NORTHBOUND LUNACY 2023: Phase One, in Which Not Much Progress is Made


May 29/2023: I originally had high hopes as I plotted to liberate Lunacy from Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island to sail her north toward home waters. Long-range forecasts per both the ECMWF and GFS weather models showed strong rivers of southerly wind blasting up the East Coast, and I speculated I might even make it all the way up to New England in the 10 days in late May I had available for messing around on the boat. Certainly, I surmised, I should have little trouble getting at least as far as Cape May.

But lo, forecasts never come with guarantees, and by the time I actually got to the boat on May 18, the much shorter-range, more reliable forecasts showed first light variable wind, then fierce northerly wind along my route.

The most immediate problem was the thick carpet of hairy growth infested with tiny brine shrimp that was clinging to the bottom of the boat. So thick that when I switched on the water-cooled fridge and pumped the toilet in the head a bit, they both immediately clogged up with the stuff. Obviously, I wasn’t going anywhere until the bottom got scrubbed.

Brine shrimp, some will recall, were once marketed via comic book ads as “sea monkeys” [see image up top] and allegedly made entertaining pets. I remember I ordered some myself when I was young and was very disappointed. They were not at all entertaining. After donning my wetsuit, however, and firing up my hookah rig and jumping in the water to clean Lunacy’s nether regions, I was properly amazed at how many of the tiny creatures were clinging to me when I got out of the water again. This was more annoying than entertaining.

Unfortunately, the hookah rig, which is practically brand new, did not work for very long. This was also annoying. I tried various tricks to get the little electric compressor running again, but none of these worked. Then I tried scrubbing the bottom while holding my breath, which was hopeless. Then I tried calling around to find a diver who could scrub the hull for me, but found there is in fact a shortage of divers on Hilton Head these days.

The useless hookah rig. After consulting the manufacturer, I am hoping it might be revived

Fortunately, in the end, I did lure a diver to the boat early the following morning. I also managed to clear all the brine-shrimpy gunk from the head and fridge intakes. Soon afterward, my old mate Phil “Snake Wake” Cavanaugh appeared to join me as crew. We cycled to a nearby grocery store to load up on fresh provisions and were underway by late afternoon.

The plan at this point was to spend two days motoring up to Beaufort, North Carolina, then hopefully crawl up the ICW to Norfolk after the north wind started howling. Just another boring delivery under power, I feared, but once out in open water we did find enough favorable breeze to do a bit of sailing.

Fast enough for jazz!


Phil uses my Garmin InReach to keep his bride Meg apprised of our misadventures


Dolphins in Calibogue Sound. We also had a ray come play with us for a while, something I’d never seen before


One thing I noticed as we sometimes sailed and sometimes motored north toward Beaufort was that there were flying fish in the water. I saw about a dozen all told. This seemed shocking to me, as I don’t recall ever seeing flying fish west of the Gulf Stream. In my mind, they’ve always been a signal that one has crossed the Stream.

At anchor off Beaufort


Feral horses on the aptly named Horse Island, just across from town in the Rachel Carson Estaurine Reserve


Hiking on Horse Island. Note the little black dots in and on the edges of that trickle of a stream. Them be fiddler crabs! (Bigger than sea monkeys and much more entertaining)


Fiddler crabs up close and personal


Once in Beaufort, it occurred to me that getting up the ICW to Norfolk might be problematic. Lunacy’s air draft is barely below 65 feet, and I was worried she might not squeeze under the dreaded 64ft Wilkerson Bridge, at the west end of the Pungo-Alligator Canal. I called up Dowry Creek Marina, on the Pungo River near the bridge, and they informed me the clearance at that time was 64ft 3in and was bound to decrease a good deal, due to the strong northerly winds.

I did ponder the alternative route around the Pungo-Alligator Canal, out through the open water of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, then up the Dismal Swamp Canal. But the forecast was now calling for gale-force northeast wind, and plunging against this in the open sounds was bound to be painful. I also figured there was a fair chance that wind-driven water would shrink the clearance under other bridges to well below 65 feet. And I had a hard deadline coming up—the child formerly known as my daughter was (is) due to graduate from high school on June 3.

So I decided to punt and leave the boat in North Carolina until after the graduation. Unfortunately, frantic phone calls to all the marinas in the area revealed that everyone was all booked up, due to the imminent world-famous Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City. This is the oldest and largest billfish tourney in the country and attracts big sportfish boats like flies.

In the end, I had to go 20 miles north up Adams Creek and across the Neuse River to score a berth in Oriental.

Before motoring up to Oriental, I had Phil haul me up the mast to flip my VHF antennae upside down, the better to squeeze under bridges


Seen on the water in Oriental: the super-funky semi-famous Dutch cutter Prinses Mia, skippered by Martijn Dijkstra. I’ve spotted this boat in a few different places over the years, but have yet to connect with Martijn


Seen on the hard in Oriental at Zimmerman Marine: a sistership to my previous Lunacy, a Tanton 39. Only six were ever built. Five of them, like this one, carried cat-ketch rigs. Lunacy was the only one with a conventional cutter rig


The current Lunacy resting easy at the Oriental Marina & Inn


I’ll be back to resume the voyage north soon after the child receives their diploma. I’ve already figured out that I can save 50 miles if I go out the Ocracoke Inlet in Pamlico Sound rather than puttering all the way back to Beaufort, in exactly the wrong direction, to get to the open ocean.

I’d love to receive advice from anyone who has tried this themselves!


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2 Responses
  1. Charlie,
    Ocracoke inlet is somewhat problematic. The USACE surveys the inlet every winter and the survey is possibly all wrong by now. You have the advantage of shallow draft. Might try to call the USCG office in Ocracoke or Hatteras to see if there is more info.

    See ActiveCaptain for the link I put there years ago to the USACE website in Wilmington NC for the surveys.

    Timing is everything for an offshore departure with short weather windows through mid-June.

    We’re sitting in Beaufort waiting for reasonable weather while tracking a friend losing his cookies going around Hatteras now.


    1. Charles Doane

      Thanks Don! I found the most recent survey from January. As you say, things may have been rearranged since then. I plan on seeking advice from both the USCG and whatever towing service is closest to the inlet. We’ll see. I may well be joining you in Beaufort.

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