Pink and orange clouds over a calm Pasquotank River, I listen to the wind blowing through the trees next to the boat ramp. A front had rolled through in the middle of the night, thunderstorms and reports of tornadoes to the north. Morning comes with cool, dry air and a steady NW breeze.
We motor away from the ramp at 7:00 a.m. It's just a short run to the pier at Millie's place and I could easily motor there. But the wind is so perfect I raise sail, noticing that I had run the main halyards - peak and throat - through the wrong blocks, something to be easily fixed at Millie's. I reach the dock nearly an hour before I had told my friend that I would be there, hoping to be able to walk back to the ramp and get my jeep without bothering her. Walking around the corner I see Millie sitting on her porch reading the paper. She smiles, knowing she caught me. She drives me back to the ramp, we get the jeep and trailer, then tuck them around the corner at her place.
I say goodbye a little after 8:00, pushing off from the dock, raising sail in a building wind. We sail downriver at 4.3 to 5 knots, markers backlit by the rising sun and easily visible. The river water is stained the color of tea by the swamps to the north. Orange crab pot markers tilt downwind. We pass Brickhouse Point and Newbegun Creek to starboard, a crabber working pots on the shoal at Miller Point to port. We jibe at 10:30, then find a comfortable path wing and wing with Albemarle Sound ahead of us. Nearing Wade Point I jibe accidentally while looking through the binoculars, then another unplanned jibe while taking photographs. Maybe I should pay attention.
The wind falls off at the river entrance, then fills in once out on the sound. The water is rougher on Albemarle Sound, but rolling in our direction. Making over 5 knots, then 6.4 sliding down the face of a wave. Blues skies and looking east I can see the Outer Banks on the horizon.
The crossing is pleasant. Steady wind, a friendly wave from a cruising couple on a sailboat headed north.
The wind falls off approaching the Alligator River early afternoon, we motor sail past the entrance markers and duck blinds, dark shapes moving east and west on the horizon are cars and trucks on the Alligator River Bridge. Leaving the entrance channel the wind fills in out of the west. We have a nice run for the bridge as I request an opening on channel 13. The bridge tender tells me to keep on coming. I reply that I'll come through under power, then ask if he wants me to drop my sails. "You can leave your sails up as long as you can control your boat," he says. The sails carrying us into the opening, the outboard carries us through the dead spot in the wind shadow. I look up and wave to the bridge tender. "Have a nice trip" he says over the radio.
We're sailing south with the wind on the beam at five knots just outside of the channel. Skies are clear but the weather tells me we are under thunderstorm watch #178. I leave the weather radio on hoping to get an overnight and next day forecast, the automated voice repeatedly interrupting the local forecast for the thunderstorm watch. We head towards the western shore, hoping to be near shelter should a thunderstorm erupt from the clear skies.
We sail to the mouth of Second Creek, a possible anchorage for the night, but I'm not impressed. We continue south to the mouth of Goose Creek, where I bring down the main and the jib, and drop the anchor. If the wind is out of the W all night maybe I could stay here. Two more warnings about watch #178, then, without pause, watch #178 is cancelled. And finally the local forecast comes through, strong winds out of the NE and E, making the entrance to Goose Creek a terrible place to be. Sails up, we head south.
I look on the charts at Rattlesnake Bay but I'm not sure how protected that would be. On the way there I notice a body of water heading off the river to the west, The Frying Pan. A narrow, winding entrance, but - according to the chart - deep water. I head there, blindly passing the entrance hidden behind cypress trees. Seeing on my gps that I have missed the entrance, I turn back and decide to trust the gps. A wall of cypress trees to the west, a patch of cypress stumps and dying trees to the east, we work our way under full sail into the swamp. We turn west into a narrow passage marked the Thorofare as an eagle lands on a tree. The water opens to the west, shallow water to the south - maybe less than a foot deep - but marked with a depth of 17 feet near a little point straight ahead. We round up and drop the anchor, paying out enough line to tell us it was every bit of 17 feet deep.
Just after 7:00 I cook dinner - beef stroganoff - and clean up the boat. Sleeping gear set out, I relax, read and enjoy being completely surround by a cypress marsh. The wind may be blowing out on the river, but it is quiet and peaceful tucked back in The Frying Pan.