Home>Rebecca Ann goes over - Part 1
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Sometime in 2005 in the midst of a prolonged debate about buoyancy, I wrote "In 2,600 posts to this forum I don't recall a single account of anyone accidentally capsizing a CY or being swamped". Of course from then on it was just a matter of time until someone did it.

Unsurprisingly it was one of our most adventurous contributors to the site, Dale Davenport, who in the following story tells all.

Dale is pretty hard on himself "This is a description of how not to sail a Caledonia Yawl," he says, "It has a bright beginning, a rough stretch in the middle and an acceptable, even useful, end. It involves a lot of water on the wrong side of the hull of Rebecca Ann."

The truth is that Dale and his mates get out there a lot more than most of us. Surely we have all done things at sea that we look back on thinking, "Phew, I was lucky to get away with that one. I wonder how many lives I've got left?" Dale has possibly got one less now. The outcome could have been so very much worse. But Dale got away with it. I think he's the sort of bloke I'd like to be with in a bad spot. I'm reminded of Miles Smeeton, (of Once is Enough fame), whose Commanding Officer in the Army once wrote of him, "Smeeton has great talent for getting out of very difficult situations, which of course he should never have got into in the first place".

Read on. Dale tells the story with honesty and frankness. I'll publish it over a few episodes. It's a winner.

Nick Grainger

Rebecca Ann goes over - by Dale Davenport

Hi Dale here again, this time with a cautionary tale.

Jay Eberly and I took our fourth annual passage the third week of May, heading out from Beaufort, North Carolina. If you look at a map of the central U.S. east coast, you'll see where the barrier islands that begin just south of the Chesapeake Bay, reach out into the Atlantic in a SE direction until you reach Cape Hatteras, Diamond Shoals and the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

South of Hatteras is Ocracoke Island which can only be reached by car ferry or boat. From here the coast makes to the South East and Cape Lookout. This is Core Banks, a long stretch of National Seashore where you can camp anywhere but there are no roads or human residents.

At the south end of Core Banks is Cape Lookout, and that is where the big bend in the coastline occurs. An old, tall lighthouse is there with a keeper's house manned by volunteers during the season. At the present time the Park Service is building some sort of display center so there are a few construction guys around. In good weather visitors ride over on one of several small passenger ferries, and kayakers abound.

Inside the Cape is a bight, a bit more than a mile in diameter. The very end of Cape Lookout curves three-fourths of the way around to form that circle of water, which is almost completely sheltered from the ocean.

The first island west of Core is called Shackleford Banks. Inland from that and across some tidewater about a mile away is the town of Beaufort. Beginning at Beaufort and on northeast toward Ocracoke is Core Sound, maybe two to five miles across. Northeast of that the water opens up into Pamlico Sound, where it's much wider. This map will show you what I mean.

Open map here
The waters are extraordinarily shoal. The charts have a lot of "1's" and quite a few "1/2's". [That's feet not metres - Ed] There are marshes scattered throughout. Local knowledge is a real good thing to have.

The Beaufort to Ocracoke area interested Jay and me and we decided to try it out this year. Staffing isn't like it used to be; we seem to be running out of crew prospects. After this trip, it won't be any easier. My old canoeing buddy Doug, a veteran of three of the four earlier passages, signed up. Jay's wonderful curly-coated retriever Emma also joined us. Emma was a good sport and didn't complain, but Doug has opposable thumbs, a desired crew characteristic on a small boat.

The drive down on Saturday was easy. Jay's reservation for the use of the real Sara's fine Ford super truck was cancelled at the last minute due to a distant horse event, so Jay changed the oil in the '87 F-150 and came on. Our hostess at the Red Dog Inn said on the phone she would only be able to put up two men and the dog, so when we arrived we put Rebecca Ann, my lug-rigged Caledonia Yawl, in the water as I expected to sleep onboard. I don't know what Jay told the owner of the Red Dog, but she relented and the four of us slept in the room.

On Sunday morning, Jay, Doug and Emma went back to the east end of Taylor Creek and launched Jay's Ness Yawl Sara. I met them at the ramp, our plan being to use the outboard in Rebecca Ann to tow them down Taylor Creek the three or four miles to Beaufort Inlet. We wanted to check out the possibility of sailing outside in the ocean to Cape Lookout, slipping inside at the east end of Shackleford Banks.

Things got off to a bad start. Before Sara even got wet, her mainmast met a pine tree between the rigging area and the ramp. The jolt tore out and destroyed the pin that held the gate. Jay figured out a way to lash the mast in tight as we towed Sara down the Creek.

This turned out to be just the first of a series of calamities.

Right: The launching site.

The lauching site

We raised sails once we got by the town, and headed for the Atlantic Ocean. Passing between Shackelford and Bogue Banks the waves suddenly became a lot bigger. We pressed on, thinking we would be over the bar soon and things would be easier. Not so, and soon we were in a sea of solid six-footers. The boats were wonderful in that stuff. We had one or two reefs and our mizzens up in 15 to 20 knots with an outgoing tide opposing the wind. Our bows would just rise and rise and go out in the air so far it seemed that a third of the boat length was out of the water. A few minutes of that was quite enough. We soon headed back inside to cruise along in the lee of Shackleford.


Atlantic surf on Shackleford beach with Jay and Emma.

We went as far east along Shackleford Banks as we could before we knew we must head north toward the mainland to get around the shoals that run next to Shackleford along the eastern part of that island. We camped on the beach right before the shoals started. Before dark a Park Service boat came by to bullhorn the word that a tornado watch was in effect until 10 p.m. Nothing came of it for us, although some mainland communities saw four inches of rain in an hour.

Left: Atlantic surf on Shackleford beach with Jay and Emma.


Doug and Jay: our first night  on Shackleford.

Dawn on the fateful day.
Doug and Jay; our first night at Shackleford

Dawn on the fateful day.

Next morning, we sailed about nine miles around the shoals and along the southeast end of Core Banks into the protected water behind Cape Lookout. We anchored along the beach next to the Cape Lookout Light, not very far into the mile-wide circle of water surrounded by the dunes of the Cape. We had a tour of the keeper's house, met the volunteer couple in charge and ate lunch.
We sat at a picnic table in a sheltered spot, the chart in front of us. The wind had been steady and strong all morning, out of the southwest. Without really looking at the chart closely we decided to cross the mile of water to the western edge of the Cape so we could camp in the lee of the sand dunes. It was obvious there would be a lot more shelter there. But it would be a beat and by now the wind was up to about 25 knots with gusts well above. Only a mile across the channel we thought. We packed up the lunch things and I put away the chart, missing my last chance to see a shoal in the channel, directly in our path. It was soon to create a whole lot of excitement for all of us.

Thanks Dale. Coming soon, in Part 2, Dale recounts how it all goes terribly wrong…

Rebecca Ann's hull was built by Geoff Kerr. Dale Davenport fitted her out and did all the finishing work. You can learn all about her here.
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