Unplanned Visit To Charleston

img_5031.jpg The majority of the people we meet in our travels spend most of their time in "The Ditch", the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), an inside route along the coast stretching from Texas to Massachusetts. The ICW allows you to avoid the frequently rough weather on "the outside" ocean while working your way along the East coast in a boat. Jamie and I have instead preferred to go outside, practicing our sailing and navigation in preparation for future plans, and getting farther faster thanks to overnight trips, rather than motoring along on the inside watching markers and avoiding shallows. img_5037.jpg We got our first taste of the ICW yesterday while motoring from Port Royal Landing Marine out through St. Helena Sound. There's certainly much more scenery, which was an enjoyable change, but it also meant considerably more boat traffic, waiting on bridges, and constantly paying attention to avoid shallows. The entire way we debated whether or not we should just stay inside all the way to Charleston, but finally decided that 50 miles in one day wasn't enough so we headed out into the four to six foot swells.

img_5040.jpg The seas were bigger than is comfortable (though never big enough to show up in a photo), however once we got the main and staysail up it was tolerable enough and we settled in for a long day and night. The cat sat on deck and glared at us much of this time, evidently annoyed that we'd left the peace and quiet of our comfortable dockage in Beaufort. However, we hope one day sooner than later to bring our boat around to the West Coast, which will involve crossing the Pacific with considerably bigger seas than those we were in yesterday, and so we consider all of this very good practice. And a good chance to learn our boat better.

img_4997.jpg Motor sailing off of the North Edisto River our engine started revving down, giving us a little warning that something was wrong. Sure enough, ten minutes later the engine completely quit. The incoming tide proved stronger than the fading winds, and we started drifting toward the mouth of the river. As I went below to remind myself how little I know about Diesel engines, Jamie made a comment about how she'd never noticed before how our steering wheel moves in and out. Perplexed by that comment, I returned to the cockpit to discover that not only had our engine died, but the worm gear on our steering wheel had detached from the rudder had next to no steerage. Evidently the rough seas were shaking things free.

After a precursory look, I called Bill to get some advice as to what was most likely the problem. He quickly pinpointed the problem with the rudder from memory when he was crawling around down there on his earlier visit, and after I described our engine issues he suggested a clogged fuel filter as the likely candidate. So I climbed down below, located the bolt that had come free from the worm gear and re-attached it. I then moved onto the engine, and replaced all three of our fuel filters. As simple sounding as it seems, with the boat rocking around like a hobby horse nothing was happening quickly (other than me getting soaked in spilled diesel). Minutes turned to hours, and Jamie politely yet repeatedly reminded me that we have towing insurance and that now might be a good time to use it. Being stupidly stubborn, I waited until I was completely seasick in the bilge before admitting that calling help was a good idea, and I dragged myself up to the cockpit for fresh air.

img_5048.jpg The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. The winds picked up, and the rain started falling, and all I wanted to do was find a little stable ground to get rid of the overwhelmingly queasy feeling overpowering me. Jamie was fairing a bit better as she'd been in the cockpit in open air, but she too was feeling the motion. As night started falling, the tow boat arrived and hailed us on the radio. He maneuvered in fairly closely and threw us a couple of lines attached to a bridle, and we connected one to each side of the boat, through the forward fairleeds to their respective cleats. He started forward slowly to confirm that the lines were equal length and firmly attached, then quickly sped up to about 7 knots.

img_5051.jpg Moving at high speed through six foot swells without any sails up is not a comfortable ride. The swells were coming in off the ocean, and rocking us madly side to side. I didn't throw up, but I felt rather worthless for the hours it took us to drag along the outside toward Charleston. At one point we heard a loud twang, and the tow boat pulled away. The small lines he'd tied us up with had frayed on the edge of the fairleed. The tow boat owner found one heavy duty line, and I used one of our thicker dock lines, and we built another bridle for towing. Feeling quite sick at this point the effort took far longer than it should have, but eventually we were once again underway.

img_5062.jpg We started in toward Charleston entrance around 1:30 in the morning, a two hour carnival ride in following seas. The boat would pull as it climbed the waves, then surf down them as it raced along and created slack. The tow boat driver adjusted his speed to prevent this as much as possible, and we watched the blinking channel markers and approaching lighthouse. By this time the bolt had managed to work free from the worm gear again, so what little help we could offer while being towed was lost. The little tow boat was being thrown all around in the surf, struggling up the waves then getting whipped around by our weight. But they later told us they had the more comfortable ride, as they looked back on us and watched us bobbing back and forth at crazy angles. His primary concern was that we didn't break free again on the way inside -- it turns out one of the two lines did break, but fortunately our stout dock line held all the way in.

img_5064.jpg Around 3 am we finally got inside to the calm of Charleston Harbor and my seasickness was instantly gone. The tow boat slowed down, coming along side and attached tightly to our starboard side with four lines. We prepared bumpers and lines on our port side, then he maneuvered us in toward the City Marina. His twin 250 horsepower outboards had no trouble with our full keel boat, and he quickly had us approaching the 40 foot space on the outer Megadock that he'd called ahead to reserve for us. He matched the speed of the tide, angled us slightly toward the dock, and in minutes made the softest and smoothest docking the Miramar has ever experienced. When I expressed my awe, he just shrugged it off modestly.

img_5093.jpg He completed the lengthly paperwork, describing it as the toughest part of the job, and showed us the $2,500+ dollar bill we would have had to pay if we'd not purchased the $150 Tow Boat US Unlimited Gold insurance that many had recommended to us. All it cost us was a signature, though we did feel compelled to tip. We'd gotten our money's worth and then some.

img_5085.jpg We called it a night by 4am, completely worn out. Even the cat was exhausted, curled up in his little bed and sound asleep before we even had our bed made.

So ironically we made it the same distance we would have gone had we stayed inside on the ditch, only it took longer and was significantly less pleasant. Regardless, it was yet another good learning experience, and soon I'll know more about fuel filters and worm gears. img_5089.jpg Today was pretty much a write off, sleeping in then exploring historic Charleston to find a late Sunday brunch. Tomorrow will be spent cleaning the boat and fixing what we broke. It being a holiday weekend we can't hire help, but I'm hopeful to figure it out myself now that I'm not fighting nausea. So if all goes according to plan, come Tuesday we'll head out on our way again. spot.png

Upon arriving in South Carolina, we had several people tell us that we couldn't visit their state without visiting Charleston. At the time we thought it was just an expression and intended to skip it in our hurry North, but evidently they really meant it.

4 comments on Unplanned Visit To Charleston

  1. kawika's picture
    Mon, 05/25/2009 - 12:02

    Being soaked in diesel on a rocking boat would have me doin the technicolor yawn. Great buy on the towing insurance. What kind of tugboat company has breaking lines? Anyway, nothing but thunder storms here in Ft Lauderdale. May the wind be at your back.

  2. Jeremy's picture
    Tue, 05/26/2009 - 19:23

    Evidently he didn't expect the swells to be so big, nor for our boat to be so heavy. In any case, he did fine by me as he got us out of the rolling swells which cured my sea sickness! :)

    The storms blew over here last week -- lots of gust wind, thunder storms, and rain. But it's turning around now, thankfully.

  • captain ron's picture
    captain ron
    Mon, 05/25/2009 - 11:08

    My. My oh my. What a day.

    There are many things I want to say, but since this will undoubtedly be read by folks other than the Captain and Mate I'll keep it clean. I'm very happy that you made it in safely, and join the masses in saying that I am glad you invested the $150. It makes me wonder how I've survived without it... OH, we don't have it over here, that's why. ;)

    Thank you for letting me know you were in safely, and for posting the stories about your adventure. I have been out on one of my own, that included lots of bears, but somehow I am quite sure I didn't suffer the way you guys did!

    Talk to you soon!


    Silver Bay
  • Jeremy's picture
    Tue, 05/26/2009 - 19:26

    This trip has proven to be an endless learning experience... so long as we don't make the same stupid mistakes multiple times, I'm content. And the more we crawl around in it, the more we're getting to know our boat!

    We're looking forward to seeing you in Baltimore! It's still a long ways away, but I'm reasonably confident that we'll get there in time... Interested in going for a sail in the Chesapeake? :)