I picked a small bay on the western shore of the Pamlico Sound for my first anchorage, and it was a really good choice - nice and protected, moderately "deep" water (in the sounds 10 feet can be deep water) and tucked in away from any possible traffic. I got to the marker just at sundown, the timing could not have been better, and motored in to anchor. I may have mentioned this before, but I really dislike day markers. I know that lighting every marker would be costly, but in the dark (it was pitch black Thursday night) it is damn hard to see those things. I had to totally rely on my charts, my depth finder and my GPS, and even then I did not see the day markers until morning. One of my biggest fears is running in to a day marker in the dark, and it almost always seems like I reach anchorage right after sundown. Thursday was a short day, almost 8 hrs sailing, and 43.8 miles, of course not all of it in the desired direction, such is sailing.
Christmas day came early, up at 5am, washed up, made tea, and actually toasted some english muffins for breakfast. Felt a bit lonely as I hauled up the anchor, but the adventure beckons, so off I go. The majority of the day passed uneventfully - moderate breeze, average wind about 8 kts, speed just about 4 kts, most of it in a southerly direction, and a good bit of sunshine. Sometime around 2pm I took a good hard look at the GPS and the chart, I needed to decide where to head for the night. Swan Quarter was the original goal, and it was 14 miles away, well more like 17 with the course I was on. Ocracoke was 12.5 miles away, probably more like 15 counting on channels and cutbacks I would have to make to get there, but the wind was really pushing me in that direction. Oriental was 32 miles away, or about 8 hrs, so I pretty much eliminated that as an attainable goal. So, Swan Quarter or Ocracoke? In the end I chose Swan Quarter, the channel was easier to navigate, and it looked like the anchorage would be reasonably protected. I ended up batting .500, it turned out to be an easy sail in, but protected it was not.
As I neared the marker for the Swan Quarter channel I heard a very loud "whoosh" next to the boat. It completely took me by surprise - I was occupied reading - and I jerked around to see what had made the noise. I saw nothing, save a very distinct swirl in the water alongside the boat. Seconds later there was another "whoosh" on the other side, and as I turned, I caught a glimpse of a fin disappearing beneath the waves. Then there were more fins, all around the boat. A large pod of dolphin had decided to pay me a visit and play, there must have been 12 or 15 of them, and they swam alongside, and under, and in front for about 20 minutes. They must have circled around, or there were more than I thought, but I would hear them breach behind the boat, and then they would appear alongside, some would swim under and pop up on the side opposite the one they drove from. Quite a distraction, and very entertaining.
As I turned up the channel to head to Swan Quarter, my friends must have had enough, as I did not see them again once I made my course change. Right about then the rain started to come down, slow at first, then really coming down hard, and it continued that way until I quit for the night. The channel in was fairly wide, it is a main hub for the Ocracoke ferry, and the sail in was pretty easy. However, the anchorage was not nearly as protected as the chart showed, but it was a place to drop the hook, so I did and got the boat secured for the night. I made 42.4 miles in about 10 hours. Not too bad for a days sail, but I was ready to relax a bit and bed down. As I threw together dinner, canned ham and rice for Christmas dinner, the wind began to pick up, and the rain came, it rained buckets full, and I think at one point I heard thunder. Needless to say, I spent a very rough night on the anchor, with the wind howling straight up the channel. Bet it was alot calmer over in Silver Lake, the Ocracoke harbor. I set the anchor alarm on the GPS, that way I'd be alerted if I drifted to far from the set point, but I did not realize that the alarm was set from the point I engaged it, not the point I was anchored at. Duh. So, sometime in the night, well 0330 in the morning actually, I was jolted out of a deep sleep, and a good dream, by a shrieking alarm. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag to check the GPS, only to see that I had swung on an arc around the anchor, and I was now 180 degrees from where I had been, and, over 100 feet from where I had engaged the alarm. The good thing was, the alarm worked, and it got me up, but I could clearly see by the GPS track that I had swung a perfect arc around the anchor. It took a bit, but I finally got back to sleep, and my butt stayed in the sleeping bag until almost 7am.
This morning it was very warm, and after all that rain that brought on a very heavy fog. I fixed tea and another english muffin, and cleaned up the boat some more as I waited for the fog to burn off. I wasn't about to get the dinghy inflated, so I got out the puppy training pads and had a go at trying to get Spook to do her thing on the boat. I'm not sure if it was the puppy pad, or the fact that she had not gone in 48 hrs, but after I went back down below to square things away, she christened the foredeck. I came out and she was looking really guilty, and kept looking towards the bow of the boat. I went up and looked, and sure enough, she finally caught on to doing what I needed her to do, and where it needed to be done. I had to really reassure her that it was ok, and finally after alot of "good dog...good girl" and a bunch of scratching, I think she got the message that all was ok and she wasnt in trouble.
Just about 9 the fog lifted, and off I went again. Destination: Oriental. The western part of the Pamlico Sound has quite a few shoals, I dodged the Middle Ground shoals leaving the Swan Quarter channel, and I took a heading for the Neuse River. Just north of the mouth of the Neuse there is a very long shoal, that reaches way down and blocks the river entrance from the west and north. This is Brant Island Shoal, and it is about 8 miles long. However, in the center it is a bit broken up, and there is a mile or so stretch that has a depth of 7 or 8 feet. If I could make this gap it would save me about 12 miles of sailing down and around. So taking really careful bearings, and watching my latitude and longitude really closely, I made for the gap. As I approached I must have second guessed myself a dozen times, but, there are a ton of places I have sailed in the past b2 weeks that are less than 8 feet all the time. So saying a quick prayer, and holding my breath as I crossed, I made my way over the bar. I watched the depth gauge like a hawk, ready to wheel her over and head out if it got too shallow, but I went from 15, to12, 10, to 8, to 9, 10...and I was across! I had made a huge gamble based on the charts, and it paid off. After making the gap I sailed on about another mile or so before changing course and heading for the river. I crossed paths with another sailboat at this point, and raised them on the radio. It was the Eastern Pearl out of Newport, NC, and we chatted for sometime, and they commented on the fact that I was under sail. I bit my tongue, as I have done my share of motorsailing, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have purely motored and not augmented wind power. They had gone over to Ocracoke for the holiday, to see how the islanders did Christmas, and confirmed that Silver Lake was a great anchorage through the storm. Maybe next time I won't second guess my sentimental nature and will go for an anchorage that has personal appeal as well as being practical.
The rest of the sail was uneventful, just sailing up the Neuse, until I got to Oriental. The channel there is very narrow, but also well marked (it is the sailing capital of NC, as all the street signs proclaim) and I made my way into the harbor- in the dark, again - and tied up at a very accessible dock. As soon as I tied up I was greeted by a liveaboard, and after a bit of conversation, she pointed out where the public dock was, and suggested I walk up there to scope it out. I took Spook, and we walked a few blocks and around the corner, and there was the public dock, nestled right in among the local shrimping fleet. Spook did her thing, and back we went to the boat. It was alot closer via water than by land (that has to be a first) and we were tied up to the dock in no time. Out for another walk, and the nearest pay phone, where I called Mom and had her relay to all. 48.4 miles for the day, in just over 10 hours. I think that puts the three day total at roughly 135 miles, not to bad for going from sun up to just after sundown.
I am going to spend a day here in Oriental, and then head for Beaufort/Morehead City, where I hope to be able to get a new phone. That puts me leaving Oriental Monday morning, and hopefully Beaufort that evening, or Tuesday on the outside.