18/06/2008/8:09 pm, Hampton, VA
We cruised past all the warships lining the Norfolk Harbour, spotted at Hospital Point a couple of boats we had last seen in the Bahamas, and pushed on to Hampton. A leaflet we had been given in the Dismal Swamp welcomed us to that area and assured us we could anchor across from the Downtown Piers. Well - we could, and did, but watching our stern swing awfully close to a piling was part of the deal.
We were first anchored close to red marker 22, but while we were ashore and blissfully ignorant, we slid backward. Fortunately we were still afloat, although we provided entertainment for our friendly neighbours on Escapade. With the anchor reset and more rode out, we were secure but watchful. When the anchor alarm (set at its lowest setting) went off with every wind shift and tide change in the night, we paid close attention to see whether it was a swing or a drag! Depending on tide and swing, we had either 4 ft under us or almost nothing.
Showers were $1.00 apiece - fabulous price - at the Public Piers so we cleaned up and went off to explore the impressive Virginia Air and Space Center. We checked our problem-solving abilities and reaction times to see if we'd make good pilots, and looked in wonder at the command module from the Apollo 12 mission to the moon. We peered at pieces of rock from the moon and from Mars. Interestingly, that piece was from a meteorite that fell out of the sky one day in Nigeria. It was only later that its chemical content could be compared with information from the Mars Rover expeditions, and a match was made.
Then the question was - move on for a few hours or stay and make a real day of it on Thursday. You guessed it - we stayed. It felt like we needed the time to look at charts and regroup ourselves - into Chesapeake Bay cruisers. Jim bought a couple of jerry cans of diesel ($4.95 US gallon); we chatted with Hamish, Kieron, and little Jack on Free at Last (Sarah was getting dinner) and were reminded again how much we like meeting Aussie friends. We dug out our Down East Circle Route book - by Cheryl Barr - our guide for the St Lawrence River part of the trip - one they are planning to take.
Which reminds me...
Our two favourite books for traveling the ICW were: "Managing the Waterway: an Enriched Cruising Guide for Intracoastal Waterway Cruisers" by Mark and Diana Doyle.
2005, Semi-local publications LLC. It was beautifully set up to provide specific information on anchorages, marinas and bridges for each mile, and had a rich narrative portion for reading along the way.
Intracoastal Waterway Chartbook: Norfolk VA to Miami FL (4th edition) edited by John Kettlewell and Leslie Kettlewell. 2002, International Marine/McGraw Hill. This one is set up in flip chart fashion with arrows. It's like a CAA triptik for the waterway and we found it immensely handy in the cockpit.
While we are happy that we followed the ICW all the way down to Lake Worth once so we have a clear idea of what it is like, we did several outside passages on the way back and are very happy we did that too. It meant that we spent far fewer days traveling on the inland route and were able to stop for several days at a time when we wanted or needed to. To be more specific, we spent 28 days moving along the ICW on the way south and 7 days moving on the ICW coming north. (That was mostly because we made outside passages, but more hours of daylight helped too.) It took 30 traveling days to go from Norfolk to the Bahamas, and 13.5 traveling days to come back.
There is something to be said for being either ahead of or at the end of the pack too - less crowded anchorages, no jockeying for position at bridges.
So here we are ready for the Chesapeake Bay. We're off on Thursday for the Deltaville area and will then go across to visit Crisfield on the eastern shore - weather permitting, of course! This time, we've friends to visit all along the way.
17/06/2008/7:47 pm, Dismal Swamp Canal, NC and VA
On our way south we were dubious about the depths in the Swamp route and made the decision to take the Virginia Cut. On the way back north we were determined to try it and are we ever glad we did.
At about ICW mile 78 as we entered Albemarle Sound, we veered to port and followed ICW Route 2 - The Great Dismal Swamp Route - to begin a wilderness journey that we stretched out to 3 days so we could savour it.
The swamp was so named back in 1728 by Colonel William Byrd II, who led a surveying team into the swamp to establish the state line between Virginia and North Carolina. Another version was that early settlers called swamps, "dismals". Either way, the name stuck. It may be dismal on a dark day in the heart of the swamp, but as we cruised along the canal under bright sunshine, it was anything but.
Years ago, I read and loved an old book, "Freckles" by Gene Stratton Porter, about a boy and a swamp. I need to find that book again because I think I've gotten a glimpse of his swamp.
We had planned to stop in Elizabeth City for the night. It is famous for free docking, the "rose buddies" who give roses to visiting boats, for the wine and cheese parties ...But... when I radioed them, a boater called back to say they don't answer the radio and when I phoned the number in the book, it was a voice message from the chamber of commerce - closed on a Sunday afternoon. We circled a couple of times but no one was in sight and the slips were the kind we would require assistance with so we reluctantly kept on going. I think we must have just caught them on an off day.
It all worked out well though, because we anchored just off Goat Island - around a couple of bends in the river and had a perfectly wonderful evening. The water was mirror flat, trees grew right to the edge of the river, one lone powerboat anchored nearby for a few minutes while the captain had a swim and then left. It was just the birds and us.
There were a couple of forest fires burning in the area causing smoke (sometimes heavy) along the rivers but we were lucky enough to miss most of it. Our evening was mostly clear, and although the smoke hovered around, we never had the experience of ash falling on us nor any difficulty breathing.
We left about 9 on Monday to catch the 11 o'clock opening of the South Mills Lock. The first few miles were part of the winding Pasquotank River with its dark tannin coloured water and leisurely S curves. Each corner opened up a new vista of dense foliage right to the banks - loblolly pine and pin oak, sycamore, sassafrass and sweet gum, red maple and red cedar and a host of others. Wild roses bloomed down near the water, lilies carpeted corners and fallen logs provided sunny spots for turtles.
The winding route eventually gave way to the canal - hand dug (by slaves of course) beginning around 1793 as a trade route between Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The area was heavily logged and has a couple of interesting historical stories. The area was of prime importance in the Underground Railway as it provided shelter for slaves making their way north, and for groups of "maroons" who hid out in the swamps. We read that Edgar Allen Poe composed "The Raven" while staying at the inn along the canal, and a theatrical boat that plied these waters was the real life example for the musical "Showboat." The canal had periods of prosperity and periods of neglect over the couple of hundred years since its creation, and is now maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers as a pleasureboat waterway. I'm sure those slaves and the businessmen who drove them had no vision of creating a place of beauty for the likes of us, but we sent a little vote of thanks to them as we traveled.
We stopped at the Welcome Centre with a question in our minds of whether to make it a short visit or an overnight one - and opted for the latter. Once again, the day was stifling hot; the dockage was free and the centre air-conditioned! We exchanged some laughs with Sudie and Dolores, the friendly hosts - "Got any elastics?" "HOW many brochures can one person take?" as we checked e-mail and perused the book trade shelves. We visited the newly opened visitors centre for the Dismal Swamp State Park across the canal, and then spent a leisurely evening lolling about on the boat and wandering the nearby paths. The trails were closed because of the forest fires, but I'd make time to go exploring them next trip.
Because we had so enjoyed the first day's travel, we left very early so we could mosey along at about 3.5 to 4 knots to the Deep Creek Lock for its 11 o'clock opening. We've discovered that while we must hurry up sometimes, we prefer to drift whenever we can! Once more, we gazed at the trees and listened to the birds. We searched for snakes but didn't find any. We watched for overhanging trees that might catch our mast, and our depth sounder for shallow bits (the lowest we saw was 6.5 feet for a few seconds here and there) and the path ahead for wayward logs but encountered no difficulties.
Once at the Deep Creek Bridge, we waited for a bit because Robert had 7 southbound boats locking through. The routine is that the lockmaster helps each boat tie up, closes the lock doors and then when the water has reached its desired level (8 feet up at this lock; 8 feet down at South Mills) he opens the doors, sees the boats out, hops in his car and drives to the bridge to open it. We enjoyed meeting Robert - a man who clearly is in the right job. He answered his radio promptly, gave clear information on opening times, efficiently caught our lines to sling them over the pilings, made cheery conversation as we dropped out of sight and wished us well as we traveled onward. He is the best source of information on the water levels in the canal too. (757-487-0831)
From there, it was a fast re-entry into busyness. We mingled with boats from the Virginia Cut Route and with barges and tugs as we made our way under 5 more bridges - all of whose operators were helpful and friendly, and with the noise of road and air traffic over head we found ourselves once more in the hustle and bustle of Norfolk. Soon enough, we passed Red Marker 36 - Mile 0 of the ICW. It seemed fitting that on this day - June 17th, we marked a whole year since this adventure began.
13/06/2008/11:09 pm, Oriental, NC
After our frustrating morning in the Morehead City/Beaufort area, it was a relief to lift the anchor and get out of there.
Fortunately our next stop was Oriental, a town we just loved when we stopped here in the fall, and which we just love again now. People are friendly, the houses are pretty, the website (www.towndock.net) is chockfull of activities, and the tree lined streets and seawall are perfect for strolling along. There is room to anchor in the harbour and free dockage for 72 hours at the town dock, along with several marinas. The Oriental Marina makes its showers (complete with towels, soap and shampoo for a $5.00 fee) and laundry available to cruisers who are anchored out. This place just feels good.
When we arrived on Thursday evening, we cleaned ourselves up a bit and went off to M&M's for a wonderful dinner. I ordered shrimp and grits - I'm becoming a connoisseur of the many variations of this dish - and Jim had duck.
On Friday, we started the day with coffee and bagels at the Bean - the popular coffee shop on the waterfront. We took care of all that sweaty laundry and enjoyed luxurious showers at the marina, and visited our favourite store - the Inland Waterway Provision Company - filled to bursting with clothes, giftware, marine supplies and all things nautical.
The icing on the cake was that our friends Gail and Peter (Jabiru) were here and we spent a fabulous few hours catching up with them. These Australians are great fun and it was so nice to sit with them and share some of our experiences and impressions as we cruise through the US. We last saw them as we both departed Georgetown in the Exumas.
It was also cool to meet Andrée and Tic (Antic) again. We met them way back in the fall on a water taxi in Port Washington. We didn't remember the boat, but when they came walking down the dock and Gail introduced us, it all came flooding back - another one of those wonderful small world events. They are heading for the Chesapeake so we look forward to seeing more of them.
The grocery store is about a mile up the road from the waterfront so we got some exercise at the end of the afternoon. On the way back, some friendly locals picked us up in their cute red Cabriolet and delivered us right to the dock.
We're off first thing in the morning as far as we can get up the ICW toward Mile 0 again.
Our passage from Cape Fear to Beaufort on the outside was smooth and solitary with not one sighting of another boat all night long. These next few days on the ICW will probably be quite different. It's a spring weekend and there will no doubt be dozens of pleasure boats along with a barge or two out there.