A couple of months ago, when I was planning to take our sailing catamaran Tahina down to Carolina Beach, North Carolina, I used Google Earth to research the new location before we made the decision to go down. Not only was I able to identify some candidate marinas, but I evaluated access to the ocean, where the bridges and roads were located, availability of stores, weather, etc. We ultimately settled on a recently re-built marina called Joyner Marina in Carolina Beach. They have nice facilities, a fuel dock, a beautiful view of the Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW), and a great staff.
In order to reach the marina from the sea, there is a nearby inlet called “Carolina Beach Inlet“. After some searching I discovered this inlet often needs dredging and you can see in Google Earth that the inlet mouth is not protected by a jetty. This is the reason why NOAA nautical charts do not show depth data for the inlet. The Google Earth imagery for the area is dated 2002. I discovered the inlet is regularly surveyed and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. On their web site for NC inlets, they listed the most current surveys with a series of waypoints for the best route for the Carolina Beach Inlet channel (PDF). When I plotted the waypoints for the Carolina Beach Inlet route as placemarks for Google Earth, I was surprised to find they crossed over the land in the Google Earth imagery! For a moment, I jumped to the conclusion the imagery was mis-aligned (back in 2005 there was a misalignment of imagery in the Wilmington area, which has since been fixed). However, after checking with Google, they confirmed the imagery is not misaligned. So, I checked with other imagery providers and discovered the inlet has actually changed dramatically since 2002. In fact, the northern shore of the inlet has moved north by over 120 meters (400 feet)! I took a screenshot of the USGS imagery from Microsoft’s Virtual Earth which is much more recent (I believe late 2007 or early 2008) and overlayed it in Google Earth . Select the overlay and use the transparency slider below the Places pane to compare how the inlet has changed. You can see in the screenshots below the comparison of the route with Google Earth (top) and more recent USGS image (below):
The Carolina Beach Inlet is best used with fair weather and when the currents are right. It’s generally best to use the inlet when the surf is down, at the top of a high tide while the current is still headed in. But, if we need to go out to sea at other times, we can head up to the Masonboro Inlet a few miles north. Masonboro Inlet is charted, and sheltered by a jetty so you can get out under more conditions. You can read more about our first trip down to Carolina Beach here including a GPS track of our path viewable in Google Earth.