Belhaven to Manteo to Morehead City!!!
Week three of Summer Vacation will take us on an Epic Adventure into waters who have reputations to be really nasty. We are heading further North than we have ever been! The first leg is Oriental to Belhaven NC. It’s about 45 miles and takes us from Oriental to the mouth of the Neuse River into the Bay River, into the Hobucken Cut, across the Pamlico River up into the Pungo River!
First Stop is the tiny town of Belhaven. When I say tiny, I really mean it!! Oriental is a small town. Belhaven is almost non-existent. We stayed at the Belhaven Waterway Marina. It’s a really well run, friendly and clean marina and very tiny. The docks are really well maintained and pre-fendered for your convenience. The bathrooms are clean and very cutely decorated.
The town itself was a little bit of a let down. I can’t pinpoint why really, other than a two block walk and we were done here. We decided to try Farm Boys for some dinner or appetizers and see what the hot spot in Belhaven was like. I ordered seared Tuna rare, that came well done and Tom ordered the porkchop which was also a bit like shoe leather. So the dining was not anything to write home about. The evening was looking a little disappointing. We consoled ourselves that this really was just a stopover on our way to Manteo, it didn’t need to be awesome.
A band was setting up while we finished what we could stomach of our dinner. We couldn’t believe it when the band that was playing was none other than Donovan from the famous Rock N Reggae Café from the 1990’s in Raleigh NC! Tom worked with Donovan for several years as one of his house sound engineers. I am a HUGE fan of Reggae music and a big fan of Donovan! It was such a treat to see him, get to listen to his current band, and reminisce over the years that have passed. He actually still has a Jamaican restaurant over on the East side of Raleigh now, called Jerk Masters. Visit him for some great Jamaican food!
Day two we decide to make a short run from Belhaven to the Alligator River Marina up at the top of the Alligator River. This will be just over 5 hours for us. We depart early and have an easy run up the Pungo Canal. The Canal is about 27 miles long. It’s very protected and a very easy run. It is also about the most boring stretch of waterway that we’ve experienced!
As we depart the Canal and turn into the Alligator River, the North winds show themselves immediately. We have a strong head sea the entire length of the river, about two hours. We knew what we were getting into, this wasn’t a surprise really. Although, I was a little surprised at the sharp height of the waves. The shallow waters of the River make for a really sloppy chop, especially with the wind blowing from the North!
The charts show submerged pilings the entire length of the river. These must be old channel markers. We got to see a couple of them and they could seriously ruin your day if you’re not paying attention. These should totally be marked with navigation cans!!
We get through the Swing Bridge and turn to port to enter the Alligator River Marina. The Marina is in fairly good shape. The docks are sturdy. The nails in the decking boards are sticking up far enough to trip you if you’re not watching! The bathrooms were the dirtiest I’ve seen along the ICW so far. Again, this is just a stopover so I’m not too upset. We were tied up and secure for the evening and that was the most important thing!
Day Three is a short run over to Manteo!! This is the scariest day so far. The Albemarle Sound is notorious for nasty nasty seas. We know the winds are again forecast from the North, and we’ll probably be fighting a big beam sea once we get out of the Alligator River. With anxious excitement and trepidation, we get underway. As promised, the North winds are throwing us a big head sea again this morning. We only have a three hour cruise today so we tell ourselves everything will be okay! It will be uncomfortable, but there is very little chance of rain or storms. Skinny Dippin’ proved on our trip to Ocracoke earlier this summer that she can totally handle the conditions! As we get out into the Albemarle something amazing happens. It’s about 9am now, and the wind dies. Right when we turn to starboard, when the beams seas should be making me squeal….the wind dies. We have an amazing flat water cruise across to Roanoke Sound! Neither Tom or I will even speak of our good fortune in fear of ruining it!
We land at the Manteo Waterfront Marina just a little before noon on Monday! The dockmaster Carl Jordan meets us at our slip and helps us get secured on the bulkhead dock. What a cute waterfront! This is a mixture of Beaufort and Ocracoke! Tom and I get settled in and get ready for a day of sightseeing!
Roanoke Island is a little island between the Outerbanks and the Mainland of NC. There is a lot to do here! We didn’t get to see the Lost Colony performance, but we did stop by the theater! The History Museum had some neat exhibits of past storms and fires that destroyed the waterfront. There was also some life sized replicas of the Indian settlements that the colonists came upon when they arrived as well as a replica of the sailing vessel the “Elizabeth” that they came over on. The Elizabethan Gardens were definitely worth a visit! While typical English Gardens, it was a really nice walk through some beautiful gardens! The butterflies and hummingbirds were quite happy! The shaded pathways between the gardens were a welcome relief after our bike ride to get here! The Aquarium was also a must see. Our NC Aquariums really are amazing.
We visited all of these spots while riding our bikes on the island’s greenway. There is a nicely paved greenway that runs from the waterfront area all the way north to the gardens right next to the two lane highway 64.
We spent two days on Manteo and rode our bikes all over. It was a great visit and we’re so glad we came here. Weather permitting, we could have spent another 2 or 3 days exploring. But two days was a worthwhile trip. We decide to move along on Wednesday due to impending weather coming on Thursday. We do not want to be caught out on the Albemarle in bad winds or possible storms. Part of being a boater is watching the weather and moving on when the weather is with you.
Day 5 of our vacation, Wednesday, has us heading back into the Roanoke to Croatan and then to the Albemarle sounds into the Alligator and Pungo!! We leave at 6am in the predawn light. The Roanoke Sound is flat. As we make way across the tip of the Croatan into the Albemarle, it’s flat too!! How lucky are we??? We again don’t talk about it at all, so as to not jinx ourselves!
Our plan this day is to make way to Belhaven, perhaps a little further. The weather is awesome all the way to the Pungo Canal. We have our own private Air Show put on by the Marines over the Pamlico. We got to watch bombing runs and aerial dogfighting. That sure took some of the boredom out of the Alligator River! Wish we could see them while in the Pungo Canal!
The Pungo was boring as expected. When we got to the western end of it, a South East wind was picking up. This foiled our plans of staying at Dowry Creek Marina. They are open to the SE and neither of us were keen on rocking and rolling all night long. We find our way back to the Belhaven Waterway Marina and were welcomed with friendly smiles. Yes, the free docks were right there, but we had budgeted this into our trip, so stayed here.
Thursday is Day 6. The plan is to find our way home to Oriental today. Another 45 miles or so and we’re home with a successful trip! The weather is building all day from the very start. We can see the clouds building and we tip toe along side this system going in the opposite direction! “Don’t mind us, we are not the Droids you are looking for”. We get down the Pungo River, across the Pamlico, and into the Hobucken Cut. The storms are still on the Western side of the rivers. They are big and black to the eye, and red and orange on the weather apps. As we depart the Hobucken Cut and enter the Bay River, we are faced with a very important choice. Do we find a safe anchorage, or push on? The weather radar app shows a hole….the visual over the Pamlico Sound looks like just rain. But the Pamlico can be super nasty and unpredictable. What should we do? If we choose find the anchorage, we’ll be working with the ground tackle “in” the storm. If we press on we’ll definitely get wet, but what are the sea conditions out there? We get suited up (put on our personal floatation devices or life jackets) and press on. I can see the navigation markers in the binoculars….and FRED (Friggin’ Remarkable Electronic Device) is holding course straight and true.
As we turn into the Neuse right at marker NR1, the rain lightens and we can see blue sky….sort of. Our destination of Oriental has a storm cell over it and more coming. The South side of the River does not. The South side of the river leads us to our favorite places, Morehead City and Beaufort!! Who wants to guess what we did? It was Thursday!! Wouldn’t you? We got closer to Adam’s Creek and I called up Mike at the Yacht Basin! It was Pirate Weekend in Beaufort, so we knew that would be packed. Mike had room and we needed fuel!
The rest of this story would sound just like many others. We had a great time. We borrowed the courtesy car and went to get some more provisions and groceries. We got some fuel and I did some laundry. We had a great dinner at Floyd’s and an after dinner drink on the new patio. I can’t wait to visit the new patio in the Fall with the fire pits roaring!
This summer was full of firsts for us. Big scary crossings of waters that have really bad reputations. We had mostly great weather and mostly great sea conditions! We have grown so much as a couple and as a team. Our little Skinny Dippin’ has taken us on great adventures along our coastal waterways and delivered us home safe and sound. When we question our sanity for getting so addicted to cruising, we are able to look back on these memories and know that this adventurous lifestyle was the right thing to do. Yes, we can’t throw off the dock lines long term just yet, but our short cruises are our adventures for now. One day, we’ll be able to go….someday.
Life is short, and tomorrow is not promised to anyone. Get out there and enjoy life, have an adventure and make memories that will stay with you forever!In the words of Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”