Alligator River Marina – Columbia, NC – Tuesday 10/29
We left Poquoson very early and just as the sun was coming up. Our plan today was to get as far south as possible, but that would depend on how long we would have to wait for (restricted) bridge openings and a lock. There was also the expected slowdown for the numerous slower boats (sailboats & trawlers) we would have to pass as all are migrating south for the warmer weather.
We left the Whitehouse Cove marina, cruised around Cow Island and the Poquoson Flats, and entered the Chesapeake Bay. It was a little bumpy at first, but as we continued turning more south things settled down and we had a calm ride. We passed by the Old Port Comfort Lighthouse and the Fort Monroe, eventually entering into Norfolk Harbor and heading east along the Elizabeth River. We saw many Navy boats in port for maintenance, upgrades and/or repair on both sides of the river, and we even saw a pink container ship. In not time we were making our way past Hospital Point and the downtown area of Norfolk.
We took a right and entered the ICW, where we will cruise for the next two weeks and 895 statute miles until we reach our home port of Harbortown Marina, in Merritt Island. Our hope was to get past Coinjock and hopefully to an anchorage on the North River, just before crossing the Albemarle Sound. Because of the bridges and lock with their restricted opening schedules, it makes it difficult to predict where we would be able to get to.
Our timing was good as we easily passed under the first two raised railway bridges that were in the UP position with no trains coming. We had our fingers crossed about the next set of bridges, however as we have gotten stuck here in 2017. Sure enough, as we approached the Gilmerton Highway Bridge we saw the queue of boats that were already waiting on its opening. For us, this bridge has a clearance we can get under when closed, but the Norfolk-Southern Railroad #7 Bridge immediately afterwards does not. This means we had to wait with all the others including sailboats, trawlers and sportfish boats.
After motoring in place for 40 minutes, the bridges opened and boats were allowed to pass through. Fortunately, the boats with low clearance were given the ok to go ahead first as the railroad bridge takes longer to open. This was a bonus for us as it meant all the slower sailboats would be behind us and we would not have to pass them, at least for now.
Once through the bridges we were able to cruise at top speed for a few miles. However, we had to stop and get fuel, and Top Rack Marina was only 5 miles away. The good news is that because we were ahead of most all the other boats we arrived ahead of others who also wanted to get some fuel. This allowed us to fill our tanks and be on our way in no time. Unfortunately, we had to pass several of the sailboats that had now passed us from the Gilmerton Bridge queue and this slowed us down so that we missed the 11:00 opening schedule for the Great Bridge Lock and Great Bridge Bridge openings. After another 40 minute wait we were able to get in the lock for the noon bridge opening and were on our way in 15 minutes.
Once through the Great Bridge Lock and the Great Bridge Bridge, we kept our fingers crossed hoping to arrive at the North Landing Bridge (one notoriously known for breaking) for the next opening. But first we had to pass all the boats that were in the first lock through that passed us when we stopped for fuel. Our timing worked out such that we hit the North Landing Bridge and did not have to wait long for an opening. Now we could cruise comfortably on the North Landing River leaving VA behind and entered into North Carolina. We also were done with locks for the rest of our trip.
We entered and cruised through most of the Currituck Sound without issue, until we came to its southern end. Here there were a handful of boats already stacking up as they made their approach into Coinjock Marina. We had to slow down a bit to allow these boats to get positioned along the 1200 foot dock, and to slowly cruise past the marina. It was 2:30 pm and we were happy to be NOT stopping here for a change.
Although we had been going for 7 hours, we wanted to press on and at least get across the Albemarle Sound because the winds were forecasted to increase tomorrow and that would make for a bumpy passing. We had considered trying to go to an anchorage on the south side of the Alligator River Bridge south of the Sound, but once we calculated the distance we realized that we would be arriving too close to dark. So we called the Alligator River Marina to see if they had a spot for us for the night, which they did. The marina is north of the bridge but on the south side of the Sound, and we stayed there on our way north in April.
We crossed the Albemarle and headed to the marina, arriving just after 4:00 pm. We settled the boat and then went to check in at the marina office. This marina has nothing around it and it is just off the highway that goes over the Alligator River to the NC Outer Banks. The Marina Office is really the gas station, convenience store, souvenir shop, and grill rolled into one. They have a reputation for their southern fried chicken which we had never tried. However, tonight we decided to give it a try as we were too tired to cook onboard. We put in our order and Denise went back to pick it up just before 6:00 pm while Mark rinsed the salt off the boat.
By the time we were back on the boat to eat our dinner, the mosquitos had come out and the marina got really quiet. It was quite different then when we were here in the spring with all the Loopers heading north. Aside from the early sunset, the majority of the boats were heading south to flee the cold weather of north, so there was no “docktails” organized or much socializing. We watched a little tv before crashing early; tomorrow was planned to be another long day and we needed our rest.
Beaufort, NC – Wednesday 10/30
As soon as it was light enough we left the Alligator River marina and made our way out of the marina and through the Alligator River Bridge, and headed south in the river. We got treated to a beautiful sunrise, and eventually a rainbow, even though it wasn’t raining.
The Alligator River is wide-open, but it has a narrow channel for boat travel and you must be careful so you don’t get out of the channel and run aground. Captain Mark took us safely through this area and around a few boats, and then we entered the Alligator-Pungo Canal. This is a 10 mile stretch of nothing but trees on both sides and the only part of the ICW where there is no cell coverage. It can be beautifully peaceful, but all Captain Mark kept thinking about was how the tannins from the trees that color the water dark would create a coffee-like stain on the bow of our hull.
Soon we exited the canal, and entered the Pungo River, eventually passing the town of BelHaven (a place we stayed in 2017). Here the river opens up wide and we were able to pass several boats without having to slow down as there was plenty of distance for our wake to settle down before reaching them. We also passed a barge going the other way. By 10:15 we entered the Pamlico Sound, another large body of water which can be rough to cross if it is too windy. Today the wind was light and it was an uneventful crossing which took only 15 minutes to transit.
We entered Goose Creek which led to the Pamlico River and entered this canal-like river. Here there were more homes along the water and we passed some now familiar sights along the way: USCG Hoboken and the Hoboken Bridge and the RE Mayo Docks.
After this area, we were once again in wide-open waters of the Bay River. On the west side of the river are a handful of large homes, and one in particular is a standout right at the point where the Bay River leads into the Neuse River.
This is really the largest open body of water we would encounter today. Here we found that the wind had picked up and it was very bumpy at first, but only for a short while. Once we turned more west (yes) the waves were behind us and it was a more comfortable ride.
The Neuse River is a wide river and there was lots of room to pass other boats without having to slow down. We made our way west to Adams Creek and then turned south and entered another fairly narrow area of the ICW. Here we found a very populated area, with homes lining the shoreline and a few marinas along the way. This no-wake area slowed our progress, but it is not long and opens up again allowing us to go back to cruising speed.
We cruised down the ICW towards Beaufort, and as we approached the channel we watched an Osprey Helicopter fly in front of us and then land nearby. They look so much like drones.
We made our way towards the Home Smith Marina in Beaufort, were we had stayed in the spring on our way north. We settled the boat and checked in at the marina, asking about extending our stay should we need to. The weather forecast for Friday was going to be very windy and it was going to begin to get stormy in the afternoon on Thursday (tomorrow). We inquired about staying for an extra 2 nights (until Sat), but they could not guarantee it as previous reservations had them full up. This is the downside to heading south along with the “fleet” making their migrations south. We decided to go to dinner and make the call about staying in the morning.
The walk from Homer Smith Marina to downtown is about a half mile, and it provided a good chance to get some exercise. We went to dinner at Aqua, a restaurant that had been recommended by Back Cove friends the Argosy’s (“Seabird”) whom we cruised with from Southport in the spring. The food it was great and we would highly recommended it. We walked back to the boat and called it an evening, knowing our plans were up in the air for the coming days.
Wrightsville Beach, NC – Thursday 10/31
Denise was up early and decided to throw in a load of laundry since it was free, knowing it could be washed and dried before we would leave (if we chose to). It was dead calm in the marina and the threat of high winds from the south were not forecasted until later in the afternoon. Our biggest concern was the Cape Fear River; it is wide open for the last 15 miles before Southport and very exposed to the South. We would be trying to cruise down it at the time the wind would be the strongest.
We battered around the idea of leaving and going only part of the way, knowing it meant staying somewhere for 2 days (until Saturday). We also had to stay in a location where we could get to a Catholic Church as tomorrow (Friday) was All Saints Day; a holy day of obligation in our faith. We had identified that Wrightsville Beach had a church we could attend, and it was a place that we had never stayed before.
As we were finishing up the laundry we could see the marina was trying to figure out which confirmed reservations were still coming in, while everyone at the marina was trying to extend for the weekend. They were trying to accommodate everyone’s request and we could see it was getting to be a challenge. We made the decision to leave and head to Wrightsville Beach and when we told them they were very appreciative for releasing our slip.
It was just before 9:00 when we got off the dock and headed out to the ICW. We easily cruised around the docks at Morehead City and into Bogue Sound. This area is wide open and we were concerned with the wind here, but it was still calm and we had an uneventful passage through this area. We did however, have to pass a number of slower boats, requiring us to slow down each time.
We easily made progress through Swansboro and miraculously we arrived shortly before noon for the restricted opening of the Onslow Beach Bridge. After a short wait, we made our way through the bridge and Camp Lejeune, happy that there were no live-fire exercises this time, unlike in 2017. Side Note: we had verified this before the start of today’s passage and were grateful there were none; last week and next week they were scheduled and would have made this a very long wait if in fact they were taking place).
Mark had found a cheap place for fuel just south of this area, so we stopped at the New River Marina to fill up. The current was running very fast through this area, but the Captain did a great job docking the boat. We were here for 40 minutes and as we were leaving the USCG had a queue of boats coming in for their fill-ups as well. It is good to see they are trying to maximize the value of the US Taxpayer dollars for fuel.
We continued down the ICW south, passing the towns of Surf City and Topsail Beach, as well as the barge the “RL Enterkin” whom we had passed in the Alligator River.
We went under several bridges and passed by houses on shore that have now-familiar statues and sculptures in their backyards. Eventually we came to the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, which was opening for a sailboat in front of us, but we could scoot under even if they didn’t open.
Immediately thereafter on our right side was the Bridge Tender Marina, and our stop for the night. By this time the wind had picked up and the current was running fast, but once again Captain Mark parked our boat on a side-tie dock, negotiating around several boats. We were met by two dockhands from the marina who helped secure the boat and gave us a warm and friendly welcome. Our friends on “Argento” had recommended this stop and we were glad when they said they had room for us for two night’s stay. All the other marinas around us were full for the night as tomorrow’s weather was keeping everyone in port.
We had arrived just after 3:00 pm and had some time to catch up on emails and do a little bit of blog writing in the afternoon. We decided to eat on the boat and settled in to watch some tv. It was Halloween and we had no costumes, party or trick-or-treaters to even consider for the night.
Wrightsville Beach, NC – Friday 11/1
We spent the morning on the boat doing office work, cataloging pictures, and talking to clients. We had already done research for where to attend church, and at 11:30 we took an Uber the 1+ mile for noon mass at “St. Terese of Liseure”. Normally we would have enjoyed the walk and time to explore this new-to-us area, but as forecasted, the weather became very windy and a bit cool.
The church of St. Terese of Liseure is located right on the beach, sandwiched between homes and condominiums. It is a small church but has terrific facilities, including a small parish hall the backside of which has a large deck with grills for barbeques. The entire property is located directly on the beach, and they have a viewing tower that affords a fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean. After mass we walked around the property and climbed up the tower to take a few pictures.
After mass, we were able to bum a ride off of one of the parishioners who was at mass and going back over the bridge to the mainland. Once again, we are always appreciative of the kindness of others that we experience when we go on these cruising adventures.
In the afternoon we hunkered down on the boat, and continued with work and blog writing. We did some research and made a decision that tomorrow (Saturday) we would blow past Southport and go all the way to Georgetown, SC. We like town and the marina there, and we knew there was a Catholic Church we could attend on Sunday. This meant staying two nights there, but as it would be a long day on the water, we were ok with staying two nights.
We had made reservations for dinner at “Jerry’s” a local restaurant recommended to us by the dockmaster. We stopped by the marina office just before we were going to walk down to the restaurant, and had the chance to meet the son of the marina owners. Jay Baker was very friendly and he gave us a run down on his parents various businesses in the area; 2 restaurants and a gift shop in addition to the marina. He was very personable, and ended up giving us a ride to the restaurant. Along the way he pointed out his house, as well as his mother’s house (his father is now deceased). It was pure southern hospitality and we enjoyed talking with him and getting to know more about the Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach area.
The restaurant was not very big, but they had delicious food and very fresh seafood. We enjoyed our meal and then walked back to the boat along a road that was lined with cute homes.
In addition to the Bridge Tender Marina, there are several other marinas in this area. There are also several nice restaurants and several cute shops within a mile. But all of these will have to wait for another visit for us to explore as we are leaving tomorrow and won’t have any more time to explore them. Here are some pictures from the area around the marina:
Georgetown, SC – Saturday 11/2
Knowing we had a big day ahead of us, we left the Bridge Tender Marina at 7:30, and just after several other boats had left surrounding marinas. Eventually, we would pass some of them along the way. It was partly cloudy and cool, with a warming trend expected.
We headed south and immediately encountered several sailboats and trawlers that we had to slow down to pass. It was slow going and took us an hour to go 10 miles to the Carolina Beach area. Finally, however we were able to get passed most of the boats and through Snow’s Cut, where we entered the Cape Fear River. We were so thankful that we had not been on this body of water yesterday; it would have been miserably uncomfortable. But today it was mostly flat and we were able to travel past the Army Terminal at Sunny Point and around any slower boats with ease.
We approached the Southport area and cruised past the restaurants and boats in the marinas without any issues. It was just after 9:00 am and although we usually stop here, we were pressing on to take advantage of a good weather day, and make up for those bad weather days that have held us up on our trek home.
The next few hours were slow-going as much of ICW in North Carolina is lined with houses that have docks and boats that may or may not be in the water; requiring us to “watch our wake”. Add to this the sailboats and trawlers that we once again had to pass, many of whom had leap-frogged us while we stayed a second day in Wrightsville Beach. We continued south and through the town of Holden Beach where we are amazed that an old boat and dock area still has not been cleaned up, even though it is an apparent eye sore and hazard to navigation.
Finally, just before 11:30 am we traversed the Little River Inlet and entered the state of South Carolina. Here too this inlet has an abandoned wreck, areas with shoaling, and small fishing boats. Today we also got to see a casino gambling boat heading offshore through the inlet.
Once through this area, we approached the North Myrtle Beach area which was crowded with many pleasure boats. It was tedious and challenging, and is a primary reason we try not to travel on a weekend day. It had also started to get hot and Denise changed to shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt. We approached the New River Swing Bridge and was able to get through it without issue as it opens on demand.
Finally, the congestion died down for a little while and we were able to cruise through an area known as the “Rock pile” easily. Here we passed by the Grand Strand Airport with the only identifier is the large antennae for the airport that sits right on the edge of the ICW.
We continued south through Myrtle Beach, passing the Barefoot Marina one side and Lulu’s at Barefoot Landing on the other. This area continues with the redevelopment and has really changed since our first time through here in 2015.
South of this area the shoreline on both sides becomes residential with many new houses and developments now established that wasn’t here 4 years ago. Needless to say it was slow-going again and this is why Captain Mark would prefer to take the “outside” route in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the seas were not conducive to this today.
Once again we had been shopping fuel and decided to stop at Osprey Marina on the south end of town, and just off the ICW. But first we had to get through the Socastee Swing Bridge, which fortunately opens on demand. Once past this bridge we headed to Osprey for a fill-up and a free pump-out.
It took no time at all before we were back on the ICW, and entering the Waccamaw River. Here the ICW is mostly rural and is one of Denise’s favorite parts of the ICW. There are only a handful of structures between here and Georgetown, including the Bucksport and Wacca Wache Marinas.
Soon we approached Georgetown and hailed the Harborwalk Marina on the radio. There were several boats arriving at the same time so we were asked to hold off until they were able to get them docked. Eventually, we got the approval to dock and Mark backed us into a tight slip right next to a Fleming yacht. It was 4:30 pm and it had taken us 8+ hours to go 106 miles. We were tired and hot and couldn’t wait to get showers.
We checked into the marina and returned to the boat for showers and a much deserved cocktail. On the way we noticed there was another Back Cove (’26) in the marina near our boat. We stopped and talked with them for a bit to talk about our travel adventures this summer, and Back Cove/Sabre boats.
We originally were thinking a pizza dinner, but did not find anything that looked attracting to us. We had also learned that today was the annual “Taste of Georgetown” festival, which ended at 3:00 pm. It was too bad that it didn’t last until later in the day or we would have participated. So, we decided to return to “Alfresco Bistro”; a place we ate the very first time we were in Georgetown. At that time we found it to be superb, but on this visit we were quite disappointed. While the service was good, we found the food to be mediocre at best. The waiter had told us they had been slammed all day in the restaurant, even though they had a special tent for the festival. Perhaps we will have to give them another chance the next time we visit this great little town. One positive note was there was sufficient food for us to take some back to the boat for another meal.
We walked back to our boat and watched a little tv before calling it a day and retiring for the evening.
Georgetown, SC – Sunday 11/3
Our morning started with attending the 8:00 am mass at “St Mary Our Lady of Ransom”, a church we had been to before. It is a small church just a half mile from the marina, so it is very convenient for us when cruising. The pastor is terrific and we enjoyed interacting with the entire community who we found warm and welcoming.
Mark had wanted to go to a diner for breakfast, and we were having trouble finding one that was open on Sunday. As were walking back towards the marina, and while searching for such a place, we discovered another couple from church in the same situation. We ended up meeting David & Pat (“Blue Moon”), who were sailors from Ft. Walton Beach and who were headed home for winter. Together we discovered “Aunny’s Country Kitchen” was open and we went there for a delicious and inexpensive breakfast. We got a chance to get to know each other and chat about boat-life and then we went our separate ways afterwards.
Once back on the boat we decided to do a single load of laundry, which will probably be our last one we will need to do until we get home. We also downloaded and cataloged pictures in order to try and stay on top of this time consuming task. This helps facilitate the blog updates as it is easier to remember pictures when they are fresh in our minds.
We had been in touch with our Looping friends Anne & Jeff Timmons (formerly on “Harvest Moon”) who spend a few months every fall in Murrells Inlet, SC. They agreed to come visit us in Georgetown, and stopped by on their way back from Hilton Head. We went to a late lunch at the Old Fish House restaurant and spent time talking and getting caught up on our lives. They spend winters in Cape Coral, FL and are headed there again this winter. As they have a son with their only grandchild, they are now looking for a permanent home there, and we hope to see them again there soon.
We really like Georgetown as it is one of the small towns that seems to be doing so many things right. It helps that they do have some industry here (Liberty Steel), but more importantly they don’t expect their town to survive on just restaurants and shops. They always have some type of community events going on to draw people in whenever we have been here. This weekend it was a ½ marathon and 5k race on Saturday morning, the Taste of Georgetown all day, and an Oyster Roast in the evening. We have also been here during their music festival weekend (see May 2017 post), and they have other cultural events here as well.
Also, this particular marina (Harborwalk) continues to improve itself. Since we were here 2 years ago they have put in more dockage space, moved the marina office to the fuel dock, and converted the old marina office to a nice cruisers lounge. They continue to maintain a first class facility and it is located right in the heart of downtown.
Hilton Head, SC – Monday, 11/4
We set out from Georgetown early as we were wide awake earlier than planned; still adjusting to the time change on Sunday morning. We knew it wasn’t going to take long for us to get to Charleston, and we really were not in a hurry, but since we were up, we figured we would head out. Most of the boats around us had already left, so it made leaving our spot easy to exit the slip.
It was a nice day on the water and although we had a few boats to pass, they did not delay us as in previous days. Initially the ICW is part of the Winyah Bay and affords a sufficiently wide enough channel to make passage easy. Soon thereafter the ICW turns right and for 5 miles runs along a narrow channel that is very rural. The most exciting thing here is passing the “Miss Ellie” Bridge Barge which acts as a swing bridge (officially called the “Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Bridge”) used when cars are needed between Cat Island and the mainland.
Here the ICW then continues for miles through the lowcountry of South Carolina. It is rural and not well populated, but still beautiful in its own way. There are spots along the way that are known for shoaling and it is not uncommon to encounter dredges just as we did in McClellanville.
Not long afterwards we approached Isle of Palms and saw our friend Brian Donovan’s boat (“Corporate Approved”) docked at the marina. It looked all closed up and after a few emails back and forth confirmed he was back in New York closing up his Shady Harbor Marina for the winter.
About this time we were reconsidering stopping in Charleston. While we love this town and are fortunate to have free dockage when we wish to stay, it was still early in the day we would be at the dock by lunch time. We really didn’t want to spend half the day at a dock when we could be moving south with great weather. We decided to continue on, cancelling our Charleston accommodations and calculating how far we could go. We had figured we could easily make it to Beaufort, SC and compared our options for staying the night, including anchoring out. After some discussion and weighing pros & cons, we made a reservation at the Lady Island Marina, just across from Beaufort, SC (not to be confused with Beaufort, NC).
Having decided not to stop in Charleston and after we secured dockage for the night in Beaufort, we pressed on. We cruised through Charleston Harbor, passing downtown Charleston and the city marina, and turned left heading south on the ICW.
How nice it was to have large bodies of water and no weekend boaters to contend with for most of this section. For the next few hours we cruised uneventfully on the ICW with nothing but more low country and beautiful scenery to look at.
Meanwhile we kept debating if we should even stop in Beaufort as we still would have a few more hours of cruising available. When planning our itinerary and where to stop we try to consider the weather over a 3-day window. In some cases this means changing our itinerary to get somewhere safe before bad weather, or in other cases to bypass an area to take advantage of a great weather day. Today was one of the latter days. We were now sure we could make it to Hilton Head and get across the Port Royal Sound before upcoming windy weather would make it an uncomfortable passage.
As we approached the Beaufort area we had to make a decision. We had reservations in Hilton Head at Windmill Harbor Marina for Tuesday night, so we called to see if we could move it up a day instead. They were more than happy to change our reservation, which was great news. Unfortunately, it meant we would miss the opportunity to dine at the South Carolina Yacht Club (SCYC) as they are closed on Monday nights. We cancelled the Lady Island Marina in Beaufort and made the slow no-wake passage through downtown Beaufort.
Within 30 minutes we continued south under the McTeer Bridge and headed around Parris Island (USMC Recruit Depot).
Once past the marine base we entered Port Royal Sound and made our way across it in no time. We picked up the ICW on the south side of the sound and cruised past the Skull Creek Marina on Hilton Head Island. From here it was a short cruise under the Hilton Head Bridge, around the corner of the island and lined up for entrance through the lock at Windmill Harbor Marina.
We contacted the marina on the VHF and awaited for their approval to enter the lock. We exited the lock and took our first left up the fairway that led to the assigned slip. It was almost the exact same location as when we were here in the fall of 2017. It was just before 4:00 pm and we had traveled 133 miles in 8.5 hours.
Once the boat was all situated, we went to the office to check in and review our options for getting a dinner delivered. As this marina is in a security controlled development, there are no restaurants nearby except the SCYC, which was closed. We could have taken an Uber to a local restaurant, but we were tired and didn’t feel like going out. However, the marina has a listing of restaurants that deliver, and with some local knowledge input we ordered a pizza for delivery from Bella Italia Pizza. It was good, but the driver accidently picked up the wrong order and had to turn around go back to the restaurant, then return with our order. It took way longer than expected and by the time we finally got our dinner it was late.
We really like Windmill Harbor and it is our 4th or 5th time staying here. Because of that we rarely stay at another marina on Hilton Head. Because of the nice surroundings, first class service and many amenities we would very much like to come back here for a stay of at least a week. Many of our cruising friends all stay here, especially those who live aboard and can take advantage of the pool, tennis courts, great running/walking areas, and nearby golf courses. Unfortunately, because it was dark, we did not take any pictures.
Our plans are for another long day tomorrow, in hopes of getting all the way to Jekyll Island, GA. However, we will not be able to leave until late as Denise has a conference call with a client in the morning. With a little luck we will be under way by 10:30, but …..once again we will have to stop for fuel along the way.
Stay tuned for more of our adventures on Island Office