It seemed as though a switch was thrown. All of the sudden, we were planning our days around bridge openings rather than tides and currents. By going outside between Wrightsville and Morehead City, we bypassed four restricted bridges on the ICW—bridges that only open at certain times, e.g. on the hour or half-hour, or don’t open during vehicular rush hours. Now that we were back on the ICW, and north of the most noteworthy shoaling areas, we were more focused on the bridges that had to lift or swing open for the height of our mast. Timing is everything, and missing a bridge opening can play havoc with travel schedules.
We had planned to sail up the Neuse River to visit New Bern primarily because several friends had recommended this charming town, despite the 3-hour detour off the ICW. We made good time due to currents, and arrived Bridge Pointe Marina two hours before the posted “rush hour,” and the Cunningham Bridge tender opened the bascule bridge upon our request.
New Bern is a quaint town but frankly, we’re not sure what all the fuss is about. They’ve done a few things well, but many of the shops and sights are dispersed over several blocks. The result is that the town lacks a certain vibe. I should mention that Dudley’s graduate degree is in City Planning, so imagine the conversations we’ve had in each of these small towns. So much potential, but either lack of vision, leadership, infrastructure, and/or money seem to plague many of the towns we’ve visited.
When we walked to dinner at Morgan’s at 7 pm, the streets were eerily quiet. We were surprised to find the restaurant bustling, and could only assume that everyone arrived by car and parked in the back. After dinner, we walked a different route through town and noted the same desolate qualities. Maybe we just didn’t walk far enough? Or maybe it’s just a driving kind of town, and we tend not to like those.
The weather forecasts were wrong again and the predicted rains never materialized for Day 192, our second day in New Bern. I walked to the town’s only coffee shop, and picked up another weird vibe there but managed to stay and get some writing done before lining up with the townspeople along Front Street to wait for the Clydesdales to pass. Yep, the famous horses were in town!
I found a place to perch, and reached for my phone to text the Bakers on Magnolia who had arrived that afternoon, and voila! A&A were literally walking by me on the sidewalk at that moment. Wow, telepathy in action! Dudley soon joined us and we watched the throngs of people as well as the Clydesdales.
Afterwards, we had cocktails together, and Annette and I made plans for a girls breakfast the following morning. Dudley and I walked across the bascule bridge and made it back to the marina in time to watch the sunset over the railroad bridge.
It was a misty and foggy morning on Day 194 when we left New Bern, precisely requesting and timing a 7:30 am opening of the bascule bridge that limited our departure time. As we waited for it to open, Dudley pointed out that the railroad bridge behind us had a train approaching with no one to close the RR bridge so the train could cross. I watched with fascination as the locomotive inched forward, stopping before the precipice so that the engineer could step off, examine the bridge, enter the bridge tender booth, and work the controls.
I didn’t get to watch the bridge close and the train cross because our bridge was opening at that moment. Oh well. It was still educational. This bridge stuff intrigues me.
The fog persisted so we turned radar on and used the split screen feature to help detect other boats as well as navigational aids or hazards. We were delighted that winds from the north were finally working with us rather than against us, so we put the sails out AND turned off the engine. For one and a half hours, we sailed at 7 knots down the Neuse River. It was heavenly.
As we rejoined the ICW route, we decided to alternate two-hour shifts at the helm to relieve some of the boredom. The fog eventually abated, but the day was grey, and we loss cell phone and internet connection for over 20 hours in these remote parts. We were making good time though, and decided to bypass Campbell Creek to push ahead to the Pungo River anchorage further north.
We hoped to turn a 3-day passage into two long days if everything worked well, traveling up the Pungo River Canal, the Alligator River, and crossing the notorious Albemarle Sound in relatively calm conditions. Cruisers have two choices after crossing the sound to reach Norfolk: either the scenic but shallower Dismal Swamp, or the less scenic and more commercially trafficked Virginia Cut. We chose to repeat our autumn route and head towards the Dismal Swamp. That meant a stop in Elizabeth City on Day 195 and beyond. Weather forecasts made us want to be in a quaint town.
We enjoyed another beautiful and quiet 2.5 hour sail up the Pasquotank River, on one long breezy tack from the river’s mouth up to the Elizabeth City harbor. Two other boats were tied up at the courtesy bulkhead, but we managed to dock ourselves at the northeastern end, unintentionally photo bombing a few prom pictures as bedazzled high school students were posing along the waterfront rail. But at that moment, I was more worried about my job as line handler. Docking there last fall was not easy, and it left a memorable impression on me. I remembered having to use the short pilings as stepping stones to get off the boat. This time, we also had no gate to exit onto the town’s park, so we had to crawl under and over the railings. And somehow, they call this town the Harbor of Hospitality? At least the bulkhead is free and we managed to tie up securely.
Sadly, Elizabeth City has shuttered even more shops and restaurants since our fall visit. We had dinner at Sydney’s, and were two of only four adults dining there that evening. The next day, I was delighted to find that Muddy Waters coffee shop was still alive and vibrant, so I spent the morning there writing a couple of speech and business proposals. I also walked a mile to the organic market, and passed some sights along the way, including this Little Free Library. Am I the only one who didn’t know about this? https://littlefreelibrary.org/build/
When I returned to the boat, I learned that the Elizabeth City bascule bridge that “got stuck” in a partially open position that morning, causing a vehicular traffic back up for over an hour, finally closed to allow cars to cross, but may not be operational for a few days. Magnolia was alerted, and they arrived the following day, sharing our hopes that work on the bridge would not cause undue delays. I didn’t get to attend the town’s happy hour that evening because of work deadlines—yes that proposal writing can put a damper on social activities. But Dudley got to visit with the Bakers, and he and Anthony rode our bikes to get some provisions.
As it turned out, the bascule bridge was fixed in time for Magnolia to depart after only one evening in Elizabeth City. They left quite early, and we departed a few hours later, after the proposal writing was done and we enjoyed a quick lunch at Cypress Creek Restaurant. And bought some books at Page After Page. Gotta keep these businesses in business! We hope to see a more vibrant town when we venture this way again, as well as a working bridge!