Sunday, June 16, 2013

Making Our Way to Ocracoke

We pulled out of Swan Point Marina at Sneads Ferry, North Carolina with what could only be described as near-perfect conditions. The skies were clear and bright and what winds there were were just light puffs that barely moved the burgees on our flybridge. The aforementioned high current in the channel of the marina was minimal.

Our first reach was to cruise the ICW through Camp Lejeune. Boaters will relate to what I am describing but you lubbers won't. Camp Lejeune is a monstrous U.S. Marine training base along the North Carolina coast. While we were still at the marina we frequently saw military helicopters out on training maneuvers and could hear the distant rumbling of artillary fire at their practice range. The ICW goes right up the eastern edge of the base with only a narrow barrier island seperating the channel and mainland from the ocean. As we cruised up the water the sounds of the blasts got louder and the percussion of the explosions could easily be felt in our bodies. The boat would shake a bit. We both remember that during our first passage of this stretch the first blast we heard and felt was seemingly close and, not knowing what to expect, we thought something happened to the boat because of the great thud that was felt. It was if we hit something in the water. The shock wave can be felt that easily.
Sea Gate Marina, a nice little marina. $1 beers on Wednesdays

On June 12, passing Swansboro, Moorehead City and Beaufort our destination was a nice marina on the ICW called Sea Gate Marina. (Note to mariners - Sea Gate Marina is in the ditch between Beaufort and Neuse River. The entrance to the marina is easy enough with them wanting you to do a starboard tie-up. You would probably then need to back out when you leave which would be ok in calm conditions. The channel is lined with rocks. If you wanted to leave bow first you would either need to walk you boat around which could be tricky for bigger boats {50' plus?} or go just a tad further to where the marina turns left into a basin and turn at the turn, so to speak. This is what we did and all was aok. Bigger boats might find this problematic.) It was our luck that on Wednesdays the marina sells cans of beer for only a buck, so the deck was full of locals and live-aboards. It was a classic docktails situation but the conversations were a bit different than what one would hear during docktails with loopers. These people were all boaters with varying degrees of saltiness. Some of them have cruised the coast extensively, others have centered their activities to the Carolinas, some where fishermen and others lived in the housing development of which the marina is the centerpiece. We were the only loopers. But the comraderie was lively, the lies and fish stories abounded and we got some useful information about the next leg of our cruise.

It seems the weather is stuck in a four day pattern. It goes... good day / so-so day / crappy day / so-so day then back around to a good day, which is detrimental to making any serious headway. That was certainly the case while we were at Sea Gate. We came in on a beautiful day. The next day was clear but pretty windy. Then there was thirty-six hours of unsettled weather with overnight thunderstorms, rain and high winds. Then it was so-so again leading up to the next good goboat day on Saturday. And this was a good thing because our next destination was Ocracoke Island on the Barrier Islands of North Carolina, which means we had to traverse the Neuss River and Pamlico Sound and we would need all of the good weather we could find. This is because these two bodies of water have well deserved reputations for making weather forecasters look like idiots. We were looking for waves less than two feet with winds less than 10 knots.

Fortunately on the day we chose to make Ocracoke the smart people at the National Weather Service got it right. Their forecast called for sunny skies, mild winds from the west or southwest and swells of a foot. This is pretty much what we were looking for except I think the following swells may have been around two feet. This made for an awkward cruise. The swells were punching us up our transom most of the day, making it at times a bit rolly in a tilty-stern-to-bow-side-to-side way. Boaters will know the feeling. I could not get enough speed going to offset the rolling.

Running the entrance channel to Ocracoke was pretty much a non-event except for two things. First, there is a pinch not too far from the outer markers were the channel narrowed and shallowed. And Ocracoke is a busy ferry port. One ferry was heading out advising us to veer off and wait and another had been following us slowly but surely catching up to us. After some helpful communications with the ferry captains we did turn ninety degrees to the west and waited. The Carterette made her exit and we let Cypress Island go in ahead of us. We followed her in.
Silver Lake, the basin at Ocracoke Island

a golden sunset

neighbors. Wadaya gonna do.

Once inside Silver Lake, which is the main basin there, you have three options on moorings. There is a very adequate anchorage on the far end, a very nice but expensive marina called Anchorage Inn Marina, and lower priced docks operated by the state. Those state docks were our first choice, with Anchorage Inn Marina as our second choice. While we were still in Sea Gate we made some phone calls and along with ship to ship communications en route we learned that Silver Lake was very busy. The state-run docks were full. We were able to make a reservation at the marina but not until Sunday. So our plan was to anchor out and move there on Sunday, all the while keeping an eye on the state docks. While we were still coming in I radioed ahead to the marina to see if anything had changed so that we could come straight in. They responded that there was still not any room for us there. We informed them that we would anchor out and come in Sunday morning. Low and behold, we then got a hail from a boat at the state docks saying that they eavesdropped on our conversation (and we all do it, don't we?). She told us that there was a fifty foot section of the state dock open, but it was inside. We veered over there and I determined I could shoe-horn Why Knot in there. It was tight but I got her in. Bingo! So we are at our desired location on the state dock and all is well.

And the basin was indeed busy. There was a gathering of motor boats at Anchorage Inn Marina, thus the non-availability of docking space. And there was a sailboat race from New Bern, North Carolina to Ocracoke that day. We snuck into the docks just before the racers arrived. It was crowed when we tied up. It got even more crowded by dinner time. But early Sunday morning most of the boaters started peeling away. All of the sailors had to make their way back to New Bern which was going to be a slow affair because they would be facing the wind all the way back. That would make for a very slow day for them.

The weather forecast for the next several days falls right back into the pattern I mentioned above. It was a good day Saturday, Sunday would be so-so, Monday should be rotten and Tuesday so-so. Wednesday looks like it could be good to go. As I write this at 8:00 am most of the state run docks are empty. We are going to walk Why Knot back to the end of the pier so that when we finally do get out of here it will be easy. But for the next couple of days we are going to explore and enjoy Ocracoke.

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