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The First Mate's Journal
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Great Lakes to The Bahamas
Who: Wayne & Pat
Port: Jackson
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Continuation of 12/6/08 - long day
12/07/2008, SC to FL

Continued from 12/6/08

We're bypassing Georgia this trip for several reasons. From what we've heard the shoaling is pretty bad there this year. So the transits have to be done carefully by moving along at high tide to avoid grounding. The tides in Georgia are notorious at 9 ft variances. Add 9-foot tides to having to time those with the bridge openings and it could become a logistical problem. Hence it's easier for us to just go outside and around Georgia - we like easy when possible - and hopefully we'll be able to visit her again in the future when we have more time or it's earlier in the season (it's colllld).

On schedule after midnight the winds and waves started their dance with us and the temperatures really plummeted. Having the auto helm on for the 3rd time in our history with the boat, really helped. We could stand up or sit under the dodger and monitor our progress with the chart plotter and radar, and adjust our course accordingly. Our gray sky cleared to show us Orion, and I could see our beautiful red star Mars sitting low in the sky (yes I know - Mars isn't a star but it's easy to pick out because of its tint). We'd been motor sailing with a reef in the main and at times our speed hit 9 knots even with dumping some of the air out of the sails. We hit the St Mary's Channel way before dawn and with the waves, winds, and cold temperatures we had to try and slowly make our way into the channel in the dark, there was no way to stay out - we could have gone on to St John's another 35 miles further on, but were unsure of our gas since we didn't start with a full tank and were still doubtful as to how much our tanks actually hold. I went below to heat more water to warm us before we tried to figure out what to do, when Wayne called me back up to take the helm so he could drop the sail. We were still pushing past 9 - 9.5 knots. So we headed into the wind in the dark and dropped the sail. It's amazing how much stability that sail gave us, and as soon as we dropped it, it became apparent. The rest of the morning was spent freezing at the helm trying to see where I was going past a flapping sail to the side, the dingy in the front and the wind and waves over the other side. It was not a pleasant condition to be in to say the least. I found a range going into the channel but most of the time couldn't see it between the pitching waves, flopping sail and salt glasses. I had left my gloves below and my hands were numb. Wayne couldn't see, couldn't go below to find the chart, or uptop to lash down the sail so he sat at the chart plotter while I tried to keep us on course and off the sediment traps, buoys and worse still from running into any buoys or rocks or anything else to the side of the channels.

Once we got inside it was still to dark to safely navigate and the shadows on the water were scary. I ended up right next to a dredger with two tugs attached to it and circled it in 6.5 feet of water. Wayne said the chart plotter was reading 3 ft, and to move over. I was screaming do you see that dredger!! I can't go through him or over his hoses. I was so close to him that I could have jumped from our bridge to his and hoped that they weren't awake to hear us yelling at each other to be heard over the engine and wind.

I was finally able to slow to 2.5 to 3 knots and slowly idle down the channel as the sun started to lighten the sky and we were able to find an anchorage and drop the hook at 7:15am 4 minutes after sunrise.

The plan was to get into the harbor in 24 hours and we got in, in 21 hours. Time for some much needed warmth and sleep...

Onward to Florida
12/06/2008, Wright River SC to Fernandina Beach FL

124 miles at 6 knots/hr should put us in Fernandina Florida in roughly 21 hours, at 5 knots we figured about 24 hours going through the cut, down the Savannah River.

We raised anchor at 10:30 and slowly wound our way out of the River amongst the shallows, crab pots, birds that were fishing and porpoises that were competing with the birds for the fish. It was an amazing morning watching the porpoises jumping, diving and snatching fish away from the various seabirds. It was like watching an action movie of acrobatics in the water, all around us, as they swam under us and next to us. Wayne could have reached over the side and touched the beautiful creatures several times. Their speed in the water is amazing. Watching their graceful movements, then watching the pelicans diving head first into the water made me feel sorry for the pelicans. Splash! Head first, with wings flapping... Pelicans must get headaches (and wingaches) from smacking into the water. They always seem to come up looking disoriented, groggy maybe... What a way to make a living - especially if you come up with an empty bill. It made for an interesting and entertaining departure from S. Carolina this morning.

We had the tide and current running against us as we went through Fields Cut to the Savannah River and out to the Atlantic. Our engine speed read 6 knots but our course over ground read 4 to 5 depending on our position in the current and the flow of the rivers and creeks as we crossed them. We had an escort of dolphins following the fishing boats, and us, and one poor boat was covered birds trying to swarm them for their shrimp. It looked like a dark cloud surrounding the boat only it was a cloud of birds.

The ocean was very benign as we started out with waves 1 ft or less and winds less than 5 knots. It was kind of strange to think that we were out over 4 - 5 miles off shore and yet had a depth of 25 ft. We could anchor here on the continental shelf if need be. I couldn't believe how calm it was, specially knowing that it was going to build during the night as a weak cold front was approaching to be pushing off shore sometime after midnight. I love the rhythmic swaying of the ocean swell when it's like this. It's like the water is breathing in and out as we rise up and down. It lulls you into a false sense of well-being. It's a very gray day out. The water and sky seem to merge into the same gray color pallet to the southeast making it difficult to distinguish where sky and ocean merge. A thin band of dark to the northwest breaks up the gray, letting me know that Georgia is there - to the northwest, buried in the gray mist. There's a line of shrimp boats or long line fishing boats with their nets heading NE as we head SW that adds splashes of color to the gray tones that surround us. A white hull stands out with green nets here. Next a blue hulled vessel, then another white with green trim. Time to turn on the radar to make sure it works tonight.

Wayne's next to me napping as I watch the boats. He'll probably have the first night watch so we'll catch naps as we can. I watch another sailboat that's heading eastward and wonder where it's heading. It's sprinkling out now and the sailboat I was watching is harder and smaller to see, barely visible as it disappears into the gray on the horizon. At 4pm the ocean is still benign. Looking at the swells and waves reminds me of blue/gray silk fluttering about. Very pretty - molten, flowing silk...beautiful.

Crunch time at the bridge
12/04/2008, Factory Creek, E. of Lady Island Bridge (N32*25.202, W80*39.251) to Wright River Anchorage, SC (N32*04.254, W80*55.119)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

We raised anchor at 9am and left at idle speed toward the bridge to make sure we had the 10am opening. I radioed the bridge tender our vital statistics and the other boats that followed us out of the creek did the same. We could see a large barge and tug waiting in the channel with 5 other sailboats behind it. I called the bridge tender back to ask her if there was a preferred order to go through the opening, since if we pulled into the channel we'd be ahead of the barge (not a good idea since they move pretty much faster than us), and she said the barge first, then sailboats behind - so the sailboats behind us went around us and fell in line behind the others that were waiting in the main channel. We idled in forward until the bridge opened, then followed the other boats, but when we got to the bridge, the two boats that we were behind were in the opening and started colliding with each other. The current was pretty fast there and and we had to really crank it into reverse (hard) to avoid being boat number 3 going crunch in the opening... Something happened to one of the boats - Julie Ann - she looked like she was being towed by a much smaller boat (Mistrell). It looked like the current moved Julie Ann at a faster pace than Mistrell could keep up with. I'm so glad we didn't end up in that entanglement. We all made it through with the bridge tender looking on. I kidded her about getting muscles from all the manual openings and asked her about how much longer before the bridge would be fixed - Another week at least...

We ended up anchored in between Jones and Turtle Island in a seabed/marsh area in the Wright River with two other sailboats in about 12 ft of water between a couple of crab pots. We'll be here for tonight and tomorrow since the winds are picking up and a low-pressure system is moving in bringing rain and possible thunderstorms (cold front moving offshore). We're right off of the Savannah River where we'll be leaving the ICW and going back out into the Atlantic so we need a weather window and to get the boat ready to go out (stow stuff, put the dingy on deck, etc...).

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