Friday, September 30, 2016

Starting the Albemarle Loop

Tuesday morning I get up and check the local weather on the radio and local TV broadcasts.  It sounds like there is a good chance of rain and thunderstorms, but most of it would be in Norfolk and north....good thing we were going south.  After breakfast we prepare to depart the free dock at Great Bridge.  Apparently everyone else had the same idea as two boats were already gone and the rest departed along with us.

The Centerville Turnpike Bridge was the first bridge south of Great Bridge and is closed between 6:30am and 8:30am. Those of us that departed together made our way to the bridge and rejoined those who had left a bit earlier as we all waited for the post-rush-hour opening of the bridge. We had about a 10 minute wait and made it through the bridge.  From there it is about 5 nautical miles to the North Landing Bridge.  This means if your boat can do better than 10 knots, you can make the next opening in half an hour.  For a trawler, 3 sailboats and us, a semi-leisurely 5 knots will get us there in time for the 9:30 opening.

The North Landing Bridge has some ongoing mechanical issues and has some opening restrictions.  I guess they are currently unable to raise both spans of the bridge at the same time, so most of the openings are of only one span.  For larger ships, there are specific times where the bridge tender will raise (or partially raise) the other span.  9:30 was one of the latter openings and there was a barge sitting on the other side of the bridge waiting to head north.  As soon as the first span was open, all of the southbound traffic proceeded through, and we passed the barge just as the other span was opened enough for the barge to proceed. It actually worked out pretty well...almost like it was choreographed that way.

Approaching the North Landing Bridge.
Once through the bridge, everyone resumed a normal cruise speed as there were no more time restricted bridges in the near future.  The trawler at the head of the group (which happened to be docked next to us the night before) headed off at what was probably around 8 knots.  We passed one monohull sailboat in front of us and made way at a comfortable 7 knots.  The other sailboats lagged behind us just a bit, probably in the 5 to 6 knot range.  It definitely isn't a NASCAR race on the ICW.

We all make our way down the North Landing River and out into Currituck Sound. We bid farewell to Virginia and enter North Carolina.  A little after lunch we passed by the town of Coinjock and the two marinas that, as best I can tell, are the only businesses in the "town". Some folks like to stop here, but I find it to be a bit overpriced for what it is.  I guess the restaurant at the Coinjock Marina is supposed to be decent, but I've never tried it so I don't know.  If you need provisions, you might be able to find some basic staples at their store. Since we didn't need anything and wanted to make it a bit farther this day, we kept moving on.

We made our way down the North River and headed west just before reaching the Albemarle.  Broad Creek is a well protected anchorage, and that was where we intended to spend the evening at anchor.  When we arrived at the mouth of Broad Creek, we found the gentleman in the trawler, which was docked behind us at Great Bridge, anchored just outside the mouth of the creek.  We made our way into the creek and quickly realized why he was anchored outside the mouth of the creek.  The light wind that could be felt at the mouth of the creek was completely gone in the protection of the creek itself.  We decided that a little breeze would help keep things cool and hopefully less buggy, so we went back out and anchored near the mouth of the river, giving as much room as possible to those already there.  Good thing we did as the wind died during the night.  The boat stayed cool enough but was covered in bugs in the morning.

We pulled up the anchor and made our way to the Albemarle. Our original first intended stop along the Albemarle Loop was Elizabeth City.  Since we couldn't take the Dismal Swamp route and have stayed at Elizabeth City on two other occasions, we decided it wasn't worth backtracking up the Pasquotank River for a third visit. Instead, we planned to make our way to Albemarle Plantation Marina.  As we entered the Albemarle, we found the forecasted 5 to 10 knot winds from the east were at the light end of the scale. Even with the spinnaker up we would only be able to make 2 knots.  So again we motored along.

The Albemarle is littered with crab pots.  The lines and marker floats dotting the waters surface make for an interesting navigation challenge at times.  You definitely don't want to wrap one of those lines around a propeller. I do wonder about the fishermen sometimes. I understand that they are just trying to make a living and supply the world with crab, and I don't begrudge them for that.  But when they use black, dark blue, or other low-visibility floats, you have to wonder what they are thinking.  In addition to the damage it can cause a boat, losing their equipment when it gets entangled in a boat and has to be cut away can't be cheap for the fishermen.  Or when the wind or currents cause the equipment to move from the original location I can only imagine that these nearly camouflaged buoys are impossible to find. Yet it seems that at least half the fishermen use these hard to see markers.

Orange floats work...but can you see the other two?
The other issue with fishermen is placement of gear in known narrow boating channels.  This seems to happen a lot in the Albemarle.  The two ICW routes are charted and yet I've seen numerous lines of crab pots criss-crossing the route and, yes, sometimes with the very difficult to see floats. The rather narrow and shallow entrance into the Albemarle Plantation Marina had several crab pots littering the navigable part of the channel.  This behavior makes me seriously rethink the idea of adding line cutters to the prop shafts.  Originally my thought was that fishermen were just trying to make a living, but now my thought seems to shift to the idea that, if you are mining a known boating channel, then losing your pot when the float and line is cut off to protect a prop shaft seems reasonable.

In addition to the crab pots, we found the channel leading to the Albemarle Plantation Marina to be a bit narrow and shallow.  Luckily it wasn't too bad, and we were able to maneuver our nearly 22 foot beam through OK but did see depths around 5.5 feet in spots. I know the Albemarle has a bit of a reputation for being rough when the winds pick up so I probably wouldn't want to navigate that channel in my beamy boat on a rough day.

When we arrived at the Albermarle Plantation Marina, we docked at one of their T-heads and were met by their dockmaster Richard, a very nice and accommodating fellow. He helped get us tied up and situated.  The power pedestal was a bit away from the T-head so he let us borrow a power cable to use as an extension.  After we got settled, he gave us a tour of the Plantation on his golf cart.  As a guest of the Plantation, you have access to the bathhouse (with a free washer and dryer), WiFi, clay tennis courts, the swimming pool, and the restaurant at the clubhouse. The only issue is that the facilities are rather far from the boat, with the pool, golf pro shop, and restaurant being around 2/3 of a mile away.  The plantation has golf carts and they used to be free to use by loopers, but some bad apples apparently made a mess of a couple carts so they now charge $25/day.  Given dockage is free and 30 amp electric was only $4.25, even if you go with a golf cart, it is still a reasonable place to stay for a day or two. There is no place to provision in the area, even with the golf cart, so you need to plan accordingly.

The Albemarle Plantation T-head dock.

The restaurant at the club has a main dining area and a "grille".  The main dining area is probably a bit more formal than the average cruiser as slacks and a nice shirt are required.  The grille allows for casual dress and serves many of the same items, if not exactly the same menu.  We did have lunch at the Grille and found the prices to be reasonable with sandwiches and salads in the $8 to $10 range. The posted dinner menu appeared to be in the high teens and up, and they have an early bird special on Wednesday and Thursday that included a selection of several entrees, salad, and desert for $16.

Albemarle Plantation Marina docks. The harbormaster
office in in the distance on the right.
Overall this has been an interesting stop.  Other than a place to do some laundry or to drive around and see the mostly-retirement community, there isn't a lot to do.  It is more of a relaxing stop for when you need a day or two off (or to catch up on your blog posts. :-) ).  Today we should be heading to our next stop, the town docks at Edenton NC.

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