Sunday, November 11, 2018

South bound and down

We are under way across the Pamlico River, headed for the Hobucken Cut. It's a sunny but crisp day; last night temperatures dropped into the low 30s, and this morning we've just clawed our way up out of the 40s. Upriver from us I can see the tug Pamlico headed downriver. We see Pamlico on almost every ICW trip, and one time I posted about it and we got a blog comment from the skipper's wife.

Friday morning we had a leisurely coffee and checked the weather, weighing anchor around 8:40. In hindsight we should have gotten an earlier start, but we were still thinking conditions would improve on the Albemarle Sound throughout the morning. The giant conga line of smaller boats passing us and heading out into the sound without complaint informed us that things were better than forecast.

We had an uneventful crossing of the sound and after a couple of hours were in the relative calm of the Alligator River, with light rain and fog on and off. The Alligator is the first place we ever used our automated foghorn, five years ago. By a coincidence of timing we drove straight through the Alligator River Bridge without having to slow down as it was opening for two boats ahead of us.

All of that put us at the start of the Alligator-Pungo canal around 2:40, which gave us a dilemma. We could make it an early day and anchor in the Alligator, leaving the canal for Saturday morning, or we could push through, knowing the sun would set while we were still in the canal and that we'd be anchoring at the other end in the very last bit of twilight.

What essentially made the decision for us was the absolute lack of any cellular connectivity at the Alligator end of the canal. We have devices aboard from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, and none of them had any signal at all. Not being able to even pull up a weather forecast is never our first choice when it comes to overnight stops.

We opted to press on, which later had me running the throttle up to 1600 rpm for most of the transit when we encountered some adverse current. We did emerge from the canal into the Pungo River with just minutes of twilight to spare, neck on neck with a pair of sailboats. All three of us dropped the hook in the Pungo, not far from the canal (map).

Sunset on the Alligator-Pungo Canal.

One consequence of no cell signal at the decision point was that I could not call the Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven to get the status of the heretofore broken fuel pump. We did not regain signal until the very end of the canal, after the marina closed for the day. So I called first thing yesterday morning while we were sipping our coffee. Sadly, they reported that the pump was still broken and that they were expecting a technician later in the day.

Bearing in mind they'd already offered me an additional discount on the fuel for holding off and fueling with them, I now asked if they would discount dockage while we waited on the pump repair. They immediately offered to let us tie up for free, only charging us for power -- they really wanted to make that $3,400 fuel sale. That sounded good to us, especially since we already had the genny running to get some heat.

With cold forecast for the whole day (in addition to overnight), we weighed anchor and motored the 45 minutes to the marina, where we tied up on the inside of the face dock (map) in about 20kt of wind. With 50 amps of 250v and a water spigot, Louise ran a few loads of wash while we waited on the fuel pump repairs.

Meanwhile, I trundled our pile of "give away to other boaters" stuff over to the clubhouse, where they have a spot for such items. The boater pile is distinct from the generic give-away pile, most of which went to Goodwill while we were in Great Bridge. And I signed up for the courtesy car at dinner time, in case we ended up spending the night. I have to say, everyone at this family-owned marina was friendly and helpful.

As it turned out, the pump was not repaired until 4pm, and they fueled a sailboat to about 4:15. It takes us a good two hours to fuel, so we'd be there overnight in any case. Even though 4:15 was a late start, we opted to fuel rather than wait to the morning, for two reasons. One was that the pump tech was still on site, in case there was a problem. The other being that we'd have more departure options if we did not need to spend a couple of hours of the morning fueling.

We got off to an auspicious start, with the delivery rate going up as high as 16gpm once we got Vector leaned over a bit to port. But by the time we started fueling the center tank, perhaps 400 gallons in, the rate had dropped to less than ten and they stopped the pump to change filters. There were some hiccups getting the pump restarted, and for a brief while we worried we'd be spending the night with a significant list to port. Fortunately, it cleared up soon afterward.

Between the filter change, the hiccups, and the slower rate for a while, we did not finish fueling until 6:20. We paid for the fuel and got the keys to the courtesy car, which turned out to be a very nice Mercedes, and headed off to dinner. Our goal was the Tavern at Jack's Neck, in downtown Belhaven some eight miles away, where Jeff, one of the dockhands, works evenings as the bartender.

Our nicest courtesy car to date, parked in downtown Belhaven.

We were looking forward to it; the place had four and a half stars on Yelp, and Jeff had rattled off an impressive list of drafts when I asked him back at the marina. We parked the car and walked to the door where we were stopped in our tracks by the hostess, who informed us they were closed. It seems they did not get their gas delivery and the kitchen literally ran out of gas in the middle of the dinner service.

She allowed that the bar was open and they could make us a salad, but that had little appeal. We went in just to say hello to Jeff, and we passed a table of other boaters from the marina who were just about to dig into their pizzas, some of the last to come out of the kitchen. Jeff recommended Fish Hooks just around the corner as an alternative.

We had a decent meal at Fish Hooks, and they at least had a bar, albeit with no draft beer. But the place was completely charmless, with harsh, bright, fluorescent lighting throughout, and vinyl tablecloths reminiscent of cheap diner. Still, we were glad there was at least one other place even open; some of the businesses in town have still not recovered from the one-two punch of hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Vector at the dock in Belhaven.

Our friends Bill and Gayle on the sailing catamaran Spiraserpula have been in Oriental, NC, replacing their generator. After getting confirmation this morning that they would still be there tonight, we opted to drop lines first thing and make the run all the way to Oriental today. That said, I have no clue where we will be able to tie up or anchor there.

Oriental calls itself the sailing capital of North Carolina, and it also caters to cruisers and in particular the semi-annual ICW snowbird migration. We've passed it a dozen times, and yet we've never stopped. That's principally because, for all its cruiser-friendliness, there are few places there where a 52' boat with a 6' draft can go. We can only enter the very tip of the harbor, and not any of the four creeks closest to town.

There is a free dock right downtown, but there is only enough depth and room for Vector on one side, and the odds that either side of the dock will be open on any given evening in the middle of the migration are low. And the only anchorage we can access is very tight and somewhat exposed. With a 3:30ish arrival this afternoon I am not holding out a lot of hope.

We'll see what we can find when we arrive, even it that's one of the two or maybe three marinas with enough depth for us. If we can't squeeze into Oriental, we'll still have enough daylight to cross the river to one of our old stand-bys, but it would mean skipping a visit with our friends.

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