The Route South

Monday, October 30, 2006

Down In Mary’s Land

Thursday evening found us back in Solomon’s. The breeze was warm and pleasant. This time of year that isn’t necessarily a good thing. The wind from the south means a cold front is approaching. Three or four weeks ago we made a date with Spring Cove Marina to haul the boat out of the water to pressure wash the growth off the bottom and replace the zincs in preparation for the winter. It was almost one year ago that we hauled out and painted the bottom so I wanted to get a good look. We arrived at the Travelift at 8:15 and were out of the water by 8:30. The bottom was in great shape – moss and slime, only a few barnacles, the running gear (prop and rudder) are still in good condition. Although they were still in pretty good shape we replaced all the zincs anyway and were back in the water before 10:30. It started sprinkling rain as we were tying the boat back up at our dock. Impeccable timing!

Morning Star at Spring Cove Marina.
We took advantage of the day to knock off as many chores as we could as well as catching on the local gossip with those few cruisers who hadn’t left already. The wind continued to build and we delayed our departure for one more day. Understand, hanging out in Solomon’s is barely a hardship for us, but we were anxious to move on south. We wanted to get out of the Bay in good weather and Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds both have nasty reputations and must be crossed in favorable weather. Potentially we could have to wait for several days for a weather window. We don’t like to squander our layover days at the beginning of a trip.

Monday October 30, 2006
Today we are leaving. It is bittersweet for we have enjoyed Solomon’s immensely. On the other hand, we are excited to be on the move again, joining the southerly migration. We are not alone in leaving today. Several boats are going to make a break for it today since the forecast is only just perfect.

The engine and the coffee are warmed up early and we are away from our dock by 6:40. By 7:30 we are past Cedar Point and out in the Bay. There is a light breeze from behind and the sun is shining brightly in a clear sky. Shortly after 9:00 Point No Point slipped past our beam and Smith Point followed suit an hour and a half later. We saw Billy the Eagle (KK 58) pass us to the east and had a chat with them on the VHF radio. Abeam Windmill Point Light at 1:30 and Stingray Point by 2:45 and into the Piankatank. Just four month ago these were all new and exciting landmarks to us. They are places I’ve heard and read about all my life. Now they are familiar but still exciting. We threaded our way up the tortuous channel into the lovely Jackson Creek. A large sailboat was hard aground, a reminder to mind our navigation. Anchor down by 3:00.

We were invited for drinks and dinner aboard Two Can (KK42 widebody) and Billy the Eagle. It was kind of a potluck affair with Two Can hosting happy hour and dinner aboard Billy. Everybody brought something…Billy made meatloaf and southwest beans, Two Can a salad and Morning Star provided an appetizer and chocolate-peanut butter brownies for desert. We first met Al & Susan from Two Can at the rendezvous in Solomon’s and it was nice to get to know them better. Charlie and Marsha from Billy are old Krogen hands and we met them a number of years ago. Marsha’s cousin, Norman, is their partner in Billy but we had never met him or his wife, Madeline. Madeline still speaks with a very thick French accent even though she has lived here for forty years. It was delightful just listening to her talk.

The name Billy the Eagle comes from an uncle of Marsha’s (and Norman’s too?) who use to make up stories for them when they were small kids. Billy the Eagle fell from the nest when he was but a young bird and he went on all sorts of exciting adventures. Knowing some of the trips that Billy the Eagle has been on, I’d say the name is a good one!

Dinner didn’t break up until 8:45 (late for cruisers). When we returned to Morning Star we lifter the dinghy back up the davits and made her ready for an early start.

Tuesday October 31, 2006
The engine was being warmed up at 6:30 as Billy and Two Can were leaving. Morning Star’s anchor was up by 6:45 and we had wound our way back out of Jackson Creek, out the Piankatank River and into the Bay before 7:30. The wind is forecast to rise in the afternoon and we want to get off the Bay before it gets too heavy. Wolftrap Light slid by to the west, as did Mobjack Bay. Shortly after passing the York River entrance channel we altered course to pass west of Thimble Shoals, leaving Old Point Comfort Light to starboard and entering Hampton Roads and then the Elizabeth River. Right on queue, the wind is starting to pick up!

Imagine the Chesapeake as a funnel. The ICW begins at Norfolk and Portsmouth, which are located at the neck of the funnel. From here we would begin our journey south on the ICW. But for today, we are done. By 2:15 we were tied into our slip at Ocean Marine in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is on the western side of the Elizabeth River…Norfolk in on the eastern. It felt good to stretch our legs and walk around downtown Portsmouth. Like so many industrial waterfront cities, they are doing a good job of downtown redevelopment on both sides of the river. There is an old movie theater that has been recently refurbished and now serves drinks and dinner as well as first run movie. Billy the Eagle invited us to tag along but we declined since we didn’t care for the film they were offering. There is a $1 ferry that runs across the river between the two towns. Had we not lost two days at the beginning of the trip, I’d have liked to lay over a day and see some of Norfolk. There is a large Navy museum there, complete with the old battleship, the Wisconsin. Next time!

Wednesday November 1, 2006
Today is a lazy day. There is a lock at Deep Creek, at the north end of the Dismal Swamp Canal. The lock opens only four times a day…8:30AM, 11:30AM, 1:30PM and 3:30PM. We can’t make the early one and aren’t going to push all the way through the canal in one day so we don’t leave the dock until 9:25. Diesel is only $1.95 per gallon with a BoatUS discount… the cheapest we have seen on the whole trip. We can only cram 100 gallons in before the tank is full.
Elizabeth River - Norfolk, VA
Ship salvage - Norfolk, VA
By 10:00 we are away from the marina, making our way up the river. The river is quite a sight. We passed most of the military installations yesterday. Today it is container ships, shipyards, tug boats, oil tank farms and one or two ship wreckers thrown in for good measure. We had to wait for the Jordan Street Bridge to be repaired before it could open – fortunately not long. Lunchtime found us tied off to a dolphin (a bundle of pilings wired together for boats or barges to lay along side), waiting for the next opening of the Deep Creek Lock. The lock-tender opened up for us at 1:15…fifteen minutes early! He packed about ten of us into the lock after hollering at one of the other boats for not following his instructions. Since he didn’t holler at us, we thought Lockmaster George was a nice guy. We were locked through and on our way by 2:00.

The run to the North Carolina Visitor’s Center was less than three hours. The foliage was bright reds, yellows and oranges…simply beautiful. There is a single 150’ dock there and when it is full you raft alongside the boats that arrive first. Before nightfall, we had three rafts totaling 14 boats. The Canal was all but obstructed! As we made our approach to raft alongside, Cindy tossed a line to the Morgan Out Island 41 who was to be our “host” in the raft. He immediately ran the line to his bow instead of using it as a spring line, which really messed up our docking. Then, his wife kept letting the line out and pulling it in. I was afraid she was going to get her fingers caught in the cleat and crushed so I didn’t power ahead on the rope like I prefer. Long story short…we looked like a couple of rookies today. It was really my fault for not specifying where I how and where I wanted the spring line tied off. Oh Well!
26.5/26.5 (statute miles)
Fall colors on the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Canal maintenance barge - Great Dismal Swamp
The old Canal Superintendent's house.
Rafting up at the North Carolina Visitor's station.

Thursday November 2, 2006
The nice thing about being among the last boats to join the raft is that you don’t have a bunch of boats hanging off of you and you don’t have a bunch of people walking back and forth across your decks to get ashore. The bad thing is that you have to be one of the first boats to leave the raft. When we tied up last night the first things our neighbor said was that he wanted to leave early. I told him that we wanted to make the 8:30AM lock opening at South Mills, which is only a couple of miles away. Well, at 7:15, he was raring to go! So we went. We arrived at the South Mills Bridge at 7:50, forty minutes ahead of schedule so we had to jockey around and wait. The lockmaster also operated the bridge so we had to wait for him to show up to work, punch in, open the lock, find the keys to the truck and drive up to the bridge, open the bridge, close the bridge, drive back to the lock and close the gates before lowering the water in the lock. Understandably, it was 9:20 before we had locked through, into the Pasquotank River.
Waiting for the South Mills lock.
South Mills lock.

The Pasquotank is perhaps the most beautiful part of the entire ICW. It winds back and forth, wild and very narrow at the north and gradually widening out as it approaches Elizabeth City. Continuing down stream the weather started to deteriorate. The sun disappeared and the wind started to pick up out of the north. As we passed through the bridge at Elizabeth City it was getting colder by the minute and we were glad that we were taking a slip at Pelican Marina instead of one of the free slips at the town dock. There they have no electricity and therefore no heat, unless we run the generator. It’s going to be COLD for the next two nights as a front blows by. We are secured in our slip by 12:05.

Friday November 3, 2006
Boy are we glad to be tied in our slip. The wind laid down yesterday afternoon a bit but it is cold outside now. It was just a short walk across the bridge to town and we waited until it warmed up a bit. It just isn’t in our makeup to walk past a marina and today was no different. We had to stop and see who was there, who was staying over. There were several boats from Canada…most of whom were French-Canadians from Quebec. We chatted briefly with a few folks before heading across the street to visit the museum. This museum is a new project and we were interested to see how it had changed since our visit in the spring. Of course, we then had to stop for lunch at our old favorite, the Colonial Restaurant. I call it our favorite…we have only eaten at three restaurants in ‘Liz City, but this place is just good ol’ country cookin’…comfort food. Its fun to go there because all the locals eat there and everybody looks around when they walk in to see who is there so they can say “Hi”. I had the best ever lima beans with my lunch. Best. Ever.

Cindy just can’t walk past a shoe store and today was no different. There were shoes in the window so we walked in. I took about two steps and knew we were in the wrong place. Gold Lame’ sport coats, pink dress shirts and purple ties. Fur pimp fedoras, leopardskin print stiletto heel shoes. Tee shirts with pictures of Malcom X and the Reverend Dr. King. It was the local Afro-American clothing store! Didn’t stay long! I felt like an Oreo cookie!

We fared better in the local bookstore. It was considerably more multi-cultural. The lady who rang up our purchase asked if we were boaters passing through. I guess we have “the look”! The Deli and Bakery were one the way back to the marina so we stocked up on sourdough and whole wheat bread. And a couple of cookies as a reward for getting so much exercise today. I’m glad we brought the backpack along.

Saturday, November 4, 2006
The weather looks like its going to give us a break…kinda’. Its 34º outside and there is frost on the upper deck. But the breeze is favorable and we need to get across Albemarle Sound today. So the engine is on at 7:00 and we are away from the dock by 7:15. By 9:15 we pass PR#1 and enter the Albemarle. It’s a really great ride. The wind is out of the north at 10-15 knots. Everybody has the same idea - this is the break in the weather that we have all been waiting for. There are at least 10 or 15 boats in front of us and 15 or more behind.

By 10:45 the drama was over. We were across the Sound. It was a walk in the park. We entered the Alligator River between AR#1 and #3. Marker #3 has been relocated due to shoaling. We noted this in the spring when we went through on the way north. Several boats aren’t paying attention though and we have witnessed them going aground. Fortunately it is soft sand or mud and they are able to get off easily. No blood, no foul.

We pass through the Alligator River Swing Bridge at 11:20. This is our last obstacle of the day…we hope. This bridge can be a problem because they don’t open it if the wind is strong out of the north. Imagine that its blowing hard out of the north and you have just spent four hours in crappy conditions crossing the Sound only to find that the bridge won’t be opening! Fortunately, there is a marina close by when that happens.

By 1:45 we have traveled the length of the Alligator River and are abeam the anchorage on the north side of the ICW, off Deep Point. Nobody is there! We pick out the prime spot, right in the middle. Although it’s early, there really isn’t a good anchorage between here and Belhaven, another 35 miles and four hours away. This was apparently a popular idea because another boat followed us into the anchorage and within and hour there were four or five more. By sundown there were about 20 boats.

Sunday November 5, 2006
Its 39º outside and 54º inside.
The engine got a 15-minute warm-up this morning and the anchor came up at 7:15. Twenty minutes later we were entering the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal. It's a three-hour stretch of monotonous land-cut. We didn’t see any alligators. I don’t’ know what a “pungo” is, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t see any of them either. By 10:25 we were entering the Pungo River and an hour and a half later we were tied up in a slip at the River Forest Marina in Belhaven.
Passing commercial traffic on the Alligator-Pungo Canal.

We had lunch aboard and relaxed a bit before taking a walk to explore the town. It’s a pretty, little town full of friendly folks. Belhaven is a comparatively new town, being founded in the 1800’s as a railroad town. The population is less than 2,000. There is a nice looking anchorage and a town dock where you can tie your dinghy. There is a hardware store and a few shops and restaurants close at hand. Cindy saw somebody walking with a bag full of groceries so there must be a Food Lion nearby.

We stopped to chat with some folks who were just getting out of their car. We thought they were staying at the B&B. Well, they sort of were…they owned it. We asked about a curious bit of construction we had seen going on around town. Turns out that Belhaven is only about 3’ above sea level and when they have a hurricane, predictably, the town floods. We saw several houses being jacked up in the air about 4 feet and then new foundations being built under them. Many had already been done and were really quite attractive. If you didn’t see it in progress you probably wouldn’t realize what happened. The local Methodist Church had steel I-beams crisscrossed under it and was precariously jacked up awaiting it new masonry work. The B&B owners told us that FEMA was paying for all of this. They would foot the bill for jacking the house up and building the new foundation but the owners were responsible for any interior repairs necessary afterwards. I’ll bet there is a lot of cracked plaster being redone in this town! I guess the theory is that its cheaper to do that than wrestle with the cost of rebuilding and entire town.

We had dinner at the River Forest Manor, which is on the site of the marina. It is a huge old house built as a residence in 1908. There was a buffet that was OK.

Monday November 6, 2006
Things are looking up! Its 40º outside this morning! The engine was awakened before 7:00 and we were out of the slip and heading down the Pungo River toward Pamlico Sound by 7:15. So was everyone else. We’d like to get to Oriental today, which will make tomorrow a short run up the Neuse River into New Bern. By 10:30 we had negotiated Goose Creek and entered the Bay River. By lunchtime we had passed Maw Point Shoal and Gum Thicket Shoal and entered the Neuse River. The weather has been glorious. Although it has been cold first thing in the morning, it has been very pleasant traveling as our wheelhouse is like a greenhouse when the sun shines. Jackets and sweatshirts or off and we are in shirtsleeves before lunch. Unfortunately, its not going to last. Another front is predicted for tomorrow so at 1:00, as we passed Oriental, we decided to continue up the Neuse to New Bern. Our reservation started on November 1 so our slip will be waiting. The only hitch is the opening bridge across the Trent River. It is restricted in opening. Between the hours of 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM it only opens once…at 5:00 PM. We got there at 4:05! So we have to wait. It opened at 5:00 and we were secured in slip A51 at 5:15.

And suddenly, our trip was over.

Just like that!

Really though, we have a bunch to do. We rented a car and drove back to Solomon’s to get Cindy’s car. We stopped in Tappahannock, VA for the night and then visited Urbana, VA and Edenton, NC on the way back to New Bern. We have heard good things about both places and decided that we will visit the both in the spring of ’07. When we got back to New Bern, we had a ton of chores to do to prepare Morning Star for the winter. Oil and filter changes, close all the seacocks and a million small odd jobs needing to be done and then the 13-hour drive back to Clearwater.

It has been a great trip. We traveled 2413 statute miles and put 336 hours on the engine, averaging 7.2 miles per hour.

But certainly, for Cindy and I, this trip wasn’t about statistics. It was the fulfillment of a dream. We have been talking about doing this for as long as either one of us can recall. It’s been about the challenge of moving our boat up and down the eastern seaboard. It’s been about seeing new cities and towns. It’s been about juggling a nomadic lifestyle against the pull of family and friends and home. It’s been about calling a small rural town like Solomon’s home for a few months. And it’s been about meeting new people. It has been everything that we dreamed it would be and even more.

Maryland was a surprise. We’ve been there before but it caught us off guard. It seemed to fit us like a favorite pair of shoes. It was,….well, just plain comfortable. Solomon’s Island, Oxford, Cambridge, Annapolis and the creeks and rivers and coves too numerous to count. We aren’t done yet!

In June I wrote up the first log of our trip. I borrowed a line from Jimmy Buffett when I promised “reflections, not just replays” and I’ve tried to do just that. In that spirit I’d like to leave you with some words by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Down In Mary’s Land

East of Virginia where the Bay meets a river
Down in Mary's land.
The wind pulls your sleeve like a long lost lover
Whose heart can't understand

How you ever could leave the view you behold.
Ain't it fine and ain't life grand
When you don't need nothing but some beer and a bushel
Down in Mary's land.

I’m gonna’ sleep with the stars and a slice of the moon
Hanging right above my bed.
I’m gonna’ dream, not of things that I've left behind,
But those I've found instead

Down in Mary's land.
“Down in Mary’s Land”
Mary Chapin Carpenter