Friday, June 4, 2010

New Territory: Heading Up the North Carolina Coast

Tuesday, May 11 - Saturday, May 29, 2010 about falling behind on the blogging! May has somehow managed to disappear on us, so we'll try to cover the past three weeks in one sitting.

First the big news: we've finally gone beyond Charleston, our northern-most point for 2009. We're in virgin territory, baby! Granted, the trip to leave our comfort zone didn't exactly begin smoothly. We left Charleston before 8am to take advantage of the ebb tide (the outgoing current would help push us out of the inlet into the Atlantic). Unfortunately, the 15-20kt winds were against the current, pushing a ton of water into the relatively small space between the Charleston jetties. We were rocked back and forth in 6-10' seas for 3-4 miles. The furry kids got sick before we ever left the jetties, and we were really wondering whether we were making the right decision to leave. Would the waves be like this all the way to the Cape Fear inlet, 24 hours away? Two other sailboats came into the inlet as we were leaving; we thought we had it bad going against the waves, but they were much worse off going against the current. One boat was at least 50' long and had a powerful engine. He didn't go very fast, but at least he made headway. The second boat was older, maybe 30' long, and had a lot more trouble fighting the current. An hour after passing us, he looked to be in the same position from where we left him.

Fortunately, the worst of it was limited to the channel, and the seas calmed to 3-5' once we were away from the inlet. Although the winds played with us a bit - too much east, then not enough east - we had enough to keep at least one sail up for most of the trip. We arrived at the Southport Marina in time for lunch, boat cleaning, and a much-needed nap. Considering it was the first time we had access to a water hose in 6+ months, we gave Pipe Muh Bligh a well-deserved bath. Afterward, we walked around the city past charming homes over a century old; people were working in their gardens or swinging on porches, and everyone said hello as we walked by. Southport has a laid-back feel about it. It's a town full of history but isn't as "showy" about it as some of her neighbors. We ended our first night in a local waterfront cafe, visiting with another cruising couple that we'd first met in the Bahamas. The next day we took a more extensive bike tour of the city and finished the evening at a recommended spot, the Pharmacy Restaurant. Fantastic!

The next morning we left Southport at 6:45am (yuck!) to insure that we had plenty of water and the current at our back for the 25nm trip to Wrightsville Beach. It was an easy 6-hour trip, and we anchored near the bridge and dinghy dock with 5-6 other boats. The cruising guide warned of poor holding in the area, and recommended using our Danforth anchor (typically used as our secondary anchor). We spent the first day on the boat to make sure our anchor held, and headed to the beach for a tour and lunch the following day. After lunch, we began walking across the bridge towards town, and noticed a local boat rafted up with Pipe Muh Bligh. There was also a Tow Boat US boat rafted up with the boat behind us...never a good sign! Not knowing whether someone was trying to board our boat or if someone was dragging into us, Rene made a run for the dinghy dock and left Stacy behind. He raced out to Pipe and was quickly informed that WE were the ones who were dragging, and had already bumped into the boat anchored behind us. Rene managed to get Pipe's engine started, and another couple saw the frantic look on Stacy's face back at the dinghy dock and gave her a ride out to our boat. With both of us on Pipe, Tow Boat US got us away from the nearby docks and into deeper water. We re-anchored, gave our Tow Boat US information (thank goodness for unlimited coverage!), and settled in to watch and wait: would we stay put, or would our anchor come loose again? Rene made a circuit in the dinghy to check on the boat we hit (fortunately, no damage done) and to thank the couple from Hawthorne Rose for bringing Stacy back to the boat. We managed to stay put overnight, but it was like pulling teeth convincing Stacy to get off the boat the next morning. Still, we wanted to go for a walk and see the beach. Since we had changed back to our trusty Delta anchor, we figured we should be pretty safe. We walked across the bridge towards town, turned around when we hadn't seen any interesting shops after a mile, and ended up on the beach. Not terribly impressive! The sand was grey and rocky, and the beach was crowded. Our cruising guide was much kinder to Wrightsville Beach than we were, and we'll likely skip it on our way south.

We left Wrightsville Beach that evening for an overnight trip to Beaufort, NC. The trip is only 70nm, and is doable in a day if the winds and waves work with you. We weren't sure if we'd be so lucky, and decided an overnight cruise would be more prudent to insure a daylight arrival at the inlet. Good thing we did, because it ended up taking us about 15 hours to get there. We made it through the inlet and up the channel to Beaufort, but couldn't find enough space to anchor in Taylor Creek across from the Beaufort waterfront. Tired and frustrated, we tried to decide whether to chance the reportedly poor holding in Town Creek or go to the next anchorage 30nm away and forgo Beaufort entirely. Neither of us wanted to face another 5-6 hours of travel, so we decided to drop the hook off the marina in Town Creek. Rene got a good snub on the anchor chain, and we decided to call it a day.

We hoped a nap would energize us enough to see the town that evening, but rain showers kept us aboard. We dinghied to the waterfront the next day for lunch and a walk to the local grocery store, and ran into the couple from Hawthorne Rose who had brought Stacy back to Pipe during the Wrightsville Beach dragging episode. (Just a reminder of how small the cruising world is!) Wednesday was our day to play tourist, taking a ride on the red double-decker English bus around town to see the historic homes and buildings. We later stopped off at the NC Maritime Museum to learn about Beaufort's most famous pirate, Blackbeard, and to watch the boat-building exhibit across the street.

Thursday we began the two-day trip to Kill Devil Hills, NC, to visit friends Dave & Camilla from Southern Heat. Dave & Camilla live in a beautiful canal community called Collington Harbor, and arranged for us to stay at their neighbor's dock. They met us at the outer marker in their sailboat and led us through the jetties to the dock. One problem...we hit a shallow spot between the jetties and held fast for a few minutes. A nor'easter was on its way, and water levels had dropped half a foot in less than an hour. We made it to the dock and got ourselves tied up, but soon realized our 2-day visit might be extended until the winds shifted and water levels came back up. Dave & Camilla were fantastic hosts and showed us around Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Manteo, and Nag's Head. We saw the beaches, Oregon Inlet, and the Wright Brothers Memorial. (Interesting fact: the Wright brothers made their first flight in Kill Devil Hills, not Kitty Hawk.) We also got to meet their friends, Sandy & Rankin, who have been cruising throughout the Caribbean for the past 8 years. We had a terrific time, and ended up spending a week with them before the water came back into the canals on Saturday. It was finally time to say good-bye, and we held our breath as we motored through the jetties. Good news: we didn't touch bottom!

On a positive note, Kill Devil Hills is less than 80nm from Norfolk, VA, and the start of the Chesapeake. We're nearly there!

Pictures for this Blog chapter:

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