A very short travel day done, for reasons explained below, at super slow speed. I will remain in Charleston for 9 days.
Being a Saturday, I wanted a reasonable start to miss some of the crazy weekend traffic and afternoon rain (which didn’t materialize till 8 pm). But I didn’t want to arrive till noonish or after to minimize the heavy fast current (2.5 knots) at Charleston’s City Marina. Slack tide was to be at 1:39pm. The ocean inlet is only a few miles east and there are numerous rivers at Charleston with currents ebbing and flowing. So this run was by far the slowest that I’ve done and even so I burned an extra 45 or so minutes waiting til 1 pm to dock.
The City Marina is very large in every way befitting a major harbor. It has over 15000 lineal feet of docks and the country’s longest transient floating fuel dock. In the picture above you can see Last Resort correctly positioned on the inside of what is named The Mega Dock. The walk from Last Resort to the cross dock and then to shore is 1/2 mile. Did I say I get more exercise boating than I did living in the condo? Anyway, they can fuel from every foot along the whole length, both sides, of this massive dock. They berth boats on both sides of this face dock. When the dock is busy, as it is now, you are assigned a space along the dock and if the boats in front and behind are already in place, you need to exercise your parallel parking skills to get into your space.
The space in front and behind me were already occupied so I had to shoehorn my 50’ into an empty 60’ slot. I was glad it was nearly slack tide. All went well – EZ in. Quite different from last Feb when I bought Last Resort and it took a full month to work up the courage to take it out of the slip. This boat is sooo easy to maneuver, knock on wood.
After taking my post-docking nap 😃 I came up to the salon to find the sun disappearing even though it was only mid afternoon. The empty slot on the outside/across the dock from me was getting A new occupant And blocking the sun😄. The low cabin 70’ sailboat fueling across the dock was now gone and a larger vessel was going to dock for the night. So as to not be obvious 😂😂😂 (docking is always a spectator sport) I went up on the flybridge to watch it dock.
“It” was 154’ and the slot was barely 165’ and the current was now ripping. The captain missed, significantly, on his first try. Having taken stock of wind and current, he did a 360 and tried again.
He succeeded. The loud sound you hear, in the video, over the wind is the vessel’s bow thruster motor (engine?) being worked overtime. Towards the end of the video you will see that the captain got his stern within 2’ of the bow of the 75’ green charter catamaran in order to have room to swing the bow in. 10 crew members and 2 marina dock hands and no panic. If I owned and had been on board the cat, I would have panicked.
Most every boat along this dock is 60’ or more. There must be well more than a dozen exceeding 100’. And then, at the end, is a “Bigger It” – one at a mere 250’. It’s beam is 44’ – only 4’ less than Last Resort’s length. ‘Bigger It” is aka “BELLA VITA”. When I walked past it this evening I surreptitiously peeked towards the lower aft deck windows. There must be at least 60’ of aft length inside space filled with two big power boat runaboutS, pwc’s and other toys. The 100’ sport fish with immense tuna tower, docked next to it, looks tiny in comparison. I found it curious that there were no power cords running to these two mega yachts. The marinas apparently do not have enough power capacity for them (despite large movable mega yacht power booster ‘carts’ scattered along the dock) and so these boats use their own generators. Not even a whisper of sound from the generator! Incidentally, the ‘ Bigger It”, a Lurssen yacht, is available for charter for a mere $650,000 and change per WEEK (includes crew and towels😎, I think).
It’s been 3 days here in Charleston, so far, and weather has been deteriorating each day. Not nice enough to go sightseeing. Will be here for a half dozen more days (crew needs to fly north for a doctor’s appointment) so hoping weather gets better as I’d like to see a bit of the city.
Meanwhile I haven’t been wasting time. Over the past couple of months, have been researching marinas in the Keys for part of the winter. I’d also like to cross over to the Bahamas for part of the winter. Finding a place in the Keys hasn’t been easy.
I don’t want to move every day and most marinas from the middle keys to Key West seem to have repeat seasonal visitors – sort of like all of FL in the winter. Plus most marinas, it seems, lease their under water bottom from the state (vs owning your parcel of LAND and then excavating your LAND to dig a marina on YOUR land in which case you own the bottom). So most lease bottom right from the state and when dealing with a government, everything is screwed up. The leases, it appears, limit those marinas to having mariners stay on board their vessels for no more than 7 days per month. That’s a problem when you are living aboard. I find it hard to understand a state that has the country’s highest tourism budget but then discourages wintertime stays on a boat – all because there are some former live aboard boats which, after hurricanes, have become derelict and a blight on some wealthy, politically connected contributer’s visual horizon. Rather than addressing derelicts and budgeting for removal, just make the boaters move. Off soapbox. So anyway, it’s been a problem.
So yesterday I saw a post from a boater who was enjoying a 3 day stay in a marina in Marathon – my #1 choice of Keys – a stay obtained as a door prize at a northern trawler rendezvous. The boater was raving about it and I hadn’t heard of the place before. A little research showed it was primarily marketed as a gated resort community of new homes built as a rental alternative to a hotel. It was started in 2006 but the real estate turndown bankrupted the developer well before he finished. An unusual project, it languished incomplete til acquired by an investment group in 2016. It took 2 yrs to complete including a marina and so 2018 was the first season. The resort is still working on developing its clientele.
Finding the explanation to make sense, I contacted them and they returned my email inquiry with a phone call with 30 minutes. A major departure from a Keys marina tradition of not returning inquiries for days, if ever. I was told they had good and bad news. Good news – they had availability for me for both months. Bad news – under the terms of their lease, as a brand new marina, with the State, I could only live aboard for 1 month. Moderating news – they are changing their company documents which should allow them to have live aboard for 2 months and expect the entire process complete within the next two months. Would I like to take a chance?
After conversations over two days, I decided to take the month of January. The resort agreed that if the 2 month live aboard was approved, I would be able to extend in that slip for another month – in effect renting that slip in Feb to anyone else would be off the table unless I agreed. I would continue to look for a slip for Feb and if I found one I’d release them from their Feb obligation Immediately and if I changed my mind and decided to just go to the Bahamas or elsewhere earlier, I’d similarly release them. So I have a place to stay in the Keys and not just a place but a spectacular one. Hopefully I will have a signed agreement today. More on that in future posts.
I received an email asking some questions about navigation charts. I’ll try to answer here, based on my limited knowledge, on the assumption it may be of interest to others.
So what do I have?
Decades ago, when boating on Lake Michigan, I used paper charts. I think that’s all that was available. There wasn’t much more of a need than a chart being updated every 5 or 10 years as Lake Mich didn’t shoal that much and was not subject materially to tides. One just needed to pay attention to weather and, back in those days, watch out for an Ark filled with animals. The marine charts I was and am familiar with are produced by NOAA.
Speaking of today, they make thousands and thousands of changes and corrections during the year but produce the printed chart available in marina stores etc only once per year. So a chart segment printed last month can be out of date this month due to the effects of a bad storm. Printed charts can be obtained in the interim ‘On Demand’ from special sources. Paper charts are expensive and cumbersome – paper charts take storage room. Hello charts in bits and bytes!
So what do I have/use? I have a hybrid – like a layer cake – and it’s available on multiple sources.
I also use an app called Aqua Maps which is downloaded on my iPhone and my iPad. It has the same info as the basic charts. What it also has is, for an enhanced modest subscription fee, more features.
I choose to have my basic NOAA electronic chart via my chartplotter furnished by Garmin. It can be updated annually or by subscription anytime. Garmin adds the thousands of correction & updates but only furnishes them on demand if you pay. These basic charts show the oceans, lakes, rivers with depths, obstructions, markers, buoys, lighthouses, shipwrecks, mariner notes etc. The Garmin electronic version has a magenta line to follow mid channel and an iconic representation of your boat’s accurate gps position on that chart. The chart and your boat scrolls as you move like the little car and map does on an car gps. Also added are icons for marinas, anchorages etc which, when you touch them, expand to a drop down info box (user ratings, available services, up to date fuel prices, dockage fees, phone numbers, depth, navigation tips etc.
While NOAA is tasked with, in the US, the basic charting, the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is charged with maintaining navigable depths in harbors, designated inlets and the ICW. They also maintain the country’s locks. The US Coast Guard has the responsibility for placing and maintaining in place buoys and day markers. Yes they do move or get destroyed occasionally. So the USACE surveys/sounds the waterway for shoaling and depths quite frequently and they map their findings. Aqua Map acquires the maps that show shoaling and as part of their extended subscription allows the user to download the color coded USACE map and overlay it on top of the Aqua Map basic chart. There is generally an updated overlay along the east coast ICW each day or two. I can send the updates to my laptop and from there download to a SD card which then can go into my Garmin card reader and transfer to my main chart plotter.
But the layering is not finished. I also use info from another online source – a sailboater who maintains a blog and a Facebook page under the name Bob423. He travels north each Spring from the Jupiter FL area to the mid Chesapeake area and reverses it each fall. When the USACE determines that an area needs dredging, it draws up a detailed plan‘ how deep, how wide, how long, and at what headings for each segment. USACE monitors the dredging contract to determine that it is exactly performed. So Bob423 gets copies of all the contract specs, plots a projected course to take advantage of the new dredging and overlays it over the USACE AquaMaps chart.
Those too can be imported to a card and downloaded to my main chartplotter. Another layer on the chart cake.
Finally Bob423 lays down a track when he runs north and again south showing every little turn he makes and publishes those so one can see what he ran vs what he projected. The track is also published, can be imported to a card etc – the frosting so to speak on top of the basic NOAA chart. Everything he does is available without charge.
So there is more to traveling the ICW than pointing the boat in the right direction and staying between the banks. Running outside, a few miles in the ocean, is easier navigation, probably bumpier waves, faster but less interesting. Either way can be tiring.
Also while here in Charleston, I took the marina shuttle van downtown for lunch followed by an hour horse drawn carriage tour through the historic area. Some fascinating logistics. Charleston is surrounded by water on 3 sides. Rigid historic preservation is enforced. The city endured two wars, is very earthquake prone and has suffered at least 5 fires of 500 bldg or more destruction size since the mid 1700’s. These beautifully restored still standing waterfront area homes are expensive – as $millions plus. There are 5 carriage companies running on the city’s narrow streets and thru expensive neighborhoods. So to avoid horse and tourist congestion and too much ‘exhaust’ defacated on neighborhood streets, all 5 companies exercise mutual cooperation. First is a 15 second stop for all carriages at a small hut – Control Central. The areas of historic interest have been divided into separate routes – color coded. The driver calls out his/her name, the name of the horse and number of passengers (a head tax is paid to the city). The driver is given a color and that is the route that particular carriage will/must follow. Infractions for deviation, for holding up too much traffic when a cut out is available (a lot of the tour goes thru busy but narrow downtown streets) incur a fine of $1,070!
The horses are outfitted with leather ‘aprons’ behind their tail which funnels road apples into a container so streets stay clean. The driver has a device that looks like a remote control. If a road apple 🍎 misses the mark and reaches the street or if the horse decides that some portion of the street needs to be washed, the driver pushes a button on the remote and it ‘pings’ the exact GPS location to Control Central which dispatches a super dooper pooper scooper truck, funded by the 5 companies, to clean up the scene. I thought it interesting to see how private enterprise works together to keep the peace vs relying on government which would inevitably resort to one of two solutions – ban the carriage tours altogether
or let the crap just stay on the street until evening when residents can be further disturbed, in addition to a daylong lingering smell, by a nighttime clean up crew. The system here in Charleston must work as frequently these southern residents, walking the sidewalks or sitting on their porches, called out friendly greetings to us.
Another interesting area was the Charleston City Market. It is a 6-7 block long (narrow but long blocks) area which was built with basically open air buildings curb to curb. Kind of reminded me of Detroit’s Eastern Market or Seattle’s Pike Street Market, amongst others. Plantation owners would send their slaves here to provision the plantation and to bring plantation produced products to sell. The northern most bldg was near the Cooper River on the north side of the peninsula and was used in the early days for the fishmongers. I’m slipped on the southern side -the Ashley River. Some 6 or seven blocks away, the southern most building was for the butchers where you could have a cut of beef from a freshly, on-site butchered cow. In the 100 degree, 100% humidity of SC summers, there must have been quite a smell from one end to the other.
My 9 day stay here has turned cold and daylight continues to wane. Mornings are in the very brisk low 50s with afternoon highs in the mid to upper 60s. Time to start the ‘in earnest’ run to FL now that insurance restrictions vis a vis hurricanes no longer apply. Hoping the weather warms up and winds and rain cooperate.