"All the little boats are going in. Should we take the hint and follow them?" Lance was standing amidship, the mainsheet in his hand, squinting at the stream of little sailboats high-tailing it for the safety of their slips in the Oriental Harbor Village Marina.
We were on a downwind run with all three sails out. For the first time, I was sailing wing on wing on wing; something I'd been wanting to try since I first saw this boat in the yard.
We had been watching the storm raging over the town of Oriental for some time. The wall of black sky which had approached from the West was still hugging the shoreline. The town was getting battered. It wasn't bothering us at all out on the river. In fact we were quite enjoying the lightning show. Over there.
"Nah" I said dismissively. "We don't want to try to dock in that, besides if we hang out here long enough it should blow away on its own. Then we'll go in when it's calm." I surreptitiously adjusted the wheel just a scooch to keep the boom on the downwind side, once again it was trying to jibe in the gusty blasts and I was enjoying the cat-and-mouse game of keeping the sails on their proper side.
Less than 20 minutes later the alarm on the VHF radio went off. When Lance pressed the stop alarm button we were directed to the weather channel.
Sustained winds of 45 expected, gusts to 65. Quick-moving weather front crossing Emerald Isle and heading North. Steady lightning and thunder, golf ball-sized hail expected. All boats should seek immediate shelter.
"Where is Emerald Isle?" Lance asked. I shrugged. I assumed it had something to do with the storm we were watching - that squall was still raging over Oriental and now we were all alone on the Neuse River except for the shrimp boats which had suddenly appeared from thin air and were screaming towards us from every direction.
I wonder where they're going I thought to myself, and turned Minerva to fall in with them. It was then that I saw another black wall coming towards us from the other side of the river, and they were heading directly into its outside edge posthaste. This second squall had sneaked in behind us and was closing on us quickly. We got the sails down and secured just in time for the first blast of wind and whipped up water.
Minerva rocked sideways like she'd been slapped in the face, then popped right in to the boiling waves that followed behind the wind surge and stubbornly held her course. Lance and I exchanged wide-eyed glances. That blast would have pinned us down for a while in any of our previous sailboats and we definitely would have been wrestling for control with the subsequent whirlpool wave action. But Minerva took it like a professional boxer with a "that all you got kid?" smirk. My soul filled with pride and relief. We had chosen well. This boat can handle herself in a blow.
We quickly decided the best course of action was to follow the shrimp boats into the narrow and protected channel of Adams Creek on the South side of the Neuse River. Once we got past the tree line the wind and waves settled right down. We found a shallow spot out of the channel and settled the anchor. Lance started dinner while I pulled out the map and found Emerald Isle. Yep, it was just South of us. The strongest wind we clocked on our short journey in was 35 knots so it had lost some steam on its short ride from the Outer Banks to us on the Inner Banks.
|Sailing into our sunset slip
The squalls here are fierce but generally short-lived. By the time I'd cleaned up the dinner dishes we were treated to a peaceful ride home under a spectacular pink sunset.
Note to self: when studying the charts and planning the daily sail, also take a moment to look over Google Maps and become aware of the nearby towns and their relationship to the day's planned sail. Lesson learned.