|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.