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A Hard Place to Get Into on a South Wind

Valor on the new Town Dock, Oriental 4/21/14, photo by Paul Clayton.

The wind was blasting out of the north Friday afternoon when I arrived at Matthews Point, and rain showers fell from gray skies. The dinghy dock was submerged and water was creeping up into the lawn around the clubhouse. National Weather Service saw nothing but more of the same until early next week.

It turned out to be a good forecast, and I enjoyed a couple of relaxing days on Valor out at the dock and in the clubhouse. Maryl and Mike invited me for dinner Saturday evening on Annie Belle and I enjoyed Maryl's wonderful risotto, along with chicken cooked on the grill and a delicious salad.

My old friend David, he of Spotted Dog who used to sail with me regularly before he moved up the river to Blackbeard, emailed me with plans to anchor in West Bay Tuesday afternoon with his friend Archer aboard Archer's boat, Ceil Bleu, and I replied that I would meet them there. That's a long sail for Valor, so I decided to make Oriental on Monday, hopefully get on one of the town docks for the night, and then continue on to West Bay Tuesday morning. It was still blowing fairly hard Monday so I hanked on the jib rather than my favored big genoa. With the wind coming dead out of the northeast it was a four and a half hour slog to Oriental. I got on the new town dock beneath the towering shrimper Lady Deborah. This new dock is long enough to handle two boats on each side, so chances of getting space will be much better than before. Sitting on the porch of the Toucan Grill, I could look out over Valor and the commercial docks while enjoying a hamburger, fries and a beer.

After dinner I walked around Oriental. Passing M&Ms I heard a hail and found Dockmaster Tom and Karen on the porch. I had a beer with them while they ate dinner, and then they walked with me to see the new dock. After they left, I went back in the Toucan and had another beer with the local barflies. On leaving, I had a pleasant chat with Tom - this is another Tom, the owner of the Oriental Inn and Marina complex. He was waiting for a trawler to limp in from Brant Island Shoals where it had lost an engine. Afterward I read for a while on Valor, Jim Moore's classic, Swan: The Second Voyage.

Over coffee and Danish at The Bean Tuesday morning I picked up an email from David that they had spent the night at anchor off Whittaker Creek and were proceeding to West Bay. I followed soon after, setting the sails in the harbor. With a forecast of strengthening winds I stuck with the jib, but it was trying to watch the sub 2 knot speeds on the little hand-held gps. With each hour, though, the winds increased and by the time I passed Neuse River Marker at shortly after noon, I was seeing consistent speeds of over 3 knots! I was starting to consider motor-sailing as an alternative to being benighted on the sound, when the wind came up with a rush, and soon we were galloping along, rail down, at hull speed.

By 3:30 we were approaching the broad mouth of West Bay and I made what turned out to be a mistake - I decided to motor into the bay, and dropped the jib. I left the main set to hold the bow into the wind, as it was blowing straight out of the south. However, even wide open the little Yamaha could make no headway against the wind and crashing waves, and I had to tack in, getting a boost from the main. With the engine running, the boat would point due into the wind and the tiller would be unresponsive, so to get the boat to go onto a tack I had to idle the engine and wait for the bow to fall off to one side or the other. When it did, it would go with a bang and the boat would end up pinned down to lee. Then I would gun the engine and we would start getting some forward speed as the boat came upright. Sometimes I could build up moderate speed, but then a sequence of big rollers would surge through, slowing the boat almost to a stop. Heavy tiller would usually keep the boat on its tack, and slowly speed would build back up, but sometimes the bow would come into the wind and I'd have to go through the whole drill again. If I had left the jib up it would have held the bow off the wind and made the boat much more controllable. My usual genoa would have been unpleasant to tack in this wind, but since we were flying the jib, which tacks easily, it's clear in hindsight that I would have been better off leaving the jib up. Oh well, experience is best that comes hard...

A couple of times I almost put about and ran out of the bay to make for Lower Broad or even Bay River. But eventually I got far enough in that I found slightly smoother water. I idled the motor and came into the wind to get the noise down and tried hailing Ciel Bleu. Getting no reply, I started considering where I wanted to anchor. However, between markers 6 and 7, I caught sight of an anchored boat far off to the west, close to the bombing range restricted zone, and made off toward it. Yes, it was the Ciel Bleu, with David and Captain Archer aboard. I dropped anchor nearby after three hours battling into the bay, ten hours and thirty minutes out of Oriental, and Archer came over in his hardbottom inflatable to ferry me to Ciel Bleu for dinner.

Aboard Ciel Bleu, West Bay, April 22nd, 2014. Valor rides at anchor in the background. Photo by Paul Clayton.

I'm not sure exactly what transpired next but soon I found myself in front of the stove in the cabin of the sumptuously appointed Beneteau 411 while a beaming Archer and David waited for me to produce dinner. Since I love to cook, that was fine with me, and in an hour I produced a repast of pork chops, carrots and potatoes nicely fried and braised in what appeared to be Archer's only cooking utensil, a large frying pan. Evidently, my efforts were appreciated, as will be made clear later. In the meantime, what can I say, the hospitality that Archer and David showed me aboard Ciel Bleu more than equaled my small efforts at cooking. Good music, strong drink and Belgian chocolate - though their hospitality didn't extend to sharing the dancing girls they had hidden in the v-berth.

Later Archer ferried me back to Valor. I hung a lantern in the aft rigging and slept soundly through the night, awakening just once to dispatch a couple of pesky early-season mosquitoes. Morning dawned with a big red ball of sun climbing above the horizon far across the bay.

The wind had clocked around to the northwest and the weather radio announced a small-craft advisory for the sound until 2:00 pm. I set sail at 7:15 assuming I would have to stay on the port tack to close to Brant Island Shoal and then tack back for Neuse River. As it turned out, there was little wind on the sound and after a couple of hours there was none. I motor-sailed across the sound with Ciel Bleu rapidly overtaking me. At Neuse River marker she came alongside and Archer invited me to anchor with them and join them for dinner - which I would cook - in Lower Broad Creek. That sounded like a plan, so I agreed to meet them and they motor sailed off into the distance. I followed and caught up in Lower Broad, dropping the hook at 2:30 pm.

Both boats had well-stocked larders that needed to be consumed, since Valor would head for Matthews Point in the morning, and Ciel Bleu to Blackbeard. Knowing the limited assortment of pots in the galley of Ciel Bleu, I brought one from Valor. The menu included pork chops, bratwurst, steak, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, carrots, and pasta with butter and cheese. I must say, I outdid myself as a sea cook that evening.

Ciel Bleu under a Blue Sky, Lower Broad Creek, April 23rd, 2014. Photo by Paul Clayton.

After dinner, David, a prodigious bottle-man, proceeded to drink me under the table. I remember little of the later evening, other than slipping on the fantail while getting into the dinghy to ride back to Valor (I had a tight grip on a handrail, otherwise I would have gotten wet). I am sure Archer, who is a light drinker if not teetotal, tired of the evening long before David or I, but he was too good a host to physically remove either of us from his boat.

The morning arrived early, but I got off the hook at 7:00 am, anticipating declining winds later in the day. Out on the river, I breakfasted on a care package of leftovers that Archer had sent home with me as I sailed wing-and-wing at good speed toward Garbacon Shoal. Past Adams Creek, the wind did drop off, but I was able to carry sail all the way to Marker 1 in the mouth of Clubfoot Creek before starting the trusty little Yamaha. Inside the creek, the water was flat calm, allowing me to get the mainsail covered and the lines straightened out as we slowly motored in with a tied tiller.

After four days of sailing I was content to be back on the dock at Matthews Point. Back in my hiking days, four days was generally long enough, and the same is true on board Valor. West Bay made a perfect destination, and I owe my old sailing partner David for asking me along, and my friend Archer for offering the hospitality of his beautiful boat.