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.
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.