Daily Archives: December 2, 2012

Stretching our legs in Charleston

I’m a walker, and it’s a good thing, too, because living on a boat and without a car you end up walking a lot. Long walks to the grocery or to tour a city give us much needed exercise and also make for a more intimate experience with a place. We were first here last December during our initial boat-shopping grand tour to see a lovely catamaran named Suzanne. Jack went all gaga, I liked the way she looked outside but not the accommodations, specifically the bathrooms. Jack wanted to put an offer in right away and I wanted to wait and see more boats before I settled for something that didn’t ring my chimes. In any event, we didn’t spend any time in Charleston because we had to high-tail it to our next boat-for-sale.

This time, with the anchor down securely and a short nap behind us we took a reconnaissance lap with Alan from Snow White and made the obligatory coffee shop visit to plan our stay here. On Friday, with Alan feeling a little under the weather, Jack and I set off to explore by foot. We had both read South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s love letter to his hometown and were eager to explore. Right away we could see that this is the best kind of walkable city, where a turn down any street reveals stately houses and lovely gardens. Every gate beckoned toward landscaped alleyways showing a hint of what may lie just beyond our sight.





We wandered over to the City Market. Markets are my favorite place to go everywhere we travel. You can get a sense of a place easier in the market than anywhere else. This one is mostly local artists and craftspeople and very little food, unfortunately, but still, we walked from one end to the other, oohing and ahhing over the wares. We’ve never been souvenir-buyers and are doubly not now that we’re living on a boat, but we appreciate the skill and creativity of those who make a living making beautiful things with their hands. We especially enjoyed the women making sweet grass baskets, since we had seen a PBS episode of Craft in America about this art form. (This is a wonderful series about all kinds of American arts and crafts — worth watching!)



One of the few food vendors had this for sale:


I was taking a photograph when the vendor asked if I’d like to try it. I let out an unintentional gasp of revulsion and said, “Oh my goodness, no. I’m from the north! We don’t do that!” He smiled and said, “That’s right, I forgot.” I could have been more diplomatic, I guess, but I had just seen this and it had turned all of the good things I’d been feeling about Charleston slightly sour.


Not long after that we were meandering down Broad Street when we saw a horse drawn carriage of re-enacters on a tour of the city.


Again, my reaction was revulsion and swift. There were two men on the corner hanging Christmas decorations, one on a ladder, one on the ground. When the light changed and the carriage passed by I turned to the man standing near me.

“That gives me the creeps. Does that give you the creeps?” I asked him. Both men were black.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Up north,” I said and he nodded.

“That’s why.” I was puzzled. Did he mean he was used to it?

The man on the ladder was half listening and asked, “Where did you say you were from?”

“Pittsburgh,” Jack said. “Go Steelers.”

The response was revulsion and swift.

“I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan. Step away from my ladder.” And then he laughed.

We waved and continued on our way. You don’t argue with a man on a ladder wielding a Christmas wreath.

There were galleries and more homes and gardens, enough to fill up weeks of wandering.





Eventually we made our way to Waterfront Park, where there are beautiful cast bronze maps showing the growth of the city by century.


We ended our day at a gem of a cafe with tasty croissants and the New York Times. It doesn’t get any better.



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Passage to Charleston, in English

Even though this was only a one-day ocean passage, there were many factors to take into consideration when we planned it. When you drive somewhere you really only have to calculate how long it will take you based on how far it is and how fast you will drive. On a boat there are a couple of other important things to factor in. First and most important is the wind. Most non-sailors probably think the sails are like big bed sheets you hang up so the wind will push you toward your destination. In fact, the sails are more like airplane wings and the difference in pressure created by the air flowing on either side of the sails is what pulls the boat forward. You can read probably more than you want to know here.

We watched the weather reports, focusing on wind predictions, and saw that last Wednesday the wind was predicted to be from the northwest at 10-15 knots. This is a fairly light wind for most sailors, but we just repaired the mainsail and we wanted to take it easy on the first few times out so we could evaluate the repairs and look for any more potential issues in conditions where it wouldn’t be under too much stress. Also, the angle of the wind was favorable relative to our expected course. You can go almost anywhere on a sailboat, but you can’t sail directly into the wind.

The other important factors we needed to consider were the tides, both in the place we were leaving and in Charleston. If the tide was against us in either place we would be fighting a current pushing us away from where we wanted to go. And if the wind and current are moving in opposite directions, you can have a nasty chop that makes being on a boat an uncomfortable proposition. Izzy and I don’t like that at all.

I checked the tide tables to see when it would be best to leave Southport, and I also checked the tables for Charleston to see when a good arrival window would be. Then I did some calculations. If we were sailing at 6 knots it would take us so many hours, at 5 knots this many, at 4 knots that many, and so on. We chose our departure time accordingly and figured depending on the wind speed we’d arrive in Charleston between 7am and 12pm. Perfect. You never want to arrive in port in the dark if you can help it.

We had a perfect passage out the Cape Fear River with the outgoing tide pushing us along. When we got out into the ocean we discovered the wind was from the northeast, not northwest, so it was directly behind us instead of beside us. That meant we were going downwind, and this is the slowest point of sail. Seems counterintuitive, but downwind is the only time the wind is actually pushing you and you’re not taking advantage of the airfoil capabilities of the sails. You can see an overview of points of sail here.

We initially sailed “wing and wing,” which means one sail was way out on one side of the boat, the other sail way out on the other side. This is normally a pleasant, but not particularly fast, point of sail. I thought, if this keeps up my arrival predictions go out the window. But after a while, the wind came around to where it was predicted, from the northwest. On our course, that meant the wind was blowing over the side of the boat, or abeam. So both sails went out over the other side of the boat and were now functioning in their most efficient capacity, as airfoils. And we went fast. Oh no! I hadn’t calculated for 7 knots, let alone 8! That meant we would arrive in Charleston hours before we wanted to. But it was so enjoyable to be sailing after all the worry about our mainsail and all the motoring we’ve done since we bought EV, we just sat back and enjoyed the ride for hours.

I kept checking the weather reports and they said the wind would drop sometime in the evening so we decided to let EV strut her stuff figuring we’d eventually have to motor into Charleston. But the wind never died down. By midnight we were only an hour away from turning into the approach to Charleston harbor so I altered course a bit, taking us more downwind (slower) and away from Charleston (more distance.) But still, we’d arrive before daylight.

Finally, when Jack came on watch we reduced sail. In this case that meant we took down (doused) the jib, the one in the front, and we reduced the mainsail size (reefed) by rolling up most of it on our window-shade-like furler. That left us with just a small triangle of mainsail up and that finally cut our speed down to 4.5-5 knots. Still pretty fast, considering.

We probably should have reduced sail before nightfall when it’s easier to see what you’re doing and had a slower sail overnight, but sailors are almost always reluctant to do that when conditions are good and the boat is under control and moving well. We just kept thinking the wind was going to die down and we’d get as far as we could before we had to start the engines and motor in.

As it turned out, the combination of altering course and shortening sail put us into the harbor at daybreak, perfectly timed to have enough light to pick a good spot to drop the anchor. And then the Coast Guard spotted us. They were friendly and polite but we so wanted to go to sleep!

All in all, it was a good test for the repaired mainsail, which looks good except for the missing #4 batten, and we love how well EV sails, at least in optimum conditions. We know it won’t always be that way but we’ll enjoy it whenever it is.





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