Abemarle Sound was glassy smooth all the way across so we made great time. We entered the Alligator River early and began to think about stretching our goals a little. With the sun setting so early it’s tricky making sure you have plenty of sunlight to anchor and get your bearings before dark.
There was a group of five boats ahead of us and over the radio we could hear that they were headed into our preferred anchorage. Marce found a little known anchorage halfway through the Alligator-Pungo canal which is about 22 miles long. Sounds good. Upon entering the canal, which is rod straight, we found three sailboats chugging along at a knot and a half slower than our cruising speed. No matter, we should still make it, but they would erode our safety margin. Now I know you’re saying a knot and a half hardly matters but when you’re not going much faster than a fast walk, it can make all the the difference. Today it made no difference.
The single hander in front if us got on the VHF and asked us when was sundown, we said about 5:30. When he said oh…5:30 we knew he was committed to finishing the entire canal and he’d be running the last two hours in the dark. Not a good idea.
In the meantime as we slowed down to enter our small canal anchorage we hit the bottom twice which was enough for me. Now we were going all the way and it’s starting to get really dark. You could really hear the tension in our voices on the VHF. This is serious stuff. We began to see unlit day markers go by after we passed them, unnoticed in the dark. All you could do is focus on the white running light in front of you. Soon it was so dark that you couldn’t see the edge of the canal.
After what seemed like an eternity, we began to see green and red lights far ahead which meant that we had to negotiate a bridge and a short run up to the Pungo anchorage at the end of the canal.
Out of the blackness I noticed the stern light on the head boat pitch up and down, and if I’m not crazy, stop dead in what I thought was the middle of the channel. I barely got EV slowed down in time, but which way should I go around? She slewed round in reverse and I realized I had depth on the port side. It was a near thing. We were now the lead boat. Soon the airwaves lit up with excited French. Apparently the French boat behind us had just gone aground. It was all so disorienting in the dark. Someone in our flotilla spoke French, and soon I think everyone was extricated.
Anchoring without any visual cues felt like we could have been in outer
space but I was never so glad to get the hook down.