Oystercatcher, Shakedown Cruise, May 2016, Day 1: Charleston to Church Creek

On the Stono River, south of Charleston
Now that Oystercatcher had successfully ventured forth on her first weekend trip to a local anchorage, it was time for her to venture farther - this time beyond the limits of her own waters. My daughter and I had six days open in May 2016. Why not wander south from Charleston to Beaufort, South Carolina and back? That was my thinking, so that's what we did.
I considered documenting this six-day journey in a summarized format, but in editing the many pictures that I took, I realized that there were too many things we saw and too many things we learned for me to summarize everything neatly into a single posting. Therefore, I organized everything into a day-by-day format, with the exception of the last two days, which I managed to condense.
Our six-day journey from Charleston to Beaufort, South Carolina and back would take us along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW, or simply "The Waterway," as many in Charleston call it, is a network of saltwater creeks, rivers, sounds, bays, and harbors along much of the East Coast of the United States. There's also a Gulf Coast component of the ICW, but we'll not concern ourselves with that here.
The characteristics of the ICW vary by region, but in the region of the South Carolina Lowcountry, which extends from the Charleston area to the Beaufort area and beyond, the ICW is characterized by the labyrinth of islands through which it snakes.
Vigilance is always necessary with regard to tides, currents, and winds. One moment they can be with you, another moment against you. Likewise, the depths can suddenly change.
In this first posting I describe our first day's journey from Charleston to Church Creek, a distance of some 22 nautical miles.
Our story actually begins several days in advance of our departure. Since there would be few services between Charleston and Beaufort, we needed provisions for at least six days, and we needed ethanol-free gas for at least three. In the picture below you see one of several trips we made from the parking lot to the boat with the dock cart.
Adjacent to the sink in the Ericson 25 is an icebox. Long before this time I had decided to dedicate this space to dry-food stowage. You can think of it as a pantry of sorts.
Naturally, I put the heavier stuff on the bottom.
Then came the lighter stuff.
I should say that this space alone was all that was sufficient for the dry foods on this six-day shakedown cruise. On the four-week cruise that I would make in June and July, I would use this space only for bread and for snack foods - stuff that I would want throughout the day. Other dry foods that I might need only once a day -- for example in the evening -- I stowed in the settee locker underneath the Engel fridge.
I should also mention the Folger's instant coffee. For this trip and the four-week cruise that followed, I broke my long-time habit of making fresh-brewed coffee, for reasons I will make clear as we go along.
We loaded up the Engel 45 fridge with all the stuff we had brought in the coolers . . . except, of course, the ice. It's hard for me to say enough good things about this fridge. It made life aboard so much more comfortable compared to the way it was when we had the Yeti cooler. No ice. No mess. Provisioning the boat several days in advance of departure? Not a problem.
Here's a picture of Oystercatcher just before we left the dock. A day or two in advance of our departure I had filled the motor's gas tank. I had also filled jerry cans with ethanol-free gas. One year prior to this trip, knowing that one day I would be cruising, I had purchased two of these cans. Just before our departure, I decided to buy a third one from the local hardware store.
These were No-Spill brand gas cans - so much better than traditional gas cans that required a funnel. I can say right now that I was glad I purchased the third tank. I would need it in the some 80 nautical miles between Charleston and Beaufort.
As I said, our goal for this first day was Church Creek, the body of water that marks the boundary between Johns Island and Wadmalaw.
First we had to traverse the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.
Charleston sits on a peninsula with the Cooper River on its east side and the Ashley River on its west.
We saw the Spirit of South Carolina docked at the Maritime Center along the Cooper River. As a fourteen-year-old, my daughter had sailed aboard her from Charleston to Cape Cod. I had made many offshore passages aboard her as well.
Then we passed Waterfront Park.
I always enjoy the view of downtown Charleston from the water. This is the way that mariners have first experienced her for a very long time.
We rounded the tip of the peninsula, known as "The Battery," and began to head up the Ashley River toward Wappoo Creek.
There are many old houses along the Battery.
This is one of my faves.
Nearby is the U.S. Coast Guard Station. Notice the buoys that are sitting on the dock.
Throughout this passage through Charleston Harbor we were biding our time, waiting for the proper moment to enter Wappoo Creek. We had two things to take into consideration: the bridge schedule and the tide. At full flood or full ebb, the currents through the narrow passage between the Stono River and Charleston Harbor are not to be taken lightly. From the shore, Wappoo Creek, at times, can resemble a whitewater river, like one you might see up in the mountains.
We timed our entrance into the creek for the slack tide just before the low. The tide ebbs from the Stono toward Charleston Harbor. I wanted to motor against the slightly ebbing tide. That way the water would be trying to push me away from the closed bridge rather than toward it.
At the entrance to Wappoo Creek we passed under the James Island Connector, a high, fixed-span bridge that was not of concern to us.

Soon, we arrived at the bridge that was of some concern - the Wappoo Creek Bridge. Despite my best efforts, I arrived a little early and had to circle several times before the bridge tender would stop the traffic and raise the bridge. This bridge only opens on the hour and half-hour.
The Wappoo Creek Bridge is a double-leaf bascule bridge. Like other bascule bridges, it doesn't take long for it to open. It does, though, require the traffic to stop for a long time. Everybody was probably hating us right about now.
Name of vessel and homeport? That's what the bridge tender wanted to know when I hailed her on VHF Channel 9.
As soon as we cleared the bridge my daughter put her hands in the air and said, "We're free!" This was the only thing that was obstructing us from the open waters of the Lowcountry between Charleston and Beaufort.
The first thing we encountered in Wappoo Creek after the bridge was the oxbow on the southern shore.
This oxbow forms an island in the middle of the creek.
Along the oxbow there are houses and docks. Some cruisers have anchored in this oxbow, but only, as I understand it, out of necessity. With the strong currents and the traffic, I would think it would not be very relaxing.
Speaking of traffic, not long afterward we were met by a barge pushing a big load toward Charleston. The captain of the barge had heard me hail the bridge tender and had hailed me in return to let me know that he was inbound through Elliott Cut, the narrowest part of this body of water.
He advised me to slow down at the oxbow before proceeding toward Elliott Cut. That was cool of him.
I imagine it was a tad bit harder for him to slow down than it was for me. You think?
Shortly afterwards we were approaching Elliott Cut, that narrow, man-made neck that joins the Stono River to Wappoo Creek. A lot of people around Charleston just call the whole thing the "Elliot Cut" or even the "Wappoo Cut."
This was the first of several cuts we would experience in our trip southward to Beaufort.
You can see why the barge captain wanted all of this space for himself.
By the time I reached the cut, the tide had turned. It was beginning to flood from Charleston toward the Stono River. Our speed increased to 7 knots. This was pretty fast, and it was only the beginning of the flood tide. You can see why it would not be good to pass through this cut at mid-tide, unless of course you were in a powerboat and you were mindful of what was going on around you.
Because of the currents and the heavy traffic through this cut, there is a lot of erosion. Different homeowners have tried different methods to shore-up their property.
The Stono was in sight.
Ah . . . yes . . . now we really felt free.
Our trip up the Stono River was not difficult because the tide was beginning to rise. That was an added benefit of passing through Wappoo Creek at dead low tide. .
How did I know how to time things in this fashion? I was fortunate to have had the continued advice of Captain Sterling, the former captain of the Spirit of South Carolina, under whom I'd sailed from Newport, Rhode Island southward in the fall of 2008, and under whom the Admiral and I had studied at Ocean Sailing Academy in 2009. Yes, I'd kept in contact with Captain Sterling over the years, and now that I had finished the refitting of Oystercatcher and was starting to use her for my intended purposes, I sought Captain Sterling's advice regarding strategies for making it from Charleston to Beaufort and back. I discuss my earlier experiences with Captain Sterling in the article, "Why I Bought the Ericson 25, Part I," http://www.ericson25.com/2012/08/why-i-bought-ericson-25-part-i.html
By the time my daughter and I had reached the Stono River we were hungry for some lunch, so she took over the tiller and I went down below to fix us some sandwiches. The main salon was a mess. Fenders, polyballs, and foul weather gear were all over the place. After this first day, I would never let it look so bad again. This messiness was a testimony to the degree to which we were focused on the task at hand.
Throughout this six-day journey the only radio I had was my VHF handheld. The much more powerful fixed-mount VHF was off in California getting repaired. Fortunately, cell phone coverage was adequate for much of the way.
In the days leading up to our departure the weather predictions had became more and more gloomy. It looked as if we could expect rain and thunderstorms throughout the days and nights.
I had texted Captain Sterling to ask him what he would do in situations such as these, especially when he had customers who had flown in from far-off states to take multi-day classes with him at the sailing school. He said that in situations such as these, this is what he would tell those customers: "Put a smile on, and let's go!" That had sealed the deal for me. My daughter and I were not going to back out of our plans to go from Charleston to Beaufort and back.
While I'm at it, I might as well discuss the sunshade that you see pictured below. It's the white piece of sailcloth that's draped over the boom. In a slip near mine at the marina there was a transient cruiser who'd sailed single-handed from Lake Huron to Charleston aboard his Coronado 27. This fellow -- Rick was his name -- said that when travelling the ICW he sometimes made use of a sunshade. He also said that when he wished to sail, he'd simply put up his headsail, leaving the sunshade in place. I asked Captain Sterling what he thought about this for the ICW, and he thought it wouldn't be a bad idea.
Soon we were approaching the Limehouse Bridge, a fixed span structure around 65 feet in height.
The bridge is the only one that leads from the mainland to rural Johns Island.
Our speed was still relatively high at this point. This indicated that we were still riding the flood tide up the Stono River.
After the bridge, the waters narrowed as we transitioned from the Stono River to the Wadmalaw River.
There's no visible boundary between the two rivers, just like there is no visible boundary between Church Creek and Bohicket Creek. The only way to tell the difference between the two is by paying attention to the the tides, which is hard not to do. Shortly after passing under the Limehouse Bridge we lost speed. This told me that we were beginning to fight against the flooding waters of the Wadmalaw River.
Eventually the narrow waters of the Wadmalaw River began to open up into Wadmalaw Sound. It was here that we turned up Church Creek.
We spent half an hour, or more, slowly making our way up Church Creek, looking for the best spot to drop the hook.
We eventually chose a spot near the confluence of Church Creek and New Cut Creek. Here, the depths varied between 12 and 18 feet depending upon how we were swinging at anchor.
Notice that the GPS indicates we are at Goshen Point. Compare this, however, to the NOAA chart below, where I have indicated our anchorage in red and Goshen point in yellow. The NOAA chart is correct. The GPS chart is not. This is one reason, among many, why it's not good to put blind faith in the GPS chartplotter.
It was cool and windy at this anchorage, but not too windy.
Farther down Church Creek there was a large white house.
It looked like some old plantation house with three piazzas along its back side, one piazza for each level of the house. I should mention that  piazza is the Charleston word for a large porch.
I used this house as one of three points to triangulate our position and thus monitor the holding of our anchor in this spot.
Given the winds and the currents, I checked our position with the hand-bearing compass every thirty minutes from the time we anchored until the time we went to sleep.
Once I was comfortable with our position, I turned my attention to the messy main salon.
I also took the time to unlash one of the gas cans and fill the gas tank on the swim ladder. This unlashing and lashing of the gas cans would become a daily ritual, especially on the four-week cruise that I would make in June and July.
Before long, it was time for some supper. We had bought some pre-seasoned and pre-cooked beef fajita strips from the refrigerated section at Walmart. Fixing this meal was as simple as heating up the strips in the shallow, cast-iron skillet. Notice that I've protected the electrical panels with canvas.
Before sunset I decided to set up the windscoop, so that more of the cool air would be funneled into the forward hatch. This windscoop and the sunshade were left-overs from the previous owner. Almost everything else that conveyed with the boat was junk.
I tied off the bottom of the windscoop to the legs on the pulpit.
With the polyballs and fenders lashed to the foredeck and the top of the cabin, things were much more neat.
I moved the generator from the main salon to the cockpit, just so I could use the berth extension. We would not need the generator on this cool night.
This was a nice way to start this six-day shakedown cruise from Charleston to Beaufort and back.
This ends this posting on our passage from Charleston to Church Creek.

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