Almost to our Winter Home!

After leaving the Dismal Swamp, Elizabeth City, NC was the next town. Elizabeth City is known for its free docks which allow people to stay for free, with the expectation that the boaters will spend money in town.

Elizabeth City, the City of Hospitality (picture from last May when we stopped by)

There are three sets of free docks and, depending on which way you enter Elizabeth City, some are more convenient than others.

From Elizabeth City to New Bern, NC

There is a draw bridge that must be opened for most boats of cruising size. One set of free docks is on the southerly side and two sets on the northerly side. (I say southerly and northerly because the river twists and turns and I’m not exactly sure what the orientation is there.)

We were coming from the north, down the Pasquotank River from the Dismal Swamp so we decided to stay at Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MACU). There is a face dock there that will accomodate about three cruising size boats. There are also slips, but they have boats permanently in them, generally.

We walked over by the other two sets of docks. One is at a seafood processing place on the northerly side of the bridge. It is a face dock with room for a couple of boats. It has a “dock and dine” sign on it. If you dock there, you are expected to eat in one of the city’s restaurants, preferrably one that sells the seafood that runs through the business.

The other set of docks are slips on the southerly side of the bridge. These docks are run by the city and are slips running perpendicular to the city park. The finger piers there are very, very short, so people have to get out over their bows. Not an easy thing to do on our boat. (Perhaps you can stern in, but I don’t get the impression people do that much.)

The MACU docks we stayed at are run by a non-profit, Maritime Ministries. My vague understanding is that the docks were put in at some point by a grant…maybe by the city. Maritime Ministries and MACU have an arrangement where several of the ministry’s boats are docked at the university in exchange for things like offering sailing classes to university students and managing the transients who use the docks.

Dock at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. Looking toward Elizabeth City. The boats at the end of the dock are Maritime Ministries boats.

The docks are first come, first served. Fortunately, as we came around the corner, we saw the dock had just one boat on it, so there was room for us. We were met at the dock by Aaron. Elizabeth City has a tradition of giving a rose to arriving boaters, and sure enough, Aaron handed us a small sweet rose. The welcome packet had information about what to do in the city as well as a small gospel of John.

Blessings Flow on the MACU dock. The sailboat behind us is the Canadian family that we shared a dock with at the Dismal Swamp visitors center the previous night. .

I had communicated with the manager of Maritime Ministries several times regarding some ministry things, so I was very glad we were able to dock there. Dan, the manager, was not there, but Aaron and his wife Laura took good care of us. That night, they built a bonfire in the MACU fire pit and we sat around on porch swings and talked.

Aaron and Laura and family

We heard about their dreams for using their boat for ministry purposes. They are fitting out a ketch. He is a musician/songwriter and she is an artist. They have three children and a heart for helping youth and those in ministry. One potential use for the ketch is having respite sailing trips for ministers who need some time away and could never get a chance for a trip on a boat. Other plans involve youth.

We were able to pray with and for each other around the fire and it was a very sweet time. We stayed the allowed two days before heading out towards the Albermarle Sound.

Gazebo style fire pit with porch swings

The Albermarle Sound is a large body of water with several rivers running into it. Up many of these rivers is a historic town, such as Elizabeth City, with a waterfront that welcomes cruisers for up to two nights for free. The “Albemarle Loop” involves visiting each of these towns around the sound.

We had intended to do the Albemarle Loop on our way to New Bern, but we started looking at the upcoming weather and decided we needed to push on. The Albemarle can get quite rough and we didn’t want to be stuck in one place for a week waiting for it to calm down. We hope to do the Albemarle Loop next spring as we head north.

The Albemarle Sound was “OK” as we crossed. Not super calm, but not bad. The waves were from the rear quarter, which is a direction that our autopilot doesn’t like. It won’t hold a heading in those waves, so Lance had to hand steer. Not a bad thing, but it gets tiring.

Once across the Albemarle, we entered Alligator River. There is a draw bridge near the beginning of the river that we had to wait 10 or 15 minutes for, but it was not bad and there were not many boats jockeying for position.

On a boat, especially on a river with current or wind, you cannot just “park” the boat and wait. The boat doesn’t stay in one place. You have to be going forwards, backwards, etc. to keep the boat where you want it. Every one of the boats is doing that, so depending on the width of the channel, it can require a lot of attention.

The rivers around here are very wide, but the navigable channel is not. We have a route in our Navionics software and we had red/green markers to follow with our eyes. The water in the channel is probably 12-13 feet deep and the water outside the channel is significantly shallower, so you want to keep in the channel.

The Alligator River runs north/south and at the south end a canal has been cut that goes to the head of the Pungo River. Right before the entrance to the canal, the Alligator River turns west and narrows. The canal continues southerly. Where the river turns is a good place to anchor. There are several 6-8 foot spots and some 4-6 foot spots. We went past the entrance to the canal and carefully picked our way past 4 foot depths to a 6 foot pool. We left the 8 foot spots for the sailboats who would be coming in right up until dark.

It was a nice night on anchor. The land is very low. The elevation is probably not more than two or three feet with marsh grasses and some trees. When you are anchored in such a spot, you still get wind, but the land keeps the waves from getting big. It is a wildlife refuge, so the land is pretty wild and not developed. We got there around 2pm, so we had three hours or so to enjoy the sights around us before dark.

The next morning, we headed out down the Pungo-Alligator canal. You have to keep an eye out for floating logs, as always, and trees that may have recently fallen, but the canal was wide and deep enough to be able to avoid them. Boats go fast through here, so it is not unusual to get a big wake when someone doesn’t slow down.

Pungo-Alligator canal

The canal gave way to the Pungo River where the wild land gave way to home sites with docks.

Not far after the end of the canal, we stopped for the night at Dowry Creek Marina. Actually, we looked at the weather and the price of a week vs a night and we decided to pay for a week. If we stayed at least 5 nights, which was probable given the weather forecast, we would break even.

Dowry Creek Marina was a really great place to stay. They have free laundry and the bathroom/showers are individual bathrooms, like you would have at home. They even provide towels in the bathrooms for your shower! They have a courtesy car to get into nearby Belhaven for provisioning.

Dowry Creek Marina. There is quite a community of liveaboards here.
The land is low, but the houses are high! This is a new house on a lot across the road from the Pungo River. They can get a few feet of storm surge here, so they build for it.

It was Lance’s birthday the day we arrived, so we visited the Salty Crab, the restaurant on site, to celebrate both our birthdays. I finally got a good hamburger and Lance had a huge piece of flounder. We had an appetizer of cheese curds which were very, very tasty and which we ordered a couple more times for take-out during our stay.

There was a sign for the local Global Methodist Church on the bulletin board at the marina. We called the number and asked if there was someone who could give us a ride. It turns out the dockhand who was working there every day lived nearby and was the sound technician at the church, so he and his wife gave us a ride. It was a friendly and lively service. Unfortunately, we were not there for their “Fifth Sunday” potluck, as we heard there is shrimp and other low-country fare! Sorry to miss that!

We ended up staying at Dowry Creek five nights. When we left, we broke a long travel day into two short ones on the way to New Bern. We headed down the toward the mouth of the Pungo River, across the Pamlico River into Goose Creek and were soon in another cut/canal. This cut led us past a shrimp processing plant, R.E.Mayo, that sells fuel to the public and allows pleasure boats to tie up if there is room beside the shrimp boats. We didn’t stop then, but drove back in the car a few days later to buy some shrimp and take a look at things. After crossing the Bay River, we anchored in Bonner Bay.

Shrimp boats at RE Mayo company.

It is a wide looking bay, but quite shallow. The marsh lands around the Chesapeake and this area have duck blinds. Some are small structures on stilts, but the ones here just look like taller marsh grass.

Can you spot the duck blind camouflaged as tall marsh grass?

The next morning we woke to find three duck hunting boats sitting, with decoys, where we needed to traverse. We had to go right in the middle of them in order to stay in deep enough water. We went super slow so as to not mess up the dozens of decoys floating around their boats.

Duck hunting boat camouflaged as trees on the skyline

New Bern is up the Neuse River. The mouth of the Neuse, where it flows into Pamlico Sound is big water and we ran into some waves that were bigger than we like. It was that way until we turned a corner and were protected from the wind, about two-thirds through our day.

We were very happy to pull in to Northwest Creek Marina, a few miles downriver, south, from New Bern.

The docking was a bit tricky as it was stern in (backing into the slip) and you tie mostly to pilings, rather than a dock alongside, and it was in a stiff wind. Jeremy, the manager here at Northwest Creek Marina was there to catch our lines and he hopped aboard to tie to the pilings on both sides of the bow.

We were glad he was here, as we would not have known how to do the tie-ups in the front. Usually the eye of the line goes through the cleat on our boat, but in this case, he made a large loop to go over the piling and tied the bitter end to our cleat. It is going to take some doing whenever we leave for good, as we’ll have to get those loops back off the piling. But that’s a problem for another day. I imagine it will involve a boat hook.

Safely in our slip. If we look tired it is because we are!

We are home!