North Carolina: The Second Half
The land of hospitality has been good to us and we loved the extended time we spent in the northern part of the state. But now it was time to get moving a little more quickly. After all . . . it’s November and it’s getting cold! So we made tracks continuing down the ICW with fewer multiple night stops in an attempt to get some miles covered. This map shows our path through the state.
Again, the ICW is pretty far inland in some sections, and then further south in the state it runs more parallel with the coastline. Different parts of the ICW have very different personalities, and we saw those changes as we moved along. So let’s do the tour through North Carolina. We had left Edenton, traveled the Albemarle Sound again and then headed down the Alligator River. The extra excitement for our trip that day (and not the good kind) was right before we got to the Alligator River. We finally had some nice wind and decided to put the sails up for a while. We are always looking to sail vs. motor, but our other motivation for doing this was that we were getting a little close to the end of our fuel. Our gauges are no different than the gas gauge on your car, and if you don’t know EXACTLY how close the needle can get to “E” from years of testing, well . . . you know the feeling. We felt we probably had plenty of fuel left, but we couldn’t swear to it, so conserving diesel was very appealing. Anyway, we put up the sails and turned of the engine. Then, as we approached the inlet to the River, we went to turn the engine back on. Click. Nothing. Zippo. No starting engine. First rule – don’t panic. Frank, being pretty good with a diesel engine, set out to find a fix to the problem. I was at the wheel calmly thinking through next steps in the cockpit. There wasn’t much wind left, but I was plotting a tack and a big loop in the open water to stall for time if it came to that. We couldn’t keep heading for the narrow inlet with limited control of the boat. At the same time, I had found the number for TowBoat US (the boat equivalent to AAA) just in case. After about 5 – 10 minutes of safely drifting about, Frank got the engine started by jumping it with a screw driver. And the screw driver had black singe marks on it from the episode. And I asked him if that was dangerous. And I got the same answer I have gotten at other times I ask such questions: “It’s only 12 volts. It won’t kill you – just hurt a little.” Yeah, I’ll bet that’s not what the screw driver is saying about now!! Our chief mechanic (Frank) has checked and rechecked things many times and we haven’t had the problem since – it appears to be fixed, but we live with a shadow of a doubt and fear a repeat performance. She has been perfect since the, but we’ll have to decide if we’re comfortable living with the doubt. We took on fuel (110 gallons, in case you’re wondering – we can hold 140) at the Alligator River Marina where we considered tying up for the night. They are supposed to have some mighty fine fried chicken there which we’ve both had a hankering for. (Note to my edit-happy, grammarian family members: I know the correct grammar would have been “for which we’d both had a hankering,” but my justification is that if you’re using the word “hankering” in the sentence, correct grammar would seem a little weird – just sayin’. Love you! ) But the place is a truck stop. I’m not kidding – it’s a marina and fuel dock for boats on one side and a gas station and truck stop on the other side. Somehow, spending good money out of the “marina budget” to park at a truck stop all night didn’t seem so smart when you can anchor close by for free. So we skipped the fried chicken (took 20 minutes to cook and we were running out of daylight) and moved on.
After a brief overnight stay, we were up and out early the next morning heading for Belhaven, NC. We planned to meet up with our friends on Magnolia. They were stopped there for a repair and were very gracious to offer to cook us dinner since we’d had a travel day. Frank and I took a quick walk around town after arriving. An hour is more than enough time to explore Belhaven.
The next morning we said goodbye to the Bakers and Magnolia and headed to our next stop at River Dunes Marina just outside of Oriental, NC. Cruisers are always looking for a deal and River Dunes was one of three marinas with booths at the Annapolis Boat Show who were offering 2 nights for the price of one certificates, so certificate in hand, that’s where we went. What a beautiful facility! It is a huge housing community currently under development, and part of the thought of luring boaters is to show off the real estate. The place was very “civilized” – it was a little like being at a Golf Country Club except there was no golf course. The “boat house” (essentially the clubhouse) is a stunning building, tastefully decorated, with a restaurant/bar upstairs and front desk/lounge/pool room downstairs. The restaurant was not open as a full service venue, but they had a sign-up sheet for a “cruiser’s dinner” at 6:30 that evening. It was a set menu which sounded tasty and reasonably priced. Sure, why not? Another chance to meet people. There ended being 12 of us. When we went upstairs there were several small tables set up for the group. Then we spotted the “board room” with a large table for 12. Since the food was set up as a buffet, hey why couldn’t we carry our plates in there instead? After all, we all wanted to eat family style – that’s why you sign up for a “cruiser’s dinner.” The staff had no problem with our plan. The help there was limited for this teeny event, so we reset the table ourselves, found a pitcher and poured water around the table and generally treated it like we were in someone’s home. It was pretty funny. We had fun visiting and swapping stories and getting to know each other – all in all a very congenial evening. We enjoyed our two days there, taking advantage of the walking trails, the fitness room, the STEAM SHOWERS(!) and the laundry facility. They even had a courtesy car which we borrowed to go into the town of Oriental to pick up a thing or two. We had heard so much about Oriental, and it definitely has a charming, funky, nautical vibe to it that we’ll have to explore more extensively on another trip.
After two days in the lap of luxury (not really, but it was one of the fancier places we had been), it was time to move along again, so we headed to Morehead City where we tied up at Portside Marina. Now, Denard, the owner of the establishment, is one of the nicest men you will ever hope to come across. The customer service is unprecedented. The rest of the story is that the current is VERY strong at the face dock and the miserable weather didn’t help much. We toughed out the rain in our fowl weather jackets and took a walk around town. We stopped to say hello to, who else, Magnolia. They were staying in a different marina and meeting up with some family. Then we grabbed dinner at the bar at the Ruddy Duck. The place was fun and comfortable and a good respite from the weather. We ended up having a nice chat with a couple next to us from Virginia, also cruisers heading south.
After a bit of a windy, bumpy night, we were ready to head out the next morning. The strong current and wind had other ideas. Both were pushing us flat against the dock. Frank had tried to prep me for the many ways that we would try to get off the dock. We bumped our way forward on the straight pier (no boats ahead of us) but couldn’t get off the dock. Our bumpers were almost torn off of the boat with the forward progress we made since they were firmly wedged between the boat and the dock. They were doing their job, but they were taxed beyond their usual duties. After almost 40 minutes of inching up the dock and my nerves getting pretty frayed, we were loose and underway.
Our destination for the day was an anchorage called Mile Hammock Bay which is part of the Marine Corps Base, Camp LeJeune. Although we have read reviews about the anchorage saying that it can be extremely noisy with military exercises and helicopters, we were fortunate to be there on a “day off” and it was peaceful and a very nice anchorage. Magnolia joined us there and we served them up some shrimp and pasta (procured in Morehead City at the Seafood Market).
The next day we were off to Wrightsville Beach, NC. The trip took on a bit of a competitive nature since there are a flock of boats all traveling the same skinny route heading for the same places. On this day, we also had several swing or draw bridges, and we had to time our trip with the bridge openings and the currents. If you get to the bridge too soon before an opening, you have a pileup of boats floating around in a small space waiting to get through. (The term goat rodeo pops into my head for some reason.) Every boat has a different idea of how to manage the wait. This is called “station keeping.” It felt a little like being back on the Garden State Parkway and jockeying for position at the toll booths. We were happy to get this day behind us. We made our way to Wrightsville Beach, NC by afternoon where we anchored up for the next two nights.
After a couple of nights in Wrightsville Beach, it was time to hit the road again, so to speak. We headed to our last stop in North Carolina, St. James Marina in Southport, NC, not far from Myrtle Beach. The marina rates through North Carolina were AMAZINGLY cheap as compared to the prices we saw in the Northeast over the summer, and the anchoring opportunities along the ICW are a little limited at some points, so marina it was. Now we started to see different personalites come out in the ICW. On our trip on this day, some parts of the ICW were fairly wide open waterways with one section even accommodating tanker traffic! Other parts were narrower. We have had a couple of canals connecting different rivers on some days. Now we were getting into more of the Myrtle Beach area meaning more condos, more golf courses, and more development in some sections. St. James is part of a golf course community and it was fun to walk around some of the neighborhoods and reflect on the old days of playing golf! (Eleanor Q had a detrimental effect on our golf games. We can live with that. Golf will still be there in a few years.) We landed at St. James that evening with our travel companions (yes, Magnolia). We have fallen into a bit of a leap frog arrangement with them: many days we overlap in a location intentionally, some days one will skip ahead of the other based on interests or (gasp!) schedules, but we will shadow each other south a fair amount of the way. This night we congregated at the Tiki Bar at the resort for dinner and live music. The weather was a little chilly for outside seating, but we bundled up and enjoyed the atmosphere to listen to some good classic acoustic rock.
We found lots of southern hospitality in North Carolina and throughly enjoyed our trip through the state . . . but now it’s time to get farther south. Next stops: Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina!