Friday, October 30, 2020

Alligator River, a Windy Day

It was a windy day.

We had to use a bow spring to get off the dock in Columbia NC this morning, the wind pressing Intermezzo's hull hard against the dock face.

We bashed through steep head-on chop as we headed out the mouth of the Scuppernong River into the Albemarle Sound, 25 knots of NW wind on the nose, the bows crashing through the waves, water washing down each side deck.The sky was mostly cloudy, the water grey flecked with whitecaps everywhere, ominous looking.

At the last day marker, I turned Intermezzo northeast, now the steep closely spaced waves hitting us broadside, rolling the boat violently from side to side. The strong beam-to wind blew spray across the boat as the engines throbbed us along at a steady 6-7 knots. The clouds diminished enough to let some sun shine on us, but I got cold and had to pull on another layer of fleece under my foul weather gear.

Once clear of a shoal the extends out from the shore about 8 nm from the river, I could adjust our course more eastward and now we could take the waves off the port quarter, quite a bit more comfortable, but still some rolling and wind blown spray. It would have been nice to have piloted Intermezzo remotely from inside the salon, but there were too many crab pot buoys to make that possible; I could only see them if I was sitting outside at the helm.

I followed the shoreline as it curved southward towards the mouth of the Alligator River, gradually putting the waves behind us and unrolling about half the jib to help move us along more quickly. I wanted to be out of the Albemarle as quickly as possible. The ride became more comfortable and Intermezzo surfed down the waves, hitting a maximum speed of 12.9 knots.

I was a bit nervous as I rolled in the jib and approached the Alligator River entry, wondering if the river bar was shallow enough to cause the waves to mount up and break. Fortunately, that was not the case and I followed the day markers into the river channel, the waves now quartering us to starboard.

We motored to the Alligator River swing bridge, which opened with perfect timing to let us pass through without having to loiter. Once through the bridge, I unrolled the jib to its second rolling reef position and turned off the engines to enjoy a fast downwind romp down the Alligator River. I took a few more turns in the jib when the winds blew a steady 30-35 knots for about an hour. With just the reefed jib, we made a steady 6-7 knots southward under partly cloudy skies, temperature still cool even though we were sailing downwind and the sun was shining most of the time.

The Alligator River is about three miles wide from its mouth at the Albermarle south until it turns sharply to the west and narrows from less than a mile to become a winding creek to its head. The banks are lined with scrubby timber and marsh vegetation. It's not a particularly scenic river, but I like its remoteness.

As I made the right turn to follow the river, I started the engines and rolled in the jib as we pointed upwind. I diverted from the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) channel at the entry to the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal and headed about a mile and a half further up the Alligator where we dropped anchor. It was windy, blowing over 20 knots, but the waves were very small, more like big ripples, quite comfortable.

After the sun set, the wind dropped to five knots and we are lying nicely at anchor under a bright white full moon.

We were never in any danger today, the wind strong and the waves steep and nasty but nothing to be of any concern to an ocean-going boat like Intermezzo. Still, I am tense and alert the whole time sailing in such conditions and, together with the constant blast of the wind all day, it is very tiring. I had had enough sailing for the day when we dropped anchor, thank you very much.

The forecast is for lighter winds until Sunday night, into Monday, when another cold front passes through. We'll sit that one out in Bellhaven. It's also going to get colder. Don't tell Lisa, but I saw forecast data that suggest near freezing temperatures. Brrrr…