Heading South On The ICW
Dismal Swamp Route MM0 to MM51 As we leave Portsmouth, Virginia to head south on the ICW we decide to take the Dismal Swamp route which cuts through a wildlife refuge on its way to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It is a weekday morning, and we have to plan for the restricted opening of the nearby Gilmerton Bridge as well as the scheduled opening for Deep Creek Lock, the first of two locks along the route. Although we are only 55-miles from Elizabeth City, the speed limit between locks and their scheduled openings mean we will be pushing it to arrive in Elizabeth City before dark. While the colorful foliage along the way is spectacular, we keep our eyes ahead of us, as half-submerged tree branches and logs threaten our props. Using extreme caution doesn’t prevent the repeated bumps and bangs from rattling our nerves. Sailboats and displacement trawlers with protected running gear definitely have an advantage on this route.
Elizabeth City, NC MM51 We arrive at Mariner’s Wharf, a row of complimentary, first come, first served transient slips in downtown Elizabeth City as the last light dips below the cityscape. While the slips are a bit tight and there’s no electricity, we can stay here for 48-hours as a guest of the city. For over 25-years, a welcoming committee named the “Rose Buddies” greets visiting boaters with a little wine, cheese and helpful information about the area. We also get a free copy of a handy brochure entitled, ”Cruise the Carolina Loop,” which provides information about a round trip featuring both the Dismal Swamp and Virginia Cut routes. Dubbed the “Harbor of Hospitality,” Elizabeth City truly encourages boaters to stop here, and its revitalized waterfront, shops, restaurants and Museum of the Albemarle are good reasons to do so.
Oriental, NC MM182 Every once in a while we cruise to a place where we have thoughts of retiring to. Oriental is such a place. Known as “The Sailing Capital of the Carolinas,” Oriental is a small, quiet town located on the Neuse River off Pamlico Sound, a large estuary second in size to the Chesapeake Bay. Cruising, sailing and fishing are an integral part of the area’s culture, and the town enthusiastically welcomes transients. Our slip at the Oriental Marina and Inn is convenient to a Tiki Bar and Restaurant, where we enjoy happy hour and an excellent meal. A public dinghy dock encourages anchoring in the small harbor or up Greens Creek, just beyond the 45-foot high bridge. Besides boating activities, Oriental seems to inspire healthy doses of walking and talking. My morning stroll along the river’s Lou Mac Park is followed by breakfast at The Bean, where locals gather to discuss sports and politics, all with a dash of good ‘ol boy, Southern humor.
New Bern, NC 31-Miles above MM205 Although New Bern is not on the actual ICW route, we run 31 miles up the Neuse River to visit old friends. The town’s Southern charm is certainly worth the detour for anyone doing “The Ditch.” We get a slip at New Bern Grand Marina, which now offers amenities through the adjacent DoubleTree by Hilton. The hotel’s shuttle will even take transients to the airport or car rental office. We take a tour of Tryon Palace, the Colonial Governor’s mansion built in 1770 and opened to the public as a historical sight in 1959. Surrounding the mansion are several other historic homes that are part of North Carolina’s history. Downtown New Bern offers a variety of specialty shops and restaurants that attract visiting boaters. We especially enjoy visiting the old Mitchell Hardware store, first opened in 1898, and located just a couple blocks from the marina. It’s fun just roaming the aisles and finding things you never knew you needed.
Wrightsville Beach, NC MM283 We get back on the ICW and after arriving at Beaufort, NC we decide to jump offshore and head to Wrightsville Beach. The weather is perfect for the 80-mile ocean run, and we enter the wide, well-marked Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach in the early afternoon. After getting fuel and an overnight slip at Seapath Yacht Club (a well maintained public marina), we walk to the thriving beach community for dinner. On our 2-mile walk, however, we are passed by one young jogger after another. It seems as if the entire town of 20-somethings is training for a marathon. Our waitress at the South Beach Grille explains, “Everyone in Wrightsville Beach loves to run before dinner.” Well, perhaps not everyone. The area is definitely popular with those who love the outdoors, however, and we see many paddle boarders and surfers taking advantage of the less crowded conditions during the mild fall season. The next day we continue south on the ICW, being careful to follow the warnings in our cruising guides about the shoaling conditions through Mansonboro Sound and Myrtle Grove Sound.
Our next major stop will be the charming, southern city of Charleston, South Carolina at MM430.