Thursday, April 26, 2012

Out of the T-Mobile No-Man's Land

Google Map Link,-76.671696&spn=0.038306,0.084543

Sorry for the lack of entries recently. After leaving Georgetown we cruised into what could only be described as a hole in our T-Mobile coverage. Most of the time it was only 2G which is fine for phone calls but lousy for data.

Barefoot Landing Marina in North Myrtle Beach was wonderful. The marina itself is first class. Great docks with all the amenities. Its a little isolated from shops and stuff but we had a wonderful stay there. The main reason for this opinion were the people, the other boaters that we met. First there was Jean and Judy and their Great Harbor GH-37. They are full time live-aboard boaters and they don't even own a home on the land anymore. They are experienced boaters and hosted a happy hour for the rest of us on Saturday evening where we all sat around the beautiful boat and swapped stories about cruising. We covered the gamut from technical to navigation to great places to visit to food. And there was Rick and Margi on their 42 foot Endeavor catamaran cruiser. They are from Baltimore and are also cruising the loop just like us. We'll see them again at the American Great Loop Cruisers Association rendezvous up in Norfolk VA in a couple of weeks.

This was what cruising is all about -- the people. Navigating, planning and sightseeing is all good, but this is the payoff -- meeting new people and making new friends. It was great.

On up to Southport, NC and Cape Fear

When leaving The Barefoot Marina northbound our course immediately took us through a three mile section of the ICW called The Rockpile for its narrow channel and stratified rocks that sweep in from the shores at several places along the way. The stretch is considered so harsh that it is greatly recommended that only one vessel pass along its way either north or south bound. Sailboats, with their deeper keels, seem to have a harder time of it than power vessels. The cruising guides generally suggest going in at low tide to better see the rocky obstacles but this seemed counterintuitive to me. We launched from the dock at around 8:30am with a flooding tide so that we would enter The Rockpile at or near high tide. Now we did radio ahead to see if there were any south bound vessels (None.), stuck to the middle of the channel and we traversed the stretch easily never sounding any depths shallower than 11 feet with our 3.5 foot keel. The only cause for concern is that we heard radio chatter that the Little River swing bridge up ahead was malfunctioning and not able to open or close all of the way. We were prepared to turn around and head back. Fortunately the news changed for the better when the bridge operator was able to get it open and we powered on through.

We passed the Little River Inlet around 10:00am and quietly passed into North Carolina. Of course we both spit over the side of the boat as we entered a long straight section of the ICW that took us North by Northeast pretty much all of the way up to our destination of Southport NC just at Cape Fear. We found our marina, The Indigo Plantation Marina and Yacht Club and pulled into a slip rather smartly I think. The boat next to us was an older but nice Executive 44’. We met the owner, a very cordial man named Paxton who told us he had just bought the boat down in Fort Lauderdale and he had just got it up to Southport. 

Now, follow this a bit…When we were down in Georgetown SC Lisa and I went for a walk to “downtown”. We popped by one of the nearby downtown marinas for a look and as we continued our walk we engaged in a short conversation with two ladies who were on a boat that was coming up from Florida. The one lady’s name was Shay. I don’t remember the other lady’s name. Well, as were up at the little marina office in Southport we mentioned to the young office lady that we had a contact in Southport  named Shay that offered to help us out when we got there. The office lady said that was interesting in that Paxton’s wife was named Shay too. (Shay had told us she worked for Southport Realty. Prior to arriving in Southport I went to Southport Realty’s website and found out her last name was Watkins – Shay Watkins.) We went straight back to the boat and asked if Paxton’s last name was Watkins. It was! This was Shay Watkins’ husband and the Executive 44’ was her boat. We all laughed and a little later on in the day Shay came by our boat and offered to loan us one of their cars on Saturday so we could run some errands. What a great offer! On Saturday when Paxton came back to their boat to do some work he tossed us the keys to his car and off we went. And what a loaner car it was, too. It was a Mercedes Benz E350 sedan. Not bad at all. We took a quick cruise downtown and had lunch at the Fishy Fishy waterside restaurant and ran to Walmart to provision up for our next set of legs up to Norfolk.

Surf City, NC

Cape Fear has a reputation of being a risky piece of water but it was tame for us because the winds were light and we hit it at the right time. The advice that we had read about was to enter it at the south end going into high tide and with some kind of winds other than a northerly. As the water runs north and south trying to go northbound against tide and with northerly head winds would at least slow you down a bunch and make your leg that day excruciating long. We though timed it perfect launching out with a flooding tide about 8:00am (high tide about 10:00am) and mild southwest winds. Heck, we virtually screaming up the channel at times as high as nine knots! 

The first two thirds of the cruise was very nice and pretty uneventful. There wasn't much traffic and the weather was good. The third third of the trip was a different story. The winds kicked up significantly. It was a swirling mischievous wind that had me constantly checking my rudder. The auto pilot was useless as it had to constantly had to check and recheck its bearing to the point that it would sometimes kick out and sound the "holy-cats-I-can't-do-this-any-more" alarm. It was better for me to pilot the boat myself.

Our marina for that night was called the Beachhouse Marina in Surf City, NC. As normal for my route planning I would look at the satellite photos of each stop online using as our route planning tool. This was a small marina with limited turning. But it would do. The channel to the marina was just north of a swing bridge for the main road getting onto the beach that was Surf City. This bridge only opened at the top of the hour, so of course we had to wait 45 minutes for the next opening. 

Remember the winds? They were terrible. Fast and swirling winds mixed with shoaling on both sides of the channel. Oh yeah, there were five other boats all wanting to get through at the next opening so we all jockeyed for position for 45 minutes and it got pretty hairy. Actually it was downright scary. We did though make it through the bridge at the top of the hour, made the turn into the marina's channel and found an open slip directly in front of us. 

I have been pretty critical of myself for my docking and undocking recently but only due to lack of repetitions. Indigo Plantation Marina was a tight marina and my maneuvering was good there but conditions were calm to mild. Docking at Beach Home Marina was going to be difficult because of the high winds were picking up and they were swirling, and Why Knot has a lot of windage and dances with the slightest puff. But I got her in just fine.

Morehead City, NC

We pulled out of Surf City about 9:00 am to make a long run for us (50 miles) to Morehead City NC. It was grey with fairly low clouds that dropped a drizzle on us about 8:30 am. At the time Surf City was right on the northeastern cusp of a storm system sitting on the area. To the south were storms and poor boating conditions. To the north was clear, sunny and warmer conditions. We could see it clearly. We got out onto the water without incident. The clouds did slide northeast a bit so the first half of our cruise were in cloudy but calm conditions.

The first big possible obstacle was cruising through Camp Lejeune, the marine training base. The ICW goes right into it between the mainland and the barrier islands and they do occasionally close it to traffic for training maneuvers or live gun, rocket or artillery practice. It can be closed for hours at a time but fortunately for us there was only cannon fire in the distance and the ICW was open for business. Except for one giant helicopter we did not see anything military-like but we could hear (and sometimes feel) explosions in the distance.

North of Camp Lejeune the route straightened out and we soon entered Bogue Sound, a long wide body of water again between the mainland and barrier islands. The winds started picking up again and by the time we approached Morehead City they were sustained southerlies blowing right up our starboard quarter pushing us up giving us more speed, as well as constantly pushing us to the left side of the narrow marked channel. 

We called out to our stop for the night, a marina called Portside Marina where they had a nice piece of facing dock for us. As we approached the marina the winds were very very strong and I was nervous. Fortunately this would be an easy docking even in these windy conditions. The wind was blowing almost directly into the dock. All I had to do was ease Why Knot into a position, keep a light throttle in reverse to stop my momentum and the wind did the rest of the work by gently pushing us against the dock. The owner of the marina and another dock hand were right there to take the lines and once the spring line was set to hold us in position we were tied down in a hurry and were set for the night.

Very rough conditions for a dockage.

The marina was right in downtown Morehead City, a nice harbor town that kind of lives in the shadows of it's close-by bigger sister city, Beaufort, NC. We had some dinner and went back to the boat for the evening, watched some tv and went to sleep. The conditions are still very windy and the windy conditions are going to persist so we will stay here until Friday when things are going to get better. But we are abandoning our plans to anchor out as the weather is going to get dicey again. 

I have some route planning to do.