Friday, November 26, 2021

Crystal Coast

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. We are under way southbound in Bogue Sound, where the ICW is a narrow, dredged channel punctuated by periodic shoaling areas that make for some excitement at the helm.  We have a half knot of current behind us and 15 knots of wind on the beam. It's exhausting, so we seldom come this way, normally preferring to make the offshore passage from Beaufort Inlet to Masonboro Inlet to get to Wrightsville Beach.

Tomorrow would actually be a perfect day for that, with nearly flat calm seas (today there is a small craft advisory). Two things swayed our decision to go down the inside today instead. The first is that the offshore run at this time of year is a dark-to-dark affair, with a 6am departure and a 6pm arrival (sunrise is at 7am and sunset at 5pm). Neither one of us wanted to get up in the pre-dawn hours and then go on deck in 30-something temperatures.

Vector nestled into her slip in Oriental Harbor.

The other was more pragmatic. In order to make the outside run, we'd have to leave the Morehead City docks today around noon or so and anchor near the Coast Guard station for the morning departure. That would mean running the generator this afternoon and evening to get heat, even though we left the dock with full batteries. By contrast, we can run the pilothouse heater all day while we are underway, and we'll have lots of free heat when we stop from the thermal mass of the engine

Thus we decided to plow down the inside, making it a two-day run, and I expect we will be anchored at Camp LeJeune tonight. Typing for the blog is a cinch offshore, but here on the ICW it's an on-and-off affair that depends on the width and depth of the channel and how recalcitrant Otto-the-autopilot is being. Fortunately, there is virtually no traffic today.

These two sailboats are anchored right in the middle of the channel; I had to pass one close aboard to get in. The same channel I spent so much energy avoiding when we anchored here a year ago.

After my last post we arrived in Oriental, North Carolina just a little before 3pm. Wind had picked up throughout the afternoon and I had to dock in 20mph of crosswind. The marina was full and the slips are very tight, but with beefy pilings to both sides I lined up and proceeded carefully in. As our bow arrived mid-slip we suddenly found ourselves rotating counterclockwise for no apparent reason. With some right rudder and a bit of power I managed to stuff it into the slip (map).

About halfway in, the depth sounder started screaming, and I realized we were plowing into the mud. This notwithstanding the fact that on two separate phone calls, the marina had assured me they had more than six feet of depth in the slip, even encouraging a stern-first entry. With no better alternatives for the night, I just powered all the way into the slip; this sort of silt is really no problem for us until it's high enough to be sucked into the air conditioning and the engine.

We came into the harbor right behind Lillie Belle, then had to wait for her to spin around. And then we had to drive around the end of her starboard trawl, which she left deployed.

The marina was completely unapologetic, which was reflected in the review I gave them. Once we were fully settled in, Stacey and Dave arrived and we enjoyed catching up over cocktails on board before strolling over to the Toucan Grill, the on-site restaurant, for dinner.  It was a great evening, as we always enjoy their company.

Saturday we stayed in the slip until checkout time, walking across the street to local institution The Bean for a breakfast sandwich. After leaving the harbor, dancing around the same sailboat anchored mid-channel that we passed on the way in, we had a half hour of bashing our way across the Neuse River in easterlies. We arrived at Adams Creek just as the Beaufort Belle was entering with one barge on the head, and we followed her through the whole creek.

Range light tower. This photo belies how close it is.

We arrived to the Beaufort anchorage a little before 3pm to find it absolutely packed, a little surprising since most of the migration is now well ahead of us. With no room in the main anchorage, we instead squeezed in to a tight spot between Taylor Creek daybeacon 7 and the tower for the Beaufort Inlet Channel rear range light and dropped the hook (map). At least we knew no one would intrude on our swing circle.

Ballast from Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, which sank in Beaufort Inlet.

We had a pleasant two nights in Beaufort, in relatively mild temperatures before the next arctic wave arrived. We enjoyed dinner at new-to-us Mexcalito Mexican restaurant, and old standby Black Sheep. I spent part of Sunday strolling around town, which was very quiet for a weekend. We had no errands to run the way we did on our last visit.

Best shot I could get of the Shackleford horses on the banks, from our deck.

Monday we weighed anchor for the short run past the inlet and over to Morehead City for our dock reservation. The docks are cross-ways to the current and we timed our arrival for slack water, which put us there near high tide. We pulled alongside the end tie and positioned the boat for tying up, where I found the depth sounder reading a little over eight feet at a tide of a little under three. Once again we would be sitting on the bottom, at least at low tide (there is no tide in Oriental).

We ruminated about moving to a different slip where there might be another six inches of water, but decided we'd just live with it for a cycle and see how it was. No harm, no foul, and we ultimately decided to just stay where we were the whole four days (map). Our bow was resting lightly on the oyster shells, but we had plenty of water at the stern and the AC intakes were in clear water.

Vector, sitting on the bottom at the Morehead City docks. You can see the bottom in the foreground.

My first order of business was to deploy the e-bike and ride the mile and a quarter to the Walgreens, where I had prescriptions waiting. Afterward I rode over to the same Lowes grocery store I had visited a year ago and stocked up on some provisions, including a nice pumpkin pie. It was the last of the relative warmth before the cold snap hit, and I made it home just before the rain started.

The rain was done by dinner, and we managed to bundle up and eat out all four nights. Three places were new to us: Tight Lines brew pub, Beach Bumz pizza pub, and Casa San Carlo Italian restaurant. All were good, especially the Italian place. Last night, of course, was old favorite Floyd's 1921 for the traditional Thanksgiving meal, prix fixe. That will be dinner again tonight, too, as we walked away with at least half our meals as leftovers, including dessert.

A huge plume of smoke drew us to this heartbreaking scene Monday; a house fully involved, and a family losing everything just before Thanksgiving.

Other than bundling up and walking to dinner and back, it was really too cold to leave the boat for most of our stay -- the reason we wanted a dock with power in the first place. So we mostly got things done around the boat, except that I made two more excursions back to Walgreens on the e-bike, both times to pick up photos. On my final visit I spotted a stack of rapid COVID tests and grabbed a couple, as they are hard to find.

Our passports expire in March, so to facilitate even the slim possibility of a Bahamas trip this season, we rushed them off for an expedited renewal. I used a phone app to take the photos, assembled the 2x2 photos onto one 4x6 print, and lavished a whole 40 cents on printing it at Walgreens. After coming back with the first set and getting the applications ready to go, we decided the background was too wrinkled, risking a photo rejection, so we repeated the whole process.

Sunset from the Morehead City transient docks.

However challenging today's driving has been, it pales in comparison to the pair of fishing trawlers we passed a while ago going the other way. One was towing the other, on a very short chain in order to keep both in the channel in this strong crosswind. All in a day's work for them; I hope they got to spend at least a little time with family for the holiday.

Tomorrow we should be in Wrightsville Beach, where we will stay for a couple of days because I have Amazon packages arriving Monday. My next opportunity to post will be from the Cape Fear River, although at this writing, I'm not sure if we will be continuing south, or making a side trip to Wilmington. Stay tuned.

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