A much welcomed “chicken move”

I am crossing my fingers as I am writing this but it seems we almost made it through the ICW. Almost because we post-poned our departure again, 6 hours from the original idea of leaving right at low tide around 6:30 am.

Here is what happened.

We woke up in Morehead City, NC where we spent few days waiting for decent weather to sail offshore and keep sailing in a general south west direction. Everything was ready from the night before, we just needed to leave the docks, raise the sails and go.

It was 5:45am when I ventured outside heading for the restrooms. The sky was dark grey, rainy and windy, the nervous chop of the bay slapping Tranquility loudly. The temperature was 39F. For as much as I wanted to ride the Northerlies and get past Cape Lookout to finally head straight to the above average warmth of Florida, the scenario of this early start was not encouraging. The drizzle in particular was very disheartening.

Back under the blankets and with coffee in our mugs we held a brief crew meeting (Kate, me and Beta) and all agreed to postpone departure to next high tide with the idea of spending the next six hours napping,taking showers and in general being comfortable.

At first I was a little mad at myself. I considered that a “chicken move”. But then I acknowledged the wisdom coming from Kate and Beta. There is no need to make your life more miserable when you already are sailing in winter on a tiny sailboat.

We should still have a good 24hrs or so of Northerlies, enough to cover the 100 miles that will put us past Cape Fear and on a SW course parallel to shore. Then we expect another blow between Thursday and Friday, a cold front passing through and bringing other strong northerlies. This time the forecast indicates that it’s not going to be as long lasting as this past one, and by then we should also be hugging the SC – GA coasts with milder temperatures compared to North Carolina, which by the way, we are very happy to leave behind.

This North Carolina endeavor has been cold and rainy, with a lot of idle time waiting for the weather to behave properly.
It sure is challenging and rewarding to be able to sail inland waters, ditches and all, but it also very labor intensive and slow. It’s something between a chess game and an endurance race, played against a very capricious opponent.

With our electric motor we belong offshore, and that’s where we are heading.

See you later.

East Coast Northbound: surviving 4th July

Leg 2 Charleston SC, to Little River Inlet 106NM

We left Charleston following the same pattern of the previous leg, leaving in light air and waiting for some afternoon wind, which came, as well as the much dreaded short period waves. We developed a little bit of sea sickness and generally tiredness when we had to dodge thunderstorms all night. We were lucky not to get too heavy squalls, but pouring rain got me quickly soaked. With little or no wind exhausted by the passage of these disturbances, I decided to heave to and just try to sleep in the cockpit.

At dawn, we decided to use the remaining daylight hours and the favorable tide conditions to bail out into Little River inlet, a nice inlet right at the border between the Carolinas. We identified a potentially good anchorage on the charts, on the lee shore of an undeveloped barrier island, Waites Island, and we went for it. Cruising life had already deformed our sense of time. We forgot that 4th of July weekend was underway. The memory came suddenly back when we started noticing a crowd of any possible craft roaming the inlet and generating continuous wakes.

We grew accustomed to all the wake and subsequent rolling of our boat and eventually, around sunset, the anchorage would become again our private property until the early morning brought new fast and furious vacationeers. We were happy to rest and we started to enjoy the show we were witnessing as if it was (and truly is) a fascinating natural phenomena, like penguins mating or wolves hunting. It was a truly American experience as we were not far from the popular Myrtle Beach, suns out, guns out!

Leg 3 Little River inlet to Southport NC 33 NM

After two nights at anchor we decided we were tired of Little River and left for a shorter leg, a daysail to Southport NC. From where we were, going around Cape Fear is a long way out and in again, and it makes more sense using “the ditch” to cut to the other side on Wrightsville Beach. Cape Fear river current is very strong and requires perfect timing so it makes sense to repair in Southport and time the next departure. We also had stopped here on our way south a couple of winters ago and we really liked the atmosphere.

Back then it was cold and not very populated, we gathered with fellow late migrators around the free town docks and shared meals and stories. This time, being the day before 4th of July we couldn’t find any spot in the anchorage or even at the marina. I performed few doughnuts around the fast running channel while Kate was making calls around to see where we could stop.

Provision & Co. in Southport, SC

Luckily the Provisions & Co., a bar and restaurant right on the waterfront, granted us permission to stay overnight at their complementary docs and leave the next morning. We enjoyed the downtown crowd and a nice meal at the restaurant, and smiled to the many curious customers who came to the boat asking any kind of questions.

Leg 4 Southport NC to Wrighstville Beach, NC 23 NM

It was still dark when we slipped off the floating pontoon. As soon as sails were up and we entered the Cape Fear River we noticed a big help from the current and the winds.  It was incredible to witness how the boat could sail at five knots on completely flat waters and very little wind.

The vast Army facility at Sunny Point

The quiet flat waters were racing at about two knots in the back bay while we passed Sunny Point, a big Army terminal which serves as “a transfer point between rail, trucks, and ships for the import and export of weapons, ammunition, explosives and military equipment”. The area surrounding the facility is intentionally uninhabited to create a security buffer in case something goes wrong, and of course anchoring is prohibited.

The scenery is stunning and a bit desolating at the same time, but at least is remarkably different from the monotonous waterfront property with dock facility that becomes ubiquitous after you go trough the Snows Cut heading towards Wrighstville Beach. At that confluence a powerboat approached us and an oversized fella at the helm saluted me with “Happy 4th Bro” wielding a beer. We were on the “other side”.

A video is worth 1000 words. Check Kate’s work on “eating wakes for breakfast”

We anchored for a few days in Wrightsville Beach waiting for good weather for the next offshore leg and enjoying the ability to come and go to the public dinghy dock, even though the best feature was definitely the access to free showers at the beach. We also needed a little provisioning as we were planning to visit Lookout Bight, a natural park with no shopping facilities.

Launching sailboat Atom

The past week I had the opportunity to help James Baldwin to launch his Pearson Triton “Atom”, a 28 ft sailboat that James took around the globe twice. Atom got back in the water after an extensive refit. The Columbia 29 and the Pearson Triton are very similar designs, so Atom it’s a an ideal example to see how to fit Tranquility as an offshore cruising yacht. James and Mei made an excellent job with this refit and Atom looks better than ever. The northerly wind offered perfect sailing conditions in the Marshes of Glynn and we made it safely to the dock enjoying the day on the water.

ICW days

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.

© Kate Zidar

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.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

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.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

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.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

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.

© Kate Zidar
© Kate Zidar

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.

© Billy & Becky
© Billy & Becky

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.

© Fabio Brunazzi

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.

© Fabio Brunazzi
© Fabio Brunazzi

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.