Voyage from Oriental to Whortonsville
27 August 2005 | Neuse River, NC
As we passed under the bridge, I thought to myself, "What am I doing here?" Sheryl and I were aboard our new boat, motoring away from Smith Creek. I say new, but it was only new to us. She is a 30-year old, 26-foot, S2 center cockpit sailboat, soon to be renamed Ashiya. We had just completed the process of purchasing the boat and were taking her to her new home at Ensign Harbor in Whortonsville.
Before I continue, though, allow me to back up a step or two. Sheryl and I are new to sailing. In fact, our experiences have been limited to a few rides on friends' boats. Although we have never owned a boat before, we definitely caught the bug when we spent ten idyllic days this spring cruising with friends in Belize. From that moment forward, we knew that we wanted to sail, it was just a matter of where and when. So started our brief careers as dock-walkers. We spent weekends looking longingly at sailboats, considering the amenities of various marinas, and calculating the cost of driving from Durham to the coast every weekend (who knew then that those estimates would fall so short).
Before we were truly ready, we found the perfect boat in the perfect location. We had that almost indescribable feeling one has when one has looked at so many boats that they all start looking the same, but then that one particular boat singles itself out from the pack. It was the right one. We both knew it. The week before, we had even stumbled across the perfect marina, a place we wanted to keep the boat and could very comfortably call our weekend home. We took it all as a sign and bought the perfect boat. By the way, did I mention that we do not know how to sail.
On the day we were to pick up the perfect boat, the engine would not start. I tried to take it in stride, as we chatted with the seller and waited for the mechanic. Roger Schmidt, the Salty Dog, was kind enough to come out on short notice (on a Saturday, no less) and got the engine running. With daylight burning, we cast off the dock lines and were clumsily motoring out of the slip before I had time to even think about it.
The water was calm as we headed for the bridge, the mantra "red-right-returning" running through my mind as we spotted the first markers. Of course, as we passed under the bridge, and approached the first of the markers, there appeared to be more than one red marker. After a quick discussion with Sheryl, she reluctantly agreed to keeping the right-most red marker to our port side. As we did, though, the depth gauge dropped precipitously. I quickly realized that I had suggested a wrong course of action and spun the boat around to head toward the "other" red marker. Having found the correct channel, we came abreast of the channel markers on our starboard side which had caused the confusion. From this angle, it was clear that they marked the path of a different channel. My confidence grew as the first potential disaster, going aground, was averted.
That confidence was quickly confronted with a new test, waves. Two-to-four foot waves may not seem like much to the sailors around Oriental, but to this inexperienced helmsman, it was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on the water. As the bow dropped, splashing salty water onto my face, I suggested that we close all the hatches. As Sheryl scrambled around closing up the boat, I began to think about the anchor. The first time we looked at the boat, the owner indicated that most of the equipment came with the boat, but not the anchor. The previous owner's anchor hung on the bow pulpit. I did not know this at the time, but it was an ultra-light Fortress-type anchor. The previous owner was kind enough to replace this with a steel-anchor which did transfer with the boat; however, this heavy steel anchor was now bouncing with considerable force upon its perch at the bowsprit with each wave we hit. After Sheryl returned from the hatch-closing exercise, I suggested that she make sure the anchor was secure. Sheryl is very agile and has a great sense of balance and, therefore, had no problem working her way up to the bow of this bucking bronco we call Ashiya. After an inspection of the clasps, she pronounced the anchor firmly attached. The next concern for me was the jib sheets, which were lying very slack on the deck. Since we planned on motoring the entire way, I thought it best to ask Sheryl to take up the slack. While she sat to my right working on this project, she heard me shout, "We just lost the anchor!" Her reflexes carried her to the bow quicker than a flash and she grabbed the anchor rode which had fortunately been caught at a section of the chain which passed through the small opening to our rode locker. With a strength that would humble most men, she pulled the anchor aboard, disconnected it, and stowed it below.
O.K., potential disaster number two, averted. We spent the next two hours motoring through the waves and counting off each waypoint the GPS indicated we had passed. On several occasions the engine RPM gauge seemed to vary of its own accord, but we were moving. These engine changes began to give me a bit of concern. I suggested that we plan a course of action, should the engine decide to head to the range of RPM = zero. Since the wind was blowing us toward the shoreline, I suggested that we re-attach the anchor rode (through the forward hatch) and be ready to deploy the anchor in the event of engine loss. In the back of my mind, I hoped that having a plan would mean that we would not have to implement it. Unfortunately, we did. About 30 minutes later, the engine decided to give up. Sheryl and I jumped into action, me on the bow and her below handing up the anchor through the hatch. I dropped the anchor and paid out enough to catch bottom (we were in about 12 feet of water). We took a moment, caught our breath, and thought, "What do we do now?"
I decided to try bleeding the low-pressure fuel lines as I had watched Roger do earlier that day. Although this was a challenge to accomplish as the waves rocked the boat, I got the engine started again and running smoothly. I asked Sheryl if she wanted to take the helm, but she said that she could manage the anchor. A quick look at the depth gauge showed single digits. We were dragging anchor! No time for further discussions, I took the helm and motored toward the anchor. Once Sheryl got it up out of the water she shouted, "Head out to deeper water!" I complied, only to be head-on into the waves. Sheryl struggled, admirably, to hold both herself and the anchor in place at the bowsprit, but could not muster the strength to pull the anchor aboard. Eventually, I got the boat back into deeper water and was able to take the waves at a better angle. Sheryl rallied her strength, pulled the anchor aboard, and lowered it through the hatch to the floor of the salon.
Disaster number three, averted, and we were pointed at the mouth of Broad Creek. As we passed the first markers of the channel, again focused on "right-red-returning" the engine decided to drop to zero RPM once again. We repeated the anchor drill with great haste, as the depth was only six feet here and Ashiya draws four. Practice makes quicker, and we had the anchor down in no time. I paid out a little rode and watched the GPS to be certain that we were not moving. This second anchorage was better than the first. In the mouth of the creek, the waves were controlled to a tolerable level. I looked at my watch and decided to try bleeding the fuel lines and starting the engine again. If we could not get going by 4:30, we would call SeaTow to take us the final two miles to the marina. I succeeded in getting the engine started, but it idled for 5 minutes and then died. It was time to call SeaTow.
Sheryl rang them on the cell phone and they indicated that they would be there in about 45 minutes. Two hours later we were discussing how comfortable this anchorage was and how nice it might be to spend our first night out here on the water. It briefly crossed our minds to try sailing in, but several points argued against it. One, we don't know how to sail. Two, we don't know the channel well and suspect that it will narrow as we approach the marina. Three, we had already given our coordinates to SeaTow, and if we move they will not be able to find us. We relaxed and waited.
Around 7pm, SeaTow finally arrived. He had been held up by his previous towing client who didn't exactly know where he was going. As he tied up to our boat to take us in tow, I sheepishly indicated that I knew where we were going, but had never before approached the marina from the water. Undaunted, he said, "Let's get that anchor up and get going, then." Perhaps it was because I didn't let out a lot of anchor rode, or maybe it was because he was a little heavy-handed with the throttle, but when I wrestled the anchor up, it had a new curve. Not in the position to complain to our savior, I handed the muddy anchor down through the hatch to Sheryl and did not give it another thought. As he pushed us toward the marina, there was just enough light from the setting sun to distinguish the channel markers from the crab pots. As the day turned to night, SeaTow pushed us into our slip.
The docks were fairly deserted for a Saturday night in August, but we could hear voices from the screened-in porch which extends off the bath house at Ensign Harbor. We tied up quickly, inventing some new knots in the process, and went to introduce ourselves and tell our story. Over several bottles of wine and a bottle of scotch, we got to know some of the members of the Whortonsville Yacht & Tractor Club.
We had a very sound sleep that first night on our boat, and awoke to a bright, beautiful sunny day. Reflections on the busy day before left us both smiling. We had worked together as a team, overcome adversity, solved problems, and landed in a great place with new friends. This was the start of something truly wonderful.