It has been a week since we got home and I am still self-debriefing. A lot of things happened during the last leg of our journey that are very much in keeping with the subtext of the Kay’s blog, ‘The Ups and Downs of Sailing Vessel Willow’.
After Kay arrived in Jacksonville, we immediately left the dock and within an hour we were 5 miles away from the US coast. Kay had not had any open ocean sailing since we crossed to the Bahamas 3 months ago, so it was a special treat for her. We had a favorable wind but it was predicted that it would change to a head wind within the next 36 hours so we were anxious to make as much distance as possible. Our initial goal was to make it to Southport NC, 42 hours from set-go. If the wind prediction prevailed we would have to break off from our open ocean sail and duck into the Intracoastal Waterway. We started with light winds, all sails up, and motor running. Eventually the winds increased enough to sail at 6 knots with the motor off. It is almost worth running the motor for a while just to experience the Ahhhh moment when the motor is silenced. The temperature had warmed to near 60. The swells were 4 to 5 feet (Kay said 5 to 6.) They were 4 to 5. I would put them in the middle of the vomit scale with my mother at one end, who gets sick during planetarium presentations, and on the other end, someone that has shirked their responsibilities and had extended sailing experiences.
An hour before sundown our bow became a plaything for a pod of porpoises. There were approximately 25 this time. One never gets tired of seeing porpoises play. They were with us for about a half hour. The sun went down, our winter clothing went back on, and we started sailing in shifts; Two hours on, then two hours sleeping. Sailing in the dark; my favorite; Not. The sun reappeared slowly from behind the distant clouds. My layers of clothing came off slower than they had the previous morning.
Since we were sailing straight to Southport and the coast is curved we got further away from the coast throughout the evening. By mid afternoon, we were 30 miles off shore. The winds were shifting erratically. We were flying a light-wind 155% sail at our bow. (That means 55% of the sail extends past the mast.) We reefed it to 120% in preparation to tack in response to the shifting wind direction. We should have reefed to 100%, because as we turned, the sail wrapped around the mast and tore. It was taffeta thin and old. We had been babying it. Goodby baby. We motor sailed, and when the wind direction changed to our rear, we put up the spinnaker. Again we were doing 6 knots so we killed the engine. Soon we caught a 1.5 knot current and we were going over 7 knots. In the meantime, Kay was preparing another one of her gourmet dinners. She had just filled our plates when the wind gusted to 13 knots. That pushed our speed up to 8 knots. We decided that if it went up to 14 we would have to stop eating and take down the spinnaker. I was woofing down my meal. The wind died down and then went up to 15. OK, well if it goes up again to 15, then we would take it down. Damn! Damn! Damn! It did it again. I put both our half eaten dinners on the gimbaled stove and we set about to take the spinnaker down. This was only the second time we had used the spinnaker and it would be the first time we had taken it down in NOW 18 knot winds. I had a procedure in mind but it was not practiced, and I never anticipated that we would be doing it in winds NOW gusting to 20. Oh, did I mention that Spinnakers are very large lightweight sails, meant to handle up to 12 knots of wind. We were now doing 9 knots. We were in danger of destroying another sail or something else. The spinnaker is held in place at three points. The plan was to release one point and that would spill all the wind out of the sail. I would then be able haul it in on the second point while Kay lowered it from the third. We were both poised for success. I let loose the first point. The line started racing out. I grabbed the second point, unsecured it and got ready to haul it in. Unfortunately, the first point got caught on something and the sail refilled with air. The sail reacted like a crack of a whip. It ripped the line I was holding through my hand faster than I could let it go. The pain was immediate. I looked at my hand. The skin was gone on my fingers. No time to worry about that. Kay recognized the problem and freed the end of the sail. It was now flying from the top of the mast 40 feet above us. New plan. I would let the remaining line out as far as I had line to do so and hopefully it would drop into the water and we could pick it up. Auhhgg ! I didn’t have enough line so I quickly spliced on another line. It was enough for the sail to reach the water. We got it on board. The sail was saved. My hand was the only damage. The rest of the day and into the night we used one sail and the motor. We got a weather report from NOAA that said winds would be increasing near Cape Fear which is where we were headed at Southpoint and still 16 or more hours away. We decided to go inland earlier at Georgetown SC and regroup. We made it into protected waters by midnight and laid anchor at 2 am. I took some Ibuprofen and we slept.
Before daylight, I could feel the tide changing and the boat turn 180 degrees. By the time the sun came up we were in 3.75 knots of current. That’s a lot. I would never knowingly anchor in current that strong. Our maps said the maximum current would be 1.75 knots. Our anchor held. We got a weather report indicating that the strong winds predicted in the ocean would not arrive for another 10 hours. We decided to make a run for Southport. We pulled anchor and we were spit out of the harbor. We ran the engine and moved with the current. We were flying at 9 knots (5 knots from our engine and 4 knots of current)! The marked channel took a left turn but the current went straight. You guessed it. We hit a huge channel marker broadside. The impact stalled the engine and did some damage on our starboard side. It also ripped open a tube of our dinghy. I got the engine restarted and we continued. We were still doing 8 knots. As we got further out, the opposing winds became apparent. The waves became formidable. We had to turn back. Unfortunately, the current was now against us and we could only do 2 knots. After 3.5 hours we were back where we started. At this point I felt Kay and I had differentiated ourselves from most of our sailing friends and we weren’t done yet. We motored for the next 5 hours through SC. We saw a lot of Hurricane Florence damage. We found an anchorage just before the ditch (a long, 15-20 mile section of the ICW that is very narrow and no where to stop). Bedtime came early and so did morning. Willow and I were showing our misfortune, but it was a new day, albeit a foggy one. We got off to an early start once again. Like every other day, it got colder. We made it to Southport at 4:00 (70 miles and no mishaps) and picked up a free slip at a restaurant there. Again, the next morning we got an early start. We made pretty good time motoring with the current and arrived at the Wrightsville Beach bridge at 12 noon. The bridge tender told us that the next bridge (Figure 8 Island Bridge) was being repaired and would not open until tomorrow or later. We took a narrow cut from the ICW to the Wrightsville Beach Sound. We got on the wrong side of a bouy and ran aground. The tide was coming up and we could have floated off in a short while but we had not used our membership to Towboat US in a three years so we gave them a call. I should mention here that we have a propeller that folds up to reduce drag while sailing. It virtually has no reverse. If we had a standard propeller we could have backed out of our predicament. We anchored at Wrightsville for the evening. The next morning we decided that we would go to the Figure Eight Island bridge and anchor until it was repaired. Sailing off-shore was not an option. It was cold and we were facing a strong head wind. At 11:30 we got through the bridge. We were just out of site of the new Surf City bridge when, AGAIN, we got on the wrong side of what we thought was a channel marker. This time we decided to wait and see what the tide would do. We discovered the tide was going out. We called Towboat US again. It was the same guy that pulled us out the day before. We were fast becoming friends. He pulled us off and we prayed we could get out of his jurisdiction before we ran aground again. Of note, it was cold and we were taking shifts at the helm so one of us could be warm below. We decided we needed 4 eyes instead of 2 to watch the markers along the ICW. It was 5:00pm and there were no anchorages ahead of us so we backtracked and spent the night anchored in a poorly protected anchorage with tide and wind.
It was cold at sunrise. With our confidence at an all time low, we got motoring towards our next debacle. That occurred at 5:00 pm. We were in an excavated channel just south of Morehead city. It was marked indicating shoaling. We slowly worked our way along the shoal looking for an opening. Eventually we hit the edge of the channel and could not back off it. Towboat US was there in 20 minutes. It was a different guy. He pulled us backwards a very short distance and we had just enough water at the channels edge to get through. Now it was windy, cold, and a driving rain had decreased our visibility. In a couple hours it would be dark. We should be able to make it to an anchorage in Beaufort. We managed to stay in the deep water and put our metal down near the new Beaufort bridge. It felt good getting out of our wet clothes and listening to rain from inside.
In the morning, we sailed home to Oriental and got back to our slip in record time with the help of the wind and tide. When we got there, there was no welcoming committee, not even Towboat US. Dockmaster Don came by just in time to jump start our car that had been sitting there for 5 months.
Except for the un-Bahama-like weather that we had been reintroduced to, I cannot say that I was too distressed by the last couple of days. Kay wasn’t either. I like fixing things and we both like laughing. You can laugh too if you want. It’s on us.
One more night on the boat, and all that would be left to do is write about it. And of course, get ready for the next adventure.