Dec 11, 2017 – Where in the hell is the Alligator?

This morning is cold at Coinjock, but spectacular for cruising. After some coffee and a quick re-check of the weather, it’s time to prepare Kailani for departure. That means re-positioning the dock lines so we can release from the dock single handedly. I go out to do just that and there’s a film of ice on the wooden docks. So I carefully step off the boat and try to stay in spots that have already been hit by the rising sun. These areas are just wet and not slippery. After Kailani is all prepared and the electrical hook-ups are returned to the aft cockpit, Kailani is ready for departure. Tracy has been preparing the interior for cruising, which is the lay-down/secure process we complete before every day at sea.

At exactly 9 am, we blow the horn signifying we are leaving the dock and we head out south on the North Carolina Cut towards Albemarle Sound. We know that the Sound can get nasty in a flash, so we’ve been watching the weather closely and today is forecasting west winds at 9-11 knots and seas at 1 foot with 5 second periods, so the Sound should be good to cross. There are no bridges that we need to wait for today, so we’ve really got clear sailing throughout the day. With our 9 am departure we are projecting a 12:45 pm arrival at Alligator River Marina.

The Cut is docile as usual however, the Albemarle Sound lives up to it’s expectations and the winds howl at slightly more that 9-11 knots and the waves are coming from the starboard bow and they’re more like 2-3 feet with 3 second periods. Oh well, life is still good! There’s very little boat traffic and certainly nobody travelling north. We pass a few sailboats and each time, we radio them to coordinate a slow pass and everyone has their radio on, so it’s a good thing. At cruising speed, we’re going about 9.5 knots and the sailboats are motoring at about 6 knots and both vessels throw up their respective wakes, however, if we can successfully coordinate a slow pass (meaning we make radio contact and get permission), then Kailani slows to a no-wake speed of 5.5 knots and the sailboat slows to about 3 knots and we still pass the slower vessel at approximately 3 knot delta, without a wake! Today, we’re able to complete the slow pass on all three sailboats we passed. We are courteous and they are appreciative. It’s a win-win.

aligatorAfter bouncing through the Albermarle Sound, we see the mouth of the Alligator River. Although we think it should be called the Duck River because as we are maneuvering through the channel to pass into the Alligator River, we circle around at least 25 duck-blind boats with hunters obviously hunting for ducks. And we didn’t see one alligator, so how this river was named remains a mystery to us. (The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has several claims to fame, including its status as one of the last remaining strongholds on the Eastern Seaboard for Black Bear. In fact, visitors driving along US 264 and US 64 often spot the small bears lounging alongside the highway or barely visible along the bordering woods. In addition to the black bear, refuge residents include raccoons, rabbits, energetic river otters, and even American alligators. As it turns out, this section of North Carolina is one of the northernmost homes for alligators, and though rarely seen, an occasional visitor may catch a glimpse of one burrowed beneath the surface of the brackish waters.  -tc)

Right before the Alligator River Swing Bridge, we make a turn to starboard and follow the channel into the Alligator River Marina. I expected this marina to be full since it’s the only marina between Coinjock and Belhaven (85 miles) unless you go outside into Pamlico Sound. But as we motor into the marina, we are the only boat there, so we can dock anywhere we want. The dockhand helps us tie up and by 1 pm we’re safely secured in calm water. By the way, one of the sailboats we had passed earlier comes in for the evening and we don’t have a clue where the other sailboats went.

The Alligator River marina is under new ownership and the new owners have it running very nicely. Part of the marina is a Shell gasoline station right at the entrance to that bridge we mentioned earlier, so there is a lot of vehicle traffic that goes through here. Inside the Shell station is the marina office and part of their convenience store is a grill with freshly made burgers, hot dogs, hoagies, etc. So we decide to treat ourselves to a hot afternoon meal since the grill will close at 5:30 pm.

After our hot meal Tracy finds the perfect spot for Frankie to put some miles on his paws and he takes full advantage of the opportunity to stretch out. Since the beginning of this trip, Frankie has been a real trooper in spite of the fact that he’s basically confined to the vessel. He has the full run of the boat and he’s always up at the helm when we’re cruising, but he doesn’t really get enough run time, so this afternoon is a special treat that he doesn’t miss!

Late afternoon time is spent reviewing Tuesday’s weather forecast and our planned route. This is our go/no-go time we spend each evening before we are planning a run for the next day. Today is giving us some cause for concern because we will be running down a few larger bodies of water and there are small craft warnings popping up for 7 pm on Tuesday evening. Our trip for tomorrow is 16 miles south on the Alligator River, then 26 miles on the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, then 11 miles on the Pungo River to Belhaven. We’re not too concerned with the canal because the cut should provide lee protection for that portion of the trip. Where we are concerned is the Alligator and Pungo portions. Winds are forecast to be 15 knots and increasing throughout the day, but seas are supposed to be only 1-2 feet. I decide to call upon our old friend Geoff Gow as a resource and after some texting, we collectively decide to carefully re-check the forecast(s) in the morning, plan for an earlier than usual departure (to beat the small craft warnings) and make our final decision then. With that decided, we turn in early so we can potentially get out early if the weather gods comply.