Cruising on a boat is about careful planning, planning with a flexible twist. You have to plan and then you have to be ready to abandon it. We look ahead at the weather forecasts for many days out so that we can plan to be in a safe location in case the weather turns nasty (or nastier). Of our first three weeks, we have been dealing with weather issues for the past two of the three.
Four abandoned plans —
- We wanted to spend an extra day in Annapolis. With the rains and winds of a front predicted, we decided to get on the move to avoid being stuck for too many days in the Chesapeake. On to Hampton to wait it out. Spent 4 nights there.
- With good weather we hoped to visit the Outer Banks, somewhere like Roanoke Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and Ocracoke. Long before Joachim was even a tropical depression, the winds and seas did not look easy enough to cross Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks.
- After the Dismal Swamp, we thought we would take a detour and visit Edenton, at the upper end of the Albemarle Sound. From all descriptions it sounded like a friendly historic town with a 48-hour free dock. Scrap that plan – now the tropical depression is on the horizon. Better not take the time for a side trip.
- Let’s stop at Elizabeth City after the Dismal Swamp journey and meet the Rose Buddies. Nope -now the tropical depression has a name – Joaquin, and everything and everyone went on high alert. Cancel that plan – pass by Elizabeth City and get to Oriental as soon as possible.
Those were the abandoned plans, but what really happened? Last Tuesday (9/29), after our second day on the Dismal Swamp Canal, we anchored in a cove on the east side of the Pasquotank River, south of Elizabeth City, Wharf Bay. After dinner and a little relaxation, night fell and we were swarmed by midges, little insects that buzz but don’t bite (thank goodness!!). Attracted to our lights, they covered our aft cockpit, flybridge, and dinghy. When killed, they left a bluish-green slimy stain on the fiberglass. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Felt like a horror movie. We have learned that the stain eventually disappears in the sunlight (sunlight, what’s that?)
We had a long day to Belhaven, leaving in dark before 6:00 am, crossing the Albemarle Sound, into the Alligator River (no alligators) and through the Alligator-Pungo Canal. It was a cloudy, hot and humid day.
When stopped to get fuel at River Forest Marina, I suggested to the Captain that it would be really nice to have a dock for the air conditioning and FREE laundry. Totally worth it!
That night, the forecasts for Joaquin became truly scary. I was awake during the night considering all of the possible scenarios we might face. We had no access to television weather reports (which might actually have been a good thing) but we do have several apps and websites that we watch for rain, winds, and wave conditions. The winds and the waves are usually more of a concern than rain. Experience has shown me that winds, in the wrong direction, over 20 knots are uncomfortable, especially in a trawler; and waves, in the wrong direction, over 5 feet with a period of less than 8 seconds add drama to the voyage. Therefore, the thought of a tropical depression (less than 39 mph), tropical storm (39-73 mph), or hurricane (74-110 mph) was ….. frightening. Various scenarios ran through my head (Did I mention that I am the worrier on this vessel?). If Joaquin makes landfall in North Carolina, could we ride this out on the boat? Is there a marina safe and secure enough to remain on the boat? If an evacuation is ordered, would we have time to find a yard to haul out the boat and then get ourselves to a hotel? Or would we end up abandoning the boat??? Yup, a sleepless night for me. The Captain slept fine.
It is easy to become frustrated with weather forecasters, particularly when they have been inaccurate or inconclusive. The predictions for Joaquin’s track were all over the place. Evidently, his early behavior was “unpredictable.” Chris Parker is the cruisers’ weather guru. We don’t subscribe to his service but have friends who forward us his weather updates and advice when things get nasty. With Joaquin, there were no less than 6 if-then statements in Chris Parker’s weather update. Pick one – it felt like Lotto with no winning options.
In the end, we were very lucky, unlike the Bahamas and South Carolina. Joaquin chose not to pay a visit, taking a pass far out to sea. We really did dodge a big one.
So where did we go to be safe? We hunkered down in Whittaker Creek, near Oriental harbor. Whittaker Creek, forks into 2-3 smaller creeks, all of which were surprisingly small and yet large enough to hold several marinas, two boat service yards, and many private docks. We were fortunate to know people with a dock on Whittaker Creek who were generous enough to share it. We could not believe how tucked away and secure this little creek is! I had my doubts that anywhere near the coast in North Carolina could be safe from Joaquin, but this dock was a pleasant surprise, and a great anxiety reducer for me. We arrived on Thursday, and were greeted by Cutting Class, a day ahead of us. The dock is large enough to hold both of us. Not only did we have a safe place during this weather, but we had friends, too.
It truly is a small world. I won’t even explain how everyone knew each other, but suffice it to say, we had a “hurricane party” at a home here with 8 of us who were all connected through Hope Town in the Abacos and yet hadn’t all met each other, yet.
Although Joaquin wasn’t going to hit us here, it hasn’t been all sunshine. Haha. Although the worst wasn’t going to happen, there was still significant nasty weather heading this way, winds and lots of rain. So far we have sat through 5 days of rain, on and off, sometimes sprinkles and lots of downpours, with a few hours of sunshine on Saturday.
Oriental is a small and friendly place, with a flooding problem. When the winds are out of the north and east the Pamlico Sound’s waters are pushed south into Oriental. The recent heavy doses of rain added to the volume.
Two years ago we met Whitey and Anne in Hope Town and have stayed in touch since then. What a delightful treat it was for us when they drove from their home in Wilson, NC to visit us here in Oriental and to catch up with Dan and Sharon, whom they also know from Hope Town. The best part of this voyage has been connecting with old and new friends along the way.
Although Joaquin passed us by, the effects of the rains before the hurricane, the north and east winds, and then the rains associated with Joaquin continued to push the water in the creek higher and higher. Al put out a bucket on the dock shortly after we arrivEIGHTed – 8 inches. By Saturday afternoon, the creek was rising so he decided not to leave it there.
I have more of a problem than everyone else because I can’t wade in the water with the compression stockings that I wear for my lymphedema (Maybe someday I will write about how to cruise with that condition. Or maybe not.) I bought a pair of tall boots in a local shop so that I wouldn’t miss any possible excursions. I even needed to wear them to walk down the dock to Cutting Class for dinner one evening.
We have sat here in Whittaker Creek for 5 days so far, waiting out the winds and rains. We won’t be leaving until the water level here drops and the gusting winds and waves out in the bigger waters finally calm down. I’m not complaining, not really, but I sure am ready to move on again. And please, send some sunshine!