Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Charleston Flyby

We are in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 nautical miles south-southwest of Charleston, North Carolina (map). Charleston had been our intended destination when we left Beaufort Inlet yesterday morning, and we got within 25 miles of the ship channel before making the decision early this morning to pass right by.

Clouded sunset over Fort Macon.

When we left Fort Macon we did not have enough forecast information to know if we could continue past Charleston, but I was rather hoping that we might get as far as Ossabaw Sound, south of Savannah, Georgia, where we have friends. My back-of-the-envelope math said the run from Fort Macon to the first anchorage in Charleston Harbor could take anywhere from 32-36 hours at our normal cruising speed, and we left Fort Macon in the pre-dawn hours to ensure an arrival there no later than 4pm, so we'd have plenty of daylight to get anchored or hunt for a different spot.

We passed this Coast Guard cutter anchored in the ocean off Atlantic Beach just before dawn yesterday.

Gulf Stream countercurrents are hard to predict; we use a number of sites but count on none of them. Unlike our northward run in what was supposed to be the main part of the stream, where we should have had a couple of knots in our favor but instead had less than zero, yesterday we had a much bigger push than expected, with, at times, a knot and a half of help. By the time I turned over the watch at 3am, our ETA had improved to 10-11am this morning, making for a very fast 28-29 hour passage.

Louise woke me at 7am so we could make a decision, with updated forecast information in hand. Our good window now extends to late tomorrow, then slams shut for at least five days to a week. That made the decision to just continue on out here in the ocean a no-brainer. That said, Ossabaw Sound, or for that matter any Savannah landfall, is now out of the question, because owing to yesterday's speed windfall, we'd now be arriving in the middle of the night. There is no reasonable amount of slowing down that will change that, nor am I willing to chance any of the somewhat tricky inlets along that stretch in the dark absent some sort of emergency.

And so it is that we have set a new course for the St. Johns River, at Jacksonville Beach. Florida. If it's not still dark, we have the option of going in at the St. Marys River instead, on the FL/GA line. It's hard to know, as the countercurrents have not settled down here and our expected arrival time is vacillating between 9am and 3pm. As I type, we seem to have a half knot against us, and if that persists we may even bail out at Saint Simons Sound, near Brunswick and Jekyll Island.

The closest we came to Charleston. You can see the Avenal Bridge in the middle of the photo.

In any case we are committing to another full day at sea. Having already passed Charleston, we have just one more daylight option today, St. Helena Sound, from where we'd either have to time an ICW run with the tides, or else hunker down at anchor for a week to wait for good weather outside.

As we were cruising down the Neuse on Monday, we were hailed on the radio by Don and Barb aboard Cavara, whom we had seen in New Bern, where Barb looked in on Angel while we were away. They were just a few miles behind us, heading for the same anchorage at Fort Macon and planning their own outside run to perhaps Wrightsville Beach. We spoke at length on the radio that afternoon and they decided to adopt our plan for an overnight to Charleston; they left Beaufort Inlet perhaps a half hour behind us.

Cavara, as they passed us (slowly) somewhere north of Frying Pan Shoals.

Although about the same size and waterline length as Vector, their Defever 49 RPH has twin engines and less displacement, so they have an efficient cruising speed a bit higher than ours. They passed us fairly close aboard before we made Frying Pan Shoals. They were well more than an hour ahead of us when they reached the Charleston entrance, where we bid them farewell as they will be docked there for a month or so.

Making the diversion decision after passing Cape Romain, we're much closer to shore than we'd be if we had decided at Frying Pan to go direct. We've decided to stick with that trend, adding a waypoint just off Port Royal Sound en route. That will keep us, we think, in calmer water and more favorable current, perhaps making up for the five miles it will add. As a bonus we should have a bit more Internet connectivity.

Speaking of which, our Verizon MiFi continued working yesterday morning (it had an end date of 11/30), at least as long as it took for us to pass out of signal range. But this morning when it was back in service it was no longer activated, and we're having to scrape together enough bandwidth with Louise's phone to do what we need along the way. We're looking into options to get the MiFi re-activated, now that we own it.

This will likely be my last update until we are anchored someplace on the St. Marys or St. Johns rivers, around mid-day tomorrow. Once in the St. Johns, our plan is to spend at least a couple of weeks exploring the river, including visiting Jacksonville and our official home base of Green Cove Springs.

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