11/19/2006, Charleston, SC
Yesterday we had a motor-sailing day of no particular note, leaving our anchorage at 7:30 am and chugging down the ICW until noon when we entered Charleston Harbor. There was just one opening bridge, just before Charleston and it only opened on the hour, so we had to be sure to time it, but it worked out fine with our arrival with 10 minutes to spare. We waited for the opening with 5 other sailboats, two of whom were Canadian. But we didn't chat and went our separate ways after the opening, with us heading for the City Marina, where we are spending two nights. Arriving at noon, we had lunch, then headed out on our bikes for a tour of the city. We had heard about its beauty, being one of the few southern cities not destroyed during the civil war, but we were totally unprepared for the spectacular homes built in the heyday of the southern plantation days (based on slavery). We took many pictures, which we will post when we get a good internet connection, and they will, hopefully, convey the grandeur of them all. Today, Sunday, we will do some chores (West Marine, grocery shopping, etc.) and go back downtown for some more touring. Then Monday off again, and ready to hunker down for a couple more days as another storm is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. Not as bad (we hope) as the last. Then if weather permits, we will do an offshore hop down to Florida, as we are tiring of motoring down "The Ditch" as it is often called. But it will require a good weather window. Tonight warnings of widespread frost!!
11/17/2006, Grahams Creek
Sunset in Graham's Creek
"But today, although the weather doesn't seem bad here, we'll stay put. Because time is getting on, we will skip Georgetown and head straight for Charleston for Saturday. By the way, our unfriendly neighbor seems to have survived as well." That was the close of my post two days ago. But I wrote it at noon, and by 2:00 pm the day had cleared and the wind died so that we decided to head out after all. We knew that we could only make a few miles that day, but it would give us a head-start for Friday, so off we went. We had heard a few conversations on the VHF indicating that there were boats moving, but not anywhere near the normal. We got both anchors up without problems (it is a talent that takes time to master, and I think we are coming close), and passed by un-friend, giving him a wide margin lest we foul his huge anchor line.
Back on the ICW things were a bit breezy, but very manageable. We had a target to reach Jericho Creek, about 10 miles downstream. On the way we passed a few marinas where we saw a number of boats we had been traveling with still snugly tied up. At one we saw a boat we had only heard on the VHF, called A capella (a musical term meaning voice only, no accompaniment) from St John's Newfoundland. When we passed, they saw our Canadian flag and waived wildly. Perhaps we will meet them later and chat. And shortly after we were passed by a catamaran from Toronto... Lots of Canadian snowbirds fleeing the winter.
Speaking of winter, it is very difficult to believe that we are only a little over 4 weeks to winter. Although some trees have lost their eaves, the majority are still green, and the grass is still growing. But the short days are with us just as at home, and we need to remember that it gets dark just after 5 pm, so that we don't get caught without a safe anchorage at sundown. And he temperature, still nice in the day (usually), drops quickly at sundown, so that we retreat below quickly as the sun sets and turn on the Espar. So last night, we turned into Jericho Creek off the Waccama River (earlier we saw a sign at a marina asking people not to feed the alligators... no swimming for us!) and found a beautiful anchorage.
Getting settled by about 4:00 pm, we sat in the cockpit listening to the birds and reading when we heard a motor boat approaching. I turned around and was surprised to see Bruce and Nancy Montgomery from Seabird, who we had met in New Berne, and also in Beaufort. They had had a great deal of trouble getting their dinghy engine repaired, and the last we had seen of them was when we left Beaufort, and they were in the second week of waiting for parts. It turns out that one part never did arrive, and they had the missing part machined at a local machine shop. They have a Bristol 35.5, and are from Maine, very near where we kept our boat, so we had a lot in common, and were happy to invite them aboard for a drink and to catch up on their news.
This morning we headed out of Jericho Creek, and went out the Waccama into Winyah Bay, and, having made up some tile, we went into Georgetown, anchoring about 9:00 am. It is a pretty town with lots of history, and we enjoyed a walk around it. I will post photos of it (and a bunch of others) as soon as I have a good high speed connection. Better still, we found a local seafood shop and bought Grouper, Shrimp and Crab, replenishing the food locker. We also found a nice bakery/wine shop where we bought some Beaujolais Nouveau (not a favorite staple, but a fun thing to do), some preserves, and a few sweets(I don't care much for desserts, but Jeannie comes from a long line of sweet eaters). Then we found some vegs at a Natural Foods store (they can be odd, but this one was very good, and gave boaters a 10% discount). Then back to the boat and off again.
Our objective for the evening was Grahams Creek, and for two reasons; first, it was highly recommended in our cruising guides (and, as it turns out, for good reason), and second, because it would mean a short day for tomorrow to reach Charleston, where we will spend a couple of days to tour this historic city. So we motored through the delta of the Santee River, which creates a huge floodplain, and is very remote and beautiful, and pulled in to Grahams Creek just as the sun was setting.
We are sharing this beautiful anchorage with just two other boats, and sat in the cockpit to watch the sun set across the savannah. And then below for Grouper with a Tapanade paste with rice pilaf (done in a new pressure cooker recipe). Tomorrow, Charleston. But our plans for later next week may come afoul of another weather system.
11/14/2006, Bull Creek on Waccamaw River SC AUTHOR: Jim Lea
Cable car with golfers crossing the ICW, Myrtle Beach
Yesterday we left Calabash Creek in a beautiful morning, and leaving at 7:45 am we were second last to leave, as usual! We can't seem to keep up with the very early risers who probably make great time, but may not enjoy it as much as we do (or at least that's what we tell ourselves).
Yesterday's trip was motoring all the way, and varied from interesting through garish to boring. The weather was in the low 70's with partly cloud, so very pleasant. We passed a bunch of golf courses as we went through Myrtle Beach, and one course had a gondola that carried golfers across the ICW above our mast. As the weather forecast was ominous (it has been forecast for a few days), we began to search out a protected anchorage. The forecast was for winds of 30-40 kts. and 12" of rain, with thunder squalls and possibility of tornados. All in all, not a good prospect. Although my confidence in NOAA is not absolute, their forecast was enough to make us take shelter early.
So as we came down the Waccamaw (having caught up with the other boats that left Calabash Creek ahead of us) we decided that Bull Creek offered the best protection from the forecast south winds. As we came up to the spot we had chosen, we saw another boat there ahead of us, but the anchorage would easily hold a dozen boats, so we motored towards the boat to enquire how much scope (how much anchor line) he had out. That would tell us how widely he would swing, and let us decide where to anchor to ensure we didn't get mixed up in a gust. But as we approached, he yelled into the VHF radio "Don't come any closer!", repeating it about 3 times. I replied that I just wanted to ask him how much scope he had out, and he just kept yelling "Don't come any closer! I ignored him, and as we went by, he shouted that he had 180' out and would be swinging widely, and there was no room for us. I lost it a bit (which is very unusual for me) and told him that we would chose where we wanted to anchor, and to buzz off! And with that we motored up past him and set our anchors (we set 2 anchors as a precaution) well away from him.
After readying the boat for the weather, we set off in the dinghy for a short trip further up the creek and found a nature trail where we went for a short walk. Back at the boat we settled in for the night and the storm that was forecast to strike about midnight. It did come up about on schedule, and I was up a few times in the night to check on our anchors, but all was fine. We had also set the anchor alarm on the GPS which assured us that if we did drag we would be woken. About 4:00 am the rain started, and came in waves. But at 7 am when we got up, we were still well anchored.
The weather continued to come through in squalls with winds gusting to 40 kts. and sheets of rain. But we seem to have avoided the worst, as the radio and TV are reporting tornados mostly in North Carolina, but some close to us. The radio and TV stations (we have a small antenna on the top of the mast, and can receive about 8 local stations) were all set up with their storm centers much like at home for our snowstorms. But today, although the weather doesn't seem bad here, we'll stay put.
Because time is getting on, we will skip Georgetown and head straight for Charleston on Saturday. By the way, our unfriendly neighbor seems to have survived as well.
11/14/2006, Calibash Creek
WW II battleship North Carolina in Wilmington
We arrived back from Belize on Sunday night after an uneventful flight. On Monday (Nov 13th) we set off from the marina in Wilmington where we had left the boat. The departure was a bit exciting, as a strong ebb (out) current was flowing. We were tied up to an outside berth in the marina which was good, but it was about 100' from a bridge that we had to get to open for our departure. Our bow was pointed downstream, and this meant that we had to leave in reverse as there was not room, with the strong outgoing current to cast off and round up. We would have been into the bridge before we had time to get the boat headed upstream. So I used a trick I had read about to aim the stern out into the current using a spring line, and as we cast off the lines, it was "Full speed astern"! But it worked out, and we even had time, while waiting for the bridge to open, to chat with a boat from Lunenburg, NS who had arrived during our time in Belize. Having cast off in a strong ebb current, we made good time down the river's 18 miles to the mouth. On the way down we discussed our destination... Do we just go to the mouth of the river (Bald Head Island marina) and go offshore the next day, or do we head directly into the ICW and carry on motoring down? After an hour of dithering, and listening to the weather forecast, which predicted S-W at 10 knots for Tuesday (our offshore course would be west, or close hauled), we decided on Bald Head Island (no, you don't have to be bald to live or visit here!!). A quick call confirmed space in the marina, so as the last of the (strong) outgoing tide pushed out the Cape Fear River, we pulled into the Bald Head Island Marina. After tying uop, we headed out looking for the marina office. In the first door we tried, we were met by someone who thrust a small insulated cooler bag at us, containing a bottle of Champagne and two glasses, together with a welcome to Bald Head Island and directions to the marina office. After signing up, we rented a golf cart (the only transport is golf cart, bicycle or foot), and took a tour of the island. We saw a very nice balance between development and conservation. We also saw a well supplied grocery store where we re-stocked our galley, piling groceries high. In the evening, as we were preparing for dinner, we met a couple who were fishing for trout in the marina. They assured us they would catch dinner for us. Although I was a doubter, they handed us over a nice 2 pound trout after a few minutes that made a delicious dinner. And they continued to fish, throwing back about a dozen before being driven away by darkness. The success in fishing reminded me that I had planned to buy some fishing gear, so in the morning, I went up to the marina office (and fishing supply store) and bought a spinning rod for light fishing. I will also buy a heavier rod for deep water fishing as we go further south, bit for now, I can at least toss a line over. With the weather sounding good for the day (but very bad for Thursday) we headed out the Cape Fear River and down the coast to Little River Inlet. Although it was just a short (30 nm) run, the nice breeze allowed us to sail on a close reach down the coast, something we haven't done for a while. It was a very pleasant afternoon. Approaching Little River Inlet, we pulled out our special chartbook that deals only with inlets. Because the channels change frequently, the buoys are not shown on the normal charts. But the last soundings done for the chartbook were done in 2001, so we were uncertain about the extent of the changes that could have occurred. Our chartbook showed a large shallow bank just outside the opening, but we watched a sailboat come out the entrance and sail gaily over the bank... Local knowledge! We slowly worked our way in, finding a few new buoys, but no real problems as we crossed the ICW to our anchorage at Calabash Creek. Tomorrow we will motor down past Myrtle Beach and into the Waccamaw River, which is reported to be beautiful. It may also be our anchorage for a few days while a storm blows through.
We arrived in Belize on Tuesday, Nov 7th, and settled in to the Radisson Hotel, an odd sort of hotel, could use a good cleaning and a general sprucing up, but nonetheless a favorite of mine. At breakfast next morning (The Belize Radisson is home to banana and raisin pancakes) we met Stan and Beth Marshall. Also on the board of Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), they have a vacation home in Southern Belize. Last winter, after much struggling, Stan managed to purchase a MacGregor 26 sailboat that he had delivered in container to Cucumber Marina in Belize City, where it was rigged and made ready. So our plan was to sail it down to his home in Placencia, a distance of just under 60 miles. On Wednesday, we went out to inspect the boat, discovering a few problems with the electrical system that were corrected, and we also went over to Duke Marine to buy the necessary supplies of rope, fenders, shackles, life jackets and other miscellaneous hardware that Stan would need. That delivered to the boat, and sure it was ready, we drove down to Placencia for a board meeting on Friday, planning to return for the cruise down on Saturday. The trip down was beautiful as usual, traveling up the Western Highway to the capital of Belmopan, then down the Hummingbird Highway to Dangriga, from where we drove down the Southern Highway to the cutoff to Placencia, where the road turned from a paved highway to a very rough dirt road for the last 20 miles. With the boat trailer behind us it was slow going down the road (there is once again talk of paving the road, and with the rapid pace of development on the peninsula, perhaps it will really happen this time), but we arrived at Stan's just as darkness fell. Since I am sworn to secrecy regarding the curious event concerning the trailer and the gatepost, I will not mention it. After that, Jeannie & I checked into Roberts Grove resort, a beautiful resort on the ocean, where we had a lovely two-room suite overlooking a small swimming pool across to the ocean. On Thursday morning, we went with the BEL Board up to tour a small hydro site being built by two lawyers from the US. It was an interesting tour, but there was general agreement that some of the engineering could be improved. On Friday we had the Board meeting, and with that over, the Big Day was at hand. Saturday morning saw the crew assembled at the Placencia air strip for a 7:00 am flight to Belize City. The crew consisted of Stan, me, Felix Murin (VP at BEL, but a Newfoundlander, so with long sea experience), Lynn Young (BEL's President, and lifetime Belize resident, knowing all the fishing hot spots) and Richard Hew (CEO of Caribbean Utilities in the Cayman Islands, and purporting to be an excellent fisherman). Arriving in Belize City, Stan, Felix and I headed to Cucumber Marina where the boat lay waiting. Richard and Lynn headed home to Lynn's for fishing gear with which we were assured of plenty of fish. The boat was well stocked in BEL excursion fashion with enough sandwiches, snacks, water and other drinks to last us a week. With the arrival of Lynn and Richard we were off!! We left the marina at about 9:30 am with full fuel tanks and set out on our 52 nm trip. Because the motor was new, it needed to be run at a lower speed for a break-in period of 7 hours, so we were limited to that for the trip. The day was a typical Belize day
sunny and warm with a 10-15 kt. North-east breeze. Between Belize City and Placencia, a couple of points jut out, creating a dog-leg route for us. Our first waypoint was off the village of Dangriga, about 23 nm from Belize City. We decided to motor to that point and then try out the sailing. Our route took us close to a group of cays called The Triangles where Lynn assured us the fishing was excellent, so he and Richard got out the rods, discussed the proper lures, fishing depth, etc. With rods ready, and the lines cast out we waited
and waited. The obvious problem? The wrong lure! So lures were changed, lines recast, and again we waited. Another change of lures and another cast, and so went the day. Time for a snack, so the sandwiches came out and were thoroughly enjoyed. Drinks and snacks then alternated with changing lures until we reached the point off Sittee River, our last waypoint before reaching Stan's place where we hoisted sail for a few hours, enjoying the fresh following breeze and the peace and quiet with the motor off. With everyone taking a turn on the wheel, we continued on until, with dusk approaching, we furled the sails and motored the few remaining miles, arriving at Stan's with Beth and Jeannie waiting to take our lines. And everything worked perfectly, except the fishing lures! With Stan's dock exposed to the wind, we rigged a mooring arrangement that Stan had designed, and for which we had bought the line in Belize City. And with that, we concluded the maiden voyage of the S/V Topsail. In an email, Stan told me that he and Beth the next day sailed it down to Placencia village (at the tip of the peninsula) and back up the other side in the lagoon to Roberts Grove marina where Stan had arranged a berth. So Topsail is now home! When I have a good internet connection I will post the pictures of the trip.
S/V Topsail cockpit (from L to R) Lynn Young, StanMarshall, Flix Murin & Richard Hew.
We left the Carolina Beach anchorage on Monday morning, motored through Snow's Cut out into the Cape Fear River, where we caught the incoming tide to take us up to Wilmington, and the Cape Fear Marina. There we tied up and prepared the boat for a week on its own as we headed off for Belize. I am writing ythis in Belize, where the weather is in the high 80's and lows in the low 70's. We are here until Sunday when we will be returning to Wilmington and starting off for a major push south. We have been dawdling a bit, so will have to make more time in order to get to the Bahamas for Christmas where we have already arranged to meet Andrew, Sarah and Meghan. But tomorrow I will be sailing in Belize as I sail with Stan Marshall in his new MacGregor 26 sailboat taking it fron Belize City to his beach home in Placencia. Then a direct flight from Belize to Charlotte NC, and back to the boat for departure on Monday.
11/05/2006, Carolina Beach Harbor
Well, we survived the night without an amphibious assault, and awoke to record temperatures... record cold temperatures! There was widespread freezing reported, and we didn't doubt it by the temperature in the boat. We were up at 7 am to catch as much daylight as possible, and when I looked out, there were just 5 boats left in the anchorage, including us, from the 24 last night. So we had a quick breakfast and were off just before 8 am.
On today's route there were three bridges that opened on a schedule, the first one opening just once an hour. We had expected to catch the eleven o'clock opening, but were surprised by a strong following current, and sensed the possibility of catching the 10 opening. By pulling out the jib, we were able to just make it, actually catching up to the group that had left the anchorage so much ahead of us. But the nail-biting last half hour didn't seem worth the effort.
The next bridge opened every half hour, and we arrived as a group with about 5 minutes to spare. The last bridge, at Wrightsville, was only 5 miles away, but with only half an hour to get there, we would have to travel at 10 knots, which we can't do, so we took a leisurely time getting there. We gawked at the homes along the waterway, some very handsome and some just plain gaudy.
We arrived at the bridge in plenty of time, even though we were just going at idle speed. We didn't notice the 4 knot current sweeping us along until too late. Had we noted it earlier, we could have made the opening after all. Oh, well, not a major problem. But we had lots of time to wait. Some of the lead boats actually made it through, but the bridge operator shut it with a couple of others trying. After passing through the bridge, we followed a Tartan 4400 (44') down to this anchorage, from where we will head up to Wilmington tomorrow morning. There were a couple of very shallow areas, with tow boats hovering by, actually giving directions as to where to find the deep water. But we just stayed behind the Tartan, as he draws more water than we do. So if he could make it, so could we. A sailboat following us for some reason decided that we had taken one mark on the wrong side and tried to take it the other way. Fortunately for him, he was able to motor himself off the bank he sailed up on!
Although warmer, it is still too cool to sit in the cockpit after sundown. This anchorage is a very nicely protected spot, but is totally built up with no place to go ashore, but we arrived just before dark, so we will just head below for dinner, broiled pork chops with baked sweet potatos and a remouliee of vegetables with some apple cobbler for dessert. Wine, of course, a chardonnay from Argentina. I forgot to mention that two nights ago we had salmon with a Mediterranean crust that was probably the meal of the cruise to date!!
11/04/2006, Mile Hammock Bay
A fuzzy sunset in Mile Hammock Bay (I have no idea where the name comes from!)
The weather was still cold and windy from the north-east, making the entrance at Masonboro iffy, so we left in the morning to motor-sail down the ICW. Because we were on the lee of the land, the seas were calm, and we pulled out some jib to speed us up. It is not noted as an interesting sail as it is mostly a narrow channel, but we found it interesting with some nice homes in areas, and some very nice wilderness. There is also a lot of land occupied by the military who sometimes close the ICW for live firing practice. But all was quiet today. In fact, our anchorage tonight is a basin dredged out for amphibious landing practice that cruisers can use when maneuvers are not in progress. We thought it would be empty but we were the last in and had to find a spot to anchor among about 25 other boats. As I write, we can hear small arms fire, rehearsal, I hope!! No landing permitted. Tomorrow we will head for Wrightsville Beach, and from there a short hop up to Wilmington and off to Belize.