The next cruise route brought us further up the Pungo River, through the 20 mile Alligator – Pungo Canal, into the Alligator River to anchor for the evening. We were deep in North Carolina country, with lush greenery all around us, and miles of undeveloped land on either side of the rivers and canal. At least this time the Alligator River did not produce any dinosaurs for us, at least that we could see.
After navigating a swing bridge (which was actually pretty cool), we anchored off of the main channel, again limited by encroaching crab pots. The water was a bit rougher, so it was a quick dip into the river off the stern, holding onto the swim ladder, but we did it. We are nearing the end of our journey up to Virginia, and we are beginning to feel the tiredness from these past two weeks. It is a wonderful way to travel, but it will be nice to be in a marina, tied up to a dock, for a while, and to walk on solid ground. Just a few more days.
The anchorage was a bit rolly that evening, but we still slept pretty well. We got up in the morning to fog, which burned off before we weighed anchor. Kathleen had to circle the anchorage four times to help Neil clean the mud/clay gunk off the anchor, but before long we were on our way…. Only to see a tug pushing a large barge through the S curves of the channel ahead of us. After determining that it would not be smart to try to navigate these curves at the same time as this tug/barge, we turned around and slowly cruised back to our anchorage area, giving the tug/barge time to complete the curves and head into a straight away, where we were able to turn around again and head back up on our original track, passing them with greetings and plenty of room.
It was another day of slow travel, punctuated with anxious moments of crab pots, tight turns, and a very large bay (Albemarle Sound) to cross. The bay is very wide, ~12nm and the fetch (distance the wind can blow across, unimpeded) is HUGE, so waves build and push. We crossed the bay with no mishaps, and drove into the “backroads” of the river off of the bay to our final stop before reaching Virginia – Coinjock Marina, in Coinjock, NC
Coinjock Marina only has alongside dockage, a few hundred feet in length, beside the ICW. They do not waste an inch of space at this marina, with our anchor over the swim platform of the boat in front of us, and the anchor of the boat that came in behind us almost hanging over our transom.
We went to the marina bar/restaurant, and refreshed ourselves with beverages and sustenance (OK, slushie, beer, buffalo wings and calamari). After we wandered to the marina store, picking up the requisite tee shirts and locally made marmalade (we are both proudly addicted to orange marmalade – no judgement please.)
We dropped off our purchases and went for a walk to a “park just up the road.” It wasn’t far, but with no path off the road with a 55 mph speed limit, it was not quite a leisurely stroll. We did notice that northern NC has the most AMAZING dragonflies everywhere – they are huge, and beautiful. The “park” was actually a large boat ramp, so after walking along the water for a bit, we headed back to our boat to relax.
The marina restaurant had two amazing features: wonderful reviews with outdoor dining, and a five minute walk from our boat. We decided to treat ourselves and were not disappointed. It is definitely a local spot (as Coinjock is not a booming metropolis for people to explore), the food was great and the evening very temperate. Social distancing and facemasks were in force, and it was lovely to spend quiet time together enjoying someone else doing the cooking.
Our dockmates were a lively bunch, with good humor, lighted plastic palm trees and beach music. It’s hard not to be in a great mood with such an environment.
We slept well, using the air conditioning at night for the first time in a while.
Monday June 29th dawned clear and quiet. We aimed to push off the dock at 8:00 for our final day of cruising to our next destination, Portsmouth, VA. After coffee and catching up on the news of the day, we started getting the boat ready for departure. Kathleen made a quick trip to the marina bath house (and was disappointed by no TP), and hurried back to the boat to use our own facilities before we cast off. Somehow between hurrying and not paying attention, Kath slipped getting onto the boat, one foot/leg falling between the dock and boat into the water, and the other foot crumpling into a sprained mess on the boat. End result was a sprained ankle and fractured fourth toe (lots of purple, there). She made it 8 months on the boat without any injury mishap, which, knowing Kathleen, is actually kind of remarkable. The upside to being so “balanced challenged” is that we have a lot of orthopedic supplies on board, including ace bandages and an air cast. It was, however, a less than auspicious beginning to this final leg of our journey.
We cast off from the dock (Kathleen was able to get the lines off and back on the boat, even with a significant hobble), with some dockmates ensuring that neither our bow or stern took any additional boating materials with us from the vessels in front and behind us.
The journey up was stressful, as there was a lot of shoaling most of the way, with cross winds and crab pots. Neil drove 7 of the 8 hours, with Kathleen doing her best to keep an eye out (either with binoculars or just naked eye) for hazards, other boats, and directional day markers.
This cruise took us through very beautiful countryside, with a lot of undeveloped wilderness The canal is narrow, and there were many boats of various speeds on the water this day. We had a good time communicating with folks from all over (New Hampshire, Oregon, and Florida, to name just a few). As we journeyed north, we couldn’t help but notice a prolific amount of bridges as we got closer to more populated areas.
At one point, we were slowed by bridge opening timing, which should not have been a big deal. However, the next bridge opened only on the hour (many open on the hour and half hour), and we would have really liked to have made that opening. Unfortunately, a sailboat in front of us was traveling slower than necessary, and we miscalculated speed needed to make the opening. We got to the bridge moments too late and had to hang out for an hour. The upside was we got to see Work Knot again – a Nordhavn 57 whose owners we had met in Vero Beach earlier this year. Neil briefly chatted with them as they were docked at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, just south of the bridge. Once through, we were excited to experience our first lock experience. After communicating with the lock operator (and “quickly” moving fenders from starboard to port – “quickly” as this was Kathleen’s task), we tied bow and stern to the cleats and waited for the experience. It was less than we had built it up to be – Kathleen didn’t even notice the boat rising (the water level only changes about a foot). So much for early lessons for the Panama Canal some day…
Once through, we were able to maintain our normal cruising speed of ~7-8kts (having passed the sailboat and waved to him on our way) and proceeded north on the Elizabeth River to Tidewater Yacht Marina. It quickly became obvious that we were back in “civilization” with much commerce and marine business appearing on both shores.
There were many bridges to pass under while cruising up the Elizabeth River. The railroad bridges close intermittently for passing trains, so cannot time them.
We barely passed through two of the three normally open railroad bridges, they closed as soon as we were through. (Truthfully, the second one, without warning, was a lift bridge that started coming down AS we were passing under it. Luckily, we were faster cruising than it was descending).
We are now in Navy land. It’s easy to forget how huge naval vessels are – until you are cruising by them. The shipyards are immense.
With Norfolk off to our starboard and Portsmouth on our port, we contacted the marina for gave directions to our slip.
Tidewater Marina is an easy-going, relaxed marina. Our slip is MUCH narrower than the one we had in Vero, but we were able to get tied up without mishap. It was definitely good to be back at a marina. Neil got us squared away with the marina office, and Kathleen filled some ice bags and went to our bed. We have arrived.