Just An Old Sweet Song Keeps Georgia On My Mind

It's always hard for us to leave Beaufort, South Carolina. There are discussions about staying for a while and talk of former good times. The folks are friendly and welcoming, and it just feels right. But the waterway called once again and we gave in to the beckoning. The winds were gone and the sun was shining. It wasn't an ideal day for departure, but ideal days are sometimes hard to come by. There was a 30% chance of rain, not too awful, but once again, it was time to point the bow south and begin our winding journey through the dreaded Georgia ICW. I say dreaded, because the Georgia waterway is the least maintained section of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and has a terrible reputation for very shallow stretches. Even with the winding channels and occasional shallow areas, it's still a gorgeous section of waterway, and by planning head, transiting anywhere in Georgia is not that difficult. We wrote an extensive post on the Georgia ICW that might be a good read for anyone wondering just how bad it is.

Our planned destination for the day was Montgomery, GA on the Vernon River, some 65 statute miles from Beaufort. One of the more interesting spots along our path was crossing the Savannah River from Fields Cut. Paying close attention in the cut will get you through without much of a problem. But being in the wrong place will get you hard aground. We found 9 feet or better for the most part by favoring the green side of the channel, but as we approached the Savannah River, the depths quickly rose to 4.5 feet until we abruptly turned toward the red markers and towers and found 20+ feet of water. Crossing the Savannah is always fun with the strong currents. First we make sure there are no ships coming up or down the river. Next, we plan for strong currents, as Beach House almost always makes the crossing sideways. It requires pointing the bow practically directly up or down the river, depending on the direction of the current, and "crabbing" across until we're off the river and into the waterway on the other side. There are many shallow spots, rock piles and other navigational hazards to keep track of, sometimes all at the same time. As we have so many times before, Beach House and crew safely made the crossing.

We're not really sure why, but the anchorage off Montgomery, is one of those places that we like. Even on days when it's pouring down rain and the wind is up, we know we have to get the anchor down and set. A national parks boat seemed to be patrolling the area as we arrived- not sure why- and the rains were coming down pretty steadily. Not being up to exploring a new spot, the anchor hit the bottom in about the same place as the last time we were there. It was good to shut down the engine and settle down in the dry cabin for the evening. Eventually the rains quit and the winds dropped off for the night. The evening was uneventful, but the next morning, not so much.

The next day would be another long day. Updated weather reports suggested a strong front would cross the southeast with heavy winds for several days. That would not happen for a few more days, but it meant making some distance while the weather was still agreeable. For these long days, the alarm goes off well before sunrise so Beach House can get underway at first light. Surprise, surprise, fog had developed overnight, and by sunrise, the bow of the boat was about all we could see on deck. There really wasn't anything to do but wait until the fog lifted, and it would lighten up then thicken again quickly until about 0830. Enough of it had dissipated so that we could raise the anchor and proceed slowly out of the river. By the time we reached the ICW channel, the fog was beginning to disappear and several other boats were traveling down the ICW, including about 6 sailboats and a couple of trawlers. We wouldn't be traveling alone that day.

Passing through Hell's Gate is another fun (not) experience. The currents are strong on the rivers on both sides of the short cut and can easily sweep a boat into shallow waters. The strong currents also create many shoal spots. Fortunately, we made the passage at high tide, because we found one spot on the green side that would have only been 3.5 feet at low tide. All of the boats traveling with us made the passage just fine, and we all kept moving south with some of the slower sailboats falling behind. We try not to wake any of the boats we pass so we have a routine that we follow. As we approach a slower boat, we come directly astern and call them on the VHF. About 90% of the time we get a response. We will ask the slower boat to slow down even more and we proceed to pass them close by on one side or another to reduce the effects of whatever wake we are still generating. All of this is communicated over the VHF before we even begin to pass. Most of the time it works as planned. Occasionally we don't get a response and we still proceed as slowly as we can to minimize our wake. Sometimes the other boater will respond that they do not wish to slow down and for us to come on by. We still go past as slowly as we can.

Even with the late start, the anchor was down and set by 3:15 in the afternoon. We debated a few options for anchorages for the night and settled on Duplin Creek. The reason for stopping this soon was to allow us to anchor just north of the Little Mud River so that in the morning we could transit it at high tide. We had run the Little Mud River at low tide on our way north and made it through with no problems. But even with our 4-foot draft, it's close in some sections during low tide, and if there was an astronomical low tide, we could find ourselves aground. On the Duplin River, we were anchored with another trawler similar to Beach House. The currents there are strong and would reverse over the course of the evening. A good set on the anchor and one that will reset in reversing currents is needed. It was once again very windy by the time the anchor was set, but as usual, it dropped off after sunset. The Duplin is a very scenic river with a ferry terminal not too far into the river entrance. Our anchorage was farther upriver near the high power lines.

Dense fog once again settled in overnight and still blanketed the river at sunrise. No surprise there given the time of year. This is a condition that just has to be dealt with. By 0815, the fog had lifted enough to get underway. Our next weather event was drawing nearer, and the clock was now ticking. Some of the more problematic stretches of the waterway were ahead of us and our destination to wait out the approaching front was within striking distance. One more anchorage stop would be on our schedule before we tied to a dock for about a week. But first, we would have to get through the rest of Georgia...

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