Cruiser Quest October Assault on Hwy 16 Bridge, Oct. 2005

{{{Cruiser Quest October Assault on Hwy 16 Bridge}}} {{by Jimmy Harrell}} {{October 8-23, 2005}} On Saturday October 8, 2005 a group of determined sailors planned to meet at OSYC to try to sail all the way to within sight of the Highway 16 bridge near the Lake Oconee Dam. Plans were to leave OSYC at about 0900. (This was actually the fall back plan by the Lake Juliette Sailing Club’s scheduled trip to the St. Simons.) The group, Bob Horan, Jimmy and Charlotte Harrell, John and Sherry Davis, and Pete and Eric Ekstrom, met at the appointed hour to find a rainy and depressingly miserable day. We decided to wait and see what the weather did. The decision was made to leave OSYC about 1030. The weather had gotten marginally better and we would hope for the best. Winds were 6 to 10 mph out of the SW. Wind was good until we got to the main power lines across the Oconee Channel at about 1500, about 6 miles from OSYC. Wind died and it took us about an hour to go the 1.5 miles to Goat Island. We arrived at Crooked Creek at about 1646, to find that the restaurant had closed. So dinner was “eat what you brung”. Since the wind was a little better, we decided to sail until about 1800 and find a cove to anchor. We made it about 2.25 miles before the wind dropped until we were just barely moving faster than the current, so we pulled into a cove and anchored for the night. On October 9, we left the anchorage at about 0930 and headed up river toward Oconee Springs and hopefully on to the Highway 16 bridge. We arrived at Oconee Springs at about 1345. Bob Horan and I were attempting the trip without using the motor so we had to paddle or row the last mile or so to Oconee Springs. The Davises and Ekstroms had motored part of the way and were rested and relaxed by the time we got there. We rested, picked up a few items from the store, and one of the group took a shower. We had to make a decision. The wind was very light and the current was running, and it was too late to sail the remaining 5 miles to the Hwy 16 bridge. It was decided that we would turn around and head back and earn credit for a trip to Oconee Springs. At about 1430 we left Oconee Springs. We made it just past Crooked Creed by 1800. Bob Horan pulled into a cove for the night. By this time we had wind at about 7 to 10 mph and the rest of the group decided to sail farther. Charlotte and I decided to stop for the night at our house which is near the mouth of Rooty Creek. We arrived at about 1945. The Davises and Ekstroms were going to tie up at our dock, but had trouble finding it because of darkness and fog. They decided to motor onto their favorite cove across from Airport Island. Charlotte and I left our dock about 0840 on October 10 and sailed toward OSYC. We contacted Bob Horan by radio. He had an early start and was near Goat Island when we entered the Oconee channel. We arrived at OSYC at about 1115 and the others were already there. October 21-22, 2005 It was Friday, October 21 and the weekend forecast looked good for a sailing trip. I put out the word that I was planning a second assault on the Highway 16 bridge and invited all OSYC to join me. Charlotte and Greg Phillips said they would go. Grayson and Calvin Smith and Tommy Barker and Charlotte Harrell were maybes. Instructions were to meet at OSYC and be ready to leave by noon. The Phillips planned to leave by about 0900 and said that they would meet us somewhere on the water. I arrived at OSYC at about 0900 on Saturday, October 22, and started setting up the Capri 18. Charlotte Harrell had decided not to accompany me. I saw Greg and Charlotte Phillips rounding the club buoy at about 1000. We exchanged greetings, and they headed up river. My boat was in the water and ready to go at about 1100. Since the others had not arrived I figured that they had also decided not to go and left earlier than planned at 1115. There were white caps here and there so I estimated the wind to be about 12 mph out of the NW. By the time I got to the Power Lines the wind was well over 15 with gusts over 20. I had too much sail with the full main and the genny. The wind speed was not a problem but the gusts were rough. It took about 16 tacks to get to the Power Lines in about 1.25 hours. Greg had hove too and reefed his main. He already had up his small jib. Between Goat Island and Crooked Creek, I lowered the genny and sailed for a while under just main; I needed a little rest. After the rest, I decided to change to the smaller jib. Changing the headsail while single handing with that much wind was not easy. After about four trips between the cockpit, to correct direction, and the bow, I had the genny lashed to the foredeck and the 100 jib in place. The rest of the day was much more relaxing. We passed Crooked Creek at 1400 and Oconee Springs at 1500, roughly 4 hours since I left OSYC. This was 14 miles as a power boat travels from OSYC. Just past Oconee Springs, I caught up to Greg and Charlotte. I asked Greg if he knew the way or had a chart. I had not brought one, and I couldn’t see the map on my GPS. He did not have a chart and said that he thought I knew the way. I told him that I had been up that far once before about 15 year ago and I thought that we were going in the right direction. We decided to just do the best we could, stay between the banks and watch the depth sounder, and ask directions. Information from fishermen about how far it was to the bridge and where the shallow areas were was not very reliable. My GPS display has always been fairly dim but it seemed dimmer than usual and I could not see the map features. The channel is the same as the county lines and that usually showed up on the GPS map. (Later when the sun went down and I could see the screen better, I found that I had zoomed in so much that all the lake boundaries and other map features were off the screen. I felt dumb.) Shortly after passing Oconee Springs we came into a very wide area of the lake. We were over toward the left and the depth varied between 6 and 8 feet. I began to worry that the water might get too skinny before we sighted the bridge. I headed toward the right bank looking for the channel and found about 15 feet of water. I tried to stay in at least 10 feet by going back and forth. Greg just went up the middle since he had a retractable keel he did not much worry about shallow water and indeed had to crank up the keel several times during the trip. I drew only 2.5 feet but the keel was winged and fixed. I have heard that if you run a winged keel in semi-soft mud that it can act like an anchor. I have now given the wide place upstream from Oconee Springs a name, Shallow Sound. On we went. I kept an eye on the sounder and Greg staying in the middle. Shortly after I passed under another set of major power lines (now named the Upper Power Lines) the depth went from 15 feet to 5 between my glances at the sounder. The alarm went off and I rapidly made a crash jib and a U-turn. I waved Greg off the shallow area and started looking for deeper water. This time I found the channel which was over 20 feet deep. About 1 mile from the power lines, I rounded a bend and there was the bridge. It wasn’t much of a scenic thing to see, but it was sure good to finally find it. Greg and Charlotte arrived a few minutes after me. It was 1630 hours, a little over 5 hours since I left OSYC. The wind could not have been better. The travel direction from the Oconee Channel Power Lines to Highway 16 Bridge Sighting was mostly NE with the wind mostly out of the NW and backing to the West. We had very little tacking. After a few minutes we turned around and headed back hoping to make Oconee Springs before dark. We arrived at Oconee Springs at about 1820 and decided to keep on going. At about 1930, the wind died to just a whisper, and we were near the same anchorage we had used two weeks earlier. We ghosted in and by the time we set anchor, it was very dark with no moon light. We rafted up and prepared to fix dinner. Greg and Charlotte had brought barbeque which they shared with me. We also had hot chocolate with a little schnapps added. I had never had schnapps in hot chocolate before. That schnapps sure makes hot chocolate taste better. After swapping a few lies and talking about what the others were missing, we hit the sack about 2130. It was cool and quiet and I slept like a log. Sunday, October 23 was downright chilly. The night before I had forgotten to take the stove out of the lazarette so I had to climb out of the cabin in the cold and rummage for it. I set it up on the cabin sole and perked a pot of coffee. By the time the coffee was ready, the cabin was warm even with the hatch open. By the time the coffee was ready I noticed some activity in the other boat. Greg was cooking pancakes. He offered me some but I had already eaten two previously boiled eggs from the cooler, so I declined. He really knows how to cook and eat on a voyage. By 0900 breakfast was finished and we were ready to weigh anchor. Greg had already stowed his anchor when I realized that mine was stuck. Greg came back to help and with both of us pulling it would not budge. We then tied a loop around the rode and hooked it to Greg’s boat. We started both motors and pulled in opposite directions. Our thinking was that the loop would slide down to the anchor and then Greg could pull it out backwards. Well that didn’t happen. Turns out that the rode was tangled around a tree top and using the motors, we were able to pull the tree loose from the bottom and untangle the rode. It is amazing to me how the line got wrapped around so many little branches in such a twisted way. About 20 minutes later we were both under way. Wind was about 8 to 10 mph out of the NW and backing. We were able to sail for about 7 miles to the Power Lines before having to tack. The wind had by then dropped to very light and variable and was out of the SE. I had to tack under the Power Lines and around Hancock Point. From there to OSYC I did not have to tack but the wind was very light and the boats were moving slowly. It took about 3.5 hours to travel the last 5 miles back to the club where I arrived at about 1545. Greg and Charlotte were a little behind me and approaching Airport Island just as I passed the OSYC buoy. Th wind practically died and it took them about two hours longer to get to the buoy. We did it. We made it all the way without the motors except while trying to free my anchor. We each earned 400 Cruiser Quest points and for about 2 hours I was in the lead for the Cruiser of the Year award. I passed the buoy about 2 hours ahead of Greg and Charlotte. It felt really good to be on a part of the lake where I had not been sailing before. There were some fairly large open areas and quite a few secluded coves. In the past when I have been as far as Crooked Creek, I noticed that the water seemed to have a lot of trash and was muddy. On this trip, this changed as we got past Oconee Springs and closer to Lake Oconee Dam; the water appeared a lot cleaner and clearer. I plan to make this trip again if not this fall, certainly next spring. Meantime I plan to scout the area in my pontoon boat and locate and mark some of the better anchorages. Maybe OSYC could plan a multi-day cruise around one of the holidays next year. One more thing, it’s a good idea to have a radio on board to communicate with the other boats. We tried to use cell phones on this trip because Greg’s radio wouldn’t cooperate and found that cell phone coverage is poor to non-existent in this area. Waypoints and Distances Distance from OSYC to within sight of the highway 16 bridge following the Oconee river channel is about 19.5 miles one way or 39 miles round trip. Crooked Creek Marina (Restaurant Closed) 19.5 miles one way from OSYC N33 15.337 W83 15.546 Oconee Springs Park 14.6 miles one way from OSYC N33 16.880 W83 12.500 Upper Power Lines 18.6 miles one way from OSYC N33 18.461 W83 09.049 Highway 16 Bridge Sighting 19.5 miles one way from OSYC N33 19.269 W83 09.015 Anchorage 12.4 miles one way from OSYC N33 15.980 W83 13.297 Shallow Sound 16.6 miles one way from OSYC N33 17.681 W83 150.699