Georgetown, South Carolina
Date: Saturday 7th June 2014
Position: 33:21.945N 79:15.967W
On Wednesday 4th I was able to leave Charleston early in the morning, sailing by myself and heading towards Georgetown. This was only about 40 miles up the coast, but in order to get there by sea it was necessary to first sail around 10 miles out to sea along the river upon which Charleston sits, then turn left and sail north-eastwards until I was off Georgetown, then sail a further 17 miles upriver before I would be in a place where I could safely stop. In other words a trip of about 70 miles of which only about 40 were actually moving me northwards.
The seas were all shallow, rarely being deeper than about 20 feet. The water was also quite muddy and either a dark green or brown colour, very much like sailing around the east coast of England. There were a couple of trawlers fishing:
The river up to Georgetown was long with many twists and turns, but more interestingly the water was a startlingly dark brown colour. The bow wave on the boat as it caught the sunlight was the colour of burnt orange. I was later told that this is caused by the tannin put into the water by the roots of the cedar trees that occupy such large areas along all of the waterways in The Carolinas.
The wind was also producing long linear streaks of foam across the surface, something that I would normally only expect to see with much stronger winds on the ocean. This is apparently caused by ‘detritus’ the broken down residue of organic matter that is present in high concentrations in the river water. The river current was strong, and unfortunately against me. This both slowed my progress up river and, as it was working against the wind, it produced quite steep waves.
By the time I reached Georgetown it was fairly late in the day. It wasn’t a good idea to try to anchor in the main river as the current was still running at a fair old pace and there were several large object from bits of old tree being carried along with it. The small anchorage off the town was more sheltered but it was occupied by several small boats all very close together and many of which looked a bit decrepit and uncared for. The heavy sediment in the water meant that the state of the river bed could not be determined but judging from the boats at anchor there was a good probability that it was foul with the debris of bygone ages. So instead I chose to moor at the small marina just outside the town. The staff had all gone home, but fortunately there was a long pontoon parallel to the current so it was not difficult for me to come alongside without assistance.
One of the things that you have to do, as a foreign yachtsman in US waters, is to phone the Customs & Border Protection Agency (CBP) every time you move to a new destination, in order to report in and pass on details of your boat, crew and cruising licence. When I arrived in the USA I was given a list of phone numbers of all of the principle CBP offices for each state, which I should use to report in. I was warned that I MUST do this as soon as I arrived ANYWHERE, even if the CBP officers were not keen to take my details! The process that should be very simple; unfortunately it rarely is, probably because I usually arrive at a new destination after office hours. This cannot be unusual. With few exceptions a kind of farce by telephone ensues, as the run-around I experienced at Georgetown illustrates.
I phoned the specified number for South Carolina to be greeted by a recorded message quoting two other numbers to try. The first of these was answered by an officer who told me that he was in his car and couldn’t take my details at that time. He also stated that I should phone the dedicated office in Georgetown. The number of this office was not on the list that I had been given so I asked him for it. He said he didn’t know but he promised to call me back with the information.
I then tried the second number which turned out to be the home phone number of a part time officer. His wife answered the phone and told me that her husband was out.
After an hour the first officer had still not called me back so I went on-line to Google the Georgetown CBP. I found a number and called it, only to be greeted with another recorded message telling me to phone the very first number I had called. By now I was a bit fed up. So I called the first number again, waited till all of the recorded information had been repeated and left a message quoting the information that is normally requested.
Later that night, just as I was going to sleep the CBP phoned me back and asked if I was the guy who had left a message. I told them I was and the officer then asked me numerous questions, the answers to most of which were given in the message I had left a couple of hours before. Not impressive!
In the morning I cycled into town to find a community that was really very quaint. To me it just looked like something from a movie set, prepared for a film that was cast in small town America in the 30’s or 40’s. It was all very clean, tidy, peaceful and well cared for; interesting for a couple of hours, but as everything appeared to be set up for day trippers not something that could hold my attention for any length of time. There was nothing wrong with the place, quite the opposite in fact, but I just couldn’t get myself into sightseeing mode.
I was very hot and muggy, and a swim would have been very welcome. However the impenetrable colour of the water and the strong currents were not very encouraging. The marina staff also told me that there were bull sharks and alligators in the river so this kind of reinforced my reluctance to get wet. However this was not the case for Tim & Aoife from Waimangu, who turned up in the marina the day after I did. We hadn’t seen each other since Barbados over a year before so it was great to have some company with whom I could talk over our experiences since we had last met. They had a problem with their stern gear so Tim had to make several dives under his stern to rectify matters.