Weekend Getaway

Spend a Long Weekend Cruising the Albemarle Sound, North Carolina

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April 2016
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By
Bob
Arrington

Albemarle Sound is to many boaters, especially Intracoastal Waterway cruisers, just a body of water to be crossed in North Carolina. However, to local boaters or those who have taken the time to explore it, Albemarle Sound is a rich and diverse expanse.

The Albemarle is an estuary formed by the confluence of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers. The sound's water is mostly brackish, with the fresh water of its rivers meeting the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. The brackish water is bordered by thousands of acres of sea grass and coastal marshes, making the Albemarle a perfect habitat for a variety of marine life.

There are several ways a boater can enter the Albemarle: from the historic Dismal Swamp Canal or from the North River through Coinjock, N.C. Starting from the south, a weekend cruise can begin in the summer retreats of the Outer Banks through Manteo or from the ICW and the Alligator River. Regardless of where you begin, it is easy to spend a long weekend enjoying Albemarle Sound. There are many weekend cruises to choose from, but with a little extension to the weekend, towns such as Plymouth, Edenton and Hertford, all worthwhile destinations with their own unique charms and character, can be included in the itinerary.

Day One: Coinjock to Manteo - 35 nautical miles south

For boaters coming down from the Chesapeake Bay, the North River through Coinjock, N.C., is a great starting point. The first day's route leaving Coinjock Marina to Manteo is through scenic woodlands, coastal marshes and the open sound. Manteo is located on Roanoke Island, the site of the first English settlement in North America, established in 1587, and what became known as the intriguing mystery of the Lost Colony. The story of the Lost Colony has been retold in a local award-winning outdoor drama that has run each summer since 1937.

Located at Roanoke Island Festival Park, just across the water from the Manteo Waterfront Marina, is a hand-built reproduction of the 16th-century square-rigged sailing ships that brought the colonists to Roanoke Island. The Elizabeth II is open for tours as is an interpretive center at the Roanoke Adventure Museum, also located in the park. The town of Manteo is on Shallowbag Bay, which offers various spring and summer activities. Kayaking is a perfect way to explore the area's protected waters, and the fishing here is world-renowned, both off-shore and in the sound red drum and spotted seatrout are especially popular. Manteo also has a plethora of shops scattered along the town center and many delectable restaurants, including the Full Moon Cafe´, the 1587 Restaurant, Poor Richard's Sandwich Shop and Ortega'z Southwestern Grill.

Day Two: Manteo to Columbia - 40 nautical miles west

Columbia has held an important position on the banks of the Scuppernong River for centuries. An unspoiled natural beauty awaits visitors to Columbia, as the indigenous red wolf, the American alligator and a large population of bald eagles still roam free. Columbia is a nature lover's paradise. Local and national interests have sought to preserve this pristine environment with conservation areas like the Pocosin Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve.Columbia is also home to the world- famous Pocosin Arts, regarded as a premier center for ceramics, jewelry and textiles. Classes are offered for all ages for both beginning and experienced artists.

A visit to Columbia would not be complete without a visit to Vineyards on the Scuppernong. The winery is named for the river along which it has grown for years, and the local scuppernong grape is a hardy, sweet grape that has been used for winemaking for centuries. In 1584, Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe of Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition reported that they had found grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain nor Italy hath no greater.

Columbia has few marina options, including Cypress Cove Marina, just a mile from town, and Alligator River Marina, located along Alligator River and accommodating vessels up to 150 feet and with an onsite fuel dock. Elements Coffee Shop is a great place to grab breakfast in the morning when strolling through town. When it's time for dinner, don't miss the Old Salt Oyster Bar on historic Main Street.

Day Three: Columbia to Elizabeth City - 37 nautical miles northeast

Continuing our roughly clockwise rotation around the lower half of the Albemarle, our next stop is Elizabeth City. Compared with the quaint villages we've visited so far, Elizabeth City is a major metropolis. With an extensive waterfront position on the Pasquotank River, Elizabeth City was destined to play an important role on the Albemarle Sound. Its location made for a natural trading center, as the sound became an important inland water highway along the East Coast. With the completion of the Dismal Swamp Canal, Elizabeth City's prominence at the southern terminus of the canal was cemented.

Dock right in town at Mariner's Wharf, which has new comfort facilities with restrooms and showers and free WiFi. Venture across the street to Cypress Creek Grill for tasty Creole cuisine seafood dishes.

The city houses the largest Coast Guard Air Station in the country, so it is certainly friendly to boaters and their needs. The Coast Guard Station is also open for tours and well worth the time. Elizabeth City has a thriving arts and culture scene, topped off by the Museum of the Albemarle, which depicts life from 10,000 years ago to present day. Downtown there are six nationally registered historic districts, and there are many walking tours available. Don't miss the Downtown Waterfront Market at Mariner's Wharf Park every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Wickford to Block Island 29 NMCruising down the western shores of Narragansett Bay under the Jamestown Bridge, passing magnificent mansions then Point Judith Light, you are soon on your way across the open expanse of Rhode Island Sound to Block Island. The farthest island from land on the entire Eastern seaboard, Block Island is even more remote than Monhegan in Maine (10 miles out by comparison).

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Block Island has a vacation vibe, and everything is relaxed, truly on island-time with their moniker of Bermuda of the North. The 1,500 happy humble Block Island residents claim they've been social distancing since 1661, so they've got humor to carry them through the long off-season. Block's pear-shaped 7 x 3-mile island is cool, casual and fun to explore for a few days, yet not so stuffy-chic or celebrity-crushed as Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.Getting around by bike or moped is the best way to explore Block's entire 16 miles of perimeter roads. Along the undulating country lanes, you may feel transported to Ireland with the lush rolling fields, stone walls, dramatic Mohegan Bluffs and the contrasting blue sea. Passing dozens of unique beaches, you may plan to return later. Highlight sights are Block Island's two impressive lighthouses – North and South East – with the busier main village of Old Harbor in between.Block Island has two boating harbors: the more protected New Harbor in Great Salt Pond, which is preferred by pleasure boaters, and Old Harbor with its primary ferry landing and bustling downtown of shops and grand seaside hotels. Staying at Great Salt Pond overlooking your mooring or dock slip, you should enjoy sunsets, pub fare and a boaters' block party atmosphere at The Oar or Dead Eye Dick's (opens in May). While in the Old Harbor after browsing boutiques, find a perfect chair and cocktail at either grand seaside hotel: Spring House or Atlantic House.For a delicious local dinner, Kimberly's serves littlenecks or calamari followed by lobster mac n' cheese as a beautiful ending to a day of exploring. Live music may be piping out from next door Poor People's Pub to lure you over for a nightcap.Block Island's public moorings in New Harbor are assigned daily by the Harbormaster. Private slips can be reserved at Champlin's Marina, the Boat Basin and Oar House. They book up quickly in prime summer season, which results in boats rafting-up with strangers (friends you haven't yet met!).

Day 3: Newport

Block Island to Newport 25 NMDeparting Block Island, perhaps after fresh coffee and pastries delivered to your boat by enterprising locals, you will be in the company of power boaters and sailing vessels, plus the occasional charging ferry heading to Newport. It's a direct course northeast to the Sailing Capital of Newport.

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Bannisters Wharf, Newport | Greg Burke

No boater worth his Sperry's can miss out on the yachty harbor of Newport, established in 1639. As a visiting boater, contact the Harbormaster or Newport Yachting Center for an affordable mooring or a much pricier dock space in this prime harbor. Water taxis ply the harbor frequently to take you to the town docks.Newport is full of magnificent vessels, lively waterfront pubs lining Bowens and Bannisters Wharfs, and scads of inviting seaside shops on cobblestone streets. Getting off your boat, stretch your sea legs with a scenic 3.5-mile cliff walk by the Gilded Age mansions of our fine affluent families (Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Dupont, Astor and Morgan). Before sunset, head for Newport rooftop drinks overlooking the harbor at The Vanderbilt or the Hotel Viking to toast your good fortunate in this big little state.

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Islamorada | romrodinka on Canvas

The Keys have a motley past: shipwrecks, pirates, buried treasure, movie stars and especially luscious Key Lime pie. History reaching back to Native American life is outlined at the Keys History & Discovery Center at the Islander Resort.Downtown Islamorada's patchwork of boutiques and galleries is overflowing with original creations of artists, sculptors and jewelers inspired by life on the islands. The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District is a bustling six-block corridor of shops, restaurants and studio spaces. Thirsty shoppers can duck into the welcoming back garden of Florida Keys Brewing Company. Beside the seasonal beer on tap, they serve a Key Lime cocktail so delectable that it could be counted as dessert.Transient dockage to 100 feet is available at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, a premier facility with 15 sprawling acres of white sand beach. Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina, located in the fabulous Founders Park, is ranked among the top marinas in the world and is a designated Clean Marina.

Day 2: Duck KeyIslamorada to Duck Key 21 NM

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Day 3: Key WestDuck Key to Key West 52 NM

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Just a sliver of land measuring a mile and a half long, and in some spots it's just the width of a single road, yet Solomons is alive with eateries, shops, a tiki bar, marinas, a scenic sculpture garden and a world-class museum.

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"Where's the city?" is a frequent question from arriving tourists who haven't yet realized they are standing on the archaeological site of Maryland's first capital. Tours of replica buildings bring that era back to life. Trails along this historic exhibit on the St. Mary's River wind past a replica of the Dove (one of the ships that carried Catholic settlers), the Godiah Spray Plantation and a fully excavated 17th century building at St. John's Site.

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St. Clements Island | Susan Elnicki Wade

After a 90-year search, a fort-like formation the size of a football field was recently uncovered. Ground-penetrating radar scans revealed a brick cellar guardhouse and dwellings -- possibly Native American -- within the walls. Native communities in the area can be traced back 10,000 years, and a quartzite arrow dating back 4,500 years was unearthed.

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St. Mary's City to Coltons Point 26 NM

Off-season, the pace of life in this peaceful little community on the Potomac is lower than the speed limit. That all changes as warm weather tourists arrive at St. Clement's Island Museum to learn about the 1634 arrival of two ships, the Ark and Dove, whose English passengers sought to establish a new colony based on religious tolerance.

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