Friday, January 30, 2009

Surf City, USA!!!

Well, we're sitting in Surf City, North Carolina (no kidding!) waiting out some bad weather...and while it was only in the 60s yesterday when we pulled in, we did manage to sink our toes in the sand on the wide open beach and pretend for just a minute that we were in the islands. OK, well not really, since there was no mistaking the bundled up surf casters for island boys,
but it sure did feel good to have sand under our feet again...

Tammy here by the way...

Lots of miles and lots of smiles have passed since last we posted. From Alligator River, we and many of our "new friends" headed south to Belhaven, NC - we were on a mission to meet up with the boat parents (the Kelleys, Colleen's parents) who were driving down to Florida and were gracious enough to make a detour to see us.

The trip down the Alligator River was memorable for a lot of reasons, including the narrowness and shallowness of the channel,
the stumps and debris littering the water, the vastly different landscape and the procession of boats, but for me it was proof of how far we have come and how much we have learned along the way since the beginning of September. Neither the skinny water nor the narrow channel phased us and sure, we had used the VHF radio to call ahead to marinas before, but on this trip the radio became a real means of communication! Trust me when I say that where we were you were more likely to hear banjos than get cell phone reception.
Yet, the whole way down the River we kept up running conversations with friends on other boats, we indicated our intent to pass boats (OK the only boats we can pass are snailbotters) with one whistle (pass to starboard) or two (pass to port), we asked bridge tenders for openings (lots of old 12 foot vertical clearance bridges down here!) and we gave out information to those behind us on stump and deadhead locations making sure all who followed could pass safely down the waterway. It was really very cool! No longer were we "radio neophytes" - nervous of violating radio etiquette (which truly exists) but instead we laughed at newbies who didn't know the rules!

The Kelleys were waiting on the docks in Belhaven to greet us - Doug was sweating it, but performed a picture perfect dock. It was important to impress Colleen's Dad so he didn't think she was off for the next several years with some yahoos that had no idea how to operate a boat!!
Unfortunately they could only stay for a couple hours as they had places to get to before dark, but we made the most of our visit! After a few cocktails and some great conversation we had to say goodbye to the Kelleys, but shortly thereafter we got to say hello to other friends. Steve and Di on Aurora (Gypsies' twin - another 49' RPH DeFever) pulled in behind us at the Belhaven Marina and then Brett and Jill on Muircu (a sailboat that had been with us in Alligator River Marina) came by even though they had tied up at the other marina in town. If you haven't guessed by now, it seems to be a rule that where 4 or more cruisers congregate, a party shall ensue - and since we have 4 Gypsies on board, we seem to attract lots of parties! Suffice it to say that a really good party did follow on Gypsies that afternoon/evening. Lots of appetizers and drinks later, it truly felt like we'd known each other forever - for people that hadn't known each other for more than several days, the comraderie and all around fun aboard was a sight to behold! Di's amazing lamb appetizer was the hit of the party, although my homemade spiced rum played a major role in the frivolity as well!!

The next day we all got an early start (although not too early) for our next destination - Oriental, North Carolina. Steve and Di were heading to New Bern so we steamed with them most of the way.
The highlight of the trip was our first major dolphin experience - as we headed out to the Neuse River, a whole pod of dolphins came to play in our bow wake!!
We'd been waiting for this the whole trip!! They are such majestic and fun creatures - I swear one of them smiled right at me (and I was lucky enough to get his picture!!).

Oriental is a very quaint little town with a total population of about 1,000 on land - it also is the home of about 2,700 boats - you get the idea, its a boating town!! We arrived late afternoon but decided to walk around and explore before the sun set - it took about 15 minutes! As I mentioned, Oriental is a pretty small place, but the architecture and the landscaping of the houses was well worth the walk. Lots of the town has disappeared over the past 100 years or so thanks to one hurricane or the other (at least it sure seemed so based on the historical signs all around town that read "here on this sight used to be the (fill in the blank) before Hurricane (fill in the blank))!!! Oriental did treat us to a great sunset, though,
as we made plans to head out to Morehead City/Beaufort (they are sister cities on either side of a very narrow, busy channel) the next day.

Being cruisers we are always on the lookout for anchorages (which are free) or lower cost places to tie up the boat - we certainly scored with our next destination - thanks Skipper Bob!! Instead of docking at the Beaufort (pronounced "bo-fort," so as not to be confused with Beaufort pronounced "bue-fort", South Carolina) town docks for $2.25 per foot, we tied up at the dock behind the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant on the Morehead City side of town for $10 per night. Our misgivings about the name nonetheless, it turned out to be a fabulous place!! The sun finally came out and was even warm enough for shorts which we haven't seen all that often given the "unseasonably" cold spell the south has had over the past month or so. We enjoyed the warmth with lunch topsides while the local pelicans and seagulls gave us quite a show!!

We headed into Morehead City to explore that afternoon - Colleen and I paid homage to Neptune as we strolled the waterfront so as to ensure a safe voyage going forward (the things we do for the sake of the boat!)
We passed quite a few funky local bars that we planned to frequent later that afternoon and Doug picked up a pair of pirate (skull and crossbone) earrings - bet the woman at the jewelry store didn't expect Doug to be the only one who bought anything! After walking around for a couple hours, we were parched and found ourselves at one of those funky bars, Raps (weird how that always seems to happen to us - like there is a powerful magnet or something that just draws us in...). $0.99 Yuengling drafts and free popcorn made us feel right at home - I love the South!!!

Given the low fee for dockage, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Sanitary Fish Restaurant after a drink at Jacks, a very cool local private bar (in NC if you don't serve food, you can only get a liquor license if you are a private club for members only). Cameron, the cute local 22 year old bartender, welcomed us with stories of the place and the 350 foot hammerhead shark that had been caught right outside on the dock not long ago. OK that clinched it, no swimming off the boat for us that evening!! The restaurant was all that it had been cracked up to be - really fresh seafood and great hushpuppies!!

The next day we set out to explore the sister city of Beaufort, which is a major boating mecca for cruisers heading either north or south on the ICW. It also has a deep channel running to the Atlantic so is home to many commercial fishing fleets which gives it some local character (and characters!). Beaufort is filled with quaint little shops and antique stores which we browsed for awhile. Sooner or later, you guessed it - we found a "quaint" little watering hole named the Back Street Pub, literally on a back street hidden from the touristy part of town.
Talk about character and characters - this place had it (and them) in spades!! The bartender Donna was just what you'd expect - a little brassy and rough around the edges but full of tales and spunk. She kept us there for more than our share of beers and peanuts! After heading back to the boat that evening, we got to enjoy another beautiful sunset in paradise (or at least behind the Sanitary Fish Restaurant))!

Yesterday we had a long run down the ICW to Wrightsville Beach - at least that was the intended destination, but yet again our plans would change mid-stream (or channel as the case may be). We set out as the sun was just cresting the horizon and jumped out into the ICW with several other boats also getting an early start.
All was going well until we hit the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge which we needed to open before we could pass through - unfortunately it was out of commission for over an hour while the hydraulics were being worked on. Talk about a cluster - about 15 boats trying to "just hang out" in a very narrow channel with major current flowing for over an hour!! Except for one sailboat that seemed to PO most of the other boats, everyone was relatively under control and well behaved. But a big cheer went up as the bridge finally opened!
However, the delay made it so we wouldn't have been able to get to Wrightsville Beach until after dark and anchoring in a new harbor in the dark is not yet something we really want to experience!! So we called an audible and ducked into Surf City, NC - sure, not THE surf city but a pretty neat place anyways! Sometimes we find the best places by accident - that's why going with the flow definitely needs to be our mantra for this adventure.

The rest of the trip from Beaufort to Surf City yesterday was an interesting one - first we had to traverse the wide open and often nasty Neuse River and then several very narrow creeks and canals. The scenery was constantly changing that's for sure. Along the way we encountered spectacular homes along parts of the waterway
(and then, some not so spectacular...the banjos were humming), wind swept sand dunes, more dolphins playing in our bow wake,
military/space-like boats coming right at us
and we even cruised through Camp LeJeune's firing range (luckily on an off day!)

This morning has been a day of work on the boat and catching up with emails, blogs etc. This afternoon we may hit the beach again and tonight, the Pats play the Jets so we may just have to find one more of those funky little locals bars to see the game....we'll keep you posted!

To see more wildlife pictures click here.

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