Spooners Creek to N Myrtle Beach

The next travel segment is a relatively long one without many ports/marinas midway to break it up. Along the way there are two bridges which will require opening and the Camp LeJune firing range any of which can create a delay. Further there are some shallow areas which the US Corps of Engineers survey shows as having shoaled even more due to Dorian. So the segment is long in distance and potentially even longer that normal in transit time. Tropical Storm Nestor is out in the Gulf and is expected to cross N FL, GA, SC before exiting to the Atlantic from NC. Winds for the upcoming weekend are consistently forecasted to be gale force for the Atlantic cast along with heavy rain. The forecast is for calm conditions come Monday. With that forecast I don’t want to anchor somewhere but rather wait it out tied up in a sheltered marina. So the choice is to stay north near the southern end of the Outer Banks or make a quick run south to Myrtle Beach area. Opted to go to Myrtle Beach to wait out the weather and am breaking the trip into three legs. The total distance would be 125 nm but not easily divided into equal or near equal segments.

So I decided that Thursday would be a short run of 17nm from Spooner Creek to Swansboro (technically Cedar Point). It would at least make Friday’s long run bearable. I got a reservation at city run, unattended Church St Dock located across from the inlet to the ocean. I was told by the person at city hall that I would side tie on the T head face dock.

There was a ripping current out to the ocean inlet. The current ran parallel with the dock while the wind was heavy directly away from and perpendicular to the dock. Being at a face dock, there were no poles or finger piers on the ‘other’ side of the boat to ‘lean’ up against and towards the open side was heavy shocking. Tie was by means of cleats mounted low on the dock and of course no one around to catch a line. Between the current pushing me down the dock and the wind pushing me away from the dock and missed attempts to lasso or drop a line around a cleat, it took 3 tries to secure a midship line and hold the boat in place while securing a second line. But happily I’m got all tied up, fenders in place and power working so all is well and leg 1 of this segment was finished.

Breezy at dock
Not all the dock damage from H Matthew has been repaired yet. Posts still bent over. Dock trash including power pedestals.
Dock pier to nowhere
“All Alone Am I”

Friday was a relatively early start to a long travel day of 71.5 nm (82 statute miles). I opted to shorten the upcoming Saturday segment by bypassing a stop at Wrightsville Beach and continuing to Southport NC on the Cape Fear River. I got a slip at Deep Point Marina which shared a basin with a major ferry service to neighboring Bald Head Island, a very touristy place. Think Mac Island or Jekyll Island with no cars on the island. Nice marina. I think there are 4 ferry boats running out of the basin with one docking or leaving every 20 minutes. So there was plenty to watch..

One of the ferries taking on passengers from the terminal bldg.
Photo of Last Resort at Deep Point Marina taken from the ferry terminal bldg.

Left Deep Point Marina Saturday morning hoping to beat the rain to N Myrtle Beach. About 8 nm before MB I had an interesting experience. One of the pieces of advice frequently preached to boaters in an unfamiliar area is ‘to seek local knowledge’. I was approaching an inlet area called Lockwoods Folly, known for extensive shoaling. I had updated my chartplotter with a new, month or so old, US Army Corps of Engineers chart of their sounding of the area and it showed a large area of new shoaling on the starboard side (as you head south). I saw in front of me a commercial shrimp boat. “Why is it going so slow? What’s it doing?” I wondered. as I gingerly picked my way past, I saw that it was stopped and the deck hands were just wandering topside. They were grounded and either waiting for a tow (doubtful) or for incoming tide (a rising tide lifts all boats). So much for local knowledge. I wish I had gotten a pic but I was busy.

USACE Chart view of Lockwoods Folly. Blue is good deep 10-15’ water. Green is more shallow and yellow shallower still. Red is danger —- shoals —- water too shallow for me to transit. The solid red line with numbers is the plotted route through and the dotted blue line is the boat’s actual course through. The black box is the info on the segment track which is shown to be created Oct 17th (T[rack] 10_17_19). Note the placement of the day markers and buoys – Green 47 and 47a and Red 46a and 46b. Normally you would run the boat on a route that goes between the red and green marks. If one followed the marked channel, the boat would come to a major jolting stop as it grounded as the sand and mud has been shifted into the marked channel by the winds and current. The route through here earlier in the summer was basically a straight line. The Corps soundings are very helpful! Areas like this slow travel speeds and increase stress levels.

I had hoped to get reservations at Osprey Marina on the south side of MB but they were full with southbound boating snowbirds waiting out the storm. After a bit of a scramble, I reserved a slip at the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club – actually just over the border in Little River SC. Interestingly to me, I had taken my motor home here in Dec ‘18 to look at a boat in this very marina. Anyway, the Yacht Club is located at the far end in Coquina Basin along with a couple other marinas and you pass by lots of docks and boats to get to the slip. Tied up just before 1 pm and the rain started 15 minutes later. No wind yet though. That’s supposed to blow in during the night hours. Plan on staying warm and dry tomorrow until the storm leaves, hopefully, late afternoon.

Early Sunday morning, 1:30 am, my iPhone started shrieking. Tornado warning! It was a strange warning – only for 1/2 hour and for 1/2 county. The half where I was. Not a lot of choices. Marina offices etc closed not that their bldgs looked like they’d withstand a tornado. So I got up and went up to the Pilothouse where I could sit and have a wide open view to the south and west. During that half hour only minimal rain and no thunder/lightening. When the warning expired, I headed back to bed. Later on Sunday I heard there was a touchdown in N Myrtle Bch damaging 4 homes. During the day saw nothing resembling gale force winds or winds, for that matter. Maybe 10 mph. It was a very grey, light rain and lots of drizzle day. So not nice and good day to be inside.

Oriental NC to Spooners Creek Marina (Moorhead City NC)

A nice run in nice weather today mostly within the banked confines of the ICW.

Most of the north south portion of the run was down Adams Creek where I finally ran into significant pockets of humanity.

At the southerly end of Adams Creek there was ample remaining evidence of Hurricane Matthew

At Beaufort/Morehead City, the ICW makes a sharp westerly turn and becomes a much wider body of water with its banks filled with development.

I headed to Spooners Creek Marina a few miles west of Morehead City. It’s a private condo marina that I also stopped at on the way north. The main reason I stopped there was the upcoming weather. The marina is off a small creek off the ICW and is quite protected. Tomorrow is supposed to be 100% chance of rain and windy. Possible gale force winds in fact. A good day to stay in a hidey hole. As long as I was here, I took advantage of their pumpout facility and also fueled up – 362 gal. I still had nearly 500 gal in the tank but the price and volume discount was OK and somehow it always feels good to have some tanks full and others empty. The trick at my age is to remember which is what.

From my slip at Spooners Creek looking towards the exit around the corner back out to the ICW.

Cabbed over to a nearby Wally World to reprovision. Another ‘tank’ full. Used the opportunity to buy myself a pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt. C’mon storm! And it complied. The rain started during the night and the first real gust that I’m aware of hit around 6 am (a slight bump against a face dock post. The boat is very quiet and very stable. About the only sound you hear is the light sound of water slapping the waterline which does transmit a bit below deck. Probably hear that in my stateroom once or twice a week as I go to sleep. When it’s there, the rythmatic light sound is very soothing. Anyway the following day was very wet outside and windy but far short of a gale. The life ring hanging on a hook at the fuel dock blew off and I took the opportunity during lulls to readjust the fenders and lines – three times ( as wind direction shifted and I was a side tie along a face dock). By late afternoon, the front moved offshore and the sun proved it was still present. A good evening to make spaghetti.

Dowry Creek Marina (Belhaven) to Oriental Public Docks

Today was planned to be a longer, for me, route. Actually, with good weather, waves and long runs of open waters, I accomplished the run in a bit more than 3 hours.

I’m back in shrimp and scallops country

From the small independent
To the large local fleet and the transient fleet in from the Gulf

I’m in a slip at Oriental Marina which shares the east side of the harbor with another shrimper fleet and processing/packing facility. The marina is small – 8 to 10 slips, with a motel, pool, restaurant and nice lawn.

Coinjock South to Belhaven NC

The Coinjock Dock was nearly full last evening. A half mile + of boats lined up bow to bow and stern to stern and tightly packed along the face dock. I was bow to bow with a 54’ Hatteras which I was next to for 3 days in Hampton. Our bow pulpits were 2’ apart – a distance one could easily bride with one stride. I had the bow of a catamaran sail boat a couple feet off my stern. By the time I was ready to push off this morning there were only 2 other boats still at the dock.

It was again quite chilly today but mostly sunny. About a third to half of the distance was across the broad Albemarle Sound (Duck OBX to Nags Head OBX to the east) so I could run the boat at a higher speed. That definitely made the chilly air bite. Since the Sound is relatively shallow (mostly 12-15’) it is an expanse where you can expect to find crab pots most anywhere. Because of the better visibility, I ran from the exposed flybridge. Parka jacket temps/winds!

Once across the Sound, Alligator River Bridge loomed immediately ahead. Word had been widely broadcast that the bridge was fixed and again operating on a normal schedule. My plan was to spend the night at the marina immediately before the bridge. It’s a combination road side gas station and marina with decent fixed docks and good power. Not so good tasting water. The gas station also has a grill and a seating area with about 10 tables as well as outside picnic tables. It is also “home” to a number of crabbers.

Alligator River Bridge in the distance. Swing portion in the middle.
Running alongside the bridge to Alligator River Bridge Marina
Crabber next time getting ready to unload the crates of freshly caught blue crab. When this one unloaded to his truck. Another crabber was right behind unloading his boat. Once unloaded, the boat would back up between the other boats lined up and me and the next crabber would pull in and unload to their truck etc. The fairway between us was very narrow but these guys would back between us as a pretty good speed with about 5’ clearance. Guess they’ve done it before😃
Not a lot of room for a crabber to go between at speed and in reverse – but they do!
A little disconcerting tied up next to a highway and watching the headlights approach over the bridge.
…and watch the tail lights disappear into the sunset.
Morning discloses that this is not only a gas station and marina, but also an impromptu campground. Difficult to leave the slip with all the smells around of frying bacon

Keeping it in the ditch!

Second leg of this section. Immediately after leaving the marina and into the channel, it’s time to wait for the swing bridge to open and for me to get a closeup of the bridge that caused an 8 day delay.

The long north south fetch of the Alligator River from the bridge was an easy run. Waves were about 1 inch😄. Alligator River is joined to the Pungo River, to the west, by a nearly straight as an arrow 25 mile long canal (ditch).

A long pretty run but devoid of humans. Saw three single docks along the major part of the ride. Presume somewhere out of sight there was a reason for the docks. There were 2 high fixed span bridges, one midway and one on the west end but those were devoid of traffic as well. Overtook two sailboats along the way, got passed by one fast boat leaving a huge wake and met 2 or 3 boats coming my way. And then I met ….

About 8 miles later I pulled into Dowry Creek Marina at Belhaven, NC. The docks were wiped out by Hurricane Florence in Sept 2018. Since then they’ve replaced all the docks, plumbing and power. A very nice marina, economical, a well marked entry channel with good depth. They have a nice boaters lounge and a pool and their marina store is quite well stocked. They also have a loaner car if you need to run 3 miles to town. All in all a good stop.

And I pulled some homemade pea soup out of the freezer for dinner. Mmmm. Good times.

Atlantic Yacht Basin to Coinjock

Woke up to clear blue skies. Very uplifting though it was chilly and breezy – light jacket weather. Today’s goal was to get halfway to the Alligator River swing bridge hoping that when I actually get there the bridge will be a normal opening schedule, that is “open on request”.

About 8 miles south of the Atlantic Yacht Basin was the days only potential bottleneck, another spring bridge opening on the hour and half hour. My timing was not the best and I had to hold station in front of the bridge for 15 minutes til its 10am opening. NBD. The rest of trip was uneventful down the ICW without much of interest to catch ones eye. But I did need to keep my eyes open though as I was in crab pot territory and there were many miles of them. Very hard to see their little floats right at or near the marked channel edges especially with a rising sun in your eyes and floating in shimmering choppy waters. It doesn’t help when the floats are mostly either black or white. Hasn’t anyone thought of flourescent red, pink, yellow or lime green? Maybe some little flags attached? A 2-3” horizontal black float just isn’t very visible in certain conditions but having one of their lines wrapped around your propeller will just ruin your day. Thankfully the gauntlets were successfully run.

Today’s route
A short 7 sec actual speed (@ 10 mph) video
A 29 second time lapse video representing a 10 minute route segment
Another boat arriving at Coinjock Marina -from my back window.
Coinjock Marina – a long face dock marina
Home for the night!

Finally Back Underway!

Winds today, 10/10/19, were forecasted to be a couple miles per hour less and they were laid down a lot first thing this morning and of course also once in the ICW. Grey and drizzly and chilly- very chilly day. I left my slip and proceeded 500’ south to the pump out station – had been nursing the holding tank for a few days. Then I finally left Hampton Public Pier. It’s a very nice marina and staff but the day after day delays were wearing a bit thin. As of my leaving, the Alligator River Bridge was still not operable (see prior post).

It’s nice having a group member waiting at the Alligator River Marina who can walk over to the bridge and get the latest skinny from the bridge tender and the engineers. Apparently Dorian knocked out the primary system for swinging the bridge and while a new primary was being built they were using a backup which is what then failed last week. A repair that was attempted yesterday failed. In addition the bolts that secure the bridge motor have come loose from the concrete so they’ve had to epoxy them back in and wait for it to dry. The report this evening is that a test opening around 5 pm this evening worked and they let a barge and some pleasure boats through. There will be two scheduled openings first thing in the morning. The brand new primary system will arrive tonight and tomorrow after the two openings they will start installing the new while still being able to open via the backup. So it looks like by the time I get there Saturday, bridge and marinas should resemble ‘normal’.

So back to today’s short trip. Though the wind was lighter this morning, the ride across the large harbor from Hampton to Norfolk and then to the protected ICW mouth was more rolly than expected, but easily handle able. Due to the very damp chilly weather, I decided to run the boat from the lower station. Up to this time, I probably have piloted from there for less than a half hour total. Apparently my Pilothouse chartplotter was not happy with me working at that station. Throughout the entire run out of the Hampton harbor and partway then to Norfolk, the charts were shown in an incorrect orientation and with the boat icon going sideways. Disconcerting! Had the AquaMaps app on the iPad keeping things together for me. Finally my chartplotter turned itself off and then 30 seconds later blinked back on and all was again well with it. For $5k, you’d think that plotter could work 100% of the time!

It was certainly different running from the lower station. A little more difficult seeing over the bow – I wouldn’t want to run through a whole lot of crab pots from down there. Visibility directly behind is also less because half of the interior of the boat is in the way. So I got used to putting the rear camera image up on the chartplotter from time to time to see what, if anything, was behind me. I also did a lock from there and two dockings (this evening’s docking plus a fuel – 460 gal – stop and I found that easier to judge the closeness of the boat rail to the dock. Oh, and it was really nice to have the heat on and no drizzle.

The ride through the immense Norfolk waterfront was again spectacular though once again not the best weather. So many warships! Unbelievable! And I saw two destroyers in drydock. These huge ships not in the water was an unreal sight to me. Maneuvering was too tight for me to comfortably take a pic🙁.

Came across some of these coming down the harbor. This is a lifeboat capsule used on freighters and container ships. Above the stern at deck level on the freighter, are two inclined rails similar to the downhill of a roller coaster. These capsules are mounted at the top and can probably carry 40 or more crew. In an emergency, the crew enters via the rear hatch shown. Hatches are closed and locked air tight. Crew is buckled in and the capsule released. It ‘flies’ down over the stern a goes nose down into and under water. Buoyant, it floats back up and rights itself und uses it engine to motor away til rescued. These were being accompanied by a regular boat and appeared to involved in safety testing.
USS Wisconsin. Retired battleship now berthed in Norfolk. Guided or self guided tours available. Beautiful sight from the water!
Today ended here at Great Bridge Lock, followed by the Great Bridge itself which then is followed by the Atlantic Yacht Basin. Heading southbound, I led a line of 5 vessels into the starboard side of the Great Bridge Lock. Waited about 45 min outside the lock before entering as the Lock was closed due to high water being pushed over the lock gates by wind tides. Once in, we locked down 8’ and the little flotilla exited. Immediately thereafter is a waiting basin followed by the Great Bridge draw bridge which opened once all 5 boats exited the lock. And once under the bridge on the starboard side is the Atlantic Yacht Basin where I’m tied up for the night. You can see the marina in the distance beyond the bridge.
From my slip this evening looking back at the bridge and lock (red lights).

A Delay in Hampton, VA

I was delayed in my departure from Hampton Public Pier. Boaters must be flexible and not bound to a schedule.

When I arrived in Hampton on Oct 1st, the plan was to stay 4 nites. This would give the opportunity to sleep in a couple of mornings, reprovision, order and pickup some prescription refills, get a needed injection and take advantage of B3GO pricing for slip rental. “Best laid plans of mice and men” comes to mind. Oh, those tasks got done and done timely but 4 nites turned into at least 9 nites.

The boat snowbird parade to FL has already started. It’s beginning to be busy. There are 3 routes south from Hampton (red circle) in southern VA/northern N.C.

One is to exit the Norfolk harbor into the Atlantic and run the outside route (blue line). Pros – possible faster speeds with zero slow, no wake zones; Cons – distance (no real intermediate port til Morehead City -over 200 nm. Ocracoke near the Oregon Inlet is closed to pleasure boat due to Dorian damage and Manteo also was impacted by Dorian), need really good weather/wave conditions.

A second would be to take the ICW south to the Currituck Sound and then into the Pamlico Sound near Duck, NC – northern Outer Banks (OBX) and down the Pamlico back to the ICW and down to Morehead City (green route). Pros at this time – really not many or any. Cons – few ports, Pamlico Sound is long and shallow and can be rough with current northerly wind component.

Third would be the ICW the whole way (yellow route) to Morehead City. Pros – protected waterway from winds and waves except for short portion across Abermarle Sound, many protected anchorages and marinas and restaurants, quite protected from winds and waves; Cons – slower speeds. There is an offshoot for part of this route transiting the Great Dismal Swamp. At this time of year, it has a great accumulation of Duckweed in the surface necessitating frequent strainer cleaning and there are frequent floating logs. It is also very narrow.

So my choice, and that of the majority of cruisers, would be the yellow ICW route. But on Thursday, the 3rd, a problem cropped up some 50 miles south. The Alligator River Bridge linking Manteo to Columbia shut down. https://obxtoday.com/top-stories/control-failures-mean-draw-bridge-over-alligator-river-cannot-open-for-boats/ The bridge is a swing bridge with a clearance (air draft) of only 14’. Last Resort has a minimum air draft of 19+ feet. Most cruising power boats will have an air draft exceeding 14’ and all but the smallest sailboats do as well. A part (electrical, I’m told) was damaged during Hurricane Dorian and has now failed shutting down the bridge completely. Whatever it is, the new part needs to be manufactured and the bridge is closed until the part is made and installed.

Weather has not been cooperating. It has been cold, rainy and windy. The winds have been, for days, running in the mid 20’s for days, gusting higher – all out of the north. Waves even in the bay between Hampton and Norfolk are 4-6’ which would be on my stern and make for a miserable ride. Boats are filling up slip space in the marinas between here and Alligator River. The Atlantic and the Pamlico Sound are not feasible and so here I wait. The word is, as I type (Weds the 9th) is that they are testing a temporary fix today and if it works the bridge may be operational on a limited schedule on Thursday🤞🤞🤞