Re: Sailing from Little River Inlet, SC to Morehead City, NC
I try to go directly between Charleston and Beaufort, NC at least once a year. It's a wonderful time saver after having done the ICW a dozen times. Zoom out and look at the scallop of both coasts there and you can see how a direct offshore jump in and out of Frying Pan Shoals saves a lot of time (1 overnight versus 5 day hops usually).
The Slue at 12 miles is marked by an unlit red/green and then a sea buoy on the northern side. With radar, it's trivial as the buoys are plenty far apart. There's plenty of distance for accurate GPS positioning too although I like radar because it shows where the buoys really are.
For your draft, there's also a "4 mile slue" - look at the charts just outside the 3 mile limit. It looks about 7-9 feet deep there and is marked as the 4 mile slue.
Weather is always the determining factor for us. Things have to align nicely and I just don't want any weather on my nose all night long. Just a month ago, the weather didn't work out - we ditched into Winyah Bay and went inside to Beaufort/Morehead City. Take it when you can get it.
I've been out of Little River Inlet many times too. We draw 6' and when Shallote and Lockwoods Folly haven't been dredged, it's a much more enjoyable day to jump between Southport/Cape Fear River inlet and Little River inlet. First, the Little River inlet isn't charted because things move. It's very well marked but you really need to count buoy numbers and stop if you see one out of turn (it means you missed one and you're moving to a bad place).
Between Little River and Cape Fear you can stay just a mile or two offshore. With westerly winds, there will be nothing big and it's quite nice. We've jumped there with 5-8' NOAA predictions for that area and found 2' with 11 second periods which is flat dead calm. It's the westerly direction that's key in that case. NOAA's predictions are for 20 nm out - weather from the west cheats that.
All of that said, the traditional way to jump from Little River is like you're now thinking - go inside between Southport and Masonboro. Only a much larger jump like to/from Charleston seems to make sense to go all the way out to avoid Frying Pan Shoals to me.