I sat down a few days ago to a meal of Alligator overlooking our docked boat at Swansboro, North Carolina. I thought I would be able to foresee the way the trip would progress for the next week. I was once again completely mistaken.
After leaving Oriental, we continued on the Intracoastal making our way for Beaufort, North Carolina. The weather was beautiful, and as I was steering, a large stingray appeared, cascading water from its body as it jumped clear out of the river and dived back in. I had been used to dolphins at this point, but this was something I did not expect. Apparently this is a common event in these waters.
Our GPS was having some problems and kept freezing on a certain screen as we neared Beaufort. We navigated ourselves into the wrong channel while fixing the GPS and realized we needed to adjust our course. Unfortunately, at that point we were already bordering a large shoal. The boat gave a little “thud” and we knew we had run aground on the sandy bottom. This time, we were ready. Matt grabbed a halyard and helped distribute the weight on the boat so that we could rock her free from the shallow channel. I revved up the engine in reverse enough to spin her around so I could use the power of my propeller in forward. We ungrounded ourselves and continued on through the choppy Outer Banks area of the ICW.
We continued our travel through this shallow and inlet-infested channel, finally reaching Swansboro after fighting some serious current. Swansboro was a scene straight out of a dream. The sun was setting as we docked, and a band was playing “Careless Whisper” as we walked onto shore. Townsfolk mingled about smiling and dancing to the music that drifted over our heads carried by a warm, southern breeze. We ate at a restaurant on the water, and I had my first chance to try alligator as an actual meal. Little did I know I would meet this alligator’s cousin later in Southport, but that is a story for another post.
In the morning, we continued through the river after refueling and leaving around 8am. I noticed a slight change in the vibrations of the propeller than what was normal, but I decided we would check it that night. We navigated through Camp Lejuene, which often is closed for military exercises and practice bombing. Old tanks littered the banks of this uninhabited, practice war-zone.
I was traveling in the middle of the channel, watching my depth sounder, and cruising at 6 knots, when suddenly the boat got pushed up in the air and down again with a thud sound coming from the keel. This was alarming, but it turned out to be some severe shoaling in the middle of the channel due to some of the currents and inlets on the shoreline. We are getting used to this running aground experience. Maybe too used to it.
We finally reached the Surf City Bridge, which unfortunately was not going to open for another forty minutes. I idled down the engine and was keeping the boat from drifting with the strong current that ran under the unopened bridge. This was a great chance to practice close quarters navigation with the boat, and I was feeling pretty good, doing circles with the boat in place, putting her into neutral, then forward, then reverse. Suddenly, as I gave the boat a burst of reverse, I heard a pop.
“Bobby, did you hear that?”
Suddenly, I realized I had no control over the boat. I quickly yelled to Bobby to drop an emergency anchor. We got the anchor out just in time before the current attempted to sweep us into the unopened bridge. Bobby dived under the boat and came back up looking somewhat shocked.
“The propeller… is gone…”
The propeller had been missing a pin that would stop reverse motion from unscrewing it from the shaft. We got a powerboat to pull us away from the bridge, and for a few minutes I just sat taking in the fact that we were stuck once again. We weren’t giving up this time though. We did call a towing service, but we were able to use our spare propeller and a couple screw nuts and a pin to make a new set-up.
The tow boat came and helped us through the bridge, monitoring our movements until we were sure our back-up propeller would do the trick. We continued on unscathed physically, with only financial costs.
We still made Wrightsville Beach by sundown and anchored in sight of the coast in a basin of sailboats all closed up and anchored for the night.
In the morning, we continued our journey towards Southport, but those stories of currents, restaurant docking, new friends, alligators, Oak Island, golf, a house to stay in and a van will have to wait for my next post.