Alligator River Marina – ICW, NC – Thursday, 5/6
During the night it rained quite a bit, and the wind was blowing the boat all around. Since there was no longer any boat in front of us on the dock, there was nothing to block the waves which slammed against the hull making it very loud. At one point this woke us both up and Denise moved to the main salon in order to (finally) get some sleep. When Denise got up at dawn, she awoke to much cooler weather. The previous few days had temperatures in the high 80’s and it was really humid. But today, it was back in the mid-50’s and was a welcome relief. Unfortunately, the boat still had a bunch of bugs all over the cockpit, but there was far fewer than in the previous few days
Denise got a chance to get in a run and chose the residential section of town. Here she passed by some beautiful homes; some new, some older and restored, and some just old!
She also ran down towards the River Forrest Marina and Manor house; a colonial inn that entertained celebrities and the rich in its day. Recently it was restored to how it was in its heyday, and serves as an inn, marina, and a wedding venue as well as for other activities.
Our plans were to leave today and we had decided a later departure was better than early so we could get to the Albemarle Sound around noon when the wind was supposed to subside for a few hours. This should give us time to go west and into the town of Columbia, NC. Since Mark was ready to leave shortly after 9:00, we pulled away from the dock and headed out of the marina a bit earlier than planned. It was breezy on the Pungo River as we passed the breakwater and said good-bye to the town of Belhaven.
We made our way back to the ICW and had smooth cruising for several miles without issue on the Pungo River. We passed a few of the boats that had left the marina ahead of us, including friends on “Ginger Gale”. Shortly thereafter the ICW enters the Pungo Canal. Here is a little bit of information about this area of the ICW:
The Pungo River is a river in eastern North Carolina, which originally began in the Great Dismal Swamp in Washington County, North Carolina; the upper part of the river has since been supplanted by the Pungo River Canal. The Pungo River Canal is a 21-mile canal that connects the Pungo River with the Alligator River to its east. It was dug in the 1950s to improve drainage of local farmland. The river flows southeast and forms part of the boundary between Beaufort County and Hyde County. The river then widens dramatically, turns west, and flows past Belhaven, North Carolina before joining the Pamlico River near Pamlico Sound.
We had few boats or docks to pass along this canal area, so we were able to maintain a good speed through this remote area and make good time. Once through the Pungo Canal (also called the Pungo-Alligator Canal) we entered the Alligator River where the north wind was blowing enough to cause whitecaps on the short 1’- 2’ waves. It was bumpy but tolerable. But, we knew it would be worse once we got out onto the Albemarle Sound, which was at least 45 minutes away. About half-way through the Alligator River, we decided it was just not going to be a good day on the Albemarle, even though we would be going west until the Scuppermong River where Columbia was; a distance of less than 20 miles. Instead we called the Alligator Marina located just before the Albemarle Sound, to see if they could take us for the night. Thankfully, they could, so we adjusted our itinerary and pulled in there for the night.
As we went under the Alligator River Bridge the wind was whipping on our nose and when we turned into the channel to take us to the marina. The winds and waves were now abeam and they were pushing us to the left (towards the bridge) and outside the channel. Since there are rocks that make up the breakwater entrance into the marina, this takes a bit of concentration, but Capt. Mark did a great job and kept the boat from crashing into the rocks. Denise waited inside to prepare the boat for docking until after we were through the breakwater, as it wasn’t worth the risk of a wave knocking her down, or worse – overboard.
Once we had the boat docked and settled, we went to the marina office (the gas station) to check in.
The Alligator River Marina is really like an outpost in the days of the Wild West; people only stop here on their way to and/or from somewhere else. The good news is that this “outpost” is undergoing some nice improvements. They are in the process of rebuilding the boardwalk around the entire marina, adding a walkway where previously you were forced into the gravel road or grass. There are amenities (laundry, restrooms, cruiser’s lounge, fresh water, etc.) which make it a good stopover before going out or coming from the Albemarle. But there is nothing else here. Road travelers stop at the gas station because it is on the main highway to the Outer Banks, so it has the requisite souvenirs and touristy t-shirts. But the cruiser’s all know it as a safe haven, and for their famous fried chicken in the deli.
In the afternoon, we had work to do and Mark had a scheduled conference call. Denise also started work on the previous blog. We talked with a few other cruisers who were in the marina, two of whom had tried to cross the Albemarle earlier, but came back because it was too rough. It seemed like we made the correct decision.
And then the wind died down as planned, albeit 3 hours later than originally forecasted. This had us doubting ourselves for an early departure from Belhaven and for too early an arrival to the Albemarle. It was now flat out there and we could have made it to Columbia. We had been tracking our friends Evelyn & Clark (“Sunset Delight”) who had been hours behind us, hoping to eventually connect with them. Using Nebo (a marine tracking app) we saw that they were now passing us and heading out into the Albemarle. Denise sent them a text and they reported back over the course of the next hour that it was flat and calm. Oh well!
Since we were here, we had to indulge in the famous fried chicken dinner, which was good but not as good as it used to be when the previous owners of the marina cooked it. We also both agreed that the fried chicken at Publix was still much better!
After dinner we talked with family members, then completed and published the latest blog. We also looked at the weather for tomorrow and for the next coming days and altered our travel plans one more time. We will have maybe 2 good days of the next 5 to travel the Albemarle, so we changed our itinerary again: we are not going to Columbia, but on to Edenton for 2 nights, then to the Albemarle Plantation for 2, or possibly 3 nights. Then we will head out of NC and into Virginia towards Norfolk. Of course, all this is dependent on the weather (mostly wind speed and direction) as we are not in any hurry to get any where.