Cruising The OBX

Hey Everyone. After a long refit, we finally got around to taking another trip in our 15 foot sailboat "Little Cruiser". We had hoped to go to the Bahamas again, but we ran out of vacation time. Therefore, David and I decided to take a shorter cruise to the Outer Banks (OBX), which is in our own home state of North Carolina. After a 5 1/2 hour drive from Greensboro, we made it to Cedar Island and settled in comfortably at the Driftwood Campground. There we met lots of wonderful people, including a couple from Liberty, North Carolina who let us leave our trailer and our aging Honda Accord in their long term camping spot for the next three weeks. At the time we arrived, the winds were howling out of the North so we used the extra days to pack and provision "Little Cruiser" and to make her ship-shape for our long awaited cruise.

I have to say that I find launch day nerve-racking. There is always so much to do, and in this case we had worked so hard at making "Little Cruiser" brand new that we were afraid of damaging our beautiful boat while sliding her off the trailer into the cold waters of the bay. Luckily everything went off without a hitch, though we did have some trouble getting the boat to float off the trailer initially because the ramp was so shallow and the surrounding waters had silted in heavily since our last visit a decade ago. Once we were safely tied to the dock, we finished putting together all the last little bits and pieces of the rigging, and then we were ready to begin our cruise.

Since the winds were still blowing out of the North, we decided to head South towards Cape Lookout. Our first sail in three years began with a wonderful trip down the shallow waters of the Core Sound in about 15 knots of breeze and two to three foot seas. We passed a lot of neat little fishing villages along the way, and we arrived to anchor after about 40 miles just before dark at the foot of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. This turned out to be an incredible anchorage spot, and that night every 15 seconds a beam of light would illuminate the interior of our cabin as the lighthouse did it's job of guiding mariners safely along this treacherous coast known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Everything was pretty idyllic as we slept soundly until about 2 AM when we heard a loud BANG followed by a series of even louder Thumps...Then we realized that the tide had fallen a lot more than we had expected and we were in fact banging on some brick-sized rocks on the otherwise sandy bottom. In the Sounds there is usually around a foot of tide at most, but near the inlets there can be several feet or more. Obviously, we hadn't taken this into consideration, and now we were bumping on the bottom. Fortunately, we now have five layers of heavy fiberglass on the bottom so there was little damage done to the boat. Soon, the yuloh was put into service, and a new deeper spot was located a hundred yards away. The rest of the night was spent peacefully.

The next morning, we sailed over to nearby Shackleford Bank, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast of fried eggs and toast. Afterwards I did a little shell collecting, and David went off to examine the remains of a large jellyfish that had washed up on the beach. A little later on I spied a few of the many wild ponies which roam the island freely. They are rumored to be the descendants of animals that swam ashore from Spanish ships that had foundered offshore hundreds of years ago. When the tide turned favorable, we ended our onshore explorations, and headed out of the Cape Lookout Bight for the Beaufort inlet while in the lee of the Shackleford Bank with it's 8 miles of beautiful white sandy beaches. Once safely through the inlet we passed Morehead city to port and Beaufort to starboard and entered the Newport River. Continuing down the Core Creek, which is part of the ICW, we noted quite a lot of new expensive housing projects on the shore along the way, but eventually we located a secluded anchorage off the main creek.

The next morning a hazy mist floated over our marshy hideaway, and we sculled out into the Core Creek and then motor-sailed across the Neuse river to beautiful Oriental. We soon discovered that this was a kind of a sailor's Mecca since every marina was packed with sailboats of every size as opposed to the usual motor driven craft that is more prevalent now-a-days. During our brief two day stay, there were plenty of enthusiastic sailors who came by to ask us questions about our little boat and her various adventures. Everyone was particularly nice, and the local baker even made us some fresh bread and offered us the use of his shower to clean up. While we were tied up to the town's dinghy dock, the new owners of "Hogfish" came motoring in after a 7 month cruise to the Bahamas.

We actually knew Rob and Linda from a prior meeting in the Bahamas in 1994, and that evening we got together with another cruising couple from Canada at the local Bistro. However, the next day, it was time for everyone to leave this enchanting town and to start heading North. We soon followed their wakes.
Leaving Oriental in light airs, we ended up doing a 35 mile sail up towards Swanquarter, which is primarily a commercial fishing port. The first evening was spent near town in a small creek North of Swan Point, and the next morning we navigated a well marked cut through Judith Marsh to reach Swanquarter Bay. In a large creek North of the ferry terminal off Landing Road, we were met by a large fishing fleet of well maintained wooden boats. In an age where boats are primarily constructed out of fiberglass and steel, it was a beautiful sight to see all of these wonderful boats still in use. After landing at a long dock near to the main commercial dock, we bought a dozen fresh blue crabs from one vessel for a dollar a pound, which worked out to just $5. David cooked up our lunch in our tiny 3 quart pressure cooker in two tightly packed batches, and we ate our messy but delicious feast on the dock.

The next day we left early for a 64 mile passage in a 20 knot Southerly breeze for Roanoke Island to the North. After about 13 hours we arrived after dark, and located a protected anchorage in a marsh at lower tip of the island. The next day blew 25-30 knots so we spent it resting. It wasn't much better the following morning, but we were restless to move forward so we headed up the Croatan Sound on the western side of the island and made some progress to the North. The seas in the Albermarle Sound looked pretty nasty at the top of the island so we decided to just hide in the lee until the next morning. Then, at daybreak we rounded Roanoke island, and we headed into the Roanoke sound and over to Nags head on the Outer Banks. We anchored behind the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge, but bounced around horribly all night when the winds shifted to the West.

Then we headed back South towards Bodie Island Lighthouse the following morning, and on towards Avon on the island of Hatteras. After 40 miles we arrived just as it was getting really DARK, half an hour after the sun had already set. The water was VERY shallow and we felt our way in a foot of water to find a spot behind a small island called "Big Island!" The next morning we located the deeper water by watching the courses taken by the numerous local windsurfers, and made our way slowly towards Ocracoke island.

Within two hours we passed the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to the east and after 40 miles we anchored in placid Silver Lake. By setting our danforth in about two feet of water near shore, we were easily able to wade ashore for a look around. Of course we were anxious for a dinner out, but alas our favorite restaurant from many years ago, the Pony Island Restaurant, was not open for dinner meals anymore. Therefore, we ate onboard again, though we did enjoyed a nice pork chop meal after a quick visit to the local grocery store.

The next day we sailed just a few miles away to Portsmouth Island. The entire day was spent leisurely exploring Teaches Hole, Ocracoke Inlet and of course Portsmouth Island itself. We even poked our nose out the inlet to visit our old friend the Atlantic Ocean just to see how those long rollers felt. There were lots of smaller boats in the inlet prospecting for fish, and there were a number of people on the beach surf fishing. We then went over to the old village of Portsmouth. Apparently, this was the largest settlement on the Outer banks until the Civil War. Eventually, everyone moved back to the mainland by the 1960's, and now the place is mostly uninhabited except for the Park Rangers and a few people who are working to restore the old buildings. After our visit ashore we tried to take a short cut back to Ocracoke Island across some shallow flats, but this resulted in us running hard aground on a falling tide. We remained stuck for about 6 hours, and then in the middle of the night we moved to deeper water and anchored until first light.

In the morning we followed a parade of small skiffs and larger power boats that were shuttling a large number of visitors from Ocracoke Island to Portsmouth for the annual homecoming. After watching them for a few minutes we noticed that they seem to be following a course that closely matched a series of PVC markers we had noted along the way. By retracing their course carefully, we eventually found our way safely back to Silver Lake. Obviously our nautical charts did not show the recent changes in these channels nor the shifting shoals that are constantly being reshaped by the winds, the tides and the occasional hurricane. I guess the main thing we learned about navigating these waters was that individual PVC poles with traffic cones on top usually mean deep water. When these were not visible we usually looked for the ever present crab pot buoys, which tended to be set near or in the channels. Sand bars were often marked by thin PVC markers, and they frequently had duck blinds built on their thin shores. Finally, we steered clear of the many pound nets and their associated forest of wood branches and heavy PVC pipes. In all we spent a week at Ocracoke Island. We met a few other sailors, helped raise a sunken sailboat, ate lunch at our favorite restaurant, and just generally relaxed. Then when the wind turned to our backs, albeit at 25 knots, we blasted 24 miles back to Cedar Island, and then towed "Little Cruiser" back home.

PS. You can see a few movies from our trip at . Also here are a few shots of me!