ICW Hotspot: River Dunes, NC

Paradise lies just west of ICW mile marker 173 on the Neuse River in North Carolina, about a mile up Broad Creek. It’s not hard to find, but you do have to look for it. Once you get there, you’ll agree. River Dunes is paradise.
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Paradise lies just west of ICW mile marker 173 on the Neuse River in North Carolina, about a mile up Broad Creek. It’s not hard to find, but you do have to look for it. Once you get there, you’ll agree. River Dunes is paradise.

Grace Harbor, River Dunes’s manmade 26-acre basin (8ft depths from shore-to-shore), is an almost perfect hurricane hole. We have docked our catamaran Different Drummer at River Dunes through hurricanes Irene, Sandy and Arthur, and none of the boats in the Grace Harbor slips sustained any damage. Zero. Other, more exposed marinas in nearby Oriental and Beaufort were forcing owners to take their boats and leave during these monster storms, but River Dunes offered safe harbor to all, until all slips were filled.

The floating docks have 30 to 200-plus amp shore power, clean freshwater and 13ft pilings. In 2011 the storm surge from Hurricane Irene was almost 11ft, and sailboats were floating down the streets of nearby Oriental, but not one boat got loose at River Dunes.

River Dunes opened in 2007 (it’s been our home port since ’09), so everything is still fairly new. The Clubhouse, like all structures in the village, is built in the “Tidewater” style of the 1920s. Complete with a beautiful antique pool table (yes, you can shoot a game on it), flat-screen TVs, stone fireplaces, a formal library and the Harbor Club restaurant on the second floor, the Clubhouse is the focal point of River Dunes. Currently, a “General Store” is under construction across from the Clubhouse for resident and cruiser provisioning. River Dunes is building a community.

Boats up to 160ft can be accommodated at the docks, so there’s plenty of room for the rest of us to maneuver. The fuel dock has easy access and competitive prices; there are also pump-out services available. Transient slips are available for $1.50/foot year round, and you are welcome to stay as long as you like. If you are sailing in a group, Rich Beliveau, Grace Harbor’s director of operations, will try to put everyone in adjoining slips. No anchoring is permitted in the harbor, but the holding on Broad Creek, just outside the Grace Harbor entrance channel, is about as good as it gets. Traffic is minimal, and the scenery is spectacular.

Cruising options from River Dunes are almost endless. It’s an easy daysail on a calm day to Cape Lookout or Ocracoke Island, two of our favorite spots. For not so easy days, the Neuse, Pamlico and Bay Rivers, Pamlico Sound, and all of their tributaries, are filled with beautiful gunkholes. The boatbuilding haven of New Bern is a half-day’s sail away. You can disappear up the South River in a couple of hours and not see another boat for days, yet still be able to scurry back to safe harbor when a hurricane shows up unexpectedly, like Arthur did in early July 2014. A 10-minute dinghy ride across Broad Creek will take you to legendary Paradise Cove Marina, where people play Jenga with 2-by-4s.
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Coastal Carolina Regional airport is a short 30-minute drive away in beautiful 300-year-old New Bern if you need to pick up or drop off family or crew or catch a flight home. The funky little town of Oriental, “The Sailing Capital of North Carolina,” is just nine miles away, and is a fun place to visit, provision, or just hang out at the Tiki Bar on the waterfront. West Marine has an “express” store in Oriental, as does Wal-Mart, and River Dunes has a courtesy car available for cruisers.

Crime, congestion, and complications seem to melt away at River Dunes. There are no traffic jams, because there are hardly any cars. Golf carts and bicycles are complimentary. We have never heard a siren at River Dunes, have never seen a police officer, and have never known of a need for one.

The pool bar is open on weekends, and if you are fortunate enough to be there on a hot Saturday afternoon when the beer’s flowing, friends are taking a break in the pool and Bob Laverty is playing guitar as only he can, then you are one of the fortunate few. The Harbor Club restaurant, on the second floor of the Clubhouse, overlooks Grace Harbor, offering unbelievable sunsets to accompany fine dining.

None of this would work without Rich and his friendly staff. These folks deserve high praise.

For more on the ICW and SAIL magazine's second-annual Snowbird Rally down the ICW set to take place this fall, visit http://icw.sailmagazine.com.

Photo courtesy of SoutheastDiscovery.com

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