Aiding the Enemy

Grace Harbor at River Dunes was so beautiful it was hard to leave.  We had taken our dingy exploring, and run up a few fingers of Broad Creek till they got too shallow.  We met a nice young couple who liked our boat’s name: their 1 year old daughter is named Grace.  Turns out the mom is named Becky (our daughter’s name) and HER mom is named Cheryl.

Even at night the place was gorgeous!

 

Sunday we ran up the ICW to Belhaven, NC.  It is called the birthplace of the ICW, because the last stretch to be completed was here.  We were told we should stay in the River Forest Marina, so we could be near the famous River Forest Manor house.  In 1904 a wealthy railroad and lumber guy, John Wilkinson, completed an amazing mansion.  Beautiful detailing, some done by the same Italian craftsmen that worked on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.  The huge residence was frequently used for mega parties, and when Wilkinson passed on, it eventually was turned into an inn, restaurant and marina.  It was THE place to be in the mid 1900’s.  They brag about the celebrities that stayed there, from James Cagney to Twiggy.  Times change, however, and it eventually closed, ignored for years.  It has now been purchased by a team who have restored it to its former glory, and use it primarily as a wedding venue.  We were given a personal tour and history of the manor.  Many locals remember spending time at the famous River Forest restaurant, and our tour guides would say “All the tables were here, and my favorite corner was here, and…”  Really fun tour.

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Anyone else remember seeing gas pumps like this?

 

The marina was almost empty… our boat and 84 million sea gulls.  The dock master said he hated them… they colored the docks white and colored the air with incessant screeching.  Inside the boat we didn’t hear them, but step outside and the noise was amazing!  So I decided to fight back and make some noise of my own… our air horn sent all 84 million to the air at once, making more noise than ever!  I don’t care who you are, that was funny!

 

But the next morning, we saw one of our enemy birds caught in a fishing line.  One wing was tangled in the line, and the line was fixed on the dock, so he was just hanging by his wing flopping frantically.  We got the dock master, and he joined us in an attempted rescue.  He grabbed the bird, who promptly grabbed his hand in his beak.  The bird never let go of his hand, while we struggled to cut all the tightly wound line from his wing.  When we finished, he threw the bird in the air, but he didn’t fly too well and landed in the water.  He swam a few minutes, then flew awkwardly off.  Even though they are messy and noisy, we were glad they weren’t down to only 83,999,999 birds.

Monday we continued up to the mouth of the Alligator river.  A fairly short run, and not an alligator in sight.

 

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Sunrise from Alligator River

Tuesday we moved on to Coinjock, NC.  This is a famous stop on the Virgina Cut ICW route.   It is in a nice stopping place on an otherwise lonely stretch of canal, and their restaruant is known for serving 32oz prime rib.  Rather than eating half a cow, we delighted in Cherryl’s latest sourdough raisin bread!  Fantastic!

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Wednesday headed up to Atlantic Yacht Basin, in Chesapeake Virginia.  We are going to have some boat maintenance attended to here, and thought we’d get a start before the holiday weekend.  The ICW was very pretty all the way up here, but parts are very narrow and force you to navigate very carefully!  Since we have gotten here, we have seen large tugboats, sometimes pushing HUGE barges.  I have to believe they are only going a little way south, and not the whole twisty route we just finished!

Here is about an hour’s worth of ICW in just 61 seconds… It slows down for a few seconds to show you passing through a swing bridge.  All the little zigs and zags in our course are to follow the chart plotter or depth sounder to avoid shallow areas!  There are lots of them!

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Praying Mantis catching a ride under our radar arch
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Atlantic Yacht Basin Marina

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A cool Tug

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Bohtiful Beaufort

Once while walking along on Bald Head Island, we saw a bit of debris on the road – moving! Turns out it was a Camouflaged Looper caterpillar. (Synchlora aerata)  This little guy finds his favorite place to eat, and then takes a few bite for himself, then sticks a mouthful on his back, glueing it in place with silk like a spider.  Soon he has the perfect camouflage for his location, unlike some caterpillars that look like one type of flower or plant but don’t then match others.  Being his own tailor lets him go out to eat wherever he wants, always dressed appropriately.  And who doesn’t want a bit of variety?

 

Friday we headed up the ICW to Carolina Beach.  We spent two nights in a mooring field, which means instead of your anchor you use an anchor that has been rather permanently placed there for you.  For a very small fee.  This is often done when frequent anchor dropping and retrieving would damage the sea floor.  It felt a little odd, to be on a mooring, but in a small river and surrounded by homes.  We got the dingy out and explored up and down the river.

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Carolina Beach with mooring balls

 

Sunday  was the run out the Masonboro Inlet, and out in the ocean to Bohtiful Beaufort.  I am using that strange adjective for its alliteration: Beaufort, SC is pronounced “bue-fort” but Beaufort, NC is pronounced “boh-fort”.  But whatever, Beaufort is Beautiful!

Founded in 1709, there are dozens of picturesque homes from the 1800’s.  Our marina was right in front of Front Street, in the center of the old part of town.  Great fun just to walk along and check out the architecture.

Right across the river from our Marina was an island, part of the Rachel Carson Reserve. Supposedly feral ponies live there, but we didn’t see any.  A very nice boardwalk across the island let us see lots of birds and beautiful scenery, but no ponies.

 

Monday we made the 13 mile trip to Cape Lookout Lighthouse in our dingy.  The lighthouse is painted in a checkered pattern, as all lighthouses along the Carolinas are painted in unique patterns for easy identification from sea.  At 163 feet tall, I’m told it gives a wonderful view of the whole outer banks area… but I wouldn’t know firsthand.  Because it is closed on Monday and Tuesday.  Sigh.  It’s been standing since 1859, so maybe it will still be here for us to climb when we come back on our way south.  And not on a Monday or Tuesday.

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Black and white – the fashion here
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Dingy waits in a foot of water while we were at lighthouse

Having seen zero wild ponies so far, and hearing that Ocracoke Island is really fun, we decided to head that way. I had heard lots of talk about how shallow it is around the island, and we were hesitant to take our boat there.  So we took someone else’s!  We rented a car, put our bikes in the back and our duffel on the bike trailer, and drove to Cedar Island.  There we left the car, rode our bikes onto the ferry, and took a two hour ride to Ocracoke.  A charming little town, again packed with history.  We stayed in Blackbeard’s Lodge, a rambling place that was built in the 30’s, long after Blackbeard was no more.  But he seems to live on, since everything around here is named for him, or was  visited by him, or would have been visited by him if he’d only had internet, or whatever.

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Bikes on the ferry
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The Dedication Prayer for the Ferry! Very Cool!
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Outside our room at Blackbeard’s Lodge

Blackbeard apparently wasn’t fond of indecency…

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Posted in Blackbeard’s Lodge

 

We rode our bikes 7 miles up island to a place where we could supposedly see ponies.  We almost didn’t try it, because it was so windy.  We imagined seeing cute little ponies galloping along beautiful beaches, stopping only to eat the abundant sea oats or roll in a grassy meadow with their buddies.  As these visions encouraged us, we rode on. As we rode north, the tall foliage beside us seemed to shield the wind, so it wasn’t too bad.  We arrived at this little fenced in area, with half a dozen ponies, eating from a trough right outside their barn.  What?  Wild or feral ponies!?  It looked just like you’d see in Colorado or almost anyplace with horses.  No galloping or frolicking whatsoever.  We fought the wind for this?  Sigh.  Turns out we didn’t fight the wind for it… we were riding with the wind.  Now the trip back; that was fighting the wind!  Probably the worst thing was that our good friends Jeff and Marilyn always talk about their rides, just casually mentioning a 40 mile ride on their blog, so how can I complain about our 14 mile trip?   (Check out yearofadventuring.com)  We grabbed a moment’s rest on a gorgeous wind-swept beach.

 

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The fabled feral ponies

 

Ocracoke was great fun, however.  We took our bikes on the walking tour (don’t tell) until we thought we’d die if we were exposed to any more historical and architectural data.

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So on that note I’ll talk about cemeteries.   German U-boats cruised off the Atlantic coast in WWII, looking to sink both military and merchant ships.  Great Britain sent some ships to help us protect our coast, and one of these, the HMS Bedfordshire, was torpedoed and sunk taking all hands with her.  Four bodies washed ashore, and the saddened local Ocracokians (can I say that?) respectfully buried them.  But British tradition says that their sailors should be buried on British soil, so it’s said that Great Briton has a perpetual lease on this small cemetery, and our Coast Guard respectfully maintains it.

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British Cemetery

The adjacent cemetery has some very old and interesting tombstones, including one for Ann Howard, who died at age 117!

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The lighthouse on Ocracoke is not as tall, and is not open for climbing.  So another unclimbed lighthouse…

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I had one other problem on Ocracoke… I couldn’t help but think of Steve Martin plugging “Okra Cola” on SNL years ago… I remember it sung to the tune of “Oklahoma”. Funny.

Friday we ran the boat up through the wide Pamlico Sound, with high winds and rough seas.

 

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Lots of smooth water too…

Our destination was Grace Harbor at River Dunes.  With that name we figured we’d fit in nicely.  It is a beautiful marina, well protected from any weather and the magnificently groomed ground feeling like we are in the middle of a golf course.  The marina and lodge buildings are a quantum jump nicer than most.

 

 

The coolest thing about the trip was Cherryl’s doing… She has been wanting to make her own sourdough for a long time.  A couple of weeks ago, after lots of research, she started her own sourdough starter.  It takes time to build it up, with multiple feedings every day. (at least you don’t have to change diapers).  The other day we had the first taste – sourdough waffles!  Light and tart and fantastic!  Today, as we plowed along in some fairly rough water (as rough as the ocean outside), her first loaf of sourdough bread was rising and then baking.  It turned out awesomely scrumptious!  This is going to be a very tasty hobby!

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Cherryl’s First Sourdough Bread
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Tucked into Grace Harbor at River Dunes

Bald Head Island

Bald Head Island… one can just hope there’s nothing contagious here!  This island off of Southport, North Carolina is only accessible by boat.  The travel brochures say there are are no cars allowed; only bicycles and golf carts.  And the occasional service truck.  It really is beautiful… as you pedal along, you hear nothing but the birds chirping, the wind rustling tree leaves, and the whine of golf carts whooshing past.  There are roughly 1,200 homes on the island, and I think they each have at least one cart.  Many have two-cart garages, some have three or more.  And then there is the huge lot of rental carts for all the visitors. So maybe this tiny island has 2,000 carts on it.  All these homes need lots of service, so there was a surprising number of full sized trucks too.  The island is really beautiful, with lots of nice beaches, shady tree covered “roads”, and acres of green grass growing in marshlands.

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We came across a giant house-eating monster, and I thought grandkids Bryan and Peter would have loved to watch it…

A huge tugboat pushing a far bigger barge came and went several times each day, carrying large trucks, work vans, and even a car pulling a U-haul.  We saw the dumpster full of smashed house leaving later. Sometimes 7 trucks, sometimes very little load.  The video below is sped up, but it still seemed they moved pretty fast, especially considering the size of the marina.

 

In 1792 congress allocated $4,000 to finish building a lighthouse that was started even before North Carolina was a state.  A couple of years later the lighthouse was finished – an open stucture with exposed metal girders.  The only problem was that the islands erode and change shape.  Within 20 years, the lighthouse was threatening to walk into the ocean.  So in 1817 they made a new one further inland, this time building it with brick.  They also re-used the lantern room and set it off center to fit over the new opening.  So it is North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, even if it is just lit for show and not actual navigation.  The 108 steps to the top were a small price to pay for the view!

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The British had a fort on Bald Head Island before the colonies revolted, and then that same fort was used by the Confederates during the civil war to keep supply lines going through Union blockades.  The fort itself has succumbed to the elements, with most of it now underwater and only traces of the rest discernible under the thick vegetation.

 

We took the kayak out for a long run – out of our marina to the inlet, where it felt like we were in the ocean.  Then around to the rivers running across the island, in between the grassy marshlands.  A little picnic dinner on a sandy beach was wonderful!

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Grandkids Aboard!

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Sunday our Kids came to see us!  Becky and Kevin, with Grandkids Dayna and Peter.  Dayna shares my birthday, and turned 6 this week!  (I’m older than that…)  Cherryl’s birthday is the following day, so we had lots to celebrate!

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We spent couple of days at the beach – it was hot, but the water was perfect and the grandkids loved playing with a bucket and shovel as much as playing in the water.

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Cherryl made a cake (First cake baked in our boat!) and Becky decorated it with very adamant instructions from Dayna. (This girl needs a blue dress with red spots, the boat has to look like this, this girl needs brown braids, etc.)  Artwork and cake were both awesome!

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Kevin and Becky locked me in a room as a birthday gift.  Really… but they came in too.  We did an escape room “game”.  Our challenge was to break into a “The world’s most secure” vault, and transfer a few hundred million to our offshore account.  There is a backstory that I won’t go into here, but we had one hour to untangle dozens of interesting puzzles, each one letting us move onto the next, through three rooms.  It was really challenging and intriguing, but the best part is WE DID IT!  So cool!

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We spent a bit of time cruising part of the ICW to get out to the ocean.  Grandkids did great till they were lulled to sleep!

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About 8,000 alligators are on display at the Alligator Adventure.  And some lemurs, lots of snakes and lizards, and a bobcat.  We petted a small alligator (OK, Peter did), saw them eat, and got to see what they claim is the largest captive alligator in the world.  I’m not sure how big he really is, but he’s big enough for me.

The marina has a nice pool, which kept the kids happy for quite a while too.  Dayna learned how to float, and Peter proved he can laugh for over an hour continuously!

A couple of evenings the lightning went on forever, off in the distance.  Not the bolts, but where the entire sky lights up.  We sat on the boat deck and just watched in awe.

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Boat deck set up for evening lightning watch

Our wonderful family left Thursday, after one last trip to the beach.  It was great to have them here, and they are talking about next time, so they must have liked it too! (One of Peter’s favorite activities was “fishing” with an empty water jug)

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On Friday our birthday present to each other came… an inflatable kayak!  The goal is to stow it in the lazarette, and let it magically inflate into a tandem kayak when desired.  So late today we put it together, and spent its maiden voyage tooling around the marina.  A couple enjoying Sundowners on the bow of a nice catamaran called out that they liked the looks of our kayak, so of course I steered over to their boat, and met Kevin and Christie (hope that’s spelled correctly). We had a great time chatting, and then toured each other’s boats.  We both got our boats about the same time, and have similar goals.  In fact, Kevin was in the same diesel maintenance class that I took last fall.  Cool people!  I’m betting we meet them again in other ports!

Seeing Sights in South Carolina

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Friday of last week we had answered prayers in the form of our davit being repaired in one day instead of five.  We were docked on the working side of Thunderbolt Marine, and we were told that we could now move to the marina side, where we would be more comfortable.  There was some dredging going on right beside us, so the dredger asked us to wait for about 30 minutes till he could be out of our way.  In less time than that, the sky darkened and wind came up and it started raining like crazy again!  We decided to move later… and there was nothing uncomfortable about where we were.  So we moved to the marina side the next afternoon.  I wasn’t sure what was supposed to be more comfortable on that side… until we woke Sunday morning with fresh Krispy Kremes delivered to our door!  I think this is the only marina in the world that gives guests complimentary doughnuts every morning!  I ate one, and gave the other five away to some great guys we met that are there permanently and therefore don’t get the delivery. (Cherryl is too smart to eat them!)  The next morning we got another half dozen… so I ate half of one and asked the two guys that had come in late Sunday if they wanted the other five.  They were very happy to take them, and asked me on board.  In their saloon, I noticed another Krispy Kreme box, and discovered they had gotten theirs already!  They sheepisly admitted they’d finished their box and were happy with more.  I cancelled the delivery for the next day!

I tried this picture to show how busy Cherryl is in the galley…

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We did see a lot of Savannah – a beautiful old town.

 

Amazing architecture is everywhere in Savannah! We toured the Owens-Thomas house, built in 1819.  It is considered one of the most elegant homes surviving in Savannah.   It is said that the Marquis de Lafayette stayed here when he toured the states at the 50th anniversary of our independence.  From a balcony, he addressed the huge crowds that filled the square to see him.  It is said the people were so happy to see him, they listened through a very long speech… without understanding a word.  He spoke in French, which very few could understand!

We had dinner at Bella Napoli, a great little Italian place.  The proprietor had some dishes that he would mix in a huge hollowed out parmesan cheese wheel.

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Monday we were going to have a guy from Thunderbolt look at the drains for our A/C units.  Two of them aren’t draining like they should, and all the water that the A/C units take out of the air (Like how your car drips water from the A/C on the ground) drips into our bilge.  But not just a little water… two buckets full per day!  (It’s so humid here we have to keep raisins in a sealed container lest they pop back into grapes!) But anyway, they had no good solution for the condensation water so we will worry about that another day.

Tuesday we ran up to Charleston.  It was a very long day in the ocean. We are very excited about our kids and grandkids coming next week to see us in Myrtle Beach, so we decided we didn’t want to spend much time in Charleston but get on up to Myrtle Beach.  But maybe one day would be OK… Mid morning on Wednesday the dockhands came to us and said “The owner of this slip came back early and we need to get him in.  Can you leave really soon?  Like Now??”  So we fired up and moved to a bigger marina near downtown Charleston.  What should have been a 20 minute trip up the bay was interrupted  by another rainstorm.  It rained so hard we could not see the land surrounding the bay in any direction!  Our radars and chart plotters assured us we were OK, but we just hung out in the center while it blew over, and then we plodded on to the next marina.  And goofed off the rest of the day.

We headed to Georgetown early Thursday morning.  We got there mid afternoon, and after getting settled Ubered (I guess that’s becoming a word now) to the historic district.  We had a nice walk down front street, had dinner in a kind of funky little place, and then walked down what they call “Harbor Walk” – a several block long wharf with private boats on one side and trendy restaurants, shops and bars on the other.  A nice stroll, highlighted by seeing a small alligator being harassed by turtles!  The gator was three, maybe four feet long, and the turtles were about a foot across.  Four of them would swim all around him, almost climb on his back, and swim right in front if him like they had a death wish.  He half-heartedly snapped at them a few times, but I guess their heads tucked in quickly enough to stay attached!

It was so nice out we decided to walk the couple of miles back to the boat.  We went through block after block of beautiful homes, many with plaques saying they dated from the 1770’s!  It was very frustrating- every time I stopped to take a picture, the mosquitoes would pick me up and ruin the framing of my shot.  We gave up batting them off, and called an Uber to rescue us.  Turns out the same guy that drove us into town picked us up again.  Maybe Georgetown has one Uber driver.

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The Georgetown Light marks the inlet

Friday was another early morning start on the way to Myrtle beach.  Some of the time we had some fairly heavy seas, but one time we rolled quite far to the port side.  A bit startling, but all seemed intact.  When we arrived in Little River, north of Myrtle Beach, we found that the two big barrel chairs in the saloon had each slid out 3 feet from the wall!  That’s the first time we’ve seen them move.

So now we’re in a nice marina, near Myrtle Beach, looking forward to having kids and grandkids on board next week!