Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Day Of Firsts.

Monday, Pam and I tucked Drift Away in the Alligator River Marina at the northern end of the Alligator River in North Carolina, which is at the bottom of Ablemarle Sound.  It was a short day, but continuing on to Belhaven, the next place with marinas, was too far for our dogs' bladders. 

Alligator River Marina is OK, but doesn't offer much.  The docks are in great shape and the shore power works.  The marina was closed for the season.  We could dock there, and the marina owner came by to collect her fees, but that was it.  The wifi was down and the convenience store was closed.  It's out in the middle of nowhere, so we couldn't hike to another store for needed eggs and bread.  And to top things off, the Verizon hot spot we often use to access the internet was running the speed of dial-up.

Tuesday morning, we awoke to a dicey forecast.   15 gusting to 25 out of the south.  South was the direction we needed to go, so we'd have waves on the bow.  At 7 AM, it was blowing 15 MPH, our upper limit.  We had to run about 14 nautical miles, or about two hours, before we'd find the shelter of the lee of the bottom of the river where it makes a ninety degree right hand turn.  The small craft advisories went into effect at 10 AM.  To top it off, the weather was forecast to be nasty until Thursday or Friday.  Common sense told me we needed to stay put.   So we decided to leave.

We got underway around 8 AM.  We motored out to the Alligator River swing bridge and asked for an opening. 

Sheeran Ann also called right after we did, from the marina.  So we had to sit and wait for 20 minutes for them to arrive.  But arrive they did, and we both proceeded through the bridge and down the sound.  We could motor at about a knot faster than them and soon left them behind. 

The ride down the river was surprisingly smooth.  I expected Drift Away to hobby horse like it did on the Chesapeake when we had strong wind and waves on the nose, but not so.  I think this was due to a number of factors.   First, Drift Away is now loaded down with fuel and water making her much heavier.   And second, the two and three foot waves were very steep, but also very close together.  Instead of the boat going up a wave and then down the back side, we had a dozen or more waves passing under us at any point in time.  It was pretty smooth going, sort of like driving on a cobblestone street.

Soon, we caught up with Cajun, a tug pushing a barge. 

The river was getting narrow, and soon it would pass into the 90 foot wide Pungo River-Alligator River Canal.  The AIS showed he was traveling between 5 and 6 knots, and we were doing 7.  We needed to get by him.  About a mile before the entrance to the canal, I kicked up the diesels from 1800 to 2100 RPM.  We got close.  I hailed Cajun on the radio, arranged to pass him to port, and glided by him at a slow walk.  We beat him into the canal, though, so that was good.

This is the entrance to the canal.  Only 18 miles or so to go to come out the other side.  Although the wind now piped up into the 20s, we were well protected in here and the waves were about six inches.

We passed this guy going the other way.

I thought it was bad enough that we're the last boat to head south this winter.  This maniac wants to be the first person north!

Speaking of firsts, here is a first for us.

Our first palm trees.  Sure, I know they're planted, but it's the middle of January and they're still healthy.

I find these an interesting feature of the ICW.  Mile markers every five miles.

It seems to me that if you're that bad of a navigator that you need interstate-like mile markers to tell you where you are (especially on a canal), then maybe you should find a new hobby.

The animals like cruising on canals and rivers much more than open water.  The view is better.

They seem to have taken over the bench seat behind the helm station when underway.  Here, they pile on top of each other and snooze, ocassionally awakening to take in the sights.

We eventually left the canal and were out in the Pungo River, which runs east and west.  The 25 knots of wind was out of the west, naturally.  What could be worse, I thought?  And then it started to rain.

Although this is a large body of water, it is very shallow and you have to stay in the channel, which is marked with day marks (red and green signs on poles stuck into the bottom, for my landlubber friends).  One smart thing that I decided on when outfitting Drift Away was installing top shelf electronics.  Between the chart plotter, radar, and AIS, I knew exactly where I was and what was around me, all integrated into one display.  Best money I ever spent.  I could be in pea soup fog in the blackest of nights and be able to navigate accurately and safely.

The rain soon stopped and it was time to turn on the windshield wiper.

The entry into Belhaven was easy.  There is a really nice breakwater that protects the town.  We hung a right just inside the breakwater and were soon tied up to a dock at River Forest Marina. 

In the photo above, you can see the marina's own stone breakwater on the left side of the pic, and the town's long wooden breakwater beyond.

And we had another first.

Our first pelican.

And although I don't have any photos, there was another first.  The marina's courtesy car isn't a car.  It's a golf cart.  Pam and I hopped in and rode all around Belhaven in a golf cart, mixed in with the locals in their cars and trucks.  Great fun!

This was  certainly a day of firsts.


  1. I enjoyed that read. Thanks Pam & Dave

    Rick & Lori

  2. Give River Dunes in Oriental a try they have a courtesy car and the most incredible showers. It was 1.25 a ft when we were there. The town itself doesn't have much going on but does have an interesting consignment shop for boaters.

  3. River Dunes is wonderful. Their restaurant is a little pricey, but you would enjoy the ambience. It's absolutely beautiful. They have washer/dryer, and a workout room, and pool.

  4. With good weather you'll be in Myrtle Beach in only a week and a half! Sure enjoy reading your blog!