Navigating a large body of water for the first time can be enjoyable or intimidating, depending on the skipper's experience. It's prudent for new boaters to allow time for thought, study and planning before making a maiden voyage.
Complete a Boater Safety Course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Next, get a lake map that shows the navigation aids (channel markers, etc.), launch sites, marinas and restaurants. Finally, equip your boat with a compass, depth finder, GPS and marine band radio.
Probably the most difficult part of the initial voyage is finding your way back. If your boat is equipped with a GPS, it's simple. Program the unit to show a trail, then retrace it on the way back to your starting point.
Those plying the lake with only a map should take special note of prominent or conspicuous landmarks. They will serve well as guideposts on your return trip. To help remember their location, make notes on your lake map.
The smoke stacks of the Marshall Steam Plant, on N.C. 150 in Terrell, are high enough to be visible for miles in every direction. It's safe to assume that every boatman has used them as a point of reference at one time or another. The Cowan's Ford Dam and the adjacent reactor domes at the McGuire Nuclear Station are excellent landmarks at the lower end of the lake.
There is a helicopter pad beside channel marker R1. It shows the way in and out of Ramsey Creek and is a point of interest, particularly if you pass it while the 'copter is taking off or landing. An abandoned water intake structure near marker T2 identifies the southern entrance to Davidson Creek.
Slanting Bridge in Mountain Creek is a landmark for mariners going to the Landing Restaurant, as well as the Lake Norman and Mountain Creek marinas. The N.C. 150 bridge between channel markers 17A and 17B is considered by many to be the dividing line between the upper and lower ends of the lake. It is also popular with fishermen, since the bridge supports and the causeway on each side of the span attract fish year-round. Pinnacle, McCrary and the New Midway Marina are among the busiest launch sites on the lake. All are near the bridge.
A large rock at the entrance to Hicks Creek marks the southwestern water boundary of Lake Norman State Park. Seal Rock, as some call it, is easily recognized because of the rather large eye that has been painted on what appears to be the head of a seal or walrus.
Landmarks abound on Lake Norman. Take some time to find the ones that will help you navigate in daylight and at night.
Cold air and water have caused stripers, bass and perch to move near the warmer waters associated with the Marshall and McGuire power plants. Fishing for bass and stripers has been particularly good in recent days in Ramsey Creek, where water temperatures are five or more degrees higher than lake temps.
The lake level is higher then normal due to recent heavy rains and flooding. The water surface temperature is in the 40s.