Thursday, November 10, 2022

Go away, Nicole

We are underway downbound on the Pamlico River, a new waterway for us, after a pleasant three nights in Washington, NC. And yes, that's an "N" and not a "D." We're moving today before whatever is left of Nicole arrives to stop us in our tracks. Our hearts are once again heavy watching the destruction befalling our adopted home state of Florida.

Not long after posting here on Friday we arrived at the start of the Alligator Pungo Canal. The canal is a three-hour transit, and we could have made it to an anchorage at the other end just at twilight, but we'd be driving right into the sun for the whole three hours and so instead we pulled off into a familiar anchorage in Winn Bay and dropped the hook (map), just after a sailboat that had passed us a bit earlier in the river.

A lovely lady in front of Vector at the Washington, NC city docks.

There were only two of us in the anchorage when we set around 2:30, but by dusk there were a dozen boats. That included a large Selene that drew 6.5', and we came in with just a foot under the keel at the entrance. I admired their determination. We had a very calm and peaceful night.

The morning found us in a conga line of migrating boats running the ditch. We passed a couple and were passed by several. We went under the notorious Wilkerson Bridge just ahead of a sailboat that had to stop and swing a huge water bag out on its boom to lean over for a few more inches to clear the bridge; he mostly made it but damaged his wind instrument in the process. There is no tide here and the bridge is a foot too low.

The stop at Winn Bay made for another short day, even running at reduced rpm, and we arrived to Belhaven Harbor and dropped the hook (map) by 1:30. With a bit of chop in the harbor we took a spot as close to the dinghy dock as practical. At dinner time we headed ashore and walked to a new spot for us, El Mariachi, with decent Mexican food and draft beer.

Sunset over Belhaven harbor on a calm night.

Even before we left the anchorage at Winn Bay, we had been looking at and discussing the brewing storm that was then Investigation Area 98-L. Track models had it coming right here after dancing through Florida and the low country. That factored into our decision to stop in Belhaven while we sorted things out, rather than continue to an anchorage half way to Oriental.

We learned our friends Dorsey and Bruce, who had already made it to Beaufort on the coast, had decided to turn around and come back to Oriental to hunker down in a marina there known for its shelter from storms, coincidentally the same marina where our friends Steph and Martin chose to shelter their boat for the off season. There is an anchorage in a well-protected creek there, and we decided that would be a fine place for us to ride out yet another tropical storm, and maybe get in a visit while we waited.

The decision to drag our heels and remain well inland until the storm passed meant we'd have the better part of a week to wait, and we decided to just stay in Belhaven another night. Unlike Saturday, it was quite calm in the anchorage on Sunday, and it was a warm and pleasant day; I even tackled some outdoor projects. We again headed ashore for dinner, this time at The Tavern at Jack's Neck. Unlike our one and only previous attempt here, they did not run out of cooking gas, and we were able to enjoy our meal. They no longer have draft beer.

Main Street, Washington. The town has done a nice job with preservation.

With good weather for a few days on the Pamlico River and still a few days before we'd need to hunker down for the storm, we decided to make the 50+ nautical mile side trip up the Pamlico to the town of Washington, with a possible stop in one direction or the other at the even smaller town of Bath. Both towns sport free overnight docks for visiting cruisers, and we've heard lots of positive things about the side trip, which heretofore has seldom fit in with out cruising plans.

The forecast called for gale force winds, unrelated to the impending tropical storm, to arrive in the region overnight Monday and into Tuesday, and so we weighed anchor in the morning calm on Monday for the 36 mile cruise down the Pungo and up the Pamlico to Washington. On our way upriver we passed our old friends the tugs Pamlico and Beaufort Belle, docked at the Nutrien Aurora Phosphate plant, and crossed paths with the state ferry that principally carries workers to the plant. We glided through the open Carolina Coastal Railway swing bridge and were tying up at one of the free face docks (map) by 2:30.

Louise has her own hotel in town.

After getting signed in for our free 48 hours and receiving the codes for the bathrooms (even the free dock guests get bathroom and laundry access) from dockmaster Rick, I walked through the downtown waterfront area to get the lay of the land. There are a half dozen restaurants, a few bars and breweries, a couple of spas, and lots of touristy gift, craft, and art shops. We returned together at dinner time to Grub Brothers, one of the few places open on Monday. We won't be back, as Louise's meal did not sit well. It was an unseasonably warm evening and we enjoyed strolling around town a bit on our way home, where we found Vector aground in the front and a little bow-high.

One of the motivations for us to make this side trip is that we've been in need of a Walmart stop, and the Supercenter here is a short 1.5 mile bike ride from the dock. I needed ten gallons of motor oil, which is $10 less per gallon at Walmart than anywhere else, and Tuesday morning I set up both the e-bike and the blue folding wagon, intending to jury-rig a hitch so I could get all ten gallons in one trip. This was well after rising early for the lunar eclipse, barely visible here in haze and pre-dawn twilight.

The town clock, also on Main Street.

While I was standing on the deck with this contraption, still noodling the best way to connect them, Linda and Brian from Vahevala, docked a short distance away, stopped by to introduce themselves and say hello. Vahevala is also a steel trawler-style yacht about the same size and age as Vector, and I had interacted with Linda a bit on Facebook about steel boat issues. She had recognized Vector as we pulled in to the harbor.

Almost before we even had the basic greetings done, Brian was handing me a set of car keys. They are spending the winter here and have their car with them. It was a munificent gesture, and having a car made it possible for Louise to come with me to the store, simplifying everything. I was also able to up my oil haul to a full 12.5 gallons in the form of five 2.5-gallon jugs. We left after first lining the boat back into slightly deeper water while we had the chance.  We used our folding wagon to haul everything from the car to the boat.

Vahevala, a 52' steel trawler, also built in Canada and a lot like Vector, only with less rust.

We met back up with them for dinner at Down on Main Street, which had some good drafts and decent food. It was very nice meeting them and discussing the back stories of both boats. They've been boating quite a while but are relatively new to the full-time live-aboard life. We hope to see them again, and perhaps our paths will cross again on our next northward cruise.

The forecast said if we left yesterday we'd have a flat calm cruise down the Pamlico. We had some morning errands, including a hair cut for Louise and an e-bike run out to O'Reillys for me, where oil sample test kits I ordered had arrived. We were all wrapped up by lunch time and shoved off the dock well before our 48 hours were up, for the 25+ mile run to the turn at Goose Creek, where we figured to anchor before dark.

The Underground Railroad Museum, in a non-underground caboose.

Alas, it was not to be. The railroad bridge was closed when we left the dock, with one boat circling around waiting on an opening. We waited to drop lines until we saw the train crossing the bridge, which we figured would put us there just as it opened. That was optimistic; the bridge is well over a century old and apparently takes a while to open even on a good day. But after hovering for ten minutes, we watched the bridge slowly start to open, only to stop just a short distance into its swing. A couple of small boats waiting on the other side squeezed through the tiny gap on the non-navigable side.

The tender told us he'd wait ten minutes for the equipment to "cool down" and try again, and we dropped a lunch hook. But after 15 minutes came and went, we learned they needed maintenance to come out, and that would be at least an hour and a half. That put us well outside our window to make a safe anchorage in the daylight, and we reluctantly weighed anchor to return to the docks for another night.

The railroad bridge stuck partly open. You can see a tiny gap at right.

This time we were able to tie up in a deeper spot, vacated by a sailboat that had moved out to the anchorage (map). Dockmaster Pete helped us tie up in the 15 knots of wind trying to keep us from the dock. In the fullness of time, maintenance guys arrived at the bridge in Hy-Rail trucks and we watched as the bridge swung to the fully open position. A while later, Pete came by to tell us the bridge would remain open until 9:30 this morning, after which they would start working on it. We told him we'd stay overnight and make a decision in the morning; he did not ask for the $0.75/foot we'd nominally owe for a third day at the dock.

We took advantage of a third night in town to have dinner at the Mulberry House, which was very nice. A quick check of the weather when we returned home revealed a slim but non-zero chance we might be able to get under way today. By this time, what had been 98-L and then Tropical Storm Nicole was already a full-blown hurricane and we spent part of the evening doom-scrolling the weather. We have many friends in Florida who are in the thick of it, and in particular our friends aboard Stinkpot were dealt a raw hand and are having to make the best of it.

Sunset over Washington harbor.

While our own weather issues pale in comparison, this morning's check of the forecast showed the Pamlico would be "within limits" as far as the turn into Goose Creek, and we opted to get moveing rather than risk being stuck in Washington indefinitely should the bridge need some Unobtainium Framistat that needs to be fabricated in Duluth before it can open again. When the bridge was partway open, the railroad was highly motivated to get it working. Once it's closed and they can run trains across, their motivation will be somewhat lower.

It's blowing to 20 knots right now, and coming right up the river, so we are bashing into two footers that I expect to get worse. But we only have another hour or so before turning into the more protected waters of Goose Creek and the Hobucken Cut. It remains to be seen whether we press all the way to Broad Creek today, or stop short in a less protected anchorage for the night. By this time tomorrow, Nicole will be making her closest point of approach.

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