The Route South

Saturday, April 21, 2007

So Throw Off The Bowlines

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
-- Mark Twain

Saturday, April 21, 2007
The engine fired up at 855AM without a complaint. After gently waking it from its winter’s hibernation we warmed it up for a half hour. We needed that much time to put away power cords and water hoses, coil down the dock lines and stow the fenders. We threw off the bowlines and are finally away from the dock! Its’ been almost six months…way too long.

New Bern was great. It is a beautiful little town with good restaurants and all the conveniences that a boater could want. Hardware and marine supplies, an airport, Target and Wally Mart, inexpensive dockage and an exceptional ice cream shop, the Cow Café (they claim to be from Moo Bern). Having said that, its sure good to be under way again.

We had a very full week last week. We rented a one-way car in Clearwater last Saturday and drove a full load of stuff back to the boat. How did we get by without all this last year? We have been making this drive in about 12 hours all winter but it took fourteen hours this trip due to an accident on I-95. The highway became a parking lot for over two hours. We got out and walked around – kids were playing with a soccer ball in the median of the highway. The highway was closed in both directions and if someone had fired up a grill, it would have been a time for a tailgate party. When the traffic finally started moving again we finally passed the cause of the delay, a grizzly accident. Judging by all the mangled sheet metal and car parts, there must have been a fatality.

New Bern felt the sting of a strong Nor’easter, the same one that was felt by the entire east coast. We had rain on Sunday and then just a strong blow on Monday. Tuesday the boat chores began in earnest. The thing about boat chores is that you never quite get finished. The list has a way of growing constantly. So really it is just a matter of prioritizing the list. Keep the water on the outside and keep the engine running are the two primary items. Beyond that it is just a matter of degrees. You have to manage your To-Do lists down to an acceptable level and then go. Otherwise, you will never get out of the slip. We finally finished on Friday at 5 PM.

We passed under the Trent River bridge for the last time at the 9 AM opening. We know with certainty that we will never again pass beneath it because they are scheduled to start tearing it down next week! By lunch time we had traveled the 27 miles to the small town of Oriental. We took a quick cruise through the harbor and found the town dock occupied so we went back out, under the bridge into Green’s Creek and anchored. After lunch we took the dinghy into town for a quick walk around town. We rewarded ourselves with ice cream at “The Bean”, the waterfront coffee shop. Oriental has more boats than people…literally. There are quite a number of boats stored in marinas by folks who life elsewhere. The town also boasts a great marine supply store where I was able to find a replacement bulb for our navigation lights.

Sunday April 22, 2007
Today we are a bit lazy. We warmed the engine up while we got the boat ready to leave and had the anchor up and were out of the creek and into the Neuse River before 8 AM. We rounded Maw Point Shoal and entered the Bay River, then into Gale Creek. It’s calm as we cross the Pamlico River, a body of water that has a reputation as sometimes being mean. We run up the Pungo River and are approaching Belhaven, our intended destination for the day, by 2:15 PM. There is one more day before this weather window closes down. The weather is too good to squander so we decide to carry on.  It’s a three-hour run through the Alligator River – Pungo River Canal, the next reasonable stopping place. By 6:30 PM we have the anchor down and well set off Deep Point in the Alligator River. When we were southbound last November we had twenty neighbors here. Tonight we are alone.

Peaceful Alligator River anchorage.
Monday April 23, 2007
Last night was peaceful. We are up before 6:30 AM and have warmed the engine heaved the anchor up and rejoined the ICW before 7:00 AM. It looks like the weather is holding. By the time we reach Albemarle Sound, the wind is still out of the SW at less than 10 knots, perfect for crossing over to the Pasquotank River. By 1:30 PM Morning Star is tied up to the town docks at Elizabeth City. By the time of the Rose Buddies’ Wine & Cheese party at the end of the dock, the wind was starting to build. Tonight we enjoy the dividends we earned by running the extra miles yesterday. We had dinner at my favorite place in ‘Liz City, the Colonial Restaurant, purveyors of good ole’ southern country cookin’. Down-home comfort food. We had dinner with Frank and Elaine from the sailboat Spirit. No lima beans, darn it!

Tuesday April 24, 2007
Today is a layover day. I have a conference call after lunch and we planned to stay here today where I’m pretty well guaranteed good cell phone reception. But the project of the morning is to upgrade the software on our Raymarine chart plotter. This is a gadget that looks like a TV. Inside lives our radar, a GPS and a Compact Flash card that holds in its tiny case all the charts to the entire east coast of the US, from Eastport, Maine through Florida, the Keys and the Bahamas. This navigational computer also gives instructions to our autopilot. All in all, this is a pretty amazing piece of equipment. Since we upgraded our charts the first of this year, the system has frequently become unstable, crashing or shutting down at the most inopportune time. Some research on a few different web sites yielded the answer. I needed to upgrade the Raymarine software. It was a pretty simple thing to download the new software to the computer and then copy it onto a blank CF card. I removed the chart CF card and replaced it with the extra card and turned on the system. When I turned the unit back on it booted up and proceeded to upgrade the software. When it was done loading I shut it down, removed the CF card and replaced it with the chart card. Turned it back on and low and behold…IT WORKS!! Don’t let me fool you though. It took me three hours before it was all done.

Wednesday April 25, 2007
Lots of boats are under way, trying to get the bridge opening before the restricted openings begin. That requires a dawn departure. We decided to lay over another day. It occurred to me some time last night that we are ahead of schedule and have no compelling reason to move on. There are lots of things about this town that we still haven’t seen. John and Pam Loving on Compass Rose (KK42) are due in here this afternoon, so that settles it…we stay!! There were a few chores after breakfast but we hauled the bikes down and rode to the Ace Hardware before lunch at the local Dairy Queen. We wrapped up our project after we returned from lunch and then hopped back on the bikes for drive down Riverside Road. The homes were beautiful, the setting lush. Spring flowers were popping out everywhere. We biked along the river for about an hour and shortly after we turned around and headed back toward the boat Pam called. They were about half-hour out, so our timing would be spot on to help them dock. After the Wine and Cheese party we went to dinner and a movie with John and Pam. There is a theater in town that charges $6 for the first-run movie and you can order food. There are tables with comfortable chairs. Arrive at 6 PM to eat before the 7 PM show. Pretty slick deal. We saw Anthony Hopkins in “Fractured”…a real thriller. Most of the cruisers at the docks were in attendance that night. Word got back to us that another Krogen had arrived while we were at dinner. Sure enough, Art and Barb Dister were tied along side the wall aboard their KK 48, Esprit. We went aboard for a 30-minute chat and then went back to the boat and hit the sack.

Thursday April 26, 2007
Today we are getting under way. The trick is to get to the timed lock at South Mills for the 11 AM opening. This requires a bit of planning since the bridge in ‘Liz City is on a restricted opening schedule rather than opening on demand. The 8:30 opening will allow us to make the 11:00 lock opening at South Mills which will allow us to run the entire Dismal Swamp Canal in one day, arriving at the Deep Creek Lock for their last opening of the day. Seven miles farther on and we are in Portsmouth and Norfolk. All this being planned out, we pulled out of our slip at 8:10 AM and stood by for the 8:30 opening along with John and Pam aboard Compass Rose and Tom and Lisa aboard the 38’ Lagoon sailing catamaran Symmetry. 8:30 came and went. The bridge tender couldn’t get the safety gates down and therefore, couldn’t raise the drawbridge. He called us on the radio to inform us that he had called for the DOT Maintenance guys and we would have to wait. Once the maintenance crew got there it was no time before they got the bridge operating. However the bridge tender wouldn’t open for us until 9 AM. He’s got his orders. We went through promptly at 9 but the damage was done. We couldn’t make the lock, even if we ran at full throttle. So we slowed down and plodded along. 11 AM found us entering Turner’s Cut and forty-five minutes later we were tied to the dolphins (dolphins are a bunch of pilings cabled together, not Flipper) on one side of the river, 100 feet from the lock. John and Pam tied up on the opposite side and Tom and Lisa rafted off of us. We had lunch and waited for the 1:30 opening. Deep Creek was out for the question for today so we will lie over at the NC Visitors’ Center, where they offer free tie up along their 150’ face dock. Shortly before 1:30, Esprit arrived. They had a leisurely morning, going out for breakfast and visiting the museum before they left the dock. They timed their trip up the river to coincide exactly with the lock opening. The lock opened promptly at 1:30 PM and we were locked through at 2:10. By 3 PM we were tied alongside the Visitor’s Center - Compass Rose rafted to Esprit and Symmetry to Morning Star. 6 PM – Cocktails for eight and a potluck dinner aboard Morning Star with John and Pam, Art and Barb and Tom and Lisa. We talked until 10 PM. That’s mighty late for cruisers!
Compass Rose, Symmetry and Morning Star waiting for the lock

Pam aboard Compass Rose

Cindy studies the cruising guides

Friday April 27, 2007
Today’s trip plan will be similar to yesterdays. We need to time our departure from the Visitors’ Center so we arrive in time for the 11:30 AM lock opening at Deep Creek. All four boats departed together a few minutes before 8 AM. There were two other sailboats, both single-handed, at the dock last night and they left before our group. The trip up the Canal was beautiful. The spring colors were as vibrant as they were last fall…they are brilliant green now as opposed to the reds, yellows and oranges last fall. We passed through the bridge at Deep Creek promptly at 11:30 and by 12:15 PM we were out the other side of the lock. The lockmaster is also the bridge tender so he has to open the bridge, close the bridge, race back to the lock in his pickup, open the lock gates, direct the boats entering the lock and help tie them up, close the lock, lower the water level, open the gates and direct the boats to leave. If he has boats waiting to go the other way, he has to do it all again in reverse. No wonder they only open four times a day! The ICW joined the Elizabeth River 15 minutes later and we made our way up the river toward Norfolk and its neighbor across the river, Portsmouth. The trip through Norfolk and Hampton Roads fascinates me. It’s a noisy, bustling place, with tugs scurrying back and forth, pulling barges or pulling freighters. The Navy presence is unbelievable. Aircraft carriers, frigates, guided missile cruisers, supply ships and more. There are a myriad of support vessels, large and small. The Naval Shipyard is huge and the re-supply depot is certainly measured in square miles. On top of all this (literally) there are several bridges to be opened and negotiated so there are usually several boats milling about, waiting for the next opening. Then there are the oil tankers and the container ships at the huge container terminal. It’s busy, exciting, nerve-wracking and fun, fun, fun.
Aircraft carriers berthed in Norfolk, VA

The Navy has quite a presence in Norfolk.  The little patrol boats are everywhere.

We were tied up at the south ferry basin by 1:30 PM. Tom and Lisa took Symmetry in first and secured their place along the seawall. Being a catamaran, their boat is very wide and doesn’t fit in as many places as we do. After they settled in, we brought Morning Star in and snuggled her into place. John and Pam came in and tied them up Compass Rose. Esprit stopped for fuel at Oceans Marina and then elected to continue on to home, just a short trip away on the York River. The ferry basin is a great place. There is room for about 8 boats to tie up along the seawall. There are no facilities but there is no charge either. There is a sign as you enter the basin saying that no overnight docking is allowed, however the word on the water is that it’s not enforced.

Tied up at the ferry basin in Portsmouth, VA
My guess is that they have it there so they can move people along if they stay too long or misbehave. There is a small ferry, probably 100 passenger capacity, that shuttles back and forth every half-hour between Portsmouth, where we are, and Norfolk, on the east side of the river. The ferry is a part of the rapid transit system and as the ferry pulls in, a bus pulls up and passengers get on or off as they transit back and forth to home, work or shopping. It costs a dollar each way, fifty cents for seniors. Pam and John hosted Lisa & Tom and Cindy & I for cocktails. We chatted and watched the boat traffic and marveled at the warship, the Iwo Jima, which was docked directly on the other side of the river. The Iwo Jima is a huge aircraft carrier-looking vessel. She actually carries 20-30 helicopters, several Harrier jets and a host of hovercraft-type landing craft. John is ex-Navy and told us that he and Pam were in Pensacola for Iwo’s christening.

Saturday April 28, 2007
John and Pam left early but for us, today is tourist day. The Norfolk ferry leaves just outside our back door and we were on the first one of the day. We devoted the morning to seeing the nautical museum called Nauticus. The Norfolk area has a tremendous nautical background and the displays are obviously oriented to its naval heritage. The displays show memorabilia and explaining topics from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WW I and II as well as Korea, Vietnam and even Iraq. After a mediocre lunch at the “restaurant” we toured the battleship Wisconsin. It was just a main deck tour because of the rain last night. They are worried about liability. The “Wisky” is a WW II vintage battleship and it’s HUGE! It was designed to be able to fit through the Panama Canal. It is so wide that it barely makes it. The hull form is sleek and swift and the 16” guns could fire a shell over 20 miles! She served in WW II, the Korean War, Vietnam and even Iraq. It is a truly amazing sight.
The Battleship Wisconsin
Shopping for a new anchor.  We are going to need a bigger windlass!
The foredeck of the Wisconsin

There is a very large shopping mall a few blocks from the waterfront in Norfolk, the McArthur Mall. We wandered over for a look around. It is three stories, has hundreds of stores, 18 movie theaters and a large food court. We browsed a few stores before heading back to the ferry dock. Across from the mall is the McArthur Museum but we were running out of steam so it will have to keep until the next time. Fortunately, we just missed the ferry so we had time to stop at Ben & Jerry’s while we waited for the next boat.
One of the Volvo 'Round the World racers
Norfolk mermaid

It was Tom and Lisa’s turn to host the “sundowners” aboard Symmetry. Joining us were Paul & Stacie from the Gulfstar 44 Motor Yacht, Sea-Sea and Bill from Somethinelse, a Mainship 350. We all met in ‘Liz City several days ago. Perfect end to a perfect day!
Peaceful night

Sunday April 29, 2007
Slept in like a couple of slackers this morning. Didn’t get up until a bit after 7:00 AM. Coffee’d up and then pulled up the hatches to the engine. After checking the oil and fluids I checked the alternator. I’ve noticed that the tach is acting “lazy” so I checked to see that all the wire connections were snug and tightened the belts. When the engine was started at 8:55 AM it seemed to have taken care of the problem. Ten minutes later we pulled out of the basin, right behind Sea-Sea and Somethinelse. We worked our way down the river, taking in all the sights along the way and passed between Old Point Comfort and Thimble Shoals at 11:15 AM. Welcome back to the Chesapeake!! Wolf Trap light bears 025 degrees and the wind is perfect…light out of the SW. Shortly before 2:30 we were past Wolftrap but our speed was down to 4.6 kts. due to the adverse current. The wind has swung around to NW but its only 8-10 kts. So things aren’t bad. By 3:00PM we passed the marker at Milford Haven Spit and started across the Piankatank River, entering Jackson Creek at 4:20 PM. The anchor was down before 5:00 PM. The wind was down to nothing, even though NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration…the weatherman) was still calling for small craft warnings! Since we have left the ICW behind until next fall, I have to convert our mileage to nautical miles. We have gone 2300 nautical miles since we left Clearwater last year.

Monday April 30, 2007
Anchor up at 7:35. We got a different kind of welcome back to the Chesapeake this morning. It took a full five minutes to hose the sticky mud off the anchor and chain. By 7:50 we had cleared Jackson Creek and entered the Piankatank. Shortly after 8:00 AM we cleared Stingray Point Light and changed course for Onancock (oh-NAN-cock) Creek, on the eastern shore of the Bay. At 12:15 PM we were tied alongside the Onancock town wharf. Onancock is a delightful, small town. We spent the afternoon biking around the town and taking pictures. A book and a nap sound like a good way to finish off the afternoon. There is an interesting restaurant next to the wharf, with old photos of Onancock’s history on the wall. The food was OK.
Morning Star at the Onancock town marina

Tuesday May 1, 2007
It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Well, hell!! We had every intention of going to Tangier Island tonight and Smith Island tomorrow. Our friends at NOAA changed the forecast. The wind was supposed to blow for the next two days and then lay down Thursday. It would be perfect for us to loll among these islands but the forecast now is that today is going to be the best traveling day for almost a week. Since I have to catch a plane on Sunday, we gotta’ go now.
Wood shinglechurch - Onancock

By 8:00 AM we are away from the town wharf and have left Onancock Creek fifty minutes later. By 10:00 Tangier Island is on our port beam and we are heading up Tangier Sound. The Sound is a large, shallow bay and we can travel up the Sound sheltered from the wind and waves out in the Bay. Thirty minutes later we are back in Maryland, getting a ½ knot assist from the current. At 11:00 Am the town of Crisfield is abeam to starboard and the elusive Smith Island to port. Maybe next fall. The names roll by – Deal Island, Dames Quarter, Sharkfin Shoal, Bishops Head Marsh. By 1:30 PM Hooper Island Straight takes us away from Bloodsworth Island and into the Bay. Our course across the Bay to the Patuxent River takes us past the beautiful old Hooper Island Light shortly after 2:00 PM. At 4:00 PM we are in familiar territory, passing Cedar Point, off the Patuxent Naval Air Station and twenty minutes later we pass Drum Point and our old friend, Solomon’s Island, is in sight. I called Gloria at Calvert Marina and told her that we were on our way in. Ten ‘til five and we are tied up alongside the floating dock, our home for almost the next month.

Over the next few days, we made arrangements with Washburn’s Boat Yard to do a regular service on our generator in my absence. We have a few other chores to tend to and we need to exorcise a few gremlins from the boat. In New Bern, we had to replace the receiver for the satellite TV. Then I had to update the software for the chart plotter. Now Cindy’s computer has decided to quit; it will be going back to Clearwater for repair. Her bike won’t shift gears; the light keeps going on and off in the hanging locker; the freezer in the fridge suddenly won’t keep cold enough to keep the contents frozen. Morning Star is letting us know that she doesn’t like to sit in one place all winter! Neither do I.