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October Trip to Ocracoke

I drove to Matthews Point on a Saturday in mid-October, 2010, looking forward to some of the fine sailing the Neuse can offer in the fall. Early Sunday morning I cast off lines and motor sailed down the river in light airs. I had talked and emailed with Dan, and knew he was down at Broad Creek Saturday night and probably headed upstream to either South River or Cedar Creek. I tried hailing him on channel 16 at noon and got no response, but soon afterward I spotted Marian Claire slanting across the river toward me. We had a quick conference and decided to head in South River, conveniently nearby. I had tried to enter South River a few months ago and coudn't find the channel, so I followed Dan in. Following Marian Claire it was a snap. By 2:00 Marian Claire was on the hook, Valor was rafted up alongside and we were drinking beer and making plans for the week. Dockmaster Paul and I had chatted about the weather forecast on Saturday and both concluded it would be a great forecast for Ocracoke. I broached that suggestion to Dan, and he enthusiastically agreed. Later in the day I put my boat on anchor and Dan paddled over in his Otter for dinner, Italian sausage, green peppers and macaroni and cheese.

I was in the rack early and woke about 3:30, adrenaline flowing at the prospect of my first trip across the sound in Valor. I spent the rest of the night stowing items, looking over the charts, listening to the forecast and getting the boat ready for a passage, reading and napping once the chores were complete. I hauled anchor at 6:30 Monday morning and eased out the mouth of South River under sail with the motor engaged but not much off idle. Looking back I saw Dan lift anchor and follow me, also under sail. At marker 2 I killed the engine as a light breeze picked up, and soon I was proceeding wing and wing down the river with Dan slowly overtaking me. As we approached "NR" marker, around 10:00 AM, I circled around and fell in behind Dan to follow him out into the sound and onward to Brant Island Shoals. The wind died down and we motorsailed. By the time we reached Brant Island Shoals at noon we were motoring in a dead calm. The night before I had decided that if by mid-day I wasn't positive I could reach Ocracoke by dark I would turn back. I felt confident I could run up the Neuse River in the dark, but navigating Bigfoot Slough would be a different story. Having burned a portion of my 6 gallon fuel supply the previous day, I wasn't sure I could motor all the way to Ocracoke if the wind didn't pick up. Dan had graciously offered to lend me some gas as he had 15 gallons in reserve, so now he pulled ahead of me and lowered a five gallon can into the water, which I picked up with a boathook as I idled forward. With plenty of fuel, I motored off behind Dan toward Royal Shoal.

We arrived at Royal Shoals marker in company with another sailboat and the Cedar Island Ferry. The wind picked up nicely and we were able to cut the engines and sail onward toward Bigfoot Slough. My boat moved along at 4.5 knots, while Marian Claire put on an exceptional performance, exceeding 5 knots and leaving me behind. I arrived at the top of Bigfoot Slough 15 minutes behind Dan, about 4:00, near the end of the outgoing tide with the wind blowing almost straight up the slough. We powered down the slough, passing an outbound ferry at the midpoint and another just at the turn-in to the Ocracoke channel. I found the channel to be plenty deep and wide, and of course very well marked. That is fortunate, because the surrounding shoals, wind, tides, currents, ocean swells, etc. make for a challenging environment. On anchor in Silver Lake at 5:00 PM.

Dan paddled over Tuesday morning for breakfast, a pleasant start for a relaxing day. We each did some boat maintenance and I motored over to the Anchorage fuel dock and topped off all tanks. The dockmaster let me tie off to one of his docks for a few minutes while I walked to the grocery store for beer. Back on the hook, I spent the afternoon reading, cleaning and preparing the boat for the trip back across Pamlico Sound. Dan paddled over in the evening to plan strategy, and we decided to follow the 7:00 AM boat out.

I pulled anchor at 6:30 AM Wednesday morning and circled the harbor a couple of times, getting the ground tackle stowed and making sure everything was shipshape. Dan followed shortly and at six bells in the morning watch we fell in line behind the departing ferry and motored out to Bigfoot Slough. Dan set his jib and I set full sail and proceeded up the slough. The wind was fair and I was able to shut down the motor. As we exited the slough and turned off to the northwest, the wind was closer, so I started the motor which was a great aid in pointing a little higher. Still, we had to tack until we reached Royal Shoals marker and were able to settle onto a starboard tack and make for Brant Island Shoals. I motor sailed almost continuously all the way in to "NR", which I passed at 2:45, due to light airs. Shortly afterward the wind shifted into the east with enough power to allow me to kill the motor and set up for wing and wing sailing. I worked my way up the river with Dan disappearing into the distance. My intent was to go all the way to Matthews Point, regardless of how long it took, so I welcomed a blast of wind and a slight shift to the NE at 5:15. It was fast sailing from there on out. The winds stayed strong and the swell quickly built, carrying me toward Matthews Point at speed. I made a couple of short port boards to get into the center of the river, but most of the next couple of hours were wing and wing. I finally turned in Clubfoot Creek just at dark, where a final blast of wind between markers 3 and 5 put the rail in the water and rounded the boat up, no matter what the tiller. I eased the main sheet and got the boat back in control. After some scanning about, I picked up marker 5 with my flashlight and sailed into the creek. Past marker 8 the water was a comparative millpond. I dropped sail in front of the marina channel and motored in, tying to the dock at 8:00, thirteen and a half hours at the tiller.

Thursday I cleaned all the ground tackle and got it stowed, washed the genoa since it had picked up some mud from the ground tackle, and got the boat in order. Dan sailed in, having spent the night before in Oriental. Then I went into town to do laundry and buy groceries. I got back around midday as a line of storms passed through the area, bringing lightning and high winds.