Look in any local Charleston Marina at this time of year and you will find them full, every slipway taken every dockside mooring occupied. This is a yearly event most land-lovers simply don't notice. By early November comes the end of Atlantic hurricane season and your beloved boat is now insurable for operation from Ft. Lauderdale to all points south into the Caribbean. Around this time of year a large flotilla of smaller watercraft head south from a rapidly cooling Northeastern coast stopping at marinas around Charleston to await their chance for the run south to warmer climates. This is a story of one such run.
DAY 1: St George, Maine end of October 2019. We picked up a large, 55 foot French-built catamaran for delivery to Charleston SC. Onboard was a Swiss owner changing his lifestyle from a bar operator in San Francisco to cruising the waters of the Caribbean, a New York boat Captain (who knew what he was doing) and a Charleston crew (me!). The first order of the day was to run down the coast to Portland, Maine where we could effect repairs and provision. Catamarans are essentially designed for downwind sailing, all points aft of the beam or to put it another way, the wind at your back. The wind was from the SE so it's a quick check of the engines and fuel tanks and motor round to Portland as there was no possibility of sailing all the way. I got to deliver the rental car and have a look around Portland, awaiting their arrival. It has been 35 or 40 years since I was last in this port, leaving a bulk carrier with a cargo of Belgian Steel rolls bound for the USA. I guess we have both changed with the passing years but Portland had remained cold and wet. 56 degrees to be exact and dropping as late-fall arrived.
DAY 2: Overnight in Portland at Fore Points Marina, load provisions, repair the aluminum forward cross brace using a local welding firm, check the rigging and systems, review the weather forecast and plot our course for the next days. The weather was not great, continued winds from the SE would require a lot of motoring. Seas were reasonable with a 4/5' foot swell but it was on our bow and we did not yet know how the big Cat would respond. Hey ho, off we go anyway. One engine at 2000 RPM expected to use about 1 gallon of diesel per hour so we had plenty of fuel. Cape Elisabeth, Kennebunkport, Rockport, it soon became obvious that our Cat was not behaving itself in the seas, pounding a lot as each wave slammed against the bridge deck between the hulls BANG.... BANG .... BANG. A most uncomfortable, unpredictable ride had slowed our speed to 2.5 knots, 4.5 with both engines running, 4 gallons an hour. I can walk at this speed so the prospect of this for the next 10 days, 960 miles to Charleston, was not appealing.
Changing plans, we hugged closer to the coast, a plumb line for Boston, MA hoping to transit the Cape Cod Canal and refuel at Sandwich. The forecast was improving with the next day's winds moving round to an Easterly, meaning it could fill our sails and save using the engines. Cape Cod Canal is an interesting transit, a seafaring history in Sandwich worth reading. Hardworking, honest men were making a livelihood as best they can. We were careful approaching the fuel dock in an unfamiliar harbor then were treated to the sight of a local lobster fisherman showing us how to do it properly, he didn't even tie up until he was off the boat with engines stopped! Humbling is all I can say.
There is real joy in sailing, even the boredom of a night watch takes you away from the routine of life with a vista of stars overhead and passing ships. There is no joy though in a cold shower on a moving platform and especially in a cramped marine toilet. Overshare I know, but that's the truth. Sandwich harbor had toilets ashore, deep joy. Our other minor issue was of the three of us, no one had much of an idea about cooking so it was Salami for the first three days until that ran out and then All-Bran cereal, you can eat that on watch with the boat bouncing around and not get hungry.
Out past Cape Cod all went well for a while. That is until a tail (rope) came free from the main sheet and flew into the blades of the wind generator. Anyone with a fear of heights should not go sailing. Our Swiss owner had to climb up and retrieve it, safety harness and all, over a moving seaway and many miles from land. We then received a weather report that the Easterly was increasing, expected to reach force 6 or 7 by early the next day. No matter. We'll alter course a little, and sail to the north of Long Island passing down the Sound and via New York. A few additional miles but we have a large landmass between us and the storm which is much preferred. Long Island Sound is big, you don't see much of the low lying shore that forms its borders, then the skyscrapers of New York start to peek over the low horizon and it all starts to change. College Point, Rykers Island, LaGuardia airport then into the East River. The parks, the bridges, the commercial traffic, the boats, the waving people, and those stupendous buildings kissing the water's edge, it was quite magical if you ask me. Watch out for that commercial traffic; pusher barges and tugs have limited maneuverability so get out of their way. Motor does not always give way to sail and besides which, we were not sailing!
Towards the end of the East River, you pass the old dock area in Brooklyn. Home of the 3 masted barque, "Wavertree." Originating from Great Britain in 1885, she was Liverpool UK registered, the same port I sailed from age 16 until my return ashore (and to my home) in Wales 10 years later. I became slightly sentimental at that point to be rudely awoken by the blare of a warning horn from a New Jersey Ferry. He had not been reading the rules of the road recently, approaching us 120 degrees on our Port Bow - we had the right of way, we also had a large metal buoy on our starboard beam so could not maneuver no matter how much he opined and swore. In to Jersey City Marina for fuel and on to Sandy Hook (NJ) Marine for the night, another blow coming in from the East. The entrance to this marine is unlit at night, it's a slow, steady approach if you want to keep your boat. This part of Jersey is not the Jersey Shore of "fake tans and backcombed hair." It's a blue-collar town of immigrants and fishermen. A spillover town not quite sure of its origins or direction, with a plain and simple honesty to it and a sense of, "I'm here and take me for what I am." We spend the day exploring (and using a shower ashore!) waiting for the storm to pass - well at least we had the wet weather gear for it!
Somewhere near Virginia Beach, VA 5:00 am just before dawn we had a growing red light on our starboard beam that I kept a good eye on. A fisherman probably, but then it was quite a fast fishing boat keeping pace with our 10/11 knots?? AIS (Automated Identification System) is a wonderful invention revealing on our Navigation System it was, in fact, a US Destroyer probably out of Norfolk Navy Base. Time to use the VHF to make ourselves known. "USS XXX (can't remember the name) this is Sailing Vessel Sereniti on your Port Beam. We are short-handed and will reduce speed to pass astern of you. "SV Seriniti this is USS ..... Received, safe travels." Best not argue with the US Navy and they tend to be so polite on the radio. Sheet out, slow down and wait for the red light to become a red & white one, meaning I can see her stern and she's past on her way to somewhere. The final run after that was a long one, mostly motoring again.
Some good sailing once past Cape Hatteras, NC all the way to Georgetown, SC and into Charleston. We had all sails up including the large Code Zero (a type of big jib crossed with a spinnaker) though that came down in a moment of near angst as a sheet (rope) snapped sending it flying kite-like into the air. The dangers of someone else's boat. Dolphins were frequent visitors riding our bow wave in the warming waters of the Carolinas. One solitary whale passed close enough we could small its breath when it blew.
DAY 8: Approaching Charleston Harbor, 8 days out of St George, that old familiar tickling feeling in one's stomach triggered by the thought of a home port. Sails dropped off Sullivans Island, line up with the fairway buoy at the breakwater, and turn north to run for Ft. Sumter and home. It's a busy harbor with 4 large ships coming out so we used the VHF again to let the pilots know which side we would pass on. Navy training, in all probability, as polite as any Charlestonian can be.
My wife, Sebrina, came to meet us at Safe Harbor Marina on the Ashley River. She summed it up perfectly, "I love you, I've missed you, you smell." Correct in every way.
Note: Those who reside in the northeast often find that there is great joy that comes from heading south for the winter, to the milder climates of the coastal southeast and away from what can be punishing winters. Whether it is to enjoy boating in the warmer waters around Charleston or further south, it males sense to consider having a second home in the U.S. or more specifically, in beautiful Charleston. Our real estate team are experts at understanding the second home market here in Charleston, and how to maximize on an investment property. And, should you simply want to experience "live like a local," downtown or on the beaches if even for a short-term, our Luxury Simplified Retreats team can help you out there also with an array of unique top-notch vacation rentals just for you.
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