Evening Well-Spent

History buffs can board the Scuba South II with Captain Wayne Strickland for the NC Maritime Museum's Sunset History Cruise. Courtesy photo

History buffs can board the Scuba South II with Captain Wayne Strickland for the NC Maritime Museum’s Sunset History Cruise. Courtesy photo

What: Sunset History Cruise
When: Fri., June 6th, July 18th, August 1st and September 5th • 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Scuba South II Dock,
106 Yacht Basin Dr.
Cost: $25-35
Info: www.ncmaritimemuseums.com
(910) 457-0003

When I think of Southport, I envision the small port town with great restaurants, shopping, parks, and a cherished front-porch culture. Although Southport is beloved by visitors and residents alike, some don’t realize the waterfront town carries a full and rich history, and there are stories to be found around nearly every corner. Originally founded in 1792 as Smithville, tidbits of the town’s history line the streets through 18th century historic homes, and appear at precious historic sites like the Native American Trail Tree Marker in Keziah Memorial Park, and dip between the marsh grass along the waterways.

One of the best ways to explore some of this history is on the NC Maritime Museum Sunset History Cruise—a 90-minute ride at dusk along the Cape Fear River, complete with hor d’oeuvres, wine and a captivating history lesson.

Captain Wayne Strickland pilots his 52′ all-aluminum twin-diesel workboat, the Scuba South II, down the Cape Fear along with his crew, who ensure patrons are safe and relaxed while they cruise. The NC Maritime Museum at Southport hosts the tour and the Scuba South II passes such sites as the Old Yacht Basin, Fort Johnston, Quarantine Station, Price’s Creek Lighthouse, Fort Fisher, the rocks and wreck of the Raleigh, and Fort Caswell, to name a few key landmarks.

I spoke with Mary Strickland, manager and curator of the NC Maritime Museum, and she told me that one of her favorite historic sites along the cruise is Fort Johnston—for more than just the obvious reason that Fort Johnston now houses the NC Maritime Museum and Southport’s Visitor’s Center. Originally built in 1748 for defense from Spanish privateers, who occupied the nearby settlement of Brunswick Town, the fortification was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 because of its continuous military histories dating from 1741-2004, when it ceased operations.

Fort Johnston survived and served American citizens and military as an invaluable Army base during the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and was even occupied by United Service Organizations during World War II.

Strickland told me with excitement as she shared a little of the fort’s history: “In July 1775, the American Colony’s last Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, slipped away from his New Bern Tryon Palace home to escape to Fort Johnston. After dismantling the fort’s cannon, the governor was sheltered aboard his ship, the Cruiser. He and his flotilla of 19 British warships faced the fort and the foot of the bluff, awaiting the angry marching colonists from Brunswick Town and Wilmington, who then burned the buildings of Fort Johnston.” Thankfully, in 1778 the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated funds to rebuild Fort Johnston.

The Sunset History Cruise is a great way to learn more about Fort Johnston as well as enjoy stories from 18 other important historical landmarks of the area. Cruise-goers will also hear famed and entertaining stories that touch on some of the other key nuggets of the Lower Cape Fear area’s maritime history, ranging from early settler and pirate stories to military and governmental history as well as some great information on local fishing, shrimping, oystering and clamming—all of which can be explored in further detail at the museum as well.

If cruise patrons are lucky, they’ll also enjoy a little river traffic or catch a few dolphin sightings along the way. The adult-friendly, relaxed atmosphere—dining on cheese and sipping wine—makes the Sunset Cruise a great way to spend your evening in Southport, and learn a little while you’re at it. The views, by the way, are breathtaking. Sounds like an evening well-spent to me.

The cruise only runs four times a year, so be sure to call ahead and get your tickets early if you plan on participating this summer. The 2014 cruise dates, all on Friday evenings, are: June 6th, July 18th, August 1st, and September 5th. Each night the cruise departs from the dock in the Old Yacht Basin, next to Fishy Fishy Restaurant, at 6:30 p.m. and returns to the same location at 8 p.m. Cost per ticket is $35, or $25 for NC Maritime Museum Members.

Additional information about the NC Maritime Museum Sunset Cruise can be found at www.ncmaritimesmuseum.com or by calling the museum at (910) 457-0003.

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