Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Oriental, Sailing Capitol of North Carolina

July 16
Oriental, NC

Intermezzo is resting at the free town dock in the small town of Oriental. We arrived around 1400 and it is really hot out, so not much exploring done yet. I'm writing this from the Inland Waterway Provision Company, where they have a small "Cruisers' Corner" with free WiFi...and air conditioning.  The town calls itself the Sailing Capitol of North Carolina and judging by the number of sailboats in the marinas and the size of the town, I can understand why. It looks like a very nice, quaint little town. When it cools down, we'll venture further and discover more.

We spent last night on the hook in a small cove called Royal Thurman on Adams Creek, the route of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) between Beaufort and the Neuse River. We anchored in about 10 feet of water, about 300 yards off the main ICW channel in front of a neighborhood of nice waterfront homes. Three small local shrimp boats worked the water, trawling back and forth in and adjacent to the main channel. We were surprised when a tug pushing a huge barge appeared, headed back towards Beaufort, seemingly much too big for the narrow stretch of the creek.

The water in our anchorage was calm, there was a nice breeze and we had an almost full moon. I pulled out my guitar, which I haven't played for over a year and quietly plucked a few chords while sitting out on the trampoline, apparently not playing horribly enough to drive Lisa inside. I had the good sense to not press my luck further by singing.  It was very peaceful place to spend the night.

Getting to Adams Creek was an easy motor along a mostly narrow channel, the first half looks like more of a manmade canal than a creek, the second half opening to a pretty creek, more like a river, with tree lined banks. After a lazy morning at anchor, we continued from our anchorage along Adams Creek to its mouth at the Neuse River, which we crossed to get to Oriental. Many of the day marks along the channel are topped by osprey nests and we were treated with the sighting two fuzzy chicks sitting on either side of its parent. Interestingly, only the red triangular day marks have nests; must be something to do with access to the pole for nest building, I guess.

The Neuse is a big river, more like a bay in appearance. It looks like great sailing water, though the wind was too light for our short crossing today. I'll be doing quite a bit of sailing upon it, ultimately heading inland to New Bern to drop off Lisa and pick up Renee to continue heading northward.

Once in Oriental's harbor we had to choose between anchoring or tying up to one of the town's two free docks. We chose the dock to give us easier access for strolling around...when it's cooler out. The docks are in good shape and come complete with air conditioned restrooms. Lisa suggested that we just bring chairs and sit in the bathrooms but I had read about the Cruisers' Corner here and raised our game considerably.

Adams Creek

Will we make it under the bridge?


Local shrimpers in the evening, Royal Thurman, Adams Creek

Sunset at anchort on Adams Creek

Looks better than it sounds

Moonlight at anchor, Adams Creek

Intermezzo resting at Oriental Town Dock

Monday, July 15, 2019

Finally, Pictures! From Isla Mujeres, MX to Beaufort, NC

Finally I have enough bandwidth and the time to post pictures from The Voyage, covering our passages from Isla Mujeres to our current location, Beaufort NC.  Enjoy!

The Gulf Stream was pushing us along so fast we stopped to take a swim in 9,000 ft deep water on the way

At first we anchored off of Fort Jefferson, but it was too crowded with tourists and too close to the NPS authorities

So we moved to anchor at the edge of the Dry Tortugas reef, much more secluded and private

This lighthouse keepers' residence on Loggerhead Key is now housing for a research team studying turtles

This structure on Loggerhead Key hasn't fared so well.

Forrest napping on the dinghy

Lisa emerging from the sea, Christine still in it

Intermezzo's crew, Isla Mujeres to Miami, from L to R, Lisa, Christine, Steve and Forrest

View from one of Fort Jefferson's gun portals

View of Dry Tortugas from the ramparts of Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Sunset on the sail to Key West

Sunrise on the sail to Biscayne Bay

Houses in aptly named "Stiltsville", along the channel into Biscayne Bay

Miami skyline from Intermezzo's stern

Sunrise at the entrance buoy to Charleston Harbor

Now that's a dredge

Lisa standing watch on the foredeck

Fort Sumpter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired

Rainbow Row in historic Charleston

Charleston churches

Fountain in the garden of a Charleston mansion

Charleston sunset

The Mega Dock at Charleston City Marina, Intermezzo's home for two weeks

Southport, North Carolina
Amy and Lisa goofin' in Southport
Lisa and Steve not goofin' as much in Southport
Snow's Cut bridge, Intermezzo's test for adequate clearance along the Intracoastal Wateway
Looking over Masonboro Inlet

Wetland at Cape Lookout Bight

Old Coast Guard Station, Cape Lookout Bight

Coast Guard Station Lookout on Cape Lookout

Pygmy forest on Cape Lookout

Lighthouse at Cape Lookout

Lisa beach walking along Cape Lookout

Cape Lookout

Steve walking the shoreline of Cape Lookout Bight

Beaufort, North Carolina

July 15
Beaufort NC

We have spent a pleasant two days visiting Beaufort, mostly walking along the waterfront and the side streets of the old part of town.

The waterfront is low-keyed touristy with restaurants and visitor-serving shops. The town has done a good job at keeping it all pretty tasteful in terms of architecture, signage etc. The side streets are really nice for strolling along, lined with modest historic houses mostly constructed between the late 18th century and mid-19th.  Residents have kept them nicely maintained, many with their small yards sporting pretty gardens.

On Saturday night, after dinner and walking around we listened to Too Tall Tommy play covers at the Dockside Restaurant, including a passable acoustic rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughns cover of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. A cover of a cover.

We are staying at the Town Creek Marina, highly recommended for the quality of the facilities, and friendliness of staff. The marina offers a courtesy car that guests can use at no charge to run errands. Which we did yesterday, stopping at West Marine to pick up some parts and supplies and the grocery store to replenish fresh fruits and vegetables. On the way back we stopped at the Shucking Shack, where I enjoyed 10 oysters on the half shell (Lisa ate two of the dozen) and a really nice draft IPA. Later we took the dinghy to the waterfront for ice cream (I had two scoops, less two spoonfuls. Pattern being established?) and then enjoyed the sunset from atop a rooftop bar. The ride back to Intermezzo in the calm moonlight water put a nice end on the day.

I like this “Low Country” of the Carolinas. Such a gentle interface between water and land, the elevation difference between the two so slight. From as little as 10 feet above the water, you see a vista of blue water, green wetlands, networks of creeks and little coves that extends for miles. The weather is hot and humid, but not as oppressive as it was in Charleston. This is a paradise for shallow-draft boating, miles and miles of water to exploree, natural beauty all around, little towns to stop and visit.

We will be exploring more of this area as we head north today up the Adams Canal towards to the town of Oriental.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Cape Lookout Bight

July 12
Cape Lookout Bight

We have spent a pleasant two days anchored in Cape Lookout Bight, exploring the surrounding area by foot and dinghy.

A bight is "a curve or recess in a coastline or river." In the case of Cape Lookout, the bight is shaped like a big "U", with two inlets at the top of the U (north) and Cape Lookout at the bottom (south). Intermezzo is anchored along the left (west) side of the U, about a quarter mile off the southern shore which forms the cape and separates the ocean from the bight. The waters in this area of the bight are about 25 feet deep, the rest of the bight is pretty shallow, typically 1 to 7 feet deep.

Yesterday morning we took the dinghy to the western shore. It was low tide so rather than drag the dinghy up the beach to to above the high tide line, we anchored it in a foot or so of water and waded to shore. The bottom is sandy and there are lots of little fish swimming about. I tried digging for clams but its not the right habitat for them- too sandy, not enough nutrient in the water, probably due proximity to the deep water and daily flushing from the tides. We found a cut though the low, vegetated sand dunes that led out to the big white sandy beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean. It was deserted. Just the way I like beaches.

We jogged southward along the beach for about a half hour to reach Cape Lookout and stand at the end of the earth on a spit of sand jutting into the blue, white-capped ocean. A big four-wheel drive truck with tourists in the back passed us and there was a family fishing near the cape, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. We walked the journey back to the dinghy at a more sedate pace, appreciating the sunny blue sky, the nice cooling breeze, the sea birds, and the beauty of the dunes, beach and sea.

We waded out back to the dinghy, which was floating in about four feet of water now that the tide had come in. We motored across the bight to the bottom-right (southeast) of the U where there is an abandoned Coast Guard station. We poke the nose of the dinghy into a beautiful wetland where the grass growing up through the shallow water was as bright as green can get, swaying slightly in the wind in the bright sunlight. Then we continued on to land the dinghy on the beach near one of the abandoned Coast Guard structures.

The Coast Guard station was established in the late 1800's as a lifeboat station for rescuing mariners in distress. A long open surf lifeboat would be dragged out onto the beach, in the earliest years by men, later by mules, finally by a truck, and the Coastguardmen would row out through the surf to rescue the crews of boats that foundered along this treacherous coastline. The Coast Guard would eventually evolve to use fast motor lifeboats and helicopters for these types of rescues. I'm guessing that the big dock sticking out into the bight was the home for one or more motor lifeboats until the station was closed in 1983.

The sandy road trails leading through the station pass through a pygmy forest of salt-pruned trees. The land around the bight reminds me of Fire Island NY on which I spent a lot of time as a kid- as you cross from bay to ocean you pass through wetlands, then pygmy forest, then dunes onto white sandy beach. Here, though, the vegetation of the forest and dunes seems more dense and established. I'm guessing that's due to milder winters here on the Carolina coast.

Most of the Coast Guard structures are closed and in a bad state of repair, but the large white main barracks looks pretty good from the outside and it appears that some sort of renovation is underway inside. No one was around, so we snuck in through the front door and climbed the stairs and then ladder up to small square lookout area at the very top of the building. The 360 degree views of the bight and ocean from there are spectacular and you can imagine a Coastguardsman looking out for ships on a violent sea through the cold rain of a winter storm.

After visiting the Coast Guard Station, we got back in the dingy and motored up the right side (east) of the U to the 163 foot tall lighthouse on that side of the bight. This the headquarters for the National Park Service and I was wary of committing some sort of infraction and receiving a citation again, like I did at Dry Tortugas (see blog post from there). We beached the dinghy with some trepidation (there were no signs telling us we could or couldn't...so unlike the NPS) and enjoyed walking along the boardwalk nature trail with its classic NPS interpretive signs describing the natural and human history of the lighthouse station. The lighthouse keepers' residence has been beautifully restored and is a museum but we arrived after it had closed. The lighthouse itself is an impressive brick structure, painted in a pattern of black and white diamonds, the black diamonds facing east and west, the white diamonds north and south to help mariners orient themselves at sea.

By the time our day's tour of the bight was drawing to and end, the wind had whipped up to nearly 20 knots. It was a wet ride diagonally across the U back to Intermezzo, with a steep chop and wind-driven spray from the dinghy's bow. A hot shower followed by a rum drink finished off the adventure.

The wind blew hard all night, but Intermezzo lay comfortably at anchor, hardly swinging at all and just barely, gently bouncing on the wavelets, limited in height by the short fetch to shore.

Today we took the dinghy back to anchor in shallow water off the western shore again and walked/jogged around the left (west) part of the U, first along the ocean beach, then around the end at the opening of for Barden Inlet, and back along the beach of the bight. It was mostly cloudy and the wind was blowing stronger than yesterday, but the natural beauty of this place is undiminished.

When we returned to Intermezzo, I put on dive gear to finish replacing the propeller anodes. There was a current that made the job a bit difficult, but nowhere near the strength of the current in Masonboro Inlet, which caused me to abort the work previously and resulted in several cuts on my back, leg and hand from the little barnacles now growing along Intermezzo's waterline. Those will need to be knocked off before they get much bigger.

We'll stay here overnight and then make our way back to Beaufort, this time for an official visit, rather for a quick crew drop-off like last time.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Southport to Cape Lookout Bight...via Beaufort

July 10k
Cape Lookout Bight
We're anchored in Cape Lookout Bight, a beautiful undeveloped natural anchorage about six miles east of Beaufort Inlet. The bight is formed by land that hooks behind the cape sticking out into the ocean, forming an almost circular basin of calm, protected water. We arrived here tired this afternoon so haven't explored much; we'll do that tomorrow and I'll provide more of a description of the place. This post is about getting here.
We left Southport at 0800 and proceeded up the Cape Fear River, the route of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) north. It was cloudy but pleasant morning and we motored against an ebb current enjoying the scenery of elegant waterfront houses along the west bank and natural wetlands along the east bank.
We left the river after traveling about nine miles, where the ICW diverts northeast along narrow Snow's Cut to join a channel that runs parallel to the coast of the ocean, less than a mile inland. Snow's Cut presented us with the first test to confirm that Intermezzo's mast fits under the ICW's 65 foot standard fixed bridge overhead clearance. Our mast is 62.5 feet above the water, plus our 18" VHF antenna us at 64 feet. Only one foot to spare at high water!
I timed our passage under the Snow's Cut bridge to be between low and high tide, which theoretically would give us about 67 feet under the bridge. Just before the bridge are overhead telephone and power lines with an "authorized" clearance of 68 feet at high water.
Mathematically  speaking and on paper, everything was fine for us to pass under both the cables and the bridge. Of course, there is always a possibility that actual conditions are different than what's stated on paper. But more dramatic is the optical illusion that occurs when looking up the mast as one approaches something overhead. Regardless of how high a structure is above you, it looks the mast will hit it. Even going under the giant Golden Gate Bridge, your eye can fool you into thinking it's not high enough. With only a couple of feet clearance as in our case, it is a nail biting experience.
As we approached the overhead cables, I looked up and my eyes told me that the telephone line would hit the mast about halfway up and all four power lines would hit the top half of the mast. We passed under them with several feet to spare below the telephone line. Likewise, my eyes told me to brace for impact as the mast drew close to the soffit of the bridge. We passed under with a couple feet to spare, although I did need to jog a little to starboard to be sure I didn't touch a navigation light that marked the center of the span and extended a foot or so lower than than the bridge. It was a relief to get through both these obstacles and also to know that Intermezzo can proceed along the ICW without worrying too much about bridges.
From Snow's Cut we proceeded north to the Masonboro Inlet, our path to the ocean and onwards to Cape Lookout. We arrived at the inlet at 1300 and since the ocean passage would take about 12 hours and we want to arrive at our destination during daylight, dropped anchor to wait until evening to depart on an overnight passage.
Lisa and I took the dinghy to shore to walk along the beautiful sandy beach in unsettled weather, lightning and thunderstorms off in the distance all around us, while Amy watched over Intermezzo. When we returned to the boat, the water was so clear that I donned diving gear to change the propeller anodes, a task long overdue. When I got in the water I discovered that the current from the changing tide was so strong that it was difficult to hold myself in position to do the work, so I just did one prop. I'll do the other one here.
We weighed anchor at 1800 and headed through the inlet into the ocean. The forecast was for light easterly winds and calm seas. Instead we got a 15 knot northeasterly on the nose with steep wind chop compounded by an opposing southeasterly swell. Bashing again! Not the greatest experience for Amy's first overnight passage, but she handled it well. Lisa go seasick on her watch an chowdered over the side several times. I suffered the punishment in silence.
At 0800 I was entering the inlet to Cape Lookout Bight, thinking about dropping the hook, a nice cup of coffee, some breakfast and some sleep. Lisa came up on deck and after admiring the remote natural beauty of the place asked, "How will Amy get to her flight from here tomorrow?" I replied in astonishment, "What flight?"
Clearly some miscommunication between me and the crew with respect to navigation and schedules.
I made a quick U-turn and headed to Beaufort Inlet. We headed up to Town Center Marina in Beaufort where we took on diesel at the fuel dock and bid farewell to Amy who is heading off to participate in a surfing clinic for wounded veterans on Long Island, NY. Then Lisa and I headed back to Cape Lookout Bight, arriving here just before 3 pm.
After 31 hours on the move, I needed a rum drink, a shower, and a nap. I enjoyed all three.

Sunday, July 7, 2019


July 7
Southport, NC

We are enjoying the pretty little town of Southport NC, arriving here yesterday evening around 2030 after a 14 hour passage from Winyah Bay.

The weather was mostly sunny and pleasant but the winds were light for most of the trip here so we motor sailed most of the way, finishing the day with a beautiful downwind reach in 15-20 knot winds for our final fours out on the ocean.

Our original plan was to stay in a marina just inside the Cape Fear inlet but they could not accommodate us due to Intermezzo's beam. Plan B was to drop the hook in an anchorage just beyond this marina, but it was too exposed for wind conditions. Plan C was to anchor in the town of Southport's  old yacht harbor, but two other boats were anchored in the small basin and it was too tight to consider squeezing in with daylight failing and the wind howling. So we snuck into Southport Marina and tied up alongside the dock for the adjacent boatyard. Amy made a delicious one-pot chicken dinner, which we washed down with our now traditional cups of rum.

After checking in with the marina office, moving Intermezzo to a proper slip and doing a few boat chores, we set off to explore Southport. Southport is a small town right on the Cape Fear river so picturesque that has been the location for many movies. There are some remnants of the once significant fishing industry, but now tourism and retirees are the mainstays of the town's economy. Historic commercial buildings, pretty little houses on tree-lined side streets, seafood restaurants, lots of pleasure boats, tiny sandy town beaches, little live oak pocket parks, a couple of small museums of local history...all add up to a very nice place to spend a couple of days.

Today we enjoyed Bloody Mary's at Oliver's, a waterfront bar where we watched the US Women's Soccer team win the final, walked around town, visited the town museum and then enjoyed a delicious lunch at Moore's Oyster Bar.  The pre-lunch cocktail and two beers knocked me out for the afternoon. Lisa and Amy played cards while I napped.

Another day of tough sailing life.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Charleston to Cape Fear via Winyah Bay

July 6
33.3N 79.0W
I returned to Charleston on July 1st and after celebrating Independence Day there, we departed early yesterday morning for Winyah Bay. A new crew member joined LIsa and I on Intermezzo. Amy was taking a sailing course to earn her "bareboat" certificate and met Lisa while staying in the marina. She made a good impression on Lisa and when I met her I understood why. Amy had to have her lower leg amputated a some years ago and seems to be doing more in life with one leg than she might have done with two. She has accomplished a lot so far- triathlons, surfing, training mustangs and now, sailing- and has great spirit and personality.
The first half of the 50 mile passage to Winyah Bay was a pleasant downwind reach under partly cloudy skies. Then the thunderclouds looming ahead of us grew bigger and darker. We altered course to try and avoid them, put a reef in the mainsail, and soldiered on. We skirted the edge of a big storm cell for awhile but then there was no way to avoid another one directly ahead of us. As we approached, the wind rapidly increased to 25 knots with bigger gusts, so we dropped the sails and motored along. Then the rain came.
I haven't seen or felt rain that hard since Panama in 2017. It rained so intensely that visibility was reduced to just a few hundred yards. We got soaked to the skin before we had a chance to put on rain gear. And it was COLD rain. After months of sweltering, I was now shivering! I had to pull out my heavy rain weather gear, foulies I haven't worn since leaving Northern California in 2015! I also turned on the fog horn, another piece of equipment not used since California.
Then the lightning started. Thankfully it was cloud-to-cloud lightning rather than dangerous cloud-to-sea, but the big bright flashes and the deafening crackling booms were frightening nonetheless. It didn't take much to imagine what it would be like if a bolt so powerful were to strike Intermezzo's mast.
What a great experience for Amy's first ocean passage! Lisa, meanwhile, missed the drenching and outdoor adventure as she was seasick and spent most of the day prone in the salon, much to her guilt-ridden dismay.
The rain and lightning stopped as we drew close to the inlet to Winyah Bay and visibility was back to normal for our approach through the narrow shipping channel. We anchored at sunset just inside the bay in off small island with a pleasant sandy beach with low lying marshy vegetation. Once anchored, we enjoyed bracing cups of rum, followed by a hearty Thai vegetable curry, appreciating our remote little haven in the calm after the storm.
The currents through the anchorage are really strong, reversing twice while were at anchor. When we pulled up the trusty Rocna anchor before dawn this morning, I estimate that the ebb was flowing at over five knots.
We're now on our way to Cape Fear. The forecast was for showers and thunderstorms this morning, but the sun has come out and the sky ahead is mostly blue and clear, with just a line of smallish cumulus clouds off on the horizon. I'm hopeful that we won't experience what we did yesterday, but we are prepared if we do.
We pass through the Cape Fear inlet around 1900 this evening, our arrival timed perfectly for slack current. We'll either take a berth at a marina just inside the inlet or anchor out nearby. A front is supposed to pass through the area over the next few days, so we'll hunker down near the town of Southport, North Carolina to wait it out and do some exploring there before our next ocean passage to Beaufort.