The Cape Fear River

July 16, 2021

The “Rock Pile,” a length of the ICW north ofBarefoot Landing which is noted for hazards lurking on either side of the channel

Our intention to anchor near Southport was affected by that broken strainer, the generator being the source of power to the Air Conditioning at anchor, which is a necessity these days. And so we gained one more docking experience, as we were blown off the dock, barely able to approach the sandwiched-in space on the inner wall which we were assigned. The dock hands stood with lead feet until Steve just pointed the bow toward an open slip, and they met us there. We are finding, more often than not, that dock hands can put in a thimble what they know about docking; and as it turned out, one of these sweet kids had been handling lines for just 10 days. As a consequence, we are learning to be more directive: “ No, I’ll give you the bow line after you take this line first and secure it on that cleat.”

Southport is a sleepy Victorian wanna-be-resort town with plaques denoting cottage names and dates of construction, a few small boutiques, a way-over-priced gourmet market, a few antique stores (which were mostly closed), and some eateries. After our disappointment at LuLu’s, we were ready for a nice dinner, and Mr. P’s Bistro was the ticket. Wait staff was top notch, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner with a yummy low-country array of vegetable sides—braised cabbage and grilled pattypan squash to name just two. At the marina, we met Loopers on Sunset from Houston and just missed old looping friends Sue and Bud Hansen on Odyssey, who came in late and left early with a hired captain aboard—again with boat trouble! Bud and Sue have had way more boat trouble (counted in number of events, wait time, and cost) than anyone we know, and we hope we can meet up and cruise with them—sometime!

The Cape Fear River has had several names, but in 1733 this name stuck because of the constantly-shifting shoals at its mouth. We have often tried to envision how much more adventuresome this trip would be without electronic charts and appreciate the way some systems collect information from the sonar of each boat as it passes through, and update electronic charts accordingly. I have imagined cruising with a paper chart rolled out at all times, parallel rules, binoculars, and compass—regularly taking waypoints, which we learned in our early sailing days. Electronics charts are an amazing advance… perhaps Cape Fear should update its name, as well!

The iconic Wilmington bridge has just about served its term and is going to be replaced. To the left, a tow is at work.

Fifteen miles up the Cape Fear River is the picturesque town of Wilmington. We passed under the iconic lift bridge and a small commercial area where container ships are loaded, the top exports of Wilmington being munitions and pork. Wilmington is also friendly to movie filming, and I ran across an online list of 64 Oscar- and Emmy-winning actors who have filmed here. Port City Marina is conveniently located near the historic district and has nice facilities, including a very good restaurant. The town is quaint with a vital boardwalk, maximizing waterfront enjoyment for jogging, dog walking, and sauntering.

While we enjoyed biking around town, we opted for an Uber across the interstate bridge to the WWII Battleship North Carolina on a hot, muggy afternoon. We easily fell down the rabbit hole, trying to imagine nearly 2400 men aboard that huge vessel with an area of 10 acres, over 700 feet long and 100 feet wide. A draft of over 33 feet provides at least 3 decks, maybe 4, below water level. This ship was assigned nine land bombardments, one of which was Iwo Jima. Each sailor had his specialty/job assignment, from piloting the Kingfisher (the small pontoon aircraft), which was catapulted into the air from the deck; to the cleaner of cannons (one guy actually serving as the ramrod, being pushed through the barrel and pulled out the other end by his legs), to cook and scullery, to post master and ship doctor, to navigator, to movie projectionist threading the same movies night after night, to soft serve ice cream server… My interest in the actual weaponry has limits, but it was intriguing to envision daily life cooped up for months at a time with all that raging testosterone. 

Foredeck of the Battleship North Carolina
My big foot—just to show the massive scale of the anchor chain.

Having read about the 1898 coup against the thriving Black middle class in Wilmington, we went searching for the memorial park commemorating this little-known piece of history. The first such insurrection after the Civil War, it was originally reported by the white press as a riot perpetrated by the black community. However, later study of the events came to characterize it as the only successful coup d’etat in American history, by a group of 2000 white supremacists to overthrow their duly elected biracial government. Killing an estimated 60-300 Blacks and Whites, destroying Black neighborhoods, and running off sympathizers into surrounding forests and swamps, the massacre ushered in an era of some of the most severe racial segregation and disenfranchisement in African American history. 

The 1898 Memorial of Wilmington’s Coup d’etat

On a thoroughly positive note: while not perfect, a huge shout out goes to the United States amazing mail and package delivery system! Our strainer arrived in two days from Washington State, and a marine mechanic was on board at 10:00 the next morning installing it. After a rainy afternoon, we took a spin through the collection of shops at the old Cotton Exchange. The post-rain walk to Rumcow, a quirky little gem which specializes in creative small plates, was the perfect finale to our visit in Wilmington.

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