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

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