Water levels in Eastern North Carolina are driven by wind more than tide. As it is on the Chesapeake, winds from the North draw water out of the creeks, rivers, bays, and sounds while south winds flood these areas. Awakening early at our Goat Island anchorage we hurried to reach Lamb’s Grocery and Marina before the levels dropped further blocking our entrance to the marina.
Under gray skies, building north winds and cold, we motored the few miles to Lamb’s Grocery and Marina, racing the lowering water levels. Reaching the creek leading to the marina, we slowed down. The creek’s depth was reported to be 5 feet, precisely the amount of water Second Star needs to remain afloat. Gingerly crept up the creek as the water become shallow. The last few yards found Second Star plowing a furrow in the creek’s soft mud bottom; the five-foot depth was an optimistic estimate. After a few tense moments, we were once again afloat and, in the marina, secure from the ensuing foul weather.
Living aboard a boat has a certain romantic and exotic flavor. Eschewing land or dirt homes, liveaboards enjoy the freedom to pick and move their homes at will. Free to travel the world unfettered by land commitments, living aboard has its appeal. This, however, is not always the case, for many it is simply affordable housing. Living in an older boat in a small marina is cheaper than renting a house or apartment. The liveaboards at Lamb’s were there to live, it is their community, their neighborhood. Living aboard was not so much a lifestyle choice, a choice that long-term cruisers make, it was affordable low-income housing. As we moved further south in our journey this would be an increasingly common practice.
Save for one slip, the marina was full of liveaboards and a handful of boats seeking shelter as we were. Our arrival was the event of the day, a handful of men lined the dock to help us land. It was good they were there, as backing into a slip in a tight space is not my strong suit. With patience and muscle, we were maneuvered into our slip and secured. Connected to shore power our electric heater was turned on and warmth began to fill our cabin.
Along with the liveaboards, were a handful of cruisers heading south including the boats we met along the Dismal Swamp Canal. Over three days we began to form friendships, sharing our histories and future plans, plans that would intertwine over the next few months. On our last evening together, the marina opened the closed restaurant for a social gathering featuring a sing-a-long lead by two of the cruisers. For several hours we enjoyed the building’s warmth and singing along to songs to we didn’t know.
The next morning, with waters rising to normal levels, our group of cruisers set out. Some pushed on further south, while we headed down the Pasaquotank River to nearby Elizabeth City in search of a knitting needle. Elizabeth City, NC is a town on the cusp, the cusp of a recovery. It was obvious the town had fallen on hard times, however the buildings harbored signs of a once bustling small city. It bills itself as a “quaint coastal town with lots of southern charm.” Like other small cities, the downtown area is redeveloping with an emphasis on entertainment and restaurants. Time will tell if this is a successful strategy.
Elizabeth City is only a few miles from Lamb’s Marina, so we arrived quite early in the day. Walking through the downtown area, E City had a familiar feel reminiscent of Oswego, NY where I went to college and sailed out of for many years. Both cities have a couple of large employers that support the region. The city has a NC State Teachers College and a large US Coast Guard Base; Oswego also has a state college and a large industrial base in the electric power industry.
After arriving we toured the NC State Museum of the Albemarle, learning the area’s history. The museum is a modern well-designed space. The exhibits are informative and relevant, giving recognition to the many cultures present in the area. North Carolina taxpayer money was well spent on the museum.
With the museum tour behind us, it was time to get down to the business of the day, finding a knitting needle. About two miles outside of town is a knitting shop too far to walk both ways, Susan planned to take a cab to the shop. She called the shop to ensure the correct needle was in stock. Speaking to a customer, as the owner had stepped out, Susan was assured the needed needle was in stock. When the customer heard Susan was going to hire a cab, she said, “honey, you just wait I’ll come and git you.” Twenty minutes later, she did.
The yarn shop was more than just a shop, it was a gathering place, a community space. Each day women from the area gather at the shop to knit and share stories with each other. By the time Susan arrived, they were curious about this knitter who lived on a boat and was passing through. As Susan told her story, the shop’s proprietor, Katherine said she and her husband, a surgeon, had lived in Oswego and owned a sailboat before moving to Maine and eventually Elizabeth City. It was a serendipitous meeting.
Returning to Second Star Susan began to tell her afternoon’s story, relating her conversation with Katherine, I interrupted, “I know this story, her husband’s name is Chris and his father purchased my first boat, the Tanzer.” Somewhat taken aback, Susan texted Katherine who confirmed, her father-in-law had indeed bought the Tanzer. A series of text messages ensued, and dinner plans were made. At dinner conversation flowed, it was as if we were old friends who had not seen each other in years. As we parted late in the evening, plans were made to meet again on our way north.