Part 6 of 7: Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina (USVI to North Carolina)

After checking weather reports, studying the tides and filling the boat with water and diesel, Simon, Sienna and I slipped lines saying good bye to Hyatt’s Peir 66 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Exiting the marina was far easier than entering it. We pulled out of our slip, made a tight right and then another tight right and motored forward between two super yachts.


It didn’t take long to enter the river leading us out of Fort Lauderdale

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

With ten minutes to spare before the bridge opened, we got hit with a squall. While pulling in the fenders and warps (lines that hold the boat to the slip) I got drenched! At least the rain cooled us down a bit. The temperatures were in the 90’s when we left.

The bridge opened at 11:30 and we easily motored through and on out the channel. There were several tankers, fishing boats and sight seeing boats all progressing towards the big open Atlantic Ocean expanse.

Simon and I tried to sail but due to very light winds we had to motor for a while

The three of us ate lunch, watched ‘Monsters University,’ and waited for another squall to hit us.

Sometimes squalls, or short storms, happen upon us quickly. Other times it can take hours before they quickly come and go.

While waiting for the weather system to move through I felt our boat pick up speed. Normally we motor along doing 6.5 knots around the 1400 rev mark, but our indicators showed us doing 10 knots!

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

We must have found the Gulf Stream again!

Woo woo! It’s great to get more speed for our diesel output.

Eventually, the wind picked up to 20 knots and sailing was the name of the game. We had dinner, I washed the dishes and was in bed at 7pm getting some sleep in preparation for my 1am night watch.

At 1am Simon woke me up. We were sailing in another squall and it was pitch black. With 20 knots of wind we were sailing at 10 knots with the wind behind us. I noted that the cruise liner, Carnival Victory, was behind us but otherwise there was no light.

Feeling a bit vulnerable, I asked sim to sleep in saloon so I could call down to him with any problems

While looking out at the pitch black backdrop I easily noticed the phosphorous bursting into life along the hull of the boat. It reminded me of those buzzy bee fireworks that burst to life, fly around in circles and are gone just as quick as they came.

Sitting around trying to become acclimated to the dark night watch I noted that nothing was on AIS plotter. I thought, ‘easy-peasy…nothing to worry about.’ The AIS plotter tells me what ships are near, where they’re heading and how fast they’re going.

Still feeling unsettled and half-asleep, I listened to the foam wash hissing loudly

I thought about how happy I was to leave Florida and how eager I was to get to North Carolina – our final destination. Being able to see my family and getting necessary work on Britican was overdue.

The wind picked up and I noted that our speed went up to 10.5 knots (see night picture above). Normally we’d only be doing 7 or 8 knots with the wind speed but the Gulf Stream was seriously helping us on our journey.

Eventually I settled into my watch and in wet pants on a damp cushion I started reading my new thriller entitled ‘Gone.’ The book is about a family that suddenly disappears without a trace and a police detective has to figure out what happened to them.

Engrossed in my book I kept hearing a ‘Securite,’ or safety message, broadcast over our VHF radio

The person announcing the Securite kept requesting listeners to switch to Alpha Channel X (can’t remember the exact channel).

The VHF radio on our boat is an old European radio and doesn’t operate on the American system. There was no way for me to pick up the channel mentioned. I assumed that if there was something serious the broadcaster would simply announce the message on Channel 16 so all boats could hear it.

I also thought that over the past couple years I’ve heard hundreds of Securite’s and I have never been anywhere near the problem at hand. Examples included floating logs, military restriction zones, sinking vessels, refugees and so forth.

Around 4:30am I noticed that it sounded like someone was hailing us directly on the radio. I ran over to the VHF speaker and turned it up to make sure I wasn’t imagining our name being called. Within seconds I again heard, ‘Britican, Britican, Britican, this is the US Navy…’

I yelled, ‘Oh Crap.’ And then I yelled, ‘SIMON!!!’

Simon begrugedly woke from his sleep asking me why I didn’t respond to the radio call. It wasn’t that I was afraid to answer the call…I was afraid that the US Navy was going to yell at me.

Apparently the US Navy was broadcasting the Securite. When they asked us why we were ignoring the message and sailing dangerously close to the restricted area we responded that our European VHF doesn’t have the necessary channel to listen to the message!

After a bit of discussion the Navy gave us a latitude and longitude for the restricted area. Apparently we had to stay at least 12 miles away from the coordinates yet we were 3 miles from going straight over it!


We were instructed to take a hard left and sail out until we hit the 12 mile mark and then we could proceed north. Simon explained that we’re a sailboat and we don’t go very fast. He also explained that if they let us carry on we’d be through the zone quickly as we were in the Gulf Stream.

The US Navy delined our request to stay in the Gulf Stream doing 10.5 knots

We then had to head east, doing 5 to 6 knots sailing into waves.

The US Navy called us again asking why we weren’t moving quicker. Simon explained, again, that we’re a sailboat and we can’t go much quicker. In the end, we took our sails down and motored at 6.5.

A month after this incident Simon discovered that the US Navy was shock testing the hull of a new naval ship. Apparently they were detonating bombs under the hull!

Can you believe that?!

After all the excitement, Simon took over the watch at 5am and I went to bed.

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

Later on in the morning I woke up. It was Simon’s 50th Birthday so Sienna and I wrapped some presents that Sienna got him before we left Florida. I gave her $10 to spend at the Dollar store so she got: reading glasses, camouflage sun glasses, one beer cosy, a woopy cushion, a freezer mug (for beer), a card and decorations.

Sienna was so excited to wrap and prepare for our little celebration

One by one, Sienna gave Simon the presents and although they were all silly things it was a memorable birthday. It’s not every day that you turn 50 years old while sailing on the Atlantic Ocean opening presents from the Dollar Store!

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

After the festivities, I noticed that we were doing only 4 knots with 10 knots on a close haul. Then, out of nowhere, the wind shifted and suddenly our head sail moved to other side. I jumped up and tacked so to bring the sail over to the correct side.

Within seconds we went from a slow poodle to 8.7 knots

There were dark clouds on the horizon so the the change of wind direction and speed was the result of a weather system moving through.

Just before the increase in wind, Simon was saying that it will take three more nights to get to NC rather than two going at 4 knots.

Getting 8 knots brought our ETA (estimated time of arrival) way down.

Watching the ETA can be exciting or soul destroying

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

By lunch time we were back down to four knots.

After Simon played with his calculator for a few minutes, he explained that we did 190 miles in 24 hrs. We might have broke our record (208 miles) if it wasn’t for the US Navy pushing us off course. The darn Navy!

For lunch we had pitas with tomato, cheddar, honey ham and blue cheese dressing. We also had left-overs of store-bought Mac and potato salad. I was feel huge – for some reason I’ve been eating like a horse since we got to the States.

After our midday feast, I laid in the cockpit feeling like a beached whale

Sim and Sienna were in the aft cabin watching a Harry Potter.

With no one around I started to contemplate my life. Half of me wanted to sail for weeks and the other half wanted to get into North Carolina. My parents offered their house and car to us for a week while they go on vacation… I thought it would be nice to play house – just the three of us living back on land with lots of space.

Looking out over the sea, I noticed that the waves had increased in size and we were sailing right into them. The motion was very rocky, but an up and down rocky rather than the side to side rocky that usually makes me green.

Trying to reduce our ETA, Simon and I tried to pole out jib and staysail

We just didn’t have enough wind but making the sail changes ate up almost 2 hours of time. Eventually, we had to turn the engine on.

While Simon and I were messing around with the sails, Sienna got ‘hangry,’ a term used when you’re so hungry that you get angry, but we had a good chat about it.

It’s amazing how sailing along at the pace of a turtle isn’t as boring as you’d expect. There’s always something to do, to try or to deal with. Whether it’s play with the sails, prepare for a squall or teaching a 6 year old about moderating emotions.

After a dinner of beef stew and special birthday éclairs (long narrow donuts filled with cream) I went to bed.

Around 12:30am Simon woke me

We were doing only 4.5 knots with the engine on. The tide was against us and we had no wind. Bummer!

Simon went down to bed and I once again abosorbed my surroundings. It was pitch black with no moon. The Milky Way was very easy to spot and I noticed quite a few high planes. The sea was flat but there was the typical Atlantic undulating swell so the ride was not smooth.

As usual it took me a few minutes to grow comfortable with my night watch. I almost always use distraction to get over the discomfort of sailing into blackness. I either read or play on the IPad. My distractor tools help me to forget that I’m sailing a 35 ton boat into pitch black surrounded by millions of creatures below me – some of which would happily eat me.

Around 4:45am I swapped my night watch with Simon and passed out quickly

At 8:30am I was back up. Sim made made me a coffee and I drank it while admiring the flat calm Atlantic. Never did I expect to see this beast of an ocean as flat as a pancake. The air was so fresh. The blues were so calming.

I piered down the aft cabin hatch and noticed that Sienna was watching Hotel Transylvania 2. I then felt a pang of guilt for not playing with her but I reminded myself that in a couple days she’ll be going to a summer camp, enjoying her cousins and being a ‘normal’ kid.

My thoughts then drifted over to that funny smell I noticed yesterday

I told Simon that we had some bad food or the bilge was stinking up the place. Later I realized it was me. That’s what happens when you don’t shower for three days!

Gone are the days when I showered and groomed myself to a high standard. Am I letting myself go or has the desire to fit in disappeared? Perhaps a bit of both.

Eventually the wind started to increase and we were finally sailing again. With the wind on our beam at 9 knots we were able to sail at 4.5 knots.

I noticed my thoughts oscillating – I’m hungry, what should I have for lunch? Mac salad, potato salad, tossed salad and a sausage?

What do I want to at our next stop – boat stuff, work, Sienna school/social, sight seeing?

Then, once again, I felt the deep love I have for sailing on the sea. Wow… I love this. Just sailing along on the flat sea. Do I actually want to return to land? Not when the sailing conditions are so smooth…when they are so perfect. I must say many times per day…it’s so beautiful yet I look at the same thing every day – deep blue sea and graduating Sky Blues. It’s a lot of blue. When I see green land, however, I am happy too!

We sailed for a good chunk of the day in light winds and a favorable current too. Simon and I started the day thinking we’d be out for two more nights but recent thinking is that we’ll be in around 4pm tomorrow.

With the flat seas, I was able to play with Sienna much more than usual. We did some reading and worked on rhyming. She only partially understanding rhyming so I thought about coming up with some different rhyming games for the next day.

We also did fashion plates – Sienna made the etchings and I colored them in. Sienna’s plan was to sell the designs for money when we get to land. Gosh – is she her mother’s daughter or what?

While coloring we saw a pod of dolphins

Otherwise we played Uno for four hours having a shower break in between for all of us. It felt great to be clean. Sienna also gave us a dance, singing and acrobatic show. With the boom pulled in and the preventer dangling down she discovered that she could spin around the lines from the boom to the traveller – a new addition to her act.

I’d love to get her lessons in dance and even singing or acting. She has the ability and confidence to entertain.

For dinner we had pork loin, stuffing and salad. After tidying the saloon I went to bed.

My final night watch was pure black again. There was no moon and loads of stars. I had two ships to watch at my start. One passed quickly behind. The other lingered for what felt like forever. I just wanted it to pass so I could go back to my reading.

During Simons watch we got twenty minutes of massive waves and I mean MASSIVE waves

The whole boat was going side to side with severity. I thought there was no way to sleep. I said to myself after position 20 if I don’t fall asleep soon I’m going to try sleeping on the sofa. I must have fallen asleep as I woke in my bed!

Sim later explained he had troubles staying in his seat. I wonder if the waves were created from the US Navy detonating a bomb? That would be interesting if that’s what caused the waves. What else would do that? Waves from tankers can be big but they don’t go on for 20 minutes.

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

In the morning, we finally saw land

We saw North Carolina. Sienna and I were so excited. We had big plans to look forward to – seeing family, getting the boat fixed up, Sienna attending a summer camp, Simon and I getting work done.

The plan was to stay in Wilmington for three months to a year depending on Sienna. We felt it was important to put her in school so that she gained a solid grasp on what education is, why it’s important and what ‘normal’ kids do. My homeschooling efforts were usually effective but often after a screaming match and many refusals to do the work.

What should have taken a couple hours could take up to a full day and it wasn’t fun for anyone

Before arriving in Wilmington, North Carolina we had to motor up the Cape Fear River. The journey took around 4 hours as we traveled with the tide. Along the river we noticed one town, several houses, a bit of industry, some islands, many crab pots, loads of grassy lands and a few other motor boats.

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

Eventually we made it to the bridge before the city. Simon rang the operator saying that we’d be at the bridge in about twenty minutes. To our surprise the bridge operator started opening the boat bridge almost immediately!

We couldn’t go much faster and we felt terrible to see all the traffic pile up as the drivers waited for us to pass the bridge.

I think the poor people in the cars waited over 10 minutes for us to go through

Once on the other side of the bridge, we passed several lovely waterside restaurants, noticed a few tour boats and saw the back of Wilmington’s main street.

Fortunately for us we’ve visited Wilmington a couple times in the past so we knew the general area

We finally spotted the marina and started to line the boat up to moor on the outer wall. We arrived after the marina attendants were gone so they made it easy for us to simply moor on the outside.

Thankfully, the tide, wind and Simon’s driving skills were good. As we approached the wall, the bow thrusters failed. It’s always possible to moor a boat without thrusers moving the bow left and right but it’s a bit unnerving when you expect them to work and they don’t.

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina

Simon had no issue. We came close to the wall, I jumped off with the midship spring in my hand and between the rope and Simon’s boat handling skills we were in a perfect position to tie Britican down.

We quickly cleaned ourselves up, jumped off the boat, walked into town and got ourselves the biggest yummiest meal we could.

Sailing to Wilmington North Carolina Video

Whats next?! In the next post in this series you’ll see Britican being hauled out of the water and put on the hard ready for her antifoul servicing. Make sure to sign up to my newsletter to ensure you are notified of new articles :)