11 June - from Charleston to the Chesapeake
Thursday 7 June was another beautiful sunny day in South Carolina. Paul Watkins came over in the morning and I did my best to overload him with details about Escapade. In mid-afternoon he and Babs moved Lyra Magna alongside the rather smart City Municipal Marina and we caught the first of the ebb tide out of Charleston.
Charleston’s City Marina
The weather forecast was very benign, which is always preferable to grim, but lacked wind. Sure enough, by sunset we were motor sailing and this became a rather familiar combination over the next couple of days. I think that we had the engine on for 370 out of the 400 miles sailed. What wind there was, was always ahead of the beam so we were limited to ‘white sails; at least we had some favourable tidal stream for most of the way.
The Gulf Stream runs north eastwards about thirty miles offshore here, but I was slightly sceptical about pushing offshore for six hours trying to find it when there was so little wind. I felt that I could not reasonably detain Paul onboard for a week just so that we could enjoy the peace of shutting down the engine – our mission was to get to the Chesapeake as efficiently as possible. We pushed offshore about ten miles, not least to get out of the very shallow water which guards the coast all the way from Key West to Cape Hatteras and found favourable tide (Americans prefer to use the term ‘current’, arguing that in these shallow waters the wind has as much effect as the moon… whereas we Europeans tend to think of ‘current’ as something that’s pretty much fixed by the planet) but it was never much more than a knot.
We passed pretty close to Cape Fear on Friday morning. I always enjoyed the film of the same name with De Niro, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and a galaxy of stars: the ‘Frying Pan Shoals are a rather nasty set of sandbanks reaching almost 15 miles offshore, so we never saw the land, just a couple of eerie ‘gong buoys’ tolling the gentle swell as we crept past. There was quite a pronounced wind shift just east of here and we had to tack close inshore into Onslow Bay for a while before it freed off and allowed us to resume our easterly track. I wondered how many ships had been caught out by the combination of shifting sands, wind and tides. After all, they could have given the place a more cheerful name!
Cape Lookout presented similar challenges the following day after a night watching electrical storms over the mainland and on our starboard quarter. None came close enough to bother us, although we did put our portable electronics in the oven for a while! We rounded Cape Hatteras after lunch on Saturday and as the wind veered into the south, we poled out the genoa and got excited about hoisting the spinnaker. First, there were the famous Diamond Shoals to negotiate and with shifting wind, scant tidal stream information and some interesting cloud formations on the horizon, we decided to hold off until we were in clearer water. A sound seamanlike decision without doubt, but as we tracked north along the Outer Banks with the tide under us, the wind died a couple of hours before sunset.
The Aban Light House marks the Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras, surrounded by wrecks...
We managed to sail for a few hours later that evening, but the wind faded completely during the middle watch and we didn’t see it again until we got into the Chesapeake around. By breakfast we were off the Naval facility at Dam Neck and watching some small survey vessels doing something on the range there. The tide was racing out of the Chesapeake as we rounded Cape Henry so we cut as close inshore as we could in the hope of finding a back eddy. The shoreline there is very attractive, with fine sandy beaches, low sand dunes and not too much urbanisation once you pass Virginia Beach. There were plenty of dolphins enjoying the sunshine and some interaction with the small boats that were out in force.
Cape Henry, guarded by some substantial coastal erosion defences
We used all our Solent rock-hopping skills to claw our way round the southern end of the Chesapeake Tunnel/Bridge structure and arrived in Little Creek mid-afternoon on Sunday. In a former life I spent some happy times there at the Amphibious Base and it was interesting to see what’s there today. Most of the big amphibious ships have left because the new classes are too big for the harbour entrance, but they now keep some of their new ‘littoral combat’ ships there and there were plenty of smaller landing craft and fast catamarans to look at.
USS Milwaukee entering Little Creek. Not a particularly good looking superstructure!
We called at Cobbs Marina for fuel, inching our way in with about 10cm under the keel, but the berth I had booked at Little Creek Marina was filled with some blingy superyacht thing that we’d seen in Charleston the week before. They apologetically offered us another berth, but when we went to look, it had no mooring cleats, the pontoon was half sunk and the woodwork was sporting several sprung planks and some fine looking nails. No thanks. The very helpful team at Cobbs then found us an alternative berth at the nearby Vinings Landing Marina, close by the bridge over the creek.
A school of dolphins at sunset in Little Creek. Not something you see in Haslar of an evening!
That night, we went back to one of my favourite old haunts, Bubba’s Crabhouse at Lynnhaven. It was as good as ever.
On Monday, we picked up a hire car and drove back to Charleston. It took six hours…