We finally reached blue water! Saw dolphin this morning off our bow. But they were too quick to get a picture!
Sunny, low 60’s, NNW10-15kt. Nice Day!
We finally reached blue water! Saw dolphin this morning off our bow. But they were too quick to get a picture!
Sunny, low 60’s, NNW10-15kt. Nice Day!
The next leg of our journey took us across Albemarle Sound and down the Alligator River, a 35 mile motor ride through 11′ of water. We arrived mid afternoon. We anchored in a very protected cove and enjoyed a Happy Hour hosted by s/v “Sanity Check” also from Newfoundland. Judy and Tony are a delightful retired couple that are familiar with this route and fun to travel with. The dink rode back to Dolphin was just in time for a beautiful sunset and because we were in the middle of nowhere, star gazing that night was spectacular!
We lifted anchor at 07:00 to make our way thru the Pungo Canal to Belhaven. As it was a mild night the day warmed quickly so that by 09:30 the Captain was in deck doing chores in his bathing suit as I took the helm and pealed off layer after layer of clothing finally delighted to be in shorts! With iPod and ear buds I danced our way to Belhaven. I’m sure I was a site to passing boats but it didn’t matter I was having a great time as I sang my heart out! My pedometer read 9000 steps, so I think I found a new way to exercise when I can’t get off the boat for a walk!
The water was flat as glass, the scenery was barren but beautiful, and the sky a brilliant blue. It was a beautiful day and just what we needed after so much cold weather!
After a quick stop to fill our fuel tanks at Dowery Creek Marina we arrived in Belhaven at 15:15 and dinked ashore to take a walk through this small sleepy town. There are very few businesses in town and only the Hardware store was open. It’s sad to see that the town has declined since our last visit 6 years ago. It offers such a pretty harbor and its frequented by boaters transiting north and south, but it just can’t gain enough economic leverage to thrive.
Back to Dolphin, we hosted the Sundowner (boaters term for Happy Hour) and were joined by crew from Sanity Check, Avanti and Anneteak. We enjoyed a 4 course communal dinner. Assorted appetizers, tossed salad, Chicken soup and chocolate for dessert! Another delicious meal and lots of fun.
We awoke at 06:30 for a 07:00 departure. The sunrise was beautiful!
At 07:00 we started untying boats one at a time from the raft and paraded ahead to make the South Mills bridge and lock opening.
Interestingly, we were still in the Dismal Swamp Canal but the scenery was changing. Where it was fairly wooded on the northern passage, the southern passage was baron and moss hung from leafless remnants of trees.
With an early afternoon arrival in Elizabeth City, we found all the peer docks at the town’s Mariner’s Wharf open and available to us! Once secure we walked to the nearby Welcome Center to get acquainted with the community.
Elizabeth City sits on the Pasquotank River, is know as the “Harbor of Hospitality” and was voted one of the top 100 places to live on the East Coast. Boaters are treated by “Rose Buddies”, a volunteer organization that offers a Happy Hour everyday, providing wine,beer and cheese & crackers. They clip a rose from bushes at the wharf as a welcome gift to cruisers and share advice about local attractions.
We filled our afternoon with much needed long hot showers and picked up the afternoon courtesy shuttle to the local Farm Fresh supermarket. When we returned a Happy Hour was brewing. This one hosted by Captain and crew of s/v “Tattoo II”, an Island Packet from Newfoundland. It was a great time that ended with 12 of us in the cockpit singing our hearts out to songs of the past with brief pauses for a few of Captain Rock’s “stories”!
You have probably noticed that we’ve gone from nightly dinner menus to Happy Hours. It is a great way to unwind, socialize and make new friends. They usually last about an hour and a half. We have heard that some cruisers set a timer to alert guests when it’s time to leave….we have not experienced that yet. The folks we are traveling with are very courteous! But the time we get back to Dolphin we are full, tired and ready for bed in anticipation of an early rise for the next days journey. Now that daylight savings time as set in we are typically up at 06:00-06:30 to make coffee and get ready for a 07:00 departure. We chart our course for about 40 miles a day so that we insure a daylight arrival to set anchor and get settled….which happens to be early enough to also insure there is time to enjoy the next Happy Hour!
We decided to lay an extra day in Elizabeth City to enjoy the Museum of Albermarle and a few loads of laundry. We also made a short stop at the local clothing consignment shop and found a few more heavy sweatshirts for $2.59!
With 4 boats remaining we met at the Cypress Creek Grill for dessert and coffee to chart our course for the next few days.
We awoke bright and early on Monday morning to lift anchor and put the final 10 miles to the enterance of the inner coastal behind us! Traveling across the James River into Norfolk offers a very impressive view of our naval fleet, from Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers, Aegis Guided Missile Cruisers to small Destroyer Escorts There were more than 20 vessles of various types and sizes in port. Wish we had time to tour Norfolk and Portsmouth, particularily Nauticus (National Maritime Center) and Battleship Wisconsin, but with the cold weather such a distraction we’ve decided we will save that adventure for our return, along with a passage up the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. So onward to the ICW!
The ICW starts as Mile “0” at Hospital Point, VA. From this point forward our travel guides refer to points of interest, bridges, locks, marina’s, dockage, mooring fields and anchorage’s by mile number on the 1239 (statute) mile journey to Key West, FL. We had a choice of two passages for the first 50 miles. The VA Cut; faster, deeper and most frequented by power boaters (thus disruptive wakes) or the Dismal Swamp, a narrow and shallow passage lined with woods and scenic views. We chose the latter as we transited the VA Cut when we brought Dolphin north from West Palm Beach 6 yrs ago.
The first portion of the ICW is comprised of a series of what I’ll call obstacles; train bridges, bascule bridges and locks. The distance between each obstacle and timing of scheduled opening/closing varies making the first part of this journey a challenge! If you miss one scheduled opening you will likely miss something else down the line, delaying an already slow passage! As we arrived at the first train bridge we were caught by surprise. It was supposed to be up and easily passed to get to the 08:30 opening of the Gilmerton Bridge, but it was not! The train bridge tender finally responded after multiple hails and opened the bridge but the delay put us behind and we missed the Gilmerton bridge opening…by just about 3 minutes and even though she saw us coming, the bridge-tendress would not keep the bridge open for us! That left us with an hour and 20 minutes to kill, circling around in a holding area with 6 other vessels until,she was ready to open the bridge again. Once through the bridge we made a hard right turn that marked the entrance to the Dismal Swamp Route.
Our next schedule to meet was the 11:00 opening of the Deep Creek Lock. We missed that one too and expected to wait til the 1:30 opening. But Robert the Lock Tender was on duty. He has a reputation that precedes him as the man how loves his job more than anyone you’ll ever meet! True to his reputation he was a most accommodating and engaging gentlemen! He opened the lock for our caravan of vessels, off schedule, to accommodate our passage. After the last vessel cleared the lock he hopped in his truck and drove half a mile to the bascule bridge and open that for us as well. Thank you Robert!!
Deep Creek Lock
We couldn’t resist leaving our mark!
The Dismal Swamp
For a bit of history, this passage was conceived in the 1700’s by politicians and entrepreneurs including George Washington. It was invisioned to be used as a transport avenue to bring Atlantic White Cedar out of the Swamp to make house shingles. Work began in 1793 and finished in 1805 . Slave labor was used to dig the canal, and with familiarity of their surrounds in the Swamp, became a passage for the undergound railroad. Today its a national historic landmark.
As mentioned the canal is narrow and shallow. It can be clutttered with low lying branches, fallen trees and floating debree…so travel is best in day light. Speed limit on the canal is described as "no wake" so we're limited to no more than a 5kts cruising speed. Invision long, straight and slow, but not straight enough to use auto pilot!
As we approached mile market #28 we were crossing the VA line into NC. We could not make the next lock opening at South Mills Lock so we decided to take advantage of the free dock tie-up at the NC Welcome Center, along with the 5 vessels already there and the 6 in our caravan.
Once lines were secure we took a quick walk across a pontoon foot bridge to the Dismal Swamp Museum and Nature Center to learn more about the history, wildlife and vegetation in the area. As we were returning an informal Happy Hour started to form on the dock. It was cold as the sun was setting but everyone was eager to meet each other, talk about their passages, destinations and most importantly intentions as the N'Easter was bearing down on us! We all agreed that a 07:00 coffee & dock meeting in the morning was a good idea.
We convened on the dock the next morning with coffee in hand. We shared ideas about the storm and passage. The biggest concern was that leaving the protection of the canal would expose us to the anticipated 30-40 kt winds. It was unanimous, we were all staying. The next topic was what time was Happy Hour? 5:00 was confirmed by all. With the most important decision of the day made several of us took off for a brisk walk along the nature trail while others returned to their boats to do chores,etc. The Welcome Center was furnished with sofa, chairs, TV and wifi so most of us make our way there in the afternoon.
At 17:15, after the maintenance man ended his shift, we all gathered with our drinks of choice and a dish to share. Beef stew, Chili, cheese & crackers, chips and dip- I made Butternut squash soup with brown sugar and cinnamon (compliments of s/v “Thistle”) served in Dixie cups. I’m sure we took the Rt 17 motor visitors by surprise but we were warm and enjoying each others company and sharing good food!
The Happy Hour Gang!
The next day was a repeat of the last; morning dock meeting for updates, a bit of exercise, and back to the warmth of the welcome center to catch up on email, update travel blogs and a competitive game of scrabble and a few hands of cards.
A few words about the NC Welcome Center…. Sarah and her team could not have been more hospitable. They offered us coffee, snacks and even contacted the Tractor Supply store in Elizabeth City to see if they could sell us propane heaters for our boats. The cashier lived near the Welcome Center and offered to hand deliver the heaters along with making a special stop at the nearby Walmart to pick up a case of propane tanks…..now that is Southern Hospitality!!!
A few new vessels joined our raft at the dock..including a 53′ trawler who’s captain was 4 months new to the boat. It was a struggle that many of us shared to raft her to a 32′ Cat that was rafted to a 28′ Cape Dory . With the forecasted winds we all felt that trouble was looming! The next morning the Captain was rudely awakened by an uncomfortable bump at 06:00AM. The Captain looked through the overhead hatch to see a 85 lb. Bruce anchor pecking away at his solar panel. The stern line on the trawler had come untied. It was quickly wrestled under control and fortunately no damage was sustained.
As we raised anchor at 07:30 our plan was to enjoy a half day sail to Deltaville. It was cold but blowing less than 10kts and the seas were flat. With the currents in our favor we would have arrived at our destination at 11:00. With a few quick calculations we decided to press on the additional 50 miles to Norfolk…the ICW was finally within our reach! To me that means we are getting into protected waters where wind directions is not so important to our sail plan and most importantly warmer weather!
You might be wondering what we do to pass the time? We scour through several information apps, cruising guides and cruisers blogs. I read info about our destinations aloud to Adrien while he’s at the helm. We do frequent check and validations between our Chart Plotter’s GPS heading and depths vs our Navionics App (on line GPS). Adrien looks for short cuts, tends to the sails to maximize speed as the wind shifts. We research next stops, weather conditions & wind forecasts, check email, make lunch & snacks, taking turns at the helm through out the day, Adrien fits in a few chores, we check out Barge and Tugs passing by on Marine Traffic (give us info about larger vessels destinations, hull speeds, next ports, etc) I can’t explain it but time literally flies by!
Once in a great while the Captain takes a well deserved cat nap!
It was such a calm journey that I was able to work in the galley on my first dinner with the pressure cooker…..Pork Stew. We arrived at 18:30 lowering the hook in Fort Monroe, a small protected anchorage in Hampton VA, just north of Hampton Roads (major shipping channel for Norfolk and Portsmouth) in the James River.
BTW, dinner was delicious & tender and ready in 45 mins. Will definately do more pressure cooking on this trip! Crescent Moon arrived shortly after we settled in and joined us for dinner…a Thank You for all their guidance and new friendship!
We lifted anchor at 08:30 for Reedville, a protected harbor just south of the Potomac River.
We enjoyed a comfortable sail with the jenny and staysail doing 6.5 kts in 9 kts of wind. Shortly afternoon the winds increased to 18 then 24 kts and 4-6′ rollers astern as we crossed the wide mouth of the Potomac. Dousing the staysail, and ready to reef the main, it was uncomfortable but an exciting sail! With the Admiral at the helm at times we had the port rail near the water!
As the sun was sinking lower in the sky and on our nose, it was a challenge to approach the channel. Fishing poles abound! Think dark poles planted in a line sticking about 2-3′ out of the water…. so hard to see! Look closely…
I took this shot with the sun behind me. You could not see the sticks this well when we were approaching them!
The Captain took watch on the bow and directed the Admiral through the approach. We motored up a small creek past a fish processing plant and fishing fleet to a very calm anchorage. We were luck, the breeze was carrying the well know smell from the processing plant away from our anchorage area!
After 8.5 hrs of sailing, we arrived at our destination. Reedville sits on a peninsula that juts into Cockrell Creek just off the Great Wicomico River and is knows as the Manhaden fishing capital of the US. What’s Manhaden? Similar to anchovi, its an oily fish, inedible, that is pressed for its oil and used for fertilizer, livestock meal, cosmetics and more recently omega oil. Settled in 1874 the one and only main street boasts a row of lovely victorian homes build by the original founder, Elijah Reed from Bristol, ME, and fellow business owners.
As the sun was setting, we motored to shore with Bonnie and H for a brisk walk before dinner.
. You know your getting south when you see Y’all!
We learning of two restaurants in town, so we asked the locals which was best. Both were noted for their crab and fried fish so we decided to do our own taste testing! Apps at one, dinner at the other! The Crab served us the best Crab Bisque in a warm bread bowl Adrien and I have ever had!!! Fried oysters were delicious, lightly battered and tender! And the Fried Green Tomatoes were good too. At Tommy’s we enjoyed a delicious broiled fish dinner. I think we had the best of both!
The winds promise to continue tomorrow so we put our heads on the pillow knowing we could sleep in!!
Saturday was a cold 40 degrees morning in the boat! It was so cold we decided to close off the V-berth and dedicate that to our cold storage locker for our supply of fruits and vegetables. We turned on the oven, brewed a pot of coffee and baked a pan of blueberry muffins… just perfect for heating the cabin and hosting Bonnie and H for a debrief on their knowledge of the area and to develop a travel plan for the next few days.
By mid afternoon the winds subsided; the sun was warming. We went ashore for a fresh air walk and explored a few side roads and visited the Reedville Fisherman’s Museum and William Walker House (C 1875). We were hosted by one of the local long time residents (78 yrs!) as he showed us historic pictures (some of which he was in as a youngster) and talked of the evolution of the village with a few first hand accounts.
I convinced the gang that since we were still in Reedville and just a short walk to The Crab, we had to go back and enjoy another bowl of Crab Bisque in a Bread Bowl. And just for the record, I did not have to twist anyones arm! On this trip our server encouraged us to be adventurous and try a local favorite, Sugar Toads…a fried fish that you eat like a chick wing. We’re on an adventure right?
A Sugar Toads is a small blow fish and plentiful in this area several times a year. Sweet, delicate white meat and very tasty! You hold it at the head and tail, and eat from one side of the spine, then the other. I should have taken a picture of the left overs!
Our walk back to the boat put is at the doorstep of Chitterchats Ice Cream And Gossip Parlor. The Almond Amaretto ice cream was delicious!
We extended our stay to visit the Calvert Marine Museum and glad we did. The exibits included regional maritime, cultural and naval past, as well as an interesting look at it’s natural history.
The replica of the giant extinct Miocene white shart was very impressive and makethe great whites of today look like dogfish. The replica is based on a the fossils that have been unearthed from nearby Clavert Cliffs, a type of time capsule from 10-20 million years ago. Today they are prohibited from digging from fossils, but as soon as a storm like Sandy comes along the archeologists jump at the chance to walk the beaches in search of new findings!
Other highlights included walking through the original Drum Point Lighthouse, one of the few remaining cottage-style screwpile lighthouses. Rumor has it that a family with 5 children live in this lighthouse!
Our morning at the museum took us well into the late afternoon. On our way back to Dolphin we met up with Bonnie and H on s/v “Crescent Moon, from Fair Haven, NY on Lake Ontario. They own and operate Pleasant Beach Hotel, a summer beach hotel very near our relatives in Williamson and Webster, NY! Again, a small world! With similar destinations in mind, we discussed winds, seas and set a plan for the next leg south.
We enjoyed an early dinner on board Dolphin; stuffed pork chops and roasted purple potatoes. Home grown potatoes were compliments of “Thistle” and delicious! N
We left Annapolis in very calm weather with cloudy skies for a 7 3/4 hr motor ride to Solomon Island.
In the later afternoon winds picked up on our nose as we battled 3-4' swells and 2' chop. We altered course to the western shoreline and secured lesser swells and chop with a more comfortable ride. We arrived at Zanheizers Yachting Center at 16:45 and secured a mooring.
The Captain lowered the dinghy and rowed us ashore. We checked out the facilities, (nice showers, laundry and restaurant!) Of course we arrived in time for Happy Hour at the YC and enjoyed crab cake appetizers. As we were leaving a young couple arrived for dinner; we saw the ring to be delivered at dessert; a proposal was forthcoming. How romantic… but on Halloween night?
We took a nice brisk walk to downtown Solomon’s Island amongst the local goblins trick-or-treating and was referred to the Captains’s Table for a good local dinner.
Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge over the Patuxent River at sunset
We enjoyed succulent steamed mussels, a delicious crab stew and more crab cakes complimented by draft Yuengling Lager, C.A. And A.T. favorite!
After several recommendations and a brisk walk back to Dolphin we decided we would delay our morning departure to enjoy Calvert Marine Museum.
As many of you know we weathered the storm in Annapolis. The Captain was worried that we would be hit with hurricane strenght winds, since we were within the 70 mile forecasted 74 kt Southwest Wind Quadrant of “Super storm Sandy” . Winds were strong and gusty all day, then started peaking at 7:30 PM and really peaked at about 11:30 pm. Dolphin was being tossed about significantly from 7:30 pm on, when we recorded sustained gusts of 48 kts and at 10:30 saw 63 kts on the wind speed indicator! During this time we were in the warmest part of Dolphin, snuggled warm in bed watching Netflix movies!
The Captain went on deck to check bow lines and chaffing gear after 9pm and felt like he was going to be blown off the deck! We woke up 5 am with winds at 28 kts. Dolphin was rocking and rolling and pitching and yawing from high residual waves hitting us abeam. But by 9 am we were calm enough to make coffee. Later that morning the Captain rowed us ashore for showers and to catch up on laundry, when we met Ann from “Bees Knees”. Ann, from ME, is a live-aboard and works at a local hospital. With a van and her dog beautiful Lucy, she offered and took us to the local Whole Foods market to re-provision. Lucy was willing to share her front seat with me! Thanks so much Ann and Lucy!
Downtown Annapolis faired well. She had some minor flooding but not nearly what was expected.
Nina also stopped at an Alpaca shop on Main street for alpaca socks, shawl and gloves. (Socks for the Captain who won’t say he would like them, but will love wearing them!!…(hi 40’s – low 50’s are coming!). Annapolis fared well, limited loss of electricity and minor flooding in the downtown area.
We settled in for dinner compliments of Whole Foods; Spinach, Feta cheese stuffed Chicken breast with salad and a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay! And with oven on, a warm cabin! …My new motivation for cooking!
Journey resumed Wed… Next stop Solomon’s! N&A