Rick Gardner, a seasoned captain with 56 years of pleasure boating experience, decided this spring – at the age of 85 – that it was time to retire from his ownership of Ric-Star II, a 42-foot Bertram. His final journey would deliver the boat from his home in Elizabeth City, N.C. (known as the Harbor of Hospitality) to that of his daughter in Sanford, Fla.
Over the years, Rick had owned a Carver, four Chris-Crafts, two Bertrams and many smaller boats, but now it is time to watch the boating activities on the Pasquotank River from the banks and day dream of his many past cruises.
Rick was mayor of Elizabeth City for three terms and has always been very active in the community. Many organizations would auction off trips aboard Ric-Star II, and he was happy to take them cruising on the Pasquotank. He and his wife, Lydia, usually rented a slip in Portsmouth, Va., for six months of the year. They loved cruising Chesapeake Bay, watching the tall ships and visiting with the live-aboards.
My husband and I (owners of a 36-foot Albin trawler) were asked to help Rick and Lydia crew on their final cruise to Florida. On the dock at Gardner Pointe on July 27, we had a toast for fair winds. The sky was a Carolina blue and the clouds looked like cotton candy.
As friends and family waved good-bye, Rick took off the lines at home for the last time. Bear in mind that Rick was always the first off the boat to help with lines and the power cable, and the last person to board when we left a port. I did mention that Rick is 85 years young!
We watched for crab pots as we traveled down the Pasquotank River. They always appear to be in the middle of the channel. As we cruised the Alligator River heading for the ditch to Belhaven, dolphins were playing in our wake. I thought to myself, this must be a good omen for the trip.
We traveled the Intracoastal Waterway, which is a favorite for the snowbirds who make this trip every fall and spring. We visited 15 ports in 16 days. Rick kept us on course and kept our spirits high with a 10 o’clock fruit drink each morning.
Oriental, N.C., on the Neuse River, was one of our favorite ports. This area is known for its sailing community. It boasts wonderful restaurants and the shower and laundry facilities are the best.
In Swansboro, N.C., we had the most wonderful grouper sandwich from the Ice House. After crossing into South Carolina, we spent a night in Harbourgate Marina and heard the bridge dinging every time it opened. Moving on to Georgetown Landing Marina, we approached the dock with zero visibility but the captain took us in safely.
As we entered the Ben Sawyer Highway swing bridge connecting Mt. Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island, we saw a large sailboat aground. If you navigate out of the channel at low tide this is your destiny. We could not help but slow down to prevent any wake action. Charleston Harbor was very confusing and congested, but we enjoyed an interesting walk through the Charleston historical district.
We spent two days in Beaufort, S.C., before moving on to Georgia. At Thunderbolt Marina we woke up to donuts and a morning paper on our deck (a little competition for the Harbor of Hospitality). We were very lucky that we had our thunderstorms in the evening after arriving at port.
Kilkenny is always a port because there is not anything else for miles. Docking at Jekyll Island was a little scary because of the currents. We made our final border crossing to Florida, finding a slip at the Jacksonville Brewery Marina.
Two weeks after starting, we arrived in Palatka, Fla., where my husband and I left to return to North Carolina. On our last evening with Rick and Lydia, his toast was not about giving up the boat, but to the amazing trip we had and to the fellowship we had enjoyed during this journey.
Rick and Lydia ventured on down the St. Johns River to Sanford and transferred Ric-Star II to his daughter. They are now in Elizabeth City enjoying the memories of nearly six decades of boating!
Pauline Berard ran an office supply business for 25 years and served on the board of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., which administers the Main Street Program to revitalize the historic downtown. She has attended many Rose Buddy wine and cheese parties to welcome visiting cruisers.