I have exactly one picture of our offshore journey from Georgetown to Port Royal, SC, and I think it says it all:
We knew that the winds and waves for this leg were forecast to be higher than what we had been having lately, but we also knew that we could handle it. We put up the enclosure around our cockpit, and that made a nasty day much more comfortable. Being dry and protected from the wind makes all the difference in the world.
When we left Georgetown, the weather was cold, dreary, and overcast. We were having a great time though, because we were dogged by pods of dolphins almost all day. They were having so much fun playing in our bow wake that they were jumping out of the water. We had two reefs in the mainsail because we knew that the winds were forecast to pick up later in the day. We plugged along all day in what I consider reasonably normal winds and seas (10 knots wind, 2-4 foot seas).
And then it got dark.
And then it got crazy.
(Ed. note: Mom, stop reading here.)
Although there was a moon, it was hidden behind clouds, so it was absolutely pitch dark. The only thing we could see was the occasional foam from breaking waves. You know what does not make me feel better about being in the pitch dark? Seeing breaking waves.
The wind starting picking up until it was consistently in the low 20’s, gusting to the high 20’s, and occasionally gusting over 30 knots. The seas got gnarly; we couldn’t judge them because it was too dark, but Chris Parker’s forecast said they’d be 7-9 feet, and I believe it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
The wind and seas were hitting us on the starboard quarter, so it wasn’t as awful as a beat would have been. But going down below was an exercise in controlled falling from handhold to handhold. We started two hour watches, and I went below to get some sleep. Forty minutes into it, the Captain called down that we had squalls coming. Squalls bring with them their own set of dangers, including massively strong downdrafts and lightning. We were pummeled with a few bursts (thank goodness for that double-reefed main!), but the scariest thing by far was watching the lightning hit the water and spread out. Nothing quite as uncomfortable as being the tallest thing around when lightning is striking!
Fortunately the squalls starting moving away from us, so all we had to contend with was the “regular” rain, winds, and waves. However, all of this was happening near Charleston. Heavy rain makes smaller vessels like us easy to miss on radar, and we had been watching a 973 foot cargo vessel on radar and AIS; it had been heading directly for us for a while. The Captain hailed them at five miles out and four miles out, but they weren’t answering. Finally, at three miles out they responded and said that they saw us on AIS and were altering their course to avoid us. Phew.
We went “old school,” with the off-watch crew sleeping in the cockpit, PFD on and tether clipped in to the jackline. When bad things happen, all crew needs to be immediately available, and that’s the best way we’ve found to be prepared. But man, it was a long, long night.
Once the sun rose, things started looking better, as they always do. Then it was time to dock at Port Royal Landing Marina. Not to be outdone by Georgetown Landing, the current at Port Royal Landing was ripping, we had 15 knots of wind against the current, the facing pier had a few large and expensive boats already there, and there’s a big bridge just past the dock. But hey, no pressure! The Captain did his usual good job getting us to the dock. Kestrel can handle way more than we ever could, and it’s during these types of weather events that I’m so grateful that we have the boat we do.
The trip from Georgetown to Port Royal, SC, was 28 hours for 142.8 nm.
All’s well that ends well, and we’re spending some time in Port Royal while we wait out some nasty weather. Time to relax a little.