Offshore Passage: Charleston, SC to St. Marys, GA
December 20, 2019
How can I put this nicely? I can’t, that passage sucked.
We were up before first light to make it to the Charleston breakwater by dawn along with the slack tide. I was on coffee duty while Jon tacked back and forth while waiting for the commercial ship traffic to clear the inlet. I guess you could say it was nice that we had a stiff wind to help sail us out into open water, however, while we were waiting for the traffic to clear the channel, the tide went from slack to ebb. The outgoing tide was now meeting the stiff breeze causing some nasty square chop. Good thing we took our dodger down, not! We had to close up the companionway fast, while I stayed down below to secure what I thought was a passage ready boat. Jon was drenched wave after wave as he beat our way out of the channel till we could turn south and get away from the breaking seas caused by the jetty. That was one hell of a way to start a morning, Jon was dripping head to toe, but we had plenty of wind to push us along with just the jib. Once Jon was changed and dry, we set Prism up for the sail south.
Before we left, we had been watching the weather for a window to allow a somewhat pleasant passage south, but no such windows presented themselves. We chose this one knowing that if we went too slow, then the strong north winds were going to catch up with us and make life less enjoyable. The wind kept up enough that we sailed with the jib alone throughout the day, keeping the building seas on our aft quarter.
As the day progressed, I started to feel a little off. Quickly thinking it was just motion sickness, I took some Dramamine and closed my eyes till it kicked in. Jon was set up on deck, clipped in, and enjoying the sailing while I took a nap to let the drugs do their thing. I planned on waking up feeling rested and ready for night watch. Instead, I was violently woken by horrible stomach pain and an urgent need to vomit. Looks like that stomach bug hung around long enough to get me too. Jon was an upstanding captain who took charge of the situation. He stayed on watch all night while I hugged the toilet for dear life wishing the dry heaving and other evacuations would stop.
Come daybreak Jon and I were both exhausted, but I could at least leave the head and not need to worry if I would make it back in time. I climbed out into the cockpit, clipped in, looked around, and noticed the seas had built quite a bit during the night. The winds had also picked up, we were in steady 28knts, the sea’s were 10-12ft and starting to break. Looks like the nasty north winds from the forecast showed up early, we were supposed to have at least another 10 hours till this hit. Weather, ugh. The East Coast, ughhh!
Because of the increased winds, we were approaching the marker buoy for the St. Marys inlet faster than we planned. During the night, Jon noticed that we were going to fast, so he took down the jib and raised the staysail. We planned on arriving at the entrance around 10AM, during low slack, but it was only 8AM, and the tide was at max ebb. We needed to heave-to to kill some time.
We had to turn Prism around into the wind to get the mainsail up. We tried to heave-to with just the staysail, but it was not enough. Once we had the main up with the 2nd reef in, we sheeted in the main, turned the wheel to windward then lashed the helm with some shock cord. We adjusted the main sheet until we made no more forward progress and took the seas at 45° to our beam. Because we were making no forward progress, Prism was pushed downwind, which created a “slick” that dissipated any oncoming seas before they hit the boat. At this point, Prism was properly trimmed and hove-to.
In the 10000+ miles, Jon and I have sailed, we have never needed to heave-to in conditions like this. To say that I was impressed and scared shitless at the same time would be an understatement. Watching the building seas come straight for us, hit the slick our boat was creating, and dissipate under her keel like it was nothing, was hypnotic. I was fascinated, and still scared but told Jon I could handle this while he got some sleep till the tide was slack.
There was another sailboat hove-to waiting for the tide to change as well about a mile south of us. I hailed the vessel on VHF to ask if they had any experience with the St. Marys Inlet. They have been in and out of the inlet many times, but always in calm conditions. As soon as the tide hit slack, they went for it. Once they were past the jetties, they gave us a call to let us know it was quite a ride till they passed marker 16. We watched the boat sail towards the inlet for over a mile, taking the large swell on their beam. Jon and I did not want to sail with the seas on our beam for that long, so we headed to the marker just before the jetties then made our turn to STBD into the channel. This way, we would only have to take the large swell on our beam for a short period. The seas grew to breaking waves as we approached the shallow water. Thankfully, we were able to keep the waves on our aft STBD quarter as we surfed the waves past the markers. The wind and waves were causing quite a bit of leeway. We had to sail hard to keep Prism on the high side of the channel. It was definitely an exhilarating entrance. Like the vessel before us said, the conditions calmed down once we were passed marker 16 and in the lee of Cumberland Island. Now the sailing was enjoyable, the wind was around 18-20knts, and the tide was pushing us towards our destination.
As we approached the river leading to St. Marys, we prepped Prism to take down the sails. Both Jon and I felt it would be smarter to motor upriver this time around. We were not sure what the river was going to be like, nor did we know how deep it was going to be. At this point, I turned on the engine, took the helm while Jon went forward to release the halyards. When I came about into the wind, Jon released the staysail, which fluttered down onto the deck, then he went for the main. Prism’s bow started to be blown down, which would make it hard for the mainsails cars to slide down the track. I put her in gear and tried to turn her nose back into the wind.
It took about two seconds for me to realize we had no steering. The wheel was doing nothing. I shouted to Jon that we had lost steering as I went to retrieve our emergency tiller. Jon came back into the cockpit and started clearing the captain seat so that the rudder post was clear for the emergency tiller to be attached. I was impressed by how fast we got the system set up, but it did not work. It was not only the wheel that had failed, but our entire quadrant and rudder post had been jammed. Shit.
Lucky for us, we were in the middle of the river but drifting towards the shallow banks. We needed to get the anchor down right away. The anchor was down within the next minute, making Prism safe and sound till we could get our steering figured out. As we were investigating what happened, it dawned on us how fortunate we were that our steering failure did not occur while we were surfing in through the inlet. That could have been disastrous.
First, Jon took apart our pedestal. He found that the chain had skipped the sprocket and was caught up on one side. He fixed that, then moved onto what was actually jamming the entire quadrant itself. It took a minute for us to clear out our lazarette locker, but we finally saw the problem. The funnels we use for standard maintenance, had gotten thrown from their storage shelf (we think during the surfing entrance) and into the quadrant. The funnels’ wedged themselves between the hull and the quadrant, leaving no room for movement. Wow, that really could have been bad, we were lucky this time and will take more precautions when packing the locker from now on.
Once we had steering again, we weighed anchor and started to make our way up the St. Marys River. We had heard there was a free dock at St. Marys, but it was not done being built, at least not during Thanksgiving. After circling a few times, we dropped the hook just outside of the channel in front of what looked like a brand new dock. We were both so tired now that the adrenaline was done pumping through our veins. We decided to have a drink, eat some food and enjoy the view before hitting the hay.
St. Marys, GA
We had decided to pull into St. Marys mostly because of a fellow HC33 owner, Brandon. Over the years, we have talked with Brandon online about HCs and their needed maintenance. He was in the middle of his own refit, including new paint, adding external chainplates, and more. If we stopped in St. Marys, he wanted us to help with the external chainplate project. So here we were and ready to work.
The next day we launched Falkor to check out the new dock and to meet David, who had his boat in the yard. At the dock, we asked everyone we could what the rules were for the public dock. There was nothing posted on the docks nor the St. Marys city website. The small shop owner who runs a waterfront store told us that there were no rules yet. Unless there was another boat waiting to use the dock, we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted.
David met us at the new dock, then took us out to breakfast. He wanted to talk to us about doing some work on his 53′ steel sailboat. After a great breakfast, we went for a ride to check out St. Marys Boatyard and David’s sailboat.
Wow, St. Marys Boatyard has quite the setup. The yard even has a machine shop, which is open for customers to use. As for David’s boat, the work he needed done was mostly in the carpentry field, which Jon and I are not proficient. David gave us the grand tour of the yard, introduced us to a couple working on their Norseman 447, then took us back to town.
The following morning Jon and I tried to move Prism over to the free dock. I guess we did not realize how strong the tide was in the river. After a few attempts to dock, I voted to wait for the next slack tide. A few hours later, we tried again. This time the current allowed us to grab the end tie closest to the water spigot. We spent the next few days exploring the downtown streets of this little southern town and just enjoying the slow pace of cruising life once again.
Another HC33 owner from San Diego reached out to us via FB. He was visiting his family on this coast and wanted to meet us, take us out to lunch and check out all the work we had just completed on Prism. We really enjoyed meeting Robert, and hope to share an anchorage with him in the future.
The couple we met at the yard on the Norseman, Christina and Derek, reached out to us a few days before Christmas. They asked if we would like to spend Chrismas together, so we invited them out to Prism to get some time away from the yard. Christina picked me up the day before so we could go to the store. We split up the cooking and were looking forward to spending time with people our own age.
Christmas was a blast. The four of us drank, played Boccie ball, ate, drank some more, and even got in a game of dominoes. Before the night was over, our new friends shyly looked over at us and said, ” To be fair, we also wanted to spend Christmas with you guys so that we could ask if you would be willing to work on our boat?”
Considering we had just turned down one job, and still needed to make money, we were all ears. Luckily for both parties involved, Christina and Derke’s project was 100% in Jon and I’s field. Over the last few months, they had done some core replacement on their decks, and were now in the sanding, filling and fairing stage. We gladly accepted the work after a quick walkthrough and rundown of what they wanted. It did not take long for Jon to persuade our new found friends to spray rather than roll on their new topcoat.
A few days later, Brandon came down to the dock to have lunch, check out Prism and meet her crew. When we returned from our meal out, we were met by someone we thought was just an admirer of our boat. After doing a few passes up and down the very empty docks, he yelled at us. His complaint was that we had been there for too long and were breaking the rules. When we asked him where we could find these rules, as we had had no luck. He simply stated that the docks were only for 24hours, and he was going to call the cops. Brandon stepped in like a well-seasoned snake charmer, complimented the man on this/ his beautiful town, which seemed to throw the old man for a loop to the point that he had forgotten why he was there. After a minute or so of small talk, he walked away.
The next morning we were woken by a very apologetic police officer. He told us there was a complaint that we had been at the dock too long, and that we needed to leave. As we were prepping to cast off, the mayor’s brother stopped by to ask how we were liking the docks, and if there was something the city could do to improve the experience. After a short talk, we told him that all cruisers are looking for easier access to water, hot showers, and laundry. Once our water tanks were full, we were ready to leave. Our new destination would be up North River to St. Marys Boat Services.
"Bella" a HC33t Hull #14
The trip up North River was quick and uneventful. In true Prism fashion, we anchored way out in the boondocks. We found a spot free from crab pots, away from a few abandoned-looking vessels and deep enough to allow for the 6+ foot tide. The next day we headed into the yard to start work on Brandon’s boat, Bella (a sister ship to Prism). First up was getting the engine out and onto the ground. Jon and I then worked on cutting out the steel plates in the engine beds, which we replaced with G10. Once we had everything fitting, we laid up the engine beds’ in epoxy and a few layers of 1708. In the next few days, we also worked on Bella’s stern tube and added some fiberglass reinforcement to the area where the backstay chainplate is bolted through. Brandon made all the measurements and ordered the metal for the chainplates. Once it arrived, Jon got busy sanding the bronze, drilling the holes and rounding the edges. We did not get to the point of installing the plates as Brandon was in the middle of his paint job. But the new chainplates are ready to be installed when Brandon is ready.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! WOW it's 2020
Living on the North River, GA
The North River is quite a nice place to spend time if you like seclusion and boatyards. There are many places to anchor and is really protected. We enjoyed a lot of beautiful sunsets, rain, sun, and a lot of bites from no-see-ums. The water is too murky to make water, so we would fill up the jerry cans at the yard and ferry them back to Prism. The dinghy ride from Prism to the yard was about 5 minutes.
"Fin" a Norseman 447
We did not start work on Christina and Derek’s boat till after the first of the year as they were getting married. The day before their wedding, we joined them and Derek’s family for dinner and a great game of liars dice. Once they were back from their wedding retreat, they wasted no time getting back to work. As a wedding present, Christina’s dad, Bob, was going to stay in his RV in the yard to help with anything he could. From that day on, unless it was raining, we were working on FIN. Most days, Jon and I would arrive around 9, well more like 11Am. All 4 of us would work on our hands and knees, grinding out gel coat cracks, filling, fairing, filling and fairing, until we could not feel our fingers anymore. That first week, Jon and I joined Christina, Derek, and Bob for dinner twice, but that very quickly turned into every night.
Derek and Christina had been working on their boat for a few months at this point. They removed the teak decks and did some core replacement during the summer months. Now they were at the point where they needed to fair the toe rail into the new lower level deck. We helped fair the side deck, ground out Gelcoat cracks, shaped the drains, created flush holes for their prisms, and created a radius that connected their toe rail to the side deck. While working on Fin, we would all be covered head to toe in Skin So Soft to help repel the biting Midges. Those little flying f*ckers were hands down the worst part of GA. There was no getting around them, the only time they were not making our lives miserable was when it was raining, or when it was blowing hard enough to keep them down. Also known as No-See-Ums, the Midges bite is immensely itchy and last for weeks! To put it simply and literally, they suck.
Our days were on repeat for the next 2 months. We would get up and do the same thing over and over till the decks and cabin top on Fin were ready for paint. The yard used Fin in a game of musical boats, till we found a spot in the yard where we could spray the cabin top. The issue with the first spot they were in was that a steel boat next to them was grinding their decks. The grinding was sending steel dust into the air, causing rust spots to form on Fin. The next space was next to a grumpy old man, who would not allow us to tarp his boat ( in case of overspray). The yard ended up blocking Fin in the front of the yard with the prettiest view, right on the rivers edge.
It took a few days to wait for the weather to be perfect enough to paint the high build primer. The following day when the high build was dry, we all partook in another round of filling, fairing, and glorious sanding. When we all agreeded that the entire surface was 100% smooth, we were ready for the Alexseal primer. The weather chose that week to show up, causing us to wait a few days till it was dry enough to spray. When primer day arrived, all four of us were ready to get the job done! The topcoat primer went on without a hiccup. We were all stoked, knowing that we would only have to sand that cabin top one last time. The weather once again chose to show its face, causing delays on our sanding days. It took about 3 more days to get the cabin top and decks sanded and prepped for the final topcoat. Finally, the day had come; the weather was perfect, the bugs were less active, and we were all ready to get the paint on! It is quite amazing how long it takes to wipe down a 44′ sailboat. The four of us worked like a well-oiled machine. Jon was the sprayer, Christina was the wet edge guide /hose handler, while Derek and I were on the ground mixing the paint. Because of our late start, we pushed a little later into dusk than we wanted to, causing us to get the last coat on pretty late in the day. We all hoped that the paint would dry before the dew point hit.
The next morning we were all so excited to see the fruit of our labor. Only to be extremely disappointed to learn the dew point hit before the paint was fully cured. The moist air settled on the decks causing the gloss finish to go matte. Shit.
None of us were thrilled to have to sand everything yet again. After a few pep talks and a lot of beer, we were ready to get back on our hands and knees. Another day and a half of sanding, the decks were ready for paint once again. You can only guess what might have kept us from finishing our project, yep, rain. Ugh.
Luckily a few days later, the weather cleared up, and we were set to go once again. This time, it was a do or die paint job, Jon and I were out of time and needed to start heading back north, and Christina was also heading back home. We had to nail this paint job. Taking our same positions and starting earlier in the morning, we were able to get 2 coats of Alexseal Matterhorn White on the decks and were done by 2pm. SUCCESS!!!
It was truly so fun working with these guys. It did not even feel like work! It felt more like hanging out with friends, helping with a project. Once Bob headed home, Christina and Derek would come out to Prism for nightly dinners as we know what it is like to try and cook on board when nothing is hooked up normally. For over 2 months we hung out with these guys and enjoyed every minute of it. We cannot wait to hang and sail with with again!
Prism Projects Continue
During the days of rain, Jon and I would work on Prism. The projects are still never-ending. Spending the winter on the hook, we came to the decision we no longer wanted nor needed to be cold anymore.
A few days later, we had our new forced air diesel heater. Previously in Prism’s past, she was set up with either AC or heat, so she already had the holes for ducting and vents throughout the cabins. All we needed to do was buy the ducting, the heater, and all that goes with it, then install the system. We did have to drill a new hole into the back of our boat for the skin fitting (exhaust), which Jon did while sitting in Falkor at anchor. Having heat on demand has changed our life while out at anchor.
The heater helped with the condensation, kept the mold and mildew down, and just kept us nice and warm. Plus, we could (and will) use the heater while underway!
We also took one afternoon to complete the next step for our dodger project. Though we still did not finish it. Jon fixed a few of our sagging baggie wrinkles and fitting our new bronze cover plate
Moving on from St. Marys, GA
While we were working on Fin, a friend and another HC33 owner, Bill called us up with a proposition. His boat, Dragonquest, needs some TLC and would like for Jon and I to do the work. We said we would, only if he brought DQ down to Hurricane Boatyard in North Carolina. Yes, to the same place Jon and I sailed away from only 4 months earlier. After working out in the open in GA, we remembered how lucky we were to have had worked on Prism in that tent. We planned on both boats making it to NC by the beginning of March.
What’s another few months of working on boats? We need to build up the cruising kitty anyways.
March 10, 2020
Once we completed the work on the Norseman 447 and the HC33 in St. Marys, we said good buy to our new friends and set out to anchor near the mouth of the inlet. Our only weather window to head north in one shot was the following morning.
Little did we know that Covid-19 would take over the country during the few days we were out at sea and out of reach.
Stay tuned for the next blog post……