Hoppy Hitchhikers Hide & Seek

We’ve had all walks of life aboard Rode Trip, and I’m not just referring to single-handers. I’m referring to critters great and small who despite our home’s watery foundation manage to hop aboard and hitch a ride.  Some are in need of respite, such as birds with weary wings during a long journey.  Some are in need of rescue from the water, not their own natural habitat.  Some may simply be exploring.  Discoveries of these creatures are usually surprising, sometimes alarming, and almost always accompanied by a loud, “AAAHHHHHHH!!!! EEW EEW!!” followed by a long winded sigh from Brian.  Some critters are welcome guests, others are quickly tossed overboard.

Brian and I were motoring in the Intracoastal Waterway through the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal.  We’d stopped that evening at the end of the canal and dropped the hook about one-quarter mile from shore in the Alligator River.  Sometime during the night, our most recent hitchhikers hopped aboard.  The next morning, underway once again, we were bashing against choppy waves created by a strong north wind.  I came into the cockpit presenting breakfast, and as I sat on the port side I noticed something green butted up against the wall of the winch.  “Oh, a chrysalis!”  I leaned over for a closer look.IMG_9772

Hmmm, this was not a chrysalis.  Once again I’d confirmed to myself that I should really be wearing my glasses.  Upon even closer inspection, this was a frog!  A tiny, very green, soundly sleeping frog!IMG_9777

This was a most welcome hitchhiker.  How could I (meaning Brian at my command) toss overboard such a cute little fella?  “Let’s call him Toby,” I suggested.  “I think it’s a girl,” Brian replied.  Since the name Toby happened into my brain without much prompting I had to think for some time about a girl name for the frog.  By then, we’d stopped our trip because once we entered the open Abermarle Sound the 25 knots of north wind right on our nose was slowing our progress too much to continue.  We ducked behind the protection of Durant Island, just north of the Alligator River Wildlife Preserve.  Brian tied the tiller once we’d set the anchor.  He moved aside one of the cockpit cushions and out hopped a second frog!  “Ah, hah!  That one we’ll call Juliet,” I announced.  The second frog found itself a cozy nook in the crevice of the boomkin.


We identified these as Green Tree Frogs.  Found in North Carolina along the Coastal Plain, Green Tree Frogs are quite abundant in wetland regions and swamps.  They are nocturnal; which explains their sound napping during choppy seas.  At night time they can be quite acrobatic while in search of flying insects to eat.  Just after sunset, Brian and I went to the cockpit with a flashlight to check on the hitchhikers.  Both Toby and Juliet had moved slightly from their previous positions.  While searching for Juliet, Brian found a third…fourth…fifth…Green Tree Frogs were hopping about the boomkin as if it were a jungle gym!  In total, we’d counted eight frogs!  But can they swim?  Had they hopped aboard from a floating log?

The next morning I went to the cockpit straightaway to check on the frogs.  They had all snuggled into nooks and crannies; the boomkin posts, the propane box, on top of the tiller.  I managed to find five of the eight.  The Green Tree Frogs were soundly sleeping, awaiting arrival at the next scheduled stop, Elizabeth City.  IMG_9785 IMG_9786 IMG_9788 IMG_9789 IMG_9792

The Cement Plant

Brian and I have experienced the Intracoastal Waterway in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Admittedly, we aren’t fans of motoring for hours and hours…but fortunately the ICW enables us to continue moving when weather doesn’t permit offshore passage. In VA, NC, and GA there were many opportunities to sail along the ICW. We could leave in the morning without a solid plan and late in the day scout out a creek on the charts that we could tuck into to anchor for the night. The scenery amidst frequent line-ups of traversing boats consisted of winding rivers, gaping sounds, and lush marshes that were alive with jumping fish, playful dolphins, herons on the hunt, cackling ospreys, and swooping pelicans. After a day or two of motoring, if the weather permitted, we could usually find a nearby inlet to pop out for a jaunt in the ocean.

The ICW through Florida is a different animal. The winding rivers have transformed into straight canals; depths remain questionable. The marshes are gone and canal banks are lined with homes, docks, cityscapes, beach towns, and bustling roads. Bridges span overhead; some 65′ and others requiring a call on the VHF to request an opening for safe passage. (A great listing of all the FL bridges and schedules can be found here.) One can still catch a glimpse of herons, ospreys, pelicans, and dolphins. And now, manatees are abundant too. The challenge for us along this section of the ICW is that anchorages seem to be few and far between. (As evidenced by our running aground in search of a nook to drop the hook.) Inlets presenting opportunity to get offshore are also few and far between along Florida’s never ending coastline. We plan long days, but we hope to not motor into darkness. The changing tidal currents influence our speed (as they do all along the ICW); sometimes boosting us at a steady 6 knots, sometimes slowing us at 3 knots or less. We don’t push hard when motoring because we are diesel hoarders. This is why few anchorages make travel plans difficult; we cannot simply run until an hour before dark and then drop the hook. There are, however, ample marinas but that just goes against our cruising ways and budget.

Fortunately, we have access to the internet while underway via our AT&T data plan. This has enabled us to search the infinite wisdom of Google in collaboration with our charts to find anchoring opportunities. Some frequented cruising sites for this area are: ActiveCaptain, The Salty Southeast Cruising Net, and Dozier’s Waterway Guide. Imagine our dismay when searching to find nothing between St. Augustine, FL and Daytona Beach, FL…we’d be motoring all night! Thank goodness for the knowledge of fellow cruisers! We found one blog, and thereafter a few others, that shared with us this hidden gem. Thanks, Bill of s/v Galena, for great record-keeping and even better blogging! Of course, s/v Galena is a Westsail 32!

The Cement Plant is a canal near mile 809 that runs to a non-operating cement plant. The coordinates are: 29-29.8N 081-09.0W


Along the shoreline are a few homes and a Sea Ray boatyard.



To enter, it was recommended we favor the south shore. We favored the south shore, near the docks, and moved toward the center as we entered the canal. Depths at the entrance ranged from 5.2-ft, 5.5-ft, and 6-ft at high water. Through the canal depths were variable 6-ft to 7-ft. Continue past the Sea Ray boatyard to anchor at the end of the canal where depths increase, varying from 8-ft to 10-ft. These depths remained consistent when we exited the following morning, although at that time the tide was falling.

There is swing room for light conditions with 3:1 rode; but you will find yourself close to shore.


We shared this space with two manatees and one small sailboat. Below you can see the back of one manatee and the hairy nose of the other. This was the best view of the manatees that we saw as they lay atop the water, taking occasional breaths and seldom flicking their tails.


The Dark Side of the Intracoastal Waterway

It was 8:30pm and we had just hauled anchor and relieved Rode Trip from a muddy shoal beneath her keel. Now we had two choices: anchor in the channel and keep anchor watch through the night or motor onward approximately 10 miles to the next anchorage. The conditions on the water were calm and clear. The chart informed us that ahead we would have a straight, canal type stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway through Palm Valley, Flordia and the Cabbage Swamp. This straightaway was followed by a shorter stretch of the Tolomato River, complete with lighted navigational buoys. We decided, rather than keep watch from a ditch, to motor onward. (Disclaimer: I would not generally recommend motoring the ICW at night, but given the circumstances it worked for this situation.)

Brian set both the chart and the depth sounder on night vision modes and I flipped on Rode Trip’s running lights. We assumed our positions in the cockpit; Brian at the helm and I seated beside him with spotlight in hand. I was highly entertained by the depth sounder’s green and black night mode which reminded me of the arcade game Space Invaders. Each time there was a blip on the screen or a dip in the contour of the bottom I envisioned the Space Invaders chipping away at my protective barriers. To Brian’s astonishment, I added sound effects to the depth sounder’s night mode; “Blip! Blip! Blip!” I had to assure him that this alarm meant no harm to Rode Trip, however imminent doom for the human race was being narrowly avoided by the pixelated green defenders.

The canal was a clean cut and we had no need for the radar to paint us a picture of the shorelines. To our port, Palm Valley was lined with grand homes and accompanying docks. Several homes had prominent Christmas lights decorating their shoreside lawns and palms. Rooftops were outlined with white lights, palms were candy cane striped with red and white lights wrapped along their trunks, docks were dazzling with white lights swaying in the breeze, and inside behind picture windows Christmas trees were twinkling (as were several large screen LED televisions with images of the Thursday night football game). To our starboard side, the banks of the Cabbage Swamp were dimly outlined. It was calm, and there was no chatter on the VHF. Motoring at night was somewhat relaxing!

We passed underneath the Palm Valley Bridge, thus exiting the canal. The Tolomato River opened widely ahead. We’d spotted the first flashing green navigational buoy and aligned our course with the buoy and chart. Here is where my Space Invader tactics started to shine! I had my trigger finger ready on the spotlight, and walked forward on deck to avoid illuminating the entire boat. I pulled the spotlight trigger and up ahead reflective green and red navigational buoys were instantly ablaze. Gotcha! I scanned the shoreline with my light beam in hope of spotting nocturnal creatures. Brian repeated for the third time, “Alright, I see it,” to let me know he saw the navigational buoys and I let off the trigger to enable us both to restore our night vision. We continued this play of light and dark; sometimes startling herons that were perched atop buoys. Once, I startled myself when the spotlight’s beam lit a boat set back in the marsh. It is still unclear whether this was a wreck or derelict; both are nearly the same thing. Soon, in what seemed like no time but was actually three hours, we’d spotted Pine Island and G “25”. As we neared the marker anchor lights appeared all in a row; one…two…three, four, five…There was ample room just ’round the navigational buoy and between the two nearest anchored boats. We selected our space and dropped the hook, which easily set into the muddy bottom. At last we could both get some sleep with no worries of ships passing in the night.