Monday, April 29, 2013

Up the ICW through North Carolina–Oriental, Dowry Creek and Elizabeth City

April 27-29, 2013

Leaving Beaufort, we caught the 8:30 a.m. bridge opening and traveled the Russell Slough Channel back to the main ICW. It was an easy trip until we entered the Neuse River, where the winds were up and we encountered 2 foot and some 2-3 foot waves. But after the stories we had heard from prior Loopers about the “Nasty Neuse”, we felt lucky. Anyway, we had a relatively short trip across the Neuse to our next stop, River Dunes Marina, just beyond Oriental, North Carolina.


River Dunes is a fairly new and really beautiful marina that is the centerpiece of a planned residential community of upscale homes. The harbor is man-made and well sheltered off Broad Creek and the Neuse River. It is a quiet, peaceful spot with great floating docks, beautiful clubhouse and pool and the hands-down, blue-ribbon winner of the nicest showers on the Loop! And the docking prices were lower than many places we have stayed recently.

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The people on the boat next to us greeted us as we pulled in.  They are originally from Cincinnati, but have built a home at River Dunes and are based there now. A relatively small percentage of the total homesites have been built upon, because the development was just getting going when the recession hit.  It will be interesting to see if it ever reaches its full potential.

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There were a couple of empty lots just above our dock, where we could let the dogs run. Bailey especially loved the opportunity to let loose!

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We borrowed the courtesy car and drove into the nearby town of Oriental, which bills itself the “Sailing Capital of North Carolina.” We’ve been to several of these self-described “capitals” on our trip.  I guess the first town to lay claim to the title can have it. We had lunch at a small local café and looked into a few shops.  Nice, but all in all, Beaufort had a lot more to offer a visiting boater, we thought.

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That night we had dinner in the gorgeous dining room at the River Dunes clubhouse.  We were lucky to be there on a Friday, because the dining room serves meals on weekends only.

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The next morning we were in no rush to leave this pretty spot, but keeping an eye on the next few days’ weather, we pulled out at about 9:30. The first part of the day was a long haul out the huge Neuse River, which had a bit of chop but nothing like the day before. Again, we felt so fortunate because we had heard horror stories from others about their experiences with the Neuse. After a few miles through another ICW “ditch,” we traveled the pretty Goose Creek, across the Pamlico River and into the Pungo River (which raised a question from one Looper, “What is a Pungo and did you see any there?”). Our destination was the Dowry Creek Marina, just past the small town of Belhaven.


Dowry Creek was worlds different from River Dunes, but equally beautiful, we thought. It is a small marina in a lovely spot on the river, and reminded us of the best of the peaceful locales we’ve encountered along our travels. We were joined by Loopers Rick ‘n Roll and Knot So Fast and several other friendly boaters. We borrowed the courtesy car and drove into Belhaven where we met SeaGlide and Bucket List for dinner at Fish Hooks, one of Belhaven’s few restaurants. It was a fun evening with a whole bunch of Loopers! But we forgot to take a picture – darn!

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We woke up to a gorgeous morning, and it was tempting to stay in port and just hang out on the sundeck reading a book or taking a nap. But the weather two days out was looking like nonstop rain and thunderstorms, so we all decided to move on, skip our planned stop at Alligator River marina, and move on across Albemarle Sound while we still had good weather to do so.


Along the way we passed SeaGlide, whom we hoped to see again in Elizabeth City, and Rick ‘n Roll, who were planning to take the alternate route to Norfolk via Coinjock. Betsy has made it well known that she doesn’t like the Dismal Swamp!

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Parts of the ICW on the way to the Albemarle reminded us of the Tenn-Tom in Alabama, with the many stumps and dead trees along the shore.

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As it turned out, the Sound was a little bumpy, and some of it was on the beam which can be more uncomfortable. But Blue Heron just plowed on through, and we had such a good ride that I enjoyed a nice nap. It was a chilly day (cold, actually), but I found that because the wind was coming from the side, I could sit in the settee behind the captain’s chair, protected by the isinglass, and be very warm in my little “greenhouse.” So warm that I was soon sound asleep.

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Around 2:00 p.m., we pulled into Elizabeth City, where they have two sets of free docks. The main docks are right downtown where the “Rose Buddies,” a group of community volunteers, bring roses and complimentary cheese and crackers every night. However, the finger piers are short and narrow and we wouldn’t have been able to get the dogs off the boat. Also, those piers were openly exposed to the winds that would be coming with the forecasted storms. 

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So we opted for a dock wall a bit further along where we could tie to the side beside a big sign that says, dock here for free but please patronize one of the local restaurants for each day of your stay.  No problem there!  But in fact there was a problem. We soon learned from the sailboat in front of us that the area next to the dock wall is locked off at 3:00 p.m. on Sundays and there is no way to get out or in. Thank goodness we found out before we left the boat to go exploring!  We had a fun evening anyway, joined on board for docktails by SeaGlide and Bucket List, who also docked behind the locked gates.

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This morning it rained non-stop, as predicted.  It’s been a good day to get things done on board, like blogging and cutting the dogs’ nails.  Joey is sad because he knows he’s next!

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In the afternoon the skies cleared and we all emerged from the boats. SeaGlide and Bucket List did some boat cleaning. Jeff and Larry showed off their nifty collapsible pocket hoses, “as seen on TV.”

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Craig and I took a walk to see a bit of the town and eat the requisite meal in one of the local restaurants.  It’s a town that has clearly seen better days. But we ate in a little café where we had the friendliest owner and waitress.  Between the two of them we heard the history of Elizabeth City, including the mysterious murder of young Nell Cropsey in 1901, which is still talked about today. They even drew us a map to Nell’s house. And they sold me a head of romaine lettuce from the kitchen, because they said the grocery was too far for us to walk.

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Tonight we’re planning to eat in town again with Bucket List, SeaGlide and Help Me Rhonda. But we’ll need to be back on board by 9:00 p.m., when they lock us in again!


Next: Ending the Loop with a trip through the Dismal Swamp!

PS – Please note that after almost 12 months and just 50 miles short of our finish line, for the first time our blog is totally, up-to-the-minute current!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Beaufort, North Carolina

April 24-25, 2013

Leaving Wrightsville Beach we had a few low bridges to pass through on our way to Beaufort, NC. At one of those bridges, Surf City, our spotless record of never having run aground on the entire Loop came to an end. Everyone had told us that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Still, having covered all but about 300 miles of our 7,000 mile trip, we had hoped to make it cleanly through. Alas, it was not to be.

Craig likes to say – and in fairness, I think we have to give him this one – that he didn’t actually “run” aground, but rather “drifted” aground. While we were waiting for the bridge – which only opens once an hour on the hour – I went out to sit on the bow with the dogs while Craig chatted on the radio with the several other boats that were waiting. This was an area of frequent shoaling, and we had some winds to contend with.  So while Craig was busy getting enthralled by the story of one of the waiting trawlers whose hull was built in 1943 and was in the Normandy invasion, he took his eyes off the depth finder and before we knew it, we were blown out of the channel and we were stuck.

This happened about 10 minutes before the bridge opening and I was afraid we were going to miss it and have to wait another hour – or worse! But as luck would have it, a small work boat came along just then, hitched our line to his tow bar, and got us off in time for us to make it through the bridge.  Whew!

Further along, the ICW passed through Camp Lejeune, where boaters sometimes get held up while the Marines run bombing exercises. We saw evidence of some of their targets, but fortunately, all was quiet as we went through.

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Much of the trip continued through pretty marshlands. We enjoyed frequent sightings of loons, most of them not yet in their beautiful breeding plumage.  I imagine they are on their way back to Canada for the summer. 

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As we approached Beaufort, we were surprised to see more wild ponies grazing on the islands across the river from the port. One island is the Rachel Carson Coastal Reserve, which is only accessible by small boat. It looks like a very pretty place, and when we return later in the summer or fall, I’d like to take our dinghy across and explore a bit.


Beaufort itself is yet another charming small town along the waterway. It is pronounced “Bo-furt,” as contrasted with Beaufort, South Carolina (another pretty town, as you may recall from an earlier blog), which is pronounced “Bew-furt.” All of this causes some confusion, as you may imagine.


Most of the activity in Beaufort is located along the waterfront, where there are numerous very nice shops and restaurants. We had an especially good dinner at the Blue Moon Bistro. The marina is right in the heart of it all.

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We also visited the North Carolina Maritime Museum. It was nicely done, with the usual displays of the evolution of local watercraft, tales of shipwrecks off the North Carolina coast and an operating boat-building workshop.

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In 2011, the remains of the ship believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, were found just off Beaufort. The museum has a large display of artifacts from the ship along with stories of the abundant pirate activity in North Carolina waters in colonial days. Today it seems that every pirate depiction looks amazingly like Johnny Depp.


Beaufort is an interesting and fun old town, and we look forward to our return trip.


Next: The last few stops leading up to Norfolk.  We are almost finished!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Southport, North Carolina

April 20-22, 2013

Our departure from Myrtle Beach was hastened by a forecast for a few days of heavy winds. Our trip to Southport, NC, started windy and got even windier. It was a cold, unpleasant ride, and we were happy to pull into the Southport Marina at 3:00 in the afternoon. We did in fact experience some very high winds over the three days we stayed there – real howlers of 25-30 knots. One of the locals told us that the Cape Fear River comes by its name naturally, and we were happy to stay in port and not test the theory. But Southport is yet another charming small town with a nice selection of interesting shops and restaurants, and there were several other Loopers in the marina, so we had a nice time there.


  • Docking in sight of North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, Oak Island, built in 1817
  • Walking the pretty streets of Southport, admiring the many early 19th century homes that must have weathered numerous hurricanes over the years
  • The charming little harbor across from our marina
  • Spending time with a great group of Loopers, including Lightfoot, Fandango, Blue Moon, Rick ‘n Roll and Sea Glide, who pulled into Southport on just their second day of looping, having set out from Myrtle Beach
  • Watching four Loopers, two marina staff and three other boaters struggle to bring in a sailboat in stiff winds

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When the wind finally stopped blowing, we headed up the Cape Fear River towards Wrightsville Beach, our next destination. We were only in Wrightsville one night and didn’t do much there. The most memorable event was finding a baggy beside the street containing the driver’s license and credit card of a young soldier from Ft. Bragg, trying to track him down and finally handing it off to the local police. Hope they found him! 

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Also, the weather that day turned quite pleasant and we enjoyed eating dinner outside on the flybridge. Early to bed, as we were right in front of a lift bridge that we’d have to go through in the morning. It only opened on the hour, so we wanted to be sure to make the 8:00 am opening.

Next: Beaufort, NC