Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Offshore from Beaufort, SC to St. Mary's, Georgia

Tidalholm the house used in the films, "The Big Chill"
and " The Great Santini"

     Beaufort is a wonderful stop along the ICW north south route. The town is steeped in history from the Civil War era and is remarkably well preserved. Its historic antebellum architecture is quite different from that of Charleston. Many of the homes were built on a grand scale and more closely resemble the architectural influence of Georgian and colonial federal as well as semitropical Spanish architectural styles.

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in Beaufort is to explore the St. Helena's historic cemetery where Union troops once utilized the church as a hospital and used the marble slabbed grave markers as operating tables during the Civil War.

Beaufort is also a convenient place to jump offshore weather permitting enabling many to skip the dreaded shallows of the Georgia ICW. Nearby Port Royal Inlet is a well marked class A deep ship channel. Each morning we monitored Chris Parker's weather forecasts with hopes of staging an offshore passage from Beaufort to St. Mary's, Georgia within a couple of days.

The Downtown Marina in Beaufort was an ideal staging area for us to await the arrival of our mail shipment, rest and stay warm with electrical access for the ceramic heater. We'd spent a chilly, damp night in Tom Point Creek on the way to Beaufort so a couple of nights at a marina sounded good to me. Hot showers, a laundry, electricity, and heat! What more could a girl ask for? Maybe a nice dinner at one of Beaufort's low country restaurants would be a pleasant addition.

Monday morning before Thanksgiving Joe consulted Chris Parker via SSB radio concerning an offshore passage. Chris felt a passage would work for us leaving Port Royal Inlet on Tuesday morning with an arrival at St. Mary's inlet in Georgia at dawn on Wednesday morning! An overnight passage would take us past the entire 100 mile Georgia coastline. Normally this trip would take four days traveling the ICW route. Even though an overnight trip can be exhausting it seemed like a sensible alternative...

Simple Life left Port Royal inlet at 10:00 AM on Tuesday bound for sea. I called my friend Edie with a float plan for the passage and promised to check in with her upon arrival in St. Mary's. During the day we spotted numerous tankers and container ships. They passed a few miles from us without incident. The 3-4 foot seas were following with about a 6 second interval and a moderate chop. Of course everything changes with nightfall. There are no street lights on the ocean and it becomes difficult to steer to the waves. Situations seem magnified. Eventually, as predicted the wind picked up as did the seas.

During an offshore passage when I'm on my two hour watch schedule my imagination tends to magnify the real and imaginary. I have to admit that I became slightly anxious at times alone, at the helm in complete darkness. Simple Life seemed to be flying through the night with only white water behind her. I began worrying about sunken containers that may have fallen off the ships we'd seen during the day. If we hit one we'd sink! The Coast Guard was broadcasting security (pronounced say-cur-I-tay) concerning endangered Right Whales migrating in the area. I was certain we'd bash into one. It was time to sit back, assess reality from fantasy and smoke an imaginary cigarette. I monitored the radar and spotted a fairly large blip 12 miles off. Since we were near the St. Simon's inlet in Georgia I woke Joe due to the possibility that it was a large commercial ship. He checked with binoculars and confirmed that it was probably a ship and was glad that I didn't attempt to handle this on my own. Within a very short span of time the ship was headed toward us. Joe attempted a contact and received a call from another ship identifying the one we'd tried to hail as Canadian Highway. A response came shortly thereafter with a French accent, "I see you. I see you. I will turn to port momentarily."

My watch was over and I was happy to get some rest. As we neared the St. Mary's inlet the waves began building. I was jostled from sleep. Joe needed to slow down or we'd be there too early and we didn't want to approach the inlet in darkness. Waiting for dawn is similar to waiting for paint to dry. The darkest dark is just before dawn. Finally, a hint of light on the horizon and we pointed Simple Life toward the inlet. With a following sea and cresting 6-8 foot seas breaking at the stern with a 4 second interval, it was no walk in the park and I felt secure in our Island Packet. She handled the seas without difficulty and Joe steered very well. Five hours later Simple Life was anchored at the town of St. Mary's, Georgia. We felt happy to have arrived safely, had breakfast, tidied the boat, and settled down for an afternoon nap.
Welcome to St. Mary's Georgia!

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