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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We were talking about cruising as we left Wilmington, NC on the afternoon of June 28, 2000. It had occurred to us how lucky we were to be following our dream and enjoying it so much. We couldn't decide which we liked best, leaving, traveling, or arriving. We just know that when it feels right, it is time to do one or the other.
We arrived in Wrightsville Beach at 1830 local and anchored for the night in a lagoon just off the waterway, which was lined with condos on one side and marsh on the other. It is so nice to be able to anchor on a beautiful evening in a pleasant area where we can enjoy the stars, the fresh air and each other. We got an early start the next morning in order to get past the lift bridge at 0700. There are dozens of lift bridges on the waterway. Some open on schedules and some open on request. This particular bridge opened only on the hour. The next opening wasn't until 0800. Leaving early gave us a good start on the day and we were able to make it all the way to Swansboro before dark. Actually we could have made it further, but a thunderstorm caught us and we decided to get off the waterway as visibility due to heavy rain was reduced to about 100 feet. Fortunately, we were able to tie up at Dudley's Marina for a few hours until the rain diminished. In typical cruiser fashion a couple, who were already docked at the pier saw us coming in and braved the downpour to help us tie up. All of us got soaking wet, but we made some new friends in the process. Interestingly, they were heading South and were able to give us some good advice about what to expect as we continued North.
Advice is always welcome as are friendly voices. With this in mind, we have joined the Waterway Net, which is a group of HAMs who participate in a radio service every morning for cruisers. Weather reports can be obtained, fellow cruisers can be contacted and position reports and float plans can be monitored. It is a great service that is free to those who have at least general level HAM licenses. While close to shore or in the waterway, we call in our position every day and the net operators keep track of us in their computer. If we travel offshore we can file a float plan that gives them a great deal more information about us as well as our route of travel and our ETA. If we don't check in, a family contact or the Coast Guard gets a call. It's a great service, by some very dedicated and altruistic people, who don't get a fraction of the recognition they deserve.Swansboro, we continued North along the waterway to Morehead City and Beaufort. We spent only enough time in the area to enjoy a great seafood lunch and buy some fuel and a chart book for the Chesapeake area, then we continued northward. We anchored for the night in a beautiful cove off the waterway just South of Pamlico Sound. It must have been a popular anchorage, as we were the fourth boat there and by the time we turned on the anchor light, there were five new arrivals. The next day we entered Pamlico Sound and crossed it without incident and anchored in another cove off the waterway just North of Bellhaven, NC. The next morning we entered the Alligator River/Pungo River canal, which is a dredged canal about 20 miles long that provides a shortcut to Albemarle Sound. This area of North Carolina is West of Cape Hatteras and the Kittyhawk area. We crossed Albemarle Sound; dodging crab trap floats the entire way. Entering Albemarle Sound we had the choice of proceeding in a Northeasterly direction and continuing on to Norfolk, VA in the more heavily traveled waterway or taking a Northwesterly direction and entering the channel that traverses the Dismal Swamp, which was first dredged in 1793. We opted for the latter and anchored for the night 15 miles South of Elizabeth City on the Pasquotank River.
We had now traversed nearly 900 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway and were looking forward to being in Norfolk, VA by the 4th of July. To our surprise, however, the one lift bridge that we had to pass in downtown Elizabeth City was being repaired and was, for the foreseeable future, scheduled to open only twice a day - 0900 and 1730 local. Since it was only 1030, we looked for a place to anchor or tie up while we waited. While we were motoring in circles and looking around, a friendly voice came over the radio welcoming us to Elizabeth City and directing us to a free pier by the city park. The voice was none other than a fellow cruiser we had met in Marathon, FL five months earlier. It turns out that Elizabeth City welcomes cruisers and proves it by offering free tie-up to the city owned piers. This was too good to pass up, so naturally we tied-up, renewed our friendship and did a little shopping. When we got back to Sojourner, we and the other cruisers at the city facility, were invited by a local volunteer representative of the city to a cruisers wine and cheese tasting party. Twelve of us attended the party, which was held five blocks away at the volunteer's home. Now that's what we called hospitality. We were so taken by the ambiance that we decided we would stay in Elizabeth City and enjoy the 4th of July parade and fireworks celebration with these fine people.parade was quintessential small town USA. Everyone got involved. First came the fire trucks; a very old one and a very new one. Then a color guard from the local Coast Guard Station, then one from the VFW, followed by old cars, new cars, the ambulance, Uncle Sam in a golf cart, cars that bounced up and down and even a decorated 18 wheeler courtesy of the local Walmart. Apple pie couldn't come close to expressing the unique and profoundly American experience of a small town Fourth of July parade. We cruisers really felt part of the celebration and most of us had goose bumps and we all felt very proud. We also had the best seats available for the fireworks that evening, which were launched from a barge in the harbor. We sat in our cockpit and were as close to the action as we have ever been. We were told that the city budgeted $10,000 for the show, which lasted about 30 minutes. It was magnificent, with lots of oohs and aahs and applause. Everyone in boats and along the waterfront park had a wonderful time. The Coast Guard was on hand to direct all the boaters, which certainly added to the organization and sense of safety. Not since I served on the 4th of July Celebration Committee in Mobile, Alabama many years ago, have I had more fun on the anniversary of America's most important day.
The next day, we left Elizabeth City during the 0900 opening of the drawbridge. Even the bridge operator thanked us for coming and bid us a good journey. We cruisers compared notes and all agreed that it was a pleasure to stop and spend money in a community that really appreciated it. We will certainly revisit Elizabeth City. We continued North on the Pasquotank River which is an outflow of Lake Drummond, in the heart of the Dismal Swamp. The name "Dismal" was given to this area in 1728 by William Byrd, who surveyed and established the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina. This northern portion of the river, like the southern portion is dark brown with tannic acid from the heavy vegetation in the swamp. It is like boating in a gigantic cup of coffee. The shoreline however is very interesting. It is the last remaining undrained area of the original Dismal swamp and looks like one expects a swamp to look. Lots of water, shallows with grasses, some hardwoods and conifers, including lots of cypress. The major reason we chose this optional route on the waterway was to traverse the Dismal Swamp canal. However, when we finally reached the canal, we were sorely disappointed. The spoil from dredging had been piled high parallel to the canal, on both sides, which completely blocked the view. It was like transiting a ditch, with lots of foliage. Twenty-two miles of arrow straight canal with huge trees on each side. Nice in its way, but not what we expected. Because the water level in the swamp is strictly controlled, there is a lock at the southern end of the canal and another at the northern end. The canals were fun, although we had to wait for an opening each time as they are only operated four times a day in an effort to conserve water.
We finally reached Norfolk, Virginia just after noon on Thursday, the 6th and crossed mile marker zero, which is where the Intracoastal Waterway begins. We had begun this northerly trek at mile marker 1,020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Our plan is to spend the next two months or so exploring the Chesapeake Bay area, which includes Washington, D.C.
And now, for all our cruising friends and wannabes, I share the following with you:
...Come, my friends,This is from the poem "Ulysess," published in 1842 by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809 - 1892. Tennyson was given the title "Lord" in 1833 by Prime Minister Gladestone for his literary contributions to Great Britain. He is buried in Poets Corner, in Westminster Abbey in London. Exploration of the Chesapeake bay area is next. Stay tuned.
Dates: 2000-06-28, 2000-07-06
Locations: Wrightsville Beach, Elizabeth City, NC; Norfolk, VA