Tuesday, June 23, 2015


We passed offshore of Cape Lookout in the middle of a dark, moonless night as May 24th turned into May 25th. The bight inside the hook of Cape Lookout is one of our favorite stops but we wouldn't be stopping there tonight. We could see the beam from the lighthouse as it signaled through the night even though we were more than 10 miles away. The shoals extend for a very long ways offshore from these three famous east coast capes - Cape Fear, Cape Lookout and our next waypoint, Cape Hatteras.

We swung below the lit markers south of the shoals and, apparently, came right up to the edge of the Gulf Stream. Our speed jumped to just shy of 8.5 knots as we rounded the slight corner and took aim on Hatteras. Once the course change was input, we had nothing to do for several more hours. The sea was calm and the wind remained light. The navigation lights of our traveling companions - 'Mystic Shadow' and 'True Love IV' - were still visible off in the distance as they ran parallel with SeaClearly.

Dawn came early since it was now May 25th. It is very pleasant to have so many hours of daylight. When we made our first trip to the Bahamas, we did a lot of traveling in December. The nights were very long and the days short. This is definitely better. We could begin to see the Outer Banks as soon as the sun was up. We were several miles offshore which gives you a really frightening perspective on just how fragile the Banks really are - it ain't nothing but a sandbar.

We passed the distinctive Cape Hatteras lighthouse around midday and made another slight turn north to follow the coastline. We were happy to be making pretty good time. Not, so much, that we were in a hurry but because it meant that we would pass offshore of our home - Kill Devil Hills - during the late afternoon and evening so we could see it as we went by. And, we did. It was funny to be passing such familiar sights - Oregon Inlet, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Jennette's Pier - in SeaClearly. We have been out in this stretch of ocean many times in our Grady-White, 'June Bug', but this was a first in the big boat. We were only a few miles off the beach. Our house is only a few miles the other way off the beach. As we approached the Wright Brother's Memorial perched high up on the hill, we knew we were directly even with our house in Colington Harbour.

Passing Kill Devil Hills - you can see our starting point
leaving from Colington just to the west.
On October 4, 2014.

An odd thing occurred then. We were happy. Not sad that we were passing home without going there. Happy that we had opted to move SeaClearly to the marina on the York River. It took a few minutes of talking through it to figure out what this meant but we got to the heart of the issue. Last year, when we came back home to Colington, there was an air of finality. Like, Bamm! the trip is over. I was depressed for weeks. Of course, we went on a trip up the Chesapeake later in the summer and, ultimately, this big trip this year. But, at the time, it felt like we were done. The adventure was over. By making this move to the marina it felt like we were keeping the trip alive. Like we were just resting until we could repair and re-provision and we would be on our way again. Somehow, it just felt better.

So, on we went. The day drained away, as beautiful as the one before, and we pointed SeaClearly to our last major waypoint - the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. We had several more hours to go as the night settled in. After hours of seeing, pretty much, nothing the approach to the area around Norfolk, Virginia is interesting and entertaining. OK, it is downright intimidating. First, you start to see more lights along the coast.  The chart gets confused by ship traffic approach lanes, danger zones, lit and un-lit markers. Things move all night long around the many military bases in the area. Air traffic is loader, lower and more frequent than anywhere we have seen. And you haven't even gotten to the Bay yet.

Ships of all kinds were moving in all directions as we lined up on the north channel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. It was about 4:00 am so that means that you see a lot of big, dark shapes with red, green and white lights in various configurations. All moving fast. We, once again, thanked our radar and AIS for the glorious information they provide. We caught something of a break as the ship traffic seemed to disperse as we arrived on the scene. Junie did get a call on the radio from a Virginia Pilots boat to confirm our intentions. Yes, Junie tells them, we are headed to the north entrance and up the Bay - not into Norfolk. That's good, says he, since they are escorting a large tanker through the south entrance and would have caught up to us shortly. Yikes!

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel at sunrise - behind us.
With Junie driving and watching the charts and me spotting the real-world markers, we slid through the dark towards the break in the bridge lights that clearly shows where the channel passes over the 'tunnel' section. A fresh breeze kicked up and, since we still had the big genoa flying, SeaClearly heeled over pleasantly and accelerated as we neared the entrance. The sky was only beginning to show signs of the coming day when we passed out of the ocean and into the Chesapeake Bay. We did a little 'WooHoo!' dance as we looked over the stern and left another milestone in our wake.

The trip across the bay and up the York River was pleasant and uneventful. The breeze stayed fresh and we had a nice sail most of the way. Junie called 'Mystic Shadow' - the only of our travel companions in radio range after the two day trip - to bid them farewell. Our faster-than-expected trip up the coast had another effect at this point. We had arrived at the mouth of the bay at nearly slack tide before ebb. Which is good. But, the further upriver we went, the more the out-going tide was slowing us down. By the time we made our turn into York River Yacht Haven, the tide was just before dead low and at maximum current. Hmm.

We called into the marina and asked for some help with the lines at arrival. We, of course, already knew what slip we were headed for since we had reserved D-2 for the next year. As we negotiated the twisty channel into the marina, we spotted the dockhands at our slip. Three dockhands? Really? We thought we would be lucky to get one person at 9:00 am on the Tuesday after Memorial Day. We really wanted to put SeaClearly into the slip stern-to - backed in - but the wind and current were fairly strong. We told the dockhands our intention via radio and I am pretty sure I heard them grimace. But, we picked this slip because it has a lot of fairway in front of it. Junie got all of the docklines set for a portside tie. We hung out our new, really big, fender balls on the starboard side to fend off our dock-neighbors' boat if necessary. I spun SeaClearly around and tried to play the wind and water to my advantage.

I was perfect. I know, I am not supposed to say that but it felt good. We came in straight and about two feet off the dock.  We were more than halfway into the slip and Junie could almost hand the lines to the dockhand. At which point, the dockhand stepped off of the dock and fell into the water between the dock and SeaClearly! I shifted into neutral and hoped he didn't get mashed. Fortunately, the wind was blowing us off the dock. Junie was yelling at the other dockhands to forget the lines and get that guy out of the water. They grabbed him, another guy grabbed the stern line and we were in. Once we were secured, I told the slightly-injured-very-embarrassed dockhand that it was normally our job to provide the drama when we were docking. Then, they all went off to something else or back to what they were doing.

SeaClearly safely in her new slip.

The view from our dock - Yorktown is right across the river.

Junie and I - the crew of SeaClearly - stood on the dock and looked around our new home. We had a big hug and some misty eyes as we stood and looked at SeaClearly and thought about the journey that we had just completed. There was a time - not very long ago - when we would have considered the last leg of the trip alone to be the trip of a lifetime. After all, we spent two nights in the ocean, rounded Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras, sailed into the Chesapeake Bay - at night! To have that trip as the final punctuation at the end of this wonderful, 7 1/2 month round-trip to the Virgin Islands seems appropriate.

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