Our dilemma: Should we attempt the Ocracoke inlet, a questionable and little used inlet by cruisers, and risk running aground? Or, should we go west and rejoin the ICW and risk losing our mast on one of the two bridges? I posed the question on a Facebook forum and received varying responses, some of which were, “Don’t do it! It is dangerous and treacherous and should never be attempted!” Some were less alarmist, and one gentleman gave me the name of a local fishing captain to call who is familiar with the inlet. I spoke with Captain Steve who admitted he’d never taken a sailboat through the inlet, but felt confident that the markers were clear and accurate. I also spoke on the VHF with the Coast Guard, who also assured me that the passage is well-marked and accurate. They both thought it was doable given my boat and my draft (4’3”).
Although, the decision cost me a little sleep, we decided to to through the inlet. Those who ought to know thought it would be fine, and I clearly was not looking forward to the anxiety of clearing those bridges on the other route. We awoke at 4 a.m. in order to arrive at the Ocracoke Inlet near high tide with just a little bit of incoming current (to oppose a current vs. waves scenario). In the three-hour pre-dawn portion of our trip across the Pamlico Sound, we enjoyed watching the Big Dipper stand on its handle, shooting stars streak across the ebony sky, and Mars and Jupiter chase Venus up above the eastern horizon. In addition, the bioluminescence in our wake was spectacular. At 8:20, we entered the Big Foot Slough Channel which leads from the sound down into Okracoke. The inlet was much easier than many others I have traversed. Granted, the weather was perfectly calm and we had timed the tides and current correctly. But, the decision, with which we had wrestled anxiously, turned out to be the right one. Thanks be to God!
After passing the last green can leading out into the Atlantic, we turned to starboard, making our way southeastwardly under a cloudless sky, calm winds, and three-foot rollers off the ocean. This would make the fourth consecutive day of travel in which winds have been less than 5 knots. It makes for pleasant conditions, but it also entails motoring. With 25-30 knot winds in the forecast a couple of days down the road (with the accompanying waves), my main concern was speed. I hoped to beat the weather all the way to Charleston. So, motoring with both engines at 2500-2600 rpm all day allowed us to make over 7 knots of headway.
The day passed with little excitement. I put both fishing lines in the water, but solicited no interest from the piscine community below. The afternoon brought some visitors to Beatitude, however. First, one little bird showed up, then another, and another, and finally one more which was being chased by a large hawk with 3-foot wing span. I’m not sure if that is what drove the previous three birds to join us, but it definitely was the driving force for the final creature. Poor thing! Flapping his tiny wings with all his might, likely for miles (we were at least 10-15 miles off shore at the time), he found refuge just in the nick of time. The predator, seeing that his prey had found sanctuary, circled Beatitude two or three times, before turning back to land. Cindy and I were now running the Beatitude Bird Wildlife Sanctuary. These four lemon-sized birds stayed the night with us. The next morning they were up just before sunrise flittering around the boat, eating some of the dead bugs which had met their doom at the wrong end of a flyswatter. Soon, they were all gone but one. He was a friendly one, or at least he was when he was the only fowl left aboard. While the birds had been more than willing to come right up to us, they wouldn’t allow petting. This little fellow would step onto your hand if you offered, and would climb all over our head, shoulders, and arms. Our flying friends offered quite the crew of Beatitude quite a diversion. (The friendly fellow was standing on my hands as I typed this.) 🙂
We had lost cell-service by late afternoon, and would be running 30-35 miles off-shore for the next 24 hours. Due to the large extensive shoals jutting southeastward off of Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, and the concavity of the seashore between them, we were destined to pass too far offshore to connect with civilization. That is, except for posting updates on Facebook through our Delorme InReach Satellite tracker. We assumed our usual watch schedule for the night, three hours on/three hours off, and passed the hours of darkness without incident. Around midnight or so, the winds did clock around to the west and picked up in intensity which meant we would be pounding into 2-4 foot wind-driven waves for the foreseeable future. This also slowed our progress to around 6 knots, pushing our projected landfall a little further into the future. As had been the days, the night sky was cloudless, revealing multitudes of stars only visible away from the city lights. The moon has been setting in the early evening, rendering even the light of the moon inept and blocking our view of the stars. The night watches were passed with more shooting stars in the sky and bioluminescence in our wake.
During the daytime hours of Friday, the winds did us no favors. They shifted to the southwest and increased to over 20 knots with higher gusts. This was, unfortunately, the exact heading of our destination. We expected a brief shift in the winds, but not quite for as long or quite as intense as we experienced it. We expected a wind velocity of 10 knots, not 20-25 knots. Oh, well! So, our speed slowed even further to 4-5 knots as we pounded into short but steep waves. Other than that however, we made steady progress on a heading of 240° toward Charleston under cloudless skies. A heavy salt wash coming over the bow spread a fine saline mist over the salon roof and into the cockpit. If not for the pounding from the waves, which was considerable, temperatures in the 70s made for an otherwise comfortable afternoon. Once again, the fishing lines were out all day with no apparent action. However, Cindy mentioned a couple of times that she thought she heard the reel clicker on one of the rods. I looked and listened and saw and heard nothing, so I ignored it. However, when I pulled in the line the wire leader had been broken. Likely there had been a nice fish on the line. Next time, I’ll check.
Finally, around 10 p.m., the winds moderated and shifted to the NNE, making for a much more comfortable ride on into Charleston. Around 1:30 a.m. we entered the maze of confusing lights known as Charleston Harbor. Without the aide of a chart plotter, I’m not sure how it would be possible to find one’s way into the muddle of blinking and constant red, green, and white lights. By 2:30, we had tied up to a temporary spot in Charleston Harbor Marina, Beatitude’s home for the next two or three weeks. We were in bed by 3 a.m. and slept soundly until noon on Saturday. We, then, pulled over to the fuel dock to fill the near empty tanks and move to our “permanent” slip on the end of B-dock.
It’s nice to be still for a couple of weeks. We’ve covered a considerable number of miles (550 to be exact) over the past six days on our trip from Annapolis to Charleston. We’ll spend the next week doing boat work and relaxing before a trip to Daytona Beach for 5 days of work. Then, we’ll return to Beatitude awaiting the first weather window to continue southward.