In our May issue, George Sass Sr. reported on the first half of his journey down the Intracoastal Waterway — from Annapolis, Maryland, to Beaufort, South Carolina — aboard a Corvette 340 (“Doing the Ditch, Part I”). Fair weather, a fine boat and many scenic stops along the way provided an adventure that was only regrettable for its quick pace in the race against winter. The second half of the trip would not prove as easy.
With new crew, I departed Beaufort in early December during unseasonably cold weather. Daytime temperatures were in the low 30s, so we wanted to get south as quickly as possible. But the next 450 miles would present new challenges — there were reports of three- to five-foot depths in the middle of some channels at low tide.
Although the Corvette draws only 3 feet 3 inches, we kissed the bottom after wandering a couple of feet out of the channel near Mile 555 on our way to Isle of Hope, Georgia. Luckily we were running only 7 knots, and we bounced back into deeper water without incident. Exiting the narrow Fields Cut and entering the Savannah River, we saw only one foot under our keel at midtide in the middle of the channel. Soon after, we heard a call for a towing service from a sailboat that had run aground in the same spot.
We arrived at the friendly Isle of Hope Marina (www.iohmarina.com) in late afternoon and queued up for fuel — this is the only fuel stop for the next 90 miles. Isle of Hope is a convenient base from which to explore Savannah, because a city bus stops near the marina. Proving that Southern hospitality really exists, the owner of the marina drove us to an excellent restaurant nearby, and the restaurant’s hostess drove us back.
A meeting of other cruisers heading south convened at sunrise to discuss getting through Hell Gate, the narrow cut between the Vernon and Ogeechee Rivers, notorious for its shoaling and fast current. The trick here is to approach it at a mid and rising tide and to keep an eye on the markers behind you, staying lined up in the channel and not letting the strong, sideways current push you onto the shoals.
Our next challenge, 50 miles south, was Little Mud River, a five-mile stretch of curves and bends that hasn’t been dredged in years because of budgets and environmental issues. There are reports of three-foot areas, and while our timing for Hell Gate was spot on, we now needed to slow down and wait for a rising tide. Luckily for us, a Fleming 55 with its 5-foot draft was directly ahead of us, and we eagerly followed in its wake. After making it through, the captain told us he had about six inches under his keel in spots.