Night Sail To Charleston

We had a great “first” night sail since starting our Southbound journey to Florida.  Our route took us from Southport, NC to Charleston, SC.  We opted for the “outside” path since the ICW stretch between us and our destination was narrow, winding, shoaling and a bit dicey for our big boat.  Click the hyperlink for a short video summary of our sail.

Choosing the outside (Atlantic) route required good weather and favorable winds – we had both.  The map inset below depicts our planned path…about 126 miles (30 hrs).

As the Captain, I remained in the cockpit throughout the trip but David and Kimberly took watches throughout the night o allow me to sleep.  It worked out perfectly and I am proud of the crew!  I actually got a few hours of sleep.  Gus, on the other hand, slept nearly the whole way.  Man! – does that dog have it made!

We have sailed at night before in open ocean – this wasn’t new to me.  It was new for Kimberly and David taking a turn at the helm. When darkness falls and you are still sailing, as a responsible cruiser – you stand watch.  One of my rules of sailing is that I won’t sail alone – at least not this big vessel and certainly not at night!  Someone must be navigating the boat and watching for danger at all times.  I’m grateful to have Kimberly & David – especially on over-nighters!

On a moonless night, you can’t see beyond the bow – although the stars are quite beautiful.  Our course took us south about 20 miles off-shore where many other small pleasure craft navigate.  Looking at a dark ocean through the glass of our cockpit is deceiving.  You are more likely to see reflections than danger in the water.  You depend more heavily upon special equipment like AIS and Radar which extend your senses.  These tools, although very sophisticated and useful, are no substitute for getting out of the cockpit and looking for yourself – I often walk up to the bow and scan the horizon every 30 minutes.   We do, however, use these systems to “look ahead.”  We use our eyes and ears to verify our path is truly clear.  To do all of this – you have to stay awake!  For me to sleep…Kimberly and David had to stand watch.  They did fantastic!…and I got a few hours sleep.

A few observations on our navigation equipment:

  • AIS (Automatic Identification System) is an electronic device that uses GPS and your VHF radio to transmit an identification signal of who and where you are to other vessels.  Our unit is a Vesper XB-8000 transponder that receives signals from other vessels (with AIS) as well as transmits our unique signal to let them know where we are.  AIS, however, only shows vessels broadcasting a signal.  There are many boats without it. Our AIS is integrated with our chart plotter and navigation software so we see an overlay of AIS signatures on our electronic charts.  It tells us heading, speed and identity of any vessel broadcasting a signature.  If needed, we can hail that vessel and coordinate safe passage.
  • Radar Reflector – We deploy a radar reflector that makes it easier for other vessels using radar to see us.  Our reflector is suspended about 30 feet up from our main mast spreaders.
  • We use a Garmin 48 mile radar unit.  It can see reasonably sized objects above the water line and also weather disturbances.  Our radar can’t tell you if there is a container or other sub-surface floating object in your path. It takes some training to read a radar screen – which I have, but this was new to Kimberly and David.

Sails, and other gear, can obscure your navigation lights – in our case – on this trip, we actually got a radio call from a following vessel (who saw our AIS signature) asking if we had running lights on?…which we did – but our RIB (suspended from our stern on davits) blocks our stern light a bit – so we will put in a second light up on the davits for all to see.

The overall trip was a success.  We saw very little vessel traffic throughout the night – which increased as we approached the Charleston inlet.  We flew the spinnaker in light air in the mid afternoon as winds died and then had to revert to motor-sailing into the night but made great time.  We dropped sails as daylight broke and motored into the Charleston inlet dodging container ships, harbor pilot vessels and a Navy ship.  We arrived in Charleston on a Sunday.

We needed to contact a marina to determine where we would wait out the next weather front but none were answering until 9 AM.  After talking to three of them – all were full, so we went further inland through Elliot’s Cut to St John’s Yacht harbor on the Stone River where they had a spot for us – it was a great choice!

Meeting “Ruby Rose:”  One day into our marina stay, we were blessed to meet Nick and Terysa from SY Ruby Rose.  These guys are circumnavigators that we follow (blog) and we were pleased to be able to visit briefly with them.  They were readying their boat for their next adventure after returning from the Eastern Caribbean.  Best of luck to you guys and fair winds!

In hind-sight, open ocean sailing is my personal preference over ICW hand-steering (as I have said before).  We enjoyed dolphins on our bow-wave; beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic and good sea-state.  What we didn’t have was decent cellular signal – so our next off-shore course will consider staying a bit closer to cell service when possible.

We will wait out the cold front and ply on toward Jacksonville, FL for our next leg.  Stay tuned!