Drivin’ South: Beaufort to Wrightsville Beach Single Handed

By Rich

At the conclusion of this leg, I arrived in Wrightsville Beach in a state of elation that is difficult to describe. I was on an emotional high not because everything went right during the trip, but because a bunch of shit went sideways on me in a big way, and I found that I’d stood up to all of it. 

Rule #1 for me in piloting this journey’s legs has been “never enter an unfamiliar port or inlet in the dark.”

Period, full stop.

Given that rule I felt a ton of pressure to cover the 65 miles from Beaufort to Wrightsville Beach over the ocean during daylight hours, which essentially mandated that I keep my speed over ground over 6 knots on average. As in, pretty much at all times. So when I weighed anchor in Beaufort, the race was on.

Jacked-up development #1: a brutal foul current met me as I tried to exit the Beaufort inlet, with the result that the first hour or so of my day’s travel barely had me covering 5 miles. Ugh.

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Not good! To make up that kind of deficit I’d need to find sustained speeds over 7 knots for a considerable period of time. The good news was that I had a solid 15 knot breeze coming from the quarter, so as soon as I cleared the inlet (and its foul current) I decided to use the tools at hand: I set the spinnaker. The process doesn’t go quite as quickly when single handed as does keying the preceding sentence into WordPress, but once I got the kite up Le Saberage leapt forward to a 7.5 knot hull speed.

Alright! Whooping and hollering, I knew I’d make up my deficit running at these speeds – just as soon, I  thought, as I get all these tangled halyard tails cleaned up.

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So with the sail trimmed out I set the auto pilot to start cleaning up the cockpit and …….

Jacked-up development #2:  ……rapidly discovered that the auto pilot was essentially useless trying to control the boat with a spinnaker up in a quartering ocean swell. Every time I left the helm it would either head the boat way off and collapse the spinnaker (which would eventually refill with an awful crash), or head up high enough to collapse it again, risking a broach in the process.

Shit!

After a few rounds of this I realized that it was hopeless: I would have to stand a wheel watch for as long as I could to keep the hull speeds as high as I needed them. The sailing was terrific, I thought, so I should just sit back and enjoy myself. I got into a nice grove of spinnaker reaching and got into a great zone until…..

Jacked-up development #3: the breeze clocked right. Now I was trucking along at well over 7 knots, but I was no longer on the rhumb line. I was going nice and fast – just not directly toward Wrightsville Beach. OK time to douse the kite.

Jacked-up development #4: how do you douse a spinnaker single handed, out in the ocean, when the auto pilot can’t control the boat? And without your halyard tails having been cleared because you didn’t have time to clear them?

Answer: you do it quickly. This I figured out per force via that day’s on-the-job training:

  1. Head off almost to a run.
  2. Set the auto pilot and hope it will do something right.
  3. Roll out and over trim the jib to collapse the kite.
  4. Grab the spin halyard tail and run it around the primary winch, open the halyard clutch, then bring the tail forward with you. Clear it as best as you can on the way.
  5. Once on the foredeck, keep the halyard in one hand and grab the lazy spin sheet with the other.
  6. Commit to the douse whole-heartedly. Let the halyard run and grab handful after handful of spinnaker and bundle the cloth into your open arms like a lost child.
  7. Did I mention that all of this need to be done QUICKLY?

Success! The next thing I knew everything was back fully under control and I had the spinnaker thrown below in a heap. I bore off and ran strait by the lee back on the rumb line, then poled out the jib to run wing on wing.

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That resulted in some decent down wind sailing until the forecast failed me and the winds lightened enough that I needed to motor sail. So I rolled the jib, started the diesel, and started motor sailing. Once again Le Saberage was making 7.5 knots, only this time directly on the rhumb line to Wrightsville Beach.

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The wildlife seemed to thoroughly approve of either my morning’s boat handling or Roger Hewson’s underwater design with the Sabre, because no sooner had I fired up the Westerbeke than a pod of dolphins came to cheer me on.

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I would swear that these wonderful creatures communicate directly with us when they play along side our boats. When I failed to notice them originally they would jump back at the cockpit to get my attention. Then I would run forward to the bow, where they would join me to dance around the bow wave – occasionally adding some additional flourish to their dance with festive jumps clear out of the water, or by playfully clapping their tails on top of the water.

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I’m not all that emotional of a guy but it would take a stone cold droid not to have teared up at the sight of these guys after all I’d traversed during the last two years to arrive at those square feet in the ocean. Spectacular.

Le Saberage and her trusty Westerbeke diesel spirited me on to Wrightsville Beach, where I made a perfect entrance just before sunset. I can’t ever remember a feeling of such jubilation as I felt that evening, taking on spectacular surroundings and being visited by another pair of dolphins while at anchor.

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Magic. Heaven. Perfection. There aren’t superlatives sufficient to describe it. That evening and the next day resting up at anchor were surely some of the finest hours I have ever spent on this earth.

 

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