We’ve never been to Hilton Head Island, so we corrected that and spent a few days there on our way north. We ended up staying at Harbor Town Marina, in The Sea Pines Resort. We decided against renting a car, and instead explored the lovely area around Sea Pines on our bikes. After wandering around the shops in the harbor, we stopped for an early dinner at The Quarter Deck. I’m sure that there are plenty of good restaurants in Hilton Head, but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. On the plus side, the harbor is pretty at night, and we enjoyed a relaxing evening watching the sun set over the marina.
We had beautiful weather for exploring on our bikes, and went over to the beach, where you can ride the flat stretches of sand endlessly.
Hilton Head is clearly all about golf, and this area is no exception! However, the beaches are gorgeous, with great biking, swimming and tide pools for exploring. But, golf is a real focus.
We enjoyed taking advantage of our proximity to the ocean beaches, and our ride through beautiful neighborhoods in spring bloom getting there and back.
We’ve been craving pizza, so we stopped at Guisseppi’s in Sea Pines Village and shared a delicious pie! When we returned to the boat, there was a wedding under way in the park with the huge oak tree adjacent to the marina and our boat.
After two lovely days in Hilton Head, we made a short run (28 miles) to Beaufort, S.C., to grab a mooring ball, as the winds were expected to kick up, and we needed a bit more security than our anchor. ⚓️⚓️⚓️
We grabbed a mooring ball in the harbor, and took the dinghy ashore to wander the streets of this charming town. Of course we stopped in the chocolate store, and got a few birthday and Christmas gifts in the great shops in town.
Recycled plastic bowls that become art
We did see some other “Loopers” there, but were unable to join their docktail gathering due to the winds and the rain…not a chop we wanted to dinghy ashore in!
On the first, we were off to Charleston, for our “do-over” visit, as we had torrential rain during our last visit, and missed seeing much of this special place. It did rain on the morning after our arrival, but it cleared early, so we could enjoy our stay.
Approaching Charleston Harbor under THAT bridge….this time no jumper!
First up was a trip via the City Marina shuttle to Harris Teeter! This is a great store, and Nancy was thrilled to provision here! The front of the building is an old brick train station that has been renovated and expanded.
When the rain stopped late morning, we grabbed an Uber to have lunch at Leon’s, rumored to have the best fried chicken in town. It was amazing! They brine it before lightly breading and frying it. So tender, juicy and not at all greasy. Rob also enjoyed oysters to start, and we shared coleslaw and scalloped potatoes with our chicken. Both the service and the food were outstanding!
Oysters and Fried Chicken at Leon’s Poultry and Oyster Shop
After lunch, we went downtown to visit a couple of historic homes. Our first tour was at the Edmonton – Alston House, right down on the Battery. This historic Federal-style home commands a magnificent view of Charleston Harbor. From its piazza, General P.T. Beauregard watched the fierce bombardment of Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, signaling the start of the Civil War.
We next toured the Nathaniel Russell House, built in 1808.
Nathaniel Russell House
The sweeping three story staircase is considered an architectural marvel, as each cantilevered step supports the one below it and above it. It truly looks like it’s flying!
The house is also known for the elaborate plaster and wood work ornamentation in the public rooms.
Next up was a guided carriage tour of the historical city with Old South Carriage Tours. On our way there, we enjoyed the beautiful homes and spring flowers along the way!
Beautiful, historic Charleston
Things are blooming!
We learned a lot from our wonderful guide Elisabeth, who was informative and funny, skillfully maneuvered her carriage through the narrow streets, and she was super sweet with our horse, Sammy!
Old South Carriage Tour
While it was a sunny day, it was cold, and we were pretty frozen by the end of our tour, so we moved up our dinner reservation at Cru Cafe. We needed to be inside and get warm! We had a fabulous meal at their kitchen counter, which was fun and interesting, as we had a birds eye view of all the culinary goings on. The staff was terrific! A shout out to Beth Bernstein (half of the LeMoinestein Sisters) for recommending this wonderful restaurant AND Leon’s!
The next morning, we were off at 8:15, as we wanted to get up to Georgetown, S.C., a trip of just over 66 miles.
It was a calm, clear day on the water, and we got to town in time to see some of the city, including the Rice Museum. After our visit to the museum, we enjoyed wandering the streets and admiring the old, historic buildings and homes, and a lovely boardwalk along the creek.
Scenes around Georgetown
We were able to grab the last tour of the day at The Rice Museum, housed in the Old Market Building from 1842. By 1750, Georgetown was becoming the center of the rice production in Carolina County. The Brown’s Ferry Vessel, built in 1700 and sunk in 1730, is displayed on the third floor. Having that knowledge made our trip north really interesting, as we were spotting the ruins the bulk heads and gates of the old rice plantations along the river heading north.
The Rice Museum
Ruins of the bulk heads and water gates on an old rice plantation north of Georgetown, N.C.
Since we were planning to anchor out the next night, we weren’t in a rush to get out of Georgetown. We had read about the Independent Seafood Market, and we passed their fishing boats on our way in to the harbor, so we definitely wanted to grab some fresh seafood before we left. We got beautiful lump crabmeat, some shrimp and seasonings.
Independence Seafood and a lovely walk down an azalea lined lane to get there!
We set anchor in Calabash Creek at 3:51 pm. It had been a long day of nearly 64 miles, parts with skinny/tricky water to navigate. We anchored a short way up the creek, just outside the channel, as the tide was out. Be aware that there is a lot of commercial fishing and tour boat traffic in this creek for vessels returning to Calabash. That afternoon/evening, we had no problem with passing vessels, who consistently gave us a slow pass. However, in the morning, there was an incoming fishing boat that came past us at full throttle, and was within 15 feet of our boat. Thankfully, we were sitting, as this was a very aggressive pass on the part of this fishing boat. For that reason, we cannot recommend this anchorage. It was a bit nerve wracking while we were there, as it is very busy. This stretch of the river heading north is really beautiful, and worth finding a good spot to spend the night. Oh, and the fresh crab cakes for dinner were pretty amazing! We kept the cakes simple with a bit of Old Bay, mayo and lemon juice, but made an improvised version of the remoulade from the Blue Point Grill in Duck, N.C.. Making us think of Donna Suppa, who got us that cookbook! As always, delicious!
After being waked, we got put of there pretty quickly, pulling the anchor at 7:15 am. Once again, we were expecting both high winds and rain, so we decided to tuck into Southport Marina for an overnight, after a short, 33 mile run. Literally the minute we got settled, the skies opened. Nancy went up to the office to take care of faxing some paperwork and then getting to the Wal-Mart Superstore for some provisioning. It was a disappointing store, lacking some basic items, but got us through nonetheless! But both the marina staff and the Uber drivers were terrific, all very helpful!
View from our aft deck, Southport Marina
Despite the winds, we set off for Carolina Beach State Park a short 12.5 mile run across the Cape Fear River. The park is known for its lush vegetation, birds, and other wildlife, but famously for their population of carnivorous plants, including the Venus Fly Trap. Unfortunately, due to poaching, there are few Venus Fly Trap plants in the park, but the Park Service has worked hard to ensure the survival of this plant. The Park Service guards those plants still in the wild, and propagate and grow new plants in the visitors center.
The winds, as expected, were kicking up. Upon entering the channel into the marina entrance, we noticed one of our fenders had broken loose and was floating with the strong current, in water too shallow to retrieve it. The good news, it forced us to go for a spontaneous hike looking for the lost fender on the beaches, and we got a beautiful reward! The bad news, is we never found the fender.
Hiking the Sugarloaf Trail looking unsuccessfully for our fender
Later in the day, we took another hike along Snow’s Cut Trail. Snow’s Cut is the waterway between The Cape Fear River and the continuation of the ICW, and there are beautiful sandy beaches and dunes along much of it. As we hiked, we came across a dead (thankfully!) Copperhead snake, and later learned from a park ranger that they are pretty prevalent in the park.
Snow’s Cut Trail
It had been rainy and cold for a couple of days, so when provisioning I bought things to make warm and comforting foods. Unfortunately, if warmed up for the cooking part of it, and the boat was quite toasty for the food prep! The good news? We ended up with delicious mushroom soup and pizza with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and pesto. Quite yummy!
After enjoying our pizza dinner, we relaxed with a beautiful sunset over the river.
Since we were only making a short 17 mile run up to Wilmington, N.C., the next morning, we joined the 10 am Park Ranger Hike along the Fly Trap Trail. While the Venus Fly Trap is no longer prevalent in the park, due largely to poaching, there are other carnivorous plants along the boggy water of the trail, including pitcher plants, bladderworts and butterworts. We did see an “infant” Fly Trap, but they are largely cultivated in the Visitor’s Center.
Along the boggy Fly Trap Trail, Carolina Beach State Park
We went right back to the boat after our hike, as the tide was starting to fall, and the park marina entrance is skinny, with some current. We were out of our slip at 11:20, for our 17 mile run up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, N.C..
We arrived on the afternoon of April 7th, a Sunday, and the last day of Wilmington’s Annual Azalea Festival. The streets are closed to traffic, and filled with food trucks, musicians and dancers performing, artists and craftsmen, and lots of local flavor. We stayed at the Wilmington City Dock at the end of Market Street.
Our friend from Bethlehem Township, N.J., Cheryl Hartsoe grew up in this area, and moved back here a few years ago, so we’re excited that we’re going to see her! Our kids grew up together through Bethlehem Township, N.J. schools, and we shared class trips, soccer, basketball and baseball games, school events, book club, gourmet group and many, many laughs! Cheryl came over to Misty in the afternoon and we caught up over “docktails”.
Nancy with Cheryl on her balcony overlooking the Cape Fear River
We wandered around this beautiful, historic city the next day, and visited Cheryl at her office. Her family wisely invested in some great historical and waterfront properties in Wilmington, that house boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and offices, including The Cotton Exchange and Chandler’s Wharf. Cheryl has stepped into the helm at the business and despite huge challenges, both she and the business are thriving! It was wonderful to spend time with her and catch up.
The Cotton Exchange and Chandler’s Wharf
The Bellamy Mansion
We took an interesting tour of the Bellamy Mansion, considered one of North Carolina’s premier architectural and historic treasures. The beautiful antebellum house is an astonishing 10,000 square feet. Built on the eve of the Civil War by both free and enslaved black artisans, the site features a rare surviving and best preserved examples in the country of antebellum servants’ quarters.
Mansion’s Slave Quarters
Beautifully restored Bellamy Mansion
The impressive interior includes intricately carved plaster moldings and ornamentation, ornate light fixtures, high ceilings and huge windows used for ventilation.
After a long morning of touring around the city, we went to the much talked about Savorez for lunch. It’s a few blocks further from the river front, but it’s worth the walk! The cuisine here is an interesting blend of Latin American cuisine, with a twist of something Southern. Everything is fresh, with an interesting pairing of flavors, but it all works. The space is small, and fun, the staff is friendly and efficient, with a menu that’s varied and eclectic, that makes decisions difficult! We took our servers advice and had a variety of salsas to start (salsa Fresca, Salsa Verde and Pineapple Salsa), served with fresh, crispy tortilla chips, and we both ordered specials…Rob a fresh tuna sandwich on Cuban bread and Yucca Fries, Nancy had a flank steak stew with veggies, pickled red cabbage and avocado over coconut rice. Enough said!
While the location of the Wilmington City Docks at the end of Market Street, is great, The Cape Fear River has a LOT of current, and with the winds, the water was pretty kicked up, so we had a very bouncy couple of days. Since they have had some rain in recent weeks, there are huge amounts of debris in the water, including logs, and even a pretty good sized tree. There were a lot of bumps in the night, so we were pretty happy to move on for quieter waters!
We did love the ability to walk everywhere in this historic area of the city, and enjoyed watching the activity in town, and the view of the Battleship North Carolina across the river.
The trip up and down the Cape Fear River is somewhat industrial when you get towards Wilmington, and wide enough not to be terribly scenic overall, but we enjoyed the short sojourn up the river getting some things done onboard.
Our destination was Topsail Island Marina, located at the northern end of Topsail Beach in Surf City. There’s not much there, but you can walk to the beach, go out on the fishing pier, do some basic provisioning at the small IGA, and there are a couple of good restaurants. The fabulous dockmaster Dee loves Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion restaurant, but we have loved Shaka Taco both times we have stopped here. Good, fresh food at reasonable prices.
Until the bugs became unbearable, we enjoyed the beautiful colors of the sky and the marshes at sunset.
The morning of the 10th was calm and beautiful, and we got an early start at 6:55 for our 81 mile trip up to Oriental, N.C.
Heading north on the ICW from Topsail Beach Marina
Fortunately, we had a quiet passage through Camp Lejeune, and just enjoyed how pretty that area is.
During the course of our travels, we learned that our friends Joe and Rhonda Tignor/Bandwagon were also heading to Oriental Harbor Marina in Oriental, having spent a day in New Bern. Much of the trip was windy and choppy, as the winds kicked up to 20 MPH. Ironically, we both arrived within minutes of each other, and caught up after getting the boats washed down and laundry in! We wandered over to Toucan Restaurant at the Oriental Marina & Inn. We weren’t expecting much, but ended up enjoying delicious hamburgers and bread pudding.
After dinner, we went back to Misty, where Joe and Rhonda introduced us to “Little Beers”, a Spanish liquer, 43, served in a shot glass, with a short, slow pour of heavy cream on the top. They are meant to be sipped, not slugged, and they’re quite yummy!
Joe and Rhonda left in the morning for Belhaven, but we stayed on for one more day, as Rob needed wifi and a post office for business and tax stuff.
Bandwagon 3 departing for Belhaven
We did take a bike ride around to explore more, and see what was going on for the boat show that weekend. We were disappointed with Oriental, and wish we hadn’t been there for two nights. The marina staff was lovely, but the facilities were basic, and there’s a huge, dirty, smelly bird problem on the docks!
Oriental Harbor Marina
The trip from Oriental to Belhaven is only 48 miles, but the winds and the waves on the Neuse River were downright scary (in Nancy’s opinion, as it was truly the first time she was scared on the boat). Once we got on to the Bay River and then Goose Creek, things calmed down, until it came time to cross the Pungo River to reach Belhaven. We were going to stop in at River Forest Marina for fuel, but it was just too windy and choppy, and it would be calmer in the morning.
We were happy to be at Belhaven Marina, which is tucked in and we were better protected from the wind. The marina is small, but clean with great amenities. Under new ownership for three years, they have made many changes, and new docks and fuel/pump out are on the list for this year. The bathroom is clean, with clean towels, and the laundry is also clean, and free (!) with laundry detergent provided! Co-owner Jeff, was super nice, and even drove Nancy to Food Lion, and picked her up when she was done.
The town is small, but there are some beautiful old buildings and homes, and a few unique stores and restaurants.
The weather was much calmer on the morning of the 12th, so we grabbed fuel at River Forest Marina, and continued north on the Pungo River, headed for Alligator River Marina.
It was still a bit bumpy, but nothing like it has been, and from what we were hearing, nothing like it was going to be! The 22 mile Pungo River-Alligator River Canal was much quieter than our trip south in the fall, as we didn’t see one other vessel!
The Pungo River-Alligator River Canal
The winds kicked up again after the canal on the Alligator River, and the skies were looking ominous. We tied up at Alligator River Marina at nearly 2:30 in the afternoon after a 55 mile run. Literally, as we were finishing our lines, the skies opened and we had pouring rain, lightening (but no thunder?), followed by a full rainbow!