By - Andrew Linn - Salem, Oregon - USA

To Part One

To Part Three

Even though Tuesday dawned with me up and at 'em and making noise, no one started out on the water until about 8 am. The winds had increased overnight, shrieking through the rigging and filling the seas with 'white horses.' We reshuffled the crews, Sean joining Mike and I on the Laguna, Stuart went with Bill and Chuck in a Mikesboat, while Paul found a berth on McDevitt's surprisingly spacious Waverider. David soloed his Mikesboat, Tony was single-handing his beautiful Princess 22, as was Pete in his Nordica 16.

Because the Laguna is so fast, we decided to hold back and cast off later than the rest of the armada. About a mile and a half from the launch, I looked up and saw David's Mikesboat floating high on her side – topsides to the wind. Mike altered course so we could come up in her lee and offer what assistance we could. The winds were howling in the high teens and the chop was up and as we bore down on the stricken Northern Gannet, we could see drybags of gear and other flotsam bobbing to windward in the whitecaps. We'd hoped to come up on her lee, close enough to touch her and help get her under control while we sorted things out, but we bungled our approach. Thankfully, she'd gone over with her offset leeboard on the downward side, but David was standing on the leeboard, trying to right her, and having no luck. He called out “I need help! I can't bring it up!”

"Northern Gannet" on her side.

No sooner said than done, Sean, who had crewed on his father's Mikesboat, said he'd go. Mike said, “Good, you know that boat best. I'll get as close as I can, but you need to hurry!” We were about 20 feet away, downwind, when Sean - safely ensconced in his lifejacket – leapt overboard and into the driving sea. He quickly swam to David while we sheered off and came about for another run. We'd snarled a sheet so our evolution went slower than it should have, but in the time it took us to turn around, they had the Mikesboat up and were bailing. We approached from upwind where Mike got us lined up with some of the floating gear and I was able to snag the largest drybag with the boathook. As we passed, Sean shouted “We are going to use the motor and go to Harker's Island under power!”

Motoring to Harker's Island might be a fine thing for them to do, but neither Mike nor I had ever been to the Core Sound before. Which island was Harker's? I frantically flipped through my NOAA Booklet Chart, trying to find some reference to Harker's. Each sodden sheet was inside a sealed plastic sheet protector, so they were readable, but I couldn't find a Harker's anywhere. Knowing it had to be to leeward (no way were they going to motor against those winds and seas) I searched the pages of the chart to the south. As (bad) luck would have it, Harker's Island was right where the corners of four pages met, so it was spread across four different sheets and no single sheet had a significant portion of it.

Sean and Dave motoring to Harkers Island

NOAA Booklet Charts are great for reference, but just like it says on the cover, they should not be relied upon as your sole navigational aid. Plus, and island is an island, so it can be approached from any side. Where were they going to land? We used the handheld to raise someone from the fleet and got Sean's father, Bill, in the other Mikesboat. We learned the docks were on the south side of the island and that there is a protected cove at a park on the southeastern tip where we could land and watch the seas for their approach. We altered course, set our sails, and headed downwind to Harker's, but the weather wasn't done with us yet. Going fast in a Laguna is easy, trying to slow one down is not. The wind and waves were not going to let us play too many tricks, so even though we were trying to slow down, David, Sean, and the recently righted Mikesboat slowly fell behind, eventually passing over the horizon.

We met Bill, Chuck, and Stuart at the rendezvous, quickly secured the boats, and anxiously scanned the horizon. We saw Pete in his Nordic 16, Jester, sail by under jib alone, going we knew not where as we had no means of communication. While we waited, we wondered if David had been able to start his motor. “What side did the boat land on?” “Starboard, the side with the leeboard.” “Going over on the starboard side is good, the outboard on a Mikesboat is mounted on the port side. The engine would have been out of the water. How high was she floating?” “Very high. I don't think she was down more than a couple inches – almost all of her starboard seating was exposed.” “OK, good, I wonder what's keeping them?” What was keeping them was that they were playing it safe and keeping their speed at a reasonable four miles per hour. We soon spied their masts, then their hull as they approached over the curve of the earth, and minutes later, they were at safe harbor at Calico Jack's (a small harbor with a ramp and tiny store) on Harker's Island.

Sean and David arrive at Calico Jack's

At lunch at one of the two restaurants on Harker's, David told us about the capsize. Northern Gannet had been bowling along nicely with two reefs in her 96 sqft sail when an uncommonly large wave passed under the boat from the back - the wave was steep enough, the rudder was lifted out of the water. Without the rudder's lateral resistance, the boat broached, turning sharply to starboard as she came down the back of the wave. Caught unawares, David guesses he shifted his weight as the port side was still being lifted by the back of the wave, and the boat slowly and gracefully came to rest on her starboard side. David gently slid, rather than fell, out of the boat and swam around to the bottom (now on the downwind side as she floated perpendicular to the wind) and tried righting her by standing on the leeboard, but the sails had trapped too much water for his weight alone to bring her up. He saw us, called out, and the next thing he heard was Sean's voice speaking calmly and clearly from the water near his feet. Still unable to right the boat, they went to the windward side, brailed up the sails and tried again. Without the weight of the water on the sails, the boat was easily righted and they had to bail a relatively small amount of water out of the cockpit. The engine started on the second pull and the rest is ... the rest.

After lunch, which he paid for in appreciation of our efforts, David decided to pull out of the event and head for home. He was in good spirits, still loved his boat, happily accepted the return of his drybag, and set about securing his kit while the rest of us - after I stopped in a at Calico Jack's to purchase a 'real' chart, headed back to our boats.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

The passage from Harker's to our campsite (34° 37.007’, 76° 31.699’) for the night - a spot of beach just south of the historic and impressive Cape Lookout Lighthouse – wasn’t quite as exciting as the capsize, but it did have its moments. Bill was very familiar with the area and carefully explained to us that there was a large submerged sandbar on the passage to the anchorage. He patiently and exactingly told us we'd have to make a dogleg through a well-marked channel and to look for the can buoys, paired in red and green, and to pass between them. We all – including Sean who had made this passage before – nodded in understanding, launched, sailed to the channel, missed it, and ran aground. It turned out I hadn't been listening, Mike hadn't been paying attention, and Sean was just being Sean. Still, the best thing about grounding in a Laguna is that she grounds in a tiny bit of water, so we barely got our feet wet as we got moving again.

Chuck shot this video as we overtook the Mikesboat just before we ran aground.

The 'anchorage' was about a quarter mile down the beach from the lighthouse, more or less across from the Beaufort Channel that separates the western Shackelford Island the Bight of Cape Lookout. It wasn't much of an anchorage, barely protected as it was from the seas being driven down the channel by the north winds. If it was a poor anchorage, it was an even worse campsite. The beach was a strip of sand which ended abruptly at a thin ridge of sand topped by spikey sea grass. We stepped over the ridge onto what looked like a nice, flat, bare patch of sand with just a few clumps of grass scattered about. Past this flat patch, was a higher, lumpier, section of sand completely covered with knotty clumps of brittle, pokey grass. We were on totally exposed to the wind (which was increasing) and the rain (which was beginning to fall.)

Mike and I anchored the boat fore and aft, shifted our some of our gear over the ridge and onto the flat spot, and decided to hike up to see the lighthouse. By this time, it was past five o'clock and the bathrooms at the visitor’s center were locked. We wandered around the lighthouse grounds, reading the signs and learning the history. After an hour or so, we returned to the campsite where we found the tide had come in and that flat spot where we'd stored our gear was actually a tidal flat. We were at a full moon with the highest tides of the year, and our quaint little flat spot was flooded. Our fellow expeditioners had been kind enough to shift our gear to higher ground, but now we needed to find suitable space to set up our sleep systems in the failing light. To make things even more fun, it was just beginning to rain in earnest while the wind was increasing from 'stiff' to 'blowing like stink.'

Moving gear to higher ground

Mike had a single tent designed to be set up on a cot and I had a 'waterproof' bivysack, with an air mattress and sleeping bag. Mike's tent would not stay on the cot in that wind, so I swapped my air mattress for his cot and set up my bivy. It was all of 7:30 pm and the rain started coming down in buckets and everyone turned in for the night. I had paid a lot of money for the technology that had been advertised to make my bivy both “waterproof and breathable.” As it turned out, my bivy was as waterproof as it was breathable - meaning neither - and I spent a horrible, wet, soaking, night watching lightning flash through a tiny gap I had to keep open in the zipper to make sure I didn't suffocate.

Over the next 14 hours, I watched the universe spin around the earth through that tiny, tooth-rimmed gap. Driven by 20+mph winds, rain soaked though my bivy, through my sleeping bag, through my clothes, and through my skin until I was as pruny and wrinkled as if I had spent the night underwater. The pressure of the wind caused my bivy to cleave to me like a second skin - I felt every gust of wind and drop of rain like they were beating against exposed nerves. The rain fell so hard it bored divots in the sand and punched into my head like tiny fists. I didn’t freeze to death because it wasn’t all that cold and while my bivy was just water resistant, it was quite windproof. Had I been in a sleeping bag stuffed with cheap batting or (even worse) goose down, simple convection would have sucked the heat from my body and left me a chattering, gibbering wreck by midnight. As it was, my bag, though only a lightweight, summer bag, is stuffed with Dacron II Holofil™, one of the many lightweight synthetics that insulate even when wet. It was like trying to sleep in the puddle of warm water while being middle of a hurricane.

Through my tiny, dripping, tooth-rimmed, slit of a window on the world, I watched as the sky went from black and streaked with lightning to gray and streaked with lightning. Over the intervening – and sleepless - 14 hours, I had developed a perfect plan. Finally, at 8:30 am, well after dawn and still with no signs of life from the rest of the company, I slopped out of my slimy, clingy, cocoon and stomped over to Paul’s tent. Comfy and dry, he looked slightly alarmed when I peered at him through the mesh and said “Here’s the plan: We call Calico Jack’s and get a water-taxi over here. The guys with cars go to Harker’s and make their way back to Cedar Point, get the trailers, drive back to Harker’s, take the ferry back here, we all sail across, and pull out.” “Um, I suppose we could do that, if that’s what the rest of the group wants . . . but the weather is supposed to get better after 8 pm tonight.” Great, another 12 hours in the wind and rain, and maybe, just maybe, the weather *might* clear. “OK, talk it through. There’s a covered pavilion at the visitor’s center by lighthouse, I’m going there to try to dry out my gear.” I spun on my heel, scooped up my sodden bedding, and tromped off, dead into the wind and rain, trying to cover the quarter mile to the pavilion before I either breathed in so much rain I drowned or the pelting drops flayed the skin from my exposed hands and face.

Gear drying at the visitor center

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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