Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday. I don't have to worry about gifts or surprises or sending cards or anything else because it is a single meal on a single day. Judy and I have quite a brood now with two married sons and two grandsons. We really enjoy cooking a Thanksgiving feast but it can be a bit tricky to schedule. We managed it this year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I figured I could live with a Thanksgiving feast two days late if I could have the whole family all together at the same time. I had already planned to take the Friday after Thanksgiving off but since the feast was not going to be until Saturday, I decided to take the whole week so we could do some sailing.
I hesitate to use the word "plan" in any of these log entries because "plans" never seem to work out. Our "plan" this time was to sail to Ocarcoke on Sunday and return on Wednesday. This would give us two full days to spend in Ocracoke, not including the two days it would take to get there and back. The weather forecast was great. Southwest winds on Sunday and Northeast winds on Wednesday, a perfect light breeze on the starboard quarter going and coming. I knew this was too good to be true and of course it was. As we got closer to the weekend the forecast changed. The weather the first part of the week still looked relatively good for late November but the forecast for Wednesday was really bad. It called for rain and winds at something higher than 20 knots. When we left for the coast on Saturday morning we were not sure what we would do but we didn't think a trip to Ocracoke would be worth it if we could only stay a single day. We would make the decision when the time came.
Saturday November 19, 2011
Since I had the whole week off, there was no reason to be in a big hurry to leave home. We got up at about the usual time, had breakfast, and left for the coast at about 8:30. We made several stops along the way and arrived at about 2pm. Bill and Susan were working on the new Pearson and Art was working on "Resolute's" varnish. We enjoyed catching up with them and that is about all we got accomplished for the afternoon. Bill and Susan left before dark and we took our beans and rice up to the WYTC Cockpit and joined Art for dinner and conversation. We had a great time and still turned in fairly early.
Sunday November 20, 2011
The weather forecast had not changed. The weather was still looking good through Tuesday but Wednesday as going to be a complete weather catastrophe. We could go to Ocracoke but we could only stay one day or we could do something else. Since what I really wanted to do was simply go sailing, something else won out. We decided to do a mini cruise that would start with a night at anchor on South River, one of our favorite places. We left the dock a little after noon. It was a beautiful November day with cotton candy clouds and a nice cool breeze. We sailed nearly to the South River Channel entrance before we cranked the diesel. This kind of sailing reminds me why we own a sailboat in the first place. The wind was rock solid at about 8 knots with virtually no wave action. The boat was making over 5 knots, close hauled with almost no heel. Judy knitted something or other all the way across the river. I went below at one point and left the mate at the wheel. If it weren't for the water lapping against the side of the boat you couldn't tell it was moving at all. We sailed for several hours and it was just a spectacular sail. I am continually amazed at how well the little ship behaves. She simply has no bad habits. Her helm is almost perfectly balanced especially when close hauled. Her motion, even in a following sea, is graceful and sea kindly.
We entered and cleared the South River channel without incident. I had been a bit concerned that hurricane Irene may have modified some of the local channels and maybe she did, but not enough to affect our passage. Setting the anchor at South River was much too easy. As soon as the big Fortress (brand) fluke anchor hit the bottom it dug into the mud. It was like being tied to a piling. When I put the engine in reverse to set the anchor, it was already in place and did budge an inch. This was great but I knew it would be a real pain to pull the anchor in the morning. My recent purchase of a new (to me) longer length of marine anchor chain makes the fortress hold even better than before. We enjoyed a simple meal and a lovely sunset.
Sunset on South River
The Crew at South River
The stars were brilliant but there was no moon yet. On deck the bugs were trying to annoy us but the breeze was a bit too strong for them. I tried to read my new book but nearly dropped off to sleep several times before 7 pm. I turned in really early and Judy joined me shortly. We were completely alone in the anchorage. A light breeze blew all night but the anchor did not budge. Except for an occasional lapping sound the V-berth was about as close to silent you can get in these modern times. When we went to bed the moon had not risen so we had perfect conditions for sleep. Total darkness and near silence.
Monday November 21, 2011
We slept for a very long time. Judy was up before me and started our vintage, flea market percolator on the alcohol stove. The coffee was very hot and very good. We started our day with coffee on deck as usual. While sitting on deck trying to wake up, I heard a strange sound in the nearly silent anchorage. When I looked up, I realized the noise was coming from a pod of dolphins that were headed straight for the boat. I had never actually heard the sound of their breathing before but since they were so close to the boat and there was no other noise, their "blowing" was quite loud. We are always amazed at how large these animals are. Seeing the dolphins close up made the whole trip worthwhile. Two of them approached the boat and dove underneath it when they were less than 20 feet away.
Judy made delicious pancakes for breakfast. Fresh orange slices and more hot coffee rounded out a great meal. We were in no hurry to leave. Our next destination for the mini cruise was the Oriental Marina for the night. I called on the cell phone and made arrangements for a slip. I guess most of the snow birds have already gone south by now, but since the Oriental Marina is on the Intracoastal Waterway and likely to fill late in the day, we made a reservation just in case. I asked Laura, at the marina, if it was ok for us to arrive early and she said it was fine, just call on VHF 16 when we got close. I was right about the anchor. The big fortress had buried itself deep in the black South River mud. I took the slack out of the chain while Judy motored slowly over it in an attempt to pull it free. No luck. Instead of pulling the anchor the boat was just spinning around on the vertical anchor chain. After several attempts it finally broke free.
The sailing to Oriental on Monday morning was a little more exciting than the day before. It seems that no matter where Southern Star is headed, the wind is always on her nose. This trip was no exception. We sailed close hauled across the Neuse River from our anchorage at South River. The wind was a bit stronger and the weather much more murky. We started under mainsail alone but soon added the big headsail. It was a great sail and we really enjoyed the trip. Judy made hot chocolate on the passage and it tasted unusually good. It took several tacks and nearly 3 hours to make the trip completely under sail. We encountered a little squall when we were nearly there. I quickly doused the mainsail and got the cover on so we would not have to deal with a wet sail later on.
Judy surprised me a bit when she told me that she would keep the helm in the Oriental channel. She informed me that it was a deep, well-marked channel and she was fully capable of steering the boat through it. I concurred and proceeded to call the harbormaster on the radio to get landing instructions. As usual the staff at the marina were courteous and helpful. At the marina, we met a nice couple on their way to the Panama Canal and the South Pacific. There was another sailboat at the marina. I didn't catch their circumstances but the boat was very nice and the crew had strong French accents. I suspect they were Canadian. There were three very handsome craft tied to the town dock. I did not meet any of the crews but I think they knew each other. They seemed to be having a great time. Judy wanted to do some shopping and I wanted to go to the consignment shop. We spent most of the afternoon just messing about town.
S/V Southern Star at Oriental Harbor
The fish market was open and we scored some Mahi-Mahi. While at the fish market we ran into an old friend Carl. We met Carl when we were members of the Lake Norman Sailing Club back home. Carl told us he was living on his boat in the area and working with the North Carolina Ferry service when he wasn't flying home to Charlotte. Since we were able to get good fish at the market, we invited our friend Art to take a break from varnishing and drive over from Whortonsville for dinner.
The Mahi-Mahi was excellent when grilled using olive oil and Old Bay seasoning. We enjoyed Art's company and I think he enjoyed the meal. Oriental is a quiet little town as a general rule but this time of year it is really quiet. By 7:30 everything was closed and there was almost no traffic. We enjoy going there at least once a season. The staff is great and the bathrooms are clean. There is free wi-fi and it is generally a nice place to tie up for the night.
Tuesday November 22, 2011
The weather was still holding fair. We were a bit surprised by so many nice days in a row in late November. We had our usual breakfast of coffee and cereal and took a nice long walk along the Neuse River in anticipation of being stationary for several hours sailing back to Whortonsville. We cleared the Oriental Marina dock at about 10:30 without incident. Judy successfully steered us out the channel while I rigged for sailing. We set the main and genoa as soon as we cleared marker number 1. As usual, the wind had changed and it was right on our nose again. I think this was the best sail for the whole trip. The wind was fresh and cool and the little boat ran like a thoroughbred. We sailed close-hauled toward Garbacon Shoal, cleared it without tacking and gained a lot of ground before the river started to get shallow. We tacked back across toward the Neuse's north shore. Another tack took us almost directly back to South River but a favorable wind shift allowed us to turn toward the Gum Thicket shoal marker and Broad Creek (home channel) close hauled. As we approached Gum Thicket the wind picked up nicely. There was still no wave action to speak of but the wind freshened to about 10 knots. The little ship really loved that. She heeled a bit and dug in. It was like driving a silient freight train. She tracked so well that steering amounted to an occasional minor adjustment. By the time we reached the Gum Thicket mark #6 to enter Broad Creek the wind was astern. Our speed dropped from 5.7 knots to about 3. I wanted to sail as long as possible and was planning on a fairly hard turn to port after the mark which would put us on a broad reach which is more fun than sailing downwind. Unfortunately, I had not considered that our westerly angle of attack at #6 kept the wind dead astern and dying fast. Since we had been on the water for over 3 hours, we decided to crank the diesel and call it a day. Judy piloted the Broad Creek channel while I dealt with the sails. Back at the Ensign Harbor docks, Joey and Art who helped us land. The water level was high enough that we did not bump the bottom entering the slip. I was concerned because we had encountered a "new" shallow spot when we left, probably courteously of hurricane Irene.
Since Wednesday's weather was forecast to deteriorate rapidly, we did most of the "button up" chores soon after landing. We put on coach roof, handrail, wheel and instrument covers. I pumped the "crapper" and generally got the boat ready to be left alone for a while. We ended up visiting in the cockpit with Joey, Dorothy, Art, Nick and Jeanette before dinner. We had been too busy sailing to eat lunch so we getting hungry. Judy put together a vegetable dinner that was good and plenty. We left for the boat to eat and rest and read for a while before bed. Our plan for Wednesday is to leave before the weather closed in and stop by to see Jonas in Raleigh. His mom had taken the solemn responsibility of purchasing the family Thanksgiving bird that will be served on Saturday.
Wednesday November 23, 2011
We both woke and got up early. The forecast was bang on. We were really glad we would not be traveling today. Since there was little left to do and the weather was the pits we started the departure process. Dodging downpours, we were damp but not wet by the time the car was packed. We took hot showers, told our friends goodbye and headed for Charlie's in Bayboro for breakfast then Raleigh on the way home.
A trip to Ocracoke would have been fun but we always try to make the best of any situation that we face. Many times a secondary plan turns out better than the original. For example, on this trip we got three great days of concentrated sailing and enjoyed a night at anchor and one at a foreign harbor. We took our time and enjoyed every minute. Not a single deadline was missed because none existed. As I have said many times on these pages... "If you must be at a certain place at a certain time, a sailboat is a poor choice of conveyance." To us the journey is more important than the destination.