Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Timing is everything

We are anchored in Price Creek, off the Intracoastal Waterway near Awendaw, South Carolina.  We arrived here by 11am, having spent last night at the Isle of Palms Marina, just ten miles from here and also about ten miles from where we started yesterday in Charleston Harbor.

Traveling this stretch of the ICW in a boat that draws six feet is an exercise in timing and patience.  I had not really planned on spending last night in another marina, but it turned out to be either that or spend four more nights in Charleston.  Of course, that would not have been all bad -- we really like Charleston, and we have a reciprocal club there.  But at over a C-note a night, that's an expensive proposition.

Vector against the Charleston skyline

While planning the exit from Charleston and the next leg of the trip north, I had figured to leave the marina at low slack, to be on a nice rising tide for the whole stretch.  But as we started to delve further into the reports on Active Captain about the channel north of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, we learned that there was some serious shoaling along the way, with at least one report of a section just 3.5' deep at Mean Low Water (MLW).

As it happened, Active Captain founder Jeff Siegel was staying at Charleston Harbor Marina, just around the corner from us on A-dock, and we had arranged to meet in the morning before we left.  I did not realize it, but his boat, a DeFever 53 pilot house, also draws six feet (most of the DeFever pilothouse models we had seen draw less than five), and he confirmed our fears about the channel north of the bridge.  He was hoping for a weather window to go around on the outside himself.

Now knowing that we needed to transit the shallow section at a minimum of three feet above low tide, we regrouped, and postponed our planned 1:30pm departure.  After spending another hour with charts and tide tables, we realized we could either leave Charleston at 4pm, which would get us to Isle of Palms, past most of the shallow water, around 6, with plenty of daylight for docking and a nice safety margin, or else we'd have to wait until we could see three feet on a rising tide in the morning.  With sunrise not until nearly 7am, that would mean a Thursday departure.  To make matters worse, the weather forecast for Thursday was not good.

By 2pm we had decided to make the run for it.  That meant shoving off at 3pm in heavy current to head over to the fuel dock for a pumpout, followed by a 4pm or so departure from the marina.  Fortunately, the fairways near the face docks are wide, and I had no trouble getting over to the fuel dock and spinning the boat around to make our port-side to, which is where our fitting is located.  We cleared the outer markers of the marina just after 4pm as planned.

We did hit the shallow spots at +3' MLW, but that did not stop us from scraping at least one shoal.  Unlike our previous touch-downs, this one was gravel or maybe shell and it made a heck of a racket against the metal hull.  We did not get stuck, however, and we eventually found some deeper water and made it the rest of the way to Isle of Palms without incident.

Vector at Isle of Palms

A night there was even more expensive than Charleston Harbor (though to be fair, we got the Active Captain discount at CHM), but it was in the right place at the right time.  We had already been cooking dinner all day, so we ate in, otherwise we would have sampled the Morgan Creek Grill right next to our dock.  Of course, the grill was packed with diners when we pulled up to dock, so we had quite the audience.

This morning we shoved off on the ebb around 9:30 so we could make it here, our originally planned stopover, well ahead of low tide.  We had no problems getting in to the creek, which has deep water past the bar.  We opted to go a bit further in than most boats would, to a wider spot where we had a bit more swing room.  That put us about a third of the way to the ocean, and after we wrapped up our monthly Red Cross conference call, we dropped the tender and went out to the beach.

Louise at the Atlantic

Price creek becomes Price Inlet at the ocean, and separates Capers Island to the south from Bull Island to the north.  Capers is a South Carolina State Park, and Bull is a Federal Wildlife Preserve.  We opted to land on Capers and walk the beach; myriad footprints told us that this was also where the four or so eco-tour boats that zipped past us today had landed their passengers.  I think they came from Isle of Palms as well.

Our dinghy at Capers Island, with Bull Island in the background

We are now back to a waiting game, with more skinny water ahead of us, near McClellanville.  We want to leave here on a rising tide to be at the shallow bits just before high, with the tide still rising.  In order to have plenty of daylight left afterwards, we need to leave on a morning flood, which will, again, be Thursday.  We might hold off until Friday, though, if the weather is nasty -- we don't want to navigate narrow channels of low water in 15+ knot winds.

At least we're now waiting it out for free, rather than dropping money every night in a marina.  And this is really a very nice spot.  About the only downside is that we are on the very fringe of my Sprint 3g coverage, and I am having to reboot the phone every half hour or so to stay connected; I'm not sure why it keeps locking up like this.  A small price to pay for peace and quiet.  I have a pair of steaks on the grill for dinner, and we have plenty of provisions.  If we need anything, including a dinner out, it's less than half an hour back to Isle of Palms in the dinghy, a trip which took two hours in Vector.

Other than our brief encounter with the gravel bottom, it has been a good couple of days. I'm sure we need to have the bottom paint touched up, after multiple groundings, but we will be hauled out in a month anyway. It helps to remind ourselves that all these problems are minor in the grand scheme of things; yesterday we heard multiple Pan-Pan calls from Coast Guard Sector Charleston about a 22'-26' boat that had capsized, with persons in the water.  The repetitive nature of the calls meant that they had not yet been found.  On our way through Elliot Cut a couple of days ago, we passed a sailboat that had sunk at the dock.  A few scrapes in the bottom paint is really nothing.


As long as we are waylaid here for a couple of days, I will try to tackle some projects around the boat.  I'd really like to get a working chartplotter up on the flybridge, as I think it will be easier to read the water from up there, but without the chartplotter it is nearly impossible to navigate from there.  I'm also on the hunt for phantom loads, now that we are running on batteries, and I am going to try to disconnect a few more of them, such as the freezer on the back deck, which lacks a dedicated disconnect switch.

A pair of bottlenose dolphins has been fishing and frolicking around the boat all day, and one came right up to us as we were having sunset cocktails on the back deck.  This whole section of coast is teeming with them; we seemed to have a resident pod with us at the Charleston Harbor Marina, who probably have the tourists well trained to throw them food.

Our next anchorage, whenever we finally get under way, will likely be the Santee River. Our next port of call should be Georgetown, perhaps by the weekend.


  1. Sounds exciting, but more complicated than traveling in an RV. I love being near the water. I am currently in my rig on South Padre Island.

  2. Sean, glad you guys had an easy day for a change. Vector looks a lot better than when you had to share the marina with all the 100' boats. Ha Ha I didn't realize the water was so shallow in that part of the country. Steve

  3. I go to Capers 4/5 times a year. It's one of my favorite places to go. I was there the first week in April and will be going back the last week in April. There are some secret creeks that head back to the interior of the island and we camp right on the beach front. We have even had alligators walk through our camp on more than one occasion. Most people camp on the northern or southern tips of the island. Unfortunately, I lost two crab traps to the rough weather we had first week in april not too far from where you were anchored in Price Creek. Good thing you didn't get grounded you may have been there a while. I spent a few hours stuck on a sand bar last month. Good luck with your trip.



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