While Charleston, SC, might be a major shipping port, its entrance can be rather tricky, especially on a foggy dark night.
When you approach the inlet, you will be faced with a multitude of lights from shore and the darkness of the large stone jetties that extend out to sea. Yes, these large and dark rock walls extend 2.8 miles out to sea, making it very easy to smash into them if you are off course.
Now, GPS makes it easy to know where you are, and the aids to navigation are well illuminated making it possible for you to enter in the dark. Regardless, this is a rather busy port and all the lights can make it easy to get confused as to where you are and make it easy to run into a marked obstacle because you thought you were somewhere else.
Most commonly, people will see the city lights and start heading straight for them. The issue is, all the lights to warn you about the jetties are actually inside the jetties, so from the outside, they appear dark. There are light houses however, located on the ends of the jetties, but these were not on my charts, making me very confused as I made my approach.
The safest way to enter the harbor is to find the string of red and green buoys that extend far out to sea and enter the channel out there. Once you are inside the channel, you will see the lights line up and this will allow you to make your way into the harbor.
We entered at buoy Red16, that way if I miscalculated anything, I would still have another set of markers before the jetties began. When you enter the jetties, it is very beneficial to do it with the tide in your favor.
The entire harbor and all the rivers that extend up from this area drain through these jetties and the speed of the current is astounding! We waited for slack water before entering and made our way through as the current began to pick up speed. As it did, so did our speed over ground as the current was pushing us along.
It is best to attempt such new inlets at slack water instead of when the current is rushing as there is no way to stop when the current is pushing you. If you are off course and going to hit an obstacle, you can easily alter course at slack water and navigate around it. When the current is pushing you, there is no slowing down as you are going to be pushed into the obstacle with a fair amount of speed and force.
Once you make it into the jetties, the journey is not over yet.
A popular anchorage is right across from the Coast Guard Station. The anchorage by the CG station is full of derelict boats and the holding is poor. Yet right across the river, the holding is wonderful and this seems to be where most people anchor.
Charleston does have many anchorages, but it seems that everyone recommends anchoring here, so we decided to come in and drop the hook in the proper location. We must say, the holding here gives us great peace of mind as we spend our days away from the boat exploring the town.
Now, once you make it in the jetties, you still have a long ways to go! The anchorage is 7.8 miles away from the inlet, but it ends up being more than 8 miles away when you navigate the harbor. All the lights of the harbor can make it easy to get confused where you are going and where you actually are, so be sure to study the charts ahead of time so that you are more familiar with the waters when you encounter them.
While I do not like to sail in the fog because we don't have radar, the fog was actually light enough to allow you to see into the distance, but dense enough to block out distant lights. This made the harbor seem much less daunting as the distant lights that are famous for confusing navigators was blocked out by the fog and obscured. This meant that I only saw the lights that truly pertained to us as we navigated.
Getting here was half the fun, now we need to get off the boat and explore the town!