Our stop at friend Tanya’s on the ICW just south of Wrightsville Beach, NC was, as always, a perfect mixture of fun, relaxation and exploration in the company of good friends! This time we brunched at Kure Beach, an old time beach settlement yet to be ravaged by condos, hotels and planned resorts communities. And as boaters, we did the obvious, we spent one of our few days on land riding in a boat!! We took the ferry to Southport, an historic 19th century fishing village at the mouth of the Cape Fear River with shops, restaurants and many preserved/restored original fishing family cottages.
Friend Sandy Ihly, the renowned Wilmington painter and mixed media artist, joined us for the trip, and she regaled us with stories of her studio and art being commissioned to star in a feature film entitled “The Writers”. Sandy’s assemblage pieces employ intriguing, beautiful works of art created from everyday domestic objects to communicate strong, thought-provoking feminist messages. We feel very fortunate to have one of them in our Lexington condo.
All the cruising guides warn travelers on the NC ICW that Camp Lejeune is a working Marine training facility, and it is possible the ICW may close while the boys shoot their guns across the waterway. On our first trip, we called to be certain there would be no “live fire exercises” near the time we wanted to transit through the Camp Lejeune section of the ICW… the second time, we asked at the marina before we cast off for the day’s cruise that would take us there… the next two times, we did nothing to check and simply cruised through, again commenting on the burned out tanks on the beach and taking pictures of the warning signs… Yep, 5th time’s the charm!!! We arrived at the Enslow Beach Bridge entrance to the “live fire” range 20 minutes after it opened for the last time before a 4 ½ hour exercise began!! It was 12:30 in the afternoon and what’s a boat to do?? The closest marina was 10 miles in the wrong direction, and no one can hold a boat in place for hours, especially in the narrow canal-like stretch of water before the bridge- So, we followed the bridge tender’s advice and dropped an anchor, right there in the middle of the channel! During the course of the afternoon, 3 other motor yachts, 6 good size sail boats, and a handful of small, weekend/afternoon power boats joined us- all at anchor, spaced out nicely for about a mile along the channel… precisely at 4:30 the bridge opened, even though the firing exercises weren’t over- Wel-l-l… anchors were rapidly pulled, and at 4:35, the same dozen plus boats are now maneuvering frantically in a space smaller than a football field between the training side of the bridge and the imaginary line drawn and protected by “The Navy Guard Boat,” a hard-bottomed inflatable boat with machine guns mounted on its bow, and a radio man who so garbled his words that every time he said “The Navy Guard Boat…” we thought he was saying “Greta Garbo”…”This is Greta Garbo calling the motor boat approaching the prohibited zone…” We find our humor where we can…
On each trip through NC, we’ve enjoyed cruising the Neuse River- it took us to Oriental, the famous sailing center and to New Bern, the 300-year old, first state capitol. This year, the Neuse gave us a new adventure: contrary to all weather predictions, the wind kicked up; the waves responded in kind, and suddenly we were reenacting a 1 ½ hour-long episode of “Deadliest Catch” !!! If we had not laid a track on the chart plotter leading off the river to the creek and then the marina, we might never have found it!! And with the possible exception of tying up at St. Simons after our Cumberland Sound adventure, we’ve never been so glad to see a marina as we were to turn in the canal leading to River Dunes, one of favorite marinas and a safe haven for us from earlier storms. Not to worry- we were perfectly safe!! Sojourner is truly an ocean trawler and handles 4-5 ft. waves splashing up over the top of the fly bridge with aplomb- we just don’t like the ride and its not fun for us to watch the bow, first dip deep into the water and then fly back skyward, before dipping again and she surfed the waves!
We cruised uneventfully through the very rural and extremely isolated northern section of the state, with the remote and desolate, yet beautiful Pungo River and Pungo-Alligator River canal… At “Ms. Wanda’s”, the infamous Alligator River marina behind a Shell gas station, we renewed acquaintances with a couple we first met in St. Augustine, another from River Dunes, and two others, from Belhaven. “Ms Wanda’s” is obviously the only game in town- the last marina before entering the Albemarle Sound. The next evening, we saw and dined with most of them at Coinjock’s Marina, after an uneventful crossing of the Sound.