Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Settled in for the holiday

We arrived safely through Masonboro Inlet yesterday afternoon and are anchored in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in the short stretch of Banks Channel north of Motts Channel and south of the eight foot fixed bridge (map).  We had a great passage, with perfect conditions, and had no trouble with the well-marked inlet here protected by jetties.

This must be our week for shrimp-boat neighbors, as one pulled in to the Fort Macon anchorage Sunday night shortly after I posted here.  He left his trolling/stabilization poles out and deck lights on the whole night, anchored just a few hundred feet from us.  He was still settled in when we weighed anchor in the pre-dawn hours, even though we saw several other shrimpers heading to sea ahead of us.  A shrimper had even passed us close aboard when we were anchored in Cedar Creek.

Shrimp boat anchored nearby.  I snapped this photo as we were weighing anchor.

Leaving the shrimper and the anchorage behind, we were in the ship channel and passing the barrier islands at sunrise, and we made our right turn in the deep water just past Green 13, which oddly showed on our charts as Green 11.  (Inlet channel markers are repositioned fairly frequently, so this is not all that surprising.)   From there it was a straight 64nm run to Masonboro Inlet, with one large caveat, which is that this line crossed the Camp LeJeune firing range, which extends 15 miles to sea.

Shortly after making the turn, we called Range Control at Camp LeJeune to find out if we'd need to stay clear of the range -- our Notice to Mariners (NOTAM) indicated the range would be in use daily.  The Marine who answered the phone told me that it was our lucky day -- live fire exercises had been canceled, and we could come as close in as we'd like "without running aground."  That saved us nearly five miles, about 45 minutes.  As we crossed into the range I noticed a sailboat very deliberately going around -- I tried to raise him on the radio to pass along the news, to no avail.

That sailboat was the only other vessel we saw all day once we were a few miles outside the inlets.  He was three miles behind us when I spotted him, and nearly eight miles by the time we emerged from the firing range.  It can be lonely out on the ocean.  That said, we never really left sight of shore, being perhaps a dozen or so miles from it at the furthest point, and I even had 3G coverage on my phone for a good two hours after the turn at Beaufort Inlet, so I caught up on email, news, and social media.

Our track across Onslow Bay from Beaufort to Masonboro.  Click to open full-size and eliminate the "moirĂ© pattern" effect from photographing a pixelated display.

Other than having to dodge a buoy marking a fish haven, which my plot line just happened to cross at just the right place, I did not touch a control all day.  Such is the nature of ocean travel.  We passed the time chatting, looking at the distant shore through glasses, doing routine engine room and instrument checks, and planning our next few moves.  I even did some troubleshooting when a random test revealed the horn was not working.  (Who knows how long it's been broken.  The colregs say I am supposed to sound one whistle blast every time we leave a berth -- although no pleasure boats do this -- and perhaps we need to start just to be sure the horn works as it should.)

As we approached Masonboro Inlet and were perhaps ten minutes out, I radioed for Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach, to get conditions at the inlet and any last-minute navigational information.  After perhaps half a minute with no response, Coast Guard Sector North Carolina answered, and when I told them I was looking for local information on the inlet, they asked me to stand by.  After maybe another minute, Station Wrightsville Beach came on the radio, and I repeated my request.  The watchstander either was not authorized or else simply did not know the answer, and I waited another half minute or so for a different coastie to come to the radio with the needed information, to wit, that there were no issues, and depths were as charted and no less than sixteen feet.

I had opted to run the boat faster than we normally would on an ocean crossing, to ensure we would arrive at the destination with enough daylight to find an anchorage and get settled in -- days are short this time of year.  We dialed in 1800rpm which gave us 7.8 knots at a burn of 6gph.  That put us here at the anchorage around 3:45 and we were all settled in place by 4.  Plenty of daylight left to splash the tender and even clean up the decks a bit.

Wrightsville Beach has the nicest free dinghy dock I have ever seen, and we made the short trip there last night to have dinner at Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill just a block from the dock.  The food was excellent, and we learned that Mondays they have $3 XX Ambar drafts and half-price fajitas, which is what we always order anyway.  The two of us had trouble finishing a single order of the fajitas, although we did, as usual, ask for extra tortillas.  Robert's Grocery was just a few doors down, and we picked up milk, eggs, bananas, and ice cream to restock before heading back.

This morning I took another quick tender ride to empty our trash at the large receptacles provided there by the city, and again walked over to Tower 7 in its slightly altered incarnation as Cafe del Mar, which serves coffee and breakfast items.  I picked up a pair of breakfast burritos to bring back, which were also excellent.

We knew the weather today would be miserable and decided to just stay put.  The Nordhavn 50 Grey Goose, which had anchored right behind us, opted to move along, but I was happy to have a chance to see the two boats side-by-side, as the N50 is my all-time favorite Nordy, and is also closest in many respects to Vector, even down to the same powerplant.

We "slept in" this morning, which after yesterday's start meant sometime after 6:30am.  At least I got the trash off the boat before the rain started this way.  After a quick check of news and email, I then settled in to planning mode, as we are just three days away from Thanksgiving with no dinner reservations, or really any idea where we'd be.

I started with Bald Head Island, some 26 miles south of here, as the marina there is the natural jumping-off point for our next outside run, even longer than the last one, to Winyah Bay.  I've always wanted to visit Bald Head, and there are two restaurants there, both attached to private clubs, that are serving the holiday meal.  Renting a slip at the marina enables you to buy a one- or two-day guest pass to the clubs.

I'll spare you the long version and just say that we'd have to have "dinner" at 1pm at the Shoals Club, buy a two-day pass for $50, and rent a golf cart from yet another vendor to even get there, on top of the marina stay which would be north of $100 per night.  All for the privilege of spending $32pp for a buffet, plus tip and any drinks.  I'm sure it's lovely, but the logistics and cost diminish that somewhat, and, to top it all off, that would mean having a schedule on the boat -- never good.

Next I called possibly every restaurant in Southport within walking distance of the docks.  I ended up making 4:30 reservations at The Pharmacy, likely the nicest joint in town.  We'd dock maybe in the yacht basin or else at the Southport Marina and walk several blocks, and 4:30 meant we'd be able to have a fairly leisurely run on Thursday morning, when the weather is supposed to be favorable.  That said, their holiday menu did not really call to either of us -- in the south, turkey is apparently served with collard greens.

Somewhere in the course of the search I learned that there are several places right here in Wrightsville Beach serving Thanksgiving dinner, and I started calling around.  We ended up booking at The Bridge Tender, a restaurant attached to a marina and right next to the lift bridge, across the channel from where we stayed on our way north.  We can dinghy over there and tie up for dinner, so we don't even need to leave the anchorage.

In the course of calling around, I talked to a resort nearby, the Blockade Runner, which we can see from where I sit right now.  They serve an enormous buffet, and they have a dock.  We declined the buffet option, but when I asked about tying up at the dock, I learned that, while we could dock our dinghy there for dinner, the dock was unavailable the rest of the weekend due to "the flotilla."  Hmm.

As it happens, every year at Thanksgiving, Wrightsville Beach hosts the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, which in most places would be called the holiday boat parade.  I looked at the route and the parade is planned to completely encircle the anchorage where we now lie, on Saturday evening.  Beforehand there will be fireworks, and the NOTAMs say we need to be at least 300 yards from a specific location, which I take to be the launch point.  We currently lie 450 yards from those coordinates.

Faced with the prospect of having one of the largest holiday boat parades in the southeast (it apparently attracts 50,000+ visitors) happen just a few hundred feet from us, on top of having front-row seats for the fireworks, we've decided not only to have Thanksgiving dinner here in town, but also to stay through the weekend and take in the whole event.  As our good friends over at Technomadia would say, it's serendipity.

I did call the Coast Guard station (the same one that took so long to get us inlet information) to verify that we'd be OK right here for the entire event.  Ironically, not half an hour later we were visited, along with every other boat in the anchorage, by a Coast Guard patrol boat making sure everyone was aware of the incoming severe weather.  We're nice and secure, but the patrol boat visit prompted us to pay out another 20' of scope, increasing to 9:1.

Depending on weather, we will likely get under way Sunday for Bald Head, or the nearby anchorage, to wait for a good window for the outside run to Winyah Bay.  I still want to see the island, and we need to be right next to the inlet when the weather window opens.  It's too early to predict when that will be -- coastal forecasts have a short lifespan.


  1. sounds like a sound holiday plan...

  2. this morning here in Oklahoma we woke to 20 degrees with a wind chill of 12 degrees.
    So I checked Wilmington, N.C and found your temps to be 67 degrees wow! weather link http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=28401
    Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukah

    1. The 67 thing is a recent development -- it's been in the 30s and 40s the last few days. The warmer temperature came in with the rain, so it appears our choices are dry but cold, or warmer but wet.

      Happy holidays to you, too.

  3. Sean and Louise,

    You moved from your anchorage in the Beaufort inlet just in time! Last night an EF2 tornado passed within 5 miles of there, damaging the Morehead City Hospital and the near-by community college. Fortunately it caused only property damage, no persons injured. Enjoy the Holiday and festivities at Wrightsville Beach!

    Fair winds and following seas. Goldwing Jay in New Bern

    1. The tornado warning came in on the radio last night. I could not tell exactly where it was from the description, but I am very glad we missed it. We had a watch here, and we had to go to bed with the reality that there was little we could do if one approached. I think our 50-ton steel boat would fare better than the handful of sailboats around us, though.

      One of these days we will get the boat up to New Bern. I think we've missed the window this season, though. Have a happy holiday.

  4. I have been following your journey for many years now. Have a happy Holiday.

    Gerard Kocher
    San Francisco CA
    1987 Bluebird PT38 8V92

    P.S. in one of your past post, you mentioned as it gets colder you will not be able to use your heater on board. Just curious as to why?

    1. Happy holiday to you too.

      Our main heaters are "reverse cycle" units, a fancy marine term for a heat pump. They extract heat from seawater in the same way that a residential heat pump extracts it from the outside air. When the seawater gets down to the low 40s, the thermal difference is just too great for the working medium (R22) to be able to effect the heat transfer. The good news is that even though outside air temps might be down even below freezing, the seawater is usually much warmer -- it's in the high 50s here. So marine reverse cycle units work at much lower air temperatures than residential heat pumps.

  5. Hope you spend as many and varied Thanksgivings on the boat as you did on the bus.


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