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Sloop Les Miserables
Running the Rockpile

The Rockpile is a much feared part of the intracoastal waterway which consists of a narrow shallow straight channel with rocks and ledges on both sides. We had originally planned to spend the night at a marina just before the Rockpile after leaving Southport, but our new friend Terry had advised us to take the Rockpile at low tide so that we would be able to see the rocks and ledges (so as not to hit them!) and this is what we decided to do. This meant that we would need to be in the "Rockpile" in the afternoon of our second day out of Wilmington, so that it would be low tide when going through this area. Another feature of the Rockpile which raises anxiety is that it is too narrow to permit the passage of a tug and barge and a pleasure boat going in the opposite direction. If you encounter a barge and tug in the Rockpile your only option is to turn around and flee in front of it. We learned that what you are suppose to do before entering the Rockpile is to announce on the radio that you are about to enter and request any vessels coming in the other direction to respond to your announcement.
In any event, we left early the next morning. There are a number of very shallow spots in the ICW between Southport and the Rockpile and strong currents at the inlets This makes navigation challenging. At one point we encountered water that was less than 5 feet deep but were able to steer back into deeper waters. At another point near an inlet we had a strong current against us, and at full speed we were going 3.2 knots. What all this means, at least for us, is that cruising the ICW is not fun. Merry sets up a navigation station on the cabin roof of the companion way - charts, ipad, binoculars, notes and calls off the buoy numbers and reminds Wiley to stay in the center of the channel as well to check our depth. Meanwhile Wiley is required to constantly stare at the depth finder moving the boat starboard or port to keep the boat in the channel. Nobody gets to be "off watch" like on the great lakes, where typically Fernando (our auto-helm) would steer the boat with one of us on watch as lookout and the other down below relaxing. On the ICW both of us are on watch all of the time and it can be exhausting. In any event in spite of current and shoals we were able to get through the day including an uneventful transit of the Rockpile, and waiting for the Little River Spring Bridge to open for us. We have posted photos of some of the rocks and ledges of the Rockpile with gratitude to Terry for his advice.
At the end of the day we tied up at Barefoot Marina and Resort in Myrtle Beach and were in South Carolina. We gave each other "high fives" over having put the dreaded "Rockpile" behind us. As additional treat we were able to watch the Chicago Bears turn the Detroit Lions into a "rockpile" at the marina restaurant! Life doesn't get better than this!:)


We were able extend our opportunity to stay in Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington. We had finished touring the Battleship the North Carolina, downtown Wilmington, and visiting the beach and returned to our boat after checking out of our hotel believing that we would be leaving the following morning. We were disappointed to learn from the Bennett Brothers that we were going to be further delayed moving south. Much to our surprise the rudder parts did not show up. So, we took bad news and turned it into good news - we went back to Wrightsville Beach. This was a great place to spend my birthday. The hotel, The Blockade Runner- a Westin Hotel, gave us with a room on the top floor overlooking the ICW and anchorage. The hotel sits on an peninsula with the ocean on one side and the water way on the other side. It was beautiful watching the sun set over the water and the boats coming into anchor for the night (this is where we originally anchored when we came into Wrightsville -using our emergency tiller.) It was a treat to look out on the water without worrying about the boat, tide, current etc. Wiley wined, and dined his "old lady" and surprised me with lovely gifts for my birthday. All of the gifts came in small packages - there is little room on the boat for anything new. We were both able to go for runs on the beach in the morning - jumping over the southern moon jelly fish that were thrown onto the beach by the strong surf. We found another great Mexican restaurant - Tower Seven , near the beach and our hotel. It was here that we dined with the "surfer dudes and dudettes" who we watched hang ten. Upon returning to the boat we found out that it was still not ready. The boat was lifted into the slings while they worked on it and since we turned in our rental car we decided to stay on the boat. The boat was in the slings for 2 nights. We would climb the ladder to get into our home "in the air". The second night a storm rolled in while we were in the slings and the boat swayed from side to side. The guys at the marina said they did not want us to loose our "sea legs"! The Bennett Brothers did a fabulous job repairing and preparing the boat for our departure. They even provided us with "lessons" on how to navigate in strong currents, how to "stop" the boat, how to use ranges when navigating so that you stay in the channel, as well as how to plan for going through an area called the "rock pile" on the ICW. The boat was finally ready and dropped into the water - but we were unable to make the 10:00 bridge and the winds were strongly blowing from the north. So, we waited another day and realized that we had lost 10 days of traveling south while having the boat repaired - but during that time we received the gifts of time to tour, a wonderful birthday celebration, time to get to chat with fellow sailors at Bennett Brothers, and the gift of leaving on a day that was sunny and calm. We had a beautiful ride down the Cape Fear River to Southport, North Carolina. On this ride down the River we practiced stopping the boat and using range markers to stay in the channel. We are hoping to close down our web site "".

11/19/2011 | Regenero
Hey...were headed north in about 2 weeks, since your coming you in Puerto Rico?
11/19/2011 | Wiley
Jim and Karen: Puerto Rico is a bit far south for us, however within 2 months (if all goes well and we make good time) we hope to be in Possum Hollow, Georgia :-)! How about we meet you there.
11/24/2011 | ronnie ramer
Your writing brings such vivid images to my mind, with Wiley, undaunted as he zigs and zags and dives under the boat to bring you freedom. I also feel your are his calmness and anchor.
Happy belated birthday, and thank you for the post cards.

Shira and Ronnie
Bumping along the ICW

We are thinking of starting our own web link - - yes we managed to go aground once again on our way past Snow's Cut to the Cape Fear river. Fortunately, we found Robert and with his strong motored fishing boat we were pulled off. It turns out that we misread the charts and the shortcut we had hoped to take only had 4 feet of water. However, had we gone at high tide this might not have been a problem - but then again, we had to consider the current on the Cape Fear river and the bridge opening timing. All in all, there is a lot to consider when traveling the ICW and we have found a great resource - Active This website has information about areas of shoaling etc. that captains add to help everyone navigate. We make it up the Cape Fear River. It is very deep (40-50+feet) and is used by large container ships. This eases our fears about hitting bottom :-). We even make the bridge 10 minutes before the 2:00 opening. We were able to do this because we were pushed along by the flood tide/ current. Immediately upon reaching the Bennet Brothers we were put in the "sling" and hauled out. Three repairmen began inspecting our rudder. The good news is the rudder was not damaged (it was not bent as our result of numerous groundings - the bad news was that the wear and tear of 20 years of sailing required that the rudder have the bearing and bushings replaced, as well as a repair of the cracked fiberglass column that the rudder goes through. We find a hotel in Wilmington, rent a car, and plan on leaving after repairs on Tuesday. We are delighted to have some time in a real bed with our own private bath and the opportunity to drive around town. We manage to go to the beach twice, see the North Carolina battleship, shop around in downtown Wilmington, enjoy a wonderful Mexican restaurant Mixto - and drown our $$$ sorrows in Margueritas!

11/08/2011 | Diane Thompson
First of all Happy Birthday. Not sure when you will read this but hope you have a great day. I've been reading all of your blogs and to say the least it sounds as though you have had quite an adventure so far. Stay safe.
Emergency tiller is found! :-0

Yikes! Today was a challenge and a half and Wiley pulled us through. As we were carefully navigating the ICW south to Wrightsville, N.C. with plans to anchor out for the night right near the beach we lost control of the boat - no steerage! No steerage in very shallow water boded for another grounding. Quickly, I dropped the anchor until we could figure out what was wrong. Our steering was gone. We had always said that we really should try to use the emergency tiller - but of course, had never done this. It was at the bottom of our locker - and we were thrilled that it was still there - it worked. We had difficulty identifying the marker we needed to follow and with Wiley bent over the emergency tiller I called a passing power boat. I requested that first they slow down and not wake us and then if they could lead the way through markers G103 and G105 we could then follow. Unfortunately, this portion of the ICW has a lot of current and it also requires that we go through two bridges. These bridges only open at certain times - on the 1/2 hour or hour and so timing becomes an issue. The last bridge, Wrightsville Beach only opens on the hour and we calculate that if we do 3.2 kts we will get from Figure 8 Bridge to W.B bridge. Wiley is very nervous and keeps varying his speed because he is nervous that he will miss the opening, but our speed averages out and we make it. I called 8 different marinas to find a slip so that we could get some repairs done and none were available. Of course, at this point and as the saying goes... it could be worse - it could be raining - it does!. We decide to anchor out in Wrightsville. This requires negotiating a narrow channel that frequently shoals - but Wiley does this as I call out markers and where to steer. We make it and drop the anchor in a beautiful anchorage near the Wrightsville Beach. I continue to call for a slip for the next day and finally find that the Dockside Marina and Restaurant is willing to take us in and allow the Bennett Brothers to come and do repairs on our boat. We move the boat against the current again using the emergency tiller and Rich from the Bennet Brothers comes and fixes the steering by installing a new sheve. However, when examining the boat for the steering Rich notices that our rudder may need repair. We plan on moving the boat to the Bennet Brothers in Wilmington, N.C. However, this requires that we move the boat up Cape Fear - which has very strong current. We know this is what we need to do - but are anxious about making this trip. There is a bridge just before the Bennet Brother's Marina that only opens at 10:00 and 2:00 - so that narrows the window on when we can arrive. Oh well, we will think about that tomorrow!

Joining the Marines
11/06/2011, Mile Hammock Bay

We departed the town docks at Beaufort right after dawn, at slack tide. We had to head down the channel past Radio Island, as if we were going out into the Atlantic, and then turn back into the ship channel toward Moorhead City. We had spent almost a week at Beaufort, and wanted to stay longer, but we can't help but notice that it is starting to get really cold at night; we need to get south! We now see dolphins with some frequency, and this day was no exception. After a bit of difficulty deciding which channel was the intracoastal, we joined a stream of boats all heading south. We were, alas, the smallest and slowest boat, and constantly had to move to starboard and slow down to let other boats pass. The channel took us to the New River, which goes right through the huge marine corps base at Camp Lejenue; at times,
the river is closed because the marines are practicing on the artillery range I am happy to report that the marines did not shoot on this day. We anchored for the night in Mile Hammock Bay, a large area that had been dredged so the marines can practice with landing craft. We were one of 23 boats in this beautiful anchorage, in the middle of the Marine Corps, but also, the middle of nowhere.

11/11/2011 | Anonymous
...okay... so previously the word "frequently" was employed in a reference to your posts... and while this one ("Joining the Marines") is STILL quite good, I am overcome with caution... and compelled to issue advice to a "brother"... do NOT let Marines near the fair-skinned captain... no good can come of it! Honor can often be found in circumstance avoided.
02/19/2012 | Bill Weir
Marilyn and I were stationed at Camp LeJeune after Vietnam. We think of you often and wish you calm winds and following seas.
The Wave Off!

The trip to Beaufort (pronounce Bo-fort) North Carolina takes at most an hour. However, you do go out near the ocean inlet and the current, wind, number of boaters traveling in and out of the inlet can stress any captain. We managed to find all of the markers and stay in the channel. All went well, or as they say in flying, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. While entering Taylor Creek to the Beaufort Dock Marina the incredible current from a high tide was sending us down the channel at about 2 knts without us providing any power. We were directed by the dockhand to go past the docking T to turn and the current would push us into the dock so we would need to back down quickly. Merry told Wiley that he should travel not just one dock past the dock we would be going into but 2 since the current was so strong and this would allow for greater control. However, Wiley did not hear her correctly. So this resulted in Merry screaming at Wiley to not turn yet - when it was too late. Poor Wiley! It is difficult to maneuver a boat in these circumstances and he had a screaming wife to add to his stress. The dockhand had selected a dock for us but we were not able to turn into that one but instead Merry was able to throw him some lines (as we entered sideways) he yelled out directions to the captain. The end result was we made it into the dock, generously tipped the dockhand, and began to worry about how we would ever get out of this dock with the strong current. Merry took Wiley to lunch and brews to settle his nerves. We have entered a strong learning curve regarding tides, current, and wind when maneuvering the boat. Sailboats have a mind of their own and adding these elements make it all the more challenging. We are determined to find the best time - slack tide to move the boat to an anchorage outside of the harbor prior to leaving for our next step along the ICW. Slack tide occurs at near the apex of either high or low tide. Now we just need to figure out when that happens.

10/31/2011 | Brian E.
Remember, this is all about adventure so please make sure you have plenty of food... and then don't spend a minute worrying about the tide.

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