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Bright Lights of Oriental

If I hadn't wasted time, I could have made it into Oriental before the storm hit. A typical mid-day June disturbance was tracking down the river, punctuated by brutal flashes of cloud-to-water lightning and ominous rumblings of thunder. The Janeiro shoreline had already disappeared in the haze. The sky was clear to the south, though, and I turned toward Adams Creek, thinking I would let the storm pass along the Pamlico County side of the river before trying to enter Oriental harbor.

I spent a futile 10 minutes sailing south before it became clear that the Adams Creek entrance was going to catch it just as bad as Oriental. The wind shifted to the north, and I jibed over onto the port tack and made for Oriental harbor. Maybe I could make it in and shelter above the bridge until the worst passed.

No dice. The rains poured down as I ran close to the wind for the channel. But at least the electrical activity stayed off to the north. I don't mind getting wet, especially on a hot June afternoon, but I get a little nervous when the bolts start cracking the water in my general vicinity. By the time I reached the new Town Dock, the rain had ended and the sky was clearing.

Once tied up, I changed into dry clothes and made my way to the Bean for a cup of coffee. The rain had cooled things off nicely, and I sat on the front porch chatting with a local who lived aboard his catamaran. After a refill, I walked to the grocery store and got a couple days provisions. I must look like a sailor, because I got a ride back to the boat with a local who intuited where I was going. Back at the dock, a big Leopard 39 took the spot across from me, and I chatted with the owners. The 39 is Leopard's ICW boat, with a 65 foot mast that will clear the bridges. All the others in the line are bigger.

Also on the dock was a sea-worn and weathered sloop Ma Blij D’ar Mor, a Gibsea 28, the home of world cruisers Michel and Annie of Brittany, France. These gentle people were preparing to have their boat hauled and stored at Deaton's while they flew back to France to renew their visas. I enjoyed listening to them talk about their travels, and telling them about life in North Carolina. I was amused that they thought I should be an ambassador to visiting sailors because I spoke so clearly and understandably - most people consider me next to unintelligible.

And what, might you ask, is a Gibsea 28? This is a beamy, roomy keel/centerboard boat that was made in France from 1978 to 1984. It has sail area of 474 square feet, and a displacement of 6,174 pounds. Auxiliary power is provided by an eleven horsepower Renault diesel. By all rights an exotic boat to find on the Oriental town dock.

Back aboard Valor, I sat in the cockpit and enjoyed a cold beer as the afternoon sun shined and the humidity mounted. A big Catalina 44 pulled into the Oriental Marina fuel dock, captained by a middle-aged man who looked to be competent, in control and satisfied with his position in life - not self-satisfied, just content on his boat. Two young crewmen handled the docklines. I could only wish that I had had the foresight to squander my youth the same way. (Seriously, I don't regret my early years of motorcycling, trout fishing and backpacking. I have one piece of advice for anyone under 30 - squander your youth while you can). I gathered that the Catalina was headed north from West Palm Beach to Boston. The afternoon was getting long in the tooth, and someone suggested to the Captain that they overnight in Oriental and take in the open mike at the Silos, to which he replied, "We'll be there. One of my crew is a professional musician."

With that, the crew cast off lines and the Catalina motored out to the anchorage and dropped the hook. I cooked a quick dinner, ate, cleaned up and hiked to the Silos, which is out on the edge of town, past the Town & Country and across from the West Marine. I found the parking lot full and a couple of members of Oriental camp society laughing and smoking outside the door. It was about 8:00 and the sky was still bright, two days after the solstice. I was surprised to see the hours of operation posted, suggesting that closing time was just an hour away.

The downstairs dining room was already closed, but I could hear music upstairs. There I found a packed, standing room only scene of Oriental's finest, average age 70. Yes, Oriental is a retirement community, but this place really skewed old. And to top it off, the guy at the open mike was - well, I give him credit for getting up there. I spotted my friends from the Catalina at the bar, and walked over to say hello. I told the one holding the guitar that I hoped he was better than what we were hearing or I had wasted the walk. He just smiled and his buddy said I wouldn't be disappointed.

I grabbed a beer and a barstool next to the door and settled in. Soon I got into a conversation with a couple who were living aboard their boat at Sailcraft as they did a major overhaul in preparation for some Caribbean cruising. Turns out they had ties to Winston-Salem - the wife had done her Masters in Education through the Appalachian State distance learning program at WSSU while her husband, a Parkland graduate of 1977 who shared a lot of acquaintances with me (Reynolds, 1976) worked as a paramedic at Baptist. And on top of that, husband had been dockmaster at Matthews Point many years ago. I told him Jet had mellowed over the years and he laughed and said he'd heard that from a lot of people.

I pointed out the professional entertainment to come, and wife googled Ethan Parker on her iphone. "Yep, he's a pro - first ten hits for Ethan Parker are all him".

9:00 came and passed and the Silos showed no signs of closing down. One act after another took their turn at the open mike, and the shockingly pretty young waitresses continued to run up and down the steps with decent looking bar food - the kitchen is downstairs and it takes strength and endurance as well as beauty to wait tables here. Finally, Ethan got his turn, and delivered a short, crisp and yes, professional set. I got a call-out for walking all the way to the Silos for the show. Ethan's last song was his best - it was about how he was sailing - not flying, not driving, not taking a train or a bus - sailing to Boston to see his girlfriend who was in school there.

By now it was approaching 10:00, and many of the older members of the crowd shuffled down the stairs and off to bed, but the upstairs bar at the Silos had one more act to host. A group of younger local musicians set up and did some reggae and rock. The young lady singing had a magnificent strong voice that showed to perfection as they did an up-tempo version of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight."

As the last of the crowd headed out the door, I got offers to join a group heading to the Steamer for some late night drinking, but I gratefully accepted another offer - a ride back to the town dock from husband and wife.

As I sat in the cockpit of Valor overlooking the Oriental inner harbor, I thought about how this little town on the Neuse River still had the capacity to surprise me.

With a forecast for declining winds by afternoon, I got off the dock early Thursday morning and made a quick sail to Matthews Point - 2 1/2 hours dock to dock. Back at the marina, I checked out the Ethan Parker Band on the internet. I was surprised to see they label themselves as Christian Rock - frankly, Ethan's songs didn't seem as in-your-face explicit as most Christian Rock. Ethan, if you read this, I hope you're not too horrified - I thought you sounded like Incubus.