Offshore

 
 
The main engine is purring, all systems functioning normally, we are finally offshore in the good little ship Tivoli. The weather window looks good finally, seas are relatively calm at 2-3 feet and winds light at 10 knots. We are setting a faster pace than normal, running at 1600 rpm and doing 8 knots. Our goal is to run non-stop to Lake Worth and Old Port Cove Marina. It will be good to be back amongst the palm trees, warm weather, and our friends in North Palm Beach.

Our stop at Tidewater Marina to wait out hurricane Matthew stretched into 5 long weeks. We opted to rent a car and do our annual road trip to visit doctors, friends and relatives. Then more waiting for good weather We did take advantage of the delay to upgrade our NMEA2000 network. The number of network devices had grown to exceed the maximum allowed so we split the network in two using a Maretron network buss extender (NBE100), re-terminated and re-powered each half of the network. The result is a more stable network and the elimination of a couple of annoying false-positive error messages. There is still more tweaking to be done but this was a great upgrade. Finally, we took on 600 gallons of additional diesel at Atlantic Yacht Basin and started our way south to Florida. The N50 Two Drifters is traveling with us.

We leave AYB before first light to make the first lift bridge before it closes to traffic between 8:30-10:30 AM. We sail through with no problems then run at 9 knots to reach the next bridge at its designated opening time. It is nice having a trawler with some speed when necessary. We’ve found we use that capability quite frequently to make bridge openings, locks, or reach a destination on the ICW before dark. We pass the usual places; Coinjock, Albemarle Sound, and Alligator River before anchoring at the north end of the Alligator River/Pungo RiverCanal. By the time we arrive it is sunset. There are several other boats swinging on their moorings. We pick out a spot, drop the hook, and settle in for the night. Strong winds are expected so we put out plenty of chain trusting the Rocna to keep us secure. By midnight winds are up to 20 knots in the anchorage but we barely notice. Tivoli is so quiet inside that the winds can rage outside and you barely notice. The winds are still strong in the morning, we raise anchor and head into the canal at first light. We had hoped the winds would moderate by the time we traversed the 20 miles of the protected canal and emerged onto the Pungo River. That was not to be. Still blowing 18-20 with gusts to 25. We march on in comfort. We enter Pamlico Sound, then the Neuse River, past a great marina at River Dunes and make our way into the Adams Creek canal, finally emerging at Morehead City and our planned stop at Morehead City Yacht Basin. It is nice to have covered this territory in the past several times as our route tracks displayed on our chartplotters and course computer provide valuable guidance at several places where navigation is tricky. We enter the narrow channel into the marina knowing the challenges we have had here with strong currents. A large bay empties into Beaufort inlet and whistles through this narrow channel. We were hoping for some moderation though we weren’t yet at slack water. I now believe there is no slack water here. We have to rotate Tivoli in this narrow channel between the shoreline and the N72 Shear Madness. Didn’t want to hit that beauty. As we get crosswise it seems I have little control, I finally notice the follow-up lever is not changing rudder position. I must have hit the standby button. I resort to the wheel to maneuver the boat and we get Tivoli safely tied up at the dock. Our track looks like a figure 8. Large day. We join Rich and Ronnie for dinner at Floyd’s restaurant and enjoy a lovely evening.

Next morning is calm and we depart at first light. The run down to Cape Fear gives us the opportunity to pass the place we ran aground south of Swansboro! Can’t wait for that. Thankfully, this time we negotiate the S-turn there with no problems. The miles slowly pass, houses, boats, marinas, and the occasional dolphin. We realize we can make the next swing bridge opening if we hustle so we run up the RPMs to 1900 and soon hit 10 knots. We make it with literally a minute or less to spare. Sadly we then realize the next bridge at Wrightsville Beach only opens on the hour. So we now dawdle along at idle speed and maneuver in front of the bridge passing the time. From Wrightsville it’s a short 90 minute run down to Carolina Beach where we hope to anchor for the evening. A cold front is moving through and we expect high winds and want a secure anchorage. We will not arrive till 30 minutes past sunset, nearly dark. Fortunately, the location is well marked and surrounded by Carolina Beach condos, homes, and marinas. We have no trouble finding a spot and setting the anchor, in the rain. Another large day.

It rains through the evening, winds increase to 15 knots but Tivoli isn’t budging. I typically leave a chartplotter on to observe any change in position.

We slept in. Got an extra hour of sleep and didn’t depart till 8 AM, in a bit of a fog. We raise the hook and hose off the North Carolina mud and stow it for offshore travel.

As we exit the anchorage and rejoin the ICW I notice a boat coming approaching from the north. I think nothing of it and turn left to pass through Snow Cut. I soon get a call from our friends on Changing Course; they are right behind us! What are the odds? We haven’t seen them in two months, since Maine, and we pass the same point at the same time on the ICW. They are headed to Bald Head Island to meet friends and will head offshore tomorrow. Though it would be great to see them again we have a bit of a schedule and want to take advantage of the full weather window we have in order to get down to Florida. So we pass Bald Head and exit Cape Fear inlet and are soon on course. Conditions are terrific and will get better with time. It is such a relief to get off the ICW with its shallow waters, tricky navigation in spots, traffic, bridges, etc.

We quickly settle into our offshore routine. Random changes at the helm during the day and 3-hour watches overnight. The seas are much calmer than we anticipated. By midnight we are motoring on glass. Wind is 2-3 knots. A huge orange disk, the supermoon, rises in the east and soon turns the sea silver. We conduct our engine room checks every three hours, monitor radar, AIS, chartplotter and engine instruments and motor steadily on. We pass Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach etc. Ship traffic is light. Many we encounter are anchored offshore awaiting berths; several are in crossing situations but none present any difficulty.

As we approach Ft. Pierce we say farewell to Two Drifters; they will enter the inlet and anchor for the evening then head north to Vero Beach. We have 3-4 foot seas now but they are following seas and the ride is comfortable. I tweak the autopilot parameters to minimize the wandering we experience but fail to find the sweet spot. Still, the ride is great and by 2 AM we have arrived at the Lake Worth inlet. Though we have not entered this busy harbor at night we know it well and didn’t expect to have any problems. We were a bit surprised at how difficult it is to find the unlit day marks but our remote controlled LED spotlights saved the day. One aimed at our port side and another on starboard and we could readily see the marks approaching. Our FLIR camera was less helpful than I anticipated; it is easy to spot the marks but the range of this camera is limited so the marks pop up quickly. Soon we had negotiated the last turn at dead low tide and entered the anchorage at Lake Worth. We see on the FLIR and radars that the anchorage is full but we manage to find a spot and soon have the anchor set and bridle deployed. It is 3 AM.

66 hours, 533 nautical miles, an average of 8 knots, and a fine ride the whole way. Tivoli performed flawlessly. It is great to be “home”.

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