Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Great Dismal Swamp to Oriental, NC

November 6, 2007

Hi Everyone:

It’s really fun when we hear from you, so please go to the end of this posting and click on the word Comments and let us know your reactions!

We are currently tied up at Beaufort, NC, which is located near a large inlet south of Point Lookout. Beaufort and nearby Morehead City are jumping off point for those who want to go outside and head south offshore after avoiding Cape Hatteras. We continue to look forward to experiencing more of the ICW and expect to get back in the southward ICW migration tomorrow, weather permitting.

When last we wrote, we were anchored in Turners Cut, just south of the Great Dismal Swamp. “Mr. Beke” (our faithful Westerbeke diesel) was ready to get us moving again.

Taking Time to Make Friends (Wed, Oct 31)

Our destination was nearby Elizabeth City (15 miles), so after yesterday’s excitement, we felt free to “sleep in” and get off to a later start than usual. The anchor came up easily (despite fears we had snagged it on a log or something) and we entered the much wider (and deeper) Pasquotank River. We radioed SeaTow and the Coast Guard in Elizabeth City to let them know that all was under control and also, to thank them for their help. As the last of the boats to go through the Dismal Swamp route, we now had a unique opportunity to have this small part of the ICW, during “high season”, all to ourselves.

Within a few hours, we passed through the Elizabeth City drawbridge and into the main harbor. As we circled around to see where we could tie up, we spotted two of our Dismal Swamp companions: the lead catamaran Spirit, and Born Free II, the Canadian sailboat who was just behind us in the canal. We decided to tie up at the city bulkhead, behind Born Free, and lucked out when Sebastian and “M-C” (Marie-Claude) emerged to wave us in and handle our lines. Admiral Sue at the helm made a masterful docking approach, and a marina bystander later came up to complement her. Skipper Brian, on the other hand, messed up his bow line toss, and was relegated to rookie status.

We managed to accomplish a few errands during the day (getting Sue’s glasses fixed, some minor engine tuning, a provisioning stop and some Internet time), but were looking forward to the Elizabeth City “wine and cheese” reception for newly arrived boaters. This is part of a bigger tradition of welcoming boaters with free dockage, information, and other goodies. It turned out that the person who had started all this, had died just a week earlier and things were a bit disorganized. Sue took things into her own hands, and we went about trying to invite any boaters we could find, to a “potluck” gathering. The net result was a 2 couple wine and appetizer gathering, in which we met Bill and Marlene of “Journey” and found out that they were from Charlestown, MA – and on their way to the Bahamas for the first time as well. As you can guess, we had much in common to talk about (boating and otherwise), so we reconvened the session at a nearby restaurant, and had a wonderful evening.

Stumps to Starboard, Stakes to Port – Noel is coming (Thur-Fri, Nov 1-2)

We had a restful night, and woke to a dead calm, with forecasts of north east winds to 25 knots by the evening. Tropical Storm/Hurricane Noel was expected to pass 400 miles off Cape Hatteras. The Elizabeth City docks are exposed to the east, so we decided to find a more sheltered location, and press on to the Alligator River were there seemed to be 3 or 4 very good anchorages to seek shelter in. Sebastian and M-C were there to help us get off, but they and Marlene and Bill elected to ride things out at the docks.

We had virtually no wind, so this leg down the Pasquotank River and across Albemarle Sound was routine. The Albemarle is known for becoming very choppy when there is any strong wind, so “routine” was OK with us, knowing that things would be very different in 24 hours. We passed through the Alligator River swing bridge, which is part of a nearly 2.7 mile span. Brian had decided to seek shelter off the river, south of Catfish Point (mile 95 on the ICW) in a body of water known as “The Straights.” The navigation was a bit tricky, but doable with GPS and electronic chartplotter – at the helm and well as below. Only two cruising guides covered it. One advised to “follow the deep water along the port side ignoring stakes, bushes and shoals on starboard” and the other said your “track will take you between two sets of stumps and stakes, to starboard and port respectively.” Not sure if we could distinguish between a broken stake and a stump, we placed our trust in NOAA’s electronic charts and plunged ahead. Sue was at the helm and chart plotter, and Brian was standing by with a backup list of each leg’s course written down. It was a little nerve wracking going across the relatively shallow bar (2.3 feet under the keel), but we made it through unscathed, and anchored in around 14 feet of water south of a small point!

We went about collapsing our canvas dodger and bimini, and securing our sail covers and roller furling gear to be sure we were ready for the forecasted 40 knot gusts. Toward the end of the day, a second boat joined us (Canadian) and we both enjoyed a magnificent sunset, in absolutely calm conditions. A grilled steak dinner, 90 feet of anchor chain and we were ready! (Unfortunately, the weather never calmed enough for either of us to dinghy over to the other and say hello.)

By 12:30 am, the wind began to pick up to 15 knots or so, and we decided to supplement the chain with another 30 feet of nylon anchor line. Everything was doing fine, but we have to confess, that when it is blowing on anchor, every new sound wakes you up, because you’re constantly wondering if the anchor may have begun to more, or something has come loose, or maybe something is wearing through. None of this normally ever happens, but in the dark your mind comes up with plenty of things to worry about.

By the morning, the winds were more about 20 knots, with gust to 25, so we added some chafing protection to the nylon line where it passes over the bowsprit roller. We wanted to be sure the line would never fray from all action of the line on the roller as Sogno yawed about in the wind.

We also noticed that our Canadian neighbor was swinging on his anchor with a large stake/piling now clearly visible out of the water, just 5 or so yards behind his stern. The wind had obviously lowered the water level, and revealed this new hazard, which precluded him from letting out any more anchor rode if he needed it to prevent the anchor from dragging. Indeed, both of us had both passed very close to that spot and hadn’t realized a large piling was just below the surface!

The rest of the day was just spent doing odd jobs. We listened on the VHF radio to some of the folks struggling to find space in marinas, or dealing with the closure of the Alligator River swing bridge, due to high winds. Brian worked on the journal and blog. We read. We listened to music. Sue cooked. We ate. We ran the engine to charge the batteries. We played music and watched TV and we always listened to the wind which continued to blow around 15 knots with gusts to 20. By bed time, the guests were frequently interrupted with strangely quiet periods. We took that to be a good sign. By the middle of the night, you couldn’t hear the wind. We both slept MUCH better.

Belhaven and a Glimpse Back (Sat, Nov 3)

We awoke to gray skies, but a considerably reduced wind, with occasional 20 knot gusts. Looks like we’re free to move about the ICW! Our Canadian neighbors weighed anchor around 8:30 am (the stump at their stern is less of a threat, after the wind shifted more to the north). We followed suite an hour later, and were soon motor sailing with our head sail partially unfurled. We called up to arrange a slip in Belhaven, and were warned to be very alert in the upcoming Alligator River – Pungo River Canal. Some boats have run into stumps and damaged their props or worse.

Frankly, the canal is interesting for the first few miles, but after a while it IS hard to stay alert. The cut is long and straight. Other than hawks, there was not much other wild life. When the skies became blue, we quickly shed our light foul weather gear, fleece wear, etc. Such is a warm fall day in coastal North Carolina.

Arriving at the Pungo River, we headed for Belhaven and the River Forest Marina and tiee up in our slip at a little before 5:00. It was a good landing, made even better by the dockmaster Brice.

Brian remembers this marina and the associated River Forest Inn from the 70’s, when he helped a friend of a friend bring his boat up the ICW to Solomons, MD. The memory of going into the “fancy” Inn for a meal after a long day on the water has stuck all these years. The marina, to tell the truth, is now a bit “worn”, but it does remind you how things were backing when most boaters were used to roughing it a bit more than now. Two shower-restrooms are all there is, but it’s a chance to talk to other cruisers while we wait. We are not convinced that so many boomers are retiring, that there are more cruisers than ever heading south. It’s a good theory, but I’m not yet ready to plead guilty for messing everything up.

It’s Saturday evening, and we’ve had our first showers since Monday! We can now sail to windward of anyone, and not be embarrassed. We had a good meal, but the highlight is the original part of the Inn - full of antiques, memorabilia and furnishings from 75 years of operation. We sat and talked for a few minutes in some wing back chairs, and imagined a slower and gentler time, when Wi-Fi was not the hottest amenity at the Inn.

We Fall Back and Go Oriental (Sun, Nov 4)

Today we fall back, and it is nice to see the sunrise at around 6, rather than 7. Sue, however, doesn’t buy it and covered her head until 7:00 am. We used the Wi-Fi inside the Inn so we can publish the blog, check email, and pay some credit card bills. Our concerned hosts at the Inn kept reminding us that there is a free continental breakfast going on, but other than coffee we stay focused on our mission.

By 9:15 we are underway and the sun is very far advanced. We motored down the Pungo River again to cross the Pamlico River. From there. We took another cut to get to the Neuse River and Oriental, NC. We passed by one of our Forest River neighbors (a Dutch boat named Atlantis) and when we see them raise their sails and sneak off the ICW to some quiet anchorage, I think they may be more wise than most of us, fixated on heading South.

We reached Oriental at about 3:30, and after two attempts we finally find the right spot south of the nearby bridge. After a quick drop of the dinghy, we went ashore and tied up to a very nice, but very empty town dinghy dock. After checking out a very well stocked marine equipment and gift store, we settled down with the boating crowd at the Oriental Marina Restaurant and Tiki Bar. Turns out that the state legislature has declared Oriental to be the “Sailing Capital of North Carolina” and judging by all the sailboats we saw in the Neuse River the politicians probably got it right.

We hit it off with another couple, Len and Susan who live in Beaufort, NC. They urged us to spend a few days there. It was late and Sue did not object to “dinner out” so we went to the M&M Café, having a wonderful dinner. The shock of that 5:15 sunset was much easier to take with some new friends and a great meal.

Coming attractions: We finally return to the coast, and spend some quality time in Beaufort.

Don’t forget to send us your comments. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue Schanning
Buds at Sea


north carolina mortgage loans said...

ooo nothing like crack a lacking some crabs.

i wonder how the striper fishing is now

eliz said...

Hi Brian and Susan:
I enjoy your blogs. Every little adventure shows mariner and literary wisdom!!! Have a safe and fun trip.
from Beth Wolfe
MSPS Sec 07

Norene said...

Hi Sue & Brian
Just finished reading first 5 chapters and I love your adventure. I feel I am almost there without the groundings! Our cruise was very fun but needless to say we didn't get to see all the little places in between like you are doing. You are so lucky and I can't wait to read more! Entering Charleston from the sea was very amazing so each place you go must be even more esciting. Thanks for sharing with such great wit. Love, Norene

Anonymous said...

I think I am missing something, when I use to get underway with the Coast Guard we took great pains to avoid "crabs" but what do I know.

Really enjoy your blog!

Also if you need detailed weather please give me a try!

From the crew of "Chariots" we wish you fair seas and a following wind......regards.......Robere

John B said...

Hi Sue & Brian,

I missed a week of your blog, but caught up today. Glad to see that you made it safely through Noel. It was fine up here as well; we just got a lot of rain; winds weren’t too bad.

Well the harbor is now empty except for a few work boats. Work is well underway on the causeway sea wall. And most of the leaves are off the trees. Winter is on its way.

Barbara and I are off to San Francisco for a week (Nov 29-Dec 6) to enjoy some good food and explore the gold rush territory.
MSPS is under control; we’ve put together a new bridge for 2008 except for a XO, which we’re still working on.

We continue to enjoy reading of your adventures and looking at your photos.

Continue to have fun.


Barbara & John

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