The Final Day – We Did it !

Texas Gold (TxAu) showing us how Loopers do Docktails, last spring

June 5, 2020 – Today would be the culmination of our Great Loop journey, the day that would take us back to Norfolk, to where we started on May 10, 2019, after the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous. We were like the freshmen then, joining the seasoned crowd that already had journeyed together up the East Coast, soaking up their practical knowledge and finding out how much more we had to learn. We made many friends here that we continued to see over the many miles that we’d go in 2019 and 2020.

We left Coinjock Marina early, where the dockhands had stacked us in pretty tight, so getting ourselves extricated with a slight breeze and a fair current made it an interesting proposition. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.

Our three traveling partners through the last three bridges to Norfolk

It was a 30 mile run through a winding channel, to the first bridge that we’d need to call for an opening. As it turned out, three faster boats caught up to us right before the bridge, so as we all held station waiting for the 10:00 opening, we let them all squeeze past. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.

The next bridge, 5 miles away, opened on the half hour, so we all needed to move down there smartly, lest we arrive a minute too late, and have to dangle around for 30 minutes more. We needed to speed it up a little right at the end, and it turned out that there was some maintenance activity that left only a very narrow channel. But nothing we hadn’t handled before.

Then just three miles to the Battlefield Boulevard Bridge, that coincided with the Great Bridge Lock. We entered the lock and tied up in a bit of a crosswind, but nothing we hadn’t handled before.

The Great Bridge Lock lies just beyond this twin bascule bridge, and through we go
One last lock – ho hum – no big deal
Holding on tight….And then it dropped perhaps 8 inches; that was a bit anticlimactic!
The ships now are a bit different from back then

Then into the busy section of the river, with wharfs and piers, and barges and tows. Navy ship yards and security boats. More work crews working on bridges that we had to slow for, and then from around a right angle turn at a bridge, we spotted a tow with a barge that would arrive at the narrow bridge at the same time as we would.

‘Hoss’ coming around the corner, asking us to pass him ‘on the 2’ (starboard to starboard)

Ben slowed, and hailed the tow captain, to let him know that we would slow down and hold on our side of the bridge for him to pass. “Captain, I am going to turn across the channel into that construction yard, why don’t you come on by me on the two,” was his reply. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.

And then, we were a mile from the Waterside Marina. One mile to go. As we motored the last mile down the Elizabeth River, we were proud of how we’d grown, what we had accomplished and the experiences we got to share with so many new friends, but a bit sad that what’s driven us for the past year is actually over. The wind picked up a bit, and it started to rain. No problem. Nothing we hadn’t handled before.

Ken and Linda toasting to our completion

As we pulled into the tight Waterside Marina, it was a lot emptier than last time, when it was packed with Loopers. Ken and Linda Horton, local Harbor Hosts, were there with cameras to record the big moment, and even brought champagne to help us celebrate. When the lines were tied and the engines shut down, what a feeling!

This will look pretty good on the bow!

Completing a long-held goal. An accomplishment for the two of us, with experiences we got to share with so many. Personal growth, as individuals, and as a team. Stronger, more capable, more resilient. So many new friends made, and two, sadly, lost.

Now what? Stay tuned…

Baby’s got new bling!

Kind of like a delivery

June 2-4, 2020 – The boat was in New Bern. It needs to be in Norfolk.

Go.

So we went, leaving at 8:30 when the Alfred Cunningham Bridge would open after morning ‘rush hour’. Back down the Neuse River 25 miles, to rejoin the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, that we would follow to its terminus, Mile Zero, at Norfolk.

Just as we approached that point, an AIS target showed sailing vessel ‘Fleetwing’, which belongs to Bob Scherer, aka Bob423, the guru for cruising the ICW. We had bought his book, we downloaded and followed his tracks through every tricky spot we have recounted over the past month, and anchored at his ‘special anchorages’ (except when we couldn’t, because somebody else who bought his book beat us to them!).

The Pamlico sound was pretty nice to us, and we soon stopped at a rustic seafood depot that sold fuel, seafood, and rented space on their big working docks to cruisers like us. A place with character – splinters, and a little smelly.

For 40 cents a foot, it only cost us $18 to stay the night. Half what we spent on the scallops, shrimp, and tuna steaks.

The next day we pushed more than 75 miles, all the way up the Alligator River. At the top, where it outlets to the Albemarle Sound, is a swing bridge, that has in recent years been notoriously trouble-prone. Sometimes boats have had to wait for days for a needed part to arrive and be installed, to allow it to open to allow transit. We figured that the sooner we were past it, the better.

We anchored near a point that we thought would offer good protection from a stiff and gusty southwest wind, but we pulled up the anchor after a few hours of a miserable swell, and moved around the corner to enjoy a much smoother night.

Thursday we crossed the Albemarle Sound, and continued on to dock at the Coinjock Marina, a popular stop for boats transiting the ICW. They are known for their prime rib – we got the 32 oz Captain’s Cut, and it was terrific.

The Coinjock Restaurant, with some of the sportfish boats on their way north from wintering in Florida
Sometimes we are the biggest boat in a marina; not too often are we on the smaller end of the scale.
What a hunk of meat! We shared it, and had enough left over for another meal

One more day to go before we wind up back where we started.

Two weeks in New Bern

May 19 – June 2, 2020 – As we began moving north in April, the big question was how hard was it going to be to get necessary services (like fuel, water and pumpouts) amid the uncertainty and restrictions of the coronavirus response, as we transited the states that comprise the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Overlay on that the impending hurricane season, and wanting to have at least a little bit of certainty. Where would we stop (or could we stop) and for how long? And then what?

Painted bears all around town from its 300 year anniversary in 2010.

So, we’d made arrangements to pull 25 miles off the ICW in New Bern, NC, as a secure, and pleasant (in normal times, anyway) place to pause, while the Virginia and Maryland stances on COVID-19 boating restrictions relaxed. We wound up staying at the New Bern Grand Marina for two weeks, that coincided with the State’s progression to Phase 2 of their return to normalcy.

New Bern, North Carolina’s second oldest town, was founded in 1710 by a Swiss nobleman who named it after his native city of Berne, Switzerland. Bern means “bear” and the “Bern Bear” symbol is seen on the flag. Commemorative cast-iron bear heads decorate the historic City Hall and Central Fire Station, and all around town (see photo)

Stores open, restaurants serving, farmers market operational. Ahhh!

Good friends Bill and Geni, on Patriot, joined us early in our first week, and it was nice to catch up and plan our respective summers, over docktails. We even helped Bill celebrate a momentous birthday, at a local waterfront restaurant!

Sunset from the aft deck

We decided to defer retrieval of our car from storage in Ft Lauderdale, so we took the bikes down and made a grocery run, and walked the town for exercise.

When we leave New Bern on June 2, we’ll be on the final leg of our Loop journey, with just a couple hundred miles to Norfolk.

Departing New Bern for the drawbridge – picture by friends on Idyll Time III

What!? A tropical storm?!

May 17-19, 2020 – We knew there was a low pressure system brewing in the south Atlantic, as well as an even larger system brewing in the center of the country, and we figured we’d need to find a place to hunker down within the next day or so to let the uncertainty play out.

When we woke up on Sunday, it was indeed Tropical Storm Arthur, and the leading fringes would probably drop some showers on us as we moved on from Wilmington. Our track actually took us first southwest back down the Cape Fear River, to rejoin the ICW, before being more west-to-east. We left at first light, and passed by Phil and Karen’s home before 9; they’d offered to take some pictures of us as we passed, and from high on his third floor deck, Phil got a great angle of the boat with the barrier island and the ocean in the background.

The wind was very stiff on our bow all day, exceeding 30 knots, although waves in the ICW were generally small. We could see the leading edge fringes of the Tropical Storm begin to encroach, and felt the occasional showers more frequently.

Pretty ratty looking, but still aboard

At one point, the burgee on our bow begin to oscillate even more than it had a few moments before – turns out it was due to the metal being fatigued, and seconds later it snapped off, and the flag snagged momentarily on a storage bag we have mounted to the bow. Ben sprinted forward, onto the deck, and was able to retrieve it. Whew, we will have to remount our tattered white burgee for the last few hundred miles of our Loop, but we still have it !

Our first choice marina turned out to have no room for us, so we pressed on to a protected anchorage at Mile Hammock Bay, nestled up next to Camp Lejeune. We anchored with a couple of sailboats there, laying out lots of chain for the predicted blow.

As it turned out, though, the winds stayed in the mid-teens, and the rain stayed light to moderate, with no thunderstorms.

In the morning, it looked like the last of Arthur would clear the Morehead City / Beaufort area around mid-day, and the winds would lighten up later in the afternoon. Conditions later in the week were only predicted to worsen, so we thought it might be best to press on, rather than get pinned down where we were.

Post-Arthur surf in the background

As we continued, we passed through a very strict swing bridge, that warned us not to be late for the opening EXACTLY ON the hour. This area adjoins a Camp Lejeune firing range, and fortunately we came by in the morning, as they often close down the waterway in the afternoons for gunnery practice.

A lot of rounds have pounded this target
The sky had blue, but we encountered stiff north winds in Arthur’s wake.

We saw plentiful evidence of past hurricanes, and the damage they wrought to buildings, boats, and trees. Even now, some years later, the remnants remain.

We bypassed Morehead City and Beaufort, and pressed on up the ICW to stop short of the Neuse River. In more pleasant times, we’d have like to have stopped on one or the other; the two towns are across the river from each other, and feature history and good seafood. But we didn’t want to dock at either one in the high wind, and then get trapped there for the even worse weather expected in for the rest of the week. We figured we can go back on the nice sunny day of our choosing, by car, and get even more enjoyment, especially as the coronavirus comeback is scheduled to move to Phase 2 this weekend, and restaurants will start to reopen for onsite dining.

Ben washing off the VERY muddy chain as we raise anchor at Cedar Creek

We anchored, again amidst a bunch of sailboats, and with crab-trap floats all around, at Cedar Creek.

We awoke to rain, with more forecast, but no thunderstorms. We watched the radar, and picked a time to leave that we thought might give the best chance to arrive at New Bern in light(er) rain.

A view behind on a snotty run up the Neuse River to New Bern

The conditions on the lower Neuse River were quite rough, with swell and waves from a stiff east wind whipping things up the length of Pimlico Sound. The rain intensity varied, but remained continuous as we made our way into smoother conditions, and finally docked around midday at the New Bern Grand Marina.

Ahhh, to rest here for a few weeks, and get ourselves ready for the summer months ahead!

Onward to Southport & Wilmington

May 14-16, 2020 – We left Wacca Wache Marina pretty early, enroute to Southport, and then Wilmington, where we would meet up with friends Phil and Karen. We’d met them early in our Loop planning phase, as they prepared for and completed their Loop on Seascape, a Mainship trawler.

They left the DC area and now live in a beautiful waterfront home overlooking the ICW between Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach.

In Southport, we’d meet up with Harbor Hosts (of the Year!) Robert and Kay Creech, and some fellow Loopers that we knew were also inbound to Southport Marina that evening.

A little fog in some side channels this morning
Many cypress, dark reflective water, and here, an osprey
This interesting ‘play barge’ was tied up at a marina. Stairs to a platform, from which you can choose from the slide, a diving board, or two angled trampolines. Maybe a rope swing from the angled part up top. They probably rent it out for parties and such. Look’s like it’d be a blast!
Calm morning as we go through a swing bridge
Lots of sea birds followed us closely for several miles – we must have been stirring up breakfast !
Seeing dolphins alongside never gets old…
Taking a walk in Southport, a nice view of their beach looking across the ICW to the barrier island
Built in 1868 as the residence for Captain Thomas Mann Thompson, one of the most successful of 77 licensed pilots who guided blockade-running steamboats through the Cape Fear shoals during the Civil War. Pilots at this time could command as much as $3000 in gold per trip. Thompson guided nine different steamers, a total of 34 successful runs during those years, more than any other pilot. The house is now available as a vacation rental.
On our way up to Wilmington, we passed this tug moving a spoils barge up to a dredge worksite, hip-tied instead of pushing. Tows and barges here look quite different than on the river systems.
Here’s the dredge, and another tug getting ready to bring the other barge into position. The crane had been working, as we approached, but must have gone on coffee break as we got close enough for action shots
Simultaneously with passing the tow, and the dredge, this ship was coming down the Cape Fear River from Wilmington
As our wake crossed with another boat’s on the glassy morning water, they intersected with a nice refraction pattern. And this pelican was content to just ride it out.
Bulk ship at Port of Wilmington
Container cranes
Containers ready to go…
Heading into downtown Wilmington
Behind the Cape Fear Community College, we found this student-built boat for sale – from their website, “handcrafted boats are built by students in both the Wooden Boat Building and Boat Manufacture and Service programs at CFCC. Boats are either made of composite/fiberglass or wood and do not include a motor or trailer. All boats are sold at the cost of materials and proceeds are returned to the program to build the next generation of boats.” To check out some of their builds, http://cfcc.edu/boat-building/boats-for-sale/
Ben and Phil inspecting the new Waverunner dock, while one of many boats out this Saturday runs the ICW.
It’s a long walk from the house out to the boat dock (and back). We can see why Phil and Karen use bikes to zip back and forth! What a view, from the house, or from the end of the pier, of the waterway and beyond.

A World-class Sculpture Stop

May 13, 2020 – The crew of Kissed Some Frogs, who we’d originally met last May in Norfolk, recently completed their Loop and returned home to Murrells Inlet and took on the role of Harbor Hosts for that area. A few weeks ago, they posted on the AGLCA forum that something was OPEN, there was SOMETHING TO SEE!

We reached out to them as we got close, and they were nice enough to offer us their truck to go to the store, and to visit Brookgreen Gardens.

Brookgreen Gardens is a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, founded by Archer Milton Huntington, stepson of railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington, and Anna Hyatt Huntington, his wife. It opened in 1932, and is built on four former rice plantations, taking its name from the former Brookgreen Plantation. (See official website here)

The gardens and sculptures were really quite spectacular, and it’s easy to see why our friends are members there; there is so much to see that the few hours we spent just scratched the surface.

And in addition to the massive scale of the gardens and sculptures, there was a special exhibition of miniature paintings. Amazingly tiny pieces, with detail that needs a magnifying glass to appreciate.

Charleston, SC

May 9-10, 2020 – Charleston is our second big cultural stop in South Carolina. In normal times, it has quite a reputation as a ‘foodie paradise’, in addition to all its history and architectural beauty.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t normal times, so we weren’t really able to get the full dining experience; maybe next time. We did manage to get a sidewalk table on Mothers Day, though, and ordered some pretty good takeout from a well-known restaurant for lunch on Monday while we were waiting for tide/current to allow our safe exit from our dock at the Carolina Yacht Club.

We took our bikes all around on Sunday, and managed to see quite a bit of the historic area. We went for walk in the morning sunshine on Monday back around the Battery, to get a closer view.

The Battery is a landmark defensive seawall and promenade in Charleston, South Carolina. Named for a civil-war coastal defense artillery battery at the site, it stretches along the lower shores of the Charleston peninsula, bordered by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which meet here to form Charleston harbor. (Wikipedia)

While its Civil War history is front and center, there is a lot of Revolutionary War history on display as well.

View of the Battery from the boat
And from the promenade
Porches on all levels running the full length of the homes were very common. Note the door to the street enters onto the porch, and then the main entrance to the home in the center.
Another example of porch entrance to the interior main entry off the porch.
Heading down an alleyway between some homes.
At the park on the tip of the Battery
‘Confederate Jasmine’
John C. Calhoun. Interesting and complex fellow. Per Wikipedia, “Calhoun was one of the “Great Triumvirate” or the “Immortal Trio” of Congressional leaders, along with his Congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. In 1957, a Senate Committee headed by Senator John F. Kennedy selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest United States Senators of all time.”
Night Heron. They were nesting in the tall trees in one particular park. Big birds, noisy, and according to a local, detested for their plentiful, odiferous droppings.
Fort Sumter, on our way out of Charleston Harbor
We bought scallops while in town, and fixed them, with mushroom cauliflower risotto, for dinner at anchor.
Dinner…
…and a view

First of two Beauforts

May 7, 2020 – After anchoring in a remote spot just north of the SC/GA border, we made a short run up to take a mooring ball at Beaufort, SC.

Beaufort, South Carolina, is pronounced “BEW-fert”,  with a similar sound as the one you find in the word “beautiful.”

In about 330 more miles, we will come to Beaufort, North Carolina, which is pronounced “BOW-fert” or “BOH-fert.” It has a similar pronunciation as the one you find in the old-fashioned name “Beauregard.”

Important to know, since you don’t want to go around mispronouncing the name of the place when talking to people who live there!

Founded in 1711, Beaufort is known for its historic Antebellum streets framed by natural foliage and centuries-old, moss-draped live oak trees, so we dinghied ashore to take a look around.

Baptist Church

In addition to the residential buildings, we noted a couple churches (in addition to the big Baptist church) with interesting side stories.

The first of these was the First African Baptist Church. It doesn’t exactly say why it needed to be founded. But I think that we know why.

Anyway, a very nice looking church, and and interesting story about one of its notable members is described below.

Not being familiar with Mr Smalls, mentioned on the plaque, we looked him up, and found that he lived quite a remarkable life. From Wikipedia: Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American businessman, publisher, and politician. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

After the American Civil War he returned to Beaufort and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. He founded the Republican Party of South Carolina. Smalls was the last Republican to represent South Carolina’s 5th congressional district until 2010.

We had also been advised to visit the cemetery of the St Helena church. St. Helena’s Church is one of the oldest active churches in the country. The congregation dates back to 1712 when St. Helena’s colonial parish was established by the Church of England. 

In the cemetery, we found headstones for combatants on both sides during the Revolutionary War.

The church was also used as a Union hospital during the Civil War.

A ship and a yacht with stories to tell

May 6, 2020 -After our stay at Jekyll Island, we made a short run up toward Brunswick, GA for fuel before continuing on.

As we came out the river, we were able to see the salvage operation going on for the Golden Ray, a car carrier ship that capsized and ran aground back on September 8, 2019. It is being cut into pieces to be loaded on barges and hauled away, as they determined that it could not be righted/floated off the sandbar.

Salvage underway for the Golden Ray; we had actually been able to see it from the northern tip of Jekyll Island as well

There is quite an interesting story about the harbor pilot who managed to get the capsizing ship onto the sandbar rather than in the middle of the channel, and how he helped in the rescue of the crew. See that article here: Charleston SC-born harbor pilot is hero of Georgia cargo ship capsize

We soon got to a notorious section of the ICW, historically prone to shoaling, called Hell Gate. Chantale was at the helm, and brought us through unscathed.

Continuing on our way, we passed the town of Thunderbolt , located along the Wilmington River section of the intracoastal waterway, leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the City of Savannah.

Wikipedia: According to tradition, Thunderbolt was named from an incident when lightning strike caused a spring to open up.[7] A pretty cool name for a town.

We saw a number of megayachts docked at Thunderbolt Marine here, including this one.

Looking at the name, Ben was intrigued. Perhaps somebody who made his money in the biotech industry?

Hmmm, wonder who’d name a yacht that?

A little Googling yielded the owner to be Dr Jonathan Rothberg, an American chemical engineer and biologist, inventor and entrepreneur.

This article gives some more insights into the owner and the yacht: On board with Jonathan Rothberg, owner of 55m explorer yacht Gene Machine