Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scaning the chaos

Over-the-bow, GPS, depth gage, compass, depth gage, GPS, look port, look starboard, look over the bow: repeat and repeat and repeat … for hours. Instrument pilots call it the scan, putting together a mental, 3D picture of position and motion from bits of information taken from different gages scattered around a cockpit. It also works pretty well when driving a boat down the ICW in thick fog. Throw in the gentle roll and pitch of the boat while moving one’s head around and there can be some moments where that 3D picture dissolves with even “up” and “down” being anyone’s guess. It has been years since I've had vertigo in an airplane. Today it was a regular visitor.

At times the boat that had been slowly gaining on us all morning disappeared completely. At other times the mist eased and we got a good look. And at still other times all we could see was the top of his mast poking above the white but still closing the gap as we ghosted down the main shipping lane of the Cape Fear River. It was something different, amusing, and somewhat eerie all at the same time. He passed us near the big ship fueling dock at a place called Price Creek and we followed him back onto the ICW at Southport.

For the second day in a row Kintala was spared by being behind.

At a place called Lockwood Folly Inlet chaos reigned on the ICW. Beset by tidal currents, already shallow, with shifting shoals spanning the charted channel, temporary markers set off the charted channel to starboard, still shrouded with drifting bits of fog, and with fishing boats and jet skis trolling around or anchored … the boat that had pulled out of sight ahead of us hove into view now hard aground, heeled sharply by the current, his prop frothing the water in a vain attempt to get off the sand. With Kintala’s depth gage unwinding toward what looked like our own grounding I eased off the power, but even slowing, the current kept us moving at better than 5 knots. Traffic and low visibility limited my options and I was sure we were about to crunch to a stop ourselves. Deb started calling out turns and we slalomed around boats and between markers that were less than 50 feet apart and completely outside the charted channel.

Just when it seemed the worst was over Deb called out a fishing boat dead ahead, anchored in the middle of the temporary channel, and with the current stretching him perpendicular across the only place we had to go. Sun on the fog had turned the white hull into the ultimate stealth ship; he was less than a boat length away and I still couldn't see him. Without Deb I would have T-boned the idiot at better than 5 knots; likely destroying both boats and certainly getting someone hurt; but she called a turn to port that somehow threaded us between his bow and Green “47A”. We passed so close that I could share with him my opinion of his subterranean IQ without even having to raise my voice.

We are anchored safe for the night at a place called Shallotte River. Not the best anchorage we have seen but okay for a nice weather night after a day like this one.

Today I don’t care much for the ICW.

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