The Cape Fear River, NC

Rode Trip set sail from Oriental…well, we fired up the Perkins and motored from Oriental to Beaufort via the good ‘ol Intracoastal Waterway.  We had a light wind forecast with 5-10 knot northwest winds.  Right on schedule, at sunset, we exited the Beaufort Inlet and set our sails for an overnight trip approximately 60 nm south to the Masonboro Inlet.  It was a cloudy, rainy night.  It was however calm and the forecast held true with light winds.  We set all the sails; full main, jib, and stay sail kept us moving at an average of 4 knots through the night.  At dawn the next morning we approached the Masonboro Inlet.

IMG_6706On a Saturday morning, the inlet was bustling with fishermen buzzing about in skiffs and fishing from the shoreline.

IMG_6707Once again we hopped onto the Intracoastal Waterway and motored into the Cape Fear River.  We had traveled for 25 hours, 100nm before we finally dropped the hook in the Brunswick River, a tributary, just prior to passing through Wilmington, NC.  We made sure to be well rested because the following day would be very exciting…

Our friends, Ren, Ashley, and their beautiful newborn baby girl, Ani were to meet us in Wilmington to guide Rode Trip up the Northeast Cape Fear River to their home.  We’d met Ren and Ashley (s/v Nila Girl) in Long Island, Bahamas and sailed along with them to Jamaica.  We were looking forward to our reunion and to meeting baby Ani.  We enjoyed the sights along Wilmington’s Cape Fear River waterway along the way to our rendezvous location.

State Port

State Port

 

Tugs at the ready for big ships' arrivals

Tugs at the ready for big ships’ arrivals.

 

Cape Fear Memorial Bridge

Cape Fear Memorial Bridge

 

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Battleship North Carolina

Battleship North Carolina

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Market Street Landing City Docks

Market Street Landing City Docks

Isabelle Stellings Holmes Bridge

Isabelle Stellings Holmes Bridge

We were the only boat in waiting for the 1400 opening of the Holmes Bridge (seen above). Rode Trip caused quite a stir to this bridge-tender’s day; he was relaying messages to us via the VHF from Ren, directing us to our rendezvous site, asking when we’d be passing through again…it’s not often that sailboats venture past this bridge.  The Northeast Cape Fear River is uncharted.  Aside from minimal commercial traffic and local fishermen this part of the river doesn’t get much action.  Once through the bridge we welcomed aboard Ren, Ashley, and Ani.

IMG_6736When we weren’t chattering away, catching up on our respective adventures, we were admiring the beautiful scenery along the river.  And, of course, admiring Ani experiencing her very first boat ride!  She even took a turn at the tiller.

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Ren guided us along the winding river with his local knowledge and use of an Army Corps of Engineers chart of recorded shoaling.  The river was plenty deep for Rode Trip; 30 feet in most areas.  We traveled 22 miles through wilderness.  This route is s/v Nila Girl’s home stretch when returning from the sea.  We anchored Rode Trip right in Ren and Ashley’s backyard (or I should say back river) and settled into our peaceful new resting place.

 

 

Do the Dismal

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If you haven’t done it yet you don’t know what you’re missing the Dismal Swamp Canal is lovely and worth much reminiscing.

It’s true, we didn’t know what we were missing! Last year, during the month of November, Rode Trip breezed through the Dismal Swamp section of the Intracoastal Waterway in one day. It was cold, we were on a mission. This time through we are stopping to smell the swamp grass and although this sounds hypocritical coming from ocean cruisers, “Wow! This ditch has much to offer.” The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest operating artificial waterway in the United States; it was the original Intracoastal Waterway route. The Dismal Swamp Canal traverses 22 statue miles/20 nautical miles inland through Virginia and North Carolina. Now registered as a National Landmark, the canal opened for operation in 1805 after 12-years of construction. Upon opening, its shallow draft enabled only flat boats and log rafts to traverse by being manually towed or poled through. Presently the canal maintains a depth of six feet. Throughout its many years of operation, design flaws have resulted in difficulty maintaining the canal and several changes in ownership. The federal government purchased the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1929 for $500,000 and today the Army Corps of Engineers continues to maintain the canal. Why so dismal? Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia is said to be responsible for for adding the dim description to the canal’s name after having surveyed the land and finding the location repulsive. The canal and the surrounding swamplands have an extensive and fascinating history. You can share in our learning by reading more here .

We began our historical boating tour of the Dismal Swamp Canal by making a sharp turn to starboard, exiting the Elizabeth River and entering Deep Creek. Here we carefully motored down the center of a narrow, winding creek as we approached the first of two lock-drawbridge combinations on the canal. Upon approach to the Deep Creek Lock, we hailed the lock master on VHF 13 and received clear, concise directions for entering the lock. (The locks run 365 days/year, four openings daily; drawbridges are unmanned and open in conjunction with the lock schedule.) Here we go!
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“Good afternoon!” bellowed Robert. He is the lock master for the Deep Creek Lock and after 18 years remains the ‘new guy’ among canal employees. Robert dropped down a boat hook to collect our stern and bow lines. Then he made ready the one other boat in the lock while we held fast ready to tend our lines.
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We’d thought our end of September arrival at the canal was great timing as the seasons go, but as we got to chatting with Robert while the water level rose he informed us, “You’re 35 years early…” He proceeded to share that most people passing through his lock are retired. Shocker! Robert is not only good humored and incredibly kind but he contains a wealth of knowledge about the Dismal Swamp, Deep Creek, and the surrounding area. We so enjoyed his company and fun facts that we decided to spend the night at the Deep Creek dock (totally free) and join Robert the following morning for coffee at the lock. Ahhhh…boy did it feel good after spending seven days aboard to step off the boat onto a dock! And although it felt as though we were in a creek in the middle of nowhere, just up the street less than one mile was a Food Lion grocery store. This tour was off to a good start!
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On the way to the Food Lion we walked across the drawbridge that we’d motor under the following day.
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Oh bummer! We traveled all this way and just missed it!?
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The next morning we were well fed and well rested. We got acquainted with some locals…
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…and then made our way on foot to the lock to start our day listening to Robert’s stories with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. What a treat! Thanks so much for your hospitality, Robert! Afterward we spent some time with our dock-mates, Lilly and Harley, and their dachshund, Hammy. We never miss a good opportunity to get acquainted and swap information. Best of luck to this eager couple with their upcoming adventures!

Topside view of Deep Creek Lock.
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That afternoon we cast-off from the dock at Deep Creek. Once through the drawbridge we had only nine miles to travel before our next stop on the tour.
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