Greetings from the mouth of the Alligator River! We are once again at Miss Wanda’s, the marina behind the Shell gas station!! Assuming the predicted weather window, we cross the Albemarle Sound tomorrow and leave North Carolina behind… but that’s the end of our NC story, the 2010 version of which really began about two weeks ago….
After docking Sojourner at SeaPath Marina in the heart of Wrightsville Beach (on a busy spring Sunday with 20 kt. winds), we took a couple days in nearby Wilmington to see our good friend Tanya. With only a little arm twisting, Tanya joined us for the northward journey through North Carolina, and we made great plans!!. First, we’d stop in Swansboro for “the best shrimp and grits” on the east coast and then move on to the famous seaport of Beaufort for a couple of days. Finally we’d spend just a day or two in Oriental, the self-proclaimed “Sailing Capital of North Carolina,” before crossing the Pamlico Sound for the Outer Banks. Oriental is a delightful, laid-back, traditional boating village on the Neuse River. We saw quite a bit of it of late last November as it is but a stone’s throw by marina courtesy car from River Dunes, our haven from the remnants of Ida, the late season reminder that hurricane season doesn’t really end until December 1st! Oriental is also a favorite of Tanya’s and we wanted to see it NOT under water. All three of us really wanted to visit Ocacroke, Hatteras, and Manteo on the Outer Banks. Susan and Tanya had sailed to Ocacroke in another life some 30 years ago… and we thought it would be fun to reprise that trip with Sojourner and make it better with the other stops along the way. But as can always happen in cruising, the weather goddess had other ideas.
After surviving the disappointing discovery that the Swansboro chef had changed his shrimp and grits recipe, we moved on to enjoy two interesting days in Beaufort. While Carolyn worked on her final grades (final for the spring semester AND final of her career as a law professor!), Tanya and Susan took a walking tour of the historic section of town and saw some truly interesting sights, not the least of which was an ancient church and equally old grave yard with some rather unusual graves, including that of a young girl buried in a rum barrel… In Oriental, Tanya and Susan toured while Carolyn calculated grades, and we all waited for propitious weather. Unfortunately, Tanya’s schedule closed in before the weather improved and she reluctantly returned to Wilmington.
We remained in Oriental hoping against hope that the storm brewing off shore and declared by the Weather Channel to be “potentially the first named storm of the season” would somehow blow over and we could cross the wide open end of the Pamlico Sound to the Outer Banks. The storm remained nameless and eventually dissipated without much notice, but the winds continued to blow much too hard for a comfortable or safe passage. With the Memorial Day weekend upon us and better weather promised for the coming week, we left Oriental for a side trip to New Bern, NC, a pleasant, 3-hour ride up the Neuse River. Peter and Swen, two experienced mariners on Cloud Nine in the slip next to ours in Oriental, had strongly encouraged us to visit New Bern; we took their advice and thoroughly enjoyed the diversion.
On a good weather day, the relatively shallow Neuse River is stunningly beautiful! The widest river in the United States, we found it sparkling blue and rimmed with what seemed like miles of virgin timberland interspersed only rarely by pockets of human habitation. And New Bern is a delight! Like its namesake city in Switzerland, it has a charming, neat and tidy, restored downtown with restaurants, shops, a farmers’ market, several museums, and Mitchell’s, a hardware store to rival the very best, including SF Travis in Cocoa and Fernandina Hardware in Fernandina Beach! 2010 marks the 300th anniversary of New Bern’s incorporation, and flags, posters and bears festooned downtown!! The bear is the symbol of both the original and New Bern, and the North Carolina community has bears everywhere, large permanent ones carved out of stone or wood, the latter with a chain saw for sure, and equally big, cleverly decorated concrete ones, similar to the decorated, life-sized horses in Lexington, KY, the larger than life pigs of Cincinnati and the dogs of Hudson on the Hudson. We were able to secure a berth at the New Bern Grand Marina, right downtown and affiliated with the local Hilton Hotel so we had easy access to all the weekend’s activities, including Neuse River Day, a day of races, water parades and other festivities used as a fund-raiser by the Neuse River Foundation.
By Sunday of Memorial Day weekend it was clear we would not get the needed weather window to make the open water crossing to the Outer Banks, and we resigned ourselves to once more travelling the inland route, including the isolated and stunning Pungo River, hours of dodging “dead heads” (protruding logs) in the Pungo-Alligator Canal and a visit to Miss Wanda’s, as well as the jump across the Albemarle Sound, and the crossing of Currituck Sound, the shallowest, least fun body of water we’ve encountered thus far…. [More pix]
PS: We accomplished all the above before we got this and the pix posted… and now we are at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, right next to the Great Bridge in Chesapeake, VA. We arrived yesterday after a near dawn departure from Miss Wanda’s and a rather different crossing of the Albemarle Sound than the previous two. Despite the weather forecast, the day began with a stiff southwest, mostly west wind, and therefore, a mostly beam sea with 2-3 foot waves… not Susan’s favorite!! The overcast sky was a blessing after stifling heat the day before, however, and so we took the a little too bumpy with the refreshing cool- In about three hours we arrived in more sheltered waters and enjoyed a very pleasant surprise: The really skinny water of the Currituck Sound isn’t so shallow after all- amazing what accurate depth sounding equipment will do for the stress levels!
Anyway, one for the fun things about being by the Great Bridge is the water traffic that passes by. Cinematographer Carolyn caught some of the most striking on video: including Great Bridge Tow 1 and Great Bridge Tow 2. She also captured a few of the sights we enjoyed during our last days in North Carolina: Gale Creek; Alligator –Pungo Canal 1; Alligator-Pungo Canal 2; Swing bridge 1; Swing Bridge 2.