Category Archives: Anchorages

Elizabeth City

The Dismal Swamp Canal is tops. After a dose of enchanting motoring through cypress swamps and and the tannin-tinged corridor resplendent with birds, we came to Elizabeth City, the Harbor of Hospitality.

At the Dock in Elizabeth City

We read about other people sensing a feeling of ‘former glory’ for this small, but well-established, downtown area but all we could see was hopeful re-emergence. They’ve built themselves a boring stripmall sort of a thing complete with fast food restaurants that’s only a 5 minute drive from the beautiful brick buildings you find in the original hub of Elizabeth City.

Elizabeth City, NC

Cruisers know this place for lots of reasons, but my favorite story is the one about the Rose Buddies, Fred Fearing and Joe Kramer. The free town docks had just been built in 1983 thanks to donations, and these two long-time residents decided spontaneously one Sunday to welcome all the boaters who happened to be at the docks. Joe clipped 17 roses from his garden and Fred brought wine and cheese, and the 17 boats on the dock were hosted by the two men who would be known as the Rose Buddies, and the kind gesture became tradition.

Rose Buddies Monument

The Roses that Named the Rose Buddies

When Joe died, his rose bushes were transplanted to the park at the docks. Fred continued the tradition until his death, bringing to the docks more than snacks and wine, but also bringing stories about the Dismal Swamp Canal and about local history. Now local businesses keep the legend of hospitality alive, and the Museum of the Albermarle takes care of the history part.

Sea Nymph at the Museum of the Albermarle
Moth boat SEA NYMPH at the Museum of the Albermarle, a free museum in Elizabeth City

It’s a bit after the season for all that, so we didn’t get to experience the Rose Buddies this time around. There was only one cruiser at the docks while we were there, an old salt who offered us his mooring anytime we’d like it in Stockton Harbor- his boat said he was from Bucksport and he lives in Bangor. From this far away that all means he’s from where we’re from.

Me, Maja, and Jetty

We met Maja and her little dog Jetty. Maja told us, when we gave our usual spiel about where we’re from because most people don’t know where Brooklin is, that she took art classes on Deer Isle at Haystack in the 60s. I ached for home a bit when she described working hard in the studios tucked into the rocky campus rich with pointed pines and then going to beaches for clambakes and bonfires with classmates and locals. Not much has changed.

Then Maja told us the story about how she had been a city lady for a long time, but one day read that there was a boat for sale for $2000.

“I thought surely that must have been the down payment,” she said. But no, that was the cost of the boat. After seeing a home movie of the 40′ wooden racing sloop under sail, she fell in love with the way it moved. Maja had never sailed before. She went to the bank and told them she needed a loan for some dental work, and that it’d be $2000.

“Your teeth look fine,” said the banker.

“It’s my gums,” said Maja. They gave her the money.

It was her intention to take the boat down the ICW and to see where it took her. After a few terrible missteps that I suspect were rookie moves, like getting caught in terrible storms and running aground (the sloop drew 7′), one last big storm convinced her to go live in Louisville with her sister and leave the boat behind in the Chesapeake. She became a yoga instructor there, the only one in the town and a big part of bringing a healthful practice to Louisville. She said that if the boat hadn’t made her question what was next, she would have never decided to pursue yoga so passionately.

One thing that really struck me about her story was when she needed to repair a bunch of the boat’s canvas, somewhere in Delaware Bay. She went ashore, and a man there said he understood her situation, and should she ever need to borrow his truck to get into town, he’d give her the keys. Being from New York City, she was thinking, “What’s this guy up to?” She admitted that after a time, cruising was just like that. People didn’t have anything up their sleeves but the keys to a much needed truck or a nice shower ashore.

Maja's Care Package Left at the Dock

The Contents of Maja's Care Package

Taking the opportunity to pay it forward, Maja left us a big care package of beautiful pantry stuff one day, and later gave me a ride to the health food store and to the Post Office. I think, beside enjoying the town there, meeting her was perhaps my favorite part of Elizabeth City.

Leaving Elizabeth City

Dear Portsmouth,

To approach you by water is to know you.

It is literally thousands of times that I’ve come and gone from Kittery and Portsmouth. Normally by car, and normally unceremoniously, the roads there are conduits that have brought me to friends’ houses, parties, work and the same old pubs I’ve been frequenting since my early 20s. By walking to the market and other places, I was able to see the town in a new light. I was also able to feel the absence of the Memorial Bridge in a big way, not just for the inconvenience of having to take a shuttle rather than walk, but literally when we were in the harbor on the boat there was a big hole in the landscape.

To enter the harbor, fearing but using its current to my advantage, seeing the Whaleback Light from the water rather than from the state park, and using navigational buoys that have been bobbing there despite my previous acknowledgement of them- these were new surprises in an old place.

Naval prison

The Naval prison.

The highlight of our week in Portsmouth was the extreme generosity of our hosts, friends who offered us a mooring, then a dock, then their amazing outdoor shower, their laundry machines, and even some harvest from their garden. For the first time ever, Mimi Rose was  using shore power, and so we were doing really nutty things like turning on two lightbulbs at the same time. POSH! This is the hospitality we’ve found an abundance of when we meet boat people. We pay it forward in kind, too.

Colin enjoying the shower:

Sweet outdoor shower

Dockside

Our great space on the dock!

Because of our time at the dock and the ease with which we could come and go from the boat, many of my friends and family were finally able to see where I live. I’ve been about 4 hours away by car for the last year or so, and while pictures of the boat on the internet are all well and good, I think everyone finally got a sense of the sort of adventure we’re embarking on when they saw Mimi Rose in person. Eight tons of reasonable comfort, enforced simplicity and beautiful woodwork. That tells you something, or at least, puts it in perspective.

Breana Making a salad

Breana making us food.

Colin and Jo

Josephine and Colin during a shindig.

Afternoon sail

Lori and Patrick on a daysail with us.

Molloy n' me

Me and my dearest Erin.

Things to Pass On to My Fellow Seacoasters

I would suggest that my friends put their shoes to pavement as soon as they can and see this joint for what it really is. I hope they walk around and take a good look at the monuments they normally fly by. I read bronze plaques that commemorated random but formative events for the seacoast. They’re fascinating. They’re treasure.

WWI memorial in Kittery

I would also suggest, after having beautiful garden-grown food, that everyone take advantage of the small pieces of land they have and share the bounty. Were I still there, I think I’d be coordinating with my neighbors to grow particular things and to pitch in on seed costs for a whole other group of crops in my neighbors’ or friends’ gardens. In other words, there are so many great people in your area who love to socialize and eat, I think all y’all should have co-ops.

Spring rolls

Things to Pass On to Visitors of Portsmouth

The currents in the Piscataqua River are intense. The fear of them is driven into the kids who grow up there, as many inexperienced boaters and unwitting swimmers have been washed out to sea or carried up the river in dangerous situations. Your awareness of it and respect for it is all you need. Your wise decisions will make your visit there pleasant. Here’s a video about tucking into the edges of the river and using eddies to your advantage:

I strongly suggest a visit to a few of my favorite places. The Black Birch in Kittery, The Portsmouth Brewery, The Press Room, and The Coat of Arms are all great places for food and drink. The staff are friendly, the atmosphere in each place is distinctively local. Tell them Anne sent you. Oh, and at The Black Birch, you should just order ALL THE DESERTS like we did.

We'll take all the deserts.

Be sure to see the cemeteries around town. There’s a lot of history to be had there, and it’s free entertainment. Consider them outdoor museums and art galleries- at their heart they’re a little of both and I’m proud to say that there are beautiful, rare examples of carvings.

I suppose I’ve missed something. Any questions about Portsmouth? Do let me know.

You could just really look at this picture of my dad mixing me a Mai Tai aboard the boat I live on, and maybe if you think of all that, the loveliness of it, then you’ll have just a taste of the great social and decisive coincidences of my life culminating into this most fantastic week. Cheers!

Dad mixing drinks aboard Mimi Rose

The Anchorage You Might Have Missed: Burnt Island, North Haven

Off of North Haven Island, on its southeastern side, Burnt Island is waiting for you. It’s sitting there quietly with its long trails and its sizeable pebble and shell beaches. There’s even a dinghy dock, well-maintained and welcoming.

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You can’t buy ice here. You can’t gas up your engine or fill your water tanks. I’m convinced, though, that this is a rare uninhabited island among the hundreds Maine has to offer. Why? It would take a couple days of your time if you wanted to adventure it completely.

The boys walking the trails of Burnt Island

Burnt Island, off North Haven

Burnt Island, off North Haven

Burnt Island, off North Haven

You’re not greeted by a laundry list of rules like the ones you’d find on Butter Island (complete with a couple of paid caretakers to be sure you’re adhering to them) or even the very polite rules you’d find on any Maine Island Trail Association island holdings. No rules. The respect for the place seems to be upheld by the beauty of the place.

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I’m very sure you’ve already got some kind of list going if you’re traveling through Penobscot Bay, and that most of them involve the 5-star Maine Cruising Guide spots and the towns where you can get dinner. This stop is a little less obvious as a must-do, as it’s a town park for the town of North Haven, and people probably blow right past it to more obvious destinations. I’d encourage you to go here, though. This is what Maine’s coastline is all about, and I’m not sure about you, but it’s why I cruise in the first place. Imagine, you’ll be adventuring on an island that probably only a couple hundred pairs of feet touch during the summer season. Magic.

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When you do stop by there, you could bring a little decorative something to add to the simply-built cabin there. A guest book will be wanting your thoughts and some evidence of your visit, even if you did forget to bring a trinket.

Burnt Island, off North Haven

Moss hangs from trees, trails bring you up and down and alongside hills, and there are plenty of picnic spots. We even harvested a few apples that we enjoyed in our oatmeal the next day. Enough said. Just get there already.

Burnt Island, off North Haven

Colin, Maye and I at Burnt Island