2 December 2021: The Infamous “Rock Pile”


2 December 2021

Departure point

Calabash Creek, SC, USA

arrival point

South Santee River, SC, USA

distance (NM)

32 NM

Cumulative Mileage (NM)

997 NM

Crew on Board


Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!





Not a cloud in sight!


B-E-A-U-T-IFUL!  At least compared to how it has been up to this point!


Dry, thank goodness!


Today’s sail was planned exclusively around one thing: getting through the “Rock Pile” during reasonable daylight hours.  

The rock pile is a couple mile stretch on the intercoastal waterway that was pure granite.   When the US Army Corp created the waterway, they blasted through the granite leaving a narrow channel.    On either side of the channel are very shallow cliff like walls with very little warning (i.e. watching your depth sounder getting slowly shallower) where you would immediately run aground and likely cause some boat damage.   

This section of the waterways I wanted to pass at low tide so I could see where these walls were and not just worry and hope!  

The procedure as your approach the rock pile is to radio your intentions on the two main channels: Channel 16 (always) and Channel 13 (a more waterway specific channel).   

The are three levels of increasing urgency for a radio call:

  • Securite (pronounced ‘Securitay’) – which is really just an information bulletin of sorts for mariners, the coast guard is always issuing securites
  • Pan Pan – this means you have an emergency on board but human life is not in immediate danger
  • May Day – everyone has heard this one, this means an immediate threat to human life

In this case, a securite warning is given.   So a quick: 

“Securite, securite, securite this is southbound sailing vessel Tala, Tala, Tala entering the Rock Pile.   Monitoring Channel 13 and Channel 16 for any concerned traffic.” 

I also have the added comfort of having AIS both transmitting (knowing other vessels with AIS can see I am entering the rock pile) and receiving (being able to check my AIS device to see if any northbound vessels transmitting are entering the south side).    Though neither are a guarantee as many vessels do not transmit their location on AIS, however, it was really the wide barges that I was worried about and as commercial vessels it is likely they would be transmitting and therefore likely I would see them if they were coming.   

This leg was luckily uneventful other than one motor vessel passing me, also southbound but faster than me.    The channel really is wide enough for two small vessels and it is really just the wide barges that would take up the whole channel that you need to worry about (though I feel like the polite thing is just to transit single file until you are through the narrow section, this vessel did not even radio to pass so common courtesy was clearly not a concern of theirs)!

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

 – Christopher Columbus

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