Monday, April 30, 2012

Sometimes My Timing is Good. Sometimes Not So Much.

We pulled out of Portside Marina at Morehead City about 10 am Friday April, 27 after our daily perusal of weather data. Everything looked aok for a short cruise up to Whitaker Pointe Marina in Oriental, North Carolina which is reported to be a mecca for boaters. I even called Whitaker Pointe from Morehead City to see what the conditions were like. I was told that it was calm which was music to my ears as there was to be a storm system moving into the coastal area sometime on Saturday lingering into Sunday. And since we need to be in Norfolk by May 6th for the American Great Loop Cruisers Association Spring Rendezvous May 7 through 10 I didn’t want to get stuck down in Morehead City. From Oriental it would only take 4 more days of moderate travel to get there. So off we went.

The leg up to Oriental is only 22 miles which is barely enough time to get the engine warmed up. My departure was a bit rough because there was still some moderate winds pushing the boat to the dock. Why Knot has a new light scar on her starboard quarter as a result with a scrap on a dock corner. The majority of the cruise was easy with winds quickly dissipating as we continued north to the point where it was dead calm. Great conditions.

The last part was not so good. We had to navigate a few miles down and across the Neuss River to get to Oriental and Whitaker Pointe Marina. Earlier in the morning I did plot a course in the chartplotter that if you remember from previous posts had not been used very much and was very problematic. I did this preparation so that I could test the chart plotter out and to test me out using it, all with the expectations that the conditions would be favorable if something went awry.

As we approached the end of Adams Creek which dumps out into Neuss River we could see dark clouds building to our north directly over the river. I selected the course I laid into the chartplotter earlier now expecting that this would not be a test but a real navigating need. The moment we entered the river seas swelled to three and four foot waves with very short durations: big enough waves coming fast enough to make things very miserable, and dangerous. It was very grey outside with heavy cloud cover. Water sprayed in great plumages over the bow as we ran and dove through the waves at about a 30 degree angle. Objects in the cabin were flying around. We could not make out any landmarks on the other shore to be able to get our bearing. We could not possibly see where the marina was. Only the rebellious JRC 1800 chartplotter knew where to go and I followed it every waypoint after waypoint. Sometimes I would have to make course corrections larward putting the boat parallel with the waves for a few moments until I could be on the down side of the chartplotter course so I could maintain a heading pointed back somewhat into the waves. During all this time we would dive, climb and roll in all directions. Our decks would be awash. It was crazy. I put the throttle full on to get as much forward momentum working in our favor. Lisa was a rock keeping a look out all the time and keeping me encouraged and focused.

Waypoint after waypoint we crossed. Then as the last waypoint came into view on the chartplotter which I had set dead-on at the head of the marina’s marked channel we could see ahead enough to see the markers. Passing by them we rolled heavily until we got passed the spit of land that sheltered the marina where we were able to get the boat inside the marina into a slip. We tied up with the help of the dockmaster, Butch. And then just moments after we tied the last line, of course, the sun came out and the winds subsided some. Butch said it was a freak thing, that it just came out of nowhere. I don’t know that for sure but this was certainly contrary to the forecast.

In hindsight I take four things out of this experience. First, I think I handled the boat and situation well, and that Lisa and I have grown into a good crew. Second, I can now trust the chartplotter and will use it whenever I hit any kind of open water situation. I certainly will have to use it almost exclusively north of Norfolk. Third, Why Knot, a Nelson 45 foot trawler did very well. It got bounced around but never lost its grip on the course and motored through just fine. One of the things that Thompson / Nelson trawler owners share is the knowledge that these boats were based on a line of very successful shrimp boats that Thompson built for many years before making trawlers. This same hull design was not changed when Nelson bought the molds and carried on building the trawlers. They have a reputation of being very seaworthy boats able to take a pounding and keep on going. And fourth, always plan for any and all conditions in open water.