17 May 2009 | The Pungo River, NC (N35*33.715 W76*28.557) to Alligator Swing Bridge, NC (N35*53.874 W76*02.024)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The day started out cloudy but then cleared. We're headed for South/East Lake to anchor today. Tomorrow they're calling for a gale with 35 mph winds, which means we want to be in a protected anchorage tonight to wait it out for our crossing of Albemarle Sound. That's a wide open expanse of water with plenty of fetch to build uncomfortable and actually dangerous seas, so we don't want to cross it in high winds... South Lake was one that we'd anchored in when on the way down, and it offers good protection from the winds.
Unfortunately, we didn't make it to South Lake or East Lake. The Alligator Bridge closed due to the high winds and weather that we ran into. Boy did we run into it - it was not fun...
We saw clouds building again but they tend to do that in the afternoon. I had to take pictures - of course - we had some beginning to tower (I should know - beware of pretty clouds that begin to tower...) At 1:30pm I gave the helm to Wayne under the assumption that I was going to go and take a nap. I should know better than to do that... Close to 2pm a weather bulletin came on warning of damaging gale force winds, waves, and lightening - Mariners take shelter... Um, right- where? We're following a channel that's 12 ft deep with maybe 6-3 feet on both sides of the channel, even though it looks wide open... The heavens opened up, rains came down, and winds buffeted us around. Wayne couldn't see (glasses fogged and rained up) so I was back at the helm trying to get on and stay on course.
We were running at 2500 rpms, which gives us a cruising speed close to 6 knots - normally. We were now doing between 0 and 2 knots - top speed, and sometimes actually moving backwards like we were in reverse - not good. It was all I could do to keep us in the channel and trying to face the correct way. Normally fronts last maybe ½ hour and then let up. At 4:30pm I was still gripping the wheel with all my might. The winds were really something and I kept watching the bow lift high into the air and then braced even tighter as it would come slamming down again. The depth sounder bounced from 8-13 ft depending on where on the wave our little boat was... That meant possibly 5-foot waves in this shallow water! I did not want to leave the channel and end up pounding on the 3 ft banks. I was holding my own pretty good. Was I scared? Yes... then I felt the engine back down on me like I was letting up on the throttle (like I'd do that on purpose and lose control in these waves and winds). Okay, did I say scared? Yes? Make that terrified now... My eyes went wide and I looked at Wayne. Wayne yelled over the wind, "its probably clogged fuel filters" caused by stirring up any dirt that might have settled in the fuel tank. I now had visions of the engine conking out on me in a gale, with our nose rising up and diving down, and no engine... Do we send Wayne up to drop an anchor? Not in these conditions... Okay, terrified is probably a mild word to how I was feeling... Especially when the engine kept doing that, each time the bow rose high out of the water and came slamming down into the next wave. Wayne laughed at me and said he'd tell me why later. I couldn't believe how long these winds n waves were lasting... a powerboat going the opposite direction was trying to signal/warn us off saying to turn around that there was 6 ft waves in the sound. We told them there were the same in their direction. They said this was nice compared to where they'd just been but then they were running with the wind and waves and we were slamming against them. How could I explain that where they'd come from just came roaring at us... Around 5pm the winds/waves started letting up a little and we finally made it to the Alligator Swing Bridge close to 6pm... only to be told that it would not open. They don't open when the winds reach 30-35mph and they'd be up there until midnight, at least... with gusts to 40mph. We could go back the way we came and run with the waves, or drop anchor here near the bridge for the night. We decided to drop anchor. We'd run along the bridge toward land and then swing with the waves, until Wayne got up and got the anchor ready, then I'd head back into the wind and we let go of the anchor.
It worked, and the anchor dug in. Wayne set the snubber, I set the anchor alarm and we both huddled under the dodger. Shivering... Wet... Cold... Bone tired... would the anchor hold? Would the engine keep running? If we shut it off, would it start again (we'd had problems the last couple times where you turn the key and nothing happens, then it would start)? We finally decided the anchor was holding and went below to strip off all the wet foul weather gear and clothing... The boat was sloshing us around down below like soup swirling in a bowl... I mentioned dinner and Wayne was green around the gills and said not to mention any kind of food. Okay, no dinner. Dramamine for Wayne, peanut butter crackers for Pat. Time for bed, just to lay down instead of getting slammed around in the boat. While lying there, I asked Wayne "Okay so why were you laughing?" He replied, "you looked terrified". "Hands clenched on the wheel". "Teeth gritted." "Soaking wet with a string of hair dripping water down your face." "It seemed worse than what it probably was." "The boat was going to be all right." Jeez oh Pete... did he see me bring up that other life jacket and hide it under the table? He must have... Hey, you can't have to many floaties in a gale... remember - I'm not totallllly comfortable in the water. The other life vest was a security blanket for me. This was the first time that I'd ever been caught in a gale and had to stay alert each moment... Wayne said "you adrenaline junky you" as the Dramamine kicked in and he went to sleep.