boaters visit EC feature

Gerry and Pam Muller, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, discuss their trip north along the East Coast during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, after tying up at the public docks at Mariners’ Wharf in Elizabeth City, Tuesday afternoon.

They might not rival the numbers from years past but boaters are starting to show up again at Elizabeth City’s waterfront as the annual spring migration plays out once more.

Monday night there were about half-dozen boats at Mariners’ Wharf. Most were from the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas of Virginia, but one boat contained boaters from Indianapolis, Indiana.

When the Indiana couple were asked if they had sailed all the way from Indianapolis, they laughed and explained that they could almost take the Ohio River to the Mississippi and then eventually get here. Almost — but the canals and creeks that might take them to the Ohio River wouldn’t support a large boat, they added.

They were only planning to stay in Elizabeth City a day or so.

By late Tuesday morning all the boats from Monday evening were gone from the waterfront.

Early Tuesday afternoon, however, Gerry and Pam Muller sailed into Elizabeth City aboard their 37-foot sailboat, “Skip-Jack,” on their way back home to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The Mullers said they left Marathon in the Florida Keys in May and have been headed north ever since.

“Everything was shut down,” Gerry said. “We were afraid of not being able to get services on the way back.”

The couple were surrounded by about 100 other boaters in a marina in Marathon. All the nearby restaurants were closed but they could order take out.

The couple used maritime apps and Google to keep informed on marina openings and closings and other sailing information. In Marathon there also was a local boating support group that reached out to traveling boaters, asking who had recently arrived and who was getting ready to leave. The group made grocery store runs for the boaters.

The Mullers’ timing worked out well. Elizabeth City closed Mariners’ Wharf to visiting boaters under the city’s state of emergency and reopened it under Phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan in late May.

The Mullers have visited Elizabeth City before. Pam said they enjoy the city but have never ventured very far from the waterfront.

“It has been taken care of really well, which is good,” she said of the city’s waterfront and downtown. “That brings the people in.”

The area is very attractive and the lawns along the waterfront are maintained very nicely, she said.

“Every time we come here there is something new,” Pam said.

Gerry said the couple have at times gone through Coinjock and other times have taken the Dismal Swamp Canal. He said the canal’s six-foot depth is fine for the couple’s sailboat but occasionally they have run into submerged logs.

They anchored in the Alligator River area on Monday before making the trip to Elizabeth City on Tuesday.

“It has been hot,” Pam said. “The humidity — oh my gosh.”

Their plans for Tuesday evening included dinner in the waterfront area — they mentioned Groupers as a likely choice — and stocking up on groceries.

The Mullers said they expect to leave Elizabeth City Thursday morning and travel north up the Dismal Swamp Canal and onto Hampton for their next overnight stop.

The Mullers said they don’t need to wear masks on the boat but were planning to don them before venturing into town.

“We’re very fortunate that we were able to do this,” Pam said. “You meet the greatest people.”

Gerry said boaters love to talk to people they meet along the journey.

“We all have stories,” he said with a laugh.

Pam is a retired licensed practical nurse and Gerry is retired from a business in which he was a partner.

The couple are making the round trip from their home to Florida and back again for the third time. They have done it every other year for the past six years.

Although they enjoy the time they spend sailing, it’s also good to get home. And people are glad to see them when they get home.

“Our family is dying to get us home,” Pam said.

Multimedia Editor Chris Day contributed to this story.