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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.