Beaufort (Byoufort), SC, is a very pleasant town to linger in. We had time to kill before going to Charleston for Amy’s mother’s birthday celebration, so we spent four days in Beaufort, walking along the delightful tree-lined streets and stimulating the local economy. We even brought our computers in and passed an entire day at Common Grounds Coffee shop so I could take advantage of the free wifi and Amy could continue editing Red Dot on the Ocean.
Friends Lou and Jane of the late, Sandy-ravaged, Ripple Effect, stopped for a visit as they were driving by on their way to New York from Florida. We had lunch with a very hurried and annoying waitress followed by a walk admiring the Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss and gorgeous clapboard houses graced with giant verandas. Then Lou and Jane returned to their roadster, (which had acquired a parking ticket in the interim) and sped north toward their Nyack homestead.
We continued our sailing journey north on Monday, April 15. The next portion of the ICW was a series of winding rivers connected by several man-made cuts. The rivers are usually plenty deep but some of the cuts can be very shallow depending on the state of the tide. We were fortunate to have high tide during all of the shallowest parts and had an uneventful ride all the way to the South Edisto River just north of Watts Cut. Here, we found a beautiful anchorage in a lake-like setting with woods to one side and marsh on the other. It was a truly idyllic setting made even better by having it all to ourselves.
As I often do when at anchor, I pulled out my Nook (Barnes and Noble’s version of a Kindle) and got online to read the Washington Post. That’s when the reality of the outside world came crashing in to our peaceful anchorage. The Post was just getting news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Our first thoughts were, “What the ….?” Today, we, like most people, continue to wonder what was the point.
One usually feels a wide range of emotions when first learning of a major disaster–natural or man-made–that often creates a memory marker that helps you remember where you were when you first heard the news. Our memory is that we were in one of the more charming anchorages in the South Carolina section of the ICW but were experiencing the conflicted emotions of feeling safe and secure in the middle of nowhere, while deeply sympathizing with those under attack in Boston.
We arrived in Charleston the next day around 2 pm and anchored in the swift moving Ashley River. We patted ourselves on the back for making it on time for the Flannery-fest. All Amy’s sisters and her mother, Nancy, would be arriving in the coming days for the annual celebration of Nancy’s birthday.
To make life easier for us both, we went to the Mega Dock (Charleston’s term for their city marina) the next day and tied up near the other mega yachts. It’s kind of fun walking by the 100+ foot vessels and watching the paid crews doing all the mundane boat chores that we get to do ourselves. We did hear from a marina employee, that on one of the yachts, Tamsen, owned by the Firestone family, a Firestone daughter is actually a part of the crew, learning all the facets of yacht management from the keel up, so to speak.
The Flannerys had rented a house in Charleston for the weekend so, I was on my own. Except that I wasn’t. The sisters invited me out to two dinners–one in our favorite Charleston restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. Also, friends Raffi and Lisa aboard Windfall, sailed in from the Bahamas by way of Port Royal Sound. They introduced me to their cruising buddies from River Rat and together we did some restaurant hopping of our own.
Life on the Mega Dock was not all rosy, however. I had thought I’d get a lot of onboard chores done but the rough waves hitting Mary T kept smashing her into the dock creating a very unpleasant motion and removing my motivation to get anything done. (Note to self: next time dock on the inside of the Mega Dock.) Eventually the wind let up, and life aboard became more comfortable.
Despite the sometimes cold and rainy weather, the Flannerys had a great time in Charleston and all departed on Sunday. Our plan was to leave late in the day and go north to a nearby anchorage. However, Raffi and Lisa, who had left early that day, called to recommend that we stay put as the wind was blowing 30+ knots from the north making travel, even in the ICW, very unpleasant. We took their advice and left the next day when the wind had died down to 20 knots.
We left around 1:30 pm in order to have some high tide advantage over several of the shallow parts ahead. Our plan was to anchor in Price Creek but we found it too narrow for our comfort level. We back-tracked a little and tried another creek which again, felt too narrow. So, we just anchored at the mouth of the creek just outside of the ICW channel. There hadn’t been much traffic all day and we didn’t expect much more as it was late. Moments later, a tug boat pushing a large barge happened by. We were well out of his way, though, and enjoyed the close up view.
We left at 6:30 am the following day, to again, catch some high tides during passage through shallow stretches of the ICW. It paid off as we got to Thoroughfare Creek, off of the Waccamaw River without seeing any real shallow water.
There are assorted web sites and guide books that provide warnings of shallow bits of the ICW. We usually read them over and even write them down, prior to approaching a particular area in question. But we have found that some of the web sites that allow any boater to input and update caution alerts, need a good deal of scrutiny. Some people apparently follow their chart plotters right into the mud.
We’d never been to the Thoroughfare Creek anchorage before and were impressed with the subtle beauty of our surroundings. Our solitude lasted about 10 minutes when a large cruising trawler pulled up and dropped their anchor nearby. Although they kept a respectful distance and were quiet there’s nothing like being the only boat around.
Our next day’s destination was Calabash Creek on the South Carolina-North Carolina border. Things were going fine until sometime in mid-day, I noticed the engine’s temperature gauge climbing abnormally high. I quickly throttled down to see if it would drop, but it no such luck. We were approaching a section of the ICW called “The Rock Pile” because it is very narrow and has rocky outcroppings extending from both shorelines (near Myrtle Beach, SC). It’s so narrow that tug boats announce their impending passage on the VHF radio in hopes that recreational vessels will wait until they pass by.
We had the current with us and there was a gentle breeze off the starboard bow, so we tried sailing for a spell. Unfortunately, an upcoming curve put the wind right on our nose. I looked on our chart plotter for the nearest marina where we could pull in and assess our situation and found Hague Marina. I called them over the radio and was told that they did indeed do engine repairs. We were only about a half mile or less from their entrance but had little chance of getting there under our own power. Thus, we decided to drop anchor and call TowBoat US.
Hague Marina is very easy to miss. It’s literally just a hole in the tree-lined shore of the ICW. No signs or anything visual indicating that it’s through that hole. Nonetheless, the yard manager and a mechanic were there on the dock ready to catch our lines as the towboat captain brought us in.
We had not seen a marina in such disrepair since I don’t know when–maybe somewhere in the out islands of the Bahamas perhaps? Weeds were growing out of the dock pilings and the decking was curling up and broken in various places. I had a bad feeling about things. That banjo tune from the film, Deliverance was running through my head. They seemed too eager to help us—as if they had nothing else to do but wait around for broken down cruisers.
To be sure, we could have tried to troubleshoot the problem again like we’d done at Cumberland Island, GA, but, we had already gone as far as we could back there. I’m not a mechanic nor mechanically inclined. Although I can perform basic maintenance on our motor, I want to feel confident that troubling issues are resolved—not made worse by my inexperience. So, despite my initial concerns, we discussed our problem with the Hague guys. We believed it had something to do with the hot water heater. They thought that such intermittent overheating was most likely a faulty thermostat. Thus, a compromise was reached. We had them add a bypass hose that cut out the water heater from the cooling system and install a new thermostat that we happened to have onboard.
After running the motor about 45 minutes and not seeing any significant change in temperature, we concluded that we’d be OK to continue northward. However, it was rather late in the day at this point so, we just stayed the night.
Our walk about the marina grounds revealed the most rusty travel lift we’d ever seen as well as several burned out and cut up boats. One or two boats even had trees growing through them. To quote an online review of Hague Marina found in one particular cruiser’s web site, “Hague Marina is where boats go to die.”
We later learned that there had been five fires (arson) at Hague since December. Not to mention the major fire that destroyed some buildings including the office, back in 2008. But despite their history and the shoddy appearance of things, we had a fine time at Hague Marina. They helped solve our engine problem quickly for a reasonable price and the slip only cost a dollar a foot for the night.
The next day brought new adventures. Our timing regarding high tides was now out of sync and, we’d be traversing some inlets along the ICW that were very well-known trouble spots.
We arrived at the first, Shallotte Inlet, at mid-tide and had no problems. Then we were headed for the curiously named, Lockwood’s Folly Inlet, at just an hour before dead low. It was also just around the time of the full moon when the high tides are higher and the lows, lower.
Amy was at the helm (whew!) as we headed for the first of several temporary channel markers. Since it is a cross-roads kind of situation, you have ICW makers and you have inlet markers which makes it difficult to discern which is which from the low vantage point of our cockpit. As we were both trying to understand where the channel was, we went aground. How embarrassing as we were not yet even in the danger zone. Nonetheless, this pre-emptive grounding gave us the opportunity to wait and see how other boats approached the inlet. As it turned out, one sailboat passed us expressing their sympathy for our situation only to go aground seconds later themselves.
We had called for a tow but, in the meantime, a good Samaritan in a small power boat was kind enough to carry our small anchor from our boat out toward deeper water giving us the opportunity to kedge ourselves off. This technique worked and we were off within a minute or two. The tow boat captain finally arrived but his trip was not in vain as he now had the other sailboat to extract from the mud.
Having freed ourselves, we turned around, motored back a short distance, and anchored to wait for the tide to rise. While there, we watched as the towboat pulled and pulled to free the grounded sailboat and then led them out to the deeper water. We learned from the towboat captain via radio, that some days prior, a tug had gone through this area touching the bottom enough to cause humps of mud on the bottom. We just happened to find one.
Several pleasure boats passed by as we bided our time. One remembered us from the day before when we were anchored due to the overheating. They were concerned that we had the same problem. “No, today we’re just waiting for high tide.”
As we were leisurely sipping our Captain Morgan’s and awaiting the incoming tide, we spied a gathering storm approaching. I got out the laptop and saw on radar that we would be getting quite a downpour soon. So, after waiting about an hour and 45 minutes, we felt it best to get going as we didn’t want to be hunting our way through Lockwood’s Folly in a thunderstorm.
It turned out that our timing was perfect. We had enough water under our keel to pass through Lockwood’s without any trouble. Then, as the storm drew near, we had to quickly decide where to spend the night.
The original plan was to anchor in the very small basin at Southport, NC, but, as we had very little daylight left and, with the storm now upon us, we opted instead for the South Harbour Village Marina—about a mile before the basin. Southport’s community basin is only large enough for two or three boats and there was no guarantee it wasn’t already filled.
South Harbour Village Marina was a very pleasant surprise. Dave, the dock attendant, is one of the friendliest and most helpful marina staff we’ve ever met. The price per foot was inexpensive, to boot. We got our much-needed hot showers, laundry, fuel, and water tank topped off plus a fine meal at the Dead End Saloon. You can’t walk to town from this marina but we highly recommend it if you just need a place to stop for the night. We bet that someone would even give you a lift to town if you asked.
As we motored past the town basin the next day, we saw that it was totally full and were glad we made the right call by stopping where we did.
From Southport, we headed to Carolina Beach. Unfortunately we both mis-read the guide-book instructions on when to depart Southport in order to maximize favorable currents up the Cape Fear River. This meant our trip was nearly twice as long an it should have been. Live and learn.
We arrived in Carolina Beach just in time for the Surfrider Fundraiser, an event to raise money to help preserve our eroding coastline. Although not well attended by the local or visiting population, we heard some good reggae music. We also rented two bikes in order to expand our horizons. Our peddling took us to the Carolina Beach State Park as well as the Golden Sands Tiki bar.
But no other attractions in Carolina Beach can top a rousing game of golf at the Jungle Mini Golf with its deteriorating astro turf greens, toppled fiberglass elephant, fire ants, and raging river of Tidy Bowl-colored water. Nothing, that is, except an evening at the Hoplite Pub and Beer Garden.
Irish in cuisine and decor but decidedly uh, not sure how to put it–let’s just say that we would not have felt comfortable asking the bartender to switch the TV channel from the NASCAR race to “60 Minutes.”
We started out sitting in the “Beer Garden” but the group of four patrons out there, were making as much noise as the entire clientele inside. With them was a young girl, around eight or so, running around whacking the adults with a short bamboo stick. Then, one of the adults got a gooey slime toy stuck in her hair which they had to cut away with scissors.
We had read such great Trip Advisor reviews about this place that we decided to stick with it–but moved inside despite the overly cranked up jukebox and very loud yelling.
I ordered fish ‘n’ chips along with a Guinness. Amy ordered a glass of red wine and shepherd’s pie. I went to the bathroom to wash up and came back to find Amy and another patron, cleaning up Amy’s red wine which she accidentally knocked over in the direction of my fish ‘n’ chips. Good thing I wasn’t there or I would have been merlot-colored. After the big clean up. Amy dove into her pie only to find it totally inedible. The waitress, to her credit, offered to bring Amy something else, but we both were simply anxious to leave at that point.
The fish ‘n’ chips were great, however.