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Fall Sailing Vacation

Text and Photographs by David Swanson

Sunset over Shell Narrows.

My annual fall vacation this year (2021) was also the first one since moving our Stone Horse 23 Flying Beagle from Oriental to Potter’s Marine on the Pamlico River. I decided to explore some of the local bays and anchorages rather than head back south to Oriental, Beaufort, etc. Despite the (mostly) light winds, I managed to visit several new places and a few old ones, too.

I arrived Friday night, 24 September, and loaded up the boat with way too many supplies. Saturday morning brought no wind so I drove into Bath for breakfast at the Duke & Duchess coffee shop. I finally left Potter’s at 10:00 am. Still no wind. I motored out into the Pamlico River and hopefully raised the sails. A west wind of 5 knots came and went, and I slowly tacked downwind trying to keep all three sails (jib, staysail, and main) drawing. I reached the Pamlico Sound in the early afternoon, and the wind gradually increased, finally reaching 15 knots or so, and still from the west.

I dropped the sails at the entrance to Deep Bay (or Shell Bay, depending on where you look). This is near but distinct from the popular anchorage at Deep Cove. The west wind followed me in and continued to build, eventually topping 20 knots. I used the GPS on my phone and my depth sounder to feel my way in through the 11 foot depths at the entrance to a spot near Shell Narrows, anchoring in six feet of water. Needless to say, I had the area to myself. The marshy shoreline, part of the Swan Quarter National Wildlife refuge, provided limited protection from the wind, but it did break the waves giving me a peaceful night. Unfortunately, the boat battery died, reading only 10.5 volts. Apparently one of the cells had gone bad. For the rest of the trip I was barely able to charge my phone or use my depth sounder.

East Bluff Bay Anchorage.

Unlike Saturday, Sunday morning provided plenty of wind, blowing 15 – 20 from the northwest. After a slow start, I upped anchor at 9:00 and motored back out of Deep Bay. Once in wider water, I raised the reefed main and staysail. This proved to be just the right amount of sail as the wind continued to increase, and Sunday provided the best sailing of the whole vacation.

I passed red “2” at Great Island Narrows at 11:45 am. Great Island is now Great Islands, as it is now bisected by a small creek. I continued sailing east and then rounded up into East Bluff Bay at 3:15 pm. Like Deep Bay, this was a new anchorage for me and I spent some time exploring before anchoring. There is good protection from the north and west and somewhat from the northeast, but it is wide open to the south and southeast. The northwest corner of the bay carries six feet of water fairly close to the shore and I anchored there. This area is very secluded and is part of the Gull Rock Game Land. There were many birds here and decent fishing. As night fell, I discovered a flashing green light on the north shore of the bay near the charted Juniper Creek, where no light was charted. Daylight showed that this was a green can buoy that must have broken loose and washed up on the shore.

National Park Service Dock at Silver Lake.

Monday, 27 September, dawned with no wind. Zero. Zilch. Nada. A little after 7:00 am a pod of 15 or more dolphins entered the bay and I spent half an hour just watching them frolic and feed. Eventually I had coffee, breakfast, and raised anchor at 8:30 am. With no wind, I motored the entire way to Ocracoke, entering the harbor with two of the large ferries and tying up at the National Park Service (NPS) dock at 1:30 pm. The Park Service now requires that you download an app to your phone or PC and pay via credit card, which was somewhat confusing the first time but the rangers were most helpful. I also discovered that the “good” bathrooms are behind the main bathrooms near the NPS store building (still no showers though). There were only two other boats at the docks, so it was very quiet. I dined that night at Jason’s, an excellent meal with chocolate toffee cake for dessert, and then collapsed into a sugar coma.

Tuesday was spent in Ocracoke, doing the normal Ocracoke things – coffee at Ocracoke Coffee Co., fishing in the sound near the boat ramp (with modest success) and visiting Springer Point Nature Preserve. I ate a wonderful dinner at Flying Melon, a pricey but worth it restaurant.

I had planned to leave Ocracoke Wednesday morning, but the forecast of northeast winds at 20 to 25 knots persuaded me to stay an extra day. So another day was spent eating way too much excellent food, shopping at Books to Be Red book store, and generally lounging. Between 3:30 and 5:00 pm, four cruising-sized sailboats and a power cruiser all showed up and the NPS docks became a social hot spot.

Sunset at Juniper Bay.

I finally pried myself away from the dock in Ocracoke at 8:30 am Thursday. It was a cloudy morning with a few sprinkles and a decent 10 to 15 knot northeast wind. As I left The Ditch and entered Teaches Hole Channel a small pod of dolphins put on an incredible display, jumping completely out of the water, riding my bow wave and stern wave, and generally making merry. I motored out into Bigfoot Slue, then made a mess trying to raise the sails. The main halyard, staysail halyard, and staysail topping lift all tangled together and it took about 30 minutes to straighten it all out. It was a very good sail WNW across the sound as the wind slowly died, then switched to SE. I sailed into Juniper Bay and anchored under sail. A very quiet night after the “big city” of Ocracoke.

The first day of October brought more northeast wind, but instead of taking advantage of it I decided to run under motor and check out a couple interesting spots I had passed previously. I should have known better than to forego a fair wind. I motored out Juniper Bay and through Great Island Narrows and headed up Swan Quarter Bay. I did not get to try to enter Shell Island Narrows from the other side due to a commercial fisherman working the area, but I did get to check out a cove across from the ferry terminal that had good protection from the SW and plenty of water near shore.

Sunrise at Slade Creek.

I then motored through the canal between Swan Quarter Bay and Deep Cove. Plenty of water in the canal, but barely five feet at the east end. In Deep Cove I raised the sails and the wind promptly died. I drifted around at less than 2 knots for an hour and a half, then started up the motor. I motor-sailed out onto the sound, then west and up the Pungo River. At 3:30 I reached the mouth of Slade Creek on the eastern shore. I dropped the sails and started to motor in, and of course the wind immediately filled in from the SE at a perfect 10 to 15 knots. I motored about 3-1/2 miles in Slade Creek, another place I had not visited previously, and anchored about 4:15 pm.

Saturday morning brought a light NE wind and I upped anchor about 8:15 am. With so little wind, I motored out of the creek and down the Pungo River to the sound. At the Pungo River Junction buoy I raised the sails and headed northwest on the Pamlico River. With a wind of 10 to 12 knots, I ran downwind at only 3 to 3-1/2 knots. I sailed into Bath Creek and tied up at the newly-repaired State Historic Site dock. Bath that night was a happening place, with people skiing and tubing and generally enjoying the water. The normally deserted State dock had four large power craft, plus me. There was a wedding at Bonner’s Point and the local high school was having their homecoming football game and dance, with all the dressed up teenagers. Oddly, the water at the dock was very choppy despite being protected by the shoreline, so sleeping was difficult.

State Dock at Bath.

The last day of my vacation was anticlimactic. The battery on the boat had completely failed (it was not new, and came with the boat when we bought it). Very little wind again, so I motored the few miles back to Potter’s Marine and arrived at 11:15 am. I packed up (including the dead battery) and headed back home.

This trip had less wind then most any other week-long trip I have done and way more dead downwind sailing. Dealing with a dying battery was a challenge, and I am so glad my LED anchor light drew very little power. I spent longer in Ocracoke than I had planned, but there are certainly worse places to be. I anchored in three new places and stuck my nose in several more. I saw great sunsets (and a few sun rises). Overall, it was a good vacation.

Here are a few more pictures:

Fishing Boat in Great Island Narrows.

Fishing in East Bluff Bay.

Ferries Entering Ocracoke.

Ocracoke Lighthouse.

Text and Photographs by David Swanson.
Posted 02/01/22.

Copyright © 2022 Paul M. Clayton, David Swanson.