Tuesday morning we got up early and drove to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited National Park, with over 12 million visitors a year. And it is stunning.
We made it up to Newfound Gap overlook, which lies on the Tennessee/North Carolina State line, as well as the Appalachian Trail.
Then we drove up to Clingman’s Dome and walked up the steep climb to the observation tower for 360 degree views above the treetops. Clingman’s Dome, called Mulberry Place in Cherokee, was sacred to them. It is 6643’ high – the highest point in Tennessee.
After the park, we drove another 9 1/2 hours to Little Rock. One more National Park and then home tomorrow.
We left Winyah Bay Wednesday morning with E to ESE winds predicted which would make for a great sail around Frying Pan Shoals. But… while you can buy weather guidance, you can’t buy good weather. Turns out the wind was not as predicted at all, it was out of the NNE, exactly the direction we wanted to go. And the seas were big enough to slow us down if we tried to motor directly into them. So, we sailed some big tacks to make more headway than motoring. FINALLY after rounding Frying Pan Shoals the winds did eventually turn out of the east, about 1 or 2 AM, so we were able to sail nicely after that. While the wind has not always been cooperative, the weather has been beautiful.
We made it to Cape Lookout by about 4PM Thursday afternoon, and anchored in a beautiful spot in the bight in front of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We grilled up some salmon for dinner and got a good night’s rest.
Friday we motored into Beaufort Inlet and stayed at a marina for the night. We were able to do some laundry, take a nice land shower, and restock some provisions.
Saturday morning we biked to the local farmer’s market and scored some basil, which will be good for a pizza night on the boat. Then we left the marina and headed up the Intracoastal Waterway for the remainder of the trip. Neither one of us fancies going around Cape Hatteras with a crew of two. Going from Charleston to Beaufort on the outside allowed us to miss all the shallow, shifting shoal areas of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. So we’ve got that going for us. 🙂
Saturday we crossed the Neuse River and anchored overnight in the Bay River.
Today, Sunday, we cross the Pamlico Sound, and head up the Pungo and Alligator Rivers, and will anchor overnight on the south side of Albemarle Sound. We should be in Chesapeake, Virgina by tomorrow night.
After Carolina Beach, Lori and I stopped in Southport, North Carolina at a marina on the Cape Fear River for one night. We used Lori & Mike’s folding bikes to go into downtown. It was t-shirt and shorts weather again!
We grabbed nibblies at the bar, watched a little football to keep up on our fantasy football team scores, and then headed back to the boat.
The next day, Tony joined us, and we left North Carolina, heading south in the Atlantic Ocean bound for Charleston, South Carolina. That is an overnight sail, so we took turns at the helm overnight; in the cockpit for 4 hours, sleeping 2 hours, repeat.
The sail to Charleston was great! We were able to sail with main and jib up all the way, pretty much on the same tack, in a straight line to Charleston ship channel entrance. It was, however, brutally cold. You take what you can get.
We stayed at anchor overnight in the Ashley River, across from the Battery in Charleston. Then, in order to keep moving, we opted to go south on the ICW. We enjoyed a beautiful night at anchor in the Ashepoo River.
The next day, we continued on the ICW, exiting out to the ocean in the afternoon at Port Royal Sound, bound for Brunswick, Georgia. It was not as cold as the other night, but this sail was an uncomfortable one. NNE winds, 15-20knots, gusting in the 30’s, almost directly behind us, with seas around 6′ which got bigger towards the morning. A bonus was a squall that hit about 3 AM, with rain and gusts up to 40knots. It was warmer, but it was 15 hours of pounding up and down waves. We couldn’t use the autopilot, with the stern being thrown with each wave, so we hand steered – or as I like to call it, wrestling the bear. Not to fear, though, we made it safely into port yesterday morning. As we entered St. Simon’s Sound at dawn, we went by the wreck of the MV Golden Ray, a massive car carrying cargo ship that heeled over and was run aground a year ago. Lori, Monte and I saw it last December when there to move Trident to Brunswick.
With a not-improving weather forecast, Trident will be heading down the ICW into Florida today. We hope to be in St. Augustine, Florida, by sunset tomorrow night.
Our original plan, to leave the ICW and head offshore in Beaufort, was intended to avoid the challenges associated with the ICW south of there. These include transiting the dozens of ocean inlets that the ICW crosses south of Beaufort where significant shoaling always occurs, often changing the ICW channel depth, making it dangerously shallow, and passing under a number of bridges that are less than the required 65′ vertical clearance with tides than can vary from the mean water level by up to 4 feet. But, alas, the weather offshore has been unfavorable, so we continued on south.
There is a kind soul on the internet, Bob Sherer, who maintains a blog called Bob423 ICW Tracks and Routes where he provides tracks (collections of GPS points) that he has carefully taken and mapped out for maximum depths. The tracks are available for download as GPX files into chart plotting software, like the openCPN that I use on my laptop and the Garmin chart plotter that Lori has at Trident’s helm. Fortunately, Bob’s latest track is as recent as a week or two ago, so it contains safe tracks around hazards that even the Corps of Engineers haven’t moved the red and green buoys around yet. There have been reports of multiple boats running aground this week in those spots. Not wanting to be one of those boats, we have been following Bob’s track. It can be a little spooky when Bob’s green track goes outside the marked channel. But so far, so good.
The bridges are a challenge of their own, especially with the flooding in North Carolina rivers currently going on, and an especially high tide. We have had to wait for the water level to go down on some bridges before passing underneath, but even so, we have bent the springy VHF antenna at the top of the mast back as we passed under 2 of them. That’s a little too close for comfort.
Hopefully, we only have one more bridge and one more shallow spot, at Snow’s Cut, today. Then we will be at a marina in Southport tonight, and pick up Tony tomorrow and head offshore for a leg south tomorrow afternoon. We think there is a 24-hour window that will allow us to get to Charleston without weather drama. But we’ll see how that plays out.
Even with those challenges, it’s been a nice few days since Beaufort. It’s been sunny, with wind to put up a sail. We anchored one night, and were on a mooring ball last night. Very nice.
Day 10 – 3 bridges. 53 miles. There is 20-ish mile man-made land cut between the Pungo River and the Alligator River on the ICW. It’s very straight, and surrounded by tall pine trees.
This was the last section of the ICW to be completed in the 1920s to allow inland passage between Norfolk to Miami. We took that cut today and were able to put the jib up for an extra knot or so. Along the way, we slid past bald eagles, Canada geese, white-tailed deer, and many small birds.
After exiting the land cut we sailed up the Alligator River, which is huge. We had wind-driven waves but luckily they were on our stern, so it made for comfortable sailing.
As we turned off the ICW to anchor, a hellacious squall arrived. Lori saw 32+ knots as I was on the bow dropping anchor in the rain. Trident’s anchor held like a champ, as usual. We were treated to a double rainbow for our efforts.
We are anchored tonight right where the Alligator River joins Albemarle Sound, which we will transit tomorrow. It’s the last big body of open water that we cross on this trip.
Day 8 – 3 bridges. 22 miles. We finished up last-minute chores this morning, and left the slip at slack tide, around 2pm. Goodbye Beaufort! The string of signal flags on the flagpole at Beaufort Docks Marina spell out B-E-A-U-F-O-R-T. 🙂
Since we left in the afternoon, today was a short mileage day. Along the way, we passed lots of small boats and shrimpers.
But we took a looong time to get there. We pulled out the jib and gained two or more knots. Tonight we are at anchor off the Neuse River, in the mouth of the South River. We anchored exactly at sunset here. A few minutes later, the full moon rose over the trees. Just beautiful!
Day 6 – 2 bridges. 27 miles. When we left this morning, there was a parade of shrimp boats and tugs; more than we’d seen so far.
Today was supposed to be a short day but we were fighting mysterious tidal currents so we ended up only going between three and four knots for most of the day. Coming into Beaufort Inlet we passed this beautiful catboat. This one is for Monte…
Tonight we are at a marina in Beaufort, NC. We are 3 slips down from this bad boy, the S/V Miniskirt.
When Lori checked us in we got two wooden nickels for free beers at the marina bar. Let me tell you, my Yuengling went down fast. It was HOT!
I enjoyed visiting with friends of Lori’s from way back. They gave us a quick driving tour of the area. We walked out to the Atlantic.
Day 5 – 5 bridges. 56 miles. The new thing today was having to time our arrival at bridges that only open on the hour, or on the hour and half hour.
We had to dodge some hellacious thunder and lightning storms by doing circles for a bit. The currents seemed to be fickle today. There are so many inlets to and from the Atlantic that one minute we’ll have the tide with us. But then we cross an inlet, and the current turns against us. Where inlets and rivers cross the ICW, sand builds up into shallow shoals, some are quite large and stick up above the surface of the water. We passed this one where the locals had erected a flag, a palm tree, and a parking meter with a cleat on the side for boats to tie up. 🙂
The ICW in these parts flows right past the United States Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune. The ICW is sometimes closed here for hours due to live ammunition fire exercises.
There were no live-fire exercises today, thankfully. We had originally planned to anchor right off the ICW here for the night. But, we had to abandon that plan due to the anchorage being closed for military exercises. We saw a space-age amphibious vehicle enter right in front of us.
I wonder what they would have done if we pulled in there to anchor. 🙂
So we continued 15 miles farther north than we’d planned to be today, and are now at a lovely anchorage at the town of Swansboro. We grilled kebabs, watched a wedding reception on the waterfront, watched our boat swing until the currents changed 3 hours after high tide, and took in another lovely sunset.
Day 4 – 2 bridges. 30 miles. We got off the dock easily this morning and headed on our way by 9AM. Every stretch of the ICW has been a little different each day. Today took us through the Cape Fear River. We had the tide against us for a couple hours and it was slow going through mostly sea-like conditions in the wide and deep shipping lanes.
We then turned back up into the ICW. Lori found a website where the Corps of Engineers posts images of current depth soundings all along the ICW, which provide the latest status on shoals and problem areas. We referred to that along the way. So we knew we were in for a couple of very low stretches today. We actually bumped bottom once today! The red and orange marks in the middle of the screenshot below indicate only 4 to 5-foot depths at mean-low-tide stretching across the entire width of the ICW channel. We draw 5 feet. AND we were hitting this stretch at low tide. Exciting!
We pulled into Wrightsville just in time to get hit by our first thunderstorm/deluge as we were anchoring. Not bad. I’ll take it.
We grilled on the boat and rocked out until sunset. It was another lovely night.
Day 3 – 17 bridges (yes, 17). 58 miles. Today brought us across the South Carolina border into North Carolina.
Captain Lori picked the departure time perfectly, which isn’t easy with currents being different all along the ICW and worrying about vertical clearance under bridges, and the depth of the water along the way, given that the tide changes water depths in this area by 4 to 6-feet.
Again, we lucked out and were not hit by the storms around us. Today’s challenges were long stretches where the current was against us, which slows us down, and navigating the areas of the ICW that cross river inlets to the Atlantic Ocean. The coast guard temporarily moves the channel markers to safely navigate changing shoals in these areas. Oh, and there was that one jackhole in a fishing boat who nearly ran into us from behind at high speed as he wasn’t paying attention. Luckily he looked up at the last minute and we only got water from his boat spray in the cockpit.
We started the day running up the ICW behind Myrtle Beach. Lots of homes and boat traffic.
Civilization, bridges, and traffic from the air and from the sea… ICW kitsch… Swing bridges that opened when asked nicely… More kitsch…First channel marker in North Carolina…
It turned beachy at Shallote’s Inlet. If you look closely you can see the surf breaking on the Atlantic side… And we got to see the backside of many beach homes…Home for the night…