Smooth Sailing

BY Jules Norwood

A set of white sails is visible behind the low gray line of the marshes ghosting silently on the morning breeze. As the sloop emerges into Banks Channel and bears south the sun lights her sails. She slides past beach homes hotels docks and the Coast Guard station tacking gently when she reaches the inlet heading eastward toward the distant horizon.

Along the beach taking advantage of the same wind a Hobie Cat dashes across the tops of the waves each one meeting the windward hull in a plume of spray that washes across the colorful sails and the grinning salty face of the sailor. After an hours sail he points the small craft homeward to rinse off and embark on the rest of his day.

Since its earliest days Wrightsville Beachs history has been inextricably linked to sailing. Some of the first residents of the mainland who came to visit the stretch of golden sand did so in small sailing craft. Before there was a bridge or trestle coming by water was the only way to get out to the dunes catch crabs or fish or see the crashing breakers. The first structure erected on the island the Carolina Yacht Club (CYC) was built to provide shelter from summer storms for a group of sailors who enjoyed venturing into the ocean to race their sailboats. The clubhouse has been rebuilt several times the original 1853 structure long since gone but the club still provides its members many going back several generations with a place to sail and a series of regattas to test their skills against other sailors.

With a beach an inlet waterways and marshes the community plays home to small-craft and large-craft sailors from dinghy racers to offshore cruisers.

Inlets channels and marshes

“Wrightsville Beach is an ideal place to sail because you have two different venues for sailing ” says Becky Nygren CYCs sailing director. “Youve got Banks Channel and youve got the ocean and getting to either is really easy.”

Banks Channel and the other waterways around Harbor Island offer protected though sometimes crowded sailing areas for small sailboats with crews of one or a few sailing dinghies Hobie Cats and daysailers. Mornings are quieter and calm with vessel traffic of all kinds picking up during the day. Throughout a network of channels and marshes there are picturesque and interesting destinations within easy range Nygren adds “like Masonboro the swimming hole; theres a shipwreck that we go see a ship that was washed up by a hurricane on one of the dredge islands.”

A summer breeze of 10 to 15 knots makes for great sailing whether casual or competitive. And warm weather means theres no need for foul weather gear sailing even for wet work. A good splash is part of the fun when leaning out from the hull of a cat or a dinghy to make the most of a gust.

CYC takes advantage of both the Atlantic Ocean and Banks Channel for its races and classes offering summer and fall racing series and funsails and hosting world-class competitions (like the Laser Masters North Americans held in May). Sailors generally compete in one-design classes testing themselves against opponents in boats as close to identical as possible.

 Anatomy of a Sailboat

“Mainly we race Lasers Sunfish and Lightnings ” Nygren explains. “The juniors race the Optis. An Optimist is an 8-foot boat for beginners.”

Classes for club members and sponsored participants at beginner intermediate and advanced levels make use of the Optimists as well as 420s which are larger and usually sailed with a crew of two. The 420 is also used by the UNCW Sailing Club and is common in collegiate racing.

“Lasers are mostly for racing so we use those for our advanced classes ” she adds. “Theyre pretty physical boats and theres a lot of good competition.”

Wrightsville Beachs Laser races bring in top sailors from around the world Canada California even the Dominican Republic. And it also exports its own like Martin Willard a Wrightsville Beach resident who has competed in Laser championships in bodies of water as far-flung as Australia. Willard says Wrightsville is one of his favorite places to hoist the sails and his friends who visit cant believe there arent even more sailors and sailboats.

Call of the sea

Spinnakers the giant lightweight sails flown like parachutes when sailing downwind are most often seen in bright primary colors as in dramatic photos of Americas Cup racing.

But not this one.

Bernard Carroll of King Neptune Restaurant and his sons Patterson 11 and Preston 8 grin with anticipation as the thin fabric flows out of the sail bag and catches the breeze. The black sail billows out in front of the boat (Lafittes Revenge named for the famous pirate) and the toothy form of a face looms over Waynick Boulevard as they sail past the Coast Guard station and the yacht club.

The massive and distinctively dark-colored sail is adorned with skull-and-crossbones nearly 20 feet across and Carroll says it always generates “hoots and hollers when we go up and down Banks Channel.”

Eleven-year-old Patterson races with CYC and recently saved up for his own Optimist while Preston has been taking classes at the club. As a family they visit other coastal North Carolina treasures like Cape Lookout and Bald Head Island by sailboat.

“Once a summer I take em up there (to Cape Lookout) and spend the weekend ” Carroll says. “We either go offshore and come back on the waterway or go up the waterway and come back offshore depending on what the wind is doing. My kids love it; its kind of like their great adventure.”

For his part Carroll ended up in Wrightsville Beach by sailboat in the first place. He was sailing north from the Caribbean and liked the area so much he never made it any farther.

“I stopped here and decided to stay ” he says. “Thats how I ended up here at the Neptune.

“What I like about Wrightsville Beach is the easy access to the ocean ” Carroll continues. “Geographically in my mind Banks Channel is a diving board to the whole world. I can go anywhere I want to starting right here.”

Winch grinders

Racing is also an option for large-boat sailors with an itch for competition or who want to learn to get the most out of their boats. The Wrightsville Beach Ocean Racing Association (WBORA) uses the easy ocean access through Masonboro Inlet for its ocean racing series regattas and raft-ups.

The association was formed more than 40 years ago an offshoot of the yacht club created to promote racing says Mary Harrison WBORAs executive assistant to the commodore.

Vessels of different sizes and designs compete using the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) system which is designed to provide a level playing field through the use of class divisions boat ratings and equipment standards. Boats that participate in WBORA races range from a 22-foot Ranger to the 54-foot ketch Sundance.

Buoys are set up to mark the race courses which usually begin and end at the sea buoy off Masonboro Inlet. Some races are more official and competitive than others says Harrison and each one doubles as a social outing with participating boats rafting up at the sea buoy afterwards to watch the sunset and share dinner. She and the other members of the WBORA encourage others to join in whenever they can.

“Ive gone to every boat in Seapath with a flyer ” she says. “There are a ton of boats over there and we want them to come out and race.”

Harrison says WBORA can help interested boat owners find crewmembers or even a skipper to help them learn the ropes.

“Racing makes you a better sailor ” she adds. “You learn the techniques and tricks to make the most of your boat the wind and the water. You have to be thinking about safety. You have to be thinking about the conditions.”

Even those who suffer from “boatlessness” can get aboard; skippers can almost always make use of a little extra crew. Harrison says shes taken novice and experienced sailors alike to help out on her Tartan 10 a 33-footer designed for racing. WBORAs sailing calendar began in March and continues into October so there are plenty of chances for boat owners or potential crewmembers to get involved.

Sailboat rentals are another option with small catamarans offered in front of the Blockade Runner Resort through Hook Line & Paddle.

“Were going to have Hobie Cats and well probably have some Sunfish as well ” says co-owner Ryan Maddock.

Inexperienced sailors can take a lesson and then rent a boat afterward to practice; those with a sailing background can enjoy Banks Channel from the Coast Guard station to the Causeway Drive bridge. Maddock says the companys kayaks can also be fitted with a small sail a new optional accessory that allows paddlers to get a boost from the wind at least in one direction; the rig wont allow tacking to sail the kayaks upwind.

Port of call

Of the nearly 50 sailboats at Seapath Yacht Club some are named in homage to the breeze Blown Away Wind Sprint Windsong; others display names like Popeye Kristin Marie Isis and Resurrected. The owner of Fun Packed included a Wolfpack logo to ensure everyone gets the reference.

“We have sailboats ranging in size from 20 feet to 53 feet that are docked here year-round ” says Seapath dockmaster Chris Brock. “They cover a wide spectrum as per their intended use; everything from day boats motor-sailors long-range cruising sailboats and racing sailboats.”

Seapath offers a full-service marina and can accommodate vessels of nearly any size. Boaters passing through Wrightsville Beach either offshore or on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) also make use of facilities along the waterway such as Wrightsville Beach Marina the Bridge Tender and Dockside or around the corner in Bradley Creek. The marinas offer power water cable TV showers and laundry facilities and with savory seafood restaurants groceries and boating supplies available within walking distance the community makes an ideal stopover for transient boaters.

In addition to marinas and private docks many sailors use the anchorage in Banks Channel near the bridge over Causeway Drive which is well protected and offers easy access by dinghy to the town dock at Wynn Plaza. Short-term anchoring is permitted but Wrightsville Beachs mooring ordinance prohibits leaving a boat anchored in the towns waters for more than 30 days.

“In my opinion the biggest reason to sail in Wrightsville Beach would be ocean sailing ” Brock says. “Masonboro Inlet is a great inlet for all vessels to use; well marked with a deep draft (30-plus feet). Having an organization like WBORA in our area makes it easy for anyone to get involved in the sailing community.”

Brock points out that sailboats have need for little fuel. “Sailboats are very fuel-efficient vessels ” he says. “For example a sailboat can leave here run the motor for 2 to 3 miles and clear the jetties in Masonboro Inlet at which point the sails can be put up and the motor can be shut off. Theyre designed to be wind driven particularly in large deep bodies of water. It is not uncommon for a mid-sized sportfishing boat to burn upwards of 50 gallons per hour whereas a sailboat might burn only 1-3 gallons per hour.”

The intended uses and the distances they cover are of course different but a sailor can easily spend the day on the water without burning much fuel if any.

Getting out on the water after all is what its all about and whether youre going out for the day setting out for distant ports or looking for a little friendly competition whether your boat is 16 feet or 60 Wrightsville Beach has the sights scenes and amenities to let you reach tack and gybe your way to happiness on the high seas.