Southport is located where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean. In early spring, it is a small, quiet town, which probably livens up a bit when the summer tourists arrive. There is only one stop light in town, located in the middle of the business district, which extends less than a block in any direction. During our visit, we were not sure of the need for the stoplight, as there were rarely more than one car on the road at a time.
|Main Street Looking West|
|Main Street Looking East over the Cape Fear River out to the Atlantic Ocean|
Southport has a small harbor, filled mainly with commercial fishing boats. The city has a dock, on which they designate the end for visiting cruisers. And, at no cost. We chose a slip behind a restaurant that offers free dockage in two slips. Behind Last Dance you can see the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, very wide at this point as it joins the Cape Fear River and the inlet from the Atlantic Ocean
The bicycles were unloaded, providing a tour of this small town. Many old homes from the days when fishing was a major industry have been refurbished. The homes here are more modest than in the larger cities along the waterway and give a feeling of community. The first home below is a captains home looking out through the Cape Fear Inlet to the ocean,.
A means of sampling different communities and experiencing the regional characteristics is through the foods. Southport's old pharmacy, built in the late 1800's, has been authentically restored with the same wooden floors and tin ceilings, as a conversion to a restaurant, fittingly named -- The Pharmacy Restaurant. Jill's selection was crab cakes, and different they were. The crab mixture was placed in phyllo dough and quickly fried. Different and delicious. It is nice that we can leave you with a restaurant recommendation.
Oriental was our favorite of the places visited in North Carolina. It just seemed to have an atmosphere of relaxed enjoyment. The town bills itself as the sailing capital of North Carolina and hosts many sailing events on adjoining Pamlico Sound, the second largest sound on the east coast, only smaller than the Chesapeake.
Oriental is a very welcoming town to cruisers. They have a town dock, offering two berths to visiting cruising boats for 48 hours. They even have a web cam focused on the dock so you can check to see if there is an open slip. Google “Oriental Town Dock” and you should be able to find out who is at the dock today. Below is a capture of the web cam image when we visited. You can see the smiling crew on the bow of Last Dance.
The town dock is located at the town center: The Bean. Yes, it is a coffee shop. It is where everyone goes each day to get a fix of Joe and share happenings in town. There are no old buildings of the 1880’s town beginnings. They do have a placard noting the site of the town store which operated until the 1980’s. On the edge of town is a two-lane highway where the commerce of the town is now located. Not one stoplight. Only one franchise business – True Value Hardware. There is a locally owned grocery, a marine consignment store (well organized, nothing like Sailors Exchange in St. Augustine), a couple restaurants, and an auto mechanic shop. A view from the opposite direction provides a view of the dock and The Bean.
The populace of Oriental is friendly and laid back. They seem to always have a smile on their face, wave and talk to strangers, and take a positive view on life. They express their humor many ways. The mailbox and the tree stump were just a few of the quaint expressions displayed in one home’s front yard.
The layout of Oriental, with quiet neighborhood streets seemingly void of any vehicle traffic, lent itself to exploration by bicycle. The bikes were unloaded and the tour began. The local grocery was almost 2 miles outside of town, so the bikes were a big help in reloading the larder. A local offered us the use of their car for the grocery trip, and while it demonstrated the big heart of the folks in Oriental, we declined to gain the exercise and slow moving view of town.
Exploring by sampling the local fare was a positive experience again. We contacted a local couple who are DeFever Cruiser members, though they are sailboaters. Their opinion was that the two restaurants on the highway were “tourist restaurants” (an expression we understood well and have used often to describe some lesser quality St. Augustine restaurants) and recommended the M & M Restaurant, only a block from the town dock and directly across from the shrimp boat docks. We can leave you with another restaurant recommendation, after eating a lunch and dinner there. The M & M is located in an old home that has been expanded and was obviously filled with locals. Jill tried the shrimp and grits, proclaiming it to be the best she had experienced on this trip. The fresh shrimp from across the street added much, but the recipe was outstanding as well. Jill tried a softshell crab sandwich for the first time in her culinary experiences, and after getting over the fact that the legs were still attached, she enjoyed the sandwich.
Spring is moving up the coast. A cherry tree in full bloom was displaying its glory in one of the resident’s front yards. We need to keep moving north.
Elizabeth City is the “Harbor of Hospitality,” says so on their sign, and in their manner. In 1983 two local men began welcoming cruisers with fresh picked roses and a bottle of wine. The city picked up the spirit and built a dock with 14 slips to host visiting cruisers. The dock is free for a stay of 48 hours. (Notice a theme here?) We stopped by the visitor’s center to research the town. One of the staff asked if we needed to go to the grocery store. We replied in the affirmative, as we have learned to take advantage of any opportunity to purchase groceries as you don’t know when the opportunity will present itself again. She then informed us that the grocery that provides a shuttle to transport people at the dock to the store, ran their last shuttle at 3:00 pm, and it was 3:30. Then, she said: “I’ll take you in my car.” The fresh fruits and vegetables were well appreciated.
With five stoplights, in the first five blocks of Main Street, Elizabeth City was a bit bigger and hurried than our tastes. There must have been a Federal Grant for stoplights that the city grant writer won big. Even the side streets are filled with stoplights. Some of the ones on Main Street are set to blink in the middle of the day, an expensive option for a stop sign. But, it is an interesting town. An art association has taken over a large building that was once a department store, displaying outstanding art. This city has much commercial and institutional architecture with history and interest. The Citizens Bank is now a cup cake shop.
The Federal Court House is located on Main Street, containing the post office on the first floor. Small town attitudes still prevail here as the post office closes each day from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm.
The Episcopal Church predates the Civil War. Its architecture is quite different from most Episcopal Churches, but the chapel across the street has more of the traditional touches.
To not forget my good friend, Dr. John Green, whose first career was spent as a Methodist minister and educator, I must share that the architecture of the Elizabeth City Methodist Church is quite interesting, though not as historic.
Even the old gas station, which had long since been converted to other uses, had architectural interest.
Exploring the community through their cooking provided a number of experiences. One restaurant recommended for lunch as “good home cooking,” was just that. It was also like walking back into 1962. Most of the customers and staff looked like they just walked off an old movie set. Interesting experience, but not a restaurant recommendation. Not far from the dock was a seafood shop, Quality Seafood. While perusing the display cases full of a wide variety of artfully displayed, fresh seafood, we noticed that half of the building was a restaurant, not fancy and high class, but with an appeal. Order at the Formica counter, they call your number, pick up your order on paper plates, and then select a table. The food was the attraction. You could tell this was a favorite of locals. A mound of fresh shrimp, fried lightly, accompanied by French fries, hush puppies, and cold slaw. The shrimp had great flavor and texture. The price: $7.32, plus tax, of course. It’s sure not worth cooking at home at those prices. A stop at the display cases produced some fresh shrimp and fish to fill Last Dance's larder.
In the landscaped area around the Federal Courthouse there was a cherry tree in bloom. Have to keep moving north to keep up with the beginning of spring.