Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Georgia On My Anchor - 4 March, 2016
I haven't written in a while, because we have been moving. The last time I wrote, we were deep in Florida, at the mooring field in Titusville. As I
write this morning, we are in a marina in Port Royal Landing, South Carolina. If you were driving a car, it would have taken you about five hours to
make the trip, jumping on Route 95. If you wanted to take the more scenic route, you might have to double that, but it still wouldn't take more than
However, you would not have your house with you when you got here, so there's that....
Part of the reason it takes us so long to get anywhere is that we do not go very fast. We generally chug along at about 6 knots, which is a little less
than 7 miles an hour. Imagine, if you will, driving up the Interstate at 7 miles an hour (actually, you don't need to imagine it - there is a driver on the
Interstate near Miami right now who is doing somewhere near that). Because we don't travel very fast, we don't use a lot of fuel. We can go all day
on about ten gallons of diesel fuel. Of course, we are a sailboat so we should be using our sails, right? Not on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Most of the ICW is very narrow. Let's face it, it is a government project. It is designed for relatively large vessels to go up and down the eastern
seaboard without getting shot at by German submarines or sunk by hurricanes. So, it has very specific needs to fulfill. Making recreational
boaters comfortable was not one of them. Add on to that the idea that it needs to be maintained. If local, state and federal governments can't be
trusted to keep major roadways, seen and used by millions, in good repair, what hope do we have for the ICW?
So, we chug along on our engine, trying desperately to find the deepest water in the stream. While we are at it, we try to take the tides and their
currents into account. Tides are a wonderful thing, simple in theory. Every six hours or so, the tide changes. For six hours, the water comes in
from the ocean and the tide rises. Then it stops and for six hours, the water goes back out to the ocean, causing the tide to fall. During the time
the tide is rising, the current goes one direction, starting slowly, coming to its greatest speed at about the midpoint in the tide and then slowing
down as the tide peaks and reverses. Simple, right?
We lived on the James River for years. We understood tides. Then we lived in Urbanna and sailed on the Chesapeake Bay, We understood both
tides and tidal currents. Now we are traveling the ICW. You can't tell the tidal players without a scorecard.
A lot of the ICW consists of natural river and bays, connected by canals or "cuts" where two rivers that are going to two different bays come close
enough to make the canal feasible. So, sometimes - a lot of times - the tidal current on two sides of a canal are going in opposite directions. It
happens occasionally that the ICW will connect the head of one river to the head of another river, but in a lot of places, the cuts occur somewhere
near the middle of the rivers.
So, we can start out heading "up" one river, with the tide helping us along so that we are traveling not at 6 knots, but 7 or 8, sometimes even 9.
Then, we slip through a cut from that river to the next and, all of a sudden, we are headed "down" river. Now that current, which was helping us
along, is an evil thing, straight on our bow. It pushes against us and the 8 knots we were making just a little bit ago becomes 4 knots. Now, we are
struggling to get to the next change - or hoping that the river tides will slow and we can get back up to speed. The most important thing to
remember about the tides is that, just like politics, the one you like will soon change to one you dislike and vice versa.
Then, we have to look for the proper timing of the tides. As I said earlier, the ICW needs maintenance and it generally does not get as much as it
needs. Where lack of maintenance of highways results in pot holes, lack of river maintenance results in shoaling. Shoaling is where the river
deposits mud and other materials that it has been carrying onto piles and builds the bottom of the river up. Sometimes, this happens in particular
spots, like at the point where two creeks come together or along the inside of a river bend. Other times, it happens generally over the entire
channel of a long straight stretch. The solution, of course, is to have someone come along with a dredge and scoop the dirt back out to the river
and place it somewhere more useful. This is a great plan, but people who own dredges like to get paid for what they do and they can't make a
living selling river mud. So, some parts of the ICW go years and even decades without getting dredged, slowly filling back up.
The ICW is considered "federal" property and therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for ensuring that it remains at its "legal" depth
- which is 12 feet deep from Norfolk, Virginia, to Fort Fierce, Florida (I didn't need to look that up - it is printed on every chart between those two
locations, like some weird religious chant). The ACE is a wonderful group of guys and gals, I am sure, but they have a lot of responsibilities and
not a lot of money, so they have to prioritize. Some areas get more attention than others.
For example, the channel next to Jekyll Island is on the "less attention" side of the ledger. Jekyll Island used to be the exclusive playground of the
"rich and famous," as the television program used to call them. Prior to World War II, the people who owned property on Jekyll Island controlled
one-sixth of all the wealth in the world. It was very hoity-toity. It had one telephone for the entire island - and that number was unlisted. So, when
WWII started and the federal government became a little concerned that having all of that wealth next to the ocean, while the German submarines
were sinking tankers right off shore, the island was "purchased" by the government and the millionaires persuaded to move.
So, originally, the island was "maintained" by very wealthy people - who tended to arrive by boat. While there are still a lot of people visiting the
island, they are not the super-rich and most of them come by car (some by private airplane to the islands airport, but still....) The waterfront
passage on the inland side of the island has been allowed to deteriorate. It has "shoaled." When we went through that area, at about an hour and
a half after the lowest tide, where the water had risen at least a foot from the lowest point, we saw a lot of places where the depth of the water was
five and six feet. Our boat has a keel that goes down five and a half feet from the water's surface. So, if you do the math, you can see that there
were a lot of places in that three miles stretch of water where the channel - the place where we were supposed to be operating because the water
was supposed to be twelve feet deep - was holding on to the bottom of our boat.
Now, luckily for us, most of eastern Georgia is mud. I am not speaking metaphorically here. Between the river bottoms and the marshes, the land
is a soupy mixture of clay, silt and shells, If you are trying to go in a straight line and you have a full keel on your boat, it is a lot like trying to drag a
butter knife through the icing on a wedding cake. The really good kind, with lots of butter cream, not the fondant stuff that looks pretty but tastes
like wall paper paste. So, except in one spot where the water got down to three feet, we were able to power ourselves through the muck and pop
out like a cork at the other end of the channel. The spot where we got stuck required us to back up and poke around until we found a little lower
There have been a few spots like that on this trip, but Jekyll Island was the worst so far. More often, we have been able to time our passages
through the worst spots so that the tide has been on our side and we take the extra water that the ocean has to give us to get through. Even then,
there have been some places where the Georgia mud was a little closer to our bottom than we would like.
One last comment, though, on the subject of Georgia mud. While it is not a lot of fun to go dragging through, it is wonderful for anchoring. On our
passage up from Titusville, we anchored three times, took a mooring ball twice and went into a marina once (on Jekyll Island, for grins. We didn't
grin much, but we did get the laundry done). When you are anchored in Georgia mud, you are anchored. It takes a lot to screw up a Georgia
anchoring (I can say this now because we are in South Carolina and the gods of irony will have forgotten this comment by the fall). One night, we
were anchored in a spot without a lot of wind protection and with a current that, when it got going, would rip along at almost two knots. During the
night, the wind came up and Suzanne says that the wind indications on her weather app were saying the winds were in excess of 30 miles an hour.
During that entire time, our anchor never moved, except to settle - like me - a little more snugly in bed. In the morning, the anchor came up as a
huge ball of Georgia mud with a metal anchor buried inside. It took me twenty minutes with a hose to get all of the sticky, nasty, wonderful mud off
Now we are in a marina and we don't have to worry about the boat moving around. However, all night long, I lie awake, listening to the high-pitched
sucking sound of money flowing out of our bank account and missing the gentle lapping of the Georgia river water against the hull.