Leaving North Carolina, we knew that the next two states, South Carolina and Georgia, were going to offer unique experiences, but also very shallow waterways and, yes, lots of bridges.
So, lots of planning.
And I do mean lots! Somehow, we have to find a route for the day that meets the following requirements:
And, it is working. So far, the score board is: 0 bridges touched with our mast, 0 times gone aground, 0 times Ocean has had to cross her legs because we couldn’t get her to shore. 😊
But it isn’t just a slog of a journey. No, we have just about completed South Carolina and we have seen some truly wonderful places and sights as we motor down the ICW. Dolphins continue to be a real treat and, gosh, when they get really close alongside our hull…well, that is magic. We also see lots of bald eagles and pelicans and incredible terrain and vistas.
Having a dog, especially one that isn’t quite yet trained to do her business on deck, we need to go ashore. And this is where the beauty of some of our anchorages really gets uncovered. In towns, we get to see a bit of the local flare. Feral cats along the Waccamaw River, a beach made entirely of oyster shells, large plantation oak trees with Spanish moss hanging from them, and beautiful country homes. And always, I mean al-ways, people chatting with us about Ocean. We meet so many people who want to pet her, tell us about their dog or just give us a wave and say “that is one beautiful pup y’all have”. Incredible.
Most days are amazing but not all days are easy. Boat issues that spring up out of nowhere are our biggest stressor. Not only do we have to manage “the moment” i.e. getting the boat to a safe place where a proper assessment of the issue and cause can be done, but we actually need to solve the issue. Boat mechanics are not readily available so most fixes fall on us (i.e. Mike). Some issues are a constant worry (like our bow thruster or our alternator misalignment) but others pop up, are resolved and we move on (like our starboard helm suddenly becoming non-functional). We don’t have any specific expertise in this stuff but, man, Mike will be able to teach a master class when we complete this journey! He is a great problem solver and that skill has been key in keeping us going. He uses a unique blend of mechanical ingenuity, common sense, stubbornness and ego (will not be defeated) to somehow put us back in the forward position. Honestly, most days I am in awe.
So, yes, this journey so far has been a challenge but the rewards come daily. We are looking forward to getting to Georgia with its very shallow sections. Many sailors choose to go out into the Atlantic rather than deal with Georgia. Not us. Next week we will have Georgia on our minds 😊.
We left Beaufort, NC on Sunday with a great two week forecast ahead of us and a plan to make some serious headway south. And we are! We have been moving about 40 to 50 nautical miles a day, which allows us to do all of our maneuvering during daylight hours. For us, this is an important part of enjoying the trip. This stretch of the ICW is narrow, with lots of shoaling, meaning we could go aground even though we are in the middle of the channel (#notgood). Travelling during daylight hours doesn’t prevent this, but it does reduce our stress a bit since night time navigation requires heightens awareness no matter where you are. What does reduce our chances of going aground? Bob423.
Who the heck is Bob423? Well, he is an ICW aficionado who freely recorded his “didn’t run aground” tracks of the ICW and made them public and downloadable. Incredible. Sometimes these tracks mean doing some odd zigs or zags off the main channel. It seems wrong at times but it actually gets us around some pretty serious shoaling. The best part? It is up to date as of this fall. That is the challenging part of paper charts or rarely updated navigation tools. Shoaling happens all the time. Knowing what shoaling was present in 1989 doesn’t help much in 2022 (1989 shoaling info is actually included in our charts!!!).
The ICW, this part anyway, is kind of like travelling any big highway, like the oh-so familiar Canadian 401. It is narrow and, in-between towns, there is nothing to see. Well, except dolphins. That’s right! Dolphin sightings are almost a constant thing now. These social little creatures pop up regularly to play around our bow or give us a wave. It is an incredible experience and something I don’t think we will ever get bored of. We are grateful for each and every encounter, especially in the early morning hours. I mean, coffee with your best dolphin bud? Incredible!
We finished off our time in North Carolina with two great stops. One was the beautiful anchorage at Wrightsville Beach where we enjoyed a wonderful romp on the wide sandy beach. Ocean was in her element! Oh, and awesome pizza was devoured. In our minds, it was the perfect anchorage 😊.
Our last stop in North Carolina was meant to be a pit stop marina visit, just off the ICW, at Southport. This is a convenient stop that gave us a chance to fuel up, water up and pump out. Unbeknownst to us, it was going to be so much more than that. How? Well, in the morning, we planned a 0930 departure time with Sensai. All our pre-departure steps were going well until…we started the engine. Immediately Mike noticed that our tachometer wasn’t working. Huh? Then, that now familiar smoke and smell of burning alternator belt started (memories of Cape May). Yikes! We shut everything down and told Sensai to go on without us. The alternator alignment issue that we thought we had resolved had reared its ugly head. No mechanics were available to assist but, luckily, a Canadian sailboat docked alongside us came to our rescue. The wonderful captain of Esmeralda jumped on board and, with Mike, managed to realign our alternator. An hour and a half later, we were off the dock and headed to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Another testament to the amazing sailing community. Don’t worry, James, we will pay it forward!
Tomorrow we leave Myrtle Beach (with Sensai) and in a few days we will be in Georgetown, SC. Still chasing the warm weather!
Waiting Out Nicole in Beaufort, NC
Mike, Ocean and I love to be at anchor so there are very few things that will force us onto a dock. Hurricanes are one of those things. And we have had two experiences of this so far on our journey. First, there was Hurricane Ian while we were moving along the Jersey coast. Now it is Nicole. She was briefly categorized as a Hurricane on Wednesday but mostly has been a Tropical Storm. Whatever you call her, she packs a pretty good storm surge. Thanks to Nicole, we have had very strong winds over the last several days, along with higher-than-normal tides, minor flooding, and some rain. All of this was easy to manage while at dock.
We first saw that the weather was ramping up for a good storm this week while anchored in Oriental, NC. We religiously watch the National Hurricane Centre advisories along with various weather reports and all of them pointed to a pretty severe Nicole-fueled storm starting on Tuesday and extending through most of the week. All three boats in our pod (Wild Horses, Sensai and Brise) decided to secure docks in Beaufort, NC for the Monday, in advance of the forecasted strong winds. This is one of the best parts about having sailing buddies. Even when our boats are geographically separated (Wild Horses was in Belhaven and Brise and Sensai were further along on the ICW), we check in with each other, discussing anchorages, weather, tides, and routes. We also have other boats that each of us check in with regularly, crew that we have met along the way or know from back home. It is our own little crowd sourcing exercise to keep us all safe.
We had arrived in Oriental last Thursday and decided to stay put until we had to move to our dock in Beauport on the following Monday. It was a great break from the daily grind of planning, navigating, early mornings and food on the go. Settled in one place, we could sleep in, eat a hot, slow breakfast and go for good long walks with Ocean. The anchorage was only a 30 second dinghy ride to town where we could stroll along the waterfront and through charming neighbourhoods with warm (27 degree Celsius) sunny days. It was an incredible four days of enjoying the town.
But we also got some necessary work done on Wild Horses. We have continued to deal with water intrusion in the bilge area under our bed but had a new idea for the cause, and a potential fix. Sensai had suggested that the water could be coming in through the anchor locker seams. The caulking in there was old so the theory made sense. Once in the anchor locker, we did a thorough investigation. The seams were fine but some of the hoses and electrical tubing needed to be shored up. So far, this has made a difference. Fingers crossed that the water stays on the outside of the boat from now on 😉.
After several days in Oriental, we lifted our anchor on Monday and started the journey south to Beaufort. We had a calm day with a lovely sunny sky and very little boat traffic. Too easy for you Wild Horses? Should we up the level of difficulty? Let’s see, you are headed to a tight dock space in a crowded harbour, wouldn’t it be a great add-on to your day if your bow thruster wasn’t working? Yeesh. But, yup, our bow thruster was definitely not working. Truly our bow thruster (a motor that gives us control of our bow) has been rarely used on our journey. We only really need it for tight spaces when the wind is up and since we spend most of our time in wide open anchorages, the bow thruster has sat idle. Now it was beyond idle, it was 100% non-functional.
Of course, our expert captain wasn’t concerned. Under his care, Wild Horses was guided into her dock space with ease. Yes! Next was to disembark and enjoy the town!
We have now been at Homer Smith Marina for 5 days. In that time, the bow thruster has been, well, sort of fixed. Unable to find the issue ourselves, we brought in a mechanic. He checked this and that and one other thing, with no big cause getting highlighted. Finally, he asked us to try the bow thruster and, voila, it finally worked. The issue? Age and lack of exercise. Really? Yup. The contacts that turn the on/off switch had gotten sluggish with non-use. Apparently, the bow thruster, just like us, needs to move to stay in tip top shape. No worries, that is an easy step to add into our boat days.
On Sunday we will leave Beaufort and head towards Georgetown. It will take us about four days along a stretch of the ICW that is narrow with lots of shoaling and very few anchorages. By many accounts, this is a “get-through” section of the ICW. For us, it is another experience that we are happy to have aboard Wild Horses 😊.
This is Why We Are Doing This
These early November days mark two months of our journey. We left Trident Yacht Club September 8th but it seems like a century ago. We have seen a lot of places, met a lot of people and learned, learned learned, fixed the boat, and learned some more. There have been a lot of “ups” but there have also been some “downs.” Most of the low points have been centred around boat issues – a leaky bow thruster, a fried alternator belt, unexplained water intrusion in the bilge under our main cabin bed and a multitude of other little things. Some days, yeesh. The emotions range from disappointment and frustration all the way up to, well, fear and dread.
Yeah, not good.
But we are learning to ride the wave of emotions and to tackle the boat issues one by one. Sometimes that means getting outside help (when the issue is outside our wheelhouse) like we did with our chart plotter problems. Mostly, though, we try to tackle things on our own, albeit, with the sailing community you are never really on your own. A mention of a confounding issue (like the water intrusion under our bed) will spur lots of ideas and, even better, “that happened to me” explanations. YouTube University has also been a proud supporter of our DIY work for many years 😉. Those little videos have saved our bacon more than once.
Today, we can happily say that the boat is purring along. No boat work has been on our agenda of late. Yes!
Truly, though, most of our days are just chockful of special-ness, with the last few being particularly high points. Why? Because they remind us that we are “elsewhere.” We are exploring and discovering and when you combine that with being able to fall asleep in your own comfy bed every night…amazing.
The first of our “elsewhere reminders” happened at the bottom of the Alligator River, North Carolina. We anchored just off the ICW, very purposely near a spot that promised that a pet relief dock loomed within the reedy, shallow edges of the Buckridge Coastal Reserve. Research into this Reserve highlighted that it is a known habitat for alligators. Lovely.
Having anchored just before sunset, we had only 30 minutes or so of sunlight to get the dog to this dock and back to the boat. Doable, right? So, the dock was actually at the end of a very long, shallow and narrow access from the open water, winding its way through the marsh. The dinghy had to go dead slow, with the motor tilted, to navigate around multiple underwater hazards. And with the risk of an alligator sighting and looming darkness, all hands and paws stayed well within the dinghy. No alligators were spotted but we were treated to a close-up look at the beauty of the Reserve as we wound through the marsh. It was a spectacular and inspiring moment in the wilderness. And thankfully we got back to the boat just before darkness fully set.
Our other “elsewhere reminder” was in Belhaven, North Carolina. It is right off the ICW and is just a normal-type small town kind of place. Tiny and nothing splashy. What stood out to us about Belhaven was its people. My gosh, I have never met friendlier people. Anywhere. Walking along the road with our backpacks, a lovely lady pulled over and asked if we wanted a ride to the grocery store. Remember that we have Ocean with us. She was willing to take us to the store with our big old dog. Plus, she had just returned from dropping off another Canadian boating couple from the grocery store. That is beyond nice. We declined her offer (we needed to stretch our legs) and for the whole 30-minute walk to the store, every single car slowed down to give us a wave or a smile or a nod. Every single car. It was just extraordinary. The other really cool topper about Belhaven, for us, are its beautiful cotton fields. That is a new sighting for us and yet another reminder that we were somewhere that was delightfully different.
Tomorrow, we head to Oriental, North Carolina. We got separated from our sailing pod this morning but hope to catch back up with them over the next few days.
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.