C'est la Vie is a 1966 Charlie Morgan 34.

Her home port is Everglades City, FL. Our typical cruising area is Southwest Florida, the Florida Keys, the Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, and the Bahamas. We are C'est la Vie's third owners and purchased her in 2005. We continue to maintain and update this classic vessel. Please post any questions or comments about C'est la Vie or our travels via the comment links below.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Skinny Water (a.ka. playing the tides along the inside route)

The route along the banks side of the Berry Islands is a series of deep water pockets associated with cuts that open to the Northwest Providence Channel connected by shallow channels tidal currents cut through the sand banks of the Ambergris Sand Bore. 

The deep water areas average 3 to 5 meters (9 to 15 feet).  The sneaks between the pockets are charted down to ½ meter (1.5 feet).  The charted depths are provided at the Mean Low Water (MLW or average low tide).   The tidal range in the Berry’s is approximately 1 meter.  Thus a ½ meter channel at high tide will be 1.5 meters (4.5 feet deep).

C’est la Vie draws 3’8” (1.2 meters).  The only way for us to transit the area is to time our passage with the high tides.  Fortunately the water is typically crystal clear and allows mariners to rely heavily on visually piloting through shallow areas (see yesterday’s post for more information)  Visually piloting is best on calm clear day with the sun over head or behind.  Visual piloting is impossible to reckless when facing into the sun, in low light, or when the water is silted out.

The day began wonderfully.  We sailed off the anchor behind Bond’s Cay and used the morning ebb tide to navigate the 1.8 meter deep channel that out to deeper water off Alders Cay.  

East winds meeting ebbing tides made our entrance into the narrow channel between Cabbage Cay and Little Harbor Cay bouncy, but once behind the high crags of Little Harbor the sea quickly relaxed.  The approaching low tide prevented us from continuing north along Comfort Cay.  The next stretch of water looked to be the most daunting of our entire time in the Berrys.  According to the charts we now faced 1/2 NM of visual piloting in waters less than a meter at low water.  

We set the anchor in a small pocket of deep water just off the southern tip of Lizard Cay.  While waiting for the flooding tide we ate some lunch and then set out in Rosebud to recon our path.  Friends on SV Carina gave us a Vexilar hand held depth sounder.  It looks like an old school flashlight, runs on one 9 volt battery, and allows us to take soundings while traveling in the dinghy… brilliant.  Running a zigzag pattern through the area we plotted a few key “deep water” waypoints on the handheld GPS.  By the time we returned to C’est la Vie the flood tide had added about of foot of depth in the anchorage.  Another hour and we should be ready to go for it.

Before we felt comfortable striking out a squall line drove us out of our wee day anchorage.  Not yet ready to attempt the shallow water off Comfort Cay we elected to run into the protected anchorage behind Little Harbor Cay.  We knew this area to be shallow, but the charts denote the channel carries at least a meter of water at low tide.   We now know this to be in error. 
We assumed our Visual Piloting Positions (VRP) with myself at the bow and Anne at the helm.  I began assessing the scene while Anne followed the chart plotter into the area noted 2 meters.  This looked all wrong to me and I began to frantically signal Anne to turn hard to port.  My signaling was for naught as Anne began entranced by the beeping and every diminishing numbers of our depth sounder.  By the time I was able to draw her attention away from the screen I felt C’est la Vie’s bow lurch upward. 

As the squall worked past in frenzy we sat and looked at the 2.9 foot reading on our depth sounder.   Fortunately the bottom was reasonably soft and the wave action nil.  Soon the flooding tide began buoy C’est la Vie and we could feel her slipping across the bottom.  We ran out the genny to heel her to starboard and throttled up the engine.   A few more anxious minutes of churning sand and bouncing across the bottom and C’est la Vie ran free 4 feet of water.  Once the genny was stowed I headed back to the bow.  Despite incessant beeping from our shallow water alarm, Anne now did a fine job of ignoring the instruments and remaining focus on my signals from the bow. 
Our plan was to pick up one of the mooring provide by Flo’s Conch Shack, the only business establishment within a day’s sail. We were dismayed to find most of the anchorage was shoaled to less than two meters at best.  While focused on rigging lines to pick up a mooring and again grounded C’est la Vie on a shallow grass patch in the anchorage.  Again we sat and waited for the rising tide to carry us off.  By this time we had had our fill of this area and were confident we would fine better fortunes in the route scouted earlier in the day.  We inched our way back to our earlier day anchorage the depth sounder never bested 4.5 feet until we once again rounded the end of Lizard Cay.

Our original scouted route…. No sweat.  I used the way points plotted on our dinghy recon and the depth only dipped below 5 feet for a few seconds. 
Would we have been better off going for our original route in the face of the squall?  Should we have attempted to ride out the squall on our day anchor?  Who knows?  Fortunately our afternoon adventures only resulted in C’est la Vie losing a few layers of bottom paint.

C'est la Vie anchored off the north end of Little Harbor Cay

We found a pleasant anchorage with fine holding in soft sand on the north tip of Little Harbor Cay.  The beach on nearby Devil’s Cay proved a good escape from C’est la Vie.

Anne strolling the beach on Devil's Cay

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