Wednesday, December 11, 2013

day three, part 1 - the last picture show

Owls hoot in the trees to the southwest in the cool dry air before dawn.  Sails up before the sun, ghosting off anchor in the light breeze.  I spend too much time photographing the sunrise, the canal and the bridge.  But there is no rush, the wind is waiting for me out around the point on the Pungo River beyond the reach of the tall trees.

I open my chart book, realizing how many pages I have already turned.  Page 4 was the light winds on the Pasquotank River down from Elizabeth City, page 7 was the uneven crossing of Albemarle Sound in sunshine and rain, with and without wind.  The grey gloomy motor sail down the Alligator River was page 12, and worrying about fuel down the canal was page 15.  I  turn to page 14 now for the Pungo River, with the north wind that has been promised for a day, with the sailing that has been our hope for two days.

Better than four and almost five knots sailing southwest down river, turning west past Satterthwaite Point.  I can pick out the white buildings on Upper Dowry Creek, the marina there beckons for breakfast, but we continue west towards Belhaven.  

A water tower emerges in the tall trees, then a spire.  Soon River Forest Marina, once a jewel of the waterway and now closed, is in sight, as is the wooden breakwater at the entrance to Pantego Creek.  Making 5.4 knots we follow the channel and slide through the breakwater entrance, two cruising boats to the south and Belhaven along the north shore.

Tied up at the public dock, Mark arrives on a bike and offers the bike to ride to the gas station.  I say I'll walk, but he says it is farther than I think.  "Take the bike and just leave it here when you are done."  I take the bike.  

It is farther than I think.  Down the main road, past the rusting rail car, past the old white houses with broad porches and American flags, past the vacant lots and the police station in a double wide trailer.  The nice young lady at the gas station, wearing a camouflaged visor and Outer Banks "Brew Thru" tee shirt, shows me where to find the ethanol-free gas.  She can tell I'm off a boat, asks about the trip, asks if I'm doing any fishing.  The big bull drum are biting, she says, you can find them in the shallows at night.  I tell her my boat is 17 feet long, don't know what I would do with a three-foot-long drum.  She laughs, helps me tie the gas can on the bike.  Riding away I hear her shout "Catch a big one!"

Riding back into town by the old city hall I notice a sprit sail skiff under construction, some of the locals trying to remember the history of the old logging and fishing town.  Back at the dock, Les rides up in a golf cart.  He runs the marina next door and wants to tell me about the skiff they are building and the weekend celebration that I missed by a day marking the 85th anniversary of the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal.  He drives me over to the marina to get my contact information, tells me I would be welcome to join the celebration next year.

I walk across the street for a burger and fries at Farm Boy's, an outdoor restaurant.  Then I explore the streets of the classic southern town.  Empty department stores, a pool hall and more restaurants than you would expect.  Brick buildings and wide streets, it must have been a thriving place back in the day.  I stop to take a photograph of a tall building across the street and hear a woman behind me say "That's my building your photographing."  I tell her I hope that's okay and she says it's fine, "It makes me feel good."  

It is the old movie theater, one that I suspect has not shown a film in decades.  She and her husband own that, plus Spoon River, the restaurant across the street, and a couple of other buildings on the block.  Introducing myself, I ask her name.  Teresa she says.  When I ask if that is with a "T" or a "Th", she says "T" and then quickly mentions her husband again, maybe thinking I'm becoming too familiar - this is the south after all.  But no, I just want to get her name right in my notebook.     

"Come back in 30 minutes and you can have lunch," she says motioning to Spoon River.  I tell her I will be sailing by then, but ask if I can step inside to take a look.  Walking through the door I find unexpected elegance.  Paper lanterns float in the cool air conditioning, delicate table cloths and porcelain antiques.   I am reminded of the contradictions of the south, the interesting mix of heat, harshness and delicacy that I will never quite understand.

Walking back to the dock I notice all the parking downtown is posted with a two hour limit.  I wonder why this quiet little town, with its vacant buildings and enthusiasm, doesn't have signs saying "Please, stay for two hours or maybe three, please stay as long as you like." 

Mark is back at the dock and I thank him for the use of his bike.  He helps me cast off, then goes back to fishing at the end of the dock.  A friendly wave and we say goodbye to Belhaven, there's a north wind blowing and I'm headed south.



Marius said...

Hi Steve,

I absolutely love your writing.
I can almost feel the mood of the day and the ambience of the places you visit.

Keep 'em coming

pete said...

Hi Steve, as always I am enjoying your blog. Your picture of the skiff a bit reminiscent of Saul Leitner who I enjoyed learning about on these pages.

Steve said...

Thank you, Pete and Marius. I had hoped to write these closer to the actual trip, but life got in the way.


MaryLou said...

You may have hoped to have the blog entries on the trip done but by writing them now, you get to relive the trip (and we get the all the wonderful details for the first time) when temp is 28 degrees, there's ice on every bit of water I can see and the view out the window is very wintery (though the snow is gone for now.) I grateful whenever you get them done and look forward to each new installment.

Steve said...

Thanks, MaryLou. Sounds a lot colder up there than down here. I hope Fla. is not too far away.


Anonymous said...

Is it by coincidence that "Spartina" is John's "Pathfinder" design?

You & "Spartina", following a different drummer, have "blazed the trail" on the Chesapeake Bay & here in the coastal waters of NC for the rest of us.

We can either enjoy your journey or follow in your footsteps by pursuing the "route taken" in our own boat with your Blog as the "Tour Guide".

I have fond memories of following half of "Walkabout 2011" and look forward to traveling the other half next year.

Your writings conjure up the images in our minds. Images that bring forth resonance and solace to complement the quality photos.