Tuesday, May 08, 2012

North Carolina's Inland Sea

New Bern, NC
35 05.91 N 077 01.95 W

I've written before that we spend about 4 months of every year in migration mode, heading North or South.  However, we manage to dawdle 1-2 of those months in North Carolina.  Why?

At first, in 2005, we learned to love The Great Dismal Swamp, Elizabeth City, and Oriental.  Those three delights made NC the most fun part of the journey.   

Later, we began getting bored with the ICW in NC, and started doing side trips.  We discovered Bath, Washington, Edenton and New Bern.    

Still later, we discovered that skipping the ICW entirely and sailing the Outer Banks route to Manteo and Okracoke was much more fun.

Then, last year we had an added attraction.  Dave and Cathy moved from Fairbanks to Zebulon, NC (near Raleigh).   Hooray.  Now, in addition to the other fun, we can visit family while here.  To make it easier, the Grand Marina in New Bern rents a slip with excellent facilities for less money than we pay for a mooring ball in Marathon.

All that doesn't tell you what a jewel the NC inland waters really are.  Take some time to study the lovely picture below.  Click on it to see it full screen.

US Geological Survey. Post-processing and production by http://www.terraprints.com

The big body of water to the East is Pamlico Sound. It is a huge body of brackish water, about 20 feet deep. When it is not storming, Pamlico Sound is a wonderful place to sail. Open waters, very few obstacles or shoals, and no ocean waves or swells.  Anchor almost anyplace.

West of Pamlico Sound, from North To South. are The Abemarle Sound, The Pamlico River, and The Neuse River. These are each major rivers. The mouth of The Neuse River alone is 13 mlies across. At the head of The Abemarle, is Edenton, at the head of the Pamlico is Washington, NC, and at the head of the navigable Neuse is New Bern.

I estimate about 15000 square miles of inland navigable waters in NC.  Compare that with 500 square miles for Lake Champlain, 25000 square miles for Lake Ontario,  3000 for coastal Maine, 1500 for San Francisco Bay, 4500 for Chesapeake Bay, and 150000 for The Baltic Sea.

Almost all of these waters are fresh, or only slightly brackish.  The waters are also full of tannin which colors them brown like root beer.  Also, there are hardly any tides in all these waters, but strong northerly or southerly winds can make water depths vary as much as 4 feet north to south.

The ICW runs North to South, crossing The Abemarle, Pamlico, and Neuse, via man-made connecting canals too small to see on that picture.

We enter NC via the Dismal Swamp and Elizabeth City at the top center of the picture, and exit at Beaufort Inlet at the bottom center of the picture.   Cape Lookout is visible at the lower border of the picture and Cape Hatteras on the right border.

If the weather were better, we would be tempted to spend much more time here.   Alas, in the summer months, NC and the Chesapeake Bay are characterized by stifling hot and humid weather and no winds. The winters are usually mild but still too cold for spoiled cruisers like us.  

Weather aside, if NC only had mountain views like Lake Champlain offers, we would be sorely tempted to stay longer.  Around this time of year though, we are fed up with flat land, and we yearn for New York and Vermont scenery.

If you are not a full time cruiser and you would like a change from chartering in the Caribbean, consider North Carolina in October.  I guarantee you would have fun.

If you are an East Coast Cruiser following the ICW.  I strongly suggest that you allow 2-3 weeks in your migration schedule to linger in NC and to get away form the ICW,  explore the rivers, sounds and banks.


  1. On the list of comparables don't forget the chesapeake bay. With 4,500 square miles of water and 12,000 miles of shoreline it is our nation's largest estuary.

  2. A glaring omission. I did a rare thing and went back to edit that blog post to include The Chesapeake.

    Thanks for letting me know.


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