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West Palm Beach to Charleston

The Plan:

We had two options for this leg of the trip.  Our weather service told us there was another front due in about three days.  We were forecast for east winds 15 - 20 knots and after the front we would have northwest 15 - 25 knots.  The first option was that we could stop over in Charleston SC to wait out the front then start the final leg.  The second option was to sail direct to Morehead City riding out the weather. It would be rough for a time as the front went past but by motoring or reefing down we could ride it out.  Either way we would have good winds, just a more uncomfortable ride after the front.  We decided to make the decision whether or not to stop after we had seen the conditions and how much progress we made.  We also wanted to initially get far enough off shore to get into the Gulf Stream.


The morning of December 21st we pulled anchor, stopped on the way out of Lake Worth for fuel and were on our way.  Once out of the harbor entrance channel we set the sails and started north.  The winds were east in the high teens with a few gusts into the low 20's.   We found that we were getting good headway north but not getting far enough east to get into the Gulf Stream.  The Gulf Stream will add 2 - 3 knots due to the north flowing current.  About mid-afternoon, tired of trying to get further east under sail we fired up the engine and motorsailed more east -northeast to find the current.  We motored for an hour and a half and then shut down the engine and changed back to a more northerly heading and continued sailing.  This seemed to work because our speed over ground readout on the GPS jumped from 8 knots to 10 knots.

By evening the winds were still in the high teens and we decided to reef the sails for the night as a safety precaution.  We sailed through the night without incident under a half moon and partly cloudy skies.  During the night Cori was fascinated by the phosphorescence.  She described it as "fireflies in the water".

During the night the winds shifted more to the northeast and dropped to about 10 knots.  By morning the winds picked up to 15 - 20 knots again.  During this 24 hour period we rolled off 210 miles.

We decided that we were making real good time and that we would skip ducking into Charleston and ride out the front that was due.  By mid afternoon the wind had shifted more to the east-southeast allowing us to make course corrections to the northeast to keep us in the Gulf Stream and start the run up to North Carolina.


Around 5:30 p.m. we made the decision to start the engine to give the batteries a charge.  We were using a lot of power with all the electronics, including radar, auto pilot and the computer and we wanted to give the batteries a boost before running through the night.  After starting the engine Cori warned me that she smelled something burning and I saw that we were overheating.  I shut down the engine and started looking for the problem.  It turned out that the burning was the belt to the raw water pump.  The bearing had gone out and we had no cooling water.

Change of plans:

Deciding that we were limited in choices without an engine we changed course for Charleston.  To save batteries we shut down everything we could including our navigation lights, and proceeded to sail through the night.  Some of our night trips on Lake Superior helped as we were able to steer by hand using stars to help keep on course.  Eventually it clouded over and it became too hard to maintain a compass course so we turned on the auto pilot again.  We sailed through the night crossing paths with several ships and by morning we were approaching the entrance to Charleston.

As we approached the harbor entrance I turned on the VHF radio and tried to contact a towing service to get us into the harbor.  We raised TowBoat US but our transmission was to weak to communicate.  They gave us a cell phone number to call and we made arrangement for them to come out to get us.  We tied on their tow line and we were towed into the harbor. 

As we got close to the marina the weather front that had been forecast hit.  It went immediately from light winds to gale force winds and the waves kicked up.  The towboat maneuvered us to the inside of the breakwater and the marina crew were able to get us tied up.

An expensive lesson:

Before leaving Florida, George, the previous owner had advised me to upgrade my towing insurance from it's present $50 per incident to unlimited towing.  Florida waters are shallow and North Carolina's are also.  It is almost a forgone conclusion that you will need to be towed at some point.  I conveniently forgot this advice and had to swallow a $580 towing charge.  They charge by the hour, from when they leave their dock until they return to  their dock, at $135 per hour.

It was now Thursday afternoon December 23rd.  Making calls to find a new pump we quickly found that most services were already shutting down for Christmas.  We also found that there were no rental cars available until after Christmas.  There was nothing for us to do until after the holiday.

Christmas in Charleston:

We were towed to Charleston Harbor Marina which was connected to a Hilton Hotel.  Since we were paying a daily fee for the dock we were not about to add to the expense by getting a room.  The weather had deteriorated when we entered the harbor and it stayed bad for the rest of our stay.  We had a strong wind from the north for three days with intermittent rain and sleet.  The temperature was in the low 40's during the day and 30's and below at night - there was ice on the dock in the morning.  I remembered that in one of the bins of stuff I had brought from our previous boat there was an electric heater.  A "small" electric heater, but it was enough to keep out the chill if we closed off the V-berth and the aft cabin and tried to heat one room at a time.  The hotel was very accommodating letting us hang out in the bar area and lobby with books, magazines and the computer.  They also had a shuttle to take us downtown a couple of times to try to see some of the city.  For a Christmas celebration we treated ourselves to dinner at the hotel.  They had a very impressive buffet.

Back to the real world:

Cori needed to be back to work on Tuesday the 28th.  We were able to rent a car and make the drive up on Monday and I returned on Tuesday.  The marina did not have any repair services so we made arrangements for Ashley Marina to order the part.  I found that I did not have the right tools to remove the pump so we made arrangements for a service tech to come over and make the repair.  Wednesday afternoon everything was fixed and running properly.

Cori had Friday off for a three day weekend over New Years.  I rented the car again and drove up to picked her up when she got off work on Thursday.  Our new plan was to leave Charleston Friday morning and make it to Morehead City by January 2nd.

Final thoughts:

We had the original plan to duck into Charleston so we had already plotted the course to get there.  Running at night without lights in shipping lanes was chancy but I felt it was necessary to conserve the batteries for when we got to Charleston.  We had 2 backup GPS units with a lot of batteries so I wasn't concerned about knowing where we were and what headings we needed to keep.  We had two fully charged cell phones on board so we knew we could call for a tow if our radio was too weak on arrival.  The weather was cold during our stay in Charleston but we had expected that and had warm clothes with us.  The staff at the marina and hotel were outstanding.  They defiantly gave new meaning to "southern hospitality".  Since getting back to North Carolina I upgraded my towing insurance to unlimited.  Unfortunately I could have paid four years of unlimited with what it cost me to be towed.  It was also reported that two local Charleston sailboats were lost offshore when the front passed through.  One was rescued by the Coast Guard but the other had not been found.  Perhaps it was fortunate that we had to make the stop instead of continuing on as we had planned.

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