The search for a new marina

3/2/18 – 3/22/18: After the shower, our thoughts turned again to the upcoming sailing season. Our boat was “on the hard” in Kingston, NY, and we had decided to finish our originally planned journey. We would backtrack on the Erie Canal to the Oswego Canal, which would take us to Lake Ontario. From there, we would resume our journey out the St. Lawrence Seaway to Maine. We would then follow the east coast south and find a new home for Shanti. The only problem with the plan was we didn’t know where to take her! So, off we went on one last road trip to find a new marina.

We knew we had to find a marina that was a safe haven from hurricanes, as we would probably live in the midwest for a few years before eventually relocating south. Because of that, we would be leaving Shanti unattended, sometimes for months at a time, so she would have to tend to herself in our absence. We also wanted to find a place that allowed liveaboards (living on board in the marina for more than a few weeks at a time). While this wasn’t an absolute necessity, we felt it would be a nice option, should we ever decide to just come south and stay on board, in the marina, for a couple months. And, we wanted a clean marina with nice amenities (showers, bathrooms, waste pumpout, etc…).

We already had a general idea of the area we were interested in. We didn’t want to go as far south as Florida, and not any farther north than North Carolina. After looking over the map, nautical charts, and marina locating websites, we decided to start our search in Brunswick, GA, work our way north, and end in New Bern, NC. We loaded the car and set off for Brunswick.

***This is a long post with several cities visited and multiple photo galleries***

Brunswick, GA

3/5/18 – 3/6/18: Brunswick is an old town, first settled in 1736, about 40 miles north of the Florida border. Like most towns in the east and south, it is rich with history going all the way back to the founding of our country. It’s a big tourist destination, with most people coming here to see the history of the area, this big Victorian-era homes, and also to explore Jekyll Island with it’s beaches, wildlife, and yes, it’s water park. Plus, it boasted a full-service “hurricane hole” marina (a marina well inland from the ocean and protected on three sides by land). Prior to it being a marina, the US Navy used the area as protection for it’s warships from hurricanes. It had everything we were looking for, and would work as a new home for Shanti, but it was also the furthest south of where we wanted to look.

Our impression of the town was so-so. There were some really nice features: huge oak-lined streets, several downtown squares (miniature parks), and a lot of old buildings and huge houses. But there was also a lot of neighborhood blight: many of the homes were unnoccupied, boarded-up, and/or falling apart. And many more were occupied but were in such a state of disrepair that they didn’t seem like they could ever be fixed up. All in all it gave the historic district a run down look and feel. We took a quick drive out to Jekyll Island, sat on the beach for a while watching the waves roll in, and walked along “driftwood beach”.

The marina was very nice. It was located in the older part of Brunswick, only a couple blocks from downtown. There were 2 clubhouses, each with bathrooms and showers, and one of them served free beer every day. The fairways were nice and wide for easy in and out of the slips, and it had everything else a marina should have: electricity, water, fuel, pumpout, etc… And it was truly a safe haven for boats should a major storm or hurricane blow in.

Pics of Brunswick

Savannah, GA and Hilton Head Island, SC

3/7/18 – 3/10/18: Last fall, as we were traveling the Erie and considering our southward journey, Kate found an interesting marina on Hilton Head Island. Not only was it on the back side of the island for wind protection, but it had a lock system to enter the marina basin, minimizing any tide, wave, or storm surge issues. Hilton Head was only 1/2 hour from Savannah, so we decided to spend a few days here, exploring the city and also visiting the marina.

Savannah has to be one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever seen (the downtown part, anyway). Huge sprawling oaks with spanish moss hanging from their limbs line the streets, the branches creating archways over the road. Flowering bushes and plants can be seen everywhere you look: along the streets, in flower boxes and planters, and in all the parks and squares. There are dozens of squares – one every few blocks – with monuments and staues commemorating some event or historical figure. There is a really nice riverwalk, with shops and restaurants on one side, and the Savannah River on the other. The buildings are old cotton warehouses that have been converted to reatail outlets, which gives a historic look and feel to the street. One of the most famous Savannah attractions, The Waving Girl, is at the end of the riverwalk. Right in the middle of downtown is Forsyth Park, with it’s historic fountain, and huge, old mansions on both sides of the park. Savannah is really quite something to see. We wouldn’t hesitate to go back and visit again – there are so many things to see and do, and we only scratched the surface.

We could tell once we crossed the bridge to Hilton Head Island that it was a place that catered to the upper-class and elite. There are 24 golf courses on the island, resort hotels can reach over $500/night, and home prices can easily run in the millions. The marina was no exception. After driving past the guard gate and explaining why we were there, we drove into a community consisting of many million dollar homes. At the end of the winding road was the marina. The dock master greeted us in the office, wearing dress slacks and a button-up shirt (rather than jeans and a t-shirt like we’re used to), and gave us a tour around the marina in their golf cart (this was a first – a golf cart at a marina)! It certainly was nice and had everything we were looking for, including the lock system and excellent wind protection. The day we were there it was blowing 15-20 knots out on the water, but with all the surrounding homes, it was still as glass in the marina basin. Really nice. However, they didn’t allow liveaboards; if you stayed on board for more than a couple weeks, you had to leave the marina “for a while” and then come back. Beyond that, though, we both agreed it wasn’t for us – we just don’t live that kind of lifestyle and probably wouldn’t “fit in” with the local crowd. We left feeling a little deflated.

Pics of Savannah and Hilton Head Island

Beaufort, SC

3/11/18 – 3/12/18: The moment we arrived in Beaufort, we knew this was a place we could easily relocate to (both the boat and us)! It was another historic southern town, but much smaller than either Brunswick or Savannah. It had that “small town” feel that we can both relate to. There was a small but nice riverwalk with shops and restaurants about a block away in the downtown area. A smaller historic district had many older, Victorian style mansions. There were five or six islands that made up the area. One of the islands had the marina we were going to look at, and another had a really nice state park with a campground, two beaches, a lighthouse you could climb, and alligators (yikes)! The more we explored the town and surrounding area, the more we both felt that this might be the place for Shanti and, eventually, us.

We visited the marina on our second day there. We really liked what we saw. It was a small, cozy marina with several liveaboards. It had all the amenities (except fuel, which had to be purchased from a nearby marina – not a big deal). As we talked to the dock master, the matter of hurricanes came up. Yes, it was a protected marina and was considered a “hurricane hole”, but marina policy dictated that during a “named storm”, all boats had to leave the marina. We asked where they had to go, and she basically said, “anywhere but here”. Some people anchored out in the creek, some took their boat to another marina, and others found other places to hole up and ride out the storm. After we left, we talked it over and both agreed that this wasn’t going to work for us, as we couldn’t guarantee we’d be there to move the boat should a hurricane develop! We left the marina (and Beaufort) feeling even more deflated than Hilton Head.

Pics of Beaufort, SC

Wilmington, NC

3/14/18 – 3/15/18: By the time we got to Wilmington, we were both feeling pretty discouraged. And the town didn’t make us feel much better. We just didn’t see much there that excited us. The town was so-so. It claimed to have a lot of historic value, but we didn’t see much of that. They also had a riverwalk, which was nice, but had no shops and few restaurants on it – everything was a block away on the frontage street. Several restaurants were “closed for the season”. There were a couple large hotels downtown, and a new convention center, which didn’t lend to a historic look or feel. It was ok, but didn’t pull us. We went out to one of the beaches, which was ok, but there was a huge, rusty pipe running the length of the beach, halfway from the water to the dunes on the beach’s edge. Not very scenic.

The marina had all the amenities we were looking for, allowed liveaboards, and was certainly a hurricane hole, being that it was about 25 miles up the Cape Fear River. But it was also a full-service marina with complete repair facilities, so it had more of a boatyard feel than a relaxing feel. It was located between a busy highway bridge and a railroad bridge and had grain elevators across the river, so it wasn’t very scenic, either. Perfectly functional, yes, but didn’t have any ambience whatsoever. We left there feeling really depressed and not much like looking much more (Kate even commented once or twice, “We could always take her back to Roys Point”). But we still had one more stop to make…

Pics of Wilmington

New Bern, NC

3/16/18 – 3/22/18: At this point, we were pinning all our hopes on New Bern. All the marinas we saw so far were great, but each fell short for meeting our needs. And we only found one community we could see ourselves living in down the road (Beaufort, SC). We looked at the charts and our trusty marina locating service (ActiveCaptain), and saw 5 or 6 marinas in New Bern that we could look at (including 1 or 2 in Oriental, a small town about 30 miles away). At least that looked promising.

We arrived in New Bern several hours before our hotel check-in time, so we decided to wander around the downtown and waterfront area. We found parking right at the waterfront, and without realizing it, parked right next to the office for the downtown marina. We decided to pop in and talk to them. After a 15 minute conversation, we realized that this marina had everything we were looking for. It was protected, allowed liveaboards, didn’t ask boats to leave during a storm, and had all the amenities! We finally found one that met all our needs, and we had a few more to look at!

After we left the marina office, we took a walk along the riverfront and then through the downtown area. The riverfront passed in front of the marina and then through a nice little park with benches along the river, a little gazebo, and a place to feed the ducks, geese, and seagulls (and pigeons) that were there. The downtown area was also quite charming. There were several city blocks with restaurants and shops. There were also several bed and breakfasts and historic homes just outside of downtown. One interesting thing about New Bern are all the painted bears around town (Bern means Bear in Swiss, which is the origin of the first settlers). They are either standing upright or on all fours, and are painted in various colors or styles. There was one in front of our motel wearing pajamas. We saw one wearing white scrubs in front of a dentist office. Many were just painted with various designs, patterns, or logos. We found out later that there are 65 of them throughout town. New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi Cola.

After we walked around for a while, we checked in to our motel, which also owned and managed the second marina we wanted to look at. We checked in, and then talked to the dock master. They, too had everything we would need on our “marina checklist”, but they had somewhat of a waiting list and couldn’t assure us we could get a slip in the fall. Plus, they didn’t have any type of security (i.e. a locked gate in front of the piers), which was a minor drawback. Still, we were now 2 for 2 in New Bern. Things were looking up! There was a third marina across the Neuse River which was also very nice and met all our needs. Now we were starting to get excited again. The final marina we looked at was in Oriental, and was perhaps our favorite of all. It most resembled Roys Point in that it was in a quiet, scenic setting a couple miles outside of town and had a laid back, casual feel that really impressed us. But they couldn’t guarantee us a slip, and some of the slips had tight maneuvering or short finger piers, which we really don’t want. Still, it was a beautiful marina, and if we lived here, this would be our first choice, as we could just wait for the right slip to become available.

While we were here we also drove through most of the neighborhoods and many of the outlying areas, just to see if it was a place we could see ourselves living in. What we saw was an interesting mix – there were many areas with nothing but really nice, upscale homes, and there were areas that most people would consider “project houses”. Most areas, though, were what we’ve typically seen here in the south: some nicer homes sitting side by side with abandoned shacks, trailer homes, and homes in need of repair. There were also many places where you could get out and enjoy a walk through the woods or along the many creeks and rivers in the area. For sailing, the protected waters in this part of the state are immense. Three huge rivers, each a few miles across and many miles long, empty into two large sounds, one of which is 25 miles wide by 65 miles long. This area is directly on the Intracoastal Waterway, which gives access to Chesapeake Bay, 120 miles north, and runs all the way to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Awesome for cruising! All in all, New Bern is a really nice area with a lot to offer and a lot to do. Needless to say, our excitement and hope has been restored, and we think we’ve found a new home for Shanti, and maybe, eventually, for us, too.

We still have a couple days to explore New Bern before we head to Charlotte to visit Kate’s brother and family for the weekend. Over the past several years, we’ve seen them when they’ve visited Minnesota or Illinois, but Kate hasn’t been down to see them for quite some time. It will be nice to spent some time with them before heading back to the midwest.

Pics of New Bern

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