Friday, June 27, 2014


This morning found us anchored in Silver Lake, in the village of Ocracoke, North Carolina, on Ocracoke Island (map).  This is our first visit to the Outer Banks in the boat, but it is not the first time we've been in Ocracoke. Long-time, die-hard readers may remember that we parked the bus at a pub (photo) just east of town, after driving the length of the island, before embarking the ferry to Cedar Island right here in Silver Lake.

This is a very tight anchorage.  The lake is tiny, there's a five-foot hump on the west side, and the northern 1/3 is unusable due to the ferry landing (the ferries need room to maneuver, and they hold themselves against the landing for up to 45 minutes with their propellers, creating a wash current in the basin).  Consequently, we had to squeeze into a tiny spot among perhaps a dozen other boats.  Fortunately, the lake is shallow and the bottom is thick mud, so we were able to get away with just 50' of chain out, for a total circle of 100' or so.  We were 120' from the two nearest boats.

The backup plan, had we not been able to squeeze in or set, was the very nice and recently renovated National Park Service docks.  The park service charges $1.25 per foot, plus $5 for 50-amp power, which is a bargain, and it's half that if you have a senior or disability pass.  They also provide a dinghy dock, free for up to three hours, and we took advantage of it to go ashore for dinner at SMacnally's, a prototypical waterside burger joint.  We also walked a few blocks of the quaint but overly touristy town, which was packed -- a marked difference from when we were here in the off-season.

We had a very calm and beautiful cruise from Adams Creek, with both the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound being nearly flat calm.  The only downside was that there was so little wind (from directly astern, at the same speed we were cruising) that it was very hot in the boat all day.  It was quite still in the anchorage as well, and we had an uncomfortably hot night.  Conditions were perfect for large, fast motor yachts to make good time, and three 75-80 footers all passed us doing over 20 knots.  They prefer this route over the ICW because they can run at full speed nearly the whole way, whereas they are precluded from planing on long stretches of the ICW.  These three yachts likely all left Beaufort/Morehead City in the morning, and would be in Coinjock for a nice prime rib dinner at the end of the day, a trip which takes us three days.

It is this slower nature of our boat that means we can not cross Pamlico Sound in a single day, mandating an overnight stop someplace.  On our way south last year, we opted to tuck in closer to the western shore and anchor for the night all alone, and it was amazingly beautiful, if a bit rolly.  This time, I realized that a stop in Ocracoke is really just a few miles further out of the way -- basically just the four-mile length of the entrance channel, and I thought it would be a nice stop.

There is all manner of doom and gloom on the Internet and in cruising guides about shoaling in the entrance channel, known as Big Foot Slough.  There are also many stories of boats grounding "in the channel."  The reality, though, is that the state of North Carolina runs vehicle ferries in and out this channel all day long, and several of the ferries draw six feet, just as we do, so I knew it was possible for us so long as we knew exactly where to put the boat.

One can always find lots of folklore about where to find the deepest water -- "I touched bottom just inside red 10," or "you'll find the best water 52.687365 feet inside of the greens."  Our experience, however, is that less than half the advice is correct, and short of discounting the outliers and then averaging all the other opinions, there's no good way to tell who's right and who's not.  Instead, I did what any prudent mariner would do here: I went directly to the Army Corps of Engineers' web site and downloaded the latest hydrographic survey of the channel, which in this case happened to be taken June 6.

The survey clearly shows where the dangerous shoaling is occurring and where the deepest water is, and we plotted a course through the problem area of the channel using the hydrographic data directly.  We had no trouble, although the depth sounder did register less than eight feet for a few seconds as we crossed the hump.  This morning on our way out, we ended up meeting an incoming ferry in the channel, and we had to wait in the deeper, wider section south of the shoal until he passed the narrows.  Yesterday on our way in, we also had to wait outside the lake for a ferry to depart.  The ferry skippers are very courteous and professional, and are a good source of information on channel conditions -- they each run this channel several times a day.

When we first dropped the hook, we thought we might stay a couple of days if we were enjoying ourselves.  After dinner, though, we found very little calling us to do so.  Moreover, the bugs are horrendous, and at one point we had so many aboard I was afraid they might carry off one of the cats.  We both spent the evening covered in DEET.  We ended up hoisting the tender just before a spectacular sunset, with plans to weigh anchor and get back under way this morning.  I expect we will return, but we'll try to do so in the shoulder season, rather than at maximum tourist/bug density.

Our stay in Ocracoke was so short that I did not get a chance to blog.  Also, my cell phone had no Internet access there, and the intermittent WiFi signals we could pick up were good only for short bursts of email, and checks of the news and weather.  No worries, though, because I have plenty of time right now, being, as we are, in the middle of a four-hour straight leg between Big Foot Slough and Long Shoal marker.  I still don't have Internet access, but I will upload this when we get within range.

In contrast to yesterday's beautiful weather, this morning started with a thunderstorm, which, if nothing else, cooled everything down quite a bit.  Since then, we've had 10-15 knots out of the east, making for a very choppy ride.  Pushing into the wind is also slowing us down, and we are doing just over six knots at 1,600 RPM.  We'll likely end up dropping the hook tonight someplace in Croatan Sound, as the Albemarle would be a stretch in the daylight.

There is much less pleasure traffic on the sound today, but we did see large motor yachts go by on plane in both directions, as well as a couple of sailboats hammering their way up to Manteo.  For a brief time, we had water to the horizon in all directions, but now we can see land to our north.  As we get further east and north, the fetch is reduced, and things are calmer now even than when I started typing.  Of course, we were in the middle of the chop when the stabilizers decided to quit.

I happened to be standing downstairs when it happened, with them centering themselves with a loud clunk.  Louise yelled down to me that we had an overtemp alarm, and so we immediately checked for water flow and the temperatures at both the engine exhaust and the shaft stuffing box.  All else was normal.  That's when I increased RPM from 1500 to 1600 to get more water flowing.  We cleared the alarm and the stabilizers have been working normally ever since, with temperature gun readings in the normal range.  At 84 degrees, this is the warmest seawater we've seen, so perhaps just a temporary glitch, but we will keep a close eye on it.

Tomorrow we will cross the Albemarle Sound into the North River.  We're not sure if we will try to press all the way to Great Bridge, or stop for the night either in Coinjock or one of the anchorages just before it.  In any case we may very well be off-line again tonight, and possibly tomorrow as well, but we should be in Great Bridge by Sunday. That's good, because we need groceries.

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