The weather was questionable, but we were still going for it. A three day cruise to Ocracoke and back to Cedar Island, dreamed up by Doug Bernstein, and called the PIRATES Festival. I spent weeks working on Mango for this trip. This would be the third time we've had her out. With the weather predicted, it would be a real test. Ginny had already arranged for a substitute so she could have two days off. It would be a 7-8 hour drive, it was raining off-and-on, but we were both excited.
Maybe too excited. After about an hour we stopped to fill up and switch drivers. I got out the instructions for the GPS (that a friend had given me) to figure out how to program Way Points. Except there was no GPS, it was still at home. Should we turn around? Yes we did. It would be useful for navigation on this trip. We lost our early start, but our spirits were still high.
Mango was ready. In the last few weeks I had repaired the rudder where it was separating at the seams; had the old motor serviced and replaced a burned out impeller; made new plexiglass dropboards; modified the old plywood dropboards for screens; rigged the roller furling correctly to replace the forestay to prevent it fouling the furler; added a quick-release lever; tuned the rigging and replaced some damaged parts; had the cushions recovered; installed a battery, VHF and antenna; refinished the tiller and added an extension; added a "hold down/release" jam cleat for the rudder; and put Mango's name on the topsides by the cockpit. For trailering, I had also moved the trailer axle back 10" to get the right amount of weight on the tongue and rigged a mast crutch with a line that supported the motor while traveling. In addition, we completed long lists of equipment and supplies that we might need.
It was almost dark when we arrived at the Cedar Island ramp. We said a quick round of Hellos and hurried to get the mast and boom rigged before dark and get the boat ready for our first sleep aboard. With a warm breeze, clearing sky, and bright stars, we walked up the road to the Driftwood Motel to join some of the Pirates for dinner. Later, we all gathered around David's 'Wanderer' sharing our excitement and asking each other if we were going for it. Then we turned in. It was going to be an early start.
I woke Ginny early to see a gorgeous sunrise over the inlet. Others were already stirring. Doug arrived and did a great job getting everyone introduced and going over the plan of the day. We spent some time trying to get our Coleman gas stove working to heat some water for coffee. Finally we were in the water and sailing. We started with a reefed main and added the working jib once we got the feel for the wind and waves. These were the roughest conditions for Mango so far and I was anxious to see how she would handle them. The quartering wind and waves wanted to slew her around and make her head up into the wind. Easing the main when she started to round up helped. Anticipating the larger waves and putting Mango's stern into them helped the most. Raising the centerboard halfway relieved some of the excessive heeling. It was a little wild but Mango felt good and we were enjoying it.
The first marker was not in site about 8-10 miles away. It was time to get the GPS out and figure our heading. Only to find that we had left it in the van. There was no way that we were going to head back tacking into these conditions. We had the chart, a compass, and we could follow the masts ahead. I radioed David on Wanderer and verified the heading. David was hanging back with Rich on the Potter 15 'Pot o' Gold'. Rich might have been in the 18th century with his beard and knee britches. He was dressed for the PIRATES Festival. The conditions were pushing him around quite a bit but he was game and kept at it. David would heave-to occasionally to keep near him. Those Potters with their hard chines sure seemed stable. Mango was broad reaching well and by the time we reached the first mark we had left David and Rich behind. Jeremy conducted hourly roll calls to make sure everyone was OK. Many answered with their position down to the tenth of a mile from the next marker. Without a GPS, all we could say was we're doing well and it was great sailing.
The next couple of marks had us come around to more of a beam reach heading for the entrance to Nine Mile Shoal channel. We were flying and busting a few waves, getting a little spray. It was time to put the foul weather jackets back on. It looked like we might be able to head up the channel on a tack. We lowered the centerboard and furled the jib. The reefed main was driving well but the waves were smacking us hard now bringing Mango to a stop every couple of minutes. This would not be easy, especially as the channel narrowed, as we were falling off to leeward every time we were stopped. I tried the old motor and was pleasantly surprised to get it started and keep it running. We tried keeping the main up for balance but felt that it was adding too much wind resistance, so we dropped it. Again, I was thankful for the extra power the 7.5 hp Mercury had to drive into these conditions. We were getting drenched but it was warm and sunny and we were happy. I snaked a course through the waves to avoid the worst of them while Ginny searched for the markers. It was difficult with the salt spray covering our glasses. And along the way, we discovered that we could use one another for shields against the salty spray. This was especially helpful depending on who was at the helm. (ha2)
Finally entering the calm water at Silver Lake harbor was a relief. A call to the harbormaster had our slip assigned and several dockhands ready to help with the lines. Once we had Mango nestled in and straightened up, we stopped by the dockmasters to sign in and headed over to the showers. A couple of Coronas and a fresh fish sandwich at the open-air dockside bar had us feeling full and happy. (hear, hear, signed Ginny!). I also inspected Mango’s bilge and pumped out about 15 gallons of salt water. That evening, we helped with some of the preparations for the Pirate’s cookout. We enjoyed the fellowship but it wasn’t long before we turned in. The long day and sounds of the docks; water lapping at the hull, halyards slapping in the breeze, and the creak of docklines as Mango shifted in her berth; soon had us sleeping like babies.
Saturday morning, we found coffee at the Dockmasters and met Carl. Turns out that Carl had dated a girl that Ginny knew from high school. He was quite a character as he told us some of his exploits from the Keys. We spent the morning watching the marina wake up, talking with some of our fellow Pirates, and hitting the showers again.
We decided to rent a couple of bikes and tour the island. We saw the old lighthouse, the Ocracoke Museum, and the British and local cemeteries. At the Visitors Center near the ferry landing, one of the clerks started telling us all about pirates. She had a degree in history and was fascinated with pirates and how they came to be pirates. We enjoyed a couple of huge ice cream cones watching some of the Windriders playing on the bay. We were pleased that personal watercraft (waverunners) are banned, preserving the quiet sounds of the harbor.
A great thing about this trip was meeting the other Pirates and sharing stories and ideas. We were mostly from North and South Carolina, but Tennessee, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin and New Hampshire were also represented. Saturday afternoon we all visited each other’s boats to see how each was designed and set up. With boats ranging from 15 feet to 26 feet, there was lots of discussion of different ideas. I especially wanted to see the other Starwind 19, but Dale had elected to take a sail on Saturday and we never got to look inside. We did get to look at Carl’s huge trawler, “Red Red Wine” with several other Pirates. Carl was getting ready to head for the Bahamas soon. Ginny met Carl’s parrot just a “nip” too closely.
Saturday night we enjoyed the Pirates Feast hosted by the Pelican Restaurant. Doug announced the winners of various categories and awarded some excellent prizes. Rich Preston on the 15 foot Potter took home the most with prizes in the Pirate costume, slowest boat, and the “I can’t believe you crossed in THAT” categories. There was good food, good cheer, numerous shouts of “ARRGGHH” and “Matey,” and a great time was had by all. We turned in fairly early again since Sunday would be a long sail AND a long drive home.
Sunday dawned bright, clear, and windy. Carl had coffee ready again as we checked out with him in the dockmaster’s office. We spent a little time getting Mango ready and checking out the harbor one more time. We finally motored out about 8:00 AM and were soon close reaching out the Nine Mile Shoal channel. The wind had cooperated and shifted around 180 degrees so that it was behind us again. After we rounded the last shoal marker, we were running wing-and-wing for over two hours toward the Cedar Island ramp. It was exhilarating as we learned to maneuver as the swells rolled under us and surfed down the face of many of them. The sky was mostly clear, the sun warm, and the breeze cool. Perfect.
We had one close call though. Ginny was getting pretty good at steering under wing-and-wing. I was crawling around on the deck getting some pictures of her and trying to show the waves coming up behind. The main was out to starboard and I was just aft of the port lower shroud. We were both completely surprised when Mango jibed. I was focusing through the lens finder when the boom smacked my forehead. Fortunately, most of the force was absorbed by the mainsheet as I was just at the outer reach of the boom. I wasn't knocked unconscious but I was stunned by surprise more than the blow. And my head was now pinned with some force between the boom and the shroud. It took me a few seconds to gather my wits and extract myself. We got the situation back under control and back on course. Then I sat and thought about what a close call that was. As I write this now, I realize that we must work on some emergency drills and safety procedures. Luckily, I didn't drop the camera and now have a close up shot of a couple of fingers to remind me of that moment.
The rest of the run went smoothly until we got to the entrance to the ramp on Cedar Island. The wind was almost directly down the channel to the ramp. At first, I thought we would just sail down the channel with just the reefed main and round up just off the ramp. It certainly was possible, but as we started to enter the channel lined with rock breakwaters on either side, I began to have second and third thoughts. I tried to round up but we were running out of room. Ginny asked what she should do to help. In one of those “verge of panic” moments, my response was “I don’t know, I’m not in control.” Finally, taking a few seconds to consider, we fell off again, jibed, and brought Mango back out of the entrance on a close reach. Mango’s handling came through again. With the motor started and sails furled, we approached the ramp with the wind astern. Several helpful hands were there to prevent any further embarrassing moments.
Loading up and getting ready for the drive home went smoothly. I helped a few others at the docks as they arrived. As I was helping “Pirate Rich” he off-handedly asked if I had a pair of tweezers to remove a splinter that he got just as he was leaving the dock that morning. When I saw his finger, I realized a pair of pliers might work just as well. He had a wedge of wood under his nail that was almost the size of the nail. Ginny, who has had some nurse’s training, helped remove most of it. If there were an award for grittiness, Rich would have won that too. I didn’t envy his drive home to New Hampshire with a throbbing finger.
Our drive home was long enough. We were tired, but we were happy. Sailing is always an adventure and this had been a great one. Great camaraderie, challenging conditions, wonderful scenery… that’s what it’s all about. We could not have asked for a better shakedown cruise. Mango handled all challenges with ease. I gained a great deal of confidence in her abilities. And Ginny and I had worked well together on our first cruise. We both thoroughly enjoyed the First Annual PIRATES Festival.