Monday, November 14, 2022

Cccold front

We are under way downbound on the Cape Fear River. On a sunny day I am nice and toasty in the greenhouse that is our helm station, but we're running an electric heater back in the saloon, where we could be safely storing a side of beef.

Thursday conditions got much better shortly after making the turn into Goose Creek. They were better still once we were in the Hobucken Cut, which is very protected, and as we passed by we briefly contemplated tying up at the R.E. Mayo Seafood docks in protected water. But we had no need of the dock for any other reason, and we continued on to Gale Creek, dropping the hook off-channel near the Jones Island Club (map). It was still pretty protected here and we had a calm and quiet night after a nice dinner on board.

Vector at the Morehead Gulf Docks. Two sailboats kissing each other in the background are anchored and the reversing current brought them together.

Our AIS display is right at the top of the ladder to the staterooms, and at one point on my way down to the restroom I noticed a familiar name on the display, which had otherwise been blank all evening. It was s/v Paquita, belonging to an online acquaintance, Tim, whom I knew to be rapidly catching up to us on his way to Fort Lauderdale.

I know Tim through his very popular YouTube channel, TimBatSea, where he shares a lot about his work as a tugboat captain. I first started watching this channel when he was working in NY harbor, where we interact with lots of tugboats every year, and I found it interesting and informative to get the view from their pilothouse. Any time I crossed paths with his tug in NY I would say hello. He's since relocated to working tugs in the Puerto Rico area, where he's had a home for some time.

Somewhere along the line he bought himself a sailboat and started a channel around that. I don't watch sailing channels in general, but I subscribed because he is an excellent raconteur, and I found it interesting to watch how a professional mariner with decades of experience on large vessels would transition to the world of small pleasure craft. When he did a video on preparing to convert his boat to lithium batteries, I could not resist chiming in with some information from my own experience, and we've been emailing back and forth ever since.

Just some of the two dozen anchored boats at Mile Hammock Bay on the USMC Camp LeJeune base.

They had stopped for the night at R.E. Mayo. After reaching out I learned their next stop would be Morehead City, and while we had loosely planned to head to Beaufort and anchor near town, we agreed to go to Morehead instead and try to meet up with them. Of course, the remains of Hurricane Nicole were still blowing a gale on Friday, and there's no good place to anchor there in those conditions. I was able to snag a slip at the Morehead Gulf Docks on short notice, mindful that we had been sitting on the bottom at the city docks last time, and that we could not count on the first-come, first-serve inexpensive dock at Sanitary Seafood Restaurant.

We bashed our way across the Neuse River, swinging over toward the windward shore for a slightly better ride. We had previously made tentative plans to stop before that crossing Friday at Broad Creek, where we could anchor and perhaps connect with friends Dorsey and Bruce who were docked nearby. But after Bruce had scoped out the one and only restaurant there and given it an emphatic thumbs-down, we had already agreed to wave off until another time. It would have saved us an hour of bashing, but I was happy to press on to connect with Tim.

We were tied to the face dock at Morehead Gulf Docks (map) before 4pm, and started our usual round of dockside chores. Paquita came in an hour later and tied up a few doors down at Sanitary Seafood, after waving off their reservation at Portside Marina. Long-time readers may remember that we got beat up pretty bad at Portside, which is very exposed to southerlies, so we did not even check them when we were looking for a dock. I had also warned Tim about it.

Rick, Tim, Crisalida, Louise, and Sean at Sanitary Seafood Restaurant.

At cocktail hour I walked over to Paquita and we spent a half hour or so discussing batteries and the other bits and bobs that make a complete installation. Louise joined us at dinner time and we all went in to Sanitary Seafood for dinner, which is more or less a requisite when using their dock. It was a very nice evening and we enjoyed meeting Tim, his partner Crisalida, and his friend and crewman Rick.

Saturday morning after wrapping up the laundry, which we always try to get done when we are at a dock with power and water, we dropped lines on a fair tide for the long slog down the inside to Mile Hammock Bay, the only usable anchorage in this entire stretch of waterway. There are several trouble spots where shoaling requires me to thread the needle, steering by hand, and we had one "incident" wherein a vessel overtook us without bothering to call just as I was steering around a shoal, but the cruise was otherwise uneventful, if a bit of a conga line. All the boats that had been hunkered down for Nicole were out with us trying to make miles.

The later start put us into the anchorage very late in the day, and there were already 20 boats scattered around. We found a small spot near the Camp LeJeune hovercraft ramp and dropped the hook (map). By nightfall there were 23 boats in the anchorage, the most I've ever seen there. One of the later arrivals was a sportfish who had no idea how to anchor, "setting" and dragging across a half dozen spots before settling on one. When they later started dragging again some other cruisers took pity and came over in their dinghy to provide direction.

Sunset from the flybridge, Mile Hammock Bay.

Paquita turned out to be across the anchorage from us, projecting videos on their sail, which I thought was pretty cool even though it was too distant to really make anything out. That would be the last time we'd see them, as they are on a mission to get to Fort Lauderdale before Tim has to go back to work.

Yesterday we got a leisurely start from Mile Hammock, trying to time the Figure Eight Island bridge for the top of an hour, which is really tricky from that far away. That put us behind a tug pushing a loaded deck barge, and we had to overtake him when we got to a "wide" spot in the channel. I still had to run alongside the barge just two dozen feet off for what seemed like an eternity. We missed our timing for the bridges anyway, hitting Figure Eight Island on a half hour, which meant we had to drop a lunch hook to wait on the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, which only opens on the hour but is 45 minutes away.

All's well that ends well, and we had the hook down in a familiar spot in Wrightsville Beach (map) before the anchorage filled up. We splashed the tender right at 5 and headed ashore for dinner at one of our ICW favorites, Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill. We're glad we went early; there was a line at the door by 5:30. We decked the tender as soon as we got home, in anticipation of it being too cold this morning to want to be messing around on deck.

Do not honor this red buoy, it is off-station.

Sure enough the temperature plummeted overnight, and this morning we awoke to the mercury just above 40. That made it unappealing to spend any extra time in Wrightsville Beach, and we weighed anchor for a favorable tide to and through Snow's cut, which put us here on the Cape Fear on the last of the flood.

Update: We are docked at the South Harbour Village Marina in Southport, NC (map). We've been here before, and just as last time, we're here because there are really no good anchorages in Southport at all. As a bonus we can run all the heat we want in this cold snap, and there's a nice Italian place right on the property. Our friends Dorsey and Bruce, who passed us in the river, are tied up less than two miles away, but it's over six miles by land so there's no easy way to visit.

As is usual at this time of year, my next challenge is to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner. We like to have all the traditional flavors, but we want someone else to make it all (and we have no oven). I was hoping to get a spot at the Maritime Center in Charleston for the holiday, but they are full up, so tomorrows project is to try to coordinate both a restaurant and a dock in some town big enough to have a restaurant open for the holiday. That may be elsewhere in Charleston, or perhaps Hilton Head or Savannah.

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