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Sloop Les Miserables
Dowry Creek
10/28/2011

Dowry Creek is tucked in off of the Pungo River (which turns off of Alligator River). We were welcomed by Bret and another dockhand and easily tied up to a finger dock across from Alize - though not the dock we were really assigned. Confused old people -strike once again! Dick, Marge, Wiley and I borrowed the courtesy car, an old white and rusted Chevy Caprice filled with water on the back floorboards, complete with handcrank windows, and which "kinda" worked. Dick drove, and while he is about 5'8" or 5'9" he looked like a tiny old man hunkered down driving this tank of a car. We picked up a few groceries for the pot luck that evening. The pot luck dinner was to include a celebration of one of the kids 13th birthday. All the boaters came together by invitation from Mary the owner and a main dish of seafood pasta & birthday/ice cream cake was shared along with all of the wonderful dishes the boaters brought. The boating community forms quickly; stories are shared, boat cards exchanged, and quick friendships are made. The "boat cards" are one way of remembering all of the people we meet. We now tape them in our log book on the entry of when we met with a little note about them. We need all of the cues we can find to assist our aging brains. Mary, the owner of Dowry Creek Marina, continues to mourn the loss of her husband who passed five years ago as well as the loss of a child. She has faced our worse fears and truly understands what is important in life. She embraces all around her with warmth, kindness, and positive energy. A "slap in the face" to remind us to value the gifts we can offer each other. This is a wonderful stop in a great private marina with immaculate facilities which is slightly off the usual path that should not be missed by anyone who has the opportunity to stay at Mary's Marina - in Dowry Creek.

11/11/2011 | Anonymous
When I reed many of your posts, it is almost always the case... that I feel genuine joy at this once-in-a-lifetime journey you two (possibly deranged) humans have mapped out for yourselves. BUTT, with this post in particular... ("Dowry Creek") an antithesis presented itself... (in MY growingly feeble brian:) it Dawned :) on me that a gift is expressing itself on a regular basis... as two of the most impressive people I will EVER know... touch the souls of so many. In a world where shocking horrors are too far too barbaric and frequent... and hearts challenged, you shine and give promise... and hope. I can think of nothing more important. BRAVO Les Mis, bravo.

P.S. Can you see how buying me a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary all those years ago served no good purpose? Rarely has capital been more ill used.
Crossing Albemarle Sound to Alligator River
10/24/2011

We missed seeing an Alligator, but passed on the opportunity to dine on Alligator bites (alligator tail - deep fried! - We are definitely in the south). We joined boats pulling out of Elizabeth City around 7:00 AM the next morning. The procession of boats looked like a beaded string of pearls with us being in the middle. Everyone had at least their jib up and were all on the same heading. We definitely have joined the "snow birds". We were told and have read that the Albemarle Sound can be a treacherous trip. It is much like Lake Erie - shallow waters that quickly kick up if the wind is strong or coming from the wrong direction. However, this did not hold true for us and we had a lovely crossing to Alligator River Marina which is just before the Alligator Bridge. It is a marina and a truck stop. It has a truck stop diner and Dianne the lady who works the counter at the stop shared photos with us of an 8 foot long 'gator' that had been in the marina, as well as photos of a black bear that was previously on the property across from where our boat was docked. Amazingly, we actually got to meet the crew of the "smart people boat" that led the way out of Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth. We shared a lovely evening with wine and cheese with Dick and Marge from the sailboat Alize'. They quickly became our boat buddies as we traveled to our next stop.

Rocking!
10/24/2011

We arrived in Elizabeth City around 10:30A after passing through the Elizabeth City bridge and tied up at the free docks. The city does not charge for their docks - however, they do not have electricity nor facilities (other than a porta-potty). The docks are short finger docks with large pilings to hold your lines around. We quickly learned that boat neighbors help by grabbing your lines, using boat hooks, and send them back to you so that you are attached to the pilings. The winds, unfortunately continued from the Southeast, and as we mentioned in our last blog - this is not a good thing. The boat rocked up and down at the dock. It would raise up 3 feet at the bow and drop the same at the stern and rock back and forth constantly. This required "crocheting" the boat to the pilings and figuring out a way to step off the bow of the boat on to the small finger dock - which was sometimes a drop of 4-6 feet. It also meant that we would not be staying on the boat while it was on the dock until the wind shifted - which it was suppose to happen later in the day. We jumped at the chance to walk around the city - checked out the local book store, wine shop, and restaurants. A lovely wine, coffee, and sandwich shop had free WiFi and allowed us an opportunity to charge our computer/ cellphone/ and handheld radio. Elizabeth City has a "Rose Buddies tradition". This tradition started by Fred Fearing in honor of his deceased wife and with some friends that came to be known as the Rose Buddies. Fred and his friends would cut roses from their personal rose gardens and bring them down to the docks where they were presented to each lady who arrived on a boat. The sailors would then be invited to a wine and cheese party at Fred's house. Fred died some years ago, but the tradition continues and this little town hosts a wine and cheese party for the transient boaters whenever there are at least 5 boats. Roses from Fred's garden have been transplanted to the water front near the free docks where they grow today. There is also a beautiful stone monument with a picture of a rose on it in memory of Fred Fearing and his Rose Buddies. We wish we could have gotten to know him. However, we did not miss the Rose party and this one was very special because the honor guest was the Colonel of the Army Corp of Engineers who is in charge of the whole district, including the Dismal Swamp Canal. He arrived in splendid fashion on an army corp of engineers boat along with his entire staff. Wiley got to talk to him 1-1 for a about 20 minutes, with of course, Wiley doing most of the talking. He is young, smart, and a very nice guy. The first evening on the boat in Elizabeth City was much like trying to sleep inside a running washing machine that includes a loud bang every now and then when a wave hits the stern of the boat. However, at about 2:00A the winds shifted to the west, a cold front came through, and the boat settled allowing some sleep. We stayed an extra day in Elizabeth City because crossing the Albemare Sound can be treacherous if the wind is strong. We waited, along with all the other boaters for the calm to come on Friday before we would leave early in the morning to cross the sound to Alligator River Marina.

02/17/2013 | Al Gill
Once Elizabeth City was a nice stop. That is long in the past. The restaurants have closed. The rose buddies were run off by the city before Fred died andthe only people who offer to help now are homeless looking for a handout. No thanks.
The Good News and the Bad News
10/20/2011

Our goal for the next day was to lock through onto the Dismal Swamp canal and make it to the famous Dismal Swamp Welcome Center before nightfall. In perhaps our most profound humiliation since our inept docking maneuver in front of hundreds of amused spectators at Frankfort, Michigan, we began by going up the wrong river and then engaged in a lively discussion as to why the highway bridge in front of us was not on our chart, and as to whether our mast would fit under it. Our ruminations were interrupted when the manager of the Tidewater Marina called us on channel 13 ( bridge tenders channel ) to ask us if our intention was to proceed down the ICW, when we told him it was he told us we had turned the wrong way out of the marina. We had to come back and turn left in front of the marina. To make it worse when we got back near the marina we called him and asked, " Do you mean left here?", to which he responded " Do you see the sailboat with the blue canvas behind you - they are your buddy boat just follow them!". We did follow the sailboat which apparently had smart people on it ( smarter than us anyway). We followed them through the first bridge and parted ways when we arrived at the turn off to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The good news is the Dismal Swamp is not dismal but amazingly serene and beautiful. It is amazing to think about the slaves who had dug this canal in early 1800s. We slowly navigated the Canal managing to stay in the middle of the channel. It was a beautiful warm fall day as we carefully followed the coffee colored water of the Dismal Swamp which ends up leaving a "brown mustache" on the boat's bow. The dark water, from rotting leaves and cypress tree roots, mirrors the trees and skylight. It is truly like entering another world. We reached the first lock that raises boats about 9 feet early in the day. We were the first of three boats in the lock and Merry was at the bow holding lines as we were lifted. The locks in these canals do not have lines available; you have to provide the lines and the lock masters grab your lines with a boat hook and wraps it around the bollard so you control the lines. The rush of water coming into the lock, jostling the bow of the boat via whirlpools of water was mostly ignored by Wiley as he tended the stern line and engaged in conversation with the other boaters. This was a good thing as he would have "freaked out" had he seen what was happening at the bow as Merry wrestled with the line and a boat hook to keep the boat off the canal wall. As you travel the canal you must constantly watch for "dead heads" (floating logs) and "snags" - underwater entrapments. There were a couple of times that we heard a loud thump - knowing that while we did not see a log, we hit one. We arrived at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center to find seven boats tied up off the dock - rafting in groups of three. We were welcomed by a kind offer from a lovely Canadian couple on a 38 Island Packet, Island Pursuit, - a serious ocean going vessel. Wiley, kiddingly, informed them a number of times that "we were watching them" - Canadian foreigners need to be monitored! Unbelieveably, every time the Canadians enter a new state they must check in with customs. The welcome center was closed (we move slowly and just missed the opportunity to be "welcomed"); we cooked dinner on board and made an early evening of it. We looked forward to a second day thinking it would be as good as the first day. It wasn't!
After going under a bridge we entered the second lock where we were dropped the same 9 feet. All of the boats that were at the Welcome Center were in the lock with us. It was filled with boats on both sides of the lock and while preparing to be on the starboard we were told to go to port. This required a quick movement of lines and Merry ran around the boat preparing lines. The ride down was smooth. We all chatted while in the lock and met a young couple with a year old baby girl on a boat from Honduras named Kittyhawk. When leaving the lock in the sequence suggested by the lock master some of the faster sailboats were eager to get past the slow little sailboat - that being Les Miserables. They zoomed past us - waking us - and almost sending us out of the center of the channel which would mean we would go aground. Fortunately, we didn't - well at least not at this time.
Now being married to someone who is ADD has its advantages and disadvantages. The plus, is as many of you know, ADD people are often very intelligent, resourceful, and creative. However, again - as many of you know, the downside is their inability to stay focused and complete a task. "Bright shiny objects" constantly distract and draw attention away from a task at hand. So, as we traversed the next section of this trip the first mishap occurred when Merry steering the boat almost took us the wrong way down the Pasquotank River and led us to a creek that was a dead-end. The plotter was unclear and the navigator was at the wheel - not navigating. A mix up that could have led to disaster was quickly remedied as we turned around in the creek! Wiley kindly took over the helm and just a little further down the river, while talking - BANG - THUMP - the boat shuddered ...stopped, listed to port and flung us forward in the cockpit. Quickly the complete quiet of the swamp enveloped us, along with duck weed, in contrast to the expletive 4 letter words that came out of Wiley's mouth. Merry trying to use her best coaching skills - did not paraphrase, but tried to soothe by saying it will be okay - as she tried to convince herself of this. We will get off - we both ran down to check the bilge to make sure there was no water coming into the boat. We did not put a hole in the boat! This was the good news. The bad news was we were hard aground. So the downside of ADD again is the distractibility - the upside is creative problem solving. Wiley went into action. First preparing the dinghy, getting the anchor off of the bow, rowing the anchor out and dropping chain/ anchor out to place off the stern of the boat to try to winch us off. However, this failed on two attempts. Next came an attempt to pull us off by putting a line around a tree stump sticking up out of the swamp and winching us off. This resulted in a loud crack in the empty swamp - the sound of the tree being broken off and floating into the river. Wiley rowed the tree stump off to the side so no other boat would hit it. Merry insisted after looking around at all the swamp around us that if the creative ideas failed by 1:00, Boat US would be called for a tow. Wiley donned his scuba gear to check out what was happening under our boat. It turned out that we were not aground, we were caught in a snag - an underwater tree. The Boat US call happened right on schedule, but during the wait a power boat "Just Ducky" came and pulled us off - only to send us aground in the mud. However, just as we went aground in the mud the red Boat US boat came roaring up the river toward us. On board was our Island Pursuit friend whose boat was also aground a little further up the river. Long story short we were finally pulled off - which would have cost us $900.00 had we not had Boat US insurance. Of course, after this rather remarkable lesson, you would think that the captain would be re-focused with great intent on not going aground again... however, it took reminders by the navigator to focus the helmmen's attention on the channel NOT on the guy kayaking nearby, nor the bird on the shore, nor the boat that was further up the river - but on staying in the center of the channel. When we finally finished traversing the river just prior to going through a bridge to Elizabeth City we learned that the winds were going to be from the Southeast - this is not a good direction to be at a dock in Elizabeth City and being exhausted from our days adventured we dropped the hook off of a yacht club near Elizabeth City and spent a peaceful night.

Joining The Navy
10/20/2011, Portsmouth,Virginia

We left the marina on Sarah's creek bright and early at low tide so we carefully maneuvered out to the York River Channel and did not go aground! It is at least 8 miles down the river to Chesapeake Bay and this past without incident. We raised our sails and headed toward Portsmouth, VA which is just across the Elizabeth River. We encountered a lot of boat traffic - many container ships, all sizes of Sailboats, powerboats, and even a Cruise Ship. However, when entering the Elizabeth River the most impressive ships were the Navy ships on the Norfolk side of the river. We were very grateful that not one of the Navy ships was out in the channel. We saw an impressive display of naval might which included a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier, 2 guided missile cruisers, numerous amphibious assault ships, and destroyers. We felt like spies, because we took photos of all of them, which will be posted on our blog site. We also past a huge Carnival Cruise ship just before we entered the Tidewater Marina at Portsmouth. Later from the marina we were amazed to watch the cruise ship back away from her berth and use her thrusters to turn her around so that she could proceed to sea.

The Historic Triangle
10/19/2011

We had such a great time in Deltaville that we did not want to leave. Readers of this blog have heard this over and over again, of course. However, we have a continuing fear of being caught by Jack Frost before we can get south to warmer climes, so with great reluctance we departed from Deltaville to go onto the next place we did not want to leave. We had a beautiful sailing day south to the York River and thanks to Merry's navigation we avoided all shoals by a wide margin. We proceeded up the river to Yorktown scene of the final decisive British defeat in the American Revolution. The Riverside Marina floating docks are only a few hundred yards downstream from a narrow place in this very deep river where there is a highway bridge. When we pulled into the marina we encountered a current of at least 1 1/2 knts the person from the dockmaster's office who came down to take our lines certainly knew what she was doing; her name is Susan and she is a 20 year veteran of the United States Coast Guard. Mike, whom we met later, also works at the dockmaster's office and is a retired captain in the U.S. Coast Guard, who for his last assignment commanded all the small boat units on Chesapeake Bay. As you can imagine, Wiley was completely in awe of both of them and loved listening to their stories as well as ask them a multitude of questions. However, Mike told us that there was going to be a strong wind out of the east which would cause large waves when the tide was ebbing and advised us to leave the marina. We went across the river to Sarah's Creek. We made the crossing in about a half an hour but the entrance to Sarah's Creek is tricky because of a sandbar and Wiley managed to run us (softly) aground. Since we were only going perhaps 1 knt we backed off without difficulty and ended up spending 4 nights at this marina, Yorktown Yacht Marina. They are incredibly nice people and one of the services they provide is a free ride to and from Yorktown whenever you want. We took advantage of this to tour the Yorktown battlefield, colonial Williamsburg, and Jamestown. We were amazed at the Yorktown battlefield that many of the field fortifications are still visibly evident. We learned that Lord Cornwallis had made the inexplicable error of abandoning 18 of the 21 redoubts that constituted his first line of defense. This shortened the siege by at least two weeks. A large British fleet and relief force arrived off the mouth of the York River just 5 days after Cornwallis surrendered so his inexplicable action ended up being the difference between victory and defeat. Two of the redoubts that he did not abandon were taken by storm, one by French troops and the other by American light infantry under the command of Lafayette under the command of Alexander Hamilton. One of the most interesting things we learned is that the French actually sustained more dead in the siege of Yorktown than the Americans did. The names of the American and French dead are on the Victory Monument.
We took a free shuttle bus to Williamsburg where we were able to see the mansion that the last British colonial governor, Lord Dunmore, fled from. We were able to go through a church built in 1740, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and many other great Americans attended services. We were also able to learn how colonial women gathered wool, made thread, wove cloth, and made clothing. It took over 140 hours to make the cloth for one petticoat and that did not include sewing it.
We enjoyed the street theater presented by re-enactors playing Martha Washington, an early free African American minister, George Washington, and more.
We took the shuttle to Jamestown where we visited the both the "historic" Jamestown (the site of the actual colony) and the Jamestown settlement (which is not where Jamestown was but is an effort at a replica of Jamestown). We went on a Jamestown tour led by a young archeologist whose enthusiasm for his work made this a highlight of our journey so far.
We got to see the "dig" that uncovered 2 sides of the triangular stockade in 1994; before that it was believed that erosion of the island had removed the site. A "dig" after that uncovered the site of the first church built at Jamestown which was revealed by the holes that the settlers dug for the wooden pillars that supported the roof of the church.
The archeologist described artifact that he had uncovered which included an armored breast plate from the 14th century (bought on the cheap as war surplus from the tower of London!). We have posted a large number of photos on our blog site if you are interested take a look.

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