Sunday, October 4, 2009
By Doug Cameron (Ridgerunner)
We were sailing a Core Sound 20 cat ketch monohull sailboat, designed by multiple Everglades Challenge winner Roo (Graham Byrnes) and built by Doug Cameron. We had successfully sailed this boat in the 2008 Everglades Challenge, and I looked forward to sailing it on its namesake sound.
Both of us were busy and we live 14 hours apart, so we had no time to practice, but we had successfully completed four Everglades Challenges together. Because of our hectic lives, we did not race in the 2009 EC, though we both helped to manage it.
The difficulties we anticipated were mainly related to the row through the Harlowe Canal. Greybeard had scouted the canal by car and noted a strong (2 ½ kt) current flowing the wrong way. We both knew of the area’s reputation for mosquitoes, and we each brought headnets for the row. We anticipated warm weather and hoped for fair winds. The race, like all WaterTribe Challenges, presented some unanticipated surprises!
We arrived at Cedar Island Thursday afternoon in plenty of time to set up the boat on the beach, go through the safety inspection, and attend the Captains’ Meeting. Discussions with Roo convinced us to alter our routes somewhat the night before the race, but we got to bed at a decent hour.
The start was a little more laid back than the Everglades Challenges because of the need to wait for the ferry to leave its dock adjacent to the start beach, but the West wind had blown the water away from the beach (Pamlico Sound is dependent on the wind rather than tides for its water levels). The starting gun went off at 7:40, and we were sailing by a short while after 8.
For several hours, we beat into a Northwest wind of 10-12 kts with Roo and Tinker (in Southern Skimmer, an EC 22), SOS and Dances with Sandy Bottom (in Dawn Patrol, a Core Sound 20 with a cabin), and HoldYourCourse (a solo Isotope catamaran)in view ahead of us (we were slow to get off the beach). We stayed at about the same relationship with them until around 10, when they made the turn around Point of Marsh. They were now on a reach while we were still beating, and the wind fell off and clocked around to a more northerly direction. We would take another hour to get around the Point, and by then they were barely in sight.
We were now reaching, but slowly. We raised our mizzen staysail, but we could barely do three kts. Slowly the wind filled, and we watched a big thunderstorm move over Oriental and come offshore. Our speeds moved up through the single digits. As the seas built and lightning appeared, we took down the staysail, but kept both sails unreefed. We were now surfing in the rain at more than 10 kts and looking for shelter around the entrance to the ICW and Adams Creek. We could see the CLC tandem kayak (Sundance and Hammerstroke) with two Pacific Action sails going almost as fast along the shore. When we got around the point of Adams Creek, we hove to and reefed, then continued into Clubfoot Creek alongside Hammerstroke and Sundance.
The rain continued, but the trees blocked the wind as we headed into the pretty creek and turned south toward the Harlowe Canal. Two more kayaks (Stripbuilder and ?) passed us in the rain as we slowed and the creek narrowed. It was about 5:45 PM.
Finally, about a half mile from the canal, the lack of wind and adverse current caused us to drop the masts and sails and get out the oars and yuloh. We would take turns sculling and rowing for the next six miles. There was a gentle rain and three low bridges, but progress was steady at around 3 kts. Floatsome paddled past us toward the end of the canal, and the tidal current began to pull us toward the bay. The marshes finally widened as darkness overtook us, and we nosed into shore to raise masts and sails.
The wind seemed light as we passed HoldYourCourse, also rigging in the marsh, but the lull was only due to protected waters. As we emerged into the shallow Newport River bay, we met the strong evening wind. Even though it was only about 70 degrees, the strong wind and our wet clothes from rowing in the rain conspired to make us cold. We would be shivering before we reached the other side and would change into dry suits at the checkpoint.
In terms of navigation, the Newport River presented one of the biggest challenges of the trip. We were near dead low tide, it was shallow everywhere, and the wind was building. We ran aground several times as we sought the navigation markers of the ICW and a clear path into Beaufort. A fishing boat near the Beaufort bridge had three large lights that shone like the sun, and the airport lights were confusing, making navigation difficult. We learned later that HoldYourCourse, blinded by these lights, sailed headlong into an unlit barge beside the fishing boat. There was no light as the clouds obscured the fingernail moon, and day marks seemed to appear just as we reached them. We finally reached the bridge at 8:10, only to be informed that we had to wait for 20 minutes for an opening. At 8:30 we gained Taylor Creek and pulled into Checkpoint 1 at 8:48.
Race Manager Sandy Bottom warned us about the ferocious winds and seas in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow and told us that most of the sailboats had anchored near the East end of Turner Creek. Checkpoint Manager Fat Frank and his wife brought us hot chocolate as we changed into warm clothes for the night and discussed our plans. Before Sandy’s warnings, we had assumed that we would sail through the night as we had always done through the first night of Everglades Challenges. Now we were talking about anchoring.
By 10 o’clock, we were anchored beside Southern Skimmer and Dawn Patrol. Jarhead’s Sea Pearl and Sundance and Hammerhead’s CLC double soon joined us. After a quick meal of fruit and granola bars, we went to sleep for the night. Freebyrd’s Matt Layden-designed Enigma passed us during the night.
When we got up at 6, Southern Skimmer and Dawn Patrol were gone (they left around 3 AM we were to discover later). We left at about the same time as Hammerstroke and Sundance, with Jarhead not far ahead. We were beating out of Taylor Creek against wind and current with two reefs in the main and one in the mizzen, so the double kayak left us in its wake. Jarhead maintained his lead as we demonstrated an amazing ability to find sand bars with the centerboard and rudder.
Finally we got into Back Sound and continued beating into the wind for our course around Harkers Island. We passed Jarhead after a while and could see Freebyrd beating close to the beaches. A wind surfer was reaching across the bay at 30-40 kts. It was some pretty exciting and frightening sailing for someone who sails mostly on inland lakes. I had sailed in this kind of wind (20-25 kts and gusty), but the waves were only 1-2 feet. I had seen bigger waves, but we were sailing in 20 kts in a following sea. Now waves were breaking over the bow as we beat into it.
HoldYourCourse’s father approached us in a powerboat to inquire whether we had seen his son since yesterday evening (we had not). I began to worry about what might have happened to him in his light Isotope catamaran. I began to think of what we would encounter when we turned the corner just ahead and were in Core Sound with a 20+-mile fetch.
Coming about one time, a wave and a gust conspired to knock us down (We both stood on the starboard seat and dove toward the port side overhead to free the mainsheet. A great benefit of a cat ketch is that most problems can be solved by letting loose the mainsheet so that the boat will come up into the wind.) I kept thinking of the Irish fisherman’s prayer that states that the sea is so large and my boat is so small. Finally, fears got the best of me, and I made the decision to bail out. There was not enough time to sit out another day until, according to the forecast, the winds would become fair, and there was no protection on this side of Harkers Island.
We hove to, double-reefed both sails, phoned SandyBottom and Fat Frank, radioed Jarhead, and began the run back to Turner Creek. What had taken us 5 ½ hours to gain, we covered on a fast run in 30 minutes. We maintained over 9 kts, and we could keep the board up in order to dance over the shallows at the mouth of the creek.
Fat Frank graciously gave me a ride back to my truck and trailer. I would be left to wonder about all the “what ifs” as we waited for the braver and more skillful paddlers and sailors. My hat is off to them.
Chief always asks us to end these accounts with reflections of what we would do if we had it to do over. I would have allowed more time for the whole adventure, including car travel 14 hours each way, so that I did not have to be on the road right after the “banquet” (which was the best we have ever had at a WaterTribe event). That would allow more time to go ashore and wait out the worst of the weather. I think that four or five hours later the conditions were such that we could have continued on. (There is really no place to go ashore on Harkers except the exposed beach, and that is not a strong suit for the Core Sound.) I should have studied “hidey holes” and marked them on the chart for layovers (I do this for the EC). It’s tough quitting after finishing five Everglades Challenges, and I wrestled with the ego vs fear factor (ego has gotten me into more trouble than fear, but, in the end, I think that I will regret what I didn’t do more than what I did do.).
Now to get ready for the 2010 Everglades Challenge.