Does anyone recognize this 1980’s song by The Clash? The line: if I stay there will be trouble, if I go it will be double, may be particularly poignant for us this month.
It’s November, the clocks have been turned back, daylight is diminishing, cooler weather is here. Yikes, we need to escape winter! Should we stay in Hampton, VA to wait for the next offshore weather window to the USVI or just go a bit south around Cape Hatteras? Or should we go down the ICW to Beaufort, NC to get warmer weather and wait for the next weather window?
Our friends on Wild Iris and U’Jamin picked November 8th as their weather window to head offshore for the Caribbean. They left from Deltaville, VA; the former heading for Dutch Ste Maarten, the latter for Puerto Rico. A cold front had just blasted through for days and the seas were higher than we wanted, plus the forecast was for multiple days of light or no wind, and some south winds. Not our kind of window, but we were really bummed to give it a pass. Note: both boats arrived safely at their destinations after 11+ days at sea.
Go outside around Hatteras
We saw an opportunity to go offshore 240 miles to Beaufort, NC by leaving the following morning. We had a prediction of a whole day of pretty good winds, then light winds for 12-24 hours, then building winds from the south. We hoped to get around Cape Hatteras before the wind died, motor around the next corner, then use those south winds to sail into Beaufort.
Five and a half hours out of Hampton, we had exited the Chesapeake. It’s 8:30 at night. Tom had just settled into the bunk for a rest. Anita was contemplating setting sails. The engine oil alarm blipped, then beeped. Anita immediately shut it down and started raising sails. Tom took a peak in the engine room and saw black engine oil in the bilge. The bottom of the oil pan was wet and slippery. He turned the automatic bilge switch off, so we don’t accidentally discharge this small amount of oil. Then Tom helped finish raising the sails and heading south. Tom wondered aloud if we should head back to Hampton, but the wind was dead against us for that scenario. We sailed 104 miles in the first 24 hours, but we’d lost the wind about 12 miles south of Oregon Inlet.
The afternoon of our second day at sea, Tom called the Coast Guard to advise them of our non-emergency predicament, becalmed near Oregon Inlet with a disabled engine. They commented that they could assist with arranging a tow if required. We were still hopeful the wind would fill in overnight to get us around the cape. It didn’t.
Due to the expected south east winds, we decided that it would be unsafe to continue to try to round Diamond Shoals at Cape Hatteras. For the first time in 43 years of ocean sailing, we called for a tow. We also want the help of a mechanic, not something we do very often as Tom is very handy mechanically.
Anita was hand steering to keep Lone Star centered behind the tow boat.
The breaking surf heading in the inlet was nearly a solid line. Our Sea Tow captain Stuart, at one time informed the coast guard via VHF that he may need them to take us through the surf and under the highway bridge where he would pick up the tow. However, Stuart persevered and we made it through. As we were driving just 100 feet off a beach, his comment over VHF, “My pits are dripping (sweat) to my waist,” made me laugh and broke my tension and the strong grip I had on the steering wheel.
Stuart switched to a working VHF channel after the bridge. In the next 2 hours of this tow, he provided an awesome tour of our surroundings. The first tidbit of news is that the rusty metal bits of the old bridge that was being deconstructed and removed was dumped in the exact location he picked us up. Next was how the islands on either side of this narrow channel were created by dredge spoils. Some of these man made islands were 20 feet high covered with flora and fauna and a home for multiple species of wildlife. There were a few more stories, you get the picture.
Having never experienced a tow before, I was very impressed by the professionalism and helpfulness of both the Coast Guard to engage a tow and the Sea Tow Captain who arranged the Marina dock and provided recommendations for a mechanic. A few days later, we received another big dose of southern hospitality when our Tow Captain brought us a couple Carolina barbecue dinners from a local fund raiser on Sunday. Pulled pork, crispy fried chicken wings, cole slaw, baked beans and a dinner roll. Delicious!
We arrived in Manteo on Thursday, Veterans Day. The earliest we could schedule a mechanic was the following Monday. That gave us time to hike, explore the town, do laundry, and catch up on computer logging and blogging 😁.
Tom had purchased a new oil pan, gasket and hardware this summer as he noticed some corrosion in the area. We engaged a mechanic and helper to lift the engine and replace the oil pan. There was no proof this was the source of the oil leak, just a strong suspicion. Raising the engine off its mounts then tipping it to one side allowed easier access to the oil pan. There were 21 fasteners and a few were rusty and hard to remove. It took the mechanics 3 hours to remove the old oil pan.
After lunch, they installed the new oil pan, remounted the engine and hooked everything back up, topped up engine oil and coolant, primed the filters, then started her up. Uh oh, she’s squirting clean engine oil from a high pressure metal tube that wraps around the back of the engine. We immediately ordered the new part and requested overnight shipping.
Two days later, the new part was installed. The engine runs with no leaks, although shifting into reverse is a little difficult. We elected to continue our journey south via the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW). Winds were too strong and from the wrong direction to go south and west through Pamlico sound, so we went north, west, then south. We left Manteo early Thursday morning, a week after we arrived.
We had a pretty tough first day of ICW traveling. There is a super shallow channel leaving Manteo, Anita remembered going aground briefly here 3 years ago. There were more crab pots on this northwest stretch than Casco Bay Maine. The crab pots plagued us all the way to the Alligator river entrance. Many were small, dark in color and hard to spot. Thankfully, we didn’t hit any. Just lots of hand steering to avoid them all. We were definitely making a snake wake, not something I’m proud of. Next we had to motor-sail all the way south directly into the wind in the Alligator river. However, on the positive side; we are 41 miles closer to Beaufort, NC. We made it to our chosen destination for the night. The anchor was down just after sunset. We saw a mini 🌈 as we entered the harbor.
The next day was very close to ideal conditions. We raised the jib right after the anchor. In the less sheltered area of the canal it gave us an added 1-2 knots of boat speed; 5-7 knots is acceptable.
Beautiful sailing conditions continued past Bellehaven, crossing the Pamlico river, and south down Goose Creek, 49 more miles done. As we turned upwind to drop the mainsail in our chosen Gale Creek anchorage, the engine was revving, but we had no forward momentum? “Tom, drop the anchor now, no propellor or forward thrust from engine!” He lowered the anchor, then finished the mainsail. Turns out the transmission cable broke. It was bent by the mechanic stepping on it. Bending it back only works for a little while. Tom was up until 1AM replacing that cable. Yes, we had a spare on board.
The next day we enjoyed another beautiful 19 mile sail to Oriental. We assembled our Pota-bote dinghy and went ashore to walk around and shop in the Provision Company. Then stopped for refreshments at the coffee shop.
Our final 21 miles to Beaufort was under motor. Light to no winds and mostly through narrow bodies of water. We chose a more direct route this time through Town creek to Taylor creek rather than around Radio Island. Nice shortcut, much less traffic too. We had scheduled appointments for a drive through COVID test, required for USVI entrance. So soon we were on shore calling Old Town Taxi and on our way to Walgreens and Lidl for our final stock up.
We Should Go
The temperature was 39 this morning, November 23rd and predicted 33 on the 24th. We should go south. The weather apps we use and our weather router agree there is a good weather window to head for the USVI starting tomorrow morning. We should be warmer as soon as we cross the Gulf Stream. We and Lone Star are ready for a passage to escape winter and enjoy the Caribbean this season. Please no more trouble. As you can see like the ocean, we roll with whatever comes our way.