Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

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Sunday, May 1  Dowry Creek Marina to Alligator River Marina
49.5 miles
We left Dowry Creek in the rain, confident that it would clear midday, as the weather radio predicted.  Unfortunately, since we got started at 7:25, we had four and a half hours of cruising in mostly dismal weather befoe the midday clearing began. 
The day's voyage had two main segments -- 2 1/2 hours in the Alligator River/Pongo River Canal, and 2 1/2 hours in the wide and shallow Alligator River.
Concerning the Alligator River/Pongo River Canal, the navigation chart warns "Both sides of the canal are foul with debris, snags, submerged stumps, and continuous bank erosion is caused by passing boats and tows. . . . consequently, navigation near mid-channel is recommended. . . Mariners are advised to exercise extreme caution when navigating the channel."  We observed all conditions noted, and added a dash of caution due to traversing it in the rain.
As the rain stopped, we emerged out of the canal into the Alligator River, with its own CAUTION noted on the chart: " Logs and snags are likely to be encountered in the Alligator River at all times."  We encountered no logs -- only 20 mph winds pushing two to three foot waves into our bow as we plowed up the wide and shallow river. 
The water that splashed onto our decks was the color of equal parts iced tea and ginger ale mixed together.  We hosed down the decks before we even disembarked -- this water looked like it was strong enough to make stains if it sat long enough. We do have a brown moustache stained on our bow from all the tannin-infused waters we have traveled so far, but we are not bothering to try to get rid of it, because it is renewed every day.  The official time to remove it is once we hit the Chesapeake Bay, the end of the tannin zone.
Alligator River Marina is 13 miles from the nearest town (Columbia) on Route 64, a road that seems in aerial photos to just disappear into pine forest stretching for miles. In the other direction, the road heads over a very very long highway bridge to a marsh preserve and on to the barrier islands. There are no side roads.  There are no paths in the woods.  The shoulder of the road is so narrow that walking it with cars and trucks whizzing by is quite unpleasant. Walking over the bridge is not an option.
The marina is associated with a Texaco gas station with a four table "restaurant" in the back by the rest rooms, and the griddle and fry area up front next to the cash register. There is no place else to shop or eat for 13 miles.
Why did we stop here?  Location.  It is a good day's trip from Dowry Creek and sits right before the dreaded open waters of the Albemarle Sound.  Since the wind is usually lighter in the morning, and picks up as the day goes on, many people travel to Alligator River Marina, stay overnight, then get an early start across the sound before its waters get riled up by the wind.  That was our plan.

Dogwood, state flower of North Carolina

In the meantime, since there is nothing going on here, it's a good time to cover a little bit about North Carolina symbols.  The state bird is the cardinal, just like Ohio.  The North Carolina license plate makes the claim, "First in Flight."  There is a bit of contention with Ohio about this claim.  The Wright brothers actually lived and worked in Dayton, Ohio when they started moving beyond bicycles and experimenting with flight.  They chose North Carolina's Outer Banks for their final testing and first flight because the sand softened their inevitable rough landings, and the strong winds off the ocean gave them extra help in taking off.
The state flower is the dogwood, in bloom here now.
The state motto is "Esse quam videri."   Translated to a tongue that more than .005% of North Carolinians understand, this means "To be, rather than to seem."  An essay on this motto should be a graduation requirement for all North Carolina High School students, I think. 
Monday, May 2, 2005  
Alligator River Marina to Elizabeth City Free Dock
36.3 miles
"Harbor of Hospitality"


We leave the Alligator River with a familiar North Carolina landmark, found in a most unlikely spot.  This looks like the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, an iconic image of North Carolina's Outer Banks.  The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is, at 210 feet, the nation's highest masonry lighthouse.  Back in 1999, it was moved 2,900 feet back from the shore to save it from being washed into the sea as the beach eroded.  The lighthouse in this photo is a miniature version, about 30 feet tall, marking the entrance to Alligator River Marina. 
Our passage to Elizabeth City was notable for three things.  First, the dreaded Albemarle Sound was smooth.  Second, we passed a blimp factory that makes all the blimps flown in the United States, except the Goodyear blimps.  The factory, reputed to be the largest wooden building in the world, looks like a blimp itself.  Third, we passed the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station -- home of one of the largest Coast guard commands in the country with over 2000 active duty and civilian employees.

Blimp factory

After we tied up to the dock, a cottonmouth water moccasin glided by our bow to welcome us to town.  We thought it was a cottonmouth, based on our attentive study of the lifelike models of the six venomous snakes of North Carolina at the Maritime Museum in Beaufort.  In case you are wondering, the other five venomous snakes are the copperhead, timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and eastern coral snake.  We hope not to see any of the others in our outdoor adventures here.
The highlight of our time in Elizabeth City was meeting the "Rose Buddies," the town's official boat welcoming committee whose mission is to help visiting cruisers stop and smell the roses in their "Harbor of Hospitality." (In their literature, this phrase carries a registered trademark symbol, but I can't figure out how to replicate it on my keyboard.)

Fred giving Gayl a rose of welcome

Shortly after we arrived, the original Rose Buddy, 91-year-old Fred Fearing, stopped by to welcome us and invite us to the wine and cheese reception the Rose Buddies host whenever five or more boats tie up at the city's free dock.  When Fred learned we were from Cincinnati, he didn't skip a beat before asking, "What's wrong with those Reds?"  Luckily we had read a paper someone discarded at our lunch stop, so we knew at least a little about their dismal performance so far this season.  Turns out Fred was a scout for the Reds way back when.
We had the afternoon to explore the city.  I took an hour at the library to work on website updates.  We are far behind, due to lack of Verizon coverage or wi-fi hotspots all along North Carolina's coast. I could have used three or more hours, but their one hour limit is strictly enforced.

A 1914 father's wedding gift to his daughter

We went to the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a 46-page booklet containing six historic walking tours of the city.  Wandering the streets kept us busy until the wine and cheese party, where we enjoyed the company of the Rose Buddies and our fellow boaters.  While we were socializing, the Fuji blimp floated overhead on a test flight.
For the first time on this trip, we crossed over boat type divisions to join sail boaters for dinner at an outstanding restaurant across the street from the docks.  Fine food and fine company -- these are getting to be boating themes for us.
After dinner, we did another walking tour by streetlight.  We just love this town.

To continue north to the Great Dismal Swamp, click here.