Friday, October 25, 2013


We have talked about it. We have studied the charts, maps, Google Earth and every sailing blog entry we could find that had a reference to this. We have talked to people, set waypoints, evaluated weather and tides. We have calculated times, estimated speeds and imagined our way into this channel many times. We have been in a simulator that gave us a clear understanding of just how small a sailboat looks to the ships we have around us. We know that we have a boat that can take the 25 knots winds and 5-6 ft seas with ease.

And, suddenly, here we are. Charleston Harbor. After slogging headfirst into these snotty little waves for hours, going through what one of our sailing friends, Tammy, called the longest approach in the world, we are in between the jetties. Charleston is laid out in front of us but from a different perspective than we have ever seen before - both physically and metaphorically. If our first overnight, offshore trip was a milestone, this, as Junie says, was a rite of passage. We ain't just playin' boats here, we be sailing.

And an interesting trip, it was. We left Bald Head Island Marina on the high tide after topping off the diesel. We spun around and pointed out toward the narrow channel only to find a dredge barge with one of the crew frantically waving us to go back. They were lifting and moving the dredge pipe. So much for our graceful exit. We had to hold station until they re-positioned. Then, we got the all clear and motored out into the Cape Fear entrance to the ocean.

Big ship from a distance just
off Cape Fear
We were immediately reminded that this is a working, deepwater port by the presence of cargo ships and tankers sitting and moving around the channel. And, this also served as a reminder that Charleston is a much bigger, busier port.

It was a ridiculously calm sea. And, the further we went, the calmer and more eerie it became. It was a huge, gently undulating grey ocean. We optimistically put out the mainsail and staysail just for stability as we motored along at over 6 knots. After a while, Junie decided we needed to fish. We had the rod and tackle out already so she dropped a big lead-head with a white skirt and a chartreuse Gulp bait. We kept motoring along, switched places at the helm, Roux watched for dolphins off the stern and the seas remained calm.

Kind of gross. Pretty much discouraged
any thoughts of swimming.
An hour later. BAM! The rod slams against the side of the cockpit. I grabbed for it (since Junie was driving. I was not stealing her fish) and managed to get a line burn on my finger because the line was peeling off the reel so fast. I got the rod under control and started tightening down the drag and trying to crank in some line before it reached the end. A LOT of line went out in a very short time. Then, it suddenly got a little easier and I was able to start reeling in - but it felt funny. Like when you snag a fish and it comes in sideways. After a lot of reeling to get back all that line, we finally got to see what we caught. Half of a False Albacore. Apparently, we hooked this fish which, in turn became the bait that attracted something much bigger. Marlin? Shark? Exciting but just a little creepy.

Shot down from the bowsprit. Incredibly smooth.
We got ourselves back in gear (literally) and resumed the trip. About another hour later - Dolphins! Headed our way, coming to visit as we have seen them do so many times out in the open ocean. Soon, they were all around. Several were playing at the stern. SeaClearly has a low freeboard so they are almost close enough to touch. Roux was barking like crazy and the dolphins were coming up and looking right at him. I went to the bow and watched as they played right under our bowsprit. What a joy to see. Then, in typical dolphin fashion, they remembered somewhere that they had to be and swam off.

You can see the reflection of me holding the
camera over the side to take the picture.
By now, it was late afternoon. I went down into the galley and made a pot of chili. Yes, that's right, chili. I cut up peppers, onions, garlic, browned up the ground beef, etc, etc and cooked it in the pressure cooker. That just gives you some idea how smooth the seas were.

As it started to get dark, we reefed the mainsail (which, basically, means that we shrunk the size by shortening and tying down the big sail. We had always agreed that we would do this offshore before dark so we didn't get surprised in the night by rising winds. Why would we expect rising winds when it was so calm, you wonder?

OK, now for the diversion. We contracted a 'weather guy', Chris Parker. He is a meteorologist that provides weather reports for the entire east coast, Caribbean and Bahamas You can also sign up for an annual contract under which he will give you specific guidance. You can say, "Chris, we want to go from Cape Fear to Charleston on Tuesday at noon. What can we expect for weather and do you recommend that we go on that day or wait?" Which we did. And Chris told us to wait. He said, "You will see benign weather until about 4:00am Wednesday when you are approaching Charleston. Then, winds will switch to the west and increase to 20 - 25, gusts to 30. Waves may be 7 feet. You may be able to get close to shore and wait for sunrise and the land may block the fetch but it is not looking good. Maybe a little better the next day."

So, why, you may ask, are we now sailing through the dark to Charleston? Sometimes, you evaluate all the data and make your own decision. Because you are stupid. Why trust the professional you hired?

We made such good time that we actually slowed down to try to coordinate our arrival to the slack tide due to arrive at noon in the Charleston channel. At 4:00am, we were 10 miles from the outer marker. We hove to and parked for the next few hours until the sun would arrive. But guess what arrived first - the wind. As the sun rose at about 7:00, we started our final approach. Which translates to almost 20 miles from where we are. Junie has already had one conversation with a cargo ship to make sure we weren't run down in the dark. Now, it is daylight and the big ships just keep on coming. Headed for Charleston, just like us.

This puts us in the position of bashing into those pesky waves with the wind right on our nose. Of course, Chris was right. Accurate to a ridiculous degree (although, in reality, I never saw the wind gust higher than 29.4 knots. And they didn't really start until almost 4:30). It made for slow progress. We would motor along at 4.5 knots for a bit, get smacked in the face by a big wave and slow to 2.3, regain speed, repeat. For 7 hours.

Big ship. Not in the distance.
We contacted one more inbound freighter to make sure they knew we were there. We have an AIS (Automatic Identification System) transponder so they can see us if they ever look at their AIS screen. Most sailboats do not even make a blip on the radar so AIS is our best defense. And more important, we can see them and call them by name. If you just get on the radio and say, "Hey, big ship headed for Charleston.", you don't get much response. If you can say, "MSC Dymphinia this is sailing vessel SeaClearly", they tend to pick up. In our two encounters so far, they have been very professional and courteous.

Big ship. Not nearly far enough in the distance.

Finally, we are between the jetties. We missed the slack tide by about an hour and a half even though we were just outside the channel 8 hours early. We have caught a break in the ship traffic and don't have to worry about being run down as we clear into the harbor. We contacted the Charleston Maritime Center, our destination for the night, and get some directions. At 2:30, we pulled into our slip.

I haven't mentioned Roux's experience on this leg of the journey. I wish he could tell the story. Let's just say that he was off the boat before all of the lines were tied off and didn't make it to the grassy area at the end of the dock before he let go.

Today, we are resting. We made it to Charleston. We decided that we are going to stay here for a week, eat shrimp and grits, and feel good about life.


  1. How was your experience in the Charleston Maritime Center? I read that it could be quite rolly and exposed to wind from the north east. (I tried to post this before, but I guess it did not go through.)

    1. We didn't have any real weather so we didn't have any roll. We were mostly in between big trawlers that blocked any wakes:)