November 16, 2016
We departed Charleston harbor at 0650 and reentered the ICW headed south. We didn’t get very far. At 0715 we came to the Wapoo Creek Bridge, which has a restricted rush hour opening schedule. We had to wait until 0900 for the next opening, so we dropped the anchor off to the side of the channel and waited it out. After that we motored south all day and finally anchored in a very remote area of the Bull River, about in the middle of the St. Helena Sound area. We were surrounded by a maze of swamp grass that stretched for miles in all directions. It was very quiet there and we enjoyed a peaceful nights sleep.
The original plan was to hop offshore and scoot down to Hilton Head. But after studying the weather forecast carefully, we realized that we had a very favorable weather window upon us. I was eager to make some real miles, so with a little persuasion I convinced John and Dana to make a 120 NM run all the way down to the St. Marys river inlet at the Georgia / Florida border. I calculated that it should take us just over 24 hours to make the run if we could maintain a 5 knot average speed. This would effectively bypass Georgia entirely. We had wanted to go to Savannah, but it is so far up the Savannah river, it would have required a significant investment of our time just to get there from the ICW (nearly a full day), and back. So I reluctantly opted to skip it this time.
This was a fairly uneventful run. There was no wind really, so we motored the entire way. Seas were generally calm with nothing more than a light swell to drift along with us. We took two hour watches at the helm. I slept in the cockpit during Dana’s watches. She didn’t like being alone out there, out of sight of land and with virtually no visibility before the moon rose. When it did rise that night, it at first puzzled us what that odd looking dark orange thing on the horizon behind us was! Prior to that, the display of stars was superlative. Our Milky Way galaxy was clearly visible.
At 0730 on November 18 we were 5 miles from the St Marys Inlet sea buoy. A little over an hour later we learned that the Fernandina Beach Marina was closed due to damage sustained from hurricane Matthew. This was a big disappointment. John & I were especially eager to moor there, since Fernandina has been the Watson family’s annual reunion destination for over 80 years. So instead we turned back north, crossed the river and made our way to Lang’s Marina in the town of St. Marys Georgia.
John had already made plans to leave us at this point. Just a couple of hours after we arrived at Lang’s, his ride was there, and we had to bid him farewell. Dana & I were both sad to see him go. For the previous three weeks, John had been our constant companion, helper, technical adviser, watch stander, shipmate, navigator, and so much more. He was also very frequently quite entertaining with his numerous salty yarns and funny quips, such as when fortuitous things would happen he might exclaim “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” The boat seemed so quiet without him, and we can’t wait to see him again.
With John gone, Dana & I focused our attention on the quaint little town of St Marys, which neither of us had ever been to before. We had planned to come here anyway to partake in the Southbound Cruisers Thanksgiving event here, but that was still a week away. There are a few “must see/do” items in St Marys, and our puruit of those things is the subject of our next chapter.
November 15 2016
Today is my son Alec’s birthday, 22. He’s a US Navy Corpsman assigned to a USMC unit, currently in Okinawa, Japan. He and his wife Kaylan are expecting their first baby, and my first grand child, early in 2017. He won’t get to be there for the baby’s arrival, but I think he will be back soon after.
We got underway a little after 0700 this morning, and had a short 4 hour cruise down into Charleston harbor. I attempted to pull into the Charleston City Marina there for a holding tank pump out, but the current running though it was just ridiculous, and combined with the tight quarters, it was impossible. The maneuverability of Swedish Fish is just not up to multiple challenges. We can handle a current, and we can handle tight quarters, but not both simultaneously. That is a combination that can only end well by avoidance.
So we found a congested anchorage just east of the marina, again, in a strong, swift current. I didn’t like that at all, but it was the best option available. There was another anchorage on the other side of the Ashley River which was the primary one used by visiting cruisers and it was much roomier, but it was also a long dinghy ride from the docks at the marina which we needed in order to visit the city, so we didn’t go there. John had seen Charleston numerous times, but it was a first for Dana & myself, so we were keen to get into town as soon as possible.
With so much to see and not a great deal of time, and really no idea where to start, we turned the task over the professionals at Gray Line Tours. We chose to walk (about 1.5 miles) to the tour terminal, and that was interesting in itself, taking us right through the very bustling campus of the College of Charleston and several scenic neighborhoods.
While waiting for our tour start time, we had and good lunch nearby at a French cafe, 39 Rue de Jean. The Gray Line Tour turned out to be an excellent choice. Our guide showed us so many things I can’t even remember them all. But I do remember how stunning the narrow, charming streets are, packed with 18th century homes and laden with dense foliage, palms, and vines which seemed to adorn everything. We walked around the Battery and White Point Garden, whose most striking attribute other than the rows of cannon is the forest of fully mature live oak trees.
This was our only day in Charleston, and we got back to the boat just after dark. Even though our visit was brief, it was an unforgettable experience which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Nov. 13, 2016
We left our quiet anchorage in the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge at 0700, and picked our way south (and west) through this wilderness, with an eye toward Georgetown, SC. The weather was overcast and cool.
We had not purchased any diesel fuel since leaving New Bern, and I was curious to ascertain what our consumption rate had been, knowing that the 85 gallon fuel tank was full when we departed on November 6. The day before we had attempted to pull into Osprey Marina, just a few miles north of here, but access was extremely cramped, up a very narrow canal, and once we got there, there was no access to the fuel dock without complicated and risky maneuvering, so I did a 180 and got out of there forthwith. But at 0915 this morning we pulled in at Wacca Wache Marina whose location relative to the ICW, in stark contrast to Osprey Marina, was irresistibly convenient. We loaded 37.5 gallons of diesel and topped off our gasoline (for the dinghy) too. I did some arithmetic and determined that our average fuel consumption rate under power came out to about .7 gallons/hour. We rarely ran the engine in excess of 2200 RPM, at which we could achieve 5.5 knots.
With intentions to sail offshore the next day, we made our way to an anchorage in the Waccamaw River delta, south of Georgetown, at 1330. It was windy, overcast with occasional drizzle, and there was a strong current running here. It was sort of the opposite of the anchorage we had the night before. Interestingly, we were not the only boat in that forlorn, vulnerable spot. With the binoculars, I could make out another sailboat nearby which I knew from New Bern – Kemo Sabe, owned by Bill Dunleavy. I tried to hail Bill on the VHF, but apparently he had his radio off.
The wind howled that night and the current gurgled over the hull. I got up several times to check our anchor. We did not budge. I love that Rocna anchor!
Early on Monday, November 14, we were socked in with dense fog. The wind forecast was also not good, indicating a rough ride offshore if we were to take that option. One of the reasons we chose this spot was because it gave us an immediate option to take the ICW if weather conditions were unfavorable for an offshore passage. The choice was clear, if the fog was not. We took the ICW, but got less than a mile before we had to request an opening for a bascule bridge. Eventually the fog burned off and we had enjoyed an interesting cruise though this South Carolina wild country, spotting three more bald eagles along our way.
Eventually we made our way into Long Creek, and anchored at 32º 49.7 N, 79º 45.3W, which is deep in a tidal estuary marsh, just west of Isle of Palms, SC. This was another desolate area, abounding with wildlife and peace and quiet.
Tomorrow we will set a course for Charleston.
Steve and Jo Oakley have always been so kind to me during time we shared together in New Bern (at New Bern Grand Marina). For a couple of years, our slips were just a few feet from each other and we had become good friends. They have a condo in Myrtle Beach which they rent out regularly. When it’s booked up, they stay on their trawler yacht in New Bern.
They already knew that they would be in the condo about the time we would be passing through South Carolina, so they had insisted that we make a stop there to visit with them.
So no sooner had I begun walking down the dock at Barefoot Marina in Myrtle Beach did I look up and see Steve walking toward me! My crew & I had not even finished getting ourselves or the boat ready to leave, so Steve came and helped with that too. Minutes later Steve drove us over to their condo, which is in an enormous, gated luxury complex encompassing townhouses, a golf course, and two very large (15 stories each) beach front high-rise condominium buildings. All of this is situated on beautifully landscaped, shady grounds. Their unit is on the seventh floor.
And what a place! There are spectacular views from the balcony, which not only include the beach, but also a lovely estuary directly below, populated with various indigenous water fowl.
Steve and Jo regaled us with cocktails and a fabulous, multi-course dinner, which Jo thoughtfully made with plenty of gluten-free options especially for me. Aw shucks!
But all this hospitality was not enough for Steve & Jo. They also insisted that Dana & I take the master bedroom suite, gave John the guest bedroom, and they slept on the sofa-bed in the living room. The next morning we awoke to the smell of bacon and eggs! Jo had done it again, putting out a full breakfast spread for us. We were truly overwhelmed with their abundant hospitality.
After breakfast Steve invited me to come along with him to walk “Mac,” their adorable west highland terrier. Steve showed me more of the great amenities they enjoy there, including a tiki bar and snack bar right at the pool side, and one feature I really liked was the enclosed, secure storage cages provided for every condo, where owners and guests can store all their beach stuff (chairs, umbrellas, toys, etc) so as not to have to drag that sandy mess into the elevators and units. (Watsons know all about that issue at the condos we visit every summer in Fernandina Beach, FL.)
We quite comfortably lingered on, but eventually it was time to continue on our way, and bidding very fond farewells, we departed Barefoot Marina at 1245. We motored south on the ICW, now on the Waccamaw River, and at 1700 we dropped anchor in a very isolated spot in the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge.
On November 8, during my routine morning pre-ignition, pre-departure engine inspection, I discovered a broken connection tube between header tank and exhaust manifold, which carries coolant between the two. Exactly what its specific purpose for the engine is I don’t know, don’t really care, and don’t have time to research. But the steel tube was cracked clean in half, coolant was escaping, and it had to be repaired before we could continue our voyage.
John and I took the dinghy into Wrightsville Beach and bought the needed parts and tools to repair the tube. We got it fixed, this time using copper tubing. (Later I had to replace it again, but this time I put a loop in it so that it could flex with the vibration of the engine.)
That afternoon Dana and I took the dinghy ashore for a walk on the large uninhabited island that separates Wrightsville Beach from Masonboro Inlet. We ran into a local fisherman there who had a bucket full of large striped bass that he was catching handily on lures alone. It was a charming, quiet place that Dana particularly enjoyed.
I could hardly sleep that night, regularly checking the presidential election returns as they were reported online, which I was reading on my phone. Like just about everyone else in the world, (apparently excepting a few people in Trump’s campaign) I expected Hillary Clinton to win. You already know the rest of that story. We were underway by 0840, southbound on the ICW, headed for Southport, NC. It was cool and cloudy.
We made a routine trip through Snow’s Cut, down the Cape Fear river, and on into Southport where we moored on the complimentary dock in front of The Provision Company. It was quite chilly, but we had a meal and a couple of beers on their covered outdoor deck, with our coats and hats on.
Around this time I finally began to get that deep, satisfying cognition that I was really cruising again, and not just “away from home for a bit.”
Nov. 10.- Engine on 0930, departed Southport NC at 1000. The weather was favorable, so we decided to go offshore again. We motored out the Cape Fear River Inlet to bouy #7, and there altered course to 266M, bound for Little River Inlet, SC. Between 1130 and 1340 we were able to enjoy some offshore sailing, with WNW wind @ 10-15 mph. By 1445 the wind had become contrary, so we dropped the sails and motored the rest of the way. At 1630 we arrived at Little River Inlet, and by 1800 we anchored in the dark along a section of the ICW near Cricket Cove Marina that was just barely wide enough for it.
John has a friend (also named John) who lives near here, so we planned for November 11 to be (mostly) a lay-day here. John coordinated with John to pick us up in the morning for a visit to his place (in the North Myrtle Beach area) for showers and a meal out. The only trouble was, there was no legit place for us to take our dinghy to so that we could rendezvous with him. There were docks aplenty nearby, but all were private. Nevertheless we found one adjacent to some condos that had no clear “Private” signage on it, so we played dumb and used it. Then the three of us had to nonchalantly walk through a gated condo complex, and circumvent a locked driveway gate to meet John’s friend in his car. It was awkward but apparently no one saw us, or cared that much if they did.
Hot showers felt really good, and John and Dana satisfied cravings for pizza while we were there. (I’m gluten intolerant, so I had to find something else.) Later that day we had to repeat our trespass of the gated condo community, and were relieved to find our dinghy still on their dock apparently unnoticed and unmolested.
But we had more friends to meet. Before leaving New Bern, our friends Steve and Jo Oakley had insisted that we make time on our journey to visit them at their home in Myrtle Beach, which is a condo on the beach, less than a mile from the ICW. So at 1330 on this same day, we continued south on the ICW for just under two hours, until arriving at Barefoot Marina in Myrtle Beach. We didn’t need a marina per se, since we were planning to leave the boat that night anyway to stay with Steve and Jo, but there was no other place to put the boat. So she stayed in the marina that night by herself. But at least she was absolutely safe, we got the water topped off again, she got a wash down, and the batteries got conditioned by a night on the smart charger. But it was her crew that really got pampered that night!
OK so I let this fall way way behind. But now that I’m settled in my new home port, I will attempt to make amends by catching up, and hopefully being more consistent moving into the future on making timely posts. The fact is I have relied too much on Facebook for this purpose. Facebook is very convenient, but it is an inadequate avenue for keeping a detailed blog about anything.
I’ve said nothing about my long range plans over the past couple of years because I was working a job with responsibilities; my job security could have been jeopardized if I had publicly blabbed about plans to move away as soon as my boat was ready and I had a little money saved. So I remained mum.
And now it can be told!
For the past couple of years all I’ve blogged about have been restoration projects on the boat. It was pretty much the only meaningful information I had to share, if in fact anyone really gave a barnacle’s patootie about it. And there have been more projects completed since my last post, and there will always be more, because this is a cared-for boat, and that’s what such boats require.
There have been a flurry of projects completed since May – especially in the past few weeks, including:
- new semi-rigid bimini top
- installation of all new engine gauges and new ignition switch
- new alternator
- removal of old engine gauges from steering pedestal
- filling old engine gauge holes on steering pedestal and refinishing the pedestal
- refinishing and reinstalling the binnacle base and compass
- refinishing and reinstalling the cockpit table
- having new cockpit seat cushions made
- had marlinspike fancy work done on the wheel
- installed a new hot water heater
- purchased a (used) Walker Bay 8 dinghy with sail option and outboard motor
- purchased a kayak
- several other lesser projects
Rather than bore with unnecessary details about these projects, I will simply post some photos and brief comments about them. If you happen to be a boater and you would like any details about any of these projects, write me and I’ll be happy to share.
I resigned my post at New Bern Grand Marina around the middle of October. And the last week of that month my cousin John Watson, who’s been a sailor about as long as I have, joined us to prepare for and begin our journey. John is a very competent and accomplished sailor and navigator, and best of all he’s great company and a lot of fun to be around. John worked tirelessly with me to finish many projects that had to be done before we could leave, everything from installing the hot water heater, to clearing out my storage building, to rigging jiffy reefing on the main, getting the dinghy outboard mounted onto the stern pulpit, and on and on. He did this cheerfully and without a break until it was all done.
On October 30th we threw a Bon Voyage party and invited many friends from New Bern to join us on board Swedish Fish for a few drinks and some fun time together, one last time. Every last one of them are or were active boaters, and some of them had their own plans to leave south bound not long after us.
I had been in New Bern for four years, so the idea of actually casting off the dock lines for good almost seemed surreal to me. Dana and John both helped me stay focused on our mission.
The following Saturday we made a little (very little) shakedown trip over to the Galley Store Marina in New Bern to top off our fuel tank.
Dana on the dock at the Galley Store on November 5, where we went to top off the diesel tank. We’ve got our Trump flag flying!
The following is my last Facebook post before we left New Bern:
Tomorrow (11/6) John Watson, Dana Swann, and I will be getting underway at 0830, departing New Bern and heading for Morehead City, NC. If the “Spot” satellite communicator works correctly, our “OK” status and position should be posted here to my Facebook status, approximately daily, as we continue to head south toward Florida over the next few weeks. The boat is loaded heavily with fuel, water, and food provisions to last us a long time. We will spend many nights at anchor, sometimes in remote areas without access to those necessities. We expect things to go wrong, but it will be fine by me if they don’t. I will post updates on our progress, via my blog with a link provided here. We have been working ourselves hard over the past week especially, installing many systems to make the trip safer, more comfortable, and more efficient. We have also worked hard at uprooting all of my various ties to this town, it has been quite an experience. The goodbyes have been said, the well wishes made, the boat is ready, we are ready, the weather is right, and now, we go.
We tried to time our departure to match our arrival with a favorable tidal current in Adams Creek, which connects the Neuse River to the Morehead City / Beaufort NC area. This current is quite strong, and trying to motor against it is almost impossible for a slow-going motorsailer like Swedish Fish. This worked out fine, and we spotted a bald eagle perched on a treetop near the south end of Adams Creek. We had a pleasant first day out, and anchored that night in Morehead City, just N of Sugarloaf Island.
The weather forecast looked favorable (albeit cool), and I did not want to make the l-o-n-g slow trip through Bogue Sound on the ICW. So instead we got up at about 0300 on Monday October 7 and began picking our way out of Beaufort Inlet (in the moon-less ink of night) to make a 62 NM offshore passage to Masonboro Inlet, just north of Southport, NC. This day turned out to be one of the more memorable ones of the entire 850 mile trip, for two reasons. One, we were all so exhilarated simply to be sailing offshore on the rolling, clear blue sea. The sun was shining bright, the seas were rolling along under us in 5 to 6 foot swells, and we were making 6 to 7 knots motorsailing on a broad reach. Waves would pick us up and scoot us along, and on more than one occasion surfing in this manner we exceeded TEN knots SOG! Woohoo! If that were not enough, that afternoon the wind calmed down a bit, and we were treated to something really special – a pod of a dozen or more Atlantic dolphins came up alongside, and were soon frolicking about under our bow!
We made it into Masonboro Inlet with plenty of daylight remaining, and dropped the anchor just inside, at Wrightsville Beach, NC. Sailors do have their superstitions at times, and I took this to be a very good omen. We were off to a great start!
I took Swedish Fish to the yard in May 2016 to accomplish several important tasks:
- new bottom paint
- remove slack from centerboard cable
- installed through-hull fitting and seacock for a future central air conditioning system
- replaced external strainer on engine raw water intake
- out-of-water marine survey, so that I could buy full insurance for the boat
I got delayed by the Memorial Day holiday, and a bout of bad weather. But while I was prohibited from work on the bottom waiting for these delays, I decided to use the down time to start doing some work on the cockpit, specifically, removing the antique instrumentation and beginning the process of filling the unused holes left behind, and installing the panel for the engine gauges and the new stereo speakers. A speaker would fill one of the holes, and the gauge box would swallow up two more. But I had to cut one new hole, so I was able to use the plug from that new cut to fill the remaining empty hole. I didn’t finish this job until a couple weeks after I got back in the water. I am very happy with the results. It’s just another example of how fluidly and beautifully a good ol’ boat like Swedish Fish can be brought fully into the 21st century.
Companionway doors. I have been wanting to get this project done almost since the day I bought this boat, but there was always something else more pressing – until now. Hallelujah!
I did about 90% of this work myself. The Grill Man cut out the stainless steel blanks for the door frames, but I ground down all the sharp edges and corners, drilled them, tapped them, and most significantly, I polished them from dull metal all the way up to the mirror finish you see on them here. Polishing alone was about a day’s work. If you really want to know how that’s done, email me and I’ll share (or check YouTube).
And my expert carpenter friend Russ Hirshman did the initial cutting of the doors. But I had to actually make them fit and work myself. The corners were chamfered way off, everything was sanded, checked for fit, and the process was repeated about four times before they started to come into shape. And I had to fabricate HDPE shims to make the doors line up properly with the hinges on the frames. I applied polyester resin to the finished doors, then three coats everywhere of Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel in the same color as the rest of the boat exterior (AF-25, “Paper Mache”).
What an improvement! Not only aesthetically, but just on a practical, day-to-day basis, it’s like night and day. I’m so grateful to finally have these.
Updated the groovy harvest gold 1970s salon and aft cabin upholstery with a 2016 alternative. After the face fabric was selected, many choices remained. The first criteria for fabric selection was NO COTTON. Cotton certainly has it’s place, especially ashore, but on a boat it’s just something waiting to rot, or it’s already rotting. So the new face fabric is 100% polyester. The backs of the vertical seat cushions are a heavy nylon canvas. The fabric chosen for the seat tops is actually taken from a polyester sofa cover. And the bottom of the seat cushions is an open polyester-plastic-coated mesh, to allow those cushions to breathe and not retain moisture, which if allowed, would precipitate mold growth.
Hey, personal tastes are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. So don’t judge me! But I hope you’ll agree that the new upholstery is a big improvement over what we had. 🙂
After years of neglect, the original salon deck, like so many other components of the boat, was toast. This month replacing it finally came to the top of the priority list. After seeing the prices of new 3/4″ teak & holly veneered marine plywood, I paused. But what really convinced me to use something else was the fact that veneers today ain’t what they used to be. They are paper-thin, and I need something that’s TOUGH. Besides, I also need something that’s not as slippery as ice.
I consider this a real-life, practical live-aboard boat, not a cream puff that will be crushed under the rigors of cruising life. So I opted for marine plywood, which I would paint (it isn’t pretty enough for varnish). Marine plywood (3/4″) ain’t exactly cheap either, at $90/sheet, and this job would require two of them. Yeah, regular plywood probably would have worked just as well, but after living with the horrors of the original delaminated decking for the past two years, I wanted to know that the new deck was not going to delaminate again – ever.
The original decking was in two pieces, and Irwin must have put it in before they put the deck on the boat, because it was impossible to get the larger of the two to fit through the companionway door. Which meant that I first had to bifurcate it, in situ. I took all the pieces to my workshop and used them as templates for cutting the marine plywood into the new decking. All of the perimeter of the deck is undercut at a 45 degree angle, making this a rather complicated task of carpentry. Not having a carpenter available to help mandated that I do the work anyway, and simply do my best not to screw it up.
It worked! After all the cuts were made I sealed every side of the wood with Thompson’s, paying special attention to the edges. After that dried, I applied three coats of Benjamin Moore Super Spec HP Urethane Alkyd Gloss Enamel in the same off-white color that the rest of the boat is painted. This was applied to the entire top, and every edge. Edges received additional coats until every spot stopped absorbing paint. After that dried, I masked the top with pin stripes, and applied two more coats of the same paint, but this time in a cocoa brown color, and with the final coat containing a non-skid additive. The end result is a faux teak & holly look, only it’s much tougher, and can easily be spot-fixed as needed in the future.