I moved quietly around the boat, bare feet on a dew-covered deck. The white sails sails glowed orange in the morning light. The chill of the night was giving way to warmth of the sun. It dawn on the edge of Pamlico Sound.
The chill of the night was giving way to warmth of the sun. It dawn on the edge of Pamlico Sound.
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I raised anchor and ghosted to the east, the start of my fifth day of sailing the North Carolina waters aboard my Pathfinder "Spartina." The breeze was so light it didn't ruffle the mirrored surface of Hickory Creek. I was in no hurry. Long Shoal River was 18 miles to the north. I knew the midday breeze would kick up and carry me on my way. In the early morning I was content to drift along, just like the twenty or so dolphins lazing about Wysocking Bay. Sleek gray bodies, they spread out over a few acres of the bay, rolling gently, slipping under the surface. No rush to go anywhere, just enjoying the morning.
|This is the general sailing area for this trip.
This was my fourth cruise on Spartina. Each and every journey has added to my confidence in the Pathfinder's ability. I find what I need in an open boat - comfort and safety. Food and gear were stowed away for a six day trip. Eight gallons of water hid under the bunk flat, crackers, canned fruit, packets of tuna and rice taking up just a tiny bit of the space under the thwart. A two burner stove, bivy sac and boom tent for sleeping were secured by bungee cords. Safety gear, fishing tackle and a stack of good books were all tucked out of the way. What more could I need?
Days earlier I had launched Spartina at Big Trout Marina in Engelhard, NC. I cast off from the dock under blue skies and shared the channel down Far Creek with a shrimp boat named "Secret Woman." The mate glanced at me for a moment before turning his eyes west towards the sound. Measuring nearly 80 miles long and 15 to 30 miles wide, Pamlico Sound is the largest lagoon on the east coast of the United States. Countless bay, coves and creeks line its shores. I had made two earlier cruises on the sound, one by myself and another with longtime friend Bruce Hollingsworth. I find I enjoy the wide open, lightly travelled waters. I can easily sail for a day and see just one or two boats in the distance. On this day a steady north wind carried me on broad reach at four knots south towards Wyscocking Bay. I reached the wide bay in the early afternoon, turned west just past Long Point and anchored just off a little channel that wound back in to the marshes of Lone Tree Creek.
| I cast off from the dock under blue skies and shared the channel down Far Creek with a shrimp boat named "Secret Woman".
I had left a chart with my wife showing my expected cruising area for the trip. I had a rough idea of a couple of sailing plans. She, along with other family members, would be able to track me by the hour with my Spot Satellite Beacon. Typically I looked for a sail of anywhere from 15 to 30 miles a day. I'm not out to set speed or distance records. I'm much happier being anchored in a quiet cove by early afternoon, casting a lure or settling in to a good book. The chance to visit a new anchorage, relax and get some rest is all I'm after.
|I had a rough idea of a couple of sailing plans. She, along with other family members, would be able to track me by the hour with my Spot Satellite Beacon.
The second and third days carried me west across the widest part of the sound, stopping at Caffee Bay near Swan Quarter and then a fast reach across the wide Pamlico River to Cedar Creek back in the marshes of Mouse Harbor. Both were quiet well protected anchorages with good fishing. A nice speckled trout went from the water to the griddle in a matter a minutes at Caffee Bay, making for the most enjoyable dinner of the trip.
|A nice speckled trout went from the water to the griddle in a matter a minutes at Caffee Bay, making for the most enjoyable dinner of the trip.
Anchored in Mouse's Harbor's Cedar Creek I rode about a series of thunderstorms that swept across the Carolina's during the evening. The mizzen kept me pointing in to the wind as I swung 360 degrees on the anchor at the whims of the cells passing to the north and south. All the while I listened to weather reports and enjoyed a good book, dry and comfortable, under my boom tent.
|Anchored in Mouse's Harbor's Cedar Creek I rode about a series of thunderstorms that swept across the Carolina's during the evening.
Behind those thunderstorms came cool dry air, crystal clear skies and a stiff wind that carried me back across the sound to the west. I passed Swan Quarter Bay, Great Island, Juniper River and Bluff Point with the wind on the port quarter. I watched the Ocracoke ferry ease down the bay from Swan Quarter, then saw a pod of dolphins leaping and splashing at the east end of Great Island. At East Bluff Bay, where the western shore of the sound swings North, the wind disappeared. Floating just off the marsh I made a lazy cast towards the shore and soon had a good fish on the line.
|Floating just off the marsh I made a lazy cast towards the shore and soon had a good fish on the line.
With no rush to be anywhere, I dropped the anchor and fished while listening to baseball playoffs on the radio. Looking to the west the water reflected the deep blue color of the skies and just glittered - that's the only word I can use to describe it - under the crisp fall sun. This was the kind of moment I had been dreaming about for years.
|This was the kind of moment I had been dreaming about for years.
The afternoon breeze kicked up out of the south and pushed Spartina wing and wing back to Wysocking Bay. Entering the bay I dropped the main and continued on under just mizzen and jib - my favorite way to explore an anchorage. I passed a few coves and poked around Mount Pleasant Bay, then swung back out and around Browns Island, settling in to a creek that was unnamed on my chart. This was my longest sail of the cruise. Even with time spent relaxing in East Bluff Bay I had covered thirty miles across the sound.
|The afternoon breeze kicked up out of the south and pushed Spartina wing and wing back to Wysocking Bay.
I learned I was on Hickory Creek from three watermen who passed by in a skiff that evening. One of them, a shrimper, had seen Spartina out on the sound a few days earlier and was glad to get a closer look at the yawl. I have had a lot of people say nice things about my Pathfinder the last few years, but it was interesting to watch these watermen - who's experience on the water goes back generations - take a hard look at the boat. From the split rig to the hull, they all approved of it as a seaworthy craft.
|Here is my GPS track for the cruise
The next day I headed north to a tiny island at the mouth of Long Shoal River. Anchoring near shore I went for a walk, my first time off of the boat in five days. From there it was a close-hauled sail across the mouth of the river to yet another quiet anchorage, this one on Otter Creek behind low-lying Shad Point.
|The next day I headed north to a tiny island at the mouth of Long Shoal River. Anchoring near shore I went for a walk, my first time off of the boat in five days.
I was up before dawn on the last day of the trip. The sky was clear, the sun rose behind the thin layer of clouds hanging off the distant Outer Banks. It was just ten miles back to the ramp at Engelhard. With a nice breeze out of the west I was back at the dock by 9 a.m. After six days on the water the GPS showed I had sailed over 120 miles. Great weather, excellent wind, it was a wonderful trip.
|I was up before dawn on the last day of the trip. The sky was clear, the sun rose behind the thin layer of clouds hanging off the distant Outer Banks.
It's early fall now I 've got about six weeks left in my sailing season. I've got a few friends to get out for long-promised day trips. I hope to get out next weekend and sail with the tall ships of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, maybe take another weekend and jead back down to North Carolina to sail and troll for some rockfish in Croatan Sound. And then my sailing will be over for the year. I've got some winter maintenance to do, a little painting and patching. And then I'll dig out the charts and start
looking at a couple cruises for next year.
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