Sunday, June 14, 2015

Southport Stories, Circumnavigators and Sailing Companions

By now, it is obvious from our 'Where are they now?' track that we have parked SeaClearly in York River Yacht Haven at Gloucester Point, Virginia. Officially, our 2014-2015 Virgin Islands Adventure Cruise has come to a close. Reached fruition. A dream becomes memories. I am compiling all of our pertinent statistics from the voyage but, so far, one of our favorites is 'Nights not spent on SeaClearly'. Since last October 4, there were only 12 nights that we were not aboard.

Eventually, I will catch up on my blog posts and get SeaClearly and her wide-eyed adventurers back home safely (OK, you already know how the story ends).  But there are a few details to cover from the trip north so I have to back up a few weeks.

SeaClearly tied up at Southport Marina

Once we reached Southport, we had a final choice to make regarding the completion of our trip. We had already decided that SeaClearly was not going home to Colington Harbour so our destination would be her new home in Gloucester. The outstanding question that remained - 'What route to take to get there?'

Option A would involve moving up the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) to Masonboro Inlet, out into the ocean for a short leg to Beaufort Inlet, and then back into the ICW for several days all the way to the Chesapeake. Aside from the painful fact that this would pass within a few miles of our Colington home (and the slip we can't use anymore), it also meant a long, slow ICW trip of about 5 - 7 days. Not one of our favorite things.

Option B starts out the same - Southport to Masonboro Inlet via the ICW - but then we would stay outside and take the ocean route around Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras and enter the Chesapeake at the mouth of the bay. We have never made this trip and it was, frankly, very appealing. First of all, it would only be a 2 night trip. Better. And, it would deliver us directly to our new marina. Also, for years, we have imagined ourselves sailing in over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. We have often spotted sailboats coming in from the ocean as we crossed the bridge-tunnel and thought,"One day...". On the other hand, the less positive side of the discussion, transiting Cape Hatteras always raises images of sailing ships driven onto the shoals. It isn't called the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic' for nothing.

Option B-Offshore route from Southport to the
Chesapeake Bay and on to the York River.
In the end, we decided we would rather sit for days and days waiting for the weather to give us a chance to go 'outside' rather than spend days and days in 'the ditch', as the ICW is known. As such, we expected to stay at Southport for 4 or 5 days - maybe more - looking for that nice weather to get us out into the ocean and around the corner. However, as we started looking at the latest weather models and our various resources, it appeared that there was a big high pressure system settling in that would bring calm weather for days starting on Sunday - just two days away.

Southport Marina has, we knew from past visits, a weather briefing every evening during the cruiser migration season. Hank, from Carolina Yacht Care, is a retired Navy meteorologist (and just a real nice guy) who gives this presentation regarding the expected weather and, also, the conditions travelers might expect on the ICW.

On this particular evening, there were only three boats represented in the audience. Coincidentally, we had all just returned from the Virgin Islands, we were all looking to go offshore, around Hatteras and into the Bay. As a result, Hank could skip the ICW conditions and give the crews of 'Mystic Shadow', 'True Love IV' and 'SeaClearly' a very focused forecast. What we saw was a window of calm - probably too calm to sail most of the time - that would last for 5 or 6 days. Practically unheard of and, certainly, not to be missed. Sunday would be the first of several good days to leave. And, we were ready to go. It was decided that, since Junie and I and SeaClearly were familiar with the short run up the ICW from Southport to Masonboro Inlet (having done it several times before), SeaClearly would lead the way when the three boats left with the slack tide the next morning at 9:30 am. A comfortably not-so-early departure.

Another of the statics from this trip that is interesting - 'Number of Circumnavigators met'. As we have gone through the different segments of our journey, our hubris has always been held in check by the accomplishments of the people we have met along the way. Back on New Years' Day, we arrived in Puerto Real, Puerto Rico after crossing the infamous Mona Passage. We felt like world travelers - right up until we met an actual world traveler down the dock. Bob had circled the world, not once but, twice - by himself. And, while it keeps us humble, I must add that, as a rule, people that have made long voyages like that never belittle your relatively minor accomplishments. Rather, they are encouraging, interested and open. Today would be no exception.

We were tied up on the inside of the fuel dock which affords a clear view of all of the comings and goings at Southport Marina. On this morning, a small-ish sailing vessel, captained by a lone woman,  was coming in the channel and headed towards the dock. It appeared that there may have been some issue with the boat so Junie, being a 'Women who Sail' ambassador, went over to help with her lines. A few minutes later, Junie returned, excited. "Do you know who that is?!", she says. I could see the starstruck look in her eyes. Nope, no idea. "That's Donna Lange!"
'Inspired Insanity'

Duane, Donna, Junie. We spent most of our time
laughing like this. Great to meet you Donna!
Donna Lange (rhymes with flange) holds the record for fastest solo circumnavigation by a woman from the United States. In that boat. A 28 foot Southern Cross appropriately named 'Inspired Insanity'. Donna is on her way north to Bristol, Rhode Island to prepare for a repeat of this incredible feat, but this time, without stopping at all. She is, in the sailing community, a rock star. It was interesting to watch as word spread that Donna was in the marina. People just sort of appeared, looking for a chance to meet her, ask what it was like to sail the world alone. And why do it again?

We had arranged to go out to dinner that evening somewhere with Donna. But when we were invited over for pizza with Hank (the weather guy) and his lovely wife Lisa on their boat 'Haanli', we quickly accepted. They graciously included Donna as well and we had a wonderful evening eating pizza, drinking wine and talking about everything. We all hit it off immediately. People in boats always have great tales to share. We got to know Hank and Lisa better and hear their stories, we told ours and, of course, Donna has a few. Her story is remarkable and I would recommend visiting her website -  and checking out this article

The next day, May 24, was departure day and, I can tell you, it is reassuring to have an accomplished sailor like Donna blowing kisses to you as you are leaving the dock. Then, as we led our little flotilla out into the Cape Fear River, Hank and Lisa caught up to us in their runabout and took some pictures of us on our way. What a great sendoff.

Bald Head Island in the distance as we
prepare to turn up the river.
SeaClearly heading out into the Cape Fear River

The caravan moving upriver on AIS

Now, it happens that this was Sunday on Memorial Day weekend. This is the official beginning of summer for most of the Mid-Atlantic states and our short, 22 mile, run on the ICW was absolute chaos. The summer party was kicking off in style. The weather was perfect. Boats of every description and size were on the move. Many of the boats (and the captains) were, probably, back in the water for the first time of the year. In the midst of this, three bluewater sailboats, loaded to bear with travel gear and provisions, were moving north. All of us on the last leg of long journeys and with months of ocean travel behind us. We made a pretty cool caravan.

'True Love'  passing us a few minutes after
we exited Masonboro Inlet and turned north.
We had the same sail set and I hope we
looked this good doing it.

As we made the turn to go out of Masonboro Inlet, the boat traffic lessened. When we cleared the jetties, there was nothing in front of us but wide open ocean. We, once again, passed the markers of an east coast inlet and turned north. 'Mystic Shadow' and 'True Love IV' were directly behind us. There should have been some kind of background music to accompany the sight of these three boats escaping the mayhem of the ICW and raising the sails as we spaced ourselves out for the first-leg run towards Cape Lookout.

'Mystic Shadow'

We hugged the coast for a while trying to get the best sail angle but the wind, as expected, dropped off as the high pressure settled in. We started the motor, left all of the sails up and were making good speed. It was evident by looking at the AIS stats that, our fellow travelers had come to the same conclusion since we all, suddenly, went from averaging 4.0 knots to 6.5 knots. The ocean was beautiful as the evening fell and we went through our, by now very familiar, routine of preparing for a night run.

Running lights on, cockpit instruments set to 'dim', radar active,
AIS reporting, log book and red flashlight at hand.
Settled in for night travel as the sun sets.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, are you guys going to be there 7/6? if so, we'll stop by on the way south....910 274-2400