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.