48 Oriental, NC to McClellanville, SC

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Suddenly dolphins were along side and for a few brief minutes we enjoyed their company as they played in our stern wake. They would look up to see if we were watching and approving. We were. All too soon they broke off and continued along there way leaving us happy to have had them close and sad at their leaving.

Fair winds and a favorable weather forecast convinced us we should skip Beaufort and instead go offshore to Cape Fear. Last year we spent 3 days in Beaufort during bad weather. This year we were itchy to do some offshore work and gain additional open water experience. We told Cheshire Cat about our decision and agreed to meet somewhere down the ICW. Then it was out the Beaufort inlet and into the Atlantic.

Boat traffic around the inlet fell behind leaving us with open water forward. Light north winds allowed us to motor sail along with Hal, our autopilot steering. We could sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. We take turns so being on watch, but now there was time to read while Hal steered. Occasionally boats passed us heading in the same direction, otherwise we had the ocean to ourselves. Evening brought a dying wind and the rise of a beautiful full moon to cast its silvery light on the gently rolling ocean.

Frying Pan Shoal complicates the entrance to Cape Fear. Boat wrecking shallows extend 20 miles straight out into the Atlantic. The longer, conservative route is to go south to the end of the shoal, then turn west and head into the Cape Fear inlet. That’s the route we plotted. As a backup we plotted a shortcut route that took us over the shoal at a buoy near some uncomfortably shallow water. The shortcut wasn’t used because it would put us into our destination at Bald Head Island before dawn. The longer route would bring us into the harbor at first light.

Nature didn’t cooperate. About midnight clouds blocked our full moon as wind filled in from the south. Our smooth seas rapidly built to 4 feet with occasional 6 footers as the wind built to a consistent 18-20 knots. Boat speed dropped and our ETA moved rapidly toward late morning. Entering that late meant we’d against a 5 knot ebbing tidal current. The shortcut route over the shallows would still bring us in at first light, so we changed course and headed for the closer buoy and the shallows.

Boat motion made trying to sleep uncomfortable and we were both worried about our shortcut and the shallow water. At 3 AM we had the buoy on radar and came in close to verify its number by flashlight. 45 minutes later we were through the shallows and in the deep water of the inlet channel. We passed through the Bald Head Island harbor entrance at first light, tied up and got some rest. Cool rainy windy weather closed in and we hunkered down in the Bald Head Marina for 3 days. Between showers we explored by bike and foot and had a great time being weathered in on the island.

The uniqueness of the boating world came through again. We pulled into Dock Holiday and found Sea Mist. We’d last seen them at Jekyll Island. The next day heard Blitzen on the VHF. We called and agreed to meet at anchor in Prince Creek. We’d last seen them at Dowry Creek. Just as we got settled at Prince Creek, a dinghy came around the corner and I Gotta Go showed up to say hello. Our last meeting with I Gotta Go was at Block Island. Blitzen, I Gotta Go and Tranquility had a great happy hour swapping notes.

Cold weather caught us. We found frost on the Tranquility at Dock Holiday. Thermometer read in the 40’s in the main cabin. The next night at anchored at Prince Creek, we were in bed by 7 PM to keep warm. The next day we decided to go to a dock, so we could plug in and use our heater to warm the cabin. On the cell phone, the dirt-cheap marina at McClellanville explained that they did not take reservations. However the voice added he’d never turned anyone away in 25 years. We soon learned why.

A fleet of shrimp boats tied against a long rough pier was all we could see as we pulled into the creek at McClellanville. There wasn’t any sign of a marina and we couldn’t raise the marina on the VHF. A crewman on a shrimp boat yelled that we were at the marina and just pull in behind one of the shrimp boats. That was going to be a tricky task. The tide was almost out, the docks didn’t float and were now above eye level. We would be bringing Tranquility and Blitzen in against very rough, barnacle covered pilings.

Ruth circled while I rigged a fender board to protect our sides. Then we inched in very slowly with Ruth maneuvering to lay the fender board against the piling. About that time help arrived to catch lines thrown up to the dock above. We tied against the only piling that had a ladder next to it. Once Blitzen was secured a ladder was passed down to them so they could climb up to the dock. We set long dock lines so the boats could work up and down pilings in the 6-foot tide.

McClellanville has ‘about 400 people when everyone was home’ we learned as we paid our dock fee. We learned everything was closed because it was Sunday, and then learned that during the week, there’s not much opened either. Pictures of damage caused by Hurricane Hugo lined the walls of the cluttered office. The dock owner explained we were standing about 50 feet from where he was born. We enjoyed his stories then set off exploring.

Late afternoon sun filtering through live oaks dripping with Spanish moss cast long lazy shadows on sandy roads. Many of the homes were vintage southern with big shady porches. The air was still and not a soul was in sight. The only thing moving were local dogs running free. As we walked through town, dogs would show up, accompany us for a short distance and then break off as we passed out of their territory. Many defended their territory by standing their ground and barking.

A big yellow dog barked forcefully from the confines of a screened in porch. Seconds later she had somehow gotten free and was bounding toward us, with her big heavy tail wagging wildly. This was a dog that wanted to make friends. She came up and pushed against each of us looking to be petted. As she moved to the next person, you had to be careful not to get hit by her still wildly swinging tail for fear of getting a welt or bruise. Suddenly she took off ahead only to quickly return with a large pinecone in her mouth. Stopping in front of us, and looking us in the eye, she expertly flicked her head tossing the pinecone at our feet. I picked it up and gave it a toss.

Pine cones are not really designed for throwing and at best all I could get was 50 feet. Our dog bounded after it, picked it up, returned and again tossed it at my feet. The game was on. We went through many cycles of throw the pine cone.

Throwing a large light object is not easy and my arm quickly tired. That contributed to a misdirected throw and the pine cone sailed over a chain link fence. The dog in hot pursuit got to the fence and began rapidly pacing its length. Then she’d stop and try to paw under it. I felt so bad that I was tempted to climb the fence and retrieve the toy. Then I came to my senses and we continued on looking back occasionally to see the dog still trying to find a way to get the pinecone. Five minutes later she rejoined us, pine cone evidently forgotten.

We continued to explore the quiet streets of McClellanville returning to the dock with just enough light remaining to pick our way along the cluttered docks to our boat. The tide was our even further and we climbed down the barnacle infested ladder to Tranquility.

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