Our last log ended with our arrival in Beaufort, NC. We stayed at a very nice marina there for several days, walked into town (good exercise ;) and generally got to know the local seafood. Highlights included a new recipe for shrimp tacos, grilled tuna, a great bookstore in downtown Beaufort which likes dogs and several sets of new friends.
We left Beaufort very early one morning and started down the ICW, where we had yet another new and entertaining experience...we ran aground. For those of you who are not boaters this essentially means there is less water where the boat is than the boat needs to proceed, which is not a good thing. Running aground in Duet is a gradual process as she has a deep forefoot in front and moves slowly. You can feel it in the seat of your pants (rather like losing control of a car on a wet road) but by the time you figure it out it's too late to do much. You can probably tell that this writer has done this more than once. Actually Nancy has now run aground 4 times and Ron has run aground once; although once when Nancy ran aground Ron was giving directions so we both got a half score.
Once you run aground, then it gets interesting. First you try to back up. This produces a lot of noise, mud, whirling water and no movement whatsoever. Then you start to think it through. Usually you can figure out where the deeper water is and maneuver the boat over there via some applied horsepower, manipulating the rudder and lots of prayer. We have managed this 5 times so far but we're sure there'll be a time when we have to call the tow boat. We have unlimited tow insurance but that can't pay for dented pride.
After the grounding we proceeded, presumably wiser as we didn't run aground again that day but we did again the next day, and the day after that....We also did some anchoring with some interesting visitors, particularly for Ron who is a Hitchcock fan. The Carolinas have some beautiful countryside, much of it marsh and we enjoyed some nice views. We also anchored in more populated places, where our resident deck ornament sat outside and kept an eye on the proceedings. Finally we passed through a military training area, which fortunately was not in operation during our visit.
Eventually we reached the SC village of Southport, which is at the Cape Fear River Ocean Inlet entrance. As we were passing Southport Marina we were spotted (although we didn't know it at the time) by Julin and Bill Lynn, the previous owners of Duet. They were tied up at the marina in their new boat, Oceantide, which is a 72 foot steel trawler. They called us on the radio but we didn't hear so they called us on the cell phone but we were running aground so we had to call them back after we got detached.
A brief digression is called for here on the subject of grounding, lest the readers think that we are completely incompetent. The ICW is well marked but certain areas tend to shoal (sand or mud piles up due to current flow or inflow from a side creek). These shoals move around and often are not marked. Of our multiple groundings, several were due to being slightly outside the channel markers because we were pushed there by the current (Duet's large underbody makes her susceptible to this) but several other times we were in the channel; once we even went aground exactly between two channel marks, which meant we were in the middle of the channel.
The other subjects we've learned a great deal about are tides and currents. The tides in South Carolina and Georgia in particular run anywhere from 6-9 feet, which means that considerable mathematical skills are called for to figure out how deep it will be later when the tide turns again. This is particularly true when anchoring; for example if you anchor at high tide in 20 feet of water with a 9 foot range you will be in 11 feet of water at low tide, which is far less comfortable in a boat with a 5 foot draft than being in 20 feet of water. (For you financial types, this is similar to calculating a cash flow). Further, the current swings the boat around at anchor (even more than the wind does) so the direction of pull on the anchor changes when the current turns. Changes in pull on the anchor can cause it to drag, which means the boat goes places you didn't intend instead of staying in one place. These shifts seem to always occur in the middle of the night, regardless of where you are.
Current changes are even worse to calculate than tide; they are explained in terms of knots with a compass direction in which the current will be headed (unlike wind which is explained in knots with a compass direction where the wind is coming from). So first you work out how shallow it's going to get and then you figure out which way the boat will move on the compass when the current changes. Then you try to figure out how deep it will be where the boat will be after the current moves it. Ron, being a scientific type measured the depth of an entire anchorage, calculated our swinging radius and diagrammed the results to ensure that there would be water where we ended up after the current shifted and the tide went out. Nancy, being a big picture planning type, tends to guess and hope for the best.
Anyway, back to Bill and Julin Lynn. Once we got detached from the bottom we turned around (and ran aground again in the process) and returned to Southport Marina where a celebratory dinner was held in honor of the meeting. Without going into great detail on this wonderful evening, suffice it to say that Bill is the most generous dispenser of Johnny Walker Black that we've ever met. As a result of this bacchanal, we rashly agreed to travel offshore (go via the open ocean rather than the ICW) from Southport to Charleston in the wake of Oceantide, which is Bill and Julin's new boat. In the cold light of day we were somewhat shocked at our decision but felt that this was a great opportunity to learn a new skill in the company of experts. Going offshore actually involved two new skills; going into the ocean and running the boat at night, neither of which we had any experience with. But the die was cast and we were going, as soon as the weather cooperated. Meantime, we remained in Southport, working on the boat and greatly enjoying our time with Julin and Bill.
Julin cooked us a great dinner the night before our departure, in the company of another couple who own the Nordhavn 46, the Salty C. Doug and Berna regaled us with tales of the Nordhavn's prowess at sea, interspersed with glasses of wine and we wandered back down the dock thinking that we'd definitely made the right decision. The next day dawned bright, clear and most importantly with a good weather forecast. We, on the other hand, were less clear and definitely less than bright. Our flotilla set off at 10AM, earlier than planned, because Bill and Julin wisely concluded that getting us moving was key or we'd have too much time to think about the journey. We headed out to sea in Oceantide's considerable wake (although we didn't copy the tugs and announce on the radio that Duet was "bound for sea"). It was a truly glorious experience. The water was an incredible deep blue, dolphins frolicked in our bow wave (and jumped up next to the pilothouse window to get our attention when we didn't notice them at first) and the waves were 6 feet with a slow period (far apart), which Duet handles with aplomb. Nancy got sick, which she always does, but Ron produced a miracle drug (used to control nausea in patients undergoing anesthesia) and she was cured in 10 minutes. Tristan and Maggie did brilliantly; they slept the entire way and didn't seem at all concerned about being 20 miles from the nearest land. The sunset was outstanding and we had a full moon to light our way. Both of us napped several hours at a stretch, sleeping far more deeply than expected, as Duet traveled on. At around 9PM Bill and Julin set off fireworks on their bow to celebrate our introduction into the ranks of oceangoing powerboaters.
We arrived at Charleston harbor around 4AM and decided to circle the outer marker until dawn rather than enter in the dark. Charleston is a large harbor with a great deal of ship traffic. A number of very large ships were anchored outside the harbor waiting for pilots, berths or whatever. They are all lit up like highrise buildings so they were very easy to spot. Further, they show up on the radar (which was indispensable on this journey) like giant blinking blimps. We saw no one on our actual journey, except for Oceantide, whose white steaming light gleamed reassuringly throughout the night.
The only entertainment during this waiting period was listening to Channel 16 on the VHF radio, which is the primary communication vehicle for boats. Large ships require an experienced local pilot to enter Charleston harbor and much of the conversation was between the coordinator for the pilots and the ships they were joining. One exchange in particular stands out; it is reproduced as closely to verbatim as possible below (vessel name changed to protect the innocent)
"This is the Charleston Harbor Pilot calling the motor vessel Peruvia" with a strong southern accent "This is the Peruvia" with a strong Spanish accent "Peruvia, please switch to channel 14" "This is the Peruvia" "This is the Charleston Harbor Pilot calling the Peruvia" "This is the Peruvia" "Peruvia please switch to channel 14" "This is the Peruvia" "Charleston Harbor Pilot here; Peruvia could you please switch to channel 14" "This is the Peruvia"
This exchange went on for some time until someone with a slightly better command of the English language appeared on "Peruvia's" bridge and they moved to Channel. 14. All kidding aside, we continue to be very impressed by the professionalism of the big ship mariners out there.
We entered Charleston with the sun rising behind us, a sense of having passed a significant waypoint in our boating careers and a desire to do it again. We traveled some 140 miles offshore (actually between 10 and 25 miles from shore), at an average speed of about 5.5 knots (we slowed down from cruising speed to avoid arriving even earlier) without a hitch. Duet performed flawlessly and her crew managed not to interfere with her too much.
We tied up at Charleston City Marina, which we highly recommend. It is convenient to Charleston's historic district, is very well run and is full of people who like dogs. Actually, all of Charleston likes dogs; at our celebratory lunch with Bill and Julin (after an initial bottle of champagne aboard Oceantide) Tristan and Maggie were not only welcomed under our outside table but they got bowls of water (with ice) long before anyone worried about what we might want to drink. Further, there were all sorts of exciting neighbors, at the marina, including a new set of heads which kept the whole dock occupied for the better part of the morning.
Oceantide and her wonderful crew moved on the next day, headed for Hilton Head and a weekend with friends but we shall always be grateful to Bill and Julin for introducing us to the wonders of offshore passagemaking. We couldn't have done it without them.
Meantime Duet remained in Charleston for several days. Unfortunately, some of this was due to Tristan who had to have several tumors removed from his left rear leg. The surgery was done by Dr. Cindy Smith of Olde Town Veterinary Clinic. She did a truly superb job. He's now recovering with a 9 inch incision and has to wear a device which strongly resembles a lampshade on his head until he gets his staples out. We made the mistake of taking the lampshade off since he looked so pitiful in it and he promptly pulled two of the staples out. Ron stitched him up again in the cockpit of the boat while we were anchored in a small creek. Since then he's in the lampshade all the time unless he's walking on the leash.
Unfortunately the tumors are malignant, but thankfully they are not aggressive. The consensus so far is to do nothing further (namely no radiation or chemotherapy) unless the tumors reappear since the biopsy showed that Dr. Smith removed all the cancerous tissue. He should have his stitches removed this Friday, which means no more lampshade. We're not sure who will be happier, us or Tristan. The most endearing nickname bestowed on him so far is "buckethead" by the Australian captain of a boat tied up next to us here in Savannah. He was also the subject of at least one marine radio conversation between some friends of ours who, unbeknownst to us, were trying to reach us. They got someone else at the Charleston City Marina who gave them a Tristan update as they passed by (we've no idea who it was and nor do they, but the whole dock was following his progress with great interest).
We finally left Charleston several days later than planned (buckethead and all) and traveled inside down the ICW towards Savannah. This trip took several days, one grounding, several beautiful anchorages, a hospital in Beaufort SC with the right approach and our arrival at the Palmer Johnson yard in Thunderbolt, Georgia (another state line for the intrepid Duet team). Palmer Johnson is one of the largest mega yacht repair yards in the US; huge boats come from all over to be repaired, repainted and otherwise tended to. Duet tied up among these behemoths, and Nancy immediately washed her to at least give us the appearance of belonging. One of the most important reasons to come to Savannah (other than we finally finished Gone with the Wind on the VCR and Palmer Johnson provides free Krispy Kreme donuts every morning) was to pick up Ron's latest toy, a mooring bitt for the anchor platform. This item weighs 90 pounds, arrived via UPS and was delivered to the dock on a Palmer Johnson forklift. After that we were on our own. The mooring bitt will be installed on the bow and will be used to attach the anchor chain, the sea anchor and other vital pieces of gear to the boat. It was made by a Midwestern firm (Schoellhorn-Albrecht) which mainly makes commercial gear; the project manager on Duet's bitt was also working on the bitts to be in installed at the dry dock for the refit of the USS Enterprise (the aircraft carrier not the starship). It is beautifully finished and is worthy of Duet. We shall remain in Savannah (with a great view of the waterway and passing traffic) for several days, with time to provision, see the town, take Tristan to the vet and get ready for the next leg. As is classic of cruising we know the next leg involves traveling to the Florida line (about 100 miles from here) and may be done inside down the ICW or outside in the ocean (courtesy of Oceantide). We may leave Thursday or it might be Friday or possibly later in the weekend. We also know that we are going to make a side trip up the St. John's river in Florida (up past Jacksonville) and we have made some tentative reservations at a marina near Cape Canaveral during a space launch. Other than that, we're just floating along, seeing the world at 7 knots.