April 25 – April 29, 2015; Charleston, SC to Beaufort, NC

We returned to Charleston on the 25th having spent the week in Maryland (Adrienne) and Wednesday through Friday in Boston (Jim).  On Saturday, Jim caught a Southwest flight to Charleston, which stopped in Baltimore.  We met up at the Southwest gate of the Baltimore to Charleston flight from BWI and traveled together for the rest of the way.  The flight got us in late to Charleston, so we boarded Curiosity, made a late dinner on board and called it a night.

Our original plan was to leave on Sunday for Southport, NC, but the weather forecast was not favorable.  The Charleston to Southport run would be in the ocean so that we could avoid the very bad shoaling on the ICW through South Carolina.  And it would be a very long run, about 125 nautical miles.  If we could run at 10kts the whole way, we would be cruising for 12.5 hours. A very long day. All the more reason to wait for good, or at least acceptable weather.  The NOAA forecast for Sunday called for a small craft advisory with 20k winds, gusting to 25’ and 4- to 5-foot seas with a very short period.  We decided to wait until Monday.

Monday’s weather was better but still not great.  The forecast called for 10 to 15k winds from the NNW with seas 2 to 3’ with a 5 second period.  That meant that it would be a choppy ride, but manageable.  The good news was that the choppy conditions were supposed to give way to calmer seas and lighter winds as the day progressed.  By the time we expected to reach Southport, the seas were supposed to be about 1’ with a 6 second period and the winds were supposed to be in the 5 to 10k range.

In fact, the forecast was pretty much right on.  The only difference was that the seas in the morning when we left were 2 to 4’ and 3 seconds apart.  This made for more of a roller coaster ride for the first few hours.  But it was nothing that Curiosity couldn’t handle.  As the day wore on, both the winds and seas gradually calmed down so that the latter third of the trip was quite comfortable.

We left the Charleston Megadock at 5:29 in the morning (ugh!).  It was still dark, but the Charleston channels are well marked with lighted buoys, so we had little trouble finding or staying in the channel.  The only excitement was a Celebrity Cruise Line ship that was coming up the channel about midway between Charleston and the ocean.  We passed at one of the wide areas where there was plenty of water outside the channel and had no problems making the pass.  By about 6:30 we left the channel and made our turn to the north for Southport.

It was a pretty uneventful trip.  There were few boats out; it seemed we had the whole ocean to ourselves.  We spotted the occasional dolphin fin.  Around 11am, two dolphins took an interest in us and jumped in our wake a few times, but then peeled off.  Fishing around for breakfast probably took priority.  There were some sea birds that flew by, but by and large we cruised along by ourselves.

We were heading to the Southport Marina, which we’ve stayed at before.  They’re right off the ICW and the entrance channel for Southport.  It’s an easy entrance and exit from the face dock and within walking distance to Southport itself.  We hoped to be in by 6pm and did not want to be later than 7 because the marina closes as 7 and doesn’t guarantee a spot on their face dock after the staff leaves.  We had some favorable seas starting around 4pm and were able to get to the dock and get tied up by 6:30.

As soon as we tied up, Jim was off to the nightly weather and navigation briefing that the marina hosts for all the cruising boats.  The briefing goes over all the trouble spots in North Carolina along the ICW going north in the Spring and going south in the fall, complete with handouts of up-to-date color photos of aerial surveys of the worst spots.  The photos allow you to see exactly where the shoaling is in the channel and how to get around it.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly rinsed off Curiosity.  After 13 hours in the ocean she was encrusted with salt!  By the time I finished with that, Jim was back from the briefing.  We were beat.  We quickly made dinner on board and called it another early evening.

The next day we had a leisurely morning; we didn’t leave the dock until just before 9am!  This gave us time to have breakfast first, which at that point seemed like a luxury.  Our destination for the day was Swan Point Marina in Sneads Ferry.   We had never been there before, but it was the right location for a reasonable cruise after the previous day’s marathon and not too far from Beaufort, NC, which we had never visited and wanted to see on the following day.

So we headed up the Cape Fear River and made it through Snow’s Cut, a tricky area with some shoaling, by 10:30.

Largest Military Transport Terminal - Cape Fear River

Largest Military Transport Terminal – Cape Fear River

There were a few bridges that we couldn’t get under and so timed our arrival to make their scheduled openings.  Again, no problems there until we approached the Surf City Swing Bridge, which opens only on the hour.  We knew we couldn’t make the 2pm opening, so we slowed down and crept along the ICW, planning to arrive at the bridge just before the 3pm opening.   At around 2:20, however, when we could see the bridge with our binoculars we heard the bridge tender hailing the boats waiting for the bridge.  He apologized for the delay and said he would be opening the bridge shortly for them.  We came into this “conversation” a little late, but concluded that the bridge was going to open around 2:30.  If we could get through at 2:30, we really wanted to do it.

There were a few bridges that we couldn’t get under and so timed our arrival to make their scheduled openings.  Again, no problems there until we approached the Surf City Swing Bridge, which opens only on the hour.  We knew we couldn’t make the 2pm opening, so we slowed down and crept along the ICW, planning to arrive at the bridge just before the 3pm opening.   At around 2:20, however, when we could see the bridge with our binoculars we heard the bridge tender hailing the boats waiting for the bridge.  He apologized for the delay and said he would be opening the bridge shortly for them.  We came into this “conversation” a little late, but concluded that the bridge was going to open around 2:30.  If we could get through at 2:30, we really wanted to do it.

We sped up and soon joined 8 sailboats and a trawler waiting for the bridge.  Around 2:25 the bridge began to open.  The trawler went first, and then one by one the 8 sailboats went through.  We brought up the rear.

Once through, we had what seemed like an endless stream of sailboats ahead of us, all of which were going about 6 or 7kts.  We were going to cruise between 8.5 and 10kts, depending on the current.  That meant that we had to pass all of them.  Jim was driving at this point, so I got on the VHF and hailed the sailboats one by one, requesting permission to pass.  It took a while to get past them all, but everyone was gracious and friendly.

One of Many Sailboats We Passed

One of Many Sailboats We Passed

We continued on, making good use of the information that Jim had gotten at the Southport briefing to get us by some pretty significant shoaling areas.

Houses on ICW Leading to Sneads Ferry

Houses on ICW Leading to Sneads Ferry

North Carolina Marshlands

North Carolina Marshlands

We arrived at our destination, Swan Point Marina, about 4:20pm.

I mentioned that we had never stayed here before.  Like any good boater we checked them out online before we made the reservations, which we made with hesitation.  The marina had been closed for a while and was in disrepair a few years back.  But it was under new management and Tina Turner (yes, her name really is Tina Turner) the new owner said they could take a boat of our size.  “No problem.”

Tina wanted us to call her on her cell about 30 minutes before we arrived so that she would be on the docks with her mother, who helps her with the lines and general marina management.  We weren’t getting a warm and furry feeling about this.  We arrived at the marina, sorted out the entrance and started to make our way in.  We bumped the bottom when we were about halfway through the entrance (never a good feeling) but got by that area and then pulled up to the dock right in front of us. Tina and her mom were there to help us with the lines, but halfway through our tie-up Tina needed to help a trawler that was coming in behind us and was going to tie up on the other side of the dock.  I hopped off and Jim and I finished the tie up ourselves. Eventually both boats were tied up comfortably for the night.

We were not quite at high tide.  Our depth gauge showed 6.2’ at the dock.  We draw 5’.  Tina told us there was a 1.5’ tide range.  That meant that at low tide our keel could be sitting on the mud.  When I went to check us in, I asked Tina how much depth we had at the dock and told her what our gauge was reading.  She assured me that it would be fine because there was 2’ of fine silt above the bottom that made for screwy depth gauge readings.  Well, we’ll give her this one.  We never saw less than 5.8’ on the depth gauge and never had any alarms.  But it was a little too shallow for our comfort.

Generally, the marina was a pretty run down place even with the new management.  The docks were pretty rickety, clearly there’s a depth issue at the dock, and the facilities were pretty bare bones.  On the plus side, however, part of the docks were under repair while we were there.  Tina told us that the repairs would continue and that the dock area and entrance would be dredged.  In addition, she bent over backwards to try to make our stay as pleasant as possible, volunteering to bring us to the local grocery, offering to bring us to one of the local restaurants if the restaurant shuttle was delayed, etc., etc.  That evening Tina’s mom brought us some homemade cinnamon cake, which looked and smelled delicious.  So they got an A for effort.  They just need a lot more work to get the marina to be really functional.

Swan Point Marina

Swan Point Marina

Rebuilding the Marina

Rebuilding the Marina

We spent the afternoon doing our boat chores and chatting with Vicky and Chuck , the couple who pulled up in the trawler next to us.   They were a lovely couple from Alabama.  We all decided it would be a pizza night from the pizzeria recommended by Tina.  It took an hour to get the pizza delivered, so it was lukewarm when it finally got to us.  But we were all starving by that point and none of us really cared.  We shared the pizza, cheese and crackers and good conversation aboard Patriot.

Vicky and Chuck are heading north as well.  We may see them again in one of our future stops.  We hope so; we enjoyed meeting them and enjoying their hospitality.

Wednesday was another early morning.  This time we were driven by the tides.  We knew we would have several spots along the ICW with significant shoaling and that it would be best to transit these areas as close to high tide as we could.  High tide in the Sneads Ferry area was at 5:10.  That was too early for us, but we calculated that a 6:30 or 7am departure would still give us enough water to get through these areas without any problem.

Sunrise at Swan Point Marina

Sunrise at Swan Point Marina

 

So at 6:30 Jim backed us off the dock and straight out of the marina, this time avoiding the bump we had hit coming in (thanks to Tina’s advice).  We turned and headed north on the ICW.  Within 15 minutes we were at the first trouble spot.  This is a known shoaling area, and the Coast Guard has put some temporary buoys out to guide boaters around the shoaling area.  The problem is that the shoaling has continued and if you follow the temporary buoys, you’ll run into very shallow water, i.e., less than 5’.  Jim learned this at the Southport briefing, and we had the aerial photo that showed how to get across this area.  We went through at idle speed, following the photo to deep water, and had no problem getting through.

About an hour later we came to the next trouble spot.  And again, following the information Jim got at the briefing, transited the area without incident.   We had one more shoaling area in Bogue Sound, and again followed the briefing information, which took us outside the charted channel, but into over 20’ of water.  We were relieved to be through the last problem spot and very thankful to Southport Marina for providing such timely and accurate information!

The Bogue Sound was beautiful with calm water and many nice houses along the waterfront.  At one point a dolphin joined us and put on quite a show for Jim.  He was able to get a great short video.  Jim came in to get me so I could watch, but the dolphin must have thought his audience had left and he peeled off before I could see him.  Boo Hoo.

Bogue Sound

Bogue Sound

More Houses Along Bogue Sound

More Houses Along Bogue Sound

At the east end of Bogue Sound is the Atlantic Beach Bridge, a fixed 65’ bridge.  It’s right at the Morehead City/Beaufort commercial area.  As we approached, we saw that a tug was preparing to bring a long barge through the bridge with the assistance of two other smaller tugs.  The whole thing took up a huge area of water and basically clogged the entrance to the bridge.  We weren’t going to be able to get around it, so we hung back and proceeded at idle speed while the tug got through the bridge and entered the turning basin.  The tug captain announced that he was going under the Morehead City Bridge and then heading north in the ICW.  We were going south to Beaufort, NC.  But it took us 20 minutes until the tug and barge complex had made the turn and given us enough room to proceed along our route.  Actually, it was pretty interesting to see the tugs working together to get this barge through the bridge and then turned 90 degrees so it could head north.

At the east end of Bogue Sound is the Atlantic Beach Bridge, a fixed 65’ bridge.  It’s right at the Morehead City/Beaufort commercial area.  As we approached, we saw that a tug was preparing to bring a long barge through the bridge with the assistance of two other smaller tugs.  The whole thing took up a huge area of water and basically clogged the entrance to the bridge.  We weren’t going to be able to get around it, so we hung back and proceeded at idle speed while the tug got through the bridge and entered the turning basin.  The tug captain announced that he was going under the Morehead City Bridge and then heading north in the ICW.  We were going south to Beaufort, NC.  But it took us 20 minutes until the tug and barge complex had made the turn and given us enough room to proceed along our route.  Actually, it was pretty interesting to see the tugs working together to get this barge through the bridge and then turned 90 degrees so it could head north.

Tugs and Barge

Tugs and Barge

After that excitement we made our way to the Beaufort Docks for our berth.  Fortunately, we were  coming in close to slack current, which can run as high as 2kts, because they put us in a slip with a very tight turning radius.  But Jim handled it just fine, maneuvering Curiosity forward and back until we in the slip.  By noon we were tied up.

We were thrilled to be in before the late afternoon or evening.  We had read about Beaufort and wanted to see the town.  We grabbed lunch on board and then headed to town to check it out.

Beaufort is a really nice small town.  The main part consists of about 3 or 4 streets that run parallel to the waterfront and about 10 cross streets.  Right along the waterfront are many beautiful old houses, many of which date to the 1700s and 1800s.  There are shops for the tourists, lots of restaurants, a maritime museum with a great exhibit about Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard’s pirate ship that went aground in the Beaufort inlet) and the Harvey Smith Watercraft Center, and a shipbuilding museum.  Many tour boats leave from Beaufort headed for the waters around the town, the Rachel Carson Nature Reserve and the Outer Banks.  It’s clear that the town comes alive in the warmer weather.  But we were glad to be there stretching our legs and taking in their history.

Front Street - Beaufort

Front Street – Beaufort

More of Front Street

More of Front Street

Harvey Smith Watercraft Center

Harvey Smith Watercraft Center

Tonight we dined at the Blue Moon Bistro, which came highly recommended. We wandered the few blocks from the docks to the restaurant and were treated to a very good meal.  We started off with a warm spinach and duck breast salad with apples, blackberries and fried sweet potato “threads.”  I’m not big on fruit in salads, but this was really good.  For a main course, Jim enjoyed a local shrimp creole with andouille sausage and rice in a tomato sauce. And I had seared salmon over grilled asparagus, mushrooms and lobster ravioli with a light cream sauce.  Also very good.  We finished off the meal by sharing a piece of pecan pie with some vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce drizzle. The whole meal was delicious.

Rain had been predicted all day and finally arrived while we were eating.  We had brought our umbrellas just in case and were glad we had them for the walk back to Curiosity. There is more rain predicted for tomorrow, so we may be cruising under dripping, grey skies.  I just hope we don’t have to dock in the rain.  We’ll just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.

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