Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Up the ICW, 2016: Part Two

After Darien, we were off to Beaufort, SC. (Remember the “Beau” in Beaufort, SC is the same as the “beau” in beautiful; the “Beau” in Beaufort, NC is the same as “beau” as in somebody’s boyfriend.) Usually, we stay at the Lady’s Island Marina in Beaufort, but this time, we decided to try someplace else for a couple of reasons. First, our friends, Mark and Becky board Sea Angel were not going to be at the marina. Becky was having surgery and they were going to be at the hospital in Savannah at the time we were passing through Beaufort. We wish them well – and wish Becky  a speedy recovery. We hope to see them the next time we pass through Beaufort. The second reason we wanted to try Port Royal was that, to be honest, we did not have a particularly good experience at Lady’s Island last year.  The dockmaster made several promises to repair, or at least take a look at, our malfunctioning radio. None of these promises did he honor. (Eventually, we got the problem fixed, but it was not because of the dockmaster.) Moreover, last year Lady’s Island Marina just expanded the marina. Under normal circumstances that would have been a good thing – we like to see marinas that we enjoy grow their business. However, we got stuck in the “new” area that did not have cable TV (the rest of the marina did), that was well over ¼ mile from the office (so anything you wanted required a hike), that was located away from the other transients visiting the marina (so we couldn’t meet new people), and whose state of repair was generally below par.
The Port Royal Marina was generally nice except for two little problems: (1) The wi-fi was pretty bad, and (2) it was RIGHT next to a major highway bridge – so we heard highway noises all night. That particular problem we solved by closing the windows and turning on the air conditioning, even though it wasn’t that hot. At least the A/C generated white noise that let us sleep!

Actually, there is quite a bit of history associated with the region. European history of the Port Royal region began in 1514 – over 500 years ago – when Spanish Captain Pedro de Salaza explored the area. His was the second expedition that landed on the North American continent, after that of Ponce de Leon who landed a year earlier. Moreover, Port Royal was the home of the first fort in North America; later, nearby St. Helena served as the first capital for Spanish interests in America. Sixteenth Century America is turning out to be a fascinating interplay of Britain, France, Spain and plenty of non-state actors in the form of pirates. Even more interesting is that much of it took place in the Southeastern United States along the coast and the banks of the major river systems – much of which is now the ICW. We may have to spend some more time around Beaufort next year exploring more of its history.
After Beaufort, we headed north. We bypassed Charleston this year and went on to McClellanville, SC. Now, McClellanville has special significance for me. For the five years we have been cruising the ICW (and I am sure for many years before that) the area around the town has been one of the ICW’s “trouble spots,” in that it the water around the town was VERY shallow. The Corps of Engineers (with local assistance) is supposed to keep the waterway at 10’, more or less, all the time. But around McClellanville, it was frequently closer to four or five feet. Virtually all sailboats had to play the tides and even boats like ours had to be very careful. In fact, yes, we did go aground outside of McClellanville one time, and we have touched bottom a couple of others. So, every time we passed the place I had to ask myself, “Why in the name of heaven would anyone want to go to a marina in a town that does not lobby its local and state representatives to dredge the waterway in the region?” And I was serious. I, for one, refused – as a matter of principle – to use the McClellanville marina.

Lo and behold, last year the local government put up some money, which, in turn, pressured the state to put up some money, which, when coupled with cash from the Corps of Engineers, was enough to dredge the waterway!!! Well, that being the case, we did not have any choice other but to dock at McClellanville’s marina. It was a first for us, and quite frankly could well be a last in that it isn’t much of a marina. I will say, however, that there are three things about the area that we really enjoyed. First, the local restaurant was pretty darn good! It wasn’t anything fancy, but served plain old fashioned southern country seafood – and it was down home good! Second, the town has a live oak tree that is estimated to be over 1000 years old. Think about it: the tree was nearly 500 years old when Columbus landed; over 850 at the end of the Civil War.  Wow! And finally, McClellanville  has one of those small local museums that are a treasure trove of information about the area and have really some cool local artifacts. Unfortunately, we were only able to spend an hour before it closed. IF we ever go back to McClellanville it will be to see the museum (and probably to eat at the restaurant) not to survive the local marina.
After McClellanville, it was on to Osprey Marina. We didn’t spend the night there, we only bought fuel. Although it was well under my $2.00 goal, it was 1.81 – still a little high if you ask me. After Osprey, we stopped at Barefoot Landing Marina in Myrtle Beach, SC where we looked at some of the T-shirt shops, etc.

Last year we had intended to stop at Carolina Beach to set up on their mooring balls and check out the area. Unfortunately, we got pre-empted by Tropical Storm Ana and had to go to a marina where we could wait out the storm. This year, we decided, once again, to give the mooring balls a try. The mooring field was quite good and the balls themselves well taken care of, so we downloaded the dinghy and headed into town. On the one hand, the town has definitely seen better days as there were night clubs and bars on the ocean right next to ice cream shops (the ice cream shops were still closed for the season, the bars were all open – regardless of the season). On the other hand, the town was trying to comeback by building a nice little boardwalk near the beach. I am sure it is a lot nicer in the summer when families are enjoying the area and the beaches, but in mid-April, it was kinda dead.
A few miles up the Cape Fear River from Carolina Beach is Wilmington, NC. Last year, at the Annapolis Boat Show, we received an offer of a free three-day stay at xxx Marina. The problem with the marina is that it is across the bridge and about two miles from downtown Wilmington. I now, I know, you are wondering why we didn’t just hop in the car and go downtown – well, of course, we don’t have a car. What we did do was meet with our daughter, Lisa’s, best friend from high school (yes, that was a few years ago). Beky took Ann out to run a few errands and catch up on times past. And yes, Lisa, we now know more about your high school years than you would care for us to know! Overall, Wilmington seemed like a nice town. We did not get to take advantage of its sights as the marina where we stayed was just too far from downtown. If we go again – and we might – we will be staying at the city docks which are right on the local waterfront. 

Every year that we travel the ICW -- whether going up or coming down – we stop at Belhaven, NC. You are probably thinking that it is the birthplace of a famous author, philosopher or scientist to whom we want to pay homage, or that there is some sort of religious significance attached to Belhaven. Nope. It’s food. Spoon River Artworks and Market, believe it or not, is is a restaurant in downtown Belhaven that invariably has one or more extraordinary dishes made of local fare that would contend with some of the high end restaurants at which we have eaten in New York and Washington, DC. This year we started with a Quail Egg Brochette as an appetizer. Ann then had a Cornish game hen with potatoes and something else while I had seafood paella with lobster, scallops and shrimp. Everything was scrumptious!!! Often we anchor out when we go to the restaurant because Belhaven has a very nice anchorage. This year, however, we tried a new marina, the River Forest Marina, which is just out of town. The docks were adequate and we met several people we would not otherwise have met. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if we return to River Forest – but I can guarantee we will visit Spoon River!!
After Belhaven it was on to Elizabeth City. Elizabeth City, NC bills itself as “The Harbor of Hospitality.” Although we have been treated hospitably almost everywhere we have gone, in Elizabeth City they held an event, hosted by the mayor, with free wine and where they gave each of the ladies present a rose from the City. Moreover, the city has about 14 slips that are free to transients and several other locations on the waterfront offer free dockage. In short, Elizabeth City certainly is one of the most hospitable places we have been.

We went to Elizabeth City so see one of my West Point classmates and company-mates, Dick Atha. Dick was the quarterback of the football team back in the days when Army actually beat Navy once in a while. It was great catching up with Dick and getting his perspective on why Army football has been so poor over the past decade or so.
In addition to being the city where Dick Atha lives, Elizabeth City is also the gateway to the Dismal Swamp Canal. As the US Fish and Wildlife Service points out:

Human occupation of the Great Dismal Swamp area dates back some 13,000 years, 4,000 years before the formation of the swamp began. By the time European colonists arrived, the area had acquired its swamp-like character and it was here that they met the Nansemond Indians, who inhabited the western edge of the swamp.

In 1728, William Byrd II, charged with surveying the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, proposed draining the swamp, selling the timber, and using the land for agricultural purposes. It would be 40 years before several prominent Virginians, including George Washington, founded the Dismal Swamp Land Company in an effort to implement Byrd's plan. The company did not succeed with the agricultural venture, but commercial harvesting of the swamp's resources had begun.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Great Dismal Swamp served as a refuge for African-Americans escaping slavery. Historians believe these people established maroon communities in the swamp and used the swamp as both temporary and long term shelter. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe found literary inspiration in the swamp and the slaves hiding there.
We had completed the canal once before. It was fairly shallow back then and remains so to this day. We probably won’t be going on it again as we touched bottom several times and for a short period of time even had something we picked up off the bottom (vine? fishing line? someone’s rope? Give the boat a vibration. I thought we were going to have to find a diver to take it off, but luckily it seemed to work its own way off the prop after a ½ hour or so. The Canal is fun, its kitschy, it’s interesting, but it also isn’t for us.

And that’s how we finished the ICW. On our next iteration, I’ll talk a little about our trip to Cape Charles, to the Solomons, and our projected maintenance – oh yea, and our new condo.
Ann’s Notes: I know Michael wants to get this blog out…I did read it and I think it is good to go.

Just one addition, when we had dinner in Belhaven and having dinner we were with another cruising couple. Kay and Charlie from Plane 2 Sea, we have met them several times at several different locations – and almost all included food. They are a fun couple to spend time with.
We have so much to do… My mind is working in a forward time span right now. Thinking back on the ICW cruise seems like a long time ago, I loved it and had a wonderful time.

Thank you for reading…our adventure continues…
Traveling Soul…OUT

Oh wait…Spot is happy and well… and took her first unauthorized swim. More on that later…