April 28-30, 2017: Offshore from Charleston to Oriental, NC

This passage couldn’t have been a clearer example of an important principle we’ve learned in cruising:  plan well, and you will be well.

The Captain and I had been agonizing over weather forecasts before we even got to Charleston, trying to predict when would be the best time to leave Charleston depending on the route.  We managed to finagle extended marina reservations at Charleston City Marina to give ourselves some wiggle room if we had to stay longer than planned due to weather.  We spent hours researching and creating multiple routes, both offshore (Charleston to Southport, NC; Charleston to Carolina Beach, NC; and Charleston to Beaufort, NC) and via the ICW, both wholly or in part.  When it looked like we had a green light to go for a three day/two night offshore passage, I obsessively prepared meals and pre-sliced cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and bread for snacks if the weather was rough.

On April 28, we left the Charleston City Marina megadock at about 10:45 AM in order to take advantage of slack tide.  We exited Charleston Harbor and started northeast.  We stayed about 25-30 miles offshore for most of the trip.  It was great not seeing any land at all.

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The winds were light and variable for essentially the entire journey, and we motorsailed with a reefed main and staysail.  The swells were hitting us on the starboard beam or quarter and were surprisingly steep, up to 8 feet at times; fortunately the period was long, so we rode the swells rather than smashing through them. It’s amazing how a couple of days of that will wear out your quads and abdomen even when mostly what we’re doing is sitting.

While we were underway, we ended up putting three jerry jugs of diesel (15 gallons) in the tank using our jiggle siphon.  The siphon is self-priming once shaken, and the odds of spilling any fuel are virtually eliminated.  We had plenty of fuel in the tank, but a partially empty tank tends to slosh in large waves.  As fuel sloshes around, impurities are stirred up, and those can clog the fuel filter; a clogged fuel filter can lead to engine shutdown.  So, it’s easier to simply keep the fuel tank full.

We kept to the watch schedule that works best for us.  Generally the Captain helms for long stretches during the day; he enjoys it and doesn’t get as bored as I do.  In the afternoon we switch to three hour watches, and at 8:00 PM we reduce that to two hour watches.  The off-watch person sleeps in the sea berth that we rig below in the salon.  We put up a lee cloth along one salon settee and then stuff a bunch of pillows on the settee.  It’s amazingly comfortable to sleep in, and it feels very secure even in rolly seas.  By the second night out, it was a little slice of heaven.

We reached Beaufort Inlet at first light on April 30 (the third day) and left the ocean for the final leg to Oriental, which had to be reached via the ICW.  We were so glad that we had gone offshore to this point; for over a day we had been hearing Coast Guard warnings about severe shoaling in NC inlets and areas along the ICW that we had heard had been recently dredged.  Whoops! Glad we hadn’t counted on that.

The stint along the ICW between Beaufort and Oriental was easy; there are no restricted opening bridges or major shoaling areas.  We did laugh because the only serious wind we had in 50 hours was in the last hour of the trip in the Neuse River, where it was blowing 20 knots.  It would have been some great sailing, but at that point, we were pretty wiped out.  We docked at Deatons Yacht Service, our home away from home for the next month or so.

This passage was 50 ¾ hours for 237.6 nm.

I thought it was interesting to compare our stats from this trip to those from our trip north last year.  Yes, excessively anal, but comforting to this nerd.

TRIP SOUTH 2017:                                                TRIP NORTH 2016:

nautical miles: 1840                                              nautical miles:  1703

total nights: 109                                                    total nights:  163

nights at marina: 19%                                         nights at marina:  10%

nights on mooring: 49%                                      nights on mooring:  30%

nights at anchor: 25%                                          nights at anchor:  59%

nights offshore: 7%                                              nights offshore: 1%

states visited: 4 (NC, SC, GA, FL)                 states visited:7 (NC, VA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, RI)

diesel used: 241 gallons                                      diesel used: 219 gallons

oil changes:  3                                                       oil changes:  2

10 lb propane tank fills:  2                                 10 lb propane tank fills:  3

generator run:  6 ¼ hours                                  generator run:  41 1/3 hours

gallons of water:  173 + one fill at dock           gallons of water:  287 + 5 fills at docks

Conclusions? We have gotten more comfortable with going offshore, which lets us travel farther faster.  We’ve gotten better at water management; we certainly weren’t profligates before, but we are misers now.  When we went south via the ICW, we were unfamiliar with the territory and ended up staying in marinas that we skipped on the way north.  Down south, the combination of sun and constant wind kept up easily with our power needs, whereas up north, we had many cloudy and still days that necessitated use of our generator.

So we keep learning and honing our skills for the next adventure.  For now, though, we will be working on Kestrel for a month or so in the boat yard.

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