We had an easy start Saturday morning. Victor’s mom, Cheryl, fed us like kings. I think it was sausage and egg biscuits that morning as we were soon to be underway. Cheryl was nursing a broken finger but helped a lot with docklines and other boat stuff; while also handling all the galley responsibilities. The Navassa Railroad Bridge is only about a mile downstream. That bridge had to open, so we waited for slack tide to head down the river. As soon as we started moving, we radioed to request an opening. When we got close, the bridge started creaking open. An easier time than I had had with that bridge on the way up to the boatyard with Ruth Ann. Victor’s Willard 36 is a unique traditional looking, strongly built trawler. She was repowered with a big John Deere diesel a few years ago which rumbled confidently at the push of a button. The trip down the river was uneventful and the boat performed without a hiccup. From the boatyard to downtown Wilmington, the river winds its way through salt marshes and acres of seagrass. We could have been traveling the river in any century except for the hum of the John Deere. Bare trunks of trees, some surely cedars, poked up through the seagrass while all kinds of herons, ducks, and other waterfowl went about their day; mildly bemused by the noisy humans floating by.. The only view of civilization to ruin the ancient river atmosphere was the Thermo Fisher Scientific building that towers across the marsh from the city. It wasn’t until we rounded the last long curve toward the junction with the Northeast Cape Fear River that downtown Wilmington loomed into view. We were thrust back into the 21st Century, but without much other traffic on the water. Soon after we past downtown there was a scattering of industry on each side, then oil storage tanks to the east. After a short stretch of wilderness, we came to the Port of Wilmington. The huge cranes had been in sight, but now we were right next to the huge docks and stacks of shipping containers. I don’t remember there being a ship docked in port that morning. Beyond the port we were back on a wild river. This stretch, however, was dominated by pine forests and random spoil islands. It was peaceful without too much traffic until we got to our turn. There seemed to be a collection of boats around the intersection of river and the ICW. Most were fishing but a few were on the move like us. We followed a sparse trail of daymarkers to cross a broad section of flat water from the Cape Fear River over to Snow’s Cut; the man made channel that connects the river to the ICW headed north. The Cut was the original reason that Victor and I started talking. Back when we thought that both our boats would launch about the same time, the first plan was for Victor to follow me since I had been through the Cut a few times. The boat and crew settled in and we made pretty good time through the cut, into the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and on toward Wrightsville Beach. There were nine bridges on our route, but only three which we had to request to open. Now that we were on the ICW proper, the Wrightsville Beach Bridge was the next bridge we had to call. The bridge opens on the hour and the half hour, so after checking in with the bridgetender, we cruised out Masonboro Inlet and into the Wrightsville Beach Anchorage just for fun. Back out into the ICW, and back on a northward track, we made the bridge just in time and cruised under it's gaping jaws. The evidence of Wilmington thinned out pretty fast and soon we were rolling along with salt marshes and spoil islands to starboard and boathouses and docks to port. We enjoyed the quiet scenery of the ICW offseason. Nearing Surf City, we were looking for a place to put in for the night. Sears Landing, a restaurant with docks, caught our eye on the chart. However when we got there, it was a long skinny channel up to the docks with a pretty stiff cross breeze just then. Since all three of us were new to the boat, we decided to keep looking. Daylight was soon to fade and Victor was calling around, but all the nearby marinas were full. We motored a little further up the ICW and found an anchorage just past the Topsail Island Bridge. The sun briefly splashed some color but faded quickly behind the blue grey of the overcast horizon. With the anchor down, we caught up with our weather apps and suddenly found that a strong wind was on the way. Indeed, a small craft advisory for morning. And then a marina called Victor back. So just as the sunlight began to disappear, we hauled the anchor. I went to the bow with a borrowed pair of gloves. The windlass was not working, so I began hauling on the rope. Victor had opened a hatch and I shouted to give a little forward. The anchor rode came aboard without too much effort, anchor rope turned to chain, but we began to overrun the anchor. I wrapped some chain on a cleat and paused but the big boat had some momentum and we drifted further forward. Lacking some old salt patience, I asked Victor for a little reverse to bring us off the anchor. Soon, that John Deere kicked in and I was struggling. It was a scramble to keep the anchor chain from running back out, and just as hard to keep from getting pulled over the bow myself. But we won and the anchor finally came aboard. We motored toward Swans Point Marina, anticipating a safe harbor for the night; and the morning’s blow. It was dark when we arrived. The dockmaster was a bit coarse and direct to a fault, but exceedingly helpful in his own curmudgeonly way. He directed Victor into the dock while Cheryl and I stood by to heave dock lines, and then he helped us tie up. . Victor did great despite the shouting and grunting from the dock. Then the dockmaster informed us about a nearby seafood restaurant that would come pick us up for supper if we called. Victor had to call twice to convince them to come get us, but they did. Amazingly, it seemed like more than a 10 minute ride each way. We had a great supper and a couple beers, and then got a ride back to the marina.
Overnight the winds piped up and we were happy to be tucked into a little marina rather than at anchor in a fairly open spot. Cheryl made us a hearty breakfast and we strategized. It was decided that we’d stay until Monday morning to avoid traveling in some pretty stiff winds and possibly having to find another marina anyway. I began to quietly fret just a bit for my plans. I had to catch a bus in the wee hours Tuesday to make it to Florida for orientation and a new job on Wednesday.
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