Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The ICW to Belhaven, North Carolina

     One mention of the Intracoastal Waterway or ICW and most people envision images of a series of narrow canals lined on each side by cement sea walls beginning in Norfolk and ending in Miami. It's even affectionately called the ditch. In reality the ICW does have several army corp of engineer canals, but those canals also link diverse creeks, fresh and salt water rivers teeming with fish and wildlife, bays and larger bodies of water such as Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in North Carolina which are all part of ICW's north south route.

     Our brief stay at the Great Bridge Dock was a treat for us. For a change because the boat was tied to a dock the anchor didn't need to be deployed. It also gave us the opportunity to socialize with other cruisers and enabled us to re-provision at the nearby grocery store in preparation for the upcoming week of cruising in some of the more isolated areas of the ICW on our way to our destination, Belhaven, NC.

     One well known favorite stop among boaters after Great Bridge is Coinjock Marina. It's probably more favored by power boaters because it's one of the few spots to re-fuel before making the 12 mile Albemarle Sound crossing. It also gave me the opportunity to do laundry, charge the battery bank and most importantly, receive our parting gift...the new Coinjock fly swatter!

     Simple life was freed from the dock at Coinjock after 10:00 AM with a destination of an anchorage in Broad Creek. This would give us good overnight protection from 20 knot winds that were forecast and would offer a convenient anchorage for the Albemarle Sound crossing the following day.
The entrance to Broad Creek is narrow and winding with significant shoaling on both sides. At the creek entrance we relied heavily on Navionics software on the iPad rather than our chart plotter. It simply afforded more detailed depth information. The creek should be renamed Narrow Creek since it has barely enough room for one boat centered between two shorelines. After Joe dropped the anchor he gave the signal to back down to insure that the anchor had hooked. When 4.9 feet appeared on the depth sounder I stopped backing and thought, "OK good enough." Joe returned to the cockpit and asked if I felt it hook. I said,"It's possible but we were probably aground." We were still floating and decided that we'd wait to back down again until the wind shifted to the west and down the length of the creek. That evening one other boat ventured into the creek and quickly ran aground.

     As was forecast, the wind howled all evening. The morning forecast called for small craft warnings and 20-25 knots of wind. We listened to VHF weather radio broadcasts on wave heights in Albemarle Sound which was our itinerary for the day. Wave heights were forecast to diminish after 2:00PM. The wind was still blowing a steady 20 knots as we exited the creek and by the time we reached Albemarle Sound the waves were benign. Simple Life had a good crossing under sail.

     It was sunset and time to anchor in the entrance to the Alligator River for the evening. The entrance to the anchorage was jammed with crab pots and it was impossible to drop the hook anywhere. We headed back out and dropped it in an exposed area behind a large shoal open to the Sound with hopes that it would reduce any wave action that might develop overnight. Since the wind was calm it was absolutely the calmest anchorage we've had during the entire trip!

      The final anchorage before Belhaven, NC was at the end of the Alligator River at the entrance to the man made 21 mile Pungo River Canal which connects the Alligator and Pungo River that feed into Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

     We've dubbed this cruise down the Waterway The Mellow-man's Guide to Passages South. We're not in any rush. We're checking out small towns and getting to know some of the locals and soon there will be plenty of time to push harder as the weather cools and we head offshore to make up lost time.

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Location:North Carolina