Tag Archives: Belhaven

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

Reunion in Belhaven!

Belhaven, NC – Tuesday, 5/4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belhaven, NC – Wednesday, 5/5

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

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

Casa Garcia

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

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

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

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

Sunset over Pantego Creek