Sunday, October 15, 2023

I Pledge to Sail!

Sometimes it is hard to motivate myself. Wednesday morning was a case in point. I had been anchored in Greens Creek, near Oriental, NC for almost two weeks. I’ve mentioned before that I was there in order to volunteer at and enjoy the Ol’ Front Porch Music Festival. I had hung around the historic fishing village that is now a mecca for sailors of all types and especially vagabonds like me. I met some interesting people, did some writing in a coffee shop (one of my favorite things), and got some boat projects done. After the festival, I had planned to begin my wandering way south for the winter. 

I have pledged that I will sail most of the way south to make up for motoring all the way down last year as I ran from the cold weather. My next stop was Beaufort, NC. The way there from Oriental is across the expansive Neuse River and down Adams Creek which is the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW) route. The route cuts across the peninsula between the Neuse and the Atlantic coast at Cape Lookout. My destination lay just before the ICW meets the coast again in Town Creek on the backside of Beaufort. My thought was to do some sailing on the Neuse, but I wasn’t motivated. Probably, I’d gotten a little lazy hanging out in Oriental. 

The bridge at sunrise

As I prepared to leave Greens Creek, I was already concocting excuses. The trip down to Beaufort was going to take most of the day, but if I motored across the river to the creek I could probably save an hour. Plus, even though preparing to sail only takes a few minutes more than preparing to motor, that would be time saved, right? Did I feel like sailing? Was there enough wind? Too much? Should I wait until tomorrow? Etc. Etc. 

I’m really not such a slug. In fact, I spent 16 years of fairly hard work to get where I am. This is just an honest reflection of the thoughts that were brewing in my head. 

Also, killing the morning’s vibe, when I decided that I should first clear my sink by doing the dishes, I discovered that I had nearly run out of water. I didn’t have time to both get some water and get down to Beaufort in one day. I decided that there was enough water to slake my thirst along the way and I could fill up after arriving.

I got dressed and stepped into the cockpit to observe the actual conditions. 

Sometimes it just takes a challenge. Often, I end up supplying my own challenge. Whatever is holding you up, you too can supply your own challenge. 

As I looked around the anchorage, gauged the wind, assessed my boat and myself, it began to occur to me that the wind was blowing in just the right direction that I could probably sail out. What a fantastic challenge; haul the anchor under sail, sail down the creek, under the bridge, and out across the river to pick up the ICW. It was on! Now I had some motivation. 

I checked the fluids in my engine and my fuel level; my usual list. Then I went forward to unbag the jib and check that the halyard, the sheets, and the downhaul could all run freely. I then stepped to the mast and uncovered the main sail.

Just down the creek, west of the village of Oriental, Greens Creek joins Smith Creek to flow into the Neuse River. The bridge that crosses the creeks is 45 feet off of the water; fairly low by ICW adjacent standards. Ruth Ann was just able to sneak under the bridge and into the creek. However, the bridge is not perpendicular to either creek, so the way under is on a funny angle. For that reason, I decided that I would start the engine and leave it idling in neutral just in case I got into a jam as I approached or ducked under that bridge. 

The wind was steady but light as I raised the main and then headed forward to haul the anchor. I dipped the chain back in the water several times to agitate the mud to fall off. I was mostly successful but mud still managed to splatter the deck, my pants, and my bare feet. I always wear ‘work’ clothes to haul the anchor in the muddy rivers of the Carolinas.  

The anchor clanged into the bow roller and I knelt to hook the hawse cover on the chain and close it. Ruth Ann drifted backward and began a graceful spin as the wind pushed at her bow. I walked back to the helm and sheeted the main. The wind was blowing us toward the bridge and after Ruth Ann’s bow had swung downstream, I let out the sail to catch the wind. We weren’t moving fast, but we were sailing and it was glorious. 

The geography of the place was going to allow us to run before the wind down to the intersection of the creeks and then, turning toward the river, we would fall into a beam reach to head under the bridge. All I had to do was hold my course until we were on a good angle to head through the bridge. 

I had to grit my teeth and wait for the opportune moment to make that turn. Holding our course, I checked and rechecked our position against the wind vane at the masthead. Turning too soon, the wind angle might make it difficult to hit the bridge entrance. Too late, and our drift downwind could push us past the bridge. I finally chose the moment and swung the bow to the south. About 15 yards before the bridge, I was so confident that we were on the right heading that I went ahead and turned the engine off.

Silently and slowly, we ducked under the bridge and drifted as much as sailed into the river. The only sound was the rattle of the cars crossing over our heads.

As we passed the village and the entrance to Oriental Harbor, my next puzzle to solve was the dogleg in the channel to the Neuse. The wind was steady out of the west. The channel was going to take us across the wind, then into it, and finally on a run off the wind and out to the river. I checked the depths around me on the chartplotter. Luckily, because Oriental is still a working fishing harbor, the channel is marked for the bigger vessels that often pass. There was lots of water around the channel deep enough for Ruth Ann. 

As we left the village behind, I steered Ruth Ann a little closer into the wind to keep to the marked channeI. When the channel turned back to the east, I cut the corner to fall back on a beam reach. I thought that I might be able to sail just behind the last marker to get into the river, but the wind angle was going to take us into shallow waters. I didn’t want to get too far out of the channel nor into waters too shallow obviously. I have crewed a few times for a captain who likes to say “there are less surprises in the channel.” I fell off the wind and made a run for the ‘right’ side of the last marker. 

We were only making about a knot and a half through the water. Off to the west was Wiggins Point; a spit of land that was shadowing our wind. I decided that if we got past the line between that marker and the point without gaining any speed, then I would start the engine to motor across the river. Sailing is one thing, but making a two day trip out of a six hour run doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

Just before that imaginary line, I could feel Ruth Ann perk up. Suddenly, we were consistently making more than two knots. With the chartplotter zoomed out to see across the river, I turned us toward Adams Creek and we fell back into a beam reach; with the wind blowing straight across her beam. I had left a reef in the mainsail because I hadn’t completely shaken the laziness of the morning. Further, in wind as light as it was, I should have raised a larger jib, but we were well balanced and Ruth Ann could sail herself for several minutes while I attended to other things. 

Out in the Neuse River with the light wind holding, I decided to shake the reef out after all. The extra sail would gain us a bit more speed. After going forward to unhook the reef ring, I began to haul the main halyard to raise the sail, but the aft end of the boom was being lifted as well. I checked the reefing line and found that it had fallen off the sheave and gotten jammed. So, I let the halyard go, rehooked the reef at the ram’s horn, and settled back into our beam reach with mainsail reefed as it had been. 

Sailing along, back on course to Adams Creek, I pondered the jammed reefline and inspected the boom end above my head. There are two reefs in the main, each with a reefing line that runs through the boom, and exits on either side of the boom end fitting. When I had reefed the sail last month, coiling and tying the excess sail at the foot, I had let the coil fall to the port side of the boom. The jammed reef line exits the boom end on the starboard side. The weight of the coiled sail had apparently pulled the reef line off its sheave. Had I rolled the coil the other way, the line would likely not have jammed. I made a mental note and went back to enjoying the sail. 

Approaching the south shore of the Neuse River, Ruth Ann was pointed too far east to make the channel at Adams Creek. I tacked back the other way to gain some ground, thinking that I could tack again a little further upriver, and get a better heading on the channel’s marker. After we had tacked, however, we were nearly pointed straight back at Oriental. That just wouldn’t do. After sailing a while the wrong way, I tacked back for the channel. 

The wind direction was such that we would have had to tack back and forth for a couple hours to get high enough to sail into the channel. We were also limited by another shoal on that side of the river. I decided to sail up to the shoal and then just start the engine to motor across the edge of the shallows and down the creek. Again … sailing is one thing but practicality and seamanship demanded that I make better time toward our destination so that we could arrive before dark. 

As the river began to shallow and the wind softened, I turned the key to start the engine … and a friend called. I joked that she had saved me from ending my sail. For a few minutes, while we chatted, Ruth Ann took up the challenge and did her best to sail strongly in the falling breeze. Nevertheless, not long after I had hung up the phone, we were back to struggling along at about a knot, so I reached for the key. 

We motorsailed across the edge of the shoal and into the creek. The wind was much more fickle in the narrow geography. About half way down the creek to Beaufort, the jib had become more trouble than it was worth, so I doused it. Ruth Ann was holding her course fairly well, so I went forward with a sail bag and stowed the jib on the bowsprit as we headed south. After making it under the Core Creek Bridge, I also lowered the main and tied it up. A tug was pushing a large barge the other direction as Ruth Ann weaved around while I was distracted at the mast, but we straightened ourselves out long before we had to pass next to the barge. 

There are so many goofy tools that we can take advantage of in these digital times. Ruth Ann and I had made good time and as we approached Town Creek almost two hours of daylight remained. My one concern was whether there would be any room in the small anchorage. Most of the way down the creek, my phone had had no reception. But as we neared Beaufort, back in the “civilized” digital world, I Googled for “Town Creek Webcam” and found that the marina on the north shore had a camera pointed right at the spot where I had anchored last month; and it was clear. We were a half hour away and could head right in to drop the hook. 

from the marina webcam

As I write this, another boat has anchored near us. They chose a spot at a respectable distance, so we’ll be fine. There might be a little weather passing on Saturday, but my neighbors are likely just passing through on their way south and won’t stay long. Essentially, I am also passing through, but I’ll be here for several days or more. My friend, Victor, is in a marina here and besides offering me the use of their laundry and showers, Vic and I are going to work together on a couple projects on each of our boats. In addition, we may swap dinghies, but that’s a story for another day. 


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