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We’re about 45 miles south of New York on the Manasquan River in New Jersey, so tomorrow should mark the Loop completion, and Sunday the end of the Voyage.

A long but uneventful trip on the ocean today from Atlantic City.

I was only looking at Atlantic City as a stop to endure, not enjoy, waiting for good weather, but it turned out to be a pleasant visit.  John and I took one of the very efficient jitney buses over to the Boardwalk and I was really impressed.  It has been cleaned up (I guess due to the casinos) with top-flight retail stores, great beach access, food other than Nathan’s hot dogs — and mini-golf, where I beat John once again!!

But the highlight was a jackpot playing video poker last night at the Golden Nugget.  I was playing deuces wild, had three twos, drew two more for FIVE of a kind!  Bells rang and music played and my fellow players turned their walkers and wheelchairs to congratulate me.  One fellow even gave me a tip of his oxygen mask.

Nothing like a free stay in a fancy marina.

On the Board Walk at Atlantic City.

On the Board Walk at Atlantic City.

The beach at Atlantic City has always been magnificent.  The big building is the Miss America venue.

The beach at Atlantic City has always been magnificent. The big building is the Miss America venue.

Atlantic City fades into the morning mist

Atlantic City fades into the morning mist

 

The Home Stretch — Mother Nature Leads by a Head

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We’re in Atlantic City at the Golden Nugget Casino, waiting for a break in the continuing line of fronts that has made getting north a challenge for the Looper Fleet.

We did have two great days getting up the end of Chesapeake Bay and down Delaware Bay to Cape May.  I was really wistful passing by so many great places on the way north — Baltimore, Chester, the Sassafras River, etc — but John’s college orientation looms large as a hard date for the end of the Voyage.  We were so glad that Delaware Bay wasn’t acting up.  It’s a nasty piece of water full of giant ships, shallow waters and no ports.  We actually enjoyed our last night on the Delaware a lot at anchor in the marshes of the Cohansey River, just about the only refuge on the entire bay.

Reprovisioned in Cape May at the very friendly, fancy and not-too-expensive South Jersey Marina, a sportsfishing kind of place that is trying its best to attract Loopers, since fuel costs have really been tough on the fleet of 50 gallon-per-hour hotshot fishing boats.  Then with strong winds approaching we decided to try the protected New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway up to Atlantic City.

Got through, but should have done house tours in Cape May.  Years of neglect and Superstorm Sandy have made the ICW nearly impassable.  We ran aground twice (no damage, it’s all mud) and plowed a furrow through the bottom twice.  It was scenic, but the white knuckles stress of no water beneath the keel was just not worth it.  I was surprised at the degree of development — wherever there was a break in the marsh grass, there were thousands of summer houses “down the shore” and hundreds of speedboats waking the crap out of us.

John is warming to the thought of being back in the New York area, even at the cost of going back to school.  Last night we ate at the Chart House at the casino — sleek  surroundings, wonderful, sophisticated food, great views and a hostess who could have been Derek Jeter’s girlfriend.

“But John,” I said, contemplating the bill.  “Don’t you remember that famous catfish restaurant that we went to in Mississippi?”

“Yes, plastic tables, plastic forks, catfish or pork chops, banana pudding for dessert.”

“Ah, but the catfish…”

“Greasy, salty and tasteless like all catfish.”

He has a point.

(Looks like Thursday for our Loop completion, but no promises.)

Delaware Bay Pastoral

Delaware Bay Pastoral

Delaware Bay boating -- we waved, but I'm not sure he saw us.

Delaware Bay boating — we waved, but I’m not sure he saw us.

Cohansey River anchorage -- our last

Cohansey River anchorage — our last

And the winner of tallest marsh grass on the whole trip goes to...New Jersey!!

And the winner of tallest marsh grass on the whole trip goes to…New Jersey!!

Houses "Down the Shore"

Houses “Down the Shore”

After the trip we had, I was actually glad to see tawdry old Atlantic City.

After the trip we had, I was actually glad to see tawdry old Atlantic City.

Memsahib in her berth at the Golden Nugget Casino -- nice to have all the casino amenities right across the street.

Memsahib in her berth at the Golden Nugget Casino — nice to have all the casino amenities right across the street.

Waiting for Godot

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John arrives back tomorrow, so the voyage continues.   He is reportedly doing fine, but we will take it easy at first.

I have been waiting in Annapolis at very nice Annapolis Landing Marina on Back Creek.  There are two principal marina areas in Annapolis, Spa Creek right downtown and Back Creek further south in the suburbs.  There was no way I wanted to be downtown over Memorial Day and it was the right choice.  The only problem has been the horrific weather — five solid days of Small Craft Advisories.  My former partner Jeff Myers was going to come down for a trip over to the Eastern Shore, but had to cancel, since we would never have made it out of the slip.

On our way up from Solomons, we dipped deep into Michener Country, heading on a dark, damp day up the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers to Oxford.  Oxford is just about perfect — surrounded by water, beautifully preserved and far enough off the beaten path to be very quiet.  I did a lot of walking and we had a wonderful dinner at Salter’s Tavern at the Robert Morris Inn.  On my walk, I passed the famous Cutts & Case Boatyard, well known to anyone who studies wooden boats.  But like so many of these places that loom large in your mind, in reality it’s tiny.  Same with Annapolis — it’s one of the Sailing Capital’s of the World, but sailing itself is such a small-potatoes deal in the great scheme of things that the role of Annapolis as Capital of Maryland is much more noteworthy.

When the weather finally broke on Saturday, I spent the best part of a day at the Naval Academy Museum.  The Rodgers Ship Model Collection is absolutely superb.  These are “dockyard models” for the most part, built at the same time as the actual ship and wonderfully detailed.  Also got to take a look at the John Paul Jones Crypt in the Chapel during a break between weddings.  The midshipmen became ensigns on Friday and many took the first chance available to them to become married men on Saturday.  I could say a lot of smartass things about whether that’s a really great idea, but actually it was quite touching — brides and grooms all in white, most of the guests in white, the huge Chapel bedecked in flowers.  Best of luck to these young people — it’s not an easy life they’ve chosen.

Also, given my penchant for historic homes, I found the Historic Annapolis Foundation and got set up with a docent-led tour of the home of William Paca, three-time Maryland Governor, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and everything else that needed signing in those days.

Our taste of the Chesapeake has been smaller than a Baskin-Robbins sampling spoon.  But I am absolutely sure I will be back someday for a triple scoop of the Jamoca-Almond-Fudge of small boat cruising.

Oxford -- one pretty street after another.

Oxford — one pretty street after another.

This little building served as the Oxford Post Office until the 1930s.

This little building served as the Oxford Post Office until the 1930s.

Molly, can we buy this one?

Molly, can we buy this one?

Robert Morris Inn, formerly the home of financier Robert Morris, principal backer of the American Revolution.

Robert Morris Inn, formerly the home of financier Robert Morris, principal backer of the American Revolution.

Cutts & Case.  Boat in the middle is the famous "Foto" owned by Morris Rosenfeld, the world's foremost marine photographer.  BEST marine photographer is Bejamin Mendolwitz in my opinion.

Cutts & Case. Boat in the middle is the famous “Foto” owned by Morris Rosenfeld, the world’s foremost marine photographer. BEST marine photographer is Bejamin Mendolwitz in my opinion.

Main Street Annapolis at Academy graduation and Memorial Day weekend.  Still fun, but what a zoo!

Main Street Annapolis at Academy graduation and Memorial Day weekend. Still fun, but what a zoo!

Annapolis City Docks, AKA "Ego Alley."  You have to have a high tolerance for noise and good curtains if you want to put your boat in admiration range of thousands of tourists.

Annapolis City Docks, AKA “Ego Alley.” You have to have a high tolerance for noise and good curtains if you want to put your boat in admiration range of thousands of tourists.

When you get past the tee-shirt shops and pizza joints, Annapolis is a very pretty place.

When you get past the tee-shirt shops and pizza joints, Annapolis is a very pretty place.

This model of a French 100-gun ship is about eight feet long.

This model of a French 100-gun ship is about eight feet long.

British frigate -- workhorse of the age of sail.  Modern equivalent would be a destroyer.

British frigate — workhorse of the age of sail. Modern equivalent would be a destroyer.

"Bone models"  carved by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars using bones, wood, thread from their clothes and whatever they could scrounge.

“Bone models” carved by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars using bones, wood, thread from their clothes and whatever they could scrounge.

Having read something like 200 works of naval fiction, I spent a lot of time with the small models like this brig.  The battleships are spectacular, but these really illustrate what the "Age of Fighting Sail" was all about.

Having read something like 200 works of naval fiction, I spent a lot of time with the small models like this brig. The battleships are spectacular, but these really illustrate what the “Age of Fighting Sail” was all about.

Magnificent William Paca House of 1763.  Beautiful Georgian symmetry outside, tastefully restraint in decoration inside.

Magnificent William Paca House of 1763. Beautiful Georgian symmetry outside, tastefully restraint in decoration inside.

"Summer House" at Paca museum.  Equivalent of a pool house today, I guess.

“Summer House” at Paca museum. Equivalent of a pool house today, I guess.

Maryland Statehouse, smack in the middle of downtown.  Statue is Thurgood Marshall, a truly great Marylander.

Maryland Statehouse, smack in the middle of downtown. Statue is Thurgood Marshall, a truly great Marylander.

Racing to Annapolis

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John has to leave the boat Monday in Annapolis for some minor surgery in Connecticut, so we’ve stopped cruising and have been busting up the Chesapeake, but having a fine time nevertheless.

We started going up the James River from Norfolk to Williamsburgfor a visit with our good friends who moved from Wilton not too many years ago, Carey, Delia, Justin and Nicole Dubois.  We were treated to great meals, showers and REAL BEDS on land, the first time I’ve been off the boat since Thanksgiving.  Justin will be a sophomore at the University of Virginia and Nicole will be a freshman at Virginia Tech.  The kids have kept up on Facebook over the years, so they had a great time.  But the highlight was Sparta, who spent 24 hours per day terrorizing their poor male cat Max.  The Dubois have a big, beautiful home and she ran after poor Max for hours, enjoying the newfound space to exhaustion.

Sorry I don’t have a picture of beautiful Nicole, since she was locked away much of the time studying for AP exams.  She is pretty, smart and charming.  John is handsome, smart and personable.  You don’t suppose…?  Nope. we got him into college.  That’s enough for now.

Then back to the little city of Hampton, Virginia across the way from Norfolk, followed by a stop at Dozier,s Regatta Point in Deltaville, VA a great marina and Looper hangout where we had dinner with our friends Ross and Laura from The Zone.  We ate at an excellent Italian-German fusion restaurant (SIC), hey, veal is veal and sausage is sausage, right?

Then a quick night on the Potomac at Smith Creek anchorage, and up to Solomons Island, Maryland, where I managed to work in a visit to the Calvert Marine Center.  As you know, I never met a maritime museum I didn’t like, and this is a good one, full of log canoes and bugeyes and deadrise boats and pungeys.  I know it’s a conceit, but I don’t think too many tourists can walk in and immediately note, “Oh my god, they’ve got a Hooper Island Draketail!”

One more stop before Annapolis, Oxford, MD on the Eastern Shore.  I have been re-reading James A. Michener’s “Chesapeake”and a visit to the Choptank and Tred Avon Rivers is just as important to my psyche as our foray up the Moon.  Michener’s writing is that of a sixth-grader, there’s a corny moral to every story, his history is dubious — and I love his books to distraction.  For me, he captures places and times like no other American author.

Justin and John, old friends re-united.

Justin and John, old friends re-united.

Former Wiltonians Carey and Delia Dubois.

Former Wiltonians Carey and Delia Dubois.

Rub a dub dub, two cats in a tub.

Rub a dub dub, two cats in a tub.

John and Sparta slept for two days after visiting Williamsburg.

John and Sparta slept for two days after visiting Williamsburg.

Hampton Public Docks -- pretty darn nice at $1.25 per foot.

Hampton Public Docks — pretty darn nice at $1.25 per foot.

Ross and Laura -- the only New Yorkers we've met on the Loop.  They got engaged and married on the trip and now that the are Gold Loopers they are busy honeymooning.

Ross and Laura — the only New Yorkers we’ve met on the Loop. They got engaged and married on the trip and now that the are Gold Loopers they are busy honeymooning.

Smith Creek anchorage on the Potomac.  Beautiful, serene, deserted.

Smith Creek anchorage on the Potomac. Beautiful, serene, deserted.

Aforementioned Hooper Island Draketail.

Aforementioned Hooper Island Draketail.

Bugeye taking museum visitors for a short cruise.

Bugeye taking museum visitors for a short cruise.

Drum Point Lighthouse, transported a few miles to Solomons from the mouth of the Patuxent.  A family of seven lived in the four rooms below the light.

Drum Point Lighthouse, transported a few miles to Solomons from the mouth of the Patuxent. A family of seven lived in the four rooms below the light.

Solomons Island from the top of the lighthouse.

Solomons Island from the top of the lighthouse.

What’s So Dismal About This?

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There is great controversy on the Looper Internet forums on which route to take from the Intracoastal Waterway to the the Chesapeake — the Virginia Cut or the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.  For crying out loud!  You are on the adventure of a lifetime, you HAVE to opt for the one called the GREAT DISMAL SWAMP.

The canal begins in wonderful Elizabeth City, NC.  Elizabeth City understands tourism and boaters.  The downtown merchants have funded a beautiful waterfront park complete with slips.  The price is fantastic — free — and local volunteers called the Rose Buddies (Elizabeth is the Rose City) tie you up and offer all kinds of local information.

I spent the whole afternoon at the magnificent Museum of the Albemarle.  The exhibits take you on a very logical progression gallery by gallery through all the stages of development of this 400-year-old region.  The story told is quite honest in admitting that the area perhaps just isn’t as important as it was, and is pretty much dependent these days on tourism and the military.  But the exhibits on Albemarle Sound’s heyday remind us in this highway-and-airplane dominated age just how critical it was as a water highway, linking the industrial Northeast to the hugely productive lands and waters of the South.  After the Dismal Swamp and Alligator-Pungo canals were dug in the early 19th century, a small ship or barge could go from Philadelphia to Georgia without having to venture into the dangerous North Atlantic.  Then the trains and Civil War came and its been pretty much downhill ever since.

My favorite exhibit, though, was a sleeper.  In the 1950’s the Outer Banks beaches were totally segregated.  And while the white beaches were pretty much the Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon type, the black beaches developed a crab shack/nightclub scene that was ground zero in the evolution of Rythm & Blues to Rock & Roll.  Little Richard, James Brown, Sam Cooke and all the other greats all played out on the “Chitlin Circuit” during the ’50s and the museum has recreated a part of one of the beach clubs.

But all this was just prelude to the Swamp.  It’s not “dismal” to me, but uniquely beautiful.  You drive for miles down a tunnel of cypress, oak, gum and vines.  There are birds everywhere, and as many turtles as I’ve ever seen.  The water is brown, and when looks like the froth on a good cup of espresso as the boat churns it up.  Frankly, it is ill-maintained and trees and logs have fallen in the water everywhere making it narrow and shallow, but somehow that adds to the charm because it all seems so very ancient.

Then bang, whiplash, you are out of it and into industrial, military Norfolk within a few minutes of the last lock on the canal.  The Dismal Swamp sounds frightening, but I was much more frightened of the tugs, bridges and aircraft carriers in Norfolk harbor.

Mariner's Walk, Elizabeth City. That first boat is sure a looker.

Mariner’s Walk, Elizabeth City. That first boat is sure a looker.

museum2

Museum of the Albemarle

Part of the excellent exhibition on black beach life and the Chitlin Circuit.

Part of the excellent exhibition on black beach life and the Chitlin Circuit.

Museum of the Albemarle.  Down at the end of the this exhibit, they moved in an entire historical house, just like the Smithsonian.  You feel like you're living there.

Museum of the Albemarle. Down at the end of the this exhibit, they moved in an entire historical house, just like the Smithsonian. You feel like you’re living there.

Can't have a history museum in North Carolina without a still.

Can’t have a history museum in North Carolina without a still.

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Albemarle Sound shad boat — I want to build one! Car below is a 1960 Corvair Death Trap.

Elizabeth City waterfront right before the entrance to the Great Dismal Swamp.

Elizabeth City waterfront right before the entrance to the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Dismal certainly wasn't the day we went through.

The Dismal certainly wasn’t the day we went through.

Water has so much tannin in it it's like cruising through coffee.

Water has so much tannin in it it’s like cruising through coffee.

dismal2 dismal3

Dismal is so skinny it's basically a no passing zone for about 25 miles.

Dismal is so skinny it’s basically a no passing zone for about 25 miles.

Swamp People?  Don't think so.

Swamp People? Don’t think so.

Entering Norfolk less than 5 minutes from the Dismal Swamp.  Talk about a contrast!

Entering Norfolk less than 5 minutes from the Dismal Swamp. Talk about a contrast!

Norfolk waterfront.

Norfolk waterfront.

Naval ships are everywhere in Norfolk.

Naval ships are everywhere in Norfolk.

Southern Hospitality

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Faithful Readers Cathyrn and Bob pointed out after our last post that there are only two versions of the Neuse River — the Nice Neuse and the Nasty Neuse, although in the cold, windy spring that has infected the South this year, I have yet to meet anyone who has actually encountered the Nice.

So we finally broke out of Oriental into the Nasty Neuse, Pewky Pamlico and Punky Pungo rivers for eight hours of three foot waves and spray over the pilothouse getting to pretty Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven, NC.  Actually we hit a “good” day compared to the next two of high winds and thunderstorms that some of our shaken fellow cruisers described after kissing the docks in Belhaven.

Then coming into the slip an ominous “thunk” that I immediately identified as a sheared coupling stud, the same problem we faced back on the Tennessee at Midway Marina.  Not as bad this time, one bolt gone and two bent, but obviously the nuts holding the engine to the shaft had worked loose again.  The question was why, but the answer did not lie with the entire population of marine mechanics in Belhaven, NC, since all two  of them were totally booked and one had a reputation for having two price lists — local and Yankee in Big Trouble.  But Dowry Creek owner Mary and dockmaster Nick, volunteered their shop, tools and local resources to help us get it fixed one way or the other.

So I took the whole thing apart and found that the original incident in Tennessee had really screwed up the threads on the bolt holes and the bolts themselves were pretty ancient.  So the fit was awfully shaky.  I do not blame the Tennessee mechanics for using used parts — they had to scrounge all over town just to find what they had, and they did last 3,000 miles.  So Nick and Mary sent me off in their car to Pungo Machine, one of those old-fashioned places where they can bend, grind, machine and drill anything made of metal.  They fixed the coupling on the spot and wouldn’t charge me anything: “Well,  it was easy and you’re in a jam,” but I made sure they had plenty of beer money that night.

Then onto the auto supply, marine supply and junkyard for the special bolts that held it all together.  No luck, despite a town-wide search.  But Nick suggested Ace Hardware.  I was highly dubious, but it was one of the old, general store kind of hardware emporiums that also sold beer, bait and lawn furniture.  The kind of place where you can go in and say, “I need a belt for my Mom’s 1967 Maytag washer and the old guy replies, “I saw one of those around here four or five years ago” thumbs a yellow list, takes a 20-foot bamboo pole and pulls exactly the right thing down from the rafters.  Same thing with me — showed him the coupling and he said, “Yeah, there’s a box of them things over with the springs and snap rings and stuff.”

So a tortuous afternoon ensued putting everything back together, standing on my head in greasy bilge water with John handing me tools.  But it appears to be fixed, although I want a second opinion in Annapolis.

Then up the Alligator-Pungo canal to the Alligator River and one of those remote, pristine anchorages that I love and John hates due to the total lack of Wi-Fi.  The canal is 25 miles long and we didn’t see a boat, person or house the whole way.  Again, one of the themes of this trip — the urbanization of this country and diminished role of water transport that has left so much of it totally empty.  Then a beautiful run across Adorable Albemarle Sound to Elizabeth City, another great example of Southern friendliness and the entrance to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

Dowry Creek Marina, home of Mary and Nick, two of the world's nicest people.

Dowry Creek Marina, home of Mary and Nick, two of the world’s nicest people.

Belhaven, NC.  You can just see the Ace Hardware at the end of the street.

Belhaven, NC. You can just see the Ace Hardware at the end of the street.

Pungo-Alligator Canal.  Straight as a string.  Once a vital link in Eastern seaboard commerce. now pretty much deserted.

Pungo-Alligator Canal. Straight as a string. Once a vital link in Eastern seaboard commerce. now pretty much deserted.

Alligator River anchorage, as remote and serene as we've been in the whole trip.

Alligator River anchorage, as remote and serene as we’ve been in the whole trip.

On the Docks

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It had been thousands of miles since crossed any open water, until we encountered the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound on this most recent leg.  The forecast was for 2-3 foot waves and moderate winds out of the northeast leaving Morehead City, NC, so we put away the TV and computers and didn’t think much more about it.

So naturally we put our nose out into the Neuse River going across to Oriental and got totally hammered with 25 knots of breeze and square waves coming from every direction.  So once again cat, bedding and the contents of a drawer whose catch broke ended up on the floor.   The dockmaster said what happens is that in Northeast winds the waves blow 100 miles into a piece of water only 3 miles wide and 11 feet deep and simply start bouncing off the bottom and sides of the river.

It has been blowing like that now for three days, so we are pretty much stuck in Oriental.  The water is all piling up on one end of town and the roads around the Marina turn to rivers at high tide.  Hope to get out tomorrow, but we are going to be very careful.

Oriental is called the Sailing Capital of North Carolina and has some big marinas, so I thought it was a pretty substantial town.  But it’s basically just a place where a lot of people from Charlotte and Raleigh keep their boats, so while a nice village, about all it amounts to is six churches, six restaurants and the hardware store.

Worked our way up from Southport via Hammock Bay at Camp Lejeune, where the guidebook says the Marines launch all their amphibious vehicles for practice.  We heard a lot of cannon fire, but didn’t get to see any practice invasions.  Then onto Morehead City/Beaufort.  Frankly, between the two Beauforts, SC and NC, I think the South Carolina version wins in terms of beauty, interest and food.  Although the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is a very good with an extensive small craft selection.  It took a number of  plaintive “Dad can we go nows?” to break me out of there.

While in Morehead City, we ate at a great Southern restaurant, Floyds 1921.  Compared to the interminable fried catfish in Alabama and Mississippi the food in this stretch has been wonderful — shrimp, crab, local fish, quail, game, fresh greens, and plenty of “polenta” (grits).  We started with a crab appetizer and John had a local wild mushroom goulash.  I had a fancy meatloaf with a wild mushroom gravy over cheese grits with a green vegetable I couldn’t quite identify, which may have been the tops of ramps in a warm balsamic vinaigrette.

Coffee shop near the marina.  Fish were swimming in the street.

Coffee shop near the marina. Fish were swimming in the street.

Waterfront Park, Oriental.  We are really chasing Spring up the coast now.

Waterfront Park, Oriental. We are really chasing Spring up the coast now.

Hammock Bay -- not a grunt in sight.

Hammock Bay — not a grunt in sight.

Character of the houses along the ICW has changed completely once again.  I sure like this one.

Character of the houses along the ICW has changed completely once again. I sure like this one.

North Carolina Maritime Museum.

North Carolina Maritime Museum.

To a wooden boatbuilder, exhibits like this are addictive.

To a wooden boatbuilder, exhibits like this are addictive.

Floyds 1921 Restaurant Morehead City.  Worth a side trip.

Floyds 1921 Restaurant Morehead City. Worth a side trip.

Beaufort, NC, Victorian.  Surprising number of Victorians all over the South built during the lumber boom.

Beaufort, NC, Victorian. Surprising number of Victorians all over the South built during the lumber boom.

Lots of square two-deckers in Beaufort, NC.

Lots of square two-deckers in Beaufort, NC.

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