Category Archives: North Carolina

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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North Carolina: Manteo, Ocracoke

As part of our Fall, 2010, southbound snow-bird migration, Sanctuary and crew diverted from the standard A-ICW route.  Instead, we transited from Elizabeth City, NC, to the North Carolina Outer Banks communities of Manteo and Ocracoke.  When we later departed Ocracoke, southbound, we crossed the Pamlico Sound to Oriental, NC.

Roanoak Marshes Light

Roanoak Marshes Light House, Manteo, NC

Manteo and Ocracoke are thoroughly enjoyable little towns.  This Outer Bank route is 20 miles shorter than the traditional A-ICW route from Coinjock, VA, to Oriental, NC.  It is, however, more exposed to open water on the Pamlico Sound.  The open-water Pamlico crossing is about 35 StM, so cruisers are reminded to pay particular attention to marine weather conditions and the near term weather forecast prior to departure from Ocracoke.   Because the Great Sounds of North Carolina are shallow, in most areas ranging from 10 to no more than 18 ft., winds of 15 – 20 kts will create short period, steep, uncomfortable seas.  Also, crab pots abound, and can be hard to spot if seas are up.  Sanctuary and crew recommend this route as an excellent “side-trip” and refreshing alternative to ICW route through the Alligator River, Alligator River Swing Bridge, and the boring and tedious Alligator-Pungo Canal.

DSCN7292

Weather reporting signal flags

We transited to Manteo by traversing the Albemarle Sound from Elizabeth City to Croatan Sound.  On this route, there are no navigation or piloting concerns, but we did encounter many, many crab pots.  On the Albemarle, the helm watchstander must be constantly vigilant and alert.  From the Albemarle, we entered the Croatan Sound Channel at its north end.  We proceeded southbound to the northwest end of Roanoke Island, and then turned east to follow the marked traverse eastbound across the northeast end of Roanoke Island, where it intersects the Roanoke Channel.  We turned south in the Roanoke Channel and followed it into Roanoak Sound to its intersection with the Manteo Harbor Entrance Channel.  Manteo Harbor is shallow and requires cruisers to stay in the network of marked channels.

Weather Tower, used to post weather report for marier's

Weather Tower, used to post weather

The Roanoke Channel, from it’s northern beginnings above Manteo, carries as little as 7 ft to it’s intersection with the Manteo Harbor Entrance Channel.  South of the Manteo Entrance Channel, the Roanoke Channel carries at least 9 ft for it’s entire length; in most areas, we saw 11ft to 14ft.  The sailing vessel Elizabeth II, which draws 8 ft, regularly uses this channel.  The channel is quite narrow, probably 100 ft.  It is not a “No Wake” area.  Thus, our plan was to “take our half out of the middle,” which was OK at 07h00 on a Monday morning.

There were, however, two areas that caused some confusion for our stalwart captain.  The first was a couple of miles south of Manteo, at the US64/US264, 65 ft fixed highway bridge.  As we emerged southbound from under that bridge, there is a square “No Wake” sign on a post just on the east side of the channel.  With the sun low on the morning horizon, I nearly mistook that sign, by shape, for a green lateral marker.  It is not a lateral marker; it is a “caution” sign.

Waterside Marina, Manteo, NC

Waterside Marina, Manteo, NC

The second area of confusion was another 2 – 3 miles south of the bridge, where there is a side-channel that runs off to the west, into the village of Wanchese (pronounced: WAN-cheese).  In that area, the south-running Roanoke Channel takes a modest dog-leg to the east, and then another, back to the south.  It took me a minute looking through the binoculars to actually realize there was a side-channel intersection there, and I found it momentarily confusing.  It’s also narrow.  The helmsman must carefully identify the markers for the Roanoke Channel.

At it’s south end, the Roanoke Channel turns sharply southwest.  In another mile, where the Oregon Inlet Channel intersects from the ocean, it becomes the Old House Channel.  There are several new markers there that were not mentioned in the then-current cruising guides, and were only reflected on electronic charts that had recent LNMs incorporated.  On the Roanoke channel, the new markers include 37A, 37, 36A, 36, 34A and 34.  At the entrance of the Old House Channel (which is just a continuation of the route from the Roanoke Channel into Pamlico Sound) there is a new green-over-red marker, “OH.”  The rest of the Old House route into Pamlico Sound is well marked and unremarkable.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The route across Pamlico Sound is, likewise, unremarkable.  Navigate the Pamlico Sound to the Big Foot Slough Channel that leads from the sound into Ocracoke’s harbor.  Note here that the North Carolina State Ferry System uses this channel.  Draft for pleasure craft in the channel is not a problem, but if cruisers encounter a ferry in that channel, carefully avoid the prop wash!  The prop wash is very, very strong, and definitely enough to set a cruising boat out of the channel.  There is a red-over-green junction marker just beyond R4 and G3.  Watch for the correctly charted shoal there, and turn 120º or so to port, into the entrance channel leading to Ocracoke harbor, called “Sliver Lake” on the charts.

Sunset at the National Park Service dock, Ocracoke, NC

Sunset at the National Park Service dock, Ocracoke, NC

In Silver Lake harbor, inexpensive dockage with 30A and 50A power and water is available at the US National Park Service docks.  At end-2014, beginning-2015, the NPS docks were upgraded.  They now have electric pedestals that are ground-fault protected (Equipment Protection Devices – EPD) to the newest National Electric Code requirements.  Some cruising boats may encounter problems if there are previously unknown, previously silent ground-faults or leakage-faults aboard the boat.  The NPS docks are adjacent to the NC State ferry docks.  In this harbor, there is plenty of room for 20 or more boats to anchor.  The harbor is very well protected from the strong periodic winds that frequent this island, located as it is about 20 miles off the mainland into the Atlantic.

North Carolina

North Carolina presents one of the longest stretches of single-state travel distance on the A-ICW.  The state has a wide diversity of maritime environments.  The southwest coast consists mainly of barrier islands and salt marshes.  The tidal range in the southwest region of the coast is 3 – 4 feet, less than at Charleston, but significant.  In the northeast sector of the state, the ICW transits man-made canals, the great inland sounds and their river tributaries.  Tidal ranges on the great sounds – the Pamlico and the Albemarle – and the great rivers – the Tar-Pamlico, the Pungo and the Neuse – is negligible.  Travel here is more often east-west than north-south.

There are several places in North Carolina where alternative cruising routes are available.  The A-ICW is the main through-route, but there are several delightful alternatives from which the cruiser can choose.

Entering North Carolina from South Carolina, northbound, cruiser’s are immediately faced with aternatives.  Option one is an easy offshore transit from Little River Inlet at the state line to the Cape Fear River entrance.  Option two follows the A-ICW route.  For Sanctuary and crew, the choice here is based, first and foremost, on wind and sea conditions offshore, and then on the state of the tide.  The offshore travel distance is in the range of 25 StM, and for us, takes 2-1/2 to 3 hours.  There are no significant offshore shoals or navigation concerns.  The offshore route rejoins the ICW through-route in the Cape Fear River, north of the city of Southport, NC.  The ICW travel distance from the state line to Southport is slightly shorter than the offshore route, but often takes more transit time because of currents, speed zones, inlet crossings and local boat traffic.  Local boat traffic can be quite tedious and challenging on summer weekends.

Alternate routes diverge:

Little River to Cape Fear - offshore vs. ICW alternatives

Little River to Cape Fear – offshore vs. ICW alternatives

The offshore route:

The Little River Inlet is used daily by commercial Casino Boats working from North Myrtle Beach.  The Little River Inlet entrance channel is wide and well marked.  The shallowest area is right at the intersection of the inlet with the ICW, at the “Calabash Crossroads.”  As with all meandering waterways, it is generally best to favor the outside radius on bends for best water depths.  Currents in this area can be swift at max flood and max ebb.

The Cape Fear Light

The Cape Fear Light

The offshore route to the Cape Fear River is straight and near-shore.  Entry to the Cape Fear can be done by staying very near shore and following the correctly charted swash channel, or by staying farther off the shoreline and intersecting the Cape Fear Entrance Channel.  Again, currents in the Cape Fear can be very swift – approaching 3 kts – at max flood and max ebb.  These swift currents will significantly impair or assist the progress of slow trawler/sailboat/cruiser-type vessels.

The ICW route:

The ICW route between the NC/SC border and the community of Southport, NC, does include two potentially challenging pilotage areas.  These are the well-known inlet crossings at Shallotte’s Inlet (at StM 331) and Lockwood’s Folly (at StM 322).  Because of the moderate tidal range and swift tidal currents in this region, conditions at these inlet crossings are highly variable and change rapidly.  Even soon after dredging, these areas shoal quickly.  The ICW in this area is marked with lateral daymarks placed on pilings, except at these inlet crossings, where there are floating red and green buoys arranged and placed as lateral markers.   The inlet crossings are not charted.  Do not depend upon the charted “accuracy” of the “ICW magenta line” anywhere, but especially, NOT in this area.

Cautions for new or occasional transient cruisers in these waters include:

  • A day or two ahead of your arrival in this area, ascertain for yourself the up-to-date, current state of these inlet crossings .  Do this in consultation with reliable online resources such as http://www.cruisersnet.net, http://www.waterwayguide.com and http://www.activecaptain.com.
  • Consult with TowBoat US or SeaTow by VHF Radio for current conditions and local advice.
  • As a precaution, try to plan your passage through this area at mid-tide or higher, rising if possible.
  • Make sure to identify and distinguish between ICW markers and inlet markers.  Confusing these markers can lead one to shoal waters.
  • Be very alert for swift cross-currents, which can sweep a boat sideways into shoal waters.  Although we can not know for certain, we believe swift cross-currents account for most groundings in this area.  All of the grounded captains we’ve talked with have thought they were “in the channel,” but when viewed from a slightly more distant perspective, they clearly were not.  Watch these cross-currents carefully, especially at mid-tide flood and ebb.
  • Be wary of fishermen in small craft.  Some are anchored immediately outside the ICW channel.  Others drift throughout the channel and will often make sudden moves.  These boats are highly maneuverable and generally know where cruising boats have to be.  We always prefer, and make an effort, to maintain wide clearances with local fishermen, and yield, to avoid “close encounters.”  However, the channel here is narrow, fishermen are often preoccupied with their own interests, and cross currents are unforgiving.  So, hold your course and speed, don’t worry about your wake, and pass fishermen by closely if you must, lest you get swept aground.

There are several marinas along the ICW approaching Southport from the south.  St. James Plantation at StM 315 is well protected from foul weather and is a very nice facility with floating docks.  There is a small onsite snack bar, but nothing else onsite or nearby.  Just north of the second high-rise bridge at StM 311.3 is South Harbor Village Marina.  This marina is on the ICW, and even though it’s in a “no wake” zone, the face dock is exposed to frequent wakes from passing boats.  Inside the basin, within the protection of their floating docks, it’s very nice.   There are two restaurants – one casual, one upscale – within easy walking distance.   There is little else nearby.  Southport Marina is in the village of Southport at StM 309.

The routes rejoin:

Once in the Cape Fear River, the ICW route follows the river north to Snow’s Cut.  There are large North Carolina State Ferries on this part of the Cape Fear, but the river is wide and they will not affect the alert captain.  Carolina Beach State Park is located at the southwest end of Snow’s Cut.  Carolina Beach State Park has floating docks with 30A and 50A power and water, and modern, clean shower facilities.  It is well protected from weather, but is not not within walking distance of shopping or restaurants.  CBSP has a published LOA limit of 40′, but are somewhat flexible about it.  This does not seem to be a popular stop, but we think it’s a gem for transient cruisers looking to overnight or wait out foul weather.

Cape Fear River and route to Wilmington, NC

Cape Fear River and route to Wilmington, NC

There is a great side trip to Wilmington, NC, 10 miles upriver from Snow’s Cut on the Cape Fear River.  There are several fine marinas in Wilmington.  The Wilmington Marine Center is just east at Marker G”59.”  This is a friendly and welcoming marina with a full-service yard and a full range of mechanical services.  Continue upriver past the commercial seaport to two new marinas on the downtown Wilmington waterfront.  There is an airport (ILG) at Wilmington that is useful for business and family travel and crew exchanges.  WARNING: both raster and vector charts of the area show a channel called the “Wilmington Short Cut.”  That charted channel leads northward from Snow’s Cut to the Cape Fear River.  Do not follow that channel; it is shoal with depths of 2′ or less at MLLW.  Instead, for safe water from Snow’s Cut to Wilmington, follow the marked ICW channel southwest to its intersection with the Cape Fear River Channel at ICW G”177,” navigate into a safe depth of Cape Fear River’s Upper Midnight Channel Range, and then turn 150º northbound towards Wilmington.

Snow’s Cut is a short man-made canal that connects the Cape Fear River portion of the A-ICW nearby the Carolina Beach Inlet.  At the east end of Snow’s Cut, just south of the A-ICW magenta line, there is a large embayment  at Carolina Beach labeled “Myrtle Grove” on the charts.  In Myrtle Grove, there is a new Town of Carolina Beach municipal mooring field.  Anchoring is possible in the north end of Myrtle Grove basin.  We aboard Sanctuary consider this to be a fair weather anchorage.

Northbound on the ICW above Snow’s Cut, it’s about 15 miles to Wrightsville Beach at StM 283, where both anchorages and marinas are available for cruisers.  About 3/4 mile west from the drawbridge is a mall with a West Marine store.  The drawbridge is restricted to hourly openings, on the hour.  South of the bridge, the waterway is narrow and can be very, very crowded.  North of the bridge, the waterway shoals quickly on both shores.  To us, this feels like a tourist trap.  We anchor occasionally in the pool to the east of the village, but we do not use the marinas.

North of the drawbridge at Wrightsville Beach, there are three more drawbridges that many trawlers/cruisers and all sailboats will need to open: 1) Figure-of-Eight Island at StM 278, 2) Surf City at StM 261 and 3) Onslow Beach at StM 241.  All of these bridges are restricted, and timing them is very important.  Currents in the region reverse as inlet creeks are passed, so what looks like a fair current in one place can and will turn foul in another couple of miles.  Generally, our strategy here is to run at speed until we are within about two miles of the bridge, then slow to time our arrival at the bridge about 5 minutes before its scheduled opening.  Monitor the VHF (VHF-13) as all of these bridges will “adjust” their opening schedules to accommodate commercial traffic.  Sometimes, that means you can get through early.  Equally often, you may be delayed for a few minutes.   There are few places to stop or anchor in this stretch.  Plan accordingly.

Marine training operations at Camp Lejeune

Marine training operations at Camp Lejeune

At StM 244.5, there is a popular anchorage on the northwest side of the ICW at Mile Hammock Bay.  For your planning and awareness, this anchorage embayment is a US Marine Corps training area that is open for use by the public.  Rarely, the Marines close the bay to pleasure craft.  Occasionally, marine corps training maneuvers are conducted here, and can go on throughout the night.  We have anchored there and enjoyed beautiful, peaceful overnights.  However, we know cruisers who have rocked and rolled all night, too.

The Osprey in exercises at Camp Lejeune

The Osprey in exercises at Camp Lejeune

Between StM 237.5 and StM 235 is the US Marine Corps Training Base at Camp Lejeune.  Training operations at the base can cause full-stop closures of the ICW.  Monitor VHF-16 in the hours before you arrive in this area so you can plan around any scheduled closures.  Typically, the waterway will be closed from 08h00 – 12h00 and again from 13h00 through 17h00.  In the fall, it’s already dark by 17h00.  We learned the hard way that the bridge at Onslow Beach would open to allow traffic to proceed northbound…  about two miles…   whence we had to anchor in the channel for 3-1/2 hours.  That afternoon, the Navy and the Marines were working a coordinated live-fire exercise between a firing range inland at Lejeune and 20 miles offshore.  The gun reports were substantial.  Needless to say, we arrived at Swansboro, northbound, after sunset.  Occasionally, the range officer will allow boat traffic to proceed “at your best speed” through the training area.  If/when we get such a travel window, we hustle.  How often does all this happen?  Well over 10 years, about one transit in four, so not that often.  Southbound through here, our strategy is to depart Swansboro at “o dark thirty,” to be past Camp Lejeune before 08h00; before 07h30 is better!

At StM 229, there are two marinas in Swansboro.  One is Casper’s and the other is Dudley’s.  Both offer fuel at competitive pricing for the region.   Dudley’s is a combination marina and roadside mini-mart and gas station.  Both components are big businesses in their own rights.  There are restaurants in town, and the marinas will generally offer rides (but not use of a car).  There is a small but fairly exposed anchorage with good holding in the area below the road bridge in the White Oak River.  There are some small boat wakes, but that goes away after dark.

Above Swansboro lies Bogue Sound.  On charts, this body of water appears large, but it is very shallow and it is necessary to be meticulous about staying in the charted channel.  Many daymarks are well outside the channel, so don’t crowd the markers.

Morehead City, Beaufort, Newport River, Core Creek, Cape Lookout National Seashore

Morehead City, Beaufort, Newport River, Core Creek, Cape Lookout National Seashore

At StM 204 is the city of Morehead City.  The general area of Morehead City and Beaufort, NC, might well be considered a destination stop.  There are several marinas and restaurants in Morehead City in the Peanut Island Channel.  From Morehead City, there is access to the Beaufort Inlet and, offshore about 12 NM, the positively delightful bight at the Cape Lookout National Seashore.  There is a superb marine-oriented hardware store in the downtown at 600 Arundel St. called Ace Marine and Rigging.  These good folks stock stainless steel fittings, marine rigging materials, bulk anchor and dock line, and all kinds of maintenance items at very competitive pricing.  North of the NC State Seaport, immediately above the highrise highway bridge and railroad bridge, there is a channel to the west that leads to the Morehead City Yacht Basin.  This facility is very well protected from heavy weather.  MCYB is a modern marina with floating docks, fuel, courtesy car and all cruiser amenities.  It is within easy walking distance to restaurants, ACE Marine and Rigging, a NAPA Auto Parts store, and a beautiful Methodist Church.

Four to five StM east of the ICW, at downtown Beaufort, NC, is a modern and popular – if expensive – municipal marina.  There are several restaurant options in Beaufort, of which our personal favorite is Clausen’s.  There is also a North Carolina Maritime Museum, an excellent nautical book store, and a post office within walking distance.  Cruiser’s can anchor in Taylor Creek, but it is crowded with local boats, including some apparent derelicts.

North of Morehead City, the ICW transits the Newport River, Core Creek and Adams Creek northerly to the Neuse River.  The Newport River area is well marked, but very shoal.  Pay close attention to the markers in this area.

At the Neuse River, cruisers can turn to port to go upriver for a side trip to New Bern, NC, or proceed slightly stbd, across the river, to Oriental, NC.  New Bern is a very nice and historic coastal city with a welcoming waterfront, several marinas, a great hardware store and many restaurant choices.  Oriental is a much smaller, quaint old town, but also offers several marinas.  Eight miles east of Oriental on the north shore of the Neuse River is Broad Creek, home to River Dunes Resort and Marina.  River Dunes has floating docks, fuel, a courtesy car and all marina amenities for cruisers.  It is very upscale, but also very affordable.  It is our stop-of-choice in this area, particularly to ride out heavy weather.

Alternate routes diverge:

Broad Creek to Coinjock or Elizabeth City - ICW vs Crystal Coast alternatives

Broad Creek to Coinjock or Elizabeth City – ICW vs Crystal Coast alternatives

From River Dunes or an anchorage on Broad Creek, there is a choice of two route alternatives for the cruiser.  Option one is to follow the ICW to Belhaven, NC, then to-and-through the Alligator-Pungo Canal to Columbia, NC, and then across the Albemarle, to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC.  Option two is to depart from the ICW, cross the Pamlico Sound in a northeasterly direction to Ocracoke, NC, then transit from Ocracoke, NC, to Manteo, NC, then cross the Albemarle to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC.  The Pamlico Sound route is actually shorter than the ICW route, but it does involve traversing the open waters of Pamlico Sound.  The Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds are shallow, in most areas no more than 17-18 ft.  The Pamlico Sound is well charted, and navigation is not a problem, but winds above 15 – 20 kts will create short period, steep, uncomfortable seas.

The ICW Route:

The Option One route from Oriental via the ICW route turns northwest into the Bay River and enters a man-made canal through Hobucken, NC.  The commercial seafood company, R. E. Mayo & Co., is located at StM 158.  Cruisers are welcome to overnight here.  Protection from weather is very good, but facilities are minimal, and so is the cost.

The Estuarium at Washington, NC

The Estuarium at Washington, NC

Continuing northbound at StM 149.5, cruisers enter the Pamlico River just above it’s mouth at the Pamlico Sound.  There is a wonderful side-trip here to the small cities of Bath, NC, and Washington, NC.  At Washington, there is a municipal marina with power and water on the riverwalk.  There are several shoppes and restaurant choices.  The North Carolina State Estuarium is on the Washington riverwalk.  It celebrates the Tar-Pamlico Estuary, and is well worth a visit!

Back on the ICW through-route, on the Pungo River at StM 140.5, to the east, is Slade Creek.  This wide creek contains anchorages that offer good holding and heavy weather protection from every compass point.

Belhaven Waterway Marine in Belhaven, NC.

Belhaven Waterway Marine in Belhaven, NC.

Belhaven, NC, is at StM 135.  Our favorite place to stay to ride out weather of just relax is at the Belhaven Waterway Marina.  Enter Pantego Creek through the Belhaven breakwater and stay at this wonderful, small, welcoming gem of a marina.  Here, you have a short walk to the small town, a hardware store, pharmacy, a local heritage museum and otherwise limited shopping and restaurant choices.  Marina owners Les and Brenda Porter can arrange a ride to the local Food Lion for re-provisioning and provide a full range of mechanical services if needed.   There is another local marina at the Belhaven breakwater which we do not recommend.

When departing Belhaven northbound, verify the acceptability of the weather forecast.  Between Belhaven and the Alligator River Bridge, there are no facilities and only fair weather anchorages.  The Alligator River Swing Bridge will not open if winds are consistently blowing 25 mph or more, so plan accordingly.

Marvelous private lighthouse, Alligator River Marina, Columbia, NC.

Marvelous private lighthouse, Alligator River Marina, Columbia, NC.

At the Alligator River Bridge, at ICW StM 84, on the western shore, is the very well protected Alligator River Marina.  Stop and visit Ms. Wanda.  Fuel prices here are frequently more competitive than regional averages.  Ms. Wanda has an onsite restaurant that offers a limited down-home menu of excellent home-made “victuals.”  This stop positions cruisers heading north for an early morning crossing of the Albemarle Sound, which is often the most desirable time of day for the 25 mile crossing.  In the area north of the bridge, there are anchorages in the Little Alligator River, at Sandy Point on the Western Shore, and at East Lake/South Lake about 5 miles to the east of the ICW.  Northbound above the Alligator River Bridge and approaching Albemarle Sound, be alert to the shoals.  They change, and channel buoys are re-located from time-to-time.  In some areas, floating markers are in place, but can be difficult to find and see.  Cruisers must find them and honor them.  Use online resources for current information.

The Pamlico Sound Route:

The Option Two route from Oriental via the Pamlico Sound departs the Neuse River to the northeast.  Chart a course to Ocracoke, NC (42 StM).  There are large North Carolina State Ferries on this route.  Particularly in the Big Foot Slough Channel leading from the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke’s Sliver Lake harbor, be careful to avoid the backwash of their powerful engines.  The backwash is sufficient to sweep cruising boats out of the channel and into nearby shoals.

Ocracoke Light

Ocracoke Light

At Ocracoke, there is an inexpensive National Park Service dock in Silver Lake that offers power, water and toilet facilities, but not showers, to cruisers.  There is also a commercial marina available with a more complete package of amenities.  Sanctuary and crew stayed at the NPS dock.

We suggest cruisers rent a golf cart to tour around the island.  There is a wonderful local history and heritage museum, and a large former Coast Guard station that is now a private conference center.  There are many shoppes and choices of restaurants.   And of course, there is Ocracoke Light House.  The light house tower is not open to the public, but the grounds are available.

The cruise from Ocracoke to Manteo (67 StM) is documented on this blog as a separate entry, here: https://gilwellbear.wordpress.com/category/cruising-practica/us-east-coast/north-carolina/north-carolina-manteo/.

Lost Colony Settlement

Lost Colony Settlement

Manteo, NC, is a very historic and wonderful cruising stop.  We highly recommend visiting here.  It is the Site of the first English Colony in North America, known today as the “Lost Colony.”  Manteo is the home port of Elizabeth II, a reproduction of the ship that brought those 117 colonists to the region in 1587, including John White, his daughter, Eleanor Dare, her husband Ananias Dare, and their daughter, Virginia.  The Roanoak Island Festival Park and Roanoak Adventure Museum includes a reproduction of the English Settlement and Indian Village, with crafts and demonstrations depicting life in a pre-colonial village.  The Plantation does a particularly good job of honoring the importance and contributions of the local Croatan Indian peoples.  Manteo is the home of the Roanoak Marshes Lighthouse, and a small boat-building museum.  There is a very nice marina, many shoppes and restaurants.

Departing from Manteo, travel north and turn west immediately north of Roanoak Island.  Proceed to the intersection of Croatan Sound, and turn north to the Albemarle.  Set your course to either Coinjock, VA, or Elizabeth City, NC (46 StM).

Pamlico Sound, NC

Updated text and detail: January, 2016

As always, readers are responsible to perform due diligence with official charts, cruising guides and online cruising resources to verify the navigation and piloting informations presented in this post.

Sanctuary and crew made our first transit between Manteo and Ocracoke across Pamlico Sound on Monday, 10/25/2010.  This route is 20 miles shorter than the ICW route from Coinjock, VA, to Oriental, NC, but it is greatly more exposed to open water.  The portion of the Pamlico Sound crossing that is in truly “open water” is about 35 StM, so pay particular attention to the marine forecast when you go.  That said, Manteo and Ocracoke are neat little towns, and we learned things here that we never knew.  Visit the  Roanoak Island Maritime Museum and The Lost Colony. This is a really excellent alternative to the ICW and the Alligator River, Alligator River Swing Bridge, and Alligator-Pungo Canal.

The following screen capture shows the A-ICW route on the left of the page, and the Pamlico Sound route between the Albemarle Sound and Oriental, NC.

Pamlico Sound, North Carolina Outer Banks

Pamlico Sound, North Carolina Outer Banks

Roanoke Marshes Light, Manteo, NC

Roanoke Marshes Light, Manteo, NC

Traveling southbound, we got to Manteo by crossing the Albemarle Sound from Elizabeth City to Croatan Sound.  No problems; unremarkable navigation except for the trillions (exaggeration for effect) of crab pot floats in the Albemarle.  From the Albemarle, we took the Croatan Sound Channel to the north end of Roanoke Island, and then turned east through the buoy-marked traverse across the north end of Roanoke Island through Roanoke Sound, to the Roanoke Channel.  We stayed at Manteo, at the Waterfront Marina; an excellent facility and staff.

Ocracoke Light, Ocracoke, NC

Ocracoke Light, Ocracoke, NC

When we departed from Waterfront Marina in Manteo, we turned south into the Roanoke Channel through Roanoke Sound, joined the Old House Channel into Pamlico Sound, southwest across the Pamlico to the Big Foot Slough Channel into Ocracoke Island’s Silver Lake, and to the National Park Service docks.  This is a transit of 67.1 StM which we did in 8.26 hours (so an average speed of 8.12 Stm/hr).

Here’s a synopsis of the navigation between Manteo and Ocracoke.  The Roanoke Channel, from it’s beginnings north of Manteo, carries as little as 7ft to it’s intersection with the Manteo Village entrance channel.  South of the Manteo entrance channel, the Roanoke Channel carries at least 9′ for it’s entire length; in most areas, 11′ to 14′.  There are no draft-related problem areas (at this time).  In fact, the reproduction s/v Elizabeth II, which draws 8 ft, regularly uses this channel.  So, no draft problems, but the channel is quite narrow, probably 100 ft.  And, it is not a “No Wake” area.  Thus, our plan was to “take our half out of the middle,” which was OK at 07h00 on a Monday morning.

There were, however, two areas that caused me some navigation confusion.  A couple of miles south of Manteo is the US64/US264, 65′ fixed bridge.  Southbound, emerging from under that bridge, there is a square “No Wake” sign on a post just on the east side of the channel.  With the sun low on the morning horizon, I nearly mistook that sign, by shape, for a green marker.  It’s not.  The second area of confusion was another 2 – 3 miles south of the aforementioned US64/US264 bridge, where there is a side-channel that runs off to the west, into the village of Wanchese (pronounced: WAN-cheese).  In that area, when southbound, the Roanoke Channel takes a small dog-leg left, and then another, back to the right.  It took me a minute looking through the binoculars to actually realize there was a side-channel intersection there, and it was confusing; and narrow.  Carefully pick out the markers for the Roanoke Channel.

At it’s south end, the Roanoke Channel turns sharply west.  In another mile, it intersects with the Old House Channel where the Oregon Inlet Channel comes in from the ocean.  My understanding is, the Oregon Inlet channel is now closed (fallout from Hurricane Sandy).  Verify before planning to use.  There are several new markers on the Roanoke Channel that are not mentioned in the cruising guides and are only reflected on electronic charts that have recent Local Notices to Mariners (LNMs) incorporated.  On the Roanoke channel, the new markers include 37A, 37, 36A, 36, 34A and 34.  At the entrance of the Old House Channel (which is just a continuation of the route from the Roanoke Channel into Pamlico Sound) there is a new green-over-red marker, “OH.”  The rest of the Old House route into Pamlico Sound is well marked and unremarkable.

The route across Pamlico Sound is, likewise, unremarkable.  Follow it to the Big Foot Slough Channel from the sound into Ocracoke.  Note here that the North Carolina State Ferry System uses this channel.  Draft for pleasure craft is not a problem, but if you encounter a ferry in that channel, watch the prop wash!  The prop wash is very, very strong, and definitely enough to set you out of the channel.  There is a red-over-green junction marker just beyond R3 and G4.  Watch for the correctly charted shoal there, and turn 120 degrees or so to port, into the entrance channel into Ocracoke harbor, called “Sliver Lake” on the charts.  In the harbor, inexpensive dockage with water and electric is available at the National Park Service docks adjacent to the ferry docks.  In this harbor, there is also plenty of room to anchor; 20 boats or more.  The harbor is very well protected from the strong periodic winds that frequent this island 20 miles into the Atlantic.

Albemarle Sound to Norfolk

As always, readers are responsible to perform due diligence with official charts, cruising guides and online cruising resources to verify the navigation and piloting informations presented in this post.

Seasonal hours-of-daylight can affect travel options in this region.  In the spring, morning twilight will start at 06h00, and sundown will be around 19h30.  In the late fall, after clocks change from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard time, morning twilight will start at 07h00, and sundown will be around 17h00.  Travel in the fall will necessarily be foreshortened.  Do not travel A-ICW waters at night unless you are very, very familiar with the area.

On the various ICWs, no matter the location, do not assume the magenta line correctly portrays the best route or the deepest water.  The charted “magenta line” is at best only a guide to the general direction of the recommended route.  It is a good guide, but it is not perfect and is not suitable for piloting a boat.  As the waterway changes, markers are added, relocated and removed.  Printed charts cannot and do not keep up with local changes to the actual waterway route.  Even the most current version of a chart can be years out-of-date.  It is therefore essential for helmsmen to maintain a careful watch.  The wise captain will also monitor daily US Coast Guard “Marine Safety and Information Broadcasts” for up-to-date information on missing or off-station markers and other hazards, but the general “rule” is, markers in the water always take precedence over charts.

There are two route alternatives between The Alligator River and Norfolk, VA.  The “main” route, (Route 1) is called the Virginia Cut.  The longer route (Route 2) is via the Great Dismal Swamp.

On the dock at the North Carolina Welcome Center

On the dock at the North Carolina Welcome Center

From the Albemarle Sound, we prefer and recommend traveling north to Norfolk via Elizabeth City, NC (Route 2).  We stay and stage for the Dismal Swamp transit at the free docks in Elizabeth City, NC.  The Pasquotank River above Elizabeth City is the most beautiful part of the entire East Coast ICW, only approached by the Upper Waccamaw River in SC.

The Virginia Cut generally carries the bulk of through pleasure craft traffic, and all of the go-fast boats that nonchalantly wake slower boats.  The area of the North Landing River and the Currituck Sound is wide and shallow, with a narrow channel that must be honored.  Go-fast boats will not slow when passing slower boats.  The southern part of the route, below Coinjock, VA, is scenic.  There are a couple of reasonable anchorages south of Coinjock.  Although the route carries better depths (the control depth is 8′ – 9′), you must pay attention to the marked channels, particularly in the open water stretches.  Markers are often well away from the deepest water of the actual channel.  Do not get too close to the channel markers.

Bridge at twilight on the Chesapeake-Albemarle Canal

Bridge at twilight on the Chesapeake-Albemarle Canal

This route has several bridges that most cruising boats will need to have open.  All are restricted to either the hour or the half hour during daylight hours.  The restrictions will affect slower boats more than faster boats.  Faster boats often become impatient.  Large, go-fast boats prefer this route, so just expect to be waked here; it’s just a fact-of-life on this route.  Time the various bridge opening restrictions carefully.  While waiting on bridges, station-keeping in current and wind, the occasional impatient boater and poor boating manners, can make this route unpleasant and challenging.  Two of the bridges on this route are 5 miles apart.  The southern one opens every half hour.  The northern one only on the hour.  If you can’t make at least 10 StM/Hr, it’s possible to have to wait 1-1/2 hrs for the second bridge.  There are marinas in this section of the route, with all normal marina services.

Corps of Engineers Lock at Great Bridge (Chesapeake, VA)

Corps of Engineers Lock at Great Bridge (Chesapeake, VA)

There is a single Corps of Engineers lock at Great Bridge (Chesapeake, VA).  The lock operates in coordination with a 4-lane highway bascule bridge there.  The bridge is restricted to hourly openings, which effectively restricts the lock.  The lock has a free wall where boats can tie up and overnight.  There are no services.  There is a Farm Fresh super market two city blocks away, within walking distance.  Beer and wine is available at grocery stores from Virginia south.

 

Early fall on the Dismal Swamp Canal

Early fall on the Dismal Swamp Canal

The Dismal Swamp route northbound begins at Elizabeth City.  There are two locks on this route, one at Deep Creek and one at South Mills.  Northbound, plan to leave Elizabeth City before the bascule bridge’s opening restrictions begin in the morning.  This will bring trawler-speed cruisers (7.5 its) to the South Mills Lock in time for the first locking of the morning.  That timing allows cruisers to easily make the Deep Creek Lock opening at 13h30, and reach Norfolk by late afternoon.  The Dismal Swamp canal is narrow.  The canopy of trees lining the route does overhang the canal in some places, but is not a significant concern for sailboats.  At normal pool datum, the canal carries depths of 6-1/2 ft. or better.  There are (a very few) submerged logs in the canal bed.

The Lock House and conch garden at Deep Creek Lock

The Lock House and conch garden at Deep Creek Lock

The two locks on this route are 22 miles apart.  They operate (unless drought restrictions are in force) at 08h30, 11h00, 13h30 and 15h30.  Cruisers locking through at either end (either direction) at the 08h30 locking will have 5 hours, until 13h30, to get to the other end.  That works out to 22 miles/5 hours equals 4.4 StM/hr.  Adjusted for locking and bridge transit time, actual travel speed (to avoid prolonged station-keeping at the destination end) will be at around 5 StM/hr.  The speed limit on the canal is 6 StM/hr.  Most trawlers and sailboats are at reduced speed at 5 StM/hr, so these locks are *not* a problem for passage in one day.  Travel at 5 StM/hr speed will *not* generally lift submerged logs off the bottom, but we suggest boats travel 1/2 mile behind any other vessel they may be following.  Especially, stay behind two-engine boats, where prop wash might lift debris from the bottom.  With distance, anything that does lift off the bottom will settle back before you get to it.  Within the canal, there are several overnight docks that are free.  There are no services in the canal.

Rafting at the North Carolina Welcome Center

Rafting at the North Carolina Welcome Center

The North Carolina Welcome Center is always a fun place to stay.  Rafting is the rule, and is expected there, and at other docks in the canal.  If you stay at docks within the canal over night, it’s easy to make the 11h30 locking at either end, from either end.  Both locks have bridges that open only concurrently with the lockings.  If you arrive at a lock early, you have no practical options to tie up, and usually must station keep.

The greatest bonus of this route is the free wharf/slips at Elizabeth City, NC.  EC is the most welcoming city on the East Coast for boaters!  There is a good Maritime Museum there, many restaurants (not 5-star, but good) and Sammy’s Barber Shop.  Sammy has a sort of “cultural museum” in his shop.  If you’re interested in State Police history, or “racially-incorrect” curiosities and mementos from the 50s south, a visit to his shop is a definitely a “must.”  Plus, he’s a good barber.  And of course, the Rose Buddies’ Wine and Cheese gatherings!

NOW BE ADVISED, there is one bottleneck on the Elizabeth River through Norfolk/Portsmouth, at mile 5, that cruisers cannot avoid on either route.  Immediately adjacent to the Gilmerton Highway Bridge is Norfolk & Southern RR Bridge #7.  These bridges can be a very unpleasant surprise for the unsuspecting cruiser.  Both bridges are very busy.  The railway bridge is supposed to be open except when a train is coming.  The highway bridge can not open if the railroad bridge is down.  The re-constructed Gilmerton Highway bridge now carries an air clearance of 35′.  The Gilmerton highway bridge is restricted for ***three*** hours, from 15h30 to 18h30.  It will not open for pleasure craft during those hours, although it will allow pleasure craft to pass if it has to open for commercial traffic.  Boaters cannot depend on commercial traffic, although there is a lot of it on that stretch of the river.  There is tidal current in the Elizabeth River there, and the area is exposed if winds are up.  All in all, this area can be the worst of all worlds.  So, northbound, a cruiser that comes through the Deep Creek Lock at 15h30 cannot make the Gilmerton Bridge before the long afternoon restrictions.  SOUTHBOUND IN THE FALL, AFTER THE CHANGE FROM DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME TO EASTERN STANDARD TIME, it will be ***dark*** by the time the afternoon restriction is lifted.  BE AWARE AND PLAN ACCORDINGLY.

Because through traffic on the Dismal Swamp canal is constrained to daylight hours by the lock operation, you can legally anchor in the channel by the locks.  That works fine above Deep Creek.  Spend the night on the hook there, and lock through southbound at the 08h30 locking in the morning.  The bottom above Deep Creek is sand and mud, and is not foul.  Some people anchor south of South Mills in the feeder ditch there.  If you do, I recommend using a trip line, although I have no specific knowledge of any foul.

If severe weather – n’oreaster w/gale-to-storm force winds – is in the forecast, the Dismal Swamp Canal offers better protection and cover than the Virginia Cut.  That said, the Dismal Swamp route is narrow enough that if a tree(s) does come down, it could block the canal.  In that event cruisers would have to wait a day or so for the USACE to clear the canal.  Generally, that would be worth it to me.