Southward Ho!

This is the first of regular blogs to come while we are on the move on our actual travel details, and I will be trying to do them every week or two.  I will be playing with different formats in preparation for how we will document our trip on The Great Loop that we will be starting in March.  The longer narratives about people we meet and adventures we have will be separate blogs.   

Your comments on what you like or don’t like, what works or doesn’t work, and any requests for regular information that I don’t include will be greatly appreciated.  If you don’t want to do a public comment, you can drop me an email through the link at the bottom of each blog. 

Thanks for your feedback.  Karen

We finally resumed our trip south, having been stalled for eight weeks by the faulty port engine.  We still had a few things up in the air, such as Dave needing knee surgery, but our goal is to escape the cold days and colder nights of the mid-Atlantic winter as boats are not made for prolonged periods of temperatures below freezing without being put into nautical hibernation.  Nor are humans, for that matter, and we have no aspirations of earning the Extreme Outdoor Living Merit Badge.  Frozen pipes, engine components, and holding tanks are not a challenge we feel we need to face down.  So,  Southward Ho We Go! 

AYB in our rear view mirror. -Edited in Prisma app

Dec 26, 2021: Coinjock, NC

There was a sendoff committee of a few of the new friends we had met during our stay at AYB; we look forward to seeing them again somewhere (one of the best parts of the cruising lifestyle).   While we were confident the problem had been fixed with the port engine, I have to admit our recent experience left us just a bit adversely conditioned.  So we monitored the engine performance continuously for the first hour, relaxing a little bit more with every minute that passed without a hiccup.

It was a spectacular day to be out on the water – sunny, calm seas – and it felt really good to be on the move again as the old routines came back.  It’s so late in the season that we were just about the only boat along the  way.  Coinjock Marina is kind of a rite of passage – literal passage – to stop there when traveling the ICW.  It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, a marina and restaurant, famous for its large servings of prime rib.  Neither Dave nor I are prime rib eaters so we had seafood, for which it is not necessarily famous. 

The evening calm at Coinjock Marina.
Departing Coinjock at first light.

Dec. 27-29, 2021:  Belhaven, NC

Sunrise start as we had 86 miles to cover – a record for us in one day!  Considering it was one of the shortest days of the year as far as daylight hours, we fortunately had a big stretch of open water where we could run at ‘full bell,’ (about 20 mph) while crossing the Albemarle Sound and Alligator River.  Having a very calm Sound and River helped (we have experienced the opposite of that in the past, as described previously  June 26 2021 blog ), as well as crabbing season being over so didn’t have to dodge crab pots like we did in September (Oct 7 2021 blog ). 

sun coming up just before entering Albemarle Sound
Alligator River Swing Bridge

We had Belhaven Marina all to ourselves, and were greeted by the dockmaster and part owner Gregg.  Former Navy guy, he chatted with us while we got settled.  This marina was one of the most unique we’ve seen with its mix of fun décor, local flavor, and Navy history.  There was the small vintage motorboat that had been cut into three pieces and repurposed on the grounds as a table top (the bow), a bench to watch the sunset (the cockpit/helm), and wall décor (the transom).  The laundry room and bathroom were housed in what looked like a fishing cabin with an inviting front porch.    

The fun and unique bath and laundry facilities.
Lounging after a morning of serious boat cleaning.

How to cannibalize and creatively repurpose an old boat — bow, cockpit, and transom on the marina grounds. 

We spent an entire morning here giving the boat a thorough cleaning.  After eight weeks in a busy boatyard, it had also sorts of grit and grime that rains just couldn’t wash off.   We swabbed decks,  cleaned windows, and washed rugs and floors and windows and hatches and nooks and crannies.  We didn’t realize how dirty she had actually been until we saw how good she looked afterwards. 

Downtown Belhaven was across the street from the marina. It fit right in with the other small North Carolina towns we saw this past summer, with several renovation projects in progress. The usual post-Xmas weariness that all retail stores and downtown areas have this time of year was apparent, highlighted by a Christmas tree suspended creepily above the only intersection with a traffic light but had some residual charm.  We did enjoy walking through the nicely maintained older residential area. 

High winds kept us there a third night.  This was actually fortuitous as it allowed us to enjoy a fantastic dinner at Spoon River Restaurant, which was closed on Mon and Tues.  It was a really good meal in a really cool setting, and would have been worth staying even if we hadn’t had the weather as a convenient excuse. 

Date night at Spoon River restaurant in Belhaven.
The creepy floating xmas tree.
The marina sent us this shot from their security camera, taken just before we departed.

Dec. 29, 2022:  Oriental, NC

While overcast most of the day, we were again fortunate to have calm seas as we traversed the Pungo, Pamlico, and Neusse Rivers – stretches that can get rather sporty if the winds are coming from the wrong direction.  We had several dolphin sightings in the canal that cut between the two rivers; we never get tired of seeing them.   

We arrived early enough to have the afternoon to wander the town.  It’s a cute little town, with a population of only about 1000.  It’s the self-proclaimed sailing capital but also has a commercial fishing industy, and we got shrimp and fish fresh from two older scraggly-bearded gentlemen at this little shed across from the commercial docks.  They offered up dog treats for Roxy, and candy for Dave.  They said they used to only have dog treats, but people started complaining so they added the human treats. 

The little seafood shed at Fulcher Seafood, across the street from the commercial fishing fleet.
At the dock at Oriental Marina and Inn.

One fun tradition in town is the Running of the Dragon.   It started 40+ years ago when one guy decided a town named Oriental needed a dragon to celebrate New Year’s Eve, so he made one and paraded down the street.   Now they have two runs, at 8 pm and 11 pm, with people taking a break from their partying to line the short street.   While we didn’t get to see this even, we did see the ‘dragon egg nests’ scattered around town maintained by the ultra secret Dragon Protection Society.

Dec 31, 2021 – Jan 4, 2022:  Morehead City

Happy New Year!

With only a short distance to travel today, we got a leisurely start to the morning with breakfast at the nearby The Bean. Returning to the boat, we noticed some activity by the marina and what looked like an oil slick.  Apparently a small fishing about had sunk at its dock overnight on Dec 22.  The day we arrived, they had unsuccessfully tried raising it with a crane.  Later that night the oil slick was noticed, and it was theorized that the attempted raising had caused the oil leaking from the boat.  The winds that night had blown the slick into the dead end of the inlet, but unfortunately we were about to get trapped while they cleaned up the mess.  Dave convinced the guy to deploy the boom in front of our boat so we could get out and  to our next destination before the marina closed. 

Morehead City was a short run down a canal.  We noticed something moving through the water across our bow in the distance ahead.  At first we thought it was a dolphin that was staying on the surface, but as we got closer we could make out ears, which of course are not common among dolphins – or any other fish, for that matter.  We soon realized it was a deer, and watched him swim across the channel and climb up on shore.  We saw another deer doing the same thing about an hour later.  I guess kayaking is not in a deer’s wheelhouse, perhaps because hooves don’t have opposable thumbs.

There were some serious winds coming in over the next few days and we would be hunkering down at Morehead Yacht Basin.  Wind gusts in the 50 mph range were expected, so we were fortunate to have a spot in this very protected marina with its sturdy docks.  We doubled lines, put out extra fenders, and battened everything down.  But this was the perfect place to weather the storm and we barely felt any rocking – just heard the whistling of the wind through the rigging of boats around us. 

We fell asleep long before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but were awakened by the fireworks at midnight.  The next morning, we discovered the ash from the fireworks had blown onto the all the boats!  So a washdown was our first order of business for the day, along with several other boat owners.  Afterwards we watched the Rose Parade and lots of football. 

It's an Elhai New Year's family tradition going back decades to have donuts while watching the Rose Parade. Almost unable to do it this year given our circumstances, but Door Dash to the rescue!

Monday morning we rented a car and left in the wee hours on the six hour drive to Va Beach.  This was the day the worst of the storm would pass through.  It was 71 deg and windy when we departed.  Over the course of our drive, we encountered heavy rain, thunderstorms, high winds, and a tornado watch.  By the time Dave was done with his appointment, the temperature had dropped 35 degrees from the morning and we left Va Beach in a driving wet snow for the first hour, followed by two rainbows and a beautiful sunset.  It was quite the meteorologic smorgasbord. 

Absolutely THE LAST kind of picture I thought I would be posting on our boating adventures...

Jan 4, 2022:  Swansboro, NC

After several days in Morehead City, we were definitely ready to make wake to get south as fast as we could and escape the freezing temps, and happily cast off the lines for a short trip to Swansboro.  We were the only boat at Caspers Marina until a sailboat arrived much later.   Town was a short walk, and we enjoyed wandering around and chat with some of the shopkeepers.  They were taking down all the Xmas decorations in town, which earns bonus points from me the sooner it is done after New Year’s.  Dave did his part for the local economy in the candy store. 

The candy store in Swansboro -- check out the giraffe trashcan!
Departing Casperes Marina in Swansboro at daybreak.

Jan 5, 2022: Wrightsville Beach, NC

We left at sunrise for another long day of 63 miles, this time with a cruising speed of about 9 mph the whole way.  Water levels were high due to a combination of offshore winds and full moon.  The swiftly running current produced a lot of eddies that would suddenly turn the boat as if by voodoo.  Additionally, there were numerous floats (crabpots???) that must have been blown into the channel by the recent winds that required keeping a sharp lookout.  But we were rewarded with lots of dolphins along the way and rainbows as we encountered intermittent drizzle, turning continuous the last hour.  Wrightsville Beach Marina was immediately after a drawbridge, and with the strong current running with us we had to go past and turn around in order to dock into the current for maximum maneuverability.  Of course, after seeing almost no boats the entire day, it was right at that moment that two boats appeared seemingly out of nowhere in each direction that Dave had to navigate around.  We definitely seem to be the masters of bad timing, and I was thoroughly soaked from being out on deck by the time we finally got tied up.   After the long day of travel, we enjoyed dinner out at the nearby Bluewater Grill.

Occasional showers between Swansboro and Wrightsville provided a full rainbow as we passed by a marina.
Heading out for an early morning Roxy walk at Wrightsville Beach Marina before departing.

Jan 6, 2022: North Myrtle Beach, SC

Traversed the length of Myrtle Beach, from North to South.  Lots of colorful houses, resorts, restaurants, and kitschy tourist spots along the banks of the narrow ICW.  Traversing an area called Lockwoods Folly, notorious for shoaling and tricky navigation, we noticed the channel markers didn’t make any sense.  There were right hand markers on the left and vice versa in spots, the numbers on the markers didn’t match the charts, and there was a strong current and eddies once again.  Apparently the recent storm had blown some markers out of place.   We fortunately had something called Bob’s Tracks, published each season by an octogenarian who makes the trip up and down the ICW twice a year and who I seriously think should receive the Nobel Prize for Recreational Marine Navigation, that you can download onto your navigation program that has the most recent ‘best route for maximum channel depth.’  So Dave just followed Bob’s tracks, we made it through, and I learned exactly how long I could hold my breath without passing out.  

Once safely back on charted waters, I even got in a little more Boat Driver’s Ed training time.  Our destination was Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, and this was the first marina that was familiar to us from our trip north in the spring.  It was nice to actually know where we were going for a change, how to approach, and what the dock situation was like.  (That said, one of our goals this trip is to explore new marinas and stops along the route, so we won’t be doing this often.)  This was a planned two night stay to allow us a chance to do laundry and a welcome break from the rigors of daily underways. 

Sunset from out spot at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club. (Note: That's not really a lighthouse. It's a scale model as part of another marina in the same inlet.)

We were followed in by a boat that looked familiar to us, and eventually met the couple onboard who turned out were at AYB at the same time we were.  We hadn’t met them then, but recognized the boat name.  They have a half dozen seasons of traversing the ICW under their PFD and were able to give us some gouge on the best marinas further south where we might be able to leave the boat for a bit.

For yes, our road trip in the wild weather when in Morehead City had confirmed what we suspected: Dave does need to have arthroscopic surgery on his knee for torn meniscus – actually menisci.  He’s had this same-day procedure several times before, so we know what to expect.  At least now that we have a definitive surgery date, we can cerebrate and ruminate over the plan for the rest of the winter.  One that is quite divergent from the one we had when we first left Norfolk in early November. 

And so the adventure continues….  

4 thoughts on “Southward Ho!”

  1. Marge Sagstetter

    Happy 2022! Thanks for the update and wishing you and Dave safe travels and safe surgery! Sending hugs….

  2. Hi Karen! Happy New Year! I accidentally found your blog and am so enjoying reading about your adventures, and also living vicariously through you. I’m still working, but would much rather be retired. Safe travels to you, Dave and Roxy! ⛵️

  3. Hurrah for the continued adventure! I had my first meniscus surgery last summer. Hope it heals quickly. Interesting lifestyle, belonging to a roving band of gypsy water travelers. I imagine it’s a clan of good folk to belong to and sporadically meet up with.

  4. Love your storytelling – lots of work obviously, but the trip of a lifetime! Happy New Year & here’s hoping the weird weather leaves you unscathed. Cheers!

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