Friday, May 3, 2019

Shallow water

We are under way in the Coosaw River, somewhere north of Beaufort (rhymes with new fert), South Carolina. This morning found us anchored in a quiet spot in Skull Creek at Hilton Head Island (map). It's a dreary, rainy day here in the low country.

Wednesday I had the car reserved for noon, and so we called the marina at 11 and asked if we could come in a little early. We were tied up alongside the face dock right at noon and I called Hertz to get picked up. They were short drivers, and we didn't get a ride until 1pm. Feeling a bit short on time, we carted the old printer out to the street with us for the pickup, rather than our original plan of returning to the boat for it in the car.

Savannah traffic is miserable, and by the time we finished at Best Buy along with another errand at West Marine and a quick provisioning stop at the grocery store, I had just enough time to get as far with the printer as a self-test page. We ended up with an Epson for $70, which, while only having middling ratings on Consumer Reports, was one of the few models that would fit in our cabinet.

Backing away from the dock this morning at Thunderbolt Marina. The lovely blue boat with the wood transom is Coconuts.

We did take a brief detour out to our old stomping grounds on Wilmington Island just before leaving for dinner. While there has been a little development, things looked mostly the same. The marina hadn't changed a bit, with the "improvements" they were in the process of making six years ago still, well, in process.

We drove down to Richmond Hill and met up with Laura Lee and John at the clubhouse at the Ford Plantation. It was a very relaxing evening; we very much enjoy their company, and the food, wine, and service were top notch. We can see why they enjoy it here. It was very generous of them to extend the invitation. It will be at least a year before we catch them again, perhaps out on the water in their lovely Selene.

We never seem to run out of things to talk about with them, and we returned rather late in the evening. Louise lost the coin toss on the way down (ok, it was really rock-paper-scissors) and was the designated driver for the return trip. Even though I had booked an econobox, Hertz gave us a high-end Toyota 4Runner with all the bells and whistles, which made for a comfortable day of getting around.

We parked the car in the very same parking lot where we had literally lived in the bus while the boat was being repaired in the yard six years ago. After a long day we were both in bed fairly early. I was up and fixing coffee just as the marina staff were making the morning delivery of Krispy Kreme donuts to all the boats; they left a box of a half dozen on our aft deck and they were still warm when I picked them up. A signature amenity of this marina.

I spent some time in the morning finishing the printer setup on the laptops and Louise was able to get her package labels printed in time for me to run them to the post office on my way to return the car. The downside of the upgrade to an SUV was that it took four gallons of gas after travelling just 95 miles. Although I think I returned it more full than we got it. I can't complain for a $30 car.

Hertz dropped me back off at the marina, and when I walked down the dock to the boat I found a familiar boat docked in front of Vector. It was Coconuts, a lovely Krogen Express belonging to friends Bru and Sandy Brubaker, whom we had met during our time in Deltaville. They had just arrived, and of course we were just leaving. It was nice to spend a few minutes catching up on the dock, though.

Vector in the Beaufort River, as seen from Coconuts.

We dropped lines right at the checkout time of 11, which put us in the Savannah River just in time to hit Fields Cut, one of the notorious shallow stretches on the ICW, at dead low tide. We've been aground in Fields Cut before, and rather than take that chance, we decided to just head out the Savannah River, where I had over two knots of current behind me. We then picked our way across the shallow bar dividing Tybee Roads from Calibogue (rhymes with hoagie) Sound in three footers, and steamed back up Calibogue Sound between Dafuskie Island and Hilton Head.

Long time readers may know that we spent a month on Hilton Head shortly after buying the boat, where we trained with a professional captain every couple of days. We visited every dock on the island more than once and explored every nearby passage. We did silly things like dock at a boat ramp and pick up a mooring ball that had no pennant. By the time we were done we knew these waters very well. It's always a trip down memory lane when we cruise past the island.

As tempting as it was to stop someplace for the night to get ashore, and maybe see our friend Captain Gary, we're trying to make tracks northward and so we just steamed up to the last anchorage before Port Royal Sound, called Skull Creek, and dropped the hook for the night. Between the late start and the extra mileage it was as far as we could get, Beaufort being out of reach in daylight.

This morning we weighed anchor fairly early and started out across Port Royal Sound. Before we got halfway across I spotted Coconuts coming up behind us on our AIS. They caught up to us just after we made the turn into the river. It turned out they wanted to make Beaufort, where they had plans for a few days, before the forecasted rain storm moved in, and so they got a very early start. I joked that they missed the donuts.

Update: We are anchored for the night in the South Edisto River, at a place called Laurel Hill (map). There are no hills here. I had to stop typing two paragraphs ago as we approached a section that required all of my attention, a known shallow section known as the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff. As luck would have it, we arrived at dead low tide, which led to some drama.

This evening's sunset from the South Edisto.

Mindful that the last time we came through here we got stuck in the mud two or three times before finally finding the channel, I spent a good deal of time researching it beforehand. It seems they dredged it over the summer, and a Corps of Engineers depth survey taken in February showed depths of 11' or more at low water through the entrance. A posting to the Waterway Guide in April said the passage was good for 11'.

Ha. We followed the surveyed route and promptly ran into the mud; the water was just five feet deep. I backed out under full power and we dropped the hook in the Coosaw to figure out just what went wrong. Looking at the tide table we knew if we waited an hour or so we would get two feet of tidal help, and in that time I dropped the tender and went to sound it out. Sure enough there was a 5' hump at the entrance which would be 7' when we tried again, and after that we'd have 8'-9' for the first section of the channel. Good enough. In hindsight, had we known about the recent shoaling ahead of time, we'd have just gone down the Coosaw to the mouth of the Ashepoo and back up, which would have taken the same extra hour.

No harm, no foul, and at 4:30 we resumed our journey, now on a rising tide which was over 4' by the time we stopped for the day. We wanted to get through the rest of the cutoff and another shallow section before day's end, so we can use tomorrow morning's high tide to get through the next two skinny spots, Watts Cut, and the Dawho River. That will actually put us into Charleston mid-afternoon.

It looks like most of our packages are already in Charleston, so I will call the marina during the day and see if we can switch our pre-paid reservation for Monday night to tomorrow night instead. That will also let us get ashore for a nice dinner for our 16th anniversary, in addition to boarding our packages. We're hoping the last couple of them show up tomorrow, but if not, we'll anchor in the harbor until they arrive Monday.

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