Moving North Fast: The Carolinas
We are moving north fast . . . well . . . for a sailboat, anyway. So I will try to hit the highlights of our favorite places through South and North Carolina. We stopped at some of the same spots we experienced on the way south in the fall, and we hit some new places, so I’ll focus on the newbies here.
Many other cruisers talk about the fact that they would NOT like to do the constant grind of the ICW. Now traveling it for the second time, there are definitely sections that are a grind. But there are also some of the most beautiful sights, too!!
We stopped at Beaufort, SC again (byoo-furt) and enjoyed a lovely afternoon wandering town and having a nice date night at a restaurant on their beautiful waterfront. Okay, with my new found interest in history, let me tell you a quick story about Robert Smalls. In as few words as possible – he was an African American born in the shed behind a large water front house in Beaufort (which is beautiful) where his mother was a slave – which meant he was a slave as well. His master sent him to Charleston to work various jobs to earn more money. After working the docks and learning all he could, he eventually became a boat pilot. He was put into service on a Confederate ship, the USS Planter, as one of the “drivers” (blacks would not actually be referred to as pilots or captains). It was carrying important munitions and tactical information as well as it’s own guns. When the three white crewman decided to go ashore for the evening, Smalls dressed as the captain, put on a straw hat like the captain’s, and proceeded to pilot the boat right out of the harbor. He headed north (after stopping to pick up his and his fellow crew members’ families) hoisted a white sheet and turned the boat over to the Union Navy. He received prize money for the capture of the boat and later met President Lincoln. He later served as the first black ship’s captain in the U.S military. After the Civil Rights Act was signed, he returned to Beaufort, BOUGHT the house where he and his mother were slaves, became a state senator and then served in the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina. AND, when his former master’s wife was very elderly, he let her come back to live in the house that she had known for so many years. How many things are amazing about that story? We learned this wandering through just the front of a small museum on the main drag in town. The weather was perfect for our stroll around town and we loved it as much this time as the last time.
Then we headed up past Savannah (anchoring south of town for a brief rest) and charged by Charleston to maintain our target of getting to the Chesapeake in mid-May. We kept on going and anchored at Butler Island, an easy “in and out” off the ICW. It is wide open but quiet and comfortable (on a settled day) and is at the beginning of one of our favorite sections of the ICW . . . the Wacamaw River.
The Wacamaw is tranquil, peaceful, largely uninhabited – delightful!
Then we headed to Myrtle Beach area and stayed at the very cruiser friendly Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. We passed the golf courses of the Myrtle Beach area and marveled at the mass of humanity in the area. We’re talking full days (7 – 9 hours of transit covering 45 – 70 miles.)
We crossed the state line and went in to North Carolina, destination Southport. How did we miss Southport on the way down? What a great place! This is the mouth of the Cape Fear River – you’ve heard of Cape Fear? We stayed here for three nights on threat of bad weather and it was a great stop, so a little more about Southport. It is very “nautical” and has the feeling of an old fishing village. The movie ” Safe Haven ” was filmed there a few years ago (featuring Julianne Hough of “Dancing With the Stars” and Josh Duhamel.) The town is not overly commercial but offers a number of great dining options and nice shops to poke around in. The neighborhoods are beautiful. The history is interesting. We really enjoyed Southport and would make that a “must stop again” place. The marina that we stayed at offered a daily weather and navigation briefing by Hank of Carolina Yacht Care, a retired Navy meteorologist, a sailor, and he and his wife are former cruisers. His daily briefing was top notch and we used his shuttle services to do some provisioning. And we took Hank a dark and stormy for the last days’ briefing (sort of like taking an apple to the teacher.) What a great guy, a great service, and a great business he offers. Big fans, Hank. Finally the weather broke and it was time for us to go.
The next night we had a more eventful night than we would have liked at the anchorage in Camp Lejeune. No, it had nothing to do with marines boarding the boat . . . it had to do with the strange noise I heard come from the engine earlier in the day. It was a metallic “ping” sound which meant something hit a fan blade. No other bad noise followed and we continued on. No problem. What we found when we anchored is that the bolt holding the alternator on had sheared in half. We were lucky the alternator didn’t fall off during the trip! We thought we were going to have a big problem and made a reservation in a close by marina for the next day – just in case. Of all the spare parts we have on board, that particular bolt wasn’t one of them. Amazingly, after a little chatting on the VHF, fellow cruisers came through once again! Frank had located the right bolt on a neighboring boat and had the repair done by 9:30pm!! (I won’t mention that in the midst of that repair, the engine decided it wouldn’t start, so then we were looking at the possibility of being towed out of the anchorage.) Happily, the persnickety starter cooperated, the new bolt held with some minor modifications and we were off as scheduled the next morning (following a very stressful evening and largely sleepless night!) We made SERIOUS tracks past Oriental (yes, we passed Oriental. All boaters are gasping now . . .) with a very specific mission in mind: reach Ocracoke Island the next day!
OCRACOKE! What a beautiful, wonderful detour off of the ICW it is! This is not a “typical cruiser destination” because it isn’t on “the route.” It is actually in the Outer Banks – the next island south from Cape Hatteras, but is part of the Hatteras National Shoreline. It can ONLY be reached by boat (or plane) which are my personal favorite kind of places to go. Plus, Frank has a boyhood friend (high school and fishing years) who lives in Buxton on Hatteras. Joe and Josie hopped a ferry and came over to see us for the afternoon! What a great and happy reunion. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, last fall I told the story of our time in Cape May when Frank was reunited with one of his life long friends and fishing crew mates who was on the ill-fated Marjorie Snow, the fishing boat that Frank ran hard aground on his first day as a captain. Well, Joe was the third of the three man crew on the boat. Wow, do Frank and Joe have the stories and the history. We were so happy that the four of us could spend some quality time sitting in the cockpit of Eleanor Q after a delicious lunch on land. We looked out over the very scenic town and Silver Lake.
Frank and I spent the next day walking and biking all around the island. Again, old fishing village feeling that has some terrific restaurants and shops, but is not overly commercial (at least not before Memorial Day.) I could have stayed there happily for a week, but you know us . . . we’re getting itchy to get home making it hard for us to stay in one place for more than a couple of days. We will make Ocracoke a must do place as well – and we’ll stay longer!! There is an airstrip there that Navy pilots training for larger jets use for practice and a lunch stop. I’m not kidding. Here came these three really beautiful airshow quality-looking planes (almost like biplanes) doing aerobatics. Then they landed in the distance. We got the local scoop that they stop on Ocracoke, take a golf cart to the nearby restaurant and then fly back out. We pulled our bikes into the parking lot just as the flyboys departed in their golf cart and I only caught a glimpse of them. DARN IT. Uhm, er, I mean they aren’t NEARLY as cute as Frank is, of course!
We left Ocracoke and made a stop at the Aligator River Marina, place with a little bit of legend to it. It is a known cruising stop. We got fuel and took a slip for the night just so we could eat the fried chicken that we had heard so much about. The place is funky, quirky, country and worth the stop (plus no one was in the laundry). It is a gas station off of state route 17 as well as a marina. The station has a convenience store with a little dining room in the back where we dined on our much desired fried chicken. Two plates of chicken with sides, a large beer, a glass of wine and ice cream all for the whopping total of about $30. Life is good! All served by Ms. Wanda’s daughter-in-law. Ms. Wanda runs the place with an iron fist and she is legendary. We understand you either love her or hate her. I’ll bet we would love here, but we never got quite to meet her . . . just waved as she was driving by. Maybe another time, Ms. Wanda. She lives on the grounds. Talk about being married to your work!
And now we are in Elizabeth City getting ready to transit the Dismal Swamp again tomorrow and make our way in to Virginia.
We are having record high temperatures and are sitting under fans as we speak hoping for the nice breeze to continue through tonight. Tomorrow may be a sticky one going through the swamp, but doesn’t that sound appropriate? Stay tuned.