Friday, March 23, 2012

In Which Willadine Meets the Dock at Potters and We Go To Town

13 March 2012

Still dark when we wake, wondering if it’s morning.  Cloudy, but warmer at least, a better night’s sleep.  Something was ticking in the stern all night, making me worry about drips or leaks, but all is well.  Eric opens the hatch to peep out and we’re inundated with skeeters.  He closes the hatch and we slap at them for the next hour or two while we prepare for the day.  Breakfast is a minor mishap as I’ve forgotten to pack the salt and oat bran just has no taste whatsoever.  We try without success to doctor it up and just eat it anyway.  Oh well.

The rain stops and I towel off the cockpit.  Eric pulls the anchor while I motor us away.  We go up Bailey Creek, admiring the houses and the nice big sailboats along the way.  We pick out a nice spot for a future anchorage and then head back and go up Ross Creek.  More nice houses, all new-looking.  The weather is solidly cloudy and cool with the wind kicking up out of the south.  I’m thinking we should be out sailing while the wind is good, but since I didn’t bring any foul weather gear and more rain is likely, I accept that going back to Potter’s is the way to go.  We’re running low on water and the porta-pottie is full.  Nasty bit of work, that.  We’re thinking the “double dooty” bags in the bucket are the way to go.  Probably more information than you needed, right?

We head back up North Creek toward Potters but as we round the corner, I sense something is amiss.  I look up and feel like we’re going in the wrong direction.  I look at the GPS and my suspicion is further confirmed.  I ask Eric about it and his head swivels around and he blinks and says I’m right.  I’m surprised, because usually his sense of direction is keen, but I’m glad I spoke up.  With all his kayaking experience, he’s a great navigator.  I have much to learn.

Going up the creek we debate about where to tie up and how to accomplish it.  The wind is less strong up here, but it’s still steady at five knots or so.  Enough.  I pull out the fenders and dock lines and start lashing one of the fenders on as we approach Potter’s.  There are several options and we choose one where we’ll come in from downwind.  Eric’s at the helm and I’m on the bow with the boat hook.  We make a slow approach and the wind catches the bow and we blow off.  Luckily, there is nothing in the way to run into.  Eric swings her back around and I watch on the dock shouting back directions:  Steer to port, give her a forward bump, steer to starboard.  We go in perfectly and I step off onto the dock with the boat hook, but oh shit, where is the dock line?  I grab the boat with the hook and get hold of the bowline, no problem and Eric kindly refrains from giving me any shit about it.

We drag the porta-pottie three quarters of the way to the bathroom before I realize we could have used the dock cart.  It’s super-disgusting and we agree to leave it in the truck and try the bucket and bags, which by the way are supposedly totally legal, go figure.  You do your business in them, tie them up and put them in the dumpster.  Can’t be any worse than that porta-pottie and it only held two days worth of poo.  Not enough to be worth the trouble of flushing it and emptying it, which was all a drag.  I miss Skybird’s flush toilet, but Willadine is the absolute perfect boat for us right now and for this area.  With a minimum draft of eighteen inches, we can go anywhere.  And she’s been sailing like a dream.  Yesterday we make 6.7 knots, past hull speed, as we surfed the following sea in a steady ten-knot wind.  It was awesome.  Eric says it was a rollicking ride.  It was fun, if mildly hair-raising.

Driving into Belhaven, we stop on impulse at a welding shop Slotesbury Welding.  The door to the shop is open and we peer in and call, but get no response.  I walk out the back door and find an enormous V-shaped bulldozer thing with giant teeth.  It’s rusty and fascinating.  Eric calls the phone number and reaches the owner, a man named Tim.  They talk for several minutes about the job of replacing the rusted uprights on the trailer and Eric offers to put a deposit down for the materials.  He asks about coming back later and the guy says, “Where are you?”

“We’re here at the shop.” Eric replies.

“Well, so am I,” Tim says, “I’m just in the bathroom.”

I spot the Dollar General on the way into town and we agree to stop there on the way out for salt.  The Ace Hardware is deserted, but we find a young clerk and ask about Internet.  He laughs and says, “Washington,” about forty-five minutes away.  I ask about the library and he says they don’t have wireless, but happily he’s wrong and I sit in the truck and collect my seventy-six emails and send one or two while Eric walks over to the corner drug and gets us a couple of cold diet cokes.  It’s not even that hot in the truck.

Back at Potter’s Eric cranks up the grill for supper and I load beef, zucchini and garlic on skewers, which was Eric’s excellent idea:

The garlic cloves are small and hard to peel, but they go on the sticks just fine.  On the grill one falls in the drink and I hand Eric the boat hook and he fishes it out.  Extra marinade.  A fish jumps off the stern and Eric says, “Do you know what that fish is saying?”

I say, “He’s saying thanks for the beef trimmings we threw out,” and Eric laughs hard.  I know that fish is just trying to get away from some predator, but still.  I ask about alligators and he says there’s a picture on Potter’s website of a four-foot alligator here.  And to think I considered swimming!  This leads me to wonder if Potter lost his leg to an alligator and I decide I will have to ask him.  I’ll just explain that I’m a writer and my imagination is going crazy with stories and I just need to know the real story so I can quit making them up in my head.

Secure at the dock, we duck inside when the skeeters start to come out.  It’s cozy inside and we experiment with lying with our heads in the bow, which feels much more comfortable to me.  We’ve been sleeping the other way but I feel like my head is lower than my feet, which makes me very uncomfortable.  Eric says he feels too cramped in his shoulders in the bow.  We end up sleeping head to foot, which suits me fine, but Eric doesn’t like it.  He felt cramped for some reason.  So we’ve got some experimenting to do on that.  I still think the aft berth would be the most comfortable, but we haven’t tried it yet.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Willadine meets the ICW and some traffic

Barge in the ICW

12 March 2012

We didn’t move an inch at anchor and the moon was bright in the morning so we got up before dawn, “The rosy fingers of dawn,” Eric called it.  I was glad we hadn’t slept in the cockpit because it was very wet with dew.  We had our tea and coffee and got underway about 9:30, after removing a derelict crab pot we'd snagged with our anchor rode.

Out on the river it’s pretty calm, maybe a five-knot breeze, but freshening as the day goes on.  With the main and full Genoa, we’re making a good three knots.  Not bad.  The water is gray and some of the clouds look like rain, but the water is splashing softly on the hull and the seabirds are lazily crying.  Gulls with black tipped wings are swooping about and the little black ducks (cormorants?) are traveling in pairs.  As far as we can see, we’re the only boat out here.  Off to the east, Pamlico Sound is sparkling in the distance.  The clouds are coming in heavy and we’re adding layers as the wind builds slightly.  Looking forward to lunch.

It clears a little as we’re coming close to the entrance to the Goose Creek portion of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW).  The sun feels really good and the breeze is freshening nicely.  I’m nervous about traffic on the ICW, but there is not another boat in sight.  At first.  We cut in on marker number one, because we can.  Willadine only draws four and half feet and if we pull up the keel and rudder, it’s eighteen inches; perfect for the Inner Banks of NC.

Eric spots a “motor cruiser” coming up the ICW.  We agree to tack and go aft of them.   This goes well.  They zoom on past.  So noisy.  We’re watching the next markers and trying to decide on a course of action.  We consult the GPS for possible anchorages during a lull in the wind.  A call comes over the radio.  These people talk so fast that for some reason you always miss the first bit.  Like the Coast Guard lady who reports periodically, it took us half the day to finally hear the first two words.  We would hear, “-----  ------- Coast Guard Station, one, two.” and wonder where the heck they were.  Cape Hatteras?  Cape Lookout, Okracoke Station?  I think it turned out to be Hatteras, which is surprisingly far away.  Yay, Eric on the antenna repair!

The voice on the radio, which catches our ear right away as it’s the first man we’ve heard (these Coast Guard folks must be 95% female).  The male voice on the radio is the “northbound tug” calling “southbound sailboat.”  Us.  We look at each other.  What to do?  Eric says, “We should answer them back.”  He’s on the tiller.  He looks at me.  “You call them,” he says.  Ok, I should know how to do this.  Hmm.  Do you say their name first or yours?  The tug said theirs first.  I grab the mike, and have to wrestle it out.  I press the transmit button and say, “northbound tug this is southbound sailboat.”  We listen.  Nothing.  Eric suggests changing channels and when I look I see no number on the display.  “It’s dead,” I tell Eric.  He looks mildly stricken.

The wind has picked up and we’re almost out of the channel.  The two-story football-field-sized barge with tug pushing from behind is at a reasonable, but fairly close distance.  Eric says he thinks the VHF radio blew a fuse.  The fuses are behind the panel, too much to deal with underway.  I grab the handheld and we try it on sixteen.  I call the retreating tug for a radio check and the Coast Guard Lady answers, “Got you loud and clear. Over.”  I hesitate and then offer a timid thanks.  If I’d known the Coast Guard lady would hear, I would have been more professional.  I do have Willadine’s numbers memorized now:  November, Charlie, nin-er, zero, eight, nin-er, Charlie, Charlie.  But she didn’t reprimand me so I guess that went well.

It’s kind of awe-inspiring, slightly creepy and reassuring at the same time to know the Coast Guard is out there listening.  They knew where the tug was and where we were and were monitoring the situation like the control tower at the airport.  “We’re watching you…,” so don’t do anything too stupid, like get in the way of a two-story barge in a narrow channel.

So we pop into the Lower Spring Creek on the west side of Goose Creek and find a lovely quiet anchorage to eat lunch.  We throw out the anchor and Eric suggests I fix lunch.  I quake.  What does he mean “fix” it?  Cook something?  I go below and squeeze myself into the aft bunk where we have the big cooler stowed.  Eric shifts and settles on the starboard side throwing the trim badly off and making my sojourn in the cooler more difficult.  The celery has frozen; the cooler is powerful good.  I pull it out along with some lettuce and a package of guacamole purchased on impulse at Walmart.  Carrots, a bruised apple, a summer sausage and pack of pitas complete the meal.

Eric is ready to head back after lunch.  He agrees that the sail was great, but he’s nervous about being so far from “home” and concerned about getting back before dark.  I suggest we might be ok to stay there overnight and venture further tomorrow, but the weather forecast is for some increased wind (10-15 knots) and possible thundershowers.  Not too fun for sailing.  I agree and we pull the anchor and head back.

I watch anxiously for traffic coming up the ICW, but it’s all clear.  On the way past markers three and four we pass a large sailboat motoring in.  We pass port to port and wave.  We try to hail them on the radio, the SV Encore, but we get no response.  Probably they couldn’t hear the radio anyway with all that engine noise.

Out in the river, the wind is up and Willadine heels over.  Eric and I share a laugh about what he calls the panic-ometer and I call the sphincter-ometer, the inclinometer, which shows us our degree of heel.  He's just getting used to the boat heeling over and it makes him nervous.  I’ve been out to sea on bigger boats a lot more than Eric so it doesn't faze me until it gets up over ten degrees.  He has more close-to-the-water experience on canoes and kayaks than I do.  I think that would be a lot scarier.  I feel very comfortable and secure on Willadine.  Even so, it's a little nerve-wracking in this amount of wind.  A little three-foot sea has built up and we're surfing down the waves and flying along at six knots.  At one point we even exceed hull speed, making slightly more than six knots.  It's a rollicking ride.

We make it back, downwind the whole way, right into our little niche on the East Fork.  I offer to take down the main, for practice, but I think Eric is worn out.  He says it might be better if he doused the main because he wants it to go smoothly.  I agree and it does.

At anchor we admire the incredible sunset and don’t even mind the light film of smoke everywhere.  Somewhere down south of us, across the river is a wildfire.  I’m glad the only fire here is the one in the sky and it’s gradually drifting down into the sea.  Tsssssss, and our day is done.  Sleep will be welcome.

Willadine meets Pamilico River

11 March 2012

We spent a restless night and got up at five, except it was six because of the daylight savings time.  We didn’t care because we were so excited to get going.  We threw the last few items in the truck and in the boat and slipped out of the driveway.

Willadine rode just fine behind the truck, although I was very nervous about the route, which contained thirty-five steps according to Google.  Right away I decided we should make a change and then I forgot about the two Hwy 70s and we ended up in downtown Smithfield anyway.  Luckily, it was very quiet at seven on Sunday morning.

We missed one turn in some teeny little place past Selma, but we got back on track just by feeling our way and didn’t have to turn around.  We got gas on the bank of the Little River and went on without incident until we reached Ayden where a sheriff’s deputy followed us out to the county line.  We were totally legal, except that our right trailer light is unreliable.  Still, we had no desire to tangle with the constabulary, as Eric calls it.

In Washington (boy, was I glad to be done with those directions!) we ate a nice big lunch at the Bamboo Garden Chinese, easy in, easy out circular parking lot.  The green beans were good and Eric liked the sauce on the mushrooms.  I splurged and ate some sesame chicken and the teriyaki chicken on a skewer was flavorful, moist and not so sweet like some teriyaki.

The turn off the highway came up quick and we almost went past it and after we turned on Zinkie Lane we momentarily lost our bearings, but eventually recognized the horse at pasture just before we spotted the crazy hundred-foot yacht washed up on the bank behind Potter’s house.

Mr Potter was a surprise, being a man about our age, much younger than I pictured him, soft-spoken and completely missing a leg.  He was friendly and soft-spoken and explained that his name is Matthew Conway Potter and although he goes by Conway, he often uses the Matthew on the phone because people think he’s female.  His wife came out behind him and was younger and more high maintenance than I pictured her.  Of course they had just come from church, so she was dressed up.

We rigged the boat easily with high spirits.  I found it more comfortable being on the boat on the trailer after a few days of getting used to it.  Normally, it makes me very nervous because it’s so high and shaky.  Unfortunately, we broke our Windex on the drive (we knew we should have taken it down) but we readjusted it and left it up anyway, thinking it would be some use.

It was challenging getting her launched because the boat tried to pull the truck down with her.  She was anxious.  Finally got her in the water and Eric hosed off the trailer and parked it.  Getting away from the ramp we ran aground and had to ease around and raise the rudder.   I was out of practice of steering in reverse and we flopped around a bit.  Luckily there was almost no wind.  On the way out, we noticed the boat our neighbor had been working on all day was a Hunter 42, a real beauty.  He said it’s his last boat and it’s for sale.  Interesting.  Would have liked to see the inside, but we were too anxious to get underway.

The sun was shining, it was cold, about sixty degrees, but in the wind we had to bundle up.  Dodging the crab pots, we made our way out the creek to the big river.  Eric was so nervous, but I was just thrilled.  After we got out in the river, I was ready to sail.  The wind was about five knots from the southeast, perfect for a pass across the river.  Eric wanted to motor to the middle and sit there for a bit, getting used to the big water, but I was keen to sail. 

Once we got the main sail up and  we turned the motor off, it was a big sigh of relief.  The conditions were perfect.  A pair of pelicans swooped over the stern, eyeing us for possible fish debris and veered off.  The Pamlico River Welcome Wagon.  Out to the west, all we could see was a big opening at the mouth of the river.  No sign of Okracoke or the Outer Banks, just a whole lotta water.  Nice!

We nearly made it to Indian Island and then decided to head back.  We were both a little nervous about getting anchored before dark on our first day out.  The “Frying Pan” was occupied by two fishing boats, but looked like a nice secure anchorage.  Instead we went farther in and anchored in a deserted little cove on the east fork of North Creek.  It was so easy with not a breath of wind and we ate a nice supper of canned chicken and veggies with hot chocolate for dessert with a square of Hershey’s Special Dark for dipping.

We marveled at Jupiter and Venus (?) so bright and close together and the stars came out fantastically.  We laid head to head in the cockpit wrapped in sleeping bags and Eric showed me the nebula in Orion’s sword and the Andromeda Galaxy and we saw two shooting stars.  The perfect end to the perfect day.

Something Mr. Potter said sticks in my head.  He said he had recently acquired a sailboat, his first, as he was used to working boats, power boats.  This made me wonder about how might have lost that leg, possibly in a boating accident.  Maybe someday I’ll ask him.  He said he liked the sailboat, but found it a bit frustrating compared to powerboats.  “You know,” he said, “with a sailboat, it’s not about getting from point A to point B.  In a sailboat, it’s more about the getting there than the destination.”  Indeed.