Every spring, hundreds of overloaded, down on their lines cruising boats leave Florida and head north up the ICW. As the miles pass, they rise up. Boot stripes become visible. Crews resort to eating things that they wonder why they ever bought, like canned beets, or spam and yams. The good stuff, the crackers and cookies, the honey-roasted peanuts, the Almond Joys, are long gone. Beer supplies are getting low, and (gulp), rationing is in effect. These are clear signs that it is time to put in to a resupply port.
Things on the boat begin to fail. Halyards fray. Shackles break. Filters clog. Time to get into a yard for some quick maintenance.
Oriental is the best place I have found for resupply and maintenance work along the ICW between Norfolk VA and St. Augustine FL. It immediately adjoins the ICW and it has a unique combination of stores, boatyards and marinas so that all a cruiser's needs can be met in one stop. Here you will find a grocery store that will pick you up in a van from your boat and deliver you back again with bags loaded. Nearby is a hardware store with all the nuts and bolts, as well as a small West Marine. Two top-notch boatyards border sheltered Whittaker Creek. There is a high-volume, professionally run fuel dock. There are several marinas and free 48-hour docking provided by the town. Several adequate restaurants cater to hungry sailors, including one that serves delicious, big-city style pizza, and another that will fill you up with a great country-style breakfast. Saturday mornings a farmer's market springs up harborside, and a local fisherman sells seafood fresh off the boat.
Oriental is very fortunate to have a grocery store at all. The old-line Town and Country store was run desultorily by the owning family and provided the town with basic produce, dairy, meat and paper products. Wal Mart planted one of their Express stores nearby around 2014 and quickly ran the Town and Country out of business, Soon afterward they shuttered their own store. This left the town with no grocery store, the nearest one being in Bayboro, 10 miles up the road. Some time later the owner of the Piggly Wiggly store in Bayboro (these stores are franchises under local ownership) acquired the old Wal Mart building and opened a Piggly Wiggly there.
The store, known locally as the Piglet due to it's diminutive size, is a bit of a hike from the marinas and town dock. To make it easier, the owner has put on a free shuttle service between the store and any of the local docks. That includes Pecan Grove, across the bridge and technically not in Oriental. All he asks is that you commit to buying at least $60 worth of groceries. This should be no problem for transient sailors who plan to do galley resupply in Oriental. A case of beer is a good start, a few day's supply of fresh produce, couple loaves of bread, coffee, pound of bacon and a dozen eggs and you're already homing in on $60. Cookies, crackers and cheese ought to put you over the top. For serious restocking, the store has a good meat counter, deli, all the paper goods and cleaners and sponges, in fact everything you could get in any well-stocked grocery store.
Almost right across the street from the Piglet is a Dollar General for the sailor looking for socks and clothes-pins and other household needs. A phone call to the Piggly Wiggly confirmed that the shuttle will wait with your groceries while you run across the street to get the things you need from the Dollar General. So sailors looking to do galley resupply would have a hard time finding a better place to do it than Oriental. Call Piggly Wiggly at 252-249-3100.
As a side note, the next grocery supply north is the Food Lion in Belhaven, but it is a long hike from either the Belhaven waterfront or town docks. If you stay at one of the commercial marinas, you might be able to get a loaner car or a ride with a staff member, but if you are staying on the public dock or anchoring out, be ready to get out your walking shoes. And don't let your eyes get too big, because you will be lugging all those groceries home on your back. Sailors using the Dismal Swamp Canal will find a Food Lion close by the public dock at Deep Creek.
The two boatyards in Oriental, M&J (formerly Sailcraft Service) and Deaton Yacht Service, both can handle just about any repair. Recently I sailed into Oriental with a dropped halyard. I contacted M&J 8:00 Monday morning, was in the yard at noon, with a new halyard rove over the masthead by 1:00. While he was at it, the very competent and helpful rigger, Tyler, gave all the standing rigging a once-over and made some useful suggestions as to tightening up a couple of shrouds. Just before I came in, a big Beneteau got a quick haul for bottom wash and new zincs and was splashed in just a couple of hours, ready to head north to the Chesapeake. The yard looks great and it appears the new owners are keeping things up to the standards that made so many devoted customers for the old Sailcraft Service. M&J 252-249-0522. Deaton 252-249-1180.
Either of the yards can order from Paxton, so sailors transiting the area can call a yard and have them place an order for just about any marine item, and pick it up within a day or two. Never heard of Paxton? They are a huge marine wholesaler out of Norfolk, kind of like a Defender on steroids. They won't sell to you, but they will sell to any of the yards and marine retailers along the coast. They send out a van every day to make the rounds of all their customers, so if the yard can place your order by early afternoon, Paxton will drop it off the next day. So, if something breaks and you need a special part, call ahead and limp in to Oriental to find it waiting for you at one of the yards.
Of course, no resupply point is complete without fuel on the dock. Oriental Inn & Marina sells a lot of fuel - thousands of gallons a week - so you know it hasn't been aging in the tank. The facility is located right at the top of the inner harbor, well-protected and convenient. If you call ahead - 252-249-1818 - or hail on 16 - a dockhand will meet you to take your lines. Whittaker Creek Marina used to sell fuel, but as of June 2019 their pumps are out of commission.
While we're on the topic of Oriental Marina & Inn - they also sell ice, crushed and block, and offer transient slips and hotel rooms. For sailors looking to sleep in a real bed for a night or two, the Inn offers package deals for a slip and a room. One more thing - they have a coin-op laundry for their customers, and my experience is that they will benignly look the other way when people tied up on the town docks use it. I have always found the manager, Tom, and all the dockhands to be friendly and pleasant. It's a great facility and a real drawing point for the town.
There are several more marinas in town, including Oriental Harbor just behind the breakwater at the entrance to the harbor. There is Whittaker Creek Marina, Whittaker Point Marina, and Pecan Grove Marina. Under the bridge on Smith Creek are several more marinas, but you have to be able to negotiate the 45 foot bridge height. So there is plenty of space for transients who want to dock overnight. In addition, there are two town-run transient docks that allow boats to tie up for 48 hours - unofficially, more, if demand is not high. The one at the uppermost point of the inner harbor will accomodate a 50 footer on each side, and the new dock just downstream is at least 70 feet long. I've seen two good-sized cruisers on each side.
Just about the only drawback to Oriental is the limited anchorage. There is room for a few boats behind the breakwater, along with a convenient dinghy dock, but the biggest, most sheltered anchorages are up Smith and Greens Creeks, under the 45 foot bridge.
Village Hardware packs a lot of punch for a small location. I have been surprised at what I have found there. For tools, paints, adhesives, nuts and bolts, this is the place to go. It's on Broad Street, the main drag through town, just a few blocks from the inner harbor.
Tied up on the town dock with a cooler full of fresh groceries, my preference is to cook something good in Terry Ann's galley, but for those looking to eat out, there are several options. Toucan Grill, part of the Oriental Marina & Inn complex, has decent burger and fries type options, and the nearby M&M's has pretensions, not always realized. I've heard the fresh seafood there is very good. O'Town, the former Trawl Door, is supposed to be the high-class joint, but I have never eaten there. It tends to be open sporadically, not a good sign in my book. The best two places to eat are out Broad Street. Brantley's is unabashedly traditional country cooking, a great place for breakfast. The Silos out across from the Piggly Wiggly, a good hike from the town docks, serves excellent pizza, subs and Italian dishes. This is a touch of the city in what is undeniably a very small town, and people who are used to the quality of big-city eateries will find The Silos comes up to standards.
Last but not least, the Bean is the coffee shop at the top of the inner harbor, overlooking the town docks, the commercial boat docks, and the Oriental Marina & Inn. It's the hub of the waterfront, the perfect place to have several cups of coffee and watch the town go by. TheBean has WiFi service, and the baristas have graciously allowed me to spend hours nursing a cup of coffee and updating my website in the comfort of their air-conditioning. Highly recommended.