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Sailing Short Stories

Bad Weather Week

The Com-Pac Yacht Association of North Carolina would do their annual cruise in May some years and if the previous year had been cool, the next year it would be in June. This was a May year and we were going to Cape Lookout. We set sail from New Bern, NC heading to Oriental, NC on our first leg. After arriving in Oriental and tying up at a local marina, we watched a waterspout come down the river. We had just been where the waterspout was about hour before. Thatís what I call good timing. Everyone slept well after an excellent dinner at the Troll Door Restaurant. The marinas provide normal marina services and transportation to any restaurant of your choice.

We all departed as a group for Beaufort, NC the next morning. We sailed across the Neuse River looking for the entrance to Adamís Creek. The entrance has a marker in the river and it's easy to find following a compass course. The lower Neuse is big water from side to side at this point. The weather was fair and we had 8 boats of all sizes. Adamís Creek runs into the Newport River on its way to Beaufort. This is part of the ICW and has mile markers every 5 miles. Knowing your speed and keeping track of the markers will give you good idea of when you will arrive at your destination. Most small sailboats can average 5 miles per hour and this makes the math easy. The traffic on the ICW is large powerboats, tugs pushing barges and everything in between. Texas Gulf Corporation mines potash in the Pamlico River area and they ship to Beaufort via barge where itís transported to the rest of World in large ships. Most of the tug captains give small recreational boats hints on where to hide off the ICW as they pass. Thatís a good reason to maintain a VHF watch.

Beaufort is a seaport thatís on the coast and it is only a hop, step and jump from Cape Lookout. You can see the lights of Beaufort on a clear night from Cape Lookout. The club parked their boats at the city docks in Beaufort for the night. Taylor Creek is a body of water that runs parallel to Beaufortís Main Street. On the other side of the Creek is a mooring field and an island where wild horses have lived since Colonial times. Beaufort is a great town to visit by car or boat year around. Everyone needs to keep in mind that they have a big fishing tournament every June and the town and docks are really crowded that month. Beaufort was a favorite port for Blackbeard and his pirates. His ship, the Queen Annís Revenge was recently found sunk off the Beaufort Inlet.

The wind for departure the next morning was from the south and moderate. There are two ways to go to Cape Lookout. One is the Ocean route and the other is the inside route. When the wind is blowing stink from the south, you go the inside route. When it blowing stink from the north, you go the Ocean route. Landmasses protect your passage according to wind direction. It is best to gain some local knowledge if you plan on visiting Cape Lookout often. Leaving Cape Lookout for home may require using the back door. You should get your backdoor experience in good weather before you make the trip in bad weather. The water gets pretty thin in Back Bay next to Harkerís Island. Four feet draft boats can make that passage if you are very careful.

All the boats arrived at the Cape without problems. We went the back door for training purposes and no one found the bottom. I was rafted up with another Com-Pac 27 the first evening and we were going to have dinner. The other 27 was anchored and I was tied to him. Before I could eat my steak, the sky turned black and the wind started blowing big time. I decided to un-raft and anchor as soon as possible. The Bite is 26 feet deep and has a scoured bottom. I think itís called the Bite because the water inside Cape Lookout looks like someone took a bite out of the land. Boats have been anchoring there for 100s of years for the protection it provides from storms. The wind was blowing from the northeast and I motored into the wind and dropped my hook. It didnít hold and I was dragging towards the beach. By that time, the wind had increased to 65 knots, the Cape Lookout Light had disappeared and I knew I was in trouble. I picked up my anchor and tried again. It dragged the second time and I though I might have one more chance to anchor before going aground for good. I put my motor in gear and pulled my deployed anchor behind me. I really didnít know where I was going because visibility was nil. I was hoping the rode would stay away from my prop because I didnít need another problem just then. The Bite has limited space and I knew I couldnít keep going or I would go aground on the other side. I stopped, deployed a second anchor hoped for the best. Checking my GPS, it appeared that I staying in one spot. Without a map on my GPS, I didnít know my location in the Bite. The VHF was alive with calls to the Coast Guard for help and they said one boat was on the beach. The Coast Guard said they would be coming from Beaufort and they did. The club members were silent and I took that as a good sign. Everyone was anchored except for me when the storm hit. When visibility improved, you could see the lights of Beaufort in the distance, but the lighthouse light was still out. Iím sure they have it fixed by now. After the storm passed, we had a full moon and I could see that only one large boat was on the beach. All the clubís little boats appeared to have water under their keels.

I ended up in Cape Lookout's ocean inlet. Iím sure the Coast Guard wondered why I was there when they came to rescue the boat on the beach. A little further out the Inlet and my anchors would never have found the bottom. Iím thinking the reason my anchors held in the inlet is because no one anchors in an inlet and the bottom was not scoured. A shrimp trawler was anchored in the Bite before we arrived. He was talking to a buddy on another shrimp trawler in the Pamlico Sound. Like I said, the VHF was hot. They were talking about the wind and the storm and a serious problem encountered by the boat in the Bite. These were Harker Island sailors and they talked with that old English accent. A pipe had burst on the boatís holding tank and he said they really had a big mess on board. Now that was a serious problem. The other trawler gave us the reported wind speed for the storm. Other boats in narrow channels around Beaufort had also gone aground and their calls were also on VHF.

Counting noses the following morning determined the Club was in good shape. All the club members had stories to tell, but no one had major problems. Two older sailors in a Com-Pac 16 did really well. They slept though most of the storm. Club members normally go home on their own schedule. Some left the day after the storm and others stayed another day. The two 27s stayed an extra day and departed directly for Oriental. Some large boats were hard aground in the New Port River area as a result of the storm. The wind caught them in a narrow channel with a long fetch all around. Oriental looked good and they seem to weather the storm well. There was one 30-foot sailboat at the marina that had an anchor with its shank bent double. The boat was anchored at Maws Point in the Neuse River during the storm. That's a bad place to anchor, but you do what you can when a storm arrives unannounced. The anchor was buried so deep during the initial blow that it could not reset itself when the wind changed direction. He said he had a real hard time getting that anchor unburied.

We started home the following day after a good evening meal in Oriental. Oriental to New Bern by water is about 18 miles and a good half-day trip on most days. This was a good-looking day with fair skies. Both Com-Pac 27s were doing about 6 knots side by side. The river makes a turn to the northwest at Minnesott Beach, NC. Minnesott Beach is where the Ferry runs and where two sailing schools teach young people how to sail. You always need to watch for traffic in that area. We were about half way home, motoring with the wind on the noise when the wind started to increase. The other 27 was in the lead by about 2 boat lengths and I could see that he was having a hard time maintaining steerageway. He made a turn to port and stopped moving forward. I could see him going forward to deploy his anchor. With only wind acting on a sailboatís hull, a sailboat will lay beam to the wind and drags its keel though the water sideways. He was laying on his side going down the river and then his anchor set and his bow came back into the wind. I continued on course because I still had some steerageway. Soon thereafter, the same thing happen to me. The engine was at full throttle and thatís all the power we had. The wind made the boat turn beam on and it was all over for the engine and we started drifting down the river dragging our keel sideway. We were healed over at about 35 degrees. I needed to anchor and the dink in the blue bag on the foredeck was going to get launched over the side. The dink found a safe spot between the cabin and the deck on the high side. The boat was very stable in this condition and we had a long ways to drag before we were going to hit land. My deployed anchor caught the bottom and we did the same thing as the other 27 after a few minutes. We had entered a white squall with some big winds. The big wind was back to a normal breeze in about 20 minutes. You canít see a white squall and the clouds donít get dark and it doesnít rain that much. It just blows big time and the rain that does come down is horizonal and feels like bullets. My PVC bimini was trashed twice on this cruise.

Home looked good to everyone. We donít normally have this much excitement on a summer cruise. This was the worse weather for any CPYANC summer cruise ever. As a learning experience, we did learn that little boats with keels and ballast could handle coastal bad weather when required.

You may wonder way sailors go to Cape Lookout. Most sailors enjoy the coming and going and civilization at the Cape is still like it was decades ago. You could be the only boat there on some days. Cape Lookout does have white sand, crystal clear water and lots of fishing. A clam rake with a little time on the beach and you can have an excellent meal. The bad weather in this story is the exception and not the rule.