Monday, April 19, 2010

Leg 1 - Washington, NC to Morehead City, NC

I have a lot of updates and don't know exactly where to start, so I will follow along with the Log Book and add the juicy details along the way. As far as pics, I have a few to add, but as you continue to read the progress of Skylark on the trip, you will understand why we don't have as many as you would expect...

Day 1, April 13
My sailing buddy Allen came in from West Virginia that morning arriving at the dock at about 3:30. While I was waiting for him, I did the final preparations to the boat as was ready to go when he got there. I had been at the boat since Monday and was able to get through most of the last minute details saving quite a bit of time. Once we had his gear stowed, we ran to the store for a last few things and was back at the boat by 4:30. We cut the lines at 5:00 and headed down the creek for the last time. I really enjoyed my time at McCotters. The folks on my dock were the nicest people and always lent a hand no matter what. Special thanks to Iverson, Robert and Glen for every thing you had done for me in the last year. It is very much appreciated. I can only hope my neighbors in Florida are as nice.

The weather when we left was about 80 degrees and sunny. Winds were ESE @ 5 to 10 knots. With only about two and a half hours of sailing before we lost the sun, it was decided we would stop for the night in Bath. Never being there before, I had not realized how shallow and narrow the entrance to bath was and for the first time on the trip, we kissed bottom. We were going very slow and easily backed off. With the sun gone, we got as close as we could to the leeward shore and dropped anchor. It was a cool night falling into the 50's with about 15 knot gusts and the occasional sprinkle. There was some chop as well, so I set a stern anchor to keep us tight into the wind. With no one else around, it worked well and kept us relatively still.
We didn't get much sleep that night so it was a bit of a rough start.
Sorry, no pics of the first day.

*Quick note: The engine had been leaking oil from the start of the trip and we had watched it carefully when ever it was running. It never caused an issue as oil pressure and temperature were exactly where they should have been the entire time. What it turned out to be was that the reservoir was slightly over filled, and it caused the oil to leak out an over flow. Once we got to the correct oil level, the leak disappeared.

Day 2, April 14
Allen's alarm had us up at 7:30 and it was time to make some coffee. The weather was still overcast and windy blowing around 15 knots again and it was 46 degrees. Even though there is a plaque on the stove that says don't use for comfort heating, I put two burners on and warmed the boat up a bit. We left about 8:30 heading towards Indian Island and the mouth of the Pamlico River and Sound. At that point, we had a decision to make. We could cross the sound and head out Ocracoke Inlet or, head down the ICW and go towards Beaufort Inlet. NOAA made the decision for us. The winds on the sound were 15 kts+ and the waves were upwards of 5 feet. We decided to head down the ICW instead and let the passing front move out before heading to bigger water. I am glad we did as the sailing on the Neuse River was amazing. So with the decision made, we headed SW and sailed on to Oriental, NC. This was my first time down the ditch this far up and enjoyed some of the sights. It was also my first time under a fixed bridge with Skylark and breathed a sigh of relief when we made it under. I am 46 feet off the water and the bridge was 65. Even knowing that, it seems like it was going to hit regardless. But alas, we made it unscathed and it made for some good pics.

We made it to Oriental harbor and dropped the anchor at exactly 6:00 pm. We had about 6 boats anchored there with us and the weather cleared and was beautiful. I whipped up a good dinner and got ready for bed. This would be our best nights sleep in many days.

Day 3, April 15
We picked up the anchor at 8:00am and started across the river to pick up the ICW. It was a little cool, but sunny and clear with winds at our back at 5-10 knots. Our destination for today was the turning basin in Beaufort. We figured it would take a while to cover the 20 or so miles especially just motoring, so we figured we would take our time as we would anchor in Beaufort for the night before heading out. There was very little traffic on the water so we just plugged along down the middle of the channel till around 11:00 when we pulled into Boch Marine to top off water, get ice and oil and charge the batteries. It was an easy approach, but the tidal drop is close to 4 feet. We had plenty of water however and was able to get everything accomplished accept ice. There is very little there, both services and amenities, so I would recommend going a bit further to the next marina if you are in the area. We left at 12:30 and continued to Beaufort. We made extremely good time and saw the Beaufort port cranes and water towers on the horizon not long after.

*Another side note. The ICW channel is extremely narrow heading into Beaufort, so be sure to watch your depth sounder like a hawk. We kissed the bottom but didn't get stuck because we veered out of the channel just a couple of feet.

At 1:45, we motored under the fixed and train bridge into the port of Beaufort and headed for the inlet. It was exactly 2:00 pm as we crossed into the Atlantic. The weather was perfect with seas at 1 to 2 feet and a 10-15 knot breeze. The problem however was the the wind was out of the SW, directly on our nose. So we were left with two options. We could sail west towards the coast and then tack south and run up the coast to our mark where we could cross Cape Fear, or, we could sail due south about 45 miles out to sea, tack once to a straight shot to the Jacksonville Inlet. Looking at the charts and considering the weather, we decided to head south to sea and keep a safe distance between us and land.

We had all the sails up and were cruising at around 5.5 knots. The sea state was still quite comfortable and so was the southerly breeze.

Day 4, April 16
As the night continued, we started our watches. About 3 hours on, 3 hours off. It was 4 hours till we were completely out of sight of land. Maybe another hour till we lost sight of the Point Look out Light off to the north east. It's quite a feeling not being able to see land. There were no other ships out, so we were very much alone on a very big sea. The real fun came when the sun went down. There was only a sliver of a moon and the stars were incredible. It got so dark you truly couldn't see the bow of the boat or the top of the mast. You could hear the sails ruffle now and then, but couldn't see them. The only light was coming from the compass. A tiny red glow that barely allows you to make out your course. But not long after, I switched on the running lights as well as the mast lights and it lit the boat up for all to see. We only say one ship that night, a tanker probably on the way to Beaufort.

By dawn however, things were starting to change. The last NOAA report we listened to as well as other weather services predicted Friday's weather to be sunny with winds 10 to 5 knots. By 6:00 am however, the wind was already at 15 knots guesting higher. The seas too were growing and now crested at about 6 feet. Annoying yes, dangerous, no. We reduced sail and pressed on for another hour when we notice the wind and waves both picking up dramatically. Again we listened to the NOAA broadcast but this time, it had changed to winds at 25 to 30 knots and seas 8 to 10 feet. OK, this was getting a bit more interesting especially being 50 miles off shore.

Not being dramatic, but this is the last picture we were able to take for days.

Only an hour later, the winds were 30 to 35 knots and 10 foot waves were the norm with some a little higher. The other issue was that it was not supposed to weaken until Sunday, so we would have to cross Frying Pan shoals in this with winds and waves picking up even higher. We had another decision to make.

With no real end in sight, we decided to head back to Beaufort and let the waves push us there. It would be a long day, but we figured we could make it back before dark. It was the right decision to make. Not long after we turned around on a due north course, the winds gusted higher and we were seeing waves over 15 feet come directly from the stern. Skylark's cockpit is about 4 feet from the water, so we are talking waves nearly 4 times that coming from behind and lifting us way up and then dropping us into the following troughs. It went from very annoying to survival. It does make you look at things a little differently, but my only concern at the time was the safety of Allen and getting us all home.
We were both tethered to the boat and stayed on deck together. The waves were very steep making the ride unbearable but we did keep moving in the right direction. Many times, the waves broke over the cockpit soaking the both of us.
It wasn't until about 4:00 pm when we spotted land again. We were so exhausted that we barely made it. Because of the winds, we had to shoot for Cape Lookout bight, a small inlet that would give us protection. We did make it around 7:00 pm. We dropped the anchor, and passed out. Literally.

Didn't know Allen took this one...

Day 5, April 17
We stayed in the bight through Saturday due to the wind and waves still blowing and decided we would have to postpone the rest of the trip to Jacksonville for a couple of weeks as we both ran out of time. In days, we got through half of the trip. In miles, we have about 350 to go. We will do this over a long weekend in the beginning of May. Right now, Skylark is safe and sound in a marina in Morehead City and ready to go. Being about 15 minutes from the ocean will be a great place to start and allow us to have much better forecasting. April is a tough month for weather, so I guess all in all, we lucked out.

Day 6, April 18
We left the bite at 8:00 am and sailed 12 miles to Morehead City where as I mentioned we have Skylark in a marina near the inlet. She will be looked after there well until we get the rest of the way down. We were in by 1:00 and I was back home in Asheville by 10:00pm. The best part of it all was I was back in my own bed. About 2:00am however I woke Amy up and asked her to check the anchor.:)

So that's it for the story but I wanted to put this out there for anyone that might be looking for a boat. The Cal 34 is an incredibly well made boat that handled very tough conditions with ease. Her design is just perfect for heavy weather and the confidence I know have in her is off the charts. I would take her anywhere and would recommend a Cal to anyone thinking of long distance cruising. And that's first hand experience.

And of course I wanted to thank Allen for coming along on this adventure. I know it was tough, but we got through it and looking back, it was a hell of a ride. Allen has already signed up for the next leg so that obviously says something...and thats, we are both nuts. I have made a friend and that is always a good thing. Not to mention, he might need crew to help bring his boat down to the Caribbean. :)


  1. Awesome story! I wish I could have gone. Congrats on getting offshore and getting half way there!

    Chris and Cate

  2. Glad you both made it in safely. It's amazing how quickly things can happen. Maybe the remainder of your trip will be uneventful. Hope you can make it back to McCotters in the future. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

    Robert Stanley
    S/V Pugin' Along

  3. phew, sounds like you made a good call.

  4. Thanks for putting up this great blog! I've linked to your blog on my new Yahoo Group:

    S/V Luna Loca

  5. Wow - that's quite the story. Glad all was well and you used excellent judgment!