Altered plans for the Albemarle!

Alligator River Marina – ICW, NC – Thursday, 5/6

Belhaven to AR Marina

During the night it rained quite a bit, and the wind was blowing the boat all around.  Since there was no longer any boat in front of us on the dock, there was nothing to block the waves which slammed against the hull making it very loud. At one point this woke us both up and Denise moved to the main salon in order to (finally) get some sleep.  When Denise got up at dawn, she awoke to much cooler weather.  The previous few days had temperatures in the high 80’s and it was really humid. But today, it was back in the mid-50’s and was a welcome relief. Unfortunately, the boat still had a bunch of bugs all over the cockpit, but there was far fewer than in the previous few days

Denise got a chance to get in a run and chose the residential section of town. Here she passed by some beautiful homes; some new, some older and restored, and some just old!

She also ran down towards the River Forrest Marina and Manor house; a colonial inn that entertained celebrities and the rich in its day.  Recently it was restored to how it was in its heyday, and serves as an inn, marina, and a wedding venue as well as for other activities.

Our plans were to leave today and we had decided a later departure was better than early so we could get to the Albemarle Sound around noon when the wind was supposed to subside for a few hours. This should give us time to go west and into the town of Columbia, NC. Since Mark was ready to leave shortly after 9:00, we pulled away from the dock and headed out of the marina a bit earlier than planned. It was breezy on the Pungo River as we passed the breakwater and said good-bye to the town of Belhaven.

We made our way back to the ICW and had smooth cruising for several miles without issue on the Pungo River.  We passed a few of the boats that had left the marina ahead of us, including friends on “Ginger Gale”.   Shortly thereafter the ICW enters the Pungo Canal.  Here is a little bit of information about this area of the ICW:

The Pungo River is a river in eastern North Carolina, which originally began in the Great Dismal Swamp in Washington County, North Carolina; the upper part of the river has since been supplanted by the Pungo River Canal. The Pungo River Canal is a 21-mile canal that connects the Pungo River with the Alligator River to its east.  It was dug in the 1950s to improve drainage of local farmland. The river flows southeast and forms part of the boundary between Beaufort County and Hyde County. The river then widens dramatically, turns west, and flows past Belhaven, North Carolina before joining the Pamlico River near Pamlico Sound.

We had few boats or docks to pass along this canal area, so we were able to maintain a good speed through this remote area and make good time. Once through the Pungo Canal (also called the Pungo-Alligator Canal) we entered the Alligator River where the north wind was blowing enough to cause whitecaps on the short 1’- 2’ waves. It was bumpy but tolerable. But, we knew it would be worse once we got out onto the Albemarle Sound, which was at least 45 minutes away.  About half-way through the Alligator River, we decided it was just not going to be a good day on the Albemarle, even though we would be going west until the Scuppermong River where Columbia was; a distance of less than 20 miles.  Instead we called the Alligator Marina located just before the Albemarle Sound, to see if they could take us for the night. Thankfully, they could, so we adjusted our itinerary and pulled in there for the night.

As we went under the Alligator River Bridge the wind was whipping on our nose and when we turned into the channel to take us to the marina. The winds and waves were now abeam and they were pushing us to the left (towards the bridge) and outside the channel. Since there are rocks that make up the breakwater entrance into the marina, this takes a bit of concentration, but Capt. Mark did a great job and kept the boat from crashing into the rocks. Denise waited inside to prepare the boat for docking until after we were through the breakwater, as it wasn’t worth the risk of a wave knocking her down, or worse – overboard.

Once we had the boat docked and settled, we went to the marina office (the gas station) to check in. 

The Alligator River Marina is really like an outpost in the days of the Wild West; people only stop here on their way to and/or from somewhere else.  The good news is that this “outpost” is undergoing some nice improvements.  They are in the process of rebuilding the boardwalk around the entire marina, adding a walkway where previously you were forced into the gravel road or grass.  There are amenities (laundry, restrooms, cruiser’s lounge, fresh water, etc.) which make it a good stopover before going out or coming from the Albemarle.  But there is nothing else here. Road travelers stop at the gas station because it is on the main highway to the Outer Banks, so it has the requisite souvenirs and touristy t-shirts.  But the cruiser’s all know it as a safe haven, and for their famous fried chicken in the deli.

In the afternoon, we had work to do and Mark had a scheduled conference call.  Denise also started work on the previous blog.  We talked with a few other cruisers who were in the marina, two of whom had tried to cross the Albemarle earlier, but came back because it was too rough. It seemed like we made the correct decision.

And then the wind died down as planned, albeit 3 hours later than originally forecasted.  This had us doubting ourselves for an early departure from Belhaven and for too early an arrival to the Albemarle.  It was now flat out there and we could have made it to Columbia.  We had been tracking our friends Evelyn & Clark (“Sunset Delight”) who had been hours behind us, hoping to eventually connect with them.  Using Nebo (a marine tracking app) we saw that they were now passing us and heading out into the Albemarle.  Denise sent them a text and they reported back over the course of the next hour that it was flat and calm.  Oh well!

Since we were here, we had to indulge in the famous fried chicken dinner, which was good but not as good as it used to be when the previous owners of the marina cooked it.  We also both agreed that the fried chicken at Publix was still much better!

After dinner we talked with family members, then completed and published the latest blog.  We also looked at the weather for tomorrow and for the next coming days and altered our travel plans one more time.  We will have maybe 2 good days of the next 5 to travel the Albemarle, so we changed our itinerary again: we are not going to Columbia, but on to Edenton for 2 nights, then to the Albemarle Plantation for 2, or possibly 3 nights.  Then we will head out of NC and into Virginia towards Norfolk. Of course, all this is dependent on the weather (mostly wind speed and direction) as we are not in any hurry to get any where.

Reunion in Belhaven!

Belhaven, NC – Tuesday, 5/4

Knowing today would be a day of “no-travel”, we started out just like we would at home. After breakfast it was work, emails and phone calls.  But before all that, Denise hosed-off the cockpit of the boat that was covered with these tiny flying bugs called mayflies or “midges”. These pesky creatures are a nuisance and their excrement is a green substance that can leave an ugly stain on the boat. Many of the cruising forums we follow all have opinions on the best remedies to get rid of the stains, but we feel the best thing is to get them off your boat ASAP.  They really are quite disgusting and are found in marinas and anchorages all over.  We have encountered them before, but only this bad one other time and that was in Harbor Springs, MI, when we were on the Great Loop in 2015.

Later in the morning, Denise spent time working on cataloging pictures and writing the last blog.  Shortly after lunch she published it and within 15 minutes she got a phone call that would alter (in a fun way) the plans for the next two days.  Her Ohio-based cousin Elizabeth, called to say she had just read the blog update and wanted to come for a visit. She has been in Fayetteville, NC visiting her father and saw our location. She calculated the 3-hour drive was something she was willing to do, and since she was without husband and son, we suggested she stay overnight instead of doing it all in one day.  So, she headed out of Fayetteville and started her journey to us.

In the afternoon, Mark had a long conference call/training session with a client that seemed to last forever. Meanwhile, Denise went for a long walk.  She walked downtown and on the outskirts of downtown in the mostly non-residential section.  Here are some pictures she took along the way:

Prior to Elizabeth’s call, we had made plans to get together with Nick & Ginger (“Ginger Gale”) and Don & Joan (“Panacea”) for docktails.  There was a little miscommunication initially, but once worked out we settled on a 6:30 pm gathering in the Gazebo at the marina.  We also had decided to grill hamburgers for when Elizabeth arrived.  All these plans were interrupted when a strong thunderstorm rolled in and had everyone scurrying back to their boats for safe cover, and aborting our socializing.

The storm didn’t last long, and once we knew Elizabeth was a short distance away, Mark threw the burgers on the grill, finishing just as our overnight guest arrived.  It was wonderful to see her!  It had been two years since our last rendezvous in New Bern, NC; that time she had her son and husband with her.

After we ate dinner and consumed adult beverages, Mark cleaned up the galley and the cousins stayed up past midnight talking and getting caught up. The Captain had long since retired for the night without knowing what the plans would be for the next day.

Belhaven, NC – Wednesday, 5/5

With as late as we stayed up, you would think we would have slept in until at least 7:00. However, Denise and Elizabeth were up early and started to plan out the day. Once Mark woke up and got breakfast, we decided to go on an adventure.  Elizabeth really wanted to see a “beach”, but the Outer Banks from this location was still hours away and we were sensitive to her still having to drive the 3 hours back to Fayetteville later in the day.  Instead, we opted to see the “Albemarle Beach” and headed out on the very rural roads of North Carolina.  Along the way Elizabeth educated us on all things NC, which we did not know. Since she had grown up here, she had memorized all the fun facts and recited them to us as we traveled past corn fields and other farmlands.  Once we had arrived at our destination, we realized that it was nothing more than a group of homes that aligned the shores of the Albemarle Sound, and was not a beach at all.  We were bummed, but happy to just enjoy each other’s company.

By this time it was almost lunch and we began seeking nearby locations for a place to eat.  We were 15 minutes from the town of Plymouth, and seeing they had a Mexican restaurant, we headed there; after all it was Cinco de Mayo!  We easily found Casa Garcia and had a delicious meal and also consumed a few baskets of the multi-colored corn chips.

Casa Garcia

Plymouth is on the Roanoke River, which is a finger off the Albemarle Sound. It is one of the towns that is on the Albemarle Loop and we were considering visiting here in the coming days.  After lunch, we drove around the downtown area and the docks along the waterway.  The town is somewhat depressed and has lost a lot of its vigor since a bypass to the Outer Banks had been built; people no longer stop here along their way to the beach. We were glad we got to see it, but it did reinforce our decision that it may not be worth taking the boat all the way here for one-night.

We got in the car and headed directly back to the marina, which took a lot less time than our morning adventure.  We took a few pictures with Elizabeth, then sent her on her way as we wanted her to get back to Fayetteville before it got dark.  We were so excited to see her and we were so grateful for her taking time to come visit us.

After Elizabeth left, we did a few boat chores and spent some time talking with the dockmaster Gregg and our new (Back Cove) friend Wally, who came aboard our boat and shared a drink with us. We had a chance to get to know each other a little bit more and enjoyed our new friendship. We hope to see him again; maybe when we get to Long Island in NY.

After Wally left, we had a light dinner and got confirmation that Elizabeth made it back to her dad’s home safely.  We then looked at the weather update for tomorrow and planned out the next few days. Our plans are to leave Belhaven tomorrow and head to the town of Columbia. We scheduled a departure time for mid-morning, anticipating the winds to die-down by the time we reached the Albemarle Sound. Without realizing it we had passed Looper midnight, so we went to bed; cherishing the fun day and new memories we had made with Denise’s cousin Elizabeth.

Sunset over Pantego Creek

Sleepy Belhaven!

New Bern, NC to Belhaven, NC

Belhaven, NC – Monday, 5/3

We began the day early and got underway just before 7:00 am, after Denise got back from a short run.  Our plans had changed slightly and we decided not to go to Manteo to start the Albemarle Loop (AL) from there.  The weather (mostly wind) was going to be good for only a short time today, but over the next several days was not conducive to crossing large open and shallow waters. We decided to go to Belhaven instead, and then make the decision of when to leave there after the updates in the afternoon weather forecasts.

Once underway we found the Neuse River to be perfectly fine and it was a nice day to be on the water, albeit overcast.  It took just over an hour to make our way east, retracing most of the same course on our way into New Bern.  We saw the ferry boat crossing from the north shore to Cherry Point, and only a few other boats on the water.

Eventually the Neuse dumps into the Pamlico Sound where it acts like fingers through the low lying areas.  We turned north into the Bay River, which then turns into Goose Creek and caught a familiar structure that sits on the point – letting us know we are on the correct course. 

House on entrance to Goose Creek

On both sides of the ICW are low-lying wildlife areas with small finger creeks.  There is not much here except a few “outposts”.  First is “RE Mayo” where many cruisers stop to pick up fresh seafood from the local fishing boats. Just beyond that is the Hobucken Bridge and then the Coast Guard Station Hobucken.

Shortly beyond this area the creek widens into Goose Creek Inlet and we made a right turn back into the Pamlico Sound. 

This area can get really rough if the wind picks up, but today we found it to be very calm, thankfully. If we had stuck with the plan to go to Manteo we would have stayed on the Pamlico heading east, then eventually north for the next 3 hours.  However, since we changed itinerary we only had to stay on the sound 5 miles until we hit the Pango River and turned left.  Here the water was almost “pancake flat” and it turned out to be a very nice day.

Before long we came to the Pantego Creek and the town of Belhaven.  We made a left turn off of the ICW into the channel, and once past the breakwater we docked side-tie at the Belhaven Marina (BM). It was 10:35 am and it took us just over 3.5 hours to go 62 miles.

We have been to this area in 2017, but stayed north of the town at Dowry Creek Marina (see our post about that here).  The BM is steps from the small downtown and we wanted to be able to explore this a little more on this trip.  Additionally, we had hoped to dine at the Spoon River restaurant in town; one that is highly spoken of in cruising circles.  Unfortunately, during this time of year they are only open Thursdays through Sunday so we will once again miss the opportunity for this experience.

Once the boat was settled and we checked into the marina, we ate lunch and got on with our afternoon activities.  Mark had work to do and a very long conference call planned.  Meanwhile, Denise took advantage of the free laundry service and managed complete two loads. With only one washer and dryer, this simple task took some time, but fortunately only one other boater was in queue and she sandwiched her loads in between him.

Early in the afternoon, several other boats came into the marina and a few others pulled into the free city docks right next door.  One of the boats in our marina was a Back Cove 29 whom Mark had a chance to talk with briefly.  They hailed from Beaufort and were originally just getting fuel, but ended up staying overnight as the winds had picked up quite a bit; they were not going anywhere.  Other boats started to show up including two Looper boats, who arrived right in the middle of a thunderstorm and pouring rain.  We were so thankful we had left New Bern early!

While Mark was on his call and Denise was awaiting on towels to dry, she struck up a conversation with “Wally”. He owns a unit in the neighboring condominiums and also has a Back Cove ’37 on Long Island, NY where he is originally from.  They compared notes about the boat and she learned he also has property in the Raleigh Durham area, and he and his wife have been married 50+ years.  He is a retired marine and was last stationed at Cherry Point, NC.  Denise learned he has completed the Albemarle Loop (AL) and offered suggestions of stops worth seeing and those to avoid or are not worth the time to get to.

When Mark was finally done his conference call, we looked at the updated weather and confirmed that it would not be worth leaving Belhaven before Thursday.  If we had to be stuck somewhere between here and Columbia (first stop on the AL), here was the best possible place. It is about 80 miles to Columbia and we can certainly make that in one day.  We confirmed with Greg the dockmaster that we would be able to stay on without issue and made plans accordingly.

By this time the rain had stopped and all the boaters were out socializing.  We had a chance to meet the Looper boaters who had been buddy-boating together for some time now. Don & Joan (“Panacea”) were from Idaho, but started their loop in Fort Myers, FL.  Ginger & Nick (“Ginger Gale”) are from Alabama and started their loop on the Tennessee River. Neither had been boating in these parts, so we shared some information about the immediate area with them.  We also promised to get together over the next few days and share more places to visit on the Chesapeake and points north.

Since this is a small town and it is Monday, none of the restaurants are open for dinner, so it was another night of left-overs from the freezer; uneventful, but perfectly satisfying. Afterwards, we went for a walk through downtown, around the block, and by the town’s free docks. It didn’t take long and we were back in time to see a great sunset and get inside before the bugs carried us away.

A few comments about this marina and it surrounds are in order:  It is by far the quirkiest of places, decorated with everything nautical. The infrastructure is very antiquated, with undulating fixed docks, poor internet (Wi-Fi) connections away from the marina office, and old (but very clean) facilities.  We had a slight electrical issue when we first arrived, but eventually the dockmaster got it all worked out.  However, for such a small place the amenities and the super-customer service (they have 7 “suggestion” jars) make it a stop worth visiting. In addition to lots of areas outside to socialize, there is a nice bar-b-que, volleyball & basketball courts, lawn bowling, croquet, a putting green, and a marina shop that sells all things, including beer & wine at affordable prices.  There are two rest-rooms with shower facilities that are fully stocked with everything you could possibly want, including fresh towels, and they are decorated with everything nautical or US Navy themed. Near the laundry facilities is a “cruisers retreat” with chairs, a book exchange, and an Amazon “Alexa” that is available for questions, but almost always is playing music.  Denise enjoyed changing the music to something that was easier on the ears than the head-banging heavy metal that was playing when we arrived.  Here are some pictures:

Nice to know you New Bern!

New Bern, NC – Saturday, 5/1

Today, Denise returned from her whirlwind trip home to Winter Park. She flew out on Thursday, arriving in time to have a late lunch with her sister, Jeanne and brother, Robert.  Afterwards she had to deal with a few issues at the house, and had a bit of newly received mail to process.

On Friday, (4/30) Denise was up early to get in a 4-mile run in the neighborhood. She missed seeing the usual runners and walkers as it was a bit early for most, but she had a very busy day ahead and needed to get going. First thing in the morning she had a sales presentation to a prospective client, and some office work that needed to be tended to.  By noon she was on the road to drive to Wildwood (about 90 minutes away) to attend the memorial funeral for her friend Leslie who died very unexpectedly last March. Due to the Chinese Flu, the service was twice postponed and finally rescheduled to this day.  She was met by her two sisters (Susan and Claire) who drove down from Tallahassee in support, and because they had met Leslie on previous occasions.  After the funeral and subsequent internment, the three sisters went to an early dinner at a local diner and drove back home.  After some final office work, a visit by a neighbor, and a few household chores, it was way past bedtime and Denise crawled into bed.  Meanwhile, Mark had finished work at the client site (Friday), grabbed a to-go meal at Outback (no surprise there) and watched a little tv.

On Saturday, Denise woke early enough to ready the house for another departure, and packed her suitcase with all the things coming back to the boat.  She caught a ride to the airport with her brother (thanks Robert), and flew back to New Bern.  During this time, Mark had enlisted the help of our new friend Peter (“Puffin”) to assist with moving the boat to get a pump-out, and returning it back to its slip. Then he used the rental car to pick up Denise at the New Bern airport, right on time.

Finally back on the boat together, a celebratory happy hour and conversation to catch-up on what had taken place was in order.  We went to an early dinner at “Thai Angel” a place we have not been to, and Mark suggested. The food was great and we hit it before the Saturday night rush, which made it even better.  Yup, we are officially old folks and early bird specials are on our radar!

Thai Angel Restaurant

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the boat and watching the HBO movie “Tenet” – very intriguing and a definite mind-bender, before calling it a day.  But we were treated to a very nice sunset.

Sunset over marina

New Bern, NC – Sunday, 5/2

After a wonderful restful night’s sleep, we got up in time to eat breakfast and make the 8:00 am mass at St. Paul’s.  There were 4 young children making their First Holy Communion, so mass went on a bit long, but we were not going anywhere today so it was fine. This is a warm and welcoming parish and we always like attending it when we are here.

After church we went to Publix; our last Publix fix until we make our journey home in the fall. Here it was all about provisioning mostly fresh veggies, fruit and dairy products. But with Cinco de Mayo this coming up week, we indulged with a few snacks to go with our planned fajita dinner.

Once back on the boat we got caught up on emails, wrote out some cards and then ate lunch.  Afterwards we went for a walk to mail the cards at the Post office, and then continued on a long walk through town.  It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed walking by the Galley Stores & Marina, Union Point Park and the day-boat docks, and then past the convention center and Doubletree hotel.

Once back at the marina, we went to visit the only other Looper boat we knew was at this marina.  We introduced ourselves to Kathy & Steve (“How Sweet It Is”) who are just a few weeks away from starting their Loop adventure.  We chatted for a while with them and wished them luck on their journey, then returned back to our boat.

Later that afternoon Mark had to return the rental car back to the airport and discovered no Uber was available to pick him up. A regular taxi was going to be a ridiculous amount due to low volume (i.e. no one was at the airport) and he did not want to pay the fee.  As only Mark can do, he managed to ask around and got an airport employee who was leaving for the day to drop him by the marina on her way home.  Such is the charitable nature and friendliness of the many people we meet along the way when we are cruising.

As afternoon merged into evening we enjoyed a dinner of leftovers from the freezer. Before leaving on the trip we had smoked a huge pork shoulder and packaged it into multiple meals to take with us.  Tonight a home-cooked meal was a welcome reprieve from the nightly dining out, as is so common when we are in a town like New Bern.

Tomorrow we will leave New Bern and head east on the Neuse River to rejoin the ICW and continue our progress North. Our destination is Belhaven where we have reservations for the night. However, high winds and weather is expected for Tuesday through Thursday, so it is very possible we may stay there a few days.  You will just have to keep reading this blog to discover what we end up doing.

Here are some other pictures from New Bern that didn’t fit a narrative, but we thought you might enjoy.

Have a great week!

Time out at New Bern!

New Bern, NC – Wednesday, 4/28

Denise was able to get a run in this morning and be back just as Mark was heading to go to work at the client. This was familiar running ground and there wasn’t too much new to see, except for more houses being built north of town on the Neuse River.

City Hall and moon setting

Early in the day she worked on emails and updated the last blog post, as well as talked to family members and work associates.  Later in the afternoon, she went into downtown and strolled through the shops, past a bunch of cafes, microbreweries, restaurants and small parks. 

She also went to the “Bank of the Arts” Craven Arts Council and Gallery.  Originally commissioned as a bank, it now serves as the seat of arts and culture for the area. There are changing exhibitions of various media such as painting, sculpture, photography, pottery and fiber art by artists of the southeastern United States, provided free of charge.  They frequently have concerts in this venue and on this day there was a pianist playing on a grand piano. Denise strolled through the gallery in the front of the building, as well as in the “Directors Gallery” in the back of the building. Here they were currently showing the “Private and Home Schooled Students” exhibit, as well as several other local artists. There is an empty lot across the street that they also use for larger sculpture exhibits.  This month is “Abuse Awareness” month (who knew?) and she was able to capture a picture of this display during the morning run. It was a neat find and she was glad she went.

Another stop in this adventure was Mitchell’s Hardware.  This store is an independently owned hardware store in the heart of downtown, and they sell everything from tools, housewares, plants, pots & pans, souvenirs and boat stuff.  This is probably one of the best stocked hardware stores along the waterways, and we both agree we would never want to have to help them take a physical inventory of the place. However, if a boater needs anything they can probably find it here, and it is only a block away from the marina.

Mitchell’s Hardware

Once her adventures were over, she returned to the boat only to find it had gotten hot. She had to turn on the AC as the high was 85 today and 88 projected for tomorrow.  But, that won’t last long as it is supposed to be a high of 75 when she returns on Saturday.

The rest of the afternoon was spent finishing some work, sending emails, and getting her suitcase ready for her trip. It will be lightly packed as most everything she needs is at home, and she needs room for the things she is bringing back to the boat. But she had to empty everything in the suitcase, which is also used for storing miscellaneous infrequently used things in on the boat; we make use of every single spot possible, and this is no exception.

Mark has about a 50 minute drive to and from the client, and will usually call Denise when he is coming over the bridge into town.  This gives her time to lock up the boat and meet him in the parking lot at the Doubletree. This is what we did tonight, and from there we walked downtown to Cypress Hall for dinner. This is a new restaurant in town and came highly recommended.  We enjoyed a great dinner, but forgot to take pictures.  Mark likes the interior and was especially thrilled when he learned that it was designed by the folks who design the interior of Hatteras yachts. Denise thinks it is now one of the best restaurants in New Bern and hopefully we will get to dine there again.

After dinner we walked back to the boat, finished up a few work things, and made some contingency plans to our itinerary for leaving on Sunday (due to weather).  After that we called it a day. Denise will fly to Orlando in the morning to attend the funeral for her friend Leslie, and will return on Saturday. We will pick up the blog posting on her return.

New Things in New Bern!

New Bern, NC – Monday, 4/26

It was a comfortable 52 degrees when Denise woke up this morning; perfect running weather. So she took off for a jaunt through downtown Beaufort, taking in some of the usual sites and a few new ones along the way. Here are a few pictures:

We were in no hurry to leave today to head to New Bern. It was going only going to take us between 2.5 – 3 hours to get there and the wind was forecasted to get weaker throughout the day.  So we did a little bit of work, answered some emails, and took care of a few other chores on the boat.

Historically, one of the perks of this marina was you would get a free pound of fresh shrimp.  However, with the processing plant closed, sadly this benefit is no more.  Another perk is the free ice that is always available. Since we have an ice maker on board, this is normally not something we have taken advantage of in the past.  However, our ice maker has been acting up and doesn’t make ice the way it used it.  We have had it cleaned and serviced, but it may be on its last leg.  So, Mark decided to fill our Yeti cooler and anything else we could possibly keep ice in (our freezer is already full up) before we left.

Ice House at Homer Smith

Once all this was done, we prepped the boat and left the dock at 10:40, a little earlier than planned but we were ready to move on.  Going north from this marina is easy as there a separate channel that prevents us from having to go by the port and the large ships and barges that are frequently operating there.  Whether they are loading potash or some other raw material, it is interesting to watch but can be a bit nerve wrecking when they are moving.

We moved up this channel through shoals and fish farms, and met up with the ICW as we entered Core Creek.  Here the creek turns narrow and we passed by Jarrett Bay Marina and boat repair facility, where we saw “Corporate Approved” at the dock.  We wish them luck on their repair and hopefully they will soon be on their way home.

Soon thereafter we went under the Core Creek Bridge (Highway 101) and where it turns into Core Creek Canal, then the Adams Creek Canal, and eventually Adams Creek. In this area there are lots of things lining the shores: several marinas, an RV park, a small community including a Methodist Church, more housing developments and a sunken shrimp boat. We had to pass a few boats along the way, but thankful we were not doing this on a weekend when it would have been so much worse. Soon the creek opened up a bit making it easier to maintain a decent speed.

Finally, at 11:55 we entered the Neuse River, on our way once again to New Bern. It was a beautiful day and the water was not bad at all, despite a bit of wind at first.  The Neuse is a wide open body of water and today we could clearly see both the south and north shorelines.  We passed by some lovely houses and Cherry Point Marine base, as well as Loopers Ken & Karen on “Island Girl”; whom we met in Beaufort and knew they were headed to New Bern as well.  We hope to catch up with them while there.

Before long the water got even calmer and soon we entered the narrow channel that took us under the Neuse River Bridge.  We made a left turn up the Trent River, went under the Cunningham Bridge and entered the harbor at New Bern Grand Marina.

Neuse River Bridge

As with the marina in Beaufort, we had a pre-assigned slip and had the layout of the marina, so docking help was not needed. It is a good thing as the Dockmaster doesn’t work on Sundays, and when we went to check in, there was no one in the marina office as well.   Walking back to our boat, we met a few boaters who are full-time cruisers and they gave us the gate codes, rest room codes and Wi-Fi passwords. Later one of them, Peter (“Puffin”) came by our boat to drop his boat card (we had already given him ours) and to discuss cruising Maine, which he has done extensively. He knew many of the great places we also have stayed and it was fun to compare notes.

Shortly after 4:00 Mark mentioned he hated to break up the party, but he needed to leave to go to the airport and get his rental car for the week; remember he was going to spend Tuesday through Friday going to our nearby client and needed transportation to do so.  Peter was generous enough to take him to the airport, sparing him the need to get an Uber, and allowing for more conversation.  This is the thing about cruising we love; people are incredibly generous and hospitable.

Once Mark had returned, we proceeded to meet up with Bob & Mary Griswold.  Bob is one of our associates who used to be a client before he retired. He still periodically does work for us, but he and Mary are heavily involved in local NC politics, so his time is more limited these days.  We met up at Captain Ratty’s seafood & steakhouse, a place we had visited before and is only a block away from the marina.  We arrived at the same time and were glad we were a bit early as the place filled up fast; we still had to wait 15 minutes for a table. The food was great and having a hamburger was on our minds, so we all indulged in a delicious burger.

Although we did not venture far from the marina, we immediately noticed some great changes in New Bern. Many of the restaurants have reopened since the great flood, the Doubletree is back in business, and the marina has made arrangements for restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities again. However, these are still a block away and not super convenient like they used to be when they were actually in the Doubletree hotel.

Over the next several days we will explore more, then Denise will fly home on Thursday for a memorial service for a friend, and then back to the boat on Saturday. Then on Sunday we will head to our next stop; where that will be and how far we get will depend on weather.

IO at New Bern Grand Marina

New Bern, NC – Tuesday, 4/27

This morning was a work day for Mark, and because of that he was up early for a change. Off he went to the client site to help them make more money. 

Meanwhile, Denise spent the entire day working on the last two blog updates, cataloging pictures, preparing for an on-line meeting on Friday, and getting caught up on some work-related items. She did not venture off the boat the entire day as it was mostly peaceful, except in the afternoon when the wind picked up. Then it started to really blow from the south and the boat across the dock from us was pinned up against the dock. Their under-inflated fenders barely protected the hull of the boat from being marred by the edge of the dock, and it made a squeaking noise that was quite irritating.  The only other excitement for the day was watching TowBoatUS come into the marina and tow a sailboat out of its slip to some unknown destination, most likely for engine repairs.

Since Mark had a rental car (courtesy of the client) we decided to venture out past the downtown for dinner.  When he came “home” we took the car and drove to the nearby Panera as we wanted a light and somewhat healthy dinner.  We had already decided to dine out at a new local (and highly recommended) restaurant tomorrow night, and Denise had made reservations. So tonight was about a quick meal so we could get back to the boat; Mark had work to do and we didn’t want to be gone long.

Panera dinner (soup & salad)

Tomorrow Mark will go to the client and Denise will venture out in New Bern. She will update the blog and prepare for the trip home on Thursday morning.

Besties in Beaufort!

Beaufort, NC – Sunday, 4/25

It was a cool morning with overcast skies, but the rain had come and gone. Fortunately, the severe storms and gale-force winds did not materialize as forecasted. It did rain and we did get strong winds from the south, but not nearly as bad as expected and we were thankful we were on the north side of Beaufort.

Denise got up early and managed to get a load of laundry washed and dried with no wait.  We then borrowed the marina loaner car (one of two available); a fairly new van and used it to go to Church at St. Egberts. We were last here for the Easter vigil two years ago when it was crowded and mass lasted 2 hours.  However, today it was only 45 minutes long as they were anxious to get everyone out of this socially distanced, temperature taking, mask-wearing, super-spreader environment (sarcasm intended).

We then took advantage of the loaner vehicle and drove out to the Super Walmart for a few things. Mark found their RV section to be great, so we bought an extra package of toilet paper (we have been Covid-trained), as well as a new short hose for the external water filter system as ours had a small leak.  We don’t like to have water dripping on the docks at a marina and wasting their water.  Denise purchased a few fresh produce items and then we made our way back to the marina.

Denise spent the entire day completing more loads of laundry and cataloging pictures.  Mark finally got a chance to wash all the salt off the boat, including the roof.  There were a few people on the water and they would cruise past our boat from either the marina next door (Beaufort Yacht Basin), or from across the one across the way (Town Creek Marina).  It is fun to see all the different boats that pass by, some of which you wonder how they even float, and others you know the people on them are drinking.

The skies had cleared, but the wind picked up and about the time both of us finished our chores, the boat was bouncing around a bit.  The wind was now out of the northwest and north, and we were quite exposed.  So we got our showers and grabbed a quick cocktail and then headed into downtown Beaufort, about a half-mile away.

We had made arrangement with Brian (“Corporate Approved”) to meet up at 5:00 on his boat at the Beaufort Docks to share a pizza dinner.  He had two of his friends aboard (Tom & Jimmy) that were helping him get his boat home to New Baltimore, NY; home of Shady Harbor Marina – host of the AGLCA Pig Roast in June.  When we arrived, Brian was taking a nap after an afternoon of margarita drinking.  But he was so excited to see us and gave us the warmest welcome.  This was day two of being held in Beaufort as he damaged a prop in the ICW in Myrtle Beach, and required a haul-out and repair before continuing north.  The boat was scheduled for Monday at Jarrett Boat Works just north of Beaufort on the ICW.

Brian is known for transporting interesting things back home to NY.  When we first met him in 2015 in Coinjock, VA, he had a marina power pedestal on the back deck of his boat. This year he had a life-size fake alligator he picked up at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show, and a stuffed sea turtle. Both will be put on display at his marina and we can’t wait to see it there.

We spent a fun evening with these guys having drinks, socializing, eating pizza, and watching other boats go by. Eventually we got to see a killer sunset. 

Finally, we had to say good-bye and look forward to our reunion at the Pig Roast in June. We got back to the boat just before 9:00 pm and found the wind had died down enough that the boat was no longer rocking.  This was good news as we were tired and wanted to get some sleep, which is exactly what we did.

Tedious Travels!

Figure 8 Island Anchorage – Friday, 4/23

Before getting underway today, Denise went for a short run through downtown Georgetown.  The old homes and quiet streets offer a nice place to run when there is no traffic. Here are some pictures of the town during the early hours of the morning:

Rice museum clock tower

We wanted to leave early today and get as far north as possible.  There was incoming wind and rain expected on Saturday afternoon, which could hamper our attempts to get to Beaufort, NC where we had reservations for a 2-night stay. We did not want to get caught in this storm on the water, nor did we want to be coming into a marina in high windy conditions.  We cannot make it that far in one day, so it would force an overnight somewhere. Our preferred choices were Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, or an anchorage north of there.

In a normal year we would go the approximately 70 miles to Southport, NC and stay a few days in this very cool town. However, the Southport Marina has been closed since hurricane Isaias and a tornado took out this large and very well run place in August of 2020.  They have reopened the fuel docks, but they are not yet ready for transients, let alone their permanent boats.  Therefore, we knew we were going to have to stop somewhere else, and we wanted to put in more miles today, then tomorrow.

Another consideration was to go offshore on Saturday from Masonboro Inlet (near Carolina Beach or Wrightsville Beach), or stay in the ICW.  Given the unpredictable nature of weather in these parts, and not wanting to get beat up, we decided to make the final call on this as the day wore on. Sunset wasn’t until near 6:30, which means we had plenty of daylight and could get far if we choose to.

What we didn’t know was how long it was going to take us to get anywhere.  We had to get through South Carolina with two bridges that required opening for us to pass, and the many homes that line the ICW, forcing no-wake zones.  This is particularly true around Myrtle Beach, and it gets even worse in North Carolina (thus the desire to go offshore).

Denise was sad to leave Georgetown, but hopeful we will be able to spend more time here on the return trip south in the fall. From Georgetown Harbor we turned into the ICW and onto the Waccamaw River.  This is one of her favorite parts of SC ICW as it is remote, but beautiful. We pass by forested areas on our left, and several marinas and golf communities on the barrier islands to our right. But it’s the area through the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and the Wacca Wache Marina (stayed in 2017) in Murrells Inlet that is the prettiest.  We wound our way along the ICW passing several Looper boats, including new friends David & Lisa (“She’s the One”), and “Cenyth” that we have not met.

We also passed by the small community of Bucksport where there is a marina, and some new construction for a marine repair or manufacturing business.

Soon we approached the Socastee Swing Bridge where we had to wait a little while for it to open.  We had now approached Myrtle Beach where there was nothing but houses on both sides of the ICW, and the channel was very narrow making the passing of oncoming barges and other boaters a challenge.  Needless to say we saw some large houses and some interesting sites along the way:

As we travelled further north we passed through areas that continue to be developed (or should we say over-developed). One such area is Barefoot Landing.  This marina, condo and country club area now has newly constructed houses overlooking the marina.  We have been told they no longer accept transients, and since the Barefoot Landing across the ICW is still being renovated, there is nowhere to stay in this area, even if we wanted to – which we don’t; there are better options.

Next up was the infamous “rock pile” area. Here the ICW literally has granite rocks on both sides, so you must stay in the channel.  It can be nerve wracking during high water times when you cannot see the rocks; it is better in low water as they do stick out.  Unfortunately, now north of this area there is more new development on the mainland side. On the eastern shore there is an airport and which we cannot see, but know it by the antennae visible from the water.

Antennae at MB Airport

Right after this is when we encountered a flotilla of four slow trawlers that were all traveling together.  Because of the narrowness of the channel and other on-coming boat traffic we were not able to get around them easily.  It wasn’t until we came up on the Captain McLauchlin (Little River) Bridge (aka the Captain “Poo” Bridge) that we were able to maneuver between the #2 and #3 boats.  But we all had to wait on the opening and by the time it was ready there were six boats all stacked up trying to head north.

Unfortunately, even though we were able to get past two of them, we soon turned left down the channel to take us to Myrtle Beach Yacht Club where we stopped for the lowest price fuel in the area.  We had hoped to get all the way to the New River Marina outside of Swansboro, NC before needing fuel, but we didn’t have enough diesel left in the tank. So, we pulled into the Yacht Club and got some petro to keep us moving.

Within 30 minutes we were back on the ICW and making our way passed the Little River Inlet and all the wrecks that have washed up on her shores; one of them has been there ever since we made our first trip this way in 2015.

And around 12:30 we entered the state of North Carolina; you know the one where we go east, then southeast, then east for miles before we get to head north!  It wasn’t long before we came up on the four-boat flotilla again, and had to negotiate around them. However, here we had to also deal with a small fishing boat, jet skiers and many houses with boat docks and no-wake zones again.  This was slow-going.

Once past the Shallotte Inlet (an area known for shoaling but thank goodness had been recently dredged) we were able to break free from the group.  It was still slow going until we got through Holden Beach and endless houses with boats in the water and kayakers. Then we made our way through Lockwood’s Folly; another inlet notoriously known for its shoaling and also recently dredged.  Here the beaches are pretty and there are always lots of recreational boats on the water.  All of this makes for slow travel time, a high level of concentration, and why Captain Mark prefers to go offshore.

Just past Oak Island to our right, the ICW turns more rural and we were finally able to speed up and got away from the slower moving boats.  The ICW turns north (FINALLY!), and we passed the marina and town of Southport. Clearly the waterfront bars and restaurants have recovered, but the marina is still a work-in-progress.

Once past the town of Southport, the ICW turns onto the Cape Fear River which is a large body of water. Twenty miles north on this river is the town of Wilmington and we hope to get there on our way home in the fall.  The channel here is much wider, but outside the channel it is shallow and there are small barrier islands, some sandy, others with trees and bushes. 

North of Southport is MOTSU (Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point), one of the largest military terminals in the world. It serves as a transfer point between rail, trucks, and ships for the import and export of weapons, ammunition, explosives and military equipment for the United States Army. The 596th Transportation Brigade operates the terminal which is not open to the public or used for commercial purposes. 

It was from here that a large container ship (“Cape Sound”) had left and was headed south to the Atlantic Ocean.  As we passed it we were hugging the far right side of the channel giving the ship plenty of room and trying to avoid its wake.  The ship was not going fast, but it was not going slow either and so it created a good size wake. But the wake bounced off the barrier islands and shoals and came back at us in a series of waves, the largest of which was 6’.  Our vessel went vertical on the 3rd wave, and the 4th wave went right over the top of our boat and dowsed the cockpit.  Water seeped into the slightly open hatch all over the galley and helm.  Fortunately, Mark saw it coming, warned Denise who was in the cockpit snapping pictures, and she was able to get seated inside before the big waves hit.  It was over in a few seconds, but was quite scary.  Then we had to clean up all the salty water inside and wipe down everything.  What a mess!  Miraculously we did not break anything and nothing spilled out of cabinets.

By the time we got things back together it was time to turn off the Cape Fear River, following the ICW through Snow’s Cut and to Carolina Beach.  It was still early enough and given the latest weather for tomorrow it did not look good for going offshore from Masonboro Inlet.  We decided to continue north passing the inlet and Wrightsville Beach, choosing an anchorage north of the Figure Eight Island Bridge. 

We arrived at the anchorage just before 5 pm and had time to take in the beauty of the surrounding area.  To our east there was a yacht club about a half a mile up the creek and before the homes on the barrier island. Probably because of the weather there was almost no boat traffic from there; unheard of on a Friday afternoon. There is nothing but estuary to our north, and a spit of land for the highway to our south with a boat ramp that wasn’t in use.  This provided a great barrier for the breezy wind that evening.  It was far enough off the ICW to our west, that the passing boats did not bother us and after sunset it was quite peaceful. This proved to be a very good location as it was quiet and we had the whole place to ourselves.  After a celebratory adult beverage, and a quick dinner of leftovers we crashed; exhausted from a long tedious day on the water. We had covered 112 nautical miles in a long 9 hours.

Sunset over ICW

Beaufort, NC – Saturday, 4/24

A boater learns to tell the weather by the color of the sky and there is truth to the saying “Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”.  Today the sunrise was spectacular, but told of pending bad weather. It was overcast and remained so all day long.

We heard the reports as the front moved through Alabama, Georgia, the North FL panhandle and South Carolina.  It was chasing us and we were anxious to get to Beaufort before it hit.  We were ready to go early and pulled up the anchor by 7 am.  Probably because of the weather, we had little boat traffic to contend with, making the early hours of cruising quite easy, near Top Sail Beach and Surf City.  Our biggest challenge at this point was passing a dredge that come to find out was not operating, so it only required us to slow down.

We continued cruising well until we came to the New River Marina in Sneads Ferry where we stopped to get fuel. This is the cheapest around and by topping off the tank here we would not have to fill up again until we are on the Albemarle Loop next week, where it is considerably cheaper. While fueling Mark struck up a conversation with “Daniel”, the young man who helped us.  He wants to eventually get his Captain’s License so they discussed his future post-graduation (high school) this spring, as well as other options open to him.  We did not require much fuel so in no time we were on our way.

We navigated around the ever-shoaling but currently being dredged New River Inlet and made our way to Onslow Beach.  Here begins the point where the ICW cuts through Camp Lejeune Marine Corp base, for which there are two challenges: the Onslow Beach Bridge with a restricted opening, and potential live fire exercises on the base which shuts down the ICW to boats for up to 4 hours at a time.  Denise had called the base’s scheduling office on Friday afternoon to confirm no exercises were scheduled and that passage was not restricted (hooray!).  The bridge itself is undergoing planned maintenance and was supposed to be in an open position during this time. However, as we approached the bridge it was in a down position. Fortunately, we had arrived just before 9:30 and would get in on the scheduled half-hour opening.  For the first time ever we were the only boat waiting on this bridge.

Once through the bridge and the live-fire exercise area, we came into the town of Swansboro. 

Swansboro

And here is where the Coast Guard (CG) was on patrol and approached our vessel for a potential boarding. Once they discovered we had been boarded in 2019 (DE Loop trip), all they were interested in was our life jackets. We showed them what we had and they were satisfied, so they left us alone. At that time we had been preparing to pass a sailboat, who was now still in front of us. As soon as the CG left us they approached the sailboat.  We had to chuckle as they boarded the sailboat and the “Coastie” was met by a very friendly golden retriever who greeted him with a million licks and attempted hugs. We love our “Coasties” and apparently their dog did too!

Here we also passed this property on a small barrier island that had been for sale when we first saw it 2015. We were happy to see that someone purchased it and they were now getting some enjoyment from it.

It wasn’t long thereafter that we entered Bogue Sound.  Here the ICW again opens up pretty wide, although the channel itself is somewhat narrow.  But the houses that line this area are set back far enough from the ICW that there is no need to slow down for boats in the water or at their docks.  The only slowing was to pass a few other cruising boats, until we hit the No-Wake zone around the NC port in Morehead City. We rounded Goat Island and made our way through the inlet at Beaufort, just outside what appeared to be a smaller boat fishing tournament.  We entered the channel and made our way into Homer Smith marina dodging a parasail boat and a few crazy recreational boaters as well.

We had a preassigned slip and knew the layout of the marina, so we docked the boat without assistance from dockhands.  Eventually, the dockmaster came down when he saw that we had arrived, but by then we had the boat settled, and had hooked up the power and water.  We had arrived right at noon, so we made lunch first, then went to the office to check in. 

IO at Homer Smith

And here is where we were totally surprised but what we saw.  Gone was the shrimp processing facility that we had to walk through to get to the marina office. They had put up a wall, sold off the equipment and tore down the rest of the building that butted up to the dock where the shrimp boats would land.  Now there was a parcel of green grass and obvious construction equipment working on the bulkhead.  We learned that processing business had been hit hard by Covid. With the shuttering of restaurants up and down the east coast (their main customer), they no longer wanted to keep this declining-in-profits part of the business. The marina is more profitable and was funding the shrimp processing business for the last few years, in part due to high costs (fuel) for shrimpers and the ever-increasing regulation on fisheries.  They are going to build a new clubhouse with better laundry and restroom facilities and a new marina office.

We also learned that just next door they are going to put in a Margaritaville (aka Jimmy Buffet) resort. Apparently this has been in the works for a while, and was recently approved in order to attract visitors to this north side of the town of Beaufort. We were disheartened to learn of all these changes as this area was truly an authentic fishing village, and now it will be forever changed to look like every other coastal town in the US. 

We spent the afternoon getting caught up on some emails, talking to family, and planning our next few day’s adventures.  We had secured the marina rental car for mass tomorrow, and Denise managed to get a load of laundry done before there was a queue in line for the single washer and single dryer. With free laundry here and only one set of appliances, it is a challenge to get it all done. Plus, the wind had picked up and the overcast skies turned to dark clouds threatening rain. She did not want to wash and dry laundry only to have it get soaked on the way back to the boat.

Small washer & dryer

We had been in communication with our friend Brian Donovan (“Corporate Approved”) who was also in Beaufort on his boat (ahem – yacht).  We were trying to meet up for dinner which became a scheduling issue, and we had started to receive intermittent rain. It was not going to be fun walking into town, so we agreed to reschedule to tomorrow when the weather would be better and our schedules more flexible.  We stayed in for the rest of the night, making flatbread pizzas and even watching a little TV.

Gathering in Georgetown

Georgetown, SC – Thursday, 4/22

The wind of yesterday ushered in a cold front, and when Denise woke up it was 46 degrees.  She went for a run in the neighborhood around the marina and near The Citadel.  She has run here several times before, but still snapped a few pictures along the way:

Once back on the boat she worked on emails and the blog post a bit while Mark dealt with some work issues and prepping for the part.  Finally he received a text that the package had arrived, walked up to the marina office, then returned and began the install.  He had predicted it would take approximately 30 minutes, and he met his goal (a first in the history of boat repairs). He tested the thrusters and all was right with the world again on our Island Office.

So we left the Bristol Marina right at noon and headed out into the Ashley River. We passed the City marina and the Coast Guard station, and eventually the downtown. 

It was a beautiful, but cold day on the water and we got to see Ft. Sumter on the horizon with a dredging operation going on in Charleston Harbor blocking part of the view.  We also passed a large ship that was just getting under way from an anchorage and the “Spirit of Charleston” tour boat.

We re-entered the ICW near Sullivan’s Island and cruised slowly through the no-wake zone; another area where the waterway is bordered by homes with boats on their docks.

We continued through this part of the ICW with no real issues. Eventually we came up to Isle of Palms and the marina we have had friends stay at.  The area is always filled with people on jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks and other personal watercraft. We were thankful it was not a Saturday or Sunday as it would have been crazy and a pain to navigate around.  We did see a few brave souls out on jet skis, despite the still-cool temperatures. 

Jet Skiers near Isle of Palms

In passing the Isle of Palms Marina, Mark spotted a “Chesapeake Buy Boat” at the docks.  This is one of those types of boats that Denise is fascinated with (along with the Trumpy yachts, and the Sabre/Back Cove family of boats, of course).  You can read about these cool vessels here.

Within minutes of passing the Isle of Palms we were the ICW turns very remote and beautifully scenic. This is definitely South Carolina Low Country with its marshes, small creeks and impassable inlets that feed into the waters. 

Just north of Isle of Palms

For most of our journey we would pass by these unspoiled waters.  And then we came across the lone house in the middle of nowhere and got to see both dolphins in the water and a bald eagle at perch.

As we cruised further north we wound our way through more remote areas, with some houses interspersed throughout. To our west was the Francis Marion National Forrest with hiking trails, an RV park, and camp sites.  It is so great that this pristine area is part of the National Parks and will not be developed. Unfortunately, right along the ICW border there are several houses that back up to the park’s eastern-most boundaries. However, these are far fewer than the rest of the SC ICW.  On the eastern side of the ICW, most of it is uninhabitable and is made up of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. 

The bad part about this part of the ICW is the constant shoaling that is created by the currents as the tide changes make their way through the numerous curs and tributaries.  We follow Bob Sherer on the “ICW Cruising Guide by Bob423” Facebook Page and we use his routes through these areas in AquaMaps (navigation app) to assist us.  Bob (aka “Poughkeepsie Bob”) used to do this as a volunteer, but now does it for Waterway Guide.  This has become the go-to replacement for Active Captain since Garmin bought that peer-review application and people quit posting to it.  The problem for us this year is that we are ahead of Bob and his tracks are 6 months old.  The good news is that many of the usual problem areas have recently been dredged and we had plenty of depth. However, ones that have not recently been dredged required diligence on the part of Captain Mark.   

Once such area that has recently been dredged but is always a challenge is McClellanville; a small town just off US 17 and sandwiched in the middle of these natural areas.  We have heard good things about this little place, including usually good fuel prices. However, we have yet to visit.

Continuing further north the ICW crosses the South and then the North Santee Rivers and then turns into something like a canal in that it is narrow and a pretty straight shot.  To our east is the Tom Yawkee Wildlife Center and its Welcome Center. Here there is a barge (Miss Ellie) that acts like a ferry to transport vehicles across the ICW. 

We use this as a landmark when heading north knowing we don’t have much further to go to Georgetown. Within 15 minutes the ICW takes a left turn into the Winyah Bay, and here we entered the channel to take us into Harborwalk Marina at Georgetown; our spot for the night and right on our predicted time of 4:00 pm.

We had been in communication with “Cathy Ann” via the Back Cove/Sabre’s FB group and knew they were in Georgetown; we were anxious to meet face-to-face for the first time. As luck would have it our slip was right next to theirs.  After settling the boat, checking into the office, getting showers, and a quick conference call for Denise, we joined them on their boat for happy hour.  Jeff & Cathy were very gracious hosts and had also invited another Looper couple Dave & Lisa (“She’s the One”).  We had a chance to talk about our mutual looping experiences, friends we have in common (“Donna Pacem” and “Balahula”) and our Back Cove boats.

David & Lisa had to leave, but we went to dinner with Jeff & Cathy at the River Room Restaurant.  This was a new restaurant in town and was quite popular. We had to wait a bit for a table, but our time was spent getting to know each other better.  We had a delicious seafood dinner and really enjoyed the company of our new found friends.

IO and Cathy Ann

After dinner we went back to the boat and made plans for tomorrow.  Mark looked at the weather over the next two days, and looked at fuel stops along the way to determine the best (cheapest) place to stop.  Denise published the last blog and then we retired for the night.

Over the next two days we are going to push hard and cover a lot of miles.  We need to be in Beaufort, NC on Saturday night and the weather Sat. afternoon is going to deteriorate.  So, our plans are to get as far north tomorrow as possible, and then get up early on Saturday to arrive before the rain.  Of course we will adjust accordingly on Friday if in fact this changes.

Congenial Charleston

Charleston, SC – Tuesday, 4/20

Before leaving Lady’s Island Marina Denise went for an out-and-back run down Sea Island Parkway; the road that runs by the street entrance to the marina. Along the way she passed the Publix, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, several banks, a strip center and the future site of “Harris Teeter”. Eventually she found the Walmart that Mark had visited yesterday and used it as a turn-around point, knowing she could get end up with approximately 4 miles.  Along the way she saw a beautiful sky at sunrise, and a few quirky ornaments in front of the strip center and garden center.

Once back from the run and with our breakfasts done, we shoved off from Lady’s Island Marina and headed back on to the ICW. We immediately saw a Sabre (“Stella”) ahead of us and once out of the no wake area picked up speed to follow this sister ship. Before long we caught up to the Back Cove “Cathy Ann” whom we had seen yesterday near Daufuskie Island.   Together all 3 of us passed by the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort (Merritt Field) to our west; the base that was flying jets all day yesterday, buzzing our marina at Lady’s Island.

Before long we were headed out of the protected waters of the marshes and made our way into the St. Helena’s Sound. Here Denise snapped a picture of the other two boats over the bow of our boat:

Cathy Ann & Stella – St. Helena’s Sound

St. Helena’s Sound is one of the largest of all the inlets, and was going to take a while for us to cross. It is shallow in parts, but really wide so there was plenty of cruising ground to go around the handful of slower boats making their way north. The wind started to pick up a bit and the waters developed a light chop by the time we got to the other side of the Sound and re-entered the protective marshes of the ICW.  We were glad we had left when we did and that our boats cruising at 20 knots made it a non-event.  “Cathy Ann” had decided to take a slower path and did not keep up with us and “Stella”.

We entered the Ashepoo-Coosaw Cutoff winding our way to first through the Ashepoo River, then the South Edisto River, and then the Edisto River.  Although our intended direction is north, periodically we actually were heading southeast. This is what it is like in the ICW in South Carolina and this is why Mark hates to take this “inside” route north. If we were offshore we could have cut our time in half, but today’s weather did not warrant it.  So while Mark drove the boat through these winding rivers, Denise made the best of the time and polished the stainless steel refrigerator and the sink in the head.  By the time we got to the wider North Edisto River the entire galley had been cleaned and everything looked great.  But once again we were in areas where many houses line the shores and they all have docks, some with boats in the water causing us to have to slow down.

SC homes – Stella following

Finally we came to the Elliot Cut; a house-lined canal that signifies we are getting close to Charleston.  Our voyage was almost done for the day.  We continued along until finally the ICW met with the Ashley River, just near the Charleston City marina. 

We made a left turn and negotiated around several boats all attempting to go into that marina at the same time.  But we headed up the Ashley River, went under the dual Ashley Memorial Bridges (US 17), and prepared to dock at the Safe Harbor Bristol marina; original home of our wonderful Island Office.  But as we were preparing to dock the boat with the wicked current running through this area, the paddle on the helm deck for our bow thruster broke.  Mark had no control of the thruster and limited control of the boat. So he backed us out of the marina fairway back into the river until we could figure out what to do.  In the meantime, two other boats were coming into the marina and didn’t understand why we were backing out, so they tried to move around us. It made for a harrowing few moments but we all managed to keep from colliding.

Once back out in the river, Denise drove while Mark tried to fix the plastic handle that had broken completely off.  He managed to get it to a point that it was usable, so we once again attempted to dock. This time we were more successful, thanks to the helping dockhands at Bristol, and Maria (pronounced Mariah) our favorite contact at Coastal Carolina Yacht Sales. Once the boat was settled we were able to explain to them what happened and thank them for their assistance. 

After spending some time trying to fix the broken paddle unsuccessfully, Mark began the process of locating a new one.  Unfortunately, once he talked to the manufacturer he learned the whole unit had to be replaced, and it wasn’t going to be cheap. (BOAT – bring on another thousand)! Mark was able to talk to find the unit at Defender (online marine supply store), but Maria was also able to get a favorable dealer pricing and (hopefully) get it shipped here in the next two days. We intended to spend 2 nights here anyway, so this should not delay our plans too much.

Broken bow thruster paddle (top)

Once all of this was investigated and the part was ordered, we got down to other issues that needed to be addressed.  Denise had been advised that the memorial service for her friend Leslie (who unexpectedly died last year) would finally be held on Friday, April 30th.  The pandemic had kept the family from traveling and it was now scheduled.  Having been informed of this and contemplating Denise going home for the service, Mark contacted his NC client and sold them on a few consulting days while we would be in the area.  With this secured, we altered our plans slightly and secured a marina slip in New Bern, NC for a week.  Denise then made travel arrangements to fly out of New Bern on Thursday, and return to the boat on Saturday 5/1.  She will be home less than 48 hours, but it will also afford her the opportunity to bring things home that we don’t need on the boat, and pick up a few things we have decided we should have brought with us this trip.

It was late when we finished up all that we had to do and we really didn’t feel like going downtown for a dining out option. One of the best things about this marina is that it is located directly across the street from a new Publix.  It could not be more convenient!  So, we walked across the street, picked up a few grocery items, a rotisserie chicken (Denise), and fried chicken (Mark) and came back to the boat for dinner and a quiet evening.

Charleston, SC – Wednesday, 4/21

Today was going to be a windy day and we were so glad that we were not going anywhere.  Although it was sunny and the temperature was perfect, the wind started early and we were thankful to be tied to a dock.

In the morning we waited to hear word about bow thruster paddle, and its arrival. Unfortunately, we learned that it was not going to arrive today, but it was guaranteed for 10:30 am tomorrow.

We did not want to be captive to the boat all day, but we were not really up for going into the downtown area; we’ve been here many times and unless you are going out to dinner, it’s a bit touristy. We were up for a different adventure.  Mark suggested going out to lunch and located a spot about a mile away near the city marina.  There is sidewalk and crosswalks the entire way, so it makes it easy to walk in this area.

The restaurant “Marina Variety Store Restaurant” overlooks part of the city marina, as well as the marshes and the Ashley River. It was beautiful day and we arrived just before the lunch crowd, but it got busy fast.  It is definitely a locals place filled with marina contractors and construction crews from the nearby site as well as a few boaters from the nearby marinas.  And there is a reason: the food was very good.  Between the smoked fish dip appetizer, the she-crab soup, and the crab cake salad, we really enjoyed our meal and thought we made a good choice.

Marina Variety Store Restaurant

Once back at the boat, we spent some time talking with a few other boaters, as well as Craig, the owner of Coastal Carolina Yacht Sales and the broker who sold us our boat. He had taken a customer out on a boat (a previously owned Grand Banks Eastbay 46’) for a sea trial and survey.  It was a good day for this as the owner got to see how she handled in the now very choppy and windy waters around Charleston.  The new owner was gracious enough to let us tour the boat as it had a similar layout to what we like. However, after looking at the features and design, we decided we still like the 45’ Sabre better…not that we are shopping for a new boat!

Mark also was able to talk to Jeff, the electronics contractor who was outfitting a new 48’ Sabre in the slip next to ours. Mark wants to eventually replace our chart plotter and discussed options for placement and rearrangement of the electronics on the helm, as well as other such related items.

In the late afternoon, Kim Russo (executive director of the AGLCA – the Looper organization which is based in Charleston) came by the boat for a short visit.  We discussed our trip plans and her efforts to fight all the pending restrictive anchoring laws in the SC and FL legislatures; something our organization has been fighting against.  Due to the number of derelict boats that are a nuisance to others, as well as an increasing number of houses being built along the waterways, these states are trying to make it more difficult for boaters to anchor in the rivers, tributaries and finger creeks off the ICW. This forces boaters into marinas which can be expensive and there are few of these in number than the number of transient cruisers during the seasonal migrations.  The waters should be free for all to enjoy.

Kim Russo – AGLCA Exec Director

After Kim left, the local owner of a 32’ Back Cove in the slip on the other side of us came by to check on the boat.  We had a chance to talk with him about doing the Great Loop. He wants to do it, but his wife is reluctant, so we told him to bring her down tomorrow morning and Denise can help change her mind.

Finally after 6 pm everyone had left and the docks got quiet, but the wind was stronger than ever.  We opted for a light dinner of flatbread pizzas and some TV watching; we actually put on the news for the first time in almost a full week.  Mark spoke to his mom and sister while Denise worked on and published the last blog. We did get to see this great sunset over the Ashley River before we turned in for the evening. 

Sunset over Ashley River

Here are some other pictures from the area around the marina:

Lovely Lady’s Island

Lady’s Island, SC – Monday, 4/19

It was a beautiful morning at Possum Point anchorage, but we knew the weather would be catching up to us. The beautiful sunrise revealed the impending rain and we were hoping to stay north of it today.

Sunrise over the Sound

We left the anchorage just before 8:00 and made our way back to the ICW without issue.  We entered the Burnside River which divides Burnside Island and Skidaway Island.  This river is lined with huge houses along both shorelines; a definite high-rent district.

Homes on Skidaway Is

The Burnside River turns into the Skidaway River where it meanders around more houses and a continuous “no wake zone”.  We passed a few crabbers out in the morning checking their pots and then by the Isle of Hope Marina (where we stayed in 2017).

The Skidaway River turns onto the Wilmington River and shortly thereafter we passed by the Savannah Yacht Club (sorry no good picture due to sun in our face) and the large-boat Thunderbolt Marina and shipyard. From here until we get to the Causton-Bluff-Sam Varnedoe Bridge (still undergoing construction) it is a no-wake zone and slow going.  We pass the Hinkley and the Savannah Bend Marinas and the Bonaventure cemetery (made famous in the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) before we could finally go back to our cruising speed.

It was shortly thereafter that we came to the Savannah River and crossed into South Carolina. Fortunately, there were no large ships making passage up or down the river, but we did have to negotiate around the large dredging operation.

For the next hour we continued north on the ICW, winding our way through the curves until we came to the western side of Daufuskie Island and eventually the Calibogue Sound.  We passed by Haig Point, where there is a very nice resort area, and is also where the ferry boats bring people from Hilton Head. In January, Denise and her sister Claire ran a half marathon and they had to take this very ferry to the island for the early morning start.

Haig Point – Daufuskie Island

About this time we caught up to another Looper on a Back Cove ’37 (“Cathy Ann”) and enjoyed cruising past Hilton Head with them until they turned off and we continued on. Normally we would stop at Windmill Harbor marina on the north end of the island, but our plans this year are to stop in the Beaufort (SC) area instead, so we pressed on. 

We crossed Port Royal Sound and rounded the famous Marine Corp Recruit Depot at Parris Island and eventually passed the city marina in downtown Beaufort.  We went under the Woods Memorial Bridge and turned right up Factory Creek to the Lady’s Island Marina; our home for the night.

After we settled the boat and checked in, Mark used the loaner car to do a quick run to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things. As it was only 2 miles away, he was back in no time. Meanwhile, Denise worked on the last blog, and had some communications with clients and family members.

We chose this spot as our friends Vicki & Mack (McGahee) from the Down East Loop in 2019 live here. Last year they sold their boat (“Confetti”) and have now moved into a dirt home on Lady’s Island.  We had made previous plans to connect with them, and they graciously invited us to their home for dinner.  So Mack picked us up at the marina and drove us back to their home where we had a chance to share stories, including Mack’s adventure walking the Appalachian Trail in 2020.   After dinner we walked around their neighborhood and out to their community dock for a great view of the low country marshes in this area.  Before long the night was coming to a close and we had to leave. We said good bye and Mack drove us back to the marina and we called it a night. 

As Gold Loopers, they now have agreed to be Harbor Hosts for other Loopers coming into the Beaufort area and we know they will do a fantastic job! Thank you Vicki & Mack you are great hosts!

Perfect at Possum Point!

Near Savannah, GA – Sunday, 4/18

As expected, Denise woke up to the rain coming down hampering her plans for a nice run through Jekyll Island Village and on the trail that parallels the beach.  It’s a good thing she is not yet training for any race, as the lack of running would make this a challenge.  Instead she spent the time reading a book; a luxury these days with blog posts, navigation and cruise planning, not to mention work responsibilities.

We left Jekyll Island during a sprite between rain showers, getting off the dock just before 8:00 am as planned.  Our intended destination was an anchorage off of Ossabaw Island south of Savannah, but we would finalize that as the day went on.  The benefit of anchoring out is you can pretty much choose any suitable anchorage along the way; no marina reservations and no fees.  Georgia recently passed some very restrictive laws that limit anchoring near oyster beds, marinas, fixed objects and other such things. But in low-country Georgia there are still many favorable spots and our cruising apps provide good information regarding holding, wind conditions, tidal currents and cell phone availability.

Leaving JI Marina

Shortly after leaving Jekyll Island Marina and the Jekyll River, we headed out crossing St. Simons Sound.  This is a wide open inlet and it was very calm, but there is quite the attraction still blocking part of the entrance.  The South Korean car carrier ship “Golden Ray” went aground in September 2019, and they are still working to take her apart and clear the inlet.  More than 4,000 cars were on the ship when it went down. They have built a massive superstructure to support the salvage efforts, and the metal is hauled up to Brunswick where it is prepared and loaded on barges that will take it for recycling in Louisiana.

Salvage of the Golden Ray

The cause of the 2019 incident has not yet been formally established, but in September of 2020, a naval architect with the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center testified that unstable loading left the Golden Ray susceptible to capsizing. According to analysis, the ship required an additional 1,500 gallons of water in the ship’s ballast tanks as counterweight. Otherwise, rearranging the cars on the deck might have kept the boat from tipping. The first cut into the Golden Ray’s bow actually began Nov. 6 and took three weeks to complete due to several setbacks, including a broken cutting chain and delays due to tropical storms.  They are now working on the 3rd cut and it continues to be a slow effort.  Perhaps when we come back through here in the fall it will all be cleared away.

After crossing the Sound we re-entered the ICW and navigated around a few boats.  After that it was mostly smooth cruising through the winding waterway, grateful there were not more small fishing boats for which we would have to slow down. And lucky for us, the rain held off and stayed south of us for the rest of the day.

We had several other Sounds to cross including Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo, and St. Catherine’s before coming to a stopping point.  Along the way it was almost all remote except near Doboy Sound where there were several houses on a spit of land in the middle of nowhere.

Remote house near Doboy Sound

Our cruising was uneventful and we easily made our way north to our fuel stop in Richmond Hill, Ga. This was a quite a place and warrants a story.

The Kilkenny Marina is really in the middle of nowhere, just a few miles off the ICW up Kilkenny Creek.  This is low-country Georgia and nothing is around here but sawgrass marsh, small rivers and the ICW.  However, it is not far off of I-95 and is a popular place with locals for launching their boats.  They have a marina store, fuel (cheapest in the area), bait shop (with bait caught by the owners), and a boat launch that is like nothing we have seen.

While Mark was fueling the boat, Denise spoke with “Danny” who told her that his dad had built the marina and he and his brother (Robert) have been working at it since they were in their 20’s.  They helped to construct the docks and the wood deck, as well as the lift.  Since their father passed away in 2012, the two brothers have been running the place ever since.  Danny also showed Denise their bait wells full of shrimp; all of which he caught that morning in just 10 minutes, right near the marina.

About this time a young man came into the marina to launch his boat. We watched as he backed his trailer up to the lift, connect a strap to the bow eye at the front of the boat, then two at the stern and hoist it right off the trailer. Like a mechanism on a garage door opener, the hoist moved along a track positioning the boat out over the water where it was then lowered to the surface.  All of this took less than 5 minutes. Danny explained that due to the high tide swings (approx. 8’) in coastal GA waters, these type of boat launches make the most sense. A traditional ramp makes it too difficult to maneuver a trailer down a ramp, especially at low tide.  But in Maine with their 14’ tides, and in the Canadian Maritimes with their 20’ ones, they at least put a strap or two under the boat’s hull.

Once fueling was done and we paid the bill, we said good bye to Danny and got on our way. Due to the slowness of the pumps, we lost about 40 minutes trying to put fuel on board, but we didn’t have a long day so it was o.k.   We left Kilkenny Marina and in 5 minutes we were back on the ICW heading north and again passing boats we had previously passed earlier in the day.

It was still not yet noon and we were not ready to end our day cruising, even though our originally-planned anchorage was nearby.  We decided to press on, taking advantage of a high tide situation at “Hells Gate”; an area that cuts through Ossabaw Sound that is notorious for its chronic shoaling despite frequent dredging.  Since it had been dredged recently we felt confident that we didn’t need the high tide, but wanted to take advantage of it. So we continued north through the area without issue, seeing plenty of depth for our 3’6” draft boat.  In 2017, before the most recent dredging, we came through here on our way back from Maine and hit it at low tide. We had less than 3’ under our boat and probably left some paint on the sandy bottom of the cut.  We vowed never to do that again and now are much more prudent in this area.

Once clear of this area, we cruised north for only a few more miles to our new anchorage for the night at Possum Point. This is just up the Vernon River and right off the ICW where it turns to the east and snakes between Burnside Island and Skidaway Island.  We still had plenty of daylight and could have pressed on, but wanted to anchor somewhere new and this spot had a good review.

We easily set the anchor and used a pole in the marsh as a guide to ensure our anchor held and we didn’t drift.  The river was wide enough that we were not rocked by too many passing fishing or recreational boaters. A little further up the river we could see several nice large homes that lined the shore. All were big and many had long docks out to their boats.  This is really the suburbs of Savannah and obviously it is prime real estate.

Pole on shore

It was relaxing and the weather was nice with a light breeze. Denise worked on posting the last blog and Mark did some work and read his book.  One thing we didn’t like about the anchorage were the bugs. They seemed to come out of nowhere and we soon had them all over the inside of the boat.  We put up our makeshift screen and tried a bug/mosquito contraption we had got on the Loop, but we still had a handful that were making us crazy.  Finally we gave up and closed up the boat then Mark broke out the vacuum to rid the critters from our floating home.

Screen to keep bugs out

We had a nice dinner of Caesar salads with leftover baked chicken from our freezer stash.  We were treated to a nice sunset and even saw a few dolphins playing in the water not far from our boat.  Although it was overcast and we didn’t see many stars, it was nice night and we were grateful for the calm winds.

Sunset at Possum Point

Changes in Jekyll!

Jekyll Island, FL – Saturday, 4/17

Despite the forecast for lots of rain to come in during the night, it continued to be delayed. We did get a few sprinkles here and there, but not the downpour we were expecting. The wind completely died down and when we awoke there was a coolness in the air.  With overcast skies and a slight drop in temperature, heat was required.  So Denise cranked up the generator, put on the heat and settled in for a nice cup of coffee and some quiet time before Mark woke up.

Sadly, this morning we needed to leave Cumberland Island and make some progress north, although not too much. Our next destination would be Jekyll Island; a fun and familiar place to stop.  It was not going to be a far or a difficult cruise with less than 30 miles to cover. Our biggest challenge would be crossing St. Andrews Sound with its constant shoals and wide exposure to the open Atlantic Ocean. 

Shortly after 9:00 we pulled up the anchor and headed out so we could spend more time at Jekyll Island. We left a peaceful and calm anchorage and pulled back into the ICW where it too was peaceful and calm.  We made our way past the submarine degaussing station and base at St. Mary’s, and cruised through the low-country marshes of Georgia.

Just north of the sub base there is a large patch of land known as Cabin Bluff that is the oldest hunting club in Georgia.  The property houses an Orvis®-endorsed fly fishing lodge and Beretta wing shooting lodge. Over the years it has been used as a fishing and hunting club, as well as a location for corporate meetings and retreats. We have always cruised through this area knowing it is in a beautiful but remote spot. 

Today we discovered it was sold in 2018 by its owner, Westrock (a paper and packaging company).  The land was purchased by the Nature Conservatory to protect the site’s endangered, threatened and rare plants and animals, and to ensure long-term conservation of the property.  Of the nearly 11,000 acres, 7,000 of it was deeded to the GA Department of Natural Resources. In addition to preservation of the property, the US military had a vested interest in ensuring the land would not be developed into a resort, as it is a strategic location for protecting the submarine base to its south.

In 2020, the Nature Conservatory sold 3200 acres of the camp to a mega-church in Jacksonville, FL (“Church Eleven22“) where they will use it as a retreat center.  It will not be open to the public, and the sale makes the creation of a wildlife management area possible. Potential uses include wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, kayaking and nature photography. The state of GA, and the US Navy co-hold a conservation and restrictive easement over the now privately owned portion of Cabin Bluff, and the state is expected to take owner of the remaining land in 2021.

We meandered up the ICW through the marshlands and got to see some great birds, including a bald eagle (sorry no picture).  There was almost no boat traffic and we did not have to worry about passing any of the slower fishing boats, sail boats or cruisers. Eventually we approached St. Andrews Sound and had to make a decision which route to take.  There are two ways to get through the sound: the western route that goes around a series of low barrier islands, or the route directly across the sound.  Since there was little wind and an incoming tide, we decided to cross the sound and did so without any issue. In fact it was quite calm and in less than 15 minutes we entered the Jekyll River and approached Jekyll Island.

It does not take long to go from St. Andrews Sound to the Jekyll Island marina and soon we were docking on the very long dock they put all transient boaters.  Their very knowledgeable dockmaster Chris, and helper Devon, assisted with our tie-up and had power connected in no time.  In the process we learned from these guys that the marina had been sold last fall and that a couple had purchased it from the previous owners; a group of men, one of whom we knew (Dave Blue) from our Jacksonville days. He also owned and still owns the marina where we kept our sailboat.

One of the reasons we made the stop in Jekyll was to be able to go to mass. We knew that the church in Brunswick, GA had a mission on the island with a Saturday evening vigil.  However, the information we had regarding whether or not this was still available was conflicting. Due to COVID, it appeared services were no longer offered on the island, but other information indicated there was a 7 pm Sat. evening vigil.  Denise decided she would go to the location of the church itself and see if there was any information physically posted.  So, she grabbed a loaner bike from the marina, rode the 3 miles to the church and 3 miles back, talking to her sister Claire the entire time on the cell phone. It made for an easy ride and some welcomed exercise. From the posting at the church there was a phone number to call for information and once back at the marina, Denise confirmed that there would in fact be a Catholic mass at 7:00 pm.

Church services

Meanwhile, back at the boat, Mark filled the water tanks and washed down the outside that somehow got filthy during our 2 nights at anchor.  He met and talked to several people along the docks as this is a very friendly place.  We then settled in to eat lunch; all this occurred before noon!

Putting water on the boat

In the afternoon several Looper boats came into the marina and we spoke with them, exchanging boat cards and talking about future destinations. Denise worked on the blog and Mark handled some financial transactions for our business.  We wanted to spend more time talking to the other boaters, but the gnats and no-see-ums were so bad we could not stand to be outside the boat.  Because of this, and the need to keep the boat sealed up, we ended up putting on the air conditioner despite otherwise a very comfortable temperature.  We have encountered the bugs here in the past, but usually only around sunset; it has never been this bad during the day.

IO at Jekyll Island Marina

Later we went on a short outing into the village as we needed milk for breakfast. We knew we could find it at the Jekyll Market so we used the marina golf cart (available for the guests) and drove towards the village. As we were leaving the marina property we were stunned to see a condominium and townhouse complex being built at the edge of the property.  This area is very low-lying and the wetland and marshes run right up to the road, causing flooding in some situations already. It is also why the marina has such an abundance of the aforementioned bugs. We could not believe they would actually build something on this piece of land, but they have.

Apparently building on this parcel had been part of the plans for the marina when it was originally built, but it was never developed. Prior to the recent marina sale, the land was sold for such development, skirting the “no more development on the island” rules because of its previous pre-approval. We learned this from the new owner whom we met on our way to get milk.  We knew immediately that he was the new owner as he was getting off of his boat, a large “Ocean Yacht” that now resides in the #1 slip space on the dock.

Marina owners boat

We took the golf cart into the village and found it difficult to park. The place was swarming with people and they were busier than we have ever seen.  We finally secured a parking spot, walked into the market, got our milk and left right away.  With all the people all about, and with mask-wearing not required, we did not want hang around very long.  We were back at the marina in 15 minutes with the golf cart parked in its shed.

Back at the boat we decided on an early dinner at Zachry’s Riverhouse, the restaurant at the marina.  We knew with a 7:00 pm mass we needed to eat early and to allow time to get to church. Mark had arranged for a hired driver as the Uber cars were not available, and it was too far to walk.  We could have used the loaner bicycles, but with the coming rain and that it would be dark when we left, we did not think this would be a good idea.  So we went to dinner and sat at the bar so we would not have to wait for a table. We had simple salads with tuna (Mark) and grilled shrimp (Denise) and left feeling satisfied with our meal.

Later we met our driver at the marina office and she took us to the church.  St. Francis Xavier Catholic church is located in Brunswick; a short 8 miles away.  But the parish has services on the island and calls it a mission. Since it does not have its own physical location, it “rents” space at the Methodist church.  The Episcopalians do as well.  So there are 3 different Christian denominations that hold services in the same building.

It was pouring raining by the time we arrived, and managed to get inside before getting too soaked. We made plans with our driver to pick us up in an hour, figuring the usual mass takes approximately that long.  We were greeted by a very nice woman and realized we had forgotten our masks back on the boat. Gratefully, the church had some disposable ones at the entrance and we graciously accepted them.  There was a very light crowd in attendance, so social distancing was not an issue.  One thing we did not count on was that there was no singing and with a small crowd for communion the mass was only 35 minutes.  This meant we would have to wait nearly 25 minutes for our ride to pick us up, and since it was still raining outside we weren’t too thrilled. 

While Mark called our driver, Denise spoke with the woman who greeted us when we arrived. She offered to return us to the marina, but we advised that we had someone picking us up. She and her husband were like the “super couple” of the mass: he did the readings and the ushering, she did the greetings, and they both took up the offertory during the mass.  They were also responsible for locking everything up and they graciously waited with us until our driver arrived, so as not to put us out in the rain.  We asked about the attendance and the shortness of the mass. They advised that they used to have singing, but the women who played the organ and was the cantor was elderly and died of Covid. Many of the usual parishioners have not returned yet, and no one is there to lead them in song.  Our driver arrived and we thanked them for their patience and generosity. Truly these were Christians looking to help their neighbor.

Mission church

When we returned to the marina the rain had stopped for a bit.  Walking down the dock to the boat we had a chance to meet another cruisier (non-Looper) on a large Endeavor Cat (catamaran) that were full-time live-boards.  They were from Annapolis area and we spoke about their boat and cruising areas in the Chesapeake. We exchanged boat cards and agreed to look them up if time permitted when we are up their way.  By this time the bugs were eating us alive so we bolted back to our boat and stayed in for the rest of the night.  Denise worked on the blog and Mark read a book until finally around 10 pm we crawled into bed with the once again pitter-pattering of the rain.

National Treasure!

Cumberland Island, GA – Thursday, 4/15

We knew that once we left Fernandina we would have only 6 miles to the anchorage at Cumberland Island, so we were in no big hurry to get off the dock. Because of this, Denise was able to get in a run. It worked out great that it was 2 miles from the marina to the entrance at Ft. Clinch State Park; a straight out-and-back down Center St. all the way.  Here she ran through downtown Fernandina, passed through the residential section, took in two parks and a slight hill, before turning around and heading back to the boat.

One of the parks (Egan Park) was full of early morning exercisers. Some had just finished up a yoga class, and others were doing “loops” in the park. Others were using the exercise equipment that is like a “seniors” playground. We had seen a similar park like this in Newport, Rhode Island in 2019, but never knew there was one like this here.  One runner told her there are four ¼ mile each loops in the park and that is what the walkers and runners were completing with a coach cheering their progress.  What a great find and good information to share with other Loopers who might be interested in some exercise while on their cruising adventure.  Here are some pictures from this outing:

Once back at the boat, and with breakfast and showers done, it was time to leave this cool town.  Whether a boater or just a traveler looking for a neat small town, we highly recommend this location. It has been a favorite of ours for years, and continues to delight us every time we come here.

We left the marina and cruised past the industrial area, eventually crossing the St. Mary’s inlet. Here we watch for submarines transiting to and from the Atlantic Ocean.  Although we saw none today, we have in the past and it is always thrilling.

We arrived at Cumberland Island and had plenty of options on where to anchor; it is a large area and there were few boats.  Once settled in we ate some lunch and then spent the afternoon getting caught up on emails, doing some work, and relaxing. It was overcast and breezy, and when the wind was against the outgoing tide the water slapping the boat’s hull was bit loud.

Cumberland Is Anchorage – South

Cumberland Island is part of the National Parks and is known for its sandy white dunes, long flat beach, and the wild horses that roam all over the island.  About half way up the island is the Greyfield Inn where John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife were married.  In 2017 we were able to dine at the inn and tie up to their dock for the night, but the park was closed due to hurricane damage. Now the park is reopened and we are anxious to go explore this island.

Near mid-afternoon Todd & Patty (“Alcyone”) came by in their dinghy to see if we wanted to join them on a walk into the park. They too had anchored, arriving before us that morning.  We thanked them but declined as we had things we wanted to get done and are planning to go inside the park tomorrow when we have a full day to enjoy it. These were nice folks and we hope our paths will cross with theirs again sometime.

After that, Mark took a nap and Denise worked on cataloging pictures and writing the last blog until the power on her laptop computer died.  Eventually, we powered up the generator to charge all devices (iPads, iPhones, computers), and we microwaved a dinner from leftovers in the freezer. Shortly thereafter we were treated to a couple of wild horses as they foraged along the western shoreline of the island.

 After dishes were done we published the blog, and read until daylight was no more.  Despite being overcast all day, we were treated to a delightful sunset over the marsh on the western side of the anchorage.

Sunset at Cumberland Island

There is a saying among the Loopers: “9:00 is Looper Midnight” – and it was true for us. By 9:00 we could no longer keep our eyes open and turned in for the night.

Cumberland Island, GA – Friday, 4/16

As you can probably guess, when you go to bed early, you wake up early.  But a 1:30 am wake-up was not what Denise had in mind. The wind had shifted and the boat did too, now pointing a different direction. The water slapping continued and it is quite loud in the master stateroom so she moved to the main salon and curled up on the settee there.  Finally sometime after 3:00 am she fell back asleep, waking at 6:30 in the morning to another day of overcast skies.

The weather forecast had the impending rain now delayed until late afternoon, so we took a chance and decided to go inside the park.  Mark launched the dinghy and we cruised to the dock where the ferry comes to drop off campers and day-trippers. 

We tied up the dinghy in the authorized spot and then walked up to the Sea Camp welcome area.  The entrance fee is $10 per person and you put your money in an envelope and drop it in a collection box.  There is a welcome building that all campers must check into when they arrive, and it was manned by a single volunteer ranger.  Due to Covid, access inside is limited, but there were very few people around so it was not an issue when we arrived.  We got our questions answered about the appropriate trails to take to see what we wanted to see, and then headed out to explore.

Cumberland Island is a long island and there is so much to see and do, there is no way we could experience it without bikes. You can rent some at the park office, but none were available when we arrived.  So, we chose a handful of things we wanted to see, mostly the ruins of the old estate home (“Dungeness”) at the southern end of the island, and the sandy beaches on the Atlantic. We could see both of these if we went to the estate home and then head east to the beach.

From the welcome area it was a bit of hike to the estate, but well worth it. We took the main road hoping to avoid the buggy path along the water.  It was tree covered path and since there was no sun, it was not a bad walk. Along the way we encountered a handful of the wild horses, including a new fawn that was being very protected by the others.  They literally were within 8 feet of us and this was quite a thrill.

We came upon the estate and toured the ruins of the house, originally build by Nathanael Greene (Continental Army General during the Revolutionary War), but later rebuilt by the Carnegies. The entire estate stayed in the Carnegie family until the last of the children died, then it was deeded to a trust who turned it over to the National Park Service. The family wanted to make sure it was never in the hands of developers who could ruin the natural beauty and incredible wildlife on the island.  You can learn more about this very cool place here.

At one point we stopped to talk to one of the maintenance workers on the island who told us what it was like to work here.  He mentioned the wildlife (snakes and gators) he has captured, and we talked about the wild horses. He told us there are around 175, but this year they have lost count because so many have been having babies, as have the eagles on the island. To us it felt like the bugs too had been multiplying and we were getting bitten and swarmed. So we thanked him for his time and pressed on towards the beach.  Here we once again encountered the wild horses as they had made a full circle of the grounds and were now following us.

The pathway that led to the beach was long and it felt like a million miles to Mark. It started out ok, then turned into soft sand, and then over the wetlands there was a wooden boardwalk that took you to the dunes and the beach area.  Here we found a large driftwood tree, and numerous jelly fish that had washed up on the island.  We also saw all kinds of birds along the water and very few people. We also encountered an ATON (aids to navigation) that had to be a remnant from one of the hurricanes.  Here are some pictures:

Knowing we did not want to have to deal with the mass swarms of gnats and bugs around the estate, we chose not to go back the way we came, but to walk north on the beach. We could then pick up the cross trail near the campsites to get back to the Sea Camp Welcome Center.  This was the smart decision as the cloud cover kept the temperature amenable, and there were no bugs.  Plus, we got to see another group of wild horses, once again protecting yet another young fawn.

Wild horses on beach

The path back to Sea Camp was much easier, but now there were more people in the park. They request social distancing and we did our best to keep away from others, even on the narrow paths.  We again encountered a horse, but with all the people about we moved past him quickly to give space; they recommend you do not touch or approach them as they will kick and bite. 

We arrived back to the welcome center just at the ferry had showed up with a bunch of weekend campers and all their gear.  Likewise there were people waiting to leave on the ferry, so we had to wait until the gangplank was cleared of all before we could get back to our dinghy, and then back to the boat.   It was a fun outing and we were really glad that we stopped here.

IO at CI anchorage

Once back on the boat we ate a late lunch and then worked on our travel itinerary for the coming days.  We have had a few things to potentially change our original schedule (work, a memorial service for a friend) and now we are putting in contingencies.  Denise read a book, and worked on the blog while Mark did some client work, marina scheduling and took a nap. 

In the late afternoon it started to rain and it is expected to continue all night and all day tomorrow.  We had a delicious dinner of poached salmon and roasted asparagus and some red wine; after all it is Friday!

We are headed to Jekyll Island tomorrow; it is one of our favorite spots along the GA coast and we are looking forward to returning there.

Fun and Funky Fernandina

Fernandina Beach, FL – Tuesday, 4/14

We left St. Augustine at 8:00 am as planned knowing our travel today would only take about 3 hours.  Mark had hoped to go offshore to Fernandina Beach (via St. Mary’s Inlet) but the seas did not lay down as expected overnight.  So it would be the ICW all the way, winding our way north and slowing for the inevitable fishing boats, slower trawlers, and sailboats along the way.

Morning on the San Sebastian River

The trip was mostly uneventful. We passed by the ever-increasing houses with boat docks in Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach.  Denise likes the one on the edge of the state park, particularly their tree fort (not visible in picture).

We passed under all the bridges that are part of Jacksonville, and navigated the shoals of the entrance at the St. John’s River. Here we saw several ships at anchor in the river, and grateful none were moving as can often be the case. This is usually a busy area with large freighters and container ships moving up and down the river as they make their way to the Port of Jacksonville.  Fortunately, the crossing was uneventful and we quickly found our way back on the ICW heading north towards Fernandina Beach (Amelia Island).

At anchor in St. John’s River

We continued winding our was north, happy to see that the dredging that had been done in 2019 was holding and we did not encounter any shallow areas along the way, including around Nassau Sound; an area known for chronic shifting of the bottom and the creation of shoals. 

White Pelicans in ICW near Amelia Island

We passed under the bridge that takes you to the island and the famous Down Under Restaurant.

Downunder Restaurant

Just past the bridge is the entrance channel to the Amelia Island Marina. Last time we came this way we stayed there because the Fernandina Beach City Marina (located downtown) was still being repaired from hurricane damage suffered in 2016 and 2017. But the marina is now up and running (now part of Oasis Marinas) and we had reservations for the night.

It was just a short time later that we arrived at Fernandina Marina and Captain Mark expertly parallel-parked our Island Office into the slip.  Immediately we were met by a knowledgeable young dockhand who assisted with tie-up and our power connection. Within 10 minutes he was back with our Welcome Kit, and all the information we need for our stay. Everything was very efficient and we didn’t have to go up to the office to check-in. Additionally, we were on the inside of the long dock, which meant the big yachts across the dock on the outside would be blocking all the boat traffic passing along the ICW.  We were very happy.

We spent the afternoon doing work; Denise had 2 conference calls and Mark had a few issues to handle with clients.  Mark then washed all the salt off the boat while Denise did some in-house chores, periodically getting interrupted by passers-by who commented on our boat.  In the last few days on the ICW, and at this marina we have seen more Looper burgees on boats then we have ever seen.  More and more people are discovering this fun and exciting adventure, and as “Gold Loopers” we are always happy to accommodate.

Because of Covid we were not sure what we would find open for restaurants, but it appears all but one has some form of take-out or dining in options.  We were glad to find our favorite “Timoti’s” was open and opted for a quick and delicious bite at this family-friendly outdoor-only dining establishment.

Once our stomachs were full of food we wandered up and down the main street (Center St) of Fernandina and was delighted to see many of the shops were still in business. It must have been a tough few years for this town, but it looks like it is back up and running.  There were several new stores and a few old ones, and we were happy to see that the famous Palace Saloon was still operating in its newer post-fire digs. When we lived in Jacksonville and would take our sailboat here, this was a familiar stop at the end of a long day of off-shore sailing up from Mayport.

Palace Saloon

After our walk around downtown, we walked the long dock at the marina, and introduced ourselves to Loopers Todd & Patty on “Alcyone” (like Halcyone without the H).  They are from Michigan and have been on the Loop since 2019, interrupted in 2020 due to Covid and some real estate transactions that now have them owning a place in Punta Gorda, FL.   We chatted for a while and then completed our walk back to our boat for the night.  Tomorrow we will head towards Cumberland Island, GA, leaving the state of Florida in our wake.

IO at Fernandina Marina

And we are off!

This begins our latest adventure to once again cruise the waters of Maine for the summer, with a few side trips along the way. On our way north we intend to spend time in North Carolina completing the “Albemarle Loop”; stopping at several of the 10+ towns along the Albemarle Sound offering free dockage for up to 2 nights each.  We also intend to go up the Hudson River for the annual Pig Roast at Shady Harbor Marina in New Baltimore, NY in June, and then head back down the Hudson River and through Long Island Sound north into New England. We also are hoping to get to Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and other spots on Cape Cod, either on the way up or on the return trip home.

St. Augustine, FL – Tuesday, 4/13

Having loaded our boat full of fuel, food, clothes and personal items, we went to bed Monday night exhausted from all the prep work for this adventure. Special thanks to Denise’s sister Jeanne who took us and all our stuff to the boat, and then to a fun dinner at Grill in Port Canaveral.

In the morning we had not much to do to get off the docks, as Mark had done most of the work before going to bed. Truthfully, he just wanted that extra 15 minutes of sleeping-in time. With that in mind, we did leave just after sunrise and headed down the barge canal to the ICW. Here the undisturbed water was so pristine and the wildlife was out chasing their breakfast.

Once on the ICW we moved quickly and in no time we passed by Titusville, the Haulover Canal and entered Mosquito Lagoon.  We watched a few boats from the Boston Whaler plant in Edgewater go through a few checkout runs and passed a few other Loopers heading north for the summer.  We continued making good time through New Smyrna, around Ponce Inlet and into the Halifax River.  As we passed through Daytona Beach we discovered that (finally) all the bridge construction was done and there was fast and easy passage underneath them all.

As we got north of town we noticed the wind had picked up, and there was a bit of chop on the water. Because it was on our nose it bounced the boat a bit, but it was tolerable and short-lived.  Eventually, the ICW turns narrow again and the wind was blocked by the land and buildings along the way. It was about this time that we saw a south-bound vessel approaching flying a Gold Looper Burgee.  About the time we realized it was the boat “Velomer” and our friends Bob and PM, and they hailed us on the VHF radio.  We chatted about our last encounter (Jekyll Island in Nov 2019) and our respective plans (they are headed to Vero, then on to SW Florida). It is this chance meeting that never ceases to amaze us in the boating community.

We continued north without issue and before long we passed through Flagler Beach, then Palm Coast, then past Fort Matanzas in South St. Augustine.  Finally, we prepared to turn up the San Sebastian River, where we encountered not one, but two pirate ships out with their tours. Only in St. Augustine!

Fifteen minutes later we moved to the Marine Oil and Fuel Supply to fill up on fuel. This year the prices are higher than they have been in a long time and we will be searching for the best price, even if it means going a little out of our way.  After we completed the fill-up we moved back down the river to the Rivers Edge Marina where we had reservations for the evening.

Our plans for the night included meeting up with an old high school friend of Denise’s and her husband.  We last saw Staci and Todd in Panama City Beach when we were on the Great Loop in 2015.  They have since moved to St. Augustine and are now closer to their family and old friends like us.  We ate dinner at Hurricane Patty’s, the restaurant at the marina as it was convenient and the food was pretty good, but the service was slow. However, the conversation was great and we hardly noticed. Two hours later we finally said good bye and promised to connect again on the return south. Despite claiming all night long that we should take pictures, we forgot and when we remembered it was too dark to do so. Oh well!

Once back on the boat, we looked at the weather, made plans for the next day’s departure, and went to bed early for some much needed rest.