We left Osprey Marina at Statute Mile 373 on Monday, April 7th after breakfast, refueling and pump out. It was a cloudy but warm cruise that day. Through Myrtle Beach the ICW was a narrow ditch, and Jim spotted the place he stayed at years ago on a golf trip with buddies from home.
Long no wake zones made progress slow, as did waiting for 2 bridge openings. After only going 31 miles, we pulled into an anchorage spot on the Calabash River around 1:45, where we dropped the hook a short distance off the ICW, along with 3 other boats. Storm warnings were forecast, and the sky looked more and more threatening as the afternoon wore on.
The rain set in about sunset. We had leftovers from our previous nights dinner, and played 8 games of backgammon (Jim whomped me – 7 out of 8). While looking over the charts for our next day’s cruise, I realized that we were right on the NC/SC border. The anchor held well and we slept like babies in our front berth.
More rain greeted us in the morning. We pulled up a very muddy rode and anchor, and headed north again. Fog set in, so we ran with our navigation lights on. It was a damp gray day up on the fly-bridge. While traversing the Cape Fear inlet and going up the shipping channel we saw 2 large car ferries. About 3:00 we pulled off the ICW into a little river in the town of Carolina Beach and took a mooring ball. Randy, the marina owner came out in a dinghy about 5:30 with a bag of ice, and collected the $20 mooring fee and got us registered. So nice that we didn’t even have to take down the ding dong! The skies cleared for sunset, but then more rain followed. We watched the movie “Stir Crazy” and hit the sack.
On Wed. the 9th we drove 51 miles from Carolina Beach to an anchorage at Camp Lejeune marine base in Mile Hammock Bay. The morning clouds moved out, leaving blue skies. We went through the town of Wilmington, NC which borders the ICW on both sides. Another bridge opening at Surf City delayed us for 35 minutes.
Oddly we saw loons along the way, the Minnesota state bird. Normally they leave the NC and SC waters in March to head north for mating season. They must have some magical instinctive powers to know that much of the water up there is still frozen!
The sunset was very beautiful which we enjoyed from the bow. A few helicopters flew over, but otherwise all was quiet. Six other boats were in the bay anchored nearby. We cranked up the generator and I made beef stroganoff for dinner. Jim checked the Racor filter, and all looked fine. We planned our next day’s travel using the charts, our MapTech guide book, and some great recommendations from fellow cruisers.
We left our anchorage under clear and sunny skies. A few miles up we waited about 20 minutes for the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge opening. Right after clearing the bridge is the Camp Lejeune Firing Range. They actually close the ICW if live rounds are being shot, and your only notification is a sign with amber lights. Luckily, the lights were not flashing, so we were able to proceed. The waters gradually became wider as we approached Morehead City with a narrow channel and very “thin” depths (a term used here instead of the word shallow). Clammers were out at low tide on the exposed shoals with their rakes.
Our destination was the city of Beaufort (pronounced BO-fert, as opposed to Beaufort, SC which is pronounced BUE-fert). Established in 1722 as a customs port, it is still a busy place, the inlet crowded with fishing and excursion boats. We made our way to the historic downtown, which is up Taylor Creek, and off the ICW. We stopped at the Beaufort Docks for a pump out and slip, but decided to save some $ and grab a private mooring ball. The mooring’s owner cruised by captaining a ferry boat, and said he didn’t mind if we stayed for a couple of days.
After breakfast and showers the next morning, we took the ding dong back across the creek to Beaufort. We secured it at the dinghy dock in the hopes to get some supplies. Our first stop was part of the South Carolina Maritime Museum, a workshop where old boats are restored to their original glory, and new wooden ones are built. Across the street was the main museum, with its amazing collection of mounted fish and a great exhibit on the pirate Blackbeard. His flagship “Queen Anne’s Revenge” was discovered in 20 feet of water off the coast nearby in 1996, and they are still salvaging artifacts that make their way to the museum here.
The streets in the historic district are lined with old homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries. We walked a long way in search of a marine supply place where we could purchase more filters, and finally found one. We bought a few groceries at the Piggly Wiggly and hauled them back in our collapsible wheeled cart. Steve, a volunteer who we met at the museum saw us walking, and gave us a ride back to downtown. We met another couple doing the loop in a Mainship, and had lunch at a great Mexican restaurant on Front Street.
The wild horses were out on the island across the creek near our mooring site. We brought our purchases back to the boat. The wind had picked up, and it was a challenge not to get wet heading into the waves in the little dinghy. We grilled steak and planned the next day’s trip. The friendly people, the beautiful city surrounded by water, and the interesting history make Beaufort, NC one of my top 10 favorite stops.
On Saturday, April 12th we left the free mooring, and took the long way around back to the ICW because of a bridge with low clearance. The area near the inlet was crowded with weekend boaters, and long no-wake zones made for slow progress. Leaving Beaufort behind, the channel became more narrow, bordered by tall pines. Later the channel opened up into the wide Neuse River. Many sailboats were out, and it reminded me a little of Lake Pepin back home.
Jim checks the Racor filter about every hour while we’re underway. It was getting plugged with black sludge, so we had to shut down the engine so that he could change it. We drifted along in the wide deep river. We decided to head for the Oriental Marina and Inn in the town of Oriental, across the river and a little off the ICW. We pulled in, once again getting the outside T-dock. We got tied up, but had to re-rig all the fenders, as the dock was high and the waves a little rough.
A boat show was going on at the marina, so we walked around on the docks and through the booths. The town boasts more boats than people, and claims to be the “Sailing Capital of North Carolina”. We got an amazing bargain at a nautical flea market: 120 feet of heavy anchor line for $5! Then, we found a good marine supply place where we bought 4 more Racor filters. Jim bought ice and chatted with some of the people working the booths. I walked to a super cool shop in a house a few blocks away, and purchased a couple bottles of wine, and a few fun things for my grand-daughter.
That evening after dinner aboard, we walked to the nearby Tiki Bar, where it seemed half the town turned out to hear the live local band. We met an interesting odd fellow from Denmark named Jen Larsen, and danced to a few good old songs.
On Sunday morning the 13th of April we shoved off from Oriental and headed up the wide Neuse River. Sunshine, a light breeze, and warm temps lured us into a false sense of security. Leaving the Neuse River, the channel became a narrow cut, and we followed a barge from Charleston through this section. When we hit the wide Pamlico River the south winds had picked up dramatically. Again the filter plugged and we had to shut down the engine so Jim could change the filter. I was up on the fly-bridge while Jim was down below, and the huge waves rolled in, over and over, coming at us on our starboard side. I could hear things flying around in the cabin below, and the sliding door slamming open, then closed, then open. Finally we got the engine running again, and slowly creeped our way through the rough seas of the Pamlico River, and then the Pungo.
We hailed the staff at the Dowry Creek Marina, who helped guide us in and caught our lines. Again, we were directed to the outside dock with the waves pounding in at us. Extra lines and fenders sidewise were once again needed. The boat gouged some big wood chips out of a piling that is designed to keep boats from damaging the dock when they come in. Soon it was time for happy hour, which is an every day occurrence here at 5:30 in the community room. There we met fellow boaters, Mary the marina owner, and Nick the harbormaster.
Today is Wednesday, the 16th, and we are still here at Dowry Creek Marina, waiting on the weather. It’s not a bad place to be stranded, but it is in the middle of nowhere. I feel like I’m way up north on one of Minnesota’s largely unpopulated lakes. They have a courtesy car which we used to go to the closest small town of Belhaven. We did a little shopping, and had a great BBQ sandwich at ‘Farm Boys’.
We have planned our next few days of travel, but it is looking like Saturday may be our first chance to make a move. After heavy rains the last couple nights, the wind has now switched and is ripping at us from the north. At least we’re now being kept off the dock. With it, of course, came some very cold temps. Today this area is expected to break a low high temp of 54. This morning when we woke up it was in the mid 30’s.
We won’t be able to travel north until the Alligator River Swing Bridge resumes operation. When the winds exceed 25 mph the bridge will not open. Yesterday sustained winds were at 40 mph, and today there are gale warnings in the area. So we sit tight, and enjoy our 5:30 happy hour gatherings. Jim again changed all the filters, and borrowed an air compressor to blow out the fuel vents. He is installing a new door lock, and the laundry is done. We have terrible cell phone coverage here, and have tried a few times to call out without success.
Our route ahead includes crossing Albemarle Sound, a very wide open stretch exposed to the ocean. The marine weather forecast does not sound too promising with high winds every day, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. From there to Elizabeth City, then up the Dismal Swamp Canal where we will have 2 locks to go through. We haven’t been through one of them on this trip since the 50 we did in the first leg during the Autumn of 2012.
Our final destination on this leg will be Norfolk, VA, another 132 miles north. I will be going home to Minnesota for a couple weeks–just purchased my ticket to fly out on April 24th. Norfolk is at Statute Mile 0, and the Great Looper’s Rendezvous will be held during the first week of May. Jim would like to go to some of the seminars on the Canadian stretch of the trip, purchase some of the navigation charts we are missing, and add another Racor filter and shut-off valves, as we continue being plagued with fuel problems. I am looking forward to seeing family back home, and meeting my yet unborn grandson! Keep your fingers crossed that the winds die down soon, so that we can make it to Norfolk in time!
“Thoughts will change and shift just like the wind and the water when you’re on the boat; thoughts are no different than anything else.”