Ocracoke November 2014
09 November 2014 | Ocracoke Island NC
The Carolinas have been experiencing extremely good weather and we have been taking advantage of it. In early October, Judy’s parents who are avid campers invited us to their annual fishing trip to Avon, NC on the outer banks. It was a good trip for a land cruise. I had not pulled the new camper that far in a single day. I am glad to report that I am getting used to towing the camper and am slowing getting my “camping” sea legs. The weather was great and it was a nice trip. It would have been better if the fish had been interested in what we were offering as bait, but they were not.
We have been taking care if grandchildren and taking them places as well. I have been busy cutting our winter supply of firewood. Our last trip to the coast was way back in late September. Steve and Donna came down and we had a great time. Unfortunately we had planned cruise to Ocracoke before they arrived and we got rained out. We had been watching for a weather window that would coincide with some free days and it finally happened. Free days are surprisingly scarce for folks who are allegedly retired.
According to the weather guessers there was a weather window starting on Saturday. We had a family reunion in Sunday that I did not want to miss, so we made plans to leave for the coast on Monday morning and strike out for Ocracoke Island on Tuesday if the weather held. At the reunion, someone questioned why we would go to the trouble of sailing to Ocracoke when there are other means available to get there. The question really made me stop and think and I guess the answer is “because we can!” There is nothing special about Ocracoke or any of our destinations. The challenge is to board your own little ship, strike out across a very large body of water and arrive where you mean to arrive without getting lost or damaging the vessel or crew. In the end, it is not getting there that is important. It is HOW you get there that is important and the sense of accomplishment is amazing.
Monday November 3, 2014
Since our bodies are not yet used to the daylight savings time switch, we were up at an earlier hour on Monday. We left about 7:30 and stopped for a fast food breakfast close to home and a big lunch at King’s in Kinston. We arrived early afternoon and started unpacking. Dock mates Ken and Jan as well as Don and Trish all arrived shortly after we did. Ken and Jan were working on their boat and Don and Trish are getting ready for a major cruise. We visited for a while but everyone was busy getting ready for one thing or another. We got Southern Star ready for her trip to Ocracoke and by the time we finished, she was ready to untie and head out. We turned in early so we could leave early on Tuesday.
Tuesday November 4, 2014
We pushed off at 7:45. The weather window was still holding except for a day or possibly two during the week. We figured if we had good weather for the trip there and the trip home the rest was not too important. Going to Ocracoke is not worth the effort if you don’t stay at least two days. We will come home in nice weather even if we have to wait for it.
The trip across the Pamlico Sound was uneventful, which is a really good thing. It was not however very pleasant. The problem with travelling over 30 miles in a sailboat in a single day is that you really have to hustle. If the wind is a perfect 12 knots blowing across the beam, it can be done. Otherwise you are pretty much stuck with motoring. On this trip the wind was Southwest at about 8 knots. It varied from just off the starboard quarter to dead astern. Had we tried to sail we could not have made it before dark. The sea was a little rougher than you would expect since the wind was relatively light. The result was not a bad ride but not a great one either. The waves caused the boat to “wallow” with a very unpleasant motion. The mainsail would have been of no use but we deployed the big head sail which dampen the motion and provided a surprising amount of drive. Our speed increased about half a knot with the sail deployed. We motor-sailed almost all the way across the sound. At one point we had deep waves and wind from dead astern. We doused the sail for a while because it was too much trouble taking it from one tack to the other. This kind of boat motion requires that the boat be steered at all times because the rolling motion puts her off course. You have to continually correct course and even a few seconds inattention will put you off course 10 or 15 degrees. The best part of the trip was the dolphins that were travelling with us. They would surface near the stern where we were sure to see them, then dive and come up ahead and on the other side of the boat. They seemed to just be playing. We have seen them many times before but never get tired of watching their antics. We used to try to take pictures of them but that is virtually impossible. Now we just enjoy watching.
We had seen both the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries on the trip. They had entered the channel, unloaded, loaded and started back before we got through the channel. We had the pleasure of dealing with both of them at close quarters. That is not too bad as long as there is no fog like last time we were here.
We used a bit more fuel than I had anticipated on the trip. I had added 5 gallons before we left but we didn’t have a full tank. We had intended to stay at the National Parks Service docks which are cheap but with few amenities. As we approached Silver Lake we decided to land at Anchorage Marina and get fuel and just stay there for 2 nights. The staff was great; they filled the tank and helped us tie up. They didn’t put on their “eye patches” until I had already committed to paying for two nights. The rate was much higher than I remembered. Oh well, buyer beware. It is a nice place but I don’t think it is that nice, especially when you consider the showers are not climate controlled. At some point I asked about their pump-out service. The dock master told me that he would be glad to pump the head but the charge would be $30. I declined and told him very quickly that for the nightly rates they charge pumping the head should be free. He was not moved and neither was I.
We walked about town for a little while mainly to check the business hours of the shops for Judy and the fresh fish market for me. After wrestling the wheel all day I was really tired. Judy warmed the homemade soup we brought and made grilled cheese sandwiches. We tried to watch an Internet movie but I kept falling asleep. We turned in early and slept well.
Wednesday November 5, 2014
Since we had turned in so early we were up early. This was the day to kick about the village. We started with a pancake and fruit breakfast aboard then walked up to the lighthouse. The fish market was not open but would be later. The pancakes wore off fairly quickly and after hiking all morning I was ready for lunch. Judy wanted to go shopping after lunch. I am not a big gift shop fan so I watched the ferries land and walked all around the ferry dock. The NC Ferry system fascinates me. I admire the skill it must take to manage a craft that size in such shallow water. I would not appreciate those folks as much if I had never tried a much smaller craft in the same shallow water. On our first trip to Ocracoke the dock master at Anchorage Marina advised us to stay out of the way of the ferry boats no matter what the rules of the road say. His quote was… “Remember, the captain of such a large vessel could run right over a 30 foot sailboat and never even spill his coffee.” I will never forget that statement.
Thursday November 6, 2014
The wind had kicked up as expected and we would need to stay at least one more day. Anchorage Marina is nice but in my humble opinion is not worth the price. We have stayed at nicer marinas with a much lower rate. In fact it is one of the most expensive we have encountered even with the off season rates. Our original plan had been to stay at the National Park Docks at the ferry landing. We had only stopped at Anchorage because we needed fuel. Before 11am, we dropped off our shower keys and bought one last bag of overpriced ice and started the 300 yard trip to the NPS docks. The wind was probably 18 knots and we picked a slot on the docks that would have the wind blow us away from the docks. We had our hands full and it was not a pretty landing but we got it done with no damage to vessel or crew. Judy is simply not big enough body mass wise to be a match for a sailboat that is determined to pull away from the dock. She is however a seasoned veteran when it comes to landing a sailboat. She would pull then tie off as needed so the boat would not pull her off the quay. We got her tied up and Judy took our “America the Beautiful” pass over to the NPS office to pay up. If you are 62 years old or older and do not have such a pass you should get one. It is good for half off at many National Parks System facilities which includes our dockage here at Ocracoke.
After we tied up we had a simple PB&J lunch and since we needed a few things form the grocery store most of the afternoon was spent walking there and back. It is a good thing that Ocracoke is a small place because when you arrive on a boat you are usually on foot. Of course we had no other pressing business and the walk was not too long. Judy wanted to do some shopping on the way back so I carried the parcels back to the boat and tended my “barking dogs” so she could shop. I had managed to get my shoes wet while filling our water tanks earlier and I was in fear of blisters if I didn’t get my feet dry. Ocracoke has a fish market operated by the local fisherman. Judy stopped and picked up some flounder that was swimming in the ocean earlier in the day. The highlight of the day was when she prepared it by simmering it in Italian diced tomatoes and serving it over brown rice with homemade coleslaw. It doesn’t get any fresher or better than that!
A large, very pretty, cutter (sailboat) had entered Silver Lake and tied up at the NPS docks while we were out walking. I am not sure where she came from but the hailing port was Hong Kong. There were several American looking guys on board and they spent at least an hour toasting each other and celebrating something. Judy and I figured the way the wind must be cranking out in the Atlantic, they were probably toasting being alive!
Friday November 7, 2014
The wind howled all night and there was even a brief rain shower. We went for a walk before breakfast to check the condition of the sound. The wind was a steady 18 knots gusting to 23. We returned to the warmth of the boat were Judy cooked French toast for breakfast.
After breakfast, a fellow strolled up to the boat and said he had just purchased a sailboat and was interested to see what we had done to ours. I was happy to answer his questions. He had just purchased a Seafarer 37 with a 6 foot plus draft and a bad bilge pump. He was telling me what he wanted to do on the boat and that he was planning a circumnavigation. I advised him to get the bilge pump fixed first them worry about cruising. He is from the Annapolis area and I am glad he is not going to try to handle a boat with a draft that deep in the waters around the Pamlico Sound.
The NPS docks are very inexpensive but one drawback is the lack of shower facilities. Our little ship has adequate shower facilities but since the shower stall and the bathroom are one in the same a drying down is required when the shower is used. We coordinated our showering on the boat so that we only had to dry the ship’s bathroom down once. There is little to do on Ocracoke that does not involve travelling, in our case walking, at least a fair distance. We struck out once again to explore the back streets of the village. Judy loves to shop in the little gift and antique shops. Me? Not so much. I usually find a rocking chair or at least a bench to sit on while she is inside. Business is not good for most shops this time of year. Hopefully they will make up for it when warm weather returns.
It was a very nice day. It was cool if you were in the shade but in the sun it was very pleasant. We were glad we decided to stay another day because although the weather was clear the wind was still really strong and the small craft advisory remained in effect. On a forty footer with an experienced crew of three or four sailing on the sound would be very exhilarating in this kind of weather. On our 30 footer my mate and I would be just plain uncomfortable.
Judy baked corn muffins in our alcohol oven. Cooking on a pressurized alcohol stove is a lost art but Judy is a master. We also had canned pinto beans, potatoes and sliced carrots. My taste in food tends to be very simple. I like almost everything and it does not need to be fancy. This log entry does not contain any reference to the cuisine on Ocracoke Island because we did not dine at a single restaurant during our stay. I have nothing against any of the local dining establishments and maybe next trip we will try one and write a review. For this trip, our simple food has been just fine.
The forecast is for steadily diminishing winds all day and light winds for tomorrow (Saturday). Hopefully we will strike out for home first thing in the morning.
Saturday November 8, 2014
As promised the wind diminished during the night. We woke to bright sun and North winds at about 8 knots. We did have a bit of trouble cranking the engine which is quite unusual since it normally cranks after just a few revolutions. This time I tried a half dozen times with no luck. The engine did not fire at all and it seemed it was not getting fuel. I took a minute to analyze the situation and then it came to me. I had asked Judy to shut the engine down after we moved the boat. The “kill” control is a plunger inside cable that runs from the control panel all the way to the engine. It is similar to a lawn mower throttle control. Pulling the knob It is very difficult when you shut the engine down. It is difficult for me and very difficult for Judy. The cable is not spring loaded so you have to manually push it back in place after a shutdown. I usually check this before I attempt to crank the engine but this time I neglected it. Sure enough the knob was not all the way “home”. I pushed it down but it still took several tries to get the engine started. I guess fuel had to be pulled into the injectors. In any case she roared to life and things were good again. Did I mention there are NO diesel mechanics on Ocracoke Island?
We left the NPS docks at 8:15. The weather was absolutely spectacular. We motored out of Silver Lake and turned south in the Silver Lake channel toward the junction of “Big Foot Slough” that would take us north to the Pamlico Sound. I looked at the GPS and saw that our speed over ground was only about 4.5 to 5 knots. Not good! It would take a long time to get home at that rate. The engine was humming along as usual and the boat seemed to be moving normally through the water normally. Then I remembered that the channel that enters Silver Lake is at the northern end of the Ocracoke inlet, which is a major ocean inlet. Sailing on the Pamlico Sound has spoiled me because we seldom have to deal with current. We were experiencing the effects of a rising ocean tide flowing north in the channel. I can say this with certainty because the second we turned north toward the sound the speed over ground increased to about 7.5 knots. Our normal cruising speed (engine running) is about 6 knots so the ocean current would have been about 1.5 knots.
“Big Foot Slough” is the channel the NC Ferry system uses when approaching Ocracoke’s Silver Lake. There is another channel that would take some time off our trip but it has a bad reputation for being shallow. We stick with the ferry channel which is tricky enough. The charts (or GPS) never agree with what you actually see as far as channel markers. Since it is an ocean inlet channel it tends to shift and so do the markers. The trick is to pay attention to the marks and not the chart. Watch the depth and again, pay attention. The wind was very light but the seas were confused near the northern end of the channel. The sound to the west looked a lot calmer. I am not sure why there was a difference. It certainly was not the wind although we find it takes the seas a while to calm down after the wind slows. We headed west following our original path. The trip from Ocracoke to Whortonsville is west to east for all practical purposes but not exactly. Leaving Ocracoke we steer slightly north of west to avoid Royal Shoals. Then slightly south of west to avoid Brant Island shoals. Our next waypoint is the Neuse River mark (NR) then we head for Piney Point and the entrance to Broad Creek. The wind was dead astern and so light the boat was moving as fast as the wind at our 6 knot cruising speed. The further we went the calmer the sound. By the time we got to our home waters near “NR” the wind was almost dead calm and the sound was about as flat as it gets. The trip home took a little over 6 hours because we had not had the advantage of the breeze we had on the earlier trip.
We arrived at Ensign Harbor at about 2 pm. Robert and Tammy helped us land. Two other crews were there getting ready to head to Florida and points south. We got the boat ready for our absence. We weren’t sure what the weather held and Saturday afternoon was very nice. Since we had not frequented any eateries on the island we decided to go to Oriental for pizza. The Silos is a decent place to eat and the price is reasonable. We enjoyed an early dinner and returned to the boat. I was really tired after steering all day. In a lot of ways, sailing is easier than motoring. The boat “knows” what to do under sail and she is easier to control. We turned in early.
Sunday November 9, 2014
We woke early and eased into the day. The weather was overcast but no rain was forecast. Since the boat was nearly ready, we were able to pack up and leave with little effort. Our plan is to stop by and see our offspring near Raleigh.
This was a great trip. The howling winds only extended it by one day. Ocracoke is a fun destination and we enjoyed every minute of the trip. Unfortunately with cold weather setting in, we won’t be making as many trips. Judy will be working during the really cold months. I will probably make solo trips just to check on the boat and do maintenance tasks. There is a possibility of a trip in mid January but that is not a sure thing. I am not a cold weather fan but I have a good stock of firewood at home so we will be warm.