Alligator River to ALMOST Oriental, North Carolina

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So remember our trip to Willoughby Bay, just north of Norfolk, where I said that “It’s a hell of a day at sea!”?? Well today, we squashed that. And I mean really squashed it…kinda like this:

We started out from our anchorage on the Alligator River, with the plan to end the day in Oriental, NC. The route takes us from the Alligator River, into the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, then into the Pungo River. After that, we enter the Pamilco River and then on to the Neuse River, by way of several smaller rivers.

Oriental, NC sits on the Neuse River, and they have a free 48 hour dock for boaters. It’s a small town, with very friendly locals. On our last trip south, a car did a u-turn to pick up Scott and me as we were walking back from West Marine in the rain. Unheard of in Maryland….or just about anywhere else.

Along the way, we decided instead to anchor about 30 minutes from Oriental, and not deal with coming into town to find the free dock full, or worry about having enough water level there (we’ve heard that it’s good for boats with 5 foot and under draft, and we’re 5).

So our day was going fine. The terrain along the way is really cool. A mix of grasses, dead trees and swampy shoreline, with some interesting housing mixed in for extra interest.

As we were entering the Pamlico River, a line of storms caught up with us. Skies got dark, and the rain came on fast, accompanied by thunder, lightening and wind gusts of 38mph. No, this isn’t the “squashed” part.

All in all, though, it wasn’t bad. The winds didn’t kick up the waves much, like you’d think they would. Soon, the storm line passed, and we continued on through the Pamlico River, and eventually into the Neuse River….HERE is where we get squashed.

The wind forecast was for 10-15 knot winds, with gusts to 20, from the southwest. Not an issue for us, as we are heavy, and roll slowly. Quick information, for those who may not know:

The Neuse River is similar to the Chesapeake, in that is an overall shallow body of water. This causes waves to kick up faster and steeper than deeper water. South wind at the base of the bay, near Norfolk, don’t produce big waves (for the most part), as the wind hasn’t had time to travel and build them.

By the time you’re up near Annapolis and Baltimore, however, the wind has traveled a distance, and has built bigger waves. The shallow water also causes the waves to be closer together, or have a shorter wave period. So stronger south winds can be a miserable go in the middle and upper bay. The reverse is true for north wind, which makes things worse by the time it gets to the southern bay.

Ok, lesson over…

So we’re in the Neuse, in the south winds, that shouldn’t be a problem for us, as they are FORECASTED. However, we all know how a forecast can turn on a dime. Instead of winds 15-20, with gusts up to 25…WE, at the flip of a switch, got sustained 25-30 knot winds, which translates into about 28-35 mph winds….sustained, meaning constant. Our gusts were 46 or so mph, and they were often. Another tidbit of note, the power of wind quadruples, when it’s speed doubles…yay for us. You may think that I’m embellishing this..I’m not.

Waves quickly built to 3 and 4 feet, with many 5 footers thrown in. This may not be a big deal to some boaters, and we were in no danger of capsizing or sinking by any means, but it was insanely unnerving. Our bow is eight feet above the water line, and the windows of the pilot house are another five or so feet higher than that. We frequently had waves spraying onto the windows:

Scott installed an awesome paravane system, but we need to be in at least 20-25 feet of water to deploy them. Curses!

A set of big waves would hit, and we’d go UP, and then…DOWN. The down was definitely the more nerve wracking. Scott just kept watching the wind get stronger,  and the waves get bigger. Going up and down so drastically slowed our speed. We went down to 2 knots, and at that speed wouldn’t reach our anchorage before dark. Scott altered course a bit, which allowed us to speed up.

As we inched toward shore, the waves and wind finally started to calm. Howard tolerated all of it like a champ, which shocked us both. I think he was so scared, that he went into a catatonic (no pun intended) sleep.

We eventually made our way into the South River, off of the Neuse, and anchored in a creek. Scott kicked himself for not looking at the NOAA weather fax, but they are usually most useful in ocean waters. Live and learn.

Thankfully, tomorrow should only be a four hour or so trip to Beaufort, NC. Hooray! Here are our photos from today.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

2 thoughts on “Alligator River to ALMOST Oriental, North Carolina

  1. Caroline,

    I’m loving every minite of reading your blog. You’re doing a great job of describing every detail so that I feel I’m traveling with you. Praying for safe travels & just enough squashes to keep it exciting! xoxo

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