I would enjoy visiting Beaufort. I was visualizing being in protected waters. Visualizing. Yes, that’s it. Kind of like running a marathon and visualizing yourself crossing the finish line — so that you could take your mind off the pain of actually running the race. Maybe we could even get a slip at the marina in Beaufort — and I would get to enjoy all sorts of sporty activities….maybe I would even get to in line skate there! Back to the moment.

The swells and waves continued to increase in size and intensity. I no longer looked at the apparent wind gauge. I just didn’t want to know. The swells were far bigger than our boat – and I remember trying to focus on the horizon – only to be able to see land when we were at the wave crests, and not be able to see anything but water when we were at the trough. Pat was doing an amazing job at the helm, riding the crests of the waves as long as possible and attempting to remain somewhat on our course for the shipping channel into Beaufort.

I checked the navigation software again. We were now a mile off course. Nothing we could do — Cat Maudy was just getting pushed around too much. We had less than 5 miles to go to the Beaufort Inlet. I returned to the cockpit, and refused to look behind me. Looking off the stern of the boat would reveal the huge swells towering above us. Nope, I just didn’t need this information.

With 4 miles to go, we could start planning for our final position change into the shipping channel. We would have to jibe the boat in these huge winds. Pretty risky – but we did have a boom-break installed. A boom-break is used to slow the boom as it crosses the point of ‘no return’. We didn’t know if it would work in such heavy winds — but we had no choice. Two miles out, I centered the main as much as possible — all the while knowing full well that the waves were breaking over behind the boat. I couldn’t help but to see some of this. Refocused my attention on the main sheet. Pat changed course and the boat jibed. The boom-break successfully slowed the boom without trashing our rigging. Whew.

The engines are on now – to give us extra power for maneuvering thru the shipping channel into the Beaufort Inlet. I spent much of this time inside of the salon, calling out headings to Pat, and letting him know of position changes to stay on course. It would be a tight channel to navigate into – especially with the wave and wind intensity.

The waters became shallow for the final approach into the Beaufort Inlet. As if the swells weren’t already BIG enough offshore — they got even BIGGER close to land. Shallow water is easily churned by winds. I focused exclusively on the navigation software and calling out positions.

I don’t know how Pat managed to control the boat….but he did. It was masterful. Soon, we were inside of the barrier island and in calmer waters. We had made it. Once behind the barrier island, I took down the main sail. “So – what did the NOAA forecast say earlier in the day?” I asked Pat — now that I knew we were safe. “35 knot winds with 9 foot seas”. Ooooh my god….I’m so glad I didn’t know that at the time. This was not on any weather prediction before we departed from Wrightsville. I truly appreciate the powers of the seas. The sea state can change very quickly. I will look back on this day, and continue to shake my head in disbelief and awe. Pat did an incredible job as captain, and I discovered a bit of grit in my soul was there when I needed it…

We hailed the Beaufort Docks on the VHF, and got a side-on slip for the night. I stepped off the boat…and just stood on land…taking it all in….with a renewed sense of appreciation for the moment.

35 miles offshore: Georgetown SC to Wrightsville NC

Georgetown SC to Wrightsville Beach NC

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!

Tourists in historic Georgetown SC – the home of the GREAT OAK tree

Tourists in Georgetown SC
4/7/2008 – 4/10/2008

The Harborwalk Marina is a stone throw from downtown historic Georgetown. The grocery store turns out to be a few more stone throws from the marina — and just about everyone in Georgetown can provide you with confident & precise directions to the grocery store — which won’t actually get you there. But hey, I found the Piggly Wiggle (Wiggly) after adding about 3 extra miles to those directions. En route, I discovered that Georgetown is actually a very historic place.

Many houses have both a street number and a DATE (like 1765 or 1810)…the oak trees are ancient (we met the State Champion Oak Tree — nearly 600 years old!)…there are little landmark signs just about everywhere explaining either some American Revolution, Plantation or Civil War artifact, and Georgetown can boast one of the few remaining working steel mills left in the US. There is a Paper factory here too — and when the winds are just right (from the south) — can produce some nasty smells. We’ve only had northerly winds. Silver lining eh?

While Charleston hosts a mix of southern locals and transients, Georgetown seems to be the home of the native southerners. The southern drawl here is very pronounced, and it takes me an extra 20 seconds to digest what the heck people are saying. Try out some of these:

One block from our marina in the starboard direction, is a dock used by the local shrimp boats. And, surprise, surprise…right next to where the shrimp boats unload their catch — is an independent seafood market – open to the public. Here, you can buy fresh shrimp and other seafood catch of the day – very cheap & very fresh. Wow – what a treat! No more trips to the Wiggly….

Conversely, going 1 block in the port direction from our boat is the commerce section of old Georgetown. This main street in historic Georgetown is lined with very old buildings – now filled with nick-knack stores, tour guides, multiple barber shops run by 80+ year old barbers, one guys-only-but-they’ll-let-girls-in fitness center, and many restaurants (which all feature shrimp entrees – go figure!).

But alas, southerly winds are coming (Friday) – so we will be departing Georgetown by noon on Thursday – to find anchorage closer to the inlet at Winyah Bay. The plan is to try to make 2 legs of our travels north on Friday with southerly winds – and we expect to depart Winyah Bay at 3AM – fog permitting. Approximately 120 miles — with arrival in Wrightsville NC by 9PM that same evening. That’s the plan.

Charleston to Georgetown offshore…we have no steering!

Sunday, April 6 — up at 5am to analyze weather information from about 5 different sources. It appears winds are light – they start south-westerly – and we may get 10-15knots of wind offshore. We decide to gamble…and see how the weather REALLY is offshore. We can decide to go back to Charleston if it is unfavorable.

The ocean swells are much larger than I remember on my prior 2 offshore outings. I am estimating 4-5 feet. Probably due to the last 2 days being VERY windy….As we headed out of the Charleston Harbor along the jetty’s — we took the swells head on. A bit bumpy…but not a show stopper….so we kept going out. About 7 miles offshore, it appeared that the winds were very light. We might be able to motor-sail to Georgetown – but sailing without the engines was out.

I am ready to depart Charleston. I voted to just GO on to Georgetown at this point. It didn’t matter to me if we motored, or motor-sailed or sailed. At least we could start making SOME progress in heading north toward Baltimore. It was time to move on. The next weather window wouldn’t be until Thursday or Friday. It was 77 miles from our anchorage in Charleston…to Georgetown SC – a full day of motor sailing was in store for us. Pat had our route plotted on the “Captain” software — it’s the little green path from the Charleston Harbor into Winyah Bay — and up to Georgetown.

It turned out to be a really beautiful day– tho devoid of wind for sailing. We did hoist the main, and had the jib out for awhile…but eventually furled in the jib as it was just luffing.

Everything seemed pretty uneventful. I saw dolphins and even a sea turtle. Riding the swells became rhythmic. There was one other northbound sailing vessel within our vision, a couple of power boats….and a shrimp boat.

As we passed by the shoals off of Cape Romain, a line of breakers became visible. It is kind of strange to see the water breaking so far offshore — but our routing software steered us clear of that shoal. Pat headed up into the wind to allow me to take down the main — as the main sail was no longer effective.

While I was busy bringing down the main sail, Pat was busy stressing back at the helm. He said he had lost steering. He turned the boat into an acute circle. And then appeared to have regained steering. Or so we thought. Maybe it was rip currents around Cape Romain that caused the sensation of losing steerage? In any event, we changed to more of a port tack to begin the final 13 mile leg toward the entrance of Winyah Bay. We seemed to have lost speed on this tack…maybe the winds changed? Maybe currents? Maybe the way the swells are moving the boat? I wasn’t too concerned.

As we approached the Winyah Bay shipping channel — we would be navigating thru a tricky entrance. The shipping channel was quite narrow PLUS it was surrounded by underwater jetty’s….so you really cannot veer off course. Tides, currents and wave action would make this a bit of a challenge. It was time to change directions with a 90 turn to port in order to enter the channel. I was inside the salon calling out the headings….when I realized that something was wrong. Pat was at the helm turning the wheel frantically. “We have no steering” he yelled out….as he attempted to point the boat back out to open water (as opposed to entering the shipping channel).

Strangely we could ‘kind of’ point in a starboard direction….but the boat just really wanted to go in circles. Things were happening fast now. I am at the helm…attempting to hold a position with a boat that has lost it’s steering….and trying to avoid breakers and jetty’s…while Pat is attempting to troubleshoot the steering problem. Weeee-doggie! My body parts were quivering….but there was no time or place for panic…Pat races inside…and comes out with a wrench and a string. He is tying a string to the wrench so that he doesn’t loose the tool. I’m sensing that Pat is about to get into a very compromising position (like hanging off the end of the boat)….so I put on my “Safety Director” hat.

“You’ve GOT to tie on to this boat” I emphasized. From my world….if he is not tethered onto the boat…and fell off…there is NO WAY I could retrieve him without steerage. Don’t want to think about this….back to more positive thoughts.I was trying to watch the swells & point the boat as best as possible….watch the GPS….and keep my 3rd eye on Pat. Yeah. OK now.I could really only head to starboard. Pat is now lying on his belly at the stern of the boat….trying to diagnose the steering problem. He gets up and races back into the cockpit again. “I think I’ve discovered the steering problem…and I think I can fix it.” Words of joy to my ears. He gets another tool….and goes back to the stern.

“Tie onto the BOAT” I stressed again… Pat goes back and dangles off the stern of the boat again….and I slow the engines so that the swells don’t bang us around quite so much. Suddenly, the steering felt like it had come back. Pat had me do a few test circles…hard turn to port…followed by a hard turn to starboard. The boat responded. Wow…Pat did it…he is downright heroic in my book.

It turned out that the RAM (the rod that is controlled by the steering hydraulics) came loose from the port rudder — and had to be reconnected. With the RAM being loose — it was not receiving any hydraulic fluid — and thus the rudder was pointed outward — causing us to go in circles if we attempted a port tack…and slowness on a starboard tack.

What was MORE amazing — is that the NUT (an itsy bitsy NUT) was just sitting on top of the rudder — not connected to anything. How this little NUT could just sit there during all this wave / ocean action is pretty bizarre. Kind of like leaving your wallet on the hood of your car….and driving from Maine to Florida ….and your wallet is still there when you arrive in Florida. Just about that level of miracle.

Our navigation software (The Captain) — among many other things, displays your boat path. The image of our boat path — should follow the journey legs between each way point. I.e. the green line that represents the path of the boat should be a series of straight lines. As you can see from the image captured by our navigation software — things got a bit crazy just as we were about to enter the shipping channel. A series of small circles (squiggles)….and then a long circular tour back out into the ocean — shows our route as Pat (aka “hero of the day”) restored our steering.

Sooo, I returned to the nav station – and called out headings…while Pat navigated us back into the shipping channel. Entering Winyah Bay — the waters became calm, and we followed the buoys up to Georgetown — and got a slip at the Harborwalk Marina. Harborwalk is a tiny marina – a one man show type of place. We were thrilled to be in safe harbor.

Holding pattern…in Charleston

Our time is “up” at the Charleston City Marina – and we departed for the adjacent anchorage on the Ashley River — while we wait for the “right” weather window that will allow for northbound travels back to Baltimore, MD.Our plan, is to off shore sail / coastal hop – i.e. a series of day sails that will take us:

Day 1 – from Charleston SC to Georgetown SC
Day 2 – from Georgetown SC to Southport NC
Day 3 – from Southport NC to Wrightsville NC
Day 4 – from Wrightsville NC to Beaufort NC

Once we arrive in Beaufort, we will take the intracoastal waterway to Norfolk. Pat would prefer to sail on the “outside” …but this stretch from Beaufort to Norfolk would be approximately 220 miles — and I’m not sure my skill set is ready to captain the boat – as we each would need to take watches. Unfortunately there are no shipping inlets along this stretch — so day sails are OUT. Soooo, the compromise is to do the ICW from Beaufort to Norfolk VA.

There is one fixed bridge along this stretch of ICW that is recorded as 64′ high – so this could pose potential issues for us (our height clearance is 63.5). We will have to load up with 400 gallons of water…and top off the 90 gallon diesel tank to lower our profile…plus remove all electronics at the top of the mast — before we attempt passage.

Waiting at anchor in Charleston looks something like:
Tuesday, April 1 — Depart the Charleston City Marina. Can we say “goodbye” to boat / dock life? Cat Maudy is located on the tip of the “I” Dock…and I’ll take you thru a guided tour of getting to the boathouse and land…here goes:

A day sail in the Charleston Harbor — accompanied by sailing vessel 5-Star (Hugh & Alison) — allowing us to take pics of each other’s boat.

Wednesday, April 2 — very windy – to 30 knots….our anchor holds…tho we enjoy sleepless nights watching to make sure! Too windy (and winds in the wrong direction) to travel. We wait.

Thursday, April 3 — Up at 5 am. Spend 2 hours analyzing weather info. Light winds…too light…and from the north. We dinghy ashore to the City Marina to enjoy (a) showers and (b) I walk across the peninsula for some final sightseeing, shopping and grocery stock up and (c) a sushi dinner with friends Hugh & Alison at The Boathouse in downtown Charleston. Thinking we might depart Friday

Friday, April 4 — Up at 5am. Analyze weather info. Dense fog in the AM till 11. Very strong winds after that….from the south. Rough seas….turbulent air…strong storms rolling thru. We decide to wait another day. What’s with this weather? Either tornado style winds…or nothing at all. We stay on anchor all day. I’m getting stir crazy.

Saturday, April 5 — still feisty winds…from the south…rough seas. We analyze weather information for hours. Aiii…we’ll keep waiting. Maybe tomorrow we can depart. We dingy to shore for (a) showers and (b) supplies. I head off walking across town to re-stock up on grapefruit, apples and dried fruit. Strong storms approaching.

The dingy motor won’t start. Pat tries a zillion ways to get the motor to start…but nada. She needs service. Oh boy. The Charleston City Marina calls TowBoat US for us…but TowBoat US doesn’t answer the phone. Fortunately, someone at the City Marina had a cell phone# for the local operator of TowBoat US….and we made contact. Kindof odd that they don’t respond to VHF calls or phone calls eh?

Anyway, a TowBoat US captain arrives in 45 minutes– and they tow us about 200 yards to anchored Cat Maudy. The TowBoat US captain tells us a story about how earlier in the day a sailing vessel lost engine power near the jetty entrance to the Charleston Harbor. He said that he refused to help the guy cuz he had already worked 5 hours that day. Hmmm….I try to imagine myself in a dicey situation…and TowBoat US refuses to help you (or answer VHF or phone). Glad to have TowBoat US arrive to tow us to our dinghy…but Yup…I’m a bit conflicted about TowBoat US at the moment.

Captain Wuus sails offshore…twice!

On nearly a perfect sailing day with 15-20 knots of winds from the southwest, we departed the Charleston Harbor for a day of off shore sailing. A first for me…Captain Wuus. Ocean sailing. Deep breath here. OK – I can do this. The “O-C-E-A-N” word that is.

Pat did a phenomenal job in selecting a day with very minimal ocean swells, and steady southerly winds. (aka he knows it had better be ideal for me!) It was a most memorable sail. We sailed straight out of the Charleston Harbor past Fort Sumter…and then along the jetty’s in the shipping channel eastbound for approximately 12 miles.

At mile 10 – I could no longer see land. While initially this was a tad unnerving – I discovered the really cool part is all of the dolphins who track with your boat. The dolphins seem to let you know that you can relax — you’ve got friends out there.

Some offshore observations:
· The sea-state (surf, wave action) tends to be most pronounced when you leave the harbor. Probably has something to do with shallow waters and currents. The further offshore, the seas became more relaxed / steady.

· The winds tend to be stronger and more gusty closer to land. The further we traveled offshore, the more steady the winds became. The seas were actually more enjoyable then sailing on the Chesapeake Bay — probably due to the shallow waters of the bay can make for choppy waters

· Trans-Atlantic shipping freighters travel A LOT faster than shipping vessels in the Chesapeake Bay. Maybe they have to put their brakes on in the bay? These vessels coming into the channel heading for Charleston are easily doing 20+ knots. They blew right by us – and we were cruising under sail at 11 knots. I was watching the water action at the bow of one of these shipping vessels, and noticed what appeared to be jumping fish. Looking closely — it was our dolphin friends — putting on a sea world act of jumping and flipping in front of this fast moving shipping vessel. Very entertaining! I tried to get this dolphin excitement on camera….but my camera has a delay…and I kept missing the action. Oh well.

Pat selected a second day for us to go offshore — and the weather was similar to our first day offshore. The winds may have been a bit stronger – in the 20-25 knot range. Again winds from the southwest. This seems to produce minimal ocean swells. It was a great sail again. I saw a shark this time….maybe a shark in distress? Noticed a large object that seemed to float at an angle. As we approached – I could see it was a fin – but not straight up. The shark seemed to be floating near the surface (he was big – 15-20 feet!) at a bit of an angle. Not fond of sharks. I was ready to see my dolphin friends again.

When sailing offshore – we have two added safety rules.1. mandatory to wear an offshore PFD (self inflates) at all times 2. always remain tethered to the boat. Each of our PFD’s has a 5′ tether line – allowing attachment on one end to the PFD…and the other end to any fixed object or jackline. Pat has setup a jackline (blue line that is connected around the perimeter of the boat) – so that if you have to go forward on deck — you are constantly attached to the boat.

Tornados hit Charleston

We have managed to experience some violent weather while dockside in Charleston. Let’s start with the tornado on Saturday, 3/15. Just prior, tornadoes had done some hefty damage further inland to Atlanta GA — but Atlanta seemed so far away from us. It just wasn’t on my radar. Born-n-raised in upstate NY — we don’t have tornadoes. So, I have to admit I was a bit naive when it came to “Tornado Watch” and “Tornado Warning” weather alerts. When Pat and I heard that we should find a large building and hide in the basement….we kind of just looked at each other and said “huh”??? Living on a boat docked in the potential path of a tornado….might not be the kind of shelter the weather weasels were referring to – but that’s where we were.

First, we watched the barometer fall….basically DROP to a REALLY low number (995). Not a good sign. Ok, next observation. Most of the other folks living on their boats at the marina — were nowhere to be found. And lastly, the weather pics I was able to see online JUST before weather arrived — had bright red blotches heading our way. Time to turn off the computer (after I snap these images of course!).

So, Pat and I readied ourselves. We got out our foul weather gear (jackets) from the closet, and put a flashlight in the pocket of each jacket (in case Pat & I got separated). Not really sure what the point of that preparation was….but it seemed like we were “doing something” — so I didn’t ask too many questions. By 8:30PM, the sky was filled with lightning, thunder….and finally hail. Sheets of rain came down in horizontal blasts….and then….the winds came. It was incredible. I couldn’t have escaped along the dock – even if I wanted to. Would have been blown right into the Charleston harbor.

Our wind readings went from 15knots to 55 knots in about 3 seconds. It felt like the boat was lifting up – and all of a sudden I became VERY concerned. We put our jackets on.

And within the course of no more than 3 minutes….the weather was over. The winds stopped. The hail & rain stopped. And the thunder and lightening continued on by us. We had missed a direct hit by the tornado. Tornadoes did touchdown on James Island — less than 2 miles from our boat. I can assure you — that a boat would NOT be a safe place in a tornado. We took our jackets off now.

One final note….Soxy, our cat, didn’t seem to be too concerned thru any of this. Soxy – takes a snooze thru the tornado warning

Coast Guard to the dinghy rescue…

I’m definitely no dinghy design expert. But here are some observations:
1. buy the biggest and BEST dinghy (most likely to stay to stay afloat) you can possibly afford.
2. your dinghy gets you back and forth to shore…so make sure it can handle some waves and wind eh? Now, go back to # 1 and repeat

More high winds today….up to 55 miles per hour. Our instruments are already registering 40 knots. We noticed a Coast Guard boat racing by Cat Maudy. This is pretty unusual – since this is a no-wake zone and they usually travel very slowly near the marina. Not today. They were on a rescue mission.

A person on a dinghy from a nearby anchored boat was trying to get to the City Marina dock. Less than 100 yards. They didn’t make it. The dinghy capsized in the high winds – and the person had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Below are some pictures of the Coast Guard recovering the failed “cheap-O” dinghy. Time for an upgrade!

Mast climbing adventures…

It was a rare calm day, and Pat had to install the tri-color light onto the top of the mast. This light fell off (and broke) when Cat Maudy had a brief encounter with the top of a bridge along the intracoastal. Unfortunately, the NEW tri-color light, was of a slightly different design from the OLD tri-color light. This meant that more than 1 trip to the top of the mast would be required. Three trips to be exact. Pat was lookin’ like an ol’ pro going up the mast. I had him secured with the halyard and a second safety line – and equipped with my Rambo “powerdrill” to do all the heavy lifting.

The third trip up the mast was the “charm” – and the new tri-color light was successfully wired and installed at the top of the mast.

Now, it’s my turn. I decided this sure looks like fun. Ok – I didn’t go all of the way to the top of the mast, but I have to admit it was pretty cool bein’ UP – even if it is only barely halfway. The most amazing part, is that while hanging out in the bosun’s chair – sittin atop of the world…the dolphins whom have never more than just come up for air…put on a SHOW for me. That’s what I believed anyway.

It was like being in front row seats at Sea World! Two dolphins were doing their “Flipper” routine — completely coming out of the water – in pairs, arching…and then diving. Again and again. It was a magical moment – and I’m gonna get further up the mast next time!

Dragging anchor in 40 knots of winds…

The instruments were really reading up to 40 knots….Visualize how 40 knots feels. The boat shakes. It is very windy here — average winds in the mid 20’s, with gusts to 40! The winds are from the East – so they push the water up from the Atlantic Ocean…into the Charleston Harbor…and up the Ashley River! I have to get in a LOW position when walking along the dock – to avoid getting blown off the dock. Small Person Advisory.

While doing some computer work, we looked out the salon windows – to a rather odd sight. Two sailboats – rafted together, and anchored not far from us — are now dragging anchor (due to the extreme winds) and are being blown up the Ashley River toward the James Island Bridge. Woa! No one appears to be on either of the boats – so Pat radio’s to the City Marina for help.

The City Marina sends out one of it’s boats to check out the situation – and then calls in the Coast Guard. Moral of this story – don’t leave your boat unattended AND rafted to another boat anchored on a windy day!

Writings and journeys, flavored with spice…

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