Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Getting while the getting is good

We are again underway northbound in the Atlantic Ocean, crossing the Camp Lejeune firing range just a couple miles offshore. We called Range Control first thing this morning to get clearance, as we wanted to transit Onslow Bay close to shore due to sea conditions.

Wednesday morning we awoke to a mostly calm Cape Fear River, ready for an early start to have high tide and following current in Snows Cut. We were stunned to see Liberdade and Blossom pass us before we even weighed anchor; they had spent the night some eight miles away in Southport, and left with the sunrise to make the same high tide. We had figured them to make the afternoon high instead.

Vector steaming up the Banks Channel into Wrightsville Beach, crew on the weather deck. Photo: Stephanie Morris

With an extra four feet of water we had no issues through the cut, and we still had plenty of tide for the several shoals north of Carolina Beach. The early start had us in Wrightsville Beach by 10am; we passed Blossom and Liberdade on the way to our usual spot in the Banks Channel (map). At this hour of the morning there were but two other boats in this anchorage, and it was refreshing not to have to "squeeze in" as we so often do.

We had not counted on another chance to get together, so to take advantage, I made reservations for the six of us at the only outdoor venue that would take them, the fancy East oceanfront restaurant at the Blockade Runner resort. I spent the afternoon exploring a bit in the dinghy and on foot before it was time to get ready.

Blossom and her stalwart crew anchored at Wrightsville Beach.

By dinner time, Liberdade had one crew under the weather, and so it ended up being just four of us for dinner. In all the times we've been to Wrightsville Beach we'd never made it to the Blockade Runner, which longtime readers may know we can see from the anchorage and who hosts the annual holiday boat parade. The resort was very nice, and dinner on the well-spaced patio under an expansive shade structure was very pleasant.

The passage weather forecast for today has hovered on the edge of marginal. We knew that Blossom and Liberdade would slog through it, because they will not go up the inside through here. We were on the fence; I always prefer outside, but I could have used a day of downtime in Wrightsville, and we could take two days up the inside and get a good fuel price in the bargain. Louise checked the forecast again when she got up and made the call that we would stay another day.

We had to make passing arrangements with this Coast Guard cutter, the James, who was hovering right in our path. When I called they said they were "loitering."

That was the status as I was coming upstairs, just as the Coast Guard announced that the Wrightsville Beach Bridge was non-operational and could not open for vessels, with no estimated time to resolve. That could mean a delay of hours, or weeks. Faced with the prospect of being stuck there until the next outside window opened, with the anchorage and every restaurant in town becoming miserably crowded, we had a last-minute change of heart, weighed anchor, and headed out, just a half hour behind our friends.

They got the bridge fixed just as we were leaving the inlet, and it would have been fairly easy to change our minds, turn around, and go right back. But as we had been on the fence in the first place, inertia took over and we opted to stay the course. So far the ride has been acceptable, although we expect seas to increase as we approach the inlet.

Cargo ship Kite Bay firmly aground near the Beaufort channel, as seen on Vessel Finder.

The Coast Guard has been making announcements for the last few hours about a ship aground at the inlet, just outside the channel. We looked it up: a 600' long bulk carrier called the Kite Bay. Our route has us entering the channel considerably closer to shore, so we don't expect any impact, but Marine Traffic shows a phalanx of tugboats and other vessels in the area, presumably trying to free her. If she's still there in five hours when we arrive, I will get some photos.

Our plan is to anchor in our usual spot in front of the Coast Guard station, just inside the inlet, and continue tomorrow toward Pamlico Sound, essentially repeating our northbound cruise from this time last year. We're moving a bit faster than we'd like, driven entirely by the timing of weather windows. At this rate, we'll be in the Norfolk area by the weekend.

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