November 2, 2020
The trip South is progressing, much as it should, but with a bit more excitement.
While we planned to leave on Friday, our arrival at the very first railroad bridge was met with a malfunctioning bridge. Luckily that was just two miles from Atlantic Yacht Basin and so we turned back and tied up to public docks for the day.
While Home Free was stored inside, it was impossible to access the free wifi. Now, with our new PepWave Max BR II router (it’s a mouthful and I like saying it), it was an opportunity to test the cool new features. We tied up to the public docks and began the installation process. Like myself, Paul has a degree in Physics, except he’s actually used his skills for a lifetime. Therefore he got a hold of the router, the antenna and my tools and we installed the thing in about two hours! (Okay, really, Paul installed it all and I just handed him tools). The whole thing is pretty amazing really, it sees wifi signals a LONG way away and when I have a password (which usually come when you pay for a slip or buy something from a local restaurant), it means I stop eating up my cellular data. The other cool thing, for those who don’t follow all of this boating tech stuff, when no wifi signal is available, it just switches to cell data so you can browse the internet just like on your home router. Very cool and now it’s installed.
Finally on Saturday we slipped the lines and headed for that same bridge. It was working and they opened it early for us (there was a lineup of seven boats, we were just first in line) ‘and they’re off!!!’. Southward we go.
Like always we have a great plan for where to go, how to get there and so forth. That mostly gets thrown out along the way. Our first night we anchored out in the Alligator River. The moon was full, the winds settled down and there wasn’t a soul for a few miles at least. A good night’s sleep was had by all. Our second day left us with some interesting choices. Too far, and there would be no good place to tie up, too little and we wouldn’t make it to Beaufort on the Monday (today).
The weather made the decision for us. As we approached Belhaven, the skies opened, the wind continued its battering of the waters and Belhaven became an appropriate choice. I stayed at Belhaven on the way North, so called the same marina. There was no room available, however the public dock had an open spot. I confirmed my depth and 30 minutes later, we tied up at the dock.
The waters around Belhaven are very (very) shallow. The wind was pushing water into Belhaven so we didn’t have any problem getting into the town dock. Well, perhaps we touched the bottom a little bit, but we were tied up.
This morning we woke up, preparing to leave a bit early and noted that the water level was down significantly from the night before. It must be the tide. Check the tide chart. Yep, high tide would be in about an hour, so enjoy breakfast. Forty-five minutes later we had checked the depth manually with a ‘lead line’ and found that we had about 5’10” of water. That’s exactly the draught of Home Free, so we would have been very, very close to the bottom. I decided to discuss the potential outcomes with the other boats tied at the public dock. A Catamaran (In Context) was my first stop. The folks there provided me a couple of important bits. First, there is no tide this far inland, all of that high water was a result of wind pushing the water into the bay. Second, there was a warning for low water today as the water was pouring back out as the wind switched directions. Third, they had planned to leave sometime during the day, but not right away. Finally, they were pretty certain that there was no way we could make it all the way to Beaufort in one day, given our late departure the exceptional winds and my slow boat.
There was a brief conversation about the possibility of my getting stuck and blocking the channel, etc. but they were prepared to accept that fate if I wanted to try to leave first. And so it was. Home Free has bow and starn thrusters, and so I turned the boat in a 60′ slipway so that I could ‘gun it’ in case I was lightly on the bottom along the way. But by the time the boat turned and I began my exit, the boat slipped out without much complaint and we were off.
Today has many stories like any good adventure. There is the nearly freezing temperatures (6C in the morning, and a ‘feels like’ of 4C), the howling winds that topped out around 30 knots in places, the very fast run that we made (topping out at 8.5 knots as we approached Beaufort) and the dolphins in the waters around Beaufort which were a first for Paul. We did make it all the way to Beaufort and are anchored (actually in Moorehead) very near to the ocean. We will prepare the boat overnight and head off shore first thing in the morning.
Our next target is to get to (perhaps) Charleston by Wednesday before the next weather system comes in. That is a run of about 200nm and we should have two good days of relatively flat water. With limited experience in the Atlantic, I hope the weather reports are accurate.
I know that people really only want to look at pretty pictures, so I have attached the only two I have taken in the past few days. If you really want to see pictures, you should look at Paul’s Facebook page. Paul has been a wonderful help, between installing stuff, doing most of the cooking and taking watch from time to time, it has really reduced the burden of the trip.