Kristen here - Well, as you can tell from the spot, we're not in Charleston, SC. "Lucy, you have some 'splainin' to do" So here's the story from my point of view. We left Beaufort, NC yesterday at 7AM. The previous day, and that morning we checked three weather sources. We consult the marine radio broadcast, NWS (national weather service) marine forecast, and passageweather.com. All forecasts said the same thing. Wind was supposed to be at the most 15-20 knots, and waves were forecasted to get high around Cape Fear, but not till after midnight. And the weather said that waves would get calmer close to shore once we rounded Cape Fear.
Tuesday was great. We motored for a bit and then sailed. We were sailing faster than we could motor for a while. We spent the day getting some fishing gear together. A simple line with a weight, wire leader and plastic squid at the end tied off to a cleat was our fishing apparatus. It took about 20 minutes to put together, and then another half hour to untangle the 300 feet of fishing line. After untangling the line, I made a reel out of cardboard to store the unused portion of line. It worked great, and the line didn't get tangled again. We caught two small tuna, but I will let Casey write more about that.
Nightfall came and we made some stir fry with leftover chicken and broccoli. Things were still pretty calm, and we were due to round Cape Fear at about 9:30 instead of midnight. This was reassuring because that would get us close to shore and calmer waves earlier. I was still a bit nervous about the approaching darkness. We ate our dinner in the cockpit and watched the stars come out. Everything was still fine, and I felt comfortable about my upcoming midnight to 4AM watch. Casey and I handled the boat until 8PM, and then went to bed. At 11:55 my alarm went off. I poked my head out of the cockpit and noticed that the wind and waves had picked up a bit. Chris said he was having a great time, and wasn't sleepy so we could sleep some more. I gladly obliged and went back to bed. Then a little later he called for me, "No hurry hon, but it's getting a bit heavier out and I'd like two people up here".
I went up and was immediately drawn to the sky. It was beautiful. There were so many stars, I couldn't even find my favorite constellations. Then I noticed the seas. The waves were huge, and I couldn't believe Chris was handling them by himself. I've never seen anything like it, and I must say I was extremely nervous. I hesitate to say I was scared, because Pelican was handling the waves. They were coming at our back quarter, which is the perfect way to handle them. We also had our full main up, which kept the boat from rocking too much.
We made the decision to head toward shore, where it was forecasted to be smaller waves. We were doing ok, but if the waves and wind got any worse, we would be in danger. Things were silent in the cockpit. Once you make that decision, it's like your admitting you could be in trouble. I sat there and looked out into the darkness. I could see a few lights on land, and found comfort in them. We couldn't be that far from the smaller waves if I could see land. My comfort was occasionally interrupted when in the trough of a wave. The waves were so high, that when in the troughs, the lights of land were obscured by the wave in front of you. I tried not to look at the shadow of the waves around us. I was glad to be in the dark. You can fool yourself into believing they weren't as big as they looked in the dark.
After handling the waves for a bit, we realized that both of us couldn't continue this all night. We needed to stop to rest. It was at this point, instead of heading generally closer to shore and reported smaller waves, we headed directly into the nearest port.
Still Pelican was showing her strength against mother nature. You have to think of waves like hills that pass beneath you. They approach from behind and your rear rises, and then sinks back down the back of the hill. The major thing you have to watch for is the jibe. When you sink back down the back of the hill, your boat wants to slide sideways, parallel to the wave. When you are parallel to a wave the boat will rock much more. This still isn't a problem, but with the wind behind us, and a sail up there is a possiblility of a jibe. This is when the sail swings to one side violently, and the wind catches it and pins the boat down. Couple a jibe with being parallel to the waves and that adds up to major trouble.
At this point we decided to bring the mainsail down. Looking back I realize this was a stupid idea, but at the time it made sense. If you don't want the accidental jibe, bring the sail down. If it didn't come down easy, we could always pull on the reef lines to bring it down. All of this could be done from the cockpit. I let go on the halyard (line holding the sail up) and the sail luffed and dropped about 2 feet. Then it immediately plastered itself against the mast, spreaders and lazy jacks. Not good! I was worried we would damage the spreaders or rip the sail. It was now staying that way until we got in.
Pelicans autopilot was keeping us right on track. Every time we went parallel, auto would straighten us out. We were still heading in, the lights were getting closer, and the major waves were coming less frequently. Then we had another thing to worry about. We were heading into a foreign port at night, and the river was at an ebb (flowing out) tide. The waves were still gigantic, and with the flow of a river hitting them, we knew they would get steaper in an ebb.
We were right. I said to Chris, I think when the forecast said 2-3 foot waves close to shore, they were talking about on the beach!" Chris ended up having to hand steer past the new giants in order to keep the boat straight. At the same time he was programming coordinates in the GPS to keep us in the channel. I would watch the channel buoy lights while he did the programming.
We passed buoy after buoy, and finally made it into the inlet. The waves calmed down, and the first order of action was to head into the wind and get the mainsail down. We did that, and headed to the nearest marina.
The nearest marina was located on the ICW. We approached the entrance marked by a green light and an unlit red bouy. Sitting next to the green, scanning the shore with a spotlight, all I can see is beach. Not willing to deal with a grounding, we decided to hover until daylight came. That was about 2 hours of hovering. I handled this to give Chris some much needed rest. Not realizing that we were in a river with heavy current, I apparently let us go about 2 miles down the river away from the entrance. I kind of figured something was up when I was idling the boat at 1/2 knot and we never moved in relation to the shore. Once light came, we headed against the current back to the ICW entrance. We could now see the entrance, and felt secure proceeding foward. We pulled into the marina, tied up, and kissed the ground.
The salon (the inside living area of the boat) was a complete mess. Everything went everywhere. You couldn't walk without stepping on something as the floor contained a laptop, clothes, kids games, and everything else that used to be on the table. The galley was still dirty from dinner and snack making. We didn't care, we were tired and still hanging on to adrenalin rushes. Chris logged onto the computer to check the weather buoys near where we had been. I fixed a coffee heavily laden with godiva white chocolate liqueur. We set the kids up with the computer and promptly went to bed.