Charleston1.Weather reports threatening a freeze back home are small consolation as we sit at dock across from Charleston, SC with its historic Fort Sumter outpost, amid mist and rain, chilled wind out of the northwest and interminable fog zipping the sky to the land. We knew this weather was coming so we abandoned a two-day plan for the ICW out of Georgetown, SC in favor of a windy rock and roll ride off the coast to reach Charleston.  It was a 10+hour motor with deep water and clear marks all the way, a long slog, but very little stress, except for John as this was his first trip on the ocean (we were only three miles out).

Half way into our fifth week we are now settled for a week to pursue some rest, planning, repairs, provisioning and, hopefully, if the sun ever warms us again, touring historic Charleston.

Since Belhaven, NC with a severe rain storm delay and Beaufort, NC with its fantastic shrimp and grits, the terrain has turned sandy, marshy and flat, with the gaping Atlantic ocean just across spits of land, chocker block full of ocean beach houses. We endured Camp Lejeune military exercises with helicopters overhead at anchor, numerous nasty, shifting sandy shoals protruding into the ICW channel, raging currents that strained our arm and shoulder muscles to stay in the ICW “ditch”, and misty fog that chilled our bones.

Yes, there were a couple of good sunny days and calming river cruising, but we always seem to remember the challenging ones first. Our ignorance of local conditions left us on a sandbar early last week (BoatUS towed us off in just a couple of hours luckily). Now, we check each day for passage warnings, call a nearby BoatUS location for the latest “local” knowledge, and start the day based on high and low tide times to can keep us safely off shoaling from the ocean inlets that intersect with the ICW. But, there was a surprise in store for us…

IMG_1074Last week, a perfect full moon made high tides higher and low tides lower. Scrambling early one morning, we left on a rising high tide at dawn to ensure safe passage through two notorious shifting shoaling shallows. We traveled a stressful, but successful passage until we came upon a 65’ MHW (mean high water) fixed bridge with a clearance that day at that time was barely 64’ on the bridge board, not the published 65′ MHW. Loaded down with water and fuel, I calculated a 64’3” clearance, but, being my normal impatient self, refusing to wait an hour for the water to recede, I took a chance that we’d make it.

With a bang and a bust, our speed and wind direction instrument were ripped off by the very last beam of the bridge. It smacked the deck. We mourned briefly then looked on the good side — we no longer needed to worry about passing under a 65’ bridges at above normal high tide. The less than good side is that we have to use old-fashioned sailor knowledge to gauge wind direction and speed. And there is the repair job ahead of us. It would have happened eventually as there were several similar bridges and tides the next day that would have done us in as well.

On the personal side, despite my mechanical lack of skill (remember the generator impeller incident?), I’ve become a bit of a wizard at the helm, able to maneuver in a strong current Dolce Vento’s overall 49’ in front of bridges, waiting for them to open or for mammoth dredgers and tugs to pass first, or getting in and out of close-quarter slips. I can turn on a dime, with or without our new powerful bow thruster to assist. Enough bragging…back to the week’s update.

More nights have been spent in marinas than at anchor. Anchorages have been few and far between with the internet much less accessible at anchor. Even in marinas, connectivity can be iffy so we use our hot spot. John’s need for good internet connections are not met at anchor. His consulting projects continue to require that we go to marinas.

We’ve come 636 nm (where 1 nautical mile = 1 minute of latitude, and 636 nm = ~732 statute “land” miles) since we left our home marina in Deale, Maryland. It’s time to build a plan, a phase II, I call it. We need an idea of where we will be for the holidays so we all can make travel plans. Our goal is to travel four to five 40-50 mile days followed by two rest days. We’ve just come off a six days with one day of rest, then one day of travel. Does that make this week in Charleston a vacation week? If the sun shines and the air warms, maybe.

Now to the people side of our journey. As we start our third month together, we’ve learned that Cindy is a ghost of herself in the morning going through our preparation routine, becomes her full cheerful self soon after, but can’t eat before 10 AM. If fact, all three of us did not eat regularly during the day as we traveled so we were often starving before 5:00 PM, but lost our appetites after 7:00 PM as exhaustion from the long hours took command of our bodies and grumpiness our minds.  John has much consulting work lately (and a good thing, too, I might add) so his “crew” participation is a bit low. Cindy and I take up the slack. For myself, I was getting not only frustrated, but depressed, from moving every day with all the stress of problems we were encountering.

After we recognized the issues, the adults inside us took over and  agreed to accept our differences (I am definitely too cheerful for either Cindy or John in the morning), remind each other to eat regularly, and stick to our joint planning and decision-making.

Lying awake, agonizing over it all, in the middle of the night some days ago, it dawned on me – our daily tripping on the waterway is actually a job we have to do. Just like any job, it involves disciplined routine, early hours and long hours, good days and bad days, and a bit of leadership to keep working as a team. Once I realized this, a miracle occurred — my whole attitude changed. I’m, once again, a “happy camper” (actually a happy sailor), keeping my eyes and mind-set focused forward.

Beaufort, NC

South of Beaufort, NC

River cruising after the sandy shoals

Dolce Vento on the ICW