In between high school and college, I took a year off (read: I was told to take a year off to get my shit together) and spent the summer portion of that gap year in the tiny town of Bettles, AK. 100-something miles northwest of Fairbanks, north of the Artic circle, the town carried a full time population of ~75 people, most of whom were native alaskans, with most of the non-natives running away to warmer climates in the winter. Everybody knew everyone else, and even those of us one-summer seasonal folk, by the end of the summer, knew everyone and they all knew us. It was pretty rough leaving that community that fall.
Our journey up to Oriental was uneventful, and we put in at the Oriental Inn and Marina. The dockmaster was a super nice jolly guy and very proud of his supplies of hand sanitizer for customers to use. Oriental felt like a bit of a remnant of that Bettles feeling. It was an order of magnitude larger, population-wise, but the “main drag” was a single-digit number of commercial buildings, people were sitting on park benches watching the cars go by, families walked together to the two restaurants in town, both of which were serving take-out dinners, everyone waved to each other and stopped to chat (many not 6 feet away), etc.
We had a weather hole of 2 days of rain that planned for Oriental. When we arrived, we picked up our new anchor bridle, grabbed some more spares and supplies while we had a good marine store around, got some fresh groceries, and mostly hung out and worked. The next day brought us some pretty absurd rain (still not as bad as Surf City was), and we just holed ourselves up inside. After the rain stopped, we ordered some takeout dinner that was tasty, and had a nice 45 minute walk around the town together while our dinner was made. We got in a couple rounds of Gloomhaven and went to bed.
Another day of rain passed with us doing projects and research. Our bow thruster has been nearly useless the entire trip, and I’d done enough testing over the past couple weeks to determine that the thruster and wiring were fine, actually our batteries were just dying. They’re over 4 years old, were a low end brand to begin with (bought by the previous owners of the boat), and had been abused by dying alternators and some broken charging relays over the past few years. I’d been trying to decide for a week or so whether to go crazy and buy a whole new smart 4-stage externally-regulated alternator setup, a nice Lithium house bank, and dc-dc chargers to charge the start banks.
After looking at prices and complexity of trying to land this project in the midst of Coronavirus, I finally decided to pass and just go with a new high-end AGM bank. I started setting up plans to pick up four new Lifeline 3100T start batteries for our engine and thruster banks and four 6CT house batteries, which will increase our house capacity from 380 Ah to 600, a nice bump, and they’ll fit in all of the current (somewhat hodgepodge) battery cases and boxes, since getting new battery boxes shipped right now is a nonstarter. I can clean it all up later in the trip once I can get some shipments lined up. So now we’re trying to line up a spot to meet those eight batteries at in the next couple weeks, then we get to figure out how to recycle 8 used batteries while looping as well… A problem for another day.
On Sunday morning, we departed for a 4 hour trip up to Belhaven, NC. Hannah had been talking this town up for weeks, under the impression people had been talking about it constantly on the Great Loop Facebook group. Later, I realized that there had just been the owner of the Belhaven Marina posting different pictures once a week, like a good social media coordinator, and the trick had totally worked on her. The town was essentially totally shut down, and we stayed on the cheaper town dock (sorry Belhaven Marina), despite a sketchy 5 foot depth entrance. But we had another day of nasty weather to avoid, so we hung out for two nights.
Our main highlight of Belhaven was that the dockmaster suggested one place to order a nice takeout meal, Spoon River, so we did. When normally open, it looked like it would be a quite swanky restaurant, but as it was, when we showed up to pick up our meal, the owner seemed thrilled to have some customers, and generously gave us a bottle of wine with our dinner and a bundle of peonies (her husband is a florist.) We took the meal back to the boat, and it was delicious. It’s unclear if anything else is worth going back for in Belhaven, but that dinner was. It turned out to be 2 full dinners (for two) and a lunch (6-ish meal portions). I hope they make it through the recession and we can come back there again someday.
Hannah started a new job this week, so we’re going to try to be a little more conservative with our transit stages for a few days while she gets her feet wet at the new gig. Hannah spent Monday inside while it rained for her first day at work, then was inspired to bake a pie, which we happily consumed alongside our rapidly-booming peonies.
We headed out early this morning, with me driving most of the time while Hannah resumed her usual nonstop meeting schedule, to the next possible stop, an anchorage at the southern tip of the Alligator River. The weather report in Belhaven said it’d be somewhat windy today, but it apparently changes drastically when you go 30 miles east, and we came out of the channel into a 20-25 kt southerly wind. So, our first usage of the new Mantus anchor bridle was under duress, and it worked great. We anchored in 7 ft of water, put out almost 100 ft of chain (we didn’t wanna move and we had plenty of room to swing), and went in to work for the day.
As it turns out, we are a long way from anything here. It looks like Belhaven is actually the closest anything-resembling-civilization, and that’s back nearly 40 miles west of us. The whole day, my cell phone was showing either no signal or a bar or two of 1x. But it proved that our cell antenna was working well, because we were both able to be on conference calls all day, often with video chat.
We spent the afternoon getting regaled by nearly nonstop fighter jet passes, presumably from the Norfolk base to the northwest. The wind eventually died down after sunset, and we’re enjoying a pretty calm evening, though the fighters keep passing overhead.
Our plan for the next week involves making our way up to Elizabeth City by Saturday night, and going through the Dismal Swamp Canal on Sunday. It’s a supposedly very pretty alternate ICW route, but it’s maintained at only 6 feet of depth the whole way and is pretty notorious for bumping your boat with sunken logs and such. We’ll see if the risk is worth it or not, if we end up needing to get our props pulled off in Norfolk.