We have enjoyed our natural surroundings of the past few weeks immensely – daily sightings of eagles, turtles, wild flowers and dolphins make the trip very pleasurable. However, I was a little disappointed not to see an alligator, despite keeping a close watch out for them. By the time we reached the Alligator Pungo Canal, I knew I was out of luck. Although the Alligator River was originally named for the creatures, there are no longer any there – it is too far north of their current distribution. I don’t blame them for moving south – it is very chilly! We miss the balmy Bahamas.
We weighed anchor at first light at Scranton Creek and were surprised to find we were not the only early risers. By the time we entered the 22 mile long Alligator Pungo Canal there was a sailboat at our stern and two ahead of us. Rain was falling and the wind was picking up. The canal is pretty and I was excited to spot a deer along the river bank. Apparently you can sometimes see black bears along here, but we didn’t. By the time we turned into the Alligator River the wind was whistling. However, it was on our stern, so we pulled out the genoa, turned off the engine and enjoyed the downwind sail through choppy waters.
We were not far behind a red-hulled sailboat, Amicus, as we came to the Alligator River Swing Bridge. A 35 knot gust of wind knocked us sideways a bit as we surfed the waves, and we decided to furl the sail and motor through the bridge. We watched Amicus do the same. The bridge master opened up for the two of us. As we passed through and into Albermarle Sound, we turned the engine off and, with just a partially-furled genoa out, found we were doing 7-9 knots downwind, hitting 10 knots in the top gusts. By this time the weather forecast for the day had changed substantially as we observed – we had sustained winds of 25-30 knots, with gusts over 35! Tai Chi was in her elements – like a filly romping in a paddock. Skipper Steve was also in his elements, enjoying the sail across the 14 mile stretch across the sound – the small chop not enough to make him queasy at all.
At this point the ICW divides – the main (#1) route, the Virginia Cut (the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, Currituck Sound, Coinjock Bay and the North Landing River) heads off slightly east, with deeper water and only one lock to negotiate. We had chosen the other route – to Elizabeth City, then 30 miles up the Pasquotank River and then through the Dismal Canal – slightly longer, much shallower (controlling depth of 6 feet) and with two easy locks. No commercial traffic takes route 2, and despite its name, it is supposed to be the more picturesque option. Of course we took the ‘road less travelled’ – at least at this time of the year. So we headed into the mouth of the Pasquotank River. By this time the wind was vicious, and the coast guard reported on Channel 16 that they had closed the Alligator River Swing Bridge due to high winds. Phew – we had just made it through in time!
There were 6 foot waves by this time and I was anxious to get to Elizabeth City – also known as the Harbour of Hospitality. We had in fact decided not to stop there, opting instead to anchor further up the river, partly because we prefer anchoring, especially in very strong winds which can make docking (especially on the small fixed finger docks at Elizabeth City) stressful. My namesake city loves cruisers. They are a favourite stopover for cruisers like us, who are greeted by “rose buddies’ – Elizabeth City volunteers – who give our bunches of roses and invite cruisers to city-hosted wine and cheese parties whenever there are 5 or more boats in the marina. Mariners Wharf municipal marina is free for 48 hour stays – and there are several other free docks in town. It really is a harbour of hospitality. All this started after the Dismal Swamp Canal closed to commercial traffic (which had once made Elizabeth City a vibrant port), and they subsequently depended on recreational boaters. When a recession threatened the total closure of the canal, the city became desperate, advocating strongly to keep it open and enticing cruisers to use the canal…and stay in the city a night or two. Their strategy worked!
By the time the river narrowed and Elizabeth City’s docks came into view we were more sheltered from wind and waves. The bascule bridge in the middle of town was closed for rush hour traffic. We called them anyway and were advised that we had to wait till 5:30 pm. As we circled slowly, wasting time waiting for the bridge, we made a slow pass by Mariners Wharf and the free bulkhead docks in the town park – it looked very nice and there was space for us. We could see other cruisers gathered around enjoying wine and cheese and spinning cruising yarns and we almost changed out minds about pushing on. Especially when one of them noticed us and called on the radio offering assistance in tying up and getting into a suitable slip. We wavered, eventually deciding to push on further up the Pasquotank River and anchor behind Goat Island.
Once we were through the bridge and motoring up the narrowing and very pretty river, we suffered a few twinges of regret at not being more sociable, but were glad we had pushed on. We anchored in a very pretty creek behind Goat Island at 6:30 pm, in time for dinner. Peace and quiet in another beautiful, serene anchorage which we had all to ourselves.
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