What's it like sailing the North Carolina WaterWays and Best Places to Stop
s we travel south, we use every ounce of sunlight we get to make it as far as possible. There are several points on the map where we plan to stop and hang out. But, in-between those points, are long days of travel. Our next big destination is Wrightsville Beach. Joel’s sister lives there and there’s a lot to do. There’s a good dinghy dock within walking distance of the beach. Which means we can finally get some surfing in!! However, Chesapeake to Wrightsville is a little over a weeks worth of traveling (if we did so without stopping).
The days between setting foot on land sometimes blur together. But, I will try to recall them as best I can. We left Chesapeake a little more prepared then when we arrived. Ahead of us was the Albemarle Sound. We crossed the Albemarle when we first bought the boat and brought it north. At that time, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were definitely just winging our trip. Our crossing was pretty rough and we fought 2-3 foot waves the whole way cross. As we meet seasoned cruisers, we’ve been learning more and more. Supposedly, the Albemarle is one of the worst bodies of water on the ICW. It’s shallow water and shape make for some rough seas. But, this time,with a good weather window we headed across.
We had a beautiful day. With the wind at our back, we raised the sails and turned the motor off. As the sunset, we pulled into a cove on the north side of the Alligator River Bridge.
Joel had read about a great place to stop for breakfast a couple coves away. So, we woke at 5am the next morning and got in the dinghy in search of these “made from scratch biscuits”. Thirty minutes later (after a windy, wet, choppy and long dinghy ride) we pulled into a cove with a gas station. I looked at Joel like, “we did not just come this far for a gas station!?” But, that seemed to be the case. We tied the dinghy off and headed inside. To our surprise, the egg biscuits were freshly made and delicious. (Which is saying a lot. Egg biscuits are probably one of my favorite meals) I reckon it was one of those “can’t judge a biscuit by it’s gas station cover” moments.
The post egg sandwich dinghy ride.
fter a late start (due to our unexpectedly long dinghy excursion) we made it up the Alligator River, through a long canal and then into the Pungo River. Our next destination was Belhaven, which would be our first stop since Chesapeake. But, fighting the wind and current, we had to anchor just a few nautical miles outside of Belhaven. It was a beautiful night to be anchored. As the sunset, it painted the sky. The wind, as if apologizing for being against us all day, fought away any pesky mosquitos. And, with no city lights in sight, the anchor light at the top of our mast seemed right at home in a sea of stars.
Tired from the new 5am wake up schedule, we stopped for the day. The town is small but good enough for us. As we walked from the city docks to find a place for lunch, we passed a place that sells propane. Excited Joel says, “look! They sell propane!” His enthusiasm made me laugh. By car we would’ve never cared about the little building. It’s funny how living on the water changes your perspective. I guess it would be a similar experience for someone hiking the Appalachian Trail. You are alone in the wilderness for days carrying what you need for survival. Then, when you have a chance to stop in civilization you must find what you need with in walking or hitch hiking distance. With limited options, everything is amazing. However, sailing a boat is probably much easier then hiking and I’m sure we have more stops in civilization.
Our time in Belhaven consisted of a small restaurant with only a chalkboard menu, doing work at the local library, and a quirky little museum.
The next morning, we decided to head on for Oriental. As usual, the alarm went off at 5am. I tricked myself into thinking I’d sleep in this morning. As Joel turned the alarm off and got up, I closed my eyes thinking, “Joel will get us going and I’ll just sleep for another hour.” But as the aromas of coffee filled the cabin, my brain woke enough to think straight. We were in a tricky slip on a windy morning. Untying and backing out would be a two person job. So, begrudgingly, I rolled out of bed.
Exhausted from almost a full week of traveling, we pulled into the Oriental harbor and set anchor. I personally was feeling the last week of long days and no shower. Sometimes it can be frustrating living in such a small space. It’s fun, it’s adventure and it was in our budget. But, hitting your head, stubbing your toes, and trying to wash dishes in our miniature sink makes you second-guess things every now and then. Feeling the slump, we knew we needed to head to shore. I prayed to find a shower or at least something to lift our spirits. On land, we wandered around judging the restaurant selection. But, we both knew we wanted pizza. Thanks to our recent switch to a smart phone, we found a pizza place up the road. Twenty minutes in, the thirty-minute walk had us questioning our choice. But, entering Silos (truly two Silos that have been transformed into an Italian restaurant) we were glad we made the walk.
Not only was the pizza great, but, we caught a ride back with a sweet local couple. They too are cruisers and will be leaving for their thirteenth year of cruising on their boat “Bluejacket.” Their kind gesture was just the spirit lifter we needed.
The next morning, we gave up on the hope for a traditional shower. Instead, we got creative with a pot of warm water. It was just enough to wash our hair and look a little more presentable.
We spent a good three days in the Oriental. We road bikes, spent hours at the local coffee shop (The Bean), and checked out the local marine consignment.
We even had a sweet visit from our family. Joel’s parents and brothers drove three hours to come spend the day with us. We gave them a tour of our tinny home, ate lunch and went for a sail. Our dinghy engine was acting funny the morning of their visit (though we later figured out it was just not getting gas). So, transporting three people at a time from the dock to the boat was rather comical.
So far, Oriental has been our favorite stop yet. We’ve been to Oriental by land, but as cruisers there’s something more magical about this town. I’m pretty sure every local sails here. We can sit in a restaurant or coffee shop and listen to ten different conversations about boats and trips. It’s hard to concentrate on writing as we sit in the crowded local coffee shop (The Bean). A group of six old men sit chatting about their boats, wives, and cracking jokes. The group fluctuates as one man leaves, someone new will walk in and join them. It seems that they know the whole town. The way they take time to share life with one another inspires me. I love the feel of a small harbor town. Looking out the window, watching the seagulls dance around the shrimp boats and across the still water, my soul breaths in a deep breathe of peace. The people are as welcoming as the town itself. Other then free showers, this little harbor town seems to have everything a cruiser would need. The free dinghy dock has public trash and recycling. The corner store has everything you need for provisions, free wifi for cruisers, and courtesy bikes. It feels good to be so welcomed. Even though we are visitors, we feel as if we are a part of their community. I’d love to spend a month or even a year in this town getting to know the locals.
Big thank you to the town of Oriental. To the Bean, the provision company , and all the people; we loved our time with you. Thanks for being so welcoming. And, thanks for the complementary bikes. How cool is that!