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Sloop Les Miserables
“Don’t Worry - Be Happy” - 4 days to Savannah
12/12/2011

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.

Charming Charleston
12/04/2011

We spent our first Thanksgiving away from family in Charleston, S.C. While we missed everyone we were able to participate in a potluck Thanksgiving. Merry made a turkey and Bob, the harbor master - brought a ham and all together there were about 20 boaters who shared in the pot luck.
While in Charleston we were able to take advantage of many of the tourist sites - Fort Sumter, The Aircraft Carrier - the Yorktown, a carriage ride through historic Charleston, shopping at the Market (a long strip of multiple vendors), a walking tour, the farmer's market, and more. We found a great sports bar to watch 2 of the Chicago Bear's games - Mac's Place. The owner is a Bear's and Cub's fan. We were treated to extra beers because of wearing Bear's wear. The bar was filled with people wearing Brian Urlacher Shirts! We dined at the lovely restaurant Magnolia as well as enjoyed southern barbecue at Sticky Fingers - a photo of Colbert, a South Carolinian, is hanging at the restaurant. While at the harbor we met a lovely couple - David and Cathy who are currently sailing their 25 foot sailboat and they also own a larger sailboat. They live on their sailboats and this is their first trip on Orion Jr. They have sailed for over 5 years and have kindly offered to allow us to buddy boat with them. It is great having someone to think through the tides, currents, etc. - especially someone as calm and knowledgeable as these two. We love the safety factor of having a "buddy" for those just in case moments. They convinced us to stay longer in Charleston because they had not planned on leaving so soon and the weather,tide, etc. was not in our favor. So, we gladly agreed and had even more time in Charleston. We spent a total of 10 days in Charleston. Most all of it was absolutely wonderful, however there was one minor glitch. We walked into an area that was protected by the Port Authority Police and homeland security. I was just taking some photos of the cruise ship and the facade of an old Rice Mill. Wiley was furious with me because we were detained by the Port Authority Police and they would not let us go. I thought it was a bit ridiculous - what could a couple of old folks wandering around taking photos far from the ship be doing that would cause such a security breach?! However, this shows just what a crazy world we live in and while they detained us (I was laughing - mostly because Wiley was crazy angry and I thought the whole thing ridiculous). However, Wiley is quite upset that we are now in the "database" for the Homeland security. Maybe when we get on the plane to come home for the holiday our names will pop up - we may be listed as the "evil doers"! However, the evening ended well because we were able to attend a Gullah performance. Gullah is Creole language a combination of English and African that goes back hundreds of years. The Gullah lived on the barrier islands. They were slaves. Before the evening was over we were both clapping hands and singing in "Gullah" along with Cathy and David. The enthusiasm, joy, and willingness to include everyone in the experience ended in a song and dance where Merry was pulled up on stage. Take a moment to check out some of the Charleston photos.

Ice, current, and bridges - oh no!
11/24/2011

We woke up to ice on the dock in Georgetown. We "slipped" out of the marina with no problems with current, wind, or tide,but Merry did need to shout to Captain Wiley who was saying goodbye to fellow sailors that another sailboat was in the channel (which we almost collided with)! The day was mostly uneventful except that at one point we (surprise!) almost went aground. However, almost does not count! The depth finder showed 3.8 feet - of course the sounder is almost a foot below the water line so there was a bit more water than that - we draw 4 foot 3 inches. The best we were able to find at this point was 6 feet - which is still uncomfortably shallow. On the plus side, we both experienced multiple sightings of dolphins in the inlets and Merry saw a bald eagle. It was a sunny but cold trip. We had originally planned on anchoring, however with temperatures dipping down into the 30's we decided to stay at a marina where we could run our electric heater at night. Isle of Palm marina is located on a short channel off of the ICW and they placed us on the end fuel dock. It was easy to get into and also away from. We were able to fuel, pump out, and play with marina cats. We were warned about very shallow water between the marina and Sawyer Memorial Bridge. We were advised that it was important to wait until a rising tide in order to get to and through the bridge. That night Merry studied the charts and tide tables and determined we should leave at 11:30 in order to make the 1:00 bridge opening. However, the next morning one of the local boaters who works at the marina advised Wiley that we should leave between 10:45 and 11:00 - which is what we did. Because of the tide we were able to get over the shallow spots without difficulty, but we arrived at the bridge at 12:10, and therefore had to spend 50 minutes going in circles and trying to stop the wind and current from sending the boat into shallow water where we might go aground. This was very difficult. At one point when we were too close to the bridge we needed to turn to port to avoid shallow water to starboard but the boat would not respond to her helm until Wiley pushed the throttle all the way forward. Finally, the swing bridge opened and we proceeded a short distance into the area where three rivers and the ocean inlet merge that lead to Charleston. We really studied the charts before entering this area. Charleston is a busy harbor with large commercial ships, tour boats, and pleasure craft. We were lucky enough to get a reservation at the Charleston Maritime Center (thanks to the recommendation of John and Kathy Noland) which is close to the historic downtown Charleston. We were enticed by the harbor master to stay for 5 days, include Thanksgiving in our stay, and receive 2 extra free days. We were able to maneuver into a dock in the marina in spite of strong winds with the help of Bob and Chip from the marina. From our boat we looked across the river and saw the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, Fort Sumter, as well as dolphins swimming in the inlet waters.

11/26/2011 | James Doyle
ICE! I thought that's why we left the NORTH! Keep coming south...only Ice down here is in the Pina Colada's
Two Days to Georgetown
11/24/2011

From Myrtle Beach it took us 2 days to get to Georgetown. The days were mostly uneventful, although we continued to experience constant tension because of the continuing threat of shallow water. A neat thing that happened on the first of these two days occurred when we were moving down the Waccamaw River was when we heard a coast guard notice to mariners warning of regulations for the protection of Right Whales off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. The Waccamaw River is beautiful; it is lined with Cypress Trees on both banks. After 3:00PM we pulled off the intracoastal and anchored on the NW side of Butler Island. There was absolutely no one around, the anchorage was surrounded by marshland. When we called our son Brad to describe the setting he said - "Well, it is either very beautiful or a great place for a horror film!" The Cypress trees are 'creepy' looking (check out the photos we have uploaded). The next morning the anchor came up without difficulty and for once without mud! It was a sand bottom. There are many nests for large birds on the tops of the dead Cypress trees - including nests for bald eagles and we did see a bald eagle further down the river.

It only took a 1/2 day to get to Georgetown from our anchorage where we tied up in the Harbor Walk Marina. This marina is right in Georgetown. Georgetown is a very old port, and still has a fleet of active shrimp boats - Bubba Gump is alive and well! The streets are lined with great shops, wonderful restaurants, and one crabby weekend harbormaster. There is a "bakery that carries wonderful frozen high cuisine dishes, wines, and bakery items. We provisioned well for our next leg of the trip. We also ate our fill at a "biker bar" in town.

Merry spent some of her time in Georgetown at the knitting shop and went to a hairdresser that the "southern belles" recommended. Alma, the hairdresser, calls everyone Miss ______, so Miss Merry was questioned, instructed about Charleston, and ampered. The pace is slow and there is always time to chat and gossip.

We shared a "sundowner" with fellow boaters - Ray ( sailboat - Attitude), David, and Margie ( Catamaran -PartnerShip). We shared plans on when to leave as we considered tide, current, wind etc.

One bad thing that happened in Georgetown is that our gallery sink knob shattered - which meant that we were basically without hot water for washing dishes. Wiley ran 2 1/2 miles to a hardware store, only to discover that it was closed because of a "death". A young Georgetownian shouted to Wiley - as he ran past in his short red running shorts... "You could be shot dead on the street - nobody could do anything about it." This young man could have been reacting to the fact that it was an African American neighborhood, he was white, - but the other people in the neighborhood seemed friendly. All was well, though we did not get the repair done.
The only other downside in Georgetown is that we failed to take photos. We moved our boat three times while in this marina to take advantage of the best possible position when leaving dock to avoid having the wind or current come at us from the wrong direction. There is always a lot to consider when entering and leaving a harbor and so we often find that some of our most relaxed times on this trip are when we are safely in a harbor for a day or two. Georgetown was delightful.

Running the Rockpile
11/24/2011

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!:)

Gifts!
11/18/2011

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 "sailorsaground.com".

11/19/2011 | Regenero
Hey...were headed north in about 2 weeks, since your coming south...meet 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.

love,
Shira and Ronnie

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