May 6, 2010.
After spending a few fun days in Oriental tied to the dock behind our friends Ken & Carol’s house, it was once again time to hit the not so dusty trail north. And I had a plan….
I hate the monotonous length of the Pungo Canal and we always seem to take an ass kicking in the Alligator River. So I figured a way to bypass them both. I opted to leave Oriental at 1130 on a day with a light southerly breeze and head out on an overnighter for Manteo. Hell, it would even save us a day of travel time. The 22 mile Manteo Channel is a narrow winding affair which includes some ambiguous channel markers. It would be impassable in the dark so I planned on arriving at the channel entrance at dawn. We had to average about 4 knots for the entire 75 mile trip to arrive early the next morning. But the way it played out was somewhat different……
For the first 15 miles we were making 3.8 knots on a beautiful sunny day. At this point, the plan was looking like a stroke of genius. Then the wind started to build a bit which is what most sailors would love. But not us, we had to slow the boat down. First we had to furl the headsail so the wind countered by building….Shit. Next we put a double reef in the mainsail. We did everything we could to slow the boat down except throw an anchor overboard, and it still looked like we were gonna get there about 6 hours before dawn. Shit. There is no place to anchor there so arriving way to early was not an option. Finally the wind started to abate a bit before finally going light and variable. 15 miles from Manteo we were ghosting along at less than 2 knots and things were looking up. We were going to arrive on time…..in fact, a little late so we shook out the reef and sailed slowly towards the entrance channel. And then the weather took my foolish little plan, crumpled it up and shoved it right in my ass.
The wind went from 4 knots outta the south to 20 to 25 knots out of the north northeast in a matter of moments. How and why does this happen? We tacked back and forth for an hour in building seas in an effort to wait the wind out. No dice, if anything it was building. We had breaking 3 and 4 footers everywhere. My frustration level was through the roof. We were both tired, the seas were up, we’d run into a front that didn’t make any of the weather services, it was pitch black out and we were in water so thick with crab pot floats that we didn’t dare start the engine. Then to cap it all off I heard a local fishing boat that was on his way home through a section of the channel we were planning to use. He was freaking out to his buddies on the VHF that there were 5 footers sweeping across the narrow channel. F#%k it honey, we’re turning around.
So at 0345 and after 70 miles I turned the Veranda around and ran before the wind under a full mainsail. I headed southwest, backtracking the way we’d come and then headed west towards the Pungo River. This was like a 50 mile backtracking/detour. We were averaging over 6 knots, you do the math. Christy was not talking to me. Once at the Pungo River the winds finally veered from the east and slowed to 15 knots. We had all sail up and headed up the river. We were able to sail all the way up to the beginning of the Pungo Canal where we planned to stop for the night. But like the last plan, this one fell to the wayside as well.
The weather for the next day was sounding a bit like shit, so we decided to press onward. We motored through the 22 miles of the Pungo Alligator Canal (Pungo, you'll remember, is the Arapahoe word for godforsaken) and dropped the hook at the southern most end of the Alligator River at 1945. The sailing was extraordinary as we covered the entire distance under sail except for the last few hours through the canal.
We did have a few bright spots in our attempted circumnavigation of greater North Carolina. We saw a bald eagle which we always enjoy and we had to give way a small black bear cub as he swam across the Pungo canal. We ate and went to bed after 31 hours behind the wheel. So much for plans….