Alligator River Cruise

Cruising Reports, Trip Discussions, and Tales From Far Away Places

Alligator River Cruise

Postby kuriti » Mon Nov 14, 2016 6:54 pm

After a terrible week of national presidential elections and shitty work responsibilities, I really needed some time on the water to take stock of things and get some distance from my existential dread. My son and I planned on this three day cruise for some time, but building a back deck left me with little time to prepare. I had Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday night dinners at work and we intended to leave Friday morning. Therefore the boat was still dirty and unprepared Thursday night, but we were more than ready to leave town. We made pretty good time in the morning getting off around 8am, gas and groceries set us up for a noon arrival time at the public boat ramp I had chosen as our departure point. We had a minor incident trailering where I heard a sharp thump in the back of the car and pulled over to see what happened. The bolt holding the safety chains onto the trailer had come off and the chains, still attached to the car, had whipped back and hit the bumper. Luckily I always keep an extra adjustable link attached to them for just such an occasion. We were rolling again in short order. Trailering is always my least favorite part of going to the coast.

There is a short swing bridge that crosses the Alligator River on Hwy 64. The river is the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) at this point and gets a lot of big boat traffic. On the west side of the bridge is the Alligator Marina, a small but functional marina and on the other is the East Lake Ferry public boat ramp I had found online. The NC boating access website is a great resource and includes photos of the ramps they support, but pictures can only tell so much and this ramp had seen better days. I have used public access ramps in this part of the state with success and decided to take a risk putting the boat in even though the ramp was sandy and the water depth didn't look great. This is the point where I should have just driven over to the Marina, but stubbornness is my superpower, so we proceeded. I backed the trailer into the water and tried to get the boat off. The water wasn't deep enough to loose the boat, so I began trying to pull it back out using my two wheel drive Toyota Highlander (4-cylinder). Not so much. My wheels started spinning and smoking up the ramp. Several strategies later, including having my 13 yr old drive while I pushed and levered with a pole i failed to move the rig anywhere. As I called the marina and asked for help, a car pulled through the boat loading area. I could tell the marina was not interested in helping me, so I flagged down the car. A couple from up north in a Subaru. He was kitted out in safari type clothing and despite his dressed seemed scared of the interaction if not interested in helping. I asked him to push as my son drove; I believe this was disturbing to him. We didn't budge it at all, so I called him off and asked if he was willing to let me install his tow eye to pull us out. He looked frightened, so I let him off the hook and decided to call my insurance company for a tow. But, one last try. I decided to push the boat off the trailer as far as I could, to get as much weight off as possible. That worked. We pulled 3 feet up and then I cranked the boat back on. I did small backward and forward momentum runs to slowly plow the trailer wheels out of the sticky Carolina mud. 1.5 hours lost and we still had to de-mast her and drive across the bridge to the marina to put in on a real ramp.


Successfully on the water, our plans had been curtailed significantly, but at least we were sailing. We sailed east with a NW wind around 6-7kts that was steadily calming. It was warm enough and we had a good sail. Given the sun goes down at 5pm this time a year, we decided to head straight to our anchor spot across the Alligator River in the first bend of South Lake. The boat was a mess and I wanted to scrub the cockpit and organize below before dark. We anchored in a small cove open to the south because the forecast called for a wind shift to the north and fresh to strong breezes overnight. We got the boat cleaned up and started some dinner. We had planned to go hiking ashore in the Alligator River Preserve on Saturday, but the majority of the shoreline was marsh and made that plan seem unlikely. I had brought a .22 rifle and a .38 handgun to teach my son some gun safety and do some shooting. With the hike unlikely, we shot a magazine full of .22 shells, then ate dinner. Blind mosquitoes can be a nuisance in this area particularly as close to shore as we anchored, though I thought the cold and wind would keep them at bay. I was wrong and as the sun set they started showing up. We pulled anchor and drifted into the middle of South Lake which got rid of the mosquitoes. The wind continued to pick up averaging 20kts with gusts around 28kts (according to the data station nearby). The bronco ride started shortly thereafter and I began to worry about the anchor slipping around 2am. I put on a sweater and wind jacket and went on deck to re-anchor closer to shore in my underwear. Slept well after that.


The next morning the wind was still strong, though we were protected. We listened to the weather radio and a small craft advisory had been issued for the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound. Our intent had been to cross the Alligator River directly west to reach an island in the Little Alligator River (LAR), however we realized that in our haste to pack, I had not brought a USB charger. This meant my phone was dead and our ability to charge VHFs, MP3 players and my GPS puck were dead. Therefore we decided to sail back to the marina and get the charger out of the car and also a thermal mug so my son could have some hot chocolate. We knew it was going to be windy, but we have been in these conditions before and weren't worried. We reefed the mainsail, put in the hatch board and pinned the keel to set off. The wind picked up as we left the protected East Lake, but with a loaded boat and reefed main it was fine sailing. We had to take a broad reach to get back west to the marina with north winds making the rigging sing. The waves were pretty confused at the mouth of the river, but got better as we entered the main of the Alligator River. Getting close to the marina, I was comfortable enough to take a video, but the rudder kicked up in the middle of the process, so I handed the camera to my son. Here is the result:

We made it to the marina, though tying up to the pier was tough with the wind and I smacked it pretty good. We were glad to order a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit at the small grill in the marina gas station and get out of the wind for a few minutes. We retrieved the charging port and headed back out into the weather to beat our way north toward LAR. We had struck the sails when we motored in and didn't even pretend to sail, we just motored directly upwind and got completely soaked in the process. It was about 50 degrees, so once our cotton jeans soaked through, we stopped having fun. Luckily the distance wasn't too far and once we made the turn, the mouth of the river began to protect us from the bigger waves rolling down from Albemarle Sound. Our destination was a biggish island named, well, Big Island. I had looked at google satellite images and it seemed fairly wooded to the shore, however once we laid eyes on it, we found it to be very flat, not that big and mostly a marsh. We pulled ashore in the lee of the island and tied to a tree to get on some dry clothes and eat lunch. We shot off some more .22 rounds and a few from the .38 handgun. My son was not a fan of the .38.

I had seen some canals on the satellite map that lead into Palmetto Peartree Preserve and we decided to check them out since one seemed to have a road attached and we really wanted to get off the boat for a hike. We motored to the canal and had our first lucky break in a nice little dock made primarily for a kayaker trail that is part of the preserve. We tied up and had lunch. We walked the road along the trail, it was good to stretch our legs. This part of the state is known for its bear population. We had hoped to see one over hiking in the Alligator River Reserve, but the marshland kept us from getting inland far enough to hike. We walked on this road and soon my son spotted a bear track. We hiked to the end of the road, but never saw a bear. The road ended in a shanty town of trailers and run down houses. We looked around a bit, then headed back to the boat.



We decided to check out a hidden lake set into Long Shoal Point that is only accessible by a canal. Still in the lee of the peninsula, we sailed with jib only since the wind remaind a steady 15kts and we had already secured the mainsail to have standing headroom. There are several houses on stilts along the shore of the LAR, presumably for duck hunting. We sailed past several of these before motoring into the creek. Here is some video of that sail:

We made it into the hidden lake that had a small sign declaring it Lamar Lake. We anchored and saw a bald eagle on it's perch, agreeing that he must have been named Lamar. It was getting later in the afternoon and we had intended to sleep on the hook here. The lake was great for minimizing waves, but with its closeness to the Albemarle sound and virtual absence of trees to block the wind, it was cold and inhospitable. We pulled anchor and worked our way back into LAR where we found a moderately protected section to huddle down. The sun went down at 5pm and the struggle to stay awake until nine began. We listened to several podcasts and played backgammon, giving in 5 minutes early. The wind calmed throughout the night which allowed me to sleep much better.


The next morning we stayed in our sleeping bags until after the sun was up; it had frosted in the night and was still cold. Once we got up and moving though it wasn't too bad since the wind had died and the water was glass. We decided to try and sail a bit in the Alligator River and Albemarle Sound before calling it a day. The wind picked up nicely to about 8kts and we had a nice beat north up the ICW channel into the sound. There was a parade of boats coming south for the winter, trawlers and large sailboats headed presumably to the Caribbean. We planned our tacks to come in close behind them as they passed so we could check out the different boats. We sailed back to the marina and were off the water ready to roll by noon. We made it back home without anymore drama, happy to have stolen some time and dreading the Monday to come.

SV Dire Wolf
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Joined: Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:48 am

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