Leg 5 of Transit South to KW
30 October 2014 | Topsail Island anchorage, SM 264
I awoke around 0200 feeling as if the boat were at anchor rather than tied to a dock. “That’s weird,” I thought to my groggy self. As the implications of that thought settled in within a few miliseconds, I sat straight up and looked out the porthole in my cabin. “Everything looks good here” – the scene was the same as it was when I went to bed. But, I still decided to take a peek outside to be prudent. The wind had shifted from blowing iWinds2 onto the dock to blowing her off the dock as a cold front passed with a few rain showers. We were about 3 feet away with the lines still holding fast, but I decided to go ahead and shorten them up before going down below again. And, then of course, I couldn’t really go back to sleep as I listened to the wind howl and the boat rock back and forth. Oh well, I decided, let’s go ahead and get some work done.
At 0630 with the rain moved off, Stuart and Heather were up too and we began making preps to get underway at 0715. Because of the wind, low tide, and propensity for shoaling sands around Beaufort, I decided to take the slightly longer route back to the ICW rather than cutting across between the two channels. We returned to the ICW at 0745 and shortly turned south again under cloudy gray skies, passing two US Navy Amphibious ships docked in the industrial area of Moorehead City.
As we moved past Moorehead City, I noted that the ICW is decidedly different here than the areas we had transited previously. Large homes sitting up on the shoreline with long docks extending to the ICW channel were on both sides. In the areas where the water appeared wide, it was easily deceptive to think that there was enough water to maneuver through but the channel was only a couple of hundred feet across. It took lots of attention to the channel markers, depth finder and to the crowdsourcing comments collected by ActiveCaptain on potential hazard areas.
One of the “options” that we did as part of preparations prior to this trip was to install a wifi connection to the Garmin network so that the chartplotter could interface with the Garmin iPad app, Blue Chart Mobile. The wifi allows the chartplotter’s real-time indications for position, speed, wind, etc. to be integrated with the iPad app’s weather and wind forecasting, and the Active Captain content. I didn’t have the opportunity to test it prior to the trip but its usefulness underway is incredible. While one person is at the helm with eyes outside the cockpit on markers and traffic, another one can be diligently studying hazard information about where the boat will be next, a lot of which is not captured on charts particularly for shoaling. Another feature that will be tested more in open waters is the ability for route planning and waypoint uploads from the iPad app to the chartplotter in real-time. So far, this “option” has paid for itself in utility and I highly recommend it. Garmin definitely has a network centric mentality about its sensors and backbone so that information can be shared among devices regardless of source as long as they are NMEA-2000 compatible.
As we continued south along the ICW, a major military exercise was underway at Camp Lejeune and although it was many miles away, you could hear the “boom” of the artillery, see V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and CH-53 Super Stallion helos flying overhead, and we were overtaken a couple of times by US Navy high speed riverine craft with .50-cals mounted on the deck. In addition to the US sailors and Marines, I noted some foreign camouflage patterns so some international or bi-lateral training must be taking place. After our original plan changed to keep us inside on the ICW, I checked the Notice to Mariners and saw advance notice of the exercise and that today was the only day this week there wasn’t any restrictions or waterway closures. Lucky us! But, we still got quite a show of military hardware.
Our objective for the day was to get to Wrightsville Beach (SM 283) but to do so before dark, we had to make a couple of bridge openings and coordinate their timing. So, at this point, we all began doing the calculations about distance and speed. What we couldn’t account for was that when we got to the Onslow Beach bridge for the 1300 opening, the bridge tender came back to us saying that he may not open due to an ongoing bridge inspection. Immediately, our stress hormones picked up. The next bridge after Onslow was 15 statute miles away and we were planning to get there for a 1500 opening. If we missed that opening, we would have to wait until the 1600 opening and stop at the Topsail Island anchorage (SM 264) since there are no other suitable anchorages or marinas between the two locations.
Finally at around 1305, the bridge tender said the inspectors were heading to lunch so he would be opening the bridge immediately, albeit off schedule. It wasn’t until about 1315, though, that the bridge finally opened up. We picked up speed behind a trawler and in front of three other sailboats. Around 1400 and after doing lots of recalculations, we needed to accelerate more and pushed iWinds2 to almost 3,000 rpm to get to the Surf City bridge for its 1500 opening. At about the same time, the trawler ahead of us opened up too and sped off at nearly 20 knots pushing a lot of wake. Unfortunately, we also had the current running against us. As we rounded the bend at 1445 with the bridge in site in the distance, I hailed the bridge tender on VHF to let him know we were coming. He urged us to get there by 1500. It was going to be tight, especially with the current!
With about 1.5 miles and 7 minutes to go, I sent Heather up on the bow with the VHF to try to sweet-talk the bridge tender, hoping a woman’s voice could possibly persuade him to slow the opening, and maybe he was looking our way with his binoculars. At first, it seemed to work but with the trawler waiting at the bridge and us just a little too far away, he came back and told us he was opening now and we’d have to wait for the 1600 opening. Disappointment! Today’s glum right here, right now!
Hearing that, I backed off the throttle and we began a slow idle crawl up to the bridge. Not long before 1600, the three other sailboats caught up with us – two of them with yappy small dogs aboard. Circling around us as we kept perfect station-keeping in the channel, the two French Canadian boats asked us where we were headed for the evening. Since there was really only one answer for all of us, I deferred the right-away to the other three sailboats to proceed through the bridge first and let them get to the anchorage so we would could choose to not be near the yappy dogs.
As we slowly brought up the rear into the anchorage approach, Heather, Stuart and I started planning the next days journey to Myrtle Beach just made longer by 20 miles by missing the bridge opening. To get to Myrtle Beach by Friday evening to wait out the weekend storm, we would have to make good time, and coordinate the opening of two more bridges first-thing in the morning.
After we anchored sufficiently away from the yappy dogs, we could hear the surf breaking on the shoreline just over the spit of land from where we were. We couldn’t be closer to the ocean with out being in it! Perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing that we missed the bridge opening.