06/11/2007/3:55 pm, Little River, SC, Mile 347
On Sunday, after waking up to dawn at a new time (Clocks fell back last night) we continued our trek along the ICW, covering Miles 244.5 (Mile Hammock Bay to 295.2 (Carolina Beach), traveling past many waterfront homes and hundreds of little fishing boats, each carrying two or three people casting their lines. It seems to be the Sunday thing to do. No sign of fish though!
We pulled into Carolina Beach - just full of condos and docks along both sides, but with a roomy anchorage nestled amid the hustle and bustle- in the late afternoon, followed rapidly by Sea Duck, Wind Drum, and Sulis. It seemed time for a party so we invited them all over for happy hour. Jim went next door to give Sward on Dream On a couple of extra hands in some work she was doing - but she was too involved in her fix-it job to join us. Just as we were gathering, Friendship came circling in so we invited Seldon and Jackie to join us. This made the biggest crowd we have squeezed into Madcap's cockpit - 11 of us in all! It made for a wonderful few hours as we shared stories and plans and tips, and food and drink of course. As I told Sharon, I left my community of friends behind, so I'm building a new community. It feels like a very fine community too!
Everyone made early starts in the morning - in fact we were among the last to go at about 8 am. We quickly moved out into Snow's Cut with its lovely golden coloured banks, and then into wide open Cape Fear River. We were fortunate that we were moving on an ebb current, and the wind was behind us so we made great time, and the water was smooth. It seems that in most places where we are warned that the water could be rough, we luck into calm conditions. We didn't go into Southport, but cruised on by to try to make the 2pm opening of Sunset Beach Bridge. For awhile it looked really good - we were moving faster than we should have been - we had the engine cranked up - it wasn't doing its power up/power thing - the current was helping us. But then, the tide changed and we slowed down. We also ended up being careful not to push the engine as much because it was making different noises. Our tachometer isn't working so we have to guess at our rpm's by listening to the sound. We ended up making the 3pm bridge after a verrry leisurely trip. It did give us time to see goats roaming along the banks, and to say hello to the fisherfolks as we passed.
We pulled into the Calabash River anchorage along with 4 or 5 other boats to do the usual ICW anchoring thing. It's been said that watching boats anchor is prime entertainment for the folks who are already there and I have to say that is true. Some boats are quick to find a spot and drop; some circle and circle; some drop and haul/drop and haul. Some use hand signals and some use loud verbal communication between cockpit and bow. Jim and I have the hand signals down pat, and we are usually quick droppers although we've done our share of circling if the space is crowded. Everyone usually finds a spot.
We read that some cruisers have had bad experiences here because of wake from the working boats out of the Calabash town dock. We had no trouble, but I would be sure to anchor out of the channel. But then again that is only common sense.
After a short conversation with the folks on Arcadian and plans to meet up with them soon again, we set off in the dinghy for some calabash style seafood. It was a little disappointing. We expected hot, crisp deepfried seafood and we got warm limp deep fried seafood. Oh well! The ride back under the stars was lovely.
On Tuesday morning, we set off for the Buckport area - we thought. But we were hardly out of the anchorage when the engine started with the noises again - bigger and louder. Jim opened the engine compartment for about the 15th time to see if he could identify what was causing it and this time he saw sparks. That really helps identification! It was the alternator. We slowed to a crawl and pulled in at Anchor Marina, just a few miles down the way.
The folks here have been just great. Guy and Don caught our lines as we rafted up to Enchantress, whose captain, Tony, graciously said we were welcome to do. (Space is tight here). Guy, Director of Operations acted as mechanic and diagnosed that the bearings had worn on the alternator. He pulled it out, got new ones on and put it all back together again within a few hours. He also changed the secondary fuel filters to see if that is the cause of the power drops and surges, and thinks there was some water in one of them. Laura - or Miss Laura - as women are known in these parts - (the Service Manager) was also great to meet. She spent lots of time with us, welcoming us to the area, helping us reposition the boat, to the floating dock. We had time to chat with Don from Shadowfax out of Toronto and also here for a repair, and Ken a local gentleman who came by to chat.
We decided to stay here for the night and make an early start in the morning because we'll be able to make Georgetown in one day. So - much as we regret seeing a kazillion boats go by us, we know we'll still get there, and we will go safely.
It was Ken who encouraged us to go up to the bar this evening because we will have a chance to hear some South Carolina Beach music.
So we are off to clean ourselves up a bit and go absorb some more atmosphere - and a beer or two! Lucky Madcap sailors once again.
04/11/2007/3:12 pm, Mile Hammock Bay, NC, Mile 244.5
The wind dropped and the decision was made. We strolled down the street to experience a fab breakfast at Yana's - full of 50's memorabilia all over the walls - Marilyn Munro, James Dean, the Lone Ranger - complete with a cut out Elvis in the bathroom thanking me for coming in!! Jim said Marilyn was with him in the men's bathroom but she didn't talk to him. The place was full and the food was good - western omelette and grits/2 eggs with ham and home fries - both with fluffy biscuits. (Grits are better with cheese in a dinner entree than with breakfast; they taste pretty much like cream of wheat porridge there.)
We pulled out of Casper's marina and pointed the bow south once more, joining a string of motor and sailboats traveling down the ditch. The powerboats would pass - almost always radioing to signal their intention. That is one very nice thing we have noticed here. I suppose it is because of the narrowness of the channel, but the faster boats generally call the boats they intend to overtake on VHF Channel 16. The conversation takes place on that channel (rather than moving to a conversational channel) and is short, polite and to the point. For example: "Madcap, Madcap, Madcap...this is motor vessel Speedo right behind you. We intend to take you to starboard." Our reply is: "Speedo, we'll slow down and let you take a slow pass (or no-wake pass) to starboard. Thanks for the call." There is no switching of channels unless either vessel wishes further conversation, so it's a fast interaction that doesn't take up time on this hailing channel. Almost all powerboats have passed us with a minimum of wake. On the odd occasion when someone has gone speeding by a slower vessel leaving them to rock and roll in the wake, there is often a sharp comment sent (not from us - why bother? The boat is long gone and probably doesn't care anyway, so why waste our breath?) This system is much better than trying to guess whether the boat wants to pass now or later, which side she favours, and what would be most helpful for us to do.
One of today's bridges opened only on the hour, one on the hour and half hour, and one only during a couple of two hour periods because it is having some sandblasting done. We were SO lucky. We were too speedy for the first one and had to dilly dally for about 20 minutes. This is always a little tricky because unlike a road where everyone just stops still, there is current in the water and the boats drift a little this way and that way, always trying not to get too close to each other or too close to the bridge, but at the same time, trying to keep close enough that we can make an efficient passage through when the bridge does open. Another lovely polite little thing here is that often, the boats call to the bridge master thanking him for the clearance, and he (almost always a he so far) answers back with a "Have a good day Cap'n - you be safe out there.") I just love it!!!
We were a few minutes late getting to the Onslow Beach Bridge, and for whatever reason... maybe because he had only one boat there and he could see a string of us hustling along?... he delayed his opening and we all made it through. These are Nice people here.
We ended our day in Mile Hammock Bay - smack in the middle of Camp Lejeune Military Base. Some of our friends had been here a couple of days ago and had all kinds of interesting military sightings to report. Unfortunately/ or foutunately? We had a blisflully peaceful time of it with just one fighter plane doing touch and go landing practice before we got there. There was one lone boat in the bay when we arrived, and four of us pulled in together. We sorted ourselves out into comfortably distant anchoring spots, and by the time the stars came out there were 24 of us there...now quite cosily close.
Jim and I lowered the dinghy to go visit a sweet little trawler that had passed us earlier in the day. Now this is a story!
My cousin, Russ, had mentioned that friends of his were traveling south and were somewhere near us - being in Oriental the day before we were. I couldn't remember the name of the boat or the name of the people, but I did remember that it was a trawler and the homeport - painted on the stern - was Moncton, NB. Well ... when this trawler passed us, I, of course, hailed them on the radio and said - "Are you friends of my cousin Russell?" And the answer was YES!! Isn't life just grand? (Mary Beth - if you are reading this - I know you'll be rolling your eyes and bent double with laughter! Russ - thanks for the message! We all agreed with Steve that you are the Hurricane Guru.)
So we had a lovely visit with Sally and Steve on Sea Duck, discovering in the process that they live just down the road from our friend Noreen in Baie Verte, NB. Such a small world, this is. We also met Rich and Kathleen on Wind Drum, and rowed over to say hi to Mike and Kathy on Sapphire as they pulled in.
I cooked dirty rice and mustard greens for dinner - gotta get into the southern cooking style - and we watched the movie "The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood" - again a mood thing since it was filmed at Orton Plantation Gardens near Southport, an area we will pass tomorrow. It's a good movie though - even Jim liked it.
When I took my last look outside before turning in for the night, the sight was just magical. It was a crystal clear night. The stars were brilliant high above us; all 24 of those anchor lights twinkled and were reflected in the glasslike water so it was just as if we were among the stars themselves. Ahhh - moments like these...
02/11/2007/10:02 pm, Swansboro, NC, Mile 229.2
Seeing as this was our first really big blow since we started this trip, we decided to play it safe and stay at a marina while the side effects of tropical storm/hurricane Noel blew by.
On our way here from Beaufort, we paid close attention to navigation in the narrow channel. It's interesting - if it had been a little wider, I would probably have considered it boring. But since it was so narrow and required such close attention, we paid more attention to all the details. We spotted egrets and pelicans, and at one point had dolphins (Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins, according to the book) swimming right along with us. As we got closer to Swansboro and nearby Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, there was a fighter plane roaring up and down over our heads. The whole area is just at sea level and the houses are often built up high. The bank on our port side nearest the ocean was sometimes built up with homes, and in other places was a grassy sand dune. The area is prone to shoaling, and the depth outside the channel was often just a few feet. I could see how hurricanes and tropical storms can do such damage in these areas.
There was no wind to speak of from the time we arrived here at mid-afternoon on Thursday until the wee hours of Friday morning, but the wind has certainly been howling through the halyards since then and we could see the white caps blowing across the river behind the town. For much of the time, our wind gauge has been reading in the high 20's with occasional gusts to 30 and the odd one over that. Surprisingly, there has been no rain and the day was actually quite warm considering the wind. It got cooler only when the sun retired for the night but the stove warmed up the cabin nicely.
We've spent our time here in getting to know our neighbours as well as taking care of business. "Sulis" is a catamaran parked a couple of slips down, and the crew (Sharon, Ken, Katie, Bretton, and friend Colin) hails from just outside Ottawa, and has Nova Scotia connections as well so we feel quite at home with them. Sharon and I went off to do laundry this morning, and Colin and Ken came over for a conflab about some repair work Jim has to do.
Once again we have been just blown away (excuse the pun given the weather!) by the friendliness of the locals and the visitors. Susan - from the marina - drove Sharon and me to the laundromat and picked us up again later. Bob - from Aquarius, the powerboat next to us - drove Jim to the hardware store, and he and Barb invited both of us in for drinks later in the evening.
I took a little wander around town, taking pictures and chatting with folks on the street. I met up with a couple of fine young men who were most interested in our trip. Bobby, a grade 7 student practicing his skateboarding skills, was so sweetly sincere in wishing us safe travels, and Craig, his older friend, impressed me with his knowledge of and interest in Canadian geography. A couple of charming young girls who were playing along the street called me over to chat and were delighted to have me take their pictures. They were just the absolute picture of carefree, joyful, trusting friendliness and I loved spending time with them. It is so very refreshing to see people who are still interested in talking with "strangers" and it reminded me how much harm we can do when we concentrate on danger instead of careful opportunity when we teach our children good street smarts.
The wind is still howling this evening so we will see what the morning brings. If it quiets down, we'll head onward a few miles, and if it stays up, we're quite content to remain here another day. It seems odd to think that although we are here waiting out the wind on our sailboat, the storm may well hit our families and friends in Nova Scotia with more force than we have felt. We're thinking of you, and wishing you well!