St James NC & Friends

We had spent the night on anchor in Mile Hammock Bay. The shore around this bay is on the property of Camp Lejeune. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is a 246-square-mile United States military training facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The base’s 14 miles of beaches make it a major area for amphibious assault training, and its location between two deep-water ports allows for fast deployments.

Mile Hammock Bay, Camp Lejeune

I woke up in the middle of the night and it was cold.

Cold Camp Lejeune

I spent some time in awe of the stars that felt so close you could touch them. I’d have taken a picture of them but it just doesn’t work when you’re aboard a rocking boat.  It reminds me that we are all spinning around on a rock in space surrounded by an endless cosmos. I like feeling small and insignificant in the cosmos. It means my life is more intimate. I chose to spend it with the folks around me and that is what gives it meaning. 

It was still dark at 6:30AM as I was pulling out of the bay and onto the ICW. Disappointed that I could not share a picture of how amazing it was to lay under the stars I thought I’d leave the helm and walk to the stern to snap a picture of the proto-sunrise that was taking shape behind us.

Proto-Sunrise

Whenever I leave the helm on the ICW you must be quick. There are many times you find yourself looking down at an iPhone or iPad to measure the distance to the next bridge or calculate your arrival at your planned anchor location. Take your eye off the helm for more than 10 seconds and you may find that you’ve run over a crap pot, hit a shoal or just ran into the bank of the ICW.  This fellow ICW boater ran aground when his teenage daughter spaced out while at the helm. The boat and crew were fine and while it can be embarrassing it’s something that can happen to anyone when you’re pulling 10-12 hour days staring at the helm and things passing you by. 

whoops

Soon we were passing Carolina beach and the grasslands are beautiful. 

Carolina Beach NC

We passed a pink house on it’s own rock island with a dock leading out to it. 

As we made our way South we came to Snow’s Cut. A ‘cut’ is a canal that has literally been ‘cut’ through land to form a canal for boats to travel from one river to another. It appears as if this abandon bridge is a popular place for teen parties.

Capt

Next it was into the Cape Fear River. This river is deep and has a strong current. You must stay clear of the larger traffic in the channel like this tug pushing an LNG tanker.

Tug & LNG Tanker

To get to the marina we were going to spend two nights at we had to turn to starboard at the Frying Pan Restaurant. I recall seeing photos of this restaurant during Hurricane Florence. The restaurant was flooded. I can’t tell for sure but they look to be up and running as we passed?

Frying Pan Restaurant

If you are familiar with Cape Fear you’d know that this restaurant is named after the famous Frying Pan Shoals that extend out some 15 miles off the coast of NC. 

There is an abandoned tower that marks Frying Pan Shoals and guy bought it at auction and is now making a bed & breakfast out fo the tower that lies some 39 miles off the coast of Cape Fear. How cool would it be to stay for a night? Here is a video of someone dropping a camera off the tower and down into the water. By the way to get into the tower you must be hoisted up on a cable.

Frying Pan Tower B&B

We arrived at St. James Marina and were excited to spend some time with friends. Jim was just getting back from a fishing trip out to the gulf stream some 50 miles of the coast of Cape Fear. The weather was rough so I think it was a wet salty ride back in this fast open fishing boat. 

The Marina is a beautiful place to spend time and it was worth the trip. Our trip looked something like this. 

Camp Lejeune, NC

We loved our stay in Beaufort, NC but we awoke to 34 degrees and it was time to leave. 

We had lots of fun in Beaufort riding around in the sexy loaner car. The car was green but the door was red. You had to pump the breaks to slow down and it had a death rattle sound as you drove down the road. We loved it. It was FREE. 

We decided to do a pub crawl through Beaufort but we only made it to the Black Sheep Bar which was 20 feet from our boat. We met Capt. Scott from MV Legacy (58′ Grand Banks). Capt Scott kept us entertained with stories about his grandparents yacht that he was now the captain of. Capt Scott even gave me a tour of MV Legacy when we left the bar and she was very impressive. 

Our GPS tracker was capturing our journey as we headed South. It clearly was not recording where the straight lines are shown but it gives a reader an interesting view of our last few days of travel.

I met another fella who said he noticed my Boston accent as he was also from that part of town. When I said well I’m from Foxboro (home of the Patriots to be exact) he mentioned someone he knew from Foxboro and it turned out to be a childhood friend of mine (Small World).  Turns out we knew many of the same folks from back home. I snapped a selfie as it seemed like the right thing to do in the moment. 

As we made our way out of Beaufort we passed a buoy tender with two gentleman who looked quite cold. 

It was a small craft advisory and the whitecaps were appearing even in the small body of water we were in. 

As we made our way down Bogue Sound I hailed a boat that was anchored in the channel. Turns out they were having engine trouble but were not in need of assistance.

We passed this fishing vessel that had clearly sunk in the shallow waters.

And around the next corner was the Marines Camp Lejeune. They were doing live fire exercises to we were forced to stop and drop anchor. 

We dropped anchor believing that no traffic could pass during the exercises but soon a tug boat was passing us on anchor. Maybe he was just slow making his way out of the firing zone?

It was fun to watch the Osprey plane flying over the top of us. Recall the Osprey is a plane capable of vertical take off and landing.

When we were finally allowed to continue down the ICW we and all the other boats were racing to make it to the only decent anchorage within range. You must be careful when you run fast down the ICW because if you run up on a shoal going fast you may not be able to back off of it. Soon the sailboat behind us ran aground and they asked us if we would turn around and come back and wake them as hard as we could to possibly rock them off the shoal that had them stuck. We agreed knowing that it was risky as in order to wake them we’d have to run fast right next to the shoal they were stuck on. We did our best but in the end a local crab boat was the one who deserves the credit for pulling them off. 

We were thrilled to see them free as it was still 2 hours away from low tide and if they had not gotten off that shoal quickly they were going to sit there into the night. 

 As we made our way to the anchorage at Camp Lejeune we passed many bullet riddled targets on shore. 

The sun was setting and it was beautiful.

Soon were were anchored for a peaceful night. 

Today’s leg looked something like this

Clawson’s Pub Beaufort NC

Adam’s Creek was a peaceful anchorage. 

At least until this fellow came blasting through..

Once the morning’s parade of boats down Adam’s Creek began, it was time to weigh anchor.

As you make your way down Adam’s Creek you’ll love the beautiful homes and boats along the water’s edge. 

Somewhere along Adam’s Creek it turns into Core Creek where we passed more ICW statute mile markers and a derelict sailboat.

We were aware from the USCG securite warnings broadcasts that there was a 61′ capsized fishing trawler in Core Creek. When I had to dodge floating rope and netting coming down the river, I knew we were close. Then it appeared.

Soon we were heading into an area called the Newport Marshes named after the nearby city of Newport, NC. This area can be a bit tricky as the channel bifurcates and we stay to starboard. I believe there is deeper water to starboard.

For a brief moment we had a motoring sailboat attempt to cross our bow from the port-side. We were on a collision course so I gave them a single blast of our air horns to indicate a one-whistle-pass (meaning port to port like driving a car on the road in the US). They did not alter their course so it was time to blast it again! That did it. They waved as we passed and the rain. The rain covered dodger and a crowded cockpit were probably the reason for the distracted captain. 

Morehead City, NC was next and the clouds were getting dark with rain and even some lightning strikes. 

Near Morehead City NC

We were fast approaching Beaufort Inlet and the strong wind could be felt. Our rearview camera’s view of our flag atop our VHF antennas showed the flag whipping around. 

To get into Beaufort using the East side entrance you need to head like your exiting Beaufort Inlet then turn hard to port after going by Radio Island. We did this as quickly as we could as a large cargo ship was fast approaching. Even the two tugs were joking on the VHF about “giving it all she had” to get out of the way of the large ship. The tug hailed the ship saying… he would have to point his bow directly at the ship but not to worry as he was crabbing his way in the wind and would soon be out of their path. On a boat unlike a car sometimes even though your bow is pointing in one direction, the wind and current can be moving you in a straight line that is not where your bow is pointing. 

Large Cargo Ship Coming in Through Beaufort Inlet, NC

We had timed our arrival into Beaufort at slack current. Last time we were here we docked in a max ebb current and it took all my skill to keep MV Simple Life from crashing into other boats at the docks. A full keel trawler at 90 degrees to a strong current moves down-current quickly. It’s not something that your thrusters can overcome.

We were thankful for our pilothouse as the rain was coming down pretty good at this point.

We passed Moonrakers and some sexy boats tied up in port.

The Beaufort Docks Dockmaster had assigned us a great slip all the way in right next to the restaurant. The docking was a “breeze”, no literally, we simply turned sideways and let the breeze blow us sideways into the dock. Worked beautifully and Kelly was soon tossing our stern line to the dockhand. 

Once in our slip we quickly jumped ashore and walked the docks. 

I almost forgot there was one casualty along this trip and it was my slippers. Kelly demanded that my stinky slippers stay in Beaufort, NC. I will miss my favorite slippers but our boat and crew would thank me for giving them up. 

I’ll Miss You, Comfy Slippers 

I checked in at the dockhouse, paid the bill, got the WiFi password and two beer tokens! My favorite part is taking those wooden tokens straight to the sailor bar at the Dock House and enjoying a well-deserved beer. We were sharing dog pics with Shelby, our bartender. She showed us pics of her 3 new hunting hounds that her dad had given to her. 

After a quick couple beers it was time to find something to eat at Clawson’s Restaurant & Pub. 

Good Food – All Smiles

Clawson’s bartender, Kayla set me up with a great Hazy NE IPA and life was great.

The bar itself dates back to 1905 and Kayla was entertaining us with ghost stories about the ghost-like little girl on the third floor. She offered to take us up to the 3rd floor to look for her but we chickened out 😉

We are thrilled to spend two nights in Beaufort, NC.

Our leg here looked something like this…

Goose Creek NC

Beaufort, NC in two days requires an early departure. 6:19AM to be exact.

Departing our Anchoring Location off Durant Island, NC

Planning is a big part of cruising. It starts by thinking where you would like to get to. Then you check the weather, wind speed & direction, marine forecast, sea state, etc. If the weather is bad than you must consult the crew (wife / admiral ) and get their opinion on whether to go or stay put. If you skip this step you could find yourselves in marriage counseling.

Once you know where you want to go you must ask… “How long will this take at cruising speed?”. Slower cruising speed = better MPG = $. We conservatively plan 50 NM / day if we use the 10 hours of light that late November gives us. If we want to cover 70 or even 100 NM than we’ll have to run long into the night. Here you must know your limits. After 12 hours at the helm you may find yourself coming into an unfamiliar inlet or harbor on an inky dark, moonless night with wind & waves and other hazards. (See warning above about counseling).

I find that using every charting and weather app on your phone, tablet while underway to constantly revise your plan works best. Advise your crew that “the next two hours will be a lumpy ride but soon we’ll be enjoying a drink in a peaceful anchorage for the night”.

The Alligator River Swing bridge crosses the broad mouth of the Alligator River. It must be fun driving over this long bridge that is only 20 feet or so above the River.

We had to keep to starboard as our radar showed many faster yachts coming up behind us. They would zoom on by and we’d have to do a quick 90 degree turn to cut their wake or get rocked.

When you reach the Southern end of the Alligator River you enter a 20 mile long canal that was cut through the land with a laser gun. OK maybe it just looks-like the ACE (Army Corp of Engineers) used a laser gun? It’s so straight we barely need to adjust the autopilot heading.

Alligator River – Pungo River Canal

While you are keeping an eye out for hazards like tree stumps and deadheads (trees snapped off at or near water surface), you’ll pass ICW Statute Mile markets reminding you that you have a long way to go.

There is land for sale along the canal.

For SALE

Perfect if you like duck hunting like this hunter we passes who was picking up his duck decoys.

Decoy Ducks

Moving over for oncoming or passing traffic must be done carefully as outside the center of the canal you’ll run into shoals, stumps and other hazards.

I Don’t Think We Can Keep Up

When you see a bridge like the one in the picture above you quickly grab your phone and check for a cell signal. Yup, you’ll have a signal for maybe the next mile.

It was cold and rainy but warm inside our pilothouse.

We knew from checking the wind speed & direction that when we exited the Pungo River it would be lumpy.

Soon we were tucking into Goose Creek and then again into Campbell Creek to avoid the weather. Anchored tight to the tree-lined shore in Campbell Creek we found respite from the weather.

Anchored in Campbell Creek

Saturday’s leg looked something like this.

W02L011 – Winter 02, Leg 11

The cell signal in here is either weak or just non-existent.

Night Crossing of Albemarle Sound

We spent Thanksgiving at Top Rack Marian. Kelly used InstaCart grocery delivery service to order everything that she needed and whipped up an amazing turkey dinner. This woman has skills :-).

We left Top Rack Marina after sharing an amazing Thanksgiving aboard. However, the temps were dipping into the 30’s at night and we needed to go South as fast as possible. 

a mile or two South down the ICW is the Great Bridge Lock. The water level only drops 2-3 ft so it’s pretty gentle as far as river locks go. However, the ICW (InterCoastal Waterway) is a federal commerce waterway and that means that it’s there for commercial boats first and pleasure boaters second. We had a stand aside while the lock tender let this huge tug and barge in ahead of us.

Tug & Barge

They asked us if we felt comfortable trying to squeeze past the tug n barge to get ahead of it in the lock. Challenge accepted. 

Thread the Needle

Soon the gates were swinging open.

Great Bridge Lock, ICW in VA

We saw lots of Canadians looking for a warmer winter

Canadians

We passed through the Centerville Turnpike Swing Bridge

Centerville Turnpike Swing Bridge

Then it was through the “normally open except for when a train is a coming” bridge.

If a train comes and it starts a lower.. push the throttle to the pins 😉

Not long after that we were passing Coinjock Marina in NC. This is normally our stopping point for the night but the winds were going to increase early in the AM so we decided to anchor just before our Albemarle Sound crossing. On our way to our anchorage we heard a sailboat on the VHF hailing TowBoatUS to come pull them out of the shallows. It was 1.5 hours before low tide so it was only going to get worse. 

This boat had wandered outside of the narrow channel and run aground

Soon we were passing ICW mile markers 55 & 65 and approaching our anchorage for the night.

I did one last check to see if the weather forecast had changed and … it had.

The strong winds were going to come before sunrise so Kelly & I decided do a nighttime crossing of Albemarle sound and anchor in the Alligator River rather than have a lumpy crossing in the AM.

Just before the sun went down we snapped one more photo.

The full moon came up but we were not running into it but away from it. I always prefer to run down the moonstreak as it helps me spot crap pot floats before we run them over and wrap the line around our propeller. 

Full Moon

The crossing was a bit lumpy but we picked a spot to anchor behind Durant Island that would give us a lee shore. Tonight we will sleep well and get plan for a sunrise departure before the wind starts to whip in the AM.

Anchored Behind Durant Island (red marker)

Today’s leg was 70 NM from Chesapeake, VA to Durant Island, NC. This year we agreed to throttle-back to somewhere in the 6 knot range and stay in the 3 NM / gallon diesel range. We conservatively plan to make 50 NM / day. That’s 10 hours of daylight x 6 kts minus time weighing / dropping anchor and waiting for bridges to open.

Apple Maps Screen Capture with Finger Drawn Route – A Close Approximation

Coinjock Marina Going North

We had a quiet night on anchor in the Alligator River. Our anchor spot was just off the ICW and was an “easy in” and “easy out” in the morning. Note: some anchoring spots can have shallow or tricky entrances.

The sunrise was amazing.

 

We had no sooner got through the Alligator River Swing Bridge and we hailed the large cruise ship, Independence, coming up on our stern. The captain was very friendly and thanked us for giving him exclusive use of the narrow channel.

MV Independence uses AIS just like us so it was easy to acertain their ship’s name and hail them directly. I simply let the captain know that I saw they were going to overtake us and stated we would manuver to starboard and allow them exclusive use of the entire channel for a “2 whistle pass”.

Cruise Ship 1
American Cruise Lines, MV Independence

As the channel got narrow we had to get in line behind this sailboat who did not seem to have their VHF radio on. (repeated hails from us and the Alligator River Swing Bridge with no response). On the ICW you must monitor channel #16 (the international hailing channel).

Traffic 1
Canadian Flagged SV

Note: the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) designates 3 channels internationally as “Safety Channels”.

Channel 16 (156.800 MHz) – Distress, safety and calling

Channel 13 (156.650 MHz) – Intership navigation (bridge-to-bridge)

Channel 70 (156.525 MHz) – Digital Selective Calling

DSC Discussion (skip this technical section if you like)

CH 70 or DSC or Digital Selective Calling is a new technology that uses EM wave pulses on channel 70 to send digital (1s and 0s encoded in electromagnetic pulses over a radio wave transmitted on channel #70’s designated frequency)

This channel is not for human voice transmission but for ships continually broadcasting their current position and heading. The data is received by your VHF antenna and processed by your AIS transceiver before finally being plotting on your chartplotter. Instead of just a radar blip on my chartplotter, I see a triangular icon representing the ship and if I click on it I get all sorts of info like:

  • Ship Name: So I can hail them by name instead of “Motor vessel off my port bow”
  • Heading
  • Speed
  • Ship length
  • MMSI #
  • Sail or powerboat
  • CPA (Closest point of approach or how close will they come to our boat if nothing changes)
  • CTA (at what time will they be the closest to us).

DSC also has a well hidden secret function where you can use a ship’s MMSI # (like a personal phone number) to call them directly. By this I mean you don’t hail them by name (ie. “ship name, ship name, this is motor vessel Simple Life on channel 16”. Instead you type in their MMSI number and a channel that you want their VHF radio to automatically tune to. Hit the PTT (Push To Talk) button and a loud tone plays over their VHF radio and their radio automatically jumps to the channel you wanted to communicate with them on. It’s a great feature but I must say I have not used it, nor have many other boaters. Maybe it will just take some time till the early adopters start teaching other boaters how to use it?

As we approached Coinjock, NC, there were large plumes of smoke coming from shore. I saw that the smoke which had started as grey/black was now white indicating that it was burning itself out (Where are my firefighter friends here, keep me honest).  Maybe it was a controlled burn of the low lands?

 

As we were pulling into Coinjock Marina, named for the NC town of the same name,  we were aware that our port fuel tank was running on fumes. NOTE: we had some reserve fuel in the starboard diesel tank.

Diesel
I think I need to start wiping my leather helm down with lint-free cloths 😉

We had made two long runs up the coast and at almost 9 kts and burned lots of fuel. Coinjock about 20 cents more per gallon of diesel than the marina we were heading to next. While not the cheapest place to take on over 300 gallons of diesel it was convenient. I mentioned to the dockhand that the next marina North was 20 cents cheaper a gallon and he responded, “Oh, our costs are higher because we sell more fuel than them”. I just smiled and thought, I’m pretty sure this friendly dockhand skipped school that day in business class 😉

When choosing a location for diesel be sure to chose a location that sells a lot of diesel. Common wisdom says: the more they sell, the less time the deisel sits in storage tanks acculmulating condensation water or other contaminations. If you have ever had your engine die offshore due to bad fuel you’ll agree that it’s better to spend a bit more for the likelihood of clean fuel.

The cruise ship which had passed us on the ICW was now docked in Coinjock to take on 5000 gallons of diesel.

Cruise Ship Coinjock
MV Independence Docked in Coinjock NC

I believe in large ship terminology, the captain and crew talk about the amount of diesel they have in terms of weight rather than gallons. Diesel is about 7 lbs / gallon while gasoline is about 6 lbs / gallon. When you take on 5000 gallons of diesel you need to be thinking about how much that excess fuel weighs and what it does to your ship’s draft. Draft = how deep your boat sinks into the water. Air draft = how tall is your boat is above the water for fitting under low bridges.

MV Simple Life took on about 311 gallons or 2,177 lbs of diesel while we were there. We also filled our water tanks (8.3 lbs / gallon) so that adds another 3,700 lbs to our boat. If you ever read the specs for a boat it will list it’s dry weight as well as it’s water draft. Always remember that when you load your boat up with your possessions, passengers, dogs, food, fuel, water, etc that it will sink your draft a few more inches into the water. When a boat is designed they guesstimate the weight & displacement of the boat from summing up the weight of every item in the CAD drawing. This we know thanks to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes and his “Eureka” moment when he figured out that a body (boat) displaces it’s exact weight in water.

An engineer friend of mine who also loves physics, Andy,  once asked me this fun question about a man in a canoe in a pool who drops a stone into the water and asks how high will the water rise?

Boats with sharp narrow hulls must sink lower in the water to float while boxy square hulls like that of a barge need only sink a small amount to displace their weight in water. The boxy square shape to the cruise ship allowed it to have ashallower draft than MV Simple life. So don’t follow the cruise ship up the ICW thinking… ”if there is enough water in the channel for them, we can easily follow them”.

Alligator River NC

We awoke at sunrise and just before pulling anchor, I snapped a few photos of just how still this anchorage was in Adam’s Creek.

Today’s ICW route through Pamlico Sound would end just short of crossing Albemarle Sound. Our route looked something like this.

ICW NC Route
ICW Route Through Pamlico Sound and almost into Albemarle Sound

On our way out of Adam’s Creek, I hailed a loaded tug and barge to let them know we would deviate from the channel and not impede their passage. The strong current was at their back forcing them to keep their speed up. As a tug captain it’s better to be driving the barge rather than being driven by the current. It’s always better to push a barge into a current than be pushed by it. At least that is how I understand it.

Tug Barge
Tug & Loaded Barge in Adam’s Creek Channel

We no sooner exited Adam’s Creek into the Neuse River and passed this beautiful schooner with the captain at the helm and sails set.

Schooner
Capt was still in the process of raising his staysail

Once it Pamlico Sound you realize it is a pretty large sound. Wikipedia defines a sound as, “…In geography, a sound is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord; or a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land (see also strait)…”. These geography terms can be confusing.

Pamlico Sound.JPG
Pamlico Sound

As we motored on, a USCG boat hailed us over VHF channel 16 and let us know to stay to port as we passed. They had a line around and were pulling what remained of a green daymark piling using their boat. Our best guess is that a boat hit the piling in the night and snapped it off.  We figured they were dislodging it so that it would not float away and become a hazard to navigation?

USCG Pulling Daymark
USCG with a line off their bow to a green daymark that was broken off.

We passed a several duck blinds confirming that North Carolina is duck hunting country.

Duck Blind
Duck Blind – Do they really fall for this?

As we motored on we were reminded that we are getting closer to ICW mile marker 0 in Norfolk, VA.

The predicted forecast for Albemarle Sound had the wind out of the West at only 10-15 kts.

Forecast
Albemarle Sound forecast 10-15 out of the West

We chose an anchorage with a small fetch to the West but far enough off the shore that we could open the hatches and get a good breeze while we slept.

Alligator River Anchorage
Alligator River Anchorage

As I was setting the anchor on the bow I looked up and snapped this photo of the setting sun.

Sunset Framed.JPG
Sunset in Alligator River, NC

Adam’s Creek Anchorage NC

Because it was a 98.8% full moon, we pulled up the anchor and got underway before the sun had even risen.

Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach Anchor Location

As we skirted our way up the coast, we tried to minimize the length of fetch as the winds were blowing 20 kts from the NW (with gusts to 25 kts). Recall: a fetch is a distance of water that the wind has been given to blow over the top of. Wave heights build wave heights with distance.

Sunday Forecast
25kt Gusts

Along the way we saw beach homes like these near Surf City

We saw a giant ocean-side pier near Top Sail Beach.

Top Sail Beach Pier
Top Sail Beach Pier

As we go, I’m always watching the depth sounder, ie sonar. It pings high frequency sound (like a dolphin) off the sea floor and displays the depth as a graphical chart over the last 60 seconds. It is very important to understand not just the instantaneous depth but also how the depths are trending over time. You need this info to ascertain quickly if you are running off a downhill slope or running aground. The steeper the incline, the faster in time the sea floor is rising up to meet you, metaphorically speaking. While watching the sonar,  I repeatedly saw objects between the boat and ocean floor. I believe these depictions to be “bait balls” or schools of bait fish in a tight spherical grouping. Sometimes they are formed into these ball formations by preditors such as dolphins.

I’m no expert at reading the fish finder / depth sounder’s visually displayed ping returns, however, I also saw this fishing boat hauling a net.

Bait Net
Small Trawler Netting Bait Fish

The trawler’s size makes me think that they are hauling a small net sized for bait fish.

A moment later, we were passed by this Italian designed Azimut luxury motor yacht. She clearly has some horsepower in her diesels since… as big as she was, she was just skimming over Mother Ocean.

azimut
Azimut on plane

As we approached Beaufort, NC, we passed Brown’s Inlet. The ActiveCaptain description for this inlet simply says: “Browns Inlet is unmarked and used by local boats only;  not recommended to strangers.”

Soon we were off Fort Macon State Park Beach which is just before Beaufort inlet, NC.

Running a dynamic inlet whose shoals change with each storm is not advisable as even the latest published charts with depth soundings will likely be incorrect. That said, we attempted to use the latest NOAA charts to sneak into Beaufort Inlet via a narrow channel close to shore. It was low tide so you don’t get any added water depth over the low water spot soudings. We entered the narrow natural channel displayed on our chartplotter.  I checked the accuracy of the spot soundings (depth numbers) and the actual depths (reported by the sonar) were 3’ shallower than what my recently updated chart displayed. That was not comforting, but I still proceeded slowly at only 1.7 kts.

Beaufort Inlet 6.7
1.6 kts is slow forward

We will run aground at about 5’ and I was already in only 6.7’. To make matters worse, there was an ocean swell that was lifting and dropping the boat above and below the static ocean surface. I was confident that however “skinny”, “thin” or simply “shallow” the depths got that we would make it. After all my charts showed a low of about 10’ and we only needed 5’.

Well, we made it about 10’ from crossing into the deep channel when we bumped the bottom. You have to tell yourself: “resist the temptation to simply push the throttle forward and plow the next 10’ to the deep channel”. You just can’t know how shallow those next 10’ are. You could be pushing your boat up onto a shoal so shallow that the diesel engine / propeller combo won’t have the bite on the water needed to either push or pull you off the shoal. I opted to put her in reverse and spin her back the other way. We knew if we didn’t hit on the way in, we would not hit leaving.

Beaufort Inlet 5.8'
5.8 is Shallow

Beaufort Inlet 10 feet.JPG
10′ more and we could have made it into the deep channel

Note: The top picture showing the chart with 5.8’ depths displayed is not as recent as the chart depicted in the picture below it. We were literally 1/4 of a boat length from making it into the deep channel. You can see our track as we backed out. FYI: track = a black, dotted line or bread crumb path of where your boat has been. The dashed orange line with circular junction points is our plotted course. We backed out and came in the inlet via the mid-channel / safe water buoy. This buoy marks the center of the entrance channel.  Line up with this vertical red-white striped buoy and you are heading directly in the inlet.

Confidence is a good thing as a captain but … so is restraint 😉

I was emailing with a fellow boater who was getting ready to come North from Vero Beach. They have owned their blue water trawler and traveled up and down the coast. However, I still added the below statements to my reply. I did so because, I myself, am often curious where other sailors draw the line at the decision to “go offshore or not”?

Marty Reply: I wish you fair winds and seas however, checking your weather forecast on my favorite web app: http://www.marineweatherbybluefin.com/united-states/app

The NWS weather zone just above Vero Beach shows 3-5′ waves with a 6 second period and winds out of the East. I hear that and think…

1. If the winds were instead out of the West, you could run North tight to the coast.

2. I prefer 2-4′ seas because 3-5 is the average wave height not the significant wave height. 

On average, about 15% of waves will equal or exceed the significant wave height. The highest 10% of waves could be 25-30% higher than the significant wave height. And on occasion (about one per hour) one can expect to see a wave nearly twice the significant wave height.

3. Six seconds is a rather short period. I’m picturing steep waves. Your boat is stabilized,  ours is not. I would not want 6 second period,  5′ possibly 7’ waves on my beam.

On my laptop, I like to use the Windfinder web app

On my smartphone, I like to use the Windfinder Pro iOS app

WindFinder
WindFinder Pro iOS App

When you study the densely displayed data given by this app, you see that the waves during the daylight hours will be… at worst 4.5’, out of the NE with a 6 second period. The tide will go low about an hour before the sun sets (read that as… “about when you are entering the shoaling inlet from the sea”).

Then you say “4.5’ waves are not that bad”. However, that wave height forecast is based on a statistical wave distribution.

Statistical Wave Distribution

Make sure not to mix up “mean, median or average

The average of the biggest 1/3 of the waves you’ll see are much larger, possibly to the height of 6.5’. That is uncomfortable to most crew in an un-stabilized trawler. Note: Blue water, top-heavy, flybridge trawlers often use active fins beneath the waterline to oppose the roll of the vessel to port or starboard. This can dramatically improve the conditions underway in a sea. Naiad is one such company who manufactures marine stabilizers.

Naiad

Here is a dated but decent overview of marine stabilizers

After making our way in the inlet we passed ICW statute mile marker 200. Note: Mile 0 starts in Norfolk, VA and the ICW milage progress to statute mile 1243 in Key West.

ICW Mile 200.JPG
ICW Mile Marker 200

We made it into Adam’s Creek before having to anchor up for the night. Adam’s creek offered us the last anchoring spot before we enter Pamlico Sound and must travel the next 25 or so nautical miles to the Goose Creek anchorages.

Our current anchorage does not offer wind or wave protection but the holding is good. The NE winds are forecast to be light, at only 10kts.

I found it interesting that we had a full moon rise off the stern and a simultaneous sunset off the bow.

Moon
Full Moon

Tonight Moon
Moonrise off the Stern

Tonight Sunset
Sunset off the Bow

Wrightsville Beach NC

We got underway early, leaving the Waccamah River behind us.  Alongside the ICW we found houses like this one. This home just stood out against the others. Why? Crazy downhill fence, twisty walkway? Sawgrass? 2nd level stairway? The palm trees? Or does it all work together?

Home
Breathtaking, like that Seinfeld episode with the ugly baby

Then I passed this 27′ trailerable Nimble Kodiak motorsailer. Interesting little boat. Here is a link to a random 2002 Nimble Kodiak for sale on Yachtworld.com

Kodiak
27′ Nimble Kodiak trailerable motorsailer

We passed the “Sombrero thing” that I could not quite figure out what this place was on our way down the ICW. Now we are heading back and I still have not looked it up.

Sombrero
Sombrero thing and Yes there are propeller eating rocks on the ICW

We passed the Myrtlewood golf course right on the ICW. I’m thinking how many boats get hit with golf balls?

We also passed a home or restaurant that had all these HUGE ocean buoys all around their lot. I love red buoys and green cans but I’m not sure I’d want them as yard ornaments?

Then we came to “Little River Inlet”. You can’t miss it because it has this commercial fishing boat marking the entrance off the ICW.

Little River Fishing Aground
I guess even the pros can have an oops moment?

Kelly & I recall this inlet as one that we ducked into on our old sailboat, Skull & Swords. We were getting beaten up in a storm off Cape Fear and the moment we tucked into Little River Inlet it provided us with a place to anchor for the night.

The ebbing current was running strong as we never hit 11 kts.

SOG 11
11 kts SOG – Speed Over Ground (GPS calculated)

As you twist your way out to sea be careful of the floating steel drums that are just outside the channel.

Little River Drum
Would not want to hit that at night

Little River Inlet twists a sinuous path to the ocean.

Little River sinuous
Snaking it’s way to the ocean

The strong outflow created a distinct boundry between the brown, full of sediment water rushing out and the green water off the coast of NC.

Little River Sediment
Sediment laden waters flowing into the green sea

Friends of ours,  Jimmy and Wende had just taken their fishing boat out of Lockwood Folly Inlet and were chatting with us on the VHF. I had to raise my 45 degree lowered antennas to the upright position to get better reception. On the ICW you must lower your antennas to fit under low bridges. The reduced reception does not matter as you are really just communicating with a passing boat or a marina that you are next to. They were quick to end the call reminding me to put my antennas back up, which I just did after writing that 😉

The inlet they came out of might scare anyone who looks at it on the charts. When you see a bunch of shipwrecks dotting the inlet it might be telling you something about the inlet.

Lockwood Folly Inlet
That’s a lot of boat bones

We had planned to go offshore at Little River Inlet and run the 25 or so NM to Cape Fear. However once we were outside we were enjoying making over 9 kts.

SOG 9.2 Off Shore
Making good time

We decided to see if we could find a way through Frying Pan Shoals rather than around them. I spent some time plotting a course that in the end had us seeing 8.7′ at the lowest. Normally we would simply plot a course around Frying Pan Shoals but the added distance could mean a nighttime arrival. A check of the tides showed that we were not going to get much of a lift from the tide.

cape Fear Tide station
Barely 2 hours after a negative low. won’t add much water to the chart soundings

The swell presented a bit of a challenge as well. Ocean swell can push a boat closer to the sea bottom when you slide into the trough of a swell. The swell also can cause “breakers” (think breaking wave tops) where the shoals are shallow. Today however, as we cautiously motored over the shoals our path was uneventful. If you want to cross the shoal there is a path that lies about 3 nautical miles off the point of Bald Head Island. Just take your draft and everything else into consideration before you attempt.

cape Fear 3
Our Actual Path over Frying Pan Shoals – 3 miles out

Once we rounded Cape Fear we were making good progress toward Masonboro Inlet and Wrightsville Beach. You can see on our iPad navigation app the boat icon that is us, a black dotted track line that is where we were as well as the magenta 3 mile offshore dashed line.

Cape Fear
Us rounding Cape Fear

Once inside the inlet we quickly anchored up and watched the sun go down

While the sun was setting the full moon was already up.

Moon

OK, it’s not technically a full moon but 98.8% is close enough. Tomorrow we’ll have a full moon.

St. James Plantation with Friends

We are leaving St. James Plantation Marina in Southport, NC this morning but made a promise to come back and spend more time with our friends Jim & Wende. They were very gracious hosts while we were here and we got to share in the experience of being in a “private town”. So very interesting though I must say Kelly & I will have to investigate exactly what that means?

Wende Kelly Jim Marty

Thanks Jim & Wende, you showed us a great night off the boat and we promise to come back and spend more time.

The night before we had anchored in Sloop Point, NC and the trip down to Southport was an interesting one. We saw heavy equipment dredging around what looked like a new pier going in. I know what salt water does to steel and I still shudder at the thought of dipping an excavator’s arm into salty water. I’m sure the water in the ICW is brackish but still.

Dredging Excavators

I was checking my ICW bridge list and realized that I would not make the Figure Eight Swing Bridge in time for their restricted opening time. This meant that I would be waiting for the next opening. However the bridge tender who I had hailed on the VHF asked me about my air-draft. Your “draft” is your vessels depth in the water and your “air-draft” is your vessel’s height above the water. I replied that I believed it was somewhere between 21-22 feet. The bridge tender remarked that he currently had 22′ of clearance. Every bridge along the ICW has a “height board” that is partially submerged under the water with height markers at the waterline. While all bridges on your nautical charts will list their height at an average high tide, the actual vertical clearance varies with the height of the water. The bridge tender offered to come out of his office and stand under the bridge to check my clearance if I wished to approach the bridge slowly. This can be a tricky maneuver as there was a current pushing Simple Life toward the bridge. I slowly edged the boat idling in reverse to the bridge and bridge tender assured me that I had a good 6″ of gap between the top of our boat and the bottom of the bridge. MV Simple Life’s air-draft is 21′ 6″.

Below is a stock photo of the Figure Eight Swing Bridge as I was too busy at the helm to snap pictures. You can see I circled the “height board” and at the time this picture was taken there was slightly less water under the bridge giving even more clearance than the 22′ we had the other day.

Figure Eight Swing Bridge

Just a few more miles down the ICW and we had to pass through the Wrightsville Beach Bascule Bridge located at statute mile 278 along the ICW. This is a restricted bridge that only opens on the top of the hour.

Wrightsville Beach Bascule Bridge

As we continued on to Cape Fear (Southport, NC) we were delighted at the scenery.

High Sandy BluffOcean InletMarshy Islands

Dock at Water Level

We passed many Atlantic Ocean inlets that had high sandy bluffs and marshy islands dotting the entrances. You could see and hear the surf breaking in the shallow inlets and it makes for nice scenery. The last of those 4 photos is one of a fixed dock that just barely exceeds the height of the water level. Interesting choice of fixed dock heights as this surely must be slightly submerged at times? Slightly submerged docks must be fun to walk along but just like submerged rock jetties that often protect many of the ports we enter they can be dangerous if boats come into contact with them.

As we got the point where the ICW connects with the Cape Fear River via “Snow’s Cut” we were passed by a US Army Corp of Engineers survey boat. These folks use sophisticated sonar to accurately probe the depths of these constantly changing waterways. He kindly slowed down as he passed and got back on plane once he was in front of us. However, just then the VHF crackled on channel 16, “Trawler in Snow’s Cut, are you OK?”. I quickly answered the hail with “comeback to the trawler in Snow’s Cut”. It was a boat in a marina that was hailing us stating that they “saw what had happened”. I replied, “If you are referring to the ACE boat that passed us, yes we are OK”. I found this communication amusing and I can only guess that the survey boat had passed the marina giving a large wake and making the marina boat unhappy and maybe this was her way of shaming the ACE boat publicly on the VHF?

US ACE Survey Boat

Snow’s Cut Graffiti

It would seem the kids in Snow’s Cut like to party at this old bridge abutment. “Party on” Capt B.

Once in the Cape Fear River it became quickly apparent from the size of the docks that extend out into the river that this river is used by large ships. Passing these behemoths must be done at a distance.

A quick turn back onto the ICW, by a dilapidated building and we arrived at St. James Marina.

Dilapidated Building

St. James Marina

Time to push on to Georgetown, SC where we’ll update with a new post of what we saw along the way.