Lots of travel days as high winds force us to make quicker time through North Carolina than we had originally planned. But being our third time along this stretch of the ICW, these are familiar towns and stops. We see spring emerging and continued recovery in many of our repeat stops compared to last year.
Click the Google Map button below to open the map in a separate window. There you can zoom in/out, and click on the icons to see pictures and more info on the various places along our route.
You wouldn’t think there would be a dramatic difference between the coastal towns of South and North Carolina along the ICW. I mean, they’re essentially siblings, sharing a surname. Maybe it was just us, but it felt different starting shortly after we left Lightkeepers Marina and crossed into NC. South Carolina was like the elderly aunt: still living in the family home where she was born and can tell you the history of every piece of furniture and item on a shelf. Reveling in generations of family traditions, the fine china and silver comes out for holidays and she would never wear jeans to church. But every now and then she surprises you with a fleeting hint of a wild streak. North Carolina, on the other hand, felt more like the boisterous younger uncle. Proud of the family history but always looking to try something new, he prefers fast boats and big trucks, jumping off rocks instead of diving boards, and can’t decline a dare. Willing to talk to anyone, the stories get better and a little more crass as the beer cooler gets lighter.
We had started out ahead of ‘schedule’ — recalling that I’ve said before you never want to have a schedule when cruising — with our anchor point being to be in Norfolk by April 20 for some scheduled ‘life maintenance’ things like dentist appointments, annual physicals, etc. We built in plenty of extra time in our voyage plan to allow for weather delays.
Then Mother Nature huffed, and puffed, and blew the plans down.
High winds were the theme of our travels along this stretch of the ICW. We checked our weather apps twice a day, with dramatic swings as various fronts came and stalled. While much of the ICW is sheltered, we still had to be concerned about things like fetch (when the wind blows across extended lengths of water and the waves build) and if the direction of the winds would be working against the current and/or against us. The result was lots of contingency plans.
Carolina Beach, North Carolina
April 10, 2022
One of the coolest phenomenons we’ve seen on the water occurred as we were near the SC/NC border. I was stowing the lines and fenders and I looked back to see our wake sparkling. I can only guess that it had something to do with the angle of the sun and the direction of our wake. Whatever it was, it actually made me gasp. The video doesn’t do it justice, but gives an idea.
We got the chance to moor again in Carolina Beach – our second time here. This is definitely a beach town, with its bright colored houses, a kitschy main drag, and long dog-friendly beach. The town moorings are the best, well maintained with the line you grab coiled in a tray on top instead of sitting in the water – meaning no slimy mess on the deck. The beach is on one side of the water and the commercial part of town on the other. We dropped the dinghy as soon as we could and headed to the town side for a grocery run. Once we got the groceries put away, we enjoyed just hanging out on the boat surrounded by water for a bit before jumping back in the dinghy to go to the beach side for a nice Roxy walk and the sunset. Surprisingly, as we think this is such a great mooring field and stop, we didn’t see any other Loopers here.
We had planned to spend two days in Carolina Beach, but predicted winds forced us to push north. In general, winds tend to be worse in the afternoons so we did a sunrise dinghy trip back to the beach for a quick Roxy walk and then got underway as soon as we could while the winds were calm and the water glassy.
We passed through Wrightsville and entered the Camp LeJeune area. This has a lot of shallow water and shoaling, so you try to go through when tides are higher. We had to balance the low-ish tide risk with the need for less wind to keep from blowing you out of the narrow channel, so it would require great attention. Just as we were approaching the most difficult area of shoaling and tricky navigation, an AIS target appeared on the chart plotter screen moving very fast toward us. Make that two – no, THREE targets – what the hell???
AIS stands for Automatic Information System. It is a broadcast system that transmits your boat’s location, direction, and speed and receives the same from other boats – IF they have it also. It is required on big ships, but not on pleasure boats. We think it is an invaluable safety tool. The boats appear as little triangles on the GPS screen, so you can know they are there long before you can actually see them.
So these triangles suddenly appear on the screen in rapid succession, and I click them to see they are traveling around 30 mph. Given that we were traveling through a Marine base, we quickly realized they were Navy fast boats headed somewhere in a hurry. Our projected paths would cross right at the shallowest and narrowest bend of this area. The good news is that we now knew to watch for them. The bad news is we had to count on them seeing us and being more maneuverable in shallower water, because we weren’t. Dave was already on alert because the three systems he uses to navigate weren’t in complete agreement for the area we were passing through. I was counting off the depth, Dave scanning for the markers, we could see sandbars sticking up above the surface awfully close, and these three boats went flying by on our port side. They did slow down to about 20 mph. And they waved as they went by. Hopefully our brow-mopping looked like a return wave so they didn’t think us rude. Sorry, no pictures because my fingers were numb from hyperventilation.
Finally passing through the Onslow Swing Bridge, which has to be the World’s Slowest Opening Bridge with a full five minutes required to swing while we jockeyed to keep back far enough with the current pushing us from behind, and were on the final stretch as the winds picked up. It was gusting pretty hard by the time we reached Caspers Marina, and blowing from a direction that would push us into the dock. Fortunately there were no other boats there and plenty of dockhands, so I put a lot of fenders out, Dave lined up parallel, and the wind did the rest. Not our favorite way to dock, as once the wind gets you from abeam you don’t have a lot of control, but we did fine.
We walked into town before everything closed, only to discover that because it was Monday many of the shops and restaurants were closed. This included the candy store, which was a major disappointment to Dave as it was going to be his reward for the day’s stresses. Once again, we found ourselves the masters of bad timing.
Later we met John and Nancy from Vagari, which was the only other boat that pulled in for the night. We had actually seen their boat when it pulled into Wacca Wache to fuel, but hadn’t met them. They invited us over after dinner and Nancy and I lamented the state of healthcare in the US while Dave helped John set up some navigation software that he hadn’t quite figured out yet, earning his gratitude.
On to Beaufort, NC! Again an early start for the short 25 mile trip so we would beat the winds. We were trying to go slow so we wouldn’t arrive before our slip was available, but there’s only so slow you can go when wind and current are on your butt.
I had already changed the reservation at Homer Smith Marina twice in the past two days, but we had a big hurdle looming in front of us: getting across the Albemarle Sound. The Sound can be really snotty if winds are coming from the east or west, and long term predictions were showing just that for the days approaching our April 20 deadline to arrive in Norfolk, and we still had two long days of travel to get to a ‘staging area’ to cross it. So we cut our stay to one night to keep moving, giving us more opportunities for a good weather window.
Arriving at noon, we had the afternoon to explore the town. It was as lovely as we remembered from last spring, with the added benefit that the azaleas were at their riotous peak, the trees were greened up, and pansies and snapdragons peppered yards and containers. Plus so much more was open and the downtown was busy.
Here we had an opportunity we had not had for quite a while: an afternoon latte and treat break. We discovered Marmalade Café and Bakery, a converted vintage home with a great view of the harbor from the rocking chairs on the front porch. They were closing shortly after we ordered, but said we could sit on their front porch as long as we wanted and enjoy our specialty lattes and strudel and slice of cheesecake we shared.
Returning to the marina, we chatted with some of the many Loopers also there, comparing notes on weather predictions and plans for the Albemarle. There were Kim and Chris from Pura Vida III, who we met in the other Beaufort in SOUTH Carolina. Sam & Pat on Dashaway had been at Ortega Landing in Jacksonville. Sharing a dock with us was the crew of Highlander, Mary Ann and John, about halfway through their Loop. We noted on Nebo several other boats we were familiar with in the two other marinas in town, including Vigari, Green Eyes, and Carpe Diem. Everyone we talked to was in agreement about the potential weather and heading out in the morning to get a little closer to the Albemarle.
From Beaufort to the Virginia border there are several areas that require either a tolerance for a rough ride (which we don’t have) or respecting the weather and winds. There is the Neuse River, Pamlico Sound, and Alligator River before the aforementioned Albemarle Sound, and then Currituck Sound after it. Today we would transit the Neuse and the Pamlico and be about 60 miles.
This meant a sunset start, with Pura Vida III beating us out of the marina by about 30 seconds, so we followed them until the Neuse River. We were early enough that the Neuse was still pretty calm, but Dave decided it was worth burning the fuel to go to our fast cruising speed in case things picked up sooner than expected. We could see on Nebo that we were at the front of a long line of Loopers heading north.
We ducked into the narrow cut between the Neuse and Pamlico with good conditions, passing by an assortment of homes which offered enjoyable viewing. In the short time we were sheltered, things had picked up and the Pamlico was getting sporty. Again we kicked it up to higher speed and the winds being behind us helped, arriving at Dowry Creek Marina before things got uncomfortable.
We watched over the next few hours as Jeff the Dockhand did a masterful job of alligator-wrestling in about a dozen other boats with crosswinds and gusts. Pura Vida III was a couple hours behind us (didn’t have the ability to punch it like we died) and Chris backed that baby in like a pro. On top of that, he then lassoed a very tall piling with one of his bow lines, throwing into the stiff wind no less, to everyone’s admiration. I wanted him to do it again so I could video it, but for some reason he refused.
We ended up staying a second night here while looking for that weather window, allowing more viewing of World Boat Wrestling featuring Jeff. We took advantage of the extra day to have dinner with Kim and Chris at Spoon River, one of our infrequent forays into fine dining. We had been there when we passed through in December, and it was just as good as we remembered. Plus we really enjoyed getting to know Kim and Chris better.
Woke up early and checked the weather one last time for any last minute changes, and decided it was a good day to cross the Albemarle, with a contingency plan to stop just after the Alligator River Bridge (and before the Sound) if things changed for the worse. It was still rather breezy but supposed to be dying down later in the afternoon, so we delayed our departure a couple hours. The first couple hours was in the protected cut. That put is in the southern part of the Alligator River. There things were as predicted –gusts in the 20s with 2’ chop, right on the nose – a little bumpy, but we again went to fast cruising speed for an hour to minimize bump time. And it did get better as we got further north. Approaching the Alligator River Bridge midafternoon, we caught up to a couple other Looper boats that had left the marina before us. We all went through the bridge together, saving the bridge tender separate openings, and the other boats peeled off to go to the nearby marina. We took a look at the conditions ahead of us and decided it was ‘go time’ to get across. It too about 90 minutes at ‘full bell,’ as Dave calls it, and then we were tucking into the more sheltered waterway of the North River. It had been a tamer crossing than we’ve had before, and there weren’t even many crab pots to slalom through. Nor did we encounter very many boats along they. As in none.
We were on track for a 5:30 pm arrival – much later than we usually like to arrive. But we enjoyed the view along the river with the long shadows and golden sunlight. It was quite pretty and a nice change for us.
Coinjock is…Coinjock. Everyone knows it. While out with Roxy for a much needed walk along the single road, we were hailed by a very nice gentleman as we passed his yard on the other side of the road. He had his shirt buttoned askew and his fly mostly open, but wanted to warn us that a bear had been seen along the road several years ago and we should be careful walking our dog. We chatted a little more about boats before parting, Dave and I agreeing that there was no need to add bear spray to our Amazon cart.
It was the first night of Passover, so we skipped the restaurant there for an impromptu Seder on the boat. I said the blessings over our LED candles, the matzos I had managed to find the week before (not an easy task in small town NC), my wine and Dave’s ice tea. We didn’t have a Haggadah, but between us came up with all but one of the 10 plagues (yes, we googled the final one). There was only one question (would you pass me the salt?) as we dined on salad with leftover grilled mahi, Roxy ate the afikomen, and the boat is always open so Elijah could come and go as he pleased. You could say we hit the high points.
We had made it past all the hurdles with five days to spare – which is good, because we’ve got two days of travel in Virginia and two days of nasty weather ahead of us. Even with all her huffing and puffing, Mother Nature couldn’t blow down the brick house of the dentist appointments we scheduled six months ago. But I think she’s okay with that.
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- Tot days covered this blog: 6
- Travel days: 5
- Miles traveled: 261
- Bear encounters: 0
- Days into Passover Karen made it before accidentally eating bread: 0.6
- Times Dave got to ride his scooter: 0
- Times Karen whacked her shin on Dave’s scooter in the cockpit: 5
*’Pops’ is what the family called Dave’s dad. He had an amazing mind for any kind of statistic, earning him the nickname Numbers from the Stillwater high school coaches for whom he kept team stats. This regular feature of the blog is named in his honor.