Monday, May 15, 2017

At Dawn's Early Light

After checking into the US in West Palm Beach, we decided to head north as far as we could before the next LO was offshore.  Charleston, South Carolina would be a good place to stop, let the weather pass and then continue moving north to the Chesapeake where we will spend the beginning of the summer.

Our friend Dorothy on Aviva would be single-handing her boat, so Dan and Francine decided to go with her on the passage from West Palm to Charleston.  It would be about 48 hours so with Dan and Francine on the boat, Dorothy would be able to get some sleep during the night watches.  We left on the low tide out of the inlet with Hank and Seale on Flash behind us and Dorothy not far beyond that. Flash is a Catana 471 - a pretty fast catamaran - so they soon passed us and headed further north to Beaufort, NC.

Baxter and I had a night watch schedule of 2 hours on watch/2 hours off watch.  For a long passage, that would not be enough sleep, but for 48 hours, it would be ok.  The wind was light and dead downwind so we tried a variety of sail combinations that wouldn't involve poling out the jib in the middle of the night.  As usual, my watch is when all the excitement happens.  We had cargo ships and fishing vessels encompassing us, which is not a problem in itself but with the wind almost at 180 behind us, the sail trim was very sensitive and my maneuverability was delicate.  So as I'm watching the boats around us, there was a particular fishing vessel (Bonsai) with a closest point of approach <500 feet in 15 minutes, so I hailed him on the radio three times with no response at all.  Since he has the right of way, I finally had to wake up Baxter to change the sails.

Molly:  "Ugh - sorry Bax, but I think we have to gybe.  I can't get this guy Bonsai to respond."
Baxter: "Ok.  Let me try him one more time."
Baxter on vhf:  "Bonsai, Bonsai, Bonsai, Sailing vessel Terrapin"
Bonsai on vhf(Immediately):  "Go ahead Terrapin"
Molly to Baxter: "You have got to be kidding me...??"
Baxter on vhf (after switching to working channel):  "Hey Bonsai, I think we have a pretty close cpa - just want to make sure you see us"
Bonsai on vhf:  "Sure do.  Just maintain your course and speed buddy and I'll work around ya"
Baxter to Molly:  "Ok - I think I'll go back to sleep now"

Either chauvinism is alive and well in the Atlantic Ocean or the guy was on deck when I called and coincidentally was near the radio when Baxter called.  I'm hoping it was the latter, let me know what you think.

With the light winds and our route dead downwind, the sails slapped a bit until finally we caved and turned on the motor.  We continued to motor through just before dawn when we see a strange set of yellow and white lights on a tower.  We couldn't tell if it was a weird buoy (there are a lot in this area) or what??  I check the colregs guide which referenced a submarine partially submerged - nah...not off the coast of Georgia/Florida?  So, out came the binoculars and in the dawn's early light, we saw glimpses of yes, a submarine, off our port bow.  There was no AIS info so we weren't sure of their heading or speed so Baxter hailed them on the vhf by calling "Submarine in [lat/lon] position, this is sailing vessel Terrapin" in order to make sure they didn't hit us.  The response on the vhf was simply "Terrapin, this is the submarine.  We are heading 270 (due west) at 8 knots and we will avoid you".  That was it...strange and spy-like with no other information.  Usually the typical military response is "warship" or the name of the vessel...not here - just "Submarine" and then they were gone.

In the spirit that we weren't getting torpedoed, we continued to move towards the Charleston inlet as the day broke and we soon realized that apparently today was one of the race days for Charleston Race Week with the course right through the middle of the channel, cargo ships, traffic et al.  So, we delicately eased our way west the through the channel as the wind slowly increased to 30 kts.  One of the race boats crossing the channel even had the nerve to scream at us and say "We're racing!!!" - as in, get out of the way.  I wonder if they tried the same to the 700-ft cargo ship behind us.  There was even a point Baxter had to put the boat in reverse to actually avoid hitting a race boat - seriously...these people were not moving.

While the race was going on and we were trying to avoid cargo ships and race boats, there was also a slight distraction on the jetty.  A fishing boat apparently ran out of fuel and the boat was on the rocks - right next to us.  Now there is Coast Guard on the radio with fishing boats yelling over the wind, helicopters coming to rescue the boat...and all the craziness that involves.

An hour of chaos behind us, we were pretty happy to slide into our slip at Cooper River Marina with Dorothy, Dan and Francine on the dock to grab our lines.
Looks so peaceful as the sun rises over the Atlantic - as long as you don't get torpedoed by a submarine
This section of the Atlantic is actually called The Sargasso Sea.  This is sargasso seaweed...see? 
That ribbon of highway
Kala on watch day and night, warm weather... 
...and cold weather.  (Yes this is her sleeping bag)
A view of our chart plotter at sunset the night before we arrived.  We are the black triangle with boats (blue blobs) on top of us.  The circles that look like footballs are wrecks and the yellow box on the right is a lighted buoy (explaining our curiosity about the submarine's yellow lights).  You can see in the bottom left the wind (AWS) was less than 5 kts and the yellow line indicates the direction - right behind us.  We were about 40 miles out (1.6ish rings) from Charleston inlet.
This was just posted today on Facebook - Ocearch tagged a 1300 lb Great White who pinged off the coast of Charleston.  You should compare this to the picture above...
This guy....whoa - don't want to meet him in a dark alley or ocean
This cargo ship is not changing course for a little sailboat race
You can see a small sailboat in front of the USS Yorktown - five minutes later there was about 50 of those crossing our bow, screaming at us and that's when Baxter had to stop the boat and put it in reverse.  I didn't have time to take a pic as it was happening.
As long as you don't hit them, it's pretty watching the boats race
Happy to see the Cooper River Bridge - Charleston, SC icon

1 comment:

Margee Halsch said...

Hey Molly, you and Baxter really have many adventures in life. Many on one episode to arrive in Charleston. This was wildly exciting to read. Be safe out there. Margee

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