Monday, May 25, 2020

Holiday weekend self-isolation

We are anchored on Awendaw Creek, in a marshy area of the "low country" of the South Carolina coast, just off the ICW northeast of Charleston (map). I had been expecting to type this post earlier today while under way offshore, but the weather conspired against me.

Friday evening, as we turned into the Savannah River Entrance at Tybee Roads, we could see lots of people on the beach at Tybee Island. Other than remarking that it was a lot of people for the Covid era, even though spacing was pretty good, and that it was pretty early for so many people on a Friday, I did not think much more about it. It was, after all, the beginning of a warm weekend on the coast.

But as we steamed up Calibogue Sound past the southern tip of Hilton Head Island, comprising the tony vacation enclave of the Sea Pines Resort plantation, we could again see a great deal of beach activity. It was only then that we realized we were coming into Memorial Day weekend. In my last post I shared that we have a "day of the week" clock on board; this is because we seldom know what day it is around here, and we got tired of showing up at, for example, fuel docks and wondering why they were so busy, not realizing it was the weekend. Well, that goes double for holidays; other than New Years' and the Fourth of July, we are blissfully unaware of holidays until we run right smack into some holiday hoo-ha.

Memorial Day perspective. It's not about picnics and boat parades. Photo: US Army.

We dropped the hook in a familiar and normally remote spot, in the May River not far from where it meets the Calibogue Sound (map). This is a great spot, wide and deep, because it takes great advantage of tides in making headway, and affords tender access to the free town docks in Bluffton, the South Carolina Yacht Club across the sound at Windmill Harbor, and Great Marsh Island. On our way in, we had a good view of the Route 278 bridge onto the island, which was so packed with inbound traffic on a holiday Friday afternoon that it was stopped dead.

Louise did a little Internet sleuthing on our way up the sound, and learned that SC was basically re-opening everything in time for the holiday weekend. That list included zoos, museums, aquariums. planetariums, water parks, amusement parks, and miniature golf, among other things. The beaches were already open, as well as restaurants. And the result: Hilton Head was doing a land-office business.

We had already figured to spend a couple of nights, get ashore at some point for at least a walk, and maybe find some take-out for dinner one night. And so Saturday morning we let our fair tide window for departure come and go. But by mid-day it was clear, in part from the sheer amount of marina VHF traffic: there would be no going ashore except maybe for a walk on the mainland. Even that got scrubbed by mid-afternoon as the wakes from myriad go-fast day boats had stirred the harbor up to the point where even splashing the dinghy was a bad idea.

Friday evening I grilled a nice pork tenderloin, and we enjoyed the evening after the wakes died down. And Louise had made a nice stew while we were still under way Friday that we were able to enjoy Saturday evening. I spent most of the day Saturday working on the helm electrical panels.

The "new" 24v panel. I need to order proper labels.

Part of the electrical project had to do with the master stateroom AC, which has been tripping its breaker now every time it starts. A bit of testing revealed the breaker itself was weak, and with the AC power mostly off except for the few hours the generator was running, it was a great time to tear the panels apart and move breakers around. I got the AC working and also re-balanced the panels a bit.

The bigger project was moving around the last few breakers so that one of the two six-position DC subpanels could be repurposed to 24-volt service. I have a separate blog post in the works about the electrical system revamp, but suffice it to say here that we have a whole bunch of equipment that will work on 24 volts, and some that even prefers it, including the radar and its displays, the AIS, the navigation lights, and the stabilizer control. This last item actually demands it, and there was a small 12 volt to 24 volt converter under the helm to power it.

I had to move circuits around until all the 24-volt capable items were on the same six-position panel, which also involved swapping some breakers due to ampacity issues. I then ran a #8 wire from the engine room to the helm, and installed a new 24-volt main breaker in the ER. After ditching the aforementioned converter, I was able to switch the panel to 24 volts and get everything tested. All told, maybe four hours crouched under the helm hot-swapping wires.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor on the ebb, now an hour later than if we had had the presence of mind to leave on Saturday. Timing was important, as we rode the flood to the "top of the hill" near Skull Creek, and then had the ebb behind us all the way out Port Royal Sound. As we passed the northeast tip of Hilton Head we noticed the beach was packed. We had figured, with the late start, a 9pm arrival in Charleston Harbor, one of a handful of places I am completely comfortable arriving at night.

This morning's view. Ravenel Bridge at right, The Battery at left.

As it turns out, between the favorable current out the inlet, and a favorable current northbound in the ocean, we arrived at Charleston inlet early, with the plotter projecting anchor down by 8:10. We had dinner under way before making the turn into the jetties. We dropped the hook just east of the limit of Commercial Anchorage B, and immediately north of the marked cable area (map), just a short distance west of historic Fort Sumter. We've anchored on one side of Anchorage B or the other several times.

We don't anchor inside the marked anchorage for a simple reason: the anchorage is under control of the Captain of the Port and has restrictions that are difficult for us, including maintaining a bridge watch. And yet, when we arrived, there was a sailboat anchored right in the middle of the anchorage, which is frequently used by commercial traffic. He never turned on his anchor light, and when I tried to hail him to tell him he was hard to see, I got no response, so he was not maintaining the required radio or bridge watch, either. He's lucky the 300' barge that anchored sometime after I turned in, at 0200, did not hit him.

Lest readers think I am being picky here, even anchored where we were, I was hailed well after midnight by a passing pilot boat, who was wondering what we were up to. We maintain a radio watch at all times that we are aboard for exactly this reason (among others), and I am always amazed at how few anchored boats are doing likewise. (With the many restrictions of Anchorage B, leaving the boat unattended would not be an option.)

Speaking of the radio, marina radio traffic as we arrived in Charleston and for many hours thereafter was very busy. Memorial Day weekend on the water is in nearly full swing, although subjectively I will say it's not as busy as other holiday weekends have been.  At some point I noticed a lot of emergency vehicles rolling east across the Ravenel Bridge; what I failed to notice was the boat explosion that preceded it, even though it should easily have been visible across the harbor. Thankfully all survived; there are stories like this one every Memorial Day weekend.

Anchorage B this morning. Enormous barge at right arrived in the middle of the night. Sailboat is off-frame to the left.

Before we turned in last night, it was a pretty sure bet that the outside weather, which in the morning had looked like it would hold for another day, was not going to be good today. But we checked again this morning when we awoke. Had it been OK outside, we would have had a leisurely morning in Charleston harbor, leaving around 11 on the ebb. Instead it was a scramble to get under way first thing, while we still had a rising tide to help us through the shallow parts of the ICW north of Charleston.

Frankly, this is one of the worst sections of the entire ICW from Norfolk to Brownsville, and we normally avoid it like the plague (pardon the reference). But we wanted to keep moving; Charleston Harbor is not a comfortable place to anchor, worthwhile only to get the benefit of enjoying Charleston itself. But we could think of no places here that made sense for us to visit in the current circumstance, and, in fact, the mad rush to reopen everything gives us great pause. So rather than spend perhaps a week waiting on weather, we opted for the inside slog.

This section has gotten a lot more tolerable sine we've been able to get the latest Corps of Engineers depth surveys overlaid on a chart, which we can do on our tablet. An early start and those surveys were enough to get us all the way here without incident. This in spite of winds blowing 20-30kt the entire day, part of the reason the outside conditions were untenable. We had the anchor down by 1:15pm, just before the tide dropped below our safety threshold.

In the morning we will weigh anchor early to again have a favorable tide, and we will again be anchored someplace by early afternoon. We have not been off the boat since Jacksonville, and we're looking forward to making Wrightsville Beach in a few days to get ashore and stretch our legs. I have deliveries headed to an Amazon locker there on Wednesday.

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