Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #51 Water In All The Wrong Places

All good things must come to an end, they say. And so it was that this glorious day, filled with the promise of relaxing sundowners in a tranquil anchorage, came to a rather inglorious end—with a thud.

We left Georgetown early (7:30 AM), and thoroughly enjoyed the morning hours spent winding along 25 miles of the Waccamaw River. Age-old and pristine, the Waccamaw might have been both a busy thoroughfare and a refreshing respite for the early inhabitants of the South Carolina coast. Cypress trees line its banks, and ospreys guard its course. To say it was a welcome change from the river marshes of the low country would be a gross understatement. Upon reaching Myrtle Beach the ICW becomes a lengthy land cut, lined at times with homes and condos. Many of the homes are lovely and inviting, but we also saw one of the ugliest monstrosities we’ve seen anywhere. We hope that this stretch of the ICW does not one day resemble the Ft. Lauderdale area. That would be a real shame. Also along this stretch an alligator lazily crossed our path. I wondered about the safety of any small pets in some of the homes.

Waccamaw River
Waccamaw River

Cypresses along the Waccamaw
Cypresses along the Waccamaw

Anyway, as we approached our intended anchorage after this 55-mile day, low tide was only minutes away. Misunderstanding the directions in our cruising guide, we attempted to enter Calabash Creek on the wrong side of a channel marker. Sure enough, the shoal grabbed us. It didn’t help that we hadn’t sufficiently slowed down in the 3-knot current. At that moment we joined the ranks of hard grounding veterans. For the first time ever, Jim was unable to move the boat in any direction with the engine. A sympathetic power boater attempted numerous times to throw enough of a wake to bounce us off the bottom, to no avail. Our keel seemed stuck in the sand until the tide would rise an hour or so later. Waiting was an option, but not nearly so inviting as the sundowners in that tranquil anchorage RIGHT OVER THERE. So down went the dinghy, and Jim pushed while I revved. The shoal was reluctant to release our keel, but eventually we won out. Steve on Emilie T, already tucked into the creek, was kind enough to sound depths and lead us in with his dinghy. The shoal actually stretches all the way across the creek’s entrance, so we had to plow our way through.

We have now been initiated into that elite group of boaters who have succeeded in getting off a low-tide grounding through sheer determination and dogged persistence. The sundowners came a little later than we had anticipated, perhaps, but they were still relaxing, and the anchorage is still tranquil. In retrospect, we’re grateful that this first (but probably not last) experience of hard grounding was relatively benign. The clouds weren’t threatening, the wind wasn’t howling, and the sun wasn’t setting. All things considered, it was indeed a glorious cruising day.

About 15 minutes after upping anchor this morning we crossed the state line into North Carolina. The extra foot of water due to the rising tide made leaving the anchorage smoother than entering had been. We left at around 7:00 AM again, but this time it was to arrive at an unusual bridge that only opens on the hour. Leaving later would have meant not getting through until 9:00 rather than 8:00. It’s an unusual bridge in that it’s on pontoons. A whole section of roadway is on a pontoon “vessel” of sorts, and the “vessel” swings away from the road on a cable system to allow boats to pass through. A vertical clearance of 0 ft. means that even small boats must wait for a bridge opening. The Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge is the only one of its kind on the Atlantic coast, and is apparently of historical significance.

Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge
Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge

The rest of the day was uneventful, except perhaps for the sleigh ride through Snow’s Cut off the Cape Fear River. The favorable current gave us a top speed of 9 knots! That’s probably the fastest we’ve ever moved under power—and the headsail wasn’t even out! Tired as we are, we covered about 60 miles today in 8 hours. We’re now anchored at Wrightsville Beach, ready to relax for a couple of days.

Wrightsville Beach seems like a nice beach. The water is attractive in color and clarity, and the sand is…well, it was hard to see the sand, because it was covered by a gazillion bodies. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and half of North Carolina seemed to be on the beach. So we only took a quick look before biking to West Marine. We were also looking for a hair salon, but we struck out again.

There once was a time when I relished holiday weekends. Oh, the joy of getting out on the water for an extended stay, away from the wearying pressures of the work-a-day world. Hmmph! Now I wish all the weekend warriors would just stay home! The half of North Carolina that isn’t on the beach has been jetting around the anchorage in ski boats, fishing boats, and wave runners. The rocking and rolling is stretching my last nerve.

Today was a work day on board. Jim worked on a snafu in the watermaker and changed the water pump impeller, while I cleaned. Staying below helped me to pretend all those other boats weren’t out there.

There once was a time—actually many times—when we ended our holiday weekend with a wet trip home in the rain. Oh, the pain of dragging ourselves from our haven of solitude back to our work-a-day world, especially on a rainy day. Ha! Now I relish the opportunity to stay behind as others get soggy. The rain fell all day, so the anchorage was quieter than the last two days.

We had hoped to leave tomorrow, but the watermaker snafu is still fouled up. There is a Spectra dealer right here in Wilmington (across the ICW), and there may not be another one before Annapolis. So we think it may be prudent to try to get the problem fixed here. The watermaker isn’t critical along the ICW, because we can easily get water at any fuel dock. But if we don’t get it working properly now, we’ll just have to worry about it another time. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

The rain was gone this morning, and it would have been a good day to leave. But for the watermaker. Our Spectra Newport 400 is a wondrous machine. When it’s working properly it hums away contentedly producing about 15 gallons of fresh water in an hour. There have been several occasions when we thought it wasn’t working properly, but each time we’ve found that it’s just smarter than we are. It turned out that today was somewhat different. After a phone conversation with a service tech, we learned that the snafu that made it keep shutting down was simply a malfunction in the alarm system. It seems that the watermaker is too smart for itself. By disconnecting the sensors we got it to hum contentedly once more. We’re thankful that the fix was relatively simple. We still have to get the sensors re-programmed, but we can run it for the few weeks it may take to get that done. Tomorrow we hope to be back on “the road”.

So much for getting back on the road. Rain greeted us again this morning, with a forecast for showers to continue through most of the day. Also forecast was northeast winds at 15-25. In addition to the rain, the wind would have been right on our nose and uncomfortable, so we decided to sit it out at anchor. What wasn’t forecast, however, was the 35+ knots of wind that we’ve been having all afternoon and evening. If it doesn’t ease to less than 25, we probably won’t sleep much tonight.

Blessedly, the winds eased by this morning, the rains stopped, and the sun put in an appearance. Of course, none of that happened until it was too late to leave, so here we sit for another day. We are quickly making relaxing an art form.

We thought we might have to declare ourselves residents of Wrightsville Beach. After six days and a lot of foul weather the well dug-in anchor didn’t return to the boat willingly. But, despite the overcast skies and threatening forecast, we left this morning at 6:30. Enough was enough. Our first challenge came with the fog. When spotting the ICW channel markers became all but impossible, we had to rely on our computer navigation. As Jim watched the depth sounder and tended the helm, I called up to him from below with suggestions of slight course changes to stay in the channel. Picture driving a car with a blindfold on while someone in the back seat tells you how much to turn the wheel. Our system worked, but we’re now envious of cruisers who have a chartplotter stationed at the helm. That seems to be a far more efficient and safer way to run the ICW. The fog closed in and lifted a couple more times, but we made it to the New River without mishap.

Greg, the husband of Lauri’s best friend April, is a marine JAG lawyer stationed at Camp LeJeune. We wanted to visit with Greg as we passed through the area, so we made plans to head up the New River to a marina where he could meet up with us. However, as the channel in New River shallowed to 7.5 feet, we began to wonder about the wisdom of this plan. Especially in view of the charted 4-5 ft. spot that we would need some tidal assistance to cross over. Jim called TowBoat US for consultation, and the discouraging word included the news that a channel marker was missing—right at the shallow spot. Hmmm. Maybe a plan B was in order.

There is an anchorage right off the ICW in Mile Hammock Bay, which is within Camp LeJeune’s boundaries, so we decided that our best course of action would be to head there, and hope that Greg could meet us there. Remember that I described the first challenge of the day above? Yes, there was a second. As we were discussing our plans on the phone with Greg, “Otto” (our autopilot) wandered out of the channel, while we were both looking at the chart. Otto needs a lot of supervision, and we had let down our guard. Once again, our keel was stuck in the sand. Aaarghh!! We ended up using the same approach as before by launching the dinghy and doing some waking, pushing, and shoving, and eventually we got free. The rising tide did its share also. At that point we were sure that our decision not to go further up the New River was the right one. We were also chagrined, however, that, despite our attempt to avoid grounding up-river, we managed to go aground anyway, merely from inattention.

The best part of our day was spending the evening with Greg. He was able to drive to Mile Hammock Bay, and Jim picked him up with the dinghy. He shared with us many of the highlights of being a marine JAG attorney, and we thoroughly enjoyed his company. While he has enjoyed his tour of duty, Greg looks forward to his discharge this September and returning to Indianapolis to begin living with his life. (What a concept!) April has been a medical resident in Pediatrics/Internal Medicine for the last few years. We know they’ll both be happy to be together in just a few months.

Incidentally, anchoring in a military base is a unique experience. We always enjoy seeing ospreys fly overhead, but the one we watched here didn’t screech—it roared. Apparently, some marines were training in taking off and landing an Osprey. The Osprey is a combination helicopter/jet plane with vertical rotors that tilt forward in flight. It was quite fascinating to watch.

Heavy dark skies dogged us again all day, but we didn’t get rained on until we were almost to our destination of Beaufort, NC. Yes, it’s the same name as Beaufort, SC, but not really the same. Beaufort, SC, is pronounced Bew-frt, while Beaufort, NC, is pronounced Boe-fut. Try to remember the difference, because there’ll be a quiz. Anyway, Beaufort, like its namesake Beaufort (which may be a few years older), is a historic town, especially with regard to maritime history. So we’ll do some touring tomorrow—if we don’t get rained out.

The skies were fairer today than we’ve seen them for a week. There was no UCC church within 10 miles of Beaufort, so we spent the day bike riding and sight-seeing. Not that there’s really that much to see here. Beaufort is a pretty waterfront town with many homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries, but we didn’t find much different from the many historic towns we’ve already visited. The one unique attraction here, however, is the North Carolina Maritime Museum. It includes exhibits on just about every aspect of water life and activity, from boat building to water fowl. It was interesting, but we both feel as though we’ve overdosed on museums and history in the last few months.

NC Maritime Museum
North Carolina Maritime Museum

Beaufort has one other claim to fame of note. Most of us have known something about the infamous pirate Blackbeard (a.k.a Edward Teach) who terrorized sailing ships from the Caribbean to the mid-Atlantic in the 17th century. We have actually been surprised at the number of places we’ve been—from St. Thomas to Charleston—where Blackbeard is reputed to have made an appearance. He apparently made sailing long distances—along with pillaging and plundering—a way of life. Well, it seems that the remains of Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, have been discovered some 20 miles off Beaufort Inlet in 24 feet of water, suggesting that Blackbeard’s last port-of-call was somewhere in the vicinity. It occurs to me that coming to the end of his less-than-illustrious career on some Caribbean island would have had more cachet.

Anyway, we’re done with Beaufort (after we change the alternator belt!). Tomorrow we’ll again head north, hopefully to do some sailing on the Neuse River. We hope the sun will accompany us.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

P. S. Don’t forget to look up Alice’s book, Reaching a Far Horizon, at www.lulu.com!

Posted Sunday June 5, 2005

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