Reunited - At Last!
Merlin arrived on schedule early on a windy Saturday morning, having weathered the same high winds overnight at a nearby anchorage. They were having to deal with one of the perils of traveling with animals on board, since their cat Lydia had developed a serious ear infection over the previous several days. Donna wanted to get the cat to a vet as soon as possible. Dave helped her locate a vet within walking distance of the marina, who was willing to see Lydia Saturday morning. After helping them dock, we agreed to meet later for supper on Merlin. The next day, Donna joined us for a trip to church on Easter Sunday morning, which required us to bundle up in our foul weather gear over our best khakis. Not exactly your typical Easter finery, but the folks at St. Phillips Episcopal had the good graces not to make us feel out of place. So, where was Marianna?
Fred and Pat were still in Fernandina, hoping for the weather window to jump north. On Sunday night, Dave relayed weather information to Fred from the NOAA grib files and buoy reports. It looked good for a Monday departure from Fernandina, so we told them we looked forward to seeing them Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday, Marianna arrived as planned at the Maritime Center in much calmer weather than Merlin had seen as they completed their outside run from Florida. We had hugs for everyone after we secured them in their nearby slip. Giving Pat and Fred some time to settle in and sleep, the rest of us took advantage of access to a car for the day and agreed to gather later for dinner. Since no one was enthusiastic about cooking, we instead ordered pizza, a gourmet treat we hadn’t enjoyed in 6 months.
Ah, the good life.
You know that the weather is something to pay attention to, when you hear that a busy commercial port like Charleston is closed for all traffic. This happened the Sunday after Easter as the winds were howling at a steady 35-40 knots (40-45mph) with gusts that we clocked up to 60 mph. (The port officially recorded a 70mph gust.) We had added additional dock lines the night before, but continually adjusted them under the stress of the persistent high winds and assisted our neighbors with theirs as well. The river looked more like the open ocean with 4 foot rollers just outside the marina opening.
We watched in awe as more than one huge freighter made their way up what, for them, is a narrow channel in the incredible wind. Their high profile gives them enormous windage and makes the likelihood of being pushed out of the channel a real possibility.
They also had to contend with some idiotic little sport fishing boats that were darting in front of them as they made the treacherous trip up the channel. Repeated warning signals (5 blasts on the horn) seemed to go unheeded by the little boats, which looked like minnows next to a whale. (What were they thinking?) It wasn’t surprising when the port was closed shortly after the 2nd freighter docked that morning.
Who’s Out There?
One of the unnerving things about traveling on the open ocean at night is the possibility of a close encounter with very large, fast-moving commercial ships. We had always assumed radar was the only solution for being able to locate and identify these vessels and to determine whether they were on a collision course. However, we learned that a less expensive technology would give us a significant leg up on identifying these ships and their potential for intersecting our course.
The solution is an Automated Identification System (AIS), which uses the VHF antenna to receive transponder signals from commercial vessels. These are packed with information on these ships, which include their name, bearing, closest point of approach, time to closest point of approach, and much more – even their destination in some cases. For much less than a radar installation would cost, an AIS unit can be installed, taking advantage of our existing VHF antenna. Dave ordered a receiving unit along with a splitter to connect it to the antenna.
The Charleston harbor is so busy with commercial traffic, we immediately started receiving a couple dozen signals once Dave linked in the AIS signal to our Fugawi charting software. There were freighters, pilot boats, a cruise ship, even the immobile Yorktown across the harbor appeared on the screen. We were so fascinated, we played around for an hour or more, watching the screen like you would watch TV. Two pilot boats left the harbor to meet an incoming freighter. We heard them hail each other on the VHF, and then saw their speeds and bearings synchronize as the escorts joined the larger ship for the trip back into the harbor. It was even more fascinating watching the graphic representation of the pilot tugs turning the freighter around, when we could also actually see the ship spinning around just outside our slip.
The downside of AIS, is that not all ships show up on it, so it cannot be used exclusively, but it will be a huge help for our next ocean voyage. Having a ship’s name and bearing, makes it much easier to hail them to ensure we stay out of their way.
Seeing the Sights
We stumbled onto a number of events while walking around Charleston that reinforced our decision to stay here longer.
One night we took in the King Street Design Walk, an event sponsored by a number of upscale merchants who provide wine and h’or d’ouvres in their shops to get the foot traffic through them. Long before we had made the entire circuit, we had enjoyed enough goodies to fill us up. On the way back home, we discovered that the City Paper was sponsoring a free movie in the Marion Square park, which they do for 4 Thursdays in a row. This night it was A Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller, which was a cute movie. Since we were caught by surprise, we didn’t have anything to sit on and could have used a little warmer clothes for the breezy night. Next week is Casino Royale. Assuming we make it again, we know what we need to take, so we’ll be better prepared.
Another find was the free ice cream cone day at Ben and Jerry’s on April 17th. Apparently, they have this every year as a customer appreciation day, but we had never seen it before. How could we pass this up?
We made use of the bus system to take us out to Wal-mart and other stores that we can’t find in the city proper. The bus system was easy to use, and the all-day passes allowed us to transfer freely from the suburban routes to the in-city trolleys, which stop near the Maritime Center.
A Little Longer
We will be staying here through about May 3rd, depending on weather. The temperatures haven’t returned to the high 80’s yet, but the days are warm and the nights not too cold, so it’s fine with us. We’ll continue to explore the city and get to know our neighbors at the Maritime Center while we’re here.