Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!


Lisa and I left the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous (see June 15 Log) in South Carolina and headed north, northwest with a destination of 44.75º N / 85.62º W. The difference between the Loopers who left the Rendezvous by boat and ourselves this time was that we were en route, traveling by car, to our hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. The event seminar typically focuses on the water routes that lay ahead of members who are currently traveling north and they also provide some insight to the adventures ahead to both the current Loopers and the future planning members. I couldn’t help but sense the excitement building in the crowd as they were beginning to anticipate starting, or continuing on, their Great Loop journey. We know from experience that there are many decisions to be made on this stretch of the Loop. Does one take the Dismal Swamp or the alternative route through Coinjock (both in North Carolina)? What side trips should you take? There are a few significant ones. Since there is a continuation of historical venues all up and down the east coast, which stops do you add to your itinerary. Countless possibilities present themselves and there are many decisions to make.

When you’re anchored out at Mile Hammock you are up close and personal with military maneuvers!

Lisa and I have ONLY traveled the East Coast ICW three times but because of this we’ve had the pleasure of visiting many new ports of call while trying alternative routes. Even though the ICW route up the coast is a somewhat static one there are also lots of opportunities for less visited destinations not too many miles off the beaten path.

Wilmington, the first big historical city you’ll stop or pass after Myrtle Beach, has a lot of significant history. It is the third oldest city in North Carolina and at one time it was the largest. They built boats that were used in the Revolutionary War, Civil War and both World Wars. They also have a large shipping industry here.

Mile Hammock Bay is an anchorage on the outskirts of Camp Lejeune. It’s here where we’ve watched the marines practice their maneuvers, seen helicopter rescue simulations and witnessed live fire exercises. This is a favorite overnight stop for cruisers as they work their way north or south along the ICW and it’s only a short days trip south of Beaufort, North Carolina. It’s definitely a stop every cruiser should experience at least once while traveling along this passage.

Everything in historic Beaufort, N.C. is just a short walk from the City Marina.

Beaufort has a rich history dating back to its settlement in 1709 as a fishing village and port of entry, including the sinking of Black Beards pirate ship, Queen Ann’s Revenge in 1718. Although Black Beards ship was not discovered off the coast of Beaufort’s waters until 1996, and his bounty has not yet been discovered, Lisa I didn’t learn about Black Beard connections and exploits in the Beaufort area until we visited the quaint southern town and the North Carolina Maritime Museum in 2006. This was a stop we thoroughly enjoyed by boat and have since even taken the time to stop when we’ve been through the area by car.

Working our way north through Core Creek, after leaving Beaufort, one has a couple decisions to make about side trips and route choices. The first side trip is up the Neuse River to New Bern, North Carolina – the birthplace of Pepsi. Pharmacist Caleb Bradham introduced the drink at his store in downtown New Bern in 1898. New Bern’s downtown waterfront is reminiscent of many of the southern river towns, with lots of history, courthouse squares and historic districts. In addition to all this, New Bern has a regional airport, several marinas for short or long-term dockage and is currently in the midst of celebrating its 300th birthday. New Bern is far enough south that most boaters in this area leave their vessels in the water year round.

Lucky for us Wade and Susie have a canal behind their house in New Bern, N.C., where we stayed for few days.

New Bern is also home to our friends Wade and Susie, Miss Happ, who we first met on the Illinois River in 2005. Since that chance encounter we’ve traveled by boat together, stayed at their home, they’ve visited us in Charlevoix and we’ve met up at boat shows and Trawler Fests. We also hope to see them this summer as they head out on another Great Loop adventure. When we were together last October they had just ordered a new 36-foot Marine Trader Trawler, which just arrived a couple of weeks ago. They’ve named their new boat Shady Lady; Wade assures me it has nothing to do with Susie. As I write this log they are preparing it for the yearlong trip. They’ll make it to the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan by August when we hope to get a personal tour of their new Shady Lady.

Wade and Susie’s new Shady Lady getting ready to be launched for it’s maiden voyage.

From New Bern we would retrace our steps back out the Neuse River to the Pamlico Sound, on to Belhaven and Albemarle Sound. Once in Albemarle Sound you can either take the Dismal Swamp ICW route (via Elizabeth City) or go up the optional ICW route through Coinjock via the North River. Both routes lead to Norfolk, Virginia and the southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay. They each offer a different experience. We personally prefer the Dismal Swamp route. Before I explain my logic though I’d like to mention an earlier side trip option to Roanoke Sound where Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Manteo are all located.

Lisa and I have never been to the Roanoke area but we have this on our boating bucket list of places to visit on a return visit. Rich with the history of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, Roanoke’s connection to the Civil War, two World Wars, Black Beard’s buried treasures and endless ocean side beaches, we feel it’s a place well worth marking on the charts as a place to spend time exploring.

The Dismal Swamp is long and narrow and often as still as in this photo.

Ok, back to “which way to go” when we get to the Pamlico Sound. Lisa and I have taken both the Dismal Swamp and Coinjock route and we prefer the more remote and scenic route through Elizabeth City and the historical “Swamp.” It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Coinjock route, as a matter of fact if someone wants to make better time it’s the more logical choice, not to mention having the legendary prime rib dinner at the Coinjock Marina Restaurant.

The canal that runs though the swamp is the oldest continuously operating canal (often called “the ditch”) in the United States. George Washington was one of the original owners. For us the natural beauty of the Dismal Swamp, even though it’s a slow go, is much more enjoyable. It’s not every day you can navigate your boat through a tight backwater swamp surrounded by tall cypress trees and canopies of overgrown garlands of gray moss which hang close to your boat. The only drawback would be if someone had a draft that could not clear the six-foot minimum depth. Lucky for us our draft is only four feet.

There is enough room for four or five boats to tie up at the Visitor’s Center dock on the Dismal Swamp route. Sometimes they’re three abreast after the locks close for the day.

On our last trip through the Dismal Swamp we tied up to the Visitor’s Center complimentary dock and spent the night. Docked in front of us was a boat called Queen Ann’s Revenge. It seemed like such a coincidence that this boat had the same namesake as Black Beard’s famous pirate ship, at the same time we were cruising through the pirate’s old stomping grounds. Hank and Ann, the owners, bearing no resemblance to pirates, became fast friends of ours and we have crossed paths a number of times over the last year.

When we left the Dismal Swamp Visitor’s Center, heading north, we crossed the path of the Coinjock ICW route, about six miles south of Norfolk, Virginia and the eventual entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. We’ve traveled through and stopped in the Norfolk area three times on Kismet and each time we were in awe of the large-scale shipping/military vessel presence. When you look at a chart one can easily see the strategic location Norfolk plays in the defense of our country as well as our economy.

This is photo of a shipyard just across from our marina in Norfolk, Virginia.; my guess is our boat would be too small for them to work on.

On one of our stops in Norfolk we were able to dig a little deeper into the area’s Naval history when we toured the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. The HRNM dedicates itself to the study of the 234-year history of the Navy and, although we’re always looking for the opportunity to learn new things, I’m sure we only scratched the surface in our short visit. It’s worth another visit someday.

Next door to the Museum rests the retired WWII Battleship Wisconsin. Lisa and I feel fortunate to own a 40-foot trawler and we think we live pretty comfortably on our floating home but we never realized how insignificant our boat was until we boarded the Wisconsin. At 887 ft. 3 in. in length and a beam of 108 ft. 2 in., the U.S. Naval ship could fit 44 of our Fathom trawlers along the length of her deck. Heck, the draft alone is 37 ft. 8 in., almost as deep as our boat is long. It was a thrill to be able to stand on the deck of one of the last battleships built to serve in WWII.

Lisa and I standing on the deck of the Wisconsin enjoying a tour of the spacious vessel.

I started this log by discussing all the decisions one is faced with when doing the Great Loop as it relates to navigational options, ports of call and side trips and for purposes of this Log, we’ve only just reached the beginning of the Chesapeake Bay. As boaters and adventurers we try to challenge ourselves by taking the route less traveled, to seek out the unique, unusual and more remotely natural, we enjoy getting off the main route. We like to do this so that we can broaden our overall Great Loop experience. We welcome the diversity this type of boat travel entails because it offers us new opportunities to stretch our boundaries and gives us a chance to discover hidden nooks and crannies along the waterway.