New Year in Belhaven
06 January 2009 | Beaufort, NC
For our next leg down the ICW, from Coinjock to the Alligator River on Monday, 29 December, we had to don our foulies (foul-weather gear) early on since we were greeted by showers of rain. Strider and her Swiss and English companions pointed south at first light and straight away were confronted by a huge barge pushed by a tugboat going north. However, since the tugboats apparently do much of the channel dredging on the ICW and since we were obviously no size match we graciously gave way to the edge of the channel.
Down the North River and into the 14-mile Albemarle Sound, Strider's crew sat in her open cockpit getting a bit drenched, but nonetheless enjoying the scenery around us. In the river, we had north winds of 15 to 20 kts to help us along, and for a short while could raise the genoa, but when we hit the sound, the wind subsided and we had calm waters. We were fairly grateful, since the sound is renowned for having "confused seas", even in light winds.
Soon we reached the mouth of the Alligator River, and after some initial confusion about the intentions of a fourth yacht travelling behind us, the bridge tender opened the river swing bridge and we glided through in single file. After a further 22 miles, we anchored just off the channel close to Deep Point in the Alligator River. Patricia and Thierry (whose boat draws the least) surveyed the water depth and radioed the results to the other two. Here we had the opportunity to test our new Delta anchor, and after an initial hitch with the footswitch Strider's hook was dropped and we could relax and enjoy our surroundings. We had done about 50 statute miles for the day and were all pretty exhausted!
However, once we were all settled, the deep red sunset and early evening turned out to be one of the highlights of our ICW trip so far. We were in the middle of nowhere, and the silence was indescribable. Ferdi said our surroundings reminded him of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. Later on after supper, we stood quietly on deck and gazed at the crescent moon and the myriad of stars above us, the silence broken only by an owl or small night animal (OK, and a couple of F-18 Hornet fighter jets tearing through the stars on some night manoeuvre).
The next day (Tuesday) at dawn, we weighed anchor, left Deep Point astern and were soon on course again down the canal between the Alligator and Pungo rivers. We were looking out for the black bears reportedly inhabiting the area, but only saw some deer by the canalside, at the same time keeping a sharp lookout for stumps and snags and other hazardous (to a sailboat) objects.
After about 21 miles down the canal, we entered the Pungo River, and after negotiating a lower-than-regulation fixed bridge (64 ft) and breathing a sigh of relief as our VHF antenna remained intact, we arrived at our next anchorage, in Pentango Creek just outside the small town of Belhaven. After settling, we lowered the dinghy from its davits on the transom to go ashore, but couldn't get our yet untested 15 hp Yamaha outboard to work properly (the captain surmised this was because water had found its way into the petrol), so Ferdi and Wimpie rowed to the local marina to obtain the necessary juice.
For the next three days, strong winds and cold weather prevented us from proceeding further. On Wednesday (the 31st) we didn't leave the boat at all. A north-west gale of between 20 and 25 mph, gusting up to 43 kts, caused Strider to hobby-horse from time to time, and we had to keep an eye on our position on the GPS constantly. At around 11am, we discovered we were dragging our anchor and were headed for the channel, and had to reset rapidly. As the day went on, the wind increased and the wave crests in the creek started to break. We eventually had a 70m anchor chain out to increase our scope! We didn't drag again, however. Plans to have a New Year's meal on Strider with our friends from Shiver and New Life were scuppered since understandably, no-one wanted to leave their boats unattended under these conditions.
New Year's Day brought much better weather. After listening to the weather reports, we conferred early with our fellow travellers via VHF, and everyone agreed that although the wind had turned northerly and had died down considerably, it was too cold to set off and we should wait till Saturday. So we went to shore in the dinghy for a shower at the marina (again rowing, since our outboard is still being stubborn). I think I have mentioned before on this blog how small things can give such pleasure when one lives aboard a boat - our New Year hot shower was certainly one of them! Afterwards, we rented a golfcart (!) from the marina and set off to the nearest grocery store. It took us about half an hour to cover the four miles to get there. We must have looked a bit odd crawling down the main road in our little cart among all the oversized American SUVs!
In the evening we had our postponed New Year's supper with our friends. It was the first time we had had guests on Strider, and also the first time we had used the oven, which produced a fabulous leg of lamb thanks to the efforts of the captain, and also warmed up Strider's interior. Freddie and Marvin amused themselves in our cabin, and we all sat around our saloon table and aided by champagne and red wine covered very important (to yachties) topics such as the best way of maintaining the holding tank in the heads (boatspeak for the loo), "thornless" sailing routes to desired destinations, and other general boating issues and sailor's stories. The evening was over far too soon and at around 10pm our friends gathered up their (by then) sleeping little boys, braced the cold and sped off back to their own boats in their dinghies.
On Friday we had a long and lazy, relaxing day, again not leaving the boat. Ferdi made a thick, hearty soup, and we lay about, read and chatted. I'm presently reading Joshua Slocum's Sailing Alone Around the World - I don't think I will ever complain about anything on our boat after reading about his adventures alone on his sloop in the late 19th century!
Saturday greeted us with hardly any wind and the promise of a sunny day (on the ICW wind, unless directly astern, can be a bit challenging for a deep draught such as ours). We lifted anchor at daybreak and set off on our next leg, a 46 mile run to the village of Oriental. We went down the Pungo River, crossed the Pamlico River, travelled down Goose Creek and then Bay River and finally turned into Neuse River before we anchored at Oriental at around 3pm.
There is not much to report of the day's events except that we had discovered a problem with the windlass while weighing anchor at Belhaven that morning. Despite Ferdi and Wimpie's best attempts at repairing it en route (while I steered) the solution eluded us and we at first thought we were not going to be able to anchor in Oriental. However, we knew we had to make a plan after learning that none of the marina approaches in that town would cater for our draught. So the captain thought of Plan B - we would temporarily use our Danforth anchor on a rode instead of dropping the Delta. All went well until we followed New Life and Shiver into the planned anchorage at Oriental - and got stuck. The depth in the basin confluence of Smith and Greens creeks is extremely misleading, and what we thought (according to our charts) was a "safe" area turned out to be too shallow. Fortunately a friendly local couple in a passing powerboat towed us out and we put Plan B to work.
Once settled, Ferdi didn't want to leave Strider unattended, so I got a lift to shore with Patricia and Thierry in their dinghy (we have not yet had opportunity to fix our own outboard). The night was restless, since we worried constantly that variable winds would swing us into the shallower parts of the basin. Ferdi especially was up all night ensuring that we did not come unstuck again.
Sunrise on Sunday saw us off on our last leg of the ICW, to Beaufort, and not a day too soon! Although the ICW has been enjoyable and something different, the necessity of constant awareness of our depth has tired us somewhat and we can't wait to get back into the open ocean!
Approaching Beaufort (known locally as the "Gateway to the Caribbean") we had our first intoxicating whiff of sea air again - that and the sunshine glittering on the tranquil waters around us was an instant mood-lifter. As were some dolphins prancing about to starboard and the abundant birdlife (including large pelicans) in the Newport River.
We tied up at Beaufort Docks in Taylor Creek, and after a brief exploration of the town, hot showers and a quick meal, crashed into bed. After 11 days and 205 statute miles going down the ICW, also known here as The Ditch, we were exhausted! (To indicate how much we are now in need of the ocean again - when I got into bed, Ferdi, who had been asleep for an hour or so, told me: "Not here, love, it's too shallow....")
(See pics in Photo Gallery.)