We spent a night anchored at the bottom of the Alligator River in coastal North Carolina. There is a system of rivers and canals through which one can travel inland to get around Cape Hatteras without going out to sea. In fact, one can travel all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to south Florida along the Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW.
Some don’t like spending time in it. I suppose that if one ran the route all the way from FL to VA, it might grow monotonous. But we are catching just a bit of it – about 200 miles from Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA. And it is not monotonous at all. We love it.
We crossed Albemarle Sound today, an open, exposed area that must be traversed between two more sheltered parts of the ICW. The crossing quickly reminded us of how rough things can get with just a little bit of fetch. The wind was blowing 20 knots from the WNW. We were traveling NW, and so we were close-hauled in rough seas. There was a lot of strain on the sails and rigging and the boat’s motion was not very comfortable. Boat projects got put aside as we focus on sailing.
When we were about half-way across, we got a little reminder that we have come a long way since we were last in these waters nine years ago. We heard two sailboats on the radio talking about whether they, too, would try the 15-mile trip across the Albemarle Sound. Listening to them, we heard that they were concerned that the trip might not be too pleasant.
I cut in on the radio, to tell them that Leander was half-way across, and to report conditions. I told them that the winds were 15-20, and that we were double-reefed and close-hauled. “That said,” I added, “it’s not so bad out here. It’s bumpy, and a little uncomfortable, but the seas aren’t too big because there is not much fetch here in the sound. And you should be across and in calmer waters in about two and a half hours
“Thank you,” they responded, and began to talk among themselves again. “Seems like a no-go,” one said. “Pretty rough out there. 20 knots? Close hauled? Let’s anchor for the night.” “You bet!” said the other.
We continued to listen, as yet another boat broke in. “Hey fellows, just so that you know, that fellow that told you the Sound was “not so bad,” has just finished an Atlantic crossing. He may have a different scale than others. It’s all a matter of perspective.”
I guess that’s true. We didn’t find it that rough. But maybe some others would.
Away from these infrequent exposed stretches, the canals and rivers are splendid. Flat water. Close woodland. Birds and crickets and frogs.
Last night, we anchored at the base of the Alligator River.
It was an eventful night!
The wind died at the end of the day. A pair of songbirds flitted about, one resting on the spreaders. Perhaps they were swallows. Chirping and calling away. Seemingly happy. The sunset was beautiful. Some mosquitoes came, but we put out a couple of punks, sprayed up and, after Sima took a leg bite for the team, were unmolested. The temperature cooled to below 80 at dusk. For the first time since the Canaries, we donned something over our t-shirts. It felt good.
And then the show really began. We got just about everything this night.
There was a new moon, and the dark side was back-lit clearly enough to make out features. The very bottom of the lighted new moon didn’t die to a point, but instead showed an extra blip at the bottom, beyond the place where the crescent ended at a point. We trained our binoculars on it, and saw that a canyon, just beyond the point of the crescent, was being lit by the sun.
Mars came out, bright and orange, and we watched other planets and then a couple of stars appeared.
We heard the dull drone of jets. In the fading light, we looked up to see two pairs of fighter jets walk by at what appeared to be slow-motion speed. Maybe navy planes out of Norfolk. It was too dim to see any markings other than a dull-green paint. Each pair was wing-tip to wing-tip.
One jet returned twenty minutes later. He was low to the ground, just over the water. He did a tight turn, seemingly using the light of our mast as a way point, tipping his wing straight down at us as the turn was made. The kids (and we!) watched open-mouthed as he roared away, flipping back to level flight. His mate roared through a few seconds later, repeating the show. Boy, those pilots must have a blast. We got goose bumps, and we were only spectators.
The stars continued to fill in. Alexander saw a shooting star. Then Sima. And then a satellite passed overhead, brighter than any star or planet in the sky by several magnitudes. But it was bigger and brighter then most satellites that we see. Probably the space station, we thought. We checked later, and determined that it was. We saw two more satellites, and they were pin points in comparison.
The marshland nearby came to life as the light went, as well. A thousand frogs in chorus. More? “Unbelievable” said Sima. “It’s SO loud.”
We took out our star book and looked for constellations. Sima identified Ursa Major, Drago, Leo, and the little dipper. We made out Scorpio, low on the southern horizon. Mars shun not too far from Antares, and Saturn trailed close by.
Welcome back to America. Comforting, after our long journey, to stumble upon such a magical place right in our backyards. Like the song birds, we too felt happy, chatty, and floaty.