Home to Rock Hall
02 May 2019
We stayed as planned at the Harborwalk Marina in Georgetown SC for three nights enjoying the town and several of its restaurants and resupplying some groceries. The back streets of the town have beautiful oak trees lining and overhanging the streets with many historic homes, churches and mansions. Friday (Apr 19) did prove to be a good day to stay in port with high winds and rain and Saturday was about as windy, but weather was clearing. By Sunday (Apr 21) the skies were clear and the winds simmered down so we headed out and up the ICW for a section of it that we had not previously been through. This was a beautiful stretch of waterway that consisted of the wide and deep Waccamaw River where we could sail instead of motor our way that eventually gave way to more narrow man-made canal through heavily forested section. It was unique to be traveling through a flooded forest of cypress trees for many miles until we reached the section on the outskirts of Myrtle Beach NC. Just before the cypress forest ended, we stopped at a marina cut out of the swamps on a side chute to the waterway, Osprey Marina, by 2:30 in the afternoon. We were able to get a slip though it was rather a tight fit, and a very large power cruiser came in later and seemed like it boxed us in pretty well. But the marina manager came in early the next morning to help us work the boat around the very close quarters in calm conditions to make it back out to the waterway by 7:00 AM. The next section of the waterway was straightforward, although very different as it passed through more developed areas near Myrtle Beach. We successfully transited crossings at Shallotte Inlet and at Lockwood's Folly Inlet (staying on the inside route) to make our way to Southport NC, to the marina there were we stayed on our trip north in 2017. Southport is a great small town on the Cape Fear River where the ICW joins it as it heads south from there. There is a retired meteorologist at the marina who gives free weather and ICW briefings every evening to boaters passing through during the season, and this time it was well attended by fellow cruisers heading north. He pointed out many valuable tips on problem areas in the waterway from there northwards. With that information and our own collected information we made it through the tough spots without ever seeing depths less than 9 feet, and usually had much more. From Southport, we continued for one additional brief day on the waterway so as to cut off the long way around Cape Fear and Frying Pan Shoals and anchored for the night in the Banks Channel adjacent to Wrightsville Beach NC. This is a good jumping off point for an ocean sail to Beaufort or beyond and around Hatteras. Being just the two of us we opted for the long day-sail to Beaufort, leaving at 5:50 and sailing downwind a good bit of the 70 nm trip offshore. Upon reaching the inlet at Beaufort we faced an outgoing tide against the southwesterly wind which caused a steep chop to build up near the entrance. That slowed us down a good bit but it remained manageable in this relatively wide inlet. We then reentered the ICW there where we proceeded north through the Adams Creek Canal to the Adams Creek itself and Cedar Creek where we found a comfortable anchorage just at sunset. It was an 87 nm trip that took just under 14 hr.
The next day (Thurs, Apr 25) we wanted to stop and visit the town of Belhaven NC that we had sailed past many times over the years, but had never stopped previously. So we made that trip sailing in the Neuse River to the Bay River and a canal section to Goose Creek, followed by more sailing in the Pamlico River and north in the Pungo River to Pantego Creek at Belhaven. They have a small marina there but we opted to anchor in the river and dinghy into town which featured a very nice dinghy dock within a block of the main part of town--and restaurants. The town was badly flooded last September from Hurricane Florence and the restaurant "Spoon River" where we picked to dine had just reopened the previous week. We had a fine meal there and were personally well treated by Theresa the gracious co-owner/host. The next morning we had the choice of a long day with potential strong winds behind us or waiting while the winds came around to the north for several days making for uncomfortable travel in the sounds. We opted to continue on our way, first through the long and tedious Alligator-Pungo canal, then north in the Alligator River, across the Albemarle Sound to the North River. The first opportunity for anxiety was crossing under the Wilkerson Bridge, one known to be one of the least forgiving clearance heights on the waterway. As has been the case before, this was the only bridge on the ICW that we touched the antenna as we passed under, and fortunately that is all that touched! Next we sailed north in the Alligator River heading dead downwind in 25 kts (29 mph) towards a swing bridge that stops opening when the wind gets up to 35 mph (30 kts). We contacted the bridge tender and he encouraged us to proceed, so we made it through at 13:45 with one other sailboat and an impatient powerboat that had to wait for us sailboats to arrive before the bridge would open. Once through the opening the power boater zoomed off towards the narrow entrance channel from the river to the sound, while we made our way in that direction with the building winds behind us. As we arrived at the channel we could see that the power boat was no longer moving, and unfortunately for him, he had run up hard on the sand bar at the edge of the channel with the winds pushing him further aground. As we made our way around we saw that a tow boat was on scene to help out but we'll never know how all that worked out as it seemed to be a very bad predicament to be in. Out in the Albemarle Sound we were having our own issues with the building winds and short choppy waters. By the middle of the sound we had 30-35 kts coming from dead astern while we sailed at full speed (9-10 kts) with only a double reefed staysail set. During that stretch we saw plenty of sustained gusts in the 40-45 kt range with a few even higher. The boat did fine moving north towards the narrow entrance to the North River on the far side of the sound, the main problem being trying to spot and avoid the tiny crab pot floats scattered across it there amidst the white caps and foam. Once inside the shallow bits in the North River entrance we worked our way over to the west shore, reaching with the reefed jib, while I got thoroughly doused with side-spray even with the dodger, bimini and connector bridge in place. We got the anchor down in a more or less protected spot still with greater than 25 kts, by using the quick release on the windlass to get the anchor on the bottom and paid out as fast as possible. This was near the mouth of the small "Broad Creek" on the western shore of the North River. Once the anchor was secure we got hit with a couple of very heavy downpours and some close lightning over the next few hours around sunset. We were happy to be secure for the night as the winds clocked around to the northwest where we had the best protection.
The next morning we were again off early in clear skies and NW winds around 20 kts. We plugged along motoring to the north, first in the North River past Coinjock, then in Currituck Sound to the North Landing River and on to the east west running Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal with several opening bridges and one lock to transit. We and one other sailboat were making good time to make it to the first swing bridge at North Landing at 13:00. That allowed us to make it to the bridge and locks at Great Bridge VA by 14:00 for their once-an-hour opening, just in time. From Great Bridge we headed up and out the Elizabeth River through the heavy industrial area in Norfolk and Portsmouth VA, and tied up at Tidewater Marina near downtown Portsmouth by 16:00. After that stretch of mostly sitting we had the energy to do some boat clean-up and later enjoy dinner in town at a favorite place, the Bier Garden restaurant. Sunday (Apr 28) we headed out into the Chesapeake and points north. We alternatingly sailed and motor-sailed to make our way north on a nice day--except for the attack of the biting flies by midday! We've often noticed this to happen this time of year in the southern bay near New Point Comfort and the Mobjack Bay. So we were glad to be north of the Rappahannock River and on to the beautiful "Northern Neck" of Virginia to Indian Creek for the night. The next day we paid a visit to friends Tom and Sandy of "Anania" at the beautiful home that they recently moved into on the water off of the Great Wicomico River. They were so kind and gracious to us as experienced cruisers to the Bahamas and now as hosts at their home. They arranged a terrific evening with neighbors/boaters that we've also been in touch with via SSB radio and now had a chance to meet. It was great to see them once again and see their new place and surrounding area, we can't thank them enough for their hospitality.
Tuesday (Apr 30) was a variable wind day and we sailed out of the Great Wicomico River past the town of Reedville and around to the northeast and Smith Point. From there we crossed the mouth of the Potomac River under power with winds changing around us from just about all directions. We made good time motoring our way north to stop for the evening at Solomon's Island, Maryland, off the Patuxent River, a traditional stopover. Our final day was Wednesday, May 1, and was colder that we had experienced so far this year. It was cloudy and breezy from the east, so we were able to sail for most of the day, but not without jackets and long pants! We were beginning to wonder if we had returned north too early at this point! On our way towards the bay bridge we heard via radio from good friends on "Windward Passage", Captain Randy and friends John, Ken & Dodie who were out for their first sail of the season. Once back at our home port of North Point Marina in Rock Hall Harbor by 4 PM it was so great to meet and catch up with them after our long absence over the winter. It's good to be home again.