Today is my 58th birthday, and this morning I’ve been reminiscing about our journey, and the difficulties and challenges we’ve faced on this phase, and the people we’ve met along the way. We made it to our destination of Norfolk at the Atlantic Yacht Basin on the 21st, tying up at the end of the face dock at about the same time our grandson Logan was coming into this world. I am SO excited to meet him and hold him and smell his sweet baby smell! I fly out tomorrow for a 2-week visit with family back in Minnesota. ♥
On Good Friday, the 18th of April, we said our goodbyes to Nick and Mary at Dowry Creek Marina. They helped us with our lines and we shoved off with Mike aboard ‘Queen of Hearts’ following. He is single-handedly taking his 37′ Grand Harbor back to New Hampshire. I have great admiration for him because of that, and sometimes wonder how he manages everything alone. We headed up the Pungo River, then through a straight and narrow canal into the wide Alligator River. Here the waterway widened, and again the cold wind and waves made our progress a little challenging.
Finally after 5 days with no phone service we were able to call the Alligator River Bridge, and found out that they were operational. After the bridge opened and we were through we turned hard to port, and through the waves made it into the Alligator River Marina. The dock hand was waiting for us (his name was Logan), and helped us get secured against the pilings and the narrow rickety wooden dock.
The marina has good protection with a sound breakwater, but the office is in a convenience store, along a stretch of road 12 miles from the nearest town. Only one other boat was there, besides ‘Queen of Hearts’ and ‘A-River-Derci’. We had burgers together at the grill inside the gas station/convenience store – they were surprisingly tasty. It was chilly and windy, and we laid low in prep for the next day’s voyage across Albermarle Sound.
The next day dawned gray and overcast. It was windy once again, with occasional spits of rain. The markers were confusing as we navigated around the Middle Ground, the shallow entrance to the Albermarle. We passed by the sailboat from the marina, coming back. That should have been an indication how bad it was, but we proceeded anyway.
The Albermarle is 34 miles across, and the waves slammed at our bow. Staying on course was nearly impossible as we were tossed around. The wind picked up, with 6 to 8 foot waves crashing up onto the deck and spraying over the top of the fly-bridge cover. And then we realized that the anchor had jumped out of its cradle, and was dangling precariously over the port side of the bow, smashing against the boat. So Jim donned his life jacket and rain pants, went below and climbed out through the hatch, creeped along on his belly holding on for dear life, and retrieved and secured the anchor. I was at the upper helm steering and praying that he would not be swept overboard.
The anchor problem seemed to be the beginning of a downward spiral, with more and more things going awry. Jim was soaked to the skin, and back down below, tried to secure the furniture and other things flying around, having to crawl, as standing was impossible. Water gushed in through the windshield, soaking the desk area where our electronics and computer sat. Somehow he managed to make it back up to the flybridge. Meanwhile I was at the helm trying to maintain our compass direction of 22 degrees. I had legs braced a good 3 feet apart, unable to take even one hand off the wheel, rocking and reeling.
On the fly-bridge deck we have a container that houses the gasoline for the dinghy. It was sliding back and forth, slamming into the side curtain. Somehow Jim managed to tie it in, for fear that it would tear through the side-cover. I kept my eyes to the compass, the GPS, and the horizon, hoping to see land ahead, but nothing yet.
And then the engine quit. And of course the boat gradually turned, the waves coming at us from the side, rolling. Jim hurried below, and somehow managed to change the filter. Panic stricken, I grabbed my life jacket, sure that I would soon have to make a mayday call, and went below. On my knees I held the sliding door from slamming open and shut and prayed. In record time while being tossed around, Jim got the engine running. Holding on for dear life, I climbed the ladder and took over at the helm, steering back into the waves.
Eventually we were able to make out land ahead, which helped lift our spirits. As we got closer, the wave height lessened to 3 to 4 feet, and soon we turned to port, following the shoreline. Now we had to deal with hundreds of crab pots for several miles. We stayed in touch with Mike when possible via radio, a couple miles behind us.
Jim went below to check the Racor filter, and we had to shut down once again. The upper gasket was missing, and fuel was spewing into the bilge. After replacing the filter and gasket, we were underway. Then we made it many miles up the wide Pasquotank River to the town of Elizabeth City, and waited for a bridge opening there. We decided to anchor behind Goat Island, about 5 miles north of Elizabeth City where we would have good wind protection.
Shaken, wet, and hungry, we set the hook. The Coast Guard pulled in behind us and first boarded ‘Queen of Hearts’. And then they came over and boarded ‘ARiverDerci’. It was not that bad, as we have all of our safety equipment in order. Still it was a little unnerving.
Afterwards, Mike invited us over for cocktails and commiseration, so we took the dinghy down and putted over to his boat nearby. He had also taken on water and had stuff flying out of cabinets, etc. He has a ‘hole’ in the vision of one eye, and had no one else aboard for moral support. He thought he probably ran over 6 crab pots, but has cutters on his twin props. Still, I think that he fared better than we did with our anchor and fuel problems.
Easter morning we were set to take off, only to find that we were still leaking fuel into the bilge. I like to think of the bilge as the Black Hole; if you drop something down there you will likely never see it again. Mike turned around and brought us some kind of goop to help stop the leak. Then he took off. We needed to make the 11:30 lock opening up ahead in the Dismal Swamp. A little difficulty pulling up the anchor in the heavy mud, then we were on our way.
The Dismal Swamp route is part river, but most of our way was through the canal, very straight and narrow, bordered by a wide variety of trees. I loved the calmness of it after our experience the day before. We made it to the South Mills lock, built in the early 1800’s, with only a minute to spare! Then through the opened bridge which operates in conjunction with the lock.
At Mile 28 we pulled into the NC Welcome Center, a roadside rest area that has a free dock and borders the Dismal Swamp State Park. We had difficulty docking the boat, but finally made it, and got secured. Later, I cooked Easter dinner. Mike provided the sausage and pork roast, and we enjoyed a great meal together, complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, and cranberries.
The weather was cold, but I bundled up and took a walk after dinner and dishes, and learned a little more about the history of the Great Dismal Swamp and the canal. In the 1760’s, George Washington wanted to drain the swamp and develop it, but that venture didn’t pan out. The money was in the timber, which was cut mainly for shingles and lumber. The southern slaves built most of the canal, and in doing so became familiar with it. Because of that it became a place for those that escaped to hide and live in. Later, it became a link on the Underground Railroad.
The Great Dismal Swamp is a vast and dangerous place, eerie and mysterious. On my walk through the cypress, pin oak, sweet gumwood and sassafras trees, I happened upon a mailbox, labeled ‘Kindred’ with the red flag up, as if it contained a message for me. Inside was a journal housed in a large Ziploc bag, so I sat down and read many of the entries, and added my own.
Sore, bruised and weary, we went to bed early that night, and woke to sunshine and warmer temps the following morning. We said goodbye to Mike, who decided to wait out for less winds, and slowly made our way further up the Dismal Swamp canal. The entire canal is one long no-wake zone, and the first bridge we encountered did not open on schedule. Fortunately, there is a free dock right before the bridge where we tied up. We walked into Deep Creek and shared a pizza at a little place in a strip mall, then back to the boat.
The bridge opened for us about 1:20. From there the Deep Creek Lock is 0.3 miles north. George, the same man who operated the bridge, drove his white ’64 Thunderbird over the bridge, then to the lock, where he helped us with our lines and operated the lock. I felt like I had stepped back in time!
A short way north the Dismal Swamp ICW and the Virginia Cut ICW merge back together. Here we turned to starboard, heading south for a few miles, only to be impeded by the Steel Bridge. We got through earlier than expected because a barge was going north, and government and commercial vessels can have the bridge opened on demand.
Another couple miles ahead, we realized there was another lock to go through. The Great Bridge Lock was at the site of a Revolutionary War battle. The lock hand was very congenial and talkative. After going up about 3 feet, we slowly went out, only to wait for the 4:00 bridge opening. Eventually we got through the bridge, and our destination was ahead on the right.
Ed, one of the harbor masters there, helped us with our lines. Again, we are out on the face dock, but we are in a no wake zone, and very protected. We made it! And shortly after getting settled, we found out that our new grandson was born. Life is so sweet!
Yesterday I did 5 loads of laundry, including the wet bedding. We repaired a bow railing mount, and made a list of work to be done on the boat while Jim is here. We walked to a nearby grocery store and picked up a few things, then grilled burgers when we got back. It is fun to watch all the boats heading north, waiting for the bridge nearby to open on its hourly schedule.
After I get this blog posted, we are going out on the town to celebrate my birthday, the completion of the 3rd phase of our trip, and that we have a healthy new grand baby! A-RIVER-DERCI to you now, and I will resume blogging upon my return to Virginia. ♥