One of the things complicating our return to Oriental was the weather, which was unsettled and full of foreboding forecasts of heavy thunderstorms each evening. We have learned over the years that a long window of good weather rarely presents itself, so we agreed to move on the days that we could. Each day that we could move, we woke up at 4:45 AM so that we could be leaving at first light, which is around 5:30 AM. From Annapolis it’s eight travel days to Oriental, and we didn’t want to dither around.
On June 16, we had one goal: get from the Annapolis mooring field to Solomons, MD, before severe storms hit. The Chesapeake Bay was forecast to have 10-15 knot winds on a close reach with 2-3 foot seas; instead, what we got was 15-20 knot winds gusting to 25 knots right on the nose. The seas were incredibly confused, and rather than tacking through the wind, the Captain was tacking through the seas to make anything more than 3 knots of boat speed. He had to hand steer all day as the chaotic water overwhelmed our autopilot’s ability to hold a course. Going below to make meals was a “hold on for dear life” affair, but since we always secure items below decks before a passage, at least I wasn’t dodging projectiles. Basically we had a beat (and got beat) all the way from Annapolis to Solomons. But to our surprise and relief, when we got to Solomons, we got two breaks: a mooring ball at Zahnisers was available, and the forecast storm dissipated. This day was 10 ½ hours for 49.6 nm.
We stayed in Solomons for two days waiting out more forecast storms and to take care of boat business. We took the Zahnisers shuttle to the grocery store, refueled the boat, dumped the head, and ran the generator. It was 85-88 degrees below, and our showers, while refreshing, were essentially an exercise in removing the prior day’s sweat before immediately sweating again.
On June 19, we motorsailed with the staysail from Solomons to our usual anchorage in Mill Creek in the Great Wicomico River. Crossing the Potomac River is normally akin to being in a giant washing machine, but apparently we had paid our dues because it was calm and glassy. We were the only boat in the anchorage. This day was 8 ½ hours for 42.7 nm.
Bright and early on June 20 we headed off to an anchorage in Fishing Bay off of Deltaville, VA, eager to be in a protected spot for the evening’s forecast storms. Our interlude of light winds ended abruptly, and we never saw less than 15 knots of wind all day. We motorsailed with the staysail, close hauled as usual. When we crossed the Rappahannock River the water was extremely confused, so things got big and lumpy for a couple of hours. It was still blowing like stink when we arrived in Fishing Bay, and four other sailboats were already there. We had to anchor while dodging a fleet of tiny two-person sailboats being sailed by kids in a camp or a class, and it was quite chaotic for a while. Expecting strong thunderstorms and high winds, we put out 150 feet of chain. By dusk, there were a total of eight sailboats in the anchorage including us, six of which were foreign-flagged. This day was 6 hours for 28.7 nm.
We escaped the predicted storms overnight but stayed put the next day as the winds didn’t drop below 20 knots all day. The sailing camp was still in session, and it was a hoot watching the kids try and control the tiny boats in the high winds. They were having a great time, and many of us were in our cockpits watching them. None of the other anchored boats left either, and there was the ineffable sense of community as we all hunkered down and rode out the winds together.
On June 22 we made a break for Norfolk, VA. We motorsailed with (you guessed it) the staysail with the north winds, which were a refreshing change from the relentless south and southwest winds we had been experiencing ever since Annapolis. The seas were on our quarter for the first hour, and the boat was like two drunk guys in a horse suit, our stern flopping to and fro as we made forward progress. Things finally settled down, and when we made it to the Hospital Point anchorage in Norfolk, the anchor set on the first try (halle-fricking-leujah). Both the Captain and I had been anxious about that given our previous stay, and it was a massive relief to have everything work properly. The anchorage was crowded but not jammed, and the Hampton Roads Pride Fest was in full swing on the Norfolk side of the Elizabeth River. We had a great time sitting in the cockpit listening to the music, watching the drag queens, and seeing everyone having a great time. This day was 9 ¾ hours for 52.7 nm.
June 23 was our Norfolk to Coinjock, NC, day and our first day in the ICW heading south. That stretch is full of bridges (fixed, lift, swing, and bascule) and a lock, so timing everything is important so you don’t get stuck having to circle endlessly at bridge after bridge, waiting for an opening. Fortunately going south is a little easier because you get all of the restricted-opening bridges (e.g. ones that only open at certain times or that don’t open for blocks of several hours) out of the way initially. We had an easy day, all things considered, with not much traffic and glassy calm water. We stayed at Coinjock Marina that night, which is always well worth the cost. This day was 8 ¾ hours for 42.8 nm/49.5 sm.
June 24 we peeled out of Coinjock and headed to an anchorage in the Alligator River. We motored all day because what little wind there was was hitting us square on the nose, and it was too light to even bother with the staysail. It was a super calm and relaxing day, and because we made really good time, we tried out a new anchorage called Deep Point located just before the start of the Alligator-Pungo River Canal at about ICW mm 102. It was a great anchorage that we’d use again; it was an easy entry from the ICW, has a decent mud bottom, wasn’t clogged with crab pots, and had good depths. This day was 10 hours for 49.5 nm/57.3 sm.
On June 25 we headed to the usual anchorage behind the breakwater at Belhaven, NC. This leg takes you through the Alligator-Pungo River Canal, which is serene and surrounded by wildness on each side. We saw tons of birds, including two bald eagles, which is always so amazing. It was an uneventful day, which is always appreciated near the end of a multi-day journey. This day was 6 hours for 30.6 nm/35.2 sm.
And on our last travel day, June 26, we went from Belhaven to Oriental, NC. We motored all day; we tried rolling out the staysail but furled it because the winds were just too light. The winds were on the stern, and we were outrunning them, so it was crushingly hot. We felt the pressure to beat building afternoon storms and also just to hurry up and be there already. We arrived at Deaton’s Yacht Service, tied up at a slip, and got the boat ready for dock living for a while. This day was 8 hours for 41.7 nm/48 sm.
While we’d obviously prefer to be continuing with our planned trip to Canada, we have learned to roll with the punches in this life. The next step is to determine what we need to do about the engine, and once we know that, we can get to work.