Friday, September 8, 2017

Moving target

Things finally got real here at the Charleston City Marina. By Wednesday night the models were predicting a direct strike on Charleston, and Thursday morning preparations at the marina started in earnest. Staff started taking down awnings, bundling up the fuel hoses, and removing all loose items from the docks, including the ubiquitous liferings and throw lines.

These laminated signs are everywhere.

Also Thursday, several boats that had expected to ride the storm out here at the docks had already left or were in the process of leaving, including some whose photos I posted here in my last entry. Longer and heavier than Vector, they opted to bash through heavy seas in the Atlantic and make port well north of the predicted danger zone.

In the meantime, we went back over our options Wednesday night, looking closely again at heading north either in the Atlantic or on the ICW. We dismissed both options, with waves approaching eight feet offshore, and the timing of the shoals on the ICW meaning we could not possibly get far enough north in time (some stretches of the ICW are less than four feet deep at low tide). There are no rivers that head far enough inland north of us for well over a hundred miles.

The canvas was removed from this structure and now there is a generator strapped down beneath it.

We decided our best bet would be to stick with our plan to head up the Cooper River, which meant we would not need to leave the dock until Saturday. Thus I decided to go ahead with my doctor's appointment yesterday morning, an outpatient procedure involving general anesthesia. That meant no driving the boat or operating any other equipment for the rest of the day.

After examining the storm surge models closely, we determined that it would be too dangerous to leave Vector here at the docks if we had to bug out. Almost certainly the docks would come off their pilings, with 12-16' of surge projected, and, by our measurements, only 7-8' of leeway on the pilings.

All the fire and dewatering pumps have been moved to "higher ground."

That same surge model projected as much as six feet of surge all the way to the dam on the Cooper. Given that 100mph winds meant we'd have to leave the boat to her own devices once the winds ramped past 25kt or so, our new concern here was that the boat could swing out of the channel while the surge was in, then end up high and dry as the surge went out, and she'd be lost.

We decided instead to go all the way into Lake Moultrie. Winds will be higher there without the protection of the dam and the bluffs, and with the lake 14 miles wide, the fetch could make for very large waves. But we could tuck in to the expected lee side of the lake, put all 400' of chain out, and be relatively confident the boat would ride it out without hitting anything. There would be, of course, no storm surge in the lake.

Pinopolis Lock only operates until 6pm, and the lock operator could not reliably tell me when they might shut down the lock due to wind. And so we decided we'd shove off a day early, this morning, so we could get all the way into the lake, scope things out, anchor for a night, and still have time tomorrow to come back out of the lake if need be, before they shut the lock down. That would also give us time to get ashore, get an Uber back to Charleston, and retrieve the rental car.

Lots of lightweight sheds have been strapped down.

Two things conspired to derail that plan. First was that I came down with a serious fever and chills in the middle of the night last night, and given some chance it might have been a complication from my procedure we needed to consult with the doctor this morning. By morning the fever was gone and I was feeling fine, and by 10am the doctor had pronounced me good to go, and we could have still made the lake by then.

The other matter, though, was that the track forecast was shifted considerably westward overnight. Florida will pay the price for the Carolinas to be spared, but as of this writing, Charleston is no longer even in the cone of probability for landfall. While that sounds like great news, the cone does still include Savannah, and we can still see hurricane-force winds here an a surge that will destroy the docks. Still, with a much lower forecast, we decided we could afford to spend an additional day here.

If the forecast track continues to move westward, there is even a chance we can remain right here at the dock for the entire storm. That's a long shot, but in case it comes to pass, I moved the rental car from the marina lot, which is certain to flood, over to the third floor of a city parking garage downtown. All of our important papers, passports, etc. and anything else we don't want to lose if the boat goes down are already in the car, along with bug-out provisions and a cat litter box.

Squared away against a windowless wall in a secure corner on an upper floor.

As the forecast stands now, we expect to see 70-80mph winds here at the docks, and surge is predicted right at the limit of the dock pilings. That's too much risk, and so unless that changes, we will leave here first thing in the morning tomorrow (Saturday) and head up the Cooper River. With only 2' of projected surge there and 55mph winds, we can ride it out aboard just downstream of the dam. We'll get a lift back here tomorrow night to get the car, so we still have a bug-out option if things go sideways.

NHC track forecasts are issued four times a day, at 5 and 11 EDT. So our final go/no-go for the Cooper River run will be tomorrow morning at 5am. If wind and surge forecasts for Charleston Harbor show high probability of safe limits we will batten down and stay here. Otherwise we'll be under way by 0700.

We have hotel rooms booked along the I-95 corridor for Sunday and Monday nights. The Sunday 11am forecast will be the determination point for whether we will remain on board, or evacuate by car and let the boat take its chances. If we evacuate we will secure the tender ashore as best we can, but there is a good chance it will be lost. Our two-person inflatable kayak is in the trunk of the car so that we can get back to Vector if the tender is lost.

Everyone with trailers for their small boats has been scrambling to pull them out. This ramp only works at high tide.

Many thanks to all our readers who have inquired about our welfare or offered assistance. This morning a nice couple from Summerville showed up to check on us and offer assistance, dispatched by a long-time reader. And we have a place to stay, with family, near Greenville should it come to that. Our fingers are crossed that it won't be necessary.

Florida will not be so lucky. We've already seen the pictures of the total devastation from Tortola and Saint Martin, and we expect much of Florida to suffer a similar fate. Sadly, many will not heed the warnings, and lives will be lost. But many, many more will be homeless. Even as we prepare here, the Red Cross and other relief organizations are already mobilizing resources and staging in safe areas for the response; friends of ours are just a short ways inland right here in South Carolina, and many more are ready to head to Florida when the all-clear is given.

I will try to get updates out here as the situation develops, and if I can't post I will try to update Vector's Twitter stream. Once storm-force winds hit, cell service may go down. I have the satellite phone in the bug-out bag and I will update the Twitter feed from there if that should happen.


  1. Good luck and stay safe!

    Pat and Nancy

  2. I hope your choices work out!

  3. All I can say is "Good Luck". I'm following your and Technomadia's blog. Very interesting reading the logistical planning both of you are doing. Be safe the three of you.

  4. We are watching from up here in British Columbia and wishing you the best!

  5. Sean -- The slip of paper I gave you today has our "land line" phone number; for some reason, it stays in service longer than our cell phone service when we are in the middle of a storm. Also, our cell phone number is 252-281-7709, and, of course, you have our e-mail address which pings when we have a new message. Sorry we don't "tweet." Ha! We are staying put at home in the Summerville area. So give us a call when you want to return to the garage to pick up the car after you move Vector to the canal; however, I know that can change based on the 5:00 a.m. storm forecast tomorrow; if you decide not to fight the traffic on I-95, we have an unused bedroom here for Louise and you to stay and, of course, you would only be 14 miles from Vector. Hope you are feeling better.

  6. You guys are definitely in our thoughts - it's crazy to think of how wide spread this beast is. It's been a crazy rollercoaster of a week. Wishing you and yours all the best in the coming days.


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