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Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Christmas Time on the River




25 December 2012

Last year we stayed at the Bath Marina and Hotel on Christmas night while we were looking for a place to keep Willadine.  This year we decided to take her out, even though the weather is looking sketchy.  Eric changes the oil while I make the bed.  We found Hannah’s down comforter at the farm and brought it, so after I tuck the sheets into the V-berth, I throw on the wool blanket and the down.  Should be warm.

At Potter’s it’s comfortable, about 55 degrees, warm enough that I need to shed a layer while we’re launching her.  It’s blowing pretty good and we feel nervous about the predicted storm, but we head out into the river anyway.  We briefly consider reefing the main, but abandon the idea and it’s just as well because the wind slacks to just 5kts by the middle of the river.  A bird sails by skimming the water; it’s very big, goose-sized with remarkable wings, half black at the tip and the rest white.

I dive into the cabin for the bird book.  “Duck-like?” I ask Eric, referring to the classifications in our Audubon Society Field Guide.

“Gull-like,” he says firmly.

I think he’s wrong, but I look in the “gull-like” section first.  Sure enough, right away I spot it.  It’s a Gannet, a bird that lives in Nova Scotia and Quebec and winters in coastal waters south to Florida.  This lovely bird merits an entire page in Audubon about its elaborate breeding customs.  The only northern member of the Booby family, this strictly maritime species can often be seen plunging headlong into the sea from as high as fifty feet.  Interconnected air sacs under the skin of the breast protect it from the force of the water.  I love my bird book.

Since the wind is easterly, there is no way we can make Goose Creek, which was my first choice, so we head straight across the river, for South Creek.  We pass a flock of gulls that stretches from one side of the mouth of the creek to the other at least a half a mile across, an astonishing number of birds.  As we make the turn into Bond Creek, another large flock appears in the mouth of Muddy Creek and more fly in from the SE.  More and more appear on the horizon, silently gliding overhead as we glide silently over the water.

As we approach the anchorage, we disrupt another flock of seabirds.  They are floating very low in the water so they look like black balls on the surface.  As they fly off, I grab the binoculars and note the white collars and very small size.  Later, I struggle to identify them, guessing possibly Goldeneyes (but all female) or maybe Dovekies out of their usual northerly range.  There just don’t seem to be dark birds with white collars and white spots on their wings.  It’s a puzzle.  Later I decide they must be Grebes, probably the Horned variety, which ironically do not have anything resembling a horn.

We set two anchors in preparation for the predicted gale.  Eric spends a lot of time sorting out the snarled rode on the big anchor, but we get them both down and set before dark, about 5:30.  We light the new red lantern and enjoy its heat and warm glow while sipping tea and soup.  A song comes to mind, with minor modification:  “Let it blow, let it blow, let it blow!”  We’re tucked in safe for whatever storm comes.

26 December 2012

The storm didn’t amount to much overnight, just a few little gusts and a few showers.  We stayed warm under the wool and down in the V-berth.  We had hot tea with milk for breakfast and homemade chicken and rice soup for lunch.  Then, it started to blow.

Eric had turned on the radio and we heard a tornado warning.  Fortunately, it was headed offshore and not towards us.  It blew so hard I got nervous and started frantically stowing things.  Eric’s eyes were wild.  Willadine heeled over and shuddered in the gusts.  We spent a tense few hours until it began to let up.  By sunset, it was clear, still very windy, but clear, with fewer strong gusts, a great relief to us both.

The birds were wheeling around us, four Gannets moving very fast, Pelicans in a group with their slow easy turns and one adorable little Grebe, bobbing in the chop and looking at Willadine with deep suspicion.  The Horned Grebes are a small seabird, with a racy white slash across their faces and a petite sort of cuteness.  I tried to get a picture of this little fellow, but by the time I got the camera aimed, the picture was nothing but water.  And, mind you, as a former photojournalist, I’m pretty quick on the draw.  I got the feeling the little bird considered us rather dangerously insane and felt it safer to be on the bottom grazing for crustaceans.  According to the website linked above, “In Blackfeet lore, the trickster Old Man tricked several ducks into closing their eyes and dancing while he killed them one by one.  The smallest duck looked and alerted the others.  This "duck" was the Horned Grebe, who became the first to notice trouble.”

The sunset was rather spectacular, as often happens after a storm.  It made us very happy to see the sun at last. 

Sunset Bond Creek


Although the forecast called for an ongoing gale warning, we went to bed feeling as though the worst was over, but were awakened towards midnight by another round of heavy gusts.  We were glad we didn’t attempt our harebrained scheme to night sail to the Pungo.  The moon was so bright in our faces through the skylights, it was hard to sleep, but we managed.  At least it was warmer outside and we were tucked in cozy.

27 December 2012

Although it was warm in the V-berth we could feel the turn in the temperature on our faces when we woke up.  It’s cold, not terrible frost on the sail-cover cold, but much colder than yesterday.  Eric looked at the thermometer in the cabin and reported 43 degrees.  And the wind is still moaning in the rigging.  The gale warning continues for gusts to 35 knots, which really isn’t that bad in the scope of things.

Out in the Aleutian chain in February, fifty knots blows every day, no big deal, especially not a big deal in a 200-foot freighter.  But here on the Pamlico in our little 23-foot water-ballasted sailboat, 35 knots of wind is enough to heel her over and make us a bit nervous.  Not sure if it’s enough to keep Eric from sailing.  We’ll see.  It’s a bit formidable for me, combined with the cold.  If it were warmer, I’d be sailing anyway.  Eric says we’d break something in a 35-knot gust, but I think we’ve sailed in that much wind before.  He’s out in the cockpit right now girding himself for it.  I think he’d like to be off sailing, but for now, he’s content to putter.  He started Trusty (cranked right up!) to charge the battery and he (brrrr) washed the dishes over the side.  I’m thinking about a bigger boat with a proper galley, hot/cold running water, etc.  I washed my hands out there earlier and my hands did not like it.  It’s cold.

Just for reference, I am wearing long johns with two layers of pants, three shirts and a jacket.  I have on socks and slippers, a scarf and fingerless gloves.  I’m sure my Northern friends are laughing their heads off, thinking 43 sounds right balmy, but my blood is thin.  I *hate* cold.  I think I’m tolerating it pretty well.  Hot tea helps.  Eric made grilled cheeses for breakfast (hence the dishes) and that was nice too.  Warm food is good.  Now, if I can just get my feet warm.  Maybe I should go putter around deck with him in the wind.

I can’t help thinking that this would all be so much more fun if it were twenty or thirty degrees warmer.  But at least there are no bugs and we have the stove and a cozy wind-free cabin.  Eric says he’s having fun.  I agree, for the moment.  Out on deck, six American White Pelicans glide by in a Vee.  They are not supposed to be here, preferring to winter in Florida, but I swear this is what they were.  Our usual Brown Pelicans are, well, brown, not snow white like these were.

About three o’clock we screw up our courage; emboldened by the relatively flat water in our safe little anchorage and frankly bored with being holed up for so long.  Eric gets the big anchor up pretty easily, but it takes some time to get the little one up.  Eric says it must have been buried three feet into the muck.  I want to sail out, so I set the reef in the main ready to go because it’s still gusting a bit.  Luckily, Eric convinces me to motor on out, partly to clean off the anchor, which is completely covered in mud.  As we cross the mouth of Bond Creek, we can see it’s far too rough to sail.  White caps are everywhere and there is a nasty two-foot chop coming out of South Creek, along with a steady 25-knot wind, gusting to 30 or 35.  As soon as I see how it is, that we were deceived by our protected anchorage into thinking we could sail, I’m ready to head back in, but Eric wants to see how it is on the river, which is not much farther.  Unfortunately, to get out there, we have to pass the shoal coming off the point and since it is only a few feet deep there, the chop increases to 3-4 feet and the wind is powerful.  Trusty overcomes the wind with no problem, but it’s daunting conditions for Willadine.  

We duck back into Muddy Creek and are amazed at the slacking of the wind and greeted by a large group of Grebes, who appear to be rather put out at our appearance in their creek.  We clumsily set the anchor and end up a bit too close to the lee shore, but it’s soft marsh grass and we are too tired to reset it.  Eric pulls up the rudder, just in case.  The sun presents us with an astonishing show of color in the west, which we admire while Eric grills sausages and broccoli from the farm. 

Sunset, Muddy Creek.  Photo does not do it justice, at all.


Just after sunset, he goes below and I call him back because the full moon is rising through the trees.  The world is pure magic.

Moonrise, Muddy Creek

Monday, November 12, 2012

Migration

So often on the boat, things do not go as expected.  This weekend the weather was forecast to be sunny, breezy and warm.  Well, two out of three ain't bad.  We froze.  The wind chill was a killer and Friday we woke to frost.  It was cold.

But, as always, it seems, we had a ball.  Because it was so breezy, we made a beautiful long sail on an easy broad reach to the wilderness area at Judith Marsh.  On the way, we passed a house that has captured my imagination.  The house is completely isolated in the middle of the marsh looking south across the Pamlico River.  You can see this house for miles and it's so far from any civilization you can't believe it's there.  It has a wide screened porch and is perched sturdily on piers for the inevitable flooding.  I wish I could capture it on film, but I can't.  Maybe with a helicopter.  Eric thinks it must be a government research station of some sort.  I wonder if I got another degree in marine biology if I could get to stay there.  I want to stay there, like for a month.

As we were passing the house, I noticed some unusual-looking birds.  It's migration time for waterfowl and Pamlico Sound is prime resting territory.  On closer inspection with binoculars and a consultation with my beloved bird book, I identified them as surf scoters.  The males were velvet black with a stark white widows cap on the backs of their heads.  I think they are the most beautiful birds I have seen so far.  But there were more.

Judith Marsh near Swanquarter, NC

On our incredible sunset paddle we upset dozens of nesting sandpipers.  As I realized we were scaring them, we quickly paddled away.  I hope the mothers were not too long away from their nests.  We saw them again the next day flying around a tiny marsh island in Swanquarter Bay.  It is fascinating to watch them fly in sync, darting up and around so sharply and so perfectly synchronized, you just have to wonder how they do it.  There seem to be dozens of species and they move so fast and are so flighty, I couldn't get a proper identification.  Probably there were several of the likely species.

Tacking back toward Judith Island, we got a good look at a large, swift-flying bird I saw briefly at our anchorage the evening before.  I swore it looked like a raptor, but couldn't imagine what it could be.  When we got a better look I saw a hawk-like face on a dark bird with a clear white patch on its rump.  A check of the trusty bird book determined it to be a marsh hawk, most likely a female.  I wondered what they might be eating, since I doubt there are many rodents on the marshes, they are too wet.  Turns out they eat the smaller marsh birds.  Poor sandpipers!

Sadly, we turned back toward North Creek and decided to take a shortcut behind Judith Island.  I wish I could properly capture this place on film, but I haven't managed it at all.  The marsh grass goes on for miles, with watery channels all running through it so all you see is water, grass and sky all around.  When the sky is blue, the water is blue and at dusk and dawn the grass turns all shades of brown, gold and rust.  It's very quiet sailing in there.  The water is smooth and gentle, protected by the marshes, everything is wild and free.  We find this deeply soothing.

Herring gull, Judith Island, NC

The wind came up and we abandoned our quest to spend the night in Abel Bay, the downwind being less fun than a nice broad reach.  Instead we made for Oyster Bay, one of our very first anchorages here and made it on one very long, very satisfying tack.  Next morning, we were treated to a predawn show of Venus next to a crescent moon, fading as the sun came up.  The sunrise was no disappointment either:

Sunrise in Oyster Bay

The wind never came up Sunday and we motored with Trusty all the way back to North Creek.  It was hard going home with the sun shining and the temperature finally making it to the promised seventy degrees.  We passed a flag on the road home and consoled ourselves that at least it wasn't flying.  No wind.  Maybe next weekend.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Five Days, No Shoes, Part One

Eric's business trip was cancelled at the eleventh hour and I was checking the weather before he was off the phone.  It was looking perfect for a week on the boat and boy, did we have some fun on Willadine, including what Eric calls a BFS, Big Freaking Sail.

As usual we followed the wind, because we can and because there is absolutely no use in fighting it.  With a fine northerly wind, we zoomed down to Goose Creek and anchored for the night.  It was cloudy and cool, but we were bundled up and full of excitement for the days to come.

The ICW has its own sort of scenery.  We got a kick out of this funny little boat carrying a pickup!


When we came out of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) I wanted to continue out into the "big" water of the sound, but Eric was keen to check out Bonner Bay across the Bay River.  He'd looked on the satellite and saw there were several canals leading out to the sound and we both liked the idea of an "inside passage" to save going out in the big scary water.

We sailed like a dream downwind to the bitter end of the aptly named Long Creek, only to find all the canals blocked by funny metal gates extending down into the water and some serious-looking no trespassing signs.

We saw no houses the whole way in and only one little fisherman
Unfortunately, having sailed downwind all the way into this creek, we had to motor all the way out.  Trusty the Outboard carried us well and we decided to weather the predicted blow on the other side of Bonner Bay in Spring Creek.  We were amply rewarded by a fantastic pod of frolicking dolphins, coming right up out of the water in curvy flips.

After going all the way up Spring Creek to a bridge and nearly getting pinned in by the strong wind, we sailed back across Bay River to a tiny bay called Rockhole Bay.  Ringed with marsh and protected from the waves, we dropped the hook and launched the kayaks just before sunset.  With beers in the cupholders, we paddled up a narrow canal and came out on the big, big water.

It was wavy gravy out there.
The sunset was so worth it.
And that was just the first two days.  (To be continued)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Downwind



We've discovered something new about sailing. Probably most sailors will laugh at us, but we're still learning and we think each discovery is a precious treasure. We found ourselves sailing downwind and decided to take down the mainsail and go with just the genoa (headsail). This was a huge relief to me because I got knocked down when the mainsail jibed (switched sides of the boat) unexpectedly. It's dangerous for our boat running downwind with the main if the wind is shifty at all or if the helmsman is not experienced in keeping the boat slightly into the wind.

Sailing downwind is a totally different experience from other points of sail. Going with the wind, the apparent wind on the boat disappears and you feel like you are in some kind of safe pocket. This feels even more safe without the potential for the boom to swing 180 degrees and whack someone in the head. The head sail has no boom, so when it jibes, it just flaps over and fills on the other side. No problem.

Friday we sailed upwind (known as “beating” for good reason) in the river for a while with the idea we might get out into the sound. The big water has been calling me all along and now that Eric feels more comfortable on the boat, it's calling him too. It was pleasant going upwind, tacking back and forth, we love to work the boat and see what she can do, how she “points” into the wind (not well) and how we can trim the sails to maximize our speed. But after half a day we were getting tired. A look back showed we had barely made any progress downriver, we could still clearly see the pink house at the mouth of North Creek. It was laughable.

So, reluctantly we turned downwind. But as we flew upriver, the wind slacked and then swung to the south. We motored into Durham Creek, a new one for us, opposite Bath Creek. I was nervous at first, there was a big fancy house on the point and I thought it might be heavily populated. But as we turned in, there were no more houses. We saw a sailboat anchored ahead, but it turned out to be uninhabited, just left at anchor. There were no houses nearby. The creek winds back and around and we saw two little clusters of four houses each, but no more. The west side is completely deserted. It was different too from the creeks and bays out on the sound. Durham Creek is rimmed with what Eric calls “upland,” meaning forest rather than marsh. It gives the creek a cozy feel and we hoped for and got a less buggy anchorage.

We saw several small fishing boats, but otherwise there was no sign of human life. The almost full moon rose behind us. I took some pictures. 



We spent a peaceful night at anchor and woke at dawn. Eric was making plans to sail off the anchor, but the wind had switched back around to the north. I suggested we sail downwind to explore the rest of the creek and he agreed. Sailing off the anchor was fun because we didn't make a sound. Most of the fishermen use little electric motors that don't scare the fish, so it was very quiet. There is something magical about moving along with just a sail.

There wasn't much wind, but it was cool, so going with the wind made us feel warmer. The creek wound back and forth farther and farther until we had to pull up the keel as it was dragging. A little further and the rudder kicked up too. We grinned at each other and kept going. We love going into these little places where keel boats can't go. I'm sure the fishermen thought we were crazy. But surely they must get it; the incredible solitude of the wild water.

A bald eagle swooped off a tree on one side, we could hear its wings swish as it flew over the boat to the other side. A pair of smaller birds raised a ruckus, fighting, as I squinted to try to identify them. They looked like little gray hawklike birds. They were definitely not gulls. They disappeared before I could get the binoculars.

Around another bend, I could see the top of a truck parked on the road beside the bridge. It looked weird after all that wilderness. The marshes lining the creek back here were dotted with goldenrod and these little pink flowers, like roses, so pretty. The last call of reproduction before winter.



Eric noticed that some of the dead trees were cypress with their knees sticking up out of the water. He says they are unusual this far north. I didn't remember seeing any except in South Carolina.

We sailed up to the bridge and watched another fisherman park and get out of his truck. We thought we must make a funny sight, a sailboat so far up the creek so close to the bridge, but he didn't seem to notice. I was getting very nervous as we approached the bridge, one of those low ones, just mere feet off the water, but Eric was unconcerned. He's used to kayaking and canoeing and he calmly pulled in the sail while I fired up Trusty. I let him turn Willadine around. It was too tight for me, I get nervous in these tight places, but he's cool as a cucumber.

We didn't sail much that day with the wind being contrary and then the rain moving in. But Sunday we sailed upwind and downriver again and on the way back we ghosted downwind again. The wind died to almost nothing and the sun came out. The smooth water was reflecting the blue sky and the sun felt warm after all that rain. Eric suggested we crank up Trusty, but I was resistant. Instead, we ghosted along making half a knot and just enjoying the water and the sun. It actually got hot enough for Eric to jump over the side.

A couple of fishing boats went by and Eric said they must think we're nuts for barely moving. But I think he's wrong. I think they probably get it. For them, the fishing is the excuse to be out on the water. For us, it's the sailing. And boy, is it ever fun!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Things Don't Go Quite as Planned

In perfect weather, high in the low 80s, sunny with a nice steady breeze, we sail up to anchor in Abel Bay, near the Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge and enjoy a lovely moonlit anchorage with only a few pesky skeeters. It's nice and cool for sleeping, so we sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

Out on the water conditions are perfect again and we fly around Pamlico Point, out into the sound, skim between the military firing range (off-limits) and the marshes, zipping across in these crazy five knot tacks, just a fantastic time, enjoying the sun and breeze and the smell of the ocean. Skirting the firing range,we pass a little open cockpit sailboat just flying downwind with a crazy spinnaker. We are too busy sailing to even take a picture, but boy, are we having some fun!

We cruise into Jones Bay and start looking for this little canal that Eric had seen on the chart. It goes right up into Middle Bay, which would have been new territory for us. From there we could cut through to Big Porpoise and then back to Mouse Harbor, a tricky inside passage we were keen to try. Since our boat only draws eighteen inches of water, we can get into these little places other boats can't. And we love to try them!

The opening is narrow, but passable. 



We'd done these things before and thought nothing of it. But it gets narrower. We squeeze past a few trees overhanging the ditch. No problem, Eric says, we're almost halfway. Up ahead we spot an even larger tree leaning into the ditch with a pipe sticking up on the other side. By this time we are so tight in this little ditch, we can't even think about turning around. We have a few feet of clearance on either side, at best. Anyway, we're nearly there.

We squeeze past a pine tree and the shrouds take off a branch.  I get the silly giggles as pine cones rain down on the deck.  Eric keeps on motoring. The deck is littered with debris. Eric hands me the boat hook and instructs me to fend off as we pass a tree trunk jutting into our path. We clear it by one inch, the other side of the boat scraping the marsh.

A little farther and I can see the bay on the other side. We're almost there. Except the way is blocked by ten feet of brush and a substantial tree. There is almost room to turn around at the end. Almost. Eric fearlessly slips over the side and disappears up to his thighs in mud and up to his chest in water. A splash nearby and Eric crows, “Alligator!” I shiver. He pulls the bow around, dislodging a derelict crab pot on the way and releasing several large crabs, while I try to fend off the stern, now jammed in the marsh grass.

He's pulling with the boat hook, so I untie the kayak paddles and proceed to push off the marsh and paddle to move the stern around. The rudder has kicked up and is sticking out and catching on the grass, so I have to climb down the swim ladder to lift it. I do my best not to think about alligators. Finally, we're headed back out and I titter uncomforably as I realize we have to run that unbelievable gauntlet of trees and brush again. With me at the helm (since I was no use at fending) we barely make it past the tree with one inch clearance. It rubs the hull. I fail at steering too.

Delighted to see the open water of Jones Bay again, we are greeted by dolphins and more incredible weather and a perfect wind to blow us up the ICW to Goose Creek. We sail up to anchor again, get up before dawn and head out. Another perfect day, except the wind shifted 180 degrees and is now in our teeth. It's also really blowing. Willadine is heeled over and with a reefed main and a hankie of jib we're making five knots. Eric is in heaven as we tack back and forth to get out of Goose Creek. We even manage quite a bit of traffic, three big power yachts, a sailboat and a tug and barge. Whew. Close-hauled, we make one incredible tack all the way back to the mouth of North Creek. Willadine is going four and five knots steady with Eric at the helm the whole way, in sailing heaven, total bliss. He's pumped up with the thrill of such an amazing sail, but by this time, I'm exhausted. We spend a few glorious hours anchored out at Frying Pan, resting and eating lunch and then, very reluctantly head back to the dock. Our only consolation is that we get to come back next week!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Picture Blog

After our little "incident" we left the camera on the boat and didn't get to post any of the pictures, so here they are:

After the accident, we holed up here just inside Goose Creek and were rewarded with this amazing sunset.
We were a little nervous about these thunderheads, but we were safe in our little anchorage.
Sailing back to North Creek the next day we saw yet another of these amazing circumzenithal arcs.
Climbing back on that horse the following weekend was nerve-wracking too, but we very much enjoyed the company of our friends Jimmy and Rob aboard their 30-foot Morgan, Jimmyville.
Jimmy was kind enough to take some nice pix of Willadine (that's us!) but he couldn't figure out why we refused to put up our head sail.  We told him we were too chicken (it looks clear, but there were storms about!) but he didn't really get it.  How do you like her "earmuffs"?  LOL!
After sailing across the river with Jimmyville, we anchored up in our new favorite anchorage at the mouth of Long Creek inside South Creek.  It was special fun anchoring with friends and we swam and paddled the kayaks around.  Next morning Eric and I paddled over to a little beach for our yoga practice.  Boy, that was fun.
We had a wonderful weekend and are feeling better about sailing again.  But we're still pretty nervous about storms and running downwind in particular (which is how I got knocked down).  We stayed away this weekend because of the crummy forecast, but hope to get back next weekend. Both Eric and I are pining away for our Willadine and for the beautiful Pamlico.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Love Bites

If a person beats you up, it’s going to take some time.  One punch here, a kick there, maybe some scratches.  It’s gotta hurt and hurt and go on hurting.  I can’t imagine.  It must be terrible.  But when a boat beats you up it can do all that damage in just a split second.  Anyway, you know it’s your own fault, not the boat’s fault.  And besides, it’s so worth it, so infinitely worth it, to get to be out on this amazing water with sights and sounds that can’t be imagined, just waiting to reveal themselves.

We sail out to Mouse Harbor, going in through a special passage Eric and Ansel discovered last month.  We get through the narrow opening and then we notice a crab pot float with something floating in the water next to it.  It looks just like a partly submerged crab pot.  Oh, wait, it is a crab pot and it’s sitting on the bottom.  Just about this time we realize we have stopped moving and are aground.  While I sit gaping in the cockpit, Eric heaves up the keel, tugs up the rudder, throws out the swim ladder and jumps off the boat.  He grins up at me, the water up to his knees.  He pushes us off.  Later I kick myself that I didn’t jump off and get a picture.  It’s a beautiful setting with the marsh grass lit up in circle around a blue pool.

The wind picks up around 5pm and we decide not to tempt fate and just to stay put inside the harbor.  It blows for a few hours, we get a little rain and by morning it’s dead calm.  At dawn I sit in the cockpit and watch the stars go out and listen to the sound of the surf coming from the sound side of the protective marsh.

The wind picks up after breakfast and we make a nice loop out into the sound past Pamlico Point and back around into the river towards Oyster Creek.  The wind dies.  I suggest we grill some lunch.  Eric fires up the BBQ and lays on some burgers, squash and potatoes from the farm.  We flop around, inching along for a couple of hours and then it picks up.  We’ve been watching a thunderhead build all day and now we’re getting the leading edge of its wind.  In less than two minutes, it’s blowing a gale.  The water is streaked with white, the chop flattened by the wind and marked with cat’s feet.  Eric happens to be at the helm, so I grab the sheets and furling line to bring down the headsail.  We’re running downwind and the main is all the way out.  I give the furling line a tug and the sail begins to roll up.  I go to pull it again and the sheet is jerked out of my hand.  The wind has jibed the sail to the other side.  It’s luffing violently and I lose the other sheet.  Next thing I know I’m flying across the cockpit and coming to what felt at the time like a soft landing on the lifeline.

I stand up and realize that the hand that was holding the furling line hurts pretty badly.  I look and see that all the skin is gone from the inside of my index finger and all four fingers are white with blisters.  I have to look away.  I knot my hand into a fist and look at Eric.  His face is terrifying.  I put my hand to my neck and realize my neck really hurts too.  But it’s not bleeding, so that’s good, right?  Eric chokes out, “Your face,” and I put my hand up to my mouth, which I now realize feels a little funny.  My hand comes away bloody and I decide this is not good either and we turn to the task at hand, reducing sail.  I sit shakily in the cockpit at the tiller while Eric drops the motor, cranks her up (god bless Trusty!) and instructs me to steer upwind.  The turn causes the boat to heel rather alarmingly (25 degrees?), but she comes around upwind and stops.  Somehow I manage to steer with my undamaged hand while Eric gets both sails safely stowed. 

I keep steering toward the nearest land (Oyster Creek) trying not to think about how much my hand hurts, while Eric lowers the bimini and readies the anchor.  I have to stand up to see to avoid the crab pots and my legs feel like jelly.  I have to bounce up every now and then and sit right back down.  My legs just won’t hold me up for more than a few seconds.

We finally get anchored and Eric pulls out the first aid kit.  I keep telling him I’m ok, and I really am, although my hand is really burning now.  I don’t want him to see how bad it is, because I know he feels responsible and I’m afraid it will make him feel worse.  I’m afraid the first aid will make it hurt even more.  Seeing the wound makes me feel ill and I have to put my head back and breathe into my good hand for a minute.  Then I remember that we have rum on board.  I take a tentative swig and it burns my throat.  But the aftertaste is sweet.  I know it will help with pain control, so I take a few more swigs and then Eric fixes me a Dark and Stormy, cold ginger ale with dark rum.  This goes down very nicely thankyouverymuch. 

I let Eric bandage my hand and put first aid cream on my neck, which is beginning to sting from two four-inch rope burns.  The first aid cream stings so bad my eyes water and I can’t breathe.  But after about thirty seconds of torture, it stops.  I like this first aid cream with lidocaine.  I like it a lot.  I like this rum too; it’s making everything better.  I pull an ice pack out of the cooler and hold it in my injured hand.  It takes the burning away completely. I take Ibuprofen as a precaution and I realize I should eat something.  I’m starving.  Luckily we have lunch on the grill!  The rum makes me giggly.  I keep telling Eric I’m fine, and I am.  Eric pops out to the cockpit and returns with a delectable plate of burgers, squash and potatoes from the farm.  We devour all the food.  We agree that some hard liquor is a necessary safety supply to keep on board.   Exhausted, but safe and content, we lie down for a nap.

Understandably freaked out, we nevertheless decide to jump right back on that horse and sail west.  This goes fine and we anchor in the mouth of Goose Creek as the clouds are building to the south.  They look very scary.  I’m in no shape to be handling any blow.  My hand has stopped hurting, but an alarming amount of skin is missing from my index finger, the skin on my neck is sore and my shoulder and knee have serious bruises.

Eric puts out both anchors just in case and we spend another peaceful night.  The weather looks threatening in the morning and we hightail it to North Creek, but no storm materializes.  The clouds wax and wane as we watch nervously.  I’m up for a little bit of sailing, but I feel exhausted and have to take frequent breaks.  It’s very beautiful on the river, the water all sparkly, the sun in out of clouds, just enough wind to move us gently along.  Dolphin fins break the smooth surface of the water in slow arcs.  We watch the lovely green and white tugboat Beaufort Belle slide downriver, something fine about a well-kept working boat.  I remember with fondness my conversation with her captain on our last trip, such a nice man.  Otherwise, it’s very quiet on the river and we like it that way.

We talk about what happened and how we’ll prevent it in future.  We agree that Willadine is great boat and we love her.  I tell Eric over and over that it was so worth it.  I’m really fine and we had a great time.  And boy, that rum really helps.  –giggle-

Visiting

We drive down the long way, through New Bern to visit our new friends in Stonewall, Doug, Wanda, Newell and the lovely Schooner SarahG.  It looks a lot different from the road and I’m confused by the map and think we’ve missed the turn, but eventually we find it (after passing the now-familiar Quik-Shop) and we hit the end of the road.  There is a chain-link fence, rather serious-looking, and a gate, but the gate is open.  I lean into the windshield and look up and there, clear as day, are the three white-topped masts of SarahG.

Doug comes out with a handful of compost and we follow him out to the pile to see how he does it.  Eric and I both use different methods with varying success and we’re always keen to see others.  Along the way we are distracted by the enormous fig tree, nothing like fresh figs off a tree.  Wanda pours cold sweet white wine (that Jennifer brought last time we were there) into small, etched crystal glasses.  It’s very refreshing.

Eric goes down to SarahG to get Newell and he comes up and we ask him about the boat.  We chat about everything from music to the weather and our past lives.  Turns out Doug and I were in Manhattan at the same time.  Wanda goes into the galley-like kitchen and brings out a plate of Ritz crackers, cream cheese and homemade pepper jelly, which is amazing.  We bemoan the rain, which is preventing Wanda from getting her seeds planted.  Eric watches the time and finally suggests we go to catch the ferry.  It seems all too soon.

The line for the ferry contains two trucks when we get there.  Two more come and that’s it.  Thunder rumbles and the sky flashes over and over.  No more rain falls. A rainbow appears over PCS, the phosphate plant.  I think about our new friend, E.T., and how he might be at work there so late on a Saturday night, Angela and the kids waiting at home, watching TV.

When we’re launching the boat, Conway, who is using his tractor because the truck keys are in the van and the van is in the shop, says, “How ya liking your earmuffs?”  And Eric has to think a minute before he realizes he’s talking about the orange kayaks on either side of Willadine.  “We love them.”  Later in our bunk, the wind is twanging the rigging around and I swear it’s playing a tune.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tail-slapping Dolphin, a Swimming Bear, a very big storm and a very pretty boat


11 July 2012

On the way into Goose Creek we saw quite a few dolphins.  One took a dive and slapped its tail on the water.  Never seen that before.  One came so close we could see the nicks in the dorsal fin.

Halfway down the ICW (link to Intracoastal Waterway) I saw a dark head moving across the water some distance ahead.  Eric grabbed the binoculars and just as the creature lumbered out of the water with a splash he said quietly, “Bear.”

We stopped at R. E. Mayo Seafood Company and bought scallops and took in the store with some awe.  Here we can get fuel, water, ice, miscellaneous hardware, t-shirts, rubber boots, cold sodas, candy bars and anything you could possibly want for fishing.

RE Mayo Seafood Company in Hobucken, NC  Great seafood, fresh as it gets!


To avoid passing a gigantic tug and barge in the narrow ICW canal, we scooted up Jones Bay and down Ditch Creek to the tiny ditch:

Looking down Ditch Creek from Jones Bay:  Notice how funky that sky looks.


I turned around to take Eric's picture just as the severe weather alert tone sounded.  Crap.

Halfway through, the sky began to look eerie and we heard the familiar tones of a weather alert on the VHF.  We slipped through into the aptly named Gale Creek where it almost immediately began to blow a gale.  We anchored in 25-30 kts of wind and before we were through setting the second anchor, it was gusting to 45.  The wind pushed Willadine over so hard I was afraid Eric would fall off the bow while putting out the anchor.

The National Weather Service reported a possible tornado and waterspout up near Englehard and we were a little sick with fear it might come our way, but it moved off to the east instead.  I sat in the cockpit and admired the rain pounding the water and whipping in the wind until I got a chill.  I stripped off my foulies and stuffed them in the rope locker and scrambled inside in my underwear.

Next morning the anchor lines were all twisted, we’d spun several 360-degree turns in the blow, but they came up with only minor difficulty, glad to know we were really dug in!  In a gentle, but favorable wind, we sailed off up the Bay River toward Bayboro.

We didn’t make it quite all the way and anchored in Vandemere Creek, which was quiet and lovely:

An early morning explore turned up this cool shipwreck.

 Next morning we headed out, determined to find Bayboro.  We were almost up to where the “town” supposedly was when we passed a pink house with an incredibly beautiful eighty-foot, three-masted schooner.  As much as is possible in a moving boat, we screeched to halt in the narrow channel to ogle this incredible sight.  We could hardly take our eyes of her.  Most steel boats are clunky, ugly and rusty.  We both agreed that Sarah G is the sexiest steel boat we’d ever seen.  I’m sure you’ll agree:

The lovely Schooner Sarah G

Desperate for ice for our rapidly warming cooler, we pressed on.  Down one finger of water, I spotted a convenience store.  Eric swung around and we landed (nicely, I might add) on a bulkhead next to a private boat ramp.  There was nothing to tie the boat to, so I stood in the yard of this house and held the boat while Eric ran across the road and came back toting two bags of ice (hurrah!) and a cold diet Coke.  Not wanting to overstay our welcome (such as it was) we shoved off and immediately the door of the house opened and two large dogs came pounding out, barking.  Later we learned that the lady of the house had become withdrawn after losing her husband in a tragic motorcycle accident.

The town was nothing but a largely deserted fish house, but on the way back we were magically invited in by the owner of the pink house and wonder of wonders we got to tour the Sarah G and meet her owner, the man who built her.  We spent a rather charmed afternoon with Newell, who built Sarah G (after first building a barn to build her in) and Wanda and Doug, who now own the pink house.  Newell not only built her, but he cut all the trees for the masts (since been replaced with aluminum) and all the interior wood.  She’s easily as beautiful on the inside as she is outside and she sports a washer/dryer and a bathtub.  A truly amazing boat, we can’t believe our good fortune in getting to tour her.

There is more, much more, but I’m determined to keep these posts short.  Well short-like, anyway.  Saturday we entertained three friends on Willadine and had a fantastic time.  Here are a couple of pics from that day:

It was so calm we were able to launch a kayak and Michael took this picture.

Eric grilled the shrimp we'd gotten at RE Mayo the previous day.
Sunday we reluctantly pulled her out after a brilliantly slow sail downriver and back in almost no wind.  We love the calms as much as the storms, it’s all good.   

From the Pamlico River looking out at the Sound.  Judith Bay to left, Mouse Harbor to right.

And we did really well on food, with very little left over.  Can’t wait to get back.  (Seems like that’s how all my boat posts end, eh?)

Here's how we cool off without getting stung by jellyfish.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We Glimpse Pamlico Sound

North Creek to Cedar Island, Judith Island, through Mouse Harbor Ditch and back: Oh big fun!

11 & 12 May 2012

One of the great things about the Pamlico River area is that we can go virtually any direction to make the most of the wind.  From our little marina on North Creek we’ve gone west to Bath, south to South Creek and into the tiny town of Aurora, east to the Pungo River (ICW) and southeast into Goose Creek (ICW).  And the cool thing is that there are so many more places we have yet to see.  We haven’t yet been to Little Washington, Belhaven or, the ultimate destination:  Okracoke.

This weekend, finally, the wind was just right to head out toward Pamlico Sound.  I have wanted to get out there since we brought the boat here in March.  We got a late start, but the wind was perfect and we breezed Oyster Creek and anchored among the crab pots behind Cedar Island, which is not so much an island as a bunch of marsh grass.  We didn’t want much protection from the wind because we wanted the wind to blow the skeeters away.  It worked great and we slept like babies.

 
The sunset was particularly dramatic



The next day we were up at dawn, like two kids on summer vacation, sailing with the wind again up to Judith Island, where Eric had seen a tiny island with a nice beach on the satellite photo.  According to our trusty GPS, we sailed right over that little island, which apparently washed away in Irene and found a lovely little beach on this scrap of land:

On Judith Island
We beached the boat easily this time and Eric held her while I jumped around taking pictures and observing new birds, who were none to pleased to find us invading their nesting grounds.  It was the farthest we’d been out in the sound and we were very pleased with ourselves for being so brave in our itty bitty boat.

Once again the wind carried us right down to Mouse Harbor.  Eric said he couldn’t resist seeing a place with a name like that.  Unfortunately the (really nice) beach was posted so we decided to try navigating the “Ditch.”  It was very shallow, but our girl only draws eighteen inches and she made it through just fine.  In fact, with our motor idling we flew up the ditch going over three knots!  Again, the wind was with us.  I would have preferred to take it more slowly, there was so much to see:
 
 
Mouse Harbor Ditch
Since we had the wind with us again, we decided to keep going and made it all the way back to the dock in North Creek before dusk.  It was a rousing downwind sail with a three-foot chop surfing us along and we were rewarded with a circumzenithal arc on the way:



It was over all too soon.  Can’t wait to get back!