Damn you shoals. Damn you all to hell.

29 Nov

shoal /SHōl/ An area of shallow water, esp. as a navigational hazard.

As we make our way down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) a couple of things have become apparent.

When crossing a large body of water, such as our 90 mile trip down the Pamlico Sound, you can safely assume that when the weather forecast calls for 10-15 knot winds, what you will really run into is 25 to 35 knot winds. (As well as large choppy waves. Oh…and the wind will be blowing directly in your face the whole way down)

Another thing that one will realize as they trek down the waterway is that nautical charts are pretty meaningless when shoaling is involved. Our “exciting” discovery of this fact manifested itself big time when we made our way out of Hampstead, North Carolina.

I should mention that our boat’s draft (the lowest point below the waterline) is 3.5 feet. This is particularly nice because we can get into shallower spots than many other sailboats that have drafts of 5-8 feet. If you draft of 5 feet and try to get into a section of a river, bay, etc., that has only 4.9 feet of water in it, well, you will get stuck.

The Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for dredging the ICW so that there is a minimum depth that boats can count on. I think it’s somewhere around 12 feet deep, if I am not mistaken. Regardless, throw that factoid right out the window because when mother nature is involved, all bets are off.

Anyway, back to OUR trip. We motored out of the marina in Hampstead about 9 AM yesterday morning on our way to Southport, NC. The sun was finally shining and all was right with the world. We met a nice family on a trimaran who were traveling down to the Bahamas. They left about 30 minutes before we did so they could make an earlier bridge opening. I am so glad that they were nice because they called us and said to be very careful around buoy 99a because it got REAL shallow REAL quick. When I got this message on my phone I looked at the chart and realized that 99a was within a few minutes of our location. As we approached the green buoy I started to watch our depth sounder. Within about 500 feet of the buoy my depth was hovering between 15 and 16 feet. No problem! We have a draft of 3.5 feet so we have a good 11-12 feet of water between us an the bottom. 200 feet of the green buoy it dropped to 9 feet. No big deal. 100 feet out we were at 6 feet (sweat particles started to form on my forehead). I dropped the throttle down to idle so that, if we did run aground, I wouldn’t “auger in” and be required to call TowBoat US to haul us off. 40 feet away – 5 feet. 10 feet away – 4.8 feet. 5 feet away 3.9 feet (holy SH$%!). As we passed the buoy we were at 3.5 feet. We must have been scraping the bottom at this point. Robin was at the bow looking into the water and she could clearly see the sandy bottom. There was nothing to do but idle forward and hope that we would not come to a halt against our will. I had already run aground the day before (Read Robin’s article) and I did not want to repeat that process.

Beware of Buoy 99a!

Neptune must have been in a good mood because the sounder gave me a reading of 3.6, 4.0, 6.0, and back up to 9 feet. We made it. Barely. I learned some huge lessons that day. Always check the Army Corp of Engineers website for information regarding the nasty shoaling that is prevalent on the ICW and always try to time your trip through inlets (where shoaling is most likely to occur) at high tide if you can.

Now to plan tomorrows trip…through MORE shoals.

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