Thursday, June 28, 2012

 Bridges 3, Moonshadow 2

Relieved at having just ducked under two more fixed bridges on our ICW path north from Beaufort ("BOfurt"), North Carolina, we enjoyed a beautiful ("BOtiful") cruise up Core Creek to Adam's Creek where we anchored to enjoyed a stunning sunset and a quiet evening.

The next day was another shortish cruise to Jupiter Bay where we anchored behind marshland that provided protection from chop but not the wind that was building on the 20 mile wide Pamlico Sound to our south.

As we tidied up after the anchoring, we surveyed the sky and could see we were in for some excitement.  The VHF radio weather report sounded a bit ominous too, calling for 34 knots, gusts to 58, frequent and numerous lightning strikes and possible tornados.

The southerly wind built to 25 knots, which we're getting pretty used to even at anchor, and held for several hours as we watched the storm approach from the north.  The wind was not so much a concern as the threat of lightning.  A boating organization we belong to publishes statistics from insurance companies about lightning strikes on yachts which reveals the odds of being struck on a yacht are low, around one in a thousand.  Would you fly on an airline with those odds?  I wonder how many of those other 999 boats typically anchor where the highest thing for ten miles in any direction was their own 66 foot high mast.

Just as the rain drops began to fall, the wind jumped to 30 then 35 knots.  We had anchored in about 7 1/2 feet of water, and put out 100 feet of 3/8' chain.  That's about 170 pounds of steel chain with a 120 pound anchor at the end.  In the gusts the chain stretched straight out, entering the water 30 feet out in front of the stem fitting.  Moonshadow didn't seem to mind as she slowly pranced back and forth behind the anchor.

With the words "gusts to 58 knots" echoing in our ears from the weather report and not wanting to rig a second anchor in the dark with lightening all about, we prepared a second anchor for use if needed. This was a good exercise for us because we had only seen the gear once before. Liberating a big anchor, chain and 300 feet of line from deep within three different lockers; arranging all on deck; shackling them together; and flaking out the rope so all we had to do was lower it over the side took nearly an hour but it was a great confidence builder, and excellent insurance (we never needed it). By the time the storm reached Moonshadow at about 2130 hrs the fury had dissipated, so we could relax and go to bed with the sound of thunder receding off to the south.

The next morning was time to plan our next leg to the north, which included another fixed bridge. With an undefeated record we confidently looked up the tide data in that area to plan our arrival at the bridge to coincide with low tide where we would have the maximum clearance.  Reading the tide chart, we discovered the tidal range was six inches. SIX INCHES!!?? Bridge clearances are stated from "mean high water" which is basically the average of the high tides over a long period of time. In our dozens of previous victorious bridge duckings, we saw tidal ranges of three feet and more so we could arrive an hour before or after the lowest level of the tide and still have a couple of feet more clearance than the published 65 feet -- enough to sneak our 66 foot height under with just a little (okay a lot) of praying. SIX INCHES?!! Evidently the water in this huge sound has too few direct escape routes to the Atlantic so there is little or no tidal range.

The only other inland route north is along a channel (part of the ICW) that has a bridge with just 64 feet clearance (the only non 65' fixed bridge in the whole ICW system). Exits from the Pamlico sound to the Atlantic exist but have very shallow and shifting sand bars that make them impossible for Moonshadow. We were surrounded, and the only option was to retreat, south, back to Beaufort. Score two for the bridges, zero for Moonshadow.

Moonshadow and the Med Herd
OK, no big deal, we set Moonshadow's course south to the South River where the "Med Herd" were anchored. The Med Herd are a group of cruising yachts that, without a grand scheme to do so, seem to find each other in various ports and anchorages all over the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and now the East Coast of the US. We met them all in Charleston, and again in Beaufort, where we shared an evening listening to a rocking "new school bluegrass" band at the Backstreet pub until closing.  So we were pleased to have the opportunity to anchor again across a quite cove in North Carolina.

We found the Herd in a gorgeous tree lined cove with water as still as a mirror.  We enjoyed drinks and good conversation aboard Eye Candy with Andrew and Clare Payne from Australia.  Steve and Carol Kerswill (from the ketch  Innamorata II) were visiting Brits Chris and Sue Bright who are cruising aboard their boat ,Yindee Plus, with their twin boys Wilf and Sid.  We eventually invited ourselves to join in the fun over on Yindee Plus, where home-schooled 9 year old twins Wilf and Sid played the role of valet parking attendants, taking and securing dinghy painters for all.  These boys were quite charming with their polite manners, engaging conversation and delightful accents.  With another stunning sunset brewing, we finally bid farewell to all, for now, and returned to Moonshadow and a peaceful still nights sleep.

The next morning we got a very early start because we still had to duck under two bridges to make it back to Beaufort.  These are the same two bridges we had triumphantly conquered a couple of days before, on the afternoon low tide. This time we needed to arrive at the bridges two hours away with the 0800 morning low tide.

The trip south on Adam Creek and Core Creek was every bit as beautiful as the trip north...

The first bridge was routine, (score another win for Moonshadow!) but when we arrived at the 65 foot fixed bridge in Beaufort even at low tide, we could not clear!  We waited a half hour and the water was clearly rising.  It turns out that the wind on the Pamlico sound miles north of the creek we'd just navigated through was pushing water to the south, filling Beaufort Sound, diminishing the effect of the ebbing tide. The result was water levels about a foot higher than our last excursion under this bridge when the scum covered tide board showed a tad less than 66 feet.

Fortunately there is another route to Beaufort with a draw bridge, but there's also a catch with this route.  The chart shows the channel to get there is only five feet deep.  FIVE FEET!!??  We were beginning to think we would have to chop Moonshadow into little pieces and ship them on a UPS truck to the Chesapeake when John called Tow Boat US, a comercial towing company, for their local knowledge on the question: can Moonshadow, which draws six feet, navigate this five foot deep channel at high tide?   They said yes and even came alongside to escort us around shoals. We then hailed the drawbridge for an opening and Moonshadow regained her freedom back in Beaufort where wild horses roam on the barrier islands.

While in Beaufort, we refueled and filled the water tanks.  The very helpful crew at Beaufort Docks let us borrow a car for a trip to the grocery store where our purchases filled two pushcarts.  We returned to Moonshadow, still tied to the fuel dock (for free), put the food away, ate lunch at the dockside restaurant and bought ice cream cones across the street at the General Store.  Despite the bridge blockade and the backtracking we feel the experience was great.  We got to see some fantastic part of North Carolina's inland sounds and rivers, visit with our new cruising friends and restock Moonshadow for the voyage ahead.

We'll now spend a day at a place called Cape Lookout, which is south of Cape Hatteras, while we wait a day for forecast Southwest winds to fill in.  Then Moonshadow will put her bow out into the Atlantic and hopefully sail (rather than motor) blissfully north to the Chesapeake!

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