Charleston & into the ICW, in position 33:11.25N, 79:16.36W
Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 1 Jun 2009 15:25
We enjoyed our stay in Charleston and after 7 days at sea we were quite pleased to secure the boat, wash a ton of laundry, refuel and re-provision before the next stage of our migration north towards the Chesapeake. Our arrival off the coast at Charleston had been memorable, as it involved crossing the notorious Gulfstream. This moving mass of water is formed from the North Equatorial current that flows across the Atlantic Ocean through the Caribbean where, as it turns north becomes the Gulfstream, finally 'warming' the UK before splitting north and south (to return to the Caribbean). Off the USA coast the stream is 25-50 miles wide so some 10-12 hours transit time is involved. If the wind is against the current then conditions can be dangerous, and it is always boisterous. As it was with our crossing. The sea heaps up into 8-10 ft standing waves in the fastest part of the stream and we found ourselves wondering just how bad it could get. At the roughest point we looked to starboard and just 100 meters away a beam trawler was running across the steep seas, almost lost from sight as each wave rolled past it towards us. We had nearly 4 knots of current trying to take us up the coast as we motorsailed at maximum speed to get across the stream. Finally we were over and the seas calmed as night fell. And then came the torrential rain. It fell in torrents, almost as a final challenge to be endured before we could make landfall off Charleston.
The buoyed entrance to Charleston starts from 15 miles out as a straight line of greens and reds leading you into the harbour entrance. The beam trawlers were on their way back in, followed by hundreds of Pelicans. We were amazed, as usually seagulls chase home the returning fishing boats, fighting for the scraps thrown off the back of the boats as the fish are gutted and cleaned.
Once we were secured in Charleston City Marina we started to get the various jobs underway. The Marina operates a courtesy bus system every hour which takes you into town, as well as a daily trip to the big chandlery store out of town. We used this bus as much as possible and saw a lot of Charleston, as well as meeting other boating people who were also using it. The marina even delivered a daily paper to the boat, as a thud in the cockpit announced its arrival each morning. We were impressed!
We took some time to visit the most historic part of Charleston - Meeting Street, where so many beautiful colonial houses still stand. We toured the Calhoun Mansion, one of the most famous, which, the guide delighted in telling us had featured in many TV and Film productions, and that Prince Charles had slept there many years ago!
We departed Charleston on Sunday morning, crossed Charleston Bay and headed for the intracoastal waterway, almost going aground at the entrance (skippers fault) when we found ourselves with just 2 feet of water under the keel! We reversed out and headed the correct way past the marker and entered what would be a 200 mile motor through a passage that would take us just inside of the east coast USA shores up to the Chesapeake itself. We were quite looking forward to a very different sort of voyaging for a few days.
The first of many challenges was a swing road bridge, this particular one only opened on the hour. Arriving with another yacht half an hour early we had to anchor to stem the tide. Being a Sunday, sunny (for a change), hot & very humid it seemed like everyone had taken to the water in their speed boats. It was like being surrounded by angry swarms of bees as they passed to the left, right, behind & in front. The cacophony of engine noises was quite disconcerting and the wash from all the wakes irritating. The bridge did indeed open on the hour & closed immediately we'd passed through. The second challenge was a fixed bridge, these are said to have 65' clearance. We have had the mast lengthened and to be honest don't really know how tall it is to the exact foot. Skip took over the controls and slowed the boat down. We held our breath and watched as the VHF aerial passed unscathed under the traffic. Phew.
As we glided past the Isle of Palms we could see where all these small craft came from. The beautiful houses have jetties with boathouses & boatlifts where they park their water "cars". Every now and then an inlet opens up to expose the sandy beaches and the sea full of little boats. No matter what size or type of craft they all wave & say hello! Eventually the scenery turned to marsh & swamp land with the occasional pine forest. Very nice BUT not far out of civilisation the BUGS came. Enormous horse flies invaded the cockpit & started eating us. As the water way is narrow in places and festooned with fishing buoys you have to hand steer. The skipper was steering with one hand & swatting with the other. The navigator was clearing the bodies! Besides the bugs we saw dolphins in the canal, a couple of small alligators (young ones that squeak rather than snarl) and an amazing variety of birds. Just before sun down we finally anchored in a creek not far from Georgetown with a couple of other yachts & a motor boat. Up went the entire cockpit awning, over went the insect screens, out came the mosquito repellent & on went the mosquito zapper! We were prepared for the worst!