48. E-City to B-fort

It was a gray and clammy night at the Jenette Brothers dock, and the next morning was even more gray and clammy. Patches of thicc mist and thin fog wafted around, making for unreliable visibility. It was the kind of day that encouraged terrible people like me to make insensitive and tasteless jokes about good people like Ray Charles.

Sorry Ray

Back in the olden days, before I had my fancy-ass radar-o-matic, I might have given my departure plans a second thought. Now that Sylphide had finally joined the 20th century though, I had no qualms about getting underway. Anyway, the overall trend seemed to be one of improvement.

The Elizabeth City Bridge operator did not share in my qualmlessness, however. Apparently the bridge is operated remotely, and the only view the operator had of his domain was provided by a camera at the bridge. I’m guessing the camera was of questionable quality, because he said he couldn’t see the other side, and wouldn’t open until he could.

I wished I’d known that before I left the dock, but since I could see both sides of the bridge just fine from a few hundred feet away, I figured he’d be back in business in no time. So, I opted to just float there and wait. The current and wind were both basically nonexistent, so it didn’t take much effort to sit still.

After twiddling my thumbs for a while, I realized I was hungry, and decided to use my free time to fry up some breakfast. I had about a metric ton of potatoes I needed to use, courtesy of a hapless Instacart shopper, so homefries seemed like a good idea. As any good pessimist would have predicted, the bridge started opening just as the potatoes reached their peak level of doneness. By the time I cleared the bridge, I was trailing a fug of slightly burnt onions.

Don’t cook and drive, kids.

As I masticated my immolated tubers, I noticed an unusual building peeking out of the fog toward the southwest. It was a big stretched out dome kind of thing, with clamshell doors at the ends. It would have made one hell of a Jello mold, but I’m pretty sure it was a blimp or airship hangar. Alas, there were no sky whales to be seen. Maybe next time.

As the Pasquotank River widened out, the skies continued to clear, and the sun burned off the rest of the fog. The wind stayed calm, and when we met the big scary Albemarle Sound, it was flatter than a mashed cat. It was a perfect day to cross.

About halfway across, I noticed the horizon started getting a little fuzzy again. By the time we were two thirds of the way, the fog had socked back in. Visibility was maybe a hundred yards at points, and several small targets came and went across my radar screen without ever being picked up by the ol’ Mk 1 eyeball. This was the first time I’d really needed this unit, and I was pretty impressed by what it was able to pick up.

One target in particular was more interesting than the rest. It was bigger than the others had been, likely something similar in size to Sylphide. She seemed to be making a similar speed too. Maybe a touch faster. They were coming down from the Coinjock route, and looked to be heading to the same spot I was. This point was driven home by the big red flashing AIS symbol that was kind enough to show me exactly where the shipwreck would be, if we both continued as we were.

As an aside, on the Great Lakes, channel 16 on the VHF radio- the international hailing and distress frequency, is often gummed up with lots and lots of chatter. It’s at it’s worst during sunny summer weekends, when every jerk who owns a radio somehow feels it’s his sacred patriotic duty to ask for a radio check at least once every eight minutes. After most of those radio checks, the Coast Guard tries to get them to knock it off, usually with the tone of a parent who’s ‘had it up to here with your bullshit, Kevin.’ It never works. The result is an endless cacophony of squeals, clicks, and static, people blowing out their mics by screaming at point blank range, drunken renditions of Sweet Caroline, and even the occasional numnomnom sounds of a baby trying to eat the mic. It can sometimes be really difficult to resist the urge to slowly pour your hot coffee into the back of the radio, just to make it stop.

This doesn’t seem to be the case on the coast. Even in busy harbors like New York and Norfolk, 16 tends to be mostly quiet. Out in the sticks on a rainy Tuesday, it’s perfectly normal to not hear a single transmission all day. This is why I sometimes forget that I even have a radio, and why it usually scares the ever-loving bejesus out of me when someone calls me.

This is what happened when the cruiser in the fog called me.

When I managed to remove my claws from the ceiling, and coax my heart rate back down into the triple digits, I answered back. It was just a friendly ‘hey, I see you there. Do you see me?‘ kind of thing. We confirmed that we were both headed for the Alligator River swing bridge, and that he would beat me to it. And so it came to pass.

After a short wait, we were through the bridge, and heading south on the Alligator river. The visibility came and went several more times as fog banks rolled through. The wind stayed in the low single digits, and the ride stayed smooth.

Eventually we reached the bottom end of the river, where I found my usual anchorage was already full. There was a smattering of other anchorages in the area, but none were great. Most didn’t offer much weather protection, and there weren’t many reviews from other users. Many of the notes warned of anchors getting tangled up with crap on the bottom. My charts didn’t show much detail in those areas either. It didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies, but it would have to do.

So I picked a spot, and waded in as slowly as I could. I circled a few times like a sleepy dog getting ready for a nap, triple checked the forecast and tide chart, and dropped anchor in about seven feet of murky, alligator colored water.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the most remote places I’ve anchored in. From this spot, it’s hard to see evidence of civilization in any direction. Aside from the handful of anchor lights over yonder, there isn’t a single light on the horizon. Not even the faint glow of some distant town. It’s also absolutely quiet. No hum from a highway or airport or factory. Just the occasional fish jumping, or gurgle of water lapping at Sylphide’s quarters. There was exactly no cell service.

I treated myself to dinner and a movie, followed by a beverage on the lido deck under the Milky Way. It was all very peaceful and romantic, until a sixty pound Great White Egret very ungracefully landed in a heap on the roof a few feet from me. In the silence, it sounded like somebody dropped a bell tower down a flight of stairs into a blender full of forks. It’s really difficult to imagine how the Halifax Explosion could possibly have been any louder.

Needless to say, I was slightly startled by this development, causing me to do a bad comedy spit-take, and nearly fall over backward in my chair. This commotion alarmed the idiot bird, who somehow hadn’t seen me. It squawked loudly at me, scrabbled for purchase with it’s long stupid legs, like something from a Scooby Doo cartoon, and clumsily lurched back into the air.

I went to bed.

The next day dawned warm and dry and still. There was no fog to speak of. Coffee was made, fluids were checked, switches were flipped, keys were turned, and buttons were pressed. The anchor came up without a hitch, much to my relief, and we got to splashin’ good and early. Most of the anchorage had cleared out ahead of me, but one that hadn’t looked to be a Southerly 38, as made famous my YouTubers Nick and Terysa of Sailing Ruby Rose.

The Alligator Pungo canal was as straight as I remembered, and made for an easy, relaxed, and uneventful cruise. The same could be said for the Pungo River, too. In fact, the entire fifty mile day was pleasant, but unremarkable.

The overnight stop at the end of this leg was one that I’d been looking forward to. After passing by the RE Mayo Seafood dock a couple of times on previous trips, I decided it was somewhere I wanted to stop next time. There was something about it that reminded me of a roadside stop along Route 66.

It’s a commercial seafood dock. It’s primary function is to be a safe place to moor their fleet of fishing vessels, and to unload, process, store, and distribute the product they catch. They just happen to have more dock space than they need, and you can tie up there.

It is not a marina. There’s no clubhouse, pool, courtesy car, or bathhouse. There are outhouses. There are only a few places to plug in your shore power cord, but they’re probably already taken by the time you arrive. There’s plenty of free water to fill up your tanks, but the hose is a little grubby, and the water has… let’s say flavor. The docks themselves are charmingly ramshackle, but sturdy enough for fishing vessels that are an order of magnitude larger than Sylphide. It’s very cheap. The staff are very friendly and helpful, but their first priority might be to drive the forklift, or pack the catch in the freezer. Their store has a wide variety of stuff, from shackles to postcards to seafood that might have been plucked from the ocean this morning. The only way to get something fresher is to go out and get it yourself.

My haul

The biting gnats were biblical, forcing everyone to seek the shelter of a screen, but otherwise I enjoyed my stay at RE Mayo. I’ll definitely be back. I was underwhelmed by my first ever Moon Pie experience, though. They’re kinda dry and crumbly… meh.

The next day was a beautiful one. It was sunny and warm, with just the right amount of breeze. The sky was it’s best shade of blue, with the correct number of friendly, fluffy white clouds. There was just enough of a sea to remind me that I was on a boat. The easy, comfortable pitching was just enough to throw a little extra splash into the bow wave now and then. Crossing the Neuse River was an absolute joy in these conditions.

Being a lovely Sunday, there were gobs of other boaters out with me. It wasn’t crowded, though. There were just enough to add to the scenery, and to the fun. The sailors were actually sailing, and there were plenty of colorful spinnakers ballooning around.

We were eventually funneled into Adams Creek, where I spotted one of the first Palmetto trees of the trip. It was a sure sign that I was heading in the right direction.

Adams Creek turns into Core Creek somewhere along the way, and I fell in with a parade of other cruisers. The channel was narrow, and there was regular oncoming traffic, so I couldn’t pass, but I didn’t really want to. I was nearing the end of the cruise, and was in no hurry for it to be over, so I throttled back a bit, and took my place in line. As we passed the Jarrett Bay boat works, the resident dolphins came out to say hello, as they have 100% of the time in my experience.

Soon enough, our caravan of boats found it’s way to Beaufort, where I’d reserved a slip at Homer Smith for six weeks. It was about time for me to head back to work, and give Sylphide a break. I ended up at the exact same dock as the last time I was there, with the exact same neighbors, too. This was a good thing, since the fella on the other side of my dock was full time liveaboard, and a part time staff member at the marina. He was also just an all-round good dude. I couldn’t think of anyone better to keep half an eye on things while I was away.

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