Nov 3/19. In our first few days of travel through North Carolina, we spent about 60% of the time in man-made channels that separated bays and 40% of the time in bays. The bays were much like those found in the Chesapeake: shallow, shoaling and fun for sailing. The channels were much like the Erie Canal, minus the locks. They were straight, tree and cottage lined and generally, not the most fun you can have on a boat. You’d see the odd interesting bird, but not much else. We were generally a ways from the ocean throughout these days, perhaps 20 miles away on average.
But since we passed Beaufort, things have changed. Instead of the Outer Bank Islands protecting us from the big, bad ocean, we now have just some smaller islands that are basically dunes. We will be sailing along and every once in a while we will catch a glimpse of the Atlantic as we pass by an inlet. We will see people on beaches a stones throw from the boat (alas, we have no stones, so we leave them alone.)
The navigation has also changed. It’s no longer the relatively stable shoals of mud that are on the watch for. Instead, our eyes are peeled for shoals of sand that shift and change their shape on a far more frequent basis. I’m downloading new charts daily, watching for temporary nav buoys at each inlet and closely considering the paths of other boats.
It’s not enough to point the boat along the path of the boat ahead of you. You could easily have your bow pointed to their transom but actually be on a completely different path over the ground as the currents and winds push your boat about and the boat ahead continues their travels.
The boat’s path through the water is the sum of boat speed, current and drift. It’s an ongoing vector addition problem that would make any grade nine math teacher giddy. The only way to really monitor your COG (Course over Ground) while navigating a shoal is to watch your projected path on a plotter.
This is all a bit of a shame really. Because that means you need to spend a large chunk of your day staring at a plotter, particularly when you’re passing near an inlet. But the inlets are also where you’re most likely to see dolphins. So, you spend your time trying to enjoy the best thing you’ll see all day while also trying to save your boat from grounding.
It’s a bit like trying to parallel park while Uma Thurman is on the sidewalk dressed in cut off jeans and cowgirl boots and, oh my god, now she’s putting her hair up! Only, instead of doing the reasonable thing – stopping the car, blocking the traffic, ignoring the honking, the traffic cop, and living in the moment – you can’t. This car (it’s a boat, remember) is always going somewhere, whether you want it to or not. And now, Uma Thurman has slipped back into the sea, err, sidewalk? Anyways, she’s gone now and you may have to live through some stupid movie or another to see her again. And watch out, you’re getting close to the shoal! Bye, Uma!
Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yes, North Carolina. On a scale that ranges from Margret Thatcher to Uma Thurman, I give North Carolina a solid Maya Rudolph. Easy on the eye, a bit quirky and overall, very enjoyable and somehow, solid, practical, down to earth. We’ve poked our heads in a number of small towns. Among them, my favourite has been Oriental. It kind of feels like the Austin of North Carolina, only without the great nightlife, the campuses or the… okay maybe it’s not the Austin. Maybe it’s the Kensington Market of North Carolina. The Venice Beach of North Carolina – minus the beach. Anyhoo, it felt a bit quirky, a bit alt and I felt very at home there.
The migration of boats south is now in full steam. At any given bridge, there will be eight boats heading south and none heading north. We are seeing many of the same boats repeatedly. A guy you had a beer with in Hampton is now anchored beside you in the middle of a military base. The boat you passed for the third time in two weeks just went by again. Every anchorage is like a Canadian highway rest stop, filled with the vehicles you saw at the last Tim Hortons, five hours ago.
Between the shoals, many hours pass without much to see but lawns, docks, trees and, more rarely, the occasional industrial complex. After days of this, we went through a bridge yesterday and arrived in a giant marina complex with 12 sailboats and eight thousand power boats. It’s the weekend, so now that we’re on the side of the bridge where all the power boats live, I expect we’ll be coping with them all day today. But on weekdays, with the warm weather waning, I’m sure our travels we be much quieter.
Throughout the little channels that were used only by boats making long passages, we found that there was a very large amount of courtesy between all boaters. Every pass was initiated with a little radio hail advising that they’d like to pass on this or that side. Every boat – well, almost every boat – was very conscientious about the wake they’d be leaving behind. And every bridge tender expects and receives a big radio thank you from each boat that passes by the opened bridge. Our VHF radio, which was rarely used on Lake Ontario is now used constantly.
Nov 4/19. We are in a marina near Southport today, leaving tomorrow for Myrtle Beach. This is our last North Carolina stop. The temperatures here are definitely warmer than Toronto, but you have to look hard for signs that you’ve travelled. Then a man tells me that he fouled his prop a few miles away but waited two weeks to dive on it because of a particularly large, loud and mean alligator that was nearby. Okay, maybe we are somewhere different now!