We arrived in Southport the day before the Kentucky Derby. This wouldn't have meant much to us, except for the fact that the Cape Fear Yacht Club was using the event as an excuse for a party. We joined them in their recently-built clubhouse to renew our acquaintances from the fall. One of the highlights of the event was the parade of "high fashion" (?) hats, which preceded the judging of the competition. We were even honored to be visited by the queen herself, since she apparently decided to make a sidetrip after her visit to Churchill Downs.
At race time, everyone gathered around one of the 2 TV's to root for their horse to win. ("Bets" had been taken throughout the afternoon by purchasing a randomly-drawn horse to win, place or show.)
Besides enjoying the activities, we got to get re-acquainted with some of the folks we had met in the fall. It was lots of fun, and once again, we felt lucky to have timed our arrival so that we could join them. On Sunday, we spent some more time with Linda and Rick on Sea Dog to catch up with them and give them tips for travel in the Bahamas.
We had originally planned to stay in Southport at the South Harbor Village Marina for the weekend and then move on north. However, we had barely secured our dock lines when we were engaged in conversation with a couple from France on a large catamaran who had entered the marina just before us. They had been on their way to New York from the Bahamas, when they ran into the same bad weather that had made our trip so uncomfortable. (They had travelled from France to Africa to the Bahamas to the Caribbean and back to the Bahamas. We didn't feel so bad, when they said they didn't want to continue in those conditions.) This bad weather, plus the terrible forecast for the coming week caused them to decide to come in at Southport and take their chances on the ICW. (They have a tall mast and a wide beam, so they weren't sure whether they could even do the ICW.) We gladly offered them information about the ICW, but we kept coming back to their forecast of stormy weather.
Storm? What storm? (Cathy remembered us being similarly clueless about Ernesto as it began its run toward the Chesapeake.)
We used the excellent internet connection at the marina to learn all about the 35kt (40mph) winds predicted for Sunday through Wednesday. The earliest we could practically move would be Thursday. So, we decided to hunker down for the week.
The worst of the weather came on Monday. As the winds howled, their worst effect on us at the marina was making it harder to walk up the dock to the shower house. However, for others it was not so innocuous. Early in the afternoon, we heard a Coast Guard alert (called a pan-pan)about a sailboat, Flying Colors, whose EPIRB had activated on Monday afternoon. The 54 foot sailboat was on its way from St. Thomas to Annapolis with 4 people on board when their emergency beacon was activated off the NC coast. As the Coast Guard continually repeated the pan-pan about this ship through the day and into the following days, it became apparent that the outcome was unlikely to be a happy one. As of this writing, we still don't know its fate, but it reminds us why we spend so much time studying the weather and ensuring we give it some healthy respect. We know our limits.
It wasn't until the storm was nearly over that the National Weather Service decided to name it Andrea, a "sub-tropical" storm. Somehow, the fact that it had a name, made it sound like it deserved more respect..
The other effect of the weather was that many of the opening bridges on the waterway were closed. Many boaters were stuck wherever they had made it on Sunday. As the weather improved, we started seeing them pass by our slip (we were on a face dock on the waterway). We saw Ciao, who had crossed with us to the Bahamas and R Pelican who had crossed back with us. Most of them were in a rush to get back "home", wherever that happened to be. The delay of the past week meant they were under pressure to move north. We were not feeling any similar pressure. However, once the winds died, the temperatures climbed again, reminding us that we needed to keep moving north.
Back on ICW: Southport to Wrightsville Beach to Swansboro
Once we left Southport, we began to retrace the route we had followed in the fall along the ICW. However, it was so different that it hardly compares.
We left Southport for Wrightsville Beach late Friday morning (May 11th) to take advantage of a rising tide on the Cape Fear River. It was a short trip that found us in the same anchorage where we had stayed in the fall. (This was the one where we woke to find our anchor rode wrapped around the keel. We just like to tempt fate.) We were once again setting our anchor at slack tide, which seems to be a pre-cursor to our problems with anchoring in current. However, we used a technique that we had learned from a fellow cruiser that helped prevent the problem with anchor rode. After the anchor was set, Cathy turned the wheel all the way over, which prevented Orion from turning 360 degrees on her anchor as the current shifted with the change in tides. Sure enough, it worked. Although the anchor chain pointed at an odd angle (straight down), it was never was under the tension pointed astern, which is the sure symptom of the rode being wrapped around the keel. We woke the next morning and Dave had no trouble hauling the anchor up.
The next day's trip would be a longer one, passing the 4 opening bridges between Wrightsville Beach and Swansboro. Cathy calculated that we might be able to make it in 10 hours if we hit all the bridges just right. Since this is largely a function of the tidal currents being with you more than they are against you, it was anybody's guess as to whether we'd make it work. Fortunately, it worked better than planned, and we cruised up the waterway in warm termperatures and light winds. Unlike the fall, when we were traveling with 20 or more other boats, there were very few boats with us this day (which meant less of the annoying pass requests on the radio from power boats). When we passed Mile Hammock, the anchorage where we were crammed in with 25 other boats in the fall, it was completely empty. What a difference! By mid-afternoon, we pulled into Casper's Marina in Swansboro to spend a couple of nights and wait out some higher winds.
Swansboro was a charming little town, with an historic district a short walk from the marina, and a grocery store (next to a Dairy Queen!) a bit longer walk away. We took a walk through town and up to the Dairy Queen grocery store after we arrived on Saturday. We returned to the historic district on Sunday, where Cathy enjoyed her Mother's Day lunch at Yana's, an eclectic 50's themed diner that had been written up in a number of the coastal guides. We enjoyed a delicious, but hardly a low-cal, lunchl