Monthly Archives: November 2015

Passage planning

Charleston, SC
Posted by Bill

It is blowing up to 30 knots today and starting to rain here in Charleston, and we are rocking and rolling in the marina. The Cooper River is not looking too nice:

We walked to the grocery store a couple of hours ago, but otherwise we are stuck inside. Based on that, I decided to share our passage planning process. Several people have asked about it and I also thought that it might also help someone who is new to traveling the ICW.

The major components that go into the process are as follows:
1. Kettlewell Guide to the ICW – this is a publication that has nautical charts for the Atlantic ICW. Each page is about a 5 mile segment of the ICW, and in the margin there is information about marinas, anchorages, bridges, etc… We didn’t have this on the way south last year, but used my friend Matt’s copy on the way back. It has made tracking and planning much easier than the standard charts and chart books. One caveat, they stopped updating the charts and information in 2006, but it is still the best publication we have found.

2. Active Captain – this is a web site and associated database that has electronic nautical charts that highlights marinas, anchorages, local knowledge points, and hazards on the map. On top of that, people provide comments and can add/delete/maintain the data in a crowd sourcing fashion. Kind of like Yelp for the cruising community. Since it has grown in popularity, many marine navigation vendors have incorporated the database in their products. It is a valuable resource.

3. Weather – we primarily use Weather Underground ( for weather forecasts and radar. In addition, we use NOAA Marine Weather (, Passage Weather (, Wind Finder (, Mikes weather page on Facebook or, and for tropical storms… These are all internet resources but in addition we use the following apps for iphone/ipad: Marine Weather (tides, marine weather, currents), Pocket Grib (similar to data), the Wind Finder app, and the Weather Underground app.

Tides and Currents – we use the NOAA tides and currents website and/or apps: Ayetide, Marine Weather, Garmin Blue Chart Mobile

Here are some screen shots of some of the above resources to give you an idea of the information that they provide:

Passage Weather:

NOAA marine forecasts:


Pocket Grib:

Active Captain:

The colored boxes denote marinas (red), local knowledge (blue), hazards (yellow), and anchorages (green). You click on a box to get more info, including comments and ratings.

The process:
We plan on 50 – 60 statute miles per day generally. Looking a the Kettlewell guide, you can see how far that takes you. Then using Active Captain, you look at available anchorages and marinas in that general area so you know where you might want to stop for the night. I usually look at 40 miles and 65 miles as alternatives in case the currents work for or against you.

Next, look at the hazards in Active Captain, which tells me what shoal areas are going to impact us, and how other people dealt with them successfully. I do this with the web site or using Garmin Blue Chart Mobile on the iPad. Garmin has Active Captain data integrated and also tides and currents. I go page by page on Kettlewell and look up the area in Active Captain, writing the results on a post it note that goes in the Kettlewell page as an instruction of how to deal with this area of the charts. I use tide and current information to formulate the plan as well. After all is considered, I write up a plan in my passage composition book as to when to leave, when to hit certain mile markers/areas and pertinent information. While underway, I use this book and the Kettlewell charts with my sticky notes to follow in the cockpit.

Sample of the Kettlewell book with my notes:

Some people just write in the margin of these pages, but the conditions change all the time and I opted to use the post its so they can be swapped out.

Off shore passages require a different type of planning which is heavily dependent on data about wind speed, wind direction, wave height, wave period, wave direction, tides and currents. We use NOAA nautical charts and Maptech Chartkits for off shore. For the Bahamas, we use Explorer Charts.

You are never quite sure what the speed of the boat will end up being, so you need to have alternate plans for both ICW and off shore that take into account multiple scenarios.

For weather forecasting, I use all of the resources mentioned and develop my own idea based on all of them as input. They are never the same, so you need multiple sources and have to interpolate. You also need to watch the sky…duh! As for weather…we don’t plan to go out in anything uncomfortable, but plan to get surprised for the worst while we are out there.

It is definitely more of an art than a science.

Back in Charleston

Charleston Maritime Center, Charleston SC
Position: 32 47.344N, 79 55.459W
Posted by Bill

We made it to Charleston, one of our favorite cities. Yesterday, we needed to time the tide to get from Isle of Palms to here, and that meant we couldn’t leave until 1:30 PM. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we enjoyed watching all of the boat traffic going in and out of the marina and surrounding area. I also snapped some pictures.

Island Bound at dock in Isle of Palms Marina:

The view at the marina:

There were a lot of people coming in and out of the restaurant and marina store and we saw some strange vehicles park in the 60 minute visitors parking area, including this John Deere tractor!:

I was shocked to see this parked here. First of all, Isle of Palms is a posh resort and beach area. There are no farms here. There are some eccentric residents, so that might be it…not sure.

The passage from Isle of Palms to Charleston is the worst shoal area in the ICW, with low tide depths under 3 feet. We need 5 1/2 feet to float, so we had to time the tides. We pulled in to the Charleston Maritime Center around 4 PM and went out for a pizza at D’Allesandro’s. It was outstanding. Last night around 2 AM the expected weather front moved in and the winds were howling. The wind was making one of the lines on the mast slap the mast at rapid fashion, sounding like a machine gun. Can’t sleep through that racket so I get up and try to adjust the tension, stick a foam noodle between it and the mast, and fend it off with bungee chords. After an hour or so of messing with it I got it to shut up. If I got it too loose, it would slap. If I got it too tight, it would make a loud hum. Finally pushed the noodle up the mast with a boat hook and got back to bed around 3 AM. We will be here until Tuesday. The weather may stifle our usual exploration of the city…we shall see.

If you are interested in Charleston, here are some of our older posts when we were here. Lots of pictures:
Chillin’ in Charleston
Chillin’ in Charleston part deux
Chastown…one of our favorites

Gators and dolphins and shoals…oh my!

Isle of Palms SC, ICW
Position: 32 48.381N, 79 45.592W
Posted by Bill

Morning at Mimim Creek where we anchored last night:

After we got the anchor down last night, the bugs swarmed us. This morning, parts of the boat were covered with these black bugs:

Those who know me know that I am a bug phobe, and I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but they love ME. Glad we were able to go inside to the protection from this stuff!!

Today we left at 9 AM. We got to sleep in because we were transiting a notoriously bad shoal area at McClellanville, and we needed to hit that no earlier than 12 noon. Leaving at 9 would put us there based on our average speed. We arrived a little earlier due to a favorable tidal current, but we made it through the shoal area without incident!! Yay!

Then we made the push to Isle of Palms, a beach area of Charleston. If you remember from last year, we have friends Terry and Cassandra that live there, and we had a great time with them on our trip down last fall. We hooked up with them for dinner and drinks and had a great time again!!

Along the ICW, we saw our first alligator:

And our first dolphins in quite a while:

It was a long day again!

There is a pretty strong front coming in on Sunday and Monday, so we need to get to Charleston to wait it out. Charleston provides provisioning and entertainment while we wait out the weather and we will move on tomorrow to Charleston Maritime Center.

Deja-vu all over again

Minim Creek, SC
Position: 33 11.502N, 79 16.367W
Posted by Bill

Just like yesterday’s trip, we did the same trip today as we did exactly one year ago…well, same destination anyway. We left the dock in North Myrtle Beach at 6:36. We were trying to time the arrival at the Socastee Swing Bridge so that we would arrive on the hour because the bridge was broken down and they restricted the opening to every hour on the hour. Not knowing for sure how the tide was going to affect us, we needed some slack in the schedule. When we pulled out of the marina there was no one in front of us and there was no wind, so the water looked like glass. It created some interesting illusions along the shore line:

We made it to the crippled bridge with about 25 minutes to spare so we had to wait. On the other side we stopped in at Osprey Marina to take advantage of $2/gallon diesel fuel prices and fueled up. Between the delays for the bridge (including going very slow part of the way so we didn’t have to wait longer at the bridge) and getting fuel, we lost over an hour of transit time, so I revved the engine up to 2300 RPM and got us going faster than we now normally travel. It was a LONG day, but we made it to Minim Creek by 4:30 PM and dropped the hook in the same place as last year. It wouldn’t set, so we moved over a bit and got it to set finally. Good thing, because the no-see-ums were already swarming. No wind in the middle of a marsh is a bad situation around dusk!!

Tomorrow, we need to transit McClellanville, which is really shoaled over and pretty much impassable at low tide. Our false start the other day has pushed us into a challenging tide schedule where we need to transit this area close to low tide in order to make our destination tomorrow by dark. Well, what fun would it be if it was easy?!!

For more pics and information about traveling between Myrtle Beach and Minim Creek, see last year’s blog by clicking here.

We are off at the speed of a tortuga

North Myrtle Beach, SC
Position: 33 48.102N, 78 44.816W
Posted by Bill

Well…we finally got moving again. After an emotional (for me) send off from our friends Matt and Shirley from Sofia Jeanne, and Kurt and Sharon from Byrd Ketcher, we got off the dock at 7:03 this morning, destination: North Myrtle Beach. Amazingly…this is the same trip we took last year on this date! Everything was pretty much the same, except the tides were close to low when we left and when we traversed Lockwoods Folley Inlet west of Southport. Just out of the marina we saw this sailboat aground at a creek known locally as “Wildlife”. This poor guy didn’t have the local knowledge that he was going on to a sand bar at the entrance to the creek:

Unfortunately for him, he was a good hour to two hours away from enough tide to lift him off. He obviously put his head sail up to help him get off, which probably only pulled him higher on the bar.

We did a white knuckled transit through Lockwoods Folley, which has been grounding vessels for weeks at low tide, but we made it with room to spare! Shortly thereafter, we ran into a tug boat pushing a double-wide barge that took up most of the channel. I diverted to port (left), almost out of the channel to avoid him, nearly running aground myself. Ass Captain award to that jack-leg! The rest of the trip was very similar to last year, so I won’t bore you with a duplicate entry and will let you click to last year’s post. We arrived around 2:30 and went to one of our favorite places to have a great dinner.

It was really nice to get back on the water again, but it is a MAJOR bummer to not be traveling with our friends. We are going to miss them very much until we see them again SOON! Good first day, but a long day tomorrow. By the way…tortuga is spanish for turtle…we move at about 5-6 miles per hour!

False start

Southport NC
Posted by Bill

Well, we worked our butts off getting the boat ready for the trip south the last couple of days, and we were all set to leave today. Then the forecast imploded and we got a day of unexpected solid rain and higher winds than we expected. It was nothing drastic, but it was going to be uncomfortable, and since we have a few days of slack in the schedule we decided at the very last minute to delay a day. It’s too bad because the tides aligned very well to transit the shoal areas and bridge openings all the way to Charleston SC, but a day delay should not hurt us except it will keep us in Charleston a few days longer than we wanted. This primarily due to a strong system that is expected this coming weekend that is going to bring winds over 30 knots, and with a delay of a day, we will need to weather it out in Charleston. As usual, traveling via boat requires putting together the best plan based on available daylight, weather, tide schedules, bridge openings, available anchorages and available marinas. It is like a big puzzle, and if one thing changes, the whole plan can get screwed up.

So for now, the next 5 days look like this:
Tomorrow 11/4 – Myrtle Beach
11/5 – anchoring in Georgetown SC or some back creek further south (which ever we can make)
11/6 – Isle of Palms SC
11/7 through 11/9 – Charleston SC

It has been emotionally difficult leaving Southport. We love this area and we have made so many good friends here. We will miss everyone badly. To be honest, it is one of the things about this lifestyle that is really hard for me. It feels like everywhere we go, we are leaving someone who is special to us. Family and friends in so many places now…we need everyone to come south, ’cause I ain’t doin’ cold weather if I can help it!!