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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.