Saturday, June 27, 2009

North Carolina

After two days on the Waccamaw, the weather cleared up enough to get under way again. I was a little concerned, because the next 40 mile stretch sported no anchorages, and a lot of bridges. Several of the bridges won't open in 25 knots of wind or more, and it had been blowing that hard for the last two days. I did not want to get stuck in some cannel between two bridges that won't open in a storm. This was only the least of our concern, the foremost was a short stretch affectionately named "the rock pile," renowned for submerged rocky outcroppings lining the channel, waiting to sink the unwary boater. We were fastidious in our navigation. Of course, our fancy new GPS was off all day, and showed that our boat was actually traveling on shore instead of in the canal. Back to the old paper chart. 

It was chilly, overcast, and dreary but we made it through bridge after bridge without a problem. After passing through the worst of the rock pile, we relaxed a bit, which allowed us to notice how exhausted we were. While passing through the last couple of bridges, we became nominally acquainted with a couple just behind us on another cape dory. We heard each other hailing the bridges tenders over and over, and then finally, they pulled up next to us, and the captain Kevin initiated a conversation with Patrick. It turned out that they were from Eastport, not too far south of Baltimore, and were on their way home. Kevin told us about a nice anchorage only 5 miles away, so we pulled over for the night.  

A little more chatting on the VHF revealed that Kevin and Jan were on approximately the same schedule as we were, so we began setting off the same time every morning, and sojourning at the same anchorages. We were finally in North Carolina!!

After only a few days, our VHF radio courtship culminated in their inviting us aboard for dinner. We had a lovely time with them, and Ashley was certainly happy for the mix of company. 

Thus began our latest sailing friendship with Kevin and Jan on Pearl of Eastport. Kevin had made the trip up and down "the ditch" several times, and his advice was invaluable. One afternoon, he and Jan clued us in to a free dock in the quaint town Southport. It was the first time we had been off the boat in almost a week.   

From Southport we made the arduous trip up the Cape Fear River, making about 2-3 knots the whole way. It took us 8 hours to go 20 miles, and by the time we pulled over in Wrightsville beach were too tired and grumpy to explore.

The next day we made a longer trip to a relatively nondescript anchorage where we took the opportunity to raft after our boats began to wander restlessly on the hook during slack water. Swift Ranger had drifted so close to Pearl we only needed to reach out and grab her to tie up. Every night is different on the hook.  

South Carolina

Charleston was a mixed bag. The anchorage sported 30' of water, and was crowded with sailboats. We waited for slack tide to row across the busy channel to shore for supplies. Within minutes after striking out on foot, a kind man picked us up on the side of the road saying "you must be sailors, let me take you to a grocery store." We completed our errands, made a new friend, only to return to out boat in time to be accused by another sailor that our boat hit his during the tide switch. Coincidentally, no one was on board either boat when it happened. Some other boat, nobody knew, had accused us of hitting someone else's boat, and of course, their were no convincing signs of damage on anyone's boat. Patrick didn't sleep all night with visions of pawning our boat to pay for the alleged damage, but in the morning he asked us for 30$ and sent us on our way. 

Scammed but better for it, we got out of Charleston and squeezed in around forty miles before stopping at some obscure creek, south of Mclellanville, that indirectly connects the ICW with the Atlantic. The current was terrible where we dropped the hook, and we swung in circles all night long, but we were so tired we didn't care. That morning we awoke to a short lived squall. As soon as it passed we hauled anchor and passed through our first stretch of genuine swamp land. We saw three alligators, beautiful birds, and Patrick was eaten alive by creepy things. We caught the outgoing tide and made no less than 6 knots all morning and made it to Georgetown so early in the day we continued on to the Waccamaw river. 

The Waccamaw river is something like a 30 mile stretch of undeveloped, cypress dominated shoreline. The trees are ancient and towering, deep in the heart of the river, sunlight only filters in when it is directly overhead. It is eerily beautiful. 

We had perfect timing with the tides that day. We were still averaging 6 knots motoring, and planned on going over 50 miles that day. About 5 miles shy of our chosen anchorage, we noticed a thunderhead forming south of us. 

We were unconcerned but decided to keep an eye on it. Exactly 2 minutes later, the sky was black as far as we could see. I have never seen a storm develop so quickly. Before we had time to get out the foul weather gear it was pouring rain. The cypress trees provided shelter from the wind, so although the rain dramatically reduced visibility, we were confident that we could make through to Bull Creek. 1 minute later, the sky lit up with lightning and thunder cracked instantaneously with deafening volume. I was suddenly frightened. I watched a heavy white wall of rain astern of us, steadily overtake us. As it moved, everything in its path was shrouded with thick whiteness. Daymarks, trees, floating debris...we couldn't see anything in any direction but white rain. As the thunder and lightning continued to torment us, it became obvious that the storm would not be blowing over as quickly as we'd thought, and the lack of visibility or audibility of any potential obstruction, boat, tree or otherwise necessitated a quick decision. We would pull over to the side of the creek, as far out of the channel as we could with out getting to close to the cypress trees, and anchor. Let me tell you, how little I enjoy the task of handling 80 feet of chain when lightning surrounds me.  At this moment, we came upon a small tributary, Prince Creek which is too narrow for one hook and excessively creepy. We anchored at the mouth of it where we would be safe from traffic, but have room to swing on one hook. 

(that's the rain behind him, overtaking the boat)

We still intended to make it to Bull Creek after the storm passed, but it didn't happen. The temperature dropped a good 40 degrees, and the rain was freezing. For formed over the water and the wind picked up to a vigorous 30 knots. Of course, we had least protection in the direction of the wind, and it opposed the current all night, so we swung around in limbo, subservient to whatever force asserted itself the strongest all night. Everything was wet from the rain, all of our warm clothing, towels, etc. It was so cold that night we buried ourselves in our clothing for warmth. 

The next morning, it was just under 40 degrees and our coats were still soaked. The wind blew with an angry howl, and frothed the fog around the surface of the river. We knew Bull Creek would be more sheltered, so suffered through 5 miles of cold and discomfort before dropping the hook in the most beautiful anchorage we had seen yet. There were five other sailboats hiding out in the creek, and we stayed in all day, drinking hot beverages and reading. 

Poor Ashley was not having the time of her life. We wouldn't be off the boat for 5 days total. The weather was terrible, and the boat was beginning to feel smaller than ever. Fortunately, I have never been anywhere more beautiful than the Waccamaw. It was the perfect place to be stormed in.