Cape Lookout 2021

August 28th, 2021

My wife and I took a vacation down to Atlantic Beach which is on one of North Carolina’s barrier islands. We usually go to Hatteras or Ocracoke, but this year we thought we’d try somewhere new. I have a thing for photographing lighthouses as an excuse to get out and explore, so we decided somewhere within sailing distance of Cape Lookout would be interesting. The morning started out with pretty light winds from astern. I really could have used my topsail I’ve been tinkering with, but it’s not quite ready for prime time yet.

Leaving Anchorage Marina. Pretty narrow through here, especially under oars.

Heading across Beaufort Inlet with the Atlantic off to the right. The number of boats that passed me was incredible, and it only got worse throughout the day. Boat wakes came from all directions and the channel was pretty narrow in places. Fortunately it was all downwind and the wind was predicted to shift to a beam reach on the way back.

On the sound side of the uninhabited Shackleford Banks. After bouncing through boat wakes I decided to raise the centerboard, let the rudder pop into barn door mode, and cut through the marshy islands. This not only gave me interesting things to look at and navigate around, but it also massively cut down on the number of other people.

Although not everyone… this guy was out buzzing boaters in his Jet Ski of the sky. He didn’t get super close to me, but my wife got a video of him flying down the beach.

What I thought were watermen off in the distance turned out to be feral horses grazing in the marsh! Supposedly they came from Spanish or English shipwrecks during the age of discovery and genetic testing does seem to indicate their line dates back 400 years. I was feeling pretty lucky to see them, but after sailing further I saw tons more all over the island. Must be a tough life eating marsh grass and drinking brackish water.

Heading through some marshy islands in a foot of water. One guy who was anchored said he didn’t think I’d make it through.

Working my way over to Barden Inlet through the shallows. Powerboats ripped through at full speed, so I guess they must know where they’re going. Shackleford Banks used to be connected until a hurricane opened this inlet in 1933. Congressman Graham Barden sponsored legislation requiring the Army Corps of Engineers maintain the channel for the watermen of Harkers Island.

Heading toward the lighthouse! The beach was packed with anchored powerboats and more were constantly coming or going. I picked the widest spot to beach my boat and went for it.

Aways out I dropped the jib and sailed in on the scandalized main. Luffed up into the wind right at the shore, hopped overboard, and pulled her up onto the beach like I knew what I was doing. Just then I noticed a group of people coming over to give me a hand… but it turned out they just wanted selfies with the boat and to ask how it can move without an engine.

A pretty packed beach.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was built in 1859 and is 163′ tall. The black diamonds are oriented north and south, while the white diamonds point east and west. I wanted to climb it, but it’s closed for the foreseeable future while serious structural issues are fixed.

After eating lunch I managed to get launched without ramming anyone else’s boat or more importantly looking like a fool. Once away from the shore (and during a brief lull in passing boat traffic) I peaked up the main and hoisted the jib.

It took some tacking around the shallow areas to get into Lookout Bight. The shoreline was packed, boats were crisscrossing everywhere, and some pretty big ones were in the channel.

But eventually I made it into the Atlantic where I hoped I would just have to deal with the wind and waves… but that was not to be the case. At one point a charter fishing boat blew past close enough for spray to hit me and I had to quickly turn into his wall of a wake. And unfortunately the wind didn’t quite shift enough for a beam reach, so it was all upwind.

I stayed within 3/4 of a mile from Shackleford Banks and it was a choppy ride. There seemed to be waves radiating out from the beach which I assume are reflected waves, although maybe they were just from the constant boat traffic. Possibly further out would have been less chaotic. I never felt close to being in over my head, but the constant bashing to windward did get tiring.

Heading into Beaufort Inlet. The waves through here were even choppier with some of them constructively interfering to get pretty big. At one point I looked up at a wave for a moment, but that was not the usual size. My GPS tracker shows I surfed another wave upwind at 8.5 mph.

I didn’t have enough hands to take many pictures from the narrow section. Mostly because I was trying to navigate upwind through a narrow channel while over canvased and surrounded by tons of boats. It was ridiculous how many there were… I felt like I was surrounded by TIE fighters in a Star Wars movie.

Once through the narrow section it opened up and I could tack over to the marina. It was blowing pretty good, I think because the land funneled the wind in. Although my wife did say the wind got a little uncomfortable out on the beach too.

Finally back at the ramp after 32.7 miles. I averaged 4.5 mph on the way back and I had about 5 gallons of water sloshing around in the bottom just from spray. The whole trip took 8.5 hours and was a great success. Did I mention there was a ton of boats to avoid?


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