There’s has been a lot of discussion recently about going offshore to bypass the troubled Georgia AICW (principally Little Mud River and Jekyll Creek). However, below we hear from Ted Jones, former editor and co-owner of the late, great “Coastal Cruising” magazine, that going outside can lead to its own set of perils!
Log April 29th & 30th, 2010 ~ Fernandina Beach, FL to Ashepoo River, SC:
1200: We cleared St. Mary’s Inlet and set a course, close on the wind, for St. Andrew’s Sound sea buoy intending to stop at Beaufort. However, when we got there we were told there was no dockage available because of a weekend festival. We were dog tired from sailing all night, but as it was early we decided to continue on toward Charleston. But that gets ahead of an eventful passage.
1400: We motorsailed in the light easterly breeze until it filled in from the SE in the early afternoon as predicted. It was a delightfully sunny afternoon, and we both enjoyed sitting on the cabin top (safety harnesses clipped on) leaning against the dinghy while “Ralph” steered. We secured the engine and enjoyed “silent running” for a change. Ted wasn’t sure how long Ralph could steer without the engine running. We would find out.
1600: We set four-hour watches with Malla taking the first.
2000: Ted had an uneventful evening watch. When Malla took over we decided to dog the midnignt to 0400 watch each taking two hours. When Ted checked the GPS, it had stopped working, giving us a position which was hours old. Never mind, we had a good DR working so were not concerned. However, it would be important to confirm our position at the several sea buoys along our course line.
0200, April 30th: Ted took over from Malla. It was easy sailing with the wind aft and Ralph steering. Malla confessed that it was difficult for her to stay awake.
Ahead, Ted could see the telltale characteristics of a sea buoy (flashing the morse code for the letter “A”) and wanted to be sure it was the Tybee Roads sea buoy and not St. Andrews. It was soon apparent that it was the former as four ships could be seen headed toward it on a crossing course. Not wanting to cross ahead of fast moving ships, Ted hardened up to parallel thier course in the reciprocal direction. Two ships flashed passed and could be seen rounding the sea buoy. The other two ships were moving more slowly, so we wore around to sail parallel to them and make positive identification of the sea buoy and let them pass so we could resume our course for St. Andrews and have a definite point of departure.
We were well ahead of the lead ship of the last two when it sounded the danger signal. The radio had been crackling below, which Malla heard someone calling the “sailing vessel in the Savannah River ship channel.” As she knew we were offshore and not in the Savannah River, she did not think they were calling us. I was to busy on the helm to go below and use the radio, and I had not brought the hand held VHF on deck, which we use to contact draw bridges, so could not immediately reply. I held my course toward the sea buoy and again the ship sounded the danger signal. I tacked away.
Meanwhile a third set of running lights appeared bearing down on the sea buoy. And as we were in the process of keeping clear, this set of lights came along side and Ted could see that it was a pilot boat. Now able to leave the helm for a few seconds, Ted dove below and located the hand held radio in the dark and called the pilot on channel 13. He was pretty irate and wanted to know what our intention was and where were we headed? I told him it was out intention to keep clear of the ships and to resume my course once they had passed. Meanwhile, the first ship of the last two had commenced a 360 degree turn and balled me out on the radio for causing him to need to do that. The fourth ship apparently followed suit with a 360 degree turn.
It was a very unfortunate set of circumstances which could have been prevented had I been able to use the radio. However, since we had not responded, the closest ship could not know of our intentions and initiated a turn to avoid us. (I have been on the bridge of a large ship and shared the frustration of its captain as small boats darted unexpectedly apparently into harms way. The pilot of a large ship needs to know that smaller vessels intend to keep clear.)
I was clearly at fault for not being able to communicate, and sincerely regret the inconvenience and possible danger I had caused. We continued to sail south, away from the sea buoy until we were well astern of the fourth ship, then resumed our course for St. Andrew’s Sound, some 10 miles further north.
0400: By now it was Malla’s turn again to take the watch. We had been steering 025 degrees, on average, since leaving St. Mary’s Inlet, and had recently corrected to 030 to allow for leeway. Now, before turning in, I rechecked the heading between Tybee Roads and St. Andrews and was surprised that it turned out to be 060 degrees. I accepted this, told Malla to steer 060 and expect to see the MO-A in an hour and a half, and lay down to rest.
0600: When St. Andrews had failed to appear we carried on for another 15 minutes, as I concluded that we had steered a course leading us out of sight of the sea buoy and changed course to intercept the coast.
0730: We finally spotted what we thought was the sea buoy and changed course to intercept the channel. The “sea buoy” turned out to be another sailboat with a red channel marker astern of it. Then we saw the inner range marker, checked the chart which showed shoal water northeast of it, and hardened up to pass the range marker on its west side.
0930: In a call to the Beaufort town docks we were told that there were no slips to be had. After talking it over between us, Malla and I decided to continue on toward Charleston, by-passing Beaufort regretfully, and tired as we were, we’d seek out an anchorage where we could make Charleston in one more day’s run.
1500: Ted selected a creek well off the ICW as a suitable anchorage. We actually passed it and had to double back, but it was deep and protected from the increasingly strong SE wind. The current was strong, so we set a second anchor toward the middle of the creek, and, the next day being Saturday, we remained there, out of harms way from the thundering herds, until Sunday. Despite the strong currents, it was delightful.