Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Charleston

Jan and I can not say enough about Charleston. It is our favorite stop along the ICW and gets my vote as the best tourist city in the USA. See my post of July 2008 for more commentary and pictures.

Since this was my second visit I was not as dazzled by the history or architecture. On this visit I concentrated on the people of Charleston. We treated ourselves to a fine dinner of low country food at Hank's Restaurant, an establishment that I think rivals anything New Orleans has to offer. Besides great food the waiter offered us one juicy tidbit of local dialect. We asked him if he was from Charleston. He said no that he was 'cum year' (translation--come here), but with any luck his grandchildren would become 'bin years' (translation--been here).

As a guy I usually notice the local ladies, but in Charleston I am fascinated by the men. They are almost all small, well formed and have a cocky attitude disproportionate to their size. They have a southern drawl but their enunciation is precise. They are perfect replicas of the small English gentlemen who came here 300 years ago to carve out a place in the swampy wilderness. Then 150 years ago these same small men launched a quixotic rebellion against the industrial revolution. Indeed the Civil War was launched from the very battery that Jan and I strolled along yesterday, now very peaceful. The effect is so striking that the 'cum years' like Jan and I are as noticeable as we were in Greece.

During this visit to Charleston we were blessed to rendezvous with Jan's Aunt Fran and cousin Tammie from Montgomery, Alabama. They were visiting Jan's cousin Kelly, who so graciously invited us to share Thanksgiving. They picked us up and opened their home for a lovely Thanksgiving feast. The pic is of Fran, Tammie and Chris, Kelly's husband, our gracious host.

A Little Inside, A Little Outside

From Morehead City the ICW leads almost straight west. As White Pepper motored along I as struck by how many large houses lined the waterway and then lined the beach to the south. Mile after mile passed by in an endless array of large homes actually crowded close together along this relatively remote stretch of waterway. There must be a great deal of money in North Carolina to support so many second homes.

Eventually we got to Camp LeJeaune, the Marine base. There were no homes along the 20 mile stretch. We did get to see some of our marines practicing landings along the waterway. Actually, I think that they were just enjoying a lovely day messing around in boats. We asked permission to take their pictures and they were pleased to pose for us. At the southern end of Camp LeJeune is an anchorage well known up and down the East Coast. It is a large dredged and well marked basin maintained by the Marines but available to the public. As it is the only protected spot for 20 miles north or south it is justifiably popular. The pictures of the trawler was taken at this anchorage.

The next day we travelled through southeastern NC. The land changed from pine trees to the lush grass lands of the low country. Homes were a bit more spares and spare. At nightfall we came to Wrightsville Beach. I was amazed at how busy and crowded this town was in the middle of nowhere. While there were few sailboats, there must have been a thousand power boats of all sizes and shapes here. They fish the wetlands and use the shallow inlets that line the Carolina coast. We anchored in the large well known anchorage off of Mott's Channel.

Our third day in the ICW as especially affected by tidal currents. We were headed for Carolina Beach. In this stretch of the ICW there are numerous shallow inlets that are not suitable for sailboat navigation, but they cause fierce currents to flow. As you approach the inlet there is a strong ebb or flood, but as the boat passes the inlet there is a swirl and then a contrary flood or ebb. It averages out but is disconcerting. As we passed Carolina Beach and traversed Snow's Cut the White Pepper could barely make 3 knots against the 3 knot current. We were rewarded as we turned into the Cape Fear River as it was in full ebb. We roared down the river at 9 knots basking in a delightful summer like day. It was hard to believe that this was late November.

The tide spit White Pepper out into the North Atlantic about 2:30 pm. This was her first taste of salt water in over two years. She seemed to revel in the sea. We squared away to the SW in light breezes headed for Charleston SC. The overnight sail was exquisite. The water was calm, the moon bright and the breeze gentle. We entered the Charleston jetty by 11 am and were tied up at the Charleston City Marina by 2:30 pm. The trip was a wonderful reintroduction to the ocean and it saved three days of motoring along the ICW.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Peltier Creek, North Carolina

When a very old, faithful piece of equipment breaks down, there is a sense of betrayal. Of course the equipment might feel betrayed and complain of lack of adequate maintenance, etc. White Pepper's transmission probably was dying over the past few months, getting more difficult to engage and making unusual noises such as a high pitched whine. Finally, it just gave out completely at Oriental, NC. I never was able to get a diagnosis except "got very hot."

Another queasy feeling came after the mechanic announced that the transmission was so old that it was not made anymore and replacement parts were not available except by special order from Japan. It could only be rebuilt and only if spare parts were available from some other old transmission. When you hear something like that it makes you wonder what else is going to give way next, maybe the captain?

Thankfully it all worked out well thanks to the good folks at Sailcraft Marina in Oriental and at Mac Boring Yanmar in Wilmington, NC. While waiting for the work to be completed Jan and I added a coat of bottom paint, compounded and waxed the hull, redid the vanish on the exterior teak, and every possible boat chore we could think of. Sailcraft redid the cutlass bearing.

White Pepper left Oriental after many rounds of thank yous and hand shakes. The transmission performed to perfection as we had to motor 28 miles down the ICW. Jan wanted to skip Morehead City and press on at the current was fair and we had had enough of restaurants and shopping. Five miles further south there is a lovely very narrow and shallow creek, Peltier Creek. We bumped getting in. Bumping was inevitable as today was the first day with new paint on the bottom. Once inside we were rewarded with a 360 degree protection and perfectly flat water. I dropped the anchor in 6 feet of water. Luckily the high tide is for 8 am tomorrow. Peltier Creek is not a typical stop on the milk run south but it worked for us. By the way we are staying inside this week. The weather is perfect but the wind is predicted to be SW (on the nose) all week, so going offshore seems pointless.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Outer Banks

White Pepper is idled with transmission problems. While waiting out the weeks for the transmission to be rebuilt Jan and I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and tour NE North Carolina by rental car. First we were are to drive back to Virginia and visit the children, Layla and Kristi, in northern Virginia. They call it NOVA. We had a wonderful visit, and I got to meet my first grand puppy, Jawa, a sweet Newfoundland mix pup.

After the visit we headed back south. We crossed Hampton Roads on the new tunnel-bridge and saw with mixed emotions the great row of cranes that line the Norfolk Reach. We had only sailed past them last month and did not expect to see them again for many months. We flew over the ICW on I-64W looking down at the small creek off of the South Fork of the Elizabeth River that marks the beginning of the Dismal Swamp route. Of interest this bridge opens rarely for very large ship traffic. About 30 minutes after we crossed over the bridge opened and then was stuck open for 4 hours. Traffic was snarled all over Norfolk all afternoon and night.

We passed Coinjack, the town that marks where the Chesapeake and Albemarle canal enter Pamlico sound. Then our trusty rental car took us over Currituck Sound onto the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. The first town is Kitty Hawk. Kitty Hawk is congested and reminds me of the nicer and newer parts of Galveston. Kitty Hawk does and always will have the Wright brothers. The First in Flight National Park is now in a new town, Kill Devil Hills, just south of Kitty Hawk. It is well worth a visit. I was amazed at how short the first flight was--159 feet. It lasted 14 seconds. I walked the actually distance in 22 seconds. That was in 1903. It is sobering to consider that only 15 years latter sophisticated planes were warring over the battlefields of WWI.

We spent the night at a quaint inn in Manteo, NC on Roanoke Island. Alert readers will remember that Roanoke Island was the site of the first English colony in the new world. Virgina Dare was the first English child born in the new world about 1587. When the supply boat returned about 1590 the colony and Virgina had vanished without a trace. Its fate is a mystery to this day. The next English try was at Jamestown, VA. They did a little better, if only barely. Manteo has a well developed waterfront as well as a high density, upscale shopping district. It looks like Rodeo Drive in miniature. Maneo and the Roanoke Sound is an eastern alternative to the Alligator and Pungo River route. We may try it on the way north next year.

The national seashore starts just south of Maneo and stretches 40 quite thin miles to Hatteras. It is a spectacular drive. Although reminiscent of Mustang Island and South Padre Islands, it is narrowed. Pamlico Sound on the west is quite large, much more so than the Laguna Madre. The day we drove it was cold overcast and blustery which was great since the Atlantic on our east put on quite a show of great breaking waves. At one point in the town of Rodanthe the waves were washing over the road.
We watched in amazement as hugh breakers rolled across the Oregon Inlet. I may try to sail through the inlet someday but never on a day like that. We only drove as far as Hatteras which looks like a tattered version of Port Aransas. To be fair it is quite isolated and took a severe beating from Hurricane Isabelle several years ago. There are more barrier islands to the south. Some can only be visited by boat. Eventually the island chain rejoins the mainland at Cape Lookout near Morehead City, NC.

But the reason people make this trip is the lighthouses. We stopped at the Bodie Island Lighthouse which is undergoing extensive reconstruction. The high light of the day, however, was the Hatteras Lighthouse. It is a majestic structure as well as a true American icon. Unbelievably it was recently moved 1200 feet back from the beach where erosion threatened to topple it. Also the actual Cape Hatteras has migrated several miles to the south. Proper navigation nowadays uses the Diamond Shoal light tower many miles off shore. The lighthouse was closed for the season so we could not climb it. Pictures would have to do.

We decided to skip the ferry ride across Pamlico sound since it was getting late and dark with the season. The state of North Carolina maintains a vigorous ferry service to various ports in the Pamlico South and across Hatteras Inlet. The drive back to the boat took up across the Alligator River Bridge and through the desolation of the Alligator Game Preserve. This was the scene of much worry sail south a month previously. We reminisced about celebrating my birthday in the Alligator River Marina only 3 weeks previously. Hopefully, I will never see that place again.