We sampled both while waiting for our November 15 insurance restriction to expire.
Days 28 – 32, November 11 – 15
While we explored Belhaven we contemplated our next move[s]. We had one major constraint to contend with: our insurance policy stipulates that we remain north of 35 degrees North until after November 15. This is a clause that is designed to keep us out of the worst of the hurricane zone until after hurricane season winds down.
Given the storm devastation in North Carolina from September and October the restriction does make some sense, but we were beginning to feel a bit like caged rats. The sub-optimal weather was preventing us from cruising at a normal pace; we dash as far as we can when we have a weather window, then hunker down as gales blow over. It is a pattern that had begun the day we left home a month ago, and it persists.
Our next obvious destination was Oriental, about 40 miles south. The problem with Oriental was that it sat just 1 degree north of 35 North, so once there, we couldn’t go any further for five days. We searched for alternatives. We might have contemplated a run out to the outer banks, maybe to Ocracoke, which we would love to see, but the weather forecast showed three systems rolling across us in the next five days, so that wasn’t really a feasible option. *insert sad face*
With few options, we decided to make a stop at River Dunes Marina. We had heard snippets from the Coconut Telegraph that “Oooh! River Dunes is soooo nice!” so why not try? We got a leisurely start from Belhaven and enjoyed a relatively easy and relaxing run out the Pungo River, across the Pamlico river into Goose Creek Canal. From there it was a quick ride into the Neuse River.
River Dunes is up Broad Creek, off of which it has its own private dredged canal into a large and totally protected basin. A perfect hurricane hole. With a blow forecast the next afternoon we thought it would be a nice place to kill two of our five days.
River Dunes is a planned living community with a central and very nicely designed, engineered and constructed marina. Everything is top-notch. The houses are lovely. There is a “club house” with a restaurant, a gift and necessities store, a cafe, a pool, spa, etc. Everything except golf, as far as I could tell. It was first begun in 2006 and still has a looooong way to go before it is built-out. The staff was quite nice and helpful.
The development is struggling, or at least that is our assessment. The entire place was empty. Not a person in sight, except for minimal staffing. In spite of the homes that are owned and “occupied”, I never saw a resident. A few transient boaters like ourselves wandered down the docks, but that was it. Period.
Out of curiosity we thought we would try their restaurant. Big mistake. We were told we had to sign up. OK. We asked to see a menu, and were given a lunch menu. “That’s what we are serving tonight.” OK. Can we eat at the bar? (The dining room was very elegant, too much so for us. Especially when empty.) “Um, usually you can, but we thought tonight we would set it up as a water station.” So we can’t eat at the bar? “I don’t think so.”
We went downstairs to talk it over, feeling a little awkward. The staff person found us to tell us that they wouldn’t be serving the lunch menu. What will you be serving then? “I’m not sure. Something more simple than the lunch menu.” Ugh. This wasn’t going well. Finally we said “No thanks” and headed back to the boat to have an evening on our own. Good call.
We had a fun evening by ourselves on board the boat, but won’t put River Dunes high on our list for a second visit. I suppose the “luxury” appeal will be a draw for some folks, but for us it was much too sterile. We like a little character and texture, and we found none.
So the next morning we decided to cut our visit short and head straight for Oriental. Because the weather was supposed to be very bad overnight, we called ahead to make sure we had a secure berth for the night. The Oriental Marina and Inn promised us a spot, so off we went, out the elegant canal and back into the fiesty Neuse River.
It was a very short ride to Oriental, just 10 miles. It was already blowing 20 out of the north but the ride down the river was easy as long as we had our butt to the breeze. Crossing the wind, headed out the creek and headed back in again at Oriental, was rolly-polly. We picked our way through the anchored boats in the basin, passed the shrimp boats on the docks, and backed into our slip without incident. We were very pleased to be in a real community rather than a “planned” community. Let the fun begin.
Oriental proved to be a fun stop. The folks at the Marina and Inn, and the Toucan Restaurant, we friendly and helpful. The Tiki Bar sitting about 100 feet from the boat was problematic, especially since we were there for four days, but c’est la vie. The restaurant had excellent steamed shrimp. Thumbs up for that!
Oriental proudly proclaims itself “the sailing capital of North Carolina.” It’s hard to believe that a town of less than 1,000 residents can own that label, but they do. Local lore suggests that the village’s unusual name was selected when it wanted a post office and needed a name. The wife of the postmaster saw the nameplate from the SS Oriental which had sunk off the North Carolina coast, in a friend’s home. She liked the name and suggested it as the name for the town. Apparently everyone else agreed.
The town was settled in the 1870s and grew prosperous on an economy of fishing, farming and lumber. Train service stopped in the 1950s, and the last sawmill closed in the 1960s, right about when, according to the town website, “sailors began to discover the village.” All things Oriental can be found at the colorful and informative towndock.net website. The webcam captured Esmeralde during her visit and showed the flooding.
Much of the town was still re-building after Hurricane Florence. With the exception of the marina restaurant, all eateries were still closed, including the popular M&Ms and The Bean which so many people had told us we had to try when we got to Oriental. *insert another sad face* M&Ms did open on our last day in town but it was too busy to get in; The Bean hoped to open right after we left.
The weather during our visit was marginal at best. Two gales rolled over us in quick succession, bringing 30 to 35 knot winds from the north, east, south, west, and back north again. We had one full day of torrential rain during which the wind-driven surge raised the water level by a couple of feet, flooding the town dock and road at the head of the basin. Temperatures fluctuated between the high 30s and mid 70s as the weather systems transitioned over us.
When it wasn’t raining, we walked all over the place. The residential neighborhoods were great for walking the dogs. Homes were not fancy, but were pleasant and well-kept. Similar to scenes in Belhaven, many were obviously struggling after the two hurricanes. While some seemed relatively unscathed, quite a few were still in various stages of renovation and restoration.
Large construction dumpsters were common in front yards. Piles of contaminated building materials, insulation, furniture and personal belongings sat at roadside waiting to be scooped up. Caution tape warned of unsafe conditions. Large fresh-sawn stumps remained from toppled trees. Many residents are obviously suffering and struggling.
We also did the mile-and-a-quarter trek to West Marine and Piggly Wiggly a few times. It’s a nice walk if you take the back roads through the neighborhoods, although one trip down the main drag is worth it just to see what the town has to offer. The Silos and Bentleys restaurants had full parking lots each time we walked by, obviously popular with the locals.
I was thrilled to find that Inland Waterway Provisions, a store right across from our marina that at first seems to be a well-stocked marine supply store (which it is), actually had excellent galley provisions. Whoever does the buying does my kind of buying. Not only did they focus on local niche brands like Big Spoon Roasters from Durham, they had a remarkable selection of specialty items only available at well stocked organic and natural foods stores. Who needs Piggly Wiggly when you have this resource next door? They also had some beautiful locally grown organic greens and veggies, and local free range unwashed and unrefrigerated eggs. While unwashed and unrefrigerated might sound frightening, you should try it sometime. *insert happy face*
During our visit, Bruce received a replacement Webasto heater, which brought about a new chapter in that particular saga. As usual, I will leave the details to a later post, but after another session in the ER, Bruce proclaimed “We Have Heat!” And we did.
Alas, when our November 15 deadline passed at midnight, so did the last of the series of gales. On the morning of November 16 the sun rose bright but cold. After a brisk and chilly walk with the pups we said goodbye to our new friend Oriental and headed out across the blustery Neuse River towards Adams Creek and the next leg of the ICW.