We intentionally get a bit later start this morning, given the fact that we nestled into an anchorage dotted with crab traps last night and we don’t want to take any of them with us on the way out. We wait for good light and start out about a half hour later than is our usual, through water that is as smooth as glass and soft with the morning light.
Jerry had an interesting evening last night, getting up a couple of times to make sure the anchor had re-set properly and to do his normal survey of the state of the anchorage. He went out on the back deck, which, on this boat, is sort of like a porch with the swim platform level with the deck. He scared the heck out of a little marsh bird that had been sleeping on one of our deck chairs and who couldn’t get off the boat fast enough. The second time he ventured out he saw a water snake swimming lazy S’s in the moonlit water. He said it looked like the snake was contemplating using our back deck as a resting spot (we have heard other boaters talk about finding nests of water snakes on their swim platforms). Jerry gently disabused him of the idea with a boat hook and came back to bed but he says he will scan the back deck more carefully from now on before walking out there at night!
We wind our way through the last of the grassy marshlands, at least for a while, thank goodness! It is tiresome when there is nothing but grass between you and the horizon and it persists for days and days. We are back in the land of old South Carolina with its massive oaks, swinging with Spanish Moss. The mansions look even larger here because they are all built with a false story underneath, probably mandated by the insurance companies that don’t want to pay flood claims every year.
The crabbers here seem to be a better mannered bunch than their Florida cousins. Their traps rarely encroach into the channel and in fact seem to be helpful in that they tend to mark the edge of it in most places. There are folks out today, working their trap lines and it is a balmy day making it pleasant to be on the water. Numerous pods of dolphins join us for a while and then retire to hunt for breakfast. They are obviously well fed here as they are some of the largest dolphins I have ever seen.
We come under the bridge and into Charleston harbor and remember spending days here last time. We walked everywhere for miles and miles each day and marveled at the number of outstanding restaurants there were to choose from. We definitely needed to walk to counter the effects of all of the fine dining we did!
Today, we see nothing moving but the city is just as pretty as we remember. We pass Ft. Sumpter which sports no American Flag today, no ferries full of tourists and nobody can be seen walking the ramparts. It is almost spooky! We cross the harbor and back into the ICW and now we are back in snaking grasslands again. The houses here have a couple of hundred yards of dock on the side of the river that is fronted by a lot of grass flats and maybe 20 foot docks on the other side of the river that doesn’t. I know which side I’d rather be on.
The day is long with narrow, shallow waterways, not a lot to see and a warm breeze blowing sand flies into the wheelhouse. They don’t seem to want to bite us and we are thankful for that small mercy. We cover about 70 miles and pull into Awendaw Creek. The current is strong but it is a wide anchorage with swing room for 10-15 boats but there is just one boat in it ahead of us.
There is a courtesy to sharing an anchorage. Most people anchor out to enjoy the quiet and solitude that it provides if you have considerate neighbors. We pick a spot that will not encroach on his space and drop the hook. After showers and a snack we sit out back and as the sun is lowering a sailboat enters the basin and decides to anchor right ahead of us. Seriously!?!?
There is plenty of room here but he decides we have the best spot so he cozies in and the captain and crew are seen no more. The current and wind oppose each other which makes boats do interesting things while at anchor and we watch his boat look like it is underway headed directly at our boat. We can see his bridle and know he is anchored but it is still irritating.
The wind dies and a just-past-full moon plays hide and seek behind the clouds. Squeaky birds argue over oyster bed kingdoms on the shore and eventually even they settle into silence.
This morning is more of the same, a long straight shot of narrow waterway but because we leave when it is high tide, we have lots of water and the current helps speed us along so we make pretty good time. Jerry amuses himself by putting a dent in the horsefly population, leaving our Navigation Notes book smeared with bug gore! I’m not sure it will make a bit of difference to their overall numbers but it makes our wheelhouse more tolerable and keeps him happy.
Dolphins pretend to be sharks, riding with only their fins showing and we laugh at their antics. They are always welcome company.
Once we get by McClellandville and Georgetown, SC the scenery changes dramatically. We go from savannahs that stretch to the horizon to a forest with its feet in both sides of the waterway. The rivers are quite swollen compared to when we were here a few years ago. We pass the anchorage around Butler Island which we crowned as one of the most beautiful anchorages of our Loop (the other was in Canada). We woke to a steaming river and fog-shrouded forests and the photos we shot that morning of a steamy sunrise were among some of our very favorites that we took over the course of that year.
The river here looks like some of the Florida rivers we kayak; tea-stained brown but lush vegetation at each turn. Eagles and Ospreys dive for fish and we can spot the hatchlings in some of the lower nests. Along the way we pass a pontoon swing bridge and regular bridges most of which we don’t have to open.
We get to Myrtle Beach and have to make a decision. From here almost to North Carolina it is a narrow ditch, lined with houses and docks with no anchorages.
It is only 1 PM so it is way too early to stop in the last anchorage for miles so we continue, knowing we will have to put into a marina.
The homes here are amazing in architecture and landscaping and it is an interesting ride as we steer from the bridge and enjoy the last temperate day before the cold front arrives. We have a slip at the North Myrtle Beach RV Resort and Marina. The slips are short (25’) and the current is ripping but fortunately they have dockhands at the ready and we tie up. It has been a long day; we covered 90 miles in 9 1/2 hours and we are tired but again happy with our progress northward.
The current is still running fast when we are ready to depart but thanks to deft placement of the new fender balls, we come out of the slip pivoting on one of them, forcing it to act as a shield against the pylon until it finally bumps our stern away from the dock and we are free!
The first bridge today opens on demand but most of the rest of them through North Carolina are timed. Some open only on the hour (Wrightsville) and others open on the hour and half hour. Either way, it compels us to govern our speed to arrive at the proper time so we don’t have to spend much time hovering in strong currents and uncertain surroundings.
We finish with the North Myrtle Beach ditch, then pass some inlets where we can see the Atlantic and confirm that we are better off in the ICW due to wave heights. Towards noon, we round the point of Cape Fear, passing Southport Marina. We stayed a few days there because of high winds last time we were in the area and today is shaping up to be similar though it is too early to stop and the marina is temporarily closed anyway. When we were there last time, a retired Navy meteorologist did a weather briefing each night at the marina and helped educate boaters about the waterways between Cape Fear and Cape May. It was worth the price of a slip just to listen to this guy volunteer his time and weather expertise to enlighten those of us who were new to the waters.
The wind is starting to pick up and we know we are in for a couple of days of weather as a cold front barrels down, dropping our next couple of days into the low 40’s. We brought some cold weather clothes so as long as they don’t get soaking wet, we should be okay.
Today we have high winds gusting 24 kts but they should start to calm down by 6 tonight. We opt to anchor in a secluded basin called Big Lollipop Bay rather than the Wrightsville Beach anchorages because they are exposed and busy with recreational boaters and the basin is bordered all around by large homes which may help to block the wind. Looking at Windy, we are judging a marina will be a good call for at least tomorrow evening when we get to Swansboro.
We drop the hook and swing like a pendulum until the winds do in fact calm down. Each house on the basin has a dock with one or two boat lifts and you can see the open sky over the beach that lies just beyond them. We have the anchorage to ourselves except for the crab pots (yellow arrows) that always seem to dot the water where we want to spend the night. With a working dinghy and under cover of night, we might be tempted to procure a feast for ourselves but for now we are using them as markers to make sure we are holding in the same place!
During the night the cold front has dropped the temperatures to where I feel bad for Jerry hosing the mud off the anchor as we leave Big Lollipop Bay and head for the Figure Eight bridge, which opens on the hour and half hour.
We time it to hit the 7AM opening but it turns out that the tide is so low that we don’t even need the bridge to open. We fight the current for about 2 hours until slack tide adds a mile and a half an hour to our progress and then the tide turns and we gain the speed we wanted to make today.
We phone Camp LeJeune and while they are doing live firing today, none of it will impact the ICW, which reminds us of cruising up the Potomac and hearing the Navy directing a boat out of a restricted zone because they were testing Tomahawks down the river. They were oh-so-politely telling him that he was an idiot and to look at the notations on his chart about restricted areas! We pass by some of the targets they have used and continue through miles and miles of beach towns.
We by-pass Swansboro and end up in Moorehead City Yacht Basin because it is the lowest price for fuel that our research has turned up and we can tuck in here and wait out the bad weather that is coming if we decided to sit tight in the morning.
We help Sea Anna tie up right behind us. She is a 60’ McKinna that is being delivered to Maine and I have watched her delivery captain’s posts on Facebook and so recognized him as soon as I saw his face! We came out of Myrtle Beach with Sea Anna a few days ago. Needless to say, they travel a lot faster than we do but we find out that they laid up in Southport to have oil changed and some other mechanical stuff attended to, which is how we got ahead of her.
Turns out, later when we are invited to tour Sea Anna that there are 3 delivery captains here tonight all trying to figure out whether it is prudent to try to move one more day before the bad weather socks us in somewhere or to just stay put. We retire for the night and will deal with that in the morning when we see the conditions.
Happy Easter! The morning is actually warmer than was forecast and it dawns clear and bright. We deliberate over weather forecasts and decide that we can safely make the run to Oriental where we can re-provision before the bad weather comes in and then sit for a day to wait out the predicted storm. The other captains have made similar decisions, though destinations vary owing to speed capabilities and so we help Sea Anna cast off and bid Karl (captain) and Rick (owner) fair winds. They are going to Maine so we probably won’t see them again except on FaceBook.
We run 4 hours against the current (of course) to Blackwell Pointe Marina, a family owned place that is up Smith Creek and which looks like it will be nice and protected as well as being fairly close to town. We pull in and after dealing with the power cord converters (this marina is really more for sailboaters than cruisers as it has 110 power only), we have power. The sky is still blue and it is calm so we take a walk into town where most everything is closed due to C-19 and Easter.
It is small and quaint and looks like it would be fun at another time.
We re-provision and get ready to hunker down. The wind is picking up as we return to the boat and the halyards are clanging against the masts that surround our trawler.
Cruising through tannin stained water leaves a brown mark, especially where there is less wax and Easy Wind is starting to gain that traveling mustache that some boaters immediately remove as offensive and others wear as a badge of pride. She doesn’t seem to mind it and we think she is happy to be off the lake and moving towards her new home.
Emergency horns blare from time to time and we hope they are merely testing them for possible use during the storm that is to come. After sitting for a bit, we decide to stretch our legs again and go explore the graveyard we saw on the way to the grocery store. Graveyards are interesting places to learn more about the history of a place or to just admire the way a community reveres its ancestry and we have explored them in almost every country we have visited, finding fascinating customs and traditions in the process. Some of the graves here have been lovingly decorated with Easter flowers and others still bear brown and brittle Christmas wreaths, testimonies to how actively the decedents are remembered.
We come across several graves of men, from the 1800’s, who were members of the Woodmen of the World, which of course I have to Google. This is the short version of what I find out about the organization; “When Joseph Cullen Root founded Woodmen of the World in 1882, he envisioned an organization dedicated to helping its fellow man. Its purpose was “to minister to the afflicted to relieve distress; to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living;… to encourage broad charitable views…” Today, Woodmen is a non-profit organization, owned and governed by its members who do not simply share the fact that they have purchased insurance or annuities through the same organization. Woodmen is a fraternal benefit society, with members connected by their membership and also their desire to better their lives, their families’ lives and their communities.
At one time in its history, WOW did offer grave monuments to families of deceased members. Sometimes these monuments have the motto Dum Tacet Clamat, which means “Though silent, he speaks, ” etched on the stone. The monuments are all different but all bear some kind of tree or logs as part of the design…. Very interesting.
We return to the boat and suffer a VERY long night at the hands of the winds (gusts 47+ gale force) and waves and the fact that most of the sailboats surrounding us have not been attended to and the halyards are loose and slamming against their masts ALL NIGHT LONG (this one guy did come out and after trying to bungee his halyard away from the mast, found this creative solution to the problem and we were truly grateful to him!).
Easy Wind is rearing like a racehorse waiting for the starting gate to open and the worst part of the storm is not projected to hit here until tomorrow
The morning is a change for us, in that we are not going to move today, which feels strange. We are sitting with the wind howling as it shears the tops off the whitecaps and flings them into the air. We are able to watch the approach on our weather apps and I wonder how different life aboard must have been before all the modern ways we have of staying safe became available.
Jerry lays out extra lines and reties the dinghy down and we are as ready as we can be. Visibility closes down and the front moves onto us. Rain slams against the wheelhouse and cascades down and around us. Easy Wind seems watertight and we detect nothing leaking – always a good thing on a boat! We are saddened when we find out later that more than 32 people lost their lives in this storm, south of here.
We wait out the weather, monitoring its progress until the rain abates and hisses off into the Neuse River to the southwest of us. A little after noon, the wind blows the skies clear and the sun emerges and together they team up to dry everything out. By late afternoon we are able to get out and stretch our legs a bit and we go to the store for some odds and ends like D-batteries for our fans and some clothespins in case we can’t get to a laundromat (turned out I did some laundry in a 5 gallon bucket later that afternoon-NEVER be aboard a boat without a clean 5 gallon bucket – they have a multitude of life-saving uses for those with imaginations!). We walk to and from the store via different roads,
always interested in seeing something new and end the evening with a quiet dinner. We will be ready to move in the morning!
The wind has died overnight but we know it will be picking back up again later. In order not to lose any more time, we scan our weather apps and feel that it is safe to make a run if we get moving immediately. We are up and underway as dawn is breaking and a half moon rides high above us.
We descend the Neuse river and the wind does pick up but Easy Wind is fine in 2’s and 3’s especially if they are coming from her bow, which they are. Our laundry from yesterday is pinned to a bungee first on the back deck and then on
the flybridge but the humidity and the sun are battling to see how long it will be before the clothes are truly dry. This is where dri-fit materials beat cotton hands-down.
We turn up and into Bay river and then through Goose Creek and into Pamlico Sound which is quite rough (pictures NEVER capture this). Again, we are bowing into the worst of it so it’s all good.
Our goal is to make it through the Alligator-Pungo Canal to Alligator. It will be a 92 mile run if conditions favor us all the way and right now the current is giving us a push but we’ll see how long that lasts.
100 miles, no cell or connection all of the LONG day but we made it! Celebration happens when someone else cooks dinner for you! Softshell Crab sandwich and sweet potato fries for me and a hamburger and onion rings for Jerry!
So far we have logged 208 hours and 1,787 miles underway and tomorrow we cross the Albemarle Sound IF we can get off the dock safely. Temps are projected to drop as another cold front moves through bringing rain and a lot of wind. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.