It had been a long winter for both of us and Dan and I had been talking about 2016 Spring Break for some time. We would meet at Matthews Point on or about Sunday the 6th, and then depending on the weather try to get out for a few days. We both arrived on Sunday, and the extended forecast called for winds out of the Southwest on Tuesday through Friday with temperatures climbing into the upper 70’s. I have spent time in the Beaufort/Morehead area, and been out to Lookout, but had never had the chance to slip in behind Shackleford Banks. I had heard numerous reports of how beautiful it was and the forecast seemed perfect for just such a trip. The decision to take the Marian Claire happened almost naturally. My boat (the Annie Belle) is a 34 foot motor cruiser, and while a fine ride, she was still in winter hibernation with all her systems winterized. Just to wake her up would take a couple of days. Besides, I had gotten into boating by spending time on sailboats in the Pamlico and enjoy the quiet simplicity of sailing as much as anyone. The Marian Claire reflects the character of her Captain: No frills, solid as a rock, and absolutely seaworthy. She could be ready to get underway in less than a day. I have crewed for Dan on several trips and we have settled into a simple arrangement. Unless I want to eat Spam for the week, he provides the boat and I provide the provisions. The deal was set, and we would get underway Tuesday morning.
Tuesday dawned sunny and clear. As forecasted, winds were 10 to 15 out of the Southwest. We timed our departure to catch the falling tide and ride the current south through Adams Creek arriving Beaufort Inlet at slack tide around 1500. With the exception of the narrowest sections of the “ditch”, we were able to sail the majority of the trip. Beaufort Inlet to the back side of Shackleford is notorious for its shoals and charts can be unreliable at best. However, keeping an eye on the water, your depth sounders and the channel markers, the cautious captain can enter this area without incident. We left Beaufort Inlet just south of number 18 and crossed the hump at the edge of the inlet. We slipped behind Shackleford seeing no less than eight feet at low water. From there we passed north of number 2 and dropped anchor a few hundred yards east of the jetty and settled in for the night. A meal of bambi burgers on the grill, coupled with a cold one made for the end to a perfect day.
Wednesday morning we decided to move further down the banks and hauled anchor shortly after sunrise. Published charts seemed to indicate we should be able to leave our anchorage and head northeast, passing north of green number 1, travel east north of the plotted shoal, then turn southeast toward green number 3. Our observations of the water at low tide did not seem to support this path. Since Dan had experience following a more northerly route into this area, we headed northwest back toward the inlet, then turned back east to skirt the shoal north of red number 2. We then turned south just west of the NR marker, turned southeast to pass south of green number 1 and headed straight for green number 3. We saw no shallow water along the route and passed number 3 without incident, dropping the hook about 150 yards off shore of the banks just west of the channel heading north towards Harker’s Island. This would be our home for the next couple of days.
We had both brought kayaks and decided to explore the island. For those that don’t want to hassle with a dingy, kayaks are a great way to enjoy the quiet of being on the water and simplifies getting close to wildlife. They are also easy to single hand on and off the deck. From a previous trip, Dan remembered a path nearby that would provide easy access to the beach on the Atlantic side of the island. We easily found the path and walked through live oaks and a spectacular low lying meadow to the beach. Shackleford is famous for its resident population of wild ponies and their “sign” was everywhere. Upon returning to the boat the ponies made their appearance, walking along the beach before turning back into the trees. The next morning we observed a larger procession entering the trees at the same location. We decided to investigate and found what appeared to be one of their watering holes. I have often wondered how the horses found water on these barrier islands. The watering hole was not large, neither was it what I would consider palatable. Obviously the horses have found a way to make do and have thrived. It was a joy to watch them. The weather report was calling for a change in the weather Friday afternoon, with the wind going north. We decided on an early departure Friday morning to catch the rising tide and ride the current back north through Adams Creek.
Friday morning greeted us with a spectacular sunrise and we got underway at first light. As we approached the hump at the west end of Shackleford leading back into Beaufort inlet we observed the waters in the channel north of the shoal to be “rowdy”. The wind had blown strong from the south west all night and in combination with the incoming current had created a mess. There was plenty of water in the channel, but with shoals on either side of us, maneuverability was limited. We could see calm water in the inlet just passed the hump and there was nothing to do but gut it out. The waves were on our beam which made for an uncomfortable ride. A few of the waves were sufficiently high to toss us and the contents of the cabin around, but the Marian Claire Marian Claire bore it like a champ and we eventually moved into the calm waters of the inlet. From there it was smooth sailing and we rode the current, motor sailing up through Adams Creek, into the Neuse and back to Clubfoot Creek and Matthews Point.
The area behind Shackleford Banks is truly gorgeous. My understanding is that it can get crowded with day boaters during the weekends, but that most of the party crowd departs around sunset. We were there during the week and saw fewer than a half dozen boats the whole trip. Exercising a bit of caution in the shoal waters, this is an area worth visiting.