Recap: Dark Clouds Ahead

Early morning departure from Wrightsville Beach

I left the marina (review: definite thumbs up) in Wrightsville Beach at just before 7:30 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 20. The ICW was pretty much deserted that time of day and that time of year which, to be honest, was kinda nice. It was chilly but nothing major so I basically just putt-putted my way south. I had a nice following current all the way down to the Cape Fear River, where my luck ran out: a stiff northerly breeze drove straight into an incoming tide, creating choppy, square waves that jarred Further and slowed our progress to a crawl.

Until we turned out of the natural body of water that is the Cape Fear River near its mouth and into the man-made canal that makes up much of the ICW. AT that point, the tide was again at Further’s stern and we cruised more westerly than southerly.

And not long after lunchtime I turned Further into a slip at the Holden Beach Marina, where we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening, chatting at length with Antonio, an octogenarian local who spends each winter in the Bahamas with his wife aboard their trawler. Antonio gave me some info about what was coming ahead on the ICW in terms of shallow spots, marinas and so forth. Further’s slip doubled as the fuel dock so while I was there I also topped off the diesel tank because, hey, ya never know.

Unfortunately, that slip was also a bit shallow, so when dawn broke and the tide was low, Further wasn’t going anywhere: her keel was in the mud. Not much, but enough that I wasn’t going to push things. But it wasn’t really a big deal since the destination that day was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., only about 35 miles down the waterway.

At 10 a.m., with enough water now in the slip, I fired up Further’s engine and backed out of the slip. This is a good time to point out that the propeller beneath Further’s hull spins in a counter-clockwise direction, which means that at slow speeds, when the prop is taking a thick bite of the water, the stern of the boat is pulled toward the port (left-hand looking forward) side—an attribute in every propeller known as “prop walk.” Conversely, in reverse, Further‘s prop “walks” to the right—which worked out nicely coming out of the fuel dock in Holden Beach: the prop pulled the stern of the boat east and pointed our nose the opposite way, right in the direction we wanted to go.

The thing was: that little problem I mentioned back in Norfolk—an inability to shift into forward gear quickly and easily—had been showing up more and more frequently coming down the ditch. And here in Holden Beach, it was majorly pronounced. In fact, it took me a good 10 minutes to get the transmission to engage and get going. Ten whole minutes. Seriously.

Christmas on the ICW…South Carolina style

And it would get worse. On a day in which the weather deteriorated steadily, I hailed the draw bridges at the north end of Myrtle Beach while trailing some big power cruisers that had passed us a short while earlier. Those boats were staged waiting for the opening at the first bridge and I was able to time it right: I glided in and fell into line just behind them as they passed through. But at the second bridge things got stacked up, enough that I had to put Further into reverse and back away from those boats who were also being blown by the wind toward the still-closed bridge. And when the bridge did finally open, I struggled to get the transmission into gear. It took so long that the bridge tender announced the closing of the bridge and forced me to cry out on the radio that I was still on my way. The tender apologized, saying she had forgotten about Further, and held the bridge long enough for me to finally get the boat in gear and going, but this was really getting to be an issue.

And as I passed uneventfully (thank goodness) through a stretch of the ICW known as “The Rockpile” (which Antonio had kindly given me some great reconnaissance on) and three of the power boats slowed down to enter the same marina I was headed to, I was again forced to take the engine out of gear, with the predictable results when the rain and wind started turning really ugly. I almost got blown onto the rocks in a couple of places, but finally limped into the Grande Dunes Marina, maneuvering mostly in reverse into my assigned slip.

I secured Further and called it a day. But clearly, two days before Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach, the transmission problem had become untenable.