Up the Chesapeake Bay

The next part of the journey homeward became a challenge thanks to the weather and sea conditions. We needed to go up the Chesapeake Bay, down the Delaware Bay, and then up the New Jersey coast.  It will be a total of about 230 nautical miles, which will take 36 hours total of non-stop traveling time, and isn’t going to happen even under perfect weather conditions. The driving distance would be 210 miles, not much different than over water, but would only take 3.5 hours!

Up, and down, and up again .......... Or, in more nautical terms - north, then south, then north again.

Up, and down, and up again ………. Or, in more nautical terms – north, then south, then north again.

For these bodies of water, you need specific conditions, for wind and seas, currents, and weather. The weather pattern of Winter 2016 in the Bahamas has continued into Spring 2016 here on the east coast. The fronts are quick moving, with only short durations of good conditions for traveling by boat. Oh well. I am working very hard on accepting the reality that I cannot change or influence Mother Nature. Notice that I have not said that I have accepted it, just “working on it.” 😉

Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit both left Portsmouth’s free dock on April 21st to head across Hampton Roads to Hampton, Virginia. A two-hour hop.

Al gives Cutting Class a helpful shove off the Portsmouth dock.

Al gives Cutting Class a helpful shove off the Portsmouth dock.

We only intended to spend one night in Hampton, but strong winds in the lower Chesapeake Bay and some rain kept us there for 3 days.  Arriving in Hampton meant that we were completely finished with the Intracoastal Waterway now. Hampton is designated as ICW Mile Marker 11.2 . Yes, that is an intentional negative number. I find that funny. Portsmouth is really where it begins, at zero.

There’s not much to say about our stay in Hampton this time. Sunset Creek Boating Center is convenient, reasonably priced, and friendly, but not scenic, and not quiet. The lifts were busy plopping boats in the water right next to our slip. Interesting, but not quiet. Down the creek a bit, there was a barge being loaded with crushed stone. Lots of stone, It can not be said that we have not experienced a variety of marinas and anchorages.  We did use our bikes for a grocery shopping and an ice cream run into Hampton. Alas, the little ice cream shop has left. The Crouch clan invited us to join them for lunch at the SurfRider and we had crab cakes that definitely made up for missing the ice cream (Yes, Al, honey, it does!)

Captain AL uses our quiet time in Hampton to catchup on checking and modifying routes for the days ahead.

Captain Al uses our quiet time in Hampton to catch up on checking and modifying routes for the days ahead.

Hampton to Mill Creek –  54 nm, 7.5 hours

We left Hampton on Sunday morning with hopes that the predicted change in winds would make the trip to Mill Creek, Reedville, VA, comfortable. We had strong north winds and 4 foot seas until 2:00 pm, then the sea calmed and the wind finally lessened and turned south. We anchored just inside for an easier start the next day. Much to our surprise, it was not such a peaceful night!! We were rocking and rolling.

Surfing along

Surfing along. At least the sun was shining.

Sunset at Mill Creek, Virginia

Sunset at Mill Creek, Virginia

Mill Creek to Annapolis, MD –  75 nm, 10.5 hours

Just before sunrise at Mill Creek. We needed an early start because this would be a long day!

Just before sunrise at Mill Creek. We needed an early start because this would be a long day!

First challenge is to miss those fish sticks as we exit Mill Creek and re-enter the Chesapeake Bay.

First challenge is to miss those fish sticks as we exit Mill Creek and re-enter the Chesapeake Bay.You can just barely see the sticks in this light.

It wouldn't be the Chesapeake Bay without the crab skiffs out and about taking care of their pots.

It wouldn’t be the Chesapeake Bay without the crab skiffs out and about taking care of their pots.

Love to eat crabs, but the crab pot buoys create an obstacle course as we travel on the bay. The autopilot does an incredible job of following a well-laid out course, but "Otto" cannot see the pots. That is our job. Crab pot ahead! Be sure to avoid it -- look back...... yup, it is in our wake.

Love to eat crabs, but the crab pot buoys create an obstacle course as we travel on the bay. The autopilot does an incredible job of following a well-laid out course, but “Otto” cannot see the pots. That is our job. Crab pot ahead! Be sure to avoid it — look back…… yup, it is in our wake. Did not catch it (sigh of relief follows that).

Some moments of sparkling water on the Chesapeake Bay.

A few moments of sparkling water on the Chesapeake Bay.

My favorite lighthouse in the Chesapeake - Thomas Shoal Light.

My favorite lighthouse in the Chesapeake – Thomas Shoal Light.

If we can only stop in one place on the Chesapeake Bay, it has to be in Annapolis to visit with our special cruising friends, Mary Marie and Frank. They bought a lovely home with a dock for their boat, Eleanor Q, and welcome all of their cruising friends to stop by when traveling through the bay.

KS Lake Ogleton

Mary Marie not only welcomes you at the dock, she photographs you! We have never stayed at any marina that does that. 😉

We did not intend to stay long, but the weather “convinced” us that another day here with Mary Marie and Frank would not impact our pace going home.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class are snuggled in with Eleanor Q at her dock.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class are snuggled in with Eleanor Q at her dock.

It really is possible to pack a heap of fun into a short time. This stopover was meant to be, on this date  — Frank was home on a Tuesday following a business trip. How lucky can we get??

The six of us decided a trip into Annapolis was on the schedule for the afternoon. The guys decided to go by boat in the little runabout.

The six of us decided a trip into Annapolis was on the schedule for the afternoon. The guys decided to go by boat in the little runabout. The girls went by car. We didn’t think the skiff would fare well carrying 6 in these winds.

Windy, but like a summer day, in the 80's. A stop for ice cream!!

Windy, but like a summer day, in the 80’s. A stop for ice cream!!

Hanging out with friends. The temperature dropped from 80s (bottom pic) to high 50s the next day (top pic). Wow, that was short summer!

Hanging out with friends. The temperature dropped from 80’s (bottom pic) to high 50’s the next day (top pic). Wow, that was a short summer! Or did we stay too long and fall has arrived??

After ice cream, we had beers at Eastport Yacht Club. Beer and ice cream - what could be better?

After ice cream, we had beers at Eastport Yacht Club. Beer and ice cream – what could be better? And what a great deck for watching the sailboats in the Annapolis harbor.

I was intrigued by the Eastport Yacht Club’s burgee. I studied the cocktail napkin, trying to figure out the meaning of the design. On the napkin, it looked like a bird’s tail, to me. I’m glad my curiosity prompted me to ask Frank and Mary Marie. The burgee’s design is a graphic representation of the Compromise Street Bridge, a drawbridge, that crosses over Spa Creek in Annapolis.

The EYC burgee’s design flies from the flagpole, it decorates the napkins, and it lines the bathroom sink. We got a kick out of that sink.

We returned to downtown Annapolis the next day for another walk around. Such a great place that I hope we can spend more time here again in the future.

Couldn't resist snapping a photo of this man in his historical garb and his cell phone - An anachronism in action.

We couldn’t resist snapping photos of this man in his historical garb with his cell phone – an anachronism in action! He was very cute about it.

I am the only one in our little trio with brown eyes.........

I am the only one in our little trio with brown eyes………

Our first experience at Chick and Ruth’s Delly last September (Chesapeakin‘) turned us into fans which meant that we were not going to miss an opportunity to eat there while in Annapolis.

We HAD to eat dinner again at Chick and Ruth's Delly. We love this place! Funniest staff (and some are very dedicated to Maryland as our waiter's tattoo demonstrates), retro cool ambience, and delicious crab benedict.

We HAD to eat dinner again at Chick & Ruth’s Delly. We love this place! Funniest staff (and some are very dedicated to Maryland crabs as our waiter’s tattoo demonstrates), retro cool ambience, and delicious Crab Benedict. 

Having fun at Chick & Ruth's Delly. I thin I have finally written the name often enough that I amy no longer confuse it with Chris Ruth Steakhouse. Maybe.

Having fun at Chick & Ruth’s Delly. I think I have finally written the name often enough that I may no longer confuse it with the ” Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse”.  Maybe.

A favorite photo from the day!

A favorite photo from the day!  3Ms, or would that be 4 Ms in all  – MaryMarie, Marcia, Michele? OR, if you count my middle name, Marie, then it would be 5Ms……. enough!

It was time for us to leave the next day  to finish our trip up the Chesapeake Bay.  Both boats delayed departure long enough in the morning to catch Frank’s daughter, Nicole, on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. Coley was a Next Food Network Star finalist in 2014. We cruisers, family, and friends all avidly watched and cheered her on. It seems serendipitous that we could watch and cheer for her again as we finish another season of cruising. Nicole has a terrific website, Coley Cooks  and a YouTube channel with fun and informative videos ( love the “no fail kale chips” and the salted caramel videos.) Once I am back home in my land kitchen I will be checking out and trying more of her recipes.

We all enjoyed watching Coley on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. It was extra special because we got to watch it live with Mary Marie.

We all enjoyed watching Coley on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. It was extra special because we got to watch it live with Mary Marie.

Kindred Spirit departs from our favorite "marina." Thank you so much Mary Marie and Frank! We were a little sad, but eager to get underway again.

Kindred Spirit departs from our favorite “marina.” Thank you so much Mary Marie and Frank! Where is that survey for guests???

Off we go on another cold and dreary morning. Sad to say goodbye to friends, but eager to be underway and heading homeward.

Dances with Barges – Northbound on the Virginia Cut

We left Oriental very early on Monday, April 18th, with Cutting Class, the day the winds were finally going to lay down. The next two days are one of my least favorite sections of the ICW, perhaps the very least favorite. We just wanted to get it done.

We awaken to another morning glow in the east. Over the Oriental breakwater.

We awaken to another morning glow in the east. Over the Oriental breakwater.

On our way with the sunrising ahead.

On our way with the sunrising ahead.

It's an easy morning on the Neuse so Al decided to use the time to clean the windshield, inside and out.

It’s an easy morning so Al decided to use the time to clean the windshield, inside and out.

It's fun to watch the variety of local fisherman and crabbers out on the water, doing their thing.

It’s fun to watch the variety of local fisherman and crabbers out on the water, doing their thing.

It’s winding day in and out of rivers and canals. From Oriental the ICW heads into the Neuse River for a short stretch, and then cuts “inland” westward past Hoboken.

The big fishing boats at RE Mayo. "Cape Potter" is getting his named re-painted.

The big fishing boats at RE Mayo in Hobucken. “Cape Potter” is getting his named re-painted.

Hmmmm........ a duck blind for hunting? Looks like it needs a dressing of fresh greenery.

Hmmmm…….. a duck blind for hunting? Looks like it needs a dressing of fresh greenery.

We cross the Pimlico River and turn into the Pungo River. The Pungo River heads north to Bellhaven (we stopped there on both of our previous trips through here) and then turns eastward. The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal is a long 21 miles stretch of straight water.

We cross the Pimlico River and turn into the Pungo River. The Pungo River heads north to Bellhaven (we stopped there on both of our previous trips through here) and then turns eastward. The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, 21 miles long, connects the Pungo  River with the Alligator River to the east.

The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal is a long 25 miles stretch of straight water. It has some limited charm, but gets boring fairly quickly. You can see where fallen dead trees are pulled off to the side and piled up. Driftwood, anyone??

The Alligator River-Pungo River Canal has some limited charm, but gets boring fairly quickly. You can see where fallen dead trees are pulled off to the side and piled up. Driftwood, anyone??

Three little turtles sitting on a log. Oops! Our wake washes them right off. SO sorry, but there wasn't much we could do? Perhaps they think of it as a water park ride?

Three little turtles sitting on a log.
Oops! Our wake washes them right off. SO sorry, but there wasn’t much we could do? Perhaps they think of it as a water park ride? Hope so!

How nice to come out of the canal into very calm waters.

How nice to come out of the canal into very calm waters.

The original plan was to reach Deep Point, an anchorage on the Alligator River, north of the Alligator River -Pungo River Canal, stop there for the night, and then continue across the Albemarle Sound and on to Coinjock. But both boats decided to keep on going past the Alligator River Bridge and anchor at Sandy Point.

We watched this smoke billowing up for quite a distance as we came through he Alligator River . Never did find out the cause.

Smoke was billowing up in distance as we came through the Alligator River. The smell of burning carried on the wind to us. NPR news reported (listening to a podcast) that this wildfire in the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge was the largest of 3 wildfires in North Carolina, consuming a total of 17,000 acres. 

A very long day, but very worth it. The sun sets on our 85-mile, 11.5 hour day.

A very long day, but very worth it. The sun sets on our 85-mile, 11.5 hour day.

Tuesday, April 19th and we are up and going again, time to cross the Albemarle. Albemarle Sound can be quite rough in certain conditions. It is wide and shallow (15-20 feet at most so the wind can kick up the waves. Today was a good day. It is on the other side of the  Albemarle Sound, that cruisers must make a choice – Dismal Swamp route or Virginia Cut?? In the fall we had “done the Dismal” taking that route from Portsmouth, Virginia into North Carolina. We decided that the Virginia Cut was the way to go on our northbound travels.

We reached Coinjock Marina on the North River in the Virginia Cut by noon. The docks at Coinjock is a singular dock– one long face dock, 1200 feet long! The marina’s crew knows just how to place the boats and are right there to assist as you come alongside. Coinjock is in the middle of nowhere, but that nowhere location is just right for stopping if you are on the ICW between the Alligator River and Virginia border. There aren’t many other choices.

This photo was taken in the dim morning light as we left the next day. Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit were the last boats at the very far end.

This photo was taken in the dim morning light as we left the next day. Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit were the last boats at the very far end.

coinjock bush

The meaning of the word “coinjock” from the marina’s website.

It felt like a summer day in the 80’s, a little warm blip of a day in the midst of the cold days we have experienced. While Al changed the oil and washed the entire boat with fresh water, I did laundry and polished stainless steel.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Coinjock

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Coinjock, North Carolina

Coinjock Marina has a famous restaurant, known for its prime rib dinners. How could we not try it?

Coinjock Marina has a famous restaurant, known for its prime rib dinners. How could we not try it? (Dim early morning light again)

prime rib

 

The four of us reserved our slabs of beef ahead of time, but showed some restraint – each couple shared a “Mate’s Cut”, the 14-16 ounce cut rather than the Captain’s 32 ounce piece. It was delicious.

 

prime rib dinner Coinjocks

The Coinjock folks have a sense of humor.

The Coinjock folks have a sense of humor.

We left the Coinjock dock before any of the dockhands arrived for the day.

We left the Coinjock dock before any of the dockhands arrived for the day.

It's a little chilly again.

It’s a little chilly again, but we prefer to be up on the flybridge.

 

IMG_5207

We cross the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Not much fanfare. No "Welcome to Virginia" Just a square green ICW 63. If you aren't reading the chart as you go, you wouldn't even notice.

We cross the border of North Carolina and Virginia. Not much fanfare. No “Welcome to Virginia” Just a square green ICW 63. If you aren’t reading the chart as you go, you wouldn’t even notice.

ICW markers are popular with birds for their waterfront homes. Seeing more than before, perhaps because this is our first trip heading north in the spring. Looks like the red marker fell over and a temporary floating buoy replaced it. Didn’t bother that bird at all.

ICW markers are popular with birds for their waterfront homes. It’s spring and everyone is nesting.     It looks like the red marker fell over and a temporary floating buoy replaced it. The closeness to the water didn’t bother this bird family at all.

The day began in a routine way, casting off and heading north, just like the many days that preceded it. After crossing the Pimlico River, the Alligator River, Albemarle Sound, and the North River (Coinjock), you would have thought we were done with potentially rough waters, but Currituck Sound and North Landing River gave us quite a ride! There was more “traffic” on the water than we had seen since beginning of this northbound trip three weeks ago. The bows of sailboats were splashing up and down in the strong winds and very choppy water in Currituck Sound. The top of our flybridge may be 18 feet above the water’s surface, but the water sprayed up and over our bow all over Kindred Spirit. Much to our surprise, and Al’s dismay after his hard work, the “spray” was sometime more like a wave of water. She was so clean….. and this river water is so brown.

Once we were into the narrower stretches of the ICW, the waters calmed and we settled into following the ICW route into Pungo Ferry. Well, things were calmer, and narrower, but there was also more boat traffic as well as barges and tugs.

I call this part of the trip “Dances with Barges.” The drama began with this sight coming around a bend —

"Time to Go", the trawler traveling ahead of us, rounds past a tug and barge that is off to the side of the ICW. This one was Aries, a tug-barge combo we would get to know rather well over the next few hours.

“Time to Go”, the trawler traveling ahead of us, rounds past a tug and barge that is off to the side of the ICW. This one was “Aries”, a tug-barge combo we would get to know rather well over the next few hours.

Aha! Aries was off to the side to let this southbound tug and barge pass by. Time to Go is caught in the middle.

Aha! Aries was off to the side to let this southbound tug and barge pass by. Time to Go is caught in the middle.

The ICW is narrow and winding here so the tugs and their barges aren’t visible until you round a bend. Fortunately, the VHF radios kept us in touch with each other. The barge captions were all patient.

Southbound John Parrish coming at us.

Southbound John Parrish coming at us.

Shortly after - southbound Kodiak coming at us.

Shortly after – southbound Kodiak coming at us.

Southbound Evelyn Doris coming at us.

Southbound Evelyn Doris coming at us.

We are all approaching the North Landing Bridge (a swing bridge) for its 10:30 am opening. Time to Go passes through, and then we pass through, noticing the damage recently caused by a barge.

We are all approaching the North Landing Bridge (a swing bridge) for its 10:30 am opening. Time to Go passes through, and then we pass through, noticing the damage recently caused by a barge.

Aries passes through behind us, with Asylum and Cutting Class steaming up as fast as they can while begging the bridge tender not to close before they get there. Marcia sweet-talked the bridge and Asylum flat out told him that if he began to close the bridge now both boats would be unable to stop in time. They got through!

Aries passes through behind us, with Asylum and Cutting Class steaming up as fast as they can while begging the bridge tender not to close before they get there. Marcia sweet-talked the bridge and Asylum flat out told him that if he began to close the bridge now both boats would be unable to stop in time. They got through!

Aries informs all of us that he will now move ahead and lead the pack to Great Bridge Bridge (not a typo, that’s the name) and then into the Great Bridge Lock. We are all aiming for the 12:00 bridge opening, because it only opens on the hour.

Aries pushes past us with its barge ahead.

Aries pushes past us with its barge ahead.

 Stumps, snags and deadheads line the shore. It is narrow here and no one wants to move over too close and get caught on them. The term “deadheads” does not relate to Grateful Dead fans at all.

Stumps, snags and deadheads line the shore’s edge. It is narrow here and not gets shallow quickly. No one wants to move over too close and get snagged on any sunken deadheads. The term “deadheads” does not relate to Grateful Dead fans at all.

Before we get to Great Bridge, we all had to get through the Centreville Turnpike Bridge's 11:30 am opening so that we could make the noon opening of Great Bridge Bridge. We have become quite a line-up of boats.

Before we get to Great Bridge, we all had to get through the Centreville Turnpike Bridge’s 11:30 am opening so that we could make the noon opening of Great Bridge Bridge. We have become quite a line-up of boats.

This caught my eye as we exited the Centerville Bridge - a Bahamas courtesy flag still flying on the mast.

This caught my eye as we exited the Centerville Bridge – a Bahamas courtesy flag still flying on the mast. Most of us take them down when we return to the U.S. I thought you had to take them down?

Great Bridge both sides

Aries leads the rest of us through.

Great Bridge Lock is coordinated with Great Bridge Bridge. On we all go……… One tug and barge followed by 9 “rec” boats as the commercial guys referred to us on the VHF radio. At least I assumed they mean “rec” for recreational boats and not “wreck.”

Into the lock – Aries with barge on the starboard side, and all of "rec" boats on portside

Into the lock – Aries with barge on the starboard side, and all of “rec” boats on portside

Ready and waiting for the lock to fill.

Ready and waiting for the lock to fill.

And out we go! Rec boats first.

And out we go! Rec boats first.

A few more bridges (open railroad bridges and the Gilmertin Bridge) and we are in Portsmouth. Whew. What a day! We will reconsider the Dismal Swamp route next time. It may be longer and a bit shallower, but it requires no dancing with barges and bridges.

Instead of anchoring at Hospital Point as we usually do, we decided to try the free docks in downtown Portsmouth, two small cut-out harbors.. This one, North Landing, seemed to be roomier and no one else was there at that hour. The only thing we had to contend with was the constant in and out of the ferry boat. But it’s a free dock for the night, so who cares about noise and some wakes???

Portmsouth free docks

Cutting Class and Kindred Spirit, at another dock.

Using our headsets (Christmas present to each other) to dock in Portsmouth. We don’t use them a lot, but when we do they really help. The distance from the flybridge down to the bow or stern makes it hard to hear each other over the engine. At first it felt like “cheating” because we never used anything like this on the sailboats, but it sure does make it easier in potentially tricky docking or anchoring.

A selfie with our bluetooth wireless headsets by Cruising Solutions, a Christmas present to each other.  We don’t use them a lot, but when we do they really help. The distance from the flybridge down to the bow or stern makes it hard to hear each other over the engine. At first it felt like “cheating” because we never used anything like this on the sailboats, but it sure does make it easier in potentially tricky docking or anchoring. We used them here in Portsmouth because there were no dock hands to assist at this free dock.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Portsmouth.

Kindred Spirit and Cutting Class in Portsmouth.

Not the most exciting segment of the journey, nor the prettiest for sure, but it was part of the journey and has been duly recorded. Done.

Doin’ the Dismal

I still remember when I first heard of the Dismal Swamp Canal as part of the route we must take down the ICW. It sounded, dark and deep and, well, a little scary. In 2013 we were ready to give it a go and head towards it from Portsmouth with our sailing buddies on Magnolia, Anthony and Annette. (“Dismal Swamp Canal = NO…..Virginia Cut = YES“) Just as we “turned the corner” into the canal, we were warned on the VHF to turn back due to the thick choking duckweed that was covering the water. We did, and took the “Virginia Cut”, an alternate route.

Here we are in 2015, and we really wanted to “do the Dismal.” It’s not just the duckweed that scares boaters away from the Dismal; it’s also the shallow depth (“maintained at a six foot mean depth”) and sunken logs beneath the surface. We personally know cruisers who have had significant damage done to their keels or have overheated due to duckweed in the engine system. But…. we are a trawler now with only a 4.5 foot draft which makes the average 6 foot depth of the canal less of a concern. I called ahead to the first lock tender to check the conditions before we set out. He assured me that we would be fine if we had a skeg protecting our prop and if we only kept the speed to 5 knots. No problem. We hoped!

This is a big deal for us. A new route and something we did not do last time. So come along with us for our 2-day trip through the Dismal Swamp Canal……

Another early start to the day, leaving Sunset Creek.

Another early start to the day, leaving Sunset Creek.

We crossed Hampton Roads (a large busy anchorage bay, not a land road) over to Norfolk and Portsmouth through the bustling navy yards. The naval ships were up and about in the early morning and so were the dolphins. I took photos but thanks to the overcast and cloudy day, everything really was a battleship gray color.

A battleship gray morning

A battleship gray morning

Here is the big moment – At red can #36 just past Hospital Point anchorage in Portsmouth, we officially entered the Intracostal Waterway, the ICW. Red can #36 = ICW Mile Marker “0”. Don’t you think they should hang a sign on it??

Red can #36 = ICW Mile Marker “0”. Don’t you think they should hang a sign on it??

Red can #36 = ICW Mile Marker “0”. Don’t you think they should hang a sign on it??

The land of bridges - first a low railroad bridge that is kept open (unless a train comes by) and then the high highway bridge shorty after.

It’s bridge time! – first a low railroad bridge that is kept open (unless a train comes by) and then the high highway bridge shorty after.

The Puffin Bulker, a “bulk carrier” was in dock. What a caught our eye was the escape pod. It reminded us of the movie we had seen at the Commodore Theater in Portsmouth on our last passage through here Captain Philips. Just reminiscing.

Puffin Bolker and its escape pod - remind you of the movie "Captain Philips"?

Puffin Bolker and its escape pod – remind you of the movie “Captain Philips”?

The new Gilmerton Bridge is now operating. Once a bascule bridge, it is now a lift bridge. The good news for us was that its new height was 35 feet when closed – we would not have to wait for it to open.

The new 35 foot Gilmerton Bridge - we can pass under it and not wait around for an opening!

The new 35 foot Gilmerton Bridge – we can pass under it and not wait around for an opening!

Shortly after the Gilmerton Bridge, the sign for the turn-off into the Dismal Swamp Canal appears. Read the sign – it’s kind of cute. “IF YOU HAVEN”T DONE IT YET, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE MISSING, THE DISMAL SWAMP IS LOVELY AND WORTH MUCH REMINISCING.” We turn in and get ready to “do the Dismal.”

Do the Dismal! This time we will!

Do the Dismal! This time we will!

Some basic facts about the Dismal Swamp Canal:

The name itself is intimidating, conjuring something that is dark, dreary, and forbidden. Early settlers called swamps, “dismals” hence the name. Although that would seem to be redundant, wouldn’t it?

It is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States. In 1784, the Dismal Swamp Canal Company was created, but work did not begin until 1793. The canal was dug completely by hand and must have been excruciating for the slaves who were hired from nearby landowners. It took approximately 12 years of construction under mostly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway, which then opened in 1805.

The Canal is on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic Landmark, noted as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and has received the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Designation.

For more information about the Dismal Swamp Canal try these links Dismal Swamp Welcome Center and  The Great Dismal Swamp Megasite

We make the turn and already we are farther into the canal than on our first trip.

We make the turn and already we are farther into the canal than on our first trip.

The Dismal Swamp Canal has two locks to regulate the water level between Hampton Roads and to the north and Albemarle Sound to the South. For those of you who like the technical information —

Here is how a lock works (from Mark and Diana Doyle's On the Water Chart Guide for the ICW, page 24)

Here is how a lock works (from Mark and Diana Doyle’s On the Water Chart Guide for the ICW, page 24)

We reached the first lock, Deep Creek Lock, in short time as it is 3 miles after you enter the Dismal. Deep Creek Lock is famous for its gregarious lock tender, Robert Peek. I had read that he was retiring in October so we were looking forward to meeting him and experiencing this lock before his retirement.

Our locking experience —

When he red light is showing, the lock is not open yet.

When the red light is showing, the lock is not open yet.

We have the green light so we enter the lock after the sailboat. Notice how low the water is.

We have the green light so we enter the lock after the sailboat. Notice how low the water is.

Here is Robert Peet doing his locking thing. Theses a man who loves his job!

Here is Robert Peek doing his locking thing. This is a man who loves his job!

As we wait, tied to the big wall, I wrote our name and date on the wall. Evidently that is a tradition.

As we wait, tied to the big wall, I wrote our name and date on the wall. Evidently that is a tradition, so Kindred Spirit joined the names of other boats who have passed through.

A mileage sign posted at the lock.

An Intracoastal  mileage sign posted at the lock. Hmm. looks like we have a long way to go.

After the four boats were in the lock, the water fills it and lifts us all up higher to the level of the water int he canal on the other side.

After the four boats were in the lock, the water fills it and lifts us all up higher to the level of the water int he canal on the other side.

Robert and Al are chatting. Robert loves to talk and share.

Robert and Al are chatting. Robert loves to talk and share.

Robert Peet is known for his conch horn blowing. As soon as he heard we were headed to the Bahamas, he asked us to bring him a conch shell back on our return trip. He needed a new one.

Robert has a LOT of conchs around the garden in front of his office. He took the time to demonstrate his conch horn blowing skill.

Robert has a LOT of conchs around the garden in front of his office. He took the time to demonstrate his conch horn blowing skill with one of our conchs.

He told me he could teach me how to blow it like he does. Good try, Robert. I still have a lot to learn. He used both of our conch horns and then blew a tune on one of his – a real tune. Click on this 6-second video to hear Robert:

Robert told us he has changed his mind about retiring and will be here in the spring on our return trip. Told us to pull over to the dock on our passage north and have coffee with him in the morning. Probably says that to everyone, but it was a nice chat and visit. I do wonder if the other boats in the lock were getting anxious to get on with things.

Just a half mile down the canal is a little bridge that has to open. Robert, as lock tender, does the lock and then drives to thuebridge and opens it for the boats.

Just a half mile down the canal is a little bridge that has to open. Robert, as lock tender, does the lock and then drives to the bridge and opens it for the boats.

Now we really get into the Dismal Swamp Canal experience. Our sights along the way  —

I took quite a few photos but this one captures most of the view as we followed this sailboat. Our speed ranged form 4.5 - 5 knots most of the way. Slow and steady.

I took quite a few photos but this one captures  the view as we followed this sailboat. Our speed ranged from 4.5 – 5 knots most of the way. Slow and steady.

Most of the old pilings left along the sides now have trees sprouting from their tops. A dreaded deadhead floats by - don't want to hit that! Mile Marker #17, same as our house number at home.

Most of the old pilings left along the sides now have trees sprouting from their tops.
A dreaded deadhead floats by – don’t want to hit that!
Mile Marker #17, same as our house number at home.

We saw some fallen trees tied off to the side with yellow line so that they don't drift out farther.

We saw some fallen trees tied off to the side with yellow line so that they don’t drift out farther.

We crossed a state line! We are in North Carolina now.

We crossed a state line! We are in North Carolina now.

"The Superintendents House". No other explanation available. What do you think Dr. B?

“The Superintendents House”. No other explanation available. What do you think Dr. B?

The Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center is about 18 miles south of Deep Creek Lock and is a “rest stop” for both the highway and the waterway – very unique! The Welcome Center also has a 150 foot long dock for boats, for free. During the busy migration season there can boats rafted to each other 3-4 deep along the dock. Seems to us that the whole canal would be blocked if that happened.

The grounds of the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. They have a nice little office and gift shop.

The grounds of the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. They have a nice little office and gift shop, and very helpful staff.

You can walk across the pedestrian pontoon bridge to the State Park visitor’s center on the opposite side to learn more about the Dismal Swamp.

You can walk across the pedestrian pontoon bridge to the State Park visitor’s center on the opposite side to learn more about the Dismal Swamp.

Kindred Spirit and Spindrift together at the dock. Spindrift was a boat from Branford, Connecticut.

Kindred Spirit and Spindrift together at the dock. Spindrift was a boat from Branford, Connecticut.

And then there were four boats at the dock.

And then there were four boats at the dock. We heard that in the busiest traveling days, there can be 20 boats there, rafted 3-4 deep. Can’t help but wonder if any boat could pass by? But then, at that point maybe everyone is staying there anyway?

We followed the tradition of dockside camaraderie and hosted happy hour on our boat. New friends!

We followed the tradition of dockside camaraderie and hosted happy hour on our boat. New friends!

Day 2 on the Dismal Swamp Canal began with the opening of the little pedestrian bridge.

Day 2 on the Dismal Swamp Canal began with the opening of the little pedestrian bridge.

The second day though the canal brought the duckweed, but not to the levels that would choke our engine’s intake. It was just a light covering on the surface and did not extend downward to any depth.

Duckweed swirls upon the water.

Duckweed swirls upon the water.

Looking aft you can see the "path" we cut though the duckweed.

Looking aft you can see the “path” we cut though the duckweed.

Duckweed - up close and personal. It's actually made up of tiny little leaves.

Duckweed – up close and personal. The “carpet” is actually made up of tiny little leaves.

The water through southern Virginia and northern North Carolina is dark brown, like a strong tea or root beer. Tannin is naturally released from the roots and decaying leaves of the baldcypress and juniper trees that line the canal cuts. We had noticed this last time, but the water seemed to be deeper shade of brown here in the Dismal than it did in the Virginia Cut. The tannin doesn’t make the water “dirty”, but it does stain the fiberglass on boats giving them an “ICW moustache” along the waterline.

This next picture is not what you think it is!! The toilet on this boat flushes with “outside” water which usually means salt water. Most boats do. Kindred Spirit, the sailboat, had a fresh water flush system designed by Al. Therefore, we were caught off-guard by the tannin in the water when we flushed the toilet, to say the least. This is a very clean toilet even though it looks gross. The left picture is of our wake, churning up the brown water.

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK!!! The tannin in the water colors the water int he toilet. You can see the brown color in our wake as well. Just another part of the whole experience. ;-)

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK!!!
The tannin in the water colors the water in the toilet. You can see the brown color in our wake as well. Just another part of the whole experience. 😉

South Mills Lock is the second lock in the canal, preceded by a bridge. It is a lock that goes from high water to low water.

This time the boat starts outweigh and gradually drops lower as the water leaves the lock.

This time the boat starts outweigh and gradually drops lower as the water leaves the lock.

And then there are sights that are just, well, just weird. What do you make of this? Any ideas? Any?

And then there are sights that are just, well, just weird. What do you make of this? Any ideas? Any?

 

 

The Dismal Swamp is home to one of the largest Black Bear populations on the East Coast, subtropical birds, butterflies, bobcats and white-tailed deer, so the Visitor Center said.

The Dismal Swamp is home to one of the largest Black Bear populations on the East Coast, subtropical birds, butterflies, bobcats and white-tailed deer, so the Visitor Center said, but all we saw were these cute turtles on a log.

The Dismal Swamp Canal brings you to Elizabeth City, passing under a bridge to arrive there.

This bridge is another one under construction. It was a little confusing to see two right sides up, but nothing on the left.

This bridge is also  under construction. It was a little confusing to see two right sides up, but nothing on the left.

We had planned to stay the night in Elizabeth City at their free municipal docks, but our plans changed based on the weather forecast for later in the week (I’ll save that for another blog.) Elizabeth City is known for its hospitality to cruising boats and provides free dockage at Mariners Wharf. There is also a special welcome party hosted by the “Rose Buddies” when there are 5 or more boats at the dock. They give a red rose to each boat. I told my captain that he now owes me a red rose since I missed this.

This was a long blog, but because it was a new experience I really wanted to remember it all. I read somewhere that the Dismal Swamp Canal route is one of those “either you love or you hate it” experiences. I don’t think it is that black and white for us. We are really glad we had the opportunity to take this route, everyone should do it once. Will we do it again when we go north in the spring?? Undecided.

Rainy Days in Hampton – A Rerun

Here we are again, two years later, waiting out wind and rains in Hampton. Coincidence? This time instead of the Hampton Town Piers, we are at Sunset Creek Boating Center.

Even in the rain, they move boats around.

Sunset Creek Boating Center - small boats are stored on those racks in several buildings. The fork lift moves them in and out. Almost looks like it is flying in the air.

Sunset Creek Boating Center – small boats are stored on those racks in several buildings and moved with a fork lift. Almost looks like it is flying in the air.

Nestled in our dock at Sunset Creek

Nestled in our dock at Sunset Creek – we are way down at the end with the blue bimini (and no mast.)

red and purple winds

 

SailFlow is an app on my phone that we use to check the winds. This is Sunday morning and it is calmed down from yesterday, at least near us, the blue dot. Red and purple colors are NOT good. I am not fond of orange either. Give me the light blues and greens only.

 

 

 

What do you do in the rain? On our last visit in October 2013 (Rainy Days in Hampton) we did a lot of the tourist things with a “Sea to Stars” pass that included a 3-hour boat tour to Norfolk and a visit to the Air and Space Museum.  To stretch our legs after 2 days of traveling the water, we walked the mile into Hampton to get ice cream at the Old Hampton Ice Cream parlor. What’s this??? — “Will be back at noon” said the sign on the door. I have to admit we were there for ice cream before noon, but it was after 11:30 am. It’s ice cream time somewhere, right?

Ok, let’s just walk about for a little while. Hampton is pretty quiet without much to do other than the museum.

A display of sea glass art in al little shop.

A display of sea glass art in a little shop. I’m not sure about the authenticity of some of those colors!

We continued down to the waterfront near the Air and Space Museum to see if the old carousel might still be open. Hurrah — It was open! Last time it had already closed for the season. Yeah, something new to do!! So glad there was no height maximum. We were the only people there, and for a dollar each, we got to ride.

This carousel was built in 1920 by the Philadelphia Toboggan company. The horses were carved from hardwoods by Italian, German and Russian immigrant artisans.  The carousel was located and operated at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park from 1921-1985. The City of Hampton purchased it in 1991 and had it restored by R&F Designs of Bristol, CT (wow – two geographical connections to me, Philly and CT.) It is now one of less than 70 antique operating carousels still remaining in the US.

How the carousel works and the charming lady who gave us our ride.

How the carousel works and the charming lady who gave us our ride.

Round and round we go to the tune of the old organ music.

Round and round we go to the tune of the old organ music. It was the highlight of my day. And maybe the visit!

A stroll back to the ice cream parlor around 12:15. Still not open. We waited patiently until 12:25 pm.

Poor Al, so sad sitting under the sign with no ice cream. We bought these cupcakes at a bakery as a consolation treat. Not as good as ice cream.

Poor Al, so sad sitting under the sign that promises ice cream and did not deliver.
We bought these cupcakes at a bakery as a consolation treat. Not as good as ice cream.

Saturday was rain, rain, and more rain, with gusty winds thrown in for extra fun. it wasn’t too bad here at the dock, tucked into Sunset Creek. We never left the boat all day. What did we do??? The electricity and free wifi at the dock helped us to pass the time. Al did boat chores, of course. He always finds something to fix or maintain – changed the oil in the engine, changed the fuel filter, fixed the gimbal on the oven, cleaned out the hose from the toilet to the tank, added a doohickey to keep the trash bin from opening in rough seas.

The trash can "doohickey" for rough seas. Insert the red cord through the hold so that the black knob gets caught in the lid's hole.Then hook the cord around the white hook that he installed don the inside of the cabinet door below the sink. Got that?

The trash can “doohickey” for rough seas: Left – Insert the red cord through the hold so that the black knob gets caught there. Right – Then reach in and loop the cord around the white hook that he installed on the inside of the cabinet door below the sink. Got that?

Me, I sometimes take photos or edit them and work on the blog, but mostly I do my boat chores which are not nearly as interesting as Al’s – just cooking, cleaning, organizing and keeping records.

16917029025_b8a75e96d3

And I read. I am on a “Bosch binge” right now, reading as many of Michael Connelly’s Heironymous Bosch detective novels as I can. How nice that I can download books from my hometown library onto my Nook while traveling!

Our view above our heads while we nap - lots of rain drops!

 

There is also naptime! A key component of cruising, especially after several long travel days in a row. When it is raining, you have to take a nap. To the right is the view above our heads while we nap – lots of rain drops!
Later in the day, we needed to get off the boat so we had dinner, such as it was, at the Barking Dog, a little restaurant right in the parking lot of Sunset Creek. We had dogs, of course.

The Barking Dog - inside and outside. Our Carolina Hot Dogs were pretty good,covered in barbecue, and cole slaw.

The Barking Dog – inside and outside. Our Carolina Hot Dogs were pretty good, covered in barbecue, and cole slaw.

Sunday was surprisingly brighter, although still quite windy. It looks like all we do is eat, but we just had to have Chesapeake crab cakes again.

Lunch at the Surfrider Restaurant with the Crouch clan - Dan and Marcia and Dan's sister Beth and husband Rich. Delicious crab cakes again!!

Lunch at the Surfrider Restaurant with the Crouch clan – Dan and Marcia and Dan’s sister Beth and husband Rich. Delicious crab cakes again!!

After lunch, we walked some of it off by making a stop at the grocery store for fresh provisions. We tried out our new “Hook and Go portable folding supermarket shopping cart.” Grocery bags hang on the hooks Easy to store It worked very well.

Al with the loaded Hook and Go shopping cart

Al with the loaded Hook and Go shopping cart.

The Captains confer together again, working on the Garmin chart plotter/Homeport software strategies. We are all sure that the designer(s) who create and code the software have a twisted side. They also don’t believe in anything that is “intuitive.” But that doesn’t deter our guys!

They are still smiling after working with those Garmin gremlins.

They are still smiling after working with those Garmin gremlins.

All set and ready to roll in the morning.

All set and ready to roll in the morning.

The big event for tonight is a rare blood moon total lunar eclipse. That’s a mouthful. It’s a special moon event – not only will there be an eclipse, but the moon will also be about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than usual,making it a “supermoon.” We actually stayed up past our cruiser bed time to try and photograph it. But with  the cloud cover from the recent storms, it wasn’t meant to be. 🙁  Guess we will have to wait until the next one in 2033.

This was before the eclipse began.

This was before the eclipse began.

This was about 9:45 pm when there was a tiny break in the clouds.

This was about 9:45 pm when there was a tiny break in the clouds.

Tomorrow we move again. We are prepared to “do the Dismal,” the Dismal Swamp Canal route. In 2013, it was choked with duckweed and we had to take the Virginia Cut instead. The Dismal Swamp Canal is also shallow at some points and boats tend to bump bottom if their draft is too deep. As a trawler with only a 4.5 foot draft, we should be ok…………