Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What You Don't See Can Hurt You!

This is a typical low-country creek at low tide, viewed from the causeway onto Callawassie Island
Those mounds of "pluff mud" are covered with oysters, and their shells are sharp! If you 
hit one at speed and get ejected, there will be blood.

Our tidal creeks are beautiful and full of hazards. The swirling currents of our 6 to 9-foot tides create deep holes down to 50 feet or more--here--and oyster reefs just under the surface there. With no rhyme or reason beyond fluid dynamics, these hazards are everywhere. When a rising tide covers them with a few inches of water, they are hidden.

Mike Neal owns Bull River Cruises and gave me my start in the tour business.  He is involved with movie production and took me up Groves Creek near Priest Landing last year. He was showing me where boat scenes from Gemini Man were filmed.  We were there on a flooding tide and at idle speed. 

Mike passed on a good strategy for exploring uncharted creeks. "If you want to go exploring a creek, go in shortly after a low tide, with more water becoming available shortly to float you off if you get stuck. You can better see the layout of the bottom then. Go slow!"

I would recommend a neap-low versus a spring-low so that you have some water available shortly after the low tide, but can still see the bars, mounds, and oyster-reefs or rakes.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Having someone along to draw a picture of the creek (with the hazards noted) and the route to follow, or just to take pictures, will help you on future trips. You will want your motor trimmed up part-way, but with more up-trim available should you need to stop and back off of a rising bottom. Go as slowly as you can while maintaining control. A lookout posted in the bow can help you spot hazards before you hit them--and be mindful that oysters will destroy your fiberglass finish if you run across them. Water leaving a creek near low tide will form a deeper channel. It may be in the middle, or it may hug one bank or the other. It probably won't follow a straight line but will wind back and forth across the width of the flood area. The outside of a curve is usually deeper, but not always. 

At high tide, the creek pictured above has enough water to go where you want, but clearly, the hazards become a problem as the tide falls. You don't want to get stuck in any creek on a falling tide unless you have hours to spare. 

Since you can't see where the hazards lie at high tide, that's not really the best time to go in somewhere new. And there might be a bar or rake high enough to stop you even on a high tide. Plotting a safe course (if one exists) on a rising tide is your best bet. 

Take care, and enjoy the scenery!

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