Lassie (and Eunice) Save the Day

The day after Barry’s birthday found us anchored in an tenuous place. Unprotected, exposed to thunderstorms and winds, we were near the eastern shore of the miles-wide Alligator River. Ashore, we could see an old abandoned ferry landing, a beach, and a few houses, one of them in ruins.

We’d chosen this spot out of desperation, looking for a way to rendezvous with old friends. This was plan C.

Plan A seemed simple: Eschew the Intracoastal Waterway and enjoy some sailing inside the Outer Banks, stopping to see Gretchen and Bill at Manteo on Roanoke Island. We hadn’t spoken in about ten years, but Gretchen was surprised and delighted when I called her on the phone. Roanoke Island was the location of the 16th century “Lost Colony,” which still doesn’t explain how such good friends ended up in the “lost” category in our address book.

But we’d overlooked the fact that the channel past Roanoke Island was a mere five feet deep, despite assurances from our cruising guide (“do not use for navigation”) that it was seven feet. Sigh. Back to the ICW “ditch.”

Plan B was a nice marina on the ICW, where we could tie up and invite our friends for breakfast on Cayenne. According to the cruising guide (“do not use for navigation!”), it had eight feet. But on the way there, we overheard a dismaying radio transmission.

“This is Daisy Dee, calling the Alligator River Marina. How deep is the water there?”

“Five and a half feet,” came the cool reply from the marina.

“Oh! That won’t do!” cried the perky voice of Daisy Dee. Unheard on the radio, there was an expletive on Cayenne.

And so on to Plan C, where we hoped to simply find someplace, anyplace where we could dinghy ashore and have Gretchen and Bill pick us up with their car. Hence our open roadstead in the Alligator River.

I got into the dinghy with trepidation as Barry and I set out to reconnoiter. Surely the ferry landing was too high, too rotten. Surely the marsh surrounding it was impenetrable, full of snakes and bugs. Surely the beach was private and guarded by ferocious dogs. We’d had a bad experience five years ago with something like that, and had been particularly cautious about dinghying ashore ever since.

But unlike our previous experience, this one was a snap! Just out of sight from Cayenne was the perfect public boat launch ramp where we could land without trespassing, or, more importantly, getting our feet muddy. We secured the dinghy and went looking for a pay phone to alert our friends of the change in plans, but we were miles from nowhere. How could we possibly let our friends know where to meet us?

Along came Lassie, literally, to save the day. A large collie started barking from the house next to the boat landing. “Lassie! It’s all right,” called her owner. “She’s never bitten anyone.” Instead of grabbing Barry’s hand and trying to flee, as I usually do with strange dogs, we moved closer and started chatting. The next thing I knew, Eunice was inviting us into her home to use her telephone.

Her family had lived there for over fifty years. Her parents still lived next door, and she even explained the derelict house, saying, “That’s Paw-Paw’s old place. We have to get the fire department over here one of these days, get that old thing burned down.” Living next to the boat ramp didn’t bring much traffic, since she explained, “Nobody ever uses it.” Little wonder, since six inches of water is only enough for kayaks and (every fifty years or so) a couple of crazy sailors trying to get ashore.

The following morning, when we came ashore to meet Gretchen and Bill, our plans went off without a hitch. We exchanged hugs and greetings, then got into the car for a visit to Manteo and Nags Head. And as we drove away from the launch ramp on Old Ferry Landing Road, there was Eunice, waving from her house, and Lassie, who barked a friendly hello as we passed. Thanks, Lassie.