East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 18

4/8/12

Wrightsville Beach, NC

Continuing to wend our way down the ICW, we have thus far avoided going aground, though we’ve been close a couple of times.

Wrightsville Beach, unlike so many of the places we’ve been on the ICW, is a small city in its own right, and ideally situated: the ICW cuts it in two, (with a bridge we had to have opened connecting both parts), with the resort part of the town fronting the Atlantic a mile or so away. At times as we got close to Wrightsville, we could see the breakers of the Atlantic a short distance away, looking very intimidating.

The marina where we stayed was a little pricey, but in a great location: just across the bridge and a bit more than half a mile (okay, a half mile beyond half a mile = a mile, but it was a very pleasant walk) to the shopping center where West Marine and the local grocery chain, Harris Teeter, are. We walked there every single day we were in Wrightsville Beach, needing something at one place or other that one of us had forgotten

 A marina staffer also told us about a great local breakfast and lunch place just across the parking lot from the marina, the Causeway Cafe. We had an excellent breakfast there, a seafood omelet for Paul and unbreakfast-like chicken & dumplings for me, and it was clear that the cafe was hardly a local secret. On a Thursday at 10:30 in the morning, the place was packed and we wound up sitting at the counter when a couple of seats were available (yes, even a wait to sit at the counter). Sitting at the counter, we had a bird’s eye view of everything, and staff worked quickly to get people taken care of. The owner roamed around, greeting customers, making sure that everything was okay, joking with staff and regulars. Busy, but it seemed like a good place to work, just one of those great local “finds.”.

 The Harris Teeter was a perfectly fine grocery store, somewhat upscale, but it got me to thinking about some things. Wherever we go, I always apply for one of those store discount or rewards cards, and I did the same at Harris Teeter. This time, though, there was a wrinkle: unlike many places we’ve been where staff give you the card and the paperwork, but usually don’t care if you ever complete it, at Harris Teeter, staff insisted that I complete the paperwork before I got the discount and that I provide my driver’s license #, which was listed on the form (and I was asked to get it out so she could check it). At that point, I stopped and asked that my paperwork be destroyed, which was done. Paul pointed out that I could have used my Costa Rica driver’s license. Ah,well.

4/9/12:

Murrells Inlet, SC

We are finally in SC! The current was with us, so we made great time and bypassed several anchorages because it was too early to stop. Paul found an anchorage off in the marsh, which according to one of the books we have, should have had good depths in the middle of the channel. He headed into the side channel, leaving plenty of room on either side, and the alarm on the depth sounder went off: 2.8′ below the transponder, maybe a foot below the keel. Paul tried again, but the same thing happened, so we continued on. Lots of anchorages listed, but all of them carried warnings about shoaling or submerged stumps, which meant problems with getting an anchor to set (dig in so the boat doesn’t drift).

We finally wound up at a marina. We’d initially rejected it as being too expensive, but there was no choice, as the next possibility was about 20 miles further, and we’d have gotten there well after dark. The ICW is mostly well-marked, but very few of the navigational aids are lighted, and the channel may be straight for a time, then the aids suddenly veer off due to a shoal. And the chart plotter is reasonably up-to-date, but a shifting (or just new) shoal will usually be marked by placement of the aids.

The ICW continues to change: narrow tree-lined banks here, marsh and wider banks — but don’t get too close to the side! — there; modest houses in one place, nicer homes in another, and absolutely nothing but low trees, brush, and sky in other places; people fishing off their own dock or at a public pier. So far, it has all been interesting.

4/10/12:

Dewees Creek, SC

We passed a number of grand and grander homes today (and you’ll have to look on our website tomorrow to see the one surprising picture), parks, and more modest homes. Why grand homes in one place and a modest home in another? Soil? Views? Access to services? Distance from the flood plain? (Most of the time, they all seemed close enough to the ICW to be at risk!) Neither of us could figure it out. But there they were, and it was fun to be able to see the mansions and other homes as we went by in our very modest boat. As the banks of the ICW became more populated, we also began to see things that distinguished several neighboring homes. After we saw the giraffe (which turned out to be a clever marketing device), several other homes had large sculptures facing the water; in another small community, there was competing (or so it seemed) landscaping; several other houses further on all had flags of various sorts. All of this last group of homes had US and SC flags, but one had a flag for The Citadel (which is in SC), another had a Greek flag and another had another country’s flag on display. Only in that one set of homes did we see that. And all of these facing the Waterway, not the street, so one could say that the ICW is the road going past their front yards!

Tonight we are in a magical place, but that’s after our first experience with anchoring in a cypress grove. One anchorage in our ICW anchorage book looked good and it was about time to stop for the day, so Paul went in to the little side channel. Depths were fine, but when he set the anchor, it was another matter. We were drifting a little too close to the trees and when Paul tried to get the anchor up, it wouldn’t budge. So he had me at the engine controls while he disassembled the anchor, first pulling up the chain and undoing the shackle connecting it to the anchor, then managing to tip the anchor (the water was warm and it wasn’t too deep) so that it came free, after which DW was adrift. I slowly ran the engine, then faster, and we were out of there! Cypress are magnificent, but viewing them from a distance is the only way for us from now on.

We went a few more miles down the ICW, and the book showed us a beauty: marshland as far as the eye can see, birds calling, seemingly miles from anywhere. And we were graced with a lovely sunset and clear skies, so the Milky Way was in view.

4/11/12:

Charleston, SC

Before we got here, I called around and found rates to be about $2/’, which Paul was a little unhappy about paying, so I called one more place, the Charleston Maritime Center, which I’d deliberately avoided calling because I just knew it would be the most expensive marina. It turned out to be $1.50/’, offered free use of their washer and dryer, and was located about two blocks from downtown Charleston, just far enough away that it was quiet at night. Staff were great, giving us advice about everything from local restaurants to conditions and weather patterns on the ICW and Atlantic farther south, and it turned out to be a fantastic location.

We spent three days in Charleston, which wasn’t nearly enough. One day while Paul was doing some work, I walked around the Old Market, renovated in 2010. Very different from Pike Place in Seattle, at the entrances to each building that ran the length of the block were women weaving traditional and very expensive Gullah baskets. They all had different intricate patterns and were beautifully made from prepared marsh grasses. I wish I’d had my camera with me and gotten permission to take a picture. Inside, there were small retail businesses, like the farmers’ stalls at Pike Place, mostly on temporary card tables or larger wooden tables. There were some food items (stone-ground cornmeal and grits, traditional benne – black sesame seed ­– wafers, seasoning mixes for a low-country boil and other dishes), but mostly the sort of items that tourists might buy. The market ran for four or five blocks, and when I emerged onto the main street running close to the marina, East Bay Street, I was suddenly in the historic district. It was a great morning!

We took the bus to West Marine one day and got to talking to another woman waiting for the bus. She and her husband are also sailors, having gone to a number of places Paul had mentioned when we had our Colvin Gazelle “Indigo” in Seattle. They’ve been to the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, and spent a year in the Marshall Islands. While in Malaysia, they sold the 32′ sailboat they’d lived on for a number of years, which she told me is a good place to sell a boat. They’re planning to live aboard for many more years and wanted a larger, more comfortable boat, which they found here in Charleston. 39′ long, and of course it needs work! Her husband has been doing most of the retrofitting/repair himself, and with two months of work behind them, she thinks they’ll be done in another month or so, then it’s off to Florida.

More soon.

 May you all have fair winds!