Pose any question about the Inland Coastal Waterway from Virginia to the Florida Keys, and Claiborne Young of Burlington will have an answer.
He’s spent a good part of his 62 years cruising these waters and probably knows every nook and cranny better than anyone except his wife and business partner, Karen.
The result of his passion for the water, sail boats and power boats is a massive website filled with information ranging from charts and navigation dangers to the best seafood restaurants and the unknowns that may lurk underwater.
The U.S. Coast Guard has even contacted Young for help. While vacationing in Maine he took a cell call from the Coast Guard in North Carolina wanting to know how to contact the Onslow Beach Bridge. Young showed the officer how to find the number for the bridge tender on his website.
“Since 1983 my life has been consumed as a cruising guide author. I love it because you never know what’s around the next bend,” Young said.
In 1980, the Youngs cruised up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River to Washington on their 31-foot power boat.
“In planning that sojourn, we used the old Blanchard Chesapeake Cruising Guide,” Young said. “It proved to be an essential tool.”
He then was on the hunt for a similar book about the ICW in North Carolina. None existed so Young decided he would write one. At the time he was general manager of his family-owned department store in Burlington. The idea grew to the point Young contacted a publisher even though not a word had been written and he possessed no writing experience outside of college papers.
“That fall I contacted a small publisher in Winston-Salem, John F. Blair,” Young said . “I didn’t hear anything back from him for about six months. One day the phone rang and it was Mr. Blair, who at age 89 thought a cruising guide for the North Carolina coastline was a great idea.”
Three years later Young finished the guide and Blair published it. Since then Young has penned cruising guides for South Carolina, Georgia, Eastern Florida, Western Florida, the Northern Gulf Coast [Florida Panhandle to New Orleans] and with Morgan Stinemetz as coauthor, the Florida Keys.
Young, with Karen as navigator, spent hundreds of hours on the water researching and photographing the ICW. By the time he finished one book it was time to revise another. Expenses eventually exceeded royalties, and the print guide ceased. Young estimates he sold close to 125,000 books.
During the heyday of the guides Young also published a newsletter, created a website to promote his books and hosted a show on public television about cruising. Young has built a thriving nautical enterprise, Salty Southeast Cruisers’Net. It requires a staff of six to keep the website going.
“I can well remember the excitement in 2008, when we first hit 12,000 visits a month,” he said. “Now we have surpassed the 70,000-a-month level and are the largest cruising net in the southeast and one of the largest in the U.S.”
Young credits his parents, who are deceased, with nurturing his love for water and boats.
“Both had a natural affinity for the water,” he said. “I had an ideal existence living aboard their boat moored in Morehead City during the summer. I was about 9 or 10 at the time and my dad and I spent many an hour fishing.”
Young wonders what happened to that boat, “The Tar Baby,” a 48-foot Harkers Island Sportsfisherman built in 1957 to sleep four.
“She was a classic with a wooden hull and gas engines,” he said. “She was eventually sold to a charter boat captain in the Florida Keys when my Dad and his partner, the late W.C. Mull of Burlington, decided they wanted a larger boat. I looked all over the Keys for her at one time but never found her. I guess she’s gone by now, sunk in a storm.”
Ask Young about his favorite cruising spots and restaurants on the ICW and you are in for a treat. If it’s away from civilization, he’s happy. Young will show you old plantation homes up a tributary you’d never see by car. He’ll describe the Waccamaw River from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown and Sea Island country south of Charleston. You’ll cruise with him to the Keys and northeastern North Carolina.
You will eat at Captain Charlie’s in Swansboro where the breading is light and rich and the seafood is prepared in peanut oil and separate fryers. You’ll eat high on the hog at Slightly North of Broad in Charleston, and you’ll cruise up a creek five miles off the waterway to find Sunbury Crab Co. in the middle of nowhere. And you’ll dine at an exotic place like Cabbage Key, 30 miles north of Fort Myers, where the dining room walls are papered in one-dollar bills.
What a life; it’s bliss for Young who is full of enthusiasm for the future as he talks about taking his website to new levels, cruising new waters and shooting more photographs of seascapes and landscapes.
“I can’t imagine retiring,” he said. “It’s fascinating what we do, meeting so many interesting people and visiting so many interesting places…I’ve got to cover a lot water in a short period of time, but I’ll tell you this: it doesn’t getting any better than sailing in a moderate wind on the Pamlico.”