May 9, 2019
We again got a late start today because I had a diver come and clean the bottom of the boat. Ever since leaving St. Augustine I’ve noticed that the boat has been going between 1 & 2 knots slower at a given RPM than she used to, plus I’ve felt a small vibration at higher RPMs that wasn’t there before. I suspected barnacles on the prop for the vibration and barnacles & other marine growth on the bottom for the drop in speed, which also means increased fuel consumption. So I had called ahead to Southport Marina for a referral to a diver, and we were all set up for him to attend the boat 1st thing on Thursday morning.
I was ready for the diver by 07:00 but of course first thing turned into 09:45 because he was working on another job in the marina before he came to us. I explained what I suspected he’d find, and he quite rightly replied, “We’ll see – I’ll let you know in a bit.” He was in the water for almost an hour and we could hear him scraping away, but when he came up he said the bottom actually looked pretty clean. The prop, rudder and trim tabs (the only metal parts below the waterline) were spotless, but there were scattered barnacles all over the bottom which cumulatively would slow the boat down a little and increase drag through the water. Most importantly, he found that the sacrificial zincs on the trim tabs were about 90% gone, which is normal for a boat that’s been in the water for over a year (the zincs were replaced when the boat was hauled for the winter in 2017). In any event I had him replace them, because once the zincs are gone (a natural process of galvanic action) the trim tabs would have basically become sacrificial. Not good!
So the diver wrapped up his work and off we went at 11:35. It was a glorious morning and a real pleasure to be out on the water. We had hoped to go up the ICW about 30 miles to Masonboro Inlet, then jump outside for a 75 mile ocean run to Beaufort. The conditions were almost perfect for that plan (East winds at 5-10 kts) in the morning but were forecast to increase in the afternoon, plus the tide would be ebbing in the afternoon which would have meant wind against tide in the inlet, almost always resulting in choppy, sloppy conditions. So we had decided that we’d go outside if we could be in the inlet by 13:00, otherwise we’d stay in the ICW and see how far we could get. So with the 11:35 departure we missed our window, which was somewhat disappointing because I love open ocean passages, but on the other hand it was yet another beautiful, light wind day in the ICW so we had nothing to complain about.
It was an interesting day navigation-wise in that we had to negotiate several opening bridges, which sometimes means timing it right because some bridges open “on demand” while others only open on the hour and half-hour. We managed to arrive at the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge at 13:20, and it only opens on the hour. There’s a pretty wicked current right there so the prospect of milling around for 40 minutes wasn’t appealing, and there are marinas on both sides of the channel for a mile or so, so anchoring wasn’t an option. The posted vertical clearance on the bridge is 16 feet, and our air draft (height above the water) is about 13 feet with the VHF antenna down (19 feet with it up) so technically we could lower the antenna and proceed. But the posted clearances under these bridges are notoriously inaccurate, so I wasn’t entirely confident that we could make it, and a miscalculation would result in ripping our radar antenna off…not an enticing prospect! I tried radioing TowboatUS and SeaTow, both of which had boats based right by the bridge, to ask what they think the actual clearance is, but neither of them answered. So I asked the bridge tender and she assured me it was 16 feet at the current state of the tide. So I lowered the antenna we crept slowly up to the middle of the span and just before the radar antenna got there the bridge tender radioed me, “Captain, you have plenty of room.” So the long and short of it is that we slid right under, pretty as you please, and continued on our merry way.
Our fallback plan if we didn’t make the inlet in time was to anchor in Mile Hammock Bay, which is a little square bay cut out of the marsh in the middle of U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, that can hold 20 or so boats. It’s open to the public for anchoring, fishing or whatever (as long as there are no ongoing live-fire exercises!), but the public is absolutely prohibited from going ashore for any reason. Mile Hammock has a reputation for a soft, mucky mud bottom and dragging anchor is a real problem if the wind kicks up, but the forecast was for light winds all night so that was our destination. We got there at 16:30 and found 3 boats already anchored: 2 power boats and a Catalina 36. I first tried anchoring close to the eastern side of the bay, upwind of the sailboat, but true to its reputation we couldn’t get the anchor to set. We could tell we were in some very soupy stuff so Carol brought the anchor back up and I moved downwind a bit to where we were between 2 of the other boats, and the anchor set fine there. 3 other boats came in and anchored later in the evening, but there was plenty of room so no problem for us.
It was a beautiful setting, totally quiet and peaceful…except for 4 Marine Corps landing craft that were moored to the wharf at the head of the bay, all of which had their engines on and rumbling away for the first 45 minutes or so we were there. There were about 30 Marines formed up on the wharf, who eventually deployed to the 4 craft, and 1 by 1 they left the bay. Nice folks – they waved to everyone as they passed our boats. And once they left it truly was quiet and peaceful. After cocktails I cooked dinner on the grill in the cockpit, and we had a beautiful night.
Today: 55.9 nautical miles
Running total: 461.6 nautical miles