Rock Hall to Myrtle Beach
13 November 2020 | Myrtle Beach SC
We moved aboard Mystic Star on October 30th with intentions of leaving home port on the 31st. But the weather had other plans as it often does. Saturday was nice enough but a frontal passage brought heavy rains and southerly winds on Sunday, so we stayed put and watched some football. When the front went through Sunday Evening, it brought a gale of cold NW winds that held through Tuesday morning. So we left the dock at about 11 AM on Nov 3rd with it still blowing 15-20 in the slip. With help from friends, we got all untied and headed out and south which started out with a great fast reach with a double reefed main and solent (staysail) jib at speeds of 8 - 8.5 kn. South of the bridge, the winds abated and eventually we motor-sailed, then just motored by sunset and continued overnight. By 11 PM we were abeam of Smith Pt at the southern margin of the mouth of the Potomac River with winds less than 5 kn. We crossed over the Tunnel at Hampton Roads at 0630 Wednesday and proceeded up the Elizabeth River through the vast Navy yards then commercial shipping ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth. It was beautiful clear weather and not nearly as cold as in previous years. The motoring in the start of the ICW went well with only one 45 min hold up at a railroad lift bridge that stayed closed for two long trains. It was important that we got through this bridge when we did since there was a scheduled full day closure for the next day. By the time we made the locks at Great Bridge (VA), there was enough southbound traffic to fill one lock wall and start on the other, then once through waited for the bridge at 'Great Bridge' to open at 1100. Just two more swing bridges to go and we were off to follow the ICW through the shallow Currituck Sound and made the docks at Coinjock (NC) at 3:35 PM. That was a 187 nm trip from Rock Hall over 27.5 hours with about 90% motoring. We've normally enjoyed dining at the restaurant there, but in this era we find ourselves in, we opted for a take-out meal to eat aboard which was great, but enough for next day leftovers.
Thursday, Nov 5, we were up early to depart before sunrise. There was some scenic patchy fog over the marsh lands and a building procession of boats heading south this day. Winds were less than 5 kn and from behind, so the motoring continued across the Albemarle sound and through the swing bridge in the middle of the long causeway across the Alligator River. The wind built up from the NE so we were able to sail south in the Alligator River for the 10 nm up to the long canal that connects to the Pungo River. We're always nervous about the one fixed bridge near the western end of this canal (known as the Wilkerson Bridge) since its clearance is only 64 ft and we need 63.5 ft to get through. Fortunately the water levels were lower than normal with the northerly winds, so no antenna-touch as has happened before. We made it to anchor in Pungo Creek, just south of Bellhaven NC right at sunset. There we enjoyed a calm night at anchor but woke early to find dense fog. Regardless we headed out and down the Pungo River as the fog soon dissipated to cross Pamlico River and south in Goose Creek with high pressure keeping the winds very low. We exited the canal into the Bay River, then took a slight detour to the west to Ball Creek where we anchored and dinghied ashore to see our friends the Nettings at their wonderful waterfront home. So great to see Dave & Sandy and catch up on things. After some hours of (safe) socializing, we moved the boat to a cozier spot for overnight anchoring in Bonner Bay. It was a pleasant natural surrounding, but awoke to the sounds of gunshots at dawn. The duck hunters were out in force, and being a nice Saturday (Nov 7) early in the season, many were doing their thing. So without too much delay, we were on our way again heading out into Pamlico sound and soon south in the wide Neuse River which we could sail for a change for most of the day. By afternoon we were headed south in Adams Creek/Core Creek canal which terminates near Beaufort NC. We found a corner of the busy harbor near Morehead City to anchor, just south of Sugarloaf Island. There was a fishing tournament underway and everyone with a boat and a rod/reel was out there for it.
That location set us up for an offshore sail down the coast. We left our options open to either sail overnight to Charleston SC or to head in before dark at Wrightsville Beach NC. The sailing started well (Sunday, Nov 8) with the wind on the quarter, but as the day went on, the wind became more dead astern and the swells were building from the beam--an uncomfortable combination, so we opted to head in for a night of peace. That decision was helped by some sprinkles that started late in the day. We made it to the Masonboro Inlet just at sunset though was dark with overcast and the small inlet had only a few small unlit buoys to help locate the entrance, but the jetties were clearly visible. The ebbing tide against the waves with the cross wind made us a bit nervous about this entrance, so we were ready for anything and well battened down as we approached. Fortunately it turned out to be a non-event and getting through to the safe harbor inside was no problem. There were a surprising number of boats in the anchorage behind Wrightsville Beach, more than we had seen in several previous stays here. We were later to learn that boats on their way south were hesitating to some extent to find out what the late season tropical storm "Eta" was going to do. We decided to press on from there on the ICW but found that slips in marinas down the line were mostly unavailable due to boats on hold. We were able to find a spot a little further down than was convenient, but we went for it. This was at the Grand Dunes Resort in Myrtle Beach SC. We made it fine through the tricky shallow bits near Lockwood Folly Inlet and Shallot Inlet, using the Bob423 tracks and the Corps of Engineers latest surveys. With the help of tidal current for most of the day, we made it to our destination by 4:30, before they closed at 5, a 65 nm trip taking just under nine hours. With the opposite tidal situation, I'm sure we'd have been late. Once there, we planned to stay for a day to take it easy and to investigate an engine issue. That day has turned into at least four as the storm "Eta" has moved up along the coast making for wind and heavy rains. With our mast height at 63.5 ft we will be trapped by high waters because of bridge clearances until they drain away, maybe by Friday or Saturday. In the meantime, it's been nice to be here, and though we're reticent to dine in the many nearby restaurants these days, take-out is a not bad alternative.