Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are...

Today is Tuesday, April 15th, a day all FairTaxers hope will soon become just another beautiful Spring day. We mailed our income tax check to Uncle Sam from Bucksport Plantation on April 7th (a week earlier than our FairTax tradition of dropping the envelope in the mail on the deadline and no sooner) since we knew that mail would be picked up at the marina, and we weren’t sure we’d have access to a mailbox on TaxDay.  It’s a good thing we didn’t wait, because today we’re docked at R.E. Mayo Company in Goose Creek, between the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers, waiting out a predicted few days of rain, high winds, and colder temperatures, and paying only 40 cents/foot. We have shore power, an area across the road where Midas can run, and we’re tied securely to a sturdy dock.  The wind is brisk, the sky is cloudy, and the rain is blowing against the windows – a good day to stay inside, defrost the freezer, read, and work on our blog.  Thank you, Richmond Hill boat neighbor and friend Kelly, for recommending that we buy a heat gun.  It quickly melted a six week accumulation of ice, and we have more room in the freezer.  

The predicted storms that kept us at Bucksport two extra days had blown themselves out by the time they reached the Waccamaw River, but they were productive days.  Mike did a great job of trouble-shooting the wiring problem
Mike found the break

It was hidden in the sheath
that prevented the deck lights from working, Marian cleaned, and Midas played Chuck-It, swam in the Waccamaw River, and had a bath.  
We were off the dock and on our way at 2:00 PM on April 8th and soon found ourselves in “The Ditch,” the long, straight channel from the Waccamaw River behind Myrtle Beach to Little River and the North Carolina state line.  Quite a contrast: from cypress trees and birds to one gorgeous home after another, getting bigger and more elaborate the further north we went.
We dropped anchor in Calabash Creek, (http://tinyurl.com/kwmca4o)not sure if we were in North or South Carolina, and launched the dinghy to take Midas ashore and have dinner. Our intrepid boat dog is becoming an expert at going down the steps to the swim platform and up again.  The outboard was unusually hard to crank, and about 50 yards or so from the boat, it quit.  In our haste to go ashore, we had forgotten the paddles, so we rolled up our sleeves and “swam” the dink back to the boat.  “Let me try the motor one more time,” said Mike, and this time it started easily and purred smoothly to the shrimp fleet dock. After a good (not great) dinner, we returned to the boat, and Midas decided to sniff the air and look around instead of hunkering down in the bottom. We returned the next morning for breakfast at George’s Pancake House – delicious. While Mike talked to the customers at an adjacent table (FairTax, of course, and the trip), the tide was going out; when we returned to the boat, the depth gauge showed 2.6 feet, and we feared we’d have a long wait.  
Midas waiting on a bench outside

Luck was on our side, and we were able to wiggle free for a cruise up the Cape Fear River to Carolina Beach State Park Marina. (http://tinyurl.com/mevxg72 ) In a demonstration of skillful seamanship, Mike was able to maneuver us into a slip instead of an alongside tie-up, and we spent a restful night in the protected harbor.
As we prepared for departure on Thursday, Marian in the aft cabin and Mike in the engine room, Midas took the opportunity to make an unauthorized, off-leash visit to the marina store, where he knew he’d find “puppy cookies.” We realized he had gone AWOL about the time one of the employees was laughingly escorting him back to the boat.  Backing out of the slip in the fairly small space between two docks was tricky, but we managed.  
On to Sneads Ferry to meet Mike’s North Carolina cousin Phil and his wife Barbara.  They had left Raleigh early Thursday morning in two cars, dropped one in Beaufort, then drove on to Sneads Ferry and what turned out to be a very basic marina, arriving while we were in the marina store to pay for our one-night stay.
Barbara and Phil Warlick

Unlike most marinas, which have floating docks, this one has fixed docks and large pilings. Mike quickly converted several of our fenders from vertical to horizontal, and one of the employees contributed a 3’ x 6’ piece of OSB to provide a ramp from the dock to the boat.  Midas was able to jump off, but unwilling to attempt the jump back on.
 We all took turns at the helm on our cruise from Sneads Ferry (http://tinyurl.com/lxp6xpf) to Beaufort, through Camp Lejeune.  We heard mortars and artillery in the distance and helicopters swooped overhead, but the Marines were not on maneuvers that required shutting down the ICW.   North of Camp Lejuene, we traveled through another area of miles and miles of
Semper Fi, Marine 

gorgeous homes - one that can only be described as garish, and one with yard art that left us puzzled - all part of the Emerald Coast.  We reached Town Creek Marina in Beaufort (http://tinyurl.com/ksys2dx) by early afternoon. The gentle breeze Friday morning had become a strong wind by afternoon, and we were glad to be tied at the dock.
Pepto Bismol pink

A visit to Fort Macon, a trip to Walmart, and a delicious dinner with great service at the Ruddy Duck Tavern in Morehead City capped off a beautiful day on the water and an enjoyable time with Phil and Barbara.  We had all skipped showers after seeing the none-too- clean restrooms at Sneads Ferry, so we really enjoyed the showers at Town Creek, venturing out despite the strong winds that continued after sunset.
On Saturday, we were sorry to say good-bye to Phil and Barbara, after
a delicious breakfast at Beaufort Breakfast Café and a quick run to Piggly Wiggly, CVS, and ACE Hardware for provisions, a new turbie twist towel for Marian, and a larger, better ice chest. We had left a similar one in Richmond Hill, thinking the smaller wheeled one Mike had bought when he brought the boat up from Palm Coast would work. It doesn’t, and we were glad to donate it to Town Creek boat neighbor Rick, who had offered Mike the use of his truck for a trip to Walmart to pick up a prescription on Sunday morning – just another example of the willingness of boaters to help one another.  Rick is restoring a boat that’s a sister ship to one he owns, and he was hard at work from sunrise to sunrise. 

We ended our visit to Beaufort with a bike ride from the marina to town on Sunday afternoon, Midas trotting alongside Mike, lunch at the Dockside Café, ice cream cones, a visit to Scuttlebutt to purchase two Skipper Bob guides, and another land-based shower to start the week. Of course, Midas made many new friends as we walked along the waterfront, and he may even end up in a wedding video.  As we ate our ice cream, we had noticed a young couple strolling hand in hand, following a videographer who was walking backward.  When we saw them sitting on a bench taking a break, we asked about the video, and the cameraman sprang back into action as Midas made friends with the bride and groom.

Monday morning was clear and breezy for our cruise up the creek that connects Beaufort and Morehead City to the Neuse River.  Like Myrtle Beach, this was a straight shot, houses on both sides, until we reached the mouth of the creek, ready to cross the Neuse and make our way to the western shore of Pamlico Sound. Before we entered the rougher open waters, we stopped to help a couple of high school kids who waved us down.  The battery on their SeaDoo was dead, and of course he had to help.  As one of the guys held on to a rope they’d tied to the side rail of Midas Touch, Mike handed over our portable jump starter while Marian took the helm, keeping us away from the shallow water nearer shore. The SeaDoo was soon underway again, and so were we, down the Neuse toward open water, then a turn north to follow the shoreline past Bay River, into Jones Bay and Goose Creek. Soon after entering the much calmer waters of Goose Creek, we found ourselves at R.E. Mayo Company. (http://tinyurl.com/kqw6ra3 )  After securing the boat behind a 100 foot fishing vessel docked here for an overhaul ($800,000 so far), we went to the office to pay for dockage, and returned with scallops for dinner, plus, for a $1 donation to the Carteret County Relay for Life to benefit cancer research, a Congo bar and piece of strawberry cake for dessert. We split both, and plan to make more donations during our stay.

Mike’s turn:
It's raining today and we're tied up at our R.E. Mayo Co.'s dock waiting for the storm that probably most of you have already had. The temperature will drop to the 40's with expected wind gusts up to 40 or 50 miles an hour. We're quite content in this protected place on the ICW. The boat you see below is a 100 foot fishing boat, capable of handling 20 - 30 foot seas. These boats come out of here and go to the North Atlantic, bringing back scallops, flounder and shrimp. They stay out for a month or more and come back in to Hobucken, NC to unload the seafood we love to eat. Mike Ireland owns this boat and he was telling us about the limitations the federal government places on just how much they can catch and how many days they can fish, the cost of insurance on the boat and repairs. For instance, he just completed $800,000 in repairs on the boat, and he's still working on it to get the boat back into shape. Fortune Hunter has been through the Panama Canal into Alaskan fishing waters.  I enjoy talking with these fishermen and staying at this place more than a fancy marina.

Next on the agenda, after the storms pass, is a side trip up the Pamlico River to “Little Washington,” then on to the Great Dismal Swamp after crossing Albemarle Sound and visiting Elizabeth City. According to John, at NOAA, we should sit tight tomorrow and wait until Thursday for a better cruising day.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Charleston to Georgetown and beyond…

We’re way overdue on updating this blog, so we’ll hit the high spots, with more photos.  With our first ten days as “Loopers” behind us, we’ve worked out some of the trickier spots of running the boat: docking, getting underway, stowing the lines and fenders, setting and pulling up the anchor, and we’re getting better at remembering where we’ve put things.  We’ve seen beautiful marshes, spectacular waterfront homes, bald eagles, ospreys, and even a couple of mallard ducks. 
Sunset over the marsh - one of many
After a night “on the hook” on the north end of Hilton Head our first night out from Hinckley Marine Services, Midas was happy to go ashore when we launched the dinghy before settling in for the night in Fishing Creek, off the South Edisto River.  The ladder from the aft deck to the swim platform and the dinghy is almost vertical, but with a little help and lots of encouragement, we made his way down and into the dinghy.  We motored over to a boat ramp and dock, and Midas found the grass he needed.                                                             
 We reached Charleston City Marina early Saturday afternoon.  Time to do laundry, take long showers, and enjoy a delicious dinner ashore.  We burned off some of the calories we consumed by hiking the quarter mile from the end of the Megadock to the central dock several times. 
Dessert was on the house, and we couldn't resist.

 The staff at Charleston City Marina goes out of the way to help, and the facilities are top-notch.  Midas’s favorite new friend was Brandi, a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix who has just qualified to be a therapy dog.  We also met another Looper couple, Rick and Anne Davis on Assisted Living.  Dinner at the restaurant and breakfast Sunday morning were both as good as we remembered from our 2007 visit in "They Say."

 The plan for Sunday night was to anchor out in Charleston Harbor, still within sight of the marina, among about a dozen or so sailboats.  The brisk wind that made getting off the dock a bit of a challenge was supposed to diminish by late afternoon, and we had planned to take the dinghy ashore to meet one of our FairTax buddies, then attend a screening of Unfair – the Movie. 
We got the boot - and it rode to Georgetown.

As the hours passed, the wind blew faster and the waves grew bigger – too much for the dinghy.  The new plan – cancel the movie and hunker down for the night – would have worked, if the anchor had not impaled an old rubber boot with one fork instead of catching the bottom. When we realized we were adrift, it was time to crank the engine and head for the ICW on the other side of Charleston Harbor.  It was a rough ride, but we made it, with nothing in the cabin broken or damaged.

The section of the ICW between Charleston Harbor and Isle of Palms has no good place to anchor, but we spotted an open space at Isle of Palms Marina.  By the time we reached it, the office was closed, but Neptune was smiling on us again.  James, Kris and son Jamie saw us circling the area, radioed that they would help us tie up, then did a great job of pulling us in as the wind did its best to keep us away.   After a great spinach salad, with crab cakes for Mike and grilled chicken for Marian at Morgan Creek Grill, we settled in for the night, by now a windless one.

Monday morning, after a hearty breakfast at the Marina Market, which has a little bit of everything, from souvenirs to clothes to fishing gear and batteries, we were underway again, this time to a beautiful, quiet anchorage in Five Fathom Creek, near McClellanville.  As we moved slowly up the creek recommended by a passing fisherman, we spotted a bald eagle perched atop a channel marker.    
Bald Eagle - King of Five Fathom Creek
 The cruise from Five Fathom Creek to Georgetown was an easy run, with Marian’s tendency to oversteer the boat improving with practice as she “manned” the helm most of the way to the Sampit River.

First Mate Marian

We docked at Harborwalk Marina with able assistance from Dockmaster Chris.  Midas was again very glad to go ashore.  We broke out the bikes for a ride to Georgetown Hardware to purchase a chain and padlock to secure them and a few miscellaneous items.  What man can go into any hardware store and not see an "I've been meaning to get one of those"? Midas trots very nicely along- side Mike, and of course we carry water bottles to keep everyone hydrated. 

Georgetown was the place to find an excellent boat mechanic to help troubleshoot what we thought was a bad connection to the radar feature on our Garmin Chartplotter.  More important, John knew exactly why the steering seemed mushy: low hydraulic fluid and air in the lines from the helm to the rudder control, located under our bed in the aft cabin.  If you’re traveling this area and need just about anything electrical, electronic or mechanical done to your boat, John at Jake’s Marine Systems is your man.  

Approaching downtown Georgetown
Georgetown by night
 We can’t say enough good things about Harborwalk Marina.  It’s smaller than many, and if you want extras like use of a golf course, you won’t find them there.  You will find immaculate restroom/showers and laundry facilities, and friendly folks like Captain Rod and his wife Fran, who live on their trawler docked at the marina.  We should have made time to take the Lighthouse and Plantations tour, but we spent the time working on the boat:  washed, vacuumed, mounted fender cages, re-attached a loose rub rail strip, and organized, organized, organized.

With three productive days in Georgetown and laundry done, we turned north again on Friday, traveling the beautiful Waccamaw River and looking for a protected spot to drop the hook. With the correct amount of hydraulic fluid, steering is much better, and Marian was at the helm for most of the trip.  We paused at Bucksport Marina to ask about possible anchorages, and found a perfect place behind a stand of cypress trees less than a mile farther along. We dropped the hook, launched the dinghy, and headed back to the Bucksport.  Midas knows that when we open the back gate to the dinghy and swim platform, he's going ashore, and he's getting braver about the almost vertical ladder with each trip. Mike guides him down, step by step, until he can hop in.  Once underway, he curls up in the bottom, head under the seat, until we reach the dock.

View from our Waccamaw River Anchorage
After two nights at anchor, listening to ducks and geese as well as passing boats Friday and Saturday night, we pulled up the dinghy and anchor, and Marian drove us back to Bucksport Marina, where we're staying tonight and tomorrow while the predicted rain and storms pass through. Bucksport Marina made us an offer we couldn't refuse - $1/foot including power and water, much lower than most of the marinas.  It's not fancy, but it's clean, the facilities are good, Captain Seagrass's bar and grill has good food and friendly folks, and there's a big field where Midas can run.  We couldn't ask for more, and we have the transient dock to ourselves on a quiet, cool night, relaxing after Mike solved the problem of non-functioning deck lights.  Two wires, buried deep in the support beam to the aft deck roof, had worn through and shorted out, so DC current was not reaching them.  Mike found the site of the break, re-connected the wires, and we have deck lights again.  Tomorrow promises rain, so it will be a day to work inside, polishing the teak walls and troubleshooting another nonworking light, this one in the forward cabin where Phil and Barbara will be bunking in a few days.

An osprey surveys the world from her nest

Mike:  We have heard for the years leading up to this trip that it’s about the people you meet, both fellow Loopers and people in the towns and marinas you meet as you stop along the way. I have found this to be absolutely true. Oh, you still have the discourteous boaters who are clueless about their wakes, like Maverick, who passed us in his 40+ foot sport fisherman this afternoon without slowing, but then you meet the real gems, the people who are happy in their lives and who were put on this earth to make a positive effect on humanity.  John, the guy who worked on our boat’s steering in Georgetown, SC, is one of those individuals.  The waitress at Seven Hundred Modern Grill and Bar (formerly Zest) in Georgetown, who talked about rebuilding their restaurant after the September 2013 fire destroyed it and many other businesses along the water front is another.  Fran, who offered to take Marian along on her almost daily outing to Walmart and who made it a point to wave good-bye as we left the dock on Friday, just shines with inner goodness.  
Mike & Midas after a round of Chuck-It
Dusk on the Waccamaw

Midas Touch at the dock