The Alligator River

Dawn brought stillness to the river that was so pervasive and so complete that it was gave a sense of unease. The dinghy hung shiftlessly of the stern without so much as a breath of wind or ripple of current to move her slackened tow line. The pastel hues of orange, pink and violet reflected off the water, ant the whole scene could have found itself immortalized by Ansell Adams.

Stowing the boat and pulling up the anchor, our preparations seemed an assault to the quiet of the Alligator River, and in short order we would find that this assault on tranquility would not go unanswered.

“Alligator River, Alligator River, Alligator River, this is Southbound the sailing vessel Temujin, requesting passage.”

“Sailing vessel, this is the Alligator Bridge…eh unfortunately I have some bad news for you, our software we can’t open right now.”

We looked at each other with amusement, awaiting the additional information that surely was to come. Silence.

“Uh, copy that Alligator River Bridge, do you have a time frame on when you’ll be able to open?”

“Well, we need to get a technician down here; we might have it open in a few hours, but most likely first thing tomorrow. You might think about going around.”

We looked at each other again. “Going around” was an option that we had kicked around ever since passing through Coinjock, where an imposing billboard announced the beauty, amenities, and 18 miles of travel that could be saved by visiting fair Mateo, NC. We joked that Mateo must be hurting for visitors if they were willing to shell out the municipal funds for a twelve by twenty foot billboard staked on the shores of the bustling metropolis that is Coinjock.  After some fantastic speculation as to the wonders that could be found in Mateo, the decision was reached that we would take the road more travelled by, as the Pamlico Sound in the middle of which Mateo is located is notoriously shallow and the bridge to clear through to Oriental, a scheduled stop, was well lower than the 65 foot bridged to which we had become comfortable passing under. (Editor’s Note: If any readers out there have specific experience with Mateo, the El Dorado of the Inner Banks, please write to us so we can get some closure on what we missed.)

“Alligator River Bridge, this is sailing vessel Temujin, I think we’re going to anchor off your west side here. If you could let us know when you have any updates on getting the bridge open, it would be much appreciated.”

“Copy that sailing vessel. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Thank you Sir, and have a good rest of the morning. Temujin standing by one three one six.”

It’s worth mentioning here that politeness is the golden rule when hailing people on the radio. First, because that’s how our mother’s raised us. Furthermore the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” applies doubly to coastal navigation. If one is short on the radio, tugboats and barges will be less likely to off you room, bridges may not open in as timely a manner, and god forbid you would require assistance from someone you had slighted earlier, you may find them giving a friendly as they pass by rather than helping to pull you out of the mud. This is also the South, act accordingly.

We dropped anchor for the second time in the Alligator River and were preparing ourselves for a strenuous day of shiftlessness, when through the mouth of the river we spotted another sailboat chugging resolutely south. We immediately turned up the volume on the VHF radio to listen to the bridge break more bad news.

“Alligator River Bridge, Alligator River Bridge, Alligator River Bridge, this is Southbound sailing vessel Magic requesting passage.”

Magic! This was a familiar name. We had docked next to Magic, a stayless 32 foot Hunter while we were in Norfolk, VA. The couple aboard, we’ll call them Ginny and Harold (for reasons that will later become clear) were a friendly and animated pair of Canadian retirees, headed south for the winter. Seeing Magic was a surprise. Their reaction to the bridge being broken was not. In Norfolk they had made it very clear that they were retired, and on absolutely no schedule, whatsoever. They seemed almost gleeful at the prospect of being holed up in the Alligator River for an indeterminate amount of time.

We hailed Magic on the radio, and put our fenders out in the international cruiser sign for “raft ups welcome”. Taking our cue, Magic puttered right over and we shared a beer that, for our purposes here we’ll say occurred on the prudent side of noon.


Eric Bihl