Memories & Trivia of the Carolinas

Siskiwit is back at Atlantic Yacht Basin for two nights. It’s a sentimental spot— it’s a real yard, and every worker here is a true professional. Russell, a marvelous man with huge spirit, has managed the yard for 41 years and offered such confidence to worried yachties in the fall of 2003 when Siskiwit, along with a few hundred other yachts, gathered here to ride out Hurricane Isabel.

Shoal draft mariners are likely to follow the Dismal Swap Canal to Elizabeth City, while commercial craft and certainly deep draft sailboats will take the Virginia Cut (The Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal). The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest operating artificial waterway in the United States. Along its path was the famous “Halfway House” hotel which sat astride Virginia-North Carolina border. For those escaping the law, one simply walked to the other end of the hotel lobby to avoid arrest or pursuit! When gliding down the Dismal Swamp, one has to pause to consider that this safe way around Cape Hatteras was built on backs of slaves beginning in 1793. The Albemarle was completed in 1859 with the aid of seven steam dredges on floating barges. These two canals competed for over fifty years and were eventually taken over by the Federal Government.

The mariners of North and South Carolina are truly lucky. Carolina has the largest expanse of inland waters on the East Coast. I think there is enough shoreline here to spend a few months just getting to the best-known areas, anchoring night after night with no lights from shore, only a flashing green or red from your boat’s spaced navigational aids. If you removed the navigation aids, I think it would take nothing to feel akin to the early settlers when they were eagerly exploring and hunting. North Carolina was also pirate country—aye, me hardy, this was the cruising ground of Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard.

Among the places I wish I had time to return are to Edenton, Washington, and New Bern in North Carolina. I also won’t have time to get to Outer Banks on this cruise.

One of the big differences from Narraganset Bay, Long Island Sound, and the Chesapeake in North Carolina is the shallow water. When the winds are over 20 knots in the Abermale, it’s troublesome since tides are wind driven with westerlies raising the water levels and easterlies lowering them. Northerlies and southerlies produce real currents and when it’s all chop with few landmarks, it’s time for GPS and keeping your charts within arm’s reach. Each curve in the waterways hides sandbars, shoals, snags and many floating cypress trees, but one of the crowning offsets is calabash-style shrimp and vinegar-based pulled pork.