The Run to Chesapeake

We pry ourselves out of River Dunes and head out onto Pamlico Sound. The first quarter-mile is nerve-wracking shallow. It is barely above low tide, about the same tide we had entering this bay. We see less than two feet repeatedly. I’ve set the shallow water alarm to 2.0 feet and it still gets a workout. I guess I’ll shut it off altogether as it’s annoying; especially after the 10th time it reminds you that you are in thin water. Soon we are in deeper water. Breathing a sigh of relief I select a short route I had created across the Sound and into Bay River Inlet and engaged the autopilot. We settle in for a pleasant run. A pod of 6 dolphins join us for the ride until they tire of the game and disappear.

We traverse the narrow canal connecting Bay Inlet with the Pamlico River. We cross the River and enter the Pungo River Inlet. We initially thought we would stop at Belhaven or perhaps the marina at Dowry Creek. But, we are at Belhaven by 1:30 PM and don’t want to stop; we press on. We pass by Dowry Creek too. I then considered anchoring where the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal starts; in roughly the same place we attempted to anchor on a cold dark night in the rain when bringing Tivoli south after purchasing the boat 4 years ago. After 5 tries and a mutinous crew we moved on to another location and finally got the hook to set. Today is different; we have a Rocna anchor that holds incredibly well; we are in daylight and better able to judge where to set, etc. When we arrive it is still early and we decide to continue through the canal, another 15 miles, and perhaps anchor in one of the many spots on the Alligator River. So we press on. The scenery is lovely; trees, thick sawgrass, open bays, and occasional homes. There is remarkably little boat traffic. Of course, we see the crabbers. Their pots are everywhere and often clearly delineate the channel. Occasionally they are in the channel. The wind is calm in the canal but when we emerge at the north end and enter the wide Alligator River it quickly pipes up to 20-25 knots. It is out of the southwest and the long fetch offered by the river makes for 2-3 foot waves and whitecaps. We examine the anchorages at the north end of the canal but they seem to be in very shallow locations and we decide to continue north to one defined by an Active Captain entry near nav marker R24. It is supposed to provide some protection from SSW winds and is deep…sounds good. By the time we reach this anchorage the wind has shifted a bit, and not in our favor, it is now straight out of the south. Not good, the chop continues all the way to shore, no protection from this wind or sea. We could backtrack and explore one of the anchorages we passed or press on and anchor here anticipating the wind to die down at sunset.

We wend our way through dozens of crab pots in the fading light and find an opening among the pots big enough to accommodate Tivoli. We set the anchor and deploy the snubber. First time in such adverse conditions but the Rocna set immediately, we let out an ample amount of chain, and stood by watching how the boat handled these rough conditions on the hook. Remarkably well. It is quiet inside, the boat pitches up and down gently, while the wind whistles outside. Before long the sun sets, yet another beautiful sunset, and the wind abates. By bedtime it is relatively calm. Of course, I’ve set a GPS anchor watch, and a radar guard zone to provide alerts in the event we drag anchor. We didn’t budge an inch.

We had a great run but in our analysis of the day fully realized we had pushed a bit too hard and left ourselves at the end of a long day without enough options; no viable “plan B”. Always have a plan B. We could have backtracked or pressed on to the small Alligator River marina several miles up the ICW. Both options would have had us arriving after dark. The alternative anchorages did not appeal as we passed them and the entry into Alligator River marina is under 6 feet at mean low water; our draft. We made the right choice but we were lucky. Had the weather turned worse than predicted instead of better we might have had a very rough night in this open and exposed anchorage.

Even with a calm evening I still failed to get much rest. Too many alarms set. The radar guard zone beeped 2-3 times during the night; all false-positive returns (perhaps an errant whitecap, crab pot buoy, who knows?). Finally, the last alarm at 3 AM was an XM weather alert. A storm is moving in. Interestingly, as the clouds moved in they also appeared on our radar and triggered the guard zone alarm. I hadn’t considered using a guard zone for weather but it worked well. We had watched the storm cell’s progress during the afternoon and deduced it would pass us to the north. The bulk of the weather did but we still got a bit of rain….thankfully, no lightning. I am starting to believe ignorance is indeed bliss. I would sleep much better without the alarms.

In the morning the anchor came up surprisingly clean and we continued down the Alligator River, crossed Albemarle Sound, up the North River, through the North Carolina Cut arriving at our marina for the evening in Coinjock NC. Other than a very long dock on a narrow channel and a fairly decent restaurant onsite, there is little else in Coinjock. We enjoy dinner and a quiet evening and head out first thing in the morning, enroute to Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) in Chesapeake VA; a few miles southeast of Norfolk.

Just north of Coinjock we encountered a shoal area that made for an interesting hour. Naturally, this is also where we met the only barge on the ICW all day, and a sailboat who announced on the VHF that he passes this way every year and always runs aground! The depth alarm again sounds and decreases to zero as we pass the sailboat. Fortunately, we do not come to a stop and continue on our way with depths increasing to a comfortable 4 feet under the keel. Open bay gives way to narrow canal, then back to wide areas. Alas, no palm trees anymore, no live oaks, just pine and various deciduous trees. As we approach Norfolk the bridge density increases. The first bridge opens on the hour and half-hour. By sheer luck we arrive about 5 minutes before opening and sail through. The next one requires that we push Tivoli hard, nearly wide open, to avoid missing the scheduled opening and a long 30 minute wait for the next one. We get there just in time too. And so it went. We arrive at AYB around 2 PM, tie up on the east end of their long face dock, and plug in. A nice run.

Unfortunately, the voltage on this dock is not 220V or even the common 208V but 199. Our AC units shut themselves off if the voltage is less than 207. This will not work; too hot to spend any time here without AC. Do we stay or do we go? Don’t really want to run the generator 24/7. We intend to have Tivoli hauled and the bottom repainted and AYB has a great reputation for quality work. This means we would be here several days at minimum. We need 220V! The dockhand brings a booster; it doesn’t work. He brings a second unit; no joy. Finally, he walks to the extreme west end of this dock and finds an outlet with 208V. We fire up Tivoli, untie, and move to a new location at the other end of this long dock. We plug in, plug in the booster, and voila, 220V. We are good. Had this not happened we would have left and had our work done elsewhere.

We have “crossed our wake” in a sense. We bought the boat from a gentlemen who kept it behind his home just 40 miles north of here as the crow flies. We picked up the boat at Ocean Marine marina 5 miles up the ICW from here and moved Tivoli the first day to AYB. My brother Jim joined us here and with Bernie Francis aboard (USCG captain) we took the boat all the way to Palm Beach, then Deanna and I and our friend JB brought her down to Key West and up to St. Pete. So, Tivoli’s life with us began right here and, some 4 years later, we are back – anxious to explore her “home grounds” and become acquainted with a few of the 11,000+ miles of shoreline on Chesapeake Bay.


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