South Carolina Draw Bridges

While most  draw and swing bridges on the ICW will correspond on channel 13 of VHF radios, the bridges in South Carolina will not. They operate on Channel 9! 

Another distinguishing feature of the South Carolina bridges is they do not open on a set schedule. Most bridges along the waterway will open on the hour. If you are there at that time, you will get to pass and continue on your way. If you are not there at that time, you will have to wait for the next opening to occur. This means that if you arrive 5 minutes late, you will have to wait for 55 minutes until the bridge opens again.  

Timing the bridges becomes very important as it can allow you to cover many more miles in a day instead of waiting around all day long. It is also important to time the bridges with the tides. The current in the ICW can be pretty fierce, especially near bridges where the waterway narrows and the speed of the current increases. If you miss a bridge, you might have to fight a 2 knot current for the next hour, motoring through nearly 2 miles of water while not moving an inch over ground! 

Now, back to South Carolina. The bridges here open on demand. As you approach the bridge, you simply radio the bridge on Ch 9 and let them know that you would like to request an opening. The bridge tender wants to know what your boats name is, and where it hails from. 

If you don't give this information when you hail the bridge, the bridge tender will ask you for it. To speed up the conversation, all you need to do is identify yourself with your vessel name and port and that you are requesting an opening. 

For example: "Hello Swing Bridge, this is Southbound Sailing Vessel Wisdom from Baltimore Maryland requesting a bridge opening when you feel that I am close enough" 

To this the bridge tender will respond and acknowledge your call, thank you for the information, and let you know when he feels you are close enough. When he begins to open the bridge, he will radio you and let you know so you can pick up the pace a little bit and get through quicker as to not hold up traffic as much. 

So, you don't have to time the bridges in South Carolina, as they open on demand, but they do operate on a different channel (9 instead of 13). 

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Anchoring with a Short Scope

I have heard recently about a new way of anchoring where you set your anchor on a 4:1 scope, regardless of weather or conditions. This concept is being propagated by those who claim that modern anchors work so well that they don't need much chain for them to function properly. 

This concept seems logical at first. Modern anchors are far superior when compared to old style anchors.  

When you look at historical ships, you will note that the anchors they carry are rather "small" for the size of vessel they are. While the anchors were small, the chain they employed was massive! The concept was simple: set enough chain so that the resistance of pulling the chain along the bottom would resist the movement of the yacht. At the end of this chain that was holding the yacht was a small anchor that would serve as a terminal point for th rode. 

The shift to modern anchors is quite dramatic. Instead of using massive chains with small anchors, the current trend is to use tiny chains with massive anchors. Since the anchor is doing so much work, why set all that chain? 

Having a long rode means that there is more rode to set and recover when arriving and leaving. You also will swing further, causing you to bump into neighboring boats when anchoring close to other yachts. Lastly, that long rode can wrap around various obstacles on the bottom and cause problems when it is time to retrieve the anchor. 

So, by setting 4:1 scope, you are eliminating many of these issues. The short scope means that less ground tackle is needed to be handled. You will swing less meaning that you can anchor very close to other yachts and not swing into them. And lastly, since your rode is short, only the anchor will contact the bottom reducing the risk of having your rode wrap around obstacles on the sea floor. 

I feel that the reason this push is occurring is because people view boats as another vehicle that they are familiar with: cars. Cars are our most commonly used vehicle for transportation, and features of cars have made their way into yachts over the years. Headlights on cars have spawned the search light on the bow of boats. The maneuverability of a car has pushed the use of bow and stern thrusters on almost all new boats (I once saw a 15 foot center console boat with bow and stern thrusters). Lastly, people park their car in parking lots, crammed in ontop of each other, so why not do the same with their boats? 

The issue is, boats are not cars. Boats are maneuverable in a different way. For a long time, they did not have thrusters, and you simply did what the single screw was capable of. Prop walk was used to your advantage, and situations where it would hurt you were avoided.  

Anchoring was another technique where you set your yacht far from other boats, with enough swing room to spin around the anchor and not touch anyone else. If you let out a lot of scope, you will also anchor far from everyone else.  

So, if modern anchors can hold so much better, why use all that rode? It just makes more work for you in the end? Well, anchors holding power is scope dependent. At 4:1, you will have around 30% of the anchors holding power. At 7:1, you will have around 70% of the holding power, and at 10:1, you finally have 100% holding power. 

If you are anchoring for a few hours in calm and settled conditions, a short scope is acceptable. When you are anchoring over night or in unsettled conditions, short scope is a liability and should be avoided. 

The push for 4:1 scope will lead to more vessels dragging anchor, and winding up in trouble. While anchorages get filled more and more tightly, we choose to have plenty of scope out and plenty of swing room by staying far from other boats. This allows us the peace of mind that we won't drag anchor, and plenty of time to react when someone else starts to drag anchor with their short scope. 

I feel that this whole "short scope" push is being propagated by marina dwellers who never anchor and armchair sailors who dream of sailing but never leave the comfort of their couch. They have never anchored and do not realize the forces involved. The problem is that they are a very loud group who is constantly telling everybody how to do it, and as more people hear about short scope, more people will begin to try it.  

Short scope works find in calm conditions, but when conditions deteriorate, these same people will face a lot of damage as they will begin to drag anchor and not know why.  

If you are told to anchor with 4:1 scope, or even presented with articles about anchoring with short scope, ignore it and do 7:1 scope (with all chain) as a minimum and as your standard. This will ensure that your anchoring is uneventful and safe. Boats are not cars, so you shouldn't attempt to handle your yacht like you do your compact commuter car. 

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Waiting for a Storm to Pass

We entered the Waccamaw River in the early afternoon and were rushing along with the current but we decided to end the day early by anchoring in a oxbow, in the lee of a grouping of trees. This plan was intended to give us peace and comfort during the next days storm. 

While today was a mere 15-20 knots of wind, right on the nose, tomorrow would be the same with the added joy of torrential rains. The following day would be quite different as a cold front is coming in and bringing strong winds from the North. 

By anchoring in the lee of the trees, we hear the wind whistling in the distance but do not feel its effects. Then when the winds shift, we will be able to sail (without the use of the motor) all the way to Georgetown! 

Sometimes, cruising means taking a day off and relaxing at anchor while you wait for better weather to arrive. 

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Waccamaw River Trees

Lining the banks of the river are massive trees that appear to be growing out of the river itself! These are cypress trees, and they are very common in this patch of natural beauty.

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While the trees themselves are amazing, so is the little stump like growths that surround them. These are called Cypress Knees, and grow up from the waters surface just like the trees do. 

These trees are easy to distinguish with their large blade like roots that form small pyramids projecting from the water and terminating in a tree. 

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Waccamaw River

While heading south towards the Bahamas, we were faced with an option: Head offshore and make it to the Bahamas in a few days, or stay in the ICW a little longer until Georgetown and experience the Waccamaw River.

We chose the latter option.

Getting to the Waccamaw River was no easy feat for us, as this river runs rather far inland compared to what we usually do. This meant that there are no inlets near the river and we would be forced to traverse the ICW a bit further. The ICW leading up to this area is rather shallow, causing us to run aground a few times while still in the channel. The sandy bottom changes with each tide, as the strong currents will shift the sands around in a hurry. Charted areas of 10 feet may only be 4 feet deep when you reach them, causing you to meet an abrupt stop in your forward movement.

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The urban sprawl is also quite apparent as you make your way towards the Waccamaw River. Massive mansions line the waterway as you move down the ICW through Myrtle Beach. These giant houses have stripped away all that was once there and replaced it with a well orchestrated construct of conceived beauty.

It is apparent that you are leaving the ritzy section as the houses transform from wealthy to derelict.

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Wooden shacks that are barely standing will extend out onto the waterway. These houses will become less and less common as you work your way into the natural beauty of the river. 

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Cypress trees grow right on the edge of the river in waters of mind blowing depths. You will find water depths of 20 feet right up next to these massive trees that stand proud on the rivers edge. 

Most of the time, we search for a section of water deep enough to anchor while in the ICW, but in the Waccamaw River, we search for a section that is shallow enough to anchor. The Fathometer will usually read depths of 2-3 feet under our keel as we made our way through the ICW, but when we reached this river, that all changed and we started reading depths of 25-30 feet under our keel. We were excited to find a place that had 7 feet under our keel, allowing us to anchor with only 160 feet of chain instead of the over 200 feet we would have needed in the deeper sections.  

The best part of the river so far has got to be being anchored in a Oxbow, next to the trees and listening to the life that is teeming just beyond our hull. The frogs and crickets are singing away, and every so often, you will hear a new and unfamiliar sound in the distance. Everything is dark and the silhouette of the trees shows over the cloudy night sky with light pollution raining in from nearby Myrtle Beach. 

We have only begun our journey in the river, but already, we are glad to have endured such hard times to reach this place. 

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