New Cruising Grounds: Switching Home Ports From Florida to North Carolina

Leaving Florida for a new coastal home near Pamlico Sound took some time but was well worth the effort.
Oriental, North Carolina
Sunset over the harbor in Oriental, North Carolina, a ­picturesque Southern sea town in our new stomping grounds. Eifel Kreutz/

My wife, Kati, and I are among the million boaters who helped to make Florida the state with more registered boaters than any other in America. We’ve lived in Orlando for three decades, cruising our 50-foot schooner, Britannia, all around the sailing haven and beyond to the Bahamas. Florida really is a paradise for those of us who love to take to the water. For so many boaters, it can be hard to imagine living anywhere else.

But last year, Kati and I reached a pivotal moment: We needed a fresh start in a new place, even if it meant bidding adieu to all we held dear. 

So, we looked to the north. Yes, there were drawbacks to this idea. Venturing north would elongate the return trip to the enchanting Bahamas, a paradise we longed to frequent. We didn’t want the biting chill of winter to necessitate an entire wardrobe overhaul. Nor did we care to wrestle with the tedious task of winterizing our boat’s engine and generator each fall. We weren’t seeking wholesale change, but instead an adjustment; we still wanted to live in a haven that would allow us to sail Britannia year-round.

Wild Colonial Spanish mustangs
Wild Colonial Spanish mustangs are a common sight along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. bhamms/

A nautical map of the Eastern Seaboard drew our attention to a vast expanse of water on the eastern shores of North Carolina—Pamlico Sound, accompanied by its slightly smaller northern sibling, Albemarle Sound. Intrigued by these alluring destinations, we embarked on a weeklong exploration.

The picturesque town of New Bern greeted us, its charming streets steeped in British and Colonial history, adorned with an array of delightful restaurants and three adjacent marinas. Nestled at the convergence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, the town would give us easy access to Pamlico Sound, which sprawls 60 miles in length and 20 miles in width—a vast playground for sailors, replete with winding rivers, meandering creeks and quaint waterfront towns. The mighty Pamlico River also beckons sailors, enabling navigation for 40 miles up to the town of Washington—­affectionately dubbed “Little Washington” by the locals.

Among the renowned destinations on the Outer Banks—guardians of Pamlico and Albemarle sounds—is the legendary Kittyhawk, where the Wright brothers took their first flight. Sailors too are familiar with the treacherous Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras. This entire part of the Atlantic coastline has earned the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Between the splendid realms of Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, Roanoke Island emerges. It’s where the first British settlers planted their feet in 1587, predating the Mayflower’s storied voyage by 32 years. Being natives of the United Kingdom, as we strolled through towns with stores called Ye Olde British Tea Shoppe, we felt an instant kinship with these once-­British colonies. Moreover, adorning the 150-mile stretch of the Outer Banks are some of America’s most pristine, untouched beaches—a true testament to nature’s majesty.

lighthouse in Manteo North Carolina
A restored lighthouse in Manteo, North Carolina, exudes Southern charm James/

We also discovered a delightful oasis from Florida’s high marina fees in the form of city docks, which this part of the country generously offers to visiting boaters for a few blissful days. Aboard Britannia, we were saved from shelling out nightly sums ranging from $60 to $100. 

Then again, if we wanted marinas, Pamlico and Albemarle sounds had them: a dozen marinas within Pamlico Sound alone, each conveniently located a mere fraction of the 70-mile journey we used to undertake from Orlando to Cape Canaveral in Florida, sometimes just for a fleeting day of maritime pleasure. And marina prices here were a mere third of what we paid in Florida. 

We also chanced upon Fairfield Harbour on the Neuse River. It’s just south of New Bern, evoking images of a miniaturized Fort Lauderdale. Canal-style branches sprawl across the main lagoon, with an array of homes that have private docks and picturesque gardens. 

The allure proved ­irresistible for Kati and me. As self-­employed individuals—me freelancing as a boating writer, Kati operating her real estate company—we found ourselves with minimal hindrances to relocating to North Carolina. And this location would bring us 400 miles closer to our daughter and grandchildren near Charlotte.

Within Fairfield Harbour’s confines, two yacht clubs awaited our arrival, including Blackbeard Sailing Club and its marina. The warm embrace of the yachting community enveloped Britannia. In our short time exploring, we forged friendships with more fellow yachties than we ever did in Florida. 

In addition, the specter of falling prey to a catastrophic hurricane weighed far less heavily on our minds here. Hurricane Florence brushed the region in September 2018, causing severe flooding, but unlike in Florida, such occurrences were rare. We had gotten Britannia out of Florida before the devastating hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022, but even being unscathed, we thanked our lucky stars and considered the idea of a home base where such devastation is less likely to occur. North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound dances to the tune of ­prevailing winds, ebbing and flowing in response to their whims. During strong gusts, a surge of 3 feet might materialize—a mere trifle when compared with the dramatic tides of the Atlantic and the kind of storm surge that wipes out whole waterfronts along the Florida coast.

home port after Hurricane Ian
After Hurricane Ian devastated Florida, this was the extent of the tidal impact at our new home port. Roger Hughes

Our minds were made up. We listed our Florida house for sale, and a buyer materialized within a fortnight, sealing the deal in just five weeks. Our new abode is at Fairfield Harbour, nestled amid verdant woods—albeit without waterfront access or a private dock. The truth is, we couldn’t afford to be picky. But we can still dream and keep an eye on the local market.

After sailing Britannia northward to her new haven, I secured a sizable dock rental from the homeowners’ association. Our boat’s new home port is conveniently located within walking distance of our abode. The cost is a mere fraction of what we paid in Florida.

We’ve been here for a while now. During the winter, snowfall greeted us, a rare occurrence after years spent in Florida’s warm embrace. I relished the opportunity to join our grandchildren in building a snowman in our front yard—an experience that had been absent from our lives for far too long. Such simple pleasures only add to the wonderful feelings we have in our newfound coastal haven.

As of yet, we have embarked on only preliminary ventures into the sound, cautiously exploring the places we discovered during our earlier visits. Of course, we intend to explore more as we further settle into our new locale. From secluded anchorages to quaint waterfront towns, our journey through the Southern seas will undoubtedly be one for the annals—a tale of discovery, rejuvenation and the serendipitous sojourns of a Southern sailor.

If you too find yourself yearning for a respite from the unpredictable climes of the tropics and the frigid North, let the winds carry you to the pristine beaches of the Outer Banks, the enchanting shores of the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, and the warmth of Southern hospitality.

We’ll be among the boaters waiting to greet you with a warm smile and local ­knowledge.

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