Day 25, October 3 – Tough Slog through Alligator River

I woke up before the alarm clock went off on my I-Phone, 4:55 AM.  There were a number of things I needed to do before JD would come to take me, Katie and our gear around Albemarle Sound and drop me at a marina on the northwest corner of the river, where route 64 cuts across it.  The Waterway Guide states that “traveling south, Albemarle Sound is the first of the few sometimes-challenging bodies of water on the Norfolk-Miami section of the ICW.   The 14 mile long crossing can be very sloppy because winds from almost any quarter tend to funnel either up or down the long, straight sound.  Because of its uniformly shallow depth, even a light wind can quickly create rough, confused seas”.  We had therefore pre-arranged for him to take me for a fair price, using a trailer to carry the kayak behind his Jeep.  I checked and rechecked all of the gear, making sure everything was in the correct bag.  There were 4 bags, and two sets of paddles.  I set them out in the dark next to the Coinjock Marina and Restaurant bathhouse, not too far away from the second flow room I had rented the day before when it started raining.

The prior day had been a good day of rest.  After taking the room, I met Bob and Robin Ahnert, who were friends of the owner’s father, and who liked coming up with their camper and staying a few weeks.  They had been two of the people in the bar the prior evening when I had bought a round for everyone.  Bob has been a successful captain, taking boats up and down the east coast, and beyond, and knew the ICW intimately, and now was doing occasional assignments.  They owned a beautiful motor yacht in south Florida, and they opened themselves up to me during that day.  They took me with them shopping, and then we had lunch and dinner together, the latter with the current owner, Lewis, and his wife.  Robin and I had long talks about life, family, and other interesting matters.

The day of departure, both Bob and Robin were up, Bob getting ready with Lewis and some other men to go duck hunting, Robin walking her two dogs and hoping to catch up with me for a few more minutes.  As we waited for JD to arrive, I told them how special it was to have spent this time with them.  Finally, the duck hunters were gone in the dark, and JD arrived without the trailer.  But he secured the kayak on top of the jeep, and we packed up the bags, paddles and water bottles, and we were off by 6:30.  JD is a young man who lives in Elizabeth City, east of Coinjock, and he considers himself fortunate to have a year around job.  (There are three seasons in the area, the two seasons for boats moving up and down the ICW, and duck hunting, which is big business).  The sun came up as we drove down to Kitty Hawk, past Nags Head and west through Manteo.  I had earlier checked with NOAA for the weather forecast, and it indicated strong winds from the SSW, so I chose to go down the west side of the north/south river, which looks more like a sound due to its considerable width.  JD dropped me off at the almost empty Alligator River Marina at ICW mile marker 84.2, and helped unload all of the gear in the bright sunshine, and soon he was off to return to work by 10 AM in Coinjock.

After loading everything in and checking to be sure nothing was left behind, I called Grace at 9:15 to let her know I was leaving.  I left the boat ramp in sheltered water, and moved out into the sound to wind and waves coming at me.  This proved to be a long slog, with not much to say for it except that I tried to use the coves to reduce the impact of the weather.  The side of the river is full of snags, pieces of trees that had been left in the water as the shoreline has eroded over time, and many of them are underwater.  So I would periodically hit one, sometimes glancing over them, sometimes hitting them hard.  During the times the waves became higher, it was easier to spot them, but then it was that much more work to make progress.  From the marina to the Newport News Point, where the river turns west, it is about 17 miles, and that journey was interspersed with cloud bursts that pelted me with rain.  Fortunately, I had put on my splash jacket, and that kept me somewhat dry, but more importantly, warm.  Once I turned west, the wind kept blowing.  I traversed the much smaller width to the south at Grassy Point, and followed the markers into the 20 mile Alligator River – Pungo River Canal, which heads WSW.  Just before entering, I moved aside to allow a barge pushed by a tugboat to pass me.  The wind used this canal like a highway, and continued to blow into my face.  Given the long slog earlier that day, I looked for a good camping spot, especially since I had made adequate distance this day (22.8 miles).  I searched for a grouping of pine trees near the canal, that would allow me to secure the kayak and provide suitable trees for my hammock tent, without a lot of undergrowth.  Two miles up, I found a very good spot, and made ready for dinner.  I was told there were bear in the area, so after dinner I put up high in a tree all of my food bags.  Some old scat in my area looked like it could have been from a bear.  Before entering the tent,  I tried sending a message to Grace, but my phone indicated No Service, so I went to bed, tired and concerned that she would worry not hearing from me, which is our usual custom.  I hoped that this being out of communication would change early the following day, but it would turn out to be a great frustration.  I regretted not telling her that morning that this section of the ICW is one of the least populated areas and most primitive.

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