Sunday, April 13, 2014

Day 2-153 First day in Norfalk, VA

Started the day off with a big mistake... I did not sleep in, and the Admiral had a full afternoon of activities planned, which meant no nap. After 153 days on the boat, you would think that I would have learned by now??? The adult fare was $1.50 and the 50% discounted Senior Fare was $0.75.

We caught the Norfolk to Portsmouth Ferry (first picture) across the river to the historic riverfront area in Portsmouth.

From the ferry, we had nice views back at the Norfolk waterfront and skyline. The scattered high clouds allowed the temperature to reach 70F away from the water. With a nice breeze it was comfortable sitting outside on the ferry with a sleeveless sweater on.  It was nice going past some of the shipyards that we had passed yesterday with someone else "driving" so that I could be more of a tourist.

We first went to the Commodore Theater to purchase tickets for the 2:00 pm dinner theater showing of "Noah". After buying tickets, we had planned to go to a marine supply store, which it turns out is no longer in business. Well, we then spent some time in an antique store, but by then it was time to go inside the theater. We had been advised that all ordering needed to be done before the show started. Robert, the famous lockmaster that we met yesterday, had recommended the Nachos with BBQ Beef. We took his recommendation and were not disappointed. Just before the show started, we ordered some popcorn so that I could get my
movie popcorn fix... The theater is a historic landmark, but they have state of the art projection and sound (Dolby, 3-D, etc.). The side walls had colorful murals with local scenes (picture on right). The mushroom lights at the bottom were on the tables that had nice stuffed arm chairs that could be re-arranged for viewing the movie (and holding hands). All in all it was a pretty class act. Just one more of those pieces of local color that the Admiral has been so good at finding. Once more, we were very grateful that we have had the time to explore towns and find wonderful places like this theater.

After the movie, we walked around a little on the way back to a different ferry dock. Along the riverfront walkway, we passed the Portsmouth Lightship. Lightships played an important role in dangerous areas where it was too deep to build a lighthouse. It must have been miserable duty aboard an anchored vessel subjected to violent Atlantic storms, which no doubt made regular re-supply and crew changes difficult. One of the problems with the restoration and display of vessels is that they must be dry docked regularly to have their bottoms painted or in a worst case have the steel bottoms replaced. Here they seemed to have solved that problem by putting the lightship in the ground encased in concrete. They also have a wall so that several inches of water make it look like the boat is afloat. Pretty good idea, and it has worked for about 60 years.

We also walked past the "Learning Barge", which is a floating marine education center. This kind of facility is appropriate for this area given the heavy influence of maritime activities on the economy, environment, etc. Besides, I really like the name...

Sadly, by then it was nearly 5:00 pm and time to catch one of the ferries back across to our marina on the Norfolk side of the river.

..and so, I will end today's post with a picture of the blades on the (fake) paddlewheels.

Day 2-152 We "survived" the Great Dismal Swamp

We started about 7:00 am from the Visitor's Center for a trip of 27.2 miles to Norfolk, VA.
The chartplotter predicted a trip of only 3 hours and 23 minutes, but our expectations were more realistic since we had to keep the speed down to about 5 mph. We had the lock/bridge combination at the north end of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. Except for a few sharp bends, the view ahead was always pretty much the same. You can see some ripples on the right hand (east) side, which is one of many small drainage ditches that enter the canal.

The view of the banks of the canal was ever changing. It is still early Spring here, but we did see some redbuds and other flowering trees and bushes.

A short distance north of the Visitor's Center, we passed this sign and officially added another state to our list. The canal is shallow but supposedly maintained at a depth of 6 feet. Our official draft is 4 feet, but the actual draft varies with fuel, water, etc. We did bump twice during our first day in the canal (5 miles), but we did not bump anything today in the last 17 miles. The "bumps" are usually sunken logs that may (or may not) be on the bottom. We had no boats ahead of us today to stir up logs off the bottom so we were probably just lucky...

As I said yesterday there is a bike/walk/run path along the eastern side and a highway beyond that. Since the foliage is not completely leafed out, we could see some of the path and highway. There was a half marathon going on this morning. It was a great day for the runners/walkers as both the weather and the bugs (or lack there of) cooperated. This photo of a water station is the best one that we got through the growth. We tooted out horn (sounds like an air horn on a semi) several times and got lots of waves as we passed. The Admiral was on the aft end of the flybridge yelling and clapping for the runners.
Access to any farms on the western side of the canal is very limited by the presence of the canal although we did pass one farmer's private bridge that could roll out and span the canal. It looked very heavy duty like it could support grain hauling semi trucks full of grain.

We did pass this interesting sign on the western side... "Swamp Commander" conjures up all kinds of red-neck images in my mind, but there were no people visible around the several buildings.

Finally after about 3.5 hours we reached the bridge/lock combination at the official northern end of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. We were about a half hour early so I got to practice "station keeping" in a gentle breeze in the narrow canal. For a half hour we saw lots of low speeds, including some of these at 0.0 mph. Then we got the bad news that we would have to wait for a boat that was locking through from the north before we could transit both the bridge and the lock. Meanwhile, even the Admiral took her had at the helm. So, we both got in some "unexpected" quality time at the helm.

Finally it was our turn along with a sailboat that had apparently spent the night at a small dock there. After passing safely through the bridge (photo), the bridge tender puts on his lock tender hat and drives a half mile to the lock. More "good" news... The bridge/lock tenders truck would not start. So, he and his dog walked the half mile to the lock while I practiced more station keeping.  The tender is "Robert", and he is something of a local legend. He is very chatty and full of information.

The normally slow process took nearly two hours, but we have learned to leave plenty of extra time for the inevitable unexpected delays. A mile or so after the lock, we entered the main channel through Norfolk, Hampton Roads and Portsmouth. After more than two weeks with relatively little civilization, it was quite a change to have 6 bridges in 5 miles with lots of  car, truck, train and boat traffic. All of a sudden it seemed very LOUD.

Of course, there were Navy ships everywhere with many of them under construction as well as undergoing repair or modifications. It was an awesome sight, but I will wait for another day for more ship pictures. We are right downtown in Norfolk with a mall and an 18 screen cinema only 4 blocks away. As you know, we are great movie buffs, and tonight we are going to see "Draft Day". Whoop.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 2-151 into the Dismal Swamp

We left the Pelican Marina in Elizabeth City at 6:30 am in order to get through the Highway 158 bridge before their limited, rush hour schedule began at 7:00am. We were in a "no wake zone" for the whole trip today, which meant that we were going to average no more than 5 mph. Our planned trip for today was only 24.1 miles, which we would normally cover in about 3 hours, but as you will see, we took about 6 hours to cover that distance.

A few miles later we were treated to a very nice sunrise over the eastern shore of the Pasquotank River. This was the first of many great sights for today.

I will warn you now that today's post will be kind of like a comic book with lots of pictures and little text....

We saw several bald eagles today, including this one that we sort of herded or followed for several miles. We would get close, and then he would fly up river several hundred yards, and on and on... Majestic! That word is truly fitting for these wonderful birds.

We passed a number of osprey nests and thought that we could see several with chicks with just the top of their head sticking up. This osprey (left) was carrying a fairly large stick. Just a little nest repair on the fly, so to speak.

After going about 15 miles up the Pasquotank River, we entered a mile long cut that would take us to the start of the Dismal Swamp. For the remainder of today's cruise it was a game of follow the leader with some passing in this narrow channel. There were 4 sailboats that left Elizabeth City after we did, and three of them ended up passing us. How embarrassing! Not really because we were going extra slow so that we would not be too early for an 11:00 am lock and related bridge opening.

The Admiral took this picture just for the record, but we had done our homework before this part of the trip. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the western branch of the Atlantic Intra Coastal Waterway in northern North Carolina and southern Virginia. The canal was started in the 1780s, and even George Washington was a stock holder. There were actually two separate companies with one working northward in North Carolina and one working southward in Virginia. The canal was completed in the early part of the 19th century after a number of starts/stops, and it was dug using slave labor. The original swamp was over 2 million acres, but the present swamp is only about a tenth that size.
Just the original canal itself was enough to drain some of the swamp and lower water tables, but local land owners also began to dig other canals and drainage ditches to expand their farms.

After 5 miles, we passed though the South Mills Lock and the Sough Mills bascule bridge. It is a tight fit since as you exit the lock there is barely enough room (i.e. width) to pass traffic headed the opposite direction before you have to pass through this bridge. There were 4 other boats in the lock, and we tried to look like experienced veterans since for two of the boats it was their first ever lock. The whole lock-bridge passage

took almost one hour partly since there was only one person to help each boat tie up, open/close gates of the lock and raise/lower the water level. The eastern branch of the Intra Coastal is know known as the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal. It opened in 1857 and has been continually updated to modern standards with a 12 foot minimum depth. Since it opened, it has taken all of the commercial and most of the pleasure boat traffic away from the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. With its much shallower depth, the Dismal is now primarily used by pleasure craft to view the natural beauty.

While we were waiting to enter the lock, The Admiral took this picture of a curious Canada Goose (above) and of a turtle sunning itself on a tree branch in the water (right).

Five miles after the lock/bridge we came to the Dismal Swamp Visitor's Center and Nature Center. The Visitor's Center bills itself as unique in that it serves both highway traffic and boat traffic on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The photo on the left is of Lucky Us at the dock at the Visitor's Center, which is just out of view on the right. I was standing on the pedestrian swing bridge that allows visitors to cross the canal to get to the Nature Center that has nice interpretive displays and 20+ miles of trails.

The Visitor's Center sells these neat t-shits, but I do not think that the lady was too impressed when I asked if they offered a guarantee...
After all, we have still have 20 more miles to go before we exit this canal.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 2-150 northward 37.5 miles to Elizabeth City, NC

We departed the Alligator River at 8:05 am and arrived in Elizabeth City about 4.5 hours later. We did the whole trip at normal cruising speed of 8 mph in light winds and mostly sunny skies. After a few miles we exited the Alligator River and started across the Albermarle River, which is about 16 miles wide at this point. As we approached the north side, the Intra Coastal Waterway splits into two different routes. The newer eastern route is now the main waterway with a maintained depth of 12 feet. We have chosen the historic, western route through the Great Dismal Swamp, and we will begin a two day trip through the Great Dismal Swamp tomorrow. When you reach the north side of Albermarle Sound, the Intra Coastal goes north up the Pasquotank River about 15 miles to Elizabeth City where we will begin our trip through the Great Dismal Swamp tomorrow.

As you approach Elizabeth City, you pass the largest U.S. Coast Guard airbase in the U.S.  The base is large and is also home to 5 different Coast Guard National Commands.

Just after passing the airbase we went by a blimp and a large, World War II blimp hangar. Elizabeth City was the second largest base for blimps in the U.S. during WW II (second to Lyndhurst, NJ). The blimps patrolled off the Cape Hatteras area to protect shipping from U-boats. Now, most of the blimps manufactured in the U.S. are made here.

During the first half of the trip up the Pasquotank River, we passed through the most dense field of crab traps that we had ever seen. They seemed to be in closely space rows in both the N-S and E-W directions. Fortunately, with the light winds it was generally very easy to see the floating buoys, but they mad it more interesting by having some rows of black and dark blue buoys... Most of the time you were within 100 or so feet of 3 to 5 buoys. In the picture you can see how well the white buoys show up, and for comparison you can see 2 black buoys in the left foreground.

When we reached the Pelican Marina, we back into a slip with a finger (short) pier on the starboard side only. That was relatively easy with the light wind and no current, but then things started to go bad. We had two lines tied to the finger pier, but I needed to move the bow over to port (left) so that the Admiral could grab a bow line from a piling. I started to turn the boat, and then we stopped (?).  It seems (but I am not 100% positive) that the dockhand had untied the boat so that we could turn... One of the lines had fallen into the water and was tightly wrapped around the starboard propeller shaft... Okay John, just relax. After we finished tying up again, I went below to see if I could unwind the line by turning the propeller shaft at the transmission. I used a 30 inch long pipe wrench for the first full turn and then was able to switch to a rubber strap wrench for the next couple of turns. Finally I was able to turn it by hand. After a total of 6 or seven revolutions I heard a loud tapping noise on the hull. That was the Admiral signaling that the line was free! Lucky Us...

After a wonderful salad with roasted chicken on top, the Admiral took one of the electric scooters on a 1.5 mile trip to the Post Office.
We had asked our mail service to forward it here c/o General Delivery, and it was there when she arrived. This photo is of the downtown waterfront taken as we approached the marina.

The next picture is of the Pelican Marina also taken during our approach to the marina.

The marina has some interesting boats in it, including this small tug that looks very much like its real counterparts.

Well, it is late, and we have to get up at 6:00 am for an early start tomorrow. We have a bridge right next to the marina that is being replaced, and during the construction, it has very limited openings during the morning and evening rush hours. Then we have to go about 22 miles to a lock that only opens 4 times a day. Plus, the entire trip is in a no wake zone, which means that we will only be going about 5 mph...

Well, I will close with a view of tonight's sunset over downtown that was taken from the fore deck of Lucky Us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 2-149 to Alligator River Bridge near Columbia, NC

We departed the Dowry Creek Marina just about 8:05 pm and headed north for 49 miles to the Alligator River Marina. The forecast was for winds of about 8 to 10 mph out of the north, but you guessed it... We spent much of the trip in the Alligator (artificial) cut, but when we entered the Alligator River for a run of about 18 miles north, the wind had freshened to 18 mph with gusts reportedly up to 24. Just before entering the Alligator River there were three sailboats anchored in the lee of the shore with about 5 more coming along behind us who were also planning to anchor until the wind died down.  We decided to go out into the river to see what the conditions were really like. Believe it or not, this was much better than our last long on in fairly open water (see Day 2-146).  The waves less than 2.5 feet, and we cut through them with hardly any fuss.
At the end of this run we approached the Alligator River Swing Bridge at the mouth of the Alligator River. Also, during the last hour before the bridge, the wind died back down to 8 or 9 mph, which was like the original prediction for this afternoon. The bridge had a 14 foot clearance, but we had to call for an opening since we are about 18.5 feet high with the radar mast up. Just after we passed through the bridge, we turned to port (left) to follow the bridge for about a mile until we reached the Alligator River Marina on the mainland side.

Alligator River?
Well, we did see a poorly reproduced picture of a gator posted on the wall inside the marina lounge building, and the Admiral took this picture of what she thought to be an alligator???

By now you might have gotten the idea that we did not see many spectacular sights today, and you are correct. Pretty much the same view all day - pine trees on the slightly higher (but well drained) areas and coastal swamp for the rest of the "land" area.
After we had been in the marina for several hours, 4 of the sailboats that had been at anchor arrived at the marina. You can barely see two of the sailboats across the channel behind Lucky Us.

I guess that they were listening on the radio and heard that we had successfully transited through the bridge. One of the reasons that they were waiting was that this bridge, like most swing bridges, will not open if wind gusts are 35 mph or higher.

Well, time for some sleep before we head 32.5 miles to Elizabeth City, NC in the morning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Days 2-147-8 in Belhaven, NC

The weather was windy, cloudy with scattered rain. That pretty well sums up the first day at Dowry Creek Marina. Having a "weather day" in port may not be our idea of a fun time, but there are always plenty of jobs to keep us busy. The Admiral repaired the mounts for her armchair on the flybridge, did laundry, paperwork, etc. As for me, I had a nice early afternoon nap...

A little before 4:00 pm we borrowed the loaner car from the marina to head into Belhaven to see the sights and have an early dinner. As we were walking to the car, the marina owner was outside looking at the black sky just to the north, and he said that a tornado had just been reported about 5 miles to the north. We started the trip into town by driving about a mile north to the main highway. Sure enough there were groups of cars stopped along the highway with people looking at this suspicious looking black cloud. This appears to be the storm that had spawned a small F-2 tornado. Later that night we saw reports about the tornado on the local news and even the Weather Channel. Fortunately, no one was killed , but several people were injured. The injured were taken to the hospital in Belhaven. The irony is that this hospital was supposed to have been closed 7 days ago by the owner who cited financial reasons. A last minute deal had rescued the hospital for 90 days. How fortunate.

We continued about three miles into Belhaven. As we entered the town, it was pretty obvious that the electricity was off (no stop lights working, groups of people standing outside offices and stores, etc.). That kind of blew our trip as all of the restaurants were also closed as well as the hardware store. We did stop at the Food Lion grocery store as they did have a generator and lights...  We then gave up and headed back to the marina, which also did not have electricity. One good thing about our boat is that we have a generator and a big house bank of 12 volt batteries. Good thing too since the NCAA basketball championship game was on TV later. Terry ran the generator to help cook dinner, and we put the TV, satellite dish, etc. all on an inverter that makes 110 volt AC out of 12 volts DC. We were all set for the evening even if the electricity had not come back on later.

This brings us to today (Day 2-148, April 8, 2114). We borrowed the loaner car for another trip to town, and this time we were successful. We bought stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers to replace ones that we had used, and we had a nice lunch at the Fish Hook restaurant. Then it was back to the boat for more work and chores (after a short nap for me, of course). The good news is that another line of very black clouds moved through late this afternoon. That was supposed to be the big front that had caused all of the bad weather...

The weather forecast tomorrow is pretty good so we tentatively plan to leave "early" at about 8:00 am.

Day 2-146 Oriental to Belhaven, NC

We said goodbye to Oriental at 8:00 am in light winds and headed back out to the Intra Coastal Waterway for our 52.8 mile trip to Belhaven. As we left the marina, we passed several of the seafood processing plants, which are the mainstay of the local economy. After several miles, we rounded a point and headed north. At this juncture of our trip the weather took a turn for the worst. We were headed almost directly into a wind of 18 mph with gusts 5 or more mph higher. We were not in any danger, but the waves were 2.5 to 3 feet or occasionally higher. Onboard we were comfortable enough as long as we held onto something. The front windows on the flybridge enclosure are just over 16 feet above the water so we seldom get any spray up there.
Today was an exception as we had the windows "washed" about a dozen times. Normally that would not be a big deal, but when you are in salt water, the (white) salt residue lowers visibility. Since it was difficult to move around during the 2+ hours that we experienced this strong wind, that also made bathroom breaks less frequent. Oh well, let's not go further down that road.

Finally our trip north led us into a river where the waves died, and the wind was blocked. A short time later we stopped at this seafood processing plant where we were able to relax, have lunch and re-adjust the dinghy on the swim platform. We had been going into waves that occasionally must have been as high as 4 feet. When the waves passed out from under the stern, they must have lifted the dinghy and moved it around. The plant was closed on Sunday so we had the dock all to ourselves, and after about an hour, we resumed our journey north.

Shortly after our stop/break, we passed our only tow of the day. Sorry, I know that I include a lot of tug pictures, but the grandkids love them. So, you will just have to bear with me...

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Toward the end of today's trip,
we came out into the Pungo River, which was only about 2 miles wide, and the waves were nothing compared to our earlier crossing of open water. Our destination was the Dowry Creek Marina about 2 miles east of the town of Belhaven. Since it is still early in the local boating season, the swimming pool is not open yet. I "borrowed" this aerial view of the marina from their web page. The marina is very nice, but since it is very close to the mouth of the creek, it is a little exposed to southerly winds, which are predicted for tomorrow.

All in all, we knew at the start that it was going to be a fairly long day with a 8.5 hour trip, but the first part was more exciting than we had anticipated. The weather predictions for the next two days are not good so we will probably stay here for a day or two...