You didn’t hear it from Rhett and you didn’t hear it from me but we’ve both been so impressed by Beaufort and Morehead City NC. The reason I say that, “you didn’t hear it from us,” is that whenever we said to a resident how impressed we are, they “shush” us and say, “Please don’t tell anyone… we like the towns just as they are.”
We had a solid day and a half, 210 nautical mile sail from Charleston SC to Beaufort NC. As we exited the Charleston Harbor on the late afternoon of Friday, June 18 we passed close by Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861.
Further out of the harbor, but still motoring and still constrained by the harbor’s jetties, we were overtaken by the 1,200-foot One Munchen container ship (to save you the math, that’s nearly 40 Hazel’s lined up end to end!). While still well astern of us, the captain of One Munchen hailed Hazel James on VHF channel 16 and requested that we converse on a “working” channel (channel 16 is reserved for hailing and emergencies only). After acknowledging him on 16 and switching to the requested working channel, the captain wanted to make sure we saw him coming from astern and asked that we “favor” one side of the channel or the other (and let him know which side we would favor), so he could pass on the other side. He wanted to make sure he passed us cleanly as we were not the biggest of his obstacles in the Charleston Harbor channel. Given Hazel’s draft we hung out in safe water but slightly outside the channel on the “green side” (the with the green buoys) and allowed One Munchen to pass on our port side.
As One Munchen passed us, Rhett commented, “I like the shade of pink that they painted it!” I asked Rhett if she wanted to share that with the captain on the radio but she declined.
While the harbor entrance channel is about 10 nautical miles long, and freighters use every mile of it to get to navigable open-ocean water, once we were a couple miles out in the channel, the surrounding water was in the 20 to 30-foot range and plenty deep for us. We turned to port (north), laid in a course for Frying Pan Shoals at a range of 125 nm, hoisted the spinnaker in the southeast breeze and we were off! Although the sunset that evening was magnificent, the clouds and colors foretold the coming of tropical storm Claudette. We knew we wanted to keep moving to make Beaufort before the storm. We flew the spinnaker all night long in 10 to 15-knot breeze that clocked from southeast to south to southwest through the night.
One of my personal goals for this voyage is to get back into celestial navigation. Although, I practiced it fairly regularly on my first and single-handed voyage to The Bahamas and Virgin Islands in 2020, when Rhett and I were on our Bahamian voyage this spring I got caught up in other things and didn’t break out the sextant once.
The next day (Saturday) we had clear skies and gentle conditions in the middle of the day and I was able to get a good noon sight of the sun on the sextant. If you’re new to the HJ Sailing blog and interested in celestial navigation, I wrote a detailed three-part mini series on the topic (one, two, three).
There are two general steps to determining one’s position with celestial navigation. The first is taking the “sight” of the sun (or moon or certain stars) with the sextant and the second—which can be done later—is “working out the sight” (doing all the mathematical calculations to yield a latitude and longitude on the earth. While this is purely a hobby for me (I depend on Hazel’s multiple GPS units), it’s a good backup to know if everything else were to stop working and, more importantly, it gives the navigator a real feel of what is going on in our sky every day whether we notice it or not. It also is a humbling reminder of the skill of celestial navigators before the advent of GPS.
I’m happy to say that my accuracy on this sight was within a couple miles of our actual position (well within the margin of error for a respectable amateur navigator). Also, speaking of the skill of pre-GPS navigators, it was Rhett’s first time seeing me go through the entire process and she was especially interested as her father was a navigator in the US Air Force.
Shortly after taking the noon sight we crossed over Frying Pan Shoals which is off the coast of Cape Fear. Although we were about 30 nm off the coast of North Carolina with no land in sight, we were in 40 to 50-feet of water over the shoals and, with the sun high above, we could see color in the water from the bottom. After clearing Frying Pan Shoals we laid in a course for Beaufort NC at a range of 85 nm. North Carolina has three great capes (as I learned from Captain Monty in Charleston aboard Song of the South). They are (from south to north): Cape Fear (with its Frying Pan Shoals), Cape Lookout (with Cape Lookout Shoals) and Cape Hatteras (with Diamond Shoals). Beaufort is tucked in just to the west of (down the coast from) Cape Lookout and Cape Lookout Shoals.
In the second evening of our passage, the wind piped up and we chose to douse the spinnaker while the sun was still up. Besides, our waypoint ETA at Beaufort was showing around 0200 (2:00 a.m.) on Father’s Dayn and we weren’t going to enter the inlet at night so there was no use making landfall before sunrise and daylight. The wind stayed “up” all night (blowing 20 to 25 knots) so we continued to make good time under Hazel’s yankee headsail.
As we tracked the weather throughout the passage we were happy with our decision to “just” sail to Beaufort and not attempt to round Cape Hatteras on this sail. Tropical storm Claudette had made landfall in Louisiana and was racing across the Southeast US toward North Carolina and Virginia. As we neared the Beaufort Inlet early Sunday morning, the rain started.
If you’d ever driven the Outer Banks of North Carolina and marveled at the amount of the water in the Pamlico Sound and other sounds and estuaries in the watershed, it might have also occurred to you to wonder, Where does all that water go when the tide ebbs (goes out) and floods (comes back in)? The simple answer is, through the limited number of inlets in the Outer Banks. Unfortunately, we entered Beaufort Inlet during a strong ebbing tide (we were going in and the tide was going out). In addition the south wind was blowing against the ebbing tide. This made for a slow go and some pretty big waves in the inlet. I had Hazel’s 27-horsepower diesel engine running at 3,000 RPM which would have driven us at 5 knots in calm and still water. However, the GPS SOG (speed over ground) got down to 1.8 knots at one point in the inlet—meaning we were fighting more than 3 knots of tidal current. All the while, we’re navigating red and green channel buoys and trying to reconcile what we’re seeing on deck with our paper charts and GPS! Had the weather been better, we might have chosen to stand-off the coast for a couple hours and wait for slack tide at low tide so we wouldn’t be fighting a current. However, with the skies darkening and a little thunder rumbling and Claudette coming, we made a good decision to get off the water.
The age of the homes and how well they are maintained says a lot about the residents. In addition, we visited the NC Maritime Museum and—among other things—learned of the pirate Blackbeard’s exploits in this area. A friend we met during our stay was nice enough to drive us past a house reported to be owned by Blackbeard (and also the oldest house in town).
As I close this post, you may be wondering, What do flip flops have to do with any of this? By happenstance, the professional editor that I engaged to edit my manuscript for Heeling is Healing lives in Beaufort (she’s also an author and poet). It’s funny because when Rhett, Hazel and I were in Charleston, my editor had finished her work on the manuscript and returned it to me via email. I mailed her a check on our last day in Charleston (in case we decided to skip Beaufort). However, we made it to Beaufort before my check did!
Back to flip flops—I had never met my editor face to face prior to our time in Beaufort and the three of us (editor, Rhett and me) ended up at a waterside restaurant for dinner. The asymmetry in the beginning of the dinner was bizarre. While I knew a bit about my editor from her web site and talking to her, she knew so much more about Rhett and Colleen and me and our stories from her in-depth read of my manuscript.
Over dinner, she asked Rhett about how Rhett was faring on the boat. As conversations between females can often go, the topic landed on shoes and—specifically—how many pairs of shoes Rhett had onboard for the voyage. Rhett deftly answered the question with a question, “Do flip flops count?” It was a brilliant parry to not directly answer the question with me present. However, I suspect that when I later excused myself to visit the boy’s room, Rhett shared the true shoe inventory.
We’re doing last-minute preparations this morning to check-out of the marina we’ve been in for the past 3 nights and plan to anchor off Front Street in Beaufort for a night. The weather starting on Friday of this week is looking excellent for our 600+ nm sail to New England. As with previous passages, if we don’t like what we are seeing, we could “just” sail to the Chesapeake Bay but we’d like to save the Chesapeake for our southward sailing in the fall. We’ll see.
PS: I just this morning, I did learn a valuable lesson on the worth of Rhett’s accoutrements. Long story, but I needed to clean some crud out of a spare diesel jug. While the jug was washed and empty, I wanted to get it totally dry inside before refilling it with diesel. On a sunny, dry day I could have just let it sit in the sun with the top off. However, we’re getting a lot of rain and my “ingenious” solution was to borrow Rhett’s hair dryer to get some warm air in the jug and dry it out. She was a good sport about it and I realized the value of a good hairdryer on a boat. We’re now thinking of marketing our own line of shampoo called “Gee, Your Hair Smells like Diesel Fuel.” I’ve also got my eyes open for alternate uses of shoes!
Hazel James standing by on channel 16.