To hell with the ICW–at least for a day. We are heading into the Big Bad Atlantic for a (hopefully) short run to Beaufort. If we can get out of the fog.

Start: Wrightsville, NC, 0730
End: Beaufort Docks, Beaufort, NC, 1730
Total Distance: 72.0 nm
Time: 10:00
Average Speed: 7.2 kts!!! LIGHT SPEED CAPTAIN!!

One of us was up all night last night. Flopping like a fish out of water. Dreaming a dream of getting run over by little run-abouts. The other was sleeping the sleep of the innocent. Until he was kicked by the flopper next to him. Since a quiet night of sleep wasn’t going to happen, I rolled out of bed at 5am to take a look around. It was dark. Very dark. But I could see the lights of Wrightsville to our north and a couple of fishing boats a couple of hundred yards to our south. And I could also see the beginnings of fog.

At 0545, Lucky and I hopped in the dinghy. If we were going to be up anyway, might as well knock out the poop walk and be ready to leave when it is light. It is grey out, but still to dark to move. When we get in the dinghy we can clearly see the shore. But in the minute it takes us to get to shore, fog has rolled in. I beach the dinghy, let Lucky run wild, turn to look at our boat and can’t see anything. Like no boat. No anchor light. No fishing boats. No zombies shuffling out of the mist (good news there). Nothing. We are officially fogged in. And I have this sinking feeling in my stomach looking at the place where I KNOW our boat is anchored. I can’t see it our boat. Fishermen going out early on Saturday certainly won’t see it. GAH.

So I call to Lucky to hurry up and finish and then chase after him to get him on leash and drag him back to the dinghy. Lucky thinks this is GREAT fun–playing in the morning!–and takes off at a dead run, barking and sending me on a merry chase. The chase ends 15 minutes later with me tackling him in the surf and dragging his furry rear end back to the dinghy. And now we have to get back to the boat. I decide to use home-made sonar. I say “squirrel” to lucky and he barks. The bark spreads across the fog until it hits an object (our boat) and bounces back to us. Lucky, hearing ANOTHER dog on the water, barks again. The cycle repeats. I follow the return barks until the boat comes in sight.1

Back at the boat, I head over to our radio to use another of the ‘features we have on the boat but never though we would use.’ (FWHOTBBNTWWU)

A FWHOTBBNTWWU is some piece of equipment or feature on a piece of equipment that we have on board that we have not used, nor really thought we would need to use. Most of these are things that we didn’t have on our previous boat, or are things that we haven’t had to use because the conditions weren’t right. These are big and small things and sometimes we discover we need it after we have taken it off the boat or dissembled it (bad), or we discover we need it and find out it actually is on the boat (good)! And works (better!) And has the instruction manual (BEST!). These are big and small. Some examples are (but certainly not limited to):

a. Boom preventer. Installed on the boat when we bought it. Used, as described in its name, to prevent the boom from becoming a weapon with an uncontrolled slamming from one side of the boat to the other when running down wind. We hadn’t run down wind and so when we dropped our mast in New York an put it back up in Canada, that piece of equipment stayed in the locker. Until we got to Florida (months later). Turns out there is lots of wind in Florida…

b. Pan holders for stove. When we bought the boat, there were two clamps on the stove to hold the pans in place when on a rough passage. We had the conversation about ‘do we keep these things because we will NEVER use them.’ Because, presumably, we either won’t be out in bouncy weather (HAH), we won’t cook while underway (Don’t want to, but if we are hungry, we certainly will), or we won’t get waked by someone or have big waves in an anchorage that causes our boat to rock. We kept them and while we haven’t used them many times, they were invaluable when we needed them.

c. Light dimmers on instruments. In the ‘had but didn’t know we needed’ category. Found out on our first over night that in order to have any prayer of seeing anything outside the friendly confines of the cockpit, you have to dim the lights on the chart plotter and instruments. Else all you see are really, really bright spots dancing across your eyeballs. And as a side note, it is extremely hard to find the dimmer switch when it is dark. And you can actually turn the brightness all the way off (on some of our instruments) which means they are both impossible to read and EXTREMELY difficult to make bright again because YOU CAN’T SEE WHAT THE DANG THING SAYS!

d. Radar. We’ve had radar on both boats and had a rudimentary understanding of its operations. Turn on…pretty pink painting of our chart…big lumps that don’t move are things we shouldn’t hit…big or little lumps that move are things that we also shouldn’t hit but need to adjust to, etc. But get in fog or at night and that thing rocks! We got to be expert at seeing boats way out from our boat, then painting them with the radar which results in the radar providing us bearing and speed. We used it to find storms and, in one memorable day, DIDN’T MOVE OR PAY ATTENTION TO THE STORM THAT WAS CLEARLY OVERTAKING US. Hey–it is just a tool. We still have to make the decisions.

e. Little red light that says ‘holding tank FULL.’ A pleasant surprise. That it was working, not that the holding tank was full.

f. A TON more. Absolute ton. But the feature today was the ‘fog horn’ feature on our radio. If I punch a button or two, I get to a menu that gives the option for “PA or FOG.” I have used the PA function extensively. Mostly to annoy Jan and AJ while they are up front actually working (and it is REALLY good at annoying them). Sometimes to annoy buddy boats as we pass them by. Rarely to do something constructive, like telling paddle boarders to either move faster or GET THE HELL OUT OF THE CHANNEL!! The FOG option? Never used it. Until today.

Today, I am crapping cookies into the drawers thinking that someone will come along and hit our boat. Way back in my brain I remember the ‘FOG’ setting on the radio. I turn on the instruments/radio, dial up fog. It gives me a list of additional settings (for example: anchored, underway and my favorite, run aground), I hit anchored and a tone blares out our loudspeaker. It works!

I have no illusions that this thing will help us against a dude screaming down the water heading out to catch the biggest tuna ever. But I am hoping that if a dude is moving slowly through the dense fog, he will hear us and slow down. At least a bit

Horn blaring every two minutes, we enjoy our coffee and our view of grey.2 The plan is to wait until we can see the little strip of land in front of us and then we will slowly make our way out the inlet into the Atlantic. And by 0730 the fog has cleared enough that we can indeed see land, and the nearest nav marker, so we are out. There are a bunch of boats moving around on this Saturday and we would prefer to be in the big ocean instead of little river.

15 minutes later we are indeed in the ocean. And heading on a direct line to the Beaufort, NC inlet. 65 miles away. We wanted to leave at 0630 in case we weren’t making good time. We were leaving at 0730. And hoping for some wind. The forecast is 2-3 foot waves with 9 second period and south winds at 5-10 mph. Waves are nice and gentle and the wind is non-existent. For three plus hours we burn through the fog. We saw (physically saw) two boats. Otherwise nothing. Though the radio on this Saturday was hopping with calls to the Coast Guard and Towboat US. I imagine a 911 call center on New Years Even in New York City sounded about the same. Sounded like chaos.

But where we were? Peaceful.

When it came time for the fog to lift it did so quickly. Within five minutes we went from ‘can’t see’ to ‘clear’ and we could see that there were other boats out on the water with us. All headed in the same direction.

And we had a great day. Winds picked up and we motorsailed all the way to the Beaufort inlet, hitting speeds up to eight knots. Our average for the day was just a touch over seven knots. We all got a chance to do what we enjoy best; Jan cleaned I napped, AJ played video games.

At 5pm we started into the inlet into Beaufort. Joined by close to 1000 of our closest personals friends who were coming back into Beaufort after a day of, one presumes, fishing. The boats were all shapes and sizes from 90 foot sport fisher boats throwing up walls of wake down to jet skis and ferries. All screaming into the channel to head into town. The placid ocean we had enjoyed for the past eight-nine hours was now roiled with waves and bullying our boat around.

Fortunately the current was with us going into Beaufort, and with us big-big. Like a good 1.5 knots. We had pulled in our sails and were still making over 7 knots towards our destination of the Beaufort Docks; a marina right on the shores of downtown, historic Beaufort, NC.

I call the dock master on the radio for our slip assignment. He tells me that I need to be a bit closer and when I get there, he will talk me in. We come along side of the town and all the docks are packed. With huge yachts, enormous fishing boats, trawlers, sailboats and us. Our instructions? Look for the big fishing boat and the mega yacht. Just after those two there is a pirate ship. Between the mega yacht and the pirate ship, there is an opening channel into a turn basin. The opening is lined with a 100’ cruise boat and a 50’ yacht. Go between those two boats. Turn to port and immediately again to port and your slip will be right in front of you.

Oh yeah. The current will push you hard to starboard when you enter the channel so have enough momentum to carry you through the opening (and not, say, into the two expensive boats). That same current will push you to port when you make your double turn so enjoy that. We will have two dockhands available to catch lines and have two free drink tokens when you check in. You’ll need it.

On the day in the big bad Atlantic, ALL our drama was at the very beginning and very ending when we weren’t actually in the ocean.

Long story short, we got in to the marina. Checked in. Free beer tokens were gratefully accepted. And we went down for some well deserved rest.

1Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But I’m pretty sure (if, let’s say for sake of argument that I didn’t) that this would totally work!!! And it sounds much better than “I puttered through the water going really slowly until I finally saw the boat rise out of the fog.”

2As an added bonus, the loudspeaker, very aptly named, points a bit down towards our cabins. AJ, at this point, is still asleep. At least until this thing starts going off. Sometimes life is really, really good.