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SouthBound with the Snowbirds: South Carolina

“In a cold world you need your friends to keep you warm.” Recognize that line? It was used to promote the 1983 film The Big Chill, which ultimately spawned the hit TV series Thirtysomething. That movie, made even more famous by its soundtrack, was filmed only a few blocks from Downtown Marina of Beaufort, in Beaufort, South Carolina. Its sentiment is apt, because the Intracoastal Waterway can be a bit nippy heading south in the fall—after all, it is (apologies to the Zombies) the time of the season. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem as cold when you’re cruising in company. And last year’s Snowbird Rally was warmed by the above-and-beyond Southern hospitality we found throughout South Carolina. Here are several welcoming stops we’ve planned for this fall’s event. You can tell everyone you heard it through the grapevine.

Osprey Marina

Well-named Osprey Marina (Statute Mile—STM—373.3—33°40.88N 79°02.50W) is tucked into a protected keyhole basin just off the scenic Waccamaw River. Look for the channel marker with the huge osprey nest on top—oh wait, osprey nests are everywhere along this stretch! Exit the ICW west of R26 and head for the eastern end of the oxbow, then follow the marina’s well-marked entrance channel. (Note: some older paper and electronic charts may not show the cut.) Don’t be intimidated. Once you’re through the narrow, wooded entrance, the basin opens up and has many large boats inside. Surrounded by grand old cypress and tupelo trees, you’ll feel a world away from the ticky-tacky T-shirt shops of nearby Myrtle Beach.

If you’re feeling a bit chilled and need to carbo-load, Osprey Marina is the place to do it. Your stay begins with an arrival bag of fun cruiser-related goodies, including some truly useful items, like a jar of country-style jelly or jam, as opposed to yet another floating key fob. And food will be a continuing theme as you settle in. Every morning boaters gather for the courtesy continental breakfast, with fresh donuts, assorted breads and yet more jams and jellies for sampling, in case you want more than the jar in your arrival bag. Twice a year, north and south, we top up on Pumpkin Butter.

During breakfast you might make plans with other cruisers to split an Enterprise car rental. Brookgreen Gardens, a world-famous sculpture garden (and one of the few places in the United States accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in addition to being designated a National Historic Landmark) is only a few miles south and worth a visit. As a bonus, a West Marine, a grocery store and other provisioning pitstops are conveniently located along the way.

When it’s time to check-out, you’ll also love Osprey’s price. The marina charges $1 per foot for the first three days. Thereafter the fee drops to $0.25 per foot (for up to a month). They also consistently have the lowest diesel prices in South Carolina.

Minim Creek

Just south of Estherville Minim Creek Canal, Minim Creek is a convenient “tweener” anchorage located between Georgetown and Charleston. If you are looking for a quiet night in the Lowcountry, Minim Creek’s west anchorage (STM 415.5—33°11.55N 79°16.71W) is the perfect choice.

This scenic marsh anchorage feels wide open, but has good all-around low-lying protection. Exit the ICW south of marker R4 and proceed northwesterly into the creek, favoring the northern shore with its fire-tower landmark. Anchor past the charted tide gage structure, where you’ll find less current.

When anchoring in South Carolina’s tidal rivers, remember to pick locations that minimize the effects of reversing current. Usually the current moves more slowly on the inside of a river bend. Less current means more sediment gets deposited, so these spots are also often shallower with better holding in sand or mud, as opposed to the deep scoured hard bottom you typically find on the outside edges of a river bend. Anchoring “around-the-bend,” so to speak, also provides excellent wake protection from the main ICW channel, reducing another source of stress at anchor.

There is no shore access or nearby services at Minim Creek, but get ready to see some incredible wildlife as the sun drops and huge flocks of birds come in to roost in the adjacent marshes and rice fields. One evening we watched over 2,000 white ibis, glowing against the sun setting in the sky, stream in low over our anchored boat. Breathtaking.

Two Shoal Stretches

Between Minim Creek and our next destination, Charleston Harbor, there are two shoal areas, currently among the worst on the entire ICW. A couple of years ago, the ICW’s most challenging spots were mainly through Georgia. Ten years earlier it was North Carolina’s inlets, such as Lockwoods Folly. ICW trouble spots rotate, and ebb and flow, depending on each state’s maintenance budget and dredging priorities.

The first trouble spot is an extensive stretch south of McClellanville (STM 430 to 435), where we’ve seen plenty of boats aground, stuck hard. A number of times, after a quick VHF confab, we’ve turned around and intentionally thrown them a wake to try and lift their hull enough so they can power back into the channel. Often this works! Slowly wind your way in the channel, side to side, hunting the deeper water carefully here, or you might find yourself hard aground as well.

The second shoal stretch, Meeting Reach (STM 459 to 462), is just south of Isle of Palms as you approach Charleston Harbor. Most vessels will need to wait for the tide here, as it’s notorious for depths as low as 3ft at MLLW. To pass through, avoid a bad moon rising. The key here is to pick your tide and hope for a lunar cycle without extensive daytime extra-low water.

Charleston

As you cross Charleston Harbor, you can see the steeples of “The Holy City,” so-called because of Charleston’s unusual steeple-lined skyline. This is probably the most well-known and most anticipated destination on the entire ICW. It’s a must-see for all boaters, despite pricey dockage, swift current and a less-than-ideal designated anchorage. Marina fees run over $2 per foot per night, but that’s a relative bargain compared to prices at the local hotels.

When it comes to marina dockage in downtown Charleston, there are a number of options, including Charleston City Marina, The Harborage at Ashley Marina and Charleston Maritime Center. That said, since most of these require some commuting to the historic district (located south on “The Peninsula”) consider staying across the Cooper River at Patriot’s Point, as we plan doing for the 2015 Snowbird Rally. Specifically, we’ll be at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina (STM 464.5—32°47.21N 79°54.48W) located next to the USS Yorktown. The water taxi (running until Thanksgiving) stops right at the marina. A $10 all-day pass will not only take you to all the major tourist stops in Charleston, but there’s nothing like having a “designated captain” to bring you safely back to your boat.

Steamboat Creek

For some sailboats running from Charleston to Beaufort, a 67-mile stretch with unavoidable strong adverse currents makes for a long day. Fortunately, there are three attractive anchorage options clustered within a few miles of each other along the way: Steamboat Creek, Toogoodoo Creek and Tom Point Creek. If you prefer shore access, then Steamboat Creek (STM 496.7—32°36.63N 80°16.77W) trumps nearby Toogoodoo Creek and Tom Point Creek (STM 495.5).

Steamboat Creek, alongside Edisto Island, has reasonably good all-around protection except in strong northeasters and is a bit wider than nearby Toogoodoo or Tom Point creeks. All three anchorages are scenic, but Steamboat Creek has a public boat ramp with a small floating dock and fishing pier. Of course, boat ramps near anchorages are a mixed blessing—they’re great for taking Fido ashore for walks, but also generate more weekend boat traffic to disrupt an otherwise serene setting.

Beaufort

The enchanting town of Beaufort (pronounced Bew-furt) is a well-known cruising community landmark. There are two strategies for visiting here, and last year’s Rally was fortunate to get a taste of both. We began with a stay along the downtown waterfront, where the town welcomed the fleet with world-class cuisine at Saltus River Grill. You haven’t had shrimp and grits until you’ve dined at Saltus. Later that same week we crossed the river to celebrate a cruisers’ potluck Thanksgiving, featuring deep-fried turkeys, on the Lady’s Island side. Two memorable experiences.

In Beaufort proper, dockage is at Downtown Marina of Beaufort (STM 536.3—32°25.82N 80°40.44W), which also runs a recently installed, albiet still limited, mooring field for LOAs of 35ft or less. The dockside current is swift, but manageable with the help of the veteran dockhands. Radio ahead and don’t be too proud to exploit their local know-how. Once docked, there is plenty to do in town. Beaufort is a first-class tourist destination, with many restaurants, shops, and tours—including, yes, a movie tour highlighting all the locations that have lured Hollywood filmmakers there for years. The 2015 Snowbird Rally is looking forward to a fun night screening and singing along to The Big Chill!

Lady’s Island, located on the other side of the town’s bascule bridge, is more utilitarian, but still within walking distance of Beaufort’s historic district. Lady’s Island Marina (STM 535.9—32°25.15N 80°39.47W) is a cruiser-friendly marina managed by two liveaboard couples, where boaters can take advantage of a huge tool-equipped workshop and loaner bikes. The marina is also a short walk to two supermarkets, banks, a bakery, liquor and hardware stores, and numerous inexpensive eateries.

Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’

There really is nothing like the Lowcountry, South Carolina’s unique landscape of flat saltmarsh, punctuated by islands of moss-festooned live oaks. It’s no coincidence that this area’s natural beauty has spurred the growth of nationally-known retirement communities like Hilton Head and Beaufort.

The area was originally settled via the navigable waters of the Waccamaw River, Winyah Bay, Charleston Roads and Port Royal Sound. For lucky ICW snowbirds, there is still no better way to experience these very same waters. Y’all stay warm … together with your southbound cruising friends.

Mark and Diana Doyle manage On the Water ChartGuides Foundation, offering “almost free” cruising and anchoring guides for the Intracoastal Waterway. Visit them at onthewaterchartguides.org or on their Facebook page for ICW news and updates.

Stay in the know—follow along with SAIL and the fleet of the 2015 Snowbird Rally at icw.sailmagazine.com

November 2015

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