September 2007


Before September ended, we drove from Palm Bay, Florida to Wilmington, North Carolina, a distance of 1300 miles.

For those of you waiting with baited breath (what does that mean???) about our house selling adventures, here is the latest episode on “Is This House Going To Sell?” 

At the beginning of September, there were no offers on the table or even pending. We were getting a little nervous about leaving the interior of the house without repainting it (one of the major jobs we’d planned on tackling earlier), even though there were no negative comments about the current paint condition.  We made the mistake of watching too many “Flip This House” episodes, one of cable TV offerings, about fixer-upper homes that were transformed with a coat of paint.  The more episodes we saw, the shabbier our house’s interior paint started to look.  At the last minute, we contracted with a painter to redo all the interior walls and the popcorn ceiling in the living room/dining room area.  The house was transformed afterwards – wow!  Our reasoning was that we hoped potential buyers would have their socks knocked off when they first viewed the house, giving us an edge over the numerous other houses for sale in that price range.  And if we got buyers who wanted to paint in their own colors, they’d have a clean base coat.

Two days away from leaving the area, another contract comes in, this one from a gal who came by on her lunch hour a week earlier.  We invited her in to take a look around while we were doing fix-up stuff.  Technically, we weren’t supposed to do that – she should have made an appointment with her realtor, etc…but we bent the rules a little that day and we’re glad we did.  Contracts seem to come in pairs – we no sooner accepted this one than we found out that the first gal had reconsidered and wanted the house again.  As it stands, the primary contract should close by the end of October.  If that falls through, we have a backup contract that will close mid-November.  We’re confident that we’ll soon be out of the Florida housing market with either one of these two good contracts – yippee!

Just in case we were needed for last minute house issues, we moved from Camelot RV Park (when our month’s rent was up) to stay at the military campground at Patrick Air Force Base for a few days.  While there, we got in last minute visits with friends Rick and Eileen, enjoying lunch at Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill at Port Canaveral.  The meal was excellent and the desserts wonderful.  Rick is Larry’s supplier for the Amsoil products he uses on our truck, so we stocked up on oil and filters to last us till we return to the area next year.  Before we left Patrick AFB, Larry changed the oil in the truck, renting a bay in their auto crafts shop.

That Sunday, we joined Peggy at Suntree United Methodist Church’s early service, and then enjoyed breakfast at Bob Evans afterwards.  While there, we ran into Rick’s father Jim – what a small world!

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From our waterfront space we could see ships arriving from the Atlantic.  This is the USS Wasp; it's like an aircraft carrier for helicopters and Harrier jets.

Next stop was a few days’ stay at Mayport Naval Station in the Jacksonville area, one of our favorite military campgrounds.  As before, we got a pull-thru site overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.  While we were there, the helicopter/Harrier jet carrier, the USS Wasp pulled in – awesome!  Unfortunately, no tours were offered.

A stay at Mayport means a stop for lunch at Singleton’s Seafood Shack – fresh seafood at good prices but the restaurant’s front looks like a dive from the street.  One of the specials that day was sheepshead, a fish that we had never had.  We found it quite tasty and worth reordering in the future.

The primary reason to be in Jacksonville was to get routine work done on the RV.  We’ve found a garage there that can repack the rig’s wheel bearings, something that should be done every twelve to eighteen months.  It was one of the hottest days of the year that day – our luck!  Note to selves:  schedule this work during cooler weather.  If it just had been us, we could have stayed in their air-conditioned waiting room, but Shelley wasn’t too thrilled about being there.  She must associate waiting rooms with vet offices.  We couldn’t leave her inside the rig because they had to jack up the rig. We didn’t want to chance her moving around and upsetting the balance.  Needless to say, it was a long day and we were glad to get on the road mid-afternoon.

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The Kings Bay Sub Base in St. Marys, Georgia may house the nuclear sub fleet but this was the only sub we were able to see due to tight security.

Luckily, our next stop, Kings Bay Naval Sub Base, was a short ride, just across the Georgia state line.  There is a fairly new military campground there with a nice community room, complete with kitchen.  What luck to find an ice cream social there one evening. 

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The St. Marys Sub Museum contained mostly memorabilia but also had control systems from older subs for "kids" to play on.

Kings Bay is located next to St. Marys, the second oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine being the first.  St. Marys is also where you pick up the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore.  Because of the heat and humidity, we decided to forego a trip to the island until the weather cools down.  We did spend time at the St. Marys Submarine Museum which is chock full of submarine memorabilia, most of which was donated by a man who had one of the largest collection of all things sub-related.  We saw early submarine designs, including an actual ship control panel and other equipment from the USS James K. Polk; displays on nuclear submarine designs are on the second floor, along with a memorial library with files on each U.S. submarine.  Part of their exhibit, the USS George Bancroft, is located outside the Kings Bay Naval Sub Base gate and ironically is the only submarine we saw during our stay at Kings Bay.  Security is extremely tight--even the post chaplain has a difficult time getting to where the subs are. 

From Kings Bay, we moved to Rincon, about 100 miles north, to stay at Pat and Yvette’s, camping in their yard.  Pat relocated the backyard fence and clothesline so we could park closer to the power connection, allowing us to run the air conditioner.  We checked in with Lucille’s folks in nearby Richmond Hill a couple of times during that week.  Coincidentally, the aunts from Tamarac came up to visit their sister (Lucille’s mother) that weekend, so it was a plus to see them again.

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Larry had just waxed the truck when the "love bugs" started to swarm.  The bugs get into everything and make a mess when they collide with your vehicle.  If you do not clean them off their acids will etch your paint.

The only downside to our visit this time was the love bugs – they were out in full force, swarming around us whenever we came in and out of the rig.  We made the mistake of leaving the windows open one morning, taking advantage of some cooler weather, but the love bugs decided being inside the rig was better than being outside.  Larry vacuumed up thousands that had snuck in while we were both away from the rig – ugh!  The little buggers figured out how to sneak in through the screens.  The only time we had relief was early in the mornings before the sun fully hit the rig.  On the day we left, we hurriedly pulled in the slides and snuck out of the yard before the *)#)@$* bugs found us.  Yvette swears they followed us up from Florida because once we were gone, so were most of the bugs. 

Luckily, they didn’t migrate as far north as our next destination, Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area in Kure Beach, North Carolina, on the coast just south of Wilmington .  This particular military campground is part of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base which is located inland.  They operate this facility primarily for recreation – renting out lodges, mobile homes, individual rooms and RV sites.  During off-season, various government entities train there.  The National Guard has a training facility there.  Prior to our arrival, Navy Seabee crews were practicing dropping sailors in the Cape Fear River as part of some training exercise. 

This military recreation area is conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from the Atlantic in one direction and the Cape Fear River in the other.  It is also an easy bike ride to the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, the North Carolina Aquarium, and the ferry.

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Little remains of Civil War era Fort Fisher due to coastal erosion and neglect.  These mounds once supported a defense system that enabled blockade runners access to the ports of Wilmington, NC. 

Fort Fisher State Historic Site: Situated on a neck of land in southern North Carolina near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the Confederacy built what was to become the largest and one of the most important earthwork fortifications in the south.  Nicknamed the Gibraltar of the South, it was little more than several sand batteries mounting fewer than two dozen guns until Colonel William Lamb arrived in July 1862.  Under his direction, expansion began.  By January 1865 Fort Fisher covered one mile of sea defense and one-third mile of land defense.  Unlike older fortifications built of brick and mortar, Fort Fisher was made mostly of earth and sand, ideal for absorbing the shock of heavy explosives.  Twenty-three guns, mounted on twelve-foot high batteries defended the sea face, with two larger batteries, one forty-five feet and the other sixty feet, located on the south end.  Twenty-one guns distributed among fifteen mounds defended the land face.  Fort Fisher shielded Wilmington (the last major port open to the Confederacy) from attack, insuring relatively safe passage for Confederate naval travel.  The Union unsuccessfully attempted to attack the fort December 24, 1864 by detonating an explosive-laden ship nearby, with hopes of destroying the fortifications.  When the smoke cleared, they hadn’t made any impact.  The second attempt was January 12, 1865.  For two and a half days, they bombarded the fort, both from land and sea.  Finally, on January 15th, they assaulted the land face and after several hours of hand-to-hand combat, Federal troops captured the fort that night. 

We arrived just as a guided tour of the grounds was starting.  Our guide enthusiastically brought to life the battles in 1864/1865.  We had to use our imagination on the magnitude of the area that the land- and sea-face mounds used to occupy.  During World War II, the military built a landing strip right down the middle of the fort, destroying most of the batteries and mounds.  How sad that someone didn’t have the foresight to preserve this important part of our history.  Fort Fisher was the last stronghold of the Confederacy – soon after it fell, the Civil War ended .

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The aquarium at Fort Fisher had some dazzling displays including jellyfish and lion fish.

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: This aquarium is one of three run by the North Carolina Aquarium Society.  The entrance leads you to the Cape Fear Conservatory where we found exhibits on tree frogs, box turtles, snakes, alligators and a re-creation of a Carolina bay.  From the conservatory, you proceed on to the marine building that consists of two levels.  The centerpiece in this building, a 250,000-gallon water tank, can be observed from both levels.  Sound-equipped divers swim amongst the nearly 300 animals in this tank twice a day, answering questions from those of us on the outside of this huge fish bowl.  Elsewhere in the marine building, we saw several varieties of rays, sharks, colorful fish, jellyfish, and some really decked-out lionfish.  Overall, an enjoyable stop.

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The Lennon Federal Building was used as a backdrop for the Matlock television series.  Wilmington is also home to Screen Gems Studios.

We took a day trip to nearby Wilmington, first taking a trolley ride through the historic downtown area. Founded in 1739, Wilmington was a thriving seaport and became North Carolina’s largest town by 1780.  We saw the old Cotton Exchange, City Market, the Federal Building (you may recognize it from the TV series, Matlock, which used its fountain for some of the scenes), the Riverwalk, and several beautiful old churches and historic buildings.  We were surprised to learn that Woodrow Wilson, Henry Bacon (architect of the Washington Monument), mother of James McNeill Whistler (model for the painting Whistler’s Mother), Michael Jordan, and David Brinkley all hail from Wilmington.

We enjoyed lunch at Sticky Fingers, known for its Memphis-style ribs.  The ribs were almost as good as our favorite ribs place, Corky’s, but we found Corky’s side dishes much better.

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You could (and we did) spend hours going through the many levels of the USS North Carolina.  While the 16 inch guns were impressive, the behind-the-scene action required to fire the guns was equally so.  The tour allowed us to go into the turret where the guns were loaded and then below deck to see where powder and shell were maneuvered to facilitate loading.  

Just across from downtown Wilmington, on the other side of the Cape Fear River, is the Battleship USS North Carolina.  We spent about three hours touring just about every nook and cranny of this ship – an awesome tour.  Just a bit of history:  the USS North Carolina was built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1941 and was in active service until 1947.  It participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations – an impressive record.  The ship was home to over 2,000 men, a floating city with a galley, bakery, butcher shop, soda fountain, ice cream shop, laundry, tailor shop, post office, movie theater and medical facilities.  The gun batteries on deck were huge and like an iceberg--just a small part of the batteries housing the guns were visible on top.  Descending several decks below the guns were its mechanisms and turntables that loaded the bombs.    In 1960, a campaign was launched to save the ship and in 1961, it was brought back to its home state to be preserved as a World War II memorial – well worth a stop.

September ended and it was time to hit the road, continuing our journey north.  Next stop, a few days each at Virginia Beach and the Baltimore area and a couple of weeks in Connecticut.


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