NORTHBOUND LUNACY 2023: Phase Two, in Which I Exit North Carolina via Oregon Inlet

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June 16/2023:  In the wake of my earlier post, I did receive some advice on the feasibility of escaping to open water from Oriental, North Carolina, via Ocracoke Inlet. The majority opinion was that to transit any of the three inlets between Pamlico Sound and open water (Ocracoke, Hatteras, or Oregon) in a cruising sailboat is a bad idea. As one fellow cruiser I consulted noted: “It’s only four hours back To Beaufort!”

Historically, I had always agreed with the majority opinion and have thought it best to treat these three inlets as if they don’t exist. And yes… it is only four hours, about 20 miles at 5 knots, from Oriental down to Beaufort. But if you want to go north, it’s 20 miles in exactly the wrong direction, and then there is another 15 miles in the wrong direction to get around Cape Lookout Shoal, all of which still leaves you some 70 miles to get around Diamond Shoal and Cape Hatteras.

So the thought of those inlets was very tempting. Studying charts, it seemed Ocracoke Inlet was likeliest. After all, I thought, if Edward Teach could get a pirate ship in there, surely I can get through in a boat that draws only 3.5ft with its centerboard up. Hatteras Inlet looked super sketchy and Oregon Inlet looked both sketchy and confusing, with maybe two bridges to pass under, one of which according to one source had a vertical clearance of only 45 feet, and no clearly defined channel leading up to it from inside Pamlico Sound.

When I arrived back aboard Lunacy in Oriental late Tuesday afternoon on June 6, I was beginning to feel wimpy. As in: maybe heading back to Beaufort might be the smart move after all. But I felt bolder and also impatient when I woke the next morning and started prepping for my solo jaunt home to New England. So I rang up the U.S. Coast Guard to get their opinion.

The officer on duty at the Hatteras station advised that the Coast Guard currently considers Ocracoke Inlet to be impassible. To my surprise, he said Hatteras Inlet was okay, but that my best bet was probably Oregon Inlet. I called the Oregon Inlet station, and they confirmed this. The channel leading up to the inlet had recently been dredged and the buoys are accurately positioned. The old Herbert C. Bonner bridge has been removed (since 2019 it turns out) and the new Marc Basnight bridge has 70 feet of vertical clearance where the channel now passes under it. The inlet itself, I was told, is clear, though there are a couple of buoys missing.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer surveys are a good source of info on inlet status. I did study this one for Ocracoke Inlet before calling the Coast Guard and thought it looked okay. But it doesn’t include the channel leading up to the inlet from the inside, which I figured would be the tricky part. It also dates from mid-winter, and things might easily have changed since then

 

After talking to the Coast Guard, I checked out the USACE surveys for Oregon Inlet and they confirmed what I was told. They also cover the whole length of the inside channel leading up to the inlet and are more recent, dating back to May. I have since learned you can overlay USACE surveys onto Aqua Map charts, which is a very handy feature for tricky places like this

 

What with calling around to Coast Guard stations and making a run to the local Piggly Wiggly for fresh provisions, I got a late start out of Oriental on Wednesday morning. It’s about 70 miles from Oriental to Oregon Inlet, so I needed somewhere to stop in between, as there was no way, even with my big thumbs up from the Coasties, that I was going to run the inlet after sunset. Fortunately, there’s a semi-reasonable anchorage on the north shore of Pamlico Sound at Long Shoal River, about 20 miles from Oregon Inlet. I spent a quiet night there in settled conditions, then next morning, at about 11am, passed without incident through Oregon Inlet into the open Atlantic [see image up top]. I was the only sailboat in sight, but there were many large sportfish boats running in and out with abandon. All but one of them waked me big time as they went past.

My Navionics track from Long Shoal River out Oregon Inlet

 

In this detail of the approach to the bridge, you’ll note the new dredged channel cuts right across a once impassable shoal

 

Some guys in smaller boats fishing right off the foot of the bridge

 

The best thing about going out Oregon Inlet was it brought me out 40 miles north of Diamond Shoal! All told, I reckon this route saved me about 80 miles over going back to Beaufort and out and around Cape Hatteras.

From Oregon Inlet I had two days of motoring in near windless conditions—except for the one bit where it blew a gale right in my face for a few hours—and reached Cape May on Friday evening. I had thought I might waste a lazy day here, visiting with my old law school roommate, the Fresh Prince of Cape May. But when I woke the next morning to a fair Fresh Breeze blowing through the anchorage, I could not resist it.

Slamming hard on the way to Cape May. A shift to very light north wind had been forecast. What happened instead was a seemingly small squall came through. Right behind it was 35 knots of hard north breeze that I had little choice but to smash straight into it under power. It took way longer than I hoped for this to turn into the light breeze I expected

 

Leaving Cape May. There’s a whole lot of dredging going on. About half the anchorage here right now is taken up with barges and what not

 

What the heck is it about New Jersey and flies??? Last time I passed up the Jersey shore, with my brother Peter, we were plagued by hundreds of them. Same thing this time, except now I have fly strips (a gift from my brother)!!!

 

Once I got out of Cape May, I got to do a lot more sailing, most of it wing-and-wing on deep broad reaches

 

After stopping for a night’s sleep at Block Island, I sailed across Rhode Island Sound and up Buzzards Bay to the Cape Cod Canal in time to catch fair current into Cape Cod Bay

 

After another full night’s sleep in Provincetown, I spent the last day of my little voyage again sailing wing-and-wing toward Portsmouth NH in varying degrees of fog

 

The last 20 miles was the hardest. The wind died, my port-side lazyjacks blew out, and the fog got so thick and I stand alert at all times to watch out for lobster pots. Very tedious and stressful!

 

I finally reached Portsmouth NH just before sunset on Tuesday, June 13. It took a full seven-day week for me to get the boat from Oriental to here… not too shabby for a singlehander. Two days later, I hauled my teenage spawn Jay up the mast, where they helped sort out my busted lazyjacks, reflipped my VHF and AIS antennae, and also helped repair my busted wind sensor

 

Jay’s view of Dad (and Baxter the dog) from on high

 

Dad’s view of Jay from down low

 

Lunacy in her berth at Portsmouth’s Wentworth Marina

 

But she won’t be there for long. They’re kicking us out on Saturday morning, which is just as well. Where Lunacy really wants to be is in Maine. So stay tuned.

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4 Responses
    1. Charles Doane

      Hi Christopher: First, you should call the Oregon Inlet CG station to check if everything is still passable. Also check the latest US Army Corps of Engineer survey for the inlet. Easy to find online. I should think you want generally settled conditions. Avoid any strong wind running against the current.

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