Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Boarded by armed men

We are underway northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, the Charleston jetties receding behind us. We were hoping to go all the way to Beaufort, NC by tomorrow evening, but seas are worse than forecast and we are having an uncomfortable ride. If things don't improve, we may come in at Winyah Bay or Cape Fear instead.

NOAA R/V Ronald Brown leaving harbor with us this morning, with the boxy Charleston Light in the background. Seeing these ships always makes us feel better about our cosmetic surface rust.

We enjoyed our quiet anchorage in the South Edisto, and weighed anchor around 8am to catch a favorable tide through the shallow Watts Cut and Dawho River. On recommendation of a trusted ICW veteran, we diverted off the published channel in a section of the Dawho, following a pre-plotted course, which had us, according to the chart plotter, driving over dry land in one spot. Nevertheless we had 14' the whole way, which meant 8' MLLW at our tide level of +6'.

Once we were out in the deep water of the North Edisto, and passing the turnoff to our infamous intended anchorage in Tom Point Creek, I called ahead to the Charleston City Marina to see if we could move our pre-paid reservation from Monday night back to Saturday. They agreed, and assigned us a spot on the inside of the face dock, our preference.

Our detour in the Dawho. Official channel is south through the markers; narrower, shallower, and not accurately marked.

The early start put us in the Stono River at the entrance to Elliott Cut right at max ebb. There would be 2.5 knots of current behind us right at the entrance. The entrance is narrow, and there is a lot of traffic, especially on a nice weekend day. Vector can be a handful with that much current following, so rather than risk getting cattywampus right in the narrow part with traffic trying to get around us, we dropped the hook in the Stono for an hour or so to wait for about half that amount of current.

Mid-afternoon is the height of weekend boat shenanigans. and there were plenty of go-fasts running by on full plane, water skiers, and the like, along with cruising boats heading to and from the nearby marina. A law enforcement presence is expected  in these conditions, and I noted a sheriff's marine patrol boat come and go from the cut and up and down the river a couple of times. At one point they passed us pretty close aboard.

When the current slacked up to a bit over a knot we weighed anchor and made our way through the cut. At that level of current the entrance and transit was uneventful, but there was lots of traffic. Ahead of us approaching the Wapoo Creek bypass bridge were a couple of little boats and the aforementioned sheriff's boat. We watched someone zip through the bridge in the other direction well above no-wake speed, and the sheriff patrol made a U-turn. But when they made another U-turn after passing us, we knew our six-plus-year streak without boardings was coming to an end.

We slowed down to get the boarding party aboard, and they asked us to continue our intended course, except that we were just a couple of minutes from the marina at that point. Instead we turned into the anchorage across the river and I worked the controls constantly to station-keep while they conducted their inspection. The boarding team was a sergeant from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and a young enlisted Coast Guardsman.

I was hoping to get rid of this printer box in Charleston, but Angel has claimed it. She was blasé about the whole boarding experience.

Sergeant Fitch kept me company at the helm and asked a dozen questions or so about origin, destination, etc. and called in our doc number and identification. Louise took the CG inspector down to the engine room; he looked in perhaps two places with a flashlight, and after seeing all our squared-away safety gear and well-labeled lockers he pretty much decided there was not much to see. He asked us about securing the waste discharge but did not ask to see anything, nor did he ask for garbage plans, waste placards, or rule books.

In total they were aboard for about ten minutes, after which they wished us a safe journey and a nice day and then left. The hardest part about the whole experience was getting them on and off the boat; our boarding gates swing out rather than in, and getting them open without the rocking patrol boat hitting them was a challenge.

For our less nautically inclined readers who may be wondering, yes, law enforcement can board and inspect your boat at any time while on the water without any sort of probable cause. They can and do look inside drawers, lockers, purses, pockets, bags, and anything else on the boat. The fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures simply does not apply on the Navigable Waters of the United States. Some states have taken steps to limit the powers of state and local law enforcement, but this never applies to federal agencies like the Coast Guard or ICE. Having the Coast Guard in the boarding party eliminates constitutional challenges.

This is just the way it is on the water, and, as much as I think it is wrong and I don't like it, the alternative, as they say, is to avoid going out on a boat. This is also the reason we have to tell our invited guests to leave their controlled substances at home; you might have a prescription for that cannabis in your state, or maybe we're passing through a state where its legal even recreationally, but it is never legal in the eyes of the feds, and federal law takes precedence on the water.

After the boarding drama was over we proceeded to our slip in the marina (map), squeezing in between two sailboats with little fanfare. My replacement autopilot and chartplotter were waiting in the office, and we made arrangements for the marina courtesy van to take us to dinner at the Harbour Club across town, where we had made reservations for our anniversary. At dinner we joked that the proper gift for the 16th was a boarding.

Our bartender, Josh, at Halls on Cinco de Mayo. The hat is definitely out of place in this staid bar with waistcoated bartenders.

We were still one package short, and for a while it looked like it would be delayed more than a day. But by the end of Saturday we had some confidence it would be delivered Monday. We considered continuing north to Isle of Palms and then coming back for it on a scooter, but that would mean another marina stay. We opted instead to just anchor in the harbor for a night. After a grocery run in the courtesy van and pumping out, we shoved off and headed right back to where we had been boarded, and dropped the hook, in a spot we've used before (map).

With a dinghy pass for the marina we headed back ashore for dinner. Without access to the courtesy van we took a Lyft into town and enjoyed one of our old standbys, the bar at Halls Chop House. We enjoyed strolling King street and seeing what had changed in the year and a half since we'd been there last. We're very fond of Charleston.

Two by Two steams up the Ashley River.

Monday morning's USPS delivery came and went with no package, but tracking steadfastly insisted it would be delivered by 8pm. Coincidentally the marina office is also open to 8, so we still had some hope, and we figured to just stay another night in the anchorage. In the meantime, a familiar boat caught up to us, steaming through Elliott Cut just as we were hatching plans to perhaps head offshore today.

While the boat was familiar, we'd yet to meet her crew. Two By Two is a Nova Scotia Pilothouse that belonged to our good friends from down under, Pauline and Rod. They sold her perhaps a year ago, but have stayed in touch with the new owners, Doris and Jeff, and have been working to connect us. We had a number of near misses in the last week or two as Two By Two headed south to Brunswick and back, and the package delay allowed them to catch up to us in Charleston. They took a slip at the Megadock and we met them ashore for a nice dinner at another of our old standbys, Pearlz on East Bay.

Dinner at Pearlz with Jeff and Doris.

This morning the offshore forecast (inaccurate as it proved to be) still looked good, and so we decked the tender and weighed anchor with the outgoing tide. It was a beautiful morning, and I always enjoy cruising past the Battery and Fort Sumter. We made passing arrangements with a NOAA research vessel on our way out the channel, and a pilot boat checked in with us to make sure we'd be clear when a giant container ship came by.

We just passed Bull Breakers and are a couple of hours from Cape Romaine. The incessant chop has made for slow going, and the chart plotter is now predicting a midnight arrival tomorrow. Conditions are supposed to improve during the night, so we'll see if that time improves as well.

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