Beaufort, NC and Provisioning for the Bahamas

Footnote to add to my last blog: We really enjoyed our three day stay in Oriental, NC. The Inland Waterway Provision Company was a favorite stop of ours every time we went ashore. They have an awesome selection of healthy provisions; I could and probably should have spent a small fortune there. They also have a section dedicated to consignment sales of nautical equipment. We were so happy when they offered to sell our 12’ Porta-Bote for us!

Picture: Bringing the old dinghy ashore for consignment sale. Picture courtesy of Kimberly on Pegu Club.

On Tuesday, November 20th we motor-sailed down the ICW to our next destination. We anchored off Moorehead City hoping for one more night of visiting with Pegu Club, but they ended up exiting the waterway onto a shallow bank and were too far away for a dinghy ride. We look forward to catching up with them again in the Bahamas. The next morning, we left at the same time they did, crossing each other as they kept going south and we motored 5 miles east to Beaufort, NC. As tears formed due to this farewell, blurring my vision, dolphins jumped out of the water ahead of us. That brought an instant smile and a soothing feeling that we will cross paths again!

We stayed at Beaufort Docks Marina for 4 days to provision the boat for the next six months. Thank you to cruising friend Marcia on Cutting Class for tips on what to stock up on before heading to the Bahamas! The Marina offers loaner cars for their guests which makes it much easier to shop around town. Their cars are old, but they run. We went to a super Walmart, a hardware store, Piggly Wiggly, and Food Lion, and we had a spare propane tank filled. We spent nearly $1,000 on provisions and filled a lot of nooks and crannies on the boat. Just before leaving the dock we also filled up the diesel and water tanks. Tom had one last task to prepare the boat: change the oil in the engine. He discovered we should buy more engine oil. On Monday, we set out walking together. Anita stopped at a salon to get her hair cut and Tom continued on to the Auto Parts store for 2 gallons of oil. We met up again for the remainder of the walk back to the boat.

Every Thanksgiving evening the Backstreet Pub hosts a gathering and feast for cruisers and locals. They provided two turkeys: one smoked, one baked, a baked ham, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Locals and cruisers provide the rest. I brought a cabbage salad and some chocolate fudge.

It was a very yummy and abundant feast and fun to meet both locals and cruisers.

The weather has been a real challenge during this part of our cruise. When we arrived here my first task was doing laundry at the local laundry mat as my winter wear was dirty. I brought about a weeks’ worth of winter clothes and had already stretched that a bit. I did laundry again just before we left as the same occurred. We’ve experienced lows in the 30’s and highs in the 50’s with lower wind chills. We had two gales while in Beaufort; one at the dock and one at anchor. Luckily, we have a good diesel heater to keep the cabin warm. It’s been used so much we actually needed to clean it again. We have been listening to Chris Parker from Marine Weather Center on SSB and subscribed to his weather routing service for our upcoming passage to the Bahamas. This will allow us to speak directly with Chris and his team twice a day to update our location and get advice on course corrections.

One detail we were not able to complete before leaving CT was to sell my 2015 VW Passat. We had advertised twice on EBay Motors with no interest. We called the dealer we bought the car from and they were interested in seeing it. A big thank you to our son, Alex for bringing it to them and finalizing the sale! That’s a big relief to not have it sitting around in a cold New England winter unused. We’ll rent a vehicle when we fly or sail home for visits.

The last bit of preparation before leaving the country was to secure international medical coverage and medical evacuation insurance. Better to be safe than sorry. We are both healthy and do what we can to stay that way.

Our departure was delayed a few days due to Tom getting sick. He had head cold symptoms, but the illness only lasted 3-4 days. It was probably a mild flu as energy loss was also a symptom. The night before we left Anita started showing the same symptoms. The weather window we had included a downwind stretch for the first day or two followed by southerly (SE-S-SW) winds for the next few days. We elected to go when the winds were favorable to cross the gulf stream and leave on November 29th. We informed family of our plans and provided links to the Ham Radio Waterway Net that posts our reported position each day and a link to Chris Parker who also records our position twice a day. We are ready to head south by the faster route, out into the Atlantic, and south to the Bahamas. We really want to escape winter!!

Ocracoke and Oriental, NC

Picture:  Fishing vessels in Oriental, where stories of Blackbeard abound

Disclaimer for our non-sailing readers: sorry for the technical jargon in this one. Some of our sailing friends will appreciate the details of the challenges we’ve experienced and how we overcome them.

The fifty-mile excursion from Wanchese, NC (on Roanoke Island) to Ocracoke, NC was uncomfortable yet necessary.   The latter because there are few choices of protected anchorages in the broad and shallow Pamlico Sound. We left at first light with a little help from the dock master. The west wind had us pinned to the dock.  Our normal backing down with an aft tie spring wasn’t working. Tom asked the dock master to move our one remaining dock line on the starboard stern cleat to the last cleat on the dock and we were able to back into the open space beside the dock and finally head out on our own.

After motoring about 10 miles down the eastern channel of Roanoke, we were able to set full sail and head southwest.  We have a small camber spar jib that is self-tacking; so, there is little need for us to be out in the weather tending it. We chose to leave with a windy forecast (West 15-20MPH diminishing to 10MPH as the day progresses) as we didn’t think we could make the 50-mile passage under motor alone in daylight hours.  Well, forecasts are not always right, it stayed windy!  Furthermore, as it had been windy for some time the waves although not big (1-3 feet) were confused.  This made for a very bouncy, corkscrew kind of ride.  Like riding a bronco, I imagine.  Picture things falling in the cabin and a lot of rocking and rolling in all directions.  The windshield was soon covered in salt and difficult to see through.  Solution: steer by instruments: chart plotter, compass, speed and depth readings.  The sea finally calmed for the last hour as we meandered through the approach channels to Ocracoke.  The trip took nine hours and we certainly didn’t eat very well: gingerbread muffins, peanut butter bread and snacks.  Too rough to make a sandwich or heat soup!

Ocracoke has a small secure harbor with an active ferry at the curvy entrance. Yes, we met the ferry right at the entrance and waited outside the channel in 5 feet of water for them to pass. Then we motored to the far end of the harbor and anchored near a couple other sail boats.  It took a few hours for our brains to realize the boat was no longer rocking.  Is that muscle memory?  It is a strange and somewhat unsettling sensation.

We checked the distance (36 miles) and forecast (favorable winds and sunny) to our next destination: Oriental, NC; and decided to forego exploring the local wild horses and vicinity in favor of returning to the ICW and our trek south.  Temperatures have moderated recently and we are seeing highs in the mid 60’s and lows in the low 50’s. Yet, New England is experiencing snow and freezing temperatures already.

Saturday, November 17th we motor sailed in light winds across the remainder of Pamlico Sound and into the Neuse River.  Meal preparation and cleanup not a problem. Much better day!

Oriental is a very small harbor with limited anchoring.  So glad we found a spot to anchor inside the breakwater!  The two free slips at the public dock were occupied.  The marina docks are mostly empty at this time of year, but we had just spent four days at a dock in Wanchese.

The next morning Pegu Club motored into the harbor and began setting their anchor right next to us when I noticed a spot had opened on the public dock.  They quickly hoisted the anchor and moved to the free dock.  We always enjoy spending time with Jeff and Kimberly on Pegu Club.  They also started their cruise from Shennecossett Yacht Club. We chatted animatedly as we walked together to the local Marine consignment and Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Later they came over for dinner, games and popcorn. This is the cruising lifestyle we truly enjoy! The below picture was taken by us as we returned to Lone Star at sunset.

Entering the ICW

We left Hampton, VA on November 4th in very light winds. Motoring across Hampton Roads on a Sunday was incredibly quiet. Just a few other pleasure boats about, one large container ship, and a couple small tug & barge combinations.

It was such an easy passage that we decided to carry on past Hospital Point; the beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway, referred to as ICW.  We were surprised we made such good time and were soon directed into the Dismal Swamp Deep Creek lock just before 2:30.

There were 4 other boats in the lock with us.  The lock master was real nice and provided lots of information about the canal and options of places to stay.

We stopped for the night directly after the Deep Creek bridge around 4PM.  It now gets dark around 5PM, since the time change today!

This bulkhead tie-up was our first non-anchoring or sailing night since leaving home.  We do not often dock as our vessel is a trimaran and too wide (22′ 6″) for most slips.  We vastly prefer the freedom and peace of mind of being at anchor versus tied to a dock.  However, the canal was quite still and narrow.  There is certainly no room to swing at anchor.  Street noise was loud, but not bothersome and subsided before bedtime.  Tom made a quick run to a local Food Lion for fresh food as this was a very good supply stop and a short walk away.

The next morning, we started at 7:00AM to continue motoring through the Dismal Swamp.  We wanted to catch the Mill Creek Lock for the 11:00 AM opening.  This part of the man-made canal is straight and often runs right beside a highway.  When the road curves away it is so quiet and the only sound is nature.  The overhanging trees although contributing to this beauty are also a hazard to navigation when they fall in the canal or when a mast rubs against a low hanging branch and it rains pinecones, leaves and nuts all over the deck.  We heard a few bumps from sunken debris as well, truly not a good feeling.  The weather was warm and overcast with occasional drizzle or a brief downpour.  We were very thankful for our enclosed cockpit.  We caught up with two other sail boats around 10:30AM; it was perplexing as they often slowed or stopped.  Finally discovered via VHF that they were not sure of the height of the fixed bridge ahead.  Six boats arrived at the lock almost a half-hour late.  Luckily, the lock master still let us through the lock and the bridge.  The lead boat was a catamaran, they were directly ahead of us in the lock when eight feet of water was rushing out of the lock.  They managed to get a mooring line jammed under a cleat and had to cut it.  Scary to see the boat scrape along the lock wall and suddenly drop three feet.  Lessons learned: handle your lines continuously and have a knife handy.

Very shortly after the lock, we heard another thunk under the boat.  Anita quickly put the engine in neutral and saw a large submerged log under and moving with Lone Star.  We hooked it.  After a half minute of drifting Tom suggested trying the engine. It made a loud noise and stalled.  We then drifted to the side of the canal and the trees rained down on us.  We shouted to the boats following us to pass us as we were disabled.  The last boat, Jade East was very kind and threw us a floating line to tow our bow to the center of the canal while we dealt with the 30′ tree.  Tom managed to tow it to the side of the canal with our dinghy once it was free. Thankfully the engine did start after that and we were able to get on our way once again.  We noted that our speed was slower at the same RPM and the steering was off center, but still responsive.  There were no leaks inside the boat and no vibration of the propeller so we continued on with Jade East following.  We decided to anchor before the Elizabeth City opening bridge due to the South winds predicted; more protected on the North side of the peninsula.  Glad those two motoring days of hand steering in close quarters are over!

A look in the water with the GoPro the next morning revealed blackness; the fresh river water is the color of iced tea due to the tannin from the trees and roots.  Tom would need to dive over the side to check if we have any damage from the submerged log.  He used his wetsuit and dive tank so it took a while to setup.  In the meantime, Anita continued to sweep the debris off the deck.  You guessed it!  Tom couldn’t see under the brown water either.  He felt around and removed small twigs and debris from the rudder and discovered the tips of all three propeller blades were missing.  Tom did not feel any dings or dents in the hull or rudder and we are not taking on water anywhere, yeah!  The rudder is now back to normal.

We moved through the Elizabeth City opening bridge and anchored off Pelican Marina. We looked at the sea walls that offer free dockage and didn’t like the current wind conditions that would push the boat against the dock.

Pelican has a dinghy dock and let us do laundry and take showers. We also walked to town and had a very delicious lunch at Hoppin’ Johnz; smoked meats with southern barbecue flavors.

We have ordered a new propeller and some spare parts and they will be delivered to a Marina on Roanoke Island about 50 miles south of here.  We are scheduled for a short haul next Wednesday morning.  We continue to work on our project list.  Tom finished the installation of the ham radio and has listened to the waterway and weather nets, but has not transmitted yet. He also installed the EPIRB bracket, the radar reflector, and tidied up some loose wires.

We plan to sail about 40 miles south to Manteo on Roanoke Island tomorrow.  Yes, sail!  Across Albemarle Sound, a nice stretch of open water.