Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #52 Where East Meets North

Oriental, NC, is a sleepy little village on the shores of the Neuse River. Over time it has developed a reputation of being a very boater-friendly stop, especially for sailcraft. That’s why we’re here. Nestled among the coves and trees are several marinas, boatyards, and related services. Being only about 25 miles north of Beaufort, Oriental wasn’t a planned stop. We had hoped to make tracks…er, wake…further north. But our refrigeration compressor had other plans—the new one that was just installed three weeks ago. About 10 miles north of Beaufort it blew up. When I heard something suddenly amiss in the engine compartment (please, God, let it be my imagination!) and suggested that Jim go have a look, his “Oh, @#$%!” didn’t bode well. He saw fluid spraying around the engine, and instantly told me to shut it down. However, he quickly realized that the green color of the fluid didn’t match the pink color of the engine coolant, so the engine didn’t seem to be the culprit. Upon his assessment that the Freon had just blown out of the brand-new compressor, we were both stunned, to say the least. We knew that there was another SeaFrost dealer in Oriental, a mere 15 miles up the road. So we made plans to have the problem assessed there, and get whatever repair was needed before moving on. Using ice in the refrigerator gets old quickly.

That was Monday. Today is Wednesday, and we aren’t sure when the new compressor (which arrived today—gratis, thank God) will be installed. We spent a couple of days at Oriental Harbor Marina, which was quite nice, but we moved over to Deaton’s Yacht Services today. This is where the service technicians are, and the daily dockage rate is cheap while work is being done. In the last few days we’ve given serious consideration to ending our cruise here. We’re both so tired of getting frustrated with weather and breakdowns, not to mention the ubiquitous channel markers and attendant skinny water. I didn’t think it would be so easy for us to give up on seeing the Chesapeake, but at the rate we’re going, all we’ll be able to do is take one look at it before heading back south to avoid cold weather in the fall. We still plan to have the boat hauled out and spend several weeks back in Indy in the latter part of the summer. And we have to do a bottom job after we return in September. Decisions, decisions. I guess we’ll sleep on it another night.

We were very pleased to see Jim (another Jim) arrive this morning to install the refrigeration compressor. He really seemed to know his stuff, and by early afternoon the refrigeration was running nicely. Unfortunately, something is now wrong with the alternator! So it appears that another repair is in order. At least this is a fairly pleasant place to be sitting, as boatyards go. We’re at a dock which has no boat on our port side, so we can feel the breeze coming in off the Neuse River across the cockpit. The people are friendly (they’ve offered us use of a courtesy car), and the extensive gravel keeps the dust down. It’s not even terribly noisy.

We weren’t expecting an alternator repair, but we’ve decided to get an additional refrigeration system installed. This is something we’ve been planning on for some time, but finding the time, money, and—most importantly—the right person have been problematic. Jim (the other one) has inspired our confidence in his refrigeration expertise, so we’ve decided to spend the time and the money…er, credit…to have the job done here. The additional system will run off our batteries, sparing us the agony of running the engine for two hours every day just for the refrigeration.

We think we’ll still move on to Deltaville, VA, allowing us to see some of the Chesapeake on the way. But our plans are set in jello, especially until we leave Oriental.

An unpretentious sunset in an unassuming anchorage off Belhaven inspired an entry to this log this evening. It’s quiet, peaceful, and breezy here—all reasons why we enjoy being on the hook, and reasons we went cruising. We had begun to forget them.

We’ve felt no inspiration for writing—or for much of anything else, for that matter—for the last week as we sat at Deaton’s Yacht Services in Oriental, waiting for the day when we could leave. It reminded us of the endless days we waited in the islands when Caloosa Spirit came out of charter service over two years ago. After getting an estimate for the additional battery-powered refrigeration system, we decided that our pockets just aren’t deep enough to pursue it—not here and now, at least. That realization was discouraging enough, but we still had to wait for the alternator repair. Each day we waited we watched the southerly winds eventually clock and die, and the temperatures soared. Yesterday the afternoon topped out at 95 with only slight zephyrs for any cooling effect. Air conditioning beckoned like a siren. Also, Oriental is so small it doesn’t even merit a traffic signal, so entertainment ashore was non-existent.

We borrowed a vehicle yesterday morning to drive the 25 miles to New Bern to pick up the repaired alternator, since no yard employee seemed to be committed to making the trip. While we had the car (with no air conditioning) we also did some provisioning to get us to Norfolk or further. After getting the alternator reinstalled, Jim had some question about how well it was working, so we expected another day (or days) to pass before leaving Deaton’s. But this morning, bright and early, a mechanic showed up to check it, and he diagnosed the alternator as being healthy. By 11:00 we were on our way down the Neuse River. We had hoped that on the Neuse, Pamlico, and Pungo Rivers we could raise our sails and stop acting like a trawler-wannabe for a while, but the southerly winds we sat out at the dock had clocked to the north today. Such is life. We’re at least once again on our way north. A quiet, peaceful, breezy anchorage with an unpretentious sunset is enough.

Belhaven anchorage
Belhaven anchorage

The dredged ditch which connects the Alligator and Pungo Rivers, appropriately called the Alligator-Pungo Canal, runs for over 20 miles in an almost straight line. The tree and marsh lined banks have been left to nature for their development, and the effects of erosion and hurricane damage are evident. Several white-tailed deer, one with a precious fawn, graced us with their presence as they foraged in the lush vegetation.

Stretching another 20+ miles to Albemarle Sound, the Alligator River is broad and mostly 8-10 ft. deep. We didn’t see any evidence of the creatures for whom the river must once have been named. Perhaps they keep to the banks far from the ICW that makes its way down the river’s mid-line. About four miles from the river’s mouth is a bridge spanning the river’s 2½ mile width with a swing section in the center. Swing bridges, rather than bascules, seem to be the norm in the Carolinas.

One other feature of interest is the water itself. Throughout the Alligator and Pungo Rivers, as well as their connecting canal, the water is the color of strong tea. Caloosa Spirit has been acquiring a “mustache” on her bow, and also some staining on the transom from the water’s splash. The water in most of the rivers of the ICW tends toward the brownish end of the spectrum. We hope the stains can be easily removed when we give the boat a thorough cleaning.

We’ve heard it said that Albemarle Sound can be a rather nasty body of water, especially when the wind blows over 10 knots. With depths consistently less than 20 ft. the chop can be severe when the surface is pushed by strong winds from any quarter. As we entered the Sound to cross northeast to the mouth of the Pasquotank River, the wind was blustering at 15-20 knots—straight out of the northeast. For 2½ hours we bashed and plowed through the short, white-capped 2-3 ft. seas. The ubiquitous crab pots only added insult to injury. When we finally entered the Pasquotank and turned up its northwesterly course, however, Jim got his Father’s Day Present. Out went the jib, off went the engine, and we flew up the river at 6-7 knots; the main was still in its cradle cover. Exhilarating hardly covers it. This was the fun part of cruising—something we’ve seen too little of in the past few weeks.

I suppose we would have missed it if we’d been able to make this leg yesterday as planned. The winds then were only 10-15. We stayed an extra day in an isolated, exposed anchorage just to the south of Albemarle Sound, but not by choice. About 15 minutes after starting out yesterday a foul smell and then smoke from the engine compartment quickly got our attention. The newly repaired alternator was toast—literally. What to do now?! It took us until about noon to sort through our options—sailing or motoring without the alternator, keeping the alternator from damaging the electrics, how and where to acquire a new one (another repair? no!)—and we decided that all that stress was enough for one day.

Tonight we’re at the free municipal docks in Elizabeth City, NC. We’ll get to see more of this reportedly hospitable town over the next couple of days while we wait for the new alternator to arrive. Every boat which docks here gets a personal visit from a member of the “Rose Buddies”, with an invitation to sign their guest book and (sometimes) the presentation of a live rose to the first mate. Since we’ll be here till mid-week, we hope we enjoy the town. At least there’s more here than there is in Oriental.

The Rose Buddies were started in part by Fred Fearing, a life-long resident of Elizabeth City, back when the town built public docks at Mariner’s Wharf in 1983. He and his friend Joe thought it would be hospitable to welcome transient boaters with a wine and cheese party, and a tradition was born. Indeed, Elizabeth City is now known as the Harbor of Hospitality. Fred had recently buried his beloved wife Florence, who, early on in their courtship, had declared him to be a real gentleman. Wanting to remain true to that image and in loving memory of Florence, he presented each first mate with a rose bud. He’s been doing the same on a daily basis ever since 1983. Some of this we learned from the extensive literature describing the award-winning tradition of the Rose Buddies. Some we learned from Fred himself when he invited us into his home. We had been leisurely following a walking tour which went by Fred’s house, and we stopped to chat with the owner of the Elizabeth City Bed & Breakfast across the street. Fred wandered over and spoke with us, and soon invited us to see the three-car garage that he and Florence had redeveloped into their home in 1950-1955. Florence was right—Fred is a true southern gentleman, still very much in love with his departed wife. They were married in 1933 after courting through their college years. Fred shared with us some of his and Florence’s story, especially how the house was transitioned from a garage into a home with additions for more space, the ideas for which Fred gives full credit to Florence. The garage had been built on land belonging to his parents, and was given to them as a Christmas gift in 1949. Antiques fill the charming home, each with its own unique story of acquisition. Fred is quite proud of having been a local mail carrier, and as such having played a significant role in Elizabeth City’s recent history. His family ancestry in the city goes back to the early 19th century, with a Fearing St. as testimony to the family’s prominence. We feel extremely privileged to have been graced with Fred’s attention for over an hour. For us the opportunity to encounter this extraordinary man was far more significant than a wine and cheese party or even a rose bud.

Tomorrow we plan to move to a private marina to greet the arrival of our new alternator. We’re hopeful that the delivery truck won’t break down this time.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

P. S. Don’t forget to look up Alice’s book, Reaching a Far Horizon, at www.lulu.com!

Posted Monday June 20, 2005

* * *

name Remember
  Textile Help