Mason Inlet Crossing  STM 280

13 Apr

Little River SC, to Cape Lookout NC

The coastline between Little River and Cape Lookout faces south and east.  Whether it is the prevailing southeasterly or stormy nor’easters, this coastline is a lee shore with big waves and surf.  The shallow grade of the beach creates a wave break which is much sought by surfers. These same conditions, create longshore sediment transport, and as the sand moves along the coast, propelled by the relentless wave action, at each break in the beach sand is pushed inland towards the ICW. Veteran ICW cruisers have watched for years as sediment was pushed into the ICW: places such as Browns Inlet, New Topsail Inlet, Mason Inlet, Masonboro Inlet, and Carolina Beach Inlet have shoaled, been dredged, only to shoal again. In 2017 the state of North Carolina working with the USACE, dredged all these trouble spots.  The northbound trip in the spring of 2017 found better conditions along this part of the ICW, than had been seen for many years.

Unfortunately, the 2017 hurricane season was hyperactive, with 4 storms that would affect the North Carolina coast.  Hurricane Jose made a loop out in the Atlantic east of the Bahamas.  For over two weeks it created large swells which were enthusiastically welcomed by the east coast surfing community.  But it moved a lot of beach sand westward into the ICW. Hurricane Maria stalled off the east coast for nearly a week.  When she was done, several freshly dredged channels were filled in.  Shallotte inlet which had been dredged to 10+ feet for a width of 200 feet in March 2017 was nearly filled.  By the time emergency dredging commenced in April of 2018, the channel was 4.5 feet for a width of less than 50 feet.

All along this east facing coast, whether you are northbound or southbound, stay to the center or even favor the reds any place an inlet from the coast empties into the ICW.  On April 10 we cleared the Wrightsville Beach bridge and headed for the Figure Eight Island bridge.  This is a 4-mile run between the bridges and most boats must push it a bit to make the next scheduled opening half an hour later. We were the second boat in line making about 7.5 knots.  Approaching GC121 we shifted towards the red side, anticipating a shoal in the vicinity of GC121.  The 44-foot sailboat ahead of us did not. Just as I leaned out to shout a word of caution, they hit a shoal and slid to a stop with about 3 inches of bottom paint showing.  Although they were in the channel they were hard aground. We passed about 40 feet off their port side and saw 10 feet of water MLLW.  A few minutes later an overtaking motorboat offered to make a wake to help bounce them off the sand. They were underway again after only few minutes.  The attached chart shows the shoal encroaching on the east side of the ICW. Whether you are northbound or southbound, stay to the center or even favor the reds any place an inlet from the coast empties into the ICW.                                                                                          

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