The Alligator River Canal Lives Up to Its Name: Oriental to Buck Island on the ICW

Buck Island, NC – I felt nervous butterflies in my stomach as we prepared to set off from Oriental at first light yesterday. Our intention was to avoid the strong NE winds expected to roil the waters starting mid-afternoon, and reach Belhaven.

Leaving Oriental at first light

My nervousness was for naught: we were in a protected area with no wind, and Allan easily reversed Vinyasa out of our narrow slip. It was a thing of beauty!

Sunrise on the Neuse River

A magnificent sunrise greeted us as we set out on the Neuse River.

Vinyasa was soon on autopilot, while we took turns keeping watch of the waters ahead and behind us. It still feels like such a luxury to not always have a strong hand on a tiller.

We passed the hours in companionable silence, punctuated by occasional grins, and pulled in our sail when the skies darkened around 1 pm.  The NE winds we’d been warned repeatedly about were starting to blow, with a storm system approaching from the West.

Our anchorage on the upper Pungo River

The Active Captain notations on the Garmin BlueChart mobile app helped us find a protected anchorage off the upper Pungo River.

Anchor dropped, we enjoyed an early, improv dinner as the rain arrived (Pungo River Pasta recipe below).

Torrential rain pounded Vinyasa overnight, waking us with flashes of lightning around 2:30 am. She groaned against her anchor at times, but held fast. We lifted some pretty muddy chain and our anchor at 7:30 am, to set off in the rain toward the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal.

Motor-sailing the canal, we only crossed wakes with a trawler and a sailboat. The rain was heavy for a good part of the morning; water-proofing our bimini is high on the to-do list. Fortunately, our light foulies helped keep us mostly dry.

The wildlife highlight of the day was an alligator swimming across the canal in front of us, swishing its tail in the water as it propelled itself to shore. We recorded it on iPad video, but the current file size is too large to upload to the blog. We’ll try to edit down and upload later.

The rain let up around mid-day, with heavy cloud cover continuing to hover above. We made a quick stop at the Alligator River Marina to fuel up, and make a phone call (on a borrowed cell phone) to reschedule Allan’s flight home to Denver. Good thing my frequent flyer reward ticket has yet to be booked. We’d originally planned to spend the night at this marina, but decided to press on given the wind on our back and the calm waters ahead.

We crossed the Albermarle Sound without seeing another boat, and our T-Mobile cell service reappeared after its 3-day absence. We hadn’t expected to be incommunicado for so long while seeing frequent houses on both sides of the rivers.

Sunset near Buck Island

This evening, we dropped our hook in a tongue of 8-feet water north of Buck Island. Tomorrow, we aim for the Great Bridge Locks, and hopefully on to Norfolk.

Pungo River Pasta
This is a one-pot, “sailorly” recipe, easily made with whatever is on hand.

Kosher salt
Black pepper, preferably freshly ground
Red pepper flakes
3 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
6 baby carrots (or 1 medium carrot), sliced in coins
1 package sliced mushrooms
2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces, liberally seasoned with kosher salt and pepper
1 10-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 16-oz package of penne, rotini, macaroni, or other similar sized tubular pasta
1/2 brick chicken broth
2-3 handfuls of baby spinach or dark other leafy green
Parmesan for grating at table, optional.


1. Heat a large, deep-sided skillet or dutch oven (you’ll need a cover) over medium high heat

2. Add bacon pieces, and render fat. After a few minutes, remove any large, visible fatty pieces and discard

3. Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper, and sauté until soft

4. Add chicken, and cook, stirring frequently, until no longer pink

5. Add carrots, crushed tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to taste. Stir, and bring to a simmer

6. Add box of penne or rotini pasta, stir. Add about 1/2 of the brick of chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil. When boiling, cover pot, adjust heat as needed to keep at gentle boil, and set timer for 10 minutes

7. When timer goes off, check pasta doneness, and adjust salt and seasonings. If necessary, add a bit more chicken stock, if needed to keep some steam going, and cook for 3-5 minutes more, to desired pasta tenderness

8. Stir in spinach or greens immediately before serving

If you have it, set out some parmesan for grating at the table, and enjoy!