We’d been in Southport, NC, for the past seven days.
We’d been cleaning up the boat, working on stuff, waiting for mail to catch up with us, resting, and preparing for our bid to be in Charleston, SC in a few days’ time.
And today was the day we had planned to leave Southport and head west to our next stop, forty-two miles away in South Carolina’s North Myrtle Beach.
But to live the cruising life means to have destinations without schedules. And when NOAA weather radio told us this morning that our trip would feature west winds of twenty-six knots, gusting to thirty-four, we once again rehearsed the reasons for holding our plans lightly. And we decided to stay on the dock one more day.
Go slowly. . .
Dangers do not await us in the next forty-two miles of the ICW. Rather, hassles do.
The most notable one will be a length of water that experienced users of the ICW have dubbed the Rock Pile. Comparing one cruising guide to another, it is not clear to me whether the name refers to an eighteen-mile-long stretch noted to have “numerous rock ledges” in it, or to one particularly nasty three-mile channel along that stretch blasted out of fossiliferous limestone during the 1930s by private contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At that time, the engineers progressively reduced the target width of the channel as the work on it got tougher. Today, pleasure boaters approaching the channel are advised to radio ahead to ask if any large commercial vessels might be coming through from the other end. We are to be prepared to wait our turn if necessary.
But this much is quite clear. Once in the Rock Pile, you have little room to maneuver. And if you miss to one side or the other, the stone that lines it will remove fiberglass from your hull in a way that the mud and sand otherwise prevalent in the ICW simply do not do.
Elsewhere along our next run are a few examples of the ICW’s more typical obstacles. There are two inlets from the Atlantic, the first at Lockwoods Folly and the second at the less threatening Shallotte River, each of which will provide an opportunity to run aground on constantly changing shoals. And we must negotiate the openings of two low bridges, one at Little River and one at Barefoot Landing, with their respective tenders.
All in all, this stretch would have been challenging enough to get through on a quiet day.
. . . or don’t go at all.
Now add the wind.
The section of the ICW we are docked in today runs out to the west. Our next forty-two miles lie to the west.
Today’s wind was from the west. At twenty-six knots, gusting to thirty-four. All day long.
If we were on the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle Sound or a similar body of open, shallow water, this wind would have kicked up steep waves six to eight feet high. As it is, however, we are in a narrow stretch, protected from the Atlantic Ocean by marshes and barrier islands.
And yet this strong west wind was aligned with this east-west channel all day, creating a fetch effectively a mile long on a mere ribbon of water. And that was enough to get the wave height into the one-to-two foot range–not dangerous, just uncomfortable, pitching Meander forward and aft as she sat on the dock and generating a current that moved us to double our stern and aft spring lines, just in case.
We watched and felt this all day. It was not surprising, much less threatening. But it was sobering.
We imagined being taken by surprise by how the wind and current rearranged the shoals around the markers at Lockwoods Folly. Or being driven off course by a sudden wind shift as we navigated the Rock Pile. Or being caught, after traveling forty miles in a ten-hour day, by a bridge tender’s rightful decision in thirty-four-knot gusts to keep her bridge closed for the day.
All these considerations made it surprisingly easy to postpone our plans and stay right here. And, for once, I’m not whining about it.
Maybe I’m growing up.
And so we stayed here on the dock in Southport, NC one more day. We kept the boat clean, and we found new stuff to work on.
Tonight, we’ll wait some more, rest some more, and prepare once again to hear tomorrow morning what NOAA weather radio has in store for us.
Meanwhile, we’ll meditate on the lessons that come from a day watching the water. And we’ll reflect that from now on, our rhythm is the rhythm of the wind.
Photo of Southport docks by Pamela Webster.
Video and all other photos by Mike Webster.