09 January 2018

We Survived the Bomb Cyclone!

Mile Marker 584 - The Herb River, just south of Thunderbolt, GA

You read that right, folks: we are in Georgia. A lot has happened since my last post on Christmas Eve in Southport, NC, and I'm writing this on my all-too-brief off watch, so let's get to it...

Shortly after my last post on Christmas Eve, we were invited to a party aboard Jay and Tracy's Hair of the Dog. An appropriate name because Jay was wielding some lethal rum that night, hidden in some innocent-looking eggnog. I can't remember the last time I had such a 'merry' Christmas Eve. Good thing the docks weren't icy!

Christmas morning mimosas

The next morning, Helena and I had a lovely Christmas breakfast, with Mimosa for our 'hair of the dog', because that was one of my mom's favorite Christmas morning traditions. This was our first Christmas without her, and we did miss her a lot. Helena made me a hand-crafted wrench organizer (I know there is a name for this sort of thing, but can't come up with it), and we bought ourselves a new outboard motor for our PortaBote. The old 2.3hp Honda was just giving us too much trouble, and it was finally time to give it the old heave-ho. Actually, we dropped it off at a marine consignment shop, hoping to get $5 for it.

New outboard for Christmas? Yes!
The new 4 hp Yamaha should get the PortaBote up on a plane and will thus expand our exploring range vastly, but it's also quite heavy: nearly 60 lbs. I have invented a lifting crane for it, but more on that in a later post.

But once Christmas breakfast and gift exchanges were complete, it was time to cast off lines and grab what looked like a good weather window down to Charleston. And now a cautionary note on GRIB forecasts: don't take them too literally, particularly in winter in the North Atlantic.

As soon as we cleared the Cape Fear River and were headed south offshore, I realized the night was going to be rougher than anticipated. However (I reasoned), we did own a boat that was designed to round Cape Horn safely... how bad could it get?

The answer: quite bad. By the time we reached Charleston, after a long night of running downwind before ten-foot seas, we were happy to surf in between the stone breakwaters, into the relative peace and tranquility of Charleston Harbor. We were glad we hadn't convinced our friends Chris and Beth to follow us down to Charleston. It would NOT have been a good introduction to offshore sailing!

Anyway, we made it and spend a delightful few days in the Charleston city marina, finally seeing the sights of that famous city. We had several excellent meals, and a fun night at a downtown mystery dinner theater.

Helena and I in a very nippy Charleston
We'd been hoping for another weather window to carry us down to Savannah, or even Jacksonville, but none appeared while we waited in Charleston, and furthermore, none seemed likely to appear. It is January, I guess. Eventually, we tired of waiting, and headed south on the dreaded ICW.

On doing the routine engine checks before heading south again, I discovered that nearly a gallon of anti-freeze had somehow made it from inside the engine to the bilge -- most of it while we were tied up to the dock! That delayed our departure for a day while I tried unsuccessfully to find the leak, and then to stock up on anti-freeze. I reasoned that a leak that big would soon make itself known, so we headed off determined to check the engine every 1/2 hour for leaks.

Oddly enough, no leaks occured for the first couple of days. At least nothing big enough to spot. We would lose perhaps 1/2 inch of anti-freeze motoring all day. Did we need to stop to make the leak happen again? I wondered about that, and we soon had our answer in the form of the Great Bomb Cyclone of 2018.

By that time, we were half-way between Charleston and Savannah, basically in the middle of nowhere. I saw some bad weather coming (high winds and freezing cold), so headed way, way up the Bull River (Mile Marker 521) to the Wimbee Creek where we anchored in about 12-feet of water, with fairly good protection to the north. We were ready to sit out some bad weather, and bad weather we got!

Ice storm part of the Bomb Cyclone
Snow drift in the cockpit!

Luckily, I've finally learned the basics of anchoring with our rather picky Rocna, and we never dragged an inch through three days of 20 knot winds, bitter cold, and an ice and snow storm. Helena and I had bought a new game at the mystery theatre gift store, and spent two nights learning it. I baked my favorite oatmeal-raisin cookies, and we kept warm around our wonderful Origio alcohol heater, which really saved the day.

We also re-discovered that we have absolutely no problem spending lots of time together in a very small space.

I used the enforced delay to study our coolant leak problem. After checking the engine every half-hour on the way down from Charleston, I had a pretty good idea where the leak was. I had spotted a couple of drops falling, and seen anti-freeze glistening on a low part of the engine. A bit of poking around with a flashlight uncovered a hose hidden under the coolant reservoir, that I hadn't found during my previous hunt for leaky hoses. This one was about 4 inches long, and the hose clamps on both ends were loose. A steady drip-drip-drip of anti-freeze was falling into the bilge. With a few contortions, I managed to thighten both clamps, and the dripping stopped. Very relieved it was such a simple and obvious problem.

Our powerful little alcohol heater

By the time the storm passed, Helena was already putting down roots in Wimbee Creek, and talking about staying forever. I, on the other hand, was keen on moving south again. I spent the morning after the storm clearing the 2 inches of snow off the deck with a plastic dustpan (it just took a bit of time), and the next day, we headed for Beaufort, SC.

When we reached the Lady Island draw bridge, just outside Beufort, we joined another sailboat that was anchored in front of the bridge. We later learned that the drawbridge had been closed for a couple of days because of the storm, and that we had caught -- totally by coincidence -- the first opening of the bridge since the storm. Talk about lucky. I would NOT have wanted to anchor just off a bridge in the fast, reversing currents of the Beufort River. I get the horrors just thinking of it. Wimbee Creek was looking better and better.

We had some first hand experience with those fast currents whilst approaching the dock at the city marina. I knew the current was fast, but didn't realize it was THAT fast. The current grabbed Petronella's deep keel and pushed her stern into the dock on our approach. We weren't moving fast -- perhaps 1 knot -- but the impact was taken by Wanda, our hard-working Aries wind vane, and even a slow bump was enough to break the port-side lower shell casting, putting Wanda out of commission for awhile.

Ouch... Wanda injured!
Luckily, parts are still available for the Aries, so I ordered a new lower shell (plus one for a spare), as well as a rebuild kit for the inevitable time that Wanda needs more extensive servicing.

Meanwhile, we are heading south again. We spent the night just south of Thunderbolt GA, have full diesel and water tanks, as well as plenty of food, so we should be independant for the whole coast of Georgia.

Florida is only 120 miles away!

Next Up: Petronella's History


  1. There's a great little creek there on the North side of the Lady's Island drawbridge, on the charts as Factory Creek, just behind Lady's island. I had Cassandra anchored there for a week while visiting family. Lady's Island Marina has a free dinghy dock too. I don't recall the depths, but there used to be a big Formosa ketch anchored in there, so I imagine you could fit.

    1. Yes, that's a good question: why didn't he anchor in the creek, rather than in the middle of the river? I don't know the answer. I definitely would have checked it out if we'd gotten stuck in the same place.


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