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We were anchored in behind Cape Lookout, NC after arriving, early in the morning after a pleasant overnight passage from Bald Head Island, NC. The anchorage was calm and scenic. There were a fair number of boats anchored, but not too crowded considering it was 4th of July week end.
We woke early the next morning to start the long passage along the inside of NC, up the ICW. The weather would not allow us to make the trip to Norfolk outside along Cape Hatteras.
The winds had picked up overnight, and were strong from the SW. We had 6 miles to Beaufort Inlet, with the tide ebbing, causing a wind against tide sea state. The waves were 5-8 feet, but steep and irregular; the worst kind to try to navigate.
We fought our way into the bay, and immediately realized that we had made the right call. The winds were blocked by the land mass, the water flat and the ride to Pungo River, 85 miles later was great.
A nice overnight anchorage offered us a chance to try to recover from our flu. We both were hacking and sputtering like some invalids at the sanitarium.
We awoke just as the sun was rising. The next leg of our journey was the Pungo River – Alligator River Canal. It is a 20 mile absolutely straight run east west joining the two rivers as part of the mighty ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). I imagined 20 miles of pure boredom, but was rewarded with 20 miles of pure delight.
The holding in the anchorage was great, thick and smelly mud. It took me 15 minutes to hose off the mud and to store the anchor.
The entrance to the canal is alongside a small creek, where a huge rustic home sits on a park like lawn of over 5 acres of the greenest grass imaginable. The place looks like a dude ranch, to me, only with waterfront and nice docks.
We move slowly under the first highway bridge. Another idyllic week end home, also park like settings is just at the base of the bridge. An old abandoned wooden bridge stands alongside the new concrete bridge. There are 2 old guys, standing on the bank with fishing poles in their hands. They give us a big, friendly wave as we drift on by.
Ahead the canal seems impossibly straight. The sky is a silver color with the rising sun, and blends into the water. Mist floats above the water’s surface, making me smile as I enjoy the natural splendor.
Along both sides of the bank there are two scenes. To the left, north, are series of big homesteads. These are big houses built on stilts and are set well back from the water, with massive acres of manicured green lawn between the houses and their docks.
The opposite side of the bank the south side is just uncut nature. Tall pines and spruce trees tower along this bank. Cypress knees dominate the shoreline. My eyes keep searching the knees looking for life, a gator, or a snake. It just seems so alive.
We continue at our 7 knot speed eastwards, we are both riveted to watching both sides of the banks for wildlife.
It strikes me what a contrast this is from the past few months of boating we have been doing in the Bahamas. Where we are watching the water‘s colours for changes in depth, for reefs, for passages to the places we are going.
Here we are on a jungle cruise, the coffee coloured water only the means of transportation, our goal of the safari to see wildlife. This place is so full of the promise of life to discover.
And we start to see things as we gawk at the shoreline. We spot some deer as they trespass on to the big lawns usually 2 or 3 together, they enjoy the dew covered green grass.
I watch as a large bird flies well overhead. He comes swooping down and lands gracefully on one of the tallest bare pine branches. The beautiful eagle turns his regal head to look down on us as we pass slowly below him.
As the morning goes on, I spy at least a dozen eagles perched far above our heads.
I continue to watch the water’s edge, along the cypress knees, the old abandon logs for life. I smile when I finally spot two box turtles lined up in line along the top of an old log.
The bank to the right, the south side soon becomes like a primeval forest. The trees and all of the ground cover is completed with blankets of vines. The vines have completely taken over the forest. I keep expecting to see a flying dinosaur.
Jenny gets my attention as I spot another eagle. To the north, we have gone well beyond the massive homes. We are now seeing dense woods. We can only see into the wood a few meters, the undergrowth thick and is unwelcoming.
Jenny points out movement in a small pine sapling, something big and heavy is causing it to move. And that’s when we spot the bear. He is working his way up the little tree, and is causing the limbs around it to shake as he climbs the higher; he turns his head and looks us over.
We stop the boat and turn around to come back to take another look. The few minutes it takes us to come around, we have lost sight of the black bear, although we can still see the limbs moving, so we know he is still in there. We come around again, heading back to the east. We then see the second bear. He is moving along on the ground away from his tree bound friend, in search of something else. He too stops and takes a long look at us as we drift by.
And so the Pungo River- Alligator River Canal made one of the most unusual and delightful parts of our passage along the east coast, it is an amazing collection of nature which has overtaken mans’ intrusion.
I’d say it was a delightful excursion for us, in our world cruising Nordhavn ocean trawler. But we could have done it in a kayak.
This is our 5th trip along this part of North Carolina. We always dread the ICW, as it can become very monotonous and feels like you are steering an awkward vehicle down a narrow road. But when we do spot the amazing shoreline, ever changing we realize that it is actually a pretty special experience.
Soon enough we are passing into Southern Virginia, and make an overnight stop at Chesapeake at AYB (Atlantic Yacht Basin) where we hose off the thousands of insects, blind mosquitoes that have landed on Southern Star at our last night at anchor.
We make our way the next morning through the Lock and are suddenly plunged into the busy commercial world of Portsmouth and Norfolk VA. We are delayed by the railway bridge for over 45 minutes. We are drifting along in the slow churning current, putting the boat into gear every few minutes to keep ourselves away from the shoreline, finally the trestle bridge opens and we continue on to the north.
We pass barges, and tugs, and old working shipyards. We are next passing through the largest Naval Base in the world, Norfolk.
We gawk as we pass massive aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers, and supply ships. The Navy police boats patrol the area and keep a watchful eye on us as we make our way.
A 250’ Coast Guard cutter contacts me on the VHF, announcing his intention to pass us to our port side. I agree that this is a good idea, and he chugs slowly around us.
After the intensity of Norfolk the last 20 miles to York River is pretty mundane, with only a few crab pots to dodge, we are soon announcing our approach to York River Yacht Haven Marina, our home for the next month.
We enter Sarah Creek, opposite Yorktown, and snake our way into the marina. We back into our slip on D dock, a huge trimaran on the T-head of E dock making the maneuver a bit tricky.
Dock lines and shore power cord are passed over, and we are now planted for a while. YRYH feels like home to us. We have stayed here about 5 times over the years. It is a lovely marina with great facilities including a big pool, on site restaurant and ships store, plus a courtesy vehicle available to drive to the nearby grocery stores, Lowes and Walmart. Its location is also acceptable to our insurers who require the boat to be north of North Carolina during hurricane season.
And so we can now put in some orders for more parts, spares and upgrades.
Back to the real world; Back to York River.