By - Andrew Linn - Salem, Oregon - USA

To Part Two

To Part One

The pavilion at the visitor's center is a large structure with open sides, exposed rafters, and benches all around. On my stomp up the beach from the camp, I picked up a two-fathom length of 5/16 twisted nylon line that had been lying in the sand. At the pavilion, I used the line to suspend my sleeping bag and bivysack from the rafters while I draped my rain gear, hat, long-sleeved shirt, and any other items I had in my possession from any exposed bolt or corner until the space looked like the aftermath of an explosion inside a sporting goods store. I had considered removing my pants and hanging them up as well, but decided the flora and fauna of Cape Lookout, NC, didn't need to be exposed to the vision of my expanse of pasty white flesh as I pranced about in my quick-dry undies.

Mike and the author at the pavilion

It didn't take very long at all before I was thoroughly bored with watching my clothes dry. It was still blowing like stink and raining puppies, so I figured my gear would be safe enough for me to make a quick run back to camp and grab some food. When I showed up at our motley collection of wind-blown tents, I found everyone very concerned with my state of mind. “Are you OK? You're not mad or anything?” “No no no, I just know that anyone can suffer through one wet night, but two wet nights in a row is hell on earth. I'm just doing my best to dry my stuff.” “OK, and I have room in my tent if you need it tonight.” Once everyone had been reassured, I snagged enough grub to last the day – I had no illusions that my gear was going to dry any time soon – and headed back. There was no use in changing into dry clothes or even grabbing a book to help pass the time as they'd just get soaked on my walk back to the pavilion. I did, however, put on a poncho to keep from getting any wetter than I was already.

At the pavilion, there was nothing to do but try to wring water out of my gear and have a staring contest with a bird, bright red cardinal that had come in looking for a handout. He stared me down twice before I gave in and tossed him a sliver of almond – which be promptly lost to some blue/black colored bird that was both thinner and larger than a standard robin (I had a lot of time for observation.) I tried to win back the almond for its rightful owner by shouting at the interloper, but that just scared all the birds away and I was left with just my dripping clothes, the howling wind, and the pounding rain. Finally, after an interminable minute or two, I remembered reading a sea story where the captain of the ship purchased barrels of short pieces of rope before leaving on a long sea voyage. Anytime he thought the men were too idle, he'd set them to picking apart the bits of rope into bits of yarn – supposedly the origin of the term 'yarning' or 'telling yarns' as the men would chatter while they did the busywork. (Upon returning to shore, the captain would then take the barrels of what used-to-be-rope-but-is-now-yarn and sell then to rope makers, completing the cycle of ropelife.)

The author yarning

Eager for any form of stimulus other than wind or rain, I rearranged my gear and began 'yarning' with my two-fathom piece of rope. While this was clearly busywork with no practical purpose, I did learn that in 3-strand twisted-nylon rope, each strand is made from two twisted pairs of strings, and each string made of two pairs of twisted 'yarns.' Four yarns to a string, four strings to a strand, three strands to a rope makes 24 yarns per rope. Additionally, all that twisting requires each yarn to be about four fathoms long to get a two-fathom rope. That's a lot of twisting – or, in my case, a lot of untwisting, so much so that by the time I was done, the rain had stopped, the winds had dropped, the sun had come out, and my gear had dried. Huzzah to that skinty old sea captain, Huzzah!

Back at camp, we had to figure out what we were going to do since we had lost the entire day of Wednesday. As luck would have it, Paul had the foresight to design in a day that would have been used as a messabout, where we could take turns sailing each other's boats. That didn't solve all our problems, however, as the wind was still expected to be coming from the northeast, right in our teeth, blowing strongly in the morning and mitigating through the afternoon. Just to keep us hopeful, the meteorologists at NOAA always included the teaser “possibly shifting to the east in the afternoon” which would have given us the fabled 'Soldier's wind' and allowed us to sail on a broad reach. With nearly 20 sailing miles direct to windward from Cape Lookout to our previous camp at the abandoned gun club, we'd have to do some fine sailing, indeed.

Blue sky over Cape Lookout

As nasty as Tuesday night had been, Wednesday afternoon and evening had me feeling chipper again – chipper but still suspicious of the fickle weather of the Outer Banks. We passed the end of Wednesday exploring the island, crossing over to the Atlantic side and gathering firewood for the bacchanal that evening (any evening spent while sailing and camping deserves to be celebrated with a bacchanal.) Late in the day, we were joined by George Broadlick as he sailed his Bolger-designed Sweet Pea into our little bay. The double-ended Sweet Pea was a little tender for the conditions of the day, especially since George had eschewed the as-designed 59 sqft Leg-o-Mutton for an ~80 sqft Leg-o-Mutton that had been pirated off one of his other 11 boats, an Iain Oughtred design. He had sailed her in from Harker’s Island with three reefs tucked into her sail, and looking exhausted, admitted, “I wish I had four reefs to put in it.” Through George, we learned what had happened to Jester the Nordic 16 with our intrepid Canadian, Pete. As Jester had taken to the seas without benefit of a chart, GPS, or radio, Pete had spent the previous night anchored out and had motored his way to Harker’s, where as he arranged passage to Cedar Island for his truck and trailer, he was heard to resolved to return next year, better equipped and more prepared. Night fell, the fire roared, and the sounds of story telling blew across the windswept sea grass. Eventually, the laughter died and we shuffled off to our respective sleeping areas, with one eye still on the clouds, I finagled some space in Sean’s tent.

George Broadlick arrives with three reefs

Thursday’s dawn came with clear skies, moderate seas, and winds in the low teens. We shipped Sean with us in the Laguna again, while Paul and Stuart - the other two free-boaters – found berths in other boats. The tide was scheduled to change from high to low at 7:10 am, and the resulting outrush of water through the Barden Inlet (pinchy point between the strand of Cape Lookout and Shackleford Island) might slow us to a stop if the wind was against us, as predicted. The armada left the shore at roughly 6:30 am, the Laguna sliding easily across the chop. We were doing so well, in fact, we decided to pull over at the park at Harker’s Island and use the facilities. It was only 8:30 and the park’s visitor center didn’t open until 9:00, but they had been so impressed watching our approach, the rangers opened the doors early. You just can’t beat southern hospitality.

We dilly-dallied so long at the ranger station that most of the fleet passed us by. The crew of Laguna Dos: Blue Laguna might have been getting a little cocky by this stage of the OBX130, maybe just a little too sure of our much vaunted speed and shallow water capabilities. We set out, making ‘short-boards’ to the east-northeast and ‘long-boards’ to the north-northwest, but the winds decided to stick it to us once again, only this time they dropped to less than 5 mph. The Laguna was designed for the brutal winds of the Laguna Madre in the Texas Gulf, not for farting along in light winds and capricious breezes. Ember’s Watch, the remaining Mike’s Boat, captained by Bill, the senior Moffett, crewed by the privateer, Stuart, and live ballasted by Chuck ‘the Duck’ Leinweber soon disappeared from sight over the horizon. Still, even with our extended potty stop and puffy little baby breezes, we seemed to be in second place. Then, as we approached the abandoned gun club at the pace of an arthritic snail, we saw the strangest thing: Ember’s Watch hard aground on the same shallows that had plagued them back when they had first run afoul of the sands back on Monday. The slow-to-learn crew seemed to come alive at the sight of our lily-white sails bearing down on them. All the sudden, what had been a rather dull day at sea took on an urgency usually associated with the America’s Cup. We were still nearly a mile out when Ember’s Watch suddenly broke free of the shoals and started moving towards the docks. Both Sean and I noticed something funny about how the boat was moving – she was making headway, but her mainsail seemed to be luffing. We were intersecting at and obtuse angle, they having tacked to the docks from a more northerly position, so as we approached the finish line, our boats were getting closer together as well. It didn’t take long for their retched trickery to reveal itself: they were running to the docks under paddle power while the pure and stalwart Hearts of Oak in the Laguna were sailing in, as sailing men do. Then we ran aground and they gained the docks ahead of us. In disgust, I broke out the sweeps and powered us in as well.

Bill and crew secure Ember's Watch at the Gun Club docks as Blue Laguna rows in.

For the rest of the afternoon, the remainder of the convoy came in, we’d been followed closely by MacDevitt and Paul in the Windrider 17, Tony Day in the lovely Princess 22, Susan G, and finally, incredibly, George in his Bolger Sweet Pea. I was very impressed with his sailing ability, as the Sweet Pea was the least weatherly craft in our fleet, and he had his trailer back on Harker’s Island, which he had passed ten miles ago. Tenacity is a trait I do not possess, and I am always in awe when I encounter it.

The evening at the abandoned gun club passed like it was wrapped in enchantment. As the sun set, it cast a golden glow over the fleet as it rested at anchor. Black skimmers – birds unknown to me before this trip – silently slipped over the surface of the water, dragging their beaks through the ripples as they flew along, hunting unwary fish just under the line where the sea meets the air. On land, fireflies appeared in the field around the ruins of the club, dancing like living stars among the grasses and scrub. Even the deerflies had quit the field and with the exception of the sparkling fireflies, the air was remarkably free of bugs. Later, well after dark, flounder fishermen passed by the shore, two men with gigs on the bow while a compatriot operated the lights and motor – another phenomena I had never witnessed before. As all good things come to an end, so did this enchanted evening. As I made up my bed in the stern of the Laguna, the wind began to rise, driving the seas before it, and I spent another sleepless night, tied to the docks of with the wind shrieking in the rigging and the waves pounding the hull.

Sunset at the Gun Club - Sweetpea and Princess 22

Friday dawned in an ugly light, the winds were blowing in the high teens directly from our desired direction of travel, frothing the waters were a field of white horses. There was nothing for it, and I was in the worst position a sailor could be: I had a schedule to keep, a plane to catch, and a list of appointments to meet. The conditions were untenable for leaving shore, and I fretted as the wind continued to blow foam from the tops of the waves. At what level of the Beaufort Scale do streaks appear on the surface? We spent the morning hiding in the ruins of the gun club’s porch, perched on cinder blocks and scowling at the seas and sky. Tony must have been fretting even more than I, as he upped sail and took off in his Princess 22 before anyone else dared set forth on the water. We all watched in amazement as he fell off before the wind and was slowly blown across the sound. We could just barely make out his twin sails against the gray bulk of the mainland as he fought his way back to windward. By the time he had reached a spot directly across from us, the winds seemed to start calming and an unspoken, unconscious, decision was made for everyone to take to the sea.

Hiding in the ruins of the gun club.

Sean was shifted to the Waverider 17, Paul to his father’s Mike’s Boat, we took on Stuart as crew on the Laguna, and everyone kicked off the beach with anticipation of an interesting day at sea. It had been four days since we had sailed in these waters, and I had already forgotten where the shallows were, not that it mattered as we missed them all, this time around. We were still beating to windward, still shipping spray (but no water over the bow or sides,) and still pinching the wind to keep as northeasterly course as possible, but something was different about today: We were running for home. Everyone had launched with reefed sails, and as long as the sails were reefed, the Mike’s Boat kept pace with us, actually keeping to windward to us and perhaps slowly gaining. When the wind began to mitigate and drop into the middle teens, the Mike’s Boat shook out the reefs from her 96 sqft mainsail and we shook out our reefs, going from ~ 75 sqft in total area to ~150 sqft. The Laguna really started strutting her stuff and she took off, skittering across the wavetops and walking away from everyone. We rounded the headland that guarded the entrance to the run to the campground at Cedar Island, our ridiculously shallow draft once again making up for the pitiful quality of our charts. We pulled into the campgrounds, had our boat loaded on the trailer, and stowed our gear before any other sails peeked around the headlands.

With reefs out, Blue Laguna runs for home

Our final evening of the 2010 OBX130 was spent in good company, surrounded by people with whom I had suffered and celebrated through a common experience. I have chosen sailing as a venue for me to meet new people, see more of America, and learn more about both the history of our country and also the forces that helped shape it. The OBX130 was a fantastic and fulfilling event in every respect.

The End

Andrew Linn


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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