The front we’ve been watching for three days finally arrives on Monday afternoon. As I sit in the cockpit, I see the first light sprinkles of rain making their spreading circles on the water. Then I hear an unfamiliar sound, a kind of whirring noise that seems to originate in the top of the 50-foot yacht across the creek. Then the eerie singing starts all around me and I realize what it is: Wind in the shrouds. All the boats in the marina have these taut metal lines that hold up the masts, and they are all being strummed at once by the wind.
With boards across the companionway, we are tucked away inside Catmandu while rain pounds the deck and the cockpit. Catnip is just outside, filling up with rain water. Phil has torn apart the electrical panel to replace a switch. I am continually amazed by his ability to fix anything. He has an engineering brain and enough knowledge and confidence to tackle any malfunction. “Or,” he says over a spaghetti pile of red wire, “I’ll just jerry-rig it.”
Tuesday, October 9: We think it’s time to leave Greatbridge, not because the weather has improved vastly, but because we simply want to get going. It has been five days, waiting for Tropical Storm Karen and then a cold front to allow us passage to the next anchorage. We check local weather and think we can make it, with cloudy skies and 17mph north winds.
Land showers done (I will never take a hot shower for granted again), we set out alone. Cinderella has to stay behind for delivery of an important package, and Seneca decides to wait with them. We are alone going through the first bridge, and I hear the bridge tender call ahead to the second bridge: “Sending you one sail.”
Maybe it should have seemed strange to us, having the river to ourselves. The wind is picking up, but the protected waterway seems calm as we make our way south. There are no buildings on either side, just grasslands and pines as far as we can see. My very favorite places on earth are wild and natural, so I love this landscape and let Phil do the driving. It’s too narrow and shallow to use Otto.
Phil spots the ospreys first, wheeling and crying far above us. What did the chart guide say? Excited ospreys are a sign that…
“Eagle!” he says, and I see the first bald eagle of the day, perched on top of a dead tree next to the river. It is not bothered at all by the ospreys. It is still, implacable, regal. And I can’t find the camera.
A half mile later, we spot twins: two huge, healthy male bald eagles sitting in the same pine tree on the starboard side of the river. Their huge white heads are unmistakable, and their eyes are the only parts moving as they scan the water for fish. It would be an impressive photo, but now that I’ve located the camera, I can’t coax it to turn on.
I guess this isn’t going to be a photo-journal. But here is an idea of the landscape we are traveling through, taken a few miles south of the eagles – where the savannahs remind me of photos of African grasslands and I imagine giraffes in the distance.
We have been traveling south on the North Landing River, and the wind is building as we turn slightly right and enter a wider section of the water. As we leave the protected waterway, two motor boats come up behind us and request a slow pass. This is a courtesy given to sailboats. In exchange for us slowing down and keeping to starboard, they will slow down and pass without leaving us to rock and roll in their wake. They are soon far ahead of us. One more sailboat, First Light, passes a short time later, and we are alone again.
Crossing the widest part of the river is, as Phil puts it, like motoring through a washing machine. The water is whipped up by heavy gusts, and white caps dot the surface. The tops of the waves are blown off by howling winds. I look like the Gorton’s Fisherman in my yellow foulie jacket, and Phil is bundled up in his red one. The sky is dark gray and lumpy. I notice that our flag, attached to the stern, has been flying out straight all day.
“Is this 17mph winds?” I ask Phil, who is now reminded of sailing in the rough waters off the coast of Maine.
“No,” he laughs. “More like 25 or 30, gusting to 35.” My eyes widen, but I’m not scared. It is a bumpy ride across a great expanse of churned up waves. Far to the east, I can see a narrow string of land. According to the chart, I’m looking at the western side of the Outer Banks at their northern tip. I’m thankful we are on this side of the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
It’s too rough to go below to make lunch, with the boat lurching and pitching, so we hold off until we can make our way to calmer waters. Around three miles north of Coinjock, NC, we enter a calm, narrow passageway and the wind and waves calm down. Since we are on our way to an anchorage south of Coinjock, there is a decision to be made as we eat our peanut butter sandwiches. Do we really want to be on the anchor in 25 knot winds?
Coinjock Marina is our answer. With our northern winds pushing us along, we’ve made over 37 statute miles in 7 hours, impressive speed for Catmandu, considering that we had to wait for two bridges. The marina is nearly full, but there is room at the dock for us to squeeze in between giant motor yachts, and we tie up for the night. It was a great decision. As I write this, the winds are howling to gale force and the rain is falling sideways. Our companions wisely stayed at Greatbridge and message us that gale warnings for Coinjock will keep them there one more day.
Weather delays are part of the fun, right? Our progress has been stalled by a tropical storm, a violent cold front, and now the remnants of the same tropical storm. In the last six days, we’ve put just 37 miles behind us. But curled up in the salon with Phil, eating hot pea soup, sipping wine and watching a movie on the laptop, it is somehow comforting to hear rain beating down on the decks and to have winds howling through the shrouds.