49. Quality Cruising with Dad

After a long cold December on the Great Lakes, the season came to a close, and the big boat was put away for the winter. I overlanded eastward to spend a wonderful belated Christmas with the immediate family, then went a little farther east to visit some more of my very favorite people. Eventually I pointed my rented land yacht south, and made my way back down to a much sunnier, and much warmer Beaufort, NC.

Sylphide was right where I’d left her, apparently no worse for the weeks of neglect. The only thing out of place was my transom mounted flag staff, which had been relocated to the other side of the marina courtesy of a recent blow. My neighborly neighbor had fetched it, and stowed it in the marina office for safe keeping.

With that reinstalled, I spent a few leisurely days at Homer Smith’s, getting ready for the next round of migration. I toyed with the idea of staying a bit longer, mostly out of laziness, but also out of affection for the area. I liked Beaufort, and with things being a little more open than they had been for my prior visits, I could see myself spending an extra week or two there. The marina had other plans for my dock, however. The regular summer tenant would be returning soon, so I had to GTFO as the kids say. They offered me another berth across the way, but I figured if I had to move, it may as well be a big move to southward, and so it came to pass.

I departed on a lovely sunny Wednesday morning in the middle of January. There was no other traffic to speak of, and my trip out of town was quiet and calm and enjoyable. As we passed the Morehead City commercial docks, I saw a ship that was unlike any I can remember seeing. She had a couple of massive gantry cranes across her deck, which I assume are meant for really big and/or heavy cargoes. I didn’t see any such cargo moving at the time, so that was just conjecture. Hell, they could just be big weird treehouses for all I know. It held my interest long enough for me to take a picture and say ‘huh, that’s weird,’ but not long enough for me to do any actual research on the matter. I still haven’t.

It felt good to be on the move again. The now familiar Bogue Sound passed in a blur, accompanied by the sounds of audiobooks, music, and loved ones on speakerphone. Before I knew it, we’d plowed a furrow nearly forty miles in length, and Mile Hammock Bay was in sight. I nestled in between a cruising sailboat and one of the bigger Ranger Tugs. I exchanged pleasantries with a passing kayaker as I parked my keister in a wicker chair on the back porch, where I enjoyed a nice juicy IPA and a lovely sunset. Even though it was only my third time at the spot, It felt familiar and homey. My previous two visits had both ended sooner than I’d really wanted, so this time I decided to stay for a couple of nights.

The next day saw lots of activity in the harbor. The other cruisers were gone before I woke up, but there was a lot of small boat traffic and fishermen throughout the day. The Marines at Camp Lejeune were out training, and I tracked a gaggle of uniformed dudes as they stalked their way around the perimeter of the bay. It was pretty impressive how hard it was to spot them sometimes. I was half expecting one of them to come creeping up my anchor snubber if I didn’t keep a sharp lookout. For better or worse, they didn’t. At least, I don’t think they did.

That night, while I caught up on the Great British Baking Show, a USMC helicopter descended on the anchorage. It spent a few hours doing circles around Sylphide, and practicing touch and go landings a hundred or so yards away. It was fun to watch for a little while, but I found myself hoping they weren’t planning to stay up too late. That thing made a hell of a racket. Thankfully they packed it in well before I turned in for the night.

Having finally felt I’d gotten my money’s worth out of the anchorage, I got a late start. I was only aiming to make about thirty miles that day, so I had plenty of time to sleep in. It was another mild and sunny day, and another pleasant cruise down to Wrightsville Beach. As is becoming tradition, I timed the bridges poorly, and wound up driving in circles for 45 minutes waiting for Wrightsville Beach bridge to open. I used the time to set up the lines for docking, since my destination was just a few boat lengths past the bridge. I snagged a spot at Bridgetender Marina’s face dock, where I’d booked two nights. I topped up the water tanks, took a splash of fuel, and laid in some groceries in anticipation of having an extra crew member aboard.

Dad would be joining for a few days of cruising, and I was very much looking forward to it. I rented a car and drove down to Georgetown to pick him up. He’d left his truck there so he could escape back to Florida when he’d had enough of boat life. When we got back to Sylphide, we ordered some bangin’ barbecue take out, and had round two of belated Christmas 2020. I’m pretty sure he was pleased with his haul, and so was I.

What a Martian.
One of my Favorite Gifts

The next morning, after waiting for a tangle of traffic to clear through the Wrightsville Beach narrows, we cast off the lines, did a quick and graceful 900 point turn, and set off down the ICW. The last time Dad and I had done this same trip, we’d made it down to Southport Marina. That wouldn’t be an option this time, since hurricane ISISIAEEE9EAIIS had effectively removed it from the face of the Earth. I opted instead for Deep Point Marina, which was even closer. That meant we had all day to make only about twenty something miles. We took advantage of our extra time, and made a detour down to Carolina Beach. We didn’t stop, but we did a slow cruise through just to check it out. I wanted to see if the anchorage and mooring field would be somewhere I’d want to stop on a future trip, and I think I will. We got right down to the bottom end of the bay, did another 900 point turn, and headed back up toward the junction with the ICW.

After waiting for a tug to pass, we fell in behind them and made our way toward Snow’s cut. This turned out to be quite an adventure. I knew we’d be bucking some current going through, but I didn’t think it would be more than a couple knots. I was wrong. It was more like four or even four and a half. As the tide funneled through the piers under the Carolina Beach overpass, we were down to about three knots. The scene around us was quite frothy and turbulent. The water that wasn’t worked up into a rich, foamy lather was a chocolatey brown, heavy with silt and sediment. It was by far the most current I’d ever seen with Sylphide. I didn’t say so at the time, since dad was already plenty nervous enough. I just quietly kept busy sawing at the wheel, and casually poured on a few hundred more RPMs. Even with the extra shove from Perkins, it was a job keeping her pointed into it. Any time Sylphide’s long keel wasn’t parallel with the flow, she’d crab off sideways at a rate of knots. It felt like flying a kite in too much wind. Fortunately it didn’t take long to get through the skinny bits, and things calmed down massively. We celebrated by stress-eating some hummus and pita chips.

The Cape Fear River was much more tame, ironically enough. At least it was at first. The following current shoved us along nicely, and we were making great time as we passed the super secret military resupply hub at the cute and innocently named Sunny Point (don’t tell anyone where it is!) While we wondered what sort of brain melting lasers they had stowed there, a southerly wind started piping up against the current. It wasn’t long before a steep chop stacked up for us to pound into. Sylphide pitched with great enthusiasm, the dishes rattled and clacked in the cupboards, and every minute or so, her bows would throw a great big cloud of spray over the boat. The windshield wipers got a workout, and dad got to work leaving some more fingerprints in the hand holds. I was having fun.

The sleigh ride kept up for twenty minutes or so, followed by another five with the seas on our beam while we lined up the entrance channel into the harbor. She rolled a bit, but not as much as I thought she might, and we soon found ourselves in the shelter of Deep Point Marina. The seas were gloriously calm, but it was still pretty breezy inside the fairly tight marina. It took a few attempts to get alongside, even with the dockmaster there to catch our lines. I didn’t break anything or hurt anyone’s feelings in the process, so I was pleased.

The wind kept up through the next day, and since neither of us was in anything like a hurry, we decided to chicken out and stay another night. We spent a day fiddling and tinkering with stuff on the boat. We figured out how to open up the running light fixtures, and ordered some replacement LED bulbs for them. We opened up the intermittent old AFI air horns, and started thinking about how to replace them with the new ones I’d gotten for Christmas. I’d also gotten a couple of new light fixtures for the cabin, and some nice teak binocular boxes, and we found homes for them too. Hopefully I’ll be less likely to fumble my Nikon eye stretchers down the companionway steps another seventeen times.

Eventually, a pleasant day rolled around, so we threw off the lines and made our way toward the exit. There was a small ferry coming in that we had to dodge, but there was enough room for an amicable passing, and we exchanged waves using all of our fingers.

Back on the ICW, traffic was light and the cruising was easy and comfortable. The windshield wipers remained firmly in the off position, and dad was able to relax and focus on other anxieties. The only thing that required additional attention was a smattering of buoys at an inlet, which didn’t line up with the charts. As conventional wisdom recommends, I followed the advice of the nav markers, and ignored my charts. It was only after it was all behind us that I realized we’d passed the infamous Lockwood Folly Inlet. I could see how it could be confusing to those unfamiliar with the area, and I certainly wouldn’t want to make the transit in darkness or fog.

The rest of the trip to North Myrtle beach was lovely and smooth. The Little River Swing bridge opened with no lines or waiting, and we were able to sneak under Barefoot Bridge without waking the tender. We parked behind a big Hatteras at Barefoot Landing’s fuel dock, and got reacquainted with Tim, one of the friendliest and most accommodating dockmasters on the ICW. We stayed for two nights, and in between pizza and lounging, we managed to install my shiny new air horns.

More than loud enough to be obnoxious!

I’d seen advisories about high water levels and flooding on the Waccamaw River, and I was a little nervous about whether it would give us any trouble. Dockmaster Tim said it shouldn’t be an issue, as did the Socastee Bridge tender, and the dockmaster at Georgetown. Apparently the flooding was more of an issue farther upstream, and while the currents were a little high in the lower river, they were nothing to worry about. This all turned out to be good advice, and that’s exactly what we experienced the following day. We made excellent time going with the current down the beautiful Waccamaw River, and I was glad to share one of my favorite stretches with dad. We talked about music, and shared some of our more obscure and weird tastes. He definitely had a weirder collection to choose from, but I suppose that’s to be expected from an actual Martian.

We passed under the Ocean Highway overpass, hooked a right, and followed the Sampit River up to Georgetown, where Harborwalk Marina was there waiting for us. With the help of a benevolent breeze, I got her alongside slicker than snot on a doorknob. Of course there was nobody around to see it, but that’s to be expected. Shortly after we got settled in, a familiar face came to say hello. He was a fellow liveaboard who’d been there last time I was, and we’d had some very agreeable chats. It was nice to see him again. It went a long way toward making me feel even more at home than Georgetown already did.

After another day aboard helping me finish up the last lingering bits of our projects, Dad gathered up his hoard and piled into the ol’ pickup rocket, and made off over the horizon. That day, he made more miles than we had in the last week on Sylphide, but he didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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