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To the Boatyard

Text by Paul Clayton, Photographs Paul Clayton and Taylor Ward.

A slow but worrisome below waterline leak took my attention on a recent trip to Edenton, and while I did manage to get it stopped (Gunk Radiator Repair), I hesitated to leave the boat while I returned to Winston. Since I had a number of things to do in the boatyard, I decided to sail to Belhaven and have Terry Ann hauled at TJ's. Taylor volunteered to come along, and I quickly took him up on it before he had time to change his mind.

Approaching the Alligator River Bridge. Photo by Taylor Ward.

Nice weather for the end of January shaped up, and we decided to shuttle a car to Belhaven Friday evening, then leave promptly Saturday morning to reach the Alligator River anchorage at the mouth of the canal in a day, and then get to Belhaven Sunday afternoon. First order of business, Friday afternoon - move the boat out of my slip and into Taylor's (his boat is in the yard). Getting in and out of my slip is problematic unless the water is high, which it was not. Rather than fight our way out Saturday morning, we decided to stage out of Taylor's somewhat deeper slip. Doing that Friday would save us a half-hour Saturday morning. And that's the way it worked out. We grounded on the hump in front of my slip, but with 30 minutes of diligent work, backing and filling and heaving on pilings, we got out and safely into the deeper slip. The first grounding of the trip, and we hadn't even started yet.

By late Friday evening, with a car waiting at TJ's yard, the boat positioned, and a belly full of pizza and beer, we settled down to enjoy Terry Ann's sumptuous accomodations for the night. With the boat on shore power, I told Taylor, "Enjoy the warmth and light tonight, because tomorrow will be dark and cold".

As the sun rose Saturday morning and the temperature hovered just above freezing, we took in lines and cast off for Belhaven. It was clear with a forecast of light southwesterly winds, and the promise of somewhat warmer temperatures for later in the day. We sailed out Edenton Bay and set the jib to just enough wind to keep it filled. Raising the main would have been more trouble than it was worth.

Even with the wind behind us and running the Beta at standard cruising rpm, 2700, we were only making between 4.75 and 5 knots, no doubt due to the somewhat fouled bottom and propellor, the last haul having been in May of 2021. We spotted each marker in turn as we sailed just outside the exclusion zone along the south edge of the sound, though the last one, 1AS, was a little difficult to see as it was broken off about 3 feet above the water level. I still haven't seen an LNM on this (edit: it was finally issued February 8th). It could be a real hazard for a boat running a gps course after dark.

The little wind we had dropped to nothing, so we rolled in the jib. It was mid-afternoon before we turned in the Alligator River. We could have anchored in the Little Alligator or in the bay just north of the marina, but after a short discussion we decided to go on. Taylor said "If the gin is running good, keep ginning", and I wholeheartedly agreed.

Alligator River Anchorage. Marker 37 is destroyed, temporary floater in place.

As we approached the bridge, I hailed the operator on channel 13 and got a reply from a grandmotherly woman who in quick order opened the bridge for us and then wished us a safe voyage as we cleared. Almost all the operators are men so this was a pleasant surprise.

A bit of wind picked up, dead from the south of course, and we bored directly into it with an apparent wind of 14 or 15 knots. The sun was getting low in the sky and was partially obscured by clouds, the temperature was going down and the wind chill made it feel even colder. I pulled a couple of blankets into the cockpit from below. The next time I took a spell on the tiller I told Taylor to stay below and get thoroughly warmed up before his next turn. From this point we swapped deck duty and warming up below deck every 30 or 40 minutes as we proceeded up the river.

As we approached the channel along the spoil area between markers 31 and 37 Taylor pointed out that there were the two unlit markers 33 and 35 that we would leave to port. As it was completely dark I sent Taylor onto the foredeck with the Dorcy light to try to spot them, and also edged over toward the starboard side of the channel. It must have been brutally cold up there on the bow, but Taylor stuck it out until we had passed both markers. Marker 37 looked a bit anemic and in fact as we passed it we could see that it was gone and there was a lighted floating temporary marker in its place. Soon we reached marker 39 and turned in toward shore where we anchored at about 19:00, 57 nautical miles and not quite 12 hours out of Edenton.

I cooked a pan of hamburgers and onions as we sipped on a round of IPAs, then we ate to another round. It had been a long day and the cabin was cooling off as the Beta radiated the last of its heat, so we didn't sit up long. Taylor crawled into his cave in the forepeak and I racked out on the port settee.

Passing under the Highway 94 bridge. Photo by Taylor Ward.

We pulled anchor at 07:00 to a slick, flat calm and motored down the Alligator-Pungo Canal under blue skies and gradually warming temperatures. There was very little traffic, not surprising for the time of year. We crossed one northbounder, two old men like us in a red-hulled Pearson or Hunter, perhaps, hailing out of Mackey's Ferry, and later a newer boat motoring and flying its jib to a very light westerly air, hailing from Naples Florida.

As we approached the southern end of the canal, we spotted a barge tow coming our way. We edged as far as we could to starboard and passed uneventfully. The tug was Island Girl, one of the Stevens Towing fleet hailing out of Yonge's Island SC. The company has developed a break-bulk facility at the site of the old dye factory outside of Edenton, and Island Girl, appears from Marine Traffic to have been beating a path between the Martin Marietta aggregate yard at Morehead City and the break-bulk facility for the last several weeks. If I had to guess, this might be lime or phosphate moving into the area for agricultural use.

I took a picture of Island Girl's sister, Island Tide, in December of 2018 on the Wadmalaw River in South Carolina while crewing for Phil on his catamaran Oryoki, en route from Edenton to St. Augustine. That was the second time I passed through the area, having done the Charleston to Savannah section of the ICW with "Spam and Yams" Dan a few years before. The Stevens shipyard at Yonges Island is on the Wadmalaw, and it is a remarkable sight to round the bend and see the huge facility in the middle of nowhere, far from the nearest town. The Stevens family have inhabited this region since the late 1600s, the Towing Company was incorporated in 1912, and I expect they rule the area in dynastic succession.

Out on the Pungo we encountered light airs from the west, so again, no sailing. The Beta plugged along without a hitch. Taylor mentioned how well it had run, and I said I had been thinking the same thing but was afraid to say it. After the Atomic 4, I'm conditioned to be ready for the motor to quit - not a bad thing.

Close enough, TJ's Marina and Boatyard, Belhaven NC.

We turned to the northwest at Marker 13 to make a straight shot for the entrance of Battalina Creek, prepared for a struggle or a call to TowbBoatUS. In the end, we got in with a struggle and didn't have to call for assistance. We ran on one shoal immediately in front of the first private red marker in the creek mouth, worked our way off, tried again a few feet over and managed to drag over, ran aground again, worked our way over, and drug the last 100 yards at full throttle doing about 2 knots, finally getting the bow alongside the Travelift dock before coming to a complete halt. That was close enough, we tied off and Taylor unloaded his kit. We drove back to Edenton and I dropped Taylor off at his truck, then drove back to Belhaven where I got a much-needed shower in the nice new TJ's Yard facility.

So that ended our January trip to the boatyard. The next day as the water came in the boat lifted off the bottom and we were able to get it into the Travelift well, where after a good deal of adjusting and positioning the yard crew got Terry Ann hauled. A wash-down of the bottom followed, and then the boat was blocked alongside Taylor's Never Enough, the poor boat still in the yard after we took her there in August 2021.

Text by Paul Clayton, photographs by Paul Clayton and Taylor Ward.
Posted 01/09/23.

Copyright © 2023 Paul M. Clayton.