Stuck in Coinjock NC
02 May 2017
April 17 - May 2: Late morning on Monday (17th) we hoisted the anchor at Cumberland Island and headed back south to the inlet at St Mary's River. We had a nice sail on a beam reach in the afternoon with southeast breezes that gradually built during the day. With the building winds we doused the mainsail for overnight and continued on towards Port Royal Sound with genoa jib alone so as not to arrive too early in the AM. On the way up river we sailed past the famous Parris Island US Marine boot camp. We were all settled at the dock at the Beaufort SC downtown marina by 1030 AM on Tuesday (18th). We loved the town of Beaufort with its grand live oak trees on most every street, all draped with the Spanish moss and classic two story southern mansions. There were several good museums including the new Santa Elena museum that details recent archeological information about the pre-1600 Spanish settlements along this coast. It was so nice that we stayed there for three nights before setting out again on our second stint on the ICW on Friday (21st) morning.
This ICW route involved a number of winding natural waterways and man-made cuts between them. The waterway has various narrow bits and areas with reported shoaling, but thanks to "Active Captain" information linked with our navigation software, we avoided any problems with running aground at the trouble spots. After a day's run of 47 nm we found a great quiet spot to anchor for the night just off of the ICW at Church Creek off of the Wadmalaw River and positioned for a short run into Charleston the next day. Saturday (22nd) we picked up and headed into the bustling harbor of Charleston after going through the drawbridge at Wappo Creek in Elliot's Cut. We learned in advance that the big municipal marina there had no more room for transients, so we anchored in the harbor opposite to it, and again our friends from Fancy Free were there nearby. We dinghied ashore at the marina but it was a wet rough ride in the boisterous harbor, so we did not relish a lot of coming and going to town from this spot. We made a good hike to the main part of town and the southern end at "The Battery" then back uptown on the east side to find a good oyster bar, through the multi-block marketplace and back west to the marina. Afterwards we met up with Fancy Free to share stories on where we've been since we last met at Green Turtle Cay. We might have stayed longer to explore more of Charleston, but due to the inconvenience of getting ashore here we pressed ahead on Sunday (23rd), again northward on the ICW. After a 31 nm run we decided to anchor for a few hours over lunch while the time of low tide passed. The areas ahead were too shallow for us to attempt at low tide, but with the tidal range of 5-6 ft in this area, we just had to get the timing right to get through. A few boats that went on ahead of us ended up turning back and drifting around until the tide came back up, when we met them again later in the afternoon. It was along here that we spotted an alligator crossing the waterway just behind us, not something we expected to see this far north of Florida! This was once a big rice plantation area prior to the Civil War (actually starting in 1690's) and one could see remnants of flood gates used to control water levels along the many waterways. We anchored for the night in the midst of these old rice fields, now all abandoned, on the North Santee River. This left us with a desire to learn more about the history of this area.
On Monday (24th) we headed through the final cut joining the Santee with Winyah Bay and on into the small quaint town of Georgetown SC. We found a convenient spot along the face dock at the marina there, which we could not pass up. We had to tour the "Rice Museum" there in town which was great as well as the Kaminski Hardware store (1867) and mansion. And of course, we found a few good restaurants as well. We left the marina late in the morning of the 26th and headed out to near the mouth of Winyah Bay to anchor for a few hours in preparation for another overnight run in the ocean. The distance to the next port was an awkward 78 nm making it a bit too much to attempt during daylight, and arriving after dark in a new place is never a great idea. So the plan was to leave our brief anchorage at 18:00 and head towards Southport NC which is just west of Cape Fear, which we did in company with Fancy Free for the overnight run. When hoisting anchor we ran into some trouble. We had snagged some abandoned crab pot gear with the anchor and in the rapidly streaming tidal current of 2.5-3 kts the line streamed aft underwater and wrapped on the propeller. Fortunately the line cutter I had installed on the prop shaft cut the line, and I was able to cut away the line on the anchor but we noticed a lot of engine vibration and low power in gear so had to quickly re-anchor. In the process of re-anchoring and using reverse gear, we regained power and the vibration almost went away, so we decided to press on with the trip. The winds were predicted to be favorable and behind the beam, so we had a good sail on a dark night to Southport, although there were unappreciated beam-on seas making it somewhat rolly. By 07:30 we were heading up the Cape Fear River and on our way to arrive at Southport Marina to tie up at 08:15 on the 27th. This proved to be a wonderful place to stop, both for the town to visit and the marina services there. Once landed, we were able to efficiently arrange for a diver to check the prop and do other work on the hull for us. That afternoon we had a diver doing a check for us and quickly found and removed remnants of line fouling the prop blades, changed out a zinc and did a complete bottom cleaning for a great price. Then we were told that in the evening there was a retired meteorologist that gives a briefing on ICW conditions and upcoming weather to any transients staying there--free of charge...every night of the week during "migration" season. We took advantage of that and got a great discussion with the man for over an hour on ICW trouble spots complete with a 40-page printout with graphic depictions of the problem shallow areas. On top of that we found a great maritime museum and another super restaurant for dinner! Southport was a great place to stop, I'm sure we'll be back. Once back underway the untangled running gear and clean bottom made for smooth motoring once again.
Friday (28th) we timed our departure so as to not be at high tide when going under the fixed bridge at Snow's Cut--off of the Cape Fear River. Our plan was to make our way on the ICW once again to Wrightsville Beach to bypass the extensive "Frying Pan Shoals" that reach out from Cape Fear some forty miles seaward making an obstacle to near coastal ocean sailing. The ICW from here northward has a number of fixed bridges at the minimum 65 ft official clearance for the waterway. Our height above the water is 63'4" for the wind indicator top and the flexible antenna is another 1.5 ft above that, so every inch counts when going under these bridges. High tides often reduce the clearance to below 64 ft, so timing is everything. Later we had to transit an area of the ICW that was a known trouble spot for shoaling. We did just touch bottom going through, but we were prepared for it and knew the best angle on it from our Southport briefing, and didn't become an issue for us. That evening (28th) we anchored in the waterway adjacent to the big resort area of Wrightsville Beach.
Saturday (29th) we headed out the Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach before sunrise for a final ocean sailing leg to Cape Lookout Bight near Beaufort NC, a 71 nm trip. This was a good fast sail on a broad reach under full sail. We had our anchor down by 5:30 PM off the beautiful beach and dunes there, and under the beam of the famous lighthouse. Weather conditions remained good for moving north, so early on Sunday (30th) we headed back towards Beaufort Inlet and the ICW and made our way under the bridges and through the cuts and rivers, and across the Neuse and Bay River motorsailing. We continued on across the Pamlico River and well up the Pungo River to where the ICW takes off into a man-made canal to anchor for the night, another long day with 78 nm under the keel. Once again on Monday (1st) we had good southerly winds, though with increasing intensity in the afternoon, so we headed out early again with Coinjock NC as our destination. As we made our way out the Alligator River and across Albemarle Sound, the wind piped up to a steady 25-30 kts with higher gusts. We were nervous about heading rapidly downwind to the Alligator River swing bridge that opens on request except when they deem the wind to be too strong...purportedly when its 35 kts or more. Fortunately they were still opening and we got through and out into the sound. The rest of the afternoon we sailed downwind with just a reefed staysail at full speed across the sound and up the North River. We made the dock at Coinjock at 16:40 and were happy to have a peaceful evening after another long and especially bouncy day and another 70 nm covered. That night a front passed through for some brief heavy showers. Little did we know that those showers west of us and previous rains had caused river flooding to our north, and the southerly winds caused a build-up of water levels on the ICW in northern North Carolina. We woke to find clear skies but the docks partially flooded and the water to be another 1 ft deeper (May 2). Then we heard the reports that the North Landing and Centreville swing bridges were flooded and out of commission for several days, maybe more. This was causing a log jam of sorts on the ICW migration northwards and the marina here had to make arrangements for transients to start rafting at the docks. We were lucky to have arrived when we did and can stay as long as necessary, only having to contend with rafting a boat on our outside. There are no good places to tie up or anchor north of here between us and the affected bridges, so we'll just have to wait it out. Not a bad place to be stuck, but we hope things free up sooner rather than later!