Saturday, October 22, 2011

In Case You Are Wondering . . . Mile Marker 173

In case you are wondering about our dates and where-abouts, we have posts and photos ready to share, but even our handy Verizon air card fails us in many locations. It seems the hurricane damaged a lot of infrastructure, and signals are limited. Hence, all the catch up postings!

Our stay at Dowry Creek Marina was safe, relaxed and very hospitable. They hold cocktail hour at 6, and Wednesday’s turned into a pot luck. The significance of this is that we were able to meet other cruisers, gain local knowledge and build a safety network that has already come in handy (like info on where to stay and who to use for service.) I made split pea soup and dark chocolate brownies :) to share. Two boats from our stay in Norfolk were here with us and you will never guess who pulled in on Wednesday from Osprey Point: Mark and Debbie on 4Play with Norm and Nancy on the vessel True Love, who are showing them the ICW ropes. Small world.

We set off Friday with a gorgeous forecast and sailed ourselves across the Pungo River to the Pamlico Sound, across the Neuse River into Broad creek. We are nestled Grace Harbor, in the high end real estate development of River Dune, with restaurant/club, pool, work out room and steam showers, a luxury cruisers can relate to. What can I say . . . we are enjoying this fall weekend with amenities we expect are few and far between! We also took time out for a real estate tour since this was once on our list of potential "new home" locations. (That puts us near Oriental and New Bern.) Still gorgeous, still very remote, yet new kinds of sailing to offer. Ocracoke on a sunny afternoon, anyone? 

And in case you are wondering, now that we are back in salt water, we have snapping shrimp again.

Holding Our Breath! October 18, 2011, Mile Marker 125

 Again we left before dawn. The entrance to the Alligator River required a swing bridge opening, an easy step when the bridge tender is pleasant at an early hour. We had a pleasant trip to the turn into the Alligator-Pungo River canal but the whole day required we motor as one had to be vigilant about depths and markers. The canal had about twelve feet of water in it and was yet another cypress swamp with submerged dead head trees. We were comfortable heading under the 65 foot high Fairfield Bridge with our 65+ foot mast. Anxiety built as we approached the Walter B. Jones Bridge because it is charted as 64 foot vertical clearance and stories abound about people having to turn around or incurring damage. Rick had to radio a huge cruiser to back off and not wake us before we started under the bridge. Engine in neutral, we drifted slowly, listening to the antenna clink several times until we cleared the far side of the bridge - we made it with our own story to tell. Neither of us remembered to photograph the bridge board as testimony to our stress. The rest of the bridges are a piece of cake after this.

High winds and a two day storm will keep us in Belhaven, Mile Marker 130, at Dowry Creek Marina for a few days. It will be a bumpy ride here in the slip as winds are still out of the SE and there are no protected places to hole up. A 36 foot Columbia lays in the marsh across from our slip, never to be reclaimed because it rests in protected wetlands you may not disturb when you conduct salvage, compliments of hurricane Irene. Funny how nature works, providing this beautiful scenery but teasing you with risk and rules to protect itself.

Compliments of Irene

The Dismal Swamp October 15 - 16, 2011 Mile Marker 7 to 70

Leaving Norfolk at 7:30 meant we caught an 8:30 bridge opening. Immediately after the bridge you make a right to enter the Dismal Swamp. We caught the 11 AM lock opening, what an experience. You tie your boat up, work to keep it off the lock wall and monitor the boat as water rushes in the canal. Fifteen minutes later, we and two other boats are on our way to the North Carolina Welcome Center with free dockage for about four boats. All was good until Rick went to the center, I went below to make dinner, and three more boats came in to tie up. Tradition holds that you raft together, a new thing for us. Everyone gathered at Promise and bonded over plans for the next day which meant a 7:30 departure to catch the second lock. There the water was let out of the lock and required the captain and mate to ease the lines out for the fifteen minutes. Whew!
The swamp was at once incredible and disappointing. It was beautiful, going from a narrow passage through hardwoods in a misty morning fog, to a wide stretch of true cypress swamp. While we counted egrets, turtles and bald eagles, we never saw a reptile or anything larger. The swamp opens into the Pasquotank River and that was breathtaking, lots of wide turns and autumn color.

We spent the night in Elizabeth City at the free docks. Despite the claim to hospitality, no stores were open on a Sunday save one: Page after Page Bookstore, heaven! Basically, we geared up for Monday's run on the Albemarle Sound, something we have dreamed about for a long time.

October 17 and the sound was Rick's last chance to set the sails for a few days. Winds were out of the SE at a steady 20-22 all day with lumpy seas again. We got out of the wind at Alligator Marina just before we entered the Alligator River. (The alligators do not come this far anymore. Whew!) Remember the great food we had in Norfolk? Our option here was limited to whatever Ms. Wanda has in the kitchen at the Shell Station, which runs the Marina.

The great news is we were safe, out of the wind, with shore power. The bad news is that the winds made getting into our slip quite a challenge and we incurred some damage to the stern pulpit on Promise. For a captain with a stellar reputation for docking skills, this was a huge blow. Oh, well, we hear there are great repair facilities in Oriental and further south.

Sights from Norfolk, VA October7-15, 2011

Sailors and Ships and Mermaids- Oh my!

Hampton Roads is a trilogy of shipyard and naval towns: Hampton, Norfolk up the Elizabeth River, and connected by a paddle wheel ferry across the river, Portsmouth. We spent seven days in Blue Water Marina at Norfolk waiting out weather and the finish of the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (read Save the Bay.) Because many other cruisers made the same decision, we made lots of new contacts for this adventure. Indeed, the best part of our stay was these wonderful folks we met. There is knowledge, safety/support- and laughs- among numbers. I provisioned at a Harris Teeters with three other admirals, what a riot trying to get back in one cab with four boats worth of groceries.

Portsmouth is a quiet town with empty storefronts and many churches. More important, it is the beginning of the Inter-coastal Waterway, our 1,100 mile path to Florida and the namesake to the Mile Marker Zero Marine Store. We took the ferry over twice to patronize him, have lunch and we discovered a kitchen store and artisan bakery.

Norfolk was interesting, even in the rain. The city created a destination waterfront in the 80’s and they are about to replace everything with high end retail, restaurants and condos. Walking access to restaurants, a downtown Mall (can you say Nordstroms?) and city attractions are perfect for cruisers. When in town try Byrd and Baldwin Brothers Steakhouse and 456 Fish, great meals before the ICW. Like the Cows on Parade, in NYC and the Horses of Far Hills, NJ, Norfolk has a trail of Mermaids telling a folktale around town. One can also follow the Virginia Music Walk of Fame. Who knew Ella Fitzgerald, Bruce Hornsby, and Clarence Clemens were from Virginia?

One cannot ignore the presence of the Navy in these three towns. The naval shipyards create canyons of grey dockage and construction, well lit and manned by skilled labor around the clock. The site fills you with awe and pride.

Finally, the schooners came in Friday from noon to midnight, beaten up by 35 knot winds from the SE. Rough race, but then again, that’s why we holed up for a week. Rick tracked it in our PC and was very disappointed not to see sails up as the official finish of the race was back at Thimble Shoal light.

Tomorrow, the ICW.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Last sail on the Bay

Thimble Shoal Light, Hampton Roads, VA

Our last sail on the Bay until spring.

The view from our slip, Hampton University.

Honey, “ . . . it’s too rough to feed ya.”

Taking a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald . . .

We left York River Yacht Haven after a delightful stay relaxing and touring the historic triangle with a forecast of 10-15 knots NE and seas of 1-2 feet.  Prior to departure we topped off the fuel tanks with 45.7 gallons of fresh diesel which after 40 running hours since leaving Rock Hall calculated to only 1.1 gallons per hour.  Not bad compared to the consumption of the large motor yachts we see on the bay.
We motored down the York River on a heading to clear the Poquoson Flats South of the river entrance to find winds already building 12-14 knots and seas running 2-3 feet.  A couple of hours later it was finally sails up, but only to half reef close hauled into  SE building winds and rolling seas. As we cleared the Poquoson River entrance we were finally able to fall off to a reach as the winds went ESE but now gusting 17-18 knots with seas building a choppy 3-5 feet against the outgoing tide we’d ridden down the river earlier. Hence, no lunch till we reached calmer waters.

A couple of hours of pounding into the choppy seas with many items bouncing around in the cabin the winds fell off to 10-12 as we approached Thimble Shoals.  We finally let out the rest of the jib as we crossed a mile to the inside of the Thimble Shoals Light safely with 12-14 feet of water under the keel. We were visited by dolphins again which brought a smile to both of us to lighten up the mood during this trip.
After docking up the Hampton River at Blue Water Yacht Center we went to the Surf Rider restaurant while we waited for the floor to stop moving.  Only 3 engine hours for a 6 hour trip.  I finally got some sailing in, and was glad we didn’t try to beat across to Cape Charles. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photos from this week's road trip

Ben Franklin in front of the Smithfield Times
Sometimes the best part of the ferry ride is right at the dock.
The Capital in Williamsburg.

Still love Williamsburg, after all these years.

Rick rented a car for two days while we waited out weather here in Yorktown. We took a ride through  Jamestown where we boarded a 15 minute ferry ride to the other side of the Pagan River. From there we followed our nose to Smithfield,VA,  where hogs are king and hams are made. Rick addressed his fantasy head on: yes, we have a Smithfield ham and lots of Virginia peanuts on board now. It's a cute town of two blocks, and one trip in a lifetime to Smithfield is enough. We were glad we drove and did not sail up here.

Tuesday we drove to Williamsburg 30 minutes away. That completes the "historic triangle." Our first visit to Williamsburg was forty years ago and we continue to love this destination, it never grows old (OK, it is old, but we love it.) We had a guided tour of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and enjoyed reenactments in the Charlton Coffee and Chocolate Shop, the Governor's Palace, the Fife and Drum March before sunset, and of course, dinner at Christiana Campbell's. The weather was spectacular and it was nice to visit without feeling we had to see everything in a day. 

Today was a lazy day with a little provisioning for Thursday's sail to Hampton, VA. This port is new to us so we are excited to see it. Great news, the winds look good for sailing tomorrow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Snap, crackle and pop. It's not an electrical short it's the shrimp

Saturday morning as we were getting ready for a courtesy ride  to Yorktown, Susan asked me to listen to a new funny sound on the boat.  We turned everything off and could hear a faint crackling sound that we thought was coming from the bilge.  As we started to open up the floor boards the sound became more distinct, but couldn't pinpoint the source. We kept pulling up the cushions, opening up the access and storage compatments and just couldn't find the problem.  Susan went up the the service department to ask for help, while I started to investigate if the sound was also comming from the dock or other boats.  As I was laying on the dock for the boat next to me, Susan came back to say it was just snapping shrimp.  It turns out the local Grass Shrimp feasting on the bottom of our boat are territorial and when another shrimp apporoaches they snap their claws to defend the spot.  An hour later we'd put the covers and cushions back and were off to another adventure.

More later,


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

Tools of the trade, crabbing on Tilman Island.
The Osprey have left Solomons Island.