Return to Windmill Harbor

Trip Start Dec 01, 2007
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Flag of United States  , South Carolina
Saturday, April 26, 2008

We all have our favorite places and as Jimmy Buffett's some talks about "one particular harbor" we have ours.  Windmill Harbor is one of them.   Well for years we have had an affliction for Windmill Harbor on Hilton Head Island, SC.    We had wanted to make a stop at "windmill" on our return trip north and also to see our terrific friends Pat and Mike who live nearby.  So it was a double barreled treat to be able to accomplish it.

But one thing about cruising is that keeping to a schedule is hard to do and often proves to be counter productive.  We knew that Mike had a weekend commitment and our only shot to have dinner with these great folks was to make it into Windmill by Thursday afternoon.    This provided hard to predict. 

We had pretty much made the decision to stay 'inside' on the trip north from Cumberland Island.  It was a tough call as the winds and weather were not bad but we have enjoyed our prior trips through Georgia in the past, but  they had been too rushed.  This time we were determined to 'smell the roses...or marsh' as it will.  Now, many cruisers complain about going through Georgia.  Its true that there are many, many switchback creeks and streams that can add a lot of time to make a 100 miles going north.  Moreover there is a 1/4 mile long creek in Georgia that many know by name as "hells gate".   Its a small creek that you must transverse in going north and it has been known to ground many boats.  Its carries about 10' of water at high tide....but then there is that 8 foot drop to low tide.  If you read the cruising blogs, folks speak of this as if they had to get over Niagara Falls.  We have been through Hells Gate 3 times and have never encountered an issue.  Its simply a matter of knowing the tide at that point and planning your trip.  If you miss, you anchor for several hours.  If you do a stupid thing (see rules on not doing stupid things) you are going to ground...that's it.  Its not hard, just don't do stupid things!  So....committed not to do stupid things....we go forward.

The trip north is beautiful, golden sea grass, low islands, blue water, small homes in the distance.  Its a nice trip.  We even had a special reward.  On the way north, we tried to make it to the near the island of St Catherine, just near the ocean inlet of the same name.  There was this little creek I wanted to anchor in.  It looked great on the chart.  We were running really well, but darkness was coming in.  In order to make it to this spot, we would have to get about another 4 miles.  Let's 7 kts, that is nearly 45 minutes and it was 15 min before dark!  

Then we look at the chart and see that there is a "back door" to the creek which would get us in there much faster but it required us to cross a small patch of 4' water (per the chart).   Our trip computer showed the tide up 1 foot from mean low water with several more feet to go.  Sue and I both looked at each other and said "lets go for it".  So at idle speed we head for the shoal bar on the opening of the creek off the about 3 minutes we glided over the spot with a foot to spare.   Then we both cheer as we see the depth sounder showing deeper and deeper...good water.   We were rewarded with an ideal anchorage.  And as the sun set, we poured cocktails and enjoyed perfect views down the marsh with no one in sight.  This was terrific.  In fact, it was surely one of the best anchorages we have ever had in the south.  My only regret was that we were not in by 1600 to have a full evening in this terrific anchorage.

But in looking at tomorrows run to Hilton Head, the outlook was not so good.  It appeared that the outside run (leaving St Catherine's inlet) was not advisable due to small craft warnings and it also looked like we would have an adverse current all the way.  We would never make the Hilton Head run to see our good friends for dinner.  So I made the cell call to Mike and let him know it was not going to happen.  Nuts.

Sue and I slept well in this perfect place, but by 6am began to stir.  Could we still make it if we left early and poured on the 'coal' (fuel)?  OK, we got up and got going.  So, by 0700, we were quietly motoring out of this ideal place hoping to find better currents than expected on the 70 mile trip north.

Currents are a major factor in cruising inside (and in many cases outside).  Many beginning cruisers find they have little experience in dealing or managing them.  The really hard part of planning your travel on the waterway in Georgia is the changes.  As you approach an inlet on the flood, you will face a current and enjoy and favorable flow on the other side of the inlet.  So speed is hard to predict.  As we found this day, we encountered more favorable currents than expected.  So by noon it was pretty clear that we had a chance make Windmill Harbor by 1800 and still hear that cork pop on the bottle of wine we were sure awaiting us with our good friends.    

We were sure our friends would think us flakes as now we called to inform them..."surprise, yes we are coming after all.  I think we can make it".   To the non-cruiser (read golfer) such behavior would surely seem flaky at best.   But Mike, being the good guy he is, took it all in stride.  "Ok, but gosh we already changed our plans about breakfast tomorrow?".   This works fine and Sue and I get the boat tied up in Windmill Harbor by 1800.....after a long day we were tired and after a good martini I fell asleep.

Windmill Harbor is a fabulous place.  Its a locked residential marina rimmed by tall trees and European style town homes.   You go in via a mechanical lock which rises or lowers your vessel by 1-3 feet.  Once inside, you see perhaps 200 vessels tied up in slips.  Last time, we had a normal slip and I backed in normally.  This time, the dock-master assigned us to a more challenging slip.  A place deep in the harbor alongside a concrete bulkhead.  My usual macho about docking the boat (new this season) began to falter.  "A concrete bulkhead at the  end of a fairway"?  Ok, Ill try.   In order to execute this more, I had to turn the boat sharply and get the stern well lined up while not scraping into the concrete wall!   Now, Sue thinks I can do anything with this boat....not true.  As I know from boo-boos  a year ago, one bad docking can ruin a good day, week or year.  

There was no time to get nervous as the dock hand was taking his golf cart around to the spot and before I knew it we we going slowly down this narrow fairway.  He is standing at the end pointing to what looks like a tight slip adjacent to this massive wall of concrete. what?  First Forty is a single screw vessel with a bow thruster.  You have to get it right the first time.  My secret weapon: a $9 book I bought on EBay called "docking under power".   This 1/4" book had dozens of docking scenarios diagrammed with various strategies based on direction, wind and current.   This book taught me the a counter intuitive skill: goose the boat in forward in order to kick the stern into position.  Trust me, this take courage when your 25 ton vessel is moving fast toward (in this case) a concrete wall!  I have to goose the boat in forward when I am feet away from the concrete wall.  Once you goose her, you have to get off and get into reverse fast or you are likely go hit something hard.  This you must do when every part of your brain is saying...stop, slow, use reverse, watch out.   OK.  I'm moving in...10' away, 8' away.....I spin the wheel, I goose it forward, back down and the stern responds perfectly as we glide into the tight space.   "Like a hand in a glove, skipper", states the dock hard.  This has taken practice to execute and felt really good to get right.  We were in.

So we see our great friends for breakfast, rent a car and enjoy the great restaurants of Hilton Head for two days.  A good time was had, but on Saturday afternoon we exit the lock under threat of thunder storms.  We continue our trek north.

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