Challenges to Cruising (Routine as well as post Matthew, Irma & Maria)

As I (Steve) write this post, we are snuggled up safely at the Downtown Marina in Beaufort, SC. The wind is howling outside as the predicted cold front has moved through our area with very little rain but the high pressure following it brought some blustery winds. We were blessed to visit with family (Steve’s Aunt Alcy and Uncle Bill) while in Charleston as we waited for good sailing weather. We just beat the front into Beaufort by a few hours.

 

 

This post is about challenges to Cruising so the weather is an obvious factor as we begin to understand a definition of Cruising hardships.

Cruising, for us (so far), has been much about learning to be agile so we wouldn’t say that inconveniences are actually hardships – but there are many compromises. You may “want” to go somewhere specific BUT something always seems to make it just a bit more difficult. For example…Mother Nature gets a vote. Winds, currents, geography, tides, man-made navigation interruptions and weather systems all have a way of complicating your sailing desires. Once at your destination, other challenges present themselves like shore transport, availability of services and local conditions.

On our most recent travel leg, we planned to go from Charleston to Beaufort, SC. We had two options (ICW) or outside (Atlantic Ocean). Geography and tides (timing) prevented us from using the ICW as there were some badly shoaled spots (from hurricane effects) at points (upon our potential arrival) where we would have to wait over 4 hours for water levels to rise to accommodate our draft or fall to accomodate our mast height (bridges).

We chose the outside route which is 22 miles longer but easier to navigate (love that auto-pilot). If we had chosen the ICW and waited (or slowed our rate of travel) to compensate for the shoaling and bridge clearance problems, we would be navigating at night which is undesirable on the ICW. Plus…it would take longer to go the shorter (ICW) distance. However, to go outside, we needed to get out to the Atlantic from St Johns Island (Charleston) through a bascule bridge with some strong current and bridge opening restrictions. This required us to start our travel an hour before a slack tide to keep from fighting a 5 knot current at the bridge crossing. So, we were up at 5:00 am to start our trip.

A cold front had moved through the night before so it got considerably cooler and the day before we departed there was heavy fog on the river until 9:00 am which is when the bridge restrictions apply (no opening). The next opportunity to negotiate the bridge would be 9:30 am when the tide would be ripping in. Fortunately, we had no fog on the morning of departure (the next day) and all went well with the bridge opening on demand for us at 7:15 am…then another 9 miles to get out of the Charleston approach inlet and on track for Port Royal (59 miles away)…then another 21 miles through the Port Royal Inlet to Beaufort, SC.

We motored the whole way since winds were light & variable early, and then later, right on the nose (from the South) the rest of the day. Sea state was good but we took 3-4 foot swells on the beam (the entire trip) which caused a lot of rolling. Gus didn’t,t move from his bed in the cockpit for nearly 9 hours. We arrived about 1.5 hrs after dark at the McTeer Bridge (a mile shy of our destination marina) on a falling tide and had to wait 30 minutes for the tide to ebb to pass under its 65 foot span (we are 63.5 ft). Why wait…it was dark and this bridge has no tide boards to identify the distance from the water to the bridge span. Fortunately, the notes in Active Captain helped us count the horizontal abutment boards for a general understanding of span height to clear our mast. We squeezed through at around 64.5 feet…At night…in current!…WHEW!

We then had to identify the marina (that was closed by this time) in the dark; find the dock and then get the boat into the dock in a current. We made it but the pucker-factor was higher with darkness, current and the fact we’d never been here before.

The moral of this story is that planning (plus contingencies) is really important. You can’t just “go.” When we sail, we always have a “bail-out” plan…a place we will go (if we must) that is short of our destination (like and anchorage) to wait for better conditions (like daylight); or an alternate marina in a larger (easier to navigate) water body; or a recovery option (like Sea Tow or Boat US) in case of an engine or equipment failure. We also use these two services for local knowledge and do not hesitate to call the local tow Captain to ask about local conditions or navigation help. Best $300 we spend each year (we re enrolled in both programs).

There are other challenges to deal with. Anytime we go ashore we walk, bike or use a courtesy car (if available as a marina service). In Charleston we had to rent a car as the best transport option (but certainly more expensive). As we get farther South, we are finding some marinas closed or operating at reduced capacity as they were affected by recent hurricanes. Free city docks are great and many are still available…but often come with restrictions like no generators (and no power) or time limits to use dockage – or they are just plain full! Some anchorages (near marinas or shore infrastructure) are filled in with city mooring fields and/or “perma-boats” … boats that are floating residences that rarely sail or move at all.

So…even though it looks like a simple fair weather day-sail to a desired destination it has potential to become a complicated effort of compromise. In the case of our trip to Port Royal/Beaufort SC – we took a slip space at the dock expecting (and experiencing) heavy winds for two days; strong tidal current and a water pump leak that needed to be fixed on our engine. The upside…it’s comfy. The down side is, its expensive at nearly $2.00 per foot (x 60) each night. it was a good “compromise” this time as the winds howl in our rigging at 35 knots and the temperature dropped to nearly 40 degrees, The heat is on in the cabins. We got some repair work done at the dock and the waterfront in Beaufort is pretty! All is right with the world tonight as I plan for our next leg to Jacksonville, FL and all of the compromises that are yet to come.

We love this lifestyle! Stay tuned!