Yesterday I was giving Tranquility a nice soapy bath when a man came by on the dock. “I am glad to see a beautiful Columbia 29” he said. He is the owner of a gorgeous Swan 40 tied up a few slips from Tranquility and remarked how both boats were designed by Sparkman & Stephens.
We nattered quite a while and he was very curious about her, and profoundly admired Tranquility’s design. I was flattered by his ammiration while at the same time I was embarassed by the general cosmetic situation like the still incomplete toe rail, the scratches and the worn out teak (at least I had just removed the mud from the anchoring operation). Kate and I often joke about it saying we own “a classic”, instead of an old piece of plastic that has been shaking in seas for almost 50 years.
I have to say that the first moment we met Tranquility on the grass of a random yard something magical happened and we decided to buy her even if the seller was also offering a Pearson Triton in sailaway condition.
The irrational magic prevailed over the rational thinking and we purchased the Columbia. Forty percent of this magic comes from the awe and fascination of an almost bare hull that make you dream about how beautiful and custom made the final result will be. Another forty percent is for sure that no matter what boat you end up buying you made a great choice because it’s yours. Twenty percent is something unexplicable, like a siren song of boat fetishism. Or maybe it’s true that boats have spirits and she was talking to us. “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux”
This magic embodied in her lines may or may not be visible but other people notice it. She has charming lines. Everyone who asks “What boat is this?” then pretends to know about Columbia 29 and the most common words associated are “seaworthy”, “sturdy” or “well built”.
I haven’t found another Columbia 29 on the water yet and after a brief online research it looks there are very few for sale. It’s not a popular boat that you run into at every anchorage, but it looks like it’s a famous one. Quite a few people still admires boats from that era. They recognize in them the golden era of classic and seaworthy designs, even if this concept is open to endless debate as it’s very hard to define what makes a boat seaworthy.
Columbia 29 is one of the first fiberglass boats that made sailing affordable for the middle class. The first boat was built independently around 1960 on S&S design #1508 and then bought by Glass Laminates of Costa Mesa, CA that launched her on the market. This boat became a big seller and the name Columbia was incorporated into the company. Columbia then expanded on the East Coast in Portsmouth, VA where Tranquility was built in 1965 as hull #85. Tranquility is the MK1 version, from the original design. Later, Columbia introduced a MK2 version with raised deck and 1000 lbs more ballast. And not happy, following a market that was going in the direction of more and more interior space they raised the deck again and launched the model called Defender.
I am happy about the choice we made with Tranquility. This doesn’t mean the Columbia 29 is a better sailboat than the Pearson Triton, but that we are happier with the features we have (masthead cutter rig, electric engine,). On the other hand there is no rationality in deciding to buy a boat and so it’s pointless to try to understand why. It just gives a lot of satisfaction to encounter many people that admire our tiny little boat.
A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.
Today is the winter solstice, when we experience the shortest daylight period and the longest night of the year. From today the daylight will increase every day by a little bit reaching the maximum daylight period during the next solstice, the summer one. Sailing during winter time means having to deal with short days and long nights. If you want to maximize daylight you have to be ready for an early start at dawn, hoping to get in port by the sunset. Usually sailors plan their passages trying to avoid night sailing, expecially in the nearbies of the coast, inlets and waterways. But that’s the theory.
Often the planning and the execution take diverging paths and you end up entering port at night. It happened a lot to us, expecially because we don’t have a powerful engine and we rely mostly on freakish winds. Also sometimes we are not so prompt to leave the dock.
By the way any sailor should be competent in leaving and entering ports with dark and generally in night sailing, using the aids for navigation and the 5 senses. The unexpected is often present on a sailboat and the execution may differ from the plan forcing an approach with the dark. However, if you can sail with the full moon the visibility is great and it’s also a pleasure, but it’s during the darkest nights that you can enjoy a beautiful starry sky.
We left the Intracoastal Waterway in Morehead City, NC and headed offshore again on Thursday 12th December. Our destination was Southport NC with an incursion in the ICW for the last 20 or so miles through the Masonboro Inlet. We wanted to avoid the long sailing around Cape Fear to clear the Frying Pan Shoals.
The day sailing was fun, cold and with some swell, but relatively comfortable. We passed very close to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and we saw and heard them practice firing. Even if we were relatively clear off their perimeter I have to confess that at any shot you would have seen our compass jerk toward a much more southern course, even if it was ridicoulus to try to escape artillery doing 6 knots.
We arrived at Masonboro Inlet at night even if we had good wind. We knew we could anchor in Wrightsville Beach and continue the next day. The moon that night was bright but the cloudy sky dimmed its light, and as it often happens we encountered more than one unlit buoy, luckily without shaking hands. On our way to the anchorage we kept seeing empty pontoons of the waterfront properties. We were pretty tired and thought that it was no harm to tie up just for the night and so we did, being awakened by a older gentleman in the morning who checked if we were ok and said we could stay as much as we wanted. That’s one of the few perks of sailing during off season.
We left anyway the next morning, pretending we are on a schedule. One more day of boring ICW and we got to Southport, a very little village at the outfall of Cape Fear River. Here we spent one night at the local Marina and one at the public dock where we met a little community of liveaboards, made friends, shared dinner and breakfast and saved some bucks.
Other times it happen that you chose to leave at night because of a weather window, and that’s what happened on Sunday Decemeber 15th. We left Southport with a small group of supporters gathered at the dock to witness our silent electric engine as we pulled out at 6:30 pm, as soon as the southern winds died and the northerlies started to pick up. Pushed by the ebb flow of Cape Fear River we met force 3 winds that put us in motion on the gentle swell towards our destination, Georgetown, SC.
That was the plan but then we changed it once again. After a very brief consult we decided to keep going and reach Charleston, putting one more night in front of us. Kate is now a perfect salty dog able to cook on a rocking boat and to peform all the tasks required to stand watch. The last sailing bit entering Ashley River was obviously upwind and against the tide but with patience we made it up to the main anchorage, in front of the City Marina in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. We dropped anchor and slept like logs.
Charleston is a great city and we are enjoying a lot our stay. It also has a convenient airport that will deliver us to Kate’s family for Christmas. That’s the reason why we decided to leave Tranquility here while we commute for holidays. While we were here I also had a fortunate coincidence and met friends who also were sailing south and stopped in Charleston. We will continue our journey to Florida soon, with possible stops in Beaufort, SC, Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL.
Like in a dream we left Fairhaven and sailed offshore for more than 400miles. Then it was like waking up in Norfolk at mile 0 of the Intracoastal Waterway (aka ICW) during a creepy cold week and don’t know exactly what to do. In front of us there were long motoring hours along rivers, channels and sounds with one eye on red and green markers and the other on the depth sounder. Our electric drive had come to the final test. The boat needed more improvement and downtown Norfolk was not exactly very welcoming for a sailboat. If we had a destroyer or a aircarrier it would have been more easy to find parts and labor. We had a slow wake up, like if we were sleeping in and craving for a robust coffee. Then the bad cold weather disappeared and we had no other choice than to start moving.
Norfolk to Pungo Ferry Marina (23 miles) Saturday 30th November
Late start on Saturday looking for filling up the tanks for our honda generator. We made some progress down Elizabeth River thanks to good northerlies that pushed us down the first part of the Intracoastal Waterway. We thought we were the slowest ass on the ICW but “Ra” a solar powered trimaran was even slower than us, at least at the beginning. With no mast the weird boat overtook us at the bridges, that we dramatically found all closed so we had to spend the waiting time doing donuts under sail as close quarter tack and gybe practice for Kate. After the Great Bridge Lock we packed the mainsail and rely 100% on the setup electric drive/ generator, keeping a cautious 3,5 kts average. The generator keep us going but it is noisy and we can’t really listen to music and we have to speak louder. When the dark hours caught us we were close to an abandoned marina. We read that somebody before us used it as a mooring so we approached the abandoned fuel dock with caution. With great surprise we found somebody to handle lines to. It was Oliver a singlehanded sailor (with two dogs) that overtook us (like many others) just afer the lock and that had the same idea to moor on the abandoned marina. The place was very creepy and the night extremely cold.
Pungo Ferry Marina to Coinjock (18 miles) Sunday 1st December
A nice warmer day saluted us on this motoring trip. We moved across wide winding turns and swampy shores, a very short trip that left us some daylight to explore the surroundings. Unfortunately there is not much to do or see in Coinjock and to me it looked like a truck station on the highway, a stop and go place with two marinas and one restaurant that is famous for a 32oz prime rib. I instead ordered Shrimp and grits that is becoming one of my favorite southern dishes.
Coinjock to Manteo (29 miles) Monday 2nd December
Finally the first proper sail in the ICW! The wind in the morning was very light but soon we had enough breeze to turn off the electric motor and to move at a much more adequate pace. We sailed on flat waters in a sunny day all the way inside Manteo harbor where we moored at Waterfront Marina. We had the pleasure to meet the Dockmaster Carl Jordan, who came to get our dock lines and very kindly introduced us to the village answering with a smile to all our questions. Manteo is a great little town, small enough to be pictoresque but well equipped with everything you may need. There is a town dock that is free of charge for longer stays. We wished we had enjoyed a longer stay but the weather forecast pushed us to leave very early the next morning, for a long trip to Hatteras.
Manteo (Roanoke Island) to Hatteras (45 miles) Tuesday 3rd December
Long boring motoring day across Pamlico Sound. We had a little thrill with the current in the channel close to the Oregon Inlet, but after that short moment we had a bit of sailing in those narrow channels escorted by flocks of birds. We arrived in Hatteras in the dark and we performed a silent ninja approaching to Village Marina. Once moored we found out that the Island was shut down because of the recent bridge misadventure (more info here) and there was no open restaurant in miles. After walking around the whole evening looking for any possible food we sadly come back and exhausted we dined on Cup Noodles. In that very moment it was a noticeable culinary experience. We did one day stop over in Hatteras because of rainy weather and also attracted by this famous location. We rented bikes and wet but happy we biked to Hatteras Lightouse for some tourism. I also bought myself an anticipated christmas present: reel and rod for offshore fishing.
Hatteras to Ocracoke (23 nm) Thursday 5th December
We were hoping for more sailing that day, but the forecasted wind delayed a bit too much and we again had to motor and to use the noisy generator to keep up with the batteries. We moored at the Town Dock (right beside the ferry) that was pretty cheap and had power and restrooms but no showers and no hot water. We had a nice island time . We found the good restaurant we were hoping to encounter in Hatteras (Gaffer’s). Here we met some nice people that introduced us to the life on the island.
Ocracoke to Oriental NC (49 miles) Friday 6th December
After some organizational hassles during the departure we finally set sails. Well this time the wind was a bit too much from the West and Tranquility was immediately heeling on starboard side fighting with some choppy seas first in the southern part of Pamlico Sound and later at the mouth of Neuse River. Kate had some KO time so I had some solitary steering that made me appreciate once again the ease of handling of Tranquility. With no autopilot but just well trimmed sails I could leave the cockpit and do some work on the foredeck while the boat was keeping the course with no hesitation. As the wind increased the seas became more steep but we kept going and tacking and Kate resurrected from the bunk to enjoy the sailing and giving a huge hand on deck. We finally approached Oriental in the dark.,doing a great job finding the channel and approaching the harbor, with perfect coordination and teamwork despite the hard and cold day. We finally decided where to moor, so we got prepared. At some 30 ft from the slip in perfect aligment we got stuck. I couldn’t believe it, there was a shoal just in front of the slips, where other boat were moored. How could that be possible? We tried our best to get out, hoisting sails, hanging from the side, but nothing worked. My mouth stopped to obey me and I wans’nt able to comunicate with Kate in a proper comprehensible language mixing up english, spanish and italian. We were both weared, hungry and just looking for an end to that journey. The last 30 ft of that leg were the most arduous. We kept it together and decided to bring two lines to the pylons of the slip with the dinghy. Once the lines were attached we put them on the winches through the bow fairleads and winched the boat out of the shoal into the slip. (see diagram). After the misadventure we spent one more day in Oriental, also because it was raining all day long, and we discovered why we got stuck: for some reason the wind direction influence the tide in the harbor so we entered with SW wind that lowers the water in the harbor, while wind from NE raise the level. We left with good NE on Sunday morning with no problems headed for Beaufort.
Oriental to Beaufort (21nm) Sunday 8th December
Short trip with a nice speed under the mainsail only to favor visibility in the channels. We moored in Town Creek Marina, that is famous for the unfriendliness of the staff and confirmed the expectations. We are right now exploring the area and dealing with condensation inside the boat that is taking a big toll on us. The colder weather up north saved us from this phenomenon. As we are getting in warmer waters the temperature excursion and the humidity is contributing to an unpleasant experience.
Next step will be Southport NC, this time out in Onslow bay, to get some miles under the keel and some good wind in our sails, abandoning the populated but monotonous ICW. I felt protected and pampered during this route but also like a prisoner in confined spaces. I hope more offshore sailing will shake off feeling stuck.