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March Winds

Valor on the Town Dock, Oriental 3/23/14, photo by Paul Clayton.

Threatening weather was in the forecast, but Saturday couldn't have been nicer. I arrived Matthews Point late afternoon to find blues skies, light breezes and 70 degree temperatures. My hopes had been to spend most of the week asail, visiting points on the lower river and Pamlico Sound, but with NOAA's prediction of a mid-week arrival of yet another arctic high and attendant Gulf low, it didn't look prudent. The cold I could deal with, the 30 to 40 knot winds promised to bottle me up in whatever safe haven I could find - and if I was going to be confined to port, I'd rather be at my home port, Matthews Point.

Still, we had a couple of days before the show started - enough time to make a flying trip to Oriental. At this time of year I could figure on getting onto the town dock for the night, so I made plans to cast off Sunday morning. The dawn looked not too promising, with gray skies and light northerly winds, but the weather prediction was for the rain to hold off until afternoon. I rigged the genoa and laid out my foul weather gear, and prepared to cast off. Then the wind began to get up and dark clouds appeared to the north. Soon Clubfoot Creek was achurn as water rushed in from the river. It never rained, but it made me think twice about the genoa, so I handed it for the regular jib.

I finally dropped lines at 10:30, set sail in the creek and motor sailed out into the river. I cut the motor at marker six and started a long board that took me to the far side of the river. There I briefly sailed in company with a 30-some foot boat, perhaps a Hunter, which sailed down from somewhere upriver. With his extra length, he soon left me behind, but I followed behind him for most of the day - one long tack after another, as the wind was coming dead out of the northeast. Eventually he disappeared into the Oriental Harbor. Meanwhile, another boat appeared headed upriver, running wing and wing, and flying an enormous American flag on a 10 foot jackstaff. I hadn't expected to see another sailor on the river, much less two.

On the Neuse, photo by Paul Clayton.

Now and then a gust would come up that made me glad I was not flying the genoa, but much of the time I was sorry not to have the extra force to power through the short, steep chop that had built up behind the northeast wind. With water pouring up the river, Valor was getting badly set - her filthy bottom, long past due for cleaning and paint, probably contributed to the situation. In the end, it took me five and a half hours to reach the Oriental Town Dock.

The sailor aboard D.M. Dolphin 1, on the east side of the dock, took a line and helped me secure Valor, and we had a chat. He and his son were northbound for their home port of Montreal, by way of the Erie Canal. They were French-speakers and it was a wonder to me that I could understand their heavily-accented English or they my Southern, but we made out pretty well. Later I repaired to M&Ms for dinner - the Chicken Quesadilla was edible, but wouldn't pass muster in Winston-Salem. The Yuengling draft was fantastic. Back on Valor, I read a chapter of Bill Tilman's classic "Mischief in Patagonia before turning in under all blankets available.

Tahiti ketch Evelyn, photo by Paul Clayton.

After a cold night, I breakfasted on coffee and danish at The Bean. An interesting looking boat was tied up on the new dock between Toucan's and the shrimp boat dock, and I walked over to take a look. I found Evelyn, hailing out of Northeast Harbor, Maine. An immaculate wooden Tahiti Ketch, this boat is bound for adventure, with its crew of two young people. See here and here.

This new dock is, I believe, the much awaited and debated additional public dockage for the town of Oriental. So far I have not found anyone who can confirm this, but the location is right and there was no signage that suggested anything different. I know there are pros and cons to adding this dock, but from my perspective it's all good. I will be much more likely to sail to Oriental for lunch or an overnight stay now that my chances of getting dockage have greatly increased.

The morning sun quickly took the chill off, and I got ready to head back to Matthews Point. With the wind out of the northeast, I dropped the bow line, gave the bow a good push off the dock, and waited as it slowly came around and pointed out of the inner harbor. I cast off the stern line and motored out to the outer harbor, where I set the sails. From here I had a fair wind for Matthews Point. I tried setting up wing-and-wing, but the jib pumped too much to be of much use. It is prone to do so when the water is churned up and confused. I'm convinced that the genoa is a better sail for wing-and-wing than the small jib, but even the genoa probably wouldn't have stayed full with the fluky wind and confused waves we had this morning. Instead I set up a long board on a starboard reach to near Janeiro, then made a couple of short reaches to the mouth of Clubfoot Creek. Each jibe was a chore, as the main would swing across and the back-winded jib would pin the boat down until I could get it set properly. Alternatively I could sheet the jib across and the main would come across and bury the rail before I could get back to the tiller. If I had three hands on the end of five foot long arms it would be a lot easier.

Once in the creek, I dropped sail and motored to the dock, tying up at 11:45 AM. A good trip.