Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fernadina Beach to Charleston

Our arrival in Fernandina Beach from Daytona was uneventful. The USCG was broadcasting a warning about shoaling at the intersection of the ICW and Mantazas inlet with depths at low tide of 3.5'. If true then that was a real problem depending on our timing of the tides. We were fortunate that we arrived at this point at a few hrs before high tide and went through without an issue. In fact we had no less than 7' below our keel. There was a lot of chatter on the marine radio about the depths with boats who had gone through relaying information back to those who had yet to transit the inlet intersection. A sail boat by the name of Trinity gave us his advice which was helpful. Nice guy.

Our original plan was to stay for 2 days at the city marina in Fernandina Beach, rest, eat and catch up on chores. But we changed our mind when Jeannie found a diesel fuel company that would fill us up for about $.35/g less than anything else we had seen and would let us dock for a very modest charge. So we changed our plans and went to the fuel dock. Nice guy, helped a lot and ended up not charging us for the dockage. What a super deal this was. However, in this area the tides are a real issue, averaging 6.5-7'. These docks, unlike the city docks (which are floating), were fixed. The challenges were tieing the boat so as the tide changes, the lines were not too tight nor too loose. Getting off the boat at low or high tide was quite a challenge. In some ways it was easier to get off the boat deck. Jeannie was locked on the boat at certain times of the cycle.

Looking at the weather we felt we had a small window of opportunity to go offshore. The forecast was calling for 2-3' seas for the next 36 hrs and then a tropical low was forming and sea conditions would deteriorate significantly. With that information in hand we decided to make the run to Charleston SC., bypassing the Georgia ICW entirely. The issue with the Georgia ICW is several areas which are not passable at low tide. The biggest single problem is the Mud River which has a 7' tidal range  and would be at low tide mid day & unpasseable. Ugh. Just would not work. So with a good short term forecast and complicated options for an inside run we made the call to go outside. 

Our logistical issues were timing the passage to arrive in Charleston at a good arrival time. It is about a 20 hr run at our typical speed and 24hrs at a slightly slower but more fuel efficient speed.  We wanted to arrive in Charleston in the early morning about 8-9pm. That means we would need to leave by lunch. There is always a but......lunch time departure would require us to leave at low tide. I mean a really low tide. From the side deck of the boat you were looking "up" 6' to the bottom of the dock. Just no way to get on and off safely to undo the lines and power cable. Leaving at 8ish was a more practical solution for an easy departure and that is what we opted to do. That meant slowing our speed over ground to time our arrival. If we went our typical speed we would arrive at 4am. We left and set our route and speed at 6.5-7kts. Slow but very fuel efficient.

The trip north went well. Our only complexities occurred about 25nm offshore in the early morning off the inlet near Savannah Ga. We encountered, around 2am,  5 cargo vessels all coming and going into or out of the port from different direction and a line of unpredicted thunderstorms were popping up all around us. We are fortunate and have an AIS system which picks up ships' name speed course and other data and displays it on our chart plotter. While the visibility at 2am had much to be desired, we could track each vessel's course and stay well away from them. All commercial ships over a certain size are required to have AIS capability and it is optional in pleasure craft. We opted for a system that transmits our information as well as receives; the cargo ships could track our course and speed and compared to these big ships we are just a tiny thing on the waters, so it is good to be seen on their chart plotters as well. We ended up zigging around dodging cargo ships and thunderstorms which added some distance and some time but it was the safest way to proceed.
We arrived in Charleston Harbor at 7:30am and worked our way up the Ashley River to the Mega Docks City Marina. These docks are better protected from waves than other marinas we have found and have really great support services for boaters. A bit more expensive than the other ones too.
Boy are the docks crowded. The weather has forced everyone in and sitting tight until the fronts pass in a few days. There are some really big boats here in the 120+ft range, all with crews running around in uniforms cleaning and polishing. Meanwhile I am in my ratty tee shirt, flip flops and ball cap....but what the heck I like my look and it has taken years to perfect it. I mean after all I have swatted lots of flies with my ball cap and it is quite comfortable & broken in.

We are here for 3 days unless the weather says otherwise and here is what we want to do;
Sleep and get caught up on our rest from the overnight run
Make a pass at some of the finer restaurants, we like to eat lunch out (cheaper) and a light dinner on  board.  Charleston has the best shrimp and grits by far! OMG
I have decided to switch our navigation software from Nobeltec to MaxSea. Lots of reasons but the nut of it is Nobeltec has been problematic since it was first installed a year ago and I have done just about everything to work out the bugs to no avail. It will crash on me at the most inopportune times more so if I use some of the common features such as tracking. So out of total frustration I am making the switch. MaxSea is a cool technology that has a lot of interesting features. I installed it yesterday and will work on it again today to become familiar with it and will start actively using it tomorrow. Should be fun. 

We plan on heading out tomorrow am for Georgetown SC via the ICW, still too rough off shore.
We have a bit over 400sm miles to go until we are back in Kilmarnock and should visit some interesting places along the way.

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