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  #1  
Old 02-17-2012
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Unfamiliar Inlet

The time has finally come and I am beginning planning of my first overnight/multi day offshore passage. The boat will be a borrowed Hunter 25 and I plan on going with a few friends. We are planning on building our way up and starting with a relatively short distance and then scaling up as we gain experience. For the first trip we are planning to sail from Wrightsville Beach, NC to Morehead City mainly due to a short distance and access to what I have heard is a decent inlet (Beaufort Inlet). We have taken the boat offshore to daysail quite a few times now, but nothing this far or sailing at night. I have all the necessary safety equipment, the boat is in sound condition, I have researched watch cycles and provisioning, and we have taken the boat out in 20+ kts in 6-7 foot seas and survived quite well. We have GPS, VHF, compass, charts, etc. and will not be going more than 10 or so miles out.

I have been thinking out all the details, but my main question is this: what is the protocol for entering an unfamiliar inlet? I have gotten used to a beautiful dredged inlet with jetties. I'm assuming night isn't the time to attempt, but what other advice do you guys have to offer?
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Old 02-17-2012
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Never enter or exit an inlet when the strongest tide (ebb or flood) is directly into a strong wind. Recipe for one hell of a messy "kitchen"

Otherwise, I'd seek local knowledge by either calling SeaTow or TowBoat US ahead of time and actively looking at ActiveCaptain and notice to mariners by the USCG. Obviously, it goes without saying that I'd avoid taking an unfamiliar inlet at night.
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Old 02-17-2012
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Since you'll be going in with crew, give each a job to do. Have one monitor the charts, and another work GPS/Chartplotter. Just keep an eye on the depthsounder, stay off the bottom and you'll be OK.
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Old 02-17-2012
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While leaving Masonboro Inlet is pretty straight forward, the entrance to the Beaufort Inlet is much longer, as well as busier (large powerboats have been known to be totally oblivious to the effect of their wakes). There's also a lot of different buoys to deal with once you are inside the Inlet, as there are separate channels to Beaufort and Morehead City/ICW.

You can make the trip in daylight if you can make a direct run. Too much tacking though and you could find yourself running out of daylight. In that case, you might want to head into the Cape Lookout Bight and anchor for the night.
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Old 02-17-2012
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I assume you have outboard for aux power? They like to cavitate in a chop.

keeping the main up, and/or sailing in or out will help a lot. the main helps steady the rocking. in bad conditions, I prefer to sail than motor, even if I have to short tack, since the engine can loose its headway,and then you fall backwards, in the waves, if the conditions are too choppy.

Active captain is a good source for local knowledge. but see if you can call on the vfh for current conditions.
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Old 02-17-2012
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Your plan is very sensible, Beaufort is about as straightforward as it gets... As others have mentioned, the main thing is to try to avoid it on the ebb, with any sea running it can become quite the washing machine - in which case, it's often best to run it slightly outside of the buoyed channel... I'd save such maneuvers until you gain a bit more experience, however... (grin)

As a general rule of thumb, I'd add 2 suggestions to those already mentioned... Always begin your approach to an unfamiliar inlet from the outermost sea buoy, don't be tempted to cut any corners... Such an approach is your best insurance against making a critical navigational error, and gives you plenty of time to sort things out, and a feel for the conditions you're likely to encounter as you transit the inlet, approach a bar, whatever... There was a tragic loss of a beautiful Alden Challenger up in New Jersey last fall, when she was put onto a submerged jetty attempting to enter Barnegat Inlet in poor visibility... IMHO, the most likely way to have avoided such a mistake, would to have proceeded first to the sea buoy, confirmed his position, and then proceeded from there - rather than having attempted a short cut, and starting his transit from closer inshore...

Another thing that can pay huge dividends in a dicier spot, such as Carolina Beach Inlet to your south... Just sit outside the inlet for awhile, and simply observe the conditions... In such an inlet, with a shallow bar and the likelihood of breaking seas, you'll get a feel for the "pattern" that can develop... Many boats make the huge mistake of simply proceeding through such an inlet immediately upon their arrival there, with no feel whatsoever for how a different "set" of waves can alter the conditions dramatically...

Also, you may get lucky, and be able to watch a boat with local knowledge run the inlet, sometimes that can tell you a lot... As with so many other things about sailing, PATIENCE can be a very valuable trait, just sitting outside an inlet for awhile and watching, can pay huge dividends...

Beaufort can also be pretty easily transited at night, due to the existence of ranges... I wouldn't suggest you attempt entering there at night, but on your return trip - if you feel confident enough - it might be a good way to build your confidence and skills, to depart Beaufort in the dark, and thus better insure a daylight arrival at Masonboro on the return...

Sounds like a great first trip outside, enjoy... Beaufort is a wonderful destination, and as already mentioned, if you have the time, a trip out to Cape Lookout Bight is well worth it, just a beautiful spot...
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Old 02-17-2012
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A good source for up to date info regarding any part of the ICW can be found here: Cruiser's Net

Just go to the menu on the right hand side of the page.
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Old 02-17-2012
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The major problems with inlets worldwide is they constantly undergo changes due to severe weather. Sand bars shift, some inlets silt in completely and cutbacks in federal funding has limited maintenance dredging to just once in a while instead of routine dredging. Consequently, you need lots of direct, visual information in order to safely enter ANY inlet, let alone an inlet that you are completely unfamiliar with.

Now, your boat is well equipped for cruising, with one possible exception--broadband radar. Broadband radar will allow you to see and identify some of the more common markers used in small, remote inlets. I've been through some that use nothing more than stakes pushed into the mud with an aluminum pie pan nailed to the stake as a reflector. Others use just stakes alone, and some had strips of rag or ribbon attached so they could be seen at greater distances. These markers were placed there by commercial fishermen who frequently run these inlets during hours of darkness.

You cannot depend upon the USCG to reset channel markers when the channels shift. A good example of this was the southern end of the Havre de Grace Channel in the Chesapeake's upper reaches. Tidal currents from hurricanes had shifted the main channel bar near 100 feet into the channel across from a popular swimming area known as the Sand Islands. The bar had shoaled to less than 3 feet, but charts still show the depths at 12 feet. There were loads of groundings there by sailboats until this past year when the CG moved the buoys to the west end of the bar. They don't have funds to the channel, it's much narrower there now, and the channel is heavily traveled by tugs pushing barges filled with quarry-stone. My point here is that if you were running the narrow channel at night and relying on your charts and GPS plotter, there's a good chance you would either hit the unlit buoy or run hard aground in a heavily traveled commercial area--not a good scenario.

Unless it was an emergency situation, I personally, would not run through an unfamiliar inlet--especially under sail. Instead, I would wait for daylight by heaving to at a nearby offshore location, then when conditions are right, tide, light level, etc..., I would make for the inlet and keep a good vigil on my GPS and depth finder. And, because most GPS plotters provide you with a trail showing where you've been, I would save the trail information in the GPS memory so it could be used as a reference in the near future.

Talking with the local Tow Boat U.S. guy on the telephone can be a major source of up to date information, and as stated above I highly recommend this. It could save your boat and possibly your life.

Play it safe,

Gary
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Old 02-17-2012
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Not that it is a substitute for local knowledge but the Coastal Pilot (#4) covers all the ocean inlets from Cape Henry to the Florida Keys: United States Coast Pilot®
You can download it for free.
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Old 02-17-2012
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Not familiar with your waters but if you can view the entrance from the land side, take notes, pictures, and talk with local sailors or the local CG personnel that would give you somewhat of a preview as to what you are facing ahead of time.

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