Monday, August 19, 2013

Perfect 10

Sitting on the screen porch, watching the rain. Back home.

SeaClearly is in her slip, rinsed down, unloaded of foul smelling clothes and towels, sails covered, lines arranged. We spent two weeks plus one day on our trip. We went from Wanchese all the way south to Cape Lookout and back with stops along the way. We anchored out some places, spent time in marinas at other times and had a blast all of the time.

Our last stop was a return visit to the Silver Lake anchorage in Ocracoke. We stayed there two nights, evaluated the weather and decided to head out on Sunday morning. Early. The trip all the way home would be over seventy miles so it was going to be a long travel day.

We got up at 4:30 am to get organized, get Roux into the dinghy for his shore stop and have our coffee. The anchor and the sun came up at the same time. The anchor washing ritual took a while so we ended up following the 6:30 am ferry out of the harbor. We cleared the last marker on Bigfoot Slough and cruised into the Pamlico at just about 7:00. It was a gorgeous day. As soon as we made the turn north we had ideal sailing conditions and put out the full cutter rig. We were rolling along at 7 + knots without even trying.


Of course, anyone that sails knows that those conditions don't last. After a couple hours of that, the wind shifted a little and started dropping. So did our speed. Eventually, we decided to motor with the mainsail. We needed to keep a pretty good pace to get to Colington before dark.

As funny as it may seem, we were probably more nervous about getting back into Colington than any other part of our trip. Strange anchorages, new situations, ocean sailing, currents - all pale into comparison to the fear of running aground again in our home inlet. How absurd is that? We had spent hours mapping the inlet depths in our other boat and defined a twisting ditch with 6 feet of water that would get us safely back in - as long as we had average water level. We asked a couple of folks - friend Dennis, neighbors - to be ready for a call from us looking for water level updates when we got close.

We had a smooth trip up the Pamlico, back through Old House Channel and past Oregon Inlet. We met the entire Wanchese trawler fleet (which is down to about 7 boats these days) coming out. They typically leave out on Sunday and stay out until Wednesday or Thursday. We slid under the Pirates Cove bridge (I am sure that is not the official name), past Manteo, around the Roanoke Island channel and lined up on Colington.

The only line that will get us into Colington.

I can't possibly describe the tension and it might just seem ridiculous to some people. I will just say that when we cleared the inlet and slipped into Colington Harbour, there was an intense relief, an emotional release. We had nailed the landing. At times our depth was reading 0.0  feet but we didn't touch bottom. Our new paint is still intact. And so was the good memory of the whole trip. You know how a bad ending can ruin an otherwise good book.

So, we are home. Roux is happy to be back in the land of free flowing water. We wondered if he had the same left-over rolling motion that we do. And whether he is as stiff and sore from sitting through a 13 hour sail. He did great.

Tomorrow, we will clean up some more. SeaClearly performed perfectly for the entire trip and deserves a spa day. I think we do too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bight to Beaufort to Oriental to Ocracoke

We checked and double-checked our weather sources as we sat in Cape Lookout Bight. It was starting to look like we either jumped out during a 6 hour window when a front was passing through or sit there for two more days. We were a little nervous but resolved to get up in the morning, aim for an 11:00 am anchor-up and make a quick sail back to Beaufort Inlet. It seemed like a very small slice of OK weather with nasty on both sides.

USCG Albacore
The night was dark, rainy, strong southwest winds from the backside of the front moving through. The expectation was that there would be a switch to the northwest, followed quickly by a switch to the northeast. When we woke up, we found that, sometime in the dark and rainy, we got new neighbors. The USCG Cutter Albacore had come in sometime during the night and had anchored right beside us.

Junie, never afraid to actually reach out to other people for help and advice, suggested that we just call them and ask them what they thought. So I did. They were extremely courteous and said that, while they did not know the current conditions, they were weighing anchor in 15 minutes and would radio back with a condition report. How cool is that?

And, they did. Conditions: 3 - 4 ft swells, 10 knots of wind. Our weather window had arrived. We pulled up the anchor and took off. The first part of the trip was as perfect as could be. Rolling up and down over smooth swells.

As the trip progressed, and the weather forecast unfolded exactly as predicted, we got the confused and building seas we were anticipating. The wind had been blowing from the southwest for 5 days. After the initial switch to northeast, we got the flattened swells. Now, we started getting multi-directional waves, some breaking, occasionally big. We made it without issue and slipped into Beaufort Inlet.

Beaufort Town Docks Courtesy car. Is this a ride or what?
It was a total POS, complete with bald tires and door panels
falling off but it did get us to the grocery.
Then, we got to deal with the current getting into Beaufort Town Docks - our destination for the night. After passing the turn once to gauge what we were in for, we turned into the channel and made our way to a slip for the night. In quick succession we walked Roux, borrowed the 'courtesy car' and went to the grocery, went for Mexican food, got showers, found a laundromat, gave Roux a shower on the dock and listened to live music from the Dock House from our cockpit. Needless to say, we were tired. The musicians were not and played until about midnight. At least they were pretty good.

We left there mid-morning the next day for a trip back up the ICW to Oriental to anchor for the night. Then a long slog across the Pamlico to Ocracoke for another visit to the Silver Lake anchorage. We stayed here last night, will stay again tonight and head out early tomorrow to try to make it all the way back to home. We may have to bail out at Manteo if it gets late or anchor outside Colington if the wind doesn't leave enough water for us to clear the inlet. Either way, we should be home, or at least close. What a trip this has been.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another night at the Bight

Monday morning, very early, we roused ourselves at Portside Marina and started prepping for a short, but significant, trip. We were headed for Cape Lookout Bight. If you go out of Beaufort Inlet and hang a left, you only have to go about 10 miles to find, what has been referred to as, the closest thing to the Bahamas that North Carolina has to offer. Clear water, nice beaches, barely a tree. And Cape Lookout lighthouse. The one with the diamonds.

This short trip is significant for us because, finally, we will get SeaClearly back into her element - ocean.

Pictures never capture waves well.
The weather was just about perfect for us. As the sky lightened, we had a 10 knot southwest breeze and clear skies. The marina is, technically, closed on Mondays so we didn't have any company. Of course, at 5:30 am, we wouldn't on any day. We cast off the lines and made our way out to the inlet - big, wide, deep, no traffic. How nice!

Even though the trip would be short, you have to remember that you are going into the ocean. We were catching the beginning of the incoming tide. It was being pushed by several days of southwest winds. So we had some steep waves coming at us. We dipped our nose a few times and brought green water down the sides. I swear I heard SeaClearly giggle.

We were a bit more nervous than she was. And a bit cautious. This is the ocean, after all. We were all lifejacketed and tethered. And it felt like we should be. We actually went out into the ocean a little further than our planned course just to get a better ride for our shot over to the Bight. When we finally made our turn at about 4 1/2 miles out of Beaufort Inlet, we set up for a downhill ride with following seas of about 6 - 7 ft pushing us along. We chose to motorsail with the staysail out for some stability. It was awesome. The waves would roll under us, SeaClearly would point a bit to starboard and then correct to port as they slid past. We settled into the rhythm for the next 10 miles and slid into the Bight a mere 3 hours after our departure. What a cool destination for the folks from Morehead City and Beaufort. There is also a back-channel route for shallow-draft boats that gets the day-trippers there easily. For us, it was ocean.

SeaClearly at the Bight. Lighthouse behind.
Fishing. No catching.
So, we made it! This has been on the list for a while and it is a very nice spot. We got ourselves anchored in about 20 ft of beautiful water and settled in. We went to shore in the dinghy to let Roux relieve his ocean-voyage anxiety and walk around.

Roux ramps.
In case you may wonder how we get an old, big Chocolate Lab off the boat, into the dinghy, down into the cabin - well, it isn't always easy. It can be comical, on occasion. We are very slow and cautious to avoid anyone of us being hurt in the process. It involves ramps, training, desperation and timing. I have included a few pictures from inside the cabin showing the ramp structure we build to get Roux up in the morning and down at night. No pictures from getting in the dinghy because it takes all hands. I am sure you think we are crazy.

But, I'm telling you, Roux loves the boat. He loves to sail. He loves hanging out on docks. He is probably happier and more cooperative doing this than hanging around home.

There were a few other people around and one of them was nice enough to take a picture of us - all looking our best, of course.

The weather has turned into a blow, of sorts. We have had 20+ knots winds all day and expected to be higher tonight. So, we are staying put. Maybe tomorrow, if the expected wind switch shows up, we will move again. Or maybe not.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Staying Portside

We are going to sit tight here in Portside Marina for a couple of days to recuperate. Also, the next place we want to go is Cape Lookout Bight. Judging from the number of weekend boaters around us, I am sure that the Bight would be a zoo. This marina caters to small boats. They have an indoor stack storage and they spent every hour, all day Saturday forklifting boats into the water and retrieving them. It is kind of fun to watch but makes for a lot of traffic.

Junie is showing some improvement so we walked to the Sanitary Restaurant (a Morehead City tradition since 1938) for lunch. We did a few loads of laundry, washed the salt off the boat and talked to the marina folks for a while.

Roux is getting more exercise than usual. As we have been walking around Ocracoke, River Dunes and here, he has worn down his toenails. In between, he is really OK with sleeping in his air-conditioned cabin. It has been pretty hot so we have been sucking up the bought air too.

On the topic of AC - as we walked back to the boat earlier today, I noticed that the AC discharge flow was barely trickling. It is usually a very strong stream. I went to clean the strainer and found a batch of weeds and a small fish in the strainer basket. I thought I had the fix but the system immediately shut down when I tried to restart. Working back through the plumbing, it became clear that something was clogged between the through-hull and the strainer. We took the hose off of the seacock and opened it cautiously. Nothing came out. So, we poked at it with a two dollar plastic drain cleaner that Junie had insisted on buying at Lowe's one day. Suddenly, we got a lot of water - and one more fish! Reconnected everything and we were back in the cool.

No pictures today because we can't get connected to the wireless for some reason and we are using the cell phone as a hotspot.

Note to Thierry: I accidentally deleted your comment when I tried to publish it. Sorry. And, NO, I am not interested in a boat big enough to have a hot tub:)

Friday, August 9, 2013

A tale of two marinas

Last night, we stayed at River Dunes Marina. It is located just  north of Oriental, NC (the sailing capital of North Carolina) only a few miles off the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW). It is attached to a development that, unfortunately, got caught by the recession and has yet to grow to fruition. It is several miles from the nearest town and that is not a big town.
That's us - the little boat in the middle.
River Dunes Marina

As a result, they have an amazing marina that was designed to attract the flow of boats and yachts that travel north and south on the ICW in annual migratory flocks. They have a handful of gorgeous homes, cute rental cottages and a whole lot of unsold lots.

It has sort of a sad, creepy feeling because it is so nice - the infrastructure is outstanding, the engineering and design is great - and yet, there are very few people around.

 For us, it meant great dockage at reasonable prices, amenities including steam showers, pool, hut tubs, laundry, loaner car for a grocery run and a list of things we never got around to investigating. Incredibly nice staff, beautiful grounds. I hope that they get back on track as the economy heals.

Speaking of healing, thanks for all the nice comments and well wishes for Junie. I was insistent that we stay another night at River Dunes to give Junie's back a rest. She was insistent that she wanted to move on to Morehead City today. So, anyone want to guess where we are tonight?

That's right! Morehead City! We motored out of River Dunes at 8:00 am to head down the ICW about 35 miles. We got out without running into any shallow spots (several days without running aground now - so proud). Running the ICW is mostly just about staying between the markers and avoiding other boats. Which sounds easy. Except that the markers are relocated on a regular basis due to shifting shoals. But it was a pleasant trip.

Portside Marina, Morehead City, NC
Yes, that's us - the little boat in the middle.
We were headed to another marina. This one, Portside Marina in Morehead City, is only one mile inside of Beaufort Inlet which leads directly into the ocean. This is a working port - the only one between Charleston and Norfolk. It is busy. Crazy busy. Big boats, little boats, ships, fishing, dinner cruise boats. It is about as far from the idylic setting at River Dunes as possible. We have a port terminal right next door with cranes and stuff. We have ocean swells rolling us at the dock. We still have some amenities but a little more spartan. The people, however, are wonderful, helpful and glad to have us here even if we are just passing through.

And, most importantly, it stages us nicely to sneak out into the ocean, around the corner to a place called Lookout Bight. It has been a safe anchorage stuck out in the ocean since the days of Blackbeard the Pirate - well, right up until they sunk his ship (Queen Anne's Revenge) in the middle of Beaufort Inlet.

Junie is not healing up as quickly as she would like. She is not a very good patient. Obviously. Or we would still be in the hot tub at River Dunes:)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Relocation Day

Ocracoke Lighthouse from our bow
We spent two nights in Ocracoke and had a great time. There is no doubt that this place is an island. Everything has to come and go by boat or ferry. Things are slow. The shops sort of open and close when they want. This is very frustrating for some of the vacationers from 'up north'. There are a lot of golf carts and scooters along with the cars.

Evening in Silver Lake
A lot of things went very well for us on this first stop of our trip. First, we got there! Anchoring was simple. Dinghy and motor worked well. Getting Roux in and out of the dinghy worked well. The new National Park Service dinghy dock is great and the associated visitor's center gave us a nice area for dog walking. We had live music from a bar on the waterfront (but only until 10 pm.) We had beautiful weather, sunrises, sunsets. Watched the ferries come and go.

Junie denying back pain
We also got to experience island medical care. Junie had hurt her back several weeks ago but worked very hard at denying the problem because she didn't want to cancel this trip. By Monday night it was obvious that she needed to see a doctor. And by Tuesday morning, it was clear that it needed to be right away. So, we got directions to the - the only - medical clinic on Ocracoke. We had to walk, of course. And take Roux. The folks at the clinic were nice. One Cortizone shot and some muscle relaxers later we were on our way. Not cured by any means. Good thing no other medications were required because they would have to come from the mainland by ferry.

While Roux and I hung out in front of the clinic under the live oaks trees, I had three people stop and ask me for directions. I'm not sure what that says about my appearance that morning.

Roux has been having a blast. He is a creature of habit buts he learns new routines quickly. He understood pretty fast what 'dinghy ride' meant and how it was to his advantage to cooperate. This is no simple task. Getting a 110 pound Lab with bad hips into a rubber boat from a sailboat at anchor requires some finesse. Although, I doubt that anyone watching found it to be very graceful. But, we make it work. He has enjoyed walking around town. Overall, he is getting more exercise and barking / complaining less than when we are home. Both good things.

So, today was relocation day. We got up early (5:00 am), had coffee, loaded Roux into the dinghy for his morning trip (much earlier than he was ready for) and made preparations to cross the Pamlico Sound east to west. Our destination was River Dunes Marina just north of Oriental. We had heard and read good things about them. They also have some things we need - long hot showers, laundry facilities, water, fuel - and some other things - pool, hot tub.

Sailing on the Pamlico
It was a very still morning in the harbor. Which gave us time to wash down the chain and anchor thoroughly as we brought it in. We have history with Silver Lake mud and wanted to make sure we left it all there. We followed the 7:30 ferry out of Silver Lake. It is far better to be behind them than in front of them. We had a gorgeous morning. We motored for a while. Then put out the full cutter rig for a while and had a leisurely sail. Later we stepped down to just the mainsail and genny for a nice broad reach. We made the River Dunes entrance at about 3:30. The channel has a couple of twists and shallow spots so we were a little paranoid. But, even though we did, at one point, see our depth showing zero feet of water under the keel, we didn't touch bottom.

Oh, and one last thing that went well. As we were approaching the marina, I called them on the radio to let them know we were inbound. They asked, 'Do you want to come in bow first or stern?' I said 'stern first'. Remember those new bow thrusters? They worked like a dream. It was a little breezy but we just spun her around, hit reverse, and then pushed the bow wherever we needed it and backed in. A thing of beauty. Small victories.

We will be here at River Dunes for a couple days. This place caters to the ICW transients and there are some big boats here. We probably fall in the lower third, size-wise. But, at least SeaClearly isn't the only sailboat here like she was in Wanchese. Tonight, we are on shore power again. We are taking full advantage of it. Running the AC, all of the lights are on, fans running, battery chargers. All full tilt.We are clean, cool and ready for bed. Now, we just need to get Junie's back healed up. Maybe that hot tub will help:)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Silver Lake, Ocracoke, NC

Dropped anchor in Silver Lake at about 5:45 pm. Long day on the water since we left Wanchese at 6:30 this morning. We are happy to be here and everybody is tired.

We had a great day overall. We had spent the night on SeaClearly (thanks to our friend Marcia for the ride to the boatyard!) It was a beautiful morning as we left Wanchese harbor. We got out pretty much on schedule - actually, who I am kidding? We don't have schedules anymore! But we left early like we planned.

We had no problem negotiating the tricky channels around Oregon Inlet into Old House Channel. We did get overtaken by the Army Corps of Engineers dredge 'Murden' on her way to try to keep Oregon Inlet open. She seemed huge as she passed us in a channel so narrow that the pelicans are standing in ankle deep water 20 yards away. That is the nature of the area - sand islands, shoaling.

We cleared the last markers in Old House Channel and motored into Pamlico Sound. By 8:30 we were sailing. After all the troubles we have getting started, it was a wonderful feeling to set the sails and point south.

We barely had enough wind to sail, really. Later, we would have plenty of wind, waves and 'invigorating' sailing as Junie described it. The north wind kicked in and sent the swells all the way down the sound. By the time we were 2 hours out of Ocracoke, we had 3-4-5 ft waves following us. I think SeaClearly loved it.

We were all lifejacketed and tethered - including Roux. He, once again, proved himself as 'Sailor Dog Supreme'. More on that some other time. And, he was very careful about sun protection. I swear that dog looks more like me every day.

So, now it is late and we are exhausted. I'll put up some more details tomorrow. We plan to stay here two nights. Later!