Albemarle Sound & Edenton, NC

Roanoke Inlet in the early 18th Century

Roanoke Inlet carried ship draft depths in the 18th Century, enabling a robust shipping trade at Edenton.

Not very many cruising boats visit Edenton, NC. We presume the size and reputation of the Albemarle Sound is a significant deterrent to many cruisers. Those who do, however, get to enjoy a true gem. Edenton’s first settlers arrived from Jamestown in 1658 and the town was incorporated in 1722. Edenton was North Carolina’s first capitol city. Settling citizens include a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Joseph Hewes), a signer of the United States Constitution (Dr. Hugh Williamson), the first United States Senator from North Carolina (Samuel Johnston) and one of the first Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court (James Iredell), appointed by President George Washington. Edenton was second to Wilmington as the state’s largest colonial sea port. Shipping here included a robust trade with England and the West Indies. Access to Edenton by ocean-going ships was via the Roanoke Inlet until it was closed by a Hurricane in 1795. Prior to Emancipation, Edenton provided slaves with a means of escape via the Maritime Underground Railroad. For those interested in American History and/or architecture, there is a lot to see and learn here.

Sanctuary and Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton Harbor

Sanctuary and Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton Harbor

In the years we aboard Sanctuary have been migrating north and south with the seasons, we have often heard that Edenton is an extraordinary place to visit. Edenton is a town of 5000 residents located on the north shore at the western end of the Albemarle Sound. From the Alligator River Marina at the Alligator River Swing Bridge, the cruise to Edenton is 49 StM. From Elizabeth City, the cruise to Edenton is 55 StM. Sanctuary and crew have always been “in too much of a hurry” to add several additional days to our migration travel itinerary. “’Too much of a hurry’ to do what,” I ask in hindsight? To visit Edenton, slow cruisers need to allocate two travel days to their itinerary, plus length-of-stay-at-Edenton days. Cruisers would want a nice, stable air mass to travel, or the willingness to “hunker down” and wait for the arrival of a comfortable travel-weather window. In 2014, for us, the necessary conditions came together, and we made the cruise in May. What we found was the most welcoming place I think we have ever been.

Albemarle Sound navigation

Albemarle Sound navigation

The Albemarle Sound is a very significant body of water that is worthy of the utmost respect. The Sound is shallow, with an average depth of 12 – 13 feet. It lies east/west, with prevailing winds from the southwest and west. Any winds over 15 knots can produce steep, uncomfortable seas, but especially so along the east/west fetch of the Sound. Strong cold fronts, nor’easters and summer thunderstorms can produce serious anxiety. There are large, charted military security zones on both the south and north shores.  The restricted area on the north shore is the inactive Harvey Point target range which has been disestablished as a danger zone. The area is open to public access for recreational and commercial uses, except that “dredging, clamming, crabbing, seining, and anchoring of all vessels and any other activity which could result in disturbing or penetrating the bottom” is prohibited.  There are large, fixed platforms in this area.  The larger area on the south shore is open to the public for navigation except when military exercises are being conducted.  To avoid these security zones, through-cruisers are funneled away from shore toward the central one-third of the Sound. There is a 65-foot vertical clearance fixed bridge, and a 94-foot vertical clearance electrical primary distribution line that cross the western end of the sound, north-to-south. Neither pose a problem for cruising boats. Both have “official” marked channels at mid-span, but it’s likely that any span a mile or more offshore would be acceptable for cruisers. The Albemarle must also be a fertile fishing ground, because all parts of it are blessed with lines of crab pot floats. Because of the abundance of floats, I would recommend against traveling at night.

Tea Party Memorial

Edenton Tea Party Memorial

The entrance channel to Edenton Harbor is charted at 7-1/2 feet, but we saw no less than 12 feet. The Edenton City Docks are part of a large recreational park ground. The yacht basin is surrounded by a concrete breakwater to protect it from seas rolling in from the sound. The breakwater has a 6 foot or so opening on the east end, which does result in some wave action within the basin. There is no tide, but winds can affect water levels at the margins. Entering Edenton Harbor, the channel hooks from north to west, and the city docks are immediately to starboard. To the west of the property, the Roanoke River Lighthouse is the prominent land feature. Boat access to the basin is from the west end.

c 1750 Barker House seen from Edenton Harbor

c 1750 Barker House seen from Edenton Harbor

At our arrival, we had excellent docking assistance. Dock pedestals provide 30A and 50A power and potable water. In-slip depths are 8 feet. Docks are fixed wooden structures, aging, but structurally sound. Rest rooms and showers are available in a building adjoining to the park. These facilities are showing some age. Wi-Fi is available, free and open; no passwords. The wi-fi is sufficient for email and browsing. The dockmaster provides a “Welcome Package” with guidebooks and maps of the town. The dockmaster also provides a pickup truck, “City of Edenton, State of North Carolina” logo on the side and with yellow light atop, that she lends to cruisers as a complimentary courtesy car. Without doubt, it’s the most unique courtesy car we’ve ever used! The marina offers the first two nights of dockage without charge, but with a $6.00 charge for electricity. Thereafter, dockage is $1.00/foot. We thought that was an excellent offer, reminiscent of many towns along New York State’s Canal System.

The most unusual courtesy car we have ever had

The most unusual courtesy car we have ever had

Edenton is very special for its extensive historic district of surviving 18th Century Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival architecture. Immediately across the street from the marina is the c. 1782 Barker House, one of several homes dating to the early 18th century. In town is the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark. Also in the downtown, within walking distance, are the 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1758 Cupola House and gardens, and the 1800/1827 James Iredell House. There is much, much more. The Chowan County Courthouse is still used today by the County, NC District Court, and the State Supreme Court. Two 18th Century “Customs Houses” that supported merchant shipping and trade still stand in Edenton.

c 1766 St. Paul's Episcopal Church

c 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Most Americans (well, most Americans in our generation of cruisers) know about the “Boston Tea Party” in response to the “Tea Act of 1773.” The Provincial Deputies of North Carolina supported their countrymen in Boston by resolving to boycott all British tea and cloth received in the North Carolina colony after September 10, 1774. We learned in Edenton that there were several towns in colonial America that held tea parties in sympathy with the people of Boston. Edenton was just one such town, but it was unique. The Edenton Tea Party was one of the earliest organized women’s political action protests in United States history. On October 25, 1774, Mrs. Penelope Barker organized, at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth King, 51 women of Edenton. They formed an alliance supporting the American cause against “taxation without representation.” Political resistance was common in that day, but political resistance by women was not. The action of these 51 women got significant notice in England.

1767 Chowan County Courthouse National Landmark

1767 Chowan County Courthouse National Landmark

Walking around Edenton, it was very obvious we were tourists. Grasped in our hands, and managed clumsily, were our walking tour guidebook, street map and camera. Many nice folks asked us if they could help us find something. Many nice folks wanted to know where we were from. Many were amazed and engaged by our lifestyle choice to actually live on our boat. Merchants and restauranteurs were friendly, cheerful and obviously appreciated our visit and our business. We enjoyed dinner at “The Downtown Café and Soda Shoppe” (American) and at “Kristy’s Place” (Italian). Our meals were excellent value; simple, delicious, featured good service, and were inexpensive by any contemporary standard.

Edenton is truly a delight. We highly recommend it as a cruising destination!


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