"When I think of all the fools I've been it's a wonder that I've sailed this many miles." -Guy Clark

Monday, March 22, 2021

day four - the back way to Hilton Head

I wake to a beautiful day, clear skies and sun just coming up.  I guess it is ok to sleep in now and then.  Just after 7:00 tracing yesterday's path back out of Brickyard Creek.  The ICW heads south past Beaufort and down to Port Royal Sound.  I would like to visit Beaufort someday, everyone tells me is a very nice place, but visiting little towns during the pandemic is not a lot of fun.  Instead I raise sail with a single reefed main on the Coosaw River.  

We head east on the Coosaw with a great southerly breeze, rounding the point of the marsh and turning west towards Whale Branch.  I jibe as we round the point and that jibe unfurls the JW pennant at the top of the mast.  It had hung up on some hardware up there a couple days earlier.  It makes me surprisingly happy to see it flutter in the breeze and I cannot help but smile.  Making 5 kts on the Coosaw but it doesn't feel like that, the tide must be helping me on my way.

My joy gives way to concern, one I've had for weeks since I considered taking the back way to Hilton Head.  The Whale Branch bridge is listed with different air drafts on various charts.  One shows a 20 foot clearance, a newer one shows 19 feet.  The main mast is 18' 3" and sits a couple of inches above the water.  Add to that the full moon extreme tides.  Can we make it through?  

Best case if I can't make it through I have to turn around and get to Hilton Head by way of the Beaufort River and Port Royal Sound.  Worst case, I damage the main mast or get the mast caught under the bridge.  I follow the channel up to the bridge but I am not convinced I can make it under.  But a span off to the side seems to have a high clearance so I motor up to it to find there seems to be a couple of feet to spare.  I motor on through breathing deep sighs of relief.

Sails up and I'm a little confused as to which way to go.  I'm surrounded by small marsh islands.  I turn one way and then the other before finding my bearings.  I finally orient myself as the wind starts building out of the southwest.   It is a series of tacks, pointing up in the gusts as dark clouds move in.  The river bends to the south and I get a reprieve from the wind as it is blocked by trees along shore.  Calmer water and easier sailing past Long Point.  Just after f11:00 pass Little Barnwell Island, stronger wind and round up to tuck in a reef.  I try to sail the channel between Barnwell and Cotton Islands, wind and waves too strong.  We fall back behind Cotton Island, SPARTINA heels in a sharp gusts and takes a little water over the side.  I tuck in the second reef, still too much sail and drop the main completely.   

Under power with the jib flapping - I wish I had brought it down - we push through the waves between Cotton Island and Whale Branch Landing.  Just at noon we slide out on to the Broad River and turn so that the wind is on the beam.  Calm, easy sailing under mizzen and jib, ebb tide and we make 6.5 to 7.1.  Cloudy with rain showing to the south and southwest.  

Just after 1:00 we pass under the Broad River bridge, the bridge's pilings showing the helping current.  I call Skull Creek Marina and tell them I'll be coming in this afternoon.  I email Webb with the same information.  1:25 wind dropping, round up and raise full sail, 5.7 with the tide.  2:40 the white sandy beach of Dolphin Head in sight, at 3:00 sailing up the narrow side of Skull Creek, wind on the beam and the current slack.  Skies clearing and it feels like summer.

Round up, drop sails and motor into the marina, docked at 3:30.  I put on the sail covers, set up the boom tent.  I call Webb who is at his condos with some contractors doing some work.  Webb invites me to stay at his place for two days, there is some weather coming our way he tells me.  I accept his invitation.


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