03-15-10 Sneads Ferry, NC – Thanks

[Rick] With us safely back in Sneads Ferry, the time has come to end our great loop adventure. However, we recognize that we would not have had such a great time without some help from many people. Along the way, we met many wonderful people and we have become friends with many. Included in this group are friends or relatives who joined us for a day or so. These folks include (dates are in parenthesis so you can look up the blog entry if you wish):

Louise, Betsy’s childhood friend that drove 4 hours (one way) to spend a day and a night with us. She is the only overnight visitor we had…after all it is only a 26 foot boat! She slept on the convertible dinette table in a sleeping bag (6/24).

Chris Gunter, Betsy’s nephew that lives in Rochester, NY, drove to visit us in Oswego, NY to visit (6/30).

Tina, Trina, and Tara, the Zephyrhills wild bunch. We drove there, then they drove to Clearwater, all during Christmas week.

Ryan, my nephew, and a great kid, and his mother Bonnie, visited us in Boca Raton (1/23).

Betsy’s second cousin Ben Newland and his wife Rose, took us to Disney’s Wild Kingdom and let us stay with them in Orlando, FL (2/9).

Another of Betsy’s second cousins, Scott Makepeace and his wife Pat, drove from Jacksonville to St. Augustine to take us to Osteen’s Restaurant for the best shrimp dinner we have ever had (2/16).

Friends from college days Duncan and Cami Mills, hand delivered an air conditioner/heater to us. They picked it up in their hometown of Richmond VA and drove all the way to Great Bridge, VA, to deliver it to us. We really used the heater. The air conditioner, not so much (5/28).

Jimmy and Gaye Thomas, friends from Wilmington also visited us in Great Bridge (5/28).

Kim Volek, a former member of our church in Sneads Ferry, dropped by for a visit in Beaufort, SC. We had never actually met Kim but she had been reading our blog regularly, and had moved to Beaufort after we left on our trip (2/27).

Sue, daughter of our Topsail Beach neighbor, and her husband Gary, dropped in for a visit while we were in Isle of Palms, SC. They just happened to be vacationing there and Sue’s mother knew from reading the blog that we were there at the same time (3/3).

Dolli and Jimmy Adams, our friends from Lumberton came to Myrtle Beach and took us to Sticky Fingers for lunch and catching up.

There is another group of important people. These are the ones that we owe thanks, in a big way. We cannot name everyone, But, here goes:

We start with Glenn in Chicago. He towed us around the Carp Crap and we are truly indebted to him. Not only did he save us $600, he showed that there are friendly, helpful boaters on the water (9/3).

Sid in Luddington. He offered us, complete strangers, the use of his truck while we were weather hostages and he was great company docked next to us (8/16).

Bruce in Fairhope. Shared his lovely town and church with us (11/29).

Tom and Patsy Conrad. These wonderful people let us tie to their dock and kept us entertained for three days (12/1 – 12/2). In addition, Tom’s weather musings, well respected by AGLCA loopers, helped us pick the right day to cross Florida’s Big Bend.

Ron and Marji Cyr also let us dock at their home in Punta Gorda FL and were wonderful hosts just after they had completed the loop themselves (1/11-1/12).

There were many, many other loopers that we travelled with along the way that were so helpful to us, but we can’t mention them all for fear of leaving someone out. Just know that if we travelled with you even for a day or two, you were special to us and we will not forget you.

I have saved the biggest thanks for last. We do not even know how to begin to thank Tom and Billie Hayden for all their help. Tom took care of our mail, certainly not the easiest of tasks. Tom and Billie “managed” the two disasters at home when the water pipes burst on the Florida heat pump and flooded our downstairs with thousands of gallons of water. They were a constant source of information and news from Sneads Ferry. Thank You Very Much.

This is probably our last blog entry for this trip. We will leave the blog and website open so anyone can refer back. We hope that everyone has enjoyed reading the blog as much as we have enjoyed having you as our “virtual crew’. Now, cast off your lines and go live a little……..

Betsy, Rick, and Beamer

03-14-10 Crossing Our Wake!

Betsy speaks: We attended our church in Topsail Beach this morning, and were surprised to be greeted at the door by our former (retired) pastor from Sneads Ferry Presbyterian. He lives nearby and knew we would be at Topsail’s Emma Anderson Chapel today, so he and his wife decided to show up to welcome us home. What a wonderful surprise (although Rick knew ahead of time that they might be there). Sorry we didn't get a picture of Tim and Margaret!
After church we loaded the boat up and took off for our final slip in Sneads Ferry, where we would cross our wake, indicating that we had completed the Great Loop. My brother John and his wife Pat were there to see us off. On that final stretch between Topsail Beach and Sneads Ferry, about 24 very familiar miles, we reminisced about what a wonderful trip we had had. We are both so glad we did this thing that on the surface seems so far-fetched.

Along the way, we passed the “pepto-pink” house that many loopers have included in their blogs because it is such a standout along this stretch. When we left the pink was so faded it might not have warranted a picture, but it looks like they painted it just for our return because it is as bright as we’ve ever seen it!

We thought there might be a few people waiting for us at our slip as we had publicized on the blog our expected arrival time of 2PM. Sure enough as we rounded the final bend we saw quite a gathering waiting for us.

The amazing thing was that as I pulled into the slip I started hearing bagpipes! Howard Orr, a member of our church family, used to be a piper but I’d never heard him play. Last I heard his pipes were not playable and beyond repair. So I’m looking around trying to figure out where this bagpipe sound is coming from, thinking it must be a recording or something. Then the people on shore pointed at Howard on the opposite shore, and sure enough we were escorted in with live bagpipes proudly playing Scotland the Brave! Since we left, Howard has joined a pipe band and gotten some new pipes.

In addition to the bagpipes, we were greeted with hugs and mimosas. The gathering consisted of New River Sail and Power Squadron friends and several members of our Sneads Ferry Presbyterian Church family. Most of these had been reading the blog regularly, and several said they feared they would suffer from blog withdrawal now that we are back. I think we counted 22 people in all.

We were proud to finally hoist the AGLCA Gold Burgee, which we estimated cost us something upwards of $30,000. But it was worth every dime, and now I will strive for a Platinum Burgee (multiple loops) as soon as we recuperate from this trip.

Here’s one final sunset picture, taken yesterday from our home in Topsail Beach. With sunsets like these right here, you might wonder why we ever want to leave this beautiful place! Even gorgeous sunsets can’t inhibit the wanderlust of a born Gypsy!

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for what we think will be our final blog, in which we will talk about the special people that made this trip so memorable. Also, if you are statistically oriented, we have updated the “Log Book” which is found on a tab on the left of our home page,

03-13-10 Animal Encounters and Best/Worst Days

We hoped we would see lots of wildlife along the way, and indeed we did. We are both animal lovers, and one of the highlights of the trip was visiting several wonderful aquariums including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We also went to a much smaller rescue aquarium facility in Clearwater.

In the wild, we saw more dolphins than anything, yet still we stop nearly every time we see them just to watch them closely. It seems they always want to follow you into or out of ports. We missed them all through Canada and down the rivers, but as soon as we neared the bottom of Mobile Bay they escorted us into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. It seems that the dolphins in Florida are more likely to actually jump out of the water and surf the boat’s wake than those we see here in North Carolina, and we never stopped trying to get that great picture of one all the way out of the water. Here’s our best shot, taken West coast of Florida.

Of course, coming down the Illinois River we ran into the issue about the Asian Carp, and we saw plenty of those once we were south of the electronic barrier at Joliet, ILL. You can read about that by looking at the blog entries for 09/03 and 09/08.

We saw our first Bald Eagles while on the Tennessee River, and then saw a couple more near Lake Okeechobee. We were disappointed not to have seen more eagles

We were also disappointed not to see more alligators. We saw a couple on the rim of Lake Okeechobee, and then a few in the ditches along side the road at the Kennedy Space Center. I think the bitter cold weather was the reason we didn’t see more.

I think I also expected to see more Manatees, and again I think it was because of the cold weather that we didn’t see them. We did see one or two on the Okeechobee rim; one dove right in front of us within seconds after we got our warning for not obeying the Slow Manatee Zone sign that we didn’t see near Lantana, FL. Then we saw a couple in Fort Pierce outside the Manatee Museum.

But we did have two unique and incredible animal encounters. The first was in Port St. Joe where we saw the manatee rescue (12/07). The other was just before reaching Punta Gorda, where we spent several hours guarding an injured sea turtle while we waited for help to come (01/11).

Moving on, we’ve had a really hard time coming up with our “best days” and “worst days” on the water. This does not include our favorite or least favorite stops…we talked about them yesterday. This is our cruising experience. I (Betsy) personally loved every day we were on the water…even a bad day was a learning experience. Rick, who suffers from a slight case mal-de-mer, wasn’t so crazy about the bad days!

Under Best Days we have to put, in chronological order:

Cruising into New York Harbor and past the Statute of Liberty…probably tops on any looper’s list! I’m sorry we didn’t wait a day or two to have sun instead of the misty fog we encountered. (6/15)

Cruising from Alexandria Bay, NY to Kingston, Ontario….the scenery was the prettiest we had seen to date and some of the prettiest we saw on the entire trip (07/03).

Transiting the much anticipated Peterborough (07/12) and Big Chute (07/19) Locks in Canada.

Cruising in beautiful Collins Inlet as we neared Killarney, Ontario (07/29).

One perfectly gorgeous cruising day on Lake Michigan cruising from Charlevoix to Frankfurt past the magnificient sand dunes and the Pointe Betsie Light (08/12). Maybe this one day and the one following made up for all the awful days we had on Lake Michigan.

Crossing Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Chicago, leaving at sunrise and cruising under autopilot most of the way, 117 miles on a beautiful clear day, seeing the Chicago skyline from 40 miles out (08/19).

Everything on the Tennessee River! (Month of October)

All of our good days have one thing in common: beautiful weather and smooth seas! Wish we had seen more of that!

Along with the good comes the bad, and we did have a few “worst” days:

Transiting the canal to Point Pleasant, NJ, very narrow with tremendous current and turbulence but you had to go at idle speed. We had trouble finding a place to stay; once we did find a place we had to back into a tiny slip (it was the only time we had to back in on the entire trip). Then Rick lost a lens out of the brand new glasses he had just purchased in Atlantic City (06/14)

Going out Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey. This is the one time you have to go outside into the ocean on the entire trip and we did not do it on a good day. We were nearly swamped by the huge wake of a very large and very fast boat that cut right in front of us on our way out and our entire boat was literally underwater twice (06/15).

Going out of Gore Bay, deciding it was too rough and turned around to go back. We almost lost the bikes off the bow (8/05).

Arriving back in the United States at Drummond Island. The trip started out in smooth seas, but in the final few miles we encountered the roughest water we had on the entire trip, with no way to get out of it. The water was like a mixing bowl as the huge waves bounced off the surrounding rocks. To the big water helmsman (Betsy) this was our worst day (09/06).

On the Ohio River floating around with eight other boats in the very confined quarters of a lock, finally breaking a throttle that had been giving us trouble since day one (09/17).

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico from Apalachicola to Clearwater in pea soup fog the entire way (12/14).
Tune in Sunday to read about our final leg. We expect to cross our wake in Sneads Ferry, NC at 2PM Sunday afternoon.

03-12-10 Wrap-up: Favorite Towns & Marinas

There are certain towns and marinas that absolutely everyone that does the loop has to see or visit. We’ve listed those here mostly as a reminder of some of the famous things we saw. Following that, we’ve listed smaller towns that we really thought were special that the average person might never visit, especially if you were travelling by car rather than by boat.

BIG CITIES THAT WE ENJOYED: Annapolis; Baltimore; Atlantic City; New York; Kingston, Ontario; Chicago; Chattanooga; Clearwater; Sarasota; Fort Myers; St. Augustine; Savannah; Charleston (which we bypassed this time because we’d been there several times before by boat). All of these towns are boater friendly and have nearby museums, aquariums and other attractions. Although there are exceptions, most have very nice marinas. Most are very biker friendly, and it was in these large cities that we really used the bikes.

SMALLER TOWNS ALONG THE WAY: The things that made small towns attractive were mainly that the marina would be right in the heart of town. The towns would offer good re-provisioning opportunities, good shops, good restaurants nearby, historic areas or small local museums that were within walking distance, great parks, etc. Listed below are some of our favorites, most with the date of our visit in parenthesis. You can refer back to that date in the blog to see why we liked each of these places. We tried to narrow the list down, but just couldn’t leave out any of these places. They are more or less in chronological order.

North Carolina: Beaufort and Oriental

Virginia: Yorktown, as well as many other small towns in the Chesapeake, but we sort of skipped by them this trip because we had been there before.

New York: Sylvan Beach (6/27);
Alexandria Bay (7/2). I will note that Alexandria Bay was not part of our plan but became a necessary side trip that turned out to be one of the most beautiful areas we saw on the entire trip.

Ontario, Canada:
Peterborough (7/9 and 7/12) where we traversed the famous Peterborough Lift Lock;
Bobcaygeon (7/13) where on the way we encountered the canoes in the lock;
Orillia (7/17 and 7/18) where we happened upon a Scottish Festival;
Little Current (8/1 and 8/2) where we happened upon the Haweater Festival.

Michigan: St. Ignace (8/7 and 8/8); Petoskey (8/10)

Illinois: Grafton (9/4)

Alabama: Everything and every town along the gorgeous Tennessee River! (Entire month of October). Particularly Florence, Guntersville, Scottsboro, and Chattanooga.

Florida: Port St. Joe (12/5); Sanibel Island (1/13 and 1/14, 2010); Melbourne (1/30)

South Carolina: Beaufort…one of our all-time favorites (2/25 through 2/28).

All along the way we sort of “rated” marinas as to how they suited our needs. The main criterion for a great marina is clean restrooms and showers since we are so dependent on them, unlike loopers on larger boats. A great marina would also have wi-fi; cable tv hookup; courtesy car unless they were right downtown; floating docks and a personable staff. Eating facilities nearby is a plus.

There are a couple of marinas that you MUST stop at whether you want to or not because of their remote locations. These would include Hoppies on the Mississippi River. You absolutely must stop here to top off your tank (very expensive) prior to the 250 miles before the next marina. Hoppies consists of three barges lashed together, almost non-existent restroom facilities, no showers. There is a small town within walking distance with several restaurants and shops. Fern Hopkins sits down with boaters late each afternoon to warn them of what they will face as they travel on down the mighty Mississippi and to let them know of any impending hazards she has heard about. (See blog 9/15).

The other MUST stop is Bobby’s Fish Camp on the Tenn-Tom. This is the last stop before a very long stretch to Mobile Bay (see blog 11/27).

Now for our Favorite marinas, based on the criteria listed above:

Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven, NC (5/21…we’ve stayed here many times before)

Harbor View Marina in Ludington, MI (8/16) excellent facilities with friendly people…thanks Sid and Carol for your hospitality!

Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, IL (9/4 – 9/7) Absolutely superb facilities with lots of loopers for camaraderie. Thanks Capt. Moe! Great staff with lots of activities.

Beardstown, KY (9/10)…(This isn’t really a marina, but it was a great experience! Since the town dock was closed we ended up tying up to a barge for the night).

Alton City Marina in Alton, IL (9/13) Absolutely the best shower/bathroom facilities we ever encountered!

Pebble Isle Marina in Johnsonville, TN (9/23) where there were many other loopers, free food, great hospitality. It was here that we met Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney for the first time…they were here touting the benefits of stopping at Port St. Joe (see below)

Grand Harbor Marina in Iuka, MS (9/25 – 9/27) at the head of the Tenn-Tom. Great docks, courtesy car, great staff!

Goose Pond Marina in Scottsboro, AL (10/5 – 10/15) The most peaceful place we stayed…we just happened upon it and then couldn’t bring it upon ourselves to leave! Not that the facilities were that great, we just loved this location and this town! It is definitely off the beaten path, but since Harbor Hosts Ray and Patsy Whitney are getting ready to move here from Port St. Joe (see below) it will soon become a favorite of all loopers!

Port St. Joe Marina in Port St. Joe, FL (12/5). Off the beaten path but worth the side trip….wonderful Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney.

OK, so what is a “Harbor Host?” you might ask! This is a new program sponsored by the AGLCA, wherein cruisers that live in or near looper friendly towns make themselves available to loopers that pass through. Rick and I will probably become Harbor Hosts for the Topsail/Sneads Ferry area once we get settled in after our trip. Harbor Hosts can do as much or as little as they want, but in general they make themselves available to help other loopers that pass through.

Patsy and Ray take this a step farther, becoming ambassadors, for their home port. They travel in their boat up and down the waterways touting their home port, which at the time we met them was Port St. Joe. PSJ is not on the regular beaten path for loopers…you must go several miles out of your way to get there. But Patsy and Ray convince you it is worthwhile to do this. Then when it is the right time of year for loopers to be in their area, they are there with welcoming arms. I’m sure that when they move to Scottsboro later this spring, our favorite off the beaten path marina Goose Pond will double its looper business as a result of their ambassadorship.

Some Harbor Hosts, like Tom and Patsy Conrad, make their home dock near Pensacola available on a first come first served basis…we certainly took advantage of them. Others just offer a home cooked meal. We had our first home cooked meal on the trip at the home of Jim and Sue Starke, Harbor Hosts in Bay Hill, AL, who came to our boat and introduced themselves and invited us to dinner at their home nearby. Others may just offer the use of a vehicle.

Well, now I’ve digressed into something we weren’t going to talk about today, so I guess I’m rambling and it’s time to close. Tune in tomorrow for more favorites!

03-11-10 Topsail Beach – Still resting up for the finale!

Betsy speaks: Well, it’s nearing bedtime and Rick says we need to blog, and suggests we pick our five favorite parts of the loop as our blog material for tonight. I say I can’t come up with my favorites without going back to day one blog and reminding myself about parts of the trip. I started to do that, and became so overwhelmed with what we had done and how hard it is to choose “favorites” that I’m thinking we need to put this off ‘til tomorrow. Maybe I’ll sit down then and start making a list. So be patient, and we’ll work up something when we it’s not so near bed time.

[Rick] Actually, Betsy is correct. It is very difficult to come up with your favorite or even your top five favorites after a 10 month trip. So, I, too, will think about it and we will decide soon. Later.

03-10-10 Topsail Beach - Coast Guard Stop

[Rick] Since we are at Topsail beach rejuvenating ourselves until we “officially” cross our wake in Sneads Ferry on Sunday, I thought I would take the next couple of nights to write about some of the questions, favorites, funny things that happened, etc.

Here is a very funny story that we have not shared before.

As we approached Annapolis, Betsy was at the helm navigating very slowly through the mooring field, we were approached by a small Coast Guard boat that turned on his blue light. We knew we were doing nothing wrong. They just wanted to board for a safety inspection. I immediately put Beamer in the front cabin and closed the door. Two men boarded the boat, one was very young. The elder of the two wanted the registration, which I retrieved from the closed cabin. He began to complete the paperwork. The younger pulled out a 3X5 card containing a list of items he needed to see… flares, fire extinguishers, notices, etc. Almost everything he asked, I had to retrieve from the cabin, and each time I went in and came out I carefully closed the door behind me to keep the dog inside. Of course Beamer, the Psycho Dog, was going berserk. After we had gone through the entire list, and I had been in the cabin 4-5 times, the young officer nodded to the closed door and said “I guess it would be too much trouble to see your engine room.” At which point, I pointed to the stern of the boat and said “We have outboards.” Yes, there was a small grimace on his face. The older of the two rolled his eyes, and Betsy and I both stifled a laugh. I often wondered what kind of harassment the young man received once back on the Coast Guard boat.

One question we get often is in regard to the size of our boat. We are only 26 feet, but we have all of the necessary, not excessive, creature comforts. We took this boat on the loop because it is the boat we own. If we had a 50 foot boat, we would have done the loop in it. There is no perfect boat. On the loop, we saw a 21ft Ranger Tug, a 25 ft Ranger Tug with two adults and two big dogs, a pontoon boat with a tarp draped over a rope for a shelter. We also saw a 56ft Hampton and a 61ft Hampton. And, we saw everything in between. Generally, the loop boats are 30-40 feet, mostly trawlers. Most have the ability to anchor out for days at a time. Some, like us, never anchor out. Our shower facilities are very limited and we prefer to take showers in marinas. Thus, we spend most nights in marinas. Our boat would be too small for most couples. You cannot be the “needy” type or “high maintenance” type to do the loop on our boat because there is no “me” time. You are always in sight and sound of the other person. You will recall that we had two rules on the boat. 1) No guns or knives aboard, and 2) If it ain’t fatal, get over it…..

However, regardless of the size of the boat or its amenities, all loopers have some things in common: A sense of adventure; an enjoyment of meeting other people; and a sense of doing something most people will never do, thereby gaining a sense of accomplishment.

03-09-10 Topsail Beach II

[Rick] Our first full day in Topsail Beach was relaxed and easy. We performed a few maintenance items on the rental house. We spent some time catching up with Betsy’s brother, Steve. Around 1300, Power Squadron friends Toad and Dauna Gable arrived to take us to lunch. Since there is nothing open in Topsail Beach at this time, we went to Mollie’s in Surf City. The lunch specials were delicious. After lunch, the Gables took us to Sneads Ferry where we turned on the water at our townhouse, picked up the mail that has accumulated since our trip home in November, and retrieved a vehicle. Right now Betsy is enjoying going through Christmas cards!

Several times as we did our loop we shared photos of beautiful sunsets. None were as pretty as we have right here at Topsail Beach.

03-08-10 Topsail Beach – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!

Betsy Speaks: Our goal for today was to pull into our home at Topsail Beach at approximately 2:00, and we had mentioned that on the blog a few days ago. That post prompted an e-mail from someone who has been following our blog right from the very beginning. “Bam” is a person we’ve never met, but he is a friend of a friend. Our mutual friend had told him of our trip early on and he has been a virtual crewmate ever since. Bam and his wife Ann keep their boat in a marina not far from our Topsail Beach destination. Upon seeing that we were heading for Topsail before officially crossing our wake in Sneads Ferry next Sunday, Bam e-mailed us and wanted to meet us on the water today, take us to lunch at Wrightsville Beach, and then sort of escort us on to Topsail. Well, those of you that know us know we never pass up a free meal, so we agreed to meet Bam and Ann just south of Wrightsville Beach, an area we are all very familiar with, and go to The Dockside Restaurant for lunch before heading on to Topsail. Bam and Ann actually took off work today to do this for us.

We left Southport right on schedule this morning, about 10AM with the wind behind us and the current in the Cape Fear River at just about zero. This was to be our final body of water that we knew could get very rough, and we were glad we picked the perfect day to make this crossing, as the water was virtually flat. We estimate the wave height to be 2.54 centimeters.
We met up with Bam just before reaching Wrightsville Beach and cruised on in to The Dockside. Rick and I docked and tied up, then Bam came in after us. Rick ambled over to the slip they were heading for to help with the lines. Then disaster struck! Bam sort of veered away as he was approaching the dock. There was another boat next to where Bam was docking and Rick, afraid that Bam was going to hit that other boat, leaned out and grabbed his bow rail. I was right behind Rick and I could see exactly what was going to happen and it was sort of like slow motion. Ann tossed a line from the stern, but it hit the dock just a second too late. As the bow drifted away from the dock, Rick held on until he was nearly horizontal and couldn’t stand back up. Needless to say, he ended up in the water, but fortunately still had both hands on the bow rail. He calmly said “I’m holding on, just get me to the dock. By then I had him by the wrist, and a couple of guys ran down the dock and we immediately got Rick out of the water. All I could say was “6,000 miles and this is the first time either of us has hit the water!”

We considered not mentioning this mishap because it is sort of embarrassing. But those of you reading this know that after all we’ve been through, we are experienced boaters, so there is no way this was our fault! We blamed Bam completely for doing such a terrible job of docking the boat, and he was more than happy to take the blame! Fortunately, we had plenty of clothes on the boat so Rick just went and dried off and changed clothes and we went to lunch and were more than happy for Bam to pay!!

Now we have to look on the bright side. Not only do we have someone other than ourselves to blame this on, but Rick did not have either his wallet or his cell phone in his pocket. I had them both in my hand ready to give him when this occurred. Also, Rick had already taken off his inflatable life jacket, which both of us always wear when underway and during our docking process. Since he didn’t drown, in retrospect we were glad he had already taken it off because it meant we didn’t have to replace the cartridge. {Rick interjects: Thank goodness there are no pictures of this incident.}

Once dry, we had a delightful lunch, filling in Bam and Ann on some of the details of the trip. After lunch we pulled away from the dock first…we wanted to get out of there before they even started their motors because we know they are dangerous! (Just kidding). We cruised on toward Topsail a little slower than usual just savoring the almost final leg of our wonderful trip.

We knew we were close to home when we passed the familiar sandbar with the plastic palm tree and the parking meter just north of Wrightsville Beach. Bam and Ann followed us down the waterway and through Topsail Creek and into Topsail Sound. Now here’s a little something else about Bam and his boating. I mention Topsail Creek, as that is what we locals call it. It is on the chart as Howard’s Creek. But Bam refers to it as “that little squiggly creek!.” Anyway, they continued on when we made the turn into our little cove behind a sandbar that could have meant trouble for them since they were unfamiliar with this very shallow area.

Even though this is not the official end of our trip we did have a small group at the dock waiting for us. One of my brothers had come from Raleigh to greet us, and a couple of neighbors were there as well. Pictured here are my brother Steve and my friend Capt. Michael Nelson. Michael is a high school classmate of mine that lives nearby here at Topsail and has followed the blog daily. Steve and Michael helped with the lines as we docked, and no one ended up in the water this time...remember, Bam was gone by now!

Champagne, compliments of my dear friend and daily blog reader Bill Morrison, was delivered by Michael and we toasted our return to this place. Next Sunday when we officially cross our wake and pull in to Sneads Ferry we’ll probably celebrate some more, but for today this was very special.

Pictured here are my lifelong friend and also a highschool classmate Bonnie Hood, me with Beamer, Rick, and my brother Steve.

Over the past couple of days I’ve choked up a few times thinking that this adventure is almost over. I’d thought of what I’d say in future blogs, especially in the days we have to kill between now and next Sunday. We want to keep blogging so people will keep reading until the very end. One of the blogs I’d written in my head was going to be that we went 6,000 miles and neither of us had ever fallen in the water, and Beamer the Psycho Dog only went in the water once (on the Tennessee River as she squirmed while being lifted back onto the boat. Getting her on and off the boat was often one of the most challenging things we had to do). But Bam blew that blog! We’ve met so many wonderful people along the way and made some wonderful new friends. Then today we met Bam! Is this really going to be the last person I meet on this trip?! I just can’t let it end this way. I’ll just have to do it again!

And guess what! Bam and Ann are going to come out again on Sunday, along with more friends in their boat, and escort us on up to Sneads Ferry! Stay tuned to see if we have any more exciting adventures on that final leg. You can believe we’ll have our life jackets on for that final docking!

03-07-10 Southport, NC

[Rick] We moved on from Dock Holiday’s Marina and headed for Southport, a trip of 40 miles. The weather was very nice with the temperature in the mid 60’s. There was very little wind. We arrived at the Sunset Beach pontoon bridge and were very surprised at the progress of the new fixed high-rise bridge. Only two of the sections are missing and we were told that the bridge should be finished in 4-6 months. The old pontoon bridge is a one lane bridge with controlling traffic lights at each end telling the traffic when to go. We know that there is some controversy about the bridge among the residents of Sunset Beach, but for our part, as a boater, the new bridge cannot open too soon. With a vertical height of only 4 feet, the old pontoon is only the second bridge we have had to wait for and request an opening since the beginning of the 6000 mile loop trip. A real problem is that at very low tide, the bridge cannot open, and that really backs up the boaters. We had to wait only about 15 minutes. We knew ahead of time that the bridge only opens on the hour, so had arranged to be there in plenty of time, but not too soon.

You will recall that Dolli visited us yesterday. Upon returning to Lumberton, she called Darrell Evans, another BB&T retiree, who just happens to live on the Intracoastal Waterway and told him that we were on the way. We received an email from Darrell extending an invitation to stop at his dock and visit a while. He gave explicit directions to his dock. So, when we reached Oak Island, we pulled over and tied up. Darrell and his wife, Johanna, welcomed us and gave us a tour of their home. This is a house they had built over 20 years ago, and now that they are retired and living here full time they are doubling the size of it. We had a wonderful time, but, as always, we had to move on.

We arrived at the Southport Marina and called on the radio to find where we were to dock. As we pulled in, we saw someone waving frantically at us from a fishing boat tied up getting fuel. The boat, “Speckled Trout”, is captained by Jerry Elliot, one of the members of our captain’s class a couple of years ago. He is a commercial fisherman and a great guy. What a great surprise to see him. We know we’re getting close to home. Most importantly, he was wearing Sneads Ferry Sneakers.
The marina is very nice. The management has spent a “boatload” of money in the past three years on the facilities. The floating docks are very nice and they have all the “required” amenities: wifi, cable, and great restrooms/showers. In addition, we know that Southport is a charming place to visit and spend some time.

We will leave here tomorrow about 1000 so as to take advantage of the current as we traverse the Cape Fear River. While the distance across the river, from Southport to Snow’s Cut, is only 14 miles, the river can be choppy and downright uncomfortable when the wind and current are in opposition. We intend to be in Wrightsville Beach around noon and arriving at Topsail Beach around 1400-1430.
One of the houses in Myrtle Beach.
SeaTow goes to new heights.

03-06-10 Myrtle Beach – Dock Holidays Marina

[Rick] Loyal readers will note there was no blog yesterday. That is because we did absolutely nothing. Betsy read her book (it is amazing how much she is reading since she got her eyes fixed). I played on the computer and did a little cleaning up. (Betsy inserts: I’ve read 34 books on the trip. Finished all John Grisham’s, most of Lisa Scottoline, lots of Dorothea B. Frank, Anne R. Siddons, Richard Paul Evans, and most recently several by Wendy Corsi Staub. Many books are picked up and left behind at marina book exchanges…I seldom buy anything!).

What a difference a day makes. Today we had a great day. Finally, the temperature was in the 60’s, 63 to be exact. The sun was shining and the wind was a non-factor. I was finally able to walk around without a warm coat. In fact, for most of the day, I was in short sleeves.

Around 1400, our friends, Dolli and Jimmy Adams, from Lumberton, NC came to see us and take us to lunch. Dolli was my supervisor for several years at BB&T before she retired. They picked us up and carried us to “Sticky Fingers” for a wonderful meal. We caught up on all the gossip, everyone’s health, especially cataract surgery which both of them and Betsy had, and how to fix the economy and end the recession. On the way back to the boat, we took advantage of their hospitality and had them stop at the Food Lion where we stocked up for the rest of the trip. All in all, a great day.

We continue to be amazed at the number of people reading our blog and sending us e-mails. If you are reading or following the trip, please be sure to sign the guest book on our homepage. If you comment on the blog, please use your name or something to let us know who you are. We have several postings from people we do not know, and in some cases they just used initials that we do not recognize. We really do want to know who is on this trip with us, so, if you communicate with us, please make sure we know exactly who you are. Our webpage has over 9,700 hits and people walk up to us in marinas and tell us that they are following our trip. Amazing.

03-04-10 Myrtle Beach – Dock Holidays

Betsy Speaks: We really have nothing to say today, but since I did get an e-mail from a friend saying he was already fearing withdrawal when our postings stopped in a couple of weeks, we decided we’d at least do a short post. We did travel today, a total of 5.35 miles from Barefoot Landing to Dock Holidays. Barefoot Landing has no showers and no pumpout, and we needed both so a move was necessary.

Prior to leaving Barefoot Landing we at lunch at T-Bonz right on the water, and saw two looper boats go by just as we were finishing up. These were the first two loopers we’d seen since the west coast of Florida. We’ve really missed the camaraderie we shared with other loopers along the way. We were able to speak to one of them that docked right across the water at Barefoot Resort, but the other one moved on without us having a chance to catch up to them. The one we did speak to actually left out of Wilmington, but headed to the Bahamas and is now back and just starting the loop. Wow, do I wish I were on that boat!

We seem to have finally really found the recession that we’ve been hearing about for the past year. Myrtle Beach almost seems like a ghost town. Many of my favorite stores at Barefoot Landing are closed for good. That was a shock, and disappointing because I was looking forward to some shopping! One of the gambling boats that I was a regular on is out of business (although we just heard tonight that it may be coming back in a couple of weeks).

We had already heard that Barefoot Resort, directly opposite Barefoot Landing on the waterway, had gone out of business, but we’d also heard that they had re-opened under new management. But when we tried to call them to stay there last night we got no answer on the phone, and when we finally found a number that had an answering machine we left a message and were never called back. As we rode by yesterday there was a “closed” sign on the door of the dock house and no answer as we called them on the VHF, so we docked across the water at Barefoot Landing instead. Today we crossed back over to Barefoot Resort and there was someone there to give us the pumpout we needed, but he said their showers, laundry, restaurant, etc. are all closed because they have no electricity on shore. They are doing minimal business as a marina, but will pick back up and completely re-open the first of April. We are certainly hoping that is the case, because the Looper spring rendezvous is being held there at the end of April, at our suggestion!

So now we are at Dock Holidays where we can shower. We have cable TV, and have several restaurants and a grocery store nearby. We’ve stayed here several times before so we feel right at home. We will be here until Sunday, when we will head to Southport for one night before tackling the Cape Fear. We hope to arrive home at Topsail Beach on Monday mid-afternoon assuming a good crossing of the Cape Fear River that morning. We already find ourselves talking more and more about what our “favorites” were on the trip…best marina, best meal, best town, etc. So once we finish the loop and finally cross our wake as we dock in Sneads Ferry on March 14, there will still be some blogging to do as we sort those things out, share statistics, etc.

Things are starting to fall apart so it’s time to get home…we’ve had some computer problems over the past few days and fear some sort of virus is attacking so if the blogs stop suddenly before we get home that’s why. The depth sounder hasn't worked for at least a month. The boat is absolutely filthy, not having been out of the water since Alabama in November. It is impossible to scrub the insides of the sponsons while it is in the water so they are absolutely black. It has been too cold to take the carpets out and hose them off as we did routinely when the weather was warmer, so they are disgusting. One of the GPS's has given up completely, and another one is complaining about being low on storage area because of so many trails being recorded. My makeshift mattress finally wore out, so we are sleeping in sleeping bags instead of under real sheets which rules out good snuggling. My arthritic hands are getting stiffer and sorer every day from driving and handling the throttles. Rick is down to only one pair of pants that don’t have holey pockets, and all of our socks are full of holes. Rick’s shoes have developed such a squeak when he walks that he couldn’t sneak up on a deaf man, and it nearly drives me crazy. Beamer is in bad need of a good grooming. So yes, it’s time to get home for a while.

03-03-10 Myrtle Beach, SC

[Rick] Yesterday, while at the Isle of Palms Marina, we spent the day in the boat. It rained most of the day and the temperature was about 50. So, it was a perfectly miserable day. We did take this cute picture. The people along here are intense about wake damage. I wonder why they purchase property on the waterway and then do not want any boats to go by.

Today, we decide to make our way north and prepare to leave. Just before we left, we had visitors. Sue, the daughter of one of our Topsail Beach neighbors, along with her husband Gary, paid us a visit on the boat. Sue and Gary had rented a cottage at Isle of Palms and her mother, Del, who reads our blog daily, told her that we were here and so they came to see us. It was quite a nice visit. They stayed about 30 minutes and we caught up on the children and grandchildren. If they had showed up three minutes later we would have been gone!

We left at 1030 heading for Georgetown, about 65 miles away. The weather was very nice, little wind and not too cold. Due to the desolate nature of the terrain, we made very good time averaging 17.2 mph. In fact, as we approached Georgetown, we decided to keep going to Myrtle Beach. Just before Georgetown you must cross the rather large Winyah Bay. With winds forecast at 15 MPH the bay could have been quite rough, but as it happened it was smooth today so the crossing was no problem.

Once past that obstacle, our goal was now Osprey Marina, about 20 miles south of Myrtle Beach. As we neared Osprey Marina, we were making such good time that we went on to Barefoot landing. We had intended to stay at Barefoot Resort, but they were closed when we arrived. So, we just went across the waterway to Barefoot Landing. The rate there is only $1.50 including electric. They have good Wifi. However, they have no showers, so we will be moving on tomorrow to another place in Myrtle Beach. In total, we went 105 miles today in 6 hours. It was a great day to be on the water.
Along the way, we saw a dock with a goat. Something you do not see everyday.

03-01-10 Isle of Palms, SC

[Rick] Before leaving Beaufort, there are a couple of things to mention. Firstly, we have determined that the tide difference from high to low is about 9 feet. Now, the moon is full, so that makes some difference, but we measured it this morning at 9 feet. Here is Beamer on a flat ramp. Six hours from now, the angle will be 60 degrees DOWN.

Secondly, I need to remind you Beaufort is the epitome of the SC Low country. So, when you want to make a movie about the Low Country, Beaufort and the surrounding area is the place. Over 20 movies have been made here. You have heard of many of them…The Prince of Tides, The Big Chill, The Great Santini, and many portions of the favorite Forrest Gump. In fact, Forrest Gump bought his box of chocolates in Beaufort. Here is a picture of the house on the Intracoastal Waterway where The Big Chill was filmed.

The trip today was 78 miles in great weather. The route was full of turns and we had to stay on our toes to keep in the correct channel. Most of the day was best described as beautifully boring. Along the way, we entered Charleston Harbor. The houses along the waterway are spectacular. We passed the “MegaDock” at the City Dock, a dock that is about .25 miles long. We had decided to bypass going ashore in Charleston because we have been there many times so we went a little further to the Isle of Palms Marina. Our experience has shown that marinas in Charleston are not boater friendly. They are far away from the historic areas one wants to visit, and the walk from the boat to the shore is very, very, very long because of the extreme tides.

From Charleston to Isle of Palms, we were in the Intracoastal and it was dead low tide. The boats on the lifts are about 9 feet up in the air.

The Isle of Palms Marina is a very nice marina. It has all the amenities we look for and the showers are extra nice. The snack bar/convenience store is very well stocked.

It is supposed to rain all day tomorrow, so we will not move. Therefore, tomorrow will be a day of reading and catching up on things.

As usual, the sunsets are spectacular.

Cute Sign..

02-28-10 Beaufort SC and the Presbyterian Church

[Rick] We decided to attend the First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort at the 1100 service. This is a very traditional church and I think I was the only one without a coat and tie. It turns out that they have had an interim minister for the past 15 months and today was his last day. They did not announce it, but I get the feeling that the search committee is about ready to name a permanent pastor. The interim pastor, Dr Louis Lunardini, is a veteran pastor with over 40 years experience. His message was very appropriate and he told a story about one of his classmates in seminary, Fred Rogers. After the service, the church had a wonderful reception for Dr. Lou with a full layout of food and drink.

After church, we retraced our tour from yesterday to take a better look at the historical homes and attractions of Beaufort. This is a very old and historic town. In the 1700’s it was a site of great wealth owing to the production of indigo, cotton, and rice. There are many large mansions and antebellum homes. Slavery was a way of life here before the “War of Northern Aggression” and President Lincoln personally ordered the taking of Beaufort. Many of the mansions were used as hospitals, livery stables, barracks, and officer quarters. The mansions were ordered sold by Lincoln to non-southerners and slaves. Many homes were purchased by slaves who were left behind in the “Great Skedaddle” as the Northern army took over the town in the early part of the war.

One of the traditions in Beaufort is the painting of the underside of the porches. They are painted either light blue (sky), black (night), or green (grass). It is said that these colors will keep the wasps and hornets from building nests on the porch. It sounds crazy, but the painted homes do not have nests and the unpainted ones do have the insects. Go figure…..

The live oak trees in the town are spectacular. Many are over 800 years old. Our guide pointed out the one that was used to hang pirates and Blackbeard was supposed to be hung from this tree. He escaped prior to the event, was captured later and hung in Charleston, SC.

Most of the residential part of town is in a historic district and is very controlled by the historic board. One street, called Rainbow Row, contains homes of bright colors and to make any changes requires a FEDERAL waiver. The green house in this picture was orange until last week. It took federal review and a waiver to change the color. Then again, the homes are over 200 years old.

We passed the grave yard at the Tabernacle Baptist Church and thought this tombstone had a very interesting name and inscription.

Tomorrow, we leave for Isle of Palms SC. We will bypass Charleston as we have been there several times.

02-27-10 Beaufort, SC, Carriage Ride and Visitor

Betsy speaks: This morning we took a horse drawn carriage ride around beautiful Beaufort, SC. We had done this last time we were here in 2003 and I had always looked forward to doing it again. For those that don’t know, in SC the town is pronounced “Bewfort” as in “bewtiful” as opposed to the similarly lovely seaport town in NC that is spelled the same but is pronounced “Bo-fort.”

Our horse was named Old Dock, a beautiful half-Belgian/half-Clydesdale with two blue eyes. According to our driver, he is one of only 10 horses in the country with two blue eyes. He was very gentle and did his job well. Anyone who comes to Beaufort should take this carriage tour. It is slow and relaxing (even though it was cold and we were bundled up in blankets) and extremely informative. There are many, many antebellum homes. Lots of movies were filmed here and of course those homes are pointed out.

One story we both remembered from before, and they are still telling it: Barbra Streisand lived here while filming one film and complained about the noise of the military planes that fly overhead while on maneuvers from nearby Parris Island Marine Boot Camp. The commanding officer ordered the planes to fly even lower and closer and more often by the house she was staying in. He said he wanted to make sure she knew “the sound of freedom.” All the tour guides say she was despised by the locals, treating everyone as if they were inferior.

We just love this Beaufort waterfront. They have spent millions on the wonderful park that has swings, walkways, a covered pavilion, etc. It is a delightful park setting. Most places we have stayed have signs saying dogs must be on a leash, and so even though Beamer is under perfect voice control at all times we do keep her on a leash. Here there are no such signs, so I took the rare opportunity to give her a good run in the park. She loves to play Frisbee, so even though it was too cold for me I gave in and tossed the Frisbee for her this afternoon.

Later in the afternoon we had a real treat when a person formally from Sneads Ferry stopped by for a visit. We are continually surprised by the number of people that read this blog regularly…many of whom we do not know. Every now and then someone will leave a comment on the blog, and a couple of days ago we had a comment from Kim Volek. Kim and her family had gone to the same church we go to in Sneads Ferry, and even though we don’t remember ever actually meeting each other, Kim had been reading our blog daily. They had moved away from Sneads Ferry after we left on the trip and now live in Beaufort, so she had sent us a note asking if she could do anything for us while we were here. How nice! We e-mailed her and told her we would love for her to just drop by and visit so we could put a face with the name. So she came by this afternoon and we had a delightful visit.

Tomorrow we will attend the 1st Presbyterian Church right up the street, and hope it will be warm enough tomorrow afternoon to walk around town and get a better look at some of the homes we rode by on the carriage today.
One final comment…it was COLD again today! Forecast had called for it to warm up some, but then the sun didn’t come out as expected so it was still nearly 20 degrees below normal. Our tour guide told us this was the coldest February they’ve ever had in South Carolina. My response was “Well, Duhhhuh!” Still we did have a beautiful sunset.