by Donna Byrd
In my blog post last week, you may remember that after living for four years in the Topsail Island area, I decided that it was high time I became a tourist. What’s the point of living in a vacation destination if you don’t explore what this part of coastal Carolina offers?
I headed straight for the Topsail Island Tourism Information Center and talked with the knowledgeable ladies there and came away with so many brochures explaining about the things to do on and around our island that I was overwhelmed! That’s when I decided I’d come up with a Bucket List of things I’d like to do in the Topsail area. I can’t believe it’s only been one week and I just crossed off #1 on my list: Explore Topsail Island by water.
Explore Topsail Island by Water
Bill came home from work one day last week and told me about a boat rental company that was going into its second year of business in Surf City, Topsail Boat Rental. Somehow, he had met its manager/co-owner, Mike Peoples though a colleague at Treasure Realty. Knowing that the first item on my Bucket List required a boat, he asked Mike about it and before I could say “anchors aweigh,” we had scheduled a boat tour for the next day.
I decided to do a little homework before getting on the boat. By reading the brochures I brought home from the Tourism Center and googling “Topsail Island,” I found out a little bit about the geography of our fair island. Topsail Island is a barrier island off the coast of southern North Carolina, just south of Jacksonville and the Outer Banks. It’s a twenty-six mile long stretch of pristine beaches and maritime forests. Topsail Sound lies between the island and the mainland and is part of the 3,000 mile Intracoastal Waterway system that begins in Norfolk, Va. and runs down to the Florida Keys. I knew I couldn’t sail down to the Keys, (that was for another Bucket List) but I was about to discover how amazing and magical our local waterways were.
Boating Topsail Sound with Captain Mike
We met Mike the next day at the boat dock and after spending a few minutes with him discovered he was a very qualified captain and guide. The company’s boats were located at 203 N. New River Drive at the Blue Water docks just to the right of Topsail Island Trading Company, Surf City, NC. As we walked down the dock and got onto our boat, he pointed out the group of eight boats the company owned and said that within the next few weeks, two others were being added to the Topsail Boat Rental fleet. The company was expanding to meet the demands of its growing business.
Captain Mike had chosen a boat that seated eight people and had a canopy or top over it for shade. Since there were only four of us, we had an ample amount of room for our adventure. The boat was extremely clean and he had stocked up on ice cold bottled water for us.
As we took our seats, we noticed that there was a GPS and depth finder by the wheel of the boat. Mike told us that all of the boats at Topsail Boat Rental had these devices. “That way, there’s always a path set and even if you’re not a local and know the waters, you can navigate your way around in safety.”
“You mean, you don’t have to have a boat license to drive this boat?” I asked. “No you don’t,” he said. “Not in the state of North Carolina. You just have to be over twenty-six years of age and have some experience. If you want to rent a boat and take it out with your party, you can. I’ll just show you around a bit and give you some instructions on operating the boat and where to go. You can hire me to take the boat out with you or your party can go out alone. You’ll have the GPS. You’ll be fine. It’s whatever the boat renter wants to do.”
“Wow,” I thought. “When the kids come and visit, we’re going to have to rent us a boat. Today, we’ll just watch Mike and see where he takes us.”
Asking us what our music preference was, Mike put on a Bob Marley station and before we knew it, we were out of the dock and were heading towards the Intracoastal Waterway. The wind was in our hair, the sun was in a cloudless sky and happy music was playing on the speakers. The atmosphere was set for a great tour.
Meet Topsail’s Captain Mike
Captain Mike turned out to be a “no joke” captain. He had twenty-six years of experience on the water, including time in the US Coast Guard, sailing in the Caribbean around Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Haiti and off the shores of Florida. Plus, he had also earned his Master Captain’s license! I realized that if anyone was capable of showing us around Topsail waterways, it was him!
Mike also owns his own company, a sister business to Topsail Boat Rental: Surf & Sound. This company rents any kind of water sports “toy” imaginable; kayaks, paddle boards, wave runners and surf boards. You can call them at 910-328-RENT to make your day at the beach perfect! Mike’s wife holds down the fort with Surf & Sound while he takes care of tours like ours with Topsail Boat Rental. As a matter of fact, when he started out our tour, he quoted Confucius, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We could tell he totally loved his job, the sea and boats!
Topsail Island Wildlife and Waterways
After going under the swing bridge that passed from the mainland to the island, our first encounter was with an osprey. Captain Mike had named her “Collin” and her nest was atop a channel marker. She was roosting with her babies and we seemed to have ruffled her feathers a bit. We got some good pictures of her, her wings stretched out in a “Kung Fu” position of defense. She was amazing!
Mike began pointing out the various creeks that flowed into the ICWW and showed us where, depending on the tides, good fishing areas were. We even got a few lessons in oystering and clamming. We were hoping to see dolphins. He said that often they would follow the boats and play in the wake of the water. We didn’t see any that day but maybe next time we will!
We gassed the boat up at the Harbour Village Marina, where we were greeted by Harbor Master Mike Muran. He and Mike were talking about the how busy Memorial Day Weekend had been on the water. They said the fact that the weather was perfect for three days made for fantastic business. It was interesting to hear about the holiday from their business perspective.
Lea Island, Serenity Point, and Beyond!
We went South, all the way down to the end of Topsail Island. On the mainland, to our right, was Hampstead. We veered left and left the ICWW and went toward the New Topsail Inlet. Captain Mike wanted to show us Lea Island. There is a boating tradition in the area of people taking their boats to the island, dropping anchor and going ashore to sunbathe or walk the white sands and hunt for shells. No one lives on the island and you can only reach it by boat. It’s a bird and turtle sanctuary and many folks go to birdwatch or hopefully see a sea turtle’s nest hatch. Nature at it’s finest, Lea Island is a beautiful place and Mike said Topsail Boat Rental often takes boating parties there on a three-hour tour. Two hours traveling on the ICWW by boat and one hour on Lea Island. I’d love to make a reservation for that trip!
Across the inlet was Serenity Point, the end of Topsail Island. We saw beach goers walking around on powdery sands, just like they were on Lea Island. We slipped into the Topsail Sound and carefully made our way north for several miles. The tide was low and the depth finder was steering us from sandbars. During that time we saw, in the sliver of land between Topsail Sound and the ICWW, a Confederate Flag flying in the breeze. Mike said that it marked the place where the Underground Railroad hid the slaves that were trying to escape the South. Who knew that bit of history could be on a sliver of land off the mainland, almost in my backyard? It was fascinating.
Mike also told us about the legends of Blackbeard the Pirate on the Topsail waters. He was said to have buried some of his treasure on Topsail Island and to have looted two of Captain Bonnet’s ships in the sound. We could have been following his very path!
As we were passing the flag and hearing the story, Mike pointed to another family enjoying one of the boats he had rented earlier in the day. They were having a blast for sure. I imagined Bill navigating with as great a confidence as this family captain for the day. Well, anything is possible.
We joined back into the ICWW and a mile or so later were already passing under the Swing Bridge to go back to our dock. We hated for our trip to be over but as they say, “All good things must come to an end.” Captain Mike had shown us a wonderful time on the water and we were definitely going to be using Topsail Boat Rental again. We were shocked at how affordable it was to have such a wonderful adventure! Captain Mike said that all of their services and prices could be found on their website, www.topsailboatrental.com I’d recommend you put this adventure on the top of your Beach Bucket List too! You’ll come back and enjoy it year after year!
Check out the video! It’s awesome.
203 N. New River Drive
Surf City, NC 28445