The cool thing about this trip is the variety of scenery and experiences. The two-day trip through the rest of South Carolina into North Carolina is a prime example. We spent the morning cruising through dense woods with eagles soaring overhead, and the afternoon driving down the ICW ‘highway’ between the condo complexes, gated estates and golf courses of Myrtle Beach. Both were eye-boggling in their own ways.
After a rainy evening, we raised anchor in Bull Creek under cloudy skies, which brightened and cleared as the morning progressed. I was in my elements, sitting with my camera on the foredeck while Steve helmed down the wild and peaceful Waccamaw River. This is one of my favourite parts of the ICW so far. There seem to be eagle nests at every bend.
The Waccamaw is banked by abandoned rice fields, and lined with dense green forests, soaring, osprey nests of dangling moss, and, amazingly, flowering shrubs reflecting back in the still water. Wild deciduous pink piedmont azaleas, yellow sarsaparilla flowers, white cherry blossom and even wild wisteria, one of my favourite flowers – twined around and between trees like a crocheted veil. On almost every log near the bank, were basking groups of pond slider turtles, which seem to thrive in these brackish waters. The tea colour of the water comes from tannins leaching from the roots and decaying leaves of swamp cypresses and junipers.
Early in the day we passed through the Socastee Swing Bridge with another sailboat, and after a quick radio conversation, as only cruisers do, became good friends with Jim and Laurie on Kismet!
It turned out that they were heading to the same anchorage that we were in Calabash Creek, North of Myrtle Beach that evening. Although they were originally from Sodus Bay, NY, just opposite Toronto on Lake Ontario where we first tried out our new Spade anchor, they are now full-time cruisers, only heading as far as the Chesapeake. We decided to stick together through the various swing and bascule bridges of the day. Their boat was a little slower than ours, but we opted to slow down a little and follow behind heading through the infamous Rock Pile! They had done it before and their Island Packet’s draft was a foot shorter than ours. They were fine with this arrangement!
The woods gave way to houses and condos, marinas and golf courses of the Myrtle Beach area and we thought of Judy and Eric, Steve’s Aunt and Uncle and his cousins who spent March Break holidays here for many years. A cable car overhead carried golfers from the green to the club house. I gawked at the huge homes with landscaped gardens and infinity pools.
Contrary to what you might think, the advice is to go through the Rock Pile at low tide rather than high tide – so that you can see the rocks. The channel is narrow but deep enough between the rocky ledges that line both sides in this 15 mile stretch – one of the last sections of the ICW to be built (by dynamiting the cretaceous limestone which no amount of dredging could shift). In fact we had made better time than expected so were ahead of schedule and went through the rock pile at mid-tide. But the day was clear and sunny with no wind, and the rocks presented no problem and in fact gave me some close-up camera opportunities for birds and turtles along the banks.
Just as we passed it by, I realized that we could have and should have stopped at Barefoot Landing, just before the Rock Pile. A 500 foot face dock along the waterway is free for boaters who want to access the specialty shops, factory outlets and restaurants of the complex. Shucks! Not only did we miss another ‘ice-cream stop’ but we also passed by an opportunity to shop for Steve’s back to work clothing. Most of his clothes have ended in the rag-bag on this trip, and he can’t really go back to work in his holy jeans! We have been pretty good about reading and researching and planning ahead but this one slipped through my fingers.
As it turned out, (says Pollyanna), it was just as well. Jim and Laurie had internet access and warned us of an approaching thunderstorm so we both increased speed after the Rock Pile to get to the anchorage. Clouds darkened and the wind started to whistle a few miles before Calabash Creek, and we were concerned about going in to the anchorage through its shallow entrance at dead low tide with out 5’8” draft. We agreed to follow Kismet, and they would stay on Channel 17 and read out the depths as they entered ahead.
As it turned out they were the first to run aground but only because Jim had a dyslexic moment and went to the wrong side of the red marker! We didn’t follow and he backed off quickly, laughed, and then reentered on the right side. The storm was on our tail, no other anchorages for miles, and a sailboat just inside the anchorage was aground – so it was a case of trying to determine the lesser of the evils. The depth dropped to 6 1 as we entered, but before we even had a chance to turn around and leave we started seeing deeper water and ended up anchoring safely just beyond Kismet (and the aground boat) in deeper water than either of them (10 feet). We were all happy to be well anchored in a protected anchorage.
The storm hit about 30 minutes later but had cleared by 5:30 pm. Since Jim and Laurie had their dinghy on deck, we got our down and went over to their boat to meet them (for the first time)! We enjoyed happy hour, realized we had both been in the Georgetown monument anchorage at the same time, and had mutual friends. This is the best thing about the cruising life! We both agreed to leave before 8 am the next day to make the two troublesome sections ahead (Shallotte Inlet and Lockwoods Folly) on a rising tide closer to high tide.
The sun was shining again the next day when we raised anchor and left Calabash behind Kismet. Our plans for the day were more ambitious than Kismet’s so we passed them and went ahead. They stopped in a nice marina they knew of before the Cape Fear River which is known for adverse and choppy currents, to wait for a more favourable flood tide the next day. We pushed on passed the pretty-looking little town of Southport.
We fought a 1-2 knot ebbing current up the Cape Fear River, but with ‘Frankie’ in turbo-mode and our staysail helping, made good progress and before long were motor-sailing along the Masonboro’ Channel. We turned into Shinn Creek, finding plenty of water even though it was almost low tide, and anchored along the Banks Channel just past the inlet and the commercial anchorage off Wrightsville Beach. Having cut behind notorious Cape Fear along the ICW, our plan was to do an outside cut the next day through the Masonboro Inlet to the Beaufort Inlet or the Cape Lookout Bight. This anchorage set us up well for the outside leg.
It was 3:45 when we anchored, so we had plenty of time and it was a bright sunny day. We lowered the dinghy and took it into the Wrightsville Beach Public Dock near a low bridge to explore the town.
This is what I had expected to find more of in Florida and South Carolina. A real ‘beach’ town. The day was warm, calm and sunny, but out on the water it had been cool. Decked in sou’westers and jeans, Steve and I stuck out like sore thumbs – everyone else seemed to be in bikinis, summer dresses or swim shorts. Or peeled down shortie wetsuits carrying a surf-board…that seemed to be a high trend. Also, we were about 40 years older than everyone else! We made our way to the public beach on the ocean side, which is Wrightsville’s claim to fame. On a Sunday afternoon, the beach was packed – mainly with the afore-mentioned under 20’s in bikinis and shorts, but also families out enjoying the sea and sand.
We ate on the deck of the South Beach Grill, enjoying the sun. Skipper Steve tried their signature starter – fried dill pickles! We realized a little late that it probably wan’t the best choice the evening before our ‘outside’ crossing, but it certainly made us pray harder for calm seas the next day.
We planned an early (6:30 am) start from the anchorage through the inlet. This way we could cover in one day, what we would otherwise do in two long days of ICW travel – with more annoying bridges with special opening times. We were really ready to go back to ocean sailing – even for just a day.
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