Writing this last week onwards: We are now over that magic line, 35 degrees North and will be just pottering along on the ICW from now until we reach the Chesapeake Bay, except for a couple of sounds where we might be able to get the sails up. It is another 160 miles yet to Norfolk and the entrance to the Chesapeake but our insurance excess has dropped to 1000 pounds during a Named Windstorm and we will be insured for anything that comes our way! It has felt like a bit of a slog getting to this stage, as if we had changed our insurance company and paid 400 pounds more we could have stayed in Georgia in the heat and humidity. The cost of the marinas and fuel was much higher than that but I’m still glad we forced ourselves to leave Brunswick, as we loved Charleston, Beaufort, Oriental and passing through the Carolina countryside and can now look forward to exploring a few creeks of the Chesapeake and relaxing.
We left Harbour Village Marina at half tide and gingerly motored out of their channel into the ICW to make the bridge for noon. Being a Sunday it was busy with motorboats whizzing along and making a lot of wake for us but it wasn’t so bad. The wind was from the north/north-east and straight ahead, so it was slow going and cold. Glad we didn’t try to sail outside the ICW as it would have been miserable, in fact a delivery skipper joined us last night on the fuel dock as the conditions were so unfavourable offshore. We got to the dreaded New River Inlet at High Water and used the ‘dip’ route as best we could in the big current. We didn’t see less than 0.7 metres under us and were glad to get through it without running aground.
Just another mile further is a great anchorage in Mile Hammock Bay. It has a marked channel but we saw 1.0 metres (3.1 metres of water) on the way in and had to calculate the lower tide for the morning as we had a long day ahead and needed to leave at dawn. Roger and Dixie were in the bay too, so we anchored near them in 1.7 metres in good mud, which easily held us through the calm night.
The next morning we motored off again to make the 0700, the first opening, bridge and to get through the firing range area before they closed it. Flashing lights will warn boaters not to enter the 5 mile stretch and there is a lookout tower as well. Through all that, we carried on to the Swansboro Anchorage some 10 miles further on as we wanted to wait for low water to pass to go through some shoaling on a rising tide. We had the anchorage to ourselves and spent an hour drinking coffee before we set off. No issues other than seeing a foot of water under us at times in the known shallows and we rounded the south of Radio Island and into Beaufort before 5pm. This channel is also well marked and there is plenty of water right up to the town docks where we had booked a slot. The marina was pretty empty though as it is only for transient boats and it’s definitely low season. The dockhands helped us in between the pilings and pontoon, gave us the wooden nickels for a free beer and told us about the town.
The anchorage area is full of moorings and looks a lot smaller than in the photographs so I wouldn’t recommend it. Although it is expensive, at 2.55 dollars a foot per day for us, the marina location is great, right on the waterfront boardwalk with shops, restaurants and plenty to watch. One couple shouted over to us having seen the Welsh flag we fly, as one of them was from Tredegar. The shower block is a short distance away but clean and cool. We borrowed one of the courtesy cars to go to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket and explored the town on foot as it is quite small. The Dockhouse just next to the boardwalk had live entertainment for us one night, a singer/guitarist who wasn’t bad at all.
I got up early to take photos and visit the old graveyard and we had a coffee in the Cru Café. The graveyard is fascinating, full of history and sad stories. One family lost 4 children as infants, then 3 sons before their 40s, presumably in battle. Another area has a memorial to the settlers killed in their battles with the Indians in 1711. Many graves are numbered so you can use a personal ‘tour guide’ by the gate for more information. On a brighter note, we ate a cheap but good lunch in the Mexican restaurant and ice-cream one evening plus a wander around the shops took up one day and we also visited the excellent and free Maritime Museum with great exhibits and information. There is a lot of history about Beaufort and a whole section on Blackbeard, the pirate. I took a lot of photos of the beautiful houses but Rob says I’ve posted too many already. We also gave the outboard a run up and down the anchorage, then landed it on the beach overlooking the harbour. It is still hot and sunny enough for swimwear and a tan!
After 2 nights we decided to carry on north on the ICW to get over our line and call in on Oriental ‘Sailing Capital of North Carolina’ and home to Ann and Nev, OCC Port Officers. As we exited the narrow section, a huge barge being pushed by a tug came from the sound going south. Glad we didn’t encounter it on our way as there wouldn’t have been much room for us. The entrance channel to Oriental is quite shallow and we were told to avoid the final green by cutting the corner from G3 to R6 as there is no water near G5. The new free town dock is also too shallow for us with depths of 6 feet but it was sturdy and convenient, the only issue being its proximity to a large shrimper, covered with birds and the resulting mess on your boat. It is to starboard of the Fuel Dock, has cleats on the wooden posts and is painted blue and yellow. The marina is also too shallow for us but their Tiki Bar is a nice place to chill out. We anchored though, with a couple of feet of water under us, between the channel and the bridge. It was calm, secure and we had a neighbour, another blue yacht.
Ann and Nev, who is Welsh, were expecting us and within a couple of hours of arriving, we had been given a tour of the small town and great hospitality at their home with drinks, dinner and a load of washing done. We had a great evening chatting and left with a bag of tomatoes, pecans and squash from their garden. The town is super friendly towards cruisers and has the means of getting everything you need. The chandlery in town sourced us a new AB dinghy oar to replace the one we lost in 2014 and a spark plug for the misfiring outboard. The Bean café is the one to go to for delicious drinks and pastries, so we stayed an extra night to enable us to have a leisurely breakfast, get supplies and walk around the town. Naturally the houses are pretty, made from wood with open grounds. We hardly see fences around the plots.
One house had a gorgeous puppy and adult Australian sheepdogs. Adorable! Rob naturally got licked to death as usual. There is a beach, lots of walks and free bicycles at the chandlery. Further out is a West Marine and supermarkets but Ann offered to drive us anywhere we needed to go. We were told there are 3000 boats for the 900 inhabitants of Oriental and during the evenings we watched several small motorboats circling us trawling shrimp nets. The bigger, commercial ships went out regularly, returning with their catch to transfer to the lorries for distribution. Locally there is a shop selling fresh seafood and the chandlery has milk, fruit, vegetables and lots of storable items.
Keen to press on, we left without mishap and continued out east along the Neuse River and across Pamlico Sound to round Maw Point into Bonner Bay and west into Spring Creek. There was at least 3 metres of water right into the creek, another big, empty anchorage and well sheltered. We let the anchor settle into the mud for a while before digging it in hard and later we were joined by another British yacht. The following morning we left early and waved to ‘Landfall’ as we passed but they called us on the radio to explain they had engine issues and no phone signal, were also OCC and TowboatUS members and could we call Towboats for assistance once we obtained a signal. This we did and managed to let them know before we got out of VHF range. Hopefully Towboats turned up!
After crossing Bay River we went back inside the ICW and continued to Pamlico River where we had the genoa up for an hour until we reached another idyllic anchorage just off the Pungo River at G23. This is just before you enter a long canal and we were ready to stop and have a sundowner. A few pots are easy to spot and along the sides of the anchorage but we did see less than 2.6 metres on our way off the channel before anchoring in 3 metres near a fishing platform. Another navy blue sailboat joined us and we had a calm and peaceful night. The lightning I saw briefly stayed in the distance thankfully.
So, we continued at 0700 the next day along the Alligator/Pungo River Canal. 4 hours of straight lines, a couple of fixed 65 foot clearance bridges and a narrow channel with stumps from fallen trees along the edges. It is really pretty, heavily wooded both sides. Bank erosion from boat wakes is causing a lot of damage along the canal but the ICW channel is deep, up to 5 metres and we stayed dead centre. The other yacht was ahead of us but we didn’t see any other traffic and it was beautifully calm and quiet, good training for our canal boat life. Having a 60 foot mast has made it easy for us to use the ICW and our draft was only a problem for the stretch between Jacksonville and Cape Fear.
The Alligator River swing bridge opens on demand unless it is very windy and the bridge tender was probably glad of something to do so he stopped the traffic quite early and they had to wait whilst we motored through. We then turned east immediately and across the bay for more than 2 miles before anchoring nearer the shore, north of the Lodge, the only building. We didn’t see less than 10 feet right across but had to dodge lots of fish pots. It had been getting windy so we were glad it got calmer as we approached our chosen spot and we were well protected in the north-east wind which was forecast to switch to south-east during the night.
The next morning we awoke to the rumble of thunder. Not our favourite sound whilst sailing but we checked the radar, having full strength AT&T data signal there. It showed a lot of rain around us but a clear area where we were going, across Albermarle Sound. We were keen to get to Coinjock Marina, 50 miles from Norfolk, as severe thunderstorms were forecast for that night and following day. The rumbling continued and we anxiously watched a black cloud pass south of us but we sped across the 12 miles of the sound with our full genoa and got into the ICW again as fast as possible.
The ICW has been deep for this section, up to 5 metres or around 15 foot of water and very scenic. We stay in the visual centre of the channel and use the Navionics charts on our iPads, especially when it rained. Then we kept dry under the sprayhood whilst monitoring our position on the iPads and the ICW is just straight with a few turns so our autohelm, Cyril, can easily cope. The markers are all numbered and actually switched sides half way up the Pungo Canal, over to what we are used to in the UK, ie green to starboard. At times new markers are installed for extending shoals so we honour the markers, no matter how weird the position seems to be, or keep to the charted ‘magenta line’. Fishing pots are normally outside of this channel but not across Albermarle Sound. Here we had to dodge pots all along the route, not very relaxing with the genoa up.
By 1300 we were tied up at Coinjock, helped in by their friendly dockhands and against a wooden piling for the first time. We had seen photos of the marina, so knew it was all alongside and had posts that stuck out from the dock, requiring our fenders to be horizontal against them. Our teak rubbing strake is also useful in the US as they use pilings a lot and we can’t damage anything other than the teak rubbing strake if we do scrape against one.
The other navy boat in the anchorage was also at the marina, so we had a good chat with Jerry and Lynne in the restaurant later. They had done over 70 miles to arrive the day before us but we tend to potter along doing between 20 to 35 miles as we like to get in early and have a nice evening. The marina is family run and a great stop. Fuel, water, power, food, clothing and a small but really well stocked chandlery are on site, as are clean showers and a laundry. The loads cost 2 dollars each, in quarters, but they have coins in the shop. The bar and restaurant are nice and the famous prime rib was a must for Rob, so we booked it in advance. I had shrimp and Pollock, again delicious but their handmade crisps, given free as you choose your food, were amazing!
Last evening and during the early hours we had thunderstorms with high winds, making us very glad we were safely tied up here. Today it is just raining and between downpours I’m doing the laundry, cleaning the boat a little and doing some admin. The boat is a lot cleaner than in the past as there is no dust in the atmosphere and no swarms of insects that leave their wings behind. The water is now very brown though, like tea and the few inches of the stern that sit in the water is also brown. It will need a good clean once she is ashore.
We found, to our delight, a black Labrador and puppy sleeping in their bed in the shop. Tired out from playing all night, they enjoyed a stroke but didn’t want to play anymore. If the rain does stop, we will leave tomorrow to do just over 30 miles to the free dock near the lock. There are a couple of bridges which we will need opening for us but they don’t usually slow us down as we aim to be at them for the published opening times, on the hour or half hour. The railway bridges tend to remain open, just closing for trains. After that we have just 10 miles to the OCC Port Officer’s free dock in Norfolk and are looking forward to meeting Greta and Gary.