Before I write about Southport, we had to get to Southport, which means heading through Snows Cut and into the Cape Fear River, a 12-mile trip, only 2 hours from one anchorage to the next. We timed our passage in the Cape Fear River for slack tide for a smoother ride.
Cape Fear is a very busy waterway, leading up to Wilmington, North Carolina and out to the ocean just past Southport and Bald Head Island. Tankers, barges and ferries are all coming and going.
We enjoyed our visit to Southport in 2013 and were eager to stop and spend a day or two here once again.
Southport has a little harbor, and I do mean little. There is room for 2-3 boats to anchor, at most. We were fortunate that we arrived and anchored just before 2 other boats turned into the harbor. The harbor is lined with docks for fishing boats, has a few small docks for private boats, fishing boats, and several wharfside restaurants. Most people don’t anchor here in the harbor and prefer to go on to the marinas. We like the convenience of the harbor anchorage and the price.
On our stroll around the town we were again enchanted with the place. Everything is well-cared for and well-maintained. The people are outrageously friendly without being annoying. Southport is home to festivals, artists, history, architecture, natural beauty, and culture; and its residents are understandably proud of their little gem.
Since this was our second visit, we needed to do something different. After a 30-minute walk, we stopped in the Southport Tea House for a spot of afternoon tea and treats.
“Step back in time. Leave the hustle and bustle of this world behind. Upon entering our doors, feel the warmth of the welcome you receive as you are guided to your seat. Don’t give schedules another thought as you drink in the unhurried atmosphere.” This quote from their website is no exaggeration and is absolutely true. To our fellow cruisers, on your way south and on your way north, if you stop in Southport, you must take the time to visit the Southport Tea House. You will not regret it!
We are not tea connoisseurs, but could tell the difference between these custom loose leaf brewed teas and the bags we use at home and while cruising. Al tried the raspberry tea with his chocolate tart, and I decided to try Southern sweet tea (for the first time) with a lemon cranberry scone. Patrick, the chef, assured me that his Southern sweet tea would not be too sweet. He was absolutely right. I won’t try it anywhere else now because it would never compare to this. Delicious!! We thoroughly enjoyed every bite and every sip, as well as the company and the ambience.
Back on the boat, it’s a nice treat to take the time to cook a warm and relaxing breakfast on those mornings when we aren’t up with the dawn for a long traveling day.
For our second day of “let’s do something different than the last time,” we played true tourists and took a 45-minute ride on Southport Fun Tours, around the town in an oversized golf cart. Our guide, “Rev”, entertained us with jokes (he rings the bell for the bad ones), as well as tales about Southport’s history and points of interest. I can’t remember half of what he told us!
“Southern live oak” trees are amazing tress with their twisting and turning branches. Just makes you want to go tree climbing again like a child. They are everywhere and most are quite old. Many of them have the “resurrection fern” growing on them. The fern is not that noticeable during dry weather, because it turns brown and looks dead. But the rains cause a transformation – the shriveled, brown fronds open up and turn bright green again, hence the name “resurrection fern.”
Rev pointed out the various houses and businesses that have played a role in tv shows and films. For a number of years, North Carolina had a tax exemption for filmmakers which attracted many production companies. The city of Southport has been the location for many TV series such as Revenge and Under the Dome, and Andy Griffith’s house in Matlock. Films which have been made in Southport include I Know What You Did Last Summer, Summer Catch, Domestic Disturbance, Crimes of the Heart, Mary and Martha, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember and Safe Haven. BUT, he informed us, the legislature recently revoked that status and now tv and film makers have gone to Georgia. He commented that this has been a huge loss for North Carolina and a big gain for Georgia.
Southport is most proud of its fame from Safe Haven, the movie based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. Southport is specifically named as the location and was really filmed here (and we now know that isn’t always the case.) It was released in 2013 and there are still posters and signs about it all over the town. Rev had lots to say about the movie, the actors, and the filming locations.
Al and I hadn’t read the novel or seen the movie, but after this, we had to, right? So on a long, long download over the free wifi we could grab, we managed to rent it from iTunes. The movie’s short description – “A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her.” Hmmm, ok. The movie was not all that great. In fact, critics really panned it as “schmaltzy, predictable, and melodramatic, … with a ludicrous plot twist…” ~~Rotten Tomatoes. Harsh though that sounds, I have to agree. But, I enjoyed watching it anyway just because we were right there in Southport and could recognize the local sights. I do believe that it must have been a very cool experience to watch a film in production right in your own town, for the residents of Southport.
We spent a short time in the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, a companion museum to the one we visited in Beaufort in 2013. It holds a nice collection of nautical artifacts from the Cape Fear River and sea. The best one was the periscope from the USS Dolphin, a research submarine used by the US Navy from 1968 through 2006.
Time for dinner decisions. In 2013 we ate at “Fishy Fishy” on the wharf, which was fun. Looking for something different, we heard good and unique things about the “Yacht Basin Provision Company”, also on the wharf. We “drove” to the restaurant by dinghy and “parked” at their dock. This would be a distinctly different experience than our tea at the Southport Tea House yesterday. 🙂 Fresh seafood, casual and friendly, right on the wharf. Definitely casual and laid back.
What’s unique? The drinks are on the “honor system”, including beer and wine. You take what you want from the refrigerated coolers and let them know when you pay the bill. We have never been anywhere else like that!
We like Southport even more on this second visit and certainly recommend it as a stopover for our cruising friends. Take the time to visit for awhile. IF, and this is a huge IF, I were to ever live in the south, I think I would seriously consider Southport. But I do have one recommendation for Southport – You are a lovely and friendly town, but could you please repair your public dinghy docks?? They are quickly approaching a dangerous condition.