Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day Four - the longest day

I woke up in the hotel room about 4:30 a.m., by 4:45 I was carrying the first load of gear down to Spartina. Dawn Patrol was already awake and preparing for the day. We all wanted to get an early start for what had been planned as the longest leg of the trip. By the time I got back to the hotel room Bruce was stowing the last pieces of gear, tucking clothes in the waterproof duffels and resetting the gps.

We motored away from the dock at 5:30, Dawn Patrol left a couple of minutes behind us. Out in the harbor entrance small boats were towing what appeared to be shrimp nets up and down the channel. We pulled off to the side to let one boat pass. A second boat came by as we raised sail. I said good morning but got an unpleasant look it return, I think we had made him alter course.

Our goal for the day was Core Sound. At the very least we wanted to reach Thorofare Bay just south of Cedar Island, but if we made good time we hoped to anchor at The Swash about halfway down Core Sound to Cape Lookout.
There was a nice breeze out of the west that carried us up and across the Neuse River wing and wing at about two knots. The wind faltered a bit and we motor sailed, then killed the motor when the wind returned. It was just great morning with easy downwind sailing. Dawn Patrol shot the photo of us below out on the Neuse with the rising sun.

There's Paul below on board Dawn Patrol.

And of course Dawn Patrol was sailing wing and wing too, perfect for the sails of a cat ketch.

Just after 8 a.m. Dawn Patrol caught and passed us on the approach to Turnagain Bay. Both boats passed just offshore of a well-marked oyster reef then spotted the "1A" marker at the entrance to the bay.

The plan for the day called for sailing on eight different stretches of water. The Neuse River, Turnagain Bay, Old Canal, Long Bay, West Thorofare Bay, the Thorofare, Thorofare Bay and finally, Core Sound. Variety and a little adventure were in store for us.

Sailing wing and wing is just great fun. Not always the fastest way to sail but I think one of the prettiest. There is a shot of Spartina above, check out the open water behind us and blue skies above us. And below you'll see Dawn Patrol after they moved up ahead of us.

I've mentioned before the difference in the tacks each boat made, Dawn Patrol tended to make shorter tacks while Spartina usually went, for better or worse, with the long tacks. Another difference in sailing showed up when we reached the entrance to Turnagain Bay. Dawn Patrol typically stayed with the well marked channels while Spartina tended to cut corners and sail over water that was marked on charts as 2 feet or less deep. You can see our tracks at the bay entrance below. I don't think either approach is right or wrong, it was just a different way of sailing. (The use of channels and/or shallow water will be very noticeable on day 5.) In any event cutting corners helped Spartina keep pace with the faster Core Sound 20.

We had a great sail down Turnagain Bay with wind on the beam, cruising along comfortably at a little over four knots. Just after 9 a.m. we watched Dawn Patrol turn into Old Canal. I found out later that Paul and I had been thinking the same thing as we entered the canal - "With wind out the west we'll be able to sail right through the canal!" No such luck as the wind either died or was blocked by the marshes as soon as we entered Old Canal. Oh well.

It was a beautiful old canal with birds (that's Bruce photo of an osprey below) and flowers including wild hibiscus.

With no wind it started to get hot, but it was a nice motor down the old waterway regardless.

We left Old Canal and after a little navigational confusion on Spartina (I had put the wrong coordinates for the entrance to the Thorofare in our gps) we motorsailed across Long Bay and around Long Bay Point. No wind at all now and it was getting hotter and hotter (the start of a week-long heat wave for the mid-Atlantic in fact).

A welcome distraction from the heat was when the deer flies, which had been harassing us since we entered Old Canal, were attacked by their natural enemies the dragonflies. I saw one dragonfly carrying off a deer fly. When a deer fly tried to hide in a crevice between gear on the boat two or three dragonflies would huddle about outside the opening waiting for the deer fly to emerge. It was like watching the Discovery Channel right there on the boat. The nice photo of the dragonfly below is from Dawn Patrol.

(The dragon flies were very interesting to watch. There must have been a million (it seemed) flying and hovering and landing on the reeds everywhere. We would have a dozen at a time on various lines and equipment on Spartina. They would just land, cock their wings, swival their heads from time to time and wait. A deer fly would venture into the boat or from under the foredeck where they had been hiding, and the aerial combat would commence. We rooted for the dragon flies.

One dragon fly landed on my pants and I could see he had a broken wing. He couldn't fly very well. So there he stayed. Either on my pant leg or my arm. He became my mascot so to speak. He was there all the way to the Core Sound. When we headed out onto the Sound, the wind picked up and it started to rain so I placed the little dragon fly up under the foredeck. It was a weird rain as it was sunny out and no rain clouds were near us.

Then we headed down Core Sound and the wind was great and on the nose. We took in a lot of warm spray, lot's of warm spray. After several hours of making our way south towards the Swash with lot's of spray and rain, I looked around for my little friend. I saw him floating in a pool of water just under the foredeck. He had drowned. I was saddened by this turn of events, for he had been a good omen for our battle against the dreaded deer flies. I said a few words and buried him at sea with all the honors. And you know what, we were not bothered by deer flies for the remainder of the trip. True story. Bruce)

We caught a little bit of wind going south on West Thorofare Bay and then once again motor-sailed on the Thorofare canal. This was wider and longer than Old Canal, a light breeze cooling us now as we headed east towards Thorofare Bay and Core Sound.

Below is Dawn in the foreground and Spartina against the far shore. Both boats were hit by a small whirlwind just before we left the canal. Spartina still had her centerboard up from the downwind run on West Thorofare Bay. The whirlwind pushed the mainsail first to port then to starboard, then nudged the boat towards the bank until I could get the cb down to give us some lateral resistance. And then the wind was gone.

We entered Thorofare Bay just before noon, at that point we had been sailing for almost six and one half hours. (And that turned out to be the easy part of the day's sailing!)

That's a nice photo above of Spartina sailing along the southern shore of Cedar Island. It is hard to tell from this distance but we were heeled over with the lee rail in the water. The wind, out of the southwest, showed up with a vengeance. You can get an idea of what the ride was like from the photo below. White foam and light green water, it was fantastic sailing. It would be like this for the next few hours.

We made great time tacking into the wind. The channel was fairly wide at first giving us plenty of room. Dawn Patrol was generally up ahead of us and on the opposite tack. The channel narrowed as we moved south towards the wind swept dunes of Drum Inlet and then opened up again south of the inlet. We touched bottom a couple of times, I think the currents around the inlet cause quite a bit of shoaling.

Just east of Nelson Bay the skies darkened as a thunderstorm moved in from the southwest. We kept on sailing with Dawn Patrol on the western edge of the sound, Spartina to the east.

Along with the storm came thunder and lightning. Bruce and I looked at each other and figured we ought to keep on sailing. The storm covered the width of the sound, there didn't seem to be any place to run to for cover.

(When we are in lots of wind and with spray coming into the cockpit, one of us is at the tiller and the other usually sits up in the bow with our back against the foredeck beside the mast. It is usually a good place to keep out of the direct impact of the spray. However, Steve had watched the video shot by Kevin on our Crab House 150 trip and determined that from a balance point of view, the better position to sit would be next to the center board trunk just forward of the thwart. That way the boat would ride better and we could get better performance. This may have been true, however, that is the exact location where the maximum amount of spray comes into the boat. I would take a particularly big splash in the face and turn to look at Steve and spit out some water, Steve would try not to laugh and always say, sorry. He wasn't. The air and water temperature was so warm we didn't put on any foul weather gear. My shirt and pants dried pretty fast in the stiff warm breeze, until the next big swell hit the boat and it would start the drying process again. In the picture below, you can see my wet shirt clinging to my body. It was also raining at the time. At the end of this day I must admit I was very tired, but it was one fun and exciting ride. Bruce)

In a good breeze I typically sit on the lee side of the boat. I have a good view up under jib and I think I get a good feel for keeping Spartina close to the wind. I'll use one hand for the tiller and I'll often rest my fingers of the other hand on the jib sheets where it comes out of a fairlead from the cam cleat on the coaming. I can feel the tension in the jib sheet as the wind changes, sometimes giving me a heads up on gusts of wind.

So I'm sitting there with the dark cloud above, hand resting on the jib sheet. I feel a little buzz, sort of a vibration coming from the fairlead. This was new, I had never felt that before. So I pull back my hand to see what was causing the buzz and a spark jumps from my finger tip to the metal fairlead just as lighting explodes overhead. Bruce looked around and said "That was close, the lighting and thunder were at the same time." Yes it was close. What had just happened? I didn't know. We kept on sailing (what else are you gonna do?).

We looked over to see that Dawn Patrol, with a couple of reefs tucked in the sails, heading our way. "What's your plan?" Dawn shouted. I didn't have an answer at first, I guess our plan was to do just what we had been doing - sail south. We all talked for a minute and decided to drop sails and motor along the eastern edge of Core Sound towards The Swash. So we start doing that and what do you know but the dark clouds disappeared. Both boats raise sail and headed back out onto the sound.

We're watching the gps and see we are within a couple of miles of The Swash (A on the photo below). A couple of good tacks, Bruce and I agreed, and we could motor the last stretch. I look back to Dawn Patrol just as Paul and Dawn come about and head west. Where were they going? Maybe they decided The Swash wasn't the place for them to anchor, maybe they decided to find a nice little cove on the western shore. Dawn had mentioned Nelson Bay when we were beneath the storm, plus there were a few other bays. We tried calling on the vhf and got no response. So we figure what's good for them will be just fine with us and take off after them.

We follow Dawn Patrol through a series of tacks, some long and some short. Bruce is zoomed in on the gps checking the depths on the charts, this area of Core Sound had just a narrow channel and a lot of shallow water. I think we sailed for about an hour, but maybe it was less than that, tacking back and forth in the wind. We were tired from a long day and still unsure of where Dawn Patrol was heading. I see a marker up ahead and ask Bruce to see what number is on it. He says "31" but that can't be, that's way back by The Swash.

Bruce is looking down at his gps and I'm watching Dawn Patrol as as they take a long tack to the southeast. I asked Bruce to check the gps and charts and see where they are going. He looks for a minute or two, hesitates and says, "I think they are going to The Swash." That couldn't be, we had passed that long ago (I thought). Bruce had the same reaction. He even turned off his gps and rebooted just to make sure it was working (you can see that little gap in the track at B above). The Swash it was. So we followed them into The Swash and tied up alongside Dawn Patrol just after 5:30.

(This was not my proudest moment as a sailor. As a simple matter of safety I should have known exactly where we were throughout the last part of the sail. But I had lost track of that. Paul had shown himself to be an excellent sailor and navigator and we did just fine by following him. But I should have kept track of our location on both the gps and the charts. Lesson learned ( I hope.))

Rafted up that night we had a lot to talk about. The downwind sail, bays and canals,deer flies and dragonflies, Core Sound, the storm and getting to The Swash. Wow, what a day.

As for the storm, we really had no answer as to what to do in that situation. I've searched and searched on message groups and blogs and have never found a practical answer for dealing with that kind of storm. Dawn said they considered sailing into Nelson Bay but the storm seemed to cover that too. If she was in a kayak, she said, she would have paddled to the beach, gotten out of the kayak and curled up in a ball.

As for tacking away from The Swash, Dawn Patrol was unsure of the depths approaching The Swash from the northwest so they decided to work their way down the channel and come in from the southwest. (Since we hadn't planned on staying at each anchorage together on the trip we did not go over each and every planned stopping point. If we had we could have told them from of '07 sail that there was plenty of water, in our experience, for approaching from the northwest).

Each boat fixed their own dinner, ours was pretty simple but very good. Then Spartina cast off and re-anchored about 100 yards away for a good night's rest. It was quite a day and we were ready for some sleep.


Distance 42 nautical miles
Max Speed 6.9 knots
Average Speed 3.4 knots
Moving time 12 hours 15 minutes


Unknown said...

Lightning's no fun, but it is fascinating nonetheless. When we had our cruiser, we'd anchor or heave-to, and go below and close up the boat, an option you don't have. In one particularly intense S.Carolina storm, we went below and disconnected the electrical gear we could. The boat was grounded, and the charging of the rigging could be heard like loudly frying bacon. The VHF coax was laying on the nav station, and every few minutes would discharge a shot-like crack and a foot-long bolt of fire off the cable end. Our Siamese cat laid on the settee opposite with its eyes like twice their normal size. I'm really enjoying your report.

Unknown said...


I have enjoyed your account of this cruise. Especially interesting to me is your passage from Oriental to Core Sound via the Old Canal and the Thorofare. I am currently studying charts in preparation for a cruise that my wife and I would like to make next summer. We have an Ericson 25, which has a draft of 2 ft (when the centerboard is retracted). We spent two summers in Beaufort, and are familiar with the shallow-water issues associated with the Cape Lookout area. At that time I did not own a sailboat, but simply a jon-boat. Even with that little 14 footer I would sometimes run aground if I ventured from the channels. I never explored the Core Sound area, so I am somewhat reluctant to take the Ericson 25 into those waters. Your account, however, offers me some, especially since the route I have been imagining has been similar to your own. I should also mention that I am also considering a passage behind North Core Banks to Ocracoke. Did you find any of the water in the marked channels to be less than 3 ft? The Thorofare, for example, is marked as 3 feet.

Thanks for your help.

P.S. Man that's a nice boat.

Steve said...

I'm not quite sure what to tell you. There were a few "bumps" in the road, I mean channel, along the way. We felt comfortable in that we could raise the board and have a draft of a foot or less. We never had to fully raise the cb, but we were glad to have that minimal draft. The Thorofare seemed fine, it was in the channels on Core Sound where we found the shoaling.
You might be able to do it, but you would need a good look out up forward and be prepared to motored as at some points the channel is very narrow and doesn't allow much tacking.
You might also check with Dawn and Paul at their blog to get their opinion.
You might also check with the concession that run ferries on Core Sound, they ought to know the channels pretty well.