I wake to the false dawn, a steady SW breeze coming from over the trees of Browns Island. Egrets and ibises, bird I had seen flying south to the small islands near Cape Lookout last night, are now flying back north to marshes lining Core Sound.
A following wind pushes us out of The Straits onto the sound. The sun is barely up and I can already feel the coming heat on this first day of summer. We reach the channel markers doing six knots then give up some speed as Spartina turns directly downwind. At 7:30 there are no clouds, just a light haze. Sailing wing and wing I look back to see the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in the distance.
At 8 a.m. I slide out of the channel, drop the main and troll for puppy drum in spot marked on my chart. There is too much wind, we are sailing too fast to troll. I decide to not waste the breeze, soon we are back under full sail.
Following the narrow channel north on Core Sound I have a hard time finding marker 33, relying on my gps chart to stay in the channel. The green marker finally shows, barely visible against the line of trees along shore. A long skinny fish, maybe a gar, jumps six times out of the water ahead of Spartina.
At 9 a.m. the white sails of a small boat to the SE catch my eye. Looking through the binoculars I see a cat ketch, a single-handed sailor wearing a pfd, something colored bright yellow - maybe oars - on the deck. I watch the boat for a while, it seems to be heading towards me. Then I realize the sailor following the channel out of the Swash, the same channel I've used on earlier trips to get into the anchorage. I think about turning back to say hello. But we are in a narrow channel with depths of just one foot marked between Spartina and the other boat. I keep heading up the sound, the cat ketch turns south towards Cape Lookout. I wish we had crossed paths.
At marker 27 we are doing 3.7 knots while I sit in the comfortable shade of the mainsail. We are making better time than expected with the town of Atlantic and a planned lunch approaching too early. At the markers for Drum Inlet I turn east to sail to a small spoil island for some sight seeing. Anchored in a couple of feet of water I scan the shoreline for the seemingly ever-present "no trespassing" sign. Finding no such sign I walk to the beach and explore the island. Seagulls squawk and fly overhead, I take photographs of seashells, the birds and Spartina anchored off the beach.
Walking around the corner of the island the island I do find the "no trespassing sign" hidden in some bushes. To be legal I wade out into a few inches of water and walk back to Spartina. Sails raised we head north past Atlantic to the Morris Marina and lunch.
The grill sits at the mouth of channel leading into the marina. Last year it was the Morris Marina Grill, now it is Don's Grill. Same menu, same nice lady behind the counter, even the same regular customer sitting at the corner stool at the bar. He's joined by a couple of other locals, one who complains in a high-pitched voice about the "gu'mint".
I pick a table in the corner near an outlet where I can charge my camera battery. My order is the same as last year -- shrimp burger, fries, salad and unsweet tea. Make that three glasses of tea. An excellent lunch, a charged battery and I cast off from the marina.
Out on Core Sound I find the afternoon wind has kicked in already. I round up to tuck in a reef, round up again to tuck in a second reef. Then I drop the main, sailing across Thorofare Bay under mizzen and jib at five knots.
The wind falls off then picks up again, this time with a smokey haze from the fires out of the west. We approach the Thorofare with a single reef to find the wind has fallen off. I round up, shake out the reef and begin a series of tacks towards the canal. Water flowing past the channel markers tells me I'm working against the current too. But it is pleasant sailing and I find that this new, lighter wind is free of smoke.
We make it through the Thorofare Canal with handful of tacks, long port tacks carry us down the canal until the centerboard touches bottom, then a quick startboard tack to get back into the channel. The shores are lined with bright green marsh grasses, the water is calm. Leaving the canal Spartina turns north onto West Thorofare Bay. We skirt the east shoreline of the bay, trolling under mizzen and jib through the thick eel grass in search of a puppy drum. I troll up past Merkle Point under mizzen and jib, turn east into Merkle Bay and follow the shoreline there with no luck at all. Back out to the main bay I sail outside of the fish weir at Tump Island and turn east into the well protected West Bay. The afternoon wind is hot and gusty. I am happy to drop the anchor and relax.
Late afternoon and the sun is still high and beats down on Spartina's cockpit. I jump in the water and float in the shade of the mizzen. The surface water is cool and refreshing. I take a breath and swim down to the muddy bottom where the water is colder, and I delight in the chill.
Tired after a long day on the water I eat a light supper. Oysters with hot sauce on crackers, a cup of fruit and a bottle of water.
Two men out setting nets for flounder stop by to check on me. They ask about Spartina and the trip, then wish me well.