Sunday, June 22, 2014

Crossing the boundary

We are anchored in a very familiar spot, on Banks Channel north of Motts Channel in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina (map).  This is the same spot where we anchored after our very first ocean passage on our way south, back in November, and where we liked it so much we decided to stay through Thanksgiving and the annual Holiday Flotilla.  But, wow, what a difference the season makes.

We had an uneventful cruise here from Bald Head Island on Friday, once I was able to get off the dock.  We had a dozen knots or so of wind pinning us to the dock on our starboard side, and the exit was behind us so we had to back out.  Since the prop walks us to starboard in reverse, it took me several tries to kick the stern far enough away from the dock to power back out of the fairway into the basin.  Twice I had to pause for ferries maneuvering right where we needed to be (one of which is really a tug-and-barge, used to shuttle service and delivery vehicles to the island).

We made it out without touching any pilings, boats, or ferries, and we had no trouble leaving the marina's entrance, as we chose to do so this time at dead slack.  That decision, though, soon had us overrunning the slack in the river -- low slack moves upriver, apparently more slowly than six knots.  I ended up throttling back to just above idle to try to let it get ahead of us, so we'd have current behind us instead of on the nose.  It made for a very leisurely trip up the Cape Fear.  Once in Snow's Cut the current changes direction, and I cranked it back up to cruise RPM for the rest of the trip.

Snow's Cut empties into Myrtle Grove Sound in Carolina Beach, which is a big summer resort town.  I was a bit taken aback to find the waterway chock-a-block with pleasure craft on a Friday, from stand-up paddleboards to jet skis to 30' express cruisers.  Many (most?) were rentals piloted by operators of questionable skill and at best a superficial understanding of the rules of the road.  Fortunately, most seemed to understand the "law of gross tonnage" and managed to get out of our way before I had to do anything unnatural.  The non-stop parade of water sports aficionados persisted for the remainder of the cruise, all the way here to Wrightsville Beach, which is an even bigger summer resort.

This is a stark contrast to our visits to both towns last year.  When we came through northbound in April, it was still cold and blustery, and we even got pinned down by weather in Carolina Beach for a few days.  That was also the very leading edge of the snowbird migration -- we sat on the fuel dock of Joyner Marina for days without being in anyone's way.  Southbound in November the biggest thing happening was the flotilla, and even that had the town crowded for only a few hours.  Now, you can't get a parking space, we had to wait 40 minutes for a table at Tower 7, and speedboats have been buzzing the anchorage since we dropped the hook.

It would seem we've crossed the boundary, which I would guess to have been somewhere around Savannah, between where people go in the winter to escape the cold (most of Florida), and where people go in the summer to beat the heat (the beach).  Fort Lauderdale and Stuart had emptied out by the time we left, with scarcely a cruising boat to be found, and now we are surrounded.

We are once again somewhat pinned down by weather.  From here we will go out at Masonboro Inlet for an ocean passage to Cape Lookout, and the ocean forecast has been for short-period waves, which, while doable, is not the most comfortable ride.  It looked yesterday like tomorrow would be better than today, but now it looks mostly the same.  Unless Tuesday's forecast looks significantly better, we will probably weigh anchor tomorrow morning and get moving.

As we learned on our last visit, this is not a bad place to be stuck for a few days.  There are some restaurants, a small grocery, and a place to offload trash and recycling.  But there are no hardware stores, auto parts, or chandleries, and I'd like to get someplace where I have access to those to get a few more things done around the boat.  For example, we're overdue for an oil change, and while I have the oil, I still need a filter.

From Cape Lookout, we've decided to retrace our steps from our southbound cruise, to wit, the ICW to the Neuse River, then Pamlico, Croatan, and Albemarle sounds to the North River, and the ICW back to Norfolk.  We should be in the Hampton Roads area in early July.

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