Today we had an ambitious plan. Our (online) friends Bruce & Gayleen, aboard "Pearl", were a couple of hours "down the road" from us. We wanted to catch up with them and finally meet at the next stop. For them, that was a mooring field in Carolina beach. The wind was predicted to blow hard that night, there are few good anchorages in that region of the ICW, and they wanted the security of not having to worry about dragging their anchor.
From their location, Carolina beach was quite doable, but from ours, it would be a stretch: 67 Statute miles (58 NM). In order to attempt this, we had to get up at 5 am and leave at first light, just before dawn. Then, if we timed all the drawbridges right and didn't get stuck at one minute after the hour waiting for a bridge that only opens on the hour, then we would just make it by sundown.
So that's what we did. At the first two bridges, we did quite well, hitting an on-the-half-hour one while it was open, and only waiting a few minutes for the first of two on-the-hour ones. We also made it past the notorious shoaling at Brown's inlet without incident, having previously gotten detailed instructions from other cruisers.
However, at marker 123, this carefully orchestrated plan almost came unraveled. First, we were passed by a giant mega-yacht, who courteously cut throttle to give us a "slow pass", and then zoomed off ahead.
Well, I tried to back off, and it wouldn't budge. We were on too hard. So I used the "spin the boat using the rudder and the prop" trick and got us pointed back towards deeper water, and gave it full throttle. Unfortunately, both the wind and the current were against us, and the engine simply couldn't get us out. At this point, it looked like all hope of making Carolina Beach today was lost.
But then the guys in the powerboat decided to help. They reved up both of their engines, creating a pair of huge frothing jets directed directly at us. After a moment, this pushed so much water under us that we started to bounce up and down on the sand. I quickly put our engine back in gear and gave it lots of throttle. Every time we bounced up, we went foreward a few inches. In this manner, we hop-hop-hopped over to deeper water where we finally began to float. We eventually went around them throigh the narrow slot between their bow and the dock, where there was 10 1/2 feet of water! Just another day on the ICW. ;)
At our last on-the-hour drawbridge, it looked like the grounding delay was going to cost us. We arrived 15 minutes after the hour, and it looked like a 45 minute wait to the next opening.
But luck was with us again. Within 15 minutes, a TowBoatUS captain called the bridge operator to request an opening for his tow. Commercial boat traffic is allowed to request a bridge opening at any time, and if it's not a big tug and barge, the bridge operator lets all the waiting recreational traffic, like us, go through then too.
So, we arrived in Carolina Beach in time to pick up a mooring ball just as the sun was hitting the horizon. Despite it being our first time using a mooring, we managed to pull it off without loosing anything (or any one!) overboard, despite the 15 kt winds that were blowing. Bruce and Gayleen came over in their dingy, and we finally got to physically meet. We spent the evening getting acquainted and discussing our navigation options for the next day.