Friday, October 5, 2012

Messing About on the Albemarle

The wind was barely a whisper, leaving Sweet Pea nearly dead in the water. It had been a forty-mile jaunt across the Albemarle Sound and up the Alligator River in near perfect conditions, until the wind went light and then even lighter. Until then it was one of those two dozen day sails for which I had hoped.

Much of the fleet hustled off the docks at first light, as if there might be free food at the destination as there had been in Elizabeth City.

The town goes all out to welcome boaters and make it easy to decide to do the Dismal Swamp route rather than the alternative, which bypasses their hospitality.

eCity -- in honor of their providing free high speed WiFi at the docks --  even invited all the cruisers into a big tent where they plied the whole bunch with drinks and snacks and talked about a future project to provide a bathhouse while we quaffed wine and lime margaritas and munched on cheese and chips. They do thoroughly understand cruisers.

Plus, dockage at Jennett Brothers, a company that supplies restaurants and the like, was at no charge, other than a pledge to eat at a locally-owned restaurant. What a terrific idea. I looked at it as paying $10 for the slip and then getting an absolutely free meal at Quality Sea Food Market, where they served me an excellent platter of flounder, which I couldn't even begin to finish. So for a very modest docking fee, I got two free lunches. I think that tends to disprove the no free lunch thing.

Being chased prior to being passed
Leaving eCity quite early is a good idea since you never really know what the Sound will kick up. Initially the breeze slept in but by the time we had cleared the Pasquotank River it arrived, ready to go to work: on the beam, gusting to 15. Sweet Pea does love that soldier's wind. I was careful to avoid whistling, since more would have been much more than enough.

That was a day sail to file away in a mental folder that holds that rare confluence of wind and destination. It was a romp on a reach across a notoriously nasty stretch of the ICW. Despite having no current to run against the wind, the relatively shallow Albemarle can kick up a chop that will make your teeth chatter and make the far shore seem impossibly distant. But all was well on this day.

Then, ten miles short of the journey, the breeze pooped out, despite having slept in. It was tempting to reach down and punch the starter, but I was curiously reluctant to end so fine a sail and listen to the engine for a couple of hours. Instead I hauled out my button box and waltzed while Sweet Pea ghosted along, well out of the channel.

Boat after boat growled by, heading for a twist in the river that marks end of day. Getting there becomes irresistible, and rightly so. Hot showers, drinks and dinner beckoned.

I was totally surprised when the breeze returned. Within several puffs it built to its former vigor. I hustled below to stow the buttons while Sweet Pea put down her shoulder and took off after the herd. I won't say I passed anyone who had left me behind, but I did manage to keep most of them in sight.

I must say, sailing that last hour was a pleasure and left me feeling giddy with accomplishment. Ah well, it doesn't take much.

One day-sail and one day-motor closer to Jekyll
I paid for those pleasures, though. Today the engine droned on endlessly as the wind hid its face. Now that I've anchored in distant Eastham Creek, a breeze is starting to waft down the hatch, teasing me with its whisper that really, I could have sailed today's last hour or so if I had only slept in rather than heading out for the Alligator Pungo Canal at first light. Ya just never know.

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