Sunrise, an orange ball on the horizon, the silhouette of a crabber working his pots north of Roanoke Island. Sailing off anchor we follow more crabbers racing their skiffs out and around Caroon Point. We trace their path, weaving between the stakes of the pound nets in the shallows. A light breeze behind the tall stand of trees.
Past the point and away from the trees the wind fills in out of the west northwest, making 4.5 knots on the dark-stained water of Albemarle Sound.
I look to the southwest, to where the mouth of the Alligator River is hidden the the dark line of trees on shore. And I think about crossing the sound on my way south, it seemed like a couple of days ago and it seemed like a year ago. I think about the stilt houses and guy with the guitar, and the rainy, foggy day down Alligator River. I smile.
Steady sailing across the sound, a steep chop that has earned a reputation for the body of water. A ketch passes by south of Spartina, going from east to west, maybe after visiting Manteo and now heading towards the Alligator River and the ICW. A mega yacht, gleaming white and the size of a small building, comes of the the northeast, crosses Spartina's bow. Twenty miles across the sound, sails on the horizon to the west and north east, all headed to the Alligator River. I feel like we are sliding to the east but a check with the gps shows we are on right on track for the wide mouth of the Pasquotank. Out in deeper water a lone crabber in a deadrise work his pots, the diesel rumbling.
A cloud seems to hang on the horizon. Checking the charts, checking with binoculars, I see it is not a cloud, but the huge hangar at the blimp factory on the south side of the Pasquotank River. The end of the trip is in sight. Another hot day, but one with a cooling breeze. I turn on the radio and pick up stations from Norfolk.
Late morning we sail through fields of crab pot markers, sharing a path with a crabber in a white boat with blue trim. A crewman reaches out with a hook, snags a line and hauls in a pot, the boat rounds up while the crewman shakes crabs out of the pot and adds fresh bait, then tosses the pot back in the water. And then on to the next pot. We stay within a hundred yards of each other for about 30 minutes while they work a string of pots, then a wave goodbye as they head off to another string.
The wind lightens, then swings to the southwest as we enter the Pasquotank River. Wing and wing we sail, a Coast Guard helicopter hovering low over the water. It is hot and sunny, I'm glad for the brief shade of a passing cloud. The wind falls off and we are under power.
Mid-afternoon and we receive the gift of a last bit of wind. The Elizabeth City waterfront in sight, the breeze carries us to Cottage Point and the little dock where Millie is waiting to welcome us back. A last motor to the ramp, haul out and then breaking down Spartina's rig. After a quick change to clean clothes, a waterfront dinner with Millie where we sit on the porch over the river and I trace out the trip on my salt-coated chart book. And then, in darkness, on the road home.