Cape Fear

We are approaching Cape Fear. It is 1:30 AM and pitch black. We have a ghost ship accompanying us 5 miles west to our port. It has paralleled our course for the last 100 miles yet remained invisible in the daytime haze. Only its AIS signal revealed its presence. In spite of its proximity the AIS signal comes and goes. Our radar signal of this vessel was weak and intermittent. We were starting to believe it didn’t really exist until night fell and its nav lights became visible. Tivoli is humming along at 8 knots at 1400 RPM; we are getting a push from the Gulf Stream north of Charleston. Engine temp, oil pressure, alternator output, exhaust temp, gear pressure, turbo boost all look good. Our electronic displays glow dimly in the dark pilothouse. Lights that are annoying or reflect on the windows are shut off or covered. We monitor our progress across Frying Pan Shoals heading for a waypoint that will establish our final leg into Beaufort NC. Even though we are well off shore and in deep water we are still nervous, we haven’t crossed these shoals before. Suddenly, alarms go off. “Navigation data lost”. One of our chartplotters decided to crash. Naturally, it happened to be the one I used to input the waypoints for our route and thus was the primary navigation computer. We quickly go to manual mode on the autopilot then decide auto mode would be best to maintain our track across the shoals. The plotter rebooted itself and we simply resumed our course from that location. Always something. We are pleased to have redundancy aboard to handle such incidents or outright hardware failures. Can’t trust computers. The solution is to have many of them!

We reach our waypoint and make a 20 degree turn to the west. Our ghost ship neighbor doesn’t head toward Beaufort but holds its course. Now we have to watch him carefully as we are in a crossing situation. A huge ocean to play in and we all choose the same route and our ghost ship neighbor chooses to run at the same speed. We slow down to let him cross; he slows down too. So, side by side, in the darkness we inch toward Beaufort and have to keep an eye on each other all night. Frying Pan Shoal recedes in the distance. The ghost inches ever closer to 3 miles, then 2 miles….still no turn toward Beaufort.

Even though it is 2 AM it is hot; still in the 90’s. We pay careful attention to our engine room temperature. The addition of the two large DeltaT radial fans has paid off. ER temp is holding at 103; barely 10 degrees above ambient and with both main and generator engines running. I’m very happy with that and I’m sure our engines are too. We too are comfortable; all 4 AC units are churning out cool air.

Other than ghost boats there are many things one could run into out here. The area has numerous nav aids marking shoals, nav aids marking the entrance to various inlets, nav aids marking fishing holes. Hitting one of these large steel buoys would not be a pleasant experience So, we lay out our course and scrutinize every mile to leave plenty of distance between us and we intently monitor the radar for their returns. They wink on and off on the radar screen as the boat pitches, we account for each one. Our own nav lights dimly illuminate the foredeck. Occasionally stars are visible overhead, no moon. Thankfully, the seas are relatively flat and there are no thunderstorms in the vicinity. The ride is smooth.

The ghost ship is now less than 2 miles off and alters course to remain beside us; finally at daybreak it speeds up and crosses in front of us. We speculate on its destination and assume from its turn to seaward that it would take advantage of the calm seas and continue around Cape Hatteras into Norfolk. Nope, its destination is Beaufort after all. Apparently, when some folks choose a waypoint they are going to it no matter what. They ended up about 5 miles further out to sea when they reached the Beaufort Inlet and had to backtrack…for no apparent reason, no hazards, or shallows dictating their choice in waypoints.

We departed Charleston at 7 AM and arrive in Beaufort NC at 1 PM the next day; 30 hours to make a trip one could do in a few hours by car. But, our home is with us – and it comes with million-dollar views.


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