These are the voyages of the sailing vessel Pétillant. Her original eight-month mission: to sail from Baltimore to France via Florida and the Bahamas, to successfully navigate the shoals of the French douane, to boldly go where few Maine Coon cats have gone before was completed in 2008. Now she is berthed in Port Medoc and sails costal Spain, France, and the UK during the summer months.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Backstory Part 4 - Down the ditch, and offshore

We left Beaufort right after Thanksgiving, with National Weather Service predictions of north winds, shifting to the northwest. We had met some other boat heading south, and it appeared that we all had the same idea – namely to head directly for Charleston from Beaufort when a nice weather window opened, and this looked like the window. We left at 5:00 AM and the winds were astern, as predicted, but they gradually shifted to the NE, so that we had the wind directly astern. The winds also did not stay in the 10-15 kt range, but built all day, to 20-25, with gusts in the 30-35 foot range. The seas also built up considerably, to about 8-12 feet, so that we were doing some amazing corkscrews down the face of the waves. We made great progress, but it was quite hard on the kitties. Calypso, in particular, was miserable. She drools continuously, and it is quite an effort to anti-drool-proof the inside of the boat. In fact, during this day, she managed to drool all over our main cell phone, shorting out the power-charge connectors and corroding them into non-existence. We have since been dependent on the backup cell-phone, which is a pay-as-you-go phone, and therefore much more expensive.
After 8 hours of corkscrewing, we decided to head into Wrightsville Beach, NC. We arrived about 6PM, just before they started their annual XMAS boat parade. We had heard about these sort of things in Annapolis, but had never seen one close-up before. They made us un-anchor from the spot we had chosen because it was inside the fireworks safety zone. All-in-all, an exciting day (not a good thing).

Next day, we decided to go back to the ditch (the ICW) for a bit. We started late and motored down thru the Wilmington area, and almost made it to the infamous bridge that does not open at low tide (because it is a floating bridge that goes aground at low tide), and then we were stuck, because there wasn’t anyplace to anchor or any marinas open to duck into. We tried to find our way into a few creeks, but the tide was too low. Eventually, we begged a slip at a marina that was being renovated, and they let us tie up for the nite. We also befriended a nice young Iraq vet named Matt who was driving his 25 ft sailboat south, all by himself. He had an 8HP outboard that he ran flat-out, and told us quite a few tales of life in the army in Iraq.
Next day, we motored all the way past Georgetown, NC, into the swamps. It was quite beautiful, with few boats, meandering down the rivers and thru the swamps. Near Georgetown the USCG seemed to be filling their monthly quota of inspections in one afternoon. We heard them stop one boat after another, for “safety inspections”. We were not, however, stopped.

fter the night in the swamps, we motored on to Charleston, SC, where we stayed at the City Marina. Quite civilized, living the big life on the “Mega-dock”, with hot showers and the courtesy van into Charleston. We got the bicycles out and cycled all over town. We had some really great meals, and the weather finally told us that we were “in the south”. We could have stayed for a month and eaten a LOT of shrimp and grits, but we had to keep pushing south, for some reason.

We motored out of Charleston in drizzle, back into the ditch, and spent the night again in a swamp, but a nice one. It was interesting that none of the guide books mentioned the spot we stopped as a potential anchorage, but two boats that followed us decided that we had picked a good spot, and anchored right next door. (hmmm…)

They left the next morning at dawn, but we decided to sleep in, and then head out again into the ocean. The NWS was predicting NW winds, 15-20, clocking to the north, so we decided to make a run down the coast past Savannah and Brunswick directly to Jacksonville. The first few hours went as predicted, but the wind stayed stubbornly from the west, so we were close-hauled for about 8-hours, and then we had to do some serious motor-sailing to windward to stay close to shore. The seas also built up to 5-8 feet, and we once again had to deal with unhappy kitties. Dante was the only one to come up on deck thru the night. He just wanted to be held, although at several points he tried to get out of the enclosure onto the deck, and even on to the back porch(!). We made our entrance to Jacksonville at about 8AM, and motored up the St. Johns River into the ICW, and then south a few miles to Jacksonville Beach, where we ploughed out way into a marina (at dead low tide) to stay for 4 days.

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