Friday, June 8, 2012


Brunswick, GA 31º9.270N | 81º29.975W

If you've "liked" our ploddingINparadise Facebook page, you already know the answer to that, but here's the story:

When I flew back to Ft. Lauderdale from New Mexico back in May, I had a fantasy about west wind and glassy seas allowing us to make a 3-day offshore passage all the way to the Georgia border. My fantasy was fully realized only, as usual, I didn't have the foresight to wish for everything. I forgot to hope for west wind and glassy seas with NO SQUALLS. We've had an amazingly long spell of offshore west wind, but the actual weather has been nasty. We couldn't make a single offshore hop in the last three weeks. If you've been reading, you know our last few days have been trying weatherwise. And then there was today.

First, can I just say, my husband is awesome. I'll tell you one of the many reasons later.

Second, finally, the weather prediction was right about last night.

To review, we were anchored in a narrow creek in shallow water with no real wind protection and not enough anchor chain, which means at any moment we could have been adrift, requiring us to throw on foulies, start the engine, and re-anchor in the dead black of night. All was well until about 11 p.m. when the howling wind woke us up as a big squall came rushing down Shellbine Creek. Chip checked the wind indicator, and it was clocking in the mid 20s, gusting higher. It always sounds worse at night.

To make things more nerve-jangling, this nasty squall hit right at high (6-foot) tide, the optimal time for our short anchor chain to be vulnerable. We both prowled around looking out hatches to see if we were dragging, but in the pitch black, there were only two points of reference, the flashing green mark at the east end of the creek and the anchor light of another anchored boat in an adjacent creek (assuming they weren't dragging). Under full cloud cover and pouring rain, it was hard to judge. The iPad offered some reassurance, showing our exact location on the chart using GPS. That awesome Georgia mud and our Delta anchor were sticking together.

That first squall lasted about an hour, and thankfully had no lightning. We went back to sleep and were wakened once again at 2:15 by the howling wind. Another squall, this one bigger and more enduring. In fact, the wind didn't actually let up this time.

Before going to bed, we had studied the tide and current charts to make our plan for crossing the dreaded Saint Andrew's Sound. For the last week, mornings have been relatively squall-free, so we decided to shoot for low tide, an early morning dash. Not ideal, but nothing has been ideal the last few days. Done is better than ideal.

The alarm went off at 5:45 before the predawn haze. We raised the anchor at 6:15 just before the sun rose on several inauspicious signs. First, when I was raising the anchor with the windlass, the voltage dropped so low that we lost power briefly. Then, once the anchor was up, Chip threw the throttle forward, but nothing happened. We were aground. The rising water or luck or something changed, and then we moved. For folks who look for signs, this was not a good start. I took the helm for the first shift and headed to the end of the creek toward that flashing green mark we used to reassure ourselves that we weren't dragging anchor in the dead of night.

As I turned out of the creek, toward the Sound, it was into the face of 25 knots of wind and surprisingly big swell, shocking really, coming straight at us, much larger than yesterday. I hadn't seen Cara Mia hobby horse like that since the Tongue of the Ocean in the Bahamas. I was at the helm, and I only got about a quarter mile before I turned back. We dropped anchor in the same spot, despondent and exhausted.

I emailed our friend G.W. to see if he could make sense of this "10-15 knots with light chop" situation, which was in fact 20-25 with 6-8 foot swell -- before we even reached the open water. I asked if he could tell where it was headed using his weather resources. Would it move out today? Tomorrow?

He had mentioned the day before that there was an alternate route across the Sound, so I started investigating.

In that chart above, the common route is the one on the right, heading right out under the ocean's skirt. The wind had been blowing in the 20s from the northeast for at least 24 hours, which means the swell had plenty of time to build.

We were anchored at A2 in Shellbine Creek. The red line on the left is the alternate route through Floyd Creek, a reportedly shallow, shoaly passage.

High tide was at 1:00, so if there was any chance to make it through Floyd, we would need to leave soon after 10 to ensure we made it through on a rising tide (so if we ran aground, water was on the way to lift us off). We synchronized our watches, set the alarm for 10 a.m. and went to sleep.

At 10, Chip hailed for local knowledge on Channel 16. A tugboat captain volunteered that it was bad in St. Andrew's, and he himself found the swell too big and was ditching through Floyd. Another sailboat hailed us to say they were out in the Sound at that moment making the turn between the shoals fielding 6-8 foot rollers on the beam.

Yeah, no thanks.

We were surprised to hear from that boat, because it was one of the ones we assumed had crossed yesterday when we had turned back. They too felt conditions were iffy, but they anchored with several other boats in the spot that we felt was too exposed. They reported a dreadful night with anchors dragging and tangling, big swell, miserable. At least we made one good choice, although deep in the night, with a squall bearing down, I wondered if we should have buckled down and pushed through the Sound. If so, we would have been tucked safely in a marina slip in Brunswick ... in a marina slip in Brunswick ... in a marina slip in Brunswick.

With real-time reports from the Sound, we made our decision to go through the backwaters of Floyd, I checked my email and found corroborating info on the weather  and the viability of Floyd Creek from G.W., so, once again, we raised the anchor and headed out. It had stopped raining and the sky to the north was encouragingly bright. Chip took the first shift and as we headed again out of Shellbine Creek, dolphins surfaced all around us. Mm hmm, that's what I'm talkin' about, a good omen.

As we headed toward the first curve in Floyd, that tugboat captain who advised us earlier came barreling toward us. He was even bigger than we imagined:

If he thought the swell was too big, we had no business messing about there either.

While Chip wormed us through the winding creek, I went below to stow, anticipating big swell in the open Sound, because even though we weren't going out to the tip, we still had to cross it further inland. Floyd turned out to be lovely and not particularly shallow. Chip never saw less than 10 feet at high tide, so most boats could pass at high tide with no problem.

We rounded into the Sound right at noon, an hour short of slack (unmoving) tide and could feel the swell. With an hour of tide still coming in, it was slow going through 5-6 foot swell, but we could hug the south side of the Sound until it lessened. Then we had to cross.

Guess who's watch came just before the crossing? Yes. Why me?

This is the part where I can tell you how awesome Chip is: He volunteered to take my watch all the way across. Perhaps he was really just guarding against my turning back a third time (!), but I loved him for it. Really, he felt bad that this entire week I've been drawing the bad shifts. He knew my nerves were frazzled, and he was being heroically nice. Thanks, Chip.

When you're in rolly conditions, the GPS takes a long time to react to the movement, so if you're accustomed to solely navigating by looking at the computer screen, well, no good. I used the binoculars to spot bouncing marks that weren't bouncing but looked like they were in the bumpy water. I used the iPad and its GPS to make sure we were on track.

Chip steered us smoothly in the big swell, which kept moderating as we made the 5-mile trek down the Sound. By the time we reached the tip of Jekyll, it was down to big chop (fine, we'll take it).

We made an easy pass inside of Jekyll and turned west, thrilled to approach the bridge in Brunswick.

We were feeling transcendent. Smooth water, sun. The only other blip on our horizon was this:

Two adolescent girls in incredibly tiny sailboats, far out in the Brunswick River. Not such a big deal except that the tide had turned on them, moving swiftly out to sea. Even we were slogging against it in our big boat with an engine. They were struggling.

I hailed the Coast Guard to make sure someone knew they were out there. The Coast Guard had a boat nearby and went to investigate.

And, at long last, we headed up the channel to our new home under sunny skies and only a breath of wind. We glided into our slip, turned off the engine and, just to make this day a little more emotion-packed, we drank a toast to my old friend, Dale, gone now too long to be believed.

Dale's commemorative wine.
The lesson here: Don't take the ICW lightly. This week dealt us some real challenges. When you go out on the water, you have to be ready for whatever awaits.

We've fielded everything thrown at us and arrived, safe, tired and happy, at peace in Brunswick.

Georgia -- and Paris -- on our minds.


  1. Isn't it interesting how - while in the situation - you really just want to be out of the situation, but the truth is - it just makes you that much better of a sailor/cruiser.

    I've found that in both my aviation career and my sailing life - these situations are what make for great dinner conversation.

    Enjoy being tied up for a few months. Maybe we'll see you on your way south somewhere.

    1. So true. The easy, lazy days don't teach us a thing. I'm up for a few of those. :-)

      We'll definitely see you, one where or another.

  2. Oh Girl! I totally feel your pain and am so glad for the both of you that the ordeal has come to an end! The worst part about moving with a timeline is that the weather gods still have their own intentions. Somehow these trials and tribulations do give us amazing blogs & dinner conversations. For now, yes, enjoy the free laundry, the lines tied up and sleeping soundlessly. I'm looking forward to nights huddled around a bottle of wine recounting your tales from Paris! Love & Hugs xxoo