After two months of planning, the day finally arrived for our long-awaited summer cruise from our home port at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club in Little River, South Carolina, to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
We left Charlotte, North Carolina, around 7 p.m. on Friday, June 29, 1990, after working all day. The three-and-a-half-hour drive to the marina took us four hours because we tried a “shortcut.”
Arriving late but still full of energy, we quickly unpacked and stowed our gear and provisions aboard Lioness, our 38-foot sloop. Although we went to bed at midnight, sleeping proved uncomfortable with the temperature below deck at about 92 degrees.
Saturday, June 30
Rising early the next morning to a clear blue sky and bright sunshine, we ate breakfast and prepared to get underway. After a stop at the fuel dock, we motored up the Intracoastal Waterway and set sail after leaving Little River Inlet. We steered a course toward our first day’s destination, the quaint fishing village of Southport, North Carolina.
A relatively light wind out of the southwest over our starboard quarter begged for the spinnaker, so we set it flying without a hitch, increasing Lioness’ speed to a comfortable 6.5 knots. With the autohelm steering, we sailed for about four hours. While John and I rested, the wind freshened and became more southerly. Lioness began to heel uncomfortably, so we dropped the spinnaker. We’d had problems with the procedure in the past, and this time was no exception. A sudden gust of wind caused major rope burns as it tried to rip the halyard out of my hands. I let go, and the big, colorful sail floated on the water like a dead butterfly. We decided we needed more practice.
Setting the genoa, we continued to the Cape Fear River entrance. As we approached the first buoy, we furled the genoa, lowered the main, managed to avoid several large fishing trawlers and motored toward Southport.
While looking for a good anchoring spot, we saw another sailboat snugly anchored in front of a little island and decided to do the same. After a textbook anchorage using our Bruce anchor, we checked our position relative to a couple of palm trees several times to make sure the anchor was holding. All seemed well, so we boarded the dinghy and set out for a restaurant in Southport half a mile away from our lovely anchorage. After a tasty, relaxing dinner, we strolled to the nearby provisioning store. We listened to some local fish stories, got a bag of ice and meandered back to the dock where the dinghy was made fast.
We spotted a beautiful sailboat anchored in the middle of the channel. It looked a lot like Lioness, but Lioness was anchored some distance away close to the little island. The boat drew a lot of attention from the pilot boat and the U.S. Coast Guard, especially when the pilot, with the help of his bullhorn, demanded that the owner kindly remove his vessel from the channel as a tanker was due to pass within the next 30 minutes. It was then that we realized the vessel in so much peril was ours. Lioness had gotten loose, heaven knows how, and had drifted. The anchor had reset itself in 48 feet of water, keeping Lioness steady and lined up for disaster. We scrambled into the dinghy and hot-tailed it to the runaway boat with flailing arms.
We were greeted by the Coast Guard, who reminded us that it wasn’t a good idea to anchor in a major shipping artery. Fortunately, they believed us when we told them our boat had drifted from its our original anchorage. Although they didn’t fine us, they did write a report—our initiation into the black book of the U.S. Coast Guard. To this day, we still have not figured out exactly what happened. The Coast Guard recommended that we anchor at Dutchman Creek, which we tried but found too crowded. To safely end this exciting day, we decided to bite the bullet, pay the fee and moor at Southport Marina.
Finally able to relax, we got some sleep that night, only to find out in the morning that we were aground in the shallow marina. With the help of the dockmaster, we got out and headed up the Intracoastal to Wrightsville Beach.
Sunday, July 1
The next day was beautiful and sunny but a little bit on the hot side. We put up the mainsail and enjoyed a nice trip up the waterway. When we reached a bridge, we down took the sail and motored on. Coming upon a large barge aground sideways in the channel, John gleefully remarked, “I’m so glad that happens to the pros, too.”
About 30 minutes later, he ran Lioness aground in sympathy. Fortunately, it was just a little bump, and the remainder of the journey to Wrightsville Beach proved uneventful.
Arriving at about 3:30 p.m., we put down two anchors off the bow. The little anchoring bay filled with colorful sailboats provided beautiful scenery. It was quite hot, so we rigged poly tarps over the hatches to keep the sun from beaming in. The temperature below dropped rapidly, about half a degree to 89.5 degrees. We fixed drinks, sat down and quietly enjoyed watching other mariners doing their stuff.
Just as we were observing how wonderful and peaceful it was, a big bee stung my leg. There went our peace and quiet. After smashing the monster to smithereens and flushing it down the scupper, we decided to do something else.
Launching the dinghy in relatively choppy waters, we had a soggy ride to Seapath Yacht Club to look for Bobby Broome, a friend of John’s who was vacationing in Wrightsville Beach. We had an even soggier ride back.
Rain threatened on and off every 30 minutes with conditions generally worsening. As winds continued to build, we oiled the teak and rechecked the anchors. It looked like we were in for a big blow. Around 7:30 p.m., the storm set in much worse than we imagined: high winds, driving rain, and much lightning and thunder. The boat heeled dangerously under anchor. Watching many boats arrive under these conditions, we were glad that it was them and not us. When the storm finally let up around 9 p.m., we ventured out to assess the damage. Our tarp roof had come undone, and we refastened it with clammy, cold hands. Shivering and exhausted, we slept well into Monday morning.
Monday, July 2
We heard on the radio that last night’s storm produced winds up to 70 miles an hour. We’d been lucky to get away with a little angst. After breakfast we got in the dinghy to look once more for the elusive Bobby Broome, who, as it turned out, could not be found.
We decided to go to the beach, took the dinghy and skippered across the bay. Making fast at a little dock, we met another couple, also in a dinghy. They asked whether this was a good place to tie up. After some conversation, we found out they had been anchored beside us at that little island off Southport on that fateful day when our boat drifted, proving the old and worn-out saying that this world is a small one. Apparently, Katie and Rusty had alerted the Coast Guard. They lived in Key West, Florida, and were cruising north for the summer.
We invited the couple to dinner that night. Shortly before they arrived, we discovered that we didn’t have a pot big enough to cook spaghetti for four people. We ended up with spaghetti stuck together in the shape of a ball, which tasted just as good. Rusty and Katie stayed for about three hours and entertained us with detailed reports of their lives. After doing a lot of dishes, we went to bed and got up early the next morning to go fishing.
Tuesday, July 3
We had a smooth ride to Masonboro Inlet. We didn’t catch anything, but we did lose John’s favorite hat. I protested and threatened mutiny when he turned the boat around to fish it out of the water. Fortunately, the hat sank, and we abandoned the rescue mission. John was traumatized, so we returned and practiced anchoring. John remarked, “We are getting better at it.”
After a little nap, we hopped into the dinghy and passed by Allegro, Katie and Rusty’s boat. Since nobody was home, we went to Docksiders, a popular watering hole, and had a beer. We slept well that night, got up early and had breakfast. John was still grieving the loss of his hat.
Wednesday, July 4
We made a shopping list and, for our amusement, invented a new game: Guess That Price. We went to town to play it. I won by 75 cents. We visited our new friends because curiosity to see their boat was killing us. Their 26-foot Westerly was crammed full of people, cats, and 60 days’ worth of supplies. We sat and talked some more, went home, and had lunch. We oiled the teak after dinner. Lioness was shining.
Thursday, July 5
When it was time to make the great return voyage, we took the Intracoastal Waterway back to Southport, passing several large vessels, tankers and barges. Trying to anchor in shallow Dutchman Creek, we again experienced 30-mph winds. Despite putting out both anchors again, this time at the bow and stern, we found ourselves drifting closer and closer to shore. To avoid drifting aground, we decided to go to Southport Marina.
The wind made mooring difficult. With the help of the dockmaster, it took almost an hour and a half to get Lioness safe. We concluded that docking by ourselves works out better. What’s the saying again, too many cooks ruin dinner?
We had a good night’s sleep by the light of a full moon. The next morning, we regretted not sailing back to Myrtle Beach during the night. John had suggested it, but I had chickened out.
Friday, July 6
Due to the shallow water, we left Southport at high tide, around 8:30 a.m., made it out to sea and set sail—no wind. If we’d only sailed back during the night! Tensions rose but eased again when the wind picked up. We navigated solely by Loran to find out whether it worked, which it did. When we reached our home buoy in a bad haze, the Loran alarm went off. We were about 10 yards away. Amazing.
When we sailed into the channel, wind conditions were so good that we enjoyed some good jibes. After a bit of fun, we dropped the sails at an opportune moment and motored home to Myrtle Beach Yacht Club.
Left to our own devices, we moored again in perfect fashion. We were home, happy, sunburned, and tired. After washing down Lioness, we packed up and headed back to Charlotte, already planning our next trip.