Ship Watch

photo_3420825-666x500All photos by CF Webmasters

photo_3237501-666x500There are few places on Earth, and perhaps none as peaceful as Southport, where one can recline in an Adirondack chair, sip a glass of Southern sweet tea, and view the massive cargo ships as they pass on their way to port. At 116 River Drive, homeowners Baxter and Jean Sterling gazed regularly upon the majestic, industrial beasts before their relocation to Boone.

“I can lie in bed and look right down the mouth of the Cape Fear River as it goes between Bald Head and Fort Caswell,” Mr. Sterling describes. “I can see ships way out coming in. They are just captivating to watch, especially if you see two passing in the night.”

The home was built in the 1950s by Southport native Boyd Moore. At the time a bachelor, Moore constructed a simple one-story, two-bedroom abode as his official pad. “He lived here until he died, but in the mid-’60s, he met this lady from Florida and brought her up here as his bride,” Sterling recounts.

photo_3237502-666x500The home was small at the time, so when Mrs. Margaret Boyd arrived, they added an extra living space along with master bed and bath rooms. When the house was built, the marsh came right up to the back of the home.

“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the country got in a panic to get this Intracoastal Waterway dredged,” Sterling tells. “It was built in the ‘30s, but it hadn’t really been used for its intent, which was to move war ships up and down the coast without the potential attack from submarines.”

So, in the early ‘60s, the waterway was dredged to secure the area. “I don’t know what the permit processes were like back then, but they didn’t go through a whole heck of a lot,” Sterling quips. “They pumped all that dredge soil up here and filled in all this property.” The aftermath was a resulting 44,000-square-foot lot, additional property for which Boyd hadn’t even bargained.

photo_3237505-666x500“I can go right out here to plant a tree and dig up shells that were pumped up here when they did the dredging,” Sterling says. “It’s pretty sandy, but over time once the vegetation takes and the earth blows and the dust settles, it becomes pretty much topsoil. All these houses [on this row] were built right along the edge of the marsh.”

Now, over an acre of green grass (complete with an underground sprinkler system) is a field of dreams for children, resting upon what was once salt-water.  When Boyd passed away in the late 1980s, Mrs. Boyd’s family brought her back to Florida. She put her Southport home up for sale, and the Sterlings acquired it in 1994. The couple brought up two of their four children in the waterfront house. “It was a wonderful place to raise a family,” Sterling remembers. “It’s quite a nice yard to play in back there: golf, baseball, soccer, swimming in the waterway.”

photo_3237510-666x500In fact, the lush yard ends in the family’s own private beach—an amenity hard to come by in Southport. A lengthy dock accommodates the boat.

“We’ve always been water-oriented,” Sterling, who grew up in Cape Hatteras, shares. After attending college in Missouri, he made the move to Southport in 1975. “We’ll jump in the boat and go to Wrightsville Beach, Myrtle Beach, or go fishing. Jean loves to read and she’s pretty seaworthy, so she’ll stretch up on the bow and read while I catch fish. Then we’ll come home and have them for supper.”

Passing word tells that one of the best flounder holes in the area is located right off the Sterlings’ private beach, though the duo prefer trips further out. “In the summertime, it’s bluefish and Spanish mackerel, because that’s a trolling fish. It’s easy—you throw the rod out and they catch themselves,” Sterling details. “In the fall when the bottom feeders come through here, like whiting, then you do a different type of fishing. You just find a spot and anchor up, cut bait, and fish on the bottom. I’ve had my boat as far out as Frying Pan Tower, but typically I stay within sight of land. The guys that like to catch those bigger fish, like king mackerel, African pompano—they go out to the tower. I’m fine with what I can eat at home.”

photo_3237512-666x500Mr. Sterling was the county executive for BB&T for 35 years, retiring two years ago, while Mrs. Sterling worked a bit for Ralph Lauren Cosmetics. “I’ve always lived on the coast,” he explains. “I got a job at the bank and they tried to move me a couple times to Charlotte and Lumberton, and I told them no.”

At the time, the Sterlings had a vacation home on Bald Head Island, where friends from Charlotte often visited. “On Sunday afternoon we’d ride the ferry back over here,” he says. “They’d say, ‘Well, we’ll see you next Friday.’ And I’m thinking: They’ve got a four-hour trip ahead of them. I’ve got a five-minute trip ahead of me. Why would I want to move to Charlotte?”

When the Sterlings bought the River Drive home, walls jutted and doors appeared in odd ways by today’s standards, namely in the kitchen and front entrance. They rearranged the area, removing doors and walls, to make the area more traffic-friendly.

Master bedroom with floor-to-ceiling view of the waterway

Master bedroom with floor-to-ceiling view of the waterway

“We did a lot to the house,” Sterling says. “They didn’t even take out the sliding-glass doors [between the two living areas from the main house and the addition] that used to be here when it was the back of the house. We took out some old sculptured carpet and found the hardwood floors. We added the deck.” The home is now 1,901 square feet.

The ceiling was once made of Florida tiles, something which Sterling jokes he could never understand. The couple replaced it with stamped tin for a more sophisticated aura.

The home’s original windows were casements with cranks and were not very efficient. Those were replaced; however, the floor-length windows in the master bedroom are original to the home, adding architectural charm to an already outstanding view. Likewise, the room’s original walk-in closet and attached master bath creates a retreat from the two guest rooms, which are on the other side of the home. In the master bedroom, the Sterlings only needed to paint and update the ceiling.

Master bathroom

Master bathroom

“I like this house for a lot of reasons,” Sterling describes. “It’s on one level, because as people get older they don’t like climbing a lot of steps. It’s small enough that it’s very cost-efficient to maintain, but the real selling point of the property is the view.”

The Sterlings, who are in the process of completing a mountain home, recently decided to list their Southport house with Intracoastal Realty Corporation. “I never thought I’d leave Southport, to be honest with you,” he admits. “We’d just go up to the mountains to cool off sometimes in August. I got to where I liked it a lot.”

Mrs. Sterling got her husband involved with horses, and the couple now have two Tennessee walkers, two dogs, and a cat in Boone—though they may buy a condo here so they can return to Southport at will. “I’ve got so much to do, and I was spending so much time up there, that I decided not to keep up two houses,” Sterling concedes. “I like the snow. In fact, it’s kind of exciting to me to think you’re going to get snowed in for a while.”

One of two guest bedrooms

One of two guest bedrooms

The Sterlings’ agent is Renée Yost, who runs Yost and Yost for Intracoastal Realty with her husband, Thom. “I’m always captivated by the view here,” Thom says, “because as I’m sitting here, I’m looking at Old Baldy. I came one day to meet Baxter and Jean, and I raced down the road thinking, I’ve got to get there because a ship’s going by! I get to the house and think, Here you go. This is what you see. But it’s absolutely beautiful when you walk out to the little beach and take in how calming it is. It’s just a serene place.”

Thom recalls approaching a cargo ship in the river while on his boat one day. “We pulled up to a Hanjin,” he tells. “It’s amazing. Even on the water it looks like a skyscraper.”

The fleet of boats, ships and yachts which pass the Sterlings’ home are perhaps the most treasured memory they will take to Boone. In fact, Mr. Sterling bought a shipping container for the mountain home to store his lawnmower and tools. “Just imagine the cargo those things take,” Sterling muses. “I’ve tried to count the containers, and this is just above deck. There will be like 20 across—and these things are eight feet by 40 feet—20 across they’ll be stacked, and 16 high. That’s not even below deck. And they’re going to parts unknown.”

Guest bathroom

Guest bathroom

While watching vessels cross into the Atlantic Ocean during sunrise from his waterfront home, Sterling has garnered an education of ships and the sea. “I can tell if a tanker is loaded or unloaded, just by how high it sits in the water,” he assures. “We’ve seen the US Coast Guard mast ship, the Eagle. It’s been by here. We went out and watched when they brought in those gigantic cranes for the port—that was quite a feat. That’s the exciting part. When we have company, they just love to see when a ship comes by. In fact, there’s been two or three to come by this morning.”

The three-bedroom and two-bath home, though it may not rise above the sea in multiple stories, offers much more than nearby properties can boast: experiences one could never harness elsewhere. From the private beach oasis and the expansive green yards to the powerful view, 116 River Drive has as much to offer as any seaside abode.

Back deck

Back deck

“There’s all this waterfront property along here: St. James, Ocean Isle Beach,” Sterling asserts. “That’s nice, but the ships don’t go down there. They might see yachts coming down every once in a while, but you catch that 990-foot ship with 2,000 to 3,000 containers on it—it’s quite an impressive sight.”

For a preview of 116 River Drive, call Renée Yost at (910) 269-1128 or Thom Yost at (910) 398-0657. The home is listed at $829,000, and more information is available at www.YostAndYost.com.

Side yard

Side yard

Private beach

Private beach

 

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