Intracoastal Waterway 

Charleston, South Carolina to Beaufort, North Carolina

16th - 22nd June 2004

After our fraught start to the day, we gingerly made our way across Charleston harbour towards the narrow river entrance, which would take us into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).    Visibility was poor in the heavy rain and we had to carefully pick our way between three tall ships, which were making their way into the harbour. For the first time we were using a different navigation software on the PC, which had more detailed ICW charts.   When used with our cockpit GPS, we found the charts to be very accurate and a great help.    We'd been unable to buy a chart book for this section of the ICW, as they were all out-of-print, so had spent a long time printing our own chart books off from the PC, to have available in the cockpit.

Our first ICW bridge - Ben Sawyer Bridge

We soon entered the narrow river and were faced with our first swing bridge.    We were unsure of the procedure for bridges, this being the first one we'd ever encountered, but the bridge operator was very helpful and we didn't have to wait long for the bridge to open.     In quieter spots like this, the bridges are able to open on demand but on busier roads, bridges operate to a fixed timetable, only every hour or half hour, so the trick is to time your approach very carefully.

As we left Charleston the countryside gradually became less and less developed, with just a few beautiful riverside properties along our route through the swamp. We saw dolphins and an alligator along the way. Later in the day, we figured we weren't going to make it to Georgetown that night and discussed where to anchor. As we debated, we suddenly found ourselves aground!    The controlling depth in this area of the ICW was supposed to be 8 feet but with our six and a half foot draft we found ourselves resting on the bottom.    We'd expected to run aground sometime in the ICW but had hoped it wouldn't be on our first day!     

A Canadian sailing boat, Delfin Salar, was approaching from astern and as we stood on the back of the boat, wildly gesticulating that they shouldn't take the same track as us, they waved back and invited us to come over for a beer at the anchorage they were heading for.  What greater incentive did we need for powering ourselves off the mud and getting underway again?   After the day we'd had, we were glad of the opportunity to relax and get to know Jim and Ruth, who was actually Australian.  The anchorage we selected was in the South Santee River, surrounded by swamp with no signs of habitation apart from a few crab pots.    We enjoyed our drinks until we began to be attacked by large horseflies and fled back to Anju.   On arrival, we found ourselves under attack again, this time by huge mosquitoes which had found their way inside while we'd been away.   Finally after half an hour of frantic swatting, we retreated to the safety of our mosquito net-protected bed! 

Pegasus tow-boat service!

Next morning we were underway as soon as the mosquitoes went to bed, by about 7 am, but we were still the last to leave the anchorage.    We headed to Georgetown, hoping to catch up with our friends on Pegasus.   We were in luck and anchored beside them by about 10 am.     They were leaving that evening, so we decided to go ashore with them straight away to explore.    Lucky that we did, as they ended up towing our dinghy when our outboard decided to misbehave.   

Georgetown was a peaceful three street town, home to a fleet of shrimp boats, so we had to seek out some fresh shrimp for lunch.   Like Ebbw Vale, where we lived previously, Georgetown used to be a steel town but the steelworks was lying idle, awaiting purchase by a new company.   The locals seemed divided on whether they wanted it to reopen or not.   


We wandered through the town, window shopping.   One particularly eye-catching display was in a shop which seemed to specialise in arranging flowers with bits of dead animals - quite bizarre. 

After Mark and the two Janes left to make their passage offshore to Beaufort, we decided to treat ourselves and go ashore to a waterfront bar for a taste of local life.    Phil's Caribbean shirt caused quite a stir and we met some interesting people.   One couple even offered to take us to their home to use their shower (I didn't think we smelled that bad!).   The town seemed to have a high proportion of New-Zealanders for some strange reason!

Next morning we headed north from Georgetown.  The countryside we passed through was very beautiful and tranquil, small creeks running alongside abandoned rice fields and through the lush forest. It was wonderful, with birds, alligators, all kinds of wildlife and not many other boats. We passed lots of small marinas and anchorages where we wished we could spend some time to enjoy the wildlife, although the bugs would probably eat us alive!

We just couldn't decide which dead animal/flower arrangement would look good on Anju!

Approaching Barefoot Landing on the ICW

That day we had only one bridge to negotiate, Socastee Bridge, which was just closing as we arrived, so we had to wait around for around 20 minutes before passing through. Once we passed the bridge the landscape changed to a more developed residential one with lots of expensive houses built on the river. We arrived at Barefoot Landing - a shopping mall with a free dock -  where we had planned to spend the night.  Surprisingly the dock was almost empty when we got there and we soon found out why.  When we approached the dock, we found ourselves aground. We managed to get off again and approached in a different spot. We tied up but again were soon aground again as the tide continued to fall. It seemed that dredging wasn't a priority in the area!  We consulted the tidetables but were completely baffled.   Finally we decided to stay put, even if Anju spent some of the night sitting in the mud.    

Next morning we awoke on a slope.   Anju was most definitely still aground!   We'd put out an anchor from the bow the previous night and using that with our windlass and the power of the motor, we managed to power ourselves through the soft mud and get afloat again.    We'd shared the dock with Wanderlust, a local boat owned by Horace and Sarah from North Carolina and we were happy to be following behind them, with their shallower draft.   A couple of dodgy shallow sections were coming up that day and they'd agreed to call us up if they got into water too shallow for Anju.   

It was about 18 miles to Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge, which only opened on the hour and only if the water wasn't too low. Luckily we arrived at about half tide and although we thought we'd miss the bridge opening time, suddenly we found we had tide with us for the last few miles and made the bridge just in the nick of  time!. The whole bridge was like a raft which floated out of the way, to let you past.

The next challenge was an area called Lockwoods' Folly Inlet, where shoaling is a problem.  We were glad to have Wanderlust in front of us, especially when our depth sounder read "0" below the keel the entire time!  Although there are new floating buoys marking the channel, it was quite stressful as the waterway was busy on Saturday afternoon with all types of craft.

Sunset Beach Pontoon Bridge

Our first real-live cowboy of the trip on the ICW!

We passed by Southport, where Wanderlust were stopping.  We said goodbye to them on the VHF, as we'd decided to carry on for another 12 miles. Unfortunately after punching the tide for about 10 miles up the Cape Fear River, when we called the Caroline State Park marina where we'd planned to overnight, we found there was only a depth of 4 ft on their dock at low water. Not wanting to spend another night aground, we had no choice but to press on. Finally, tired and fed up, we checked into the nearby Oceana Marina.  Mooring was a nightmare as the current was still running strongly and it was impossible to steer or stop Anju with the current pushing her forwards.   After missing the dock entirely on our first pass and scraping past a small boat on the dock with only inches to spare, we managed to turn Anju around to try another approach. This time we managed to get a line to the man on the dock but he couldn't pull us in. Finally, by using the motor to drive us in while he valiantly held on, we got safely tied up. 
After paying $50 for the night (this is why we try to avoid marinas in the States) we took a stroll across the boardwalk, over the swamp, to the nearby beach.   A lady we met on the beach thought we were quite mad when we had to ask her what town we were in!  This made us decide we needed to invest in a road map to accompany our nautical charts!

Next morning we made an interesting backwards departure off the dock due to the influence of our friendly wind and tide!  On the way up the ICW, we often had tide against us between the inlets and  with 15 - 20 knots of NE wind on the nose, forward progress was hard work.

"What town are we in please?"

By 09.30 am we'd arrived at the Wrightsville Beach Lifting Bridge, which didn't open until 10 am, so we motored a little way down the channel to investigate an anchorage in a lagoon behind the beach. We debated whether to stay and anchor there and wait until the wind died down next day but in the end decided to press on. We went through the bridge at 10 but found that we didn't have any more shelter from the wind on the other side, so in the end, we decided to turn around and head back to the anchorage. Of course the next bridge opening wasn't until 11 am, so we had to hang around until then.  We must have really confused the bridge operator!

Finally around 11.30 we anchored in the pleasant anchorage behind Wrightsville Beach.  We realised we had no idea how much anchor chain we had out, as most of the markers (we use cable ties to mark every 5 metres) had been lost in the Charleston-girder-fouling-incident!  We kept letting out chain until we finally found a marker at 50 metres and then hauled all the chain back up again, marking it as we took it back in.  We were glad we'd stopped as we both felt very tired and stressed.  It is tiring moving all the time and covering new territory each day but we were under pressure to reach 35 degrees north before the start of hurricane season, to maintain our insurance coverage.

Our next challenge was to call home, as it was Father's Day, which you wouldn't think would be too difficult.  After two hours of trying to call and speaking to numerous customer "service" agents at our mobile phone supplier, we discovered that we were outside the company's coverage area and although we could call via another phone company, they wouldn't allow overseas calls. Eventually we had to call Phil's niece Kate in California, ask her to call her parents in the UK, who rang Christine's Dad, who finally had to call us instead.   Happy Father's Dad!  Your present is the opportunity to make an international phone call at your own cost!   If the Americans only realised just how poor their mobile phone services are compared to the rest of the world, I'm sure there would be trouble, especially if they worked out that most of the rest of the world isn't charged for receiving incoming calls!



The next day was fairly uneventful until we encountered the surreal sight of a peacock chasing two llamas around a riverside town. It certainly made a change to the normal wildlife of ospreys nesting on marker buoys!

Later we passed an army firing range.   Fortunately they were firing out to sea and not over the ICW, so we could continue on our way.  We chatted to Pat and Marilyn on the trawler Manatee, who we kept encountering through the day and decided to head to the same anchorage in Swansboro that night.  When we arrived, we also found our old chums Jim and Ruth on Delphin Salar again, so we all got together for drinks on Anju.

Despite its low rating in the pilot book, the anchorage was fine. However, we anchored in 4 metres of water, the tidal range was supposed to be 0.75 metres and when we got up next day we were in 0.6 of a metre, even though we'd circled and sounded out the depths before anchoring! Weird!

Those handy marker buoys make excellent Ospray homes!


Next day as we headed towards Beaufort, North Carolina, the weather turned scary as a thunderstorm approached.   We were pleased to have Manatee still nearby when we considered whether to head for a nearby anchorage for shelter.   They went through the entrance channel first and we able to tell us the depth in the 7 foot channel was now only five feet, so we had no option but to press on in the heavy rain and lightning.

As we passed Morehead City, we spotted three British warships, including the Sir Galahad and an aircraft carrier.  We decided against dipping our ensign, the maritime sign of respect.  This would then force them to respond by sending somebody out to do the same with their flag.  We decided waving was less trouble for everybody.  Manatee continued north up the ICW, so we said our goodbyes as we turned towards Beaufort inlet and made our way to the anchorage in the town, soon followed by Delphin Salar. 


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