By Paul Clayton
Got down to Matthews Point Saturday evening, had dinner with Dale, Cori, John, Kathy and others. Sunday morning off dock at 8:00am, wind out of northeast. Motored out to marker 8, smelled something burning, thought it was forest fires up near New Bern but then decided it was engine. Hoped I could get out to 6 where I could set sail, heave to and shut down engine, but no luck, with a pop and puff of smoke the engine shut down and I was blown back in creek. Dropped anchor, pulled cover off engine and noticed a small yellow item drop out and float away. Turns out it was the oil filler plug. Dipstick showed oil so likely cause of failure was overheating. Fortunately I had a spare engine in the locker, a little 2 horse Yamaha that we have been using on David's dinghy. I wrestled the 82 pound Nissan out of the bay - you sort of have to corkscrew it out to get the mounting bracket to clear and the propeller out of the hole. After waiting a few minutes for my heart to stop palpitating, I dropped the Yamaha in, proceeded out the creek and set sail. Figured I could at least day sail. Nice 5 to 10 breeze so I tacked up toward Oriental. Other than being dead on the nose, it was a pretty good breeze, strengthening as the day went on, so I decided I might as well go on to South River. After a good 20 tacks, I got an angle to South River and sailed in, dropping the hook in front of Lukens Cemetery. Three other boats were already anchored in the river, but there was plenty of room.
Monday morning sailed off hook and tacked out mouth of river. Had to run engine a short distance between markers 5 and 4, then got an angle and increasing wind and sailed out into river. Close hauled I could just make Gum Thicket shoal so one board got me across the river. From there I made for Neuse River Marker, then set course due east as wind had shifted around to SE. About four miles out I came around to port tack and sailed south, soon picking up the sand dunes of Cedar Island and the wide mouth of West Bay. There is a marked channel but it is not necessary to honor the first marker, "2WB". There is charted deep water right across the mouth of the bay so you can shoot for near marker 5. The bay is far bigger than I had expected and I had to sail south and southwest over an hour before reaching water shallow enough for anchoring. I dropped the hook in 10 foot water just west of marker "7WB" at the conjunction of Long Bay and West Thorofare Bay. Even far off shore the mosquitoes were thick enough so I had to button up the boat at dusk. I had dinner, read some of Neal Stephenson's "Mother Earth, Motherboard" on my ebook reader and made it an early night.
Some time later, I abruptly awoke to a sound like chain scrapping across the bottom of the boat. I jumped up and went on deck, but could find nothing amiss. I had fifty feet of line out past thirty feet of chain, so my chain was all lying on the bottom, and I never could figure out what I had scraped - perhaps a drifting crab trap? Light airs from SE, changing over to NW during night.
In the morning, dense smoke from forest fires to the west lay over the bay like thick fog. I got a slant and slowly beat out of bay on light airs. Sailed a short way toward Cedar Island and watched the morning ferries go out as wind dropped. By 10:00 becalmed and at 11:00 dropped anchor. Read and napped until 3:00 in afternoon when SE wind came up, ran wing and wing to point east of NR marker, then on a broad reach to the marker and onward toward lower Broad Creek. The far shore was hazed with smoke and I made the mistake of getting into the bight north of Piney Point and had to beat back out and around the shoal. Sailed in the creek and all the way up it, finally dropping genoa at junction with Brown's Creek. I continued in toward Ensign Marina, dropping main just in front of the dock. I killed the motor and glid into a vacant slip. I grabbed a line on a piling and surged it through my hands, but it had been hanging in water and I sliced a finger on a barnacle, dropped line and bumped the dock with the anchor - no worse than I have done a hundred times before. The bleeding stopped in a few minutes and I got boat straightened up, showered and made dinner.
Wednesday morning I paid the dockmaster - $20, best overnight rate on the river - and cast off about 8:30. I got the main up in Brown's Creek and the genoa as I turned into Lower Broad, and sailed all the way out the creek, using the motor just for a few minutes getting off dock. Winds from WSW so I had to beat up the river, taking several long tacks to Oriental. Then as wind backed, got a good long board along north shore of river before running out of wind about 3:00. Alternated motoring and sailing as wind blew and dropped, then about 5:00 wind came up strong out of SW and I beat in mouth of creek, motoring from 5-6 in. Made a perfect landing and tied up about 6:30.
So I finally made it to West Bay, after setting my sights on it a year ago. The winds proved auspicious and I didn't miss my blown engine. The heat was scorching but with a fair breeze bearable. For the most part the winds were on the light side, but even so I kept the deck wet for much of the trip. It had blown out of the north for several days beforehand, and the river was choppy and confused. With a clean bottom and the genoa set, the boat made use of every knot of wind. West Bay proved to be worth the effort, and I hope to get back. Talking to Galen about it later, he said "That's down in the green water," which sums up West Bay's appeal - the salt water, the sand dunes, the sea breeze, the wide open horizon.