I really don’t like to travel on weekends now, especially holiday weekends, but I figured the memory of Hermine might keep some people off the water, and besides, we needed to get home. Early Sunday morning, we left Lady Island Marina, Factory Creek and the Lady Island Bridge behind us as we slowly chugged down the Beaufort River past Parris Island. Once again, the current was against us. We crossed Port Royal Sound below Parris Island to Skull Creek behind the north end of Hilton Head Island, then down the creek to Calibogue Sound, where we picked up a little bit of current. Now out in some big water alongside Hilton Head Island, we encountered our first concentration of holiday boaters. The traffic remained heavy as we entered the Cooper River and passed the ferry landing on Daufuskie Island, but dissipated quickly once past the landing. We did not turn down Ramshorn Creek to follow the ICW south, but instead stayed in the Cooper River for another mile to an anchorage we had used several times before. Now comfortably on the hook, I had to spend a good bit of time tending to my wounds. The abrasions were still oozing under the bandages, and I needed to air them out so they would scab over. It was sunny and warm, and as the sun dropped lower it became very hot in the cockpit. I put up the Breeze Booster over the v-berth hatch, and that improved airflow through the boat. But when the tide turned, we swung away from the wind and the chute would no longer work. I put up a tarp on the bows for the bimini and got a little bit of shade in the cockpit, but it was still uncomfortable until the sun finally went down.
Monday being Labor Day, we expected to run into some heavy traffic. In addition to that, we had some tricky spots to negotiate, as well as crossing the shipping channel in the Savannah River. We ticked off the challenges as we moved south, and didn’t have a problem with any of them. Watts Cut. Fields Cut. The Savannah River. Elba Cut. The Causton Bluff Bridge. It felt good to be back in Georgia, even if we were about a month earlier than we wanted it to be. Only four more travel days to reach home. The area around Thunderbolt was clogged with holiday traffic, but we kept a constant speed and managed to get through without a problem. We passed Isle of Hope and crossed under the new Skidaway Narrows Bridge. We picked up some more traffic on the Vernon River south of Skidaway Island, but it wasn’t too bad. Our new charts helped us get through Hells Gate without difficulty, and the Florida Passage was a piece of cake. We pulled into Big Tom Creek in the middle of the afternoon and worked our way upstream to the anchorage we had used on our way north. Of course, this time, there were crab pots in our charted spot, so we had to make some adjustments. I circled around to measure our distances, and found a spot where we had enough room, but the depth was a little more than I would have liked. Still, the weather was calm, meaning I didn’t need to put out a lot of rode, so I dropped the hook in 15 feet of water two hours before low tide, and let out 80 feet of chain. There was absolutely nothing around us except for the sunshine and the marsh grass. I put up a tarp to shade the cockpit from the low sun, pulled out my chartbook and completed my route planning for the rest of the trip home. South of Beaufort, all our stops were or will be in anchorages that are familiar. We move from here (Big Tom Creek) to the Duplin River behind Sapelo Island, then on to Brunswick and Saint Marys.
We got underway Tuesday after going through our morning checklist. There was a higher than normal water level in the bilge sump, and there was still some oil on top of it. It appeared that the first stage bilge pump — which I had replaced just two months ago — was not consistently working. I wasn’t too worried about it, though, because I knew the second stage pump was working fine. I was worried about where the extra water was coming from. I was confident that there were no hull leaks, so that left either the stuffing box or the hose connections for the fresh water system as the source. I checked the stuffing box. The bilge under it was wet, but it was not dripping. This was not a serious problem, but something we needed to keep an eye on. I tossed another oil absorbent pad into the sump and we prepared to leave. We hauled the anchor just after low tide and headed for the Duplin River, with only a few shallow spots along the way to worry about. Once again, our new SonarCharts helped tremendously. There was practically no traffic, so the trip was smooth and peaceful. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the coastal marshes. Some think they’re boring. I find them soothing, gently motoring though a sea of grass. I know they don’t offer much protection from bad weather, but on a warm sunny day where you can see for miles, with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away, it is a great place to be. Until a buzzer goes off. Suzy alerted me to the warning buzzer in the salon. It was the second stage bilge pump. This wasn’t a problem. The buzzer just indicated that the pump had been activated. I checked the sump to make sure the pump was working — it was — then checked the stuffing box. The turning prop shaft was slinging water. The floorboard hatch was wet on the under side. This was obviously where the extra water was coming from. Due to the amount of water, I couldn’t be sure if the leak was with the stuffing box or the stern tube. I had repaired the stern tube a couple months ago, but it couldn’t really be fixed until we hauled the boat again. In any event, the bilge pumps could handle the trickle of water, and we could wait until we anchored this evening to work on it. The second stage pump quickly got the water level in the sump under control, and we were fine. We arrived at our Duplin River anchorage in the early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to investigate the bilge issue. There were three main concerns: 1) water was getting into the boat from the stuffing box area; which was 2) flushing oil from under the engine into the bilge sump; and 3) the first level bilge pump wasn’t working properly. The oil in the pan under the engine was leaking from old gaskets. The engine was probably due for some heavy maintenance. The water, it turned out, was coming from the repaired hose at the stern tube, though the stuffing box was likely due for repacking also. Both these things could be handled best at our next haul out, and we were only a few days from home. Nothing to do now but keep an eye on them. After a bit of rest, I stuck the fuel tank, and found the fuel level down by about twenty gallons. We’d run the engine for 21 hours since last filling the tank, so our fuel consumption was about normal at around a gallon per hour at 2000 rpm. I emptied our jerry cans into the fuel tank, bringing the fuel level to around 30 gallons, which would be plenty to get us to Saint Marys; however, I decided we should probably top off at the fuel dock in Brunswick, since that would be easier than waiting until we got home, especially since we also needed to pump out in Brunswick. I tried to take a nap, but was too restless. I turned on our hotspot to check weather, Facebook and email, but we had no service beyond basic cell phone coverage. So, I called Morningstar Marina at Golden Isles in Brunswick to ask about fuel and to confirm pump-out. While talking to the dockmaster, I asked about securing an overnight spot on the fuel dock, which would allow us to fuel up and pump out on Thursday morning instead of Wednesday afternoon. I wanted the boat to have as much fuel and as little waste aboard as possible when we got home. The dockmaster told me that he couldn’t guarantee a spot on the dock, because Hurricane Hermine had done considerable damage to the marina. I would have to check tomorrow. By this time, I was worn out. Didn’t want to do anything. Didn’t want to go anywhere. Didn’t want to take two more days to get back to Saint Marys. Didn’t want to have to drive to Birmingham for my mom’s funeral. Didn’t want to have to clean out her house. Finally, the bell rang at five o’clock. Time for wine.