Friday, November 23, 2018

Grand Strand

We hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We enjoyed a day of downtime along the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, and as I begin typing we are again southbound in the ICW there. How we came to be here for Thanksgiving is something of a tale in itself. A lot has transpired since last I posted here.

At that writing we were headed in to Wrightsville Beach, where we found a spot in a familiar anchorage (map). We splashed the tender and headed ashore for dinner at one of our old standbys, Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. We strolled a couple of blocks, stopped into Robert's Grocery to refresh our memory, and then headed home.

A lovely sunset from our anchorage in Wrightsville Beach.

I spent all Monday morning on the phone trying to line up injectors, crush washers, and possible assistance. Unsurprisingly, neither the local Komatsu dealer nor the local Northern Lights dealer had the injectors in stock. Komatsu could get them for $390 apiece but on an unknown schedule. Northern Lights wanted $500 apiece and I could have them from Seattle before Thanksgiving for an extra hundred bucks. It looked like Monday would be optimistic for getting anything done.

In the meantime, Louise-the-weather-router was determining that our window to get to Charleston on the outside was rapidly closing. Having successfully made one outside run by changing sorbents every three hours (every third ER check), and with a route to Charleston hugging the coast with no need to pass around Frying Pan Shoals, we decided that continuing to Charleston would be our best bet.

We knew that in Charleston not only was there a Komatsu dealer, but also we'd already worked with the Lugger mechanic there from the local Northern Lights dealer, which is also a fuel injection shop. Plus there were plenty of decent restaurants options for Thanksgiving dinner, a free shuttle system, and easily accessible auto parts, hardware, and provisioning stores. Making progress while we still could seemed a sensible alternative to spending a full week in Wrightsville Beach, no matter how much we enjoy the Holiday Flotilla there.

A victim of Florence, we presume, we spotted this sailboat well aground on our way out of Wrightsville Beach.

I ordered two injectors and a bunch of washers from the Komatsu dealer for a delivery of Monday or Tuesday. I also spent an hour or so finding a place that still had availability for Thanksgiving and booked the extravagant buffet at Revival in the Vendue hotel. And I booked a week at the Harborage Marina, since neither the Maritime Center nor the City Marina had any availability.

We went back ashore Monday evening for a final dinner in town, only to discover that every single joint on the beach was closed except Tower 7. In hindsight we should have tendered up to the ICW instead and eaten at the Bridge Tender, but already ashore we just went back to Tower 7. Monday is half price fajita night and $3 draft XX, and we ate at the bar.

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor at 10am to time the tides on the Cape Fear River. We had a pleasant and uneventful cruise down the ICW, across Snow's Cut, and down the Cape Fear to the inlet at Bald Head Island. We had thought we might have to anchor for a couple of hours to adjust our arrival time, but we were within the window to just slow down a bit if needed, so we proceeded directly out the ship channel.

We did not get far. Between the weather routing we did Monday and our arrival at Bald Head on Tuesday, the system that was moving in had worsened. What Monday's forecast said would be 4-5 footers on nine seconds, just tolerable, in actuality turned out to be five footers on five seconds, too short and steep for comfort.

Esmeralde passed us shortly after leaving Wrightsville Beach, and sent us this nice photo. Photo: Bruce Beard.

The cat, who had been sleeping peacefully right up until the first violent pitches in the inlet, registered her objection by eliminating all over the boat through every orifice. Louise chased her all over the boat wielding a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of enzymes, while I remained at the conn, furiously adjusting RPMs and dodging and weaving in a futile attempt to keep things more settled until we could make the westward turn in the ocean, bringing the seas on the beam where the stabilizers could help.

After bashing through the inlet for twenty minutes and turning the boat to its final orientation, we finally conceded defeat and turned around, heading back in to Southport. We turned on to the ICW and proceeded south to the South Harbour Village Marina (map), where we snagged the last spot on the face dock for the night. Anchorages on this stretch of the ICW are few and far between.

Sunset over the ICW from our dock at South Harbor Marina.

South Harbour Village is not really close to anything at all in Southport, but right on the premises is one of the best Italian restaurants in the whole area, Joseph's Italian Bistro. After having lick our wounds from our offshore misadventure it was nice to enjoy a nice meal with a friendly glass of wine.

For the second time in as many days I now had to cancel several well-laid plans and go back to the drawing board. Now in Southport but with parts already ordered to Charleston, our only option was to continue south on the ICW. What would have been a single overnight on the ocean is a four day trip on the inside, and while we'd be in Charleston in plenty of time to get our parts, there was no way to make our Thanksgiving reservations. I was able to cancel just an hour or two before a cancellation fee would be due.

Looking ahead at where we could reasonably be in two days, the best option for Thanksgiving dinner turned out to be Myrtle Beach, where at least a couple of marinas are within easy reach of restaurants that were open. I was able to get a reservation at Ruth's Chris, which was serving a prix fixe of all the traditional holiday foods alongside their regular a la carte menu, and I called the Marina at Grande Dunes right next door to reserve Thursday night.

Unsurprisingly, the marina was closed Thursday and they were reluctant to take my reservation. I told them we'd need no help docking, but they needed us to fill out some paperwork and provide insurance and registration documents. I told them I could email all of that ahead of time and they put us down for a slip.

Early start. Sunrise from the upper helm as we shoved off from South Harbour Village.

Wednesday morning we got a very early start. The tide was falling and we needed to cross Lockwoods Folly before it dropped below about three feet. There is a section there where the depth is just five feet at low tide. Armed with the latest Corps of Engineers depth survey, we made it across without incident. Without the 7am start, we would have had to wait till nearly dark to cross the inlet, and it would have been a lost day.

The early start coupled with drama-free crossings of Lockwoods, Shallotte, and Little River inlets had us ahead of schedule, and the plotter said we would be at Grande Dunes mid-afternoon, even though we had planned to anchor before then. A full day of downtime in Myrtle Beach was attractive, and I called the marina to tell them we'd be there a day early and could do the paperwork in person.

Not long thereafter, I got a call from the Red Cross asking if I could deploy to Saipan for three weeks. We're far enough south now that this is not a problem for the boat, and Myrtle Beach would be a fine place for Louise to spend some time on her own, so I called the marina back to see about a long-term stay. It turned out that their monthly rate was pretty good at just $13 per foot, so I called the Red Cross back and told them if they could get me there from Myrtle Beach I would take the assignment.

Another victim of Florence, this shrimper fishes no more.

That was a tall order. Our own research showed no flights until Sunday, and that one went via London and Hong Kong. In any event, even though we had everything dialed in, while wheels were in motion the billet got filled by someone from Texas instead, likely a much easier set of flights. I told Deployment that if things changed, the arrangements we already made were good through Friday morning. This is the second false start this season; it's a bit frustrating.

Other than the mad scramble on the phone, the rest of the cruise was uneventful, and we made it through the infamous "Rock Pile" without incident. By 2:30 we were tied up in the north basin at Grande Dunes (map), and we put a scooter on the ground to get around. We ended up using it only to go to dinner and groceries Wednesday, as it was too chilly to want to just ride around casually on Thursday as I had hoped.

Instead I spent Thursday morning just walking around the Grande Dunes complex. The four-diamond hotel was serving a Thanksgiving brunch spread, and I enjoyed just walking the grounds. Venturing up the hill and across the highway gets you to a nice Lowes grocery store (no relation to the home improvement store) which even has a beer bar, as well as a very good pizza and Italian restaurant which was closed for the duration of our stay. I recognized the Lowes as the place we once fueled the bus coming through town.

This very detailed scale model of the hotel and marina was in the hotel lobby.

Thanksgiving dinner was relaxed and tasty. Ruth's Chris was nicely and tastefully decorated for the holidays, and the service was attentive. We both had leftovers, and we staggered home and into a tryptophan coma.

This morning I thought we might linger at the dock, but with outside temps in the 40s dissuading us from any outdoor activities, we opted to just get under way once we finished our coffee. Seeing a half dozen or so sailboats on the ICW, I am thankful to have a nice warm pilothouse in which to drive.

Apparently the same storm system that kept us off the ocean also dumped tons of moisture inland, and between when we arrived and when we departed the water has risen five feet. We passed a lot of docks and several yards under water. That's on top of all the damage still visible from Florence.

Vector tucked in at Grande Dunes. The ICW is actually to the right, past the seasonal cafe.

Update: We are now anchored behind Butler Island on the Waccamaw River (map). It's a familiar stop; we met up with friends here when we were rank newbies on our first trip north. Everything seems so much easier to us now. We are on track to be in Charleston on Monday. We're now changing sorbents every half hour, so it will not be a moment too soon.

1 comment:

  1. The photo taken by Esmerelde would make an excellent mast head photo for your blog. It shows Vector in her new colors.


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