Chapter Four  October, 2003


October 22, we took on water and fuel in Hampton, and set off down the Elizabeth River to the Intracoastal Waterway.  This route took us right past the Navy piers.  We’ve never seen so many large, gray ships in our lives. 

There were Navy ships everywhere along the river, and Navy helicopters flying overhead constantly.  It made us proud of the young men and women who serve our country aboard these vessels, and especially proud of our son-in-law, Chip, and the work he does.  Thanks to all of them.

Now we start dealing with the opening bridges.  These “drawbridges” come in several varieties, but they must each be contacted by radio, and notified of our request that they open so we can pass through. Often there are several boats trying to get through on the same opening, and there’s some milling around waiting for the bridge to open while trying not to hit anybody.  Sometimes it is so easy, and other times…

Just a few miles down the Elizabeth River, we turned off into Deep (Ha!) Creek to take the cutoff through the Dismal Swamp.  About half-way to the Dismal Swamp Canal, we ran aground.  Hard.  John, buoyed by his success in the Chester River, again set out the kedge anchor.  And pulled.  And pulled some more.  Unfortunately, he set the kedge in the wrong direction and dug it in very well (he won’t make that mistake again!) and ended up abandoning the anchor after digging in the mud for the better part of an hour.  ‘Nuff said about that.

We locked into the Dismal Swamp Canal late in the afternoon, and met Robert, the lock tender.  Robert makes a hobby of collecting conch shells boaters bring him on their way north in the spring.  He “converts” the shells into musical instruments, which he’ll play for you, if you just ask.  We asked.  We knew we couldn’t make it through the whole canal before dark, so we tied up to a very small landing right at the north end of the canal.  This landing is very well known among cruisers as “Food Lion Landing”.  This spot has the most convenient provisioning found anywhere on the Waterway.  Literally across the street are a large Food Lion supermarket, an Eckerd drugstore, a hardware store, and an auto parts store.  To top it off, there’s a nice family Mexican restaurant right on the dock.  Perfect!

It was here we came across Erin and Fleck on The AlchemistThe Alchemist is a Bristol 27, with an outboard motor for auxiliary power, no built-in stove-oven, no hot running water, and no refrigeration.  Erin and Fleck are in their early 20’s, and out on an adventure.  What neat kids!

As we were entering the lock at the beginning of the canal, Erin and Fleck ran aground just behind us (they draw 4 feet of water), so Sharon went ‘round in the dinghy to see how we could help.  As she was trying to pull then off with the dinghy, Fleck fell over the side.  Sharon and Erin laughed, and it must have upset Fleck, because he sputtered that he was hurt (he’d dislocated his shoulder), and could have easily drowned.  Erin reminded him that he could just as easily have walked, as the water was less than 4 feet deep!  Anyway, we had a very nice time getting to know the two of them at dinner in the Mexican restaurant that night.

The Dismal Swamp is beautiful.  We were up and away before 7:00 the next morning, and had the entire canal to ourselves.  For those of you who don’t know, the canal was dug in 1804 for commercial purposes. Today it is a National Landmark, and is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers for recreational purposes.  The canal itself is very narrow and shallow, and in places it seems as if the trees are going to meet overhead (we did hit one tree with our mast).  It is quite an introduction to the wilderness we’ll encounter along the Intracoastal Waterway. But it was very cold that morning; frost was reported not very far away. 

That evening, we pulled into Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  What an unexpected treat that was.  Not only does the town offer free overnight dockage for transient (new word for us) yachts, but they have the Rose Buddies, too.  The Rose Buddies started many years ago, when two local gentlemen visited the transiting yachts, and brought a rose to each female traveler.  The rose was meant to remind visitors to “stop and smell the roses”.  Today, whenever there are 4 or 5 visiting yachts in town, the Rose Buddies show up and throw a Wine and Cheese Party for all the visitors.  Gratis.  We met all the crews of the visiting yachts, and will continue to meet up with them as we continue “down the road.” 

Next day, October 24, we were up at dawn and joined the parade of boats headed south.  We motorsailed Albemarle Sound and the Alligator River, anchoring that night at the start of the canal linking the Alligator and Pungo Rivers.  We arrived in time for Sharon to make an absolutely delicious chicken pot pie.  Man, this is livin’!

As we moved through that canal next morning, Sharon looked ahead and warned John to be sure to miss that large floating log up ahead (the canal is filled with them, after Hurricane Isabel).  But the log seemed to be moving sideways to the current.  It was a BEAR!  The bear was swimming from one side of the canal to the other, right in front of our boat.  He scrambled up onto the bank and disappeared into the brush, just as we came up to him.  What a sight!

By Sunday afternoon we were approaching Beaufort, North Carolina, we motored along a long section of the “Ditch” lined with some of the strangest houses we’ve seen in quite a while.  Everything from model lighthouses and artificial beaches to a plaster menagerie to someone’s idea of a Bermuda house.  As we entered Beaufort from the Newport River, the dolphins appeared for the first time.  And I mean “appeared”.  There must have been 20 or so of these sleek mammals swimming all around the boat.  Wonderful. 

Beaufort is a nice, small, coastal town with a rich sea-going history.  Historical markers are on most of the houses down by the waterfront.  We spent 2 ˝ days here, making new friends and finding out more about the journey ahead.  Beaufort is also a major jumping-off spot for sailors heading for the Caribbean.  Many of our new friends were making this trip; we’ll hope to catch up with them later in the season.  Not much else of note for our time in Beaufort, save a delicious shepherd’s pie from Sharon.  Yum!

We anchored in a nice creek on the south side of Beaufort.  In the first mile or so, the creek is lined on the north side by the city docks.  We anchored up from them a bit.  There is just room for one boat at a time to anchor in this part of the creek, as the channel must be kept clear for the commercial fishing fleet who use it as their highway to the sea.  There is quite a tide running all the time, and we had to figure on a 2 knot current which reversed every six hours.  That means two anchors; one upstream, one downstream.  On the morning of the 29th, we awoke to a violent thunderstorm at 4:00 a.m.  Our wind gauge read 46 knots (about 50 mph).  We were holding just fine, but the boat behind us dragged both his anchors.  We were a bit concerned, as he was heading right for us.  As it turned out, he dragged out into the middle of channel, up the creek past us, and back into line with all the other boats.  He almost hit us, but Sharon was alert, fended off, and saved us some considerable damage.  (I’m sure he isn’t insured.)  Faced with the prospect of pulling up and resetting both anchors in the dark, we decided to get underway, and were off and going by 6:00 a.m.

Next day, we motorsailed right through the Camp LeJeune Marine Base.  Fortunately for us, the marines were not using the artillery range that fronts on the Intracoastal Waterway that day, but we could clearly see the targets and the pock marks on them.  After anchoring in among the marines, we moved on the next day to Wrightsville Beach. 

Once we got into Wrightsville Beach proper (we anchored in a pool right behind the surfing beach), we thought we’d arrived in Florida.  Beautiful wide sand beaches, surfers and sunbathers, condos, and some very impressive homes along the water.  (To be truthful, it reminded John of Long Beach Island, NJ about 30 years ago.)  But WARM!  Ah, now this is what we came for.

The only problem with Wrightsville beach is the provisioning:  we walked about 3 1/2 miles each way to the supermarket.  The “to” part wasn’t so difficult, but the “back” trip with $200-worth of groceries is another story.  But we made it just fine with our little handy-dandy, fold-up pull cart.

A short ride down the “ditch” is Southport, North Carolina.  Here we met fellow cruisers Angie and Adrian with their three children: Christina (10), Luke (8) and Paul (16 months!).  This cruising family has been at it for three years, and are about to return home for family and work, but they’ve sure had a heck of a good time.  We shared an afternoon with them, picking their brains for still more information about what lies ahead.

Southport is such a neat little town, we decided to stay an extra day and go to church, it being Sunday and all.  But Saturday night was truly fun, too. 

First, we were invited over to a neighboring boat for cocktails, and met the greatest two guys, Fabe and Don.  These two guys were bringing Fabe’s trawler south to meet up with their wives.  Each of these two had spent 10-12 years doing exactly what Sharon and I are embarking on.  They both spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean, where they met some years ago.  Now in their mid-70’s, they’ve given up the sails, but they’re still boating. 

What a nice find!

Then we went to a street dance.  It was the season-ending party thrown by the local dock-side restaurant on the evening of the last regatta of the year.  Free food and drink, and a “Jimmy Buffet” like band.  We went over after dinner on the boat and had a great time.

The trip forward took us right through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  This part of the Waterway gives it the nickname of “The Ditch”.  It’s long and straight.  We don’t get to see much of the golf courses, but a few do front on the Waterway.  Only they look over the canal, so when we look up, we don’t see much.  Not much, except the overhead tramway that takes golfers to the Intracoastal Waterway Golf Club.  Golfers park their cars on one side of the canal, and take this tramway over the canal to the clubhouse and 1st tee.  Amazing!

After leaving Myrtle Beach, we anchored in a nice little “jug-handle” off the Waccamaw River.  The Waccamaw is reportedly one of the prettiest stretches of the Waterway, and we found this anchorage just lovely, surrounded by cypress trees and thick undergrowth.  Just us and one other boat.

In the morning, we slept rather late (7:00 a.m.), and got off to a slow start.  It was a bit foggy, but we figured we could handle it and besides, it will burn off in a few minutes.  WRONG!  The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the way ahead at all, just barely make out the tree along the banks at the sides of the river, about 50 feet away.  Other than that, nothing.  Luckily, we have radar, and we were picking our way down the river at a VERY slow pace, when a trawler came along and asked if he could pass.  It seemed his visibility was better than ours because he was so high in the air, and we were so low on the water.  Whatever the case, he slowed down and allowed us to follow him through the fog (we figured if he hit anything, we could always stop) for about an hour until the fog lifted.  Diva will always be remembered for their consideration and thoughtfulness.

The Waccamaw is, indeed, beautiful.  Spanish moss hangs from the cypress trees and live oaks along both banks, and very few homes are seen on this stretch of river.  It turned into a lovely day. Long (60 miles!), but lovely.

Two days later we arrived in Charleston.  Now this is some city.  Three days worth.  We took tours, walked the town, had a wonderful dinner downtown, and got haircuts.  Wow, this just gets better and better.  (You’ve no idea how good the haircuts felt!)  We are so in love with Charleston, we took way too many photos, so I’ll spare you the text, and let the pictures speak for themselves.  We took a carriage ride tour, complements of the time-share pitch we sat through for the “goody basket”. 

While there, we did some house shopping for Sharon’s sister, Debbie, and her husband, Bob.  They’ve mentioned the possibility of moving to Charleston, and we found several properties that just might meet their requirements. 

We left Charleston early in the morning of November 9, heading for Savannah.  We needed to get to Savannah so we could attend our niece’s wedding.  Laura Martin is being married outside Atlanta on the 15th, so we’ll leave the boat somewhere near Savannah and drive to the wedding.  We’re really looking forward to seeing all the Martin clan (save one, who has to go to school that day).  Back in Charleston, a cold front came through the area during the night, and we gave up 87-degree weather on Friday, for low 50’s on Sunday.  And I mean COLD! And windy (over 25 knots).  But we survived, and enjoyed the trip anyway.  We ended up anchored up Broad Creek in Hilton Head Island Tuesday morning.  Here we ran across our friends Michael and Marybeth on Madeline.  Well!  So much for the “wilderness” part of our trip.  Hilton Head is lovely, but very built up.  We found a secure place to anchor the boat, made arrangements to pick up the rental car, and off we go.  More on that trip, later.

A Bientôt!