Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tourist Time Again in Beaufort, SC

Tuesday, November 9 - Saturday, November 20, 2010
We've finally made it to warmer temperatures! We're back in our favorite southern town, Beaufort, South Carolina. In all, we spent nearly a month here last year and couldn't wait to stop in again.

We left the inlet of Southport, NC, at noon on Tuesday. Brandon on Sol Mate talked to another boat that had had done an outside run from Beaufort, NC ("Bo-fort", as opposed to our "Bew-fort"), the previous night; as predicted, seas were incredibly rough and the boat was beaten up pretty badly. We held our breath as we got into open waters, and were amazed by how calm it was. The winds weren't even strong enough (or in the right direction) to put the sails up, but we'd much rather have to motor than get pounded by 7' seas. We set a couple of waypoints, activated the auto-pilot track function, and curled up in the cockpit for the 40-hour trip down. Buddy-boating with Sol Mate made the trip go much faster, and we had an easy first night in the Atlantic.

The winds picked up early Wednesday morning, and we were able to raise the sails and shut down the engine. Only one problem - we had miscalculated the distance from Southport to Beaufort and were now scheduled to reach the inlet around midnight. Not wanting to maneuver a channel and the 20-mile trip upriver in the dark, we tried to slow Pipe down enough for a sunrise arrival. Easier said than done! We took down the main and still ran 4+ knots on the jib alone. We needed to go 3-3.5kts to get in at daybreak and just couldn't do it. The winds died that evening, and we tried to idle forward in confused seas. It made for a very uncomfortable ride, and we were still doing 3 knots! We finally put the boat in gear as slowly as she would go and arrived at the Port Royal inlet at 2:45am. Sol Mate continued on to the Savannah inlet while we did a 4-mile wide doughnut off the coast. We passed our first channel markers as the sky began to lighten at 6am and finally reached the Beaufort anchorage at 10am. A caravan of boats passed us as we came in, and we had our pick of the anchorage. Oh, and the temperature? Mid-70s!

If you happened to read our blog last year, you already know that Beaufort, SC, is a great place for cruisers. There's a huge anchorage just south of the downtown marina; you can leave your dinghy at a free dock off the marina parking lot, use the marina showers for $1, and use their laundry facilities. The marina is in the heart of downtown, so it's an easy walk to shops, restaurants, beautiful antebellum homes in the historic district, and of course, our favorite bar, Hemingway's. After a much-needed nap, some laundry, and an even more needed hot shower, we walked through town (donned in shorts and capris, no less) and stopped in at Hem's. Cherrie was still bartending (yay!) and warmly welcomed us back. We chatted with her and a few of the locals, and made plans with Brandon and Carryn to meet in Savannah over the weekend. Dinner was a take-out chicken-pesto-lemon pizza and Caesar salad from Panini's Cafe next door, and we were in bed by 8:30pm. Overnight passages take a lot out of us. :-)

Friday we were much more rested and were ready to take on the town. (Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but we certainly felt more lively after an 11-hour sleep!) We picked up our rental car - which ended up being an F-150 4X4 extended cab getting 16mpg...more on that later - and arranged for weekly parking in a lot two blocks from the marina. After a quick grocery run, we headed back to the boat and were stopped en route by our neighbors, Gerri and Alan, on Civil Twilight. We'd recognized their boat name and were trying to figure out where we'd heard of them. It turns out they're friends with both Rick and Linda on Sojourner AND Dave and Lisa on Hullaballoo. As a matter of fact, Gerri and Alan stopped in to see Hullaballoo not long after we'd been there, and Dave and Lisa told them to keep an eye out for us as they headed south. They invited us aboard Civil Twilight for an impromptu happy hour, and we really enjoyed getting to know them. (Author's note: Civil Twilight is an absolutely gorgeous boat, and you can even charter her for your own sailing adventure!) After making plans to meet up in St. Mary's, GA, for the big Thanksgiving shindig, we dinghied over to Hemingways's to watch Sparky Jones perform. Sparky is Cherrie's husband, and this was the first time we'd heard him play. Damn, he's good! Cherrie and Sparky have cruised through the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, and Sparky has played gigs all over the place. Rumor has it they may even head back to the Exumas this winter...fingers crossed for them!

We spent Saturday provisioning and were completely sick of looking at food by the end of the day. What a great excuse to go out for dinner at our favorite Beaufort spot, Emily's! We started off sharing a bowl of their she-crab soup, and dove into a mound of tappas...pancetta-wrapped shrimp with Peaches Foster, lobster ravioli, bacon-wrapped scallops, wild boar sausage, and garlic tenderloin tips. We got all of our old favorites and left absolutely stuffed. Our waiter told us that Emily's owner has recently bought another restaurant on Lady's Island (across the river from Beaufort), and we're sure it'll be as big of a hit as Emily's is.

Sunday we drove down to Savannah to meet up with Carryn and Brandon on Sol Mate. We wandered along the Savannah waterfront, made a provisioning run to Sam's Club, and spent the evening enjoying happy hour with their neighbors, Theresa and George, on Bejaysus. Carryn and Brandon made dinner for us on Sol Mate, and Rene managed to beat the crap out of all of us playing Yahtzee. No fair! We had a terrific weekend with them, and may get to buddy-boat with them again on the jump to Fernandina Beach. Our return trip on Monday included a stop at our local Enterprise office. We've used Enterprise exclusively since leaving TX anytime we needed to rent a car, and have always been pleased with their service. Beaufort was the exception... After waiting for nearly an hour for a pick-up, we were given a truck instead of our intermediate car - a monster pick-up that we absolutely did NOT want ("but it's an upgrade!"). The agent swore we were at the top of his "priority list" for a car, and told us to expect a call back from him Friday afternoon or Saturday morning at the latest. Our call to the agent on Saturday was not returned, nor were our two calls Monday morning. Heck with this - we finally showed up on his doorstep on our way back from Savannah. The agent did not look at all happy to see us, but we finally got a Toyota Corolla with decent gas mileage in time for our big road trip...

Tuesday we were on the road again (poor Tux!), this time to Greenville, SC, to Visit our friends, John & Ginger, from Be Leaving. We hadn't seen them since our Charleston stop on the way north in May, and were excited to catch up and see how life on the hard was treating them. Since we still had the rental car, we also decided to look for a few shops along the way for additional provisioning. Jackpot! We found a two-mile stretch of shops not far from John and Ginger, and managed to make 9 stops in 2 Rene calls it, "man-shopping". The trunk was full and the credit card was tired, but we felt incredibly productive by the time we reached John and Ginger's house. We spent the afternoon catching up with Ginger, and John joined us from work in time for happy hour. John made an incredible dinner that night, and we all crashed early to be up in time for our trip to Asheville, NC, the following morning.

So what's in Asheville, you might ask? Welcome to Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America. Biltmore was the dream child of George W. Vanderbilt, who built the house in 1895. Originally sitting on 125,000 acres, the house would contain 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. It remained a private home until 1930, when Biltmore was opened to the public to raise money for maintenance and to bring tourism to the area during the Great Depression. The tour now takes you through about 40 of the mansion's 225 rooms, including the banquet hall (complete with 40' Christmas tree), owners' bedrooms, guest quarters, a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool, a 10,000-volume library (containing one of Napoleon Bonaparte's own chess sets), and servants' quarters. We were in for a special treat this time of year, as Biltmore was dressed to the nines for the holidays. Colorful trees, candles, lights, wreaths, and fresh flowers decorated every room. If only we could've taken photos inside... :-) We followed up the house tour with a walk around Antler Hill Village, home of gift shops, restaurants, the Biltmore Legacy exhibit, a winery, and Cedric's Tavern. On the drive home, John and Ginger introduced us to Haus Heidelberg, a German restaurant serving up brats and schnitzels galore. What a fantastic day!

We said goodbye to John and Ginger (following another great breakfast thanks to Chef John) and made our way back to Beaufort on Thursday. After a final provisioning run and rental car return, we hoped to stop by Hemingway's Friday afternoon to say goodbye to Cherrie. The weather had other ideas as the winds piped up to 20+ knots opposite the currents and every boat in the anchorage started sailing on its anchor in different directions. We were within a boat length of our neighbor boat quite a few times, and didn't feel comfortable leaving the boat to go ashore. We finally gave up and settled in for the night (a good thing, since one of us had visions of boat provisions dancing in her head at 6am the next morning). We dug our heels in on Saturday and managed to put away 90% of our provisions. We have even more crap than last year, which makes finding places to put everything a bit of a challenge...and that's BEFORE the remaining 25 boxes of wine even get here!

We're off to Fernandina Beach, FL, in the morning. The weather looks good for an offshore run, so we should be in Fernandina early Monday morning and in plenty of time for Thanksgiving in St. Mary's, GA. Cheers!

Pictures with this Blog chapter:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Deltaville, VA to Southport, NC

Sunday, October 31 - Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Trick or treat? TREAT - we're finally heading south! We left Jackson Creek in Deltaville on Halloween morning to make our way to the Norfolk/Portsmouth area. We had anchored in the Hospital Point anchorage on our way north, but Brandon and Carryn from Sol Mate told us about a free city dock in Portsmouth about a mile further south. What a deal! We made phenomenal time motor-sailing at 7-8kts, managed to dodge a cruise ship in the Norfolk channel (those puppies are HUGE), and were in Portsmouth by 2pm. Not wanting to deal with the bridge opening schedule restrictions the following morning, we decided to push on to the locks at Great Bridge and their free docks. We arrived at the lock for the 4:30pm opening!!! There was no room at the inn; every spot on the free docks were full, and the next anchorage was 45 miles away. Thank goodness for the Atlantic Yacht Basin marina. They certainly have a "captive audience" being located just south of the locks, but don't gouge you on the dockage fees. They were completely booked on the outer docks but found us a slip on the inner channel. Going the extra distance to Great Bridge ended up costing us more, but we were awfully happy to be past the five restricted bridges between Portsmouth and our marina.

The next few days involved 40-50 mile hops to secluded anchorages - Lutz Creek on Monday, Alligator River on Tuesday, and Belhaven, NC on Wednesday. We had to forgo a Kill Devil Hills visit with Dave and Camilla (Southern Heat) this time since the winds were pushing all of the water out of the canals. Did we mention that we're now 5'11"? We thought our draft was 5'3" (the CM440 specs say 4'11", and we have 4,000 extra pounds of goodies on board), but we re-measured in Deltaville and had a very rude awakening. Anyway, there was no way we could get into KDH with a 6' draft, so Dave drove to Belhaven to see us. He took us on a driving tour of Belhaven (all three blocks of it), found a new marina and pub (go see Randy at Pungo Creek Marina - he has the only fuel dock in Belhaven), and enjoyed a great dinner at Fish Hook's Cafe. We had a terrific time with Dave and only wished Camilla could've joined us. Hopefully they'll visit us in the islands next year.

After another day-trip and anchorage in Broad Creek off the Neuse River, we made it to Beaufort, NC, on Friday. The Town Creek anchorage was completely packed - there are a lot of boats going south! - but we managed to find a spot to drop the hook. Carryn, Brandon, and Bella on Sol Mate arrived an hour later and anchored in front of us. We all enjoyed a quiet evening and were looking forward to a rest day. Saturday we met up with Dennis and Suzi from Thate Wata, another cruising couple we met in the Abacos last winter. They were gracious enough to drive an hour from New Bern to Beaufort, and we enjoyed an afternoon of lunch and shopping with them. We hosted dinner on Pipe that night for Sol Mate and agreed to buddy-boat down the ditch to Wrightsville Beach. We had initially planned to do an offshore jump from Beaufort, but a Canadian cold front has brought 25-30kt winds and 5-7' seas for the next 3+ days. No thanks! Instead, we decided to get down to Southport inside; hopefully the weather would improve by mid-week for a jump offshore.

We left Beaufort Sunday morning for the 40 mile trip to our anchorage at Camp Lejeune. We came to an abrupt halt three miles later thanks to the 65' Atlantic Beach Bridge that showed only 62' of clearance on its tidal board. We waved good-bye to Sol Mate (damn their 58' mast!) and anchored to wait until the water levels came down. An hour later we edged our way through the bridge. The board showed just under 63', and we heard the dreaded "ting ting ting" of our VHF antenna as it hit the underside of the bridge. Note to self: do NOT go through a bridge unless we have at least 63' of clearance!

Sunday night was spent with 25+ other boats in the Camp Lejeune anchorage. Swing room was limited, and it was cozy to say the least. Brandon and Carryn invited us over for dinner (thanks, guys!), and we had a great evening hanging out together and playing Yahtzee. Monday we took advantage of the time change and were up at 6:30am. It was an easy run to Wrightsville Beach until...WHAM! We were leading a pack of six sailboats north of the Wrightsville Beach Bridge; about a half mile from the bridge, we met up with ten other boats that had been waiting for the 2pm opening (the bridge only opens on the hour, and boat traffic can get pretty busy in front of the bridge). Thanks to 2-3kt currents coursing in front of the bridge, we were all coasting all over the place trying to avoid the shoals and each other. We took an eye off the depth gauge long enough to watch another boat pass us, and suddenly came to an abrupt halt. Rene gunned the engine to no avail. We figured we were on a small ridge of some sort since our depth sounder read that we had a foot of water underneath us. After a couple more attempts to get off, we called for help. As we watched our friends motor through the now-open bascule bridge, we saw a red boat come zooming towards us. Tow Boat US to the rescue! We got a tow-line attached to a bow cleat, and 300HP later, we were loose. It turns out that there was a temporary marker in that exact spot until yesterday; a trawler got caught in the chain holding the marker in place and demolished it. So no more warning for us that the port side had shoaled well into the channel. Oops! Wrightsville Beach is just a bad karma spot for us. The two times we've been here have both resulted in Tow Boat US calls (the first being on our northbound trip when our anchor dragged and we ended up alongside another boat). Oh, least we got free in time for the 3pm opening. There was still enough time to fuel up and get anchored before sunset. We're hoping for a quiet night tonight - we have a long couple of days ahead of us. The weather is finally cooperating enough for us to make an offshore run. We have a small window from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning where winds and waves remain moderate for a more comfortable crossing. We'll motor the 22 miles from Wrightsville to Southport through the ICW, and should be in the Cape Fear Inlet (south of Southport) by Tuesday afternoon. From there, it's about 200 miles to Port Royal Inlet, the nearest entrance to Beaufort, SC. We're looking forward to spending a week there playing tourist, visiting friends, and taking it easy before the run to St. Mary's, GA, for Thanksgiving. Hopefully our next blog will come to you from warmer temps. Cheers!

Pictures with this Blog chapter: