We Really Like Oriental North Carolina

From Carolina Beach, our next stop would be Mile Hammock Bay. Mile Hammock is another one of our frequent stops because it's one of the few anchorages in the Swan Point area, plus it's well protected and offers good holding. This is right in the Camp Lejeune Marine Base and although you can't go ashore, it's a beautiful anchorage. We're often treated to the Marines doing all sorts of maneuvers in all manner of vessels and even some helicopter exercises. It can get noisy, but it sure is fun to watch. The total distance from Carolina Beach to Mile Hammock is 58 miles. We left Carolina Beach at 8:00 AM and had the anchor down in Mile Hammock at 3:25 PM. By the time we arrived, the winds had picked up to 15 to 25 with gusts to 28. It was good to be settled in. We hadn't seen very many cruising boats in weeks, but as it got later in the afternoon, we had about a dozen boats keeping us company. We wondered where they all came from. The winds blew steadily all night and the rains finally caught up with us. The anchorage was snug and secure.

From Mile Hammock, we first planned to stop in Beaufort/Morehead City, but as we got closer and looked at the weather that was chasing us all day, Beach House pushed on to our next regular stop in Cedar Creek off Adams Creek, about 15 miles past Morehead City. Secure in Cedar Creek, we sat out the next two windy, rainy days doing boat chores and Susan worked on the Bahamas Edition of the anchorage book. We have transited this section of the ICW so many times we have lost count and have bypassed Oriental, North Carolina for years. We don't really know why. This time we promised ourselves we would visit Oriental and spend some time. We have heard from many boaters how friendly and hospitable Oriental is to boaters. It's only a few miles across the Neuse River, but the winds were up, it was raining, and boats were reporting to us on the radio that it was, "not bad, but pretty rolly and a few waves were breaking over the bow." In boat speak, that means it's pretty lousy. That's why we hung out in Cedar Creek another day.

After 2 days, we woke up to flat seas, still overcast and drizzling, but we headed across the river anyway. Our plan was to tie up at the town dock if space was available. The dock is free for 48 hours but only has room for two boats. As we entered the harbor, we saw immediately that the dock was full and the harbor was crowded, too. We tied to a commercial shrimpers dock for a few minutes to regroup and decide what we would do. There are a couple of anchorages farther up the two creeks that are beyond the highrise bridge, but we didn't want to be that far away. The two boats on the town dock were leaving the next day so we wanted to be close in order to get in to the dock after they left. Cruising around the harbor, we finally squeezed in just outside the channel and next to another trawler that had moved off the dock and anchored that day. The weather was still lousy and it rained off and on all day. The winds picked up to over 20 knots, but since we were anchored behind the breakwater in the harbor, it was breezy but flat. The town has builts one more free town dock since our last visit and there are plans for a visitor center at the new dock with restrooms for boaters and land visitors. The Original town dock does not have electric or water and has a 48-hour time limit. Trash and recycling bins are right next to the dock. Space is on a first come, first served basis.

Early the next morning one of the boats pulled away from the town dock and we pulled in. The other boat that was still tied to the dock was a couple we had seen in the Bahamas, but had never met so we got acquainted. They also pulled off the dock and we found ourselves alone for a while. The sun came out for a short period and the small boats started coming in and filling the dock. It stayed fairly busy until the rains started again. While we were at anchor, Ben Matthews, a frequent visitor on our blog and Facebook Page, paddleboarded over to the boat, from the marina across the creek where he keeps his boat, to say hi and introduce himself. We had a short visit and planned to get together again after we tied up at the town dock. Sure enough, shortly after we were in and tied up, Ben and his wife Debbie showed up on their paddleboards for coffee at The Bean, the coffee house right in front of the town dock. Great coffee by the way. We had a nice visit and the sun stayed out long enough for coffee on the flybridge. Later, Ben and Debbie were kind enough to drive over from their marina to take us to the local grocery store and to give us a tour of the town. The rest of the day it rained off and on, so we took a short walk and had dinner at one of the local restaurants. We would soon see just how hospitable Oriental can be to boaters.

We really enjoyed our time here and are sorry we missed this stop over the years. The townsfolk are very friendly and welcome transient boaters. The Inland Waterway Provision Company, a marine supply store 1/2 block from the town dock, offers complimentary bicycles to boaters and also rents kayaks. Across the street from the town dock is The Bean, an excellent coffee shop that also sells bagels, muffins and other goodies, including ice cream. And we do like our ice cream. The Oriental Marina and Inn is next door to the town dock and for a fee will allow boaters to use their restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. The marina sells fuel, and if you rent one of their slips, you have access to the pool and all of the hotel facilities. They have an excellent restaurant and tiki bar for dining and refreshments. We also found a very good restaurant with great food at good prices called M & M's Cafe just a few blocks from the waterfront. The grocery store is about a mile and a half away, but it's just a short bike ride or a good walk. There is also a well stocked hardware store near the grocery and a small West Marine just a little farther down the street. It's a small, compact town with everything a boater could need or want and many of the locals stopped by the boat for a chat. They were all curious as to where we came from and where we were going. This is just a really neat town and now on our "don't miss" list.

The weather has not been cooperating at all. It has rained every day, most of the day and the wind has stayed in the 10- to 15-knot range with higher gusts out of the southwest. These are the winds that will lower the water levels in this area, since there are no real tides. The forecast is more of the same every day with winds to increase to 15 to 20 and then 20 to 25 in the next few days. This is NOT the weather that anyone wants to travel on the Neuse River or Pamlico Sound. It can get very, very nasty and uncomfortable. We wanted to go up the Neuse to New Bern, but it is looking more and more like that isn't going to happen anytime soon. We also had another engine issue to deal with. Over the last week, we discovered that the fresh water side of the engine coolant was adding water to the system. This wasn't a good sign and we quickly diagnosed the problem as a failed heat exchanger. A quick call to American Diesel and Brian Smith had a new heat exchanger on the way to us. We really didn't want to do the repairs at anchor in case we needed to get to a store for parts or there was a problem. Add the building winds and our need to get off the town dock after 48 hours and we decided to move into a slip at Oriental Harbor Marina. It was time to do laundry and top off the water tanks so a marina stop was due anyway.

What our next move will be is up in the air. It's going to have to be a day to day decision and we will have to get up in the morning, look at the current conditions, get the latest guess from the weather service and decide what we will do. It's all part of the adventure. We will get to the Chesapeake eventually, but in the meantime, we still have a lot of exploration to do and new places to see. This week we may be weathered in at a marina or sitting in an anchorage somewhere relaxing and doing chores. The heat exchanger was an all day job; the old one came out, the new one went in, the cooling system was drained, flushed with clean water and new coolant and water added. The boat is ready to travel again and we'll see what tomorrow brings. The horizon at sunset did not look promising. We will let you know, so be sure and stop back from time to time. We hope everyone is enjoying traveling along with us. I know we enjoy your company.

You can read our previous report and Claiborne Young's editorial on Oriental Harbor by visiting Cruiser's Net here.

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