Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Southport, NC 35º55.038N | 78º01.720W

Such drama, from the beginning.
Some days I could conquer the world and serve it up on a toothpick. Other days, well, other days are like today.

Maybe I set myself up a little bit, feeling wistful about today's passage, a track that would take us across the North Carolina state line into South Carolina. The symbolic meaning of that line might seem (is) silly but real nonetheless. North Carolina, my home of 13 years, houses a lot of people I love, including our two kids. In my mind, crossing out of the state represented the "big leave."

Add to that the fact that we had been flying high on adrenaline the last few days, and today I came down hard from the trip.

Our first omen was when we went on deck to shove off into a cold, gray day and saw this behind us:

Is it just me or does it look like a Death Star trooper?
And we had no clearance against the dock in front of us either. Thanks, dockmaster. We started grazing the catamaran pulling out and a nice couple on another catamaran came running out in their PJs to hold the bow off the dock. I put both feet on the cat (safely above our toe rail) with my back against our cabin and pushed, a few 21-ton leg presses. I was able to keep us inches off. There were a few more kisses but no damage.

Even the sun had trouble rising today. It kept coming in fits and starts, just when I thought it would break through, the clouds rose up to cover it back up.

The clouds needed to let the sun come up. North Carolina needed to let us pass.

Not so easy. I was at the helm as we were passing through Shallote Inlet (pronounced shuh-LOT, which someone jokingly deemed, "French for 'shallow'"), plugging along in 17-foot waters, having just passed a boat named High Heeled

Chip asked me, "Do you see those red nuns?" ('Nuns' are red markers that look like plastic barrels low on the water.)

I had seen them but thought they were leading into a channel to the inlet (or outlet) to the ocean. About that time the depth meter started plummeting -- fast, 17 feet to 4 feet (we need 3.5)  in a few seconds. I threw the wheel over, right at High Heeled, just as the depth alarm went off, and we hit. The bow did a nose dive, and we started spinning to port, where High Heeled was barely scooting past us. I jammed the throttle into reverse and swung the wheel toward deeper water -- I hoped.

"ARE WE MOVING?" I asked Chip

We were. The stern was coming around to port just as a power boat buzzed by, yards away. We were afloat, the power boat made it past. I took a deep breath. 

High Heeled made it through the cut but radioed to tell us his depth meter hit zero 20 yards off our port, right where we ran aground. We very nearly had a double grounding.

There are never pictures of the good stuff.

The next leg took us on a short run up to the soon-to-be-closed Sunset Beach pontoon bridge. As we neared the bridge, the Coast Guard announced it would not be opening, because the tide was too low -- like we didn't know how low the water was. We would have to wait another hour.

The Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge in its final days, being replaced by a tall, fixed bridge.
North Carolina, please just let us go. We were slowly approaching the state line, and I was feeling weepy. I got out my camera to capture the big "Welcome to South Carolina" sign:

While lacking in fanfare, the NC/SC state line perfectly captured how I was feeling.
With the fresh memory of running aground, we now headed cautiously through unnervingly shallow water, sounding our way left and right in the channel, trying to find anything in the double digits, all the while dreading the final stretch of the day, the four miles called Rock Pile, a narrow channel bordered by, yeah, rocks

Excerpt from the guide describing the perils of Rock Pile:
Some travelers call this stretch the most worrisome segment of the whole ICW [All 3,000 miles!]...Rock ledges abut the deep part of the channel. Keep to mid-channel and watch for shoaling at bends. Clearing along the area gives the illusion it is much wider than it is. Keep an eye out for flotsam and snags. Numerous trees have toppled into the cut.
What? Nothing dangling overhead to add to the peril? (No, that comes later.) This is not really what one expects in a travel guide, unless maybe you're reading The Insiders' Guide to Hell in a Handbasket.

All morning we'd been listening to waterway rage on the VHF radio. A powerboat moving south was reeking havoc, zipping past boats at full speed, the boats subsequently screaming and cursing at him on the VHF. When a fast boat passes a slow one without slowing down (ICW etiquette) the slow boat gets rolled around, sometimes spun off course, a dangerous situation in tight or shallow waters.

As the day progressed, we learned more about the boat through descriptive cursing. For example, we learned he was Canadian from a particularly colorful screamer who said, "You might get away with that @#$& in Canada, but you're in the United States now!!!" Also overheard: the boat was a Searay flying a Canadian flag, moving at high speeds -- and he was headed our way.

That's when we entered Rock Pile. It didn't seem so bad at first, wider than advertised. And then we entered the narrows, which you might remember the guidebook warns even narrower than they appear.

Rocks to port.
Rocks to starboard
Beginning of narrows and our friends on Cajon ahead.
I was admiring the eery beauty when our friends on Kajon ahead hailed us.

"There's a powerboat coming up behind you that might be the infamous Canadian."

I hailed the approaching boat, signaling with my hands for him to slow. It was not the Canadian, but he was the harbinger.

"That's him behind me," he called out.

Sure enough, I looked back, and there it came, flying out of Hades right into our river Styx.

I told Chip, "I never get pictures of the good stuff, but if we're getting $#*&ed in Rock Pile, I'm going to get photos."

Here he comes after I unsuccessfully hailed and signaled and waved my radio at him:

He came right up on our starboard stern, so we scooted to starboard, Kajon went to port for a full screen.

I will not divulge the name of the boat, because I have no firsthand knowledge that this was the guy. However, I can say he was not answering hails, and he was decidedly not following ICW etiquette.

He pulled to port and started overtaking us -- right at a mark:

He cleared our boat by about the same margin as the mark.
At least he slowed down a little.
And then, Kajon decided to have a little chat with the guy about ICW manners.

It was amusing until we started creeping up closer and closer to the idling boats, my imagination filled with collisions, groundings, gunfire (good imagination). I hailed for some room, and we all crept safely on.

A crazy day, huh? (eh?) But it's not over quite yet. Rock Pile ends with a swing bridge that opens on request. As we were passing, I was tying docklines midships and peered overhead.

The bridge did not swing a whole 90º, instead the arm was sticking into the channel overhead.

I called back to Chip, "Bring it to starboard!"

"I'm fine, 16 feet of water," he calmly replied.


"I'm good."


He swung. We missed.

The end.

Welcome to South Carolina.

North Myrtle Beach, SC 33º48.114N | 78º44.786W


  1. Awesome day. Just think of the great stories you now have. :)

  2. really nice to ride along with y'all...

  3. Just wait until you get to Florida!! ICW manners are very rare here. The further south you go in FL, the worse it gets. Enjoy southern manners while you got 'em! :)

  4. It's a shame that glorious days don't make for good sailing yarns. Let's hope for few good tales!!

  5. Some of this makes you want to try going on the outside. We lived in Coconut Grove for 6 years - you'll rarely find anyone with manners. They'd rather run over you whether you are on land or water.

    You did a great job today - good team work.

  6. Thanks, Suzanne. Teamwork is paramount.

    We're itching to go outside but have a few more chores to finish first -- plus get our offshore lifejackets with harnesses (ordered). We'll see when we feel like we're ready. I look longingly out every inlet we pass. Maybe that's why I ran aground. ;-)

  7. Wow-I think I am happy to have my feet planted firmly on the ground. Safe Sailing!

  8. John: We opted for a nice shot of Patron.

    Debbie: Sailors love spinning a good yarn. It was a tense day, but one I would choose always over commuting on a freeway with road ragers!

  9. Woo hoo! You guys are on your way. You are going to LOVE being offshore -- just think of all the marine life (dolphins, sailfish, etc.) that will be accompanying you. And don't believe everything you hear/read about etiquette and manners in Florida - most of that stuff comes from the drunken weekend water warriors. Can't wait till you get here!!!

  10. Wow!!! I just shared this with a friend at work. We now have greater trepidation of the water -- unless it's filtered with barley malt and hops.

  11. As soon as I started reading this I just knew you'd had a run in with AquaMan (who got his very own post on my blog). But believe it or not, the boat you pictured was not him (and our experience was a week or so later than yours) which just proves that there are a lot of idiots on Searays out there! BTW, I was very grateful that we didn't encounter a barge while traversing the Rock Pile.