South Bound with the Snowbirds: In my mind I’ve gone to (north) Carolina
Cruising guide authors Mark and Diana Doyle, co-leaders of the upcoming SAIL Magazine Snowbird Rally, continue their eight-part tour of the Intracoastal Waterway. In this third installment they highlight five memorable stops in North Carolina.
You can never go wrong with James Taylor. “Can’t you see the sunshine? Can’t you just feel the moonshine?” Well to be honest, last fall’s SAIL Magazine Snowbird Rally was a bit short on sunshine as we headed out, but luckily one boat arrived with a stockpile of apple-pie moonshine, which got us moving and fueled our camaraderie toward warmer climes.
Although it was bitterly cold, we had serious sailing miles to cover. And if there’s any place along the Intracoastal Waterway you’re likely to raise the sails, it’s North Carolina. Here the ICW runs through the northern half of the state crossing large patches of open water, such as Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Even the “rivers” are vast open bays, such as the well-known Neuse River off Oriental, a city that has earned the nickname “The Sailing Capital of North Carolina.”
The southern part of the state has skinnier water, transiting miles and miles of unswerving paths through Bogue, Topsail, Stump, Myrtle Grove and Masonboro sounds. Here you should put visibility first, keeping that headsail furled to guard against cross-setting currents and avoid straying out of the narrow but well-marked channel. Or if the weather is right, you can break it up, opting for a 65-mile coastal daysail to skip a few of these, heading out at Beaufort Inlet and re-entering the ICW at Wrightsville Beach’s Masonboro Inlet.
Overall, we think North Carolina has some of the best cruising available along the ICW. You could—and many do—spend a lifetime exploring its waters. Here’s a highlight of five outstanding ports-o’-calls. And of course, all are on the itinerary for this year’s Snowbird Rally.
Dowry Creek Marina
If you haven’t done Dowry, you haven’t done the ICW. It’s an ICW tradition, largely due to its owner, Mary Klapperich, and marina manager, Nick Leva. The reason? Hospitality.
Dowry Creek Marina (Statute Mile—STM—131.8—35°31.99’N 76°32.17’W) is not a corporate or absentee-owner marina, it’s more of a cruising station where long-distance boaters meet, re-charge and celebrate life afloat.
During the spring and fall migrations, cruisers typically gather in the homey captains’ lounge for sunset happy hours overlooking the pool or for a potluck dinner or, sometimes, a marina-hosted beer-can chicken buffet. If you need to pick up some items for all of those socials, the marina even has a courtesy car to visit the nearby supermarket.
For this year’s rally, we’re especially looking forward to a Down East BBQ dinner with a visit from Milton Bullock, one of the original members of Motown’s The Platters, and his backup singer, Mary Bubbling Brown Sugar!
Oriental has a sailing reputation. Located within North Carolina’s “Inner Banks,” it overlooks the Neuse River which, at six miles across, is the widest river mouth in the continental United States. So there’s plenty of breeze and plenty of water for sailing.
The town boasts an anchorage and a handful of marina facilities. And like last year, the rally fleet will berth at Oriental Marina and Inn in the main harbor (STM 181.6—35°01.44’N 76°41.72’W). These docks put you in the middle of Oriental’s cruiser scene, and the marina hosts live music in its park-like tiki hut setting where cruisers mingle. The Bean—a coffee and ice cream hangout overlooking the town docks—is steps away. And one block up the street is the Inland Waterway Provision Company, a popular marine chandlery that offers courtesy bikes for touring.
Oriental also maintains two 48-hour courtesy docks, providing short-term free dockage for five to six cruising boats. The “old” dock is immediately in front of The Bean (35°01.50’N 76°41.73’W). The “new” dock is tucked in immediately before Oriental Marina and Inn’s fuel dock (35°01.44’N 76°41.74’W ). These are often full in peak season, so either check the harborcam at towndock.net/harborcam or plan to arrive mid-morning as boats depart.
Spooners Creek Marina
The twin towns of Beaufort and Morehead City compete with several marinas on both sides of the busy Newport River near Beaufort Inlet. Another option, if you’re looking for more protection and would like to do some industrial-strength provisioning, is to continue about five miles down the ICW to Spooners Creek.
Spooners Creek is a small protected manmade basin immediately off Bogue Sound and the ICW’s main channel. Spooners Creek Marina (STM 210.5—34°43.60’N 76°48.39’W) is a relatively new facility, located within a well-maintained waterfront condominium community. Always important to cruisers: the shower/restroom facilities are upscale and immaculate, and the boater’s lounge looks like a yacht club sitting room.
From a utilitarian standpoint, Spooners Creek Marina is less than a mile through a residential neighborhood to the junctions of Highway 70 and 24. Who cares? You will after cruising down the ICW for a couple of hundred miles. At this junction you’ll find stores that are usually near-impossible to reach from a cruising boat—like Best Buy, Lowe’s, Staples, West Marine, PetSmart and Walmart—well within reach, so that you only have to pack-n-roll those heavy cases of beer or sacks of dog food a few blocks!
Mile Hammock Bay
Yes, you are allowed to anchor in the military base. Mile Hammock Bay anchorage (STM 244.4—34°33.09’N 77°19.47’W) is located smack-dab in the middle of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. And it’s a cruising community landmark. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any ICW veteran who hasn’t anchored here.
Why? Because most sailboats can’t make the entire inside run from Beaufort/Morehead City to Wrightsville Beach in a day, so this stop times out perfectly. With other options few and far between, ICW boats stream in at the end of the day. But you’ll be confident to find a place to drop the hook in this huge basin with plenty of military-maintained depth.
The setting is surprisingly scenic, overlooking barrier islands and the base’s fishing docks and boat ramp. But please, shore access is for base personnel only—trespassing with your pet only risks the entire cruising community losing this much-needed harbor of refuge. And while it may be scenic, we’re not promising quiet—this is an active military base after all, so you may be treated to a show with your cockpit dinner, anything from helicopter maneuvers to mortar fire practice. And don’t be surprised if in the middle of the night you hear a bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds doing night-maneuver training on high-speed inflatables.
You may have already seen Southport—in the movies that is. This small waterfront community was the setting for Safe Haven, a film based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, who lives in the area.
As a picture-perfect fishing village, Southport has many mooring options for cruising boats. There are also inexpensive restaurant docks, a one-boat free shallow-draft town dock, and space in the micro-harbor for one or two boats to drop anchor. The bulk of the SAIL Magazine Rally will again stay at Southport Marina (STM 309.3—33°55.09’N 78°01.67’W), winner of the 2014 Marina of the Year award, located in the historic village and with Zimmerman’s Marine services on site.
While there, don’t miss Hank Pomeranz’s evening weather presentation at Southport Marina. A cruising sailor himself, and a retired navy meteorologist, Hank updates passing cruisers on upcoming weather and ICW navigation before everyone heads off to dinner at one of the town’s many restaurants. This year the Rally will be joining SAIL Magazine Harbor Hosts, fellow cruisers, and long-time Southport residents Robert and Kay Creech at Mr. P’s Bistro for its legendary shrimp ’n’ grits.
Take Your Time …
All too often, new-to-the-ICW cruisers mistakenly sprint from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida—only later realizing that some of the most varied and beautiful cruising areas are in-between, particularly North Carolina.
From its large freshwater sounds, known nationally for outstanding sailing, to white sand beaches and trophy-fishing blue water … slow down and take your time through these 300 miles of sunshine and moonshine.
Florida will still be there. Right where we left it.
Mark and Diana Doyle manage On the Water ChartGuides Foundation, offering “almost free” cruising and anchoring guides for the Intracoastal Waterway. Visit them at onthewaterchartguides.org or on their Facebook page for frequent ICW updates.
Join SAIL for a trip down the ICW
SAIL’s 2014 Snowbird Rally down the ICW proved a fantastic learning, confidence-boosting and social success, so much so that we’re doing it all over again in 2015.
Ably led by On The Water Chartguides authors Mark and Diana Doyle, with former ABYC Technical VP Tom Hale repeating his 2014 role as technical advisor and troubleshooter to the fleet, the Snowbird Rally will visit some of the ICW’s most beautiful towns and harbors. Along the way there’ll be technical and navigational briefings, along with parties, dinners, and sightseeing excursions.
“The Intracoastal Waterway isn’t the long, dull motoring ordeal it’s made out to be,” says Mark. “It’s an amazing stretch of water with a rich history, and we’re going to make the most of it.”
The 2015 Snowbird Rally gets under way from Hampton, Virginia, on October 23, and winds up in St. Augustine, Florida, on December 1. We’ve limited participation to 20 boats, and you’re invited to join us. There are only a few spots left, so sign up now at icw.sailmagazine.com.
If you’re yearning to experience the ICW but don’t have a boat or just want to boost your confidence, we have the answer for you: a berth on a Dream Yacht Charters catamaran, skippered by sailing instructor Mark Thompson, a veteran of last year’s rally.
You’ll ride in stress-free comfort on this performance boat, enjoying a terrific flatwater cruise along the historic waterway while brushing up on coastal navigation, polishing your seamanship, and learning how to skipper a big cat—and enjoying the Snowbird Rally parties and camaraderie along the way.
Mark says he actually sailed most of the way down the ICW last year, contrary to the popular belief that motoring is the only way to go, so this will be a great learning experience.
There are 6 berths available per leg, and they’ll go fast, so call 866-469-0912 to learn more, or email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.