Sunday, November 8, 2020

Carolina Beach, Stopped By a Bridge

Last night we made an "outside" passage along the Atlantic coast from Cape Lookout to Mansboro Inlet. We had good winds but messy seas, making for an arduous trip. It was a relief to enter the inlet and get back on the calm but busy Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) until our progress was stopped by a bridge-too-low (or, rather, water too high).

First, a quick recap of Intermezzo's progress and our activities since stopping in New Bern four days ago, on Wednesday.

On Thursday we departed New Bern and motored back down the Neuse River on a beautiful sunny day to rejoin the ICW at Adams Creek. We anchored for the night in a quiet little spot off the main channel, very close to where we anchored last July.

Friday we headed to Cape Lookout Bight, stopping briefly in Beaufort NC to top up with diesel. We had very limited internet access along the way, which added frustration to the suspense of the presidential election results.

Cape Lookout Bight is one of my favorite anchorages, perhaps my most favorite, between Key West FL and Mattituck NY. When we were here last July, we were the only boat anchored or one of just a couple. This time there were a dozen or so boats, mostly sail boats with masts too tall for ICW bridges. After we dropped anchor, we took the dinghy to shore and had a good long run out and a walk back along the mostly deserted beach. It was breezy, the evening light made gloomy by low clouds, but the temperature was pleasant and even the water was not that cold. 

Yesterday (Saturday), after doing some morning boat chores, we took the dinghy to the old lighthouse on the eastern shore of the bight, walked around a bit and then relaxed on the beach for a while in warm sunshine.

We left Cape Lookout last night at 22:00, raising the sails in the calm waters of the bight. The seas became much more boisterous as we came out the inlet and turned southwest. We had a nice 15 knot wind behind us, but the swells coming from the east were 4-6 feet with a period of about eight seconds, making for a very uncomfortable ride, though they were following seas. Intermezzo would just get over the crest and through the trough of one wave only to immediately climb and fall down another. There was also a secondary swell coming from the north east that made for a confused sea state. 

Lisa was badly seasick, but managed to stand her three hour watch. I sailed the rest of the 13 hour passage single-handed. Apart from the crappy waves, everything else was quite nice, the sky clear with lots of stars and a half-moon shining most of the night. I was warm in my foulies and a light fleece base layer. We were even visited by a pod of playful dolphins, the first time for a long while. The dolphins we saw in New England seemed standoffish, busy fishing I guess, no time to play and socialize. 

I was a bit worried about entering the Masonboro Inlet with such heavy seas running. I needn't have been. The inlet is deep, well marked and protected by long massive rock jetties on either side. It would have been an easy entry except for the two large motor  yachts that barreled close past me, throwing up giant wakes that combined with the rough seas to make for a bouncy ride and requiring a lot of attention at the helm. So many of the captains of these yachts are intoxicated by horsepower, very impolite.

Once inside the inlet, we turned left and got back on the ICW. The wind was strong enough and from a good direction, so I was able to sail under the jib along the narrow channel with marsh and beach on the ocean side, houses with private docks on the land side. I liked that we sailed almost all the way from Cape Lookout, hardly burned any diesel at all. 

At Carolina Beach, the ICW turns right into Snow Cut, which leads to the Cape Fear River. The Snow Cut (Carolina Beach) Bridge spans across this cut, the first ICW bridge we passed under on the way north. A strong current was pushing us along towards the bridge which meant a rising tide. I peered at the base of the bridge with the binoculars and found the board showing the bridge clearance from the water surface - 63 feet. Not enough! The mast would make it through, but we'd likely damage the VHF antenna and perhaps even the wind indicator.

I turned Intermezzo around quickly and motored into the current and back to the ICW channel. I saw a nice long fuel dock across the way and decided to pull alongside to wait for the tide to fall and give us more clearance. However, when I looked at the tide tables, I realized it would be too late in the day for us to make it to a marina or place to anchor after getting under the bridge so I decided to stay where we are for the night. Low tide is around 09:00 tomorrow morning and that should give us nearly 67 feet of clearance, more than enough. Then we'll have a long day, having to cover 45 miles to get to our next stopping place.

I think I prefer the open ocean, even with crappy waves, over this stretch of the ICW, a narrow, constrained, busy water roadway. 

The Snow Cut Bridge, a bridge too low