Oriental is a great place if you’re only going to spend a day or two. They have two city docks that allow you to tie up for free, which have between them space for about five or six boats. You can stay for 48 hours within any 30 day period. When we first arrived in Oriental on a Friday, we tied up at the free city dock. If you look hard, you can see the top of Madge’s mast behind the big white yacht at the left of the picture. We were between that and the red shrimp boats. But we didn’t get to stay our full 48 hours. There was a regatta coming into town the next day (Saturday), and the city docks were reserved for that. So we had to leave. But before leaving, we walked around the town center and saw the highlights. We also met Sabina and Gino from S/V Snickers, whom I mentioned in a previous post. I gave some consideration to anchoring out in the harbor, just around the bend from what you see in the picture, but the “anchorage” is basically in the channel and turning basin that the shrimp boats use, so it’s a very busy and crowded place.
We moved up one creek from the Oriental harbor to Whittaker Creek on Saturday morning, where we took a transient slip at Whittaker Pointe Marina. We had pulled into Oriental for two reasons: 1) it’s a great sailing town with more boats than actual residents, and 2) we had a problem with our electronic charts, and needed to buy a new chip for our chartplotter. The local marine store had the chip we needed, so we borrowed the marina courtesy car and headed back to town, where we picked up our chip, had lunch, and hit the local grocery. The grocery had just opened that weekend. It replaced a store that had closed months ago, and the town was all abuzz about it. Being a scaled-down version of a Piggly Wiggly, but with some high end produce and other specialties the locals had suggested stocking, it was lovingly called “The Piglet.” The employees wore t-shirts for The Piglet of Oriental in North Carolina (OiNC). Ha! Piglet. Oinc. Love a town that has a sense of humor. Along those lines, back in the 80s, the village had adopted the Chinese dragon as the town symbol. There are dragons everywhere. Dragons on houses. Dragons on license plates. Dragon eggs (painted stones) in yards. They have a Dragon’s Breath Dinghy Race, and a Dragon Boat Festival. They have a big parade on New Years Eve with a real Chinese dragon that roars down the streets of town, with 30 or 40 people inside making the huge thing move. They also have the Neuse River and some horrible thunderstorms in the summer. We got stranded there for a couple of extra days waiting for a long enough weather window to get to our next stop. Fortunately, Whittaker Pointe Marina has some fine facilities, including a swimming pool, and we got to spend some quality time literally cooling our heels in the airconditioned lounge. The dockmaster was also very accommodating.
Unfortunately, though, the weather window we thought we had on Wednesday closed suddenly and unexpectedly, but only after we were several miles down the Neuse River on our way to Bear Creek. I’ve mentioned the Neuse River Bash in a previous post, so you already know that story, which is how we ended up limping back into Oriental and Whittaker Pointe Marina on Friday, exactly one week after we first arrived in town. At least we knew our way around by now, and we had free use of a car.
Since we had an appointment for the repair of our autopilot on Monday, and couldn’t go anywhere over the weekend, the weather, of course, was great — almost. There was a brief thunderstorm at noon on Saturday, which broke up the Dragon’s Breath Dinghy Race, but the race resumed after the rain and completed successfully. There was a brief shower on Sunday afternoon, but all it did was help keep the temperature down.
Also on Saturday, we got some company at the transient dock. S/V All In pulled in with its crew of four. Bryan and Laura were former school teachers from Beaufort, SC, who quit their jobs and sold their house (just like us), and set sail with their two young daughters. The All Ins were having the same sort of first year challenges that we were having. Three weeks after setting sail, they ran aground in the ICW, and in the process of getting them loose, the tow boat managed to bend their rudder. That required three weeks on the hard while a new rudder was fabricated (!) and installed. Luckily, their boat insurance covered the cost. They had only been back on the boat for two or three weeks. We marveled at their ability to travel with two pre-schoolers, and told them how wise it was of them to sail at a much younger age than we had chosen. Laura is part of some Facebook groups for cruisers with children aboard, which is a support network I had not heard of (which isn’t surprising, since we don’t have children aboard). In conversation, we told them about our need to get back to St. Marys by the end of October, because of the cruisers’ Thanksgiving Week events. All In should be heading south by that time, and they promised they would try to attend… with some other of their cruising-with-kids friends. I should probably start planning on some kid-friendly activities for that week, in addition to our regular adult activities.
On Monday, Peter from Sea Coast Marine Electronics came and took a look at our autopilot. He confirmed my previous diagnosis of a worn out drive unit, then popped the wheel off the boat and took it into his shop to take a look at it. Worst case scenario, I was looking at having to buy a whole new drive unit. But Peter thought he might be able to replace a few parts and get the old unit working again.
As it turns out, we only had a bad gear (shown at left, with vanilla wafer for size reference). The hole in the middle is supposed to be square. It had wallowed out while trying to turn the rudder in heavy seas. Peter replaced the part and put the drive unit back together. It worked just fine. Instead of having to buy a whole new drive unit, I only had to buy a plastic gear and pay for a couple hours of Peter’s time. I felt like we had dodged a major bullet… and we had our autopilot back again. I will be babying that thing for the rest of our trip. No more heavy weather use.
Tuesday was not a good day for traveling, so we stayed put. But Wednesday broke clear and calm in the morning. We cast off and headed back out onto the Neuse River, but this time, instead of going north, we were going south. We were on our way back to Beaufort, where we would spend a few days at anchor, touring the town and taking it easy.
All In cast off not long after us. They were continuing their trip north. Sadly, though, I got a call from Bryan a couple hours later. The depth sounder on All In had failed, and they were putting back in to Oriental. It was a Raymarine unit that failed. He needed Peter’s number. Later, Bryan notified me that the depth unit could not be repaired. It was well past its useful lifespan, and the transponder would have to be replaced. That would require hauling the boat out — again. He sounded pretty dejected. I don’t blame him. They had been on the water for just over two months, and this was the second time the boat was being hauled.
As I’ve said before, cruising is hard.