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West of flashing daybeacon #9, you will quickly spy the Elizabeth City waterfront overlooking the banks of a hairpin turn in the Pasquotank River. Since this guide first appeared in the early 1980s, the pleasure-boating climate in Elizabeth City has undergone a radical change for the better. To quote Fred Fearing, the unofficial leader of Elizabeth City's boat-welcoming committee, "Hospitality is our first name." This motto really says it all! As has been true for many years, the town offers the only full-service marine facilities on the entire Dismal Swamp route.
In addition to the commercial marinas and boatyards that have always been available, this industrious community has built its own town docks, to which visiting cruisers are welcome to tie for 48 hours free of charge. Back in 1985, Willard Scott, the famous television weather forecaster, visited Elizabeth City for several days. He was so impressed with the wonderful hospitality in the community that he donated an electric golf cart to help in the town's welcoming efforts. Now, before visiting cruisers can even coil their lines, Fred or one of his fellow volunteers will usually appear in the "Rose Buddie" golf cart and present the female members of the crew with a bouquet of roses; they also give everyone pamphlets describing Elizabeth City's nearby historic district and the surrounding region's fascinating history. Free local newspapers are available, and the community volunteers have established a program with the local library whereby boaters can swap their used paperbacks for similar publications. If more than five vessels are docked at the town slips on any given night, the industrious volunteers throw a wine-and-cheese party (with chips and dip) at the adjacent parking lot. A local company even donates free dog and cat food to visiting boaters who have a "Fido" or "Meow" aboard. Boaters needing a ride to the local supermarkets, laundromats, or other shoreside facilities can be sure of receiving the transportation they need from Fred and company.
It's difficult to overstate the enthusiasm Elizabeth City has for developing a rapport with cruising boaters. In all my travels, I have never before encountered such a well-organized and successful program. Boaters are highly encouraged to include Elizabeth City in their cruising plans and experience this unusually gracious climate for themselves.
Cruisers lucky enough to moor on the Elizabeth City waterfront are only a short walk from the downtown historic district. If you have not already gotten one from the local volunteers, you can find tour maps at the chamber of commerce. Ask any local citizen for directions.
One historic attraction of particular note is the Museum of the Albemarle (1116 U.S. 17 South, 335-1453). This most fascinating point of interest gives visitors insight into the rich heritage of the region. The museum's current location is too far for easy walking from the town docks and marina, but plans are in the works to move this attraction to the downtown district. While a completion date for this fortunate move could not be determined at the time of this writing, the museum will be far more accessible to cruising visitors when the change of venue is accomplished.
As you might imagine, many restaurants, grocery stores, laundromats, and other shoreside businesses are within walking distance of the town slips and local marinas. Even if you should need a service that lies a bit too far for walking, you can almost always obtain a ride from one of the friendly locals. Taxis are also available from Winslow Taxi Service (335-7180).
Cruisers seeking to restock their galleys should set sail for White and Bright Food Center (315 South Road Street, 338-6385). This is a small, community-minded grocery story that is located within two long blocks of the city docks. Several locals have informed this writer that the meat department here is first-class. Just next door to White and Bright, fresh veggies are usually available at Sunshine Produce. Similarly, Colonial Cleaners and Laundromat (300 West Ehringhaus Street, 335-2797) can be reached via a three-block jaunt from the town docks.
The city docks themselves, known as Mariner's Wharf, line the western banks just south of the U.S. 158 bascule bridge. This facility is comprised of fixed wooden finger piers leading out from a concrete sea wall. Twin-screw power craft will almost certainly want to dock stern-first for maximum convenience. Less maneuverable craft can decide on their docking procedure as the tide and wind dictate. At worst, it's only a minor inconvenience to successfully negotiate the trip ashore.
Fifteen boats can be comfortably accommodated at Mariner's Wharf, while a few extras can be squeezed in by rafting up. If you find the slips full, anchorage is permitted on the river beside the piers. A shoreside dinghy dock facilitates an easy trip ashore for those swinging on the hook. Dockside depths run in the 12-foot-plus range, so most any craft can pull alongside with no fear of finding the bottom.
Unfortunately, no power connections are available. Several water taps allow boaters to refill their tanks. Fuel can be purchased at nearby Pelican Marina. Several bicycles are kept dockside for the use of boaters. A small picnic and outdoor barbecue area further enhances the facility's attractiveness.
Elizabeth City Restaurants
Come dinnertime, cruisers fortunate enough to coil their lines in Elizabeth City have several excellent choices. Comstock's, also known as Stalk's (115 South Water Street, 335-5833), is found within a few steps of the town docks. This establishment reminds me of the lunch counter at the neighborhood drugstore of my younger years. Stalk's is open for breakfast and lunch and continues to serve until 7 p.m. The sandwiches are first-rate, and the chocolate milk shakes are memorable.
The Colonial Restaurant (418 East Colonial Avenue, 335-0212) is within a three-block walk of the town docks. Serving three meals a day, this dining spot is characterized by down-home, Southern-style cuisine that is somewhat plain but undeniably tasty.
If you have a yearning for the best hamburger in town, track your way to Thumper's Downtown Bar and Grill (200 North Poindexter Street, 331-1775). Veteran Elizabeth City visitors will recognize this address as the old location of Mulligan's Grille.
For those seeking Elizabeth City's high point in dining, Mulligan's Waterfront Grille ( 331-2431) is now located within sight of the town docks at The Waterworks (see below). This superb dining spot serves wonderful seafood, beef dishes, and sandwiches. I was very taken with my crabmeat casserole, as were my dinner companions with their grilled fish and sauted scallops. Do yourself a huge favor and give Mulligan's your most serious gastronomical attention.
Since the last edition of this guide, a new waterside development known as The Waterworks has opened just south (downstream) of the Mariner's Wharf piers. This combination dining and retail complex is housed in a renovated 30,000-square-foot building which was once a waterfront warehouse. Besides serving as the home of Mulligan's Waterfront Grille (see above), it also offers a book shop, a coffee shop, and a wine, gourmet food, and gift store.
Visiting cruisers will most certainly want to make the acquaintance of Carolina Espresso ( 338-1020). Beside offering the "best coffee on the ICW," the manager is happy to allow cruisers to use his business address (400 South Water Street, Suite 105, Elizabeth City, N.C. 27909) as a mail drop. Patrons are also encouraged to make use of the coffee shop's "public computer," which is connected to the Internet. Be sure to check out the CoastalGuide at http://www.CoastalGuide.com. This is a great source of Internet information for those cruising along the coastline of North (and South) Carolina.
Elizabeth City Milling Company ( 338-4040) carries a modest but interesting collection of wines and packaged gourmet foods. Check it out and carry your selection of Chardonnay or Merlot back to the galley.
Elizabeth City Lodgings
If it's time to take a break from the live-aboard routine, there are at least two lodging opportunities worthy of any Elizabeth City visitor's attention.
The Culpepper House Inn (609 West Main Street, 335-1993) is located in one of the city's most impressive brick Colonial-style houses, built in 1935 by the prominent Culpepper family. The furnishings and decor are exquisite. Some rooms feature "soaking tubs," fireplaces, and king-size beds. This writer's stays at the Culpepper have always been a pure delight. New owners Julia and Robert Russell are glad to pick up cruising visitors at any of the nearby docks and return them to their boat after their stay.
Elizabeth City Bed and Breakfast (108 East Fearing Street, 338-2177) is owned and operated by Joe and Darla Semonich, one of the most charming couples with whom it has ever been my privilege to spend a night. Few know more about Elizabeth City than these two. The inn is an unpretentious, cozy affair, which any bed-and-breakfast aficionado will appreciate. Don't miss Joe's breakfasts-he's a legendary cook. Evening meals (open to the public) are served Wednesday through Friday; reservations are suggested. Dockside pickup and delivery service for guests is also in the offing from this establishment.
Other Elizabeth City Facilities and Restaurants
Located just next door to Mariner's Wharf and The Waterworks, Riverside Boat Works and Elizabeth City Shipyard continue under the same ownership along the river's southern banks. Unfortunately, transient dockage at this facility cannot be recommended, even though overnighters are readily accepted. The poor condition of the fixed wooden piers at the time of this writing would make a visit to this complex downright hazardous.
On the other hand, both full-service mechanical and below-the-waterline repairs are offered. The firm's travel-lift is rated at 60 tons.
Friendly Pelican Marina guards the Pasquotank's northern banks opposite Elizabeth City Shipyard, where chart 12206 shows good depths extending almost to shore. This top-notch facility offers excellent transient dockage at fixed wooden piers, with water and both 30- and 50-amp power connections. Dockside depths at the outer slips run 7 to 8 feet; typical soundings of 5 feet may be expected at the innermost berths. Shoreside showers, waste pump-out service, gasoline, diesel fuel, and an expansive ship's store are all on-site. Some limited mechanical repairs to gasoline engines are offered. The Marina Restaurant ( 335-7307) is immediately adjacent to Pelican Marina. By all accounts, the food is quite good. This dining spot is now open Tuesday through Saturday during the evenings only and Sunday for lunch and dinner. For this writer's money, if you choose to bypass the free Mariner's Wharf docks, then by all means set your course for Pelican Marina.
Elizabeth City History
Elizabeth City has always been a river town, and waterborne commerce continues to be important. The community's central position along the Dismal Swamp passage solidified its trading position: goods could flow north to the Chesapeake or south to the Albemarle region. Bill Sharpe, in A New Geography of North Carolina, comments, "For many years it [Elizabeth City] has been the social and economic center of a sizable territory. . . . One had to go beyond this area to Norfolk to the north to match Elizabeth City."
Early records indicate that trading vessels were calling in the area by 1722. The community was originally known as "the Narrows of the Pasquotank" and was first incorporated as Reading. The name was changed to Elizabeth Town in 1793, six years before the town became the seat of Pasquotank County. The name was finally changed to Elizabeth City in 1801.
For many years, Elizabeth City was the seafood center of coastal North Carolina. More than a dozen oyster canneries once lined the town's shore. One old story suggests that the transplanting of oysters from the Pasquotank to Chesapeake Bay led to that area's lucrative oystering industry.
Many years ago, Charles Luther Graves wrote an enchanting song about the Pasquotank area. The last verse is as follows:
Ye wee frog folk of the Pasquotank,
May your race dwell long on its reedy bank,
May you chart always the same old notes,
In the same white vests and bright green coats,
May you always sing, fry bacon, fry bacon,
The song of plenty, of herrings and bacon;
May the tide creep cool 'neath the netted roots,
Down under the roots, down under the roots,
And the stream move quiet and happy and deep,
Move happy and deep, knee deep, knee deep.