Friday – 20 November
Although the distance for today’s travels was scheduled to be short, the planning and considerations for the day were not.
To transit between Isle of Palms to Charleston we learned we would be passing through a traditionally very shallow section of the Waterway. In reading the reports of others, many have said after transiting this section once, they choose to jump out to the ocean for all future transits. It was recommended not to attempt the travel until near or at high tide to allow for the deepest water possible.
The second consideration for planning the day was scheduling it with the timing of a swing bridge. The Ben Sawyer Bridge doesn’t open between 0700 and 0900. After that it opens on request during the week.
The third consideration for planning the day was planning for the strong currents Charleston is known for. Cruising friends who are from this area made a specific point of warning us of this the day before. So we hoped to be able to arrive in Charleston during slack water which Bob’s research indicated would be around 1430.
Research revealed that high tide could be expected around 1230, we expected the day’s journey to take about 2 hours and so everything pointed toward a 12 – 1230 departure to have all concerns align as best they could.
For the first time we were in no hurry to depart the marina at the crack of dawn and so we enjoyed a leisurely morning which included a long walk on land on this most beautiful, albeit windy/brisk, morning.
Typically we plan for a departure at whatever time, and find ourselves ready to go 15 – 30 minutes before that, and usually we just go. Today was no different in that we were ready before the set time, but today we made every effort to wait.
Our friends from Rock Hall, left 2 hours before us. We radioed them to see what depths they had encountered in the shallow section. They reported back 6.5 feet. We felt pretty comfortable that waiting the extra time would give us even more depth and less stress.
As we prepared to back out of our slip with the assistance of a neighbor from the boat next door, a confluence of situations arose that caused a number of issues. 1) The wind picked up at exactly the wrong time, making it difficult to control the boat in the tight quarters at the slow speed of maneuvering in reverse making a turn 2) A tour group of inexperienced kayakers appeared astern of us preparing to return to the boat ramp, making for a moving obstacle course 3) Two powerboats made the turn from the Waterway into the channel we were maneuvering in 4) The current was strong and 5) Have we mentioned the boat backs like a pig, backs to port (rather than straight) and takes a different level of skill?
As Christina was tending to lines and fending the boat off the dock Bob was at the helm trying his best to work around the obstacles. We got a little closer to the next dock than would have been preferred and the dinghy appeared to hit something as he was pulling away.
We went through the kayakers and the guide hollered at us as we were turning into the Waterway that we were dragging something behind us. We looked and discovered it was part of the dock!
At the end of the dock there is (or should we say was) a wheel bumper that spins as boats enter/exit the slip so as to prevent damage to both dock and boat. Our dinghy painter (the rope used to tow the dinghy) hangs a bit below the dinghy when its on the davits and somehow had looped onto the wheel and got caught. When Bob pulled away, thinking he was fighting current, the boat actually had pulled this wheel off the dock along with a large piece of wood it was attached to and it was now trailing us, still attached to the dinghy painter. Ooops!
So here we are entering the busy Waterway with a large powerboat bearing down on us as we needed to find a way to free ourselves from this floating debris. Christina didn’t have the strength or reach to pull the line in and free the wheel and wood from the line, so she took the helm while Bob dislodged the offending device. We felt really badly about introducing a new water hazard to other boaters in the Waterway but we could figure no other way.
Bob has talked about filming some of the bizarre antics we have seen and posting a series of YouTube videos entitled “Idiots of the ICW”. But after realizing he had been towing half the dock away from the Isle of Palms Marina he admits that this may have to be the first installment.
But this is also a testament to the strength of the Gozzard — the fact that it was the the dock that ripped away and not the dinghy or davits which are still fully intact and not damaged. A dock is no match for a Gozzard. Needless to say, the dinghy painter is now secured tighter and no longer dangling below the dinghy.
As we were recovering from this little escapade, we passed by the channel marker we knew indicated we were entering the mile of shallow section. That big powerboat that had been bearing down on us earlier, was now ahead of us and we watched him as he navigated through the section. Just as Christina was trying to raise him on the radio to learn what depths he had been experiencing, we saw him stop and turn his boat around. He reported seeing 5.5 feet and he was going to turn around and try to find deeper water. A fisherman on the radio told the powerboat to go more toward starboard (red side) of the channel, further than you would think was safe, to find the deeper water. He got through with no further incident. We tried to follow suit.
The depth kept getting shallower and shallower and ultimately we hit 4.5 feet of water — meaning we had hit ground. But the momentum of the boat and with the strong current we pushed through the mud and didn’t get stopped. The water got deeper very soon after that with readings of 16 – 20 feet. But then would shallow up again, and we saw depths of 7.5 a couple more times. Even though we know we can call the tow boat to get us off if ever we need to, it is still stressful when we get so close to grounding.
Right after the shallow section is the swing bridge we must request an opening for. Christina hailed the bridge tender on the radio and let them know where we were and that we were requesting an opening. We saw there were now two more sailboats behind us, so we figured we would have to wait a bit before the bridge was opened, so all 3 boats could go through on the same opening. We slowed down as best we could with the current pushing us, and waited.
Then we heard a tug with barge radio the bridge that they were approaching from the other side (Northbound). Not being sure who had the right of way at this point (usually the boat with the current has right of way but big boats with less maneuverability also have right of way at bridges and really — who really knew which way the current was going) – we radioed the bridge to query who would have right of way to pass through the bridge first, and asked for direction. She confirmed the tug would have right of way and asked us to hold back a bit. No problem.
As the other two sailboats were approaching the bridge behind us, another large powerboat passed us all and went full speed toward the bridge. About this time the tug with barge warned the bridge tender he was approaching faster than expected and wasn’t sure if he would be able to easily stop if the bridge didn’t open soon. The bridge began to open and we couldn’t believe our eyes as we watched the powerboat on our side of the bridge aim straight toward the oncoming tug with barge. We guess he thought he should have right of way. The bridge tender and the tug both tried to hail the boat on the radio and emphatically told him he was in an unsafe position but apparently the boat either didn’t have his radio on or tuned to the right channel because there was no contact. The tug blew his horn 5 blasts to warn the power boat as he was going through the bridge and it really looked like there would be an imminent collision.
At the last minute the powerboat seemed to recognize the situation he was in, and moved a bit to starboard and squeezed though the bridge alongside the tug with barge. We would have loved to have heard whatever exchange of words there was between the tug and powerboat.
Another installment for “Idiots of the ICW”.
Once in the large and somewhat busy harbor we had to find the specific markers to guide us to the stretch of the harbor where the marina we were going to stay at was located.
And passed the Charleston skyline.
We called the marina to let them know we were less than an hour away so they would know we were coming. We were told which slip we were being assigned and on which side to prepare our lines and fenders. As we approached we heard 3 other boats trying to hail the same marina on the radio informing them that they were approaching. With apparently only one dock hand on duty, the marina was not responding very quickly and everyone was instructed to hold off until they could provide assistance with the docking.
This meant going up and down the harbor along the marina while avoiding boats under sail (they have the right of way), small slower boats, and fast larger boats all milling in the same space.
We checked out the slip we were being assigned and saw another boat already there. So, amidst all the other confusion the marina and we were dealing with, alternating between telephone and radio, they needed to figure out what had gone wrong, and where to put us. They eventually assigned us a new slip, assisted us, and we were tied up to the dock with no further incident.
Individually the day’s events probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, but these small events just added up, resulting in a day that turned out a bit more stressful than anticipated. Bob needed a beer.
A fellow Gozzard owner we met back in April calls this marina home and we caught up with him for a sundowner, enjoying a magnificent sunset from the cockpit, before heading to the complimentary happy hour the marina hosted.
During the season this marina hosts happy hour 4 days a week, and we just happened to arrive on the day of the last one for the season. Free beer and wine was on offer as was a full Thanksgiving dinner spread of cornbread, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Needless to say we did not need to go to town for dinner – we’ll explore Charleston tomorrow.