Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Back in Southport Again

We departed Beaufort for an overnight sail to Southport just before 4 PM in order to make the Beaufort bridge opening (saving us a little time having to backtrack and take the other route through Morehead City). The drawbridge opening had us and a couple fishing boats heading out for the evening.  I don't know exactly what it is about the Beaufort inlet, but for the second time in as many passages, it was a rough ride.  I guess the outgoing current combined with the easterly swell to make for a choppy entrance.  We bounced our way out and after turning on course, the sea mellowed out...somewhat.

The forecast was for 1 to 2 foot waves on a 12 second period and light winds from the Southwest.  While the winds would be directly on our nose, the seas should make for a fairly comfortable ride.  Of course, what to weather forecasters know about the weather.  The actual winds were around 15 knots, but it was from the south-southwest. There was a swell from the east that was probably a foot or two on 12 seconds, but the higher winds were also creating waves from the south that were also a couple feet on a six second period.  Not quite as smooth as forecast.

Still, the winds gave us an opportunity to sail, just not directly toward our destination.  We were making about 5 knots, with 2 or 3 of those in the actual direction we wanted to go (VMG). We sailed all night and by early in the morning we had made it a little over half-way.  At that point, we decided to fire up an engine and motor sail to get a better angle.  As the wind shifted around to be right on our nose, the sails came down and the other motor was started so we could make it to Southport before nightfall.

Our planned route (blue) and our actual course (magenta).
Tacking across the Onslow Bay danger area.
We arrived at the Masonboro inlet around noon, a couple hours later than planned...but at least we got to sail some so it was worth it.  The down side of being late was that we missed the ideal timing window for the trip through Snow's Cut and on to the Cape Fear river.  In an ideal case, I would have liked to have been at Snow's Cut at high tide so there wouldn't be a lot of current and then we could ride the falling current down the river.  Since we were late, we found we were fighting a 3+ knot current from the Carolina Beach inlet through the entrance to Snow's cut.  Something very noticeable when you are only traveling at 6 or 7 knots to begin with.  After only making 3 knots over the ground as we approached the cut, we did pick up another knot in the cut.

Once into the Cape Fear river and heading downstream, our speed was up to a brisk 8 or 9 knots even though the waves and wind were (as usual) directly on our nose.  It didn't take long until we were in Southport.

Normally I would stay at Deep Point marina as I like the combination of amenities and price.  Unfortunately, the number of cruisers heading south combined with the damage caused by Matthew and they didn't have any space available.  Fortunately, they did have one space left at their other marina, Indigo Plantation.  We made our way there, found the one last space for a wide-beam boat, and we were tied up and secure in Southport.

The following days we retrieved the car left at Dowry Creek, met some friends for dinner, met a couple fellow Leopard owners that were in the area, and started looking into what we should do about the remaining trip.  With all the damage in St. Augustine, dock space is at more of a premium than it is here and that comes with a premium price. At this point, we are considering leaving the boat here in Southport.  We have a dock at a reasonable rate and it is fairly well protected for the area. The down side is that it is a bit far from our broker and we will need to see about finding someone to keep an eye on the boat.

We haven't made any decisions yet, but we are running out of time so we will need to come up with a plan soon. Meanwhile, we are enjoying this charming town.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Day in Beaufort (N.C.)

Well, as much as I hated moving on this time around, it was time to leave my friends at Dowry Creek marina outside of Belhaven. The storms have passed (for now) and we have a few places we can stay as we continue south. Still don't know what our final destination is since Matthew did so much damage, but we will figure it out.

Bright and early Monday morning we untied the lines and motored away from the dock, heading down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), another step toward the end of our cruising journey. We left pretty early in hopes of making it to Beaufort, North Carolina.  In case there is any confusion, there is a Beaufort in both North and South Carolina and both are reported to be boating friendly towns.  To distinguish the two, I guess someone decided they should be pronounced differently.  So we are going to the one pronounced like "Bow-fort" and not the one "B-eww-furt" (sorry, I don't do phonetic spellings, but you get the idea).

Docked in the harbor north of Beaufort.

With the recent storm and flooding, we were concerned about two things on this trip.  First was what might be floating in the water, washed out by the storms.  Small debris we can probably deal with, but we definitely don't want to run over any partially sunken trees or house parts or whatever your imagination might come up with that could poke a hole in a fiberglass boat. Fortunately we only had one minor thud as a 2x4 that wasn't visible above the water bounced off the hull.  I was actually a bit surprised, but thankful, for the lack of debris we encountered.

The second issue is getting under the two fixed bridges that cross the ICW in this area.  They are supposed to be 65 feet above mean high water, but that doesn't take in to account for rives and canals that are inundated with the runoff from the storms.  We could see that the water was a foot or two higher than normal at Dowry Creek and I scoured the internet for any reports of water levels along our route.  I found that Oriental was a couple feet high and didn't find much else.  Since our mast is just under 60 feet above waterline, and the radio antenna puts us at 60 and change, we figured we should be good to go.  Most of the time bridges have a gauge at water level that tells you how much clearance you should have.  Since these areas aren't subject to normal tides, I guess the bridge builders decided this was unnecessary.  When we got to the first bridge we looked at the shoreline for indications of how high the water was relative to "normal".  The adjacent docks were above water but we couldn't see a normal high water line on the shore.  Needless to say, we went very slowly and luckily had no problems clearing the bridge.  Just after we made it through, a boat behind us called us on the radio. He watched with binoculars to see how we did and then called to ask how high our mast was so they would know if they should try it.  I guess we had at least three feet of clearance (what I had estimated), so they proceeded and no masts were damaged. The second bridge had a gauge and we were comforted to read 65 feet on it.

The historic main street shops in Beaufort, N.C.

It was a long day of motoring down the ICW.  There were two places where we could have sailed, but the wind was generally on our nose.  There were short segments where we put out the head sail and gained 0.3 knots or so, but it was our Westerbeke engines that kept us moving along.  We made pretty good time thanks to an out-flowing current from the second canal and arrived in Beaufort around 5PM. A little confusion with the entrance channel thanks to a new high-rise bridge they are building, and again with our slip at the marina, and by the time we were tied up we were beat.

One of the historic houses spotted on our walk through town.

The next morning, we did do a little exploring in town.  The marina we are at is on the north side of town and most of the touristy shops (and the more expensive docks) are on the south side of town, but it is a nice 4 block walk. Beaufort seems like a nice little town, far less industrial than its neighbor Morehead City.  It is a bit more of a tourist trap with waterside cafes and tee shirt shops, but still cute. The few people in town we met were quite nice.  We decided to go out for breakfast and the employees at Homer Smith's marina even let us use one of their cars to drive to the cafe.

Later that afternoon we continued our journey south.  Instead of risking possible issues with the ICW along the North Carolina coast, we departed for an overnight hop on the outside to Southport.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More on the Albemarle Loop

This post is out of sequence thanks to the interruption of hurricane Matthew. I don't believe any of these facilities were damaged by the storm, but please call if you think you might go there sometime soon.

After a nice stop at the Albemarle Plantation marina, our next stop was Edenton, NC. It was less than a half day trip up the Albemarle to the dock at Edenton. The Edenton town dock is a relatively small facility with about a dozen slips and one small face dock (which is the only place a boat our size will fit and has a power pedestal).  The marina is protected by a sea wall that also serves as a fishing pier and was reportedly created with some old sections of a local highway bridge that had been replaced.

Edenton from the water.
The impressive part of this stop is what you get for free.  Two nights dockage is the norm in the loop. This marina also includes electricity in the offer, mediocre internet access, and has a courtesy car in case you need to go somewhere (like the grocery store) that isn't within walking distance. Like many courtesy cars, this one isn't the best vehicle but it does its job well enough.  The dash lights didn't work, but neither did the speedometer, so I guess the light isn't really needed.

The dock is adjacent to a public park, but there is a building that contains the dock master's office, public restrooms, and locked shower facilities reserved for boaters.  The facility is basic, but I've paid for marinas that have had much worse. The historic main street dead ends at the park, so the dock location for access the downtown shops and restaurants is ideal.

Edenton is a neat little town with a fair amount of American history.  It had a number of historic buildings including the oldest courthouse in North Carolina. The ladies of the town in the late 1700's were politically active and formed their own Tea Party (not to be confused with the current so called political group of the same name). The old Roanoke river lighthouse has made its home in the harbor right next to the docks.

The lighthouse and our boat at Edenton.
I really liked Edenton.  I've always heard Oriental was a great boating town, but I have to say that Edenton was more of what I had envisioned of Oriental and is certainly giving them a good run for the money as a boater friendly town.

After two nights in Edenton, we were on to our next stop.  Unfortunately, bridges deny us access to a couple of the stops on the loop as they are not 60 foot tall sailboat friendly. The next accessible port of call for us was Columbia. It was another half-day trip or so and is located across the Albemarle from the Albemarle Plantation marina. We arrived late on Sunday and Columbia is known to be pretty quiet on the weekends.  There was just enough space on the face dock to fit us (after a small motorboat that didn't use a slip left the spot). After looking around we found an after hours number posted on the bath house and were able to get the WiFi password so we could check on the weather and the status of Hurricane Matthew.

The Columbia Docks.
It didn't take us long to decide that we would have to cut our visit to Columbia short and seek a more sheltered location for the potential storm.  We walked into town and found a winery that had a coffee and sandwich shop for a quick dinner. As we walked back to the boat we noted a sign at the dock that marked the height of the water, a good foot and a half above the dock, from another hurricane that had visited the area in the past. Similar to Edenton, the dock is situated at the end of the old main street.  Unfortunately most shops were closed and we left early the next morning so we didn't get a good feel for this particular town.

View of Columbia main street from the docks.
We left early the following morning in order to make it as far south (and inland) as we could before the storm was to possibly arrive in the area.  We headed out of the Abemarle and into the Alligator river, through the bridge (that doesn't open if the winds go above 35 knots), down through the Alligator-Pungo canal and down the Pungo to Dowry Creek marina near Bellhaven.  As you have already read, this is where we ended up weathering the storm.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dealing With Hurricane Matthew

As I previously mentioned, we were exploring some of the stops of the Albemarle Loop when we decided that hurricane Matthew was likely to become an issue for us.  We were at the dock in Columbia, North Carolina with internet access when we looked at the weather, and forecasts seemed to show that Matthew was likely to come up the coast and make landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Albemarle is known for being unpleasant in bad weather, so we decided we should try to head a bit more south and inland.

We made a run south, through the Alligator River Bridge (that closes if the winds go over 35 knots), down the Alligator-Pungo canal, and into the Pungo river.  We stopped that evening at Dowry Creek marina with the intention of making our way on to Oriental where we had a car waiting for us.  We figured a car would be a good thing if we needed to evacuate.  When we got to Dowry Creek, we kept an eye on the weather and by the following morning the forecasts seemed to be turning to follow us. We decided that Dowry Creek and the Pungo river were better protected (and a bit more inland) than Oriental, so decided this is where we would stay.

One of the live-aboard residents was gracious enough to give us a ride to retrieve our car from Oriental.  Then we began preparations for the potential storm.  We gathered up important paperwork and packed enough that we could leave for a few days if necessary.  The winds at the dock were not cooperating and were blowing up to 30 knots across the beam of the boat.  On a slightly less windy day, we ended up tying bow-in to the face dock so we would point into the wind and could remove the sails and stack pack.

The marina we were at, as is the case with many fixed-dock marinas in the area, does not allow boats to remain if a hurricane is expected to hit. There is normally no tide here, so pilings are not all that tall, and a large storm surge could easily cause problems. Instead, a number of the boats chose to anchor in one of the more protected creeks in the area. We watched the forecasts and, for a time, it appeared the storm may veer off to the east before it was this far north.  Then the last couple days, the forecast started creeping north again.

On Friday we decided to anchor the boat as far up Dowry creek as we could, bring the dinghy back to the marina, and then take the car to a hotel well inland. We left the dock and motored up the creek, keeping an eye on the depths as we went.  We found a spot we thought would work and then circled around to verify the depths anywhere the boat might swing during the storm. We dropped our anchor in about 5 feet of water. Since the storm surge was expected to be around 5 feet, we decided a bit more than a 10:1 scope for a 15 foot depth would be the best we could do and still allow adequate swing room. I know that some use multiple anchors for a storm, but lacking multiple Mantus anchors (I have a Bruce and small Danforth along with my Mantus primary), I decided a single anchor approach would work best.  After watching a video on Youtube of a Leopard in the Bahamas swinging wildly at anchor during Matthew after its bridle broke, I did use two dock lines to rig a backup bridle that would take up any slack if the main bridle failed.  We secured everything as best we could and then bid Rover a temporary farewell and headed back to the marina in the dinghy.

After securing the dinghy at the marina, we drove to Raleigh to a hotel we had booked several days before. After a long day, despite the nervousness of leaving the boat, we crashed soon after arriving at the hotel.  The next day it rained like crazy in Raleigh. Apparently Matthew was interacting with a local front to create an obscene amount of rain inland.  In a bit of irony, when we called the marina they reported that the weather was reasonable and they were getting last minute preparations done. That night was a restless night for us. The storm grazed the area, with peak wind gusts around 70 knots and sustained winds in the tropical storm force range. When we checked the weather on Sunday morning, the storm had passed by and was finally dying as it head out into the Atlantic.

The weather was nice that morning, almost eerily nice. The problem was that all the rain was now causing severe flooding in between our location in Raleigh and our boat near Belhaven.  We called the marina to see if everyone and everything was OK. We were told everyone and all the boats, including ours, were doing fine. It would just be a day or two until we could get back. We ended up making a trip up to Virginia to retrieve our other car and from there were able to find clear roads to get us back to the boat.

Approaching Rover after the storm.

When we arrived back at the marina, we drained the water from the dinghy (it was left upright so it would fill with water and hold it down when the winds picked up) and reattached the motor.  We made our way back to Rover and found her where we left her.  One of the lifeline gates had come loose but the netting held it secure enough.  Otherwise, the boat was in great condition!  We removed the secondary bridle (it was never actually used) and fired up the engines.  It took a bit to pull up the anchor as the winds apparently helped it dig in pretty well.  When we deployed the anchor, I added a trip line with a float attached (to mark the anchor location in case any other boats thought about anchoring near us after we left) and used that line to help coax the anchor out of the creek bed.  It came up with a good amount of mud and some decaying wood branches on it. I used about 6 buckets full of water to clean the mud off of the anchor and chain as we pulled it in. I'm very happy with the performance of my Mantus anchor, it has held the boat everywhere I've put it.

A short motor back to the marina and we were once again tied to the dock and plugged in.  Everything turned out about as well as it could have regarding weathering the storm.  What happens next is still up in the air.  With all the destruction to the south of us, we are wondering if it makes sense to try and continue going south.  Will we be able to find marinas and fuel along the way?  Will there be new shoaling or missing markers?  We simply do not know at this time.  So, it is unclear if we will be continuing the trip south soon or if we will need to stay put a while longer.  These are the questions we will need to answer in the coming days.

But for now we are just happy that everything is well and we are once again back on the boat.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Plate of Matthew Spaghetti

From my aviation days I've learned not to trust the local weathermen and their presentation of the weather.  As a result, I tend to look at the raw data myself.  Until I moved onto a boat, I never looked at hurricane models, but I can completely understand why they are called spaghetti models.

Plot from the website.

With a plate like that, all you need is a little marinara. I guess some of those are what the NWS uses when they come up with these charts.

[Image of 5-day forecast and coastal areas under a warning or a watch]
National Weather Service current forecast for Matthew.

No wonder those "uncertainty cones" can get so large.  On the bright side (for us), the forecast is looking a little better.  Feeling sorry for the Bahamas, Florida, and Georgia as well as all of those that have already been hit by this storm.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Running for Cover

Sorry for the lack of posts...I'll get back to writing about the Albemarle Loop when I have more time. We made a bit of an early departure from the Albemarle when Matthew started looking like it might come up the east coast somewhere and figured we did not want to be in that particular sound if we might encounter a storm.

Current Forecast of Matthew from NOAA/NWS.

We are a bit further inland right now, near Bellhaven, North Carolina.  Naturally, that now seems to be right in the crosshairs of Matthew so we are busy preparing for the storm.  Most of the marinas in the area do not allow boats to stay during a significant storm, so we will likely be doing as many others around us are and anchoring the boat out in the best hiding space we can find.  We will prepare the boat as best we can to ride out the storm, anchor her in as safe a place as we can, then leave her there to ride out the storm as we seek shelter inland.

It is a bit of a nerve racking time and we are quite busy, but I wanted to put out a quick note as a number of folks have already inquired.  With good preparation and perhaps a bit of luck, we should be back to normal in short order.

Stay tuned...more to come.