Sunday, June 30, 2013

Four Nights and Five Days of Harrowing Bliss

Our Route, North Creek to Atlantic, NC

Every time we've left the dock at Potter’s for the past eighteen months, we’ve admired a neighbor’s boat on the way past.  Contessa is a white-hulled, ketch-rigged beauty with a curvaceous shear line and a sexy, no-nonsense center cockpit.  Several times, we’ve kayaked around her, all but stroking her clean gel-coat finish in our admiration.  Every time we pass her house, in the car or the boat, we peer into the carport to see if her people are there.  In all this time, we’ve only seen them once before and we had no time to stop that day.  This past weekend after an eventful and dramatic time sailing, we got to meet her people, at last.
We arrived at the boat early on Thursday, excited about two extra days of sailing.  After looking at the forecast we sailed downwind farther than we’ve been before, crossing the sound at the mouth of the Neuse River, a place notorious for hazardous weather and some treacherous sailing.  We made it all the way into Turnagain Bay, through a cut to West Bay:

Cut from Turnagain Bay to West Bay

and through another cut and under a bridge to a protected anchorage in Thorofare Bay.  We did not use our motor once, we sailed the whole way, just the way we like it.

Thorofare Bay Bridge, Cedar Island, our second bridge of the trip

Unfortunately, the “protected” anchorage in Thorofare Bay was also infested with mosquitoes.  This is an ongoing argument between us.  I always prefer the more rolly, breezy anchorages (rocks me to sleep and soothes the hot flashes) and Eric opts for the “protected” ones, in case of a stronger blow.  In his defense, the night before we had been so rocked in our unprotected anchorage that we were several times shaken awake by the rolling.  We spent a miserable night in Thorofare Bay being tortured by mosquitoes and were very happy to get out of there when dawn finally came.

We were so relieved when dawn came

The northeast wind held and we sailed off the anchor and over across Core Sound to the Core Banks.  We ran aground looking for a way into a tiny island called Dump Island.  Eric jumped over the side, grabbed Willadine’s bow and pulled her free and into what little channel there was.  We threw the anchor down in about two feet of water (we love our shallow draft boat!) and paddled over to the spit separating the sound from the Atlantic.  Ominous clouds gathered as we speed-walked to the sea, stuck our feet in (I would have gone all the way in, but the threat of rip currents was reported as very high and the surf was roiling in front of the dark cloud bank moving our way.)  We all but ran back to the kayaks and paddled back to Willadine.

After a light rain shower, we motored across the sound to Eric’s friend’s house in Atlantic.  As we admired his beautiful new house, the wind came up and the sky cleared and we took off in high spirits.  The wind had shifted just enough to the east so we could make a course back the way we came and by the time we entered West Bay again, we were running downwind to North Bay.  We anchored there on the backside of Cedar Island, looking across the narrow land to the Ocracoke Ferry landing.  As usual, we had the whole bay to ourselves, not even a fisherman to disturb our solitude.  Eric declared it his favorite anchorage so far.  We considered trying to hack through the marsh grass and hike to the restaurant, but abandoned the idea in favor of grilling some bratwurst we’d brought in the cooler.  After a long day on the water, that barbecued sausage was hot, salty and delicious.

Anchored in North Bay, in sight of the Cedar Island-Ocracoke Ferry

Winds started off light the next morning, but we sailed off anchor again (we love this!) and downwind back across the mouth of the Neuse toward Bay River.  Ominous clouds appeared around midday and by the time we were about a mile from Jones Bay, it was about as nasty as we’ve seen out there.  Eric thinks it was blowing fifty, although it didn’t seem that bad to me.  We were running with the wind, so you don’t feel it as much, but the sea attained a state that looked like giant fish scales with a pelting rain mashing down the waves.  Rumbles of thunder got louder and we began to see flashes.  We were making as fast as we could for the protection of the bay, running downwind with about three feet of headsail and making five and a half knots.  Our boat’s hull speed is six and a half, so this is outrageously fast for that little scrap of sail.

Dramatic, scary cloud

We had to shout over the rain, visibility reduced to a few hundred feet and we were thanking god for the GPS when lightning struck flash/boom very close to the boat.  We held our breath, but no more came.  We made it inside, soaked but exhilarated and Eric watched the anchor as the rain kept coming and we discovered several regrettable leaks in the cabin.  The next morning our bucket, left out in the cockpit overnight, was three quarters full of water.  We figured it had rained at least eight inches.

We enjoyed a rousing downwind run back home, sailing all the way into North Creek and celebrating our good fortune in having such fortuitous winds.  I was on deck putting out dock lines as we passed Contessa.  I heard music as Eric called out that someone was on board Contessa.  Luckily, we had time, so we stopped in and met Bill and Carol and heard all about the boat.  Turns out, she’s an Allied 36, one of only a few made and they’ve had her for some time.  We eagerly questioned them about her and when they inquired, we told them about our exciting weekend, including the near lightning strike.

“I’ll bet you’d have rather been anywhere else right then,” Bill said, shaking his head.

Eric and I sat stunned momentarily on their sofa.  Neither of us felt that way at all, we’d loved every minute and would rather be on our boat on the water than anywhere else in the world.  Of course, it was scary and humbling, but would we trade it for anything?  Never.  It’s totally worth it.  Dozens of mosquito bites and several sleepless nights were absolutely worth it.  We can’t wait to get out there again.  If you see my mom, just please don’t mention about the lightning, okay?  She worries about me enough.

Warm sunlight on sail

Monday, May 20, 2013

Laughing (Gulls) –Durham Creek, NC

Every once in a while, a whitecap breaks past Willadine with a whoosh, in between, the wind is a slight roar in my ears, competing with the grumble of the phosphate plant and occasional thunder.  We anchored here for a nap.  I wanted to keep going, but Eric was worn out from jet lag so I agreed to stop.  The thunderstorms were a little scary anyway.

Three birds perch on an old piling structure:  Two laughing gulls and a cormorant.  (If you click the link for the gulls, be sure to listen to the clip of their sound.  Guaranteed to make you laugh too!) The gulls are extremely elegant in their new breeding plumage and obviously feel rather superior as a result.  An argument breaks out, probably the cormorant acting curmudgeonly and trying to put the gulls in their place.  Back and forth, they complain:  Aw!  Ah!  Aw!  Ah!

Another gull comes and the cormorant gives him an indignant look, as if to say, “Heck with you, I was here first!”  The gulls commence laughing at him and he harrumphs and flies off.  The sun is peeking through the clouds.  I can feel its warmth on my arm.  A perfect breeze compliments it so that I feel completely comfortable and relaxed.

If Eric wasn’t sleeping, we’d have one of those moments when we look at each other and laugh like celebrities (or gulls), “Mwah, hah, hah!”  The main halyard taps on the mast in agreement.  We named the boat for Eric’s maternal grandmother (Monzelle Willadine) and we like to think her spirit rides with us.  If she were here, she would definitely be laughing at us because we cannot catch even one fish.  They fling themselves out of the water all around us, but never take the bait.  Monzelle would have filled the cooler by now.

Sunrise - Durham Creek

The next morning we sail off the anchor and back out to the river.  Dozens of crab pot floats dot the entrance.  Some of them have been co-opted for real estate by least terns, charming little gull-like birds, who watch us pass very close without flying off.  We get close enough to see the white triangles on their foreheads.  They are like miniature gulls, very cute, each riding its own float.  They’ll soon be gone north with the other migrants.  We’re thinking of going north too, to the Albemarle, new territory, new surprises, new wildlife.  Mwah, hah, hah!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Long Ago Voyage or The Next Best Thing

The next best thing to sailing is telling sailing stories.  This is a long one, so settle in.  I may even have to tell it in installments, so bear with me.

Sometimes in life, your choices are clear.  You make decisions and the predictable happens.  Other times you seem to be on some mysterious road that winds around until you begin to wonder where the heck you’re going.  If you’re like me, you just hang on and enjoy the wild ride.  

I had no idea where I was going when I gamely volunteered at a fundraiser for an organization that provided art classes to adults with physical disabilities.  Along with the other volunteers, I stood in a line as we took turns holding up the items while the auctioneer called out for bids.  I held up a vacation stay at a bed and breakfast, an oil painting, a hand built clay vase.  It was a jovial group and we were having fun watching the dollars rack up for the organization.  In front of me in line, a young girl of about ten turned around and asked me what item I had.  It was a piece of jewelry.  She admired it.  I asked her what she had and she slowly turned her card around.  It was a glass blowing class.  I smiled and said how fun that would be.  She looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness, “You should buy this.”  I laughed and said I wished I could, but I couldn’t afford the five hundred dollar price tag.  She was adamant.  “You should buy this,” she said very firmly.   

Her insistence made me uncomfortable and I was relieved when it was her turn to climb onstage.  The auctioneer started the bidding at $500.  A hush fell over the auditorium.  No bids.  The auctioneer raved about the school, the art of glass blowing, the fact that the instructor had been an assistant to world famous glass blower Dale Chihuly.  She lowered the starting bid to $400.  Silence.  The little girl turned her head and looked at me.  It was too much, there was no way I could pay that much, no matter how cool it was.  I averted my gaze.  The opening bid came down and down and down until finally it was just a hundred dollars.  The little girl glared at me.  Incredibly, there were still no bids.  I cleared my throat, raised my hand and bid.  Uncontested, I won that class for a hundred dollars.  And, the little girl was right.

But it turned out that this was a just little detour on the trail.  I fell madly in love with the instructor, who taught us to wear socks on our arms to prevent burns and whose sweaty t-shirt made me swoon.  But, alas, he did not fall for me.  He did, however, have a friend, and he was anxious to set us up on a blind date.  Disappointed, but curious, I agreed to meet Darrel next to the big brass pig at the Pike Place Market.  He was surprisingly attractive, with a shock of dark hair falling over his forehead and a bubbling energy.  And he liked me.  On our second date, he confessed that he had a boat and I was thrilled.  Then he said it was for sale.  I protested.  I nagged and cajoled until he took me to see her.  It was all over then.  I was smitten.  Her name was Skybird and she was a CT 37(similar to a Tayana) with a sexy dark green hull, warm teak decks and brass-lined portholes.  She was thirty-seven feet of fiberglass magic that could take you anywhere.  After a few weeks, I persuaded Darrel to let me pay off the mortgage with my divorce settlement and we made arrangements to move her to Bainbridge Island where we could happily live aboard.  I would keep my job in Seattle and commute on the ferry.  I had never been happier.

We scrimped and saved and worked on Skybird for two years and then finally threw off the dock lines and headed for the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We had timed the weather perfectly and enjoyed a single tack to the southwest, which took us two hundred miles offshore.  I was in heaven.  We saw no other boats, no sea birds, nothing.  It was our little boat, the sea and the sky and that’s all.  The wind was steady and we made easy headway.  The sea was relatively calm, so one day when I was off watch, I went below for a quick shower.  I was just rinsing off when Darrel called out with great excitement.  He said there was a plane coming and I thought that was very odd because the planes we saw were at forty thousand feet, nothing but a vapor trail.  Darrel called again very urgently, so I hauled my dripping naked self up on deck without grabbing a towel, just as a Coast Guard plane cruised very slowly past about 200 feet over us.  We gaped.  I could almost see the face of the pilot as he went by.  We stood there in our little cockpit, stunned, as the plane made an abrupt turn and headed back our way again.  I ducked below for a towel, but that didn’t stop the Coasties from make two more passes.  Darrel and I laughed and laughed.

Several uneventful days later, we came in sight of San Francisco Bay.  The weather had held and it was clear and a bit hazy, but there was no fog.  We were as thrilled to be making landfall as we’d been to get away from land.  As we headed toward the opening to the bay, we saw something big in the water ahead.  It looked like a rock sticking just out of the water.  Darrel shook his head and said it couldn’t be a rock because we were too far from shore.  It looked like a mostly submerged Volkswagon Beetle.  A few seconds more and we saw a head poke up and the whole thing disappeared.  It was a turtle, an unbelievably large sea turtle.  We reverently thanked it for the welcome and sailed on into the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge (no small thrill!) and into Sausalito for a quick stop to re-provision before heading out to our next stop, San Diego.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Even Winter Has Her Charms

Bonner Bay Sunset

Eric and I have been having a discussion about how cold is too cold to enjoy being on the boat.  He seems to have more tolerance for it than I do.  There are factors other than temperature too, like cloud cover, wind and how far we want to go.  This week was on the edge.  It was barely fifty degrees and blowing 20-25kts, but the clear skies and sunshine made it bearable, that and the fact that we were finally going to try to make Oriental, some forty miles from our home base in North Creek.

But winter has her charms too, like no mosquitoes and when the hot flashes hit, I just strip off a few layers and feel the blessed coolness.  It’s also migration time for the sea birds and we were treated to many a swooping gannet, and a few new birds, like the dashing red-breasted mergansers that greeted us in Oriental harbor.  Their wild hairdos reminded me of the black-crowned night heron we saw in Morehead City a few weeks ago, perched on a piling right there on the wharf.

The wind in winter is both a blessing and a curse.  In summer, the wind is more variable, gusting like crazy around thunderstorms and dead calm in between.  In winter, it tends to be steadier and also stronger, such as the 20-25kts we had this weekend.  A steady breeze like this means we can set a course and sail like crazy at four or even five knots in a given direction.  And the NW wind this weekend was perfect to blow us right down to Oriental.  Well, except for when we made the turn to go up the Neuse, directly into the wind.  But that’s what we have Trusty for, he got us there, no problem.

In Oriental we were greeted at D and Don’s private dock by D, Don, our friend Anne and Mo, who with her partner, Drake, were preparing to venture north, eventually to Iceland and Ireland.  (Check Mo’s blog here.)  We missed the going-away party, but delighted to give her a hug and wish her fair winds and following seas.  Then we were treated to a marvelous hot pot roast, which let me tell you, after freezing our tails off sailing south all day in fifty degree weather and a biting twenty knot wind, was about as good as it gets.  There was wine too and a rousing game of dominoes afterwards.  Oh, so fun.

Sunrise at D and Don's

The next morning we enjoyed further treats of taking a row in the little dingy named Enid, for British author Enid Blyton, which our friend Anne Siddons (no relation to the author Anne Rivers Siddons) built with her own two hands, something she had never done before, nor will again.  She’s a sweet little craft, much like her maker, and we had fun rowing around the frosty docks of the marina.  Afterwards, her husband Doug made us espressos before we cast off.  Ah, the good life.

Somewhat miraculously, the wind shifted around to the south as predicted, and we sailed downwind and then a fine reach back into Bay River.  In the ICW, we watched a loon go fishing and warmed up as the trees blocked most of the wind. Neither of us minded motoring at this point, I was just happy to feel my feet again.  As soon as we got through the cut, we explored Upper Spring Creek and anchored far back in, a very solitary anchorage, just like we like.  The sunset was yet another wonder and the smiley eyelash moon seemed happy for the company of all those stars.  Eric carefully scanned the sky for a comet that is supposedly visible to the naked eye, but never found it.  What a pleasure to bundle up, lie back in the cockpit, and watch the stars come out without being tormented by mosquitoes.  In the cabin we cranked up the little propane heater and were soon toasty warm.  Thank you, Eric!

All those amazing sunsets, fine sailing weather, the company of such amazing friends and a shooting star every night might seem hard to top, but what a surprise we found waiting for us back at our little marina in North Creek.  We were considering supper when we heard the sound of heavy machinery behind the marina-owners’ house.  We postulated a few theories about the source of the noise until one of Eric’s theories came true and a gigantic Trac-hoe came crashing through the trees toward the house.

They had come for a forty-seven foot party barge that had been washed up in the yard by Hurricane Irene, some eighteen months prior.  We watched in abject amazement as they attached a rope bigger than Eric’s arm to the boat and proceeded to drag her toward the water.  A small crowd gathered and we all cringed at the terrible sound of crinkling aluminum accompanied the dragging.  Small trees were cast aside.  The men put the rope on her stern and we gasped as they succeeded in turning her bow toward the water.

Supper was forgotten as the boat owner and the marina owners joined us to watch in horrified fascination as the boat neared the creek.  The Trac-hoe driver backed toward the water’s edge as it pulled the boat closer.  The skids came right to the edge.  We held our breath.  The driver moved forward again to more solid ground.  We breathed.  Then he got hold of the rope again in prehistoric-looking metal  jaws and pulled again, backing toward the water.  We held our breath as he backed down, right to the edge of the marsh grass and just a little further and then the skids began to sink in the mud.  We breathed a collective, “Oh, crap.”

After a tense few minutes of digging himself in even deeper, the driver realized his folly and abandoned the machine.  An hour later a bulldozer arrived in the darkness, and after some ado, managed to pull the boat out of the way and pulled the very muddy Trac-hoe free of the marsh.  The bulldozer pushed the boat right to the edge of the water and there it stayed.  But what a show we’d had.  We are sorry to miss seeing her hit the water, but apparently, that has to wait for a towboat.
So we managed to have our usual fine time, in spite of the cold.  I think I’d rather have the mosquitoes, myself.  But it was worth it.  So worth it.