The morning sun hangs beneath the clouds over Harker's Island at 6 a.m. The night before had been peaceful, cool and comfortable with enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away. I stow the sleeping gear, clean up the boat, have a granola bar and a cup of fruit for breakfast. We sailed off anchor at 6:40.
The tide is coming in through Beaufort Inlet a mile to the west, a steady current running west to east in the channel inside of Shackleford Banks. I had expected this from reading the tide tables. Through the binoculars I can see the flag atop Fort Macon pointing in my direction, the wind is also heading west to east. It is a cool, clear day. The water is light green, the beach is white.
I begin a series of tacks back and forth across the channel, mostly making ground in the running tide, sometimes losing ground. I don't mind. It is pleasant sailing. I am in no rush, I don't want to reach the inlet until high tide sometime after 9 a.m.
Sailing north on a port tack over what is marked on the gps as a shoal, I realize that the chart is not accurate. I stay on the same tack for a good while, finally spotting the shoal as a small break on the surface with terns hovering low over patches of rippling water. I sail until the water color changes, then come about. Back across the channel towards Shackleford banks I feel the centerboard touch bottom in an area marked with a depth of 6' on the chart. A shoal, not on the charts but visible in the clear water, runs just inside of the banks. A hurricane has made landfall here last fall, shifting shoals should not be a surprise. I make the rest of my tacks ignoring the gps, going by water color and the feeding birds.
I mark my distance made good by looking to the north at the masts of boats moored on Taylor's Creek on the other side of Carrot Island. To the south I mark my progress along Shackleford Banks by sights on the beach - the pier at the ranger station, a houseboat anchored near shore, pvc pipes marking submerged rocks, and wild ponies, three dark brown and one reddish one, grazing in the grass near the sand.
Nearing the inlet before 9 a.m. the ferries begin to come around the corner from Beautfort carrying visitors out to the banks. Pontoon boats and large Carolina skiffs, all with bimini tops for shade. They run up to a notch in the beach inside the inlet, put their bows on the beach so the tourists can step off without getting their feet wet.
With a few more long tacks I look south and see that we have a straight shot through the inlet. The water is calm save for some light chop from the wind. I follow the path of a ketch with tan bark sails ahead of me. Waves are breaking in the shallows of the inlet to my port, a "danger" marker sits outside of the shoals. And then we are in open water, making five knots and acting as if we were not nervous to be out on the Atlantic Ocean.
I see people on the beach, they've walked down from the ferries. Then I look over and see an empty beach, too far to walk. Wind and waves are over the starboard quarter, a comfortable downwind run. The waves are large, reminding me of a rough day on Chesapeake Bay a few years ago, but they are spaced out and not breaking. I put out a line to troll.
At 10:20 the gps I'm directly across Shackleford Banks from my anchorage the night before. Spartina makes anywhere from 4 to 5.5 knots. I see horses walking along the beach. The trolling rod stays quiet. With Cape Lookout Bight in sight I reel in my lure. Approaching the buoy that marks the entrance the water is rough, then very calm. And Spartina slides into the bight.
We tack up through a fleet of sailboats, power boats and two shrimp boats at anchor. I find an open spot along the beach and drop anchor at noon.
With swimsuit and diving mask I jump into the clear warm water. A chance to cool off, a chance to scrub the bottom of barnacle larvae that have started to find a home on Spartina's hull. I relax in the water, talk with a businessman from Raleigh who arrived with his wife in a borrowed power boat, and talk with Annie who rowed over from a catboat to say hello.
I think about spending the rest of the day and the night anchored in the bight. But I also think about the afternoon's incoming tide that could carry us up through Barden Inlet towards Core Sound. Soon the gear is stowed, the anchor raised and we are on our way before 2 p.m. The following wind and tide carry us past the lighthouse, through Barden Inlet and up the channel past Great Marsh Island with her flocks of ibises and egrets, past Whitehurst Island, Morgan Island and the dredge spoil islands that line the channel.
At the east end of Harker's Island we turn NNW into a narrow channel at the southern end of Core Sound. The afternoon wind in strong and hot. I feel tired and hungry. We turn west into Eastmouth Bay behind Harker's Island in search of an anchorage, but find nothing but a series of shallow sandbars that block our way. Back out into Core Sound we sail north past Browns Island, turning in toward shore at the NE corner of the island. I anchor, fix dinner and relax. We are protected from the wind, but the swell reaches around the corner of the island and rocks Spartina. I raise the anchor and motor around the marsh into the entrance of The Straits, dropping the anchor near a tiny bulkheaded island with an old house half hidden in the live oaks.
distance sailed 28.388 nm
moving time 8 hours 1 minute
moving ave 3.7 knots