Leg 4 Log

Our Charleston Saga

Leg 4 of our Great Loop cruise has not started auspiciously. When we arrived at Philadelphia airport to catch what we thought was an 8:55 a.m. flight to Charleston, we found that Patrick had misread p.m. for a.m. when making the reservation. We arrived 12 hours early.  US Airways came through, however, and gave us the remaining two seats on the 9:35 a.m. flight. In Charleston. our decision to rent a car to give us more flexibility in shopping and sightseeing before getting on the boat paid dividends when we found that, despite having had the Cosmic C for five months and having told us that the new bottom paint and other work was completed, the Charleston Boatworks had, in fact, neglected to finish the job and needed another day to do so. So we drove downtown, checked into the beautiful Battery Carriage House B&B, toured the lovely Edmonston-Alston house, took a carriage ride around the city, and enjoyed a superb dinner at the Alston Street Restaurant before retiring.

With the boat finally ready and provisioned by noon on Tuesday, we headed down the Cooper River to look at Fort Sumpter and then turned back into the Intracoastal Waterway to continue our cruise northward. A half-hour later the “Check Engine” light lit up and the warning horn blared. Drat. Before long we were at anchor waiting for TowboatUS to tow us into the nearby Isle of Palms Marina. By nightfall, although we enjoyed a decent meal and good Bluegrass Music (Carroll Brown and his Band) at the marina’s Morgan Creek Grill, we still hadn’t found anybody to work on the Cosmic C’s engine.

After several false leads,we finally contacted the Charleston Boat Center, which handles Honda engines and was happy to send over a mechanic. The mechanic determined that the engine thermostat was faulty, informed us that they could get one by the next morning, and left promising to have us on our way by Thursday noon. 

So here we sit for another night at the Isle of Palms Marina trying to keep cool in the sultry heat and humidity and hoping our Leg 4 start-up troubles are really over. Perhaps another bluegrass band will lift our spirits.

Isle of Palms to Beaufort, NC

Noah, our mechanic, arrived Thursday morning, installed the new thermostat, and declared us fit for further travel. Fingers crossed, we set off shortly after noon.  We stopped to visit historic Georgetown, the third oldest town in South Carolina, and enjoyed walking its wide, live oak-lined streets where almost every house dates back to the late 1700’s. That night we anchored in Cow House Creek under threatening skies, but the evening remained calm, dry, bug-free, and beautiful.

It was a short run on Friday morning to the Wacca Wache Marina, where the managers kindly let us moor for several hours in order to visit nearby Brookgreen Gardens. Named for its founders and designers, the Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington Sculpture Garden opened in 1931 as America’s first public sculpture garden. The collection now contains over 1200 works spanning the entire period of American sculpture from the early 1800s to the present. A light rain was falling when we arrived, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm for the spectacular gardens and fantastic sculptures. What a beautiful combination of art and nature!

After lunch at the garden’s Pavilion restaurant, we cabbed back to the boat and continued on to Southport, where we again enjoyed walking around a historic small southern fishing town. Along the way we encountered our first alligator in the ICW and later found that the Southport Marina has its own resident alligator who patrols the docks and on hot days crawls under people’s cars for shade.

Saturday weather’s was calm. Since the ICW was wide and mainly free of no-wake zones, we cruised over 100 miles to arrive at charming Beaufort, NC, where we are currently moored.

Beaufort, NC to Norfolk, VA

We enjoyed our stay in Beaufort, NC, another picturesque fishing town where we chatted with several other boaters, including another UK/US couple who live year round on their sailboat at the Beaufort dock and Bryan and Ronda Sickels, who were visiting for a few days on their Osprey 24 Overcurrent II. Since NOAA had warned that the Pamlico Sound would be rough on Sunday but much calmer on Monday, we lazed away Sunday morning updating this web site and waiting for the North Carolina Maritime Museum to open at 1:00 p.m. After an interesting hour in the museum, we headed north again, hoping to reach Oriental, NC or anchor just before the Neuse River crossing if the Sound proved too rough. Well, the Sound was rough, but we were almost half way across before it became uncomfortable with 5-foot waves, and so we carried on.

Oriental is a delightful little place. Non-touristy and friendly. Lots of shrimp boats and sailboats. We arrived just in time to claim the last berth at the village dock, encouraged by Jim Burke and his sailing mate Wayne Guarisco to squeeze in behind Jim’s Nimble 20 yawl Belladonna. Soon we were sitting on the dock with Jim, Wayne, and local resident Paul, enjoying the margaritas, hasty hors d’oeuvres, and local culture. Before long, we were joined by two other couples, and a merry little party it became. We followed this lively start to the evening with a fine meal at Steamers Restaurant and a popular Country Western band playing near the dock. Only the relentless drone of a generator on a big motorboat marred our stay in Oriental.

After coffee and muffins in The Bean, a small, laid-back coffee shop opposite the dock, we headed north again early Monday morning. The Pamlico Sound was much smoother than the Neuse River had been yesterday and the Albemarle Sound was almost flat calm; we cruised the 133 miles to Elizabeth City, NC in seven hours. Along the way we stopped to offer help to a 35-ft cruiser that had hit a deadhead in the Alligator Canal and was starting to sink. Since another boat had already stopped and the Coast Guard was on the way, they told us to not to wait. Those tree stumps are a serious threat!

Monday evening we pulled into Elizabeth City, home of the Rose Buddies who used to meet each new arriving boat with a rose, wine, and cheese. It’s a friendly town, with several free slips on the waterfront. But the slips are long and narrow, boats have to back in between poles, and the wind was blowing directly into the slips -- making it tricky to dock a small boat like the Cosmic C, whose engine is the first thing to hit going backwards. So we moored at the dock of nearby Groupers restaurant, where the manager said we were welcome to stay  for a couple of days. We dined at Groupers that night as a “Thank You.”

On Tuesday we rented a car and explored the Outer Banks, stopping at the Wright Brother’s National Memorial, the beach at Nag’s Head (Condo City), and Mateo on Roanoke Island.  We visited the Roanoke Island Festival Park and its replica of Elizabeth II, one of the vessels Sir Walter Raleigh sent to the New World in 1585. On the way home we stopped at a laundromat in Edenton, inaccurately billed as North Carolina’s prettiest village.

On Wednesday we cruised through the Great Dismal Swamp to Norfolk, VA. The Dismal Swamp Canal is beautiful, and this time of year the duck weed is so thick that the boat seems to be moving down a solid green highway. We didn’t see any more alligators, but a water moccasin bared its fangs at us. Waiting for the Deep Creek Lock to open, we escaped the heat and slaked our thirst at a colorful Mexican cantina right on the canal. Then, once in the Lock, we had fun chatting with the lock keeper, who serenaded us on his favorite conch shell. Another glorious day in cloudless sunshine.

Norfolk, VA to Branson Cove, VA

Wednesday evening we docked at the Waterside Marina in the heart of Norfolk, VA, where we were greeted by cheery boaters attending the national meeting of the Power Boat Squadron. It was a lively place, with a busy crew of workers trying madly to finish renovations to a Hooters restaurant, whose sign read “Opening on Friday at 4:00 p.m.” Every time we walked by, they assured us they’d make their deadline, despite evidence to the contrary, even as we left Friday morning. 

On Thursday we toured the U.S. Navy Museum and the Battleship USS Wisconsin at the Nautica Center, had a delightful lunch in the Freemason Abbey Restaurant (a restored old church), and walked around the nearby historic district. Thanks to a pleasant, well-informed docent (from Missouri), we enjoyed our tour of the Moses Myers house, a well-preserved 18th-century home. Because  everything was in such easy reach of the marina, we ferried across the river to see Portsmouth’s historic district, which is grander than Norfolk’s but, of course, no match for places like Charleston or Savannah.

That evening a sailor who had just arrived from the York River reported that the Chesapeake Bay was very rough, enough to make him wear his lifejacket during the trip. We wondered whether we should try only to make nearby Hampton on Friday, but the morning forecast from NOAA for calm seas proved correct and we cruised up the bay in comfort, reaching Onancock on the Eastern Shore shortly after noon. We had hoped to walk around and have lunch there, but all the slips had been reserved by boaters coming to the Onancock Festival that weekend. Disappointed at not being able to see this charming town, we left immediately for Tangier Island, where we had originally planned to stay overnight. It was still early afternoon, and the bay was starting to get a little rough, so we stayed on Tangier Island only long enough to get gas and walk from one end of the island to the other. Tangier is a weathered but picturesque crabbing and oystering community. Transportation is golf cart, scooter, or bicycle, the houses are mostly small, and many front gardens are filled with lawn statuary or old graves. We enjoyed our walk but were glad to be back on the water making for the Potomac River before the Bay became too rough. We anchored for the night in a protected bay off Branson Cove, behind Coles Point, VA. It had been a much longer day than originally planned, and we were really happy to relax and watch the sun go down over margaritas and one of Mary’s wonderful onboard meals.

Branson Cove, VA to Annapolis, MD

On Saturday morning we headed north up the Potomac River, arriving at the Capitol Marina in Washington, DC in the early afternoon. That evening we shared a delightful dinner with our friends Saadia and Tehsin Ghafar at Central,  a “warm hearted bistro abundant in whimsy and modern in style” where Mary’s cousin’s daughter Dawn Swaney is an impressive sous chef. The kitchen is exposed to the dining area, and it was fun watching Dawn work, but she was so busy that we weren’t able to visit with her.

On Sunday morning we breakfasted with our niece Ellen Wimsatt in Union Station before heading south back down the Potomac. We had been watching the track of tropical storm Gabrielle for the last few days, and since it was still forecast to head north up the coast towards us, we wondered how far south we would get before having to hole up and wait it out. The river remained flat calm, however, and we made it to the mouth of the Potomac, where we anchored for the night in a peaceful cove on Smith Creek.

Monday morning dawned with no sign of Gabrielle. She had decided to go inland instead of up the coast and dissipate during the night, so our cruise to Oxford, MD was on a flat calm Chesapeake; our weather luck had held again!  We love the unspoiled beauty of Oxford and were happy to be wandering its quiet streets again. We visited the Oxford Museum, one of the several small town museums we have found so interesting during our trip, bought a few groceries, and lunched at Schooner’s Restaurant, where we had kindly been given permission to moor for a few hours.

Much to our relief (especially Mary’s!), the Bay remained calm all day. After lunch, we cruised through Knapp’s Narrows en route to Annapolis, MD, where we plan to keep the Cosmic C for a month at Mear’s Marina, the home of our friend Drew Cobb’s Formula 37 PC Another Perspective. The marina is also the new home of the 110-ft motor yacht Chanticleer, previously owned by the late Frances Langford (the Florida Thrush) who sang with the Bob Hope tour group during WW2 and appeared in The Glenn Miller Story, one of Pat’s favorite movies. The Cosmic C had shared several locks with Miss Langford and the Chanticleer on the Erie Canal in 2004 during what turned out to be the last voyage before she died in 2005. It was interesting to see some of the changes the new owners have made to this magnificent boat.  

Mear’s Marina has among the best facilities we have encountered on the Loop. The weather had cooled, and so we were fresh and comfortable as we dined on board that night.

On Tuesday we explored Annapolis before picking up a rental car for our trip home the next day. The weather had broken over night, and we had to dodge occasional showers as we walked around the historic streets near the Annapolis waterfront. We went on board the Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction of an 1812-era clipper privateer used to promote Maryland trade and tourism and for on-board education programs in American History and marine sciences, and we toured the US Naval Academy. Later our niece Ellen Wimsatt and her friend Drew Cobb took us for an early evening cruise up the Severn River on Another Perspective.  The weather cleared, and we enjoyed a stunning sunset as we dined at the Chart House overlooking the Annapolis harbor.

On Wednesday morning we packed, tidied up the boat, and left for home. The Cosmic C will stay at Mear’s until we return on October 11 to join Drew and Ellen at the Annapolis Power Boat Show and then take out both boats for a short Chesapeake cruise ending (for us) at Cutter Marine on the Middle River, where the C will be stored for the winter. 

Annapolis, MD to the Middle River, MD

When we returned to Annapolis on Thursday, October 11, the US Power Boat Show was in full swing, and we had to wend our way among the crowds as we headed for dinner at the Cafe Normandy, a cozy little French restaurant on Main Street. Ellen and Drew arrived later that night, and on Friday we all breakfasted at the Boat Yard near the marina before walking on to the Boat Show. Mary had to return to the C to work for the afternoon, but the rest of us had a wonderful time exploring many of the boats on display. Not having $2.6 million to buy a Marquis 65, the most opulent boat we boarded, we agreed that our beloved Cosmic C fits us perfectly - no problem here with two-foot-itis (or 40-foot-itis in this case).

Friday was sunny but windy, and over a tasty dinner at Eastport’s Rock Fish, we discussed what we might do on Saturday if the wind and waves did not abate as NOAA predicted they would. But NOAA was correct again, and the Chesapeake Bay was well behaved as the Cosmic C and Another Perspective cruised together to Baltimore, often weaving our way through groups of young sailors. We moored at the Inner Harbor East Marina, and were soon enjoying Bertha’s mussels in Fell’s Point, just a short walk away. After lunch we explored Fell’s Point, a lively section of historic Baltimore before returning to the boats for some quiet time. In the evening, we joined Drew and Ellen on Another Perspective for drinks and hors’ oeuvres and a wonderful view of Baltimore’s skyline. Then we walked to nearby Little Italy and enjoyed dinner at Amici’s, a traditional, family-owed Italian restaurant.

On Sunday morning we strolled around the waterfront to Harborplace and had breakfast on the 5th floor of the Radisson Hotel with a great view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Back at the boats, we said goodbye to Drew and Ellen, and they headed back down the bay to Annapolis while we headed north to Cutter Marine on the Middle River. We had left our station wagon at Cutter on the way down, and after loading it with everything we did not want to leave on the C for the winter, we were soon on our way home to Bucks County.

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