Alligator River, NC (Sunday 4/28)
We left New Bern at 6:00 am with the hope that we could take the Neuse River east where it dumps to the Pamlico River, then the Pamlico Sound and eventually up to the Albemarle River. After that we would be in protective waters and would go to an anchorage just south of Coinjock for the evening. We also knew we had two bailout options and could take either one of those fairly early in the journey, but once we passed the second one we were committed to the plan.
Once out on the Neuse River it was fairly calm and we made great time. We passed Oriental, NC to our north and continued heading east as planned. We crossed over where the ICW intersects the Neuse River (first bail-out point) and although the wind had picked up, we opted to continue on. As we made our way further east, the waves started to build. The more we continued, the more it became apparent that the wind and waves would just get progressively worse, and we did not want to get beat up once we got to Albemarle Sound.
So once we crossed the Brant Island Shoal we took the second bailout, and headed up the Pamlico River. By the time we turned north up the protected Pungo River, the wind was really blowing and the waves had developed a chop with some white caps. We definitely made the right call. Here is a picture of the chart and the route:
Now the question became where to stay the night. If the weather was going to be great, there were plenty of anchorages, including in South Lake where we stayed in 2015. But it was forecasted to be very windy for the next two days, there would be no crossing the Albemarle River, and we knew we had to stay put somewhere. We also had to have internet and cell access as we had work to do for clients.
Looking ahead, we made reservations for 2 nights at the Alligator River Marina; a place just north of the Alligator River Swing Bridge which shuts down if winds exceed 25 mph. This allows us to stage for the crossing when the weather improved. The downside to this marina is that there is nothing there. It literally is a gas station with about 30 slips, but the reviews were great as they had clean restrooms, laundry, a cruisers lounge and great customer service. More importantly, they had great WIFI. But it is in the middle of nowhere.
Heading north up the Pungo River we had to pass the town of Belhaven and the Dowry Creek Marina. As we approached we reconsidered our plans to go to Alligator River Marina and decided to turn in here. We had stayed here in 2017 and really liked the place. Although not downtown Belhaven, they have a loaner car that would enable us to spend two days near a town with amenities, and they had free laundry. We called them to determine availability, and once confirmed we turned off the river and up the channel to their marina. Even though it still was before noon we had already traveled 67 miles.
After we docked and settled the boat, we discovered not only did they not have good cell service (like NONE), they had lost their large antennae in the storm on Friday night and had no internet out in the marina. They did have a hotspot set up in the cruisers lounge and we were able to use that 24-7 if we wanted to. As we checked in, we expressed our concerns. The owner of the marina was very understanding and really put forth the effort for finding a solution, including checking out the library in town for their hours. She let us reconsider our stay and told us we could pay later. We checked out the speed of the WIFI in the cruisers lounge and discovered it painfully slow. Then we went back the boat and attempted several other options – none of them worked. If we would have had just cell coverage or just internet, we could have made it work. However, without either one of these for 2 days, it was not doable. So we informed the marina we would be leaving, and they were very understandable. We untied the dock lines and continued on our way up the ICW. Fortunately, (and mainly because we had no way to call) we had not cancelled the reservation at the Alligator River Marina.
Then next 30 or so miles was quite boring, traveling on the Pungo River, and then the Alligator-Pungo Canal. We passed only a handful of boats along the way and for 20 of the miles, there was no cell coverage; the only part of the ICW we have ever not had it.
Eventually we came to the Alligator River which is a wide-open body of water, with only part of it deep enough to cruise across. In a lot of ways it reminds us of the Indian River back home. We no longer had the protection of the trees or the narrowness of the canal, and it was a bit bumpy but tolerable. We passed a crabber who was out working the crab pots, but other than that there were no other boats.
Finally we came to the Alligator River Swing bridge, requested it to be opened, and the bridge tender did so promptly. Once on the other side we made the left turn into the channel that would take us to the Alligator River Marina. There are rock jetties on both sides of the entrance and when combined with the wind and waves made for a squirrely passage into the small harbor. The dockhand was waiting for us to grab a line, and his help was appreciated as docking was a huge challenge. Mark did a great job despite the wind and current wanting to slam our boat into the docks. It took a while to settle the boat with additional lines and fenders, but finally we did. Even though it was only 1:30 in the afternoon we had cruised 101 miles.
Since it had been over week, Mark decided the boat needed a wash and proceeded to scrub the salt off of everything. Denise got caught up on some photo cataloging, blog writing, and checking in with family. We also met some of the other boaters who were at the marina, including San and Lisa (“Panacea”) who are Loopers and were from Southern California, and Bob and Laurie (“New Horizon”) from Rock Hall, MD.
The Alligator Marina office is really a gas station, and also offers a small “to go” restaurant. But it stops serving at 5:30 pm and offers a very limited menu. It attracts mostly a lunch crowd of people on their way back to the mainland from the Outer Banks. Given this, we chose to eat a pre-home cooked chicken dish in from our freezer for dinner. The wind had died down and the marina was quiet so we were able to relax a bit. Because we had a decent internet connection we were able to watch the news and stream TV before retiring for the night.
Alligator River, NC (Monday 4/29)
Although we went to bed when all was quiet, we were awaken around 11 pm by fierce winds. The boat was really rocking and the water was loudly slapping the hull. The wind had shifted from the South to the North and the water funneled into the marina causing a rolling motion. It reminded Denise of the 4 miserable days in Grand Haven, Michigan in 2015. It was hard to get back to sleep and when we did, it was hard to stay asleep; it was that way all night long. In the morning when we got up we noticed the north wind brought in cool weather again. It was 52 degrees and back to long pants and jackets.
Denise spent the morning doing a few loads of laundry while Mark did some work, repaired the binoculars (broken yesterday) and took a nap. Between loads of laundry, Denise made a contribution to the 1000 piece puzzle that was in the cruisers lounge and got caught up on some emails.
After lunch we spent the rest of the day working for our clients. Between client calls Denise finished the last blog post and we watched other boats showing up in the marina. Everyone was now staging to cross the Albemarle River on Tuesday when the wind is (finally) supposed to die down. By the time 5:00 rolled around, there were around 15 boats and we all gathered in the cruiser’s lounge for “docktails”. We met many new cruisers, some were Loopers and a few were not. We all were comparing notes with most everyone planning to depart in the early morning before the wind had a chance to build again.
We went back to the boat for another meal on board and for planning out our next few days. We walked around the marina for some exercise and then back to the boat for the evening before the mosquitos could carry us off.