Home->Sailing Trips->Classic Plastic Convention

Classic Plastic Convention

Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton

Dan and Bill aboard Moriah two days after Florence made landfall. The water at Edenton Marina was high, but not as bad as we had feared.

It was an unusually blustery and stormy start to fall in 2018. First, hurricane Florence devastated the southeastern part of the state and brought high winds and water to the northeast. I sat out the storm aboard Terry Ann on the dock at Edenton Marina, eight lines to windward and six to lee. It was a wild and bouncy night as winds gusted to 40 knots or a little more off the starboard stern. No harm done. On the other hand, I found substantial wind and water damage on my drive home. In particular, the New Bern area suffered the effects of Florence. Bridge Pointe Marina was essentially destroyed with major damage to the docks and several boats sunk. While I didn't see it, I heard from several people that Fairfield Harbor flooded badly, and even hurricane hole Duck Creek Marina saw many boats cast up on shore. On my drive west on highway 70, I found the road closed at Kinston with a long detour. But none of it came close to the damage reported in Wilmington and the surrounding counties. Flooding there exceeded anything in living memory. The whole area was cut off from the rest of the state for a week.

Florence was a slow-moving storm and I arrived in Edenton well ahead of her. That gave me time to remove all canvas from above decks and transfer lines from the dock cleats to pilings. Along with some other conscientious sailors, I added lines to some of the semi-derelict boats that litter the marina - many of whose owners have not made an appearance in years. Nobody wanted to see boats break free and drift untethered about the marina, crashing into other boats and generally causing havoc. Evenings were devoted to pleasant conversation with Cowboy Bill, Sailor Jo and Pilot Dan. Bill had great stories about running thousands of head of cattle on ranches out west, Jo of crewing with her first husband aboard a 55 foot Alden schooner owned by the founder of the Land's End clothing company, and Dan of flying Fedex packages in and out of Manteo.

The only damage in Edenton came before Florence arrived. At the end of my dock at Edenton Marina there is a 65 foot wooden boat by the name of Juneve. Evidently this boat was built in Scotland in 1949 and worked as a North Sea trawler for many years. Back in 2012, the owners had big plans for making Juneve into a beautiful live-aboard, but at some point, those plans went by the wayside. The current owner acquired her a few years back and brought her south. I saw pictures of the boat capsized at Coinjock, and was informed that the boat was hauled onto a face dock and righted. The story I heard was that the Coast Guard decreed that the boat not be moved, but the current owner towed her off down the ICW and up the Albemarle to Edenton Marina, where she lies now. Sometime in the night, shortly before Florence hit, Juneve sank to the bottom and laid over to starboard - where she is to this day, despite repeated efforts by the owner to get her pumped out and on an even keel.

Juneve on the bottom of Pembroke Creek.

I had the opportunity to go aboard Juneve before her most recent foundering. The interior wood and brass were beautiful, but the hull planking was in desperate shape, sprung and rotten. I'm sure the frames are much the same. The engine fortunately is clear of oil and fuel, but it has now been submerged at least twice. It's a shame, but the boat is probably beyond saving.

On the heels of Florence came hurricane Michael, which caused widespread destruction in western Florida and then blasted across Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. This one moved fast and I got to Edenton just 24 hours before the weather started to deteriorate. Fortunately, the canvas was still below deck and most of the doubled lines were still in place.

The wind forecast for Michael was just as bad as for Florence, but with less rain and flooding. Like Florence, the worst of it came in the middle of the night, but unlike Florence, it involved a major shift in wind direction late in the storm. I had one crucial spring line set up to hold the boat off the dock in the early part of the storm, and then to be reversed to hold the boat in the slip for the later part. The wind reversed just as forecast and I swapped the line late in the night. Everything worked out perfectly and by the morning the winds had died off and the sky was blue.

We lucked out in Edenton as the storm passed slightly to the west, instead of running right over us as earlier forecast. I talked to sailors later who had been on the lower Chesapeake and found that they had suffered brutal winds. One told me of dragging anchors and having to dinghy out in high wind and lashing rain to set a third one.

With the bad weather behind us, it was time for a sail. Friend and Neuse River Sailors writer David Swanson planned to bring his recently-purchased Crocker Stone Horse down the Dismal Swamp Canal and through Elizabeth City on his way to a permanent home in Oriental. I decided to make every effort to meet up with him in Elizabeth City. My initial plan was to make the half-hour drive from Edenton, but the more I thought about it, the better it seemed to sail down. The weather looked alright for a few days, and the boat was in decent shape for a trip. Even the spavined Atomic Four was running well enough to chance a trip.

It's fifty miles down the sound from my dock at Edenton Marina to Mariners' Wharf in Elizabeth City. That's doable in a day with good conditions, but who can guarantee good conditions? I budgeted two days to make the passage, and left Monday morning, three days after Michael came through, early. I was off the dock at 7:15 AM, just as the sun rose. The motor down Pembroke Creek was uneventful, and I set sail - main and genoa - out in the bay. If it didn't look like I could make Elizabeth City in a day, I could anchor in Halsey Bay on the Perquimans River, or, if the mid-day forecast was for light airs overnight, out of the channel in the lower reaches of the Pasquotank River.

Winds were out of the south at 5 to 10 knots. That made for a good beam reach, if a little slow. By late morning the winds had picked up to 10-15, ideal conditions for the sail I had set. Terry Ann is a heavy boat, but with a narrow hull and relatively small wetted surface, and she sails well on light airs. 15 knots is plenty of wind for a full main and genoa, and in fact, anything more means it's time to consider reducing sail. The winds varied from south to west, and I sailed on a starboard tack for most of the day, wing and wing on one occasion.

Westbound barge tow on the Albemarle.

Traffic was light on the Albemarle. Mid-day I passed a Grand Banks-style trawler heading west, and soon after a barge tow, also westbound.

From a point off the mouth of the Perquimans River my chart showed a 16.5 mile run on a course of 89 degrees magnetic to the mouth of the Pasquotank River. I set my Silva hand-bearing compass on the bridge deck, aligned so that 89 degrees pointed to the front of the boat, and then concentrated on keeping the magnetic needle lined north-south. The wind was tending more to the west, so sometimes I had to come around a bit to the south to keep the sails full, but for the most part I was able to maintain course and make good speed.

Things got more problematic as I turned north into the mouth of the Pasquotank River. With the winds lightening and coming more astern, our speed sank and I started worrying about getting benighted on the upper river. Deciding that I wanted to be on the Elizabeth City dock before nightfall, I started the engine. The main started slatting, so I dropped it and motorsailed with the jib still pulling. Gradually the wind veered to the west, and then northwest, but the jib kept pulling and the Atomic 4 kept propelling (though with a few worrying moments when it did some light misfiring on at least one cylinder). We made the ten miles up the river in 2 hours. At very last light, 6:35, I inched into a slip labelled "9 Feet" - the Alberg has a beam of 9 2/3 feet - and one of the local dock haunters caught my bow line. The aft pilings were just behind the widest beam on the boat, and there was room for a fender on each side.

The line catcher was a local acquaintance who I have seen many times on the Elizabeth City and Edenton docks. We talked for a minute, and were joined by a sailor from a beautiful Cal 36 a couple of slips down. There were just two other boats on the town docks, one at Mariners' Wharf and the other on the face dock at the park in front of the Museum of the Albemarle. It was getting late, so I quickly stowed the sails, checked all lines and went below to cook supper. Soon after I was in my rack.

In the morning I rigged Terry Ann for harbor duty, putting up the big awning, clearing the cockpit of lines, and setting up the propane stove. I had to cook my own breakfast as my favorite morning restaurant, "The Colonial", has closed down. "Flour Girls" makes a good breakfast sandwich too, but they are way too expensive. It was no big deal as I had a well-stocked icebox. Afterwards I walked to the beautiful new library - five blocks out Colonial Street - and got on their wifi to check email and update my site. Belhaven, Edenton, Columbia, Elizabeth City - all have great libraries, well-situated, that welcome sailors.

On the Elizabeth City Waterfront.

It was a cool day, but sunny, and lots of people were out on the waterfront. I talked to a woman who was out fishing with her young daughter and infant son, and took her picture. The neighbor on the Cal 36, Charlie, came by to talk, and I gave him a tour of Terry Ann. He reciprocated by showing me around his immaculate White Seal. I mentioned that David was coming in on his Stone Hourse, and Charlie responded that he had met David at the north lock on the Dismal Swamp Canal, and that once he arrived, we would have a "classic plastic convention". I thought that summed it up pretty well - a 1964 Carl Alberg, a 1966 Bill Lapworth, and a 1970s, but designed in the 1930s, Sam Crocker. Quite a good representation of the best American designers of the classic fiberglass era.

Back to the tour of White Seal - the boat was in beautiful condition and nicely laid out below decks. One thing that caught my attention was the relatively new Yanmar diesel. Charlie told me about installing it himself, the worst part being building the new engine beds. A Beta is a close semblance to a drop-in replacement for an A4, but a Yanmar is a whole different beast. I was very impressed, and little by little the truth came out - Charlie was the recently retired boatyard manager at the fabled Darling's Boatworks in Charlotte, VT. See his work in your back issues of Wooden Boat Magazine.

David motored in late in the day and got on the quickly-filling dock. The slip next to me was taken by Bluebird, a 30-something foot 1970s vintage Catalina, another nice classic plastic model.

There were enough boats on the dock to have a Rose Buddies event, which started promptly at 5:00. Many years ago, a local man started a tradition of giving a rose to the lady members of the crews of all the transient boats that come across the Mariners' Wharf dock, and a long line of volunteers have kept it up. These days, any time there are five or more boats on the wharf, they have a little party with wine and beer, plus roses for the ladies. Afterward Charlie, David and I repaired to Terry Ann. I hauled out the pressure cooker and cooked dinner, smoked sausage and rice. Charlie provided an onion and a tomato for the pot. We sat around the big table in the saloon under the oil lamp and enjoyed the meal and the sailor talk. Charlie entertained us with stories of his many voyages to the Bahamas, and David spoke about the remote and unfrequented parts of the Pamlico that he has explored. We broke up around 9:00 as Charlie planned an early start for the following morning. The Abacos called. You can follow Charlie's voyage at his website, Cruise of the White Seal.

The weather forecast for Wednesday called for light westerly airs, then an abrupt change to powerful northerly winds on Thursday. Charlie, aboard his fast Cal 36 - known as a racer-cruiser in its day, and equiped with a reliable new Yanmar, planned to make it to the south end of the Alligator River on Wednesday. There he could anchor in the shadow of Tuckahoe Point, then duck into the canal first thing Thursday and head south with a strong but fair breeze. David, in his much smaller and underpowered Stone Horse, couldn't expect to go as far, and had no intention of getting caught on the Alligator under Small Craft Advisory conditions, especially on a north wind. He decided to stay at least another day in Elizabeth City. Myself, I could not see making Edenton in a day with light westerly airs, and there is no decent anchorage protected from north winds between the two cities, so I chose to stay on at Elizabeth City as well.

Classic Plastic Convention. In the foreground, David's Stone Horse, in the middle, Charlie's Cal 36, and behind that, my Alberg 35.

Early Wednesday morning Charlie cast off . I wished him fair winds and watched as he motored out into the harbor, set sail and disappeared down the river.

The Small Craft Advisory for Thursday called for winds out of the north at 20-25 knots with gusts to 30. David decided to move to the Mid-Atlantic Christian University docks upstream of the drawbridge. This location is much better sheltered than Mariners' Wharf, and in the little Stone Horse David could have expected a buffeting. Around mid-day Wednesday he cast off and moved, but not before we made plans to meet for dinner - his treat - that evening. Soon after David left, a parade of boats started coming downstream out of the Dismal Swamp Canal. We had heard rumors that a group of 14 boats were heading down, and had stayed at the Visitors Center in the Swamp the night before. This was the leading contingent, as the plan was to spend two days at the Visitors Center. Some of them decided to get a jump on Mariners' Wharf dock space. By evening, almost all the slips were taken.

We heard an interesting story that a flotilla of dredges and wreckers had come through the Dismal Swamp Canal recently, headed south to work at reconstructing the waterways after one of the hurricanes. They came through at night, to avoid disrupting normal traffic. That must have been a ghostly sight, with their big searchlights picking out the channel, coming down the narrow, tree-overhung canal. Almost no commercial traffic uses the Dismal Swamp Canal, preferring the wide, deep and well-maintained Albemarle & Chesapeake route. The A&C almost never closes, but in cases of very high water, the deck of Great Bridge can be submerged, making it impossible to raise. This is what happened, and the emergency was so extreme that the traffic rerouted through the Swamp.

I spent much of the day working, painting the companionway drop boards, and stopping to lend a hand as boats flooded into the harbor. Ordinarily the drawbridge opens on demand, but it does not open at all between 4:30 and 5:30. Boats hurry down the Canal to make the 4:30 opening, and this day, as most, a big fleet of boats came through together. By the time they were all docked, there was very little space left on Mariners' Wharf. David sauntered over from the M-ACU dock around 5:00 and asked around about a good restaurant for dinner. There were two options - Cypress Creek Grill, right across the street from the wharf, and Hoppin' Johnz, a couple of blocks away on Colonial. We decided on Hoppin' Johnz and made the short walk.

David motors off to the M-ACU dock.

The hostess seated us and we decided to dispense with appetizers and get right to the main course. Hoppin' Johnz boasts "new south cuisine." That sounded a little daunting to this old southerner, so I ordered a hamburger and sweet potato fries. David and his wife are Raleigh area sophisticates who enjoy fine dining, and he made a choice of a pork chop with grits and spinach. Just about the time we ordered, the smooth jazz on the restaurant speakers got blended in with the Lynard Skynard wannabe band out in the alley entertaining the Wednesday night street party at the local brewery. I guess in a way it was an apt accompaniment for new south cuisine.

Regardless, the hamburger was great, if astoundingly large, and the sweet potato fries were the best I ever had. David lauded the pork chop, and the sweet tea was refreshingly southern. I declined dessert on the grounds of overfullness, and David accused me of being a cheap date. At Mariners' Wharf, we saw lights coming up the river, which resolved into a small open-cockpit boat with a green stripe. David speculated it might be Wildlife Service, but it turned out to be a couple from down the river at Camden, coming up to see their friends in Lynard Skynard at the brewery party. I mused that there were still a few folks out who used the waterways over the roads. Plus, no need to worry about getting a DUI on the drive home. I'd do the same if I were them. Afterwards we walked over to the M-ACU docks which I wanted to see. They are solid, well laid-out and protected. The University is making a major contribution to the cruising community by making them available. There is no charge to use the docks, they just ask that you call the dockmaster and check in.

One of the jobs I had taken care of earlier in the day was to put a reef in the main. I also hauled the working jib on deck and hanked it on. Now, late Wednesday evening, I made final preparations to sail at first light. With the northerly winds I should be able to make quick work of the sail down the Pasquotank, and once I turned west into the sound I would be in the land shadow of the north shore all the way to Edenton. The advisory was in effect until 4:00 Thursday afternoon but the forecast was for the winds to start easing by mid-day. My hope was that the winds would stay strong long enough to get me well on my way home. If I couldn't make it all the way, the declining winds would make it safe to anchor overnight in Halsey Bay on the Perquimans River.

Thursday dawned cool, mostly clear, and with light airs out of the west. But the forecast still called for the wind to build in from the north, and the SCA was still in place. I fired up the A4, dropped lines and squeeked my 9 2/3 foot beam boat out of my 9 foot slip. A new Catalina 387 was casting off from the face dock and I motioned to the captain to go ahead, figuring he would pass me shortly anyway. I followed down the river, taking a moment to raise sails, motorsailing at 5 knots. Soon the wind began to build and I shut down the motor. As the wind veered, I shifted to a port tack. Looking back, I could see 4 more boats leave the dock and follow down the river. Evidently lots of sailors were planning to take advantage of the breezes to make time south.

Big Beneteau on the Pasquotank River

By the time I passed the blimp factory, the northerly winds of 20-25 knots, gusting to 30, were in full force. Terry Ann was making a cool 7 knots and, with winds on the quarter, I didn't dare drop the tiller for more than an instant. She would have rounded up, or worse, jibed with potentially disastrous consequences. I got just enough time to take a photograph of a 50-foot Beneteau as she passed. This was the only boat to catch Terry Ann that morning.

I reached the mouth of the river and took no chances with the shoals at Wade Point, going all the way out to to Marker 1PR before turning west up the sound. Three of the other boats following me cut the point and almost caught me as I made a ticklish intentional jibe over onto the starboard tack. They blasted off to the south toward the Alligator River. I set a course for 270 degrees magnetic and eased the mainsheet way out to hold the boat on a beam reach.

The fun lasted just for a little while. By noon I was off the mouth of the Perquimans River with moderate winds. At 12:45 I shook out the reef. By 2:00 I was motor-sailing.

The wind continued to fail, and the Atomic 4 ran rough, but we gradually made our way west, under the Highway 32 bridge, under the power line, and into Edenton Bay. I carried the main all the way up Pembroke Creek, as insurance against the A4 quiting, but the old engine powered us right into the slip. We tied up at 6:25, just at sunset.

The next day I was talking to friends on the Edenton Marina dock, and I mentioned that I had been down to Elizabeth City to visit a friend bringing a Stone Horse down from Hampton. They told me that yes, they had heard there was a Stone Horse on the dock down there. Sailor's grapevine...

Copyright © 2018 Paul M. Clayton.