We sailed out of Edisto Island, South Carolina in early July with two things. A fridge rammed full of Kings’ Farmers Market veg. And a determination to make some proper progress north as planned. Actually three things! An Edisto Island Yacht Club burgee (small pointy flag) flying in our rigging.
We covered a lot of water over the following days and nights and had some good experiences and some not so good. I will summarise a little…
Motoring into the enormous inlet of Winyah Bay for 3 hours of boiling hot slog to get to Georgetown, South Carolina.
SO MUCH WATER and uninhabited land in the USA. Why did they fall out with the Native American Indians again? How did they even manage to bump into them!
Georgetown – the worst lunch I’ve eaten for years…
Back out to sea (3 hour slog back) and up the coast to the famous Cape Fear River, well-known to all lovers of the Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum classic film of the same name. (Not going to contemplate the later De Niro abomination here).
Well…Cape Fear River looks nothing like the film with all its spooky and atmospheric hanging moss. All locals must know was actually filmed in Florida and Savannah, Georgia. Two more 1st’s here.
Anchored off a small sandy island away from the main drag of the busy river, we got ourselves stuck fast on a sand bar. I spent 20 minutes rationalising that the horrible uneven bumping was just wakes and cross currents but we confirmed the problem “techno-cologicaly” by poking a mop handle into the water off the swim ladder and hitting the sandy bottom almost immediately.
The next “first” was when L managed to wiggle and jiggle and churn and power us off again – a triumph! I wonder if Fleet Commander Ronnie (see Part 1) was his inspiration
Early next morning we were off again to Beaufort, North Carolina – a real historic sailing town we were told and very pretty. We soon learned that the 4th of July is a TERRIBLE time to try to sail a large boat up the narrow inland channels of the Intracoastal Waterway. Imagine a large supermarket on the last shopping day before Christmas. Plus everyone has been drinking. And is flinging themselves into the aisles in inflatable flamingos. Madness!!
We flung ourselves out to the ocean as fast as we could and watched the 4th of July fireworks blooming in the night sky, marking the towns along the coast as we sailed north to our next entry point, the sober sounding Cape Lookout.
Beaufort was indeed a pretty town, full of old historic wooden houses, quiet streets and gracious trees. Also the home of Silent Spring writer Rachel Carson.
At the quiet end of the town creek we found Carrot Island to anchor for a few nights, where we enjoyed swimming off the boat and I donned snorkel and mask to poke a sharp stick into the “speedo”, to remove whatever bloody sea critter was living in there and clogging it up!
Every time you look closely at a boat you see something that is about to break. Literally EVERY time.
That week I had spotted that the rope holding one end of the dinghy, slung 7 feet in the air for traveling, was about to unravel with very messy consequences. There is no UBER in quaint Beaufort so we had no choice but to cycle a 25 mile round trip to West Marine in neighbouring Morehead City to buy 50 feet of rope while guzzling water, juice and strawberry milkshake every 20 minutes in the boiling heat.
I say we had no choice but actually I didn’t add much – other than slowing L down. Naturally, not until the point of no return did it occur to him that he could have left me on the boat rather than join this epic trip along busy highways, two bridges and several railway embankments. Naturally.
The next morning I was befriended by an eccentric local lady named Gay, who insisted on driving me to the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket so that I could do a proper “big shop” not hampered by being on a bicycle. When we met at her garden gate she was in muddy gardening clothes. When she collected me an hour later for our trip she was dressed in an off the shoulder mini-dress and a flicked out blow-dry.
I’m pretty sure she was some kind of bored heiress and I was grateful for the kindness, the conversation and especially when she came over to tell me they had large fresh shrimp for $4/lb in the chiller!
Things got a bit industrial for a while after Beaufort and not in a chic way. We navigated further upriver past phosphate barges and cargo basins, passing under the soaring steel bridges of Morehead City which we had cycled over and fighting the wrong kind of wind all the way.
We finally gave up and pulled into a sheltered river for one of the most beautiful and peaceful anchorages of our whole 9 months sailing. A lot of sunset photos were taken from that spot!
Hoping the wind would change, we headed back east across the choppy Pamlico Sound (a huge inland body of water as big as Connecticut apparently) towards the sea for a night inside the Cape Hatteras coast. This so-called “Grand Banks” of shallow barrier islands and shoals pokes out 30 miles or more into the Atlantic and is a formidable shifting obstacle in ocean storms on a bad day, with nowhere to run back inside.
Okracoke was our Grand Banks island stop, an old-fashioned little holiday island of sandy lanes, lighthouse and a very tricky harbour entry. Luckily the passing paraglider’s power-boat was there to pull us off our second sandbank in a couple of days!
PUNGO! It’s not elegant but that’s the name of the river we traveled up next (the wind didn’t change so no sea miles for us), starting on the Alligator Canal at first light the next day.
That is one looong, straight, strange waterway. Its edges are spiked with rotting cypress stumps – not all them visible – and although beautiful in the early morning mist it took an awful lot of concentrating for over 20 miles. And praying that one of the occasional giant steel barges doesn’t come the other way in narrow bit.
We exited the Alligator River, queuing for the swing bridge with other boats and entering the wide open Albermarle Sound, North Carolina.
The wind is still all wrong and very uncomfortable, so we pick a new course again heading into the inappropriately named Little River. After dodging about 100 crab pot floats (one on your port! two on your starboard!) we are out of the wind and waves finally.
And that’s when things get really bad.
As people say, things happen fast in these situations. One minute I was frying an omelette for tea, the next minute I was shoving a few possessions into a bag in the cockpit and climbing down into the dinghy with L, trying not to breathe in any of the smoke coming from inside the boat. He had seen smoke coming from the hull on the other side of the boat and on investigation had found that the bed was actually on fire.
After that the boat seemed to burn for a very long time. It burned to the water line, sinking in about 7 feet of river water leaving only one bow slightly visible.
How fortunate we were to be out of the ocean, awake and not far from land. How fortunate also to be close to the riverside home of Keith and Heather Christiansen, who with their family, friends and neighbours called the coastguard, made us welcome, ran us around and fed us. They also distracted us with their tales of ATV off-roading trips, explaining the difference between pet ducks and hunting ducks (there is no difference!), their cute grand-kids and their prodigious vehicle collection!
We are also so grateful to Jennifer Winslow Harris and her husband who lent us their comfy camper-trailer for a week.
Keith towed it with his awesome pick-up truck, parked it next to his house and plugged us into his water, power and air conditioning! They put up with two disoriented English people hanging around getting their lives sort of organised and dealing with the insurance company for what we believe was an electrical fire started by a phone charger. We are indebted.
We next found ourselves scooped up by another pair of heroes, sailing friends Robert and Angela Kleinschmidt, who made a huge diversion to collect us on their way back from their boat to their own spacious Georgia home.
I think Rob was probably extolling the virtues of RV living (recreational vehicles, Winnebago’s etc) before I had even properly shut the car door!
Thereafter, as well a making us thoroughly at home in Georgia they invested a lot of time and energy in setting us on an exciting new path – a project which appears to be one of their favourite hobbies.
After looking at their own luxurious coach we remembered that traveling the USA in an RV had been an option before we decided on the boat. We were very excited to learn that a lovely bus would cost half the price of another catamaran!
Amazingly they also offered (we were pretty overwhelmed with the scale of the task at hand by this point) to drive to Texas with us, and apply their “licensed motor dealer” savvy to help us tour the sales lots and choose one. We found a cool place for us to stay for a few days and had a lot of fun too. How lucky were we!
“All’s well that ends well” as a well-known playwright put it.
Seven weeks after losing our boat home on Friday the 13th of July we are parked up in a small campsite in Damascus, Virginia on the edge of the green Appalachian mountains in a marvelous old 36 foot bus which is full of beautiful wood, lots of comforts and all our shiny, new things.
A new adventure and a new beginning.