“Don’t Worry - Be Happy” - 4 days to Savannah
12 December 2011
Getting out and away from Charleston required exquisite timing. There is a passage just after leaving Charleston called Elliot’s Cut, which on the wrong tide can generate currents much faster than our boat can go. Also, we needed to have the right current to move from the marina down the Ashley River and into Wapoo Creek to get to Elliot’s Cut , which of course is different than the current at Elliot’s cut, and to further complicate it there is a bridge right after you enter the Creek which only opens on the hour and half hour. After meeting with David and Cathy, co-captains of Orion Jr. - our new “buddy boat”, we concluded that we would leave at 10:00. It worked! Following in the wake of Orion Jr. we made it through the bridge opening and found largely slack current in Elliot’s Cut. The only difficulty of the day was an increasing wind from the SW, which reached 26mph by the time we entered Wadmalaw Sound. This made for a rough ride, with waves of four feet or so. At one point the hull of Les Miserables was coming out of the water, smashing into the waves, and making a great “drum” sound each time she hit it. After getting through the sound we decided that we wanted an early anchorage and we found it at Tom Point Creek. The wind continued to howl. However, we didn’t have any difficulty setting “Bruce” (our anchor) but the creek seemed narrow to us and we worried about swinging into shoal water into the night where we might end up aground. This did not happen, and instead each time we went on deck to check the anchor we saw the Christmas lights that Orion Jr. had on their boat. There are no buildings or other lights around this anchorage so the holiday cheer glowed brightly. The Christmas lights were a reminder that if all went well we would soon be home for Christmas.
We rose prior to sunrise and had the anchors up before 7am. We had a scare at the very beginning of our day as we left Tom Point Creek when the water suddenly became shallow and our keel bumped its bottom. Fortunately, we were able to find “good water” and managed to continue to float all the way to Port Royal. The fearful challenge, at least for Wiley, of this day is the Dawho Creek. The Dawho Creek is the first of many places on the ICW where the channel has either not been dredged or has been dredged but has shoaled in afterwards. Dawho Creek is only 4 feet of water at low tide and strong currents. One of our cruising guides recounted the sad story of a couple who actually wrecked and lost their sailboat on Dawho Creek. The solution to this dilemma is to go through on a rising tide. The tide here is 6 feet, so at high tide you have a generous 10 feet of water - which at low tide is merely 4 feet and impassible. We followed our buddy boat procedure for the rest of our time in South Carolina and Georgia; we would follow Orion Jr. as she “sounded the bottom” with the depth finder and give warning by radio when shallow water was encountered. There is a saying that life happens while you spend time worrying about all the things that might happen. It held true and the potential disastrous grounding in Dawho Creek never occurred. We got through without difficulty. Cathy and David continually encourage us to take what we read lightly and not overemphasize what might happen. Just before reaching the Port Royal Marina where we planned to spend the night and visit Beaufort, South Carolina we encountered the Ladies Island Bridge. This bridge it turns out only opens on the hour ( a change from what we had read) and we had to wait and circle for a half hour or so waiting for the opening. The compensation for this consisted of multiple dolphin sightings - some very close to our boat. Merry went up to the bow to maintain “a dolphin watch” until the bridge opened. We never tire of seeing dolphins!
After getting through the bridge we arrived at the Port Royal Marina. We were able to borrow the marina’s courtesy car, for 2 hours. David and Cathy joined us for a whirlwind tour of downtown Beaufort, S.C. Wiley is fascinated by graveyards and we visited a “good one” with graves going back before the Revolutionary War. The graveyard contained tombstones of two British soldiers killed in that conflict which were marked with British flags. Along with the graves of the British were many Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. The Confederate soldiers had small Confederate flags placed upon their grave sites. We saw a small sampling of Beaufort, South Carolina to know that we really wished we had more time in Beaufort. However, everyone was eager to get further south and we resigned ourselves to planning on spending more time in Beaufort, S.C. on our way home.
It took us two more days to get to Savannah. From Charleston south to Florida it is all “lowland” country. Southern South Carolina was once “rice country”, and you can still see the remnants of dikes used in the cultivation of rice prior to the Civil War. There are very few trees and you seldom see a house or building. Boats snake through a combination of rivers, creek, cuts (canals), and sounds which open to the ocean. It is very beautiful, but it was always in the back of Wiley’s mind that if something went wrong with our engine it would be challenging to try to get a mechanic out into this wilderness! As we crossed Royal Sound we saw shrimp boats at work with their nets extended on either side the way a 19th century lady might pick up the 2 sides of her dress to enable her to step over a puddle. The wind had finally died down but it was frosty in the morning. We each wore 4 or 5 layers of clothing with the last layer being our “foul weather” gear to break the wind. (30’s to mid 60’s by midday) As the days warm up we take off layers, but we are fearful that our days of wearing shorts and a T-shirt may be over for a time to come. Our first nights anchorage was at Bull Creek which has a strong current. We got into the anchorage and “got Bruce down” without difficulty. We then backed the boat down to set the anchor. David and Cathy invited us to come over to Orion Jr. for some wine and cheese. As Wiley was readying our dinghy “Dimples” - the boat had moved forward on the anchor rode which now went off toward the stern and was fouled on the keel. The waters around the boat whirlpooled in multiple directions. We radioed Cathy and David for advice, and as usual they knew what to do. It turns out the same thing has happened to them on more than one occasion. What you have to do is turn the boat by pulling it by the bow using a line to “unwrap” it. Wiley worked hard pulling the line as he rowed the dinghy in many attempts to force the boat to turn. However, even with many attempts and Wiley tiring from the effort of rowing against a current while pulling a line - prove to be unsuccessful. Finally, Merry was able to wave down a small fishing boat with three young men in it. They willingly helped us out and pulled the bow of the boat clockwise - and we were once again in a good anchoring position. We backed down on the anchor again to be sure it was set and tightened the wheel over to starboard to maintain our position so this would not happen again. We rowed over to Orion Jr. for the “sundowners” and spent another peaceful evening at a beautiful anchorage. Once again, Cathy and David’s Christmas lights illuminated the mirror like anchorage waters.
The next day we faced another challenge, getting through the shallow water near Daufuskie Island. Cathy and David went ahead in Orion Jr., keeping a watch for the shallow water again and again we got through. As we approached the Savannah River on the ICW we saw what we first thought were the buildings of Savannah. It turned out that this was a HUGE container ship moving down the river. Just before we reached the river there was a large tug boat that had pushed a barge into a bank and was keeping it there with its powerful engine. We past too close to the stern of the tug and the wake almost turned our boat in a circle, but after regaining control we moved into and across the Savannah River. One highlight of our day had occurred when a dolphin left the water and splashed back in again apparently feeding followed by a swarm of gulls looking for left overs. Another reminder of where we were occurred when we past the Savannah Yacht Club and observed a large sign commanding boats to maintain “idle speed” to “protect our manatees”. We arrived at the Isle of Hope marina which is just past Savannah.
Our greatest lesson on our way to Savannah is summed up - with “Don’t Worry - Be Happy”! Most of the perils we anticipated from all of the resources we have gathered about traveling the ICW did not happen because we carefully planned each day. This is very different from the Great Lakes because of all that needs to be considered (tide, current, shoaling, weather, bridge timing, etc) - but once the puzzle is figured out and you have the security of a buddy boat it is all good.