Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

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Thursday, June 7, 2007
We Visit The Best Art Exhibit You Have Never Heard Of
Dick's on-line research revealed a hidden treasure destination we couldn't resist -- a 300 acre outdoor museum, with a sculpture collection exceeding 1,300 pieces, 500 of them displayed in 50 acres of formal and natural garden settings.  As if that isn't enough, Brookgreen Gardens has a curated Lowcountry Museum and Trail with historic plantation ruins and rice fields gone wild, plus a Zoo of native wild and domesticated animals.

Wind on the Water by Richard McDermott

Dick figured the Garden was a five to seven mile bike ride from Wacca Watchee Marina, which was just a few hours cruise north of Georgetown.  So, we got up early, cruised to Wacca Watchee, hoisted our bikes off the boat, and pedaled off in 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity for an adventure that was so entrancing that we forgot the weather.
Dick's computations were accurate, as usual.  It was six miles to the front gate, crowned by a gleaming larger than life aluminum sculpture of two fighting stallions.  Then it was another mile ride to the Welcome Center and sculpture gardens. 
We watched a ten minute orientation film that told the story of how this remarkable place began.  New York City financier Archer Huntington and his acclaimed sculptor wife Anna Hyatt Huntington decided to move south for Anna's health in the 1920s.  They created a studio where Anna could work, including cages and paddocks for animals she sculpted (the horses as the front gate were her creations, as were many other pieces throughout the garden).  They also created an elaboarate and ever-expanding area of "garden rooms" to display their extensive collection of works by notable American representational sculptors. They opened the gardens to the public in 1931.
Anna and Archer created the settings for their sculptures using the remains of formal gardens and landscape features from a former plantation on the grounds -- including a dramatic long live-oak canopied drive.  They built water gardens and marsh gardens, raised beds, and sunken beds for plants that like wet feet.  They punctuated the landscape with ponds and fountains, and used the natural and formal landscapes to frame their sculptures.
The master gardener docent who led our garden walk was apologetic that we are here at a shoulder time when spring flowers are fading and the summer annuals are just being planted.  Not knowing what we were missing, we were in awe of the variety and bounty of floral displays.  We estimated we saw at least fifty different varieties of hydrangeas, including some with striking variegated leaves.  We took photos and notes, and hope when we get home we can find a specimen plant to remind us of our time in Brookgreen Gardens.
Archer loved poetry, so he had bits of poems incised in stone plaques that were placed on walls and benches and fountains and such throughout the garden.  The poems set themes for the "garden rooms," captured a mood a sculpture and its setting were intended to evoke, or focussed attention on a particular plant or sculptural subject.  From familiar lines from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and William Shakespeare to anonymous doggerel (I used to love my garden,/ But now my love is dead./ I found a Bachelor's button/ In Black-eyed Susan's bed.), the poems added depth to our already overwhelming appreciation of the beauty of this extraordinary place. 
We agreed that Anna and Archer had a grand artistic vision, and we are fortunate they had the resources to make their grand vision a reality. 
We stayed until they rang the old farm bell to signal the gardens were closed, then rode back to the boat.  Part of our ride was along a bike path that skirted the edge of Huntington Beach State Park, another of the Huntingtons' legacies.  We hear their exquisite Mediterranean style beach house is open to the public.  Maybe on the way back . . .
Friday, June 8 Wacca Wachee to Calabash Creek Anchorage
45.7 miles, 8 hours, 15 minutes
We believe the Universe is in balance.  Yesterday was so exceedingly grand that misfortune was bound to follow.
We cast off the dock at 8 am, and were about an hour into our day, just enjoying our lattes and commenting on how beautiful the shoreline was -- cypress trees so thick we couldn't see where the water met the shore, lily pads in quiet pools off the main channel, and an abundance of water hyacinths floating free, hardly a house in sight -- when our starboard engine started coughing.  Dick thought he would baby it until we got to a marina an hour or so away where we planned to get fuel, but then the engine died. 
Fortunately, we were within sight of a small fisherman's marina that had a big gas dock with plenty of space to land our boat using just one engine.  Dick got down in the 100 degree engine room with a fan blowing on him, while I sat in a cool breeze just outside the door next to the engine room hatch, ready to hand him tools or cool drinks.  While he was down there, Avalon passed and radioed to see what we were doing in this isolated spot (a local proudly told me there was nothing for fifteen miles in any direction).  I explained our plight, assuring them Dick had the situation under control.
And, he did have the situation under control, but he had to spend nearly an hour sweating in the engine room to fix it.  We were on our way 50 minutes after we stopped, with a couple pounds of the marina restaurant's famous breakfast sausage added to our freezer.  We vowed to stop on our way back for lunch, or at least dessert.  Although it was too early for lunch when we were there, I did see the menu board for the day, and it featured home-made blueberry or peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  This is Dick's kind of waterway rest stop.
Forty minutes later, we arrived as Osprey Marina, where we planned to fuel up, due to their exceedingly good prices on diesel, which Dick had learned about through a cruiser chat site.  We had to wait out in the channel while Avalon finished fueling -- it's a small marina.
Our next misfortune came while fueling, when, for the first time in over 10,000 miles, we (well, I should say I, since I was the one holding the nozzle at the time) overfilled the tank and almost created a small fuel spill.
When we finally left the dock after fueling, it had been nearly four hours since we started our day, and we had gone only fifteen miles.  We had to revise our whole float plan, because we knew this wouldn't be a big mileage day.
We decided to anchor in Calabash Creek, north of Myrtle Beach, but not quite to North Carolina, where had hoped to be by the end of this day.  (And, speaking of Myrtle Beach, we just have to note that a blight of boring generic condos has stuck the shores of the ICW through Myrtle Beach since the last time we passed this way a couple years ago.)
When we got to Calabash Creek, we found Avalon already at anchor there.  The anchorage is right next to channel that bustles with commercial fishing and tour boat traffic, as well as recreational boaters.  Our challenge was to get out of the channel enough to give passing boats room to move by us, but not to get too close to shore, where the water was shallow.  We were anchoring at high tide, and would lose five feet of water under us at low tide.  Adding another complication, the wind and current were both strong, so boats at anchor were swinging about somewhat unpredictably, especially a sailboat in a prime anchoring area who had so much line out that Dick said he looked like he was trying to patrol the entire anchorage.
We set a record for anchoring attempts here.  We dropped anchor five times in five spots before we finally found one we thought would work for us.  Then, a few hours later as the tide had fallen substantially and the tidal currents changed to push us closer than ever to shore, Dick noticed our depth finder was registering that we should be hitting bottom any minute, and we made a speedy anchor retrieval, and reset further out.  We were so close to the channel that the sunset cruise boat captain included us in his tour narration, which we could hear as clearly as if we were aboard the tour boat (he didn't say anything nasty about us), and we could just about reach out and shake hands with all the passengers hanging over the rail gawking at us eating our dinner.
Saturday, June 9  Calabash Creek to Wrightsville Beach Anchorage
60.6 miles, 8 hours
When we raised our anchor at 7:05 am, we were the last boat remaining in the anchorage.  We timed our departure to arrive by 8 am at an infamous pontoon bridge crossing the ICW that only opens on the hour, and doesn't open at all during a couple low tide hours each day. We made the opening on a falling tide, and later heard a Coast Guard radio broadcast that the 10 am opening was canceled.
We arrived at Wrightsville Beach a litte before 3 pm, and immediately discerned that this was going to be the most festive anchorage we had ever visited.  Jet skis flew through the anchorage so close that their rooster tails almost doused us.  Power boats towing skiers and screeching youngsters dodged the boats at anchor and rocked them with their powerful wakes.  Bikini clad women sunbathed on the bows of boats blasting their stereos at full power, while their dates or mates hung out in the cockpit of the boat sucking down beers. 
With all the wake action bobbing our boat, we knew we had to hop in our dinghy and go ashore for awhile to get some land legs . . . and some groceries.
We loaded the dinghy with the trash we had accumulated over two nights of anchoring out, and headed for the town dock. 
Wrightsville Beach is a classic beach town, with surf shops and gift shops, lots of bars and restaurants casual enough to welcome patrons in wet swim suits, tall houses on narrow lots with showers outside to rinse off the sand, and towers up top to get a glimpse of the ocean waves. 
After we dumped our trash, we headed for the beach, just a block from the dock.  Wrightsville Beach is wide and white, and on this sunny 90 degree weekend day it was carpeted with sun worshippers, redolent with the aroma of coconut butter.  We took off our Crocs and walked in the breaking surf, dodging adolescent boogie boarders at the water's edge.
We cut our beach walk short when we saw dark clouds rolling in, and headed for Robert's Grocery, where we found a guy in the area in front of the cash registers stenciling temporary tattoos on the backsides of two young women with low-slung short-legged shorts barely covering their bikini bottoms.  A cashier was dipping locally made ice cream from a counter next to the check-out and there was a coffee bar next to the produce section.  We shopped for our provisions while eating ice cream -- multi-tasking efficiency was the order of the day to beat the storm.
By the time we got back to the boat with our purchases, it looked like the storm might have passed us by.  We were plenty hot, and the water in the anchorage was sparkling clear.  I stowed the groceries in record time, we donned our suits, and we went for a swim off the stern of our boat.  (But first, Dick used his heat gun to verify that the water was a very welcoming 78 degrees.)
We floated around on our noodles until the thunder got loud enough to seem like lightning strikes were a definite possibility, and all the day trip boaters weighed anchor and high-tailed it out of there. 
The storm front never delivered, so we just enjoyed its big breezes as we lounged on the flybridge with our books until it was too dark to read outside anymore.
Sunday, June 10  Wrightsville Beach to Swansboro, NC
55.3 miles, 7:25 hours
Dick talked to Mike on Avalon last night, and decided to follow his strategy for dealing with the Wrightsville Beach Bridge, which only opens on the hour after 7 am.  Since the bridge opens on demand before 7, if you get moving at an ungodly hour, you don't have to worry about missing the bridge opening or having a long wait in strong current.
Consequently, we ended up raising the anchor at 6:05 am, and following right behind Avalon to the bridge.  We thought the day was off to a fine start when we turned on our satellite radio, and the piece playing was called "Dancing Sun on Water,"  perfectly capturing the experience of the 6:30 sunrise sending orange flames dancing on the water ahead of us.
We had a tranquil morning until 10 am, when our starboard engine started hiccuping again.  This time we weren't so lucky as a couple days ago -- we were in a dredged channel and there wasn't a marina or an anchorage for miles.  We ended up pulling to the edge of the channel and setting our anchor so Dick could go below and replace the two day old fuel filter, as a stopgap measure that would buy us time until we could get to our marina, where he could try another repair.
Since Dick (unfortunately) has so much experience replacing fuel filters on the fly, he managed to get the job done in a mere twenty minutes.  Then we were on our way again, and we made it to Swansboro with no further challenges.
Dick characterised Swannsboro as the most unpretentious town we have visited so far this cruise, and I think he got it right.  A hill rises from the water's edge, and the houses on the hill are small and neat and mostly not architecturally notable.  Some have wooden shields next to their front doors proclaiming their date of origin -- one was dated in the 1700s.  But, as we rode our bikes through the neighborhoods, we felt that this was a town where working people lived.  We passed a house with three bedrooms and a water view for sale by owner for $395,000, less than the cost of a water view lot in lots of places we have been. 
The street that runs along the waterfront has intriguing shops and restaurants interspersed with the homes.  We couldn't resist a shop called the Quilt Cottage.  When we got inside, we found it was a shop selling quilts and other needlework, not quilter's supplies.  While I was perusing the quilts, Dick found a framed embroidered doily with this verse:
My mother taught me
  how to sew
And at the time
  I did not know
That with every stitch
  I now complete
With every row
  I do so neat
My mother's heart
  is there with me
Guiding my hand for all to see.
It is signed "Sarah 1893," but both Dick and I doubt its authenticity.  The workmanship is also not quite up to mom's (and consequently my) highest standards -- it was pretty good, but if we had stitched it, it would look better.  Nonetheless, when I read the verse, I teared up.
When he saw my reaction, Dick bought it for me as an early anniversary present.  He thought the sentiment was a perfect match for me, but I think he showed it to me first, because he wasn't sure if I would react with my my head or my heart.  It went straight to the heart.
Monday, June 11  Swansboro to Oriental
49.4 miles
Oriental is a sailing town -- as you cruise across the wide Neuse River approaching Oriental, hundreds of masts rise in the foreground of your view of town.
The Oriental Marina is one of our favorite marinas anywhere.  They offer towels and hotel amenities in their immaculate showers,  which are only a few steps away from the boat docks.  They have a pool with a Tiki Bar.  Their very comfortable Adirondack chairs painted Key West colors are the perfect spot to relax with a good book.  Their wi-fi signal is strong as an ox. Right next door to the marina is the best marine supply store for hundreds of miles.
We docked at 2, berthed next to Avalon.  We were at the marine supply store within minutes, and ended up spending an hour there.  We didn't get the fuel filters we planned on, though, because we ran into Mike in the store, and he had fuel filters left over from his Grand Banks that he couldn't use on his new boat, and he cut Dick a sweet deal for them.
After our marine shopping, we hauled down our bikes for a ride around town.  The town is small, so our ride wasn't that long, but it did seem to us that the amount of construction and the number of for sale signs had increased exponentially in the two years since last we were here.
We shared wine and conversation with Pegge and Mike aboard Avalon, and must have lost track of time, because when we got back to Starsong for dinner it was 9:30. 

Click this link to go to a page with our log from last visit, including pictures of Oriental and the story of how the town got its name.

If you didn't click the link, I highly recommend you go back and do it now.  I was much more awake when I wrote about the town then, and I captured a few endearing aspects of its quirky character I'd really like to share with you.
If you did go back, you met the town dog -- the big blonde with a bandanna.  We didn't see him this visit, but there's a big black dog sporting a bandanna patrolling the neighborhood now.  Maybe they have term limits here.

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