This post has been a long time coming.  I’ve just been too caught up in life to get around to writing it.  But finally I’ve forced myself to sit down and plot out all of our details and lessons before hey vanish into the abyss that is my memory.  Since this is going to be a long picture intensive post, the first thing I’ll do is cut it here so that if you’re not interested you’ll be spared the spam.  Otherwise, enjoy!

A long while back, we had spoken to Tyler about his move up to North Carolina for work.  Instead of getting an apartment or anything like that up there, he got his employer to move his boat up there for the duration of his projects.  After spending some time in the marina he initially settled down in, he realized he would rather be at a different one.  Moving a boat single hand can be a real chore so he mentioned that he could use a hand and ever eager to learn and to sail Dani and I jumped at the opportunity.  It took us a little while to hammer all the plans down but we finally all settled on a time frame and thus the sailing vacation was born.

We decided to drive the 17+ hours up to the town of Belhaven NC.  We left at 2 or 3 am on Friday Oct 15th and arrived sometime that evening.  The long drive was uneventful and Dani and I took turns driving while the other one slept until right up near the end when our GPS and paper maps disagreed.  We trusted the GPS (a mistake) and tooks several scenic detours…  But we made it to Belhaven without problem and Tyler was waiting there for us.  We met at a gas station and followed him to the marina which we would have never found otherwise.  Darkness was thick and few if any landmarks could be identified to guide a stranger to this place without a guide.  We unloaded our things and settled into SV Roannon to sleep after our long journey.  The next day was the real start of our adventure.

Early in the morning we set to work by heading to the “Food Lion”.  A grocery store that we’d never encountered before.  While we were looking for food in the canned section I mentioned to Tyler that there was a photo once online of Pork Brains and I joked that it had like 1000% of your daily cholesterol.  Surprising, the Food Lion actually had said brains on their shelf and it was 1020% of your daily cholesterol.  I threatened to buy them to give to trick or treaters that weren’t nice…  Ah, nothing like po-dunk grocery stores.

On the way back, we swung by the one bright spot of Belhaven.  Some old house that is set up as a bed and breakfast type affair and is famous for serving an oyster buffet.  Behold!  The River Forest Manor.

But we didn’t stick around long.  Too much to get done.  Back at the Marina we started to pack up the boat and get ready to head out for some sailing.

It turned out that Tyler wasn’t able to move his boat that week so instead we were just going to basically pleasure sail and meet up with another boat to explore Abermarle Sound. And the meeting time for us and SV Laurel wasn’t until sometime the next day. It meant we could basically lounge around for the second half of the day. So we had a good time poking around the Dowry Creek Marina, which was full of interesting things and people. For instance… I bet you haven’t seen one of these in a while…

Where is Dr. Who?

There were a bunch of cruisers around with dogs that would run up and down the piers and everyone seemed totally fine with this despite the warning signs about dogs on leashes. And there were other neat oddities that reassured Dani and I that we were among kindred spirits. For instance, the liquor bottle tree.

Even the Yankees were okay. There were a bunch of them heading south for the winter. But like I said, they weren’t exactly like normal Yankees. We met one couple that welcomed us onto their boat to show us around. But they just wouldn’t shut up. Dani and I got stranded on the island of polite conversation for like an hour. Okay okay okay… I get it, you had to sail through 3 storms to get here… Now please shut up! At least they knew how to have a good time…

That evening we experienced the cruisers equivalent of happy hour. All the folks staying at and staffing the marina showed up at the pool house for cocktails. It was a really pleasant time. I shared some wonderful Scotch that Dani had got me for this trip with the other folks and in turn they shared what they had back. It almost turned into a Scotch sampling. You can see one of the tiny glasses we were using here on the table. That is Tyler sitting beside me.

I also had an interesting chat with the lady that owned the Marina and some of the other folks that run the place about the landscaping. For some reason Dani thought this was really funny and snapped photos of me talking to them about the cold weather and how to deal with some of the different plants.

Of course this type of good natured chatting led to other topics like the history of the marina which was really sad. A retired Marine had built it. It was his life dream to run a marina and meet all the cruisers passing through. But then he passed away unexpectedly and now his wife was carrying it on as best she could, even though it was clearly not her dream.

Finally we made it to bed and slept very soundly. Roannon has a pullman’s berth to port and in the center of the boat that is about the size of a double or queen bed. Tyler graciously gave us this spot to sleep in the boat and we slept very well there. Nothing like being rocked to sleep by the water. And the next morning we woke up to get started on our sailing adventure. It was an auspicious beginning.

The first leg of our journey brought us away from Dowry Creek and through the canal to Alligator River. Its a long stretch of calm dark water that required lots of motoring. Many bridges to cross and lots of traffic heading the opposite direction. (We were heading north, everyone else was retreating south).

(Highway 264 Bridge)

As we motored along we watched the water which changed from a dark color born of the late fall sun not casting enough light downwards to an even darker color. The churning water in the wake of the boat became so dark it appeared like English tea. Or perhaps even a coffee color. It wasn’t muddy like Louisiana waters. In LA the water would look like a milk chocolate, gritty… But this was clear but dark like tea. Apparently the water turns this color due to tannins which are leached out of the soil and deposited into the water by tree roots. Very interesting to see.

The danger sign was a real bastard for foreshadowing what was sneaking up on us next. Just as we made it out of the canal and into the Alligator river, Tyler went below and smelled a “burning smell”. Though we didn’t know what it was we killed the motor to start investigating and sure enough a bit of steam puffed out of the engine room when we opened the hatch. Something was clearly wrong.

We don’t really have photos of what happened next. Firstly, we were adrift in the junction of the canal and river. The current was pushing us one way and the wind was coming from another. We were slowing down more and more. As it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix, the captain decided to give us permission to hoist sail. So with Tyler in the engine and Dani at the helm I raised the sails to get us steerage way. Inexperienced though we were, we did get going and were able to steer again. We were able to attain about 3kts.

On orders from the captain we also hailed all approaching vessels in the narrow channel to advise them of our sail only propulsion. Eventually on the VHF this became comical. One boat was approaching and we hailed them.

Us: “Vessel heading south near day marker X, this is sv Roannon, over.”
them: “Yes, this is power boat X to the broken down boat, over.”

(We hadn’t yet told them the situation but they had heard us hailing the boats before him.)

And so for a while we were known as the broken down boat. But not for long! At first Tyler thought we might be taking on water through the packing gland and perhaps it had shorted something since there was a lot of water under the motor. But the gland was tight. So next we cranked the motor while he watched and it became obvious very quickly that the point just below the mixing elbow in the exhaust system was leaking water! (In a marine diesel it is common for the exhaust to be mixed with water before being put out of the exhaust pipe.)

Tyler was able to get this piece and the mixing elbow off the motor. With that done the part was given to me to hacksaw through while Tyler cleaned up the other joint on the engine. It took me about an hour of sawing with breaks to get through the very thickly walled exhaust pipe. We had to cut it off to put it back on since we were changing its position slightly to avoid the hole in the pipe. We ALMOST had it, but not quite. There was still a bit of the crack showing. But luckily there was epoxy onboard and I mixed it up and filled the hole. We prayed it would hold up to the water and heat of the exhaust system. We set it in the sun to dry and set and waited.

I’m sure that period of time was agonizing for Tyler. His boat crippled… And nothing to do but wait. But Dani and I were having a good time. Under sail in the river the wind had picked up and we must have been making upwards of five knots at that point. Really nice sailing. Eventually after a scientific poke at the epoxy patch from both Tyler and I we decided it was ready and so he installed the piece and we cranked up.

Waiting… waiting… waiting… Exhaust looked good, no visible water in the engine room… The patch worked ! And it held for the entire rest of the trip. Our regret was not photographing the whole ordeal, but then, we were caught up in the moment. Tore between stress of having no motor and excitement of learning. Tyler kept a cool head and proved a capable mechanic and I was happy to have seen him work and learn from him. I think he was happy to have a spare arm to man the hacksaw. 😉

Here I am with the main up and a very tired arm.

Being disabled in Alligator river for several hours gave us thoughts of not making the anchorage and rendezvous with SV Laurel before nightfall. But we did make pretty good time under sail alone and so we were actually able to make it on time. Hello Laurel!