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By - Andrew Linn - Salem, Oregon - USA

To Part Two

To Part Three

Where Blackbeard Played

The OBX130 is an informal, unsupported, sailing and camping event that takes place in the scenic Outer Banks off North Carolina. More information can be found at http://obx130.com

We arrived at the campground on Cedar Island mid-morning on Sunday after dragging our boat, Laguna Dos: Blue Laguna, 1300 miles across the heartland of America, from her home in Oklahoma to the windswept shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The drive had been grueling, but it had been a different kind of gruel than that which was to follow over the next five days.

The author with the pirate-y Stewart Bartlett

At the beach was a motley collection of small boat enthusiasts: The entire male side of the Moffitt clan: Bill, Paul (organizer of the OBX130), and Sean. Bill had brought his Michalak-designed Mikesboat, Ember's Watch, as well as his good friend, Chuck “the Duck” Leinweber, owner/operator of Duckworks Boating Supplies. Sean had brought his Michalak-designed Piccup Squared, Patox, while pirate-y looking Paul came with just a friend, Stuart Bartlett, who looked even more pirate-y with three-foot dreadlocks, a scruffy beard, and authentic pirate accent from his native home of Essex, England. Luckily for us, Paul and Stuart, having driven down from Philadelphia, PA, were to be 'free-boaters' rather than freebooters as they were going to hitch rides on any available craft.

All the way from Holland, Michigan, and already in the water, was David Chase, with his boat Northern Gannet, the only other Mikesboat known to exist. David had his boat professionally built and she brought joy to the eyes of all who beheld her.

David Chase at the helm of "Northern Gannet"

Tony Day had the shortest commute, coming from Winterville, NC, with his Princess 22, Susan G, a cat-ketch designed by B&B Yacht Designs. As we guided her off the trailer and into the water, the affable Mr. Day patted her stem and lovingly declared in his strong southern accent, “This boat represents three years of my life.”

Tony Day relaxes aboard his Princess 22 "Susan G"

“Mac” McDevitt brought his blue, roto-molded Windrider 17 from Essex, NY and was eager to see how she performed against the yellow Windrider 17 Bob Grona had trailered up from Huntsville, TX. The participant list of the '10 OBX130 was rounded out with David Ware from Rockport, TX, with Merlin, his modified Bolger peapod, that, in addition to being stretched 1.5x or 2x, has a unique hard bimini for sun protection.

“Mac” McDevitt aboard his Windrider.

The OBX130 was also providing a bit of a messabout for several members of the Philadelphia chapter of Traditional Small Craft Association (TSCA.) Mike Wick and John Guidera had a Melonseed dinghy, Doug Oeller and Kevin MacDonald had the Comfort, a beautifully built Marshcat, and Phil Maynard brought his Curlew 17 that was powered with the motor from a Subaru lawnmower. The men from the TSCA planned to stay in camp at Cedar Island and go on daysailing excursions.

The TSCA crew setting up camp.

While we waited for evening, Mike Monies and I splashed Blue Laguna and did a test run, sailing out the narrow channel with the 10-12 mph wind directly in our teeth. After the Laguna's maiden voyage in the Everglades Challenge in March, 2010, Mike had made some adjustments to the rigging and we wanted to test them out. She performed wonderfully, pointing very well and came through the stays without a hitch. By backing the forward sail while powering with the aft sail, we could bring her through the eye of the wind in less than a boat length. We easily beat to windward and zipped out the narrow channel, spun her about, and ran her wing-and-wing back to the dock.

The wind was blowing and rain was spitting – the first tropical depression of the year was threatening to form just off shore – so after the Captain's Meeting, we adjourned to an excellent meal of barbecued ribs (buccaneer style) at the Driftwood Inn and retired to our camps. After dark, the last member of our expedition pulled in, Pete Lamarche from Kingsville, Ontario. This plucky Canadian had a very well appointed production boat rarely seen in the US, a Nordica 16 named Jester. Pete had run into a bit of bad luck as he had no charts. He had been expecting to navigate with his brand new, US purchased GPS, but the GPS had to be initialized while connected the internet, and there was no internet capability at Cedar Island. Bill, the senior Moffitt, proffered a slightly-less-than-adequate-but-better-than-nothing sport fisherman map produced by the North Carolina tourism board, which Pete gladly accepted.

Pete Lamarche from Kingsville, Ontario.

That night, the skies opened up at 12:59 am, and I had the first inkling that my supposedly 'waterproof' bivysack sleeping system might not have been an appropriate choice for a week-long sailing excursion in the springtime on the Carolina coast.

Monday dawned with gray skies, clouds, and lots of wind. Mike and I left the beach first, after rowing away from the docks, grounding in some reeds, and hoisting our dual balanced lugsails without endangering the other boats in our flotilla. The wind was a perfect 10-12 mph from slightly north of east and we were able to sail out the channel and weather the headlands without a tack. I had 'gone cheap' on the charts for this trip and printed out NOAA Booklet charts for the region -11550 for the area around Cedar Island and north, 11545 for the Core Sound south to Cape Lookout Bight. Being the clever lad I am, I had sealed them against the weather in plastic sheet protectors from Office Depot. Within minutes the light rain had found access through the sheet protectors and soaked the charts. While this might have been a disaster, I had two bits of luck in my favor: First, I had used a laser printer to print the charts and toner is not hydrophilic like inkjet ink – so the printing didn't run and the pages were still legible. Second, the Laguna has a wonderfully shallow draft, about five inches the way we had her loaded, so the need for charts in the notoriously skinny, but rock-less, waters of the Outer Banks was reduced – not eliminated, just reduced.

Our goal for the day was an abandoned Core Sound Rod and Gun Club (N34° 48.263 W76° 22.538) about midway between the launch at Cedar Island and Cape Lookout Bight to the south, about 13 crow-flying miles from Cedar Island, but more like 19 by boat. The wind was beginning to stiffen so we decided to run almost all the way across the Core Sound to seek protection in the lee of the barrier islands. The shallow waters quickly build a steep chop that makes sailing a tad unpleasant as the Laguna's flat bottom slaps across the wavetops. The rest of the fleet sailed in the deeper waters closer to the lee shore, over by the mainland. This required them to tack several times to gain sea room, and Patox, Sean's little piccup pram, was taking heavy spray as her blunt snout smashed through the chop. In a short time and with great regret, Sean prudently decided to live to sail another day and returned to the docks, followed by Ember's Watch with his father at the helm and Chuck acting as ballast. Sean left the mighty Patox in the care of the TSCA group and shifted his dunnage to the much larger Mikesboat, demoted from Captain to 1st Mate. The other Moffitt, Paul, had joined David Chase on his Mikesboat, Northern Gannett, while Stuart was sailing in absolute luxury on Tony Day's Princess 22, Susan G - the 'Queen Mary' of our fleet, the two sails of her ketch rig flying proud over her cream colored hull. Both Windriders were being single-handed, as was Jester, the Nordica 16 from Canada, and David Ware's double-ender, Merlin.

Sean returns to the docks - Bill Moffitt at the helm of "Ember's Watch".

The passage to the gun club took a heavy toll. On Blue Laguna, our first scare came when the rudder grounded and popped out of its gudgeons. We were ripping along at over 8 mph when Mike noticed he didn't have any steerage, looked back, and sounded the alarm. I scrambled over the aft storage compartment and snagged the steering lines that kept the dangling rudder attached to our stern (Mike has the Laguna set up with centralized steering, running lines from the tiller around the aft cockpit to the deckbeam amidships.) As I struggled to pull the slipping, sliding, slithering, rudder assembly back into the boat, Mike steered by alternately backing the forward sail allowing it to fall off. It was a masterful bit of seamanship that proved to us the symmetrical sail rig of the Laguna was the true balancing force and the rudder was there to provide fine-tuning. After a few frustrating attempts, the pintles finally lined up with the gudgeons and I was able to re-ship the rudder. Mike had me tie a bit of small line over the tiller and under the gudgeon to keep the rudder in its place in the future.

The rudder had popped when we had grounded (I’d lashed down the kick-up rudder’s downhaul) but that was not the only time we grounded on that first day's passage. As shallow drafted as the Laguna is, the waters of the Core Sound are even shallower. We skipped over the sands on the north side of Dump Pass (N34° 30.949’, W76° 19.315) moving at 10 mph in waters as skinny as eight inches is just as thrilling as it sounds – but just as were really beginning to scream, we came to a screeching halt. Mike had the sails set perfectly for the conditions and we could feel Blue Laguna struggling to pop up on plane. We could hold speeds of just over 10 mph for 30 seconds or more, then it'd feel like she'd just pop up and slide, and we'd touch 12 mph before she'd suck back down again. The wake looked like it was coming from a powerboat and I could see the ripples in the sand as our boat sped south. One more pop-up, one more touch of 12.2 mph, and we slid to a soft stop. As soon as she struck, we cast loose the sheets to prevent her from going broadside and rolling. I hopped out to push, lightening the load, while Mike worked the sails for power and we skip/bumped along for several yards, then Mike hopped overboard as well. As the water was only ankle deep and the bottom was soft sand, working the boat free was no major chore. We ended up pushing her along for 400 yards or so before we cleared the shallows and started ripping south again.

By this time, the fleet was scattered and out of sight. With just a coordinate for our GPS and a set of soggy, low-resolution charts, we made our way towards the gun club. The straight-line bearing from the GPS had us going over waters charted at six inches. We were reluctant to run aground again, so we dropped off the wind a bit, aiming for waters listed to be a generous 12 inches or so. Even as the winds were easing, we still made good time and soon identified the cupola of the abandoned gun club on the horizon. We again ran afoul of the shallows just before the docks as we threaded through some marshy patches. Tony Day in his Susan G (the Princess 22) hailed us, saying he and Stuart were about an hour out, just entering the shoals in front of the gun club – then they grounded. We were well practiced at grounding by now, so through fits and starts, we made it to the dock well before any of the other boats, so we sat on the dock and watched the fun.

Mike and the author on the docks at the Gun Club.

Susan G arrived in due time, followed by both Mikesboats, and quite a bit later, McDevitt in his Waverider 17. We learned that David Wade had assessed the conditions and elected to stay on shore, and that Bob Grona had decided to keep his Waverider 17 on shore as well. It must be said that the TSCA guys had set up a very nice, very dry, camp back at Cedar Island, complete with a screened in tent for sitting and listening to Doug Oeller sing and play sea chanteys on his guitar. A smart man would have had an easy choice between day-sailing and eating in restaurant or striking out downwind for a multi-day expedition in dodgy weather and fitful seas.

The final arrival was Pete Lemarche in Jester, his Nordica 16 – the 1’ 10” draw of his full keel had played havoc in the skinny waters of Core Sound. Upon arrival, he anchored out a bit, hopped overboard with a cooler, informed us all that May 24th is the Queen's Birthday, and gave us all a beer. It was then we learned that besides not having a 'real' chart or working GPS, he also didn't have a VHF radio, as VHF operators are required to be licensed in Canada. Say what you will about how a man prepares for an excursion, with his cheery attitude, sturdy boat, and free beer, I liked the cut of his jib.

The ruins of the Core Sound Rod and Gun Club.

Our campsite was a flat patch of deerfly-infested ground that housed the ruins of the Core Sound Rod and Gun Club. While I slathered on sunscreen and bug spray, I struck up a conversation with the grizzled foreman of a survey crew that was driving a reference stake into the front lawn of the club. This man had attended parties at the gun club in his youth and told me a bit of its history as he monitored the other two members of his crew from the comfort of a folding chair. I learned the US government converted the Outer Banks into a National Seashore in the early 1970's, condemning all the buildings and residences thereon. At first, the foreman had been angry about the condemnation, then finally admitted it had probably been a good thing. [to be read in a deep, gravelly voice with a thick, southern accent] “Sure'n the club took care 'o thea prop'ty, but mosta the folks were just trashin' these islands. The gub 'ment musta hauled ova 4,000 rustin' cars offa hea. Cain't even begin ta' count the tons o' garbage. People done got theyselves kicked offa these islands.”

Between episodes of running the gauntlet of deerflies to get over and explore the Atlantic side of the island – where the surf was REALLY pounding, and sitting on the deteriorating docks, watching black skimmers fish and white Ibis fly, we cleaned our boats and gear and picked up trash around our campsite. Paul was adamant that we left the campsite in better shape than we found it.

Pete, Bill and the author run the deerfly gauntlet.

Nightfall came as nightfall does and we retired to our various sleeping accommodations. The flies and mosquitoes were so voracious, none dare sleep in the lee of the gun club or near the bushes. While the Moffitts and several others pitched tents on the flat lawn, Mike and I opted to sleep in the roomy Laguna. Michalak had designed the Laguna for excursions and Mike had built her with camping in mind, each cockpit is large enough for four adults to sit in while sailing and the floorboards can be raised up to the level of the seat tops, making a sleeping space large enough to accommodate four adults sleeping in comfort. Mike set his cot and tent up in the forward cockpit while I stretched out in my bivysack in the aft. While the night was dry, the wind continued to blow, noisily driving waves against the sides and under the rocker where they slapped and popped all night.

Sunset at the gun club.

To be conintued tomorrow...

*****

More articles about the OBX130:

I can’t believe I ate half that bag of … ! By Sean Moffitt
The OBX By Paul Moffitt
Article in Reports by Paul
The OBX 130 Website


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