Marina Life and Times

“Sailing is one of the greatest sports out there. If you grow up sailing, you’ll be a good person.” It’s a decisive, yet dreamy observation, the kind one might expect from Captain Herb Magney.

Living the good, seafaring, yacht captain life since the late 90’s, Captain Herb continues to hone his life philosophy across the world’s ocean and occasionally, in port, over the course of a long ‘layover’ in Wilmington’s Port City Marina.

As Captain Herb knows well, working at sea is very different way of life: exotic locales and passport stamps mean long, odd hours and compromise, as well as sacrifice. There are mailboxes at homes where family is waiting, or post office boxes you come to call home; there are storage lockers filled with creature comforts and remnants of land-life, things ship life doesn’t easily accommodate.

Motor Yacht Island Heiress Crew on Wilmingoton's Riverwalk

Sunset on the Riverwalk: Nicci Van Lingen, 2nd Stewardess; Ruth Singbeil, Chef; Shepherd Dobson, 1st Officer; Tom Ogilvie, 2nd Engineer (Photo credit: Nicci van Lingen)

“When I’m home, I want my bed, my couch, my dining room table,” says 1st Officer Shepherd Dobson, of frequent visits with family. “My first job when I head back is to ‘de-spider the house,” he adds, with a smile.

Working on yacht isn’t an individualistic environment, says Herb—it’s a group enterprise, requiring solidarity, flexibility, and unified sense of purpose: “A good crew works work together like a well-oiled machine.”

And like any well-oiled machine, especially one pulling into port, the Motor Yacht Island Heiress’ international crew of 8-10 appreciates rest, exercise, and proper maintenance. During a long ‘layover,’ like the current stay in Wilmington, a positive port environment proves crucial for maintaining crew morale.

Across the board, it seems, for the Heiress’ captains and crew, Wilmington has raised the bar on comfort, security, and customer service.

Nicci Running Front St

Chief Stewardess Nichole Knapp, running along Front Street (Photo credit: Nicci van Lingen)

“The marina is safe and secure,” says Captain Herb, “with a well-lit perimeter, and easy access to showers and bathrooms.” (Indeed, with fine-art photography, mahogany paneling, and a contemporary music soundtrack, Port City Marina’s restrooms have become the talk of the dock.)

“Medical services are close by, there’s great entertainment within walking distance, and our favorite hospitality providers are always happy to see us,” he declares, with a laugh. As providers of fine hospitality, both captains and crew appreciate fine service during the course of their travels.

Conversations with servers, learning a shop owner’s story, or finding a favorite bartender are things that make a port feel like home, and field trips include what the crew call “Herbscursions:” from Wrightsville Beach’s Tower 7 and the Palm Room to the Riverwalk’s Le Catalan, to take-out from Elizabeth’s Pizza Italian Restaurant and Bar, captains and crew cultivate new haunts, and warm friendships.

Live music at Satellite Bar and Lounge

Satellite Bar and Lounge (Photo credit: Nicci van Lingen)

“Certain ports can be a parallel universe,” says Captain John Gaffley, also of the Island Heiress, referring to time spent in traditional yachting hubs, like Fort Lauderdale. “There may be 50 boats there, with 500 crew members milling around…the yachting world can be insular,” he explains, “and we don’t always get to interact with the outside world.”

In Wilmington, however, they do.

“Here, we meet a lot of locals and experience the place for what it is,” says Captain John. “We get to have real, ‘non-yachting’ conversations, poke around the community a bit,” he says, with a smile.

The crew car helps with longer jaunts, while Uber, Port City Bike Taxi, and the free trolley (which stops alongside the marina) frequent the ‘out and about’ agenda. And of course, leisurely strolls to historic downtown, or up and down the Riverwalk, have become a staple of marina life.

“Wilmington doesn’t have the airs of Charleston, or Savannah, and it’s not at all like Myrtle Beach. It’s refreshing and amiable here,” says Shepherd. “We’ve met so many people who went to school here and then just stayed,” he says. “It’s very easy to make friends here.”

For yacht maintenance and upkeep, Wilmington’s plethora of nearby boatyards make Port City Marina a stellar choice for a prolonged stay, and with an international airport just 3 miles away, pursuing a pilot’s license—common practice among yacht crew—is a more than convenient enterprise.

Wrightsville Beach Market

The Palm Room at Wrightsville Beach, Market Sunday (Photo credit: Nicci van Lingen)

For her part, 2nd Stewardess Nicci van Lingen is quite taken with Wilmington’s natural beauty and Southern charm. “The architecture is gorgeous here,” says Nicci, “and I love the trees,” she observes. “My favorite part of the marina is being able to go for a run along the Riverwalk, passing live entertainment at the numerous restaurants looking onto the sun setting over the water, to tempting little boutiques, such as Polka Dotted Flamingo Jewelry and Stuff store. I can’t help but pop in to see what’s new!”

She smiles, and says: “Wilmington is a warm, inviting place.”

* * *

Captain on the Cape Fear River

Captain Eric Bohlen (Photo credit: Eric Bohlen)

Boat Cat on the Cape Fear River

Jelly Bean, First Mate (Photo credit: Eric Bohlen)

Some captains are heads-of-household, and their only household, their i boat. Eric Bohlen recently relocated from Cary, North Carolina to a scenic slip in Port City Marina, where he lives full-time aboard Mindful, his Hunter 426 DS. After years in the US Army, Bohlen–a former paratrooper–shifted gears to a career in medical sales; happily, Wilmington became one of his territories.

Deciding to liquidate his land-life and transition to a floating lifestyle, Eric is fully enjoying his newfound mobility.

It started about a year ago, in Croatia, while sailing with his cousin. “We wanted to learn to sail, so hired this 23-year-old young badass,” says Eric, aged 40, “who’d already visited 50 countries. We wanted a tour guide too,” he adds, “someone who’d hang out and show us the real places in town.”

His eyes light up, recalling that fruitful, fateful week at sea. “We had such a great time, we extended another week. Then we were like, ‘Man, we love this. Why are we living in a house?’”

The cousins left Croatia changed men, the kind who decide to live their lives on a boat.

“My cousin consulted Steve Curran, the foremost authority on liveaboards, who helped us find our boats. And then, we just pulled the plug!”

Port City Marina Sunset

Sunset on the Cape Fear River (Photo credit: Eric Bohlen)

Eric sold his house in Cary—“literally overnight”—and hired a captain to help him bring Mindful down to Wilmington.

“I got really bad food poisoning on the way over,” says Eric, with a laugh, “and I apologized to the captain. I was like, ‘Sorry, dude, it’s my first time on this boat!’”

As a self-professed “Civil War nut,” Eric’s passionate about the breadth of history  around Greater Wilmington, as well as the area’s overall coastal vibe.

Sunshine on the Cape Fear River

Glenna aboard Mindful (Photo credit: Eric Bohlen)

“I’ve always liked it down here and I heard the marina was really growing, with a lot of improvements underway,” he says, of his decision to move to Port City Marina. “My other choice was New Bern, which felt too small and isolated for me; and the beach marinas are too crowded. Plus that bridge traffic would drive me nuts!” he says, with a shudder.

“Wilmington is my ‘city’ living,” he says, gesturing beyond the open river and tranquil marina slips to the thriving downtown scene, less than half mile away.

“I was out in Marina Del Rey, in Southern California, and I was bragging to everyone about how awesome this place was. I showed them pictures and they were like, ‘Wow, that’s really nice.’”

Glenna Jeffries, Eric’s girlfriend, still owns a house near Raleigh, but she’d rather come down and sleep on the water. “Glenna flew into Raleigh the other night, back from a business trip, and got straight in the car. She’d rather drive down at 11 o’clock at night,” says Eric, “if it means she can wake up on the river.”

Boating on the Cape Fear River

Afternoons around Port City Marina (Photo credit: Eric Bohlen)

* * *

From beach access to nearby nightlife, to restaurants, hospitality, and an amicable local culture, captains, crew–even Jelly Bean, the cat– are warming to Wilmington’s special blend of qualities.

Indeed, these modern-day adventurers might call Port City Marina a home away from ever-floating home.

Jamie Lynn Miller