In North Carolina, the inside route down the ICW feels more or less like we’re out for a Sunday drive. On the drive, we inspect all the houses along the shoreline and note how built up the western shore is, up being the operative word. Most of the houses are built on huge pilings or 10×10′s with their front doors usually up on the second floor. This likely has much to do with the extensive flooding that goes hand in hand with their hurricane season which runs June through November.
In front of most of these houses are long docks leading out to deep water, sometimes almost to the middle of the channel. We were constantly double-checking our chart plotter as we cruised by, just to make sure that we were still in the middle of the channel when the docks were a mere ten feet away from Strathspey. As well as contending with long-necked docks, the local fishermen were stringing their nets across the waterway to catch mullet. As we approached the nets, the drill was for the fishermen to grab one end of the net and motor towards the other end gathering the net as they go. They miscalculated once with us and we had to put the brakes on pretty quickly; for some reason, they folded up their net for two boats just ahead of us and then strung it out when we had less than 20 yards to go.
We’ve been seeing quite a few dredgers too. These are long vacuum cleaners that take up most of the channel and rarely answer if a boat asks them which side of them is safest for passing. These dredgers suck up the sand and mud from mid-channel and blow it over to the side. This is definitely like sweeping the dust under the carpet because it’s a never-ending job as the mud gradually settles back in, especially when the larger power yachts blow on by at high speeds.
Sighting our first pelican while in the Chesapeake was really exciting yet now they are everywhere, congregating in crowds to fish and socialize. Initially, I took photo after photo of them and even though they’re pretty common now, they are so awkward and prehistoric looking that they still hold a fascination. After leaving our storm haven, where we had hidden from Hurricane Noel, we continued down past Wilmington, past where we’d driven by car to view the huge waves kicked up by Noel. The day was sunny but stupidly cold for sailing so we had more than a few layers on, even wearing winter toques to keep us warm in the cold north wind. By Carolina Beach though, it had warmed up considerably and we made the turn into the Cape Fear River towards Cape Fear, the southernmost point of North Carolina. At the mouth of the river, the ICW turns west but we kept going straight; down to Bald Head Island.
Bald Head Island is definitely worth the 2.5 mile detour off the ICW. It’s only accessible by boat. No cars are allowed on the island and everyone gets around using electric golf carts. This is an upscale neighbourhood definitely; the price of a 35 foot dock slip in this harbour is $126K but the marina is reasonable at $1.25/foot and it was fun to explore the island. One of its claims to fame is the largest nesting colony of the endangered Loggerhead sea turtle. It’s beautiful here – pristine beaches and beautiful forests with Spanish Moss hanging from the trees. Much of the land here has been deeded to the state of North Carolina so it will not be developed and it’s nice to think that it will be like this for generations to come.
Every night here we’ve noticed a distinct static sort of noise on the boat. We were continually cocking our heads, quietly walking the length of the boat and occasionally putting our ear down to the VHF radio, the SSB radio, the refrigerator and even just the walls of the boat, trying to figure out where that dang noise was coming from. The mystery is now solved; this noise is just the krill or shrimp nibbling on the growth stuck to our hull and apparently quite common.
We stayed on Bald Head Island at the marina for five nights, three longer than planned, because we were waiting for parts from West Marine. Our inverter/charger was misbehaving. Our batteries would charge when we motored but when plugged into dock, our inverter display showed wildly ranging values from dead flat batteries to full charge. The charger itself had simply shut down. There could be worse places to be stuck waiting for parts but once they came, Blair immediately went into full bore contortion to squeeze into our starboard locker and install the new charger in short order. I will never complain that his toolbags take up way too much space! Everything is working just fine but at this point, we’re more than a little suspicious that the failure of this expensive item has something to do with our SSB radio operation. Jim from Estelle, who has the same unit, provided a good troubleshooting manual and we think that we need to change some of the points of connection for the SSB. It’s a real power hog and Blair and Jim both think that perhaps some stray VHF might have blown the circuitry in the charger.
While waiting for our parts delivery, we took advantage of the down days to spruce up our teak which was definitely showing signs of wear after almost five months in salt water. We also cleaned the boat top to bottom. You’d think that would be a relatively quick job, given the size of the boat, but it’s not. Think of all the dirt that gets into your entire house in a week (not bad, but certainly enough), now spread it into a space smaller than an average-sized bedroom and you get the picture. So, we did some boat chores, some biking on Jim and Jeannie’s cadillac foldup bikes (the brand is Montague and they run a pretty close second to our mountain bikes at home), tooted around in golf carts, lay on the beach at night enjoying the stars and did lots of socializing. But it was time to move on so we turned our back on the ICW for awhile and did an outside passage from Cape Fear down to Charleston.
The winds were right for Thursday and we made the 23 hour trip to Charleston overnight with Jim and Jeannie from Estelle and Nancy and Bruce from Seabird, a Bristol 35.5 we met back in Cedar Creek. At 9 am Thursday when we left the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the air temperature was 1°C so definitely time to get further south. We had a great sail ’til dusk, motored ’til 1 am and then sailed again until we reached the long channel into Charleston. At one point, we had four dolphins that joined us, racing alongside Strathspey and weaving back and forth diving under our bow.
Although the winds were from the right direction (north) to blow us down to Charleston, the swell was on our broadside, setting Strathspey up for that rolling corkscrew kind of motion that never sits well with me. I thought a lot about that wish for sailors, “Fair winds and following seas” during the night. For me, following seas is not what I’d wish for on an overnight passage because in the dark, I couldn’t see much of a horizon and the trick that usually helps with seasickness (focus on the horizon and steer) didn’t work. Other than that, it was a fast trip down and cut a good four days of winding ICW off our trip.
We’re in Charleston for three days now, staying across the river at the Charleston Harbour Marina. We’re docked right next to the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier that’s open for visitors so that is definitely on the agenda. We’ve seen a bit of the historic area of Charleston by foot, met Madcap for a southern BBQ last night and hope to catch a blues band at some point too over the next few nights.