After the passing of Hurricane Matthew, we were excited to head back to the boat and get on our way down the coast for a stopover in Beaufort. However, mother nature had different plans for us.
After arriving to St. James Marina, we took one day to unload and relax and then set off for Little River, SC. This leg of our trip was also when we would pass the Shallotte Inlet (where we ran aground) and brings up a lot of bad memories. The day we passed over the inlet, a good Samaritan in a motor boat was actually out helping boats pass the inlets due to the unknown depths since Hurricane Matthew. Thankfully there were no issues and we had at least 10 feet of depth. So, happily we cruised onto Little River thinking the effects of Hurricane Matthew were behind us and we would reach Beaufort in a couple days.
As we moved along on Thursday, we noticed that the height of the water seemed to be rather high, despite being low tide. As we passed under the Little River Bridge, the tide chart read 61 feet. The mast on our boat is 59 ft and the antenna adds another foot or so. As the day progressed we passed under two more bridges that did not have tide charts and it was SCARY. We creeped under each of them with our antenna springing off the bottom of the bridge. As we approached the Waccamaw River it was evident the flooding from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew was getting out of hand. The devastation of the houses on either side the ICW leading up to the Socostee Swing Bridge was incredible. Tons of debris was floating in the water and people were kayaking around their houses which were flooded.
The tide board on the next bridge read 59.5 feet and we knew we would not be able to make it under, so we turned back. As we headed back, the water only continued to rise and we could no longer make it under the previous bridges we just passed under. The closest marina was flooded and most of the docks within this 5 mile stretch between bridges were are also flooded. So, essentially we were stuck. There were a few private docks still intact and we docked the boat and went around asking the neighbors about who owned them.
We came across Pete (ironically the name of the other man who was very generous and helpful in the Chesapeake) who allowed us to stay at his dock on the end. Once again, the pure goodness and kindness of people was shown and we again feel grateful and indebted to these sweet people we continue to meet. Jim and Debbie, two other neighbors, invited the girls to swim in their pool and us over for dinner and movies. Pete continued to check in on us and offered us a power hook up. We keep crossing paths with some of the most sincere and kind people we have ever meet. My faith in the goodness of people is constantly reinforced. I often wonder if it is luck or fate? But I will save that for another post!
For the next couple days, the flooding has only increased and actually broken the Waccamaw River record set in 1928 of 17 ft. The Socostee Swing bridge is now closed due to the flooding. It now appears it will be a week before the water recedes enough for us to make it under the bridges on the ICW, so we sit and wait like we have done so much on our cruising journey thus far. Waiting on the boat to get fixed or waiting on mother nature to allow us safe passage is our “thing”. While at first I was frustrated and irritated at this constant stop and start motion of our cruising, it is not bad and it is teaching us the lesson of patience. At least that is my spin on our current circumstances!!
We were very relieved to learn that All In had survived the hurricane with no visible exterior damage. I spent a fair amount of time on Saturday and Sunday checking online and watching the Weather Channel for updates on the storm’s effect on Southport, but couldn’t really get a very good idea of localized damage. Some places nearby were being hurt by storm surge, rain, and wind while other areas seemed to be just fine. I couldn’t tell for sure what was happening specifically near All In. We left the boat at the St. James Plantation Marina, located in a town tucked in behind Oak Island as a nice storm barrier. The marina itself is protected all the way around from rough water and tall houses surround the docks to create a decent wind barrier as well. A family friend who lives in the area was kind enough to send us some pictures from the dock after the storm passed and everything looked as we left it. Later in the day I was able to make contact with the dock master as well, and he confirmed for me that the marina had done very well during the storm and no boats had been damaged.
We spent the weekend riding out the storm in Sumter, SC with my parents and some great friends of ours from Bluffton, SC who called us when the evacuation was ordered. We decided to make the best of the situation and use the time to catch up, experiment with some new drink recipes, and let the kids all play together.
Unfortunately, much of our old hometown did not fare as well as the St. James Marina did. In fact, the dock where we kept All In during the months leading up to our departure from Beaufort was all but destroyed. It’s a privately-owned dock belonging to very nice retired couple and you may have seen it before…just go watch the shrimp boat scenes in Forest Gump again. They were all filmed there. It made me so sad to see the dockhouse falling into the water as we have so many wonderful memories on and around that dock with the people of the Coosaw Island community.
And destroyed docks were a big part of the story of Hurricane Matthew in Beaufort, SC. Very few private docks survived the storm and many marinas suffered significant damage. In fact, the Dataw Marina was completely destroyed and the boats that were moored there were littered across the marshland, some of them even ending up on the runway of the local airport just upriver from Dataw. The rest of the town experienced massive flooding, downed trees which caused damage to homes and vehicles, and power outages that are still an issue at the time of this writing.
On Monday, when the Andersons were cleared to head back home, we drove north to Charlotte to visit my sister Cori and her family. Cori and Jeff’s youngest son, Grant, has been recovering in the hospital since early September after a brain surgery and we needed to go see all of them. Their Caring Bridge site tells more of their story. It was a short visit, but something we’ve wanted to be able to do for weeks now. Grant’s got a long road of recovery ahead of him, and his family is exhausted and uprooted, but my take-away from the visit is that they are all incredibly strong, optimistic and loving people who deserve a big time vacation when this is all over with.
On Tuesday morning at 9am, we left Fort Mill, expecting a 4 hour drive to Southport. In hindsight, we feel ridiculous that we didn’t check road conditions for closures from flooding or for areas that were still without power. That’s just not the Merrick Way! Nope, we just packed up the car and took off. Eight hours later, we arrived in Southport with two tired, whiny little girls. We had encountered detour after detour, gas stations with no gas or no power, abandoned vehicles by the roadside, and massive flooding that, in person, was downright frightening. In some areas, even though the skies were clear and the sun was out, the flooding was only getting worse. Nearby rivers were overflowing with water making its way toward the coast. It was obvious that water levels were rising very quickly as people from the homes in peril were just standing along the roads, looks of desperation and surprise and sadness on their faces. Every minute that passed, roads and bridges were becoming almost impassable. We scooted across a few bridges that we would not have attempted half an hour later. Homes were underwater up to their windows or more. Something as abundant and common as liquid water was now the source of abject terror. Strange, strange experience for me. My heart goes out to all those affected by this storm. One could really understand the notion that we are completely and utterly helpless against the power of mother nature.
The whole experience that day struck some kind of philosophical chord within me. I simultaneously felt really sad for my fellow Americans and also kind of embarrassed. We have become so dependent on and take for granted our incredible power grid and our seemingly endless supply of clean, fresh water. We expect those services to be provided constantly and to be accessible from everywhere. We have access to food and water and power so cheaply and easily in this country, that we’ve honestly become a little lazy and careless in our decision making. You don’t have to plan ahead to feed yourself, you can just whip into a fast-food restaurant the very moment you feel hunger and have something to eat within seconds. At any hour of the day or night! Fill up the car with gas before it gets halfway empty? No need! There will be a gas station every mile or so in any direction! And then suddenly we’re hit with a natural disaster, we lose access to this convenience and we start to look kind of pitiful. Cars were abandoned everywhere by people who literally drove until it ran out of gas. Mad scrambles for bottles of water and packages of bread. Long lines at restaurants that happen to be open. People huddled around outlets with splitters trying to get a charge on their smartphone. And I’m not judging here. I’m sadly a part of this debacle. I guess I’m just a little troubled that we’ve become so dependent on modern conveniences. Dependence inhibits people from being strong, self-sufficient planners and problem-solvers.
Perhaps this might be another lesson for my family to learn during our cruising experience. Self-reliance and the ability to adapt. Creativity and problem solving. Toughness. Grit. Independence. I can’t think of a better list of qualities I would love to see my daughters possess.
So now we are faced with continuing south toward Beaufort, where we will ride out the rest of hurricane season. There is much to consider about a post-Hurricane Matthew ICW. Navigational aids destroyed or off-station, shoaling, debris, bridge closures, access to water, fuel, and pumpouts, and determining which marinas are operational and which are closed for repairs or destroyed altogether. When we do finally arrive in Beaufort, Laura will go and complete some consulting work she was hired to do, both of us will take on boat projects that need to be completed, the girls will get to visit with friends and family. Beyond that, we look forward to Florida, the Keys, and hopefully the Bahamas to round out year #1!
Since arriving in North Carolina, we have been keeping our eye on the storm forming in the Atlantic. This storm has since turned into Hurricane Matthew and is bearing down on the southeast coast of the United States. As we traveled down the waterway earlier this week, our plans changed about 7 times. We had reservations at three different marinas from Wilmington to Georgetown, but we did not make it to any of these places. After the Governor of South Carolina called for an evacuation on Tuesday, our plans changed yet again and we docked the boat in St. James Plantation Marina located in Southport, NC. This is where ‘All In’ will ride out the storm. It seems we are destined to spend time in Southport because this is also where the boat was hauled out back in July. We spent most of Tuesday evening and Wednesday prepping the the boat for the storm. We started by cleaning and deflating our dinghy, “Al.”
Next, we took down both sails and folded them up. While this may seem a very simple task, it is rather time consuming. We hauled both sails to the grass, correctly folded them up and secured them in their sailbag. Avery and Leslie were two very helpful assistants for this part!!
After the sails were down, the dodger and bimini sunshades came off and were put away. Then, the deck needed to be completely cleared. Everything was taken off the deck….AC, generator, boat hooks, fenders, jerry jugs, seat cushions, instruments, deck brushes, grill, sheets and halyards. ALL of this stuff, including the sails and dinghy were then stowed away in our cabin.
Finally, Bryan secured and re-secured the boat until he felt satisfied with 12 lines. We are on a floating dock which is a good thing, but we are also tied to pier heads and there is a 7 foot tide, so we need to make sure the boat is both secure, but also has enough slack to account for the tide.
We also took the time to secure the anchor, bimini and dodger poles, the outboard motor, and all of the running rigging that we didn’t want to remove from the deck. Some final preparations included resealing a few of the portlights in the cabin that have leaked occasionally, testing the bilge pumps for proper operation, and closing all of the seacocks. We packed up all the food we could take with us, electronics, our portable safe containing important documents and information, and a bag of clothes. We picked up our rental car, loaded everything up and headed out to Sumter to be with Bryan’s family. At the time we left, not many people were securing their boat for a potential hurricane and the thought did run through our mind if we were over-preparing. But, our home is the boat, so I feel like being overly sensitive to the weather is necessary for the security of our home and family. Most of our belongings were left on the boat and I hope that everything is there when we get back. For that matter, I hope the boat itself is still there when we return! At this point, there is nothing we can do but sit and wait and enjoy this time with family. My prayers go out to all in the path of this storm, especially all cruisers.
I was not raised on the water and my experience prior to moving to Beaufort was occasional trips to Lake Lanier to rent a pontoon boat or jet ski. So, sailing is not in my background, however, once moving to Beaufort, the water became part of my everyday life. We lived on a rural island called Coosaw Island. We were across the street from the Coosaw River and ¼ mile away from a community dock. Before we even had a boat, we had a boat slip and would go down and sit at it with our crab trap. My father in law filled that slip not too long after with a Precision 21. Bryan asked me to marry him on this boat and our first big purchase as a couple 9 months after we got married was our Key West motor boat. This boat provided such fun and memorable times in Beaufort. The love of the water and sailing only grew over the next 10 years living in Beaufort and the idea of living on a boat was first planted in my head after cruising for a week in the Dodeconese Islands in Greece and later in the BVI. Boating was such a part of my soul, that I cried when the new owners towed our motor boat out of our yard.
Despite all of this, I feel very embarrassed that I know very little about boats and wish I had taken more initiative to learn while we had access to smaller boats in smaller bodies of water and especially prior to having children. But, no need to live in regret, but to begin to take action!
In VERY simplistic terms, sailboat cruising can be divided into three different categories. My focus has been more on #3, while Bryan is becoming more proficient in #1 and #2.
we have finally settled into the “living on the boat”, I am excited to take more of an equal role in some of the other areas of cruising. Like most things that are a new experience, they can be challenging at first. Today was my first day not only docking the boat, but also at the helm of the boat during our passage from Oriental to Beaufort, NC. This is a short distance, but a storm seemed to follow us down the waterway. While it was challenging (mostly docking), I enjoyed every minute of this trek including getting soaked in rain.
I have found that I love most challenges in my life, maybe not at first but in the end, the feeling of accomplishment is an unmatched feeling. We are now safely tucked into Beaufort for the next couple days and I’m eagerly awaiting more experience and becoming more comfortable with maneuvering our boat!
I started our cruising life uneasy about and uninterested in anchoring. This was very much opposite Bryan’s attitude as he wanted to stay on the hook every single night. I would much rather stay at a marina….close to amenities and resources. Much of the beginning of our cruising life was spent this way, out of necessity, for different reasons. Either our head was unusable and being replaced, being on the hard while the rudder was replaced, or waiting out a hurricane. So, I guess I just got used to staying at marinas with their pools, laundry facilities, free wifi and showers. It seemed to make life pretty easy and convenient. However, this comes at a cost of anywhere between $.40 (we have only seen this price once….it is pretty incredible!) to $2.50 per foot plus electricity. Staying at marinas will quickly drain any cruising kitty, so anchoring, in my mind, was just an unfortunate financial requirement. Upon entering the Chesapeake Bay, however, the world of anchoring really opened up to us and my attitude towards anchoring has completely changed. Along the ICW, there are very few places to anchor and feel comfortable, but in the Chesapeake the water is wide open and options are endless. We have gone from anchoring around three times a week to almost the entire week. The only reason to come into a marina now is for the necessity of doing laundry, getting gas, diesel, and fresh water, and provisioning (although all of these things could be accomplished at anchor with the use of ‘Al’ our dinghy, but I am not yet skilled enough to do them!!)
When I think about what changed my attitude towards dropping the hook, it consists of the beautiful scenery, the experiences while at anchor, and the independence and self-reliance that comes when you are “on your own.” I also think the more comfortable temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately have helped with this change of heart. While traveling the ICW in the summer, the heat is unbearable at times. When at anchor, we would have to shut ourselves in our 38 ft boat in order to cool off with the AC. After traveling all day with a 3 and 4 year old, you can imagine this is not what we wanted to do when we got to an anchorage! Now, we are able to enjoy the cockpit at anchor and the girls are enjoying their backyard, “bow”. Here are some of our favorite anchorages in no particular order.
We arrived to Oxford mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the town. We anchored next to the marinas and dinked around the corner to a beach. This was a great afternoon playtime/relaxing time. We then checked out the other side of the town. There was a very convenient dinghy dock and we walked into “town.” This consisted of the library, maritime museum, playground, and local store. We bought fresh crab meat at the store and Bryan cooked the best crab cakes that night. We had crab omelettes the next morning. The playground was right on the water…..I think this might have been the best view from a playground so far. As you might not know, we have visited the playground in EVERY town we have been to, so I have a lot for comparison!
Price Creek is located north of Charleston near Bull Island. We anchored here after leaving Charleston and dinghied to the beach. This anchorage was beautiful and we were all by ourselves. I remember the breeze being so welcomed from the summer heat and we collected lots of shells on the beach. It was also our first attempt at anchoring that went without any drama of shifting currents or strong winds.
This was our first stop after getting back on the boat after repairs in Southport. I think we were so giddy to be back on the boat, we loved everything about this anchorage. As soon as we got there, the girls and I jumped in the water for a swim. We ended up staying here for three days. We anchored on the back side of the beach. There was a dinghy dock and a short walk across the street to the beach. This beach had the clearest water I have seen on the Atlantic Coast. The water looked like the water in the Keys. Avery got googles and was able to see fish underwater for the first time and this is her top spot on our cruise so far.
Annapolis truly is the sailing capital of the east coast….there are sailboats everywhere! We caught our first mooring ball in the city mooring field. There were so many boats all around us and lots of action. It was interesting “boat watching” as boats came and went. There is a dinghy dock at the end of each street and everything is very accessible. It was a cool experience to be among the action and Leslie was able to feed ducks from the boat one morning!
We loved this anchorage so much that we stayed an extra day. We anchored on the San Domingo Creek, considered to be the back door to St. Michaels (no marinas located on this side). We met another boating family with 2 and 4 year old boys and spent an entire day on a nearby sandbar….no joke a full 8 hours on a little sandbar catching crabs and minnows. I wish they were making their way down south with us….the kids and adults had a great time together! The town was easily accessible and we even found a company that rented bikes with a bike trailer for the girls. We spent another day riding around town and visiting the Maritime Museum. There were thirteen other boats anchored with us at one time during the three days we stayed here. The weather, scenery, and company was very memorable.
We stayed at Shackleford for two days. While this might not have been the best anchorage due to strong currents, it was really neat to see wild ponies on the island. There is also a wonderful beach to play and swim on, especially during high tide. We were able to see the ponies up close and watched them walking on the beach from the boat. We also explored other sandbars and found our first sand dollars.
As we start back down the ICW, I’m hoping we might find some spots we missed on our way north. The addition of Skipper Bob’s Anchorages to our boat library has opened our eyes to some more places. Let us know if you are aware of some cool places to anchor along the ICW. We would love to check them out over the next month.