After a day of incessant and occasionally torrential rain, when even going to the supermarket in the car seemed a challenge, we left Hampstead in crisp, bright sunshine. From having the air-conditioner on at night, we’ve suddenly gone to wondering where the little fan heater is, to aid the process of getting out of bed in the morning.
The waterway continued to follow the Atlantic coast very closely, so we often got glimpses of the ocean through the many inlets.
At Sears Landing Swing Bridge, we had to amuse ouselves for 45 minutes waiting for the bridge to open, but we weren’t the only ones who obviously hadn’t read the navigation notes.
At Alligator Bay, we saw what looked like large brown ducks swimming across the waterway in front of us. We were amazed to see them get out of the water and bound off into the marshy grass. But you’ll need the eye of faith to see them in this photograph – they were young deer. I’m hoping Father Christmas might bring me a telephoto lens this year.
The route took us past Camp Lejeune, a US Marines training base. In 2008, when we were driving through North Carolina, we had innocently taken the 172 road and been surprised to come upon a road block with an armed sentry who flagged us down.With consummate American politeness, he gently explained the security issues involved, and would we just turn around and go back the way we’d come. We wondered at the time why our trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas hadn’t given any indication that we might not be able to proceed through a high-security establishment, and hoped now that there wouldn’t be any complications on the waterway.
But we saw only some abandoned rocket launchers on the marshes at Onslow Bay, and heard the occasional distant military-sounding boom.
We found a good anchorage at Swansboro.
We had a straight run through the next day, to Morehead City, through Bogue Sound.
Morehead City had quite a different feel from the other places we’ve visited, its industrial base having a commanding presence.
We ate at the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant, but the food wasn’t really as interesting at the name, and it had the feel of somewhere that was perhaps resting on the laurels of its reputation.
So far on this trip, the navigation has been relatively simple, for the most part confined to rivers and cuts. We’ve crossed the occasional wide sound, but haven’t had to negotiate anything as nerve-wracking as Tampa Bay or Lake Okeechobee in Florida. But now, looming ahead of us is the prospect of crossing the vast expanses of Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound, which stretch out to the North Carolina Outer Banks. The weather has to be carefully monitored , and if necessary, the passage postponed till conditions are easier to manage.
The next couple of days were forecast 25 knots, gusting 30, so after going through the narrow cut of Core Creek and crossing Adams Creek, we stayed a couple of nights in Oriental, waiting for the winds to moderate.
We saw lots of dolphins playing in the water.
And a working barge from the phosphate factory at Morehead City.
Although many places in America have the status of a city, despite being fairly small, we haven’t come across many villages. But Oriental is definitely a village, and proud of it too. Beautifully situated, surrounded by water and woodland, and numerous creeks and inlets, as the guide-book puts it, from Oriental you gaze out to the Outer Banks, and beyond them, there’s nothing till you get to England.
As we arrived at the public dock in the early afternoon, we could see a party going on at the marina opposite, and the DJ was playing Don McClean and American Pie. Very atmospheric.
The Captain likes anchoring out, because it’s free. This economic advantage has to be balanced, particularly in a strong wind situation, of the risk of the anchor pulling loose and the possibility of the boat being cast adrift in the middle of the night. At Oriental, the public dock was free, with the bonus that we were safely tied up to sturdy piles.
But there was a snag. When we filled in the registration forms, on the back was a lengthy list of rules. Running a generator was forbidden, and a violation punishable with a $25 fine. My understanding of the ‘electrics’ is compromised by the fact that I still haven’t got round to reading The 12-Volt Bible for Boats, but even I know that if you’re not hooked up to a power supply, and you can’t run the generator, the batteries will quite soon go flat and things won’t work.
The dock was on the main street, with lots of passersby, and next to us there was another boat , whose owners had very kindly helped us tie up, so running the generator anyway, in defiance of the rules, could attract attention. Another boater, Steve, who stopped by to chat, thought that no-one would care, and the singer at the Tiki Bar was making so much noise that it was unlikely that the generator would have been audible. But even so, it probably wasn’t so much the $25 fine as the embarrassment of discovery that stopped us switching it on. We went for a stroll round the village and the waterfront, and when we got back, the batteries were still charged up.
We went for a drink at the Tiki Bar, and an older couple, Torrey and Joanne, who had retired to Oriental nine years ago and thought it the best place on earth, invited us to join them. Back on the boat an hour and a half later, the fridge was spontaneously defrosting itself and there was a large puddle of water on the cabin floor.
The thought of having to dispose of the entire contents of the fridge tipped the balance, and the Captain surreptitiously put the generator on, hoping that no-one would mind or notice. But by now, the singer had finished his marathon stint at the bar, and all was quiet and still. Early to bed, early to rise seems to be America’s motto, even on a Saturday night.
I got on with cooking the dinner, then suddenly we were aware of flashing blue lights – the cops. It seemed fanciful to imagine that they had come to investigate a possible violation of the dock rules, rather than the youths we had noticed lurking and doing things with their cell-phones, but you never knew. Eventually the cops drove off, and, warily, the Captain switched the generator back on. Ten minutes later, the cops were back, and the generator quickly went off. This process repeated several times, until the cops went for good and the Captain was confident that the batteries were charged up and the fridge working again.
The next morning, the wind was already quite strong, but not strong enough to stop us taking Carina round the corner to the lovely marina at Whitaker Pointe, with electricity, showers, laundry, and a car we could borrow to go shopping. And not expensive, either.