My friend Doug Sanderson, author of "Following the Dragon", has a mantra that every wannabe cruiser would do well to adopt - NRLA. That stands for "Not ready - leave anyway". So despite the fact that I still had work to do on my Alberg 35 Terry Ann, I proceeded with my plans to sail in late May 2017 for points north. "Plans" might be too strong a word - I just knew that I wanted to see new water, and my 2016 trip to the eastern Albemarle Sound had whetted my appetite for seeing more of the northeastern part of the state.
Since my intention was to spend all summer on the Albemarle, I let my slip at Matthews Point go at the end of May, with the hopes of returning there in the fall. With no need to leave a vehicle at the marina, I looked for a way to get down there without driving myself. In the end it was simple. I could ride a Piedmont Authority for Regional Tranportation (PART) bus, the "Amktrak Connector", from Winston-Salem to High Point and Amtrak Train 80 from High Point to Raleigh. Friend and fellow Matthews Point boat owner Mike Doster planned to drive from his home in Raleigh to Matthews Point Marina for the Memorial Day cookout, and kindly offered to let me ride with him the final stage.
The PART buses cover the central part of the state. Routes run brtween Mount Airy, Mocksville, Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro, Burlington, Asheboro and Chapel Hill. A commercial bus line connects westward from Greensboro and Winston-Salem through Wilkesboro to Boone. This is all in addition to the Greyhound intercity routes that connect North Carolina to neighboring states.
Early on a Saturday morning in late May, I left my apartment in Winston and waited for my friend Roy Highfill to pick me up. Soon he pulled around the circle and we made the short drive to Cloverdale Kitchen for breakfast. Afterward, Roy drove me to the transit center downtown where I boarded the "Amtrak Connector" for High Point. The bus left promptly at 7:00 AM with three riders, stopped to pick up a fourth at WSSU, and then powered down the highway. The next stop, High Point Hospital, one rider got off and pulled his bicycle off the rack on the front of the bus and the rest of us went on to the Amtrak station in mid-town.
The bus arrived a couple of minutes early and I had a half hour wait for the train. I chatted with a couple of the other waiters, one on his way to Washington DC, the other with an longer wait for the southbound to Charlotte.
The train arrived right on schedule at 8:15 and embarked about 20 passengers. I found a window seat and threw my sea bags in the overhead rack. There was plenty of room aboard but more seats were taken than I had expected, probably due to it being the Memorial Day weekend. We departed promptly and headed north up the old Southern Railway Eastern Division, passing the southbound schedule north of Jamestown. We made a long station stop in Greensboro and embarked more passengers, but I still had a vacant aisle seat next to me.
Next stop Burlington. Train 80 stopped for less than two minutes and boarded a few more passengers. An attractive woman took a seat forward, but the conductor asked her to move so that a party of two could have those seats and stay together. "Find somebody you want to sit with", he said. As she passed me, I motioned to the empty aisle seat and said "Please sit with me", and she did.
As they say, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then, and this blind pig had found a diamond. We hit it off immediately, and I had a delightful hour of talk with this charming, cultured, beautiful woman before I left the train in Raleigh.
Doster was waiting at the station and we drove on down to the marina. The Memorial Day picnic was well-attended and enjoyed by all, but it speaks to the aging of the Matthews Point crew that by 9:30 the last four holdouts were playing Yachtze in the clubhouse. I found a small party still going on one of the boats, where a local powerboater had just stepped aboard, lost his balance and fallen into the dark waters of Mitchell Creek. No harm done, other than a drowned cellphone and a loss of dignity.
The next few days were spent on final preparation for sailing, and Mike again helped me out by inviting me to ride in to Havelock with him to buy provisions. He and Dan had plans to sail Marian Claire across the sound for the annual Ocrafolk Festival, and Mike was getting ready so they could leave as soon as Dan came in from the mountains. In the end, Dan arrived seriously under the weather, and when I left the next day their plans were still up in the air.
Wednesday, the last day of May, I took in lines and left the dock promply at 9:00. I motored out into the creek and set genoa, main and mizzen, but with almost no wind I pushed out to the river under motor. There I found a bit of wind and shut down the Atomic 4, not to start it again until late in the day. I sailed sometimes on a broad reach, other times wing-and-wing, down the river as the westerly winds gradually came up. I passed Oriental just before noon, Lower Broad Creek at 2:00. The wind abruptly increased and I had a fast sail, on a beam reach, to Maw Point. As I cut in to the mouth of the Bay River and came closer to the wind, Terry Ann put her shoulder down and flew. I eased the mizzen way off and let it luff, and eased the main just enough to control the weather helm. We were oversailed, but with just a couple of miles to go I decided to put off a sail change until we got up into more protected water. I had considered anchoring in Bonner Bay, but it was still early in the day so I decided to continue on to Campbell Creek. I dropped sail at 4:15 and motored through the Hobucken Cut, dropping anchor at 6:00.
Vic Copelan has used the Campbell Creek anchorage for years, and can remember when there was not a house on it. The first house went up some time ago, and now there are three. Vic once told me that he met a man who mentioned that he had built the first house on Campbell Creek, and Vic responded "So you are the SOB who ruined paradise". Even so, it is still a beautiful place to anchor. Charts show it to be shallow, but there are a few private stakes leading in, and even in Terry Ann I was able to stay off the bottom by following the stakes.
I left the mizzen set overnight on the recommendation of an experienced old Alberg captain who told me the boats tend to sail around on anchor without it. In the morning, having the mizzen up simplified getting in the anchor since the boat came straight up on it instead of veering from side to side. Once I got above it, I had to motor the anchor out.
Thinking a sail boost might help the Atomic 4 make time, I raised the genoa and sailed "jib and jigger" down the creek. There was enough wind that I shut down the engine and maintained three knots running down Goose Creek, and closer to five out into the Pamlico River. A big cutter flying yankee, staysail and main blasted past me, probably doing 8 knots or more and disappeared up the Pungo River. I had considered running up to Little Washington, but with the breezes coming from the west decided to proceed on to Belhaven. I got about a mile up the Pungo River before the winds died altogether, so I dropped the genoa and motored on upstream. The Atomic 4 ran well for a while, then abruptly died. It restarted easily, ran for a while, then died again. We went through this rigmarole a couple more times, and after that the engine ran fine on into Belhaven.
First stop was River Forest Marina for gasoline, where the courteous and professional staff helped me along the dock and passed down the hose for me to pump just under 10 gallons into the tank. I paid at the office and picked up a bag of ice, and then the two dockhands helped me spin Terry Ann around and point her back out into the harbor. I proceeded to the Cooperage Dock, at the upper end of the harbor, and tied up. Since my plans were to spend two or three days in Belhaven, I stowed the jib, covered the main and mizzen, and rigged the awning to help keep the boat cool.
Also on the dock was a young viking, Jeff, from Nova Scotia, trying to get home on a decrepit tub of a boat that he had bought in Charleston and coaxed up the coast. He had been in Belhaven for 27 days with various problems and had gotten into a dispute with the local boatyard, which finally towed him to the Cooperage Dock and left him with a non-functioning engine. Fortunately a local person had befriended him and helped him pick up some handyman jobs around town to keep beans and rice on the table. I demonstrated to Jeff that I could make cornbread in my pressure cooker, to have an excuse to give him some, plus a little stewed meat. He was living on the edge.
In the morning I walked into town and spent a few hours at the library, updating my website and checking email. Just as I found last year, the librarians were very hospitable and welcoming to transients. Afterward I walked back to the dock, just in time to help catch lines from a new arrival - El Lobo, a big sixties-vintage Columbia 34 captained by 82 year old Bill, of Florida and Delaware. He was homeward bound from his 13th winter in Florida. In a prior life, he had worked in a boatyard as a retirement career, and had extensively rebuilt his boat, with new deck coring, fiberglassed hull to deck joint, exterior chainplates, rubrails, high toerails from a Columbia 39, beautiful teak hatch covers and completely rebuilt interior.
Bill proved a fine dock companion, and we sat on the bench on the t-dock until late, talking sailing, work and life. The wind blew hard and cool, and by the time I got back to my boat the wind chute had funneled enough fresh air in to make for good sleeping weather. I woke up early the next morning and did some chores, then had coffee with Bill, and then supervised while Bill helped Jeff get his Yanmar running. The old man, puffing away on his corncob pipe, had the problem troubleshot and fixed in an hour's time.
I wanted to be at the library when it opened at 9:30, so I could get my gadgets charged before it closed at 1:00, so I said goodbye to Bill, who intended to run the Alligator-Pungo canal by the end of the day. I sincerely hope to cross paths with him again some day.
Before turning in Saturday evening I struck the awning and got the boat ready for an early departure in the morning. I was up with the dawn's first light and off the dock just before 7:00. I motored out the harbor, lightly grounding twice - got to remember which side of the marker to pass - and made my way out into the river. The wind was very light, but I wanted to at least try to sail up the river, so I set working jib, main and mizzen and shut down the motor. All plain sail was just enough to make headway and it was an agonizingly slow sail as far as the bend to the north, where the wind came up nicely and gave me a nice beam reach at 4 to 5 knots. At the mouth of the canal I dropped the main and continued on under jib, jigger and motor. The vegetation along the banks cut off a lot of wind, but the sails still contributed a little, so I left them up. Once I passed the half-way point, the more open terrain allowed for more wind, and I shut down the engine and sailed the last couple of miles of canal. Total time through the canal was four and a quarter hours, not bad by my estimation.
Out on the upper Alligator the wind was blowing a bit harder. It had been a long day - running the Alligator-Pungo is nerve-wracking in the best of circumstances - so I decided to put in to the unnamed bay at the south end of the broad Alligator River. The chart showed consistent depths of 7 to 8 feet and a mud bottom which would provide good holding for my Fortress. I made a couple of long tacks, watching the depth sounder closely, and never saw less than 8.8 feet. I rounded up in the southwest corner of the bay in about 9 feet of water, which is where I anchored for the night.
With prospects for southerly winds strengthening through the day to the 15-20 range by afternoon, with a likelihood of storms with greater winds, I left at 7:45 Monday morning under jib and jigger and sailed north. A pod of dolphins swam along with Terry Ann for a while, and a small flock of birds rested on the masthead for a few minutes. I passed through the Alligator River swing bridge at 11:30 and left the mouth of the river for the Albemarle Sound. At 1:45 I hove-to for a few minutes as a quick shower with blustery winds passed over, and after this the conditions on the sound started to deteriorate. Shifting winds set up a cross-chop, and with the waves and wind off the stern Terry Ann exhibited a wretched tendency to corkscrew. Occasionaly a storm would pass over and I would heave-to as winds gusted up into the 30s. The boat hove-to nicely under jib and jigger, but the confused chop made for some pounding. In one storm, I was standing in the cabin looking out the companionway when a wave struck the windward bow quarter and sent an waterfall over the cabin, completely soaking the cockpit. Each storm lasted only a few minutes and then I would resume sailing, heading for the relative calm of the Pasquotank River. Eventually I got into the wind shadow of the shore and things calmed down. Now I had a couple of hours of beam reaching upriver, and the last couple of miles I ran the engine, as the wind died off and it was getting late. As I rounded into the Elizabeth City waterfront, a final deluge gave me a good soaking.
I motored up to the public dock, where there were plenty of open slips due to the closure of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and made a perfect approach, backing down to almost a complete stop as we entered the slip. I dropped the boat in neutral and went forward to put a line on forward piling. Suddenly the boat lurched forward and rammed the dock, hard, and sprung back. I tried to grab a piling but the boat gathered speed and rammed the dock again. I realized the engine must have jumped into gear and ran back and disengaged it. This left me so flustered it took me most of an hour to get the boat tied up and in order.
After a couple of stiff shots of rum I settled down and made dinner, then hit the rack, glad to be done with the day.
In the morning I dug out my Marine-Tex and patched up the damage. Fortunately Albergs were built thick and all that was hurt was the gel-coat. I went over to the Visitor's Center, which is now in the Museum, and got the shower code. After cleaning up I walked to the Colonial for breakfast. With that, I was ready for my first day in Elizabeth City.
So what's with all the water? I noticed it was a long jump down from Terry Ann's bow to the finger dock, and I almost needed a ladder to get back aboard. I mentioned it to a local man who stopped to admire the boat, and he said that the water had been consistently high since hurricane Matthew, not just in the Pasquotank River, but all over the Albemarle. This hardly seemed credible, so I asked several more locals, who all agreed - the water had been high, and the last few days higher than ever. On the other hand, nobody had a reasonable explanation. One guy said "global warming", but surely it's not coming on that fast? Nobody else had even a theory. Myself? I wonder if Matthew drove enough silt and mud into Croatan Sound to partially block it. My understanding of the hydrography of the Albemarle is that, long ago, the sound exited out of an inlet on Roanoke Sound, near Manteo. This is where the Lost Colonists entered the sound from the Atlantic. That inlet closed in 1811, and the waters of the Albemarle burst through the swampy area west of Roanoke Island, creating Croatan Sound. All the extra water in the northern Pamlico flowed out Hatteras and Ocracoke Inlets, but eventually found a new outlet to the sea in Oregon Inlet, created by an 1846 hurricane. So if Croatan Sound were partially blocked, you could expect the water in the Albemarle to rise.
I walked over the drawbridge to Pelican Marina, bought supplies at the store and enquired about transient rates. Looks like I could leave the boat there for about $170 a month, if I ended up basing out of Elizabeth City for the summer. I decided to check with Lamb's Marina, where Marcia and Joe "moored" there camper last summer, and if the price was close, perhaps to base there.
It took most of the afternoon to update my website and work through emails at Coasters, the best little bar I've found in Elizabeth City. The people are friendly, but they will leave you alone to work if you need to. The music during the days tends toward blues, which is okay by me. The beer is cold, and the place doesn't reek of cigarette smoke, like bars used to. To comply with state liquor laws, the place is run as a private club, but annual dues are $1.00 and you can join on the spot. I found that my membership from last year still had a few days to run. After I got done with work, I spent a few minutes chatting with the locals, which was the true membership test. I passed.
Back at the boat, I checked the water in the bilge and found it to be a bit high. I hit the pump switch and the light came on, but nothing happened. This was a bit disconcerting. I used my Black & Decker pump for changing oil in the Atomic 4 to extract about 20 gallons of water from the sump. I figured I had better keep an eye on things, but I was sure the water was mainly a result of the thrashing we took on the sound, plus the heavy rains.
That was enough fun for a day, so I read a few chapters of "Following the Dragon" and hit the rack.
In the morning I took care of a chore, walking out Ehringhaus Street to Colonial Cleaners to do my laundry. Afterwards I gave the Flour Girls bakery a try, and got a good if somewhat expensive breakfast. Back at the boat, I dug through the lockers looking for a whale gusher pump that might be faster than the Black & Decker. I didn't find one, but far up in the back corner of the port cockpit locker I did find the elusive mizzen staysail, soaking wet and filthy but evidently intact. The prior owner had advertised that the boat included one, but I was beginning to have my doubts. So now I can join Dale and Cori in making the rousing command, "Hoist the mizzen staysail!"
It was an unseasonably cool day with gusty winds out of the northeast, not a good day to sail, but late afternoon a contingent of boats came in, three Jeanneaus in the 37-40 foot range and a big catamaran. The cat got on the face dock and two of the Jeanneaus backed down into slips after making several loops to gauge the leeway. Each made ugly but serviceable dockings, with crew members bow and stern and a skilled captain at the helm. The other Jeanneau elected to anchor in the roadstead. Later the cat joined her rather than get bashed up against the face dock all night.
The boats all had Montreal registry and the crews were all French speakers, though the captains and some crew were bilingual. I asked one captain what brought them to Elizabeth City, half-dreading the answer, and just as I feared it was to transit the Dismal Swamp Canal headed north. I had to break the news that the canal was closed, but encouraged the captain to verify that with Active Captain or the Coast Guard. He immediately hailed the Elizabeth City Bridgemaster and got confirmation. So I saved them some fruitless miles up the river.
I chatted with one of the captains and gathered that the boats were being delivered from Florida to New York. Each boat had at least 3 crewmembers in addition to the captain. I didn't pry but I got the idea that they were using John Krestchmer's business plan of having not paid, but paying crew, people who were willing and able to pay for the chance of sailing nice boats and learning from experienced captains. Everyone seemed to be having fun, even after a cold, rainy day of being bashed and battered on the Albemarle Sound.
The fun wasn't over, though. A big Carver motor cruiser came south through the bridge and attempted to back into a slip. He tried a couple of times and got swept to leeward too far to get in. The third time his crewman got a line on a piling but the captain didn't quite have the nerve to gun it hard in reverse and pivot into the slip. Soon he was griped up against two pilings, forward and aft, right across the slip where one of the Jeanneaus was docked - fortunately, the 37, not the 40, because the sharp end of her Delta anchor was just a foot into the slip. The whole crew was on the bow, fending off the Carver. The crewman got the rope off the piling and the captain gunned it to starboard, the stern just missing the Jeanneau and slamming into the next piling upwind. At this point the Carver gave up and proceeded to the somewhat sheltered Pelican Marina across the river.
The captain and crew on the Jeanneau were rattled enough, especially by the way their windward piling had bent when it got whaled by the Carver. I figured it was ok, in the mud bottom, but the captain asked if crew could come aboard my boat and drop a line from my lee stern piling to their windward quarter, just for extra insurance in case his piling had been fatally injured. I told him certainly, and he said his crewman would need to come aboard again at 6:00 in the morning to drop the line when they left, which I readily agreed to. They were all good courteous sailors and I just wished I could speak French and communicate with them.
The wind blew most of the night, settling down for just a couple of hours, and them came back again in the morning. It blew even harder the next day, gusting up to 25 knots in the protected Elizabeth City harbor. The Canadians left at 6:00 and I watched them proceed downriver, setting sail. I was glad that they would turn in to the V&C at the mouth of the river rather than have to venture out on the sound.
I stayed over another day. The main halyard was looking suspect and I had made up a new one, so I tried pulling the new one over with the old one. I bungled the job, and dropped the old one on the deck with the new one not over the top. So now I was left with no way to raise the main. After a while, I figured I could raise the main at least part way on the spinnaker halyard, though it wouldn't be a fair lead, the spinnaker halyard rove through a block hung on the front of the mast. To get any kind of use out of it, I had to get one end of the spinnaker halyard behind the spreader, so I attached a bottle full of water to a messenger line and commenced to throwing. Just the third try I got it over, even while a passer-by stood as witness, and over the next half hour, with said witness standing by and giving good advice and moral support, I managed to thread the spinnaker halyard aft past the spreader, pull a new halyard since the existing one was rotten and in dire straits of breaking, and prove that I could at least raise a double-reefed main, enough to sail.
So why not go to the top of the mast in a bosun's chair? Well, the main halyard passed over the top of the mast, and if it hadn't been on the deck that would have been a possibility - not a good one, since it was old and probably rotten. All the other halyards ran through blocks hung on brackets at the top of the mast. Not something I would trust with a man's weight. But at least with a double-reefed main, I could soldier on until I found a yard that could reeve a new halyard for me.
By the end of the day the northeaster had blown out and a gentle westerly breeze was blowing. I decided that in the morning I would motor up to Lamb's Marina, buy gas and talk to Mr. Lamb about a monthly slip lease. With a place to leave the boat, I could go home for two weeks. Someone I spoke to had suggested it would be worthwhile just to be sure he had gas before I went up there. So first thing in the morning I tried hailing Lamb's Marina on channel 16. No reply. I tried again a little later - still no reply, but someone who did monitor 16 came in and said he had never known Lamb to respond to a hail, that I should try calling him. So I walked up to the Visitor's Center and Susan allowed me to use her phone to call Lamb's Marina (Susan is the face of the Visitor's Center in Elizabeth City, and one of the most knowledgeable and helpful people around). Sure enough, they didn't have gas - "maybe in a day or two." So Susan called one of her volunteers, who agreed to meet me on the dock and take me to a place I could buy gasoline. Gordon took me to the local fuel wholesaler, who sold me 6 gallons of gas for far less than retail price, and laughed at the idea that Lamb's would have gas in a few days. He said Lamb's had been out for a month, and who knew when they would have gas again. Gordon told me Pelican Marina had their CAMA permit to sell fuel, but the city was holding things up. So here we have Elizabeth City with no dockside fuel sellers.
With gas in the tank, there was nothing holding me in Elizabeth City, except for more craft beer at Coasters, so along about 10:45 I cast off and headed downriver. I hoped to reach the Perquimans River by day's end, and I did - just barely. I sailed down the Pasquotank under working jib and aforesaid double-reefed main, making 3 to 4 knots, and rounded out into the sound, where I found more wind. But it didn't last. By early afternoon the wind was gone but the chop was still there, and I was laboring close-hauled to the west at a knot or two. I started the Atomic 4 and motor-sailed onward, into the mouth of the Perquimans River. The chart indicated a protected bay behind Harvey Point, just inside the mouth of the river, but when I rounded into it I found the banks lined with Danger markers, and ominous-looking industrial earthworks along the shore. I backed out of there and headed upriver, eventually finding a protected anchorage in Halsey Bay. By the time I dropped anchor and got the boat in order it was 9:45.
In the morning I motored the three miles upriver to the bridge at Hertford, looking fo a dock, any dock, that could accomodate a sailboat, but none were to be found. Later I found that while Hertford claims to be a stop on the Albemarle Loop, the town docks are upstream of the 33 foot clearance highway bridge, so it's powerboats and small craft only. The town website is coy about it, stating that the new docks "can accomodate a wide range of transient vessels." Just not sailboats. I turned back downriver and started drifting, waiting for wind. Eventually I got a little, but only enough for a knot. I motorsailed downriver, then out into the sound, where the wind dropped altogether and left nothing but a glassy swell. I ended up motoring to Columbia.
The Scuppernong River had a couple of tight spots, but they were well-marked. I passed a beautiful tree-shaded marina on the starboard and soon after found the municipal docks hard on the highway overpass that ends sailboat navigation of the river. There were several slips, only one taken, so I chose one and eased in. Once tied up, I went in search of vital supplies, beer and ice, and found them at a convenience store three blocks east on the highway. Then I found the shower house, with the lock disabled, perhaps for the convenience of weekend arrivals. Even in its unsecured state, the shower house was immaculately clean, and it was a delight to wash away two days worth of sweat. So far, Columbia was shaping up as a highlight of the trip. Oh, did I mention, 30 amp power on the dock.
I sailed in late on Saturday and found the town closed down, except for the convenience store, until after church on Sunday. Fortunately I had the last of my provisions and rustled something to eat, then turned in. The town-provided internet connection at the dock was misconfigured and wouldn't do name resolution, so I had to put off checking email and updating my site until Sunday afternoon.
Once I got my internet connection Sunday afternoon at the pleasant wine shop and cafe a couple of blocks from the marina, I looked up "Harvey Point NC Facility" and found that this is a Defense Department operation. If you want to know more, you will have to Google it yourself. It's not somewhere you want to anchor, no matter how bad the weather.
With a high pressure system settled in off the coast, the Albemarle Sound was getting blue skies, heat and light southerly breezes. Very light breezes, unsailably light breezes. I started checking around for a place to leave the boat and a way home. Cypress Grove Marina, just down the Scuppernong from Columbia, advertised monthly slip leases, and while none of the national car rental companies had an outlet in Columbia, U-Haul did. I didn't mind driving a small truck home if that was the only way to get there. I had already looked into Greyhound schedules from the towns along the north side of the sound, the problem was that they put me into Raleigh at 11:00 at night. My task for Monday morning would be to try to make arrangements with Cypress Grove and U-Haul, so I could get on the road Tuesday..
After spending a couple of days in Columbia, I had some distinct impressions. It is a very small town, and for the most part closes down on the weekends. The only things open then are a convenience store, a restaurant and the winery/cafe, all located within three blocks of the municipal docks along highway 64. Main Street stubs right in to the docks, and close by along it are a post office, library, several restaurants, an auto parts store and a hardware store. Following Main Street out, eventually one comes to the highway and a short distance on is a Food Lion along with several other stores and shops. It's only a 20 minute walk. There is a nice highway rest stop and visitors center close to the boat docks, and the staff are friendly and helpful. So I'd say Columbia makes for a convenient resupply point for sailors. The docks are close by the highway so there is some traffic noise, but it's not obtrusive. The whole downtown area is very clean and orderly.
Monday I made arrangements to try to move the boat to Cypress Grove Marina, a short distance down the Scuppernong River from Columbia. The monthly rate was quite reasonable, and the facilities looked good, from what I could see on their website. There is an extensive powerboat brokerage associated with the marina, as well as a boatyard. Miss Mary Lou, who runs the marina, thought I just might be able to squeeze Terry Ann in through the entrance channel, but she warned me that at low water I probably wouldn't be able to get in or out - about like Matthews Point. I motored down in the early afternoon and ran aground in the entrance channel. I may have shaded the channel a bit too far to the port to be in the best water, but it was clear that my boat drew a little too much for us to stay at Cypress Grove. Mr. Everett and one of his staff came out in a power boat and helped me off the shoal. He was very apologetic, but I was grateful that we had made the effort. Cypress Grove looks like a beautiful facility and I think it is well worth a try for any boat drawing not much more than 4 feet.
I retreated back to the Columbia municipal dock. At the NAPA store, I bought a five gallon gasoline jug and made plans to move gas from the Sunoco station out on the highway to my boat on the town dock. Five gallons ought to get me to Edenton, where surely I could find a marina and a rental car for home. As I walked along the road toward the gas station, a car pulled up and the driver rolled down his window and asked "Are you still looking for gas?" It was one of the Visitors Center volunteers who had let me use the phone there earlier in the day. He drove me to the gas station and then back to my boat, saving me lugging five gallons of gas half a mile on a hot, humid afternoon. Just more confirmation, Columbia is a wonderful little town that I will visit again.
On the town dock in the slip next to me were Bill and Diane on their Beneteau 36 Miss Treated. Diane was friendly but quiet, while Bill and I hit it off and had some good conversations. Bill told me the big catamaran that moved around the area was a prototype for a production run of eleven that were going to be built in Columbia. The manufacturer had obtained the name and some of the molds of the old Stiletto brand, once known for fast, light, trailerable cats. The new design is based around a sliding center frame that will collapse to allow the boat to be hauled on a standard eight foot wide trailer.
Tuesday morning I left early for Edenton. Expecting more of the same weather, light southwesterly airs, I made the strategic decision to leave the big awning up, which meant no mainsail. I figured I would be motoring directly into the wind for much of the day, and having the shade was more important than having the extra sail area for the small part of the trip when it would be useful. It turned out to be a good decision. I motored down the Scuppernong River and out into Bull's Bay, where I set the genoa and mizzen. That was enough sail to run 3 to 4 knots northwestward into and across the sound. I made a tack back, and by late morning the wind had given out, so I dropped the jib and motored directly west, under the big Highway 37 bridge and under the power lines. As I turned into Edenton Bay, the wind came up from the southwest, but it was too late to reset sails. I motored down the narrow channel and turned in to the town docks, which are well-protected by a breakwater. I moored in the first slip, close under the old Roanoke River screwpile lighthouse which was moved to the Edenton waterfront and restored some years ago.
The friendly and helpful staff at the Edenton dock checked me in, collected $3 for shore power and then lent me a car so I could drive over to Edenton Marina to inquire about a slip lease for a couple of months. The marina seems to be a one-man operation, and the owner, Scotty Harrell, was off on a delivery to New Jersey, so it looked like I might be out of luck as far as lining up a slip. When Archie, the dockmaster at the town docks heard about the situation, he made use of personal contacts to get in touch with Mr. Harrell, and the next day he met me at the dock to arrange a slip lease for the rest of June and all July. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and helpfulness of both these men. Finally I was getting close to going home for a few weeks, knowing the boat was in a safe marina and that I could return later in the summer for more sailing on the Albemarle.
Other things to remember about Edenton - the young lady who worked with Archie at the town park and docks, who told me all about the history of her eastern NC family, who had been commercial fishermen for generations; Kristy's Restaurant, where I had beer and pizza on the evening of my arrival, and good conversation with the owner who used to live in Beaufort and race out of Oriental; and Edenton Coffee Shop, where I had breakfast the following morning.
With arrangements made to get into Edenton Marina the next day, I went out late in the afternoon looking for a place to have a cold beer. Close by I found the Edenton Bay Trading Company, but it really looked a little fancy for my tastes. With no alternatives, though, I went in and met the enthusiastic and friendly owner, who told me of course I would be welcome to sit down and have a beer. It appeared that the main business was selling wine, but there was a small selection of cold beer available for consumption on premise. Drinking with Doster I have developed a taste for hoppy IPAs so I chose a Uinta Hop Nosh, which proved to be delicious and highly alcoholic. I sat in the window reading, watching the street scene and conversing with the occasional customer while I consumed a couple of these potent brews.
The owner clued me in that the place would be busy later in the evening. He had instituted a trivia game on Wednesday evenings and had been drawing 45 to 55 people recently. The whole population of Edenton is less than 5,000. That means one percent of the town was gathering at this little storefront each week. Consider that Winston-Salem, with its population of around 200,000, doesn't have many, if any, venues that can draw 2,000 - one percent - on a Wednesday night. I had assumed the Edenton Bay Trading Company was like most of the businesses I had found in these small towns in northeastern North Carolina, hanging on by the skin of their teeth and trying to make a few bucks off the tourists. But evidently the owner had created a scene of sorts. He said that on Saturday night they played vinyl records and drew a crowd for that, too. He had a bin of classic vinyl for sale in the store.
This I had to see, so I made plans to return after dinner. Since Kristy's had proven itself last night, I decided to go there again. I don't care much for salads, but I knew I had slighted myself on fresh vegetables living on the boat. The salad that came with my Eggplant Parmesan was delicious, and so was the eggplant.
Back at the Trading Company, I found a crowd gathered in the courtyard behind the building, eagerly awaiting the trivia competition. Several teams had signed up, along with a few individuals. I took a seat at the back gate that led out into the alley, where the smokers gathered around the big diesel tank placarded "No Smoking". Next to me was a contestant, holding a vinyl copy of Bloodrock 2, the eponymously named 1970 album by the Fort Worth hard/psych rock band. I asked him if he was a big Bloodrock fan - he really didn't look the type, though people change in the course of decades. He replied that no, he'd never heard of them, he had been issued the album to use as a writing board for filling in his answers in the trivia game.
The game was interesting but the crowd-watching was better. It was an all-ages event, with one infant, one girl of around 4, and legal drinkers from 21 to 80. On the whole, the crowd skewed older - a lot of them looked like young, affluent retirees, but on the other hand my waitress from Kristy's the night before was there. There was even a table of white-haired grandmotherly types.
Worn out by the bright lights of Edenton, I was back at the boat by 8:30. I did some packing and putting things in order while watching the lightning from a massive storm off to the west.
Early in the morning I cast off and motored up Pembroke Creek to Edenton Marina. Just as I had been told, as long as I stayed in the marked channel there was plenty of water. I rounded the last red marker into the marina and took a slip behind a huge wooden trawler that might help as a breakwater for the bass boats kicking up a wake in the creek. First thing on the agenda was to find breakfast. Just across the bridge was a small power boat marina with attached diner. There I had a good meal of grits, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Back at the boat, I spent an hour getting everything in order for me to leave, including unschackling the Fortress and stowing it below. Then I walked to the boat shed where I hoped to find somebody with a phone so I could call Enterprise and arrange a car. A mechanic was rebuilding the four carbs on a big outboard and graciously allowed me to use his phone, but Enterprise did not answer.
I hiked into town, back to the docks, where I could pick up WiFi and confirm the number for Enterprise. There was no problem with the number, and the dockmaster let borrow his phone to try it again. This time I got an answer, but the customer service rep had to pass me on to the Elizabeth City office because he was in the middle of working with another customer. The helpful woman in Elizabeth City told me she would make arrangements for the Edenton rep to come pick me up and take me out to the Edenton office to rent me a car. An hour and a half later, no-one had appeared. At this point the dockmaster volunteered to drive me out to Enterprise, and I gratefully accepted. I was finally able to get a vehicle, though not the compact car I wanted - I drove home in a Nissan pickup truck, the only vehicle available. The cost I was quoted was outrageous, but the rep gradually whittled it down to something I could live with.
On the drive home, I detoured through Plymouth, since that was one of the destinations on the Albemarle Loop and I had been looking forward to visiting. I wanted to be sure the town dock was still open. What I found when I arrived at 3:00 in the afternoon was discouraging. The dock was still there, completely vacant. The dockmaster was gone for the day. The museum was closed. The two downtown restaurants were both closed, though one had a sign giving its hours as 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM. My friend Doward Jones' photography studio was closed. The only person I spoke to was a man loading an appliance onto a truck. The only other people I saw were three men sitting in a small park with dazed looks on their faces. One was playing with a switchblade knife. It's a shame - the state spent a lot of money putting in the transient dock a few years ago, but seriously, what cruiser is going to want to visit Plymouth, in its current condition?
I got home late in the evening. Plans were to spend three weeks in Winston and then go back to Edenton to do some more sailing. It had been an interesting three weeks and there were still some places to go - up the Chowan River, Albemarle Plantation, back to Columbia for a second visit. Since I would have my truck with me, I might even take a road trip up to the Newport News area.
The Albemarle Sound is off the beaten track, and the logistics of sailing there are nothing like following the ICW route. For one thing, fuel is difficult to find. As of June 2017, there is no fuel available on dock in Elizabeth City, and none in Columbia unless you can get in the shoaled channel to Cypress Cove. There are pumps at Edenton Marina, but no dockmaster on duty. The marina owner can be reached by phone if he is in town and might be able to make arrangements to meet at the marina for refueling. No fuel on the Perquimans River unless you can get under the 33 foot bridge. The only reliable source of fuel for a medium to deep draft sailboat would be Albemarle Landing.
Many marine facilities on the Albemarle do not monitor VHF 16, so it is wise to have a list of telephone numbers and a cell phone to be able to make docking arrangements.
TowboatUS has no service at all on the Albemarle Sound. From the TowboatUS web page - "Contact the BoatUS 24 Hour Dispatch Service Center at 800-391-4869. Once verified by the Dispatch Center that you are boating in an area without a TowBoatUS service provider, BoatUS will authorize to reimburse your out-of-pocket expense to your service level ($2500 for Unlimited, $3000 for Unlimited Gold, and $5000 for Commercial Towing)". You will have to find a towing service on your own, but at least it will be paid for.
I was surprised to find the little town of Columbia to be the best place on the sound for resupply. The Food Lion is a fifteen minute walk from the dock. Very close, within three blocks of the dock, are a hardware store, an auto parts store, a post office, two banks and a library. Ice is available at the Quik Stop store close by, and there are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops. The library has a good WiFi connection, as does the wine and coffee shop. One thing to keep in mind though, is most of these places open late, close early and take a long break for lunch. I kid you not, the BB&T branch closes from 1:00 to 2:30 for lunch.
Transportation from the area is problematic. Greyhound services Elizabeth City and Edenton, but as of June 2017 their schedule puts you in Raleigh just before midnight. Enterprise has offices in Elizabeth City and Edenton, but the office in Edenton is a one-man operation and the level of service is low.
In general WiFi access is poor. I was unable to get a decent signal on any of the docks I visited. The best bet is to try to find a bar or coffee house that will let you nurse a drink and use their service. Coasters in Elizabeth City is a prime location for this. Another good option is the public library. Belhaven, Columbia, Edenton and Hertford all have accomodating librarians who will let travelers enjoy their WiFi and air-conditioning.
If the people weren't so friendly and helpful it would be hard to put up with all the logistical issues of cruising the sound. Most everybody wants to put a good face on their town, and will go out of their way to see that you get what you need. The flip side is that there are next to no cruising sailors in the area. One thing I take a lot of pleasure in is meeting other sailors, and on this trip that was limited to the Canadian crews in Elizabeth City and Bill and Diana aboard Miss Treated in Columbia. With the Dismal Swamp Canal closed, the Elizabeth City dock was desolate, and all the others were as well.
So there is the honest truth about this rarely-sailed part of the world. I'm glad I've seen it, and look forward to spending a few more weeks in the area, but it's understandable that it doesn't draw many cruisers. For ICW sailors looking for a side trip, I could suggest spending a couple of days making the sail to Columbia and back, but most would enjoy more the trip across the Pamlico to Ocracoke.
A month later I was back in Edenton. Marie used to listen to a band called "The Birthday Massacre", and one of their songs had the lyrics "seems like the ticking hands are taking their time/I guess I've been at home for longer than it takes to unwind". And by mid-July I had been home long enough. I needed to at least check up on the boat, and sail if conditions were right. Plus, I had hopes that my friends Paul and Kathy might still be in Urbanna.
I found the boat resting comfortably on the Edenton Marina dock, though with a fair amount of water in the bilge, no doubt the result of a couple of monumental downpours which had visited the area in recent days. In the morning I met some dockmates, including to my surprise another Neuse River sailor, Bill aboard his Flicka Roane. Bill sails out of Duck Creek Marina up the river near Bridgeton, and was on the Albemarle for the same reason as me, to see some new territory.
Another high pressure system had settled off the coast and was pumping superheated tropical air over northeastern North Carolina. With light airs, temperatures in the mid-90s and heat indexes well over 100, sailing was out of the question. And to cap it off, Paul and Kathy had returned home to the mountains to take in the peach crop. I spent a couple of days driving around the area, including a very pleasant visit to Hertford, and then made the decision to return home and wait for the heat to break. First, though, I taped up the lazarette and bow ventilators, so maybe I won't find so much water in the bilge next month.
On arriving home, I walked into my apartment and thought how refreshingly cool it felt. The thermostat was set for 85.
Early in August I returned to Edenton and spent most of the week on the boat. The weather was a bit unsettled, with storm cells roaming the region, but temperatures were bearable and actually pleasant late at night. I was ready to sail, with hopes of running up the Chowan River to Bennett's Creek for an overnight anchorage, but it was not to be.
As is always the case when things involve an engine, my anxiety level was high when I attempted to start the Atomic 4 my first morning on the boat. The blasted thing would fire right up, run for a few seconds and then die. Another attempt would bring about the same result. The engine would start easily, but just wouldn't run. Suffice it to say that three and a half days later, after a good 30 hours of labor, I finally got the engine to start and run. The people on the Moyers board were a great encouragement, but in truth it was a side email exchange with Dan that finally put me onto the problem - a stuck ball valve internal to the fuel pump. The positive side is that I really know how the fuel supply system on an A4 works now.
By now it was late in the week and I only had a day to sail before I had to drive home. So Bennett's Creek was out, but a quick trip across the sound was still a possibility. I got the boat stowed and in order, and in the morning started the engine - no problems, cast off, springing around the starboard aft piling, and engaged forward to head out the fairway. Immediately the boat slid across some large object on the bottom that wasn't there when I docked in June, and then I was out into Pembroke Creek. I motored out toward the bay, encountering some alarmingly shallow water in the channel, but avoided touching bottom again. Passing marker 4 in the bay, I spied a nasty-looking snag, like the end of a large piling, just broaching the water's surface not too far off the marker, and made a mental note to keep an eye out for it on return. Out at marker 1 I set the main and #2 genoa, shut down the engine, and made slow progress out into the sound with light airs from astern.
I sailed more or less parallel to the power lines and then shaded off a bit to starboard, so that by noon I was off marker 1 for the channel in to the Roanoke River. Noontime means the same on the Albemarle as on the Pamlico, and the wind gradually died to just a whisper. I decided to motor in the channel and take a look into the river proper, so I dropped the jib, sheeted the main tight amidships, and proceeded up-channel as far as marker 5, where the true mouth of the river begins. It was an enticing view, with cypresses lining the narrow banks, and someday I hope to continue upstream to Plymouth, but not today. Until not too long ago, barge tows used the river to a paper mill at Plymouth, and everything I have heard suggests the river is easily navigable at least that far - provided you can get under a 45 foot bridge near the mouth.
I motored back out to the sound, reset the jib and sailed full and by the wind back to Edenton Bay. The wind gradually picked up as the afternoon progressed, and it was a great sail at 4 to 5 knots. I dropped sail at the first marker and motored in, carefully noting the snag off marker 4 and avoiding some of the shoals in Pembroke Creek by taking a somewhat looping course that kept me closer to the north shore. Whatever was in the fairway in front of my slip was gone, and I manuevered the boat in, bumping the dock but just lightly.
In the morning I secured the boat and made the drive back to Winston-Salem.
More to come...