Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Post-holiday passage

We are under way southbound in the Atlantic Ocean, and, more specifically, Long Bay, between Cape Fear and Cape Romain. We had a relaxing and quiet Thanksgiving here aboard Vector, and we hope yours was pleasant as well. The time has flown by, and it's been over a week since I posted.

Not long after I finished my last post, we rounded the end of Long Shoal and turned west, toward Pains Point, to get protection for the night from the forecast northerlies along the southern shore of Long Shoal Point. About midway along the shore we tucked in as close as we could and dropped the hook (map). We had a comfortable night on the waters of Pamlico Sound, with not a soul around for miles.

As flat as it had been on Tuesday, it was even calmer on Wednesday, and we had a gorgeous cruise through the rest of Pamlico Sound and into the Neuse River, bound for a familiar anchorage in Adams Creek. As we steamed up the Neuse I opened up the charts and other resources to choose spot to anchor where I could get ashore to pick up dinner, and which would be comfortable for a couple of nights on the holiday weekend.

Sunset over Pamlico Sound from Long Shoal Point.

It was when I went to look up exactly which dock was closest to the restaurant that I discovered, to some horror, that I had called and confirmed takeout dinner availability at a restaurant in Beaufort South Carolina, rather than one in Beaufort, North Carolina. What a rookie mistake; they're not even pronounced the same, and we've been to both more than once.

In my defense, finding restaurants serving traditional holiday meals in random places can be an exercise in supreme frustration, if not futility. That's always been true, and it has been a challenge that has fallen to me three times a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years) for the last 16 years running, with occasional exceptions when we've been able to accept an invitation from family or friends.

If you've never had to do this yourself, I will share that Internet searches, for example "Christmas dinner in Panama City Florida 2019" will yield thousands of useless results, some of which will send you on wild goose chases. You'll get many pages of holiday restaurant listings from years gone by, some undated, pages from the local visitor bureau that look fresh but talk about places that are already out of business, information about Panama City, Panama -- you get the picture.

Seen along the ICW. A sad end to someone's livelihood, hopes, and dreams.

And so it is that finding a holiday meal, especially when we have not even nailed down the specific town yet, is often a multi-hour exercise that funnels the information down into a series of phone calls to confirm the details and make reservations. The pandemic has added an extra dimension, inasmuch as many establishments have not updated their on-line information, and places that have served holiday meals for decades are closed this time around.

So I should not be surprised that a search for NC returned results in SC that weren't well-identified as such. Put the state they're in on the web site? That's silly -- everyone just knows. Many don't even put an area code in their phone number. In any event, here it was the night before Thanksgiving, under way, just before sunset, and I needed to come up with an alternate plan, speedy-quick.

Of course, at this late date, everyone I spoke to was already sold out, or would be closed when we arrived. We finally settled on a quick e-bike run to the Harris Teeter in Morehead City, open till 2pm, where I would pick up whatever I could that approximated Thanksgiving and we'd fix it at home. We set our sights on an anchor spot across from the Morehead City boat ramp for easy access.

Vector at anchor in Bogue Sound, as seen from the Morehead City boat ramp. Atlantic Beach in background.

We had to make that decision before turning off the Neuse, because two of the towns I investigated during the mad scramble were Oriental and New Bern, which would have been a different direction. With the plan still to continue to the coast, we turned into Adams Creek, and dropped the hook in a familiar spot (map) just as the twilight faded. We had a nice dinner aboard.

Thursday morning we weighed early for a favorable tide and to make the grocery store, and we had a pleasant and uneventful cruise to Morehead City. I had Louise take the conn long enough for me to go upstairs, get the e-bike out of its box, and set it up for the ride to the store. Then I went back to the Internet one final time to see if I could improve our lot.

As it turned out, I found a diner in Atlantic Beach, right across the channel from Morehead City, that was doing the traditional meal from 11 to 1. A check of the charts revealed that I could get pretty close to them in the tender from the same anchor spot we had already chosen if someone would let me tie up, and so we motored right across from the boat ramp, pulled off-channel into a wide spot, and dropped the hook (map).

Flux tied up at an abandoned marina. Sunk sailboat for artistic verisimilitude.

We had ordered our meals just as they opened at 11, and after dropping the hook, I loaded the e-bike into the tender, just in case things did not go as planned, and set out for Atlantic Beach. The channel that showed on my chart adjacent to the bridge no longer exists, and I had to go another mile east and back to make my way to Atlantic Beach. I found the dilapidated remains of an old marina, complete with sunken boats; a couple of locals standing on a nearby dock said I would be fine to tie up there.

The 4 Corners Diner was right across the street, and my order was ready right on time at 12:30. We each ordered turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans, plus I ordered one side salad. It all fit in my insulated carrier, and I was back home by 1pm. We decided we wanted to eat while it was still fresh, and so we had our holiday meal at 1:30. Well, half of it, anyway; there was so much food that we each set aside nearly half our meal and had the leftovers later for an evening snack.

Friday we had a relaxing day at home. In the afternoon we tendered over to the nearby boat ramp for a walk. While Harris Teeter would have been a bike ride at nearly three miles, there was a Lowes Foods across the street about 3/4 of a mile down the block, and we walked over and picked up a few things. A Tractor Supply is in the same shopping center.

The 4 Corners Diner is the real deal.

I got a bunch of projects done, including weatherstripping the sliding window screens, replacing the weathered grab lines on the lifering, and stowing the leftover hydraulic oil and the hookah rig from the work in the tiller flat. It was a quiet and pleasant day, but the holiday weekend boat traffic made for frequent uncomfortable wakes, nixing any thoughts we had about staying another day or so.

In the evening we ran two miles back to Morehead City in the tender, tied up at the free day dock, and walked to dinner on the patio at the Ruddy Duck (who also has a dock, but we did not want to commit). They had an outside table that felt safe enough to us, but they were busy inside, including several sitting at the bar, and there were several large groups on the patio some distance from us. I fear the post-holiday case numbers will be horrific.

There were several nice restaurants in Morehead City with outside dining, which would have made a longer stay pleasant. But between the tourist crowds, and the wakes in the anchorage, it was not enough to hold us in town, and Saturday morning we weighed anchor for points south. Normally, we would run outside from Morehead City to Wrightsville Beach, a day hop across Onslow Bay. But even though outside conditions were good, on this trip we had ulterior motives.

The view toward the beach from 4 Corners, with Atlantic Beach's holiday tree.

Specifically, we wanted to stop for cheap diesel ($1.65 plus tax) in Sneads Ferry. That meant running down the inside, along a stretch we normally shun because of numerous areas of shoaling. We set our sights on a familiar anchorage at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, known as Mile Hammock, just a couple of miles from the fuel stop.

We left on a fair tide, which gave us a good push the whole day, but it also put us at some of the worst shoaling right at low tide. I had the latest Corps of Engineers depth surveys up on the screen, showing a path good for 7' at low tide, and also a track through the area from ICW guru Bob Sherer, who literally wrote the book on modern ICW transits and publishes updated ICW tracks every spring and fall when he passes through. That track was good for 6' when he published it.

Of course we hit bottom in the two worst sections, notwithstanding being right on both Bob's track and the line of best water on the survey. On top of that, we had a few inches of tidal help, and with almost no fuel or water on board, we were riding high to begin with. In the first spot I had lots of current behind me, and we were doing six knots even though I was making turns for bare steerage. Our momentum carried us over with a mighty scrape.

Our track through the shoal, from right to left, superimposed on the survey.

The second spot was just before the anchorage, and I had current against me. When we felt the bottom I increased power and we just sort of grazed over it for a hundred feet or so until we were through. Having the CoE surveys in front of me to see clearly where the depths open up ahead is fantastic -- without that I never would have just powered through. I wish this had been available on our first trip through here seven years ago. Bob has taken both of my tracks and my grounding reports and submitted them to the CoE as evidence that dredging is needed.

And the second, also right to left. Orange is supposed to be 7' at low water.

We made it to Mile Hammock so early in the day that we considered just continuing on to the fuel stop. But there is no place to anchor after Mile Hammock for dozens of miles, and we did not want the fuel stop to turn into a marina stay, so we called it an early day and dropped the hook (map) with just a single other boat in the anchorage.

That did not last, of course, and by sunset we had a half dozen boats, including Terra Mar, who had been docked with us in Chesapeake, and the DeFever 52 Offshore Cruiser Last Laugh, which we had spent time on during our boat search back in 2012, docked behind the owner's house. I didn't write it back then, since it was still a big secret, but they were getting ready to sell and they offered us first dibs. I think it's been through two owners since, but still sports the same name, along with the humorously named tender, Chuckles

Waterfront patio at the Ruddy Duck.

Knowing we'd be anchored in this spot in some nice weather, Louise had taken a steak out of the freezer, and in the evening I fired up the grill to cook it. After first tripping the breaker a couple of times, the grill emitted an enormous spark as the heating element, our third in this same grill, gave up its ghost. After the second time this happened I bought a spare, but replacing the element in time for dinner was not in the cards, so I cooked the steak in the toaster oven broiler instead; it came out fine but without the grilled flavor.

Sunday we weighed anchor first thing to beat the crowd at the fuel dock. We had it to ourselves, though, and spent 90 minutes taking on 1,100 gallons of fuel and almost 500 gallons of fresh water, roughly six tons in all and adding 3" to our draft. We were off the dock in record time and back on our way south.

A mix of public and private holiday lights in Wrightsville Beach. The public ones are all sea-themed; I liked this colorful fish.

The forecast called for gale force SW winds to arrive in the evening, persisting all the way through Monday and into Tuesday. With our preferred anchorage in Wrightsville Beach open to the southwest, I spent some time staring at the charts looking for a better spot, but none really afforded the swing room to put out storm scope. Also, when winds reach 30mph, they shut down the drawbridges, which can close off a retreat option should an anchorage prove untenable.

We opted to continue to Wrightsville Beach, where we dropped the hook in our usual spot (map). We had to slow-roll the last five miles at 1100 rpm to time the bridges, with a good push behind us. A handful of sailboats and a rough-and-ready treasure-hunting boat were already anchored when we arrived. By dinner time the winds had picked up but were not bad, and we ran into town for Mexican take-out from our old standby, Tower 7, where I need to remember in the future that a small order of chips is plenty, but the fajitas need an extra side dish.

Winds built steadily overnight, and we awoke Monday morning to a full-on gale. We were well set, but we noticed the treasure hunter, Blue Water Rose, had dragged until he was perilously close to a couple of private docks. We kept wondering why he didn't just start up and re-set, but instead stood among the dive tanks on the back deck chatting on the phone. The answer became clear when Sea Tow showed up, hipped him up, and pushed him across the channel to the other anchorage. Treasure hunting doesn't pay the mechanic bills, I guess.

Moonrise over the holiday lights around the anchorage.

The anemometer topped out in the 40s on Monday, and we never left the boat. The tender had its own wild ride astern of us, but nothing broke or blew away, and other than a bit of chop and some roll, we were mostly comfortable, if unable to get anything done that involved standing. Holding is good in this anchorage.

Wrightsville Beach is always festively lit for the holidays, and long-time readers may remember we spent a Thanksgiving here, where we watched the lighted boat parade circle around us. Colorful lights surround the anchorage and extend down the main street along the island. We saw a couple of spectacular moonrises over the decorations; my camera was not up to the task of capturing one.

Knowing we'd be here, I ordered a few items to the Amazon locker, which arrived yesterday. Even though the mercury never climbed past the 40s, I bundled up and tendered the mile or so to the landing on the ICW to hike to the locker, and yesterday evening we decked the tender in anticipation of today's weather window. Several restaurants up along the ICW had improved their outside areas since our last visit, including heaters, but the 40s is just too cold for al fresco.

This evening's sunset over South Carolina off our starboard bow.

We've been keeping an eye on the passage weather, and we had a good window tomorrow, as well as an acceptable window this afternoon and through tonight. Fully fueled, watered, and provisioned, we decided to make a break for it, headed for at least Charleston, or as far beyond as daylight permits tomorrow. Right this moment, as we pass Pawley's Island, the plotter says that might be Hilton Head.

While the shortest route would have taken us direct from Cape Fear inlet to the Cape Romain Shoal buoy, a straight line across Long Bay, I had set a route that ran more or less along the territorial limit a dozen miles offshore, mostly to keep us within Internet coverage, but also to have a bit better ride with northwesterly winds. That added just three miles to a trip of over 200. As it turned out, we moved even closer to shore, running now about five miles off, because it was a bit of a rough ride further out.

As I wrap up typing, Louise has just turned in and I have started my solo watch. We've had no traffic since just outside of Cape Fear, and I have enough moonlight all night that I will not have to go out on deck in the cold to sweep the horizon.  All is well aboard m/y Vector.


  1. Nice blog. Interesting to see how others run the AICW and coast.

  2. Sean, when you say the fuel was $1.65 plus tax, what was the tax?
    In my big truck, the tax is included.

    1. Marine fuel is "off road" dyed fuel. This was simply the state sales tax, 7%. Lots of marinas post their price tax included, but a handful add the tax on at the register, as was the case here.

  3. Had to laugh at how you had to chase down that Thanksgiving meal. It was beginning to sound like y'all were going to have to pull a pizza out of the freezer & have Italian. :) Good reading on your blog & I'm still loving the maps that you insert. I sort of feel like I'm along for the ride & the maps sure help me see where you & the Vector are during the ride.


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