Its not over till its over...
19 August 2012 | Charleston, SC
As planned, Big Brother Dave arrived in Wrightsville Beach and we left the dock at about 10:30. We managed to time the tides on the Cape Fear River very well and had an exhilirating sleigh ride down the river to the Atlantic Ocean. We averaged about 8 knots through most of the trip.
We were monitoring the weather closely and were trying to decide how to procede on our first leg of the trip south. According to the national weather service, a cold front was stalling out in the area bringing an unstable weather pattern with a chance for showers and thunderstorms, some locally severe (naturally) for the next several days.
The marine forcast called for better off-shore wind conditions for the trip on Saturday night than for Sunday and beyond. On Saturday night, the brisk S/W winds were supposed to moderate and shift the west and possibly north. The following nights were supposed to stay strong and from the S/W which would have kept them on our nose.
Based partially on this information (I know, I know..... someday I'll learn) we decided to keep going and do an overnight trip off-shore to Charleston. We motored out of the Cape Fear Inlet at about 2:00 PM. The outgoing tide opposing the S/W wind made the first part of the trip a little bouncy but manageable.
The weather stayed fair but the winds remained on our nose all afternoon as we motored along. Were visited by only one playful but elusive dolphin. He kept pace with us for quite a while but kept switching sides of the boat everytime I tried to get his picture.
Despite seeing lightning in the distance from about every direction all night, we were never visited by any storms. Unfortunately, the wind stayed on our nose the entire trip and slowed our progress quite a bit. It also made the trip a little rougher as we powered through the swells.
We arrived in the approach channel to Charleston Harbor at about 10:00 AM and thought we were basically home free. HA! The outgoing tide was slowing us down more and more as we neared the harbor entrance. As we approached the jetty, we were behind a tug pulling a very big barge on a long cable.
The winds and swells were building and were now on our port beam. By the time we reached the jetty, it was about noon and the Coast Guard broadcast a warning to mariners regarding severe weather approaching the coast from the west but the first notice was for areas to our south. I was just commenting that I was glad that it was not for our area when a second notice was broadcast including Charleston Harbor.
We were about half way through the jetty, behind the tug and barge when all he** broke loose. The squall line that hit us was right out of the Old Testament. It started with 35+ knots of wind, blinding rain and lots of (very close) cloud to ground lightning. We immediately had zero visibility with a rock jetty on both sides and a potentially out of control barge not very far in front of us.
The only way I had to hold attitude was to watch the screen of my chart plotter and try to keep going straight ahead and hope that I wasn't about to crash into an invisible barge. Despite my best efforts, the bow was swinging wildly back and forth. I finally noticed that, despite the fact that the engine was running full out, we were travelling forward at less than one knot.
Apparently the outgoing tide, the wind, and the runoff from the rain were creating about a 6 knot outgoing current. After what seemed like an eternity, the rain began to relent and we could gradually make out the range lights ahead in the harbor and then could see the marker buoys, which were laying over significantly in the strong outgoing current.
As we got our bearings, we were surprised to find that we were basically in the same spot as when the squall hit. We managed to claw our way into the harbor at a blazing 1.5 knots and finally made it past Fort Sumter. We finally arrvied at our marina at 4:00 PM. That's right, 6 hours after we thought we were home! We were soaked and exhausted but OK.
Thats the second time that I have lost all visibility in a restricted water way with large commercial traffic nearby. The first time was in 2008 leaving lake Huron and entering the Saint Claire River. Both times, Big Brother Dave was on board..... Just sayin'
Anyway, we're safely ensconced in Charleston and still speaking. Here's a picture of a beautiful sunset during a quieter part of the trip.