As I suspected the weather was less than inspiring. We crept out of the Waterside Marina in the rain; rain that got steadily worse and worse. Fortunately the wind wasn’t bad and as we were driving from inside – which the huge windows on the F48 make it a pleasure to do – we were all snug and warm so it really didn’t matter too much at all.
There were going to be a number of bridges to negotiate on this section of the ICW and thankfully the kind folk at Waterside Marina had furnished us with a list of bridges and locks, plus the opening times, VHF call-signs and the distance between them.
It wasn’t long before we got to our first bridge. There was a flotilla of boats drifting around, trying not to bump into each other and waiting for the bridge to open. As if by magic, as we pulled up the bridge opened. This was the way it worked all the way down this stretch of the ICW. Bridges just opened as we approached, our timing must have been absolutely perfect.
Not long after we passed through the first couple of bridges I noticed a sign saying ‘The Great Dismal Swamp’. Apparently, this route is regularly travelled by those making the trip up and down the east coast but generally only by those hardy folk who don’t mind brushing away overhanging trees as they pass by and who also don’t worry about the odd snake falling on the deck – I breathed a sigh of relief as we steered to port, away from what should be renamed, ‘The Trial By Death channel’.
We snaked (sorry) our way down the channels and bit by bit covered the 35 or so miles to our next stop Coinjock, which was for fuel. Handy tip: Don’t use your last drops of fuel getting to Waterside Marina in Norfolk…
Coinjock is in the middle of nowhere. There’s a long straight stretch of the ICW, with a high bridge in the distance (if you’re going south, that is) and a huge line of moorings to tie up to. I guess this is a well-known and equally well frequented stopping off point.
As well as that all important fuel, there’s also a small shop and a restaurant.
The shop sells Coinjock t-shirts, would you believe. I was sorely tempted to get one but then I remembered I’d already lashed out $25 on a Stars & Stripes hard hat I found in Home Depot, that was enough reckless expenditure for one trip:
It wasn’t long before the tanks were full and we were on our way again.
Mile after mile we wound our way south. Then all of a sudden the channel started to widen and open out into the North River, closely followed by a huge expanse of water which turned out to be over 40 miles wide and 15 miles across. This massive ‘lake’ is known as Albemarle Sound. I still find it weird to be almost able to touch the trees at the side of the channel one minute and then to be on a body of water so large that it has an horizon the next.
On the opposite side of the sound is the start of the Alligator River. I’m not certain whether there were alligators in this river and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to find out but one thing I can tell you for certain, the water was the most amazing colour. I pondered on this for a while and came to the conclusion that it must be to do with the process of decay and petrification that was happening to all the fallen trees in the river.
The great hazard on the ICW, that nobody seems to mention, is the tree stumps lurking just beneath the surface. These must surely be the result of the clearing that took place to create the waterway in the first place – never go too close to the edge; stay in the middle!
All of a sudden the river becomes a canal. Straight as a die for almost 10 miles and then, after a sharpish left, straight as a die again for nearly 10 more miles – surreal!
Eventually, we came out into another ‘ordinary’ river, the Pungo River.
A short distance down the river and we had arrived at our night stop, ‘Dowry Creek Marina’. We had a lovely welcome, made extra special by the free bottle of Black & Tan beer which we had thrust into our hands. The ‘marina’ backed onto a wood of epic proportions. It seemed to me that these kind folk were the only human beings for miles but apparently we were welcome to borrow their car and go into town if we so desired – TOWN! There was nothing there; we might as well have been on the moon! Well, that’s how it looked from the dock.
Fortunately, Chris knew the captain and crew on another boat which was just behind us and they were stopping here for the night too. We had an invitation to dinner and this was one invitation we were not going to turn down.
After a wonderful evening swapping tales of the high seas and the low ICW, we dashed back to our boat – raining again – and went straight to bed. We had an early start and a long day ahead of us if we wanted to make some decent progress the next day.
And here’s the sunrise that greeted me as I stepped onto the dock the next morning…
And another shot for good measure!
Our new friends had left early. Yes, even earlier than us! The best speed they could make without using a serious amount of fuel was 9 knots, so it’s only to be expected that they were keen to get going. We knew we’d catch them up and over take them again – it had become a mutual challenge!
It wasn’t long before we’d left the marina and were heading towards the end of the Pungo River. Part of the way down another amazingly straight stretch of canal, we came across the RE Mayo Co, Inc.
They don’t seem to sell much there but the signage advertises the fact that you can buy fuel and seafood; unlikely bedfellows I reckon, but hey-ho.
The Bay River eventually came into view and ordinarily there wouldn’t be much to say about this stretch of the ICW, just another bit of river. However, as we rounded the last bend we saw our friends stopped in the middle of the river and hanging around at the stern of their boat was a US Coastguard boat with its blue light flashing.
This was too funny. There had been some friendly banter going back and forth between our two boats, as you might imagine and this was going to be material worth its weight in gold!
As we glided past, exceptionally slowly of course, trying to disguise huge grins and nodding sagely at the same time, the VHF came to life, “I wouldn’t go too far, you’re next”, came across the airwaves.
As it turned out, the Coastguard officers were stopping everyone for a routine safety check; which we passed with flying colours of course!
Mind you, Chris couldn’t believe it when I stopped them getting off our boat to take a picture!
Once we had said our goodbyes and waved a hearty farewell to the USCG, who Chris insisted on giving our last Snicker bars to, we quickly made our way down to Morehead City. A short fuel stop and a bite to eat and we headed out into the Atlantic once more.
Cape Fear is notoriously rough, in much the same way as Cape Hatteras is. However, the sea was virtually flat and this was an opportunity not to be missed. Frankly, any more driving through ditches would have driven me nuts.
Chris was determined that we needed to go around the bottom of the Frying Pan Shoals and I was happy to defer to his local knowledge but as we got closer it became apparent that the sea was so flat it wouldn’t hurt to go across the shoals; so we did. We stayed out quite away – far enough down that we wouldn’t fall foul of any underwater obstacles but high enough up that we could claim to have defeated the ‘monster’. OK, it’s not really a monster but it’s surprising what banal conversations you have when you’ve just spent 4 hours driving in a straight line at 20 knots!
Anyway, we rounded the cape and headed into Bald Head Island Marina. This is a beautiful and exclusive island, only reachable by water. Everyone drives around in golf carts and looks as though they are having the time of their lives – what a splendid place to pull up for the night.
So, a quick re-cap: Thus far, we had travelled from Connecticut, passed through New York, along the New Jersey shore, skirted Delaware, stopped in Maryland, run through Virginia and now we were moored up in North Carolina – 7 States in 5 days and we’re feeling pretty smug!
I don’t have a picture of Bald Head Island marina as it was dark when we arrived and dark when we left but as we’re celebrating how about a picture of a very colourful house where the owners look as though they like to celebrate too?
Into the Carolinas and onwards to Florida – check back in for the next exciting installment!
This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure. If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.