Home->Sailing Trips->Dances with Julia - Lucky Penny Tours the Pamlico
Lucky Penny at Anchor in Eastman Creek, South River.

Dances with Julia - Lucky Penny Tours the Pamlico

Text and Photographs by David Swanson

Like most sailors who work for a living, the high point of my yearly sailing is a week-long vacation, usually in September when the weather starts to cool. This year (2016) I had to postpone my holiday by a week due to work issues. Throw in a near miss by the dissipating Tropical Storm Julia, and you can imagine how anxious I was to cast off and start sailing.

Day 1 - September 17, 2016. My plan was to leave Oriental mid-morning and make a short sail northeast to an anchorage on Bay River. The outer bands of T.S. Julia were forecast to bring rain the next few days, but today was supposed to be fair. Unfortunately, I got a later start than I had planned, as the crew of 8 Ball came barreling into the marina with the roller-furling jib jammed, and they needed help docking and getting the jib down. Then my wife called and told me to fill up the gas tank in the car, as there was a broken pipeline and gas would be scarce. A gas shortage seemed pretty far fetched, but I know better than to ignore a warning from a Higher Power, so I dutifully filled up.

I finally left the dock about 11:30. By then, the wind was ENE at 20 – 25 knots, waves 3 to 4 feet. The forecast lightening and clocking to E then SE did not happen. Even with a reef in the mainsail and working jib, I was overpowered and not making much progress tacking into the steep chop. This was the first time I had sailed Lucky Penny, our O'Day 23, in any kind of rough weather, and it was very different than the Alberg 30 that was our previous boat.

'Gator in Eastman Creek.

Eventually I conceded defeat, and bore off toward South River. Since it was early, I did some exploring, and finally headed up Eastman Creek on the northern shore. Once past the large house at the mouth of the creek, I had excellent protection from the wind and more than 5 feet of water for quite a ways. The only sign of civilization was a bright colored skiff with two guys fishing, which left shortly after my arrival – about the time the first rain showers hit. Between the rain showers, I rowed the dinghy on up the creek a couple miles until there was not enough room for the oars. On the way back to Lucky Penny, I spied an odd looking log that began following me. Yep, an alligator about 3 feet long. It hung out long enough to see that I was not going to fall into the creek while trying to get back on board the boat, then cruised leisurely away.

For supper, I decided to try out my little charcoal grill in the cockpit. The burgers came out great, but I managed to dump ashes all over the cockpit. By the time that was cleaned up, the mosquitoes were out in full force so I made an early night of it.

Weather forecast: Remnants of T. S. Julia breaking up. Rain tonight and early tomorrow, then clearing. South wind 10 – 15.

Day 2 - September 18, 2016. I woke up to rain, but it ended early. Took my time with morning coffee while enjoying a rainbow, and weighed anchor at 8:00 am. The wind was very light but enough to move the boat through the water. The sail across the Neuse River to the Bay River was slow, punctuated by short rain showers and multiple rainbows. There was thunder in the distance, but it never got close. Heading into Gale Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) I was surprised to see houses being built on the east side of the channel. There's no road access there, and I don't think any water or power either.

Rainbow Over the Neuse.

The wind filled in from the ESE, and I was able to sail up the waterway, past Hobuken. A pod of dolphins was headed out Jones Bay, a much more common and comforting sight than the alligator yesterday. I continued sailing to Eastham Creek, then headed east past the fish house at Mill Seat Landing until the creek made a bend and narrowed. I managed to cook without trashing the boat today and spent some time fishing (Score: Crab 1, David 0). Showered and hit the sack soon after dark.

Weather forecast: Rain tonight and tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. Wind SE 5 knots.

Day 3 September 19, 2016. No rain this morning and more wind that predicted – 15 to 20 knots. I decided that my earlier plans of exploring Deep Bay and Juniper Bay then heading to Ocracoke were not a good idea given the unsettled weather forecast. I headed back to the ICW & sailed north out into the Pamlico River. With a 15 to occasionally 20 know wind, the O'day figuratively flew along. Periods of sunlight alternated with rain showers, with the wind slacking off during the rain then picking back up again. The showers became more frequent, so I turned into Bath Creek and tied up to the free state dock, which was unoccupied. There was time for a pleasant walk around the Bonner Point and some of the historic areas, and to restock on ice and drinks. About 5:30 pm the heavens opened up and the rain poured down, with frequent lightening and thunder. Neither of Bath's restaurants were open, so I holed up inside the boat and ate a cold supper. The rain continued pretty much all night, totaling over 3”.

Weather forecast: Rain tonight and tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. Wind SW around 10 knots.

Swamped Dinghy.

Day 4 - September 20, 2016. A slow start today. I bailed out the dinghy, which was nearly swamped, and hung some wet stuff out to dry. It was a longish but pleasant walk out to the Country Kitchen restaurant for a good country breakfast. Cash or check only, no credit cards please. On the way back to the boat I swung through the little museum and bought a book about the English explorer John Lawson, who had such a major influence on the colonization of what became North Carolina. I also checked both of the gas stations in Bath and discovered that neither one had any gas for sale. She Who Must Be Obeyed had been right in her warning. I had more than 2 gallons left in the tank so no worries.

I pulled away from the dock about 10:30 am and headed back down Bath Creek toward the Pamlico River. As soon as I hit the river, the rain hit me and did not stop until I tied up in Washington about 2:15 pm. I sailed some but the limited visibility in the rain storms made me nervous. I dropped the sails well before I got to the railroad bridge that marks the beginning of the Washington waterfront. Of course, as soon as I tied up the rain stopped and the sun came out.

After I signed in with the dock master and took a quick shower, I headed out to get gasoline. All of the stations near the dock were out. I consulted with the dock master, who started working the phone for me. Eventually we piled into his van and headed out to a station near Highway 17, where I filled up the tank.

This is probably a good place to mention that the dock masters at Washington were among the friendliest and most helpful I have ever met. There were two that were working while I was there and they not only made sure I got tied up safely and efficiently, they helped me get gasoline, and patiently answered my questions about the town. A third worker stopped by to say that she was the one I had talked to on the phone, and recognized the boat name. Just amazing folks.

Little Washington Coffee Shop.

Weather forecast: Heavy rain tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. Wind SW around 10 knots, higher in gusts.

Day 5 - September 21, 2016. A lay day, due to the weather forecast, which turned out to be remarkably accurate. Breakfast was at the Coffee Caboose at the east end of the waterfront. Good coffee, great muffins. Next I strolled over to the Estuarium, where I spent two hours learning about estuaries, and the people and wildlife that populate them. I was one of four adults there, along with several classes of elementary school students, but the children's excitement just added to my enjoyment. Again the staff folks went out of their way to make sure that we all had a great time.

By midday the rain started in earnest, and it didn't let up. The streets flooded to the point that the police cordoned them off. I ate lunch and dinner ashore, a rare luxury, and visited several antique shops, bookstores, etc. By afternoon the rain was really beginning to drag me down, but then I got over myself and enjoyed the evening walking around town.

Weather forecast: Rain tonight and tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. (Starting to detect a theme here.....) Wind SE around 10 knots.

Day 6 - September 22, 2016. My departure from Washington was delayed when the train bridge closed for the morning freight and then could not open again. I went ahead and got breakfast from Rachel K's Bakery, a special place that not only serves great food but serves the community by respectfully providing meals to those in need.

The bridge finally opened at 10:30 and I motored through along with the rest of the freed boats. Just as I got through the bridge, the motor on Lucky Penny sputtered and died. I pumped the primer bulb a couple times and started it back up. Fifteen minutes later, it stopped again. This time, when I pumped the primer bulb, I noticed a little fuel leak out around the fitting where the hose connected to the engine. Another fifteen minutes, another stop. This kept up with the stops becoming more and more frequent, until the engine would not run at all and the leak at the fitting was very noticeable. With almost no wind, and the little there was was right on my nose, I tacked down the Pamlico River to Broad Creek. The kind folks at McCotters Marina came out, and after moving my dinghy to the side of the boat, towed me to their dock. An hour later and $45 poorer, I had a new fuel hose fitting and a cleaned out carburetor. I call that a bargain.

I motored away from McCotters, out into Broad Creek. All at once, the boat just stopped. What the heck? The chart and the depth sounder both show 8 feet of water. And hey! isn't that my dinghy oar and float cushion in the water? Where's the dinghy? Well, turns out the dinghy was under the boat. Apparently as I pulled away from the dock, the dinghy got caught under the bow, flipped, and swamped. Once I figured out what was going on, I backed slowly off and the dinghy rose slowly to the surface like a giant dead fish, belly up. I pulled it up over the stern and dumped out most of the water, then collected the oars, bailer, and cushion.

Bottled Up in Little Washington Harbor.

By now big thunderstorms were rolling down the Pamlico, and I motored full speed back into Bath Creek and the state dock, tying up at 6:30 pm. I pulled the dinghy up onto the dock and stood it up so the water that was trapped between the inner hull and the outer hull could drain out. Another dinner ashore, this one at Blackbeard's in Bath. And more rain.

Weather forecast: Rain and thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. Winds light and variable.

Day 7 - September 23, 2016. I awoke to no wind, so I went back to the Country Kitchen for breakfast and coffee. There was a different waitress than last time, but the same customers. Still no gasoline available in town. I left the dock at 9:00 am and sailed/drifted out Bath Creek and down the Pamlico. I started the motor briefly to cross the track of the ferry near Aurora, then back to ghosting along. After noon a light wind finally came in from the ENE, and I sailed down the ICW to Campbell Creek. This used to be considered one of the prettiest anchorages in the area, but now houses and docks line the southern bank. Almost every house had a dock with a cruising size sailboat or trawler. Probably an interesting neighborhood. Only a trace of rain early in the day today.

Weather forecast: Scattered showers tonight and tomorrow from the remnants of T. S. Julia, then clearing. Winds light and variable, then NE 5 – 10.

Dolphin Escort.

Day 8 - September 24, 2016. Motored out of Campbell Creek, then down the glassy waters of the ICW. Called R.E. Mayo at Hobuken; they still did not have any gas so what I have in the tank has to last until I get to Oriental. If the wind comes in, that won't be a problem. Once I got to the wider waters of Gale Creek I could feel the first wisps of the wind. I motor-sailed to the Bay River due to the heavy weekend boat traffic, then shut down the motor and began the slow sail toward the Neuse River. Noon found me entering the Neuse on a rising wind. Which promptly died to next to nothing. The boat was barely making steerage way. Suddenly there was a whistling sound, and a dolphin broached off the port side. Then another, and another and another. Eventually there were too many to count (realistically, probably 15 to 20) dolphins swimming and jumping around for 30 minutes or more. They did not appear to be feeding, just enjoying the day. Eventually they wandered off, leaving me drifting toward Oriental.

Dusk found me off Pierce Creek, still moving slowly. Finally, in full darkness, I reached the entrance channel to Oriental. I dropped the sails and used the last of my gas to motor to the slip in Pecan Grove Marina. I straightened up the boat then collapsed into bed.


Day 9 - September 25, 2016 After a shower and a final restaurant meal (bagel & coffee at The Bean), I unloaded the boat (all that food that I never cooked or ate, and all those wet dirty clothes), cleaned up the boat, and went to leave for home.

The car would not start.

I had borrowed my daughter's old Jeep Cherokee as I did not want to leave my car sitting in a dirt parking lot for a week, and apparently the battery had reached the end of its natural life. I hauled the battery out of the boat and jump started the Jeep, then drove into New Bern and bought a new battery. Two weeks later, I replaced her alternator. The joys of parenthood.

I did not get to Ocracoke this vacation, nor did I get to explore Rose Bay, Deep Bap, or Juniper Bay. I did visit Washington by water, which I had never done. I also went to the Estuarium for the first time, and I ate well. Overall, it was not a bad vacation.

Text and Photographs by David Swanson
Sailing Vessel Lucky Penny

More pictures from David's trip here.