Cape Fear, Willmington & Little River – oh my!

In our last post, Eric shared with you his first windsurfing experience since casting off. I’m happy to report that he’s done it many more times since then and has gotten A LOT better. We’ve also decided that if we keep posting at this incredibly delayed rate, we’ll still be writing blog posts well after our adventure is over, so we hope to post weekly until we catch you up to our present.

It’s Eric birthday! We’re celebrating in Little River, South Carolina. The girls have decorated the salon and we’ve planned the day to give him some surfing time.

From Eric:

I was able to get up at sun rise and head out to surf.  I had seen the surf yesterday and it was about chest high with a lot of close outs, but definitely surfable.  This morning the surf would be just as good.  It was really quite the feeling being able to jump off the boat with the surf board, paddle in, walk the beach, and paddle out to the break.  The surf was just as I had seen it.  The sets came in about 10 minutes apart and were predictable and catchable.  Most of the waves would close out,  but every now and then there was a nice ride in.  Those are the ones that keep making you go back.

When he got back, he fished off the back of the boat and, low and behold, he caught something! We’ve never seen anything like it. We had to research it. It’s called a Sea Robin, and it had legs. Really, it does. It’s a bottom dwelling fish that uses it’s leg-like fin spines to crawl along the bottom and uses its large side fins as wings. He put it back because even though it would have been neat to grill fresh caught fish on his birthday, this fish was just too odd to eat. Instead we celebrate with microwaved mug cakes.

We’re on the move again. We decide to head south to Georgetown, but once we get out of the inlet, the waves are calm and the wind is good, so we decide to go east to Cape Fear in an effort to head up to Wilmington, North Carolina. 

From Eric:

We are able to sail about half way before the wind calms on us and we have to start the engines.  There is no place to stop in between, so we have to get to Cape Fear in time to anchor before dark. (Remember rule number one?) Cape Fear has a wicked current that can run at over two knots, luckily we get to the inlet at near slack tide, so the current is minimal.  Kelly has scoured the books and finds what appears to be the only designated anchorage in the area.  It is west of the little town at the end of the Cape Fear River. 

From the inlet we go up the Cape Fear River for a few miles and then west in the ICW.  The ICW is fairly narrow in this area and our boat being 24’ wide takes up more than half of it.  I’m navigating on the chart plotter to the anchorage that Kelly found.  As we round the bend we find this so called “anchorage”.  It is humorously small.  I start to nose our boat into it and just laugh.  There is no way we were going to stay here.  There is just enough room to fit our boat and we only have a few inches of water under the keels.  If we did put down an anchor we could only use about 20’ of chain and then I could pee off the back of the boat and hit the other bank.  To make things worse there is a power boat just a little further up and he is aground. (I agree. This “anchorage” is a joke. It should not be marked as such.)

I always appreciate that there are two engines on our boat, and no time more than now, when I can pivot the boat around and get the hell out of here.  This does however cause a significant amount of stress because now we don’t know where we are going to anchor.  Kelly still doesn’t believe me that we can anchor just about anywhere outside of a channel, so she starts calling all the marinas in the area looking to see if anyone has availability for our boat.  In the mean time I start to head up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

As the sun gets low in the sky, Kelly finds a marina that says they can handle our boat.  It is a city park marina and is nicely priced.  It is about an hour up the river and we will be getting there around sundown.  However, as we approach the entrance, we call them on the radio and talk to someone else.  They say that at 24’ wide there is no way we can fit into the marina.  This puts us in a real bind.  (As you can imagine, I am not a happy camper. I did my job. I specified our dimensions and was told it would work, then when we get there, we’re told the opposite. Grrr. So frustrating!)

We are now running out of options.  I look at the chart and tell Kelly that we have just enough light to get up to the next island and we can anchor on the east side of the island.  That will get us out of boat traffic and we’ll be safe for the night.  Reality settles in on Kelly and she reluctantly agrees.  The sun is down and it is getting dark when we set down the hook.  The anchor sets well and we are set for the night. The anchorage ends up working perfectly and we decide that we will use it again on the way back down. (It really was a good anchorage. Now THAT one should be noted in the guidebooks.)

After last night’s fiasco, I double check our reservation with the Wilmington City Dock. Everything is a-ok. Thank goodness! It turns out that the Cape Fear River is quite a busy place. We wake up to a huge barge being towed up river, so we follow it. We eventually pass it and the girls wave to the captain. He returns their wave and toots the massive horn. This totally makes the girls’ day.

From Eric:

The way up the Cape Fear River is nothing short of awesome.  We are able to get a favorable current and zip up river.  I am enamored by the commercial traffic. There are huge barges, tankers, and freighters, and because the river isn’t that wide, we always have to pass fairly close.  The only sticking point is the lift bridge at Wilmington.  We can’t find the info to contact it, and it doesn’t respond on channels 16, 13, or 9.  Finally as we approach, with a following current (i.e. we’re moving pretty quick & can’t really stop), one of the tugs tells us to try channel 18.  (Our guide said the bridge monitored 13 – not so much. We also couldn’t find the bridge’s lift schedule anywhere – not online, not in the guide! I’m learning that guidebooks are merely that, ‘guides’ – sometimes right, sometimes not.) We contact the bridge and they said they have visual on us and will open as we approach. 

After spinning a few donuts in front of the city docks we are able to dock just on the other side of the river from the battleship North Carolina.  The North Carolina is the main reason we have come to Wilmington.

Eric noted that this was about the same spot that they were tied up 30+ years ago when cruising with his family. He shared a cautionary tale that when they were there, he hadn’t finished his schoolwork that day so he wasn’t allowed to go tour the battleship. Needless to say, I’m not sure who was more excited about seeing the battleship, him or the girls. We learn that the battleship dock is being worked on so we can’t dingy over as planned, so, for the first time, we Uber it. Works great – highly recommend!

From Eric:

After docking we have lunch and head to the battleship. We spend 3 hours touring the battleship and it is awesome.  The size and complexity of the ship is amazing.  We are able to tour everything from the engine room to the bridge.  It was worth the trip.

I wholeheartedly agree. The amount of orchestration it took to run this small city on the water is incredible. The self guided tour is great. We explore every corner of the boat and don’t leave until closing. If you’re in the area, you need to check it out.

4 thoughts on “Cape Fear, Willmington & Little River – oh my!

  1. Virginia Lukehart says:

    Sounds like you all are having a wonderful experience!! I love the pictures!! The girls are growing so fast!!


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