There are many well-known cruising grounds along the East Coast, the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound being two of the best documented. However, there are other equally attractive bodies of water that get far less press. The sounds of North Carolina is one such area.The towns along the protected waters of North Carolina's sounds are popular stops for boaters traversing the Eastern seaboard. The towns happily play host to the migration, provisioning and repairing all the boats as they pass through. But during the remainder of the boating season, these quaint villages and waters are tranquil and all but undisturbed. What this means is that boaters with the time or inclination can stay in scenic, nearly empty anchorages and marinas.The area is bordered by North Carolina's famous Outer Banks to the east, and the mainland which is branding itself for tourism as the Inner Banks to the west. The bodies of water that make up the area are the Albermarle, Croatan, Pamlico, Core, and Back sounds, along with the tributaries that feed them.New Bern is the region's largest town, with excellent accommodations right in the heart of downtown at the New Bern Grand Marina. Most of New Bern's central business district is within walking distance of the marina, including the well-preserved historic district and its crown jewel, Tryon Palace, a stately 1770 Georgian manse. New Bern's waterfront and striking convention center host art festivals and concerts throughout the summer.Farther down the Neuse River, the area's main tributary, is the little village of Oriental, the self-proclaimed Sailing Capitol of North Carolina. Oriental has a charm that is hard to describe but unquestionably present, and it has captured the heart of more than one boater who has decided to permanently set anchor in this town of just 900 folks.Though the town is small, the restaurant scene thrives, and there are numerous marine businesses, including several marinas. The Oriental Marina & Inn, right in the harbor, and River Dunes, which has a well-protected basin and a polished clubhouse, are both great choices.From Oriental, it's a short 25-nauticalmile trip down the ICW to Beaufort and Morehead City. This stretch of the ICW is one of the most traveled and best maintained. It consists of a short manmade canal connecting the head waters of Adams and Core creeks. Along the way, you're likely to be joined by Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins, which swim up the creek from Beaufort Inlet to feast on the local fish.Beaufort and Morehead City each have much to offer Beaufort with its wellestablished merchants and eateries along Front Street, Morehead City with its impressive fleet of fishing boats that can be chartered. Marinas are located right in town in both cities, and there is good anchoring in the creeks nearby. There are also two great day trips to be made in this area, to Cape Lookout National Seashore and the beautiful beaches of Shackleford Banks. Both have rich histories, well-preserved ecosystems, and sparklingly clear water, and they are unique along the eastern seaboard.One of the prize treasures of North Carolina's Outer Banks is the village of Ocracoke. It's one of the few villages on the East Coast that is accessible only by boat. Consequently, it has an intact and unique sense of character. The harbor of Silver Lake is the town's focal point, and the orientation is clearly toward visiting vessels. However, there is much more here than just the water. The town is full of local craftspeople and artists who have settled there for the inspiration of the natural beauty and the seclusion.A short and somewhat challenging trip north through Pamlico Sound and Old House Channel is the town of Manteo, on Roanoke Island. Manteo was home to Sir Walter Raleigh's famous Lost Colony. The story has been told by actors in Manteo since 1937 in one of the country's longestrunning theater productions. Do not let the narrow channels keep you from visiting this gem of a town. The channels are well marked and easy to follow for the attentive cruiser.Whether you carve time out of a seasonal trip, make the sounds a summer cruise destination or charter a bareboat from one the regional companies, you will be delighted by this naturally beautiful and historically rich area.