Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cruising the ICW

We had a house and a boat outside of Beaufort, NC for a number of years. It was within 40 feet of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW). During those years, we never managed to travel more than 15 or 20 miles in either direction. This month I got a great invitation to join Mark Reid (neighbor and friend) in bringing his 36 foot motorboat back from Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Mark was starting his journey on Saturday and I couldn't join him until Monday. He made a great run out in the ocean on Saturday getting all the way up to Daytona Beach. On Sunday he cruised up to Jacksonville. This is where I met him on Monday.

Mark and his wife Barbie own a 36 foot Tiara named Far Niente, which translates into "doing nothing". It has two large diesel engines, a little galley, and sleeps 6 (although it would be a squeeze).





Mark wanted to get a good run in on Monday after I got in from the airport. We took off up the ICW and made 5 or 10 miles before we had our first event. The nice people from Wildlife decided that we were going too fast in a manatee zone. They said it was a "no wake zone" even though the sign we had just passed said otherwise. Then they seemed to get terribly confused checking out Mark's documentation showing boat ownership. After about 15 minutes, they decided that we weren't worthy of a ticket and let us go.



Of course what they then did was follow us up the waterway for another 5 or 10 minutes before pulling up again and asking "what is you middle initial?" They were still checking out ownership. A minute later, they pull up again: "what does it stand for"? Allen. "Can you spell that for us?" They finally left for good.

Next we found an example of a bad place to do something wrong. There is a Naval submarine pen on the river. It was cool to see a sub outside. The water is deep enough that they can bring them all the way into covered buildings without coming to the surface. You don't boat too close to the area without a serious and immediate visit from the patrolling boats.



Next we came upon what may have been a victim of a sub attack, or just poor boating skills. All we saw a a sailboat's mast sticking out of the water (right side of the picture). Bummer.



During the trip we saw thousands of boats, from tiny to mega yachts. I still think this was my favorite. Of course if I bought it, I would have it painted something other than Carolina blue.



The first night we stayed at the Jekyll Island marina. It is small and basic, but nice.



We had dinner at the little restaurant. Don't bother looking up its Zagat rating.



This is Mark. One of the things I suspected and had reinforced is that boat ownership is not for the timid, lazy or poor. Most days we spent some time after docking trying to coax all the salt water off the boat. After cleaning the outside of the windshield, we finally decided that some of the crud was inside as well.



Day 2, having seen Day 1 start with an event, was apparently jealous. We left the marina pretty early in the morning (7ish). A sailboat with three men had left about 20 minutes before we did. This is a picture of them with the saiboat grounded in shallow water, about half a mile from the marina. The tide was low, but still going out. My guess is that they spent a long time there before they either floated off or could be pulled off.



Knowing that the tide was low, we were watching things very carefully to make sure we stayed in the center of the channel and had enough depth. Far Niente takes about 3 feet of water and we were showing 6 when the boat started acting odd. Turns out we were churning through the silt and the depth finders were probably reading right through it. Made a muddy mess, but no damage. Whew!



And at the end of Day 2, we cruised into Hilton Head. This was the nicest marina of the week. Gorgeous docks with everything right around you: shops, restaurants, showers, ... Here is Mark relaxing and chatting on the phone. It's nice to just hang out on the back of the boat and chat with people as they go by.



We had a very pretty sunset that evening. I wanted to frame it with some interesting trees, so I ventured into someone's back yard. I hope they appreciate their view!



One last picture from that evening was looking back at the little light house marking our marina's entrance.



Day 3 was a short, slow and painful. We left Hilton Head fairly late in the morning, figuring we would get to Charleston for a late lunch. Turns out that late meant 4:00. I finished this trip with what I believe is a well earned appreciation for why people prefer traveling in the ocean to the ICW. There are no wake zones everywhere! Marinas. Docks. Special wildlife areas. On top of that, when you have a large, fast boat, you make a big enough wake to rock the world for small boats and sailboats. So at each one, you have to grind to almost a complete halt, pass them, and get back up to speed. This eats up an enormous amount of time and gas. More on the gas later.

For those of you wondering "where would I get my enormous mega yacht worked on?", the answer appears to be Thunderbolt Marina. First look at the size of the four story motorboat. Now look at the mast sticking up from the sail boat. The sail boat was significantly larger than the motorboat. There are more jumbo yachts back in those buildings.



Just as you start getting a bit bored, you go by a Naval Air base. We had these jets screaming over the waterway again and again. I would hate to live any where close to where they fly. Loud is a serious understatement.



On the more peaceful side, we saw a lot of nature. We saw hundreds of porpoise over the week, but never got a picture of one. We were always busy driving the boat. The most interesting find was a giant sea turtle, but he ducked just as Mark got out with the camera.

Osprey were easy to photograph. They seemed to appreciate the nice platforms the Corp of Engineers had build for them (to mark the channels).



Pelicans, cormorants, egrets, and herons were almost a dime a dozen.



We rolled into Charleston and the first thing you see is the City marina, called the Mega Dock. The name fits. Double click on the picture to get a better view. The boats are huge!



We were originally going to stay at the Mega Dock, but Mark had discovered a small problem with one of the drive shafts. The Tiara dealer was in Charleston and he agreed to have someone take a look at the problem. He also invited us to stay at the marina where he kept all his boats for sale.

The service guy came and made some adjustments so the drive shafts didn't let salt water in the engine compartment and life was good. Unfortunately this left Mark scrubbing away the old salt. Like I said earlier, boat ownership isn't for the lazy. You can't afford to get behind in the work or Mother Nature seems to create havoc with rust, barnacles, and other clever problems.



I think my favorite moment of the trip came when we went to the Mega Dock for diesel fuel. The nice dock master said "sure, just pull in between Mystique and One More Toy. That would be the small space between the rightmost 200 foot yacht and the similarly sized blue one in front of it. Mark had planned to have this be my first docking experience. The wind was blowing at 15-20 mph. When they told us where to park, I just laughed and walked away from the wheel.



Mark did a superb job, squeezing it in without hitting either one. Here you can see One More Toy's bow towering over the top of Far Niente.



Looking back at Mystique is about the same. Talk about well-handled pressure!



We had arrived in Charleston on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday evening our two lovely spouses flew into Charleston. Julie's flight from Raleigh to Charlotte was late, so we almost lost her before her part of the trip started. She ran to her connection and got into Charleston on time. The ladies spent Friday shopping while Mark and I got everything provisioned and ready for travel. There are some great restaurants in Charleston and we found several of them (Hanks, Slightly North of Broad, Fig and Cru Cafe). At the Cru Cafe we got the chef's table, which gave us a nonstop view of all the food and action in the kitchen. Awesome experience!

We left Charleston on a gorgeous Saturday morning. In an ideal world we would head out into the ocean and run up the coast, all the way to Wrightsville Beach. As we left the Charleston harbor, we passed Fort Sumter where the Civil War began.



You know you are heading out into deeper waters when you cross paths with this.



But alas, it was not to be. Before we got all the way out of the protection of the jetties, we saw several boats coming in our way. We heard radio traffic saying it was just too windy and rough out there. We joined the crowd and headed back to the ICW.



Here's Julie on the back of the boat.



... and Barbie on the other side.



On our way through South Carolina, there were a number of undeveloped sections that were beautiful. You could imagine back to when most of the area was that way.



But humans just can't leave well enough alone. This isn't a great photo, but I just had to capture what Mark referred to as the "Red Neck Riviera". It was a set of ugly condos with an ugly sea wall. In front of the sea wall was a pitiful beach covered with weeds and trash. I don't have a close-up, but the people who chose this as their gathering spot looked exactly as I expected they would.



At one point we were planning to stop in Myrtle Beach for the night. As we boated along, we could tell it was the annual Biker Week. This was one bar off of Highway 17 in North Myrtle. There must have been 250 motorcycles in the parking lot.



As if the ICW wasn't slow enough already, we had to pass through three bridges that were too low for Far Niente to pass under. The two swing bridges were pretty reasonable about opening not long after we got there.



The Sunset Bridge was another story. We had to rush to get to it because it only opens once an hour. You miss it, you wait. You can see all the boats gathered, waiting for the opening. We got there at 3:59, just in time, except it opened about 15 minutes late. This pitiful little bridge only handles one lane of car traffic at a time, and is one of the only floating bridges left in use. Because the bridge floats, no one can get by, even the tiny boats. What a stupid, stupid bridge.



You'll remember that we got stopped by the wildlife officers earlier in the week. A passing boat shouted a warning that an officer was ahead pulling people for violating the no wake rules. We warned a boat coming past us. That boat was crewed by a half a dozen drunken males and two drunken, big chested females. Off they roared, and sure enough, the officer went off after them. Amazingly, they got away without a ticket. When we caught up to them, it turns out that one of the women had flashed SC's finest with apparent success. To prove the point, she flashed us, only to fall over drunk. Nice entertainment. Somewhere along the way we also heard a radio complaint to the Coast Guard that a man was driving his large motorboat in the nude and flashing women. Never heard the results.



Going past the frenzy of Myrtle Beach, we took harbor at Bald Head Island's marina. Didn't get to see anything on the island though. We just docked, ate, slept and left the next morning.



On Sunday morning, we got started early and did the last 25 miles to Far Niente's slip in Wrightsville Beach. We enjoyed breakfast at The Causeway, where I watched Barbie get her usual: chocolate chip pancakes with peanut butter. Yum!

While I certainly would require many more hours of practice, I became competent at driving and navigating. While I did some docking, I could use a LOT more practice there. Seems that every time I tried, the wind was blowing hard again. Life at the coast....



A fantastic trip! Much thanks to Captain Mark for letting me tag along. Glad that Julie and Barbie could join us in Charleston to make it a family affair. Here are a few other things that didn't have photos to go along:

  • On Saturday we listened for over an hour as the Coast Guard tried to hail and find a boat that had apparently signaled a Man Overboard and then went off the air. The Coasties even had planes up looking for them. While we couldn't hear both sides of the radio conversation, it sounded like they were talking, had serious damage (prop ripped off?), and were trying to get to shore.
  • On leaving Charleston, some idiot (me) left one dock line on, which grabbed the boat and yanked for all it was worth. Luckily the only thing damaged was the dock line and my pride.
  • Diesel was running around $4.50 per gallon. On Mark's first long day, it cost over $1200 to fill up. I think the daily number was around $500. Dragging a big boat through the water just isn't that efficient.
  • Other than the high winds off shore, we couldn't have asked for better weather. The only rain we had was the day in Charleston that we weren't boating.
  • In Hilton Head, we were docked almost next to some people from Raleigh that Mark had met before. They own the Mint restaurant in downtown Raleigh. We had dinner with them. Very nice people.
  • In Hilton Head, we walked into an odd little store that had sports memorabilia, interesting nicknack's, cigars, and a little selection of wine. One of the wines was from the Far Niente winery. A wine named after our boat? What are the odds? I bought it for us to have that night.
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