I really can't imagine what anybody with a boat or mobile home amongst this mess is thinking about Florida. “Bye-Bye Florida,” is what I would be saying if I had suffered through any of the recent devastating hurricane's Ian and Nicole that smashed up hundreds of boats and homes. Luckily, my boat was no longer in Florida then, because we had moved to North Carolina, just in time!
My wife Kati and I had lived in Orlando for thirty years. For the last twelve of these I have owned Britannia, a brigantine schooner, which I kept at Merritt Island. Throughout all these years I paid a total of $85,678 in marina fees and $25,959 for insurance. That’s an incredible $111,637 just for the privilege of keeping a boat in one of the hottest, humid climates in the US, where working on any boat in the summer is nothing short of purgatory. We never actually managed to make it to the Bahamas either, for one reason or another.
The cost and risk of keeping a boat in Florida was not the only reason we wanted to leave. We have watched the traffic in Orlando go from single lane to constant multi-lane traffic jams. Even the new spaghetti like roads have only made a small dent in the volume of vehicles being brought into the state every day. Last year we finally decided, ♫We've got to get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do.♫ Well, we didn't actually sing it, but they were definitely our sentiments, so we began considering where to move to, and started taking driving trips northward.
We didn't want to go too far and have to buy a completely new wardrobe of winter woollies, or winterize Britannia’s engine and generator every fall. We were just looking for a moderate climate with the possibility of actually being able to sail somewhere with places to anchor that isn't forbidden through local ordinances by residents who hate boaters.
If you examine a chart of the eastern seaboard of The US, you may notice a very large body of water in eastern North Carolina called Pamlico Sound, along with its smaller northern attachment, Albemarle Sound. We decided to investigate these areas on a week-long driving trip.
The largest town in the area is New Bern, a charming place with lots of colonial history, some fine restaurants and three large marinas nearby, one with boat lifting facilities. The town is at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, the same as the River Trent which flows through Nottingham where we come from. New Bern is also where Pepsi Cola was invented in 1893. Another town with strong British connections is the tiny hamlet of Bath settled in 1696 and named after John Granville, the Earl of Bath.
Pamlico Sound itself is about 60 miles long and 20 miles wide, so it's a big sailing area with lots of rivers and creeks and quaint little towns to visit by water. The Pamlico River is another whopper that also feeds The Sound and is navigable by boat for about 40 miles to the town of Washington. That's not Washington DC of course, but what the locals call “Little Washington,” incorporated in 1776, and the first town to be named after George Washington.
Perhaps better known places are on the outer-banks, that protect The Sounds from the Atlantic Ocean swells. Everyone has heard of Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers first flew an engine-powered plane. Sailors will also have heard of the dreaded Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras, with its treacherous ever-shifting ridges of sand just feet below the surface and stretching miles out to sea. This whole Atlantic coast is ominously called The graveyard of the Atlantic, but you never need to go anywhere near, unless you're an avid fisherman.
There are no tides in either of The Sounds, due to the protection of the outer-banks, but the height is subject to certain wind directions. In strong winds a surge - or a drop - of three of four feet is not unusual. Some areas within the sounds are also quite shallow, which might not allow Britannia’s 6’6” draft to pass, in which case we won't go there.
The natural harbour of Ocracoke has a superb anchorage - a bit tricky to enter due to shifting shoals - but well protected in all wind directions. The quaint little town is renowned as the watering-hole of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and where he met his grizzly end, and they milk it for all it's worth. Also, along the 150-mile stretch of the outer-banks are some of the best unspoiled and deserted beaches in America.
In each town we visited we looked for the city docks, which are free to boating visitors for a few days. This is quite a consideration when you have a boat the 50’-foot length of Britannia, and are asked to cough-up anywhere between $60 and $100 a night to stay in a marina.
Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds are boating meccas for both sail and power, and we visited over twelve marinas within Pamlico Sound alone. We soon learned more great boating news; marinas are generally one-third the cost of Florida. Things were getting better by the mile...
During our expedition we came across Fairfield Harbour, (yes, that is the correct spelling), on the Neuse River. It is a man-made harbor just south of New Bern and a veritable mini Fort Lauderdale, with finger-like canal branches off the main lagoon, where a mixture of homes have their own private boat dock at the bottom of the garden. This all sounded too good to be true; a house with a dock—no more mooring fees, and cheaper insurance, because it's a hurricane hole. ($800 a year reduction for Britannia), Wow! We couldn't wait to see the place.
Kati and I are both self-employed. I am a writer for boating magazines and my wife has her own real estate company. There was therefore little to stop us from moving to North Carolina, and it is also 500 miles nearer to our daughter and grandchildren, in Charlotte.
Kati put our Florida house on the market and we had a buyer within two weeks, closing within five. At least that's one advantage of the large influx of people coming to Florida. It was so quick we had to move in with our daughter until we could find a house, and we chose Fairfield Harbour to start the search. We never actually got any chance to look elsewhere either, because a local agent knew of a couple who wanted to sell, and the house was never even advertised because we grabbed it. It is lovely, on a heavily-wooded lot and newly renovated. But there was one snag, it was not on the waterside and didn't have a dock. There were no houses for sale near the water anyway when we were looking. After we sailed Britannia north to her new home, see our Gulfstream trip I rented a dock from the home owners association, in one of the two small marinas within the harbor.
The Pamlico Sound area itself has not been immune from hurricanes, some of which swing up the coast and impact the whole area. In September 2018, hurricane Florence was an unusual storm, in that it did not follow the ‘normal’ route up the Caribbean chain, but barreled straight across the Atlantic, peaking at times as a category 4, but finally making landfall near Wilmington, 100 miles south of New Bern as a category 1 (74 to 95mph winds). The problem was, it was a large slow-moving storm carrying considerable precipitation that caused the water level in Fairfield Harbour to rise in places by 12’ feet, flooding many homes. Boats were lost everywhere and a complete marina in New Bern was whiped out.
Kati now hopes to help boating refugees from Florida, and there should be plenty of them after two whopping hurricanes in succession! Homes are from about $290,000 and there are also apartments and condominiums to buy as vacation homes or investment rentals, with a management company to look after them. The summer weather is balmy and not half as humid and sticky as Florida.
There are two resident yacht clubs, The Fairfield Harbour Yacht Club and Blackbeard’s Sailing Club, which has its own large marina for members.
A municipal golf course has a fine clubhouse restaurant, and there is an outdoor swimming pool and a heated indoor pool, along with a fitness center and children's playground. There is also a large marine next door to Fairfield Harbour, called Northwest Creek Marina.
Britannia has been welcomed wholeheartedly, and in the short time we have lived here we now count more yachties as friends, than we ever did in twelve years in Florida.
During the normally mild winter we experienced our first snow in many years, and I helped our grandchildren build a snowman in the front yard. We actually welcome the change of seasons, from Florida's perpetual heat and humidity, even if we did have to switch the heating on.
If you are considering moving out of Florida with your boat, come and have a look at the New Bern area and Pamlico Sound, and experience some friendly North Carolina hospitality, as we have.
Copyright Roger Hughes
New Bern NC