19 November 2020
We are on our way south again! Finally, the long hurricane season is over - we hope - and it is safe to head south.
This year we are headed to Marathon Key, just before the long causeway leading out to Key West, in Florida. We move slowly, so it will take us about 2 months to get there, with a short side trip to New York to visit our families during Thanksgiving.
Our stay in the lower Chesapeake was longer than expected (waiting for a boat part) but it was a lot of fun to visit the small towns on the eastern shore of Virginia and remote anchorages up the Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers. The York river was also a great chance to learn more about the decisive battle at Yorktown, where Lafayette and the French helped the US win independence.
But, I am really glad to be moving south again. We are mostly taking the canals and rivers of the eastern states. Going this way, as opposed to out in the ocean, we get to see so much history and nature. When we left the Chesapeake, we first passed the huge naval shipyards in Norfolk, passing multiple aircraft carriers and destroyers and the USS Comfort, the hospital ship sent to New York in the early days of the COVID Pandemic.
Then, we passed through the Great Bridge Bridge (that's a bridge in the city of Great Bridge) and the Great Bridge Lock. Great Bridge is the site where Billy Flora was (unofficially) proclaimed the first African-American "patriot hero" in 1775, when, under a flurry of musket balls, he dismantled the bridge to prevent the British from crossing. He would be proud to know that the lock and bridge still serve an important commercial function. We had to wait for two "red flags" meaning barges that had higher priority for the lock than recreational traffic.
Almost as soon as we left Great Bridge, we entered North Carolina. The weather was perfect with light winds, smooth water and warm temperatures. The canals and rivers run through a rural part of the state. We saw many bald eagles and dolphin. We also got to spend the night at a fish factory. The docks were a bit rustic but we were able to load up the freezer with some great fish.
South Carolina is different than North Carolina for boating. The tides increase as you go south, probably a funnel effect as we are also moving west until we reach Florida. Typical tides in North Carolina are a couple of feet. Here we are experiencing six feet of tidal change in the water level. When we reach Georgia, we'll start seeing nine feet! These big tidal changes can make the canals tricky, especially near inlets. At one point I called out on the radio to another boat to warn them that they were approaching a spot that is known to be shallow. They answered and slowed down but just a few seconds later, they were aground. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But, they may have damaged their boat and they were certainly stuck there for many hours waiting for the tide to come back in.
The currents in South Carolina can also be tricky. At one point Alexi was at the helm and we hit a spot with a lot of cross current. The autopilot went crazy and we nearly hit a dock! Fortunately, Alexi is an experienced helmsman and was able to get us out of trouble quickly.
We are now in the interesting city of Charleston. We are going to stay here for two weeks. That gives us enough time to provision, enjoy some of what the city has to offer and visit Alexi's parents in New York.
I really enjoyed our time in the Southern Chesapeake but I am happy to be moving again. Being on the water is (mostly) relaxing and interesting. Most of the time I can sit on the foredeck or at the helm and enjoy the towns, animals, sounds and smells of the American waterways. We are really lucky to be able to spend a few years living like this on our boat.