December 8, 2008.
Our plan was to motor to Beaufort, NC and head out into the ocean for a 40 hour sail to Charleston. What is it that they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? Oh, that’s right, it might end up in an ass kicking.
We said our farewells in Oriental and motored away from Whitaker Creek at 0930. We had a 3 1/2 half hour trip to get to the inlet in Beaufort, NC. Arriving around 1300 hours would get us there just as the tide was starting to ebb so we could ride the tide out into the Atlantic. We had a north wind behind us so I wanted to avoid that whole wind versus waves thing.
We motored the entire way because I had promised Christy that we would put a few more hours on the drive train before we headed out into the ocean. So of course, the wind blew from the north and we motored along while everyone else we saw sailed southward.
We timed the inlet well and were soon out to sea. The forecast was for 10 to 15 knots from the north on Friday followed by 10 from the north on Saturday and finally 10 to 15 from the north on Sunday. We started out alright and sailed southward at about 6 knots for the first 30 miles. Then the wind started to die just as it was getting dark. We had only enough wind to move along at 3 to 4 knots for the entire night. By the time dawn broke we were doing a steady 2 1/2 knots. Our first 24 hours, that’s right our first 24 hours covered just 101 miles.
The revised forecasts we were receiving said that on Saturday evening the wind would build to 15 and that it would climb to 15 to 20 after midnight (all from the north). So we patiently sailed along at 2 1/2 knots for the majority of the day while anticipating the evenings promised higher winds. That whole “patience is a virtue” thing is all bullshit, in hindsight I should have started the engine and motored all day in the flat, practically windless conditions. The dogs did use the calm conditions to take me up on the offer of a quick walk to the bow for a little business.
After sunset on Saturday the wind did start to build and we were soon bounding along at a little better than 6 knots, for an hour. Then the wind died away to practically nothing. All that little burst of breeze did was stir up the sea state so that we had a difficult time keeping the sail full in the now rolly conditions. But that discomfort only lasted for an hour or so.
Then the wind came back with a vengeance. It was a little west of north so instead of beam reaching along we found ourselves close reaching. We were making good speed even as the winds built to a steady 30 knots. Then the wind did one of those precocious things that it likes to do, and it veered yet again.
It came from the west northwest and we found ourselves close hauled, bashing to windward in 10 foot angry seas. Oh yeah and the moon had set at 0030 hours so it was dark as hell. We weren’t going to be able to run the rhumb line right into Charleston, SC as we were being set to the south so we considered our options.
We were just past Winyah Bay. We had the choice of pounding for 40 miles to Charleston only to arrive probably several miles to the south and having to tack our way back up to the harbor. Or we could divert to the inlet at Winyah Bay and beat our way for about 20 miles to get there. We’ll take Winyah Bay for $200 Alex.
We turned for Winyah Bay at about 0500 and didn’t reach the safety of the inlet until 1300 hours. That’s right 8 hours to go 20 miles. I didn’t think to note the distance spent tacking back and forth as we made our way to the inlet. To say that the conditions were horrific would be putting it mildly. The wind was a steady 28 to 33 knots for hour after hour without dropping to the low 20’s until around noon.
The sea state was like nothing we ever encountered. The waves were so big and close together that we couldn’t even tack the boat. We’d get about halfway through a tack and a huge wave would smack and push the bow back away, the sails would refill and we’d be off again on the original course. After trying to tack several times we opted to jibe 270 degrees as it seemed to be the only option that met with success.
We started the engine in an effort to make some progress towards our goal. It really made no difference as one minute we’d be surfing down the back of a wave that hadn’t broken and the next minute a wave would break across the bow and bring the boat to a near stop. The engine really made no difference in our boat speed and did very little in our ability to point higher, so we killed the engine.
Well, we pretty much endured an ass kicking like no other we’ve ever had. So once inside the safety of Winyah Bay we decided to motor a little south along the ICW to Minum Creek. That’s where we first discovered the free range mosquito plantation but since its December, thankfully, there were none about.
We had the hook down and the boat squared away by 1500. So all in all we had traveled 235 miles in 53 ½ hours for a moving average of 4.39 knots. Had I started the boat and motored when we were sailing at 2 ½ knots we might have beaten the storm into Charleston but I was still in the belief that patience is a virtue. Ya know, until somebody beats it out of you.
After dropping the hook I was about to drop the dinghy to take the dogs ashore when they both came to the bow and did their business. It was magical and brought a tear to my eye. When we went to bed at 2000 hours there were 4 other boats in the anchorage with us. When we woke after 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep at 0700 we were alone. So we got up and headed south down the ICW for Charleston.
We made great time and are now safely anchored here in Chucktown. We’ll probably just spend the night before heading out to Beaufort SC tomorrow where we’ll wait out a forecast weather episode for a day or two.