Tag Archives: Beaufort NC

BBB – Back to Belhaven & Beaufort!

Norfolk to Belhaven

Friday (9/17) – Belhaven, NC

Today we started out not knowing where we would end up, but we had hopes of making it to Belhaven, NC, with possible stops at the Alligator River Marina, or even Coinjock. The reason we could not be certain was due to the bridges, a lock, and a fuel stop that we would have to get through. With a little luck, we would not have to wait long for any of the openings (bridges & locks) or for fuel dock space. Also of consideration was how many sailboats we would get behind and have to pass in the narrow canal. Lastly, we were not certain that the conditions on the Albemarle Sound would be conducive to crossing by the time we arrived.

With all this in mind, we left Norfolk just before 8:00 am and made our way slowly through the no-wake zone and passed the first 3 bridges that were high in clearance, or were in the “usually up” position. Our biggest concern was the next bridge, the #7 Norfolk-Southern Railway Bridge which was undergoing maintenance and had a close schedule we had been working around. Fortunately for us, the bridge maintenance was not scheduled for today, and we confirmed its opening just before we left Norfolk. We cruised through it without issue, but had to pass a few sailboats who had to wait on an opening for the Gilmerton Highway Bridge; a bridge immediately before the NS#7, but one we can fit under if it is closed.

Our next challenge was stopping for fuel at Top Rack Marina, a place we have stopped numerous times before.  Luckily we were the only boat getting fuel and we were only delayed 20 minutes for our fill-up.

Top Rack Marina – Fuel Stop

Our timing for the Great Bridge Lock (GBL) was about as good as it gets; we only had to wait 15 minutes for its once-per-hour opening. Since they have to coordinate with the Great Bridge Bridge (GBB) opening, the schedule is very tight and we had to be ready to go when they open. There was little traffic on the ICW at this point, so there were only a handful of boats in the lock with us.  However, as the gates were closing we could see several large southbound yachts that were racing to make the opening. Unfortunately, they did not arrive in time and were forced to wait for the next opening.  We kind of snickered when we noticed that one of them was “Serendipity II” – the yacht with the condescending Captain in Norfolk.

In The Great Bridge Lock
At Great Bridge Lock Park
The Great Bridge Bridge

Once through the GB Lock and the GBB, we were able to get back up to our usual cruising speed, except for passing other boats, or when transiting the remaining bridges.  Finally, we made our way to the North Landing Swing Bridge, arriving in time for the 11:00 am opening.  It had taken us 3 hours to go 20 miles and it was one of the more efficient passages through these waters we have ever had.

North Landing Bridge

We continued heading south and made our way south on the ICW through the North Landing River, and out into the Currituck Sound.  It was windy and choppy, but not sufficient to keep us from stopping as the passage here was about 10 miles before we were back in protected waters. We then cruised through Coinjock, a place we have stayed several times while awaiting weather or northbound bridges to be fixed. We were happy that it was early enough in the day that we would not be stopping here this trip.

After a fairly easy crossing of the Currituck Sound, we were optimistic that we would be able to get across the Albemarle Sound, so we proceeded south. The ICW leaves Coinjock and soon thereafter broadens into the North River, where there is no land protection from the south. However, the wind was from the north-northeast and the low-lying land was just enough to block most of it. We cruised another 8 miles and then entered the Albemarle Sound to bumpy waves and some whitecaps. There was no land to block the now increasing wind. 

Albemarle Sound

We plotted a direct straight-line course towards the Alligator River on the southern shore, and again here the crossing was not long (10 miles).  It was a bit rougher than the Currituck, but the wind and waves were from behind so it was much more comfortable than if it was crashing over the bow; we were glad we were not trying to go north.

During the crossing we calculated the remaining mileage to Belhaven and realized we would be able to make it there for the evening.  Denise was happy we would not be staying over at the Alligator River Marina, although Mark was disappointed that he would miss this gas-station marina’s fried chicken.

Just after 2:00 pm we made our way through the Alligator River Bridge and continued south, still with wind and waves bumping us along from behind. At one point we got buzzed by a military jet (F35) that was so low and loud Denise thought it was something wrong with the boat. It wasn’t until it hit the afterburners that the sound was recognizable and we could breathe a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Mark called the Belhaven Marina and secured a reservation for us for the night.

An hour later we left the Alligator River and entered the Alligator-Pungo Canal, a 20-mile stretch of the ICW where we had no cell signal.  There were no other boats on the water and the canal is lined mostly with state parkland and a few remote home sites. Eventually, we came up to the Wilkerson Bridge, and soon thereafter left the canal and entered the Pungo River.

Alligator-Pungo Canal – Wilkerson Bridge

Finally, five miles later we left the ICW and took the channel into the Belhaven Marina where we docked on a side-tie in almost the same spot as when we were here in early May. We had traveled 120 nautical miles and it took us 9 hours to get here. But we were very happy to have the bridges, locks and sounds behind us.

IO at Belhaven Marina

Once we secured the boat and checked in with the marina, we called and secured dinner reservations at Spoon River Artworks and Market. We have unsuccessfully tried to get into this farm-to-table restaurant on two other occasions, but they were closed on the days we were here. We were delighted that they could take us, and after quick showers and well-deserved cocktail, we made our way to the restaurant for a delicious meal.

In May, Denise had talked on the phone with the owner (Theresa) about the challenges with staying open during Covid, and trying to keep their staff.  While we were dining, she stopped by our table and we reminded her of our conversation. She was so apologetic for not being open then, and was delighted we came back. Then she took us back to the ‘wine room’ and gave us a free bottle of wine. It was a nice touch and we really felt appreciated. We highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who finds themselves in this great little town in NC. Even if you don’t want to eat there, the place is decorated very eclectically and you can buy anything hanging from the ceiling or off the walls. To learn more about this place you can click here.

Dinner at Spoon River
At Spoon River
Wine Room at Spoon River

We returned to the boat after dinner and spent time on the phone with family members, and a neighbor who was looking after our home.  We had two very long hot days on the water and we would be moving again tomorrow, so we went to bed early and fell fast asleep.

Saturday (9/18) – Beaufort, NC

Belhaven to Beaufort

Today’s journey was short compared to the last few days; it was only 60 miles to Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort, NC.  It was nice to sleep in and not be in a hurry to get off the dock.  We even managed to get some emails done before heading out of the Belhaven Marina at 8:45 am.

We made our way past the Belhaven Breakwater and headed back into the ICW and the Pungo River.  It was a little windy, but like yesterday it was from behind, and once again it was hot. In past years we were not this far south in Mid-September and it was much cooler; luckily, we have not had to face lightening or thunderstorms. Unlike yesterday, it was a beautiful cloudless day and made for a nice day on the water.

Belhaven Breakwater

We made our way through the Pungo River and eventually we came to the Pamlico River. The 5-mile crossing was uneventful and we were soon in the protected waters of Goose Creek.  Here we encountered lots of boats and it was slow going.  We were passed by several sport fishing boats, and we overtook a few other boaters who were enjoying this beautiful Saturday on the water.  Eventually, we cruised passed the USCG Station Hobucken and the fishing boats at RE Mayo Seafood stop; a known landmark for all ICW cruisers.

USCG Station Hobucken
At RE Mayo Seafood
At RE Mayo Seafood

Not long afterwards the ICW opens up into the Bay River and the areas on both sides of the ICW are more populated, although the houses are still far apart from one another.  We always know we are close the Neuse River when we spot on such house on the northwestern shore that sticks out from all the others.

House on point near Bay River – Pamlico Sound

We entered the Neuse River and headed west, then southwest on a diagonal crossing to Adams Creek. It was a little breezy and there were lots of sailboats enjoying the day on this large body of water. We cruised the 20 miles in relative comfort with the wind and waves behind us.  At 11:00 am we entered Adams Creek and headed south.  Here it starts out with a few homes along the shores, but eventually it becomes quite populated with many more houses and boat docks It was slow-going through this area now known as Core Creek, until the ICW widens and it becomes part of the Newport River.

Houses on Adams Creek – crossed the Neuse River
Homes on Adams Creek
Entering Newport River – near Beaufort

We then continued south a few short miles and pulled into Homer Smith Marina, located in Town Creek on the northern end of Beaufort. Our 60 mile cruise took 3.5 hours and it was still early in the day. 

Once we settled the boat we checked in with the marina for our three-night stay; relishing the fact that we would be staying somewhere more than just one night. We especially like Homer Smith Marina for many reasons including: Free laundry; free ice from the “ice house”; loaner car we can use to go to church; great restaurants in walking distance to the marina; and a great place for Denise to get in some runs.  One thing we do miss is their shrimp processing they used to do, but discontinued due to Covid. The marina is now in the process of building a new Cruisers building (with laundry, showers and captains/cruisers lounge) where it used to stand.  They also have plans to add 70 more slips in the marina.

Ice House at Homer Smith
Loaner vehicle
New Clubhouse at Homer Smith

In the afternoon our first chore was to install the newly repaired blind we had received from Ocean Air.  Unfortunately, they had also damaged it in the process of stuffing it into the shipping container, but Mark was pretty sure they could send us the parts to fix the piece that was broken.

Mostly fixed window shade

We then spent the rest of the afternoon planning our itinerary for the days after Beaufort, and made marina reservations for 3 stops in Wrightsville Beach, Bald Head, and Georgetown, SC.  We then used the marina loaner car to go to mass at St. Egberts Catholic Church for the Saturday evening vigil.

After mass, we went to Chick-Fil-A for dinner.  It had been months since we had a chance to eat at this fine dining establishment, and we had a craving. Plus, it was fast and we could press on with our other tasks.  We made a run to Walmart and were reminded why one should NEVER shop there on a Saturday evening; there is nothing left on the shelves.  They were even out of the oil Mark wanted for the boat engine.  Feeling frustrated we returned back to the marina with half our shopping list complete and with plans to return here and to Harris Teeters (grocery store) before leaving Beaufort.

Sunday (9/19) – Beaufort, NC

This is a great town for Denise to run in, with many paved residential streets not far from the marina and little to no traffic early in the morning.  Her out-and-back run took her to the downtown area and the waterfront where she checked out the handful of yachts at Beaufort Docks (marina) and at the anchorage. She continued along Front Street, all the way to the Boathouse at Front Street Village, checking out the homes that overlooked Taylor Creek along the way.  She returned back along the same path, and arrived back at the boat in time for breakfast with Captain Mark. Here are some pictures from her run:

Today was laundry day, and Denise was able to get several loads done before others in the marina tried to do the same.  With only one washer and dryer it took all morning and a bit of the afternoon to get it all done.  Meanwhile, Mark had work to do as his team has a project for a client that can only be done on the weekends (when the clients don’t have anyone on their computer systems). Later in the day, we used the loaner car and went to AutoZone to get the engine oil we could not get at Walmart yesterday.  We also went to Rose Seafood, a 7th generation family-owned market that had purchased some of the processing equipment from the owners of Homer Smith Marina when they shut down their shrimp processing in December 2020.  We met Mr. Rose, one of the owners who waited on us when we purchased some fresh shrimp for dinner, and another portion we put in the freezer for a future meal.

Rose Seafood

Once back at the marina, Mark changed the engine oil while Denise did some mending, read some articles, and then prepared a shrimp and pasta dish for dinner.  In the evening we spoke with family on the phone, and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing and streaming a few shows on TV.

Sunset at Homer Smith

Monday (9/20) – Beaufort, NC

Today was not very adventurous and there is little to write about.  In the morning, Denise took the loaner van to the grocery store and picked up a few perishable items to get us to Charleston. While she was away, Mark had a series of conference calls with clients. We spent the rest of the morning handling business issues, working on the blog, and talking with people on the telephone.

In the afternoon, we spent time working with Denise’s sister on re-planning our trip to Corning, New York the first weekend of October (10/1 – 10/4); Denise & Claire were running in the Wineglass Half Marathon on Sunday (10/3). Our original plan was to try and reach the top of the Chesapeake Bay by the end of September. Claire and her husband John were going to drive to meet us somewhere along Chesapeake and we would ride in the car with them to and from Corning.  However, we have had a few issues that have developed since our original plan, and we needed to be closer to home for after the run weekend.  This has also been one of the reasons we have been pushing to get south faster than originally planned.  Our revised itinerary now had us arriving in Charleston, SC the last week in September. With this new schedule and destination, we now were within driving distance of home.  So, we decided to leave the boat in Charleston, rent a car and drive home, and fly to NY out of Orlando. Since we had soon-to-be-expiring companion tickets, we were able to do so more affordably, and save Claire and John a very long car ride.  Once Mark was able to secure us a rental car in Charleston (not as bad an issue in SC as in Maine), we were able to then book our flights.  Everything seemed to fall in place, so now all we had to do was get the boat to Charleston.

Also in the afternoon, Denise contacted the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune to inquire about live-fire exercises for tomorrow. Some of you may know from our previous blogs, that if there are live-fire exercises, the ICW is closed through the base for extended periods of time. They also put up restricted areas off-shore, making it very undesirable for an off-shore passage down the NC coast in this area.  If there were going to be exercises we would have to time our departure to arrive at the Onslow Beach Bridge for the 1:00 pm opening; the only one that day. This would significantly impact our ability to get to our intended destination of Wrightsville Beach tomorrow.  Luckily, there were no exercises planned, so now all we had to do was time the bridge opening for the half-hour openings. We considered going offshore, but the wind out of the east and rain possibilities made us stick to the ICW for the day.

During the day, the wind picked up considerably and things were really blowing hard. This was as forecasted and one of the reasons we chose to stay in Beaufort for the additional day. It didn’t keep a local sailing fleet from enjoying time on the water, and we watched them as we enjoyed our happy hour at the end of the day.

Sailing on Town Creek

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.