We motored out of the Carolina Beach mooring field on May 1, headed for Mile Hammock Bay. The original plan was to go out Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach, then come back in at Beaufort Inlet. However, wind and wave forecasts made that option look bad. Mile Hammock Bay is part of Camp Lejeune. The Marines graciously allow cruising boats to anchor there when there are no training exercises in progress.
The trip from Mile Hammock to Beaufort, NC, was a wet and windy one. Whomever was not steering had the fun job of standing out in the rain on the side deck and squegeeing the water off of our plastic cockpit windows. The rain finally quit around 1:30 PM and the sun came out as we approached Morehead City. We were timing our arrival at the Grayden Paul Bridge (aka Beaufort Bridge) for the 3:30 PM scheduled opening so we could go to Town Creek on the back side of Beaufort.
Timing for a bridge opening is something one has to do when a bridge has a restricted schedule–that is, you can’t just arrive and expect them to stop auto traffic and open the bridge for you. So, we had to go slower than normal so as not to be too near the bridge where room to circle is limited. As we approached, we called the bridge tender to announce our intentions. He then started to explain how he could not get the bridge to open at 3:00 PM and really didn’t think it would open at 3:30 either. There was something or other locked in the closed position and he couldn’t un-lock it.
All that time-killing was in vain. At least we had another option which was to retrace our wake and go a few miles back to Morehead City where we had a different route to Beaufort. But as we motored up to the intersection of channels we decided to skip Beaufort altogether and keep motoring towards the Neuse River.
That night was spent in a secure and comfortable anchorage at Cedar Creek off of Adams Creek. The wind was howling quite a bit so perhaps it was a good thing we were not in the more exposed Town Creek at Beaufort. We set out the next morning for New Bern, NC, which is toward the headwaters of the Neuse and a bit off the beaten track for those heading north. The wind was still blowing strong but was in a favorable direction.
After our quick trip, we anchored in the river just a short dinghy ride from the excellent Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant. This choice was based on the bad press the guide books gave to the more protected anchorage in the nearby Trent River. We could see a number of tents and RVs on a nearby field that made us think a carnival must be planned for the weekend. We also noticed what looked like the dome of a mosque on a nearby street corner.
The next day we found out there was a Shriners convention in town. That mosque? That was no real mosque–it was the temple of the “Sudan Shriners!” The whole Shriner thing made us quite curious. Why are these guys wearing fezzes and pretending to be Arabic, Muslim or, whatever? They certainly didn’t look like the types who would study the Quran, and face east as they knelt on their prayer rugs. And what’s the deal with the little cars? We asked a couple of Shriners what was going on and were told that there would be a parade.
We couldn’t resist. So, instead of visiting the Tryon Palace, the premier historical site in the area, we opted to watch the Shriners ride down the street in daredevil fashion to the delight of all the onlookers and for the benefit of their charities which support various children’s hospitals. We couldn’t help think, though, that maybe today’s Shriners wish that their predecessors had gone with some other exotic symbolism other than the Arabic motif that they still use now.
New Bern has much to offer besides the Shriners. It’s a cute-as-a-button town with quite a few good restaurants and a really nice vibe–sort of a smaller version of Annapolis. We stayed four days walking about, riding bikes, and working onboard. The weather was way to blustery to go anywhere by boat anyhow. When the wind finally became more civilized, we headed back down the Neuse River to Oriental. We had emailed cruising friends, Steve and Kim from Fine Lion and found that they too, did not go to the Bahamas this year and were home in Oriental. So, Steve came down to the town dock to catch our lines. We caught up with them over drinks and dinner at two of Oriental’s dining establishments. A few weeks earlier in the trip, we had toyed with the idea of sailing to Ocracoke on the NC outer banks. After talking with Steve, we decided to go for it.
Ocracoke was another destination not really along the way but we had the time and inclination and are very happy to have made the effort. It was a fairly short and simple day-sail with only a bit of anxiety motoring through the entrance channel. The way is well-marked but there are many other feeder channels that are also well-marked making for a somewhat confusing mix of markers. We made it without incident and were treated to a nearly empty anchorage in Silver Lake. I had been to Ocracoke by land many years ago but arriving by water is truly memorable.
Ocracoke is a great place to hang out especially before the true tourist season is in force. There were just enough people around to feel festive but not enough to become oppressive as it apparently gets after Memorial Day. As it was, we spent six days there. Keep in mind that on most days, Amy was hard at work on Red Dot on the Ocean for a good four to six hours. She generally would work until 4 PM or so at which time we’d head to shore for a bit of a walk or bike ride. We even did a golf cart one day in order to see more of the town.
We departed Ocracoke on May 14 and headed west. We had contemplated going up to Manteo on Roanoke Island but the wind forecast looked more favorable for heading west to the Pungo River. The wind, of course, as it has done most of the spring, blew harder than predicted and more on the nose than we had hoped for. Undeterred, we tacked out way there and got in to Slade Creek off the Pungo just before sunset. The next day we made it to the bottom of the Alligator River. A remote anchorage far from civilization.
On Thursday, May 16, we had a great sail up the Alligator River, across the Albemarle Sound, up the Pasquotank River and into Elizabeth City, NC. This last part–Pasquotank and Elizabeth City–was all new territory for us. For the first time, we had decided to take the Dismal Swamp Canal instead of the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal back to Norfolk.
Elizabeth City calls itself the “Harbor of Hospitality.” And what could be more hospitable than offering free dockage. Almost the entire waterfront is available to visiting boaters. As we approached we picked a slip that appeared wide enough for Mary T, but after entering, we realized it was not really long enough. It was about 10 feet too short.
We tied up anyway as we figured we’d be leaving the next morning. As it turned out, as I was checking the motor oil the next morning, I noticed a large puddle of water had collected in the pan under the motor. As our raw water pump had a slight leak months back, I deduced that it was now a big leak. Not good. We contemplated trying to repair the existing pump in place but after reading various books and web sites I became convinced that we should just replace it with a new pump and rebuild the old one when back home and save it for a spare.
We ordered the part and settled in for the duration of the delivery schedule. Our time in EC was a trip unto itself. We had the good fortune to meet up with Mike and Angie Keating. Mike is the brother of Tim, our compadre, chum, benefactor, supporter, and main man. They treated us to showers, laundry and dinner on two occasions!
We also made new friends, Paul and Jane. Paul lives aboard a 36-foot sailboat in EC and Jane commutes down from Virginia Beach on weekends. Paul invited us to dinner of salmon and then we rocked out to a swinging cover band at the opening party for the North Carolina Potato Festival that was taking place the next day in town.
The Potato Festival is the biggest event in the area and although it only lasts one day, the town goes all out to make it a grand event. Live music, lots of food stands, games, and even a Little Miss Tater Tot pageant.
Aside from the free docks, the Department of Tourism hosts a wine and cheese party if five or more visiting boats show up at the same time. The stars aligned for us on our last evening there and we finally got our treats including a rose. This tradition was started in the 1980s by a group of locals that called themselves the “Rose Buddies.” We are very grateful that EC continues this tradition.
With the new water pump installed, we headed up the Pasquotank River to the Dismal Swamp Canal. This canal was dug by slaves in the 1800s and enlarged over the years. The trip is anything but dismal. One gets the feeling of being way out in the wilderness. The honeysuckle blooms provided a very fragrant and delightful smell, too. We had avoided this route in the past thinking it would be too shallow, however, we had no troubles with the depth nor the overhanging trees. Another advantage of this route is that none of the fast powerboats or large tugs use it–only sailboats and pleasure trawlers.
Poor weather prompted us to stop for two nights at the North Carolina Dismal Swamp Welcome Center which also offers free docking. While there is no town here, there is the opportunity for hiking and a chance to visit their small museum.
We set out for Norfolk on Friday, May 24 and although the weather started out fine, a real humdinger of a squall hit us as we were waiting for passage through the Gilmerton Bridge on the approach to Norfolk. A complete white out blinded us for a time. The radar got us through unscathed and we made it to the Hospital Point anchorage where we rode out the remainder of the bad weather. We were wet but undamaged.
The next day was beautiful so, after Amy’s work was done we headed into Portsmouth, VA, for a walk about and dinner. Portsmouth has a great historic neighborhood and an interesting business district. And, because it was a Saturday, there was a festival going on. We gravitated to the field where all the action was and tried to figure out the event. We eventually saw a T-shirt stand selling shirts with “Umoja” on them. We tried to think of every possible meaning for what we believed to be an acronym. Amy’s thought was, “United Movement of Jewish Africans.” I couldn’t come up with anything better. Finally, she Googled it on her iPhone. Turns out it’s a Swahili word meaning “unity.”
After Portsmouth/Norfolk, we did a 65 mile trip up the Chesapeake Bay to Onancock, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. I had been there once by boat around 1980 and then by car in the mid 1990s, but had faint memories other than it was a pretty little town. It still is, although it was Memorial Day when we finally went ashore, so everything was closed except for Mallards Restaurant. Instead of cooking, the owner/chef was playing rock and roll cover tunes at full volume. It was the only game in town, so we joined the spectator-diners on the deck. The next night we dined at the Blarney Stone Pub and consumed the best fish n chips we’d ever eaten. What struck us about the place besides the charming, well-kept homes, was the large number of kayakers we saw. The town dinghy dock is specially equipped with grab bars to facilitate boarding and exiting kayaks.
For many years, Amy has wanted to visit what she called, “The Pantaloon Islands.” Her term derives from the fact that when zoomed out on our chartplotter, Smith Island, MD, looks like a large pair of pants. Well, we didn’t go to Smith but I suggested we go to Tangier Island which is just south of Smith Island and has a similar population of hard working watermen. I had an unpleasant experience in Tangier in 1980 and never saw a reason to go back, but I figured Amy could judge for herself whether these islands in the middle of the Chesapeake were worth a stopover. So, as we were leaving Onancock around 1 PM, we called Milton Parks of Parks Marina in Tangier and asked if there was room for us. He assured us that there was.
The sail over was quick and we arrived around 4 PM. Despite concerns over swift currents making steering difficult, we docked without any problem. Milton greeted us and immediately shared some stories. Although not exactly alike, I thought there was a similarity with his accent and that of the Newfoundlanders we had met several years ago. Once settled in, we walked around enjoying the evening breeze and the beautiful golden hour sunlight on the marshes. My previous visit was on a hot, muggy summer Sunday when it seemed like all the residents were riding around in circles in golf carts or scooters making for a very unpleasant time. This time it was quiet with perfect temperature. Timing is everything. We enjoyed crab cakes at Fisherman’s Corner restaurant and went on another shorter walk. The next morning, after stressing a bit over the best time to depart to avoid swift currents, we left without any drama and headed over to Reedville, VA.
Our friends Carol and Dave from Arlington, VA have a second home in Reedville. Although it will probably become their primary home since they have gutted and re-built it into a very tasteful, extra large version of its former self. We had emailed them prior to our arrival and luckily Carol would be coming to Reedville along with our good friend Debbie. But since we were a day early, we just anchored close by and went ashore for dinner at Tommy’s Restaurant.
We thoroughly enjoyed the low humidity on this stopover to Reedville. It seemed that our previous were often very sultry and uncomfortable. Friday morning, we went in to see Spud and Joan whom we had met through Carol and Dave on our way south in November. They are known for their hospitality to transiting boaters and in November they provided us with dockage, electricity and hot showers! I was really grateful because I had just injured my shoulder.
After catching up with Spud and Joan we went to see Carol, Debbie and a third friend, Cindy. They were all gathering in Reedville for a weekend of intense knitting. We surprised Debbie, who had been kept in the dark about our arrival. They treated us to a delicious cookout and we proceeded to party like it was 2013.
On our way out of Reedville the next morning, we encountered Spud sailing along briskly in Pintail, the only known Albatross class boat known to be in existence. The Albatross class is the predecesor to the Chesapeake 20 that originated in Galesville, MD, our current home port until our next cruise.
The next stop on our journey up the Bay was Solomons, MD, where we simply anchored for the night and did not go ashore. From there, we sailed half the way to Claiborne, MD, before having to turn on the motor due to lack of wind. (We were stretching our cruise out as long as possible before tying up for 10 months in Galesville, MD). Our friend, Phil, hosted us on shore and treated us to some fine cuisine, hot showers, and yes, laundry. We had a lot of laughs as usual and really enjoyed the sounds of land birds singing merrily each morning. We also rode out a rather large thunderstorm in the comfort of Phil’s living room where you can watch the storm approach from the western shore of the Chesapeake.
After several days in Claiborne, we headed out on Wednesday, June 5, to Galesville. Since our slip was not yet vacant, we anchored out just a stone’s throw from the starting line for the Wednesday night races. We had a terrific front row seat watching the always exciting spinnaker start.
Our cruise officially ended the next day when we tied up at the West River Yacht Harbor. All in all, it was a wonderful trip–very easy with little real drama. Our goal was to get to a warm place for the winter and give Amy a chance to work on her Matt Rutherford movie. We’re happy to say that she has completed the rough cut and is hoping to have it ready for submission to the Sundance Festival in September. Stay tuned.