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Fast Cruising on an Eastbay 49

by George Sass Jr. 2 Jul 2018 06:37 PDT
Eastbay 49 © Grand Banks Yachts

Tree stumps were only feet away. Black water gurgled past the hull. A half moon cast behind the clouds barely illuminated the sky.

We zipped down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) at an average cruising speed of 20 knots, cranking back on the throttles only when speed restrictions forced us to, in places most people would dare not cruise at this speed at night. Our five-man navigation aboard the new Eastbay 49 Hardtop Express became submariner-like in precision.

"The next mark will be a flashing red four-second."

"How far?"

"Two miles."

"I have it on radar."

"I see it about 11 o'clock."

"Turn to 165."

John Shanahan, owner of Oxford Yacht Agency in Oxford, Maryland, and I took turns on the chart-calling marks. Buddy Puckhaber, a quintessential Southern gentleman, and his son George took turns watching the radar, looking ahead with the glasses and working the spotlight. We were at the wheel less than half the time as new owner Teddy Turner was reveling in his purchase. That was fine with the rest of us. Driving a boat in the pitch-blackness at a good clip should be a task reserved for the owner.

This wasn't the first time I'd done the ditch. Like boaters before and since, I'd slowly wound my way from Norfolk to Miami, motoring only in the daylight unless I was able to sneak offshore. But Teddy had an agenda. We were to leave Maryland less than 40 hours before we were due in Charleston, South Carolina, for a Friday afternoon wedding reception.

Of course, had we known about the quick purchase, quick sea trial and quick delivery of this boat, we would have found more than enough clues about how a boat ride would be in Teddy's fast-moving world.

The Purchase

Buying a new yacht often involves a search that drags out for months, even years. Yachts are reviewed at boat shows. Brokers spend countless hours sending listing after listing.

Nobody clued Teddy in on this process. He slashed down the process to a week. He logged onto the internet and typed in his search criteria: downeast style, speed and accommodations. Several possibilities popped up, including an Eastbay 49 John had built on spec. Teddy reviewed the full listing and photos, liked what he saw and arranged a sea trial.

It was late February, and one of the first winters in a long time when the Chesapeake Bay tributaries were frozen, a condition that would cause some brokers to send buyers a video and glossy brochure to hold them over until warmer spring weather.

"I asked Wayne, a local waterman, to meet us out there and break some ice ahead of the Eastbay with his workboat," John said. "We had a couple of space heaters onboard, but man, it was cold."

Teddy had only a narrow window between the time he arrived for the sea trial and the time he had to fly home. Ice or no ice, they were going for a ride. Although the water was calm, not allowing a true test, Teddy liked the boat. He headed back to the dock in Oxford, with Wayne and his makeshift icebreaker standing by at the river's entrance, clearing a path.

"We dickered around on the price a little bit," John said, "then agreed on a final number and did the deal."

Teddy owned the Eastbay 49 only seven days after seeing the listing on his computer screen.

The Departure

Forty-eight hours after John called me, I was bound for the eastern shore of Maryland. The next morning, I found Teddy futzing on his new boat. The 49s were built on the heavy side, but she cruised at about 25 knots and hit a top speed of 30 with a pair of 660-horsepower Caterpillar 3196TAs. After tracking down John, Buddy and George, and grabbing a bag of sandwiches the deli left on the porch the night before, we were under way.

It was 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The Trip

Teddy's first sea trial on the 49 was on a calm day, but our trip down the bay was during a ripper of a morning. Winds howled out of the northwest at 25 knots. Greenwater flew over the bow as we barreled along at 22 knots, forcing us to back off to about 19. The boat was solid. Her 48,000 pounds shrugged off the chop. Both Teddy and his friend George are accomplished sailors, and Buddy has put quite a few miles under the keel of a displacement trawler at 8 knots. Busting through waves and clicking miles off the log was new to them, and they soaked up every salt morsel with glee.

We flew through Hampton Roads and arrived at the ICW mile marker zero at 5 p.m. As the sun set, reflecting off the black, glasslike swamp water, we negotiated the lock at Great Bridge. This is when most people stop, tie up and enjoy a nice meal, but normal cruising pleasantries were not part of our plans. We blazed down the narrow canal into the darkness, while keeping an eye on our radar to ensure we were in the middle of the slot.

The water was like molasses as we exited the canal and snaked our way down the North Landing River, smelling the aromas of land often less than 100 yards away. Most folks idle their boats over for a stop at Coinjock Marina in North Carolina. We, too, could eat so many day-old sandwiches with hard beige mayo, but in true pit-stop fashion, we flew in and out of this ICW institution. We begged the waitress closing the place for last-minute service, and she showed true Southern hospitality in keeping us on schedule. Our total time at the dock was less than 45 minutes. We discussed staying at the marina for the night (it would have been fine with Buddy and me) but decided to knock off a couple more miles. We pulled away leaving other cruisers to wonder: Who the hell drives on the ICW at night? And who goes south in the spring?

Just after midnight, on Thursday morning, we dropped the hook in a cove on the east end of the Alligator-Pungo Canal. When we awoke later that morning, the winds remained strong as we continued our Low Country express. We settled on the reality that our entire trip would be spent on the inside because of the rough weather offshore.

Calling the bridge tender for the Onslow Beach Bridge at Camp Lejeune, we learned the bridge would not open because winds were in excess of 35 knots. We shook our heads, looked at the bridge and decided it would be a tight fit underneath. But with our schedule, it was worth a try.

We approached the bridge slowly with a boathook on our bow marked at the Eastbay's highest point (the mast). We determined the mast had to come down. John and I stood on the hardtop with 25-to-30-knot winds whipping by, and I watched my favorite faded hat get whisked into the distance as a swarm of helicopters buzzed close overhead from nearby Camp Lejeune. Once the mast was down, we had vertical clearance of about 13-feet, 6 inches, enough to get through.

At 5 p.m. we stopped for fuel in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Servants to our schedule, we asked the dockmaster to top us off while we grabbed some chow at a Greek restaurant. We came back to find the fuel pump broken at the marina, so we headed across the channel to the next dock. So much for good planning. Our fuel consumption was about 25 gallons per hour, and we decided we could get close to Charleston with this refueling.

By nightfall, our tired, fuzzy minds strove to decipher a confusing confluence of channels, including Lockwood's Folly and Shallotte. Buddy, dressed to the nines in his pajamas, and ready for a decent night's rest, suggested we stop. Having navigated these waters before, in daylight, he knew they were tricky. But like a bunch of punk kids ignoring our older, wiser father, we proceeded and made one of the oldest mistakes of the sea when navigating at night. We picked out a mark too far up the channel and cut past several others. "This doesn't seem right," is all Teddy had to say before we all realized the mistake. Sea grass and a beach several feet off our bow, illuminated by the spotlight, confirmed our realization. We were able to get back into the channel, but clearly it was time to sleep.

The Arrival

The next morning—less than 36 hours after we started our journey—my senses were acute, like those of anyone who has spent any amount of time within a fast-moving capsule. We rode from Wacca Wache Marina to a "diner" in a cab whose driver hadn't had a fare in some time. We arrived at the eatery, located in a region with a very focused religious culture. Christian radio bellowed from the overhead speakers while the menu inserted various scepters in between the country fried steak and grits. Our sleep-deprived and salt-stained heads were having a hard time adjusting to the sensory overload. It was time to get back to sea.

During the home stretch, we formed our own predicted log race to the City Marina in Charleston. I took a glance at a few numbers, speed and charts, and jotted my estimate down. Buddy, George and John put a little more effort into the process, but it was Teddy who studied our course, time and averages, determining speed restrictions along the way. As we pulled into the marina and cut the engines, he came within two minutes of our arrival.

In just more than 37 hours, we had traveled almost 600 miles along the ditch with no problems, no new boat bugs, and the Eastbay 49 and her new owner were now simpatico. I'm not sure I would want to perform that type of delivery on a regular basis. But if you're ever crunched for time, it's nice to know that a good boat can lead the way.

Originally published in Yachting magazine, February 2001. Reprinted with permission. Read Yachting's feature on the Grand Banks 60.

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