Beaufort was our last “must see” until the Dismal Swamp, but with 165 miles between the two, we chose three intermediary stops, towns which even North Carolinians may not have heard of, but which Loopers know well. We sadly parted ways with Beaufort’s Caribbean blue water and returned to the Coca Cola brown rivers as we headed north.
First was Belhaven, 60 miles from Beaufort. The dock master back at Lambs in Jacksonville, FL highly recommended this stop, telling us to tell Henry “hi” at River Forest Marina. Upon arrival, Henry took our lines.
“Ya loopin”? he asked.
“Yeah…” Steve replied.
Yes. We knew that.
“Why ya stayin’ two nahts? Ya lookin’ fur properdy? Tha’sa only reason anyone stays two nahts.”
😑 Sometimes you just need a day to catch up, but admittedly, the marina felt rather like a ghost town. We borrowed the marina golf cart and tooled along Water Street past a dozen immaculate turn-of-the-19th-century homes on the water front. We saw the AGLCA burgee on a trawler at the other marina—shoot! Just our luck to miss meeting another Looper. With staffing difficulties everywhere, the creative gourmet Spoon River, which we anticipated for a lovely dinner, was closed during our visit and is now only open Thursdays through the week end. But there was an outdoor pizza place, and it was good. The bugs must have posted an APB—they finally found us in Belhaven!
Next stop, Alligator River Marina, after a beautiful and uneventful 52 miles with light wind from the north on our nose. We traversed the Pungo River (“river of many fish,” the many fish pots requiring a sharp look-out and a quick hand on the wheel), and from there a 21-mile canal connecting it to the Alligator River, a short river only 47 miles long. The Alligator opens onto the Albermarle Sound. Only for lack of options did we stop at Alligator River Marina for the night. Oh, and good fuel price. In line for cheap fuel were fishing boats, with their requisite topsy-turvy stacks of baskets. As I watched the fuel pump,
I chatted with a young fisherman, and when I asked, he pulled a big basket off his boat to show off his gorgeous catch for the day. Such a beautiful dark sky blue are the legs of blue crabs, and so strong those claws! As we chatted, the young man seemed to be wondering why we would be staying there and tried to direct us to a more popular spot, but it was in the direction one takes when not going the swamp route. Other cruisers tied up on the wall for the night, joining a remoteness that eliminated any activity requiring a Verizon signal.
Elizabeth City, population 15,000, is the staging stop for entering the Dismal Swamp. One docks at the free docks right in town, convenient to the wonderful maritime museum and a few quaint shops and good eateries. With an increased proliferation of bugs on the short cruise to Elizabeth City, a good vacuuming was the first order of business after docking; there is no water for wash downs at free docks or at anchor. Once known for its friendliness when every sailor was greeted with a rose and an evening welcoming party, times have changed, town budgets and personal discretionary time being what they are. With our chores completed, we took a spin around town. First scoping out the beautiful maritime museum, we discovered that it would not be open at all over the week end, and we had 15 minutes to soak in what we could. (“Yur Late!”) A very kind manager approached us a few minutes past closing, engaging in conversation about the museum and the difficulty in hiring staff these days as she graciously escorted us to the door and invited us to come back another time. We found good food at Hoppin” Johnz in a vibrant atmosphere, with a gregarious server, and a fun, girly women’s room, decorated with a full-length mirror framed with pink boa and twinkle lights and fun signage. “Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can buy some cute shoes,” one read.
Our convenient spot on the wall in the center of town was a fishbowl, as folks with kids and dogs walked the water’s edge, attracted by the small, one-design sailboats zigzagging the waters, the farmers market, and our red-hulled boat. By Saturday at 1:00, we had had enough and moved another 8 miles up river. Anchoring for the night in a gorgeous remote bend by Goat Island, we are staged and eagerly anticipate the Dismal Swamp Canal.