Old Codger took me to this year's B&B messabout way across the state near Bayboro, N.C. We always enjoy getting together with the gang and talking about boats...and most everything else! But we also like to take a short cruise while we are there. Sunday is the day to do that. Plenty of folks will write about the messabout and post pictures, so we'll just tell y'all about our little cruise, so hang on, get comfy and follow along.
We had followed the weather forecast all week, and made a final check on Saturday night. Looked pretty good. Saturday had been spent with all the great folks at the messabout. Old and new friends, lotsa fine food, stories and tall tales, solving the world's problems. You know how it is.
I conferred with Old Codger, and he said, “Let's do it!”. So, next morning, we set off at 8:15 accompanied by a gentle breeze and overcast skis. But no rain. It was chilly at just under sixty degrees, but, snuggled into a warm sweater, it was bearable. We soon “putsd” (a technical cruising term aboard Old Codger) and headed out the Bay River.
We passed the River Edge Campground where some of the messabout folks stay. Then we cruised by an area occupied by “oyster farm” pens. I'm sure that isn't the real name, but what do us mountain folks know about that. Anyway, they were like a series of wire boxes where little bitty oyster larvae can grow into big, juicy oysters. There are several of these in and around the Bay River.
Another thing the river is popular for is duck shooting. There are platforms on shore, or a little way out in the water, that hunters occupy during the duck hunting season, shivering in the cold, drinking beer and blasting away at the poor duckies. The one we are passing right now is nothing more that a collection of pilings surrounded with some framing, but no decking, railings, roof, or anything. Well. That's not quite true, It has a large collection of sea gulls awaiting the duck's arrival. Codger says the gulls are going to warn the ducks to stay away. I'm not so sure about that, but I've learned to never disagree with him on these matters. Here is a platform that is in pretty good repair. There is a good, solid deck attached to the poles, and plywood walls with windows on three sides. The forth side has a “duck blind” made up of reeds from the Spartina grass that borders much of the shoreline. This one has a collection of gulls perched on the roof.
We enjoy seeing the many large houses that we pass on our trip. The houses are raised on poles to get them above a possible storm surge that could be as high as twenty feet in a large hurricane. Often, the “poles” are connected with walls to form a garage or storage area. If a storm comes, all the stuff under the house is carted away to somewhere high and dry. There are also plenty of “trailers-on-a-stick”, mobile homes raised the same way.
Soon we come to the Vandemere waterfront. Docks and a forest of pilings, but there are no trawlers at the docks of Cross Seafood today. No one seems to be around the several buildings that make up the marina complex. Looks like a lonesome place. The last time we were here, the docks were crowded with boats. We try to peek between the commercial buildings to see some of the old homes near the shore, but we can't see much. Let's get out of here and continue our trek.
As we neared the mouth of the Pamlico river, we passed a large marked off area with “permit” signs designating more oyster pens. Passing them was a pod of dolphins, rolling in the channel like they were playing. You sure don't see anything like that up in the mountain lakes! There must have been a couple dozen of them. Back when I was a young-un in the mid 60s, there was a TV show about a bottle nosed dolphin called “Flipper”. He was the pet of Porter Ricks, chief warden at Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve, and his two sons. They had many exciting adventures together.
The next interesting thing we see is a large house standing guard over the entrance to Racoon Creek, which is part of the Intracoastal waterway leading through the Goose Creek Game Lands to the Pamlico River. The house is three stories high with an extension on top that looks like a guard tower with windows on all four sides. It is situated on the last point of land with the front facing the Bay River, and one side facing Racoon Creek. As we round the corner, we can see that the tower projects behind the main house and has several levels of windows. Are they landings in a stairway? There is a metal sea wall arrangement facing the water, and just above, a huge concrete ramp leading from a driveway into double doors opening into the lowest level of the house. A big garage type building is located a short distance away. We wonder about the folks that live in this “castle”. It puts us in mind of a prison with guards and machine guns in the tower. The only thing missing is a high fence topped with razor wire! Old Codger is looking at me in an odd way. He thinks I get kinda carried away with my imagination.
Leaving the fascinating structure behind, we head on into the entrance to the part of the canal that has been cut through the peninsula. The canal joins Racoon Creek on the Bay River side, with Goose Creek on the other. Part way through, on the right is some kind of huge gasoline powered pump mounted on a trailer with a big round pipe projecting into the water. There is a short section of sea wall with big broken-up slabs of concrete, sheet metal, and boards piled at the end. We can see a building of some sort back away from the shore, but our vision is obstructed and we can't make out just what it might be.
Just past the pump is a cleared area literally covered with Canada Geese. Wall-to-wall geese! I bet there are almost a hundred of them jostling around and honking at each other! As we pass, a large number of them ramble into the air, fly a short way, and settle into the canal. I'm always interested in what a large group of animals is called. A group of geese is called a “gaggle”. Makes sense. They are always carrying on squawking and honking, Gaggling! A short way past the geese, and also on the right is Jones Bay. The town of Hobucken can be reached from here, but for now, we want to explore the rest of the canal.
On the left, and just past Jones bay, we see the sign for Mayo Sea Food. It is a big sign mounted on pilings faces the waterway with “R.E. Mayo Seafood” painted on it, and spelled out above the name is “Welcome Recreational Boats”. On either side of the name sign, are two smaller signs listing the services provided. These signs have chunks broken off as if they had been hit by a passing trawler.
Copied from the web site, “RE Mayo Seafood brings a century of tradition to sailors, seafood lovers and to anyone that loves the coast. Located on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Hobucken, NC, RE Mayo Seafood is ideally situated for the boater. Our facilities, service and dockage, are geared towards the transient, sail and power vessel alike. As the name implies, RE Mayo Seafood specializes in seafood. We have long been known as the hub for locally caught fish, crabs, scallops and shrimp. You can buy a wide variety in just about any quantity you like. We’ll pack it for you fresh or fresh frozen!” As we approach, we notice the high rise bridge crossing the waterway. This is Hwy 304 that leads into the town of Hobuckin. We soon pass a collection of buildings, and two big fishing trawlers tied up to docks in front.
Next up is the USCG Hobucken Station. Cute little thing nestled in just past the bridge. There are just some small RIB boats painted in Cost Guard orange at the docks but no patrol patrol boat. Three or four small buildings are scattered in an area cleared in the trees. Several cars are parked near by.
As we pass the station, a big cruising sailing catamaran approaches. It looks to be about thirty-five or forty feet long, and is sailing “all wung out” wing and wing before the breeze, making barely a ripple from it's wake. Right behind the cat is a cruising powerboat of about the same size. In contrast to the cat, it is traveling at a sped carefully calculated to make the biggest possible wake! That seems to be what most of he powerboats do coming through the canal. Stern down, bow thrusting towards the sky, pushing a wall of water ahead of it. Old Codger says “bad words, bad words” under his breath, and turns to intersect the wake at a forty-five degree angle. I try to take a picture, but can't steady the camera. Other than being tossed around a bit, we come through unscathed.
Now we're traveling along the man made canal that connects the creeks. There is a wall of forest lining either bank. Occasionally we spy a “long legs” standing on a half submerged log. That's what Codger calls the blue herons. And there's a kingfisher flitting along ahead of us. As we approach, he takes off and flies a little way before landing on a branch, only to do it all over again as we come closer
It has been sprinkling a little since we entered Racoon Creek. And the wind has been steadily increasing in strength. The farther we go, the worse it gets. The sprinkle turns to a drizzle, the drizzle turns into a steady rain. I duck below, leaving my little boat to his own devices, to don my fowl weather gear. Back in my place in the cockpit, I can see our goal ahead---the Pamlico River. But we are now in a more open part of Goose Creek. The waves have been building, and it's “blowing like stink”. We're heading directly into the wind. White caps are forming, and I guess the wind must be at twenty miles per hour or more. Old Codger is fighting the incessant wind for control, but his bow keeps getting blown around. It's miserable! Cruising is supposed to be FUN! This ain't NO fun! We quickly confer on our choices, and by mutual decision, we decide to save the Pamlico for another time, and turn to head back the way we came. Going with the wind, Mr. Hatsu, Codger's twenty horse power Tohatsu motor, takes us at the same speed as the wind. Now I'm more comfortable with the rain and spray not blowing in my face.
It's not long before we are back at the bridge. When we came through the other way, I noticed an old bridge abutment next to the new bridge. Before the high-rise was built, there was a swing bridge here. We pass under the bridge and idle over close to the abutment. It is nothing more than a concrete wall topped with a railing to keep folks from driving into the canal. There are several warning signs posted above the rail.
Codger has a reputation for sticking his nose into interesting coves and creeks, and a perfect opportunity shows up here. The old road still comes up to the canal, and ends at the abutment. Next to the road is an interesting looking creek. We duck in. It's wonderful to be out of the wind. The creek is short and leads to a home. It is a blue, two story house setting on a solid looking concrete block garage, raising the living quarters above the storm surge. Next to the house, and attached to it, is a rather strange looking structure. It has a heavy concrete floor or platform setting on concrete block pillars so the floor is at the same level as the house. Built on top of this, there is a screen room, with plastic outdoor furniture inside. Next to that is a expansive metal shed with strings of crab pot buoys stretched across an open part of the shed. A center console powerboat, with a big outboard motor hanging on the transom is next to the shed. There is a good sized dock next to the house, but no boats are tied to it today. All-in-all, a cozy home setting from the days that the road to the bridge passed by directly in front of.
We take our leave of the pleasant homestead and return to the canal. We pass Mayo Seafood and turn to port into Jones Bay which intersects the canal at this point. It's not long before we come to Bill's Creek, which leads us into the waterfront section of Hobucken. Hobucken is an unincorporated sleepy little community in Pamlico County. The 2020 census shows a population of 38. That number sound a lot too small, but it is a small community. We pass several houses and a cbig sized amper on our left, along with some mobile homes as we approach the marina. A man is launching his skiff on a short ramp. It looks like the boat is hung up on the trailer, and the man is definitely not happy! Everywhere we look are crab pots, and various other fishing gear.
Just beyond that are the docks for the marina. A trawler was next to one of the docks, with nets hanging from the outriggers. Next to that is a fiberglass runabout that had been converted to a crabbing skiff. A high bulwark has been built on the front half of the boat. Apparently they work on windy days when the bay builds up a stiff chop. The bulwark should keep out most of the spray. In the center of the boat is a tall, skinny pilot house, just big enough for one fisherman to stand in to get out of the weather.
When the time comes to set the traps, the entire aft end of a crabbing skiff will be piled high with the wire traps. Sometimes, one man will operate the boat, and also set the traps overboard. But other times, one will pilot the boat, while the other sets the traps. They travel into the area that they think the blue crabs will be in, and space them out in a row.
When the traps are all set, the crabbers will come back after a few days to pull the traps, dump the crabs into the boat, replace the bait, and drop the traps overboard again. They time it takes to idle from one trap to the next so that when a trap is pulled up, the one just baited is dropped in it's place. It's fascinating to watch. Almost artistry in motion.
We have come to the end of the creek. We see the marina up ahead, but not much seems to be happening. There is a small trawler and a pontoon boat tied to the docks on the other side of the harbor area, but no people are around.
The pontoon boat is a typical aluminum hulled craft like the ones we see up on our mountain lakes. Purely a pleasure and party style boat. It looks out of place in what is a commercial fishing setting. I suppose pleasure boats have a place here, too.
The marina is facing Highway 304 and we see a few cars passing by. Other than that, everything appears quiet and peaceful. Hobucken looks like a pleasant little village to live in.
It's time to turn around and go back the way we came. On the left is a row of dilapidated abandoned houses with weeds growing all around, and docks collapsing into the creek. At first I wonder why no one is living in them, but then realize they are all built at ground level, which is only about five feet above the water. It wouldn't take much of a storm surge to flood them. I can imagine folks moving here expecting a happy lifestyle on the creek, but then a storm comes and they are flooded out. The most surprising thing is that anyone wouldn't have known to not build them that way in the first place.
Just after the houses is a small, old mobile home, with a large shed built next to it. They are both painted a pretty shade of light blue, but like the houses, they are abandoned, and beginning to fall apart. It's so sad to think of the people that lived here. I wonder how they felt when their dreams were shattered when they had to move out. Did they move away from the treacherous coast in fear of future storms? Or did they relocate somewhere else in town on higher ground? Or in raised houses that could survive whatever Mother Nature would throw at them? I suppose we'll never know, so let's just continue on.
We're just about to the mouth of the creek now. On the shore beyond the last abandoned structure, is a curious hound watching us. He seems to be wondering who we are, and what we are doing in his creek. Old Codger certainly isn't any kind of fishing or crabbing boat. The sad faced hound follows us with his eyes as we exit his creek, and the little lonesome community of Hobucken.
We're almost back to where are adventure began, but one last mystery remains to be investigated. We're back in Raccoon Creek again. We pass by what sure looks like an island on the left with several nice looking buildings on it. They don't look like houses. Let's take a closer look. We cruise along the waterfront that faces the open water. Then we circle around to the left to circumnavigate the island. Part way around, we notice a building set back from the water's edge with a large sign on it. Docks protrude out from the shore on this side. Codger takes me in for a closer look. The sign reads “Jones Island Club”. Maybe the whole island is a hunting camp. I'll have to google it when we get home. We continue around and—-what's this? It isn't a real island after all! There is a strip of exposed land connecting it to the bank of the creek. I stand and look across the “neck” which is covered with swamp grass. No sign of a road that I can see.
Here is the mystery. As I'm writing this, I pull up a Google satellite view of Jones Island Club. WHAT?!?! The dang island is on the OTHER side of the creek! And its not an island at all! Just an isthmus projecting out from the mainland. And there's a real road leading into it—Gale Creek Road! And there are only three small buildings on it—not the nice looking buildings I saw! And the shape is totally different, with a short canalish looking thing leading up to one of the buildings. The island we saw didn't have anything like that! WHAAAAT! I don't know WHAT to think! I search the satellite view or another likely island, but none appears. Could I have imagined the whole thing? No, I ask Old Codger about it and he remembers it the same as I do. This dang thing is going to keep me awake for many nights trying to figure it out! Oh well, let's move on to finish our cruise.
That's about the end of the story. One last notable thing Codger wants to check out. On the way in to the canal, we spotted a dilapidated looking sailboat aground in a shallow area. We didn't stop at the time, but I guess we need to now. We idle over to where it rests and circle around it. It is a small, white cruiser about twenty-five feet long. It is hard aground with the stern raised a bit, and the bow pointing down. Apparently resting on it's keel. The main sail is loosely flopped over the boom with a line draping down from the masthead and wrapped several coils around it, but with large folds of the sail hanging down on either side. I have no idea what the line actually is for. The jib has been dropped onto the fore deck, but it is mostly drooped over the side into the water. A pair of fenders are suspended over the starboard side. At first we thought that the boat had been washed here in a storm, and then abandoned, but there is an anchor rode stretched out from the bow. Had it been here all along? Or had the owner come after it was blown her and set the anchor? Why had he never come back? I guess it will have to remain a mystery.
By now the rain is coming up again. It had been a light sprinkle, but is becoming a drizzle again. As we continue heading pack to port, the rain becomes steady, and the wind picks up. Old Codger wants to anchor and wait for the rain to blow over. Today was supposed to be mostly cloudy with a few showers, so we'll just stop and wait for the rain to taper off again.. We pull over near shore and anchor. I check the chart and see that we are close to the entrance of “No Jacket Creek”. Doncha just love the names of the points and creeks around here?
I duck into Codger's snug cabin. The rain is getting harder, and it starts blowing. I fix myself my typical cruising lunch of Vienna sausage, bar-b-q tater chips, Mountain Dew, and for desert, a chocolate pudding cup. Then I snuggle in and listen to some of my big band music cassette tapes. Then I read a bit in my favorite book, “Princess”. It's going on three-thirty now. My wife calls me. I tell her what I've been doing, and ask her for a report on the weather. She looks it up and informs me that the latest forecast is for rain. LOTS of rain! All day! DANG! How could last night's prediction been SOOO wrong! Well, there is a saying around here that if you don't like the weather, just wait an hour!.
Meanwhile, Old Codger is informing me that he has had enough! He's jerking on the anchor rode. Heading off to one side until it pulls him up short, then over to the other side, but the same thing happens. He's getting downright cranky about the whole situation! I guess he's right. I agree with him. It's time to get going. In the rain, wind, and chop. I pull on my foul weather gear and climb back to Mr. Hatsu, and wake him up, pushing his starter button. As he warms himself up for the trip, I go forward and weigh anchor. That's all there is to tell y'all about for this trip. We made it back to the ramp and loaded up without incident. Just the long, wet, seven hour drive back home to Hendersonville. See all of y'all next time.