Norfolk and the Great Dismal Swamp Canal

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Our early am trip through Norfolk was the complete opposite of yesterday’s adventure. The water was calm, the Naval activity was silent and the channel markers were clear!

We were headed to North Carolina, through the Great Dismal Swamp. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, or who didn’t follow our previous blog, here’s a brief history, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“In the Colonial period, water transportation was the lifeblood of the North Carolina sounds region and the Tidewater areas of Virginia. The landlocked sounds were entirely dependent upon poor overland tracks or shipment along the treacherous Carolina coast to reach further markets through Norfolk, Virginia.

In May 1763, George Washington made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp. He suggested draining it, and digging a north-south canal through to connect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. As the first president, Washington agreed with Virginia Governor Patrick Henry that canals were the easiest answer for an efficient means of internal transportation, and urged their creation and improvement.

In 1784, the Dismal Swamp Canal Company was created, and work was started in 1793. The canal was dug completely by hand. with most of the labor was done by slaves  hired from nearby landowners. It took approximately 12 years of back-breaking construction under highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway, which opened in 1805.

Tolls were charged for the canal’s maintenance and improvements, and in 1829, the channel was deepened. The waterway was an important route of commerce in the era before railroads and highways became major transportation modes.

We were timed perfectly to be at the first lock for the 11:00am opening, when we came upon a railroad bridge that was down (closed). A long train slowly moved forward, then stopped….then slowly backed up…and finally slowly moved off of the bridge. Ok…we were still on schedule, if we pushed it a bit. As we came around a corner to pass under a highway bridge, we found that the railroad bridge next to it was down.

After hailing them on the radio, we were told that they were awaiting a train. We waited…and waited….and finally the train came and passed. Then we waited….and waited….and waited for the bridge to lift. In the meantime, Scott had me call the lock, to let them know that we were trying for the 11am opening, but were being held up. Robert, our favorite lock keeper (whom we had met on our previous cruise south), told us not to worry, that we  had plenty of time and that he would be ready for us. Finally, the bridge lifted, and we were on our way.

We got to the lock at 11:04. Robert had the gate open, and was ready to help us tie to the wall. The gist of “locking through”: come through a gate, tie to poles that are quite a bit above you (hence, the help from Robert) and the gate closes behind you. Water fills the area, until you are at ground level and the gates ahead open, for you to continue on.

Just as Robert was closing the gate behind us to fill the lock, a sailboat showed up (another victim of the railroad bridge, I’m sure), so he opened the gate to let them in also. This is still a slow time of year for Robert. In six weeks or so, when the mainstream of boaters head south, both us and the sailboat would have been out of luck.

The lock fills much slower than you’d think, giving us time to chat with Robert, and the couple on the sailboat that were tied up behind us. Once we were at ground level, Robert entertained us with a tune on the conch shell. Boaters bring him all sorts of conchs, on their way north, and he can play almost all of them. He gave us a quick lesson on the types of conch shells (complete with visuals), and then opened the forward gate for us to pass through.

About a quarter mile after the lock is a lift bridge, that Robert also operates. Once he opens the gate to let boats out, he jumps in his car and drives to the bridge, to open it. Quite an active job! It was nice to see him again, after seven years. He makes the Dismal even more neat!

We traveled about three and a half hours through the canal, and stopped at the North Carolina visitor center, because we wouldn’t make the second lock in time for it’s last opening. The words visitor center are a stretch, as it’s basically a rest stop….but maybe a rest stop on steroids. Cars stop off of the road, and boats can tie up on the canal side. There is water available, a book swap and dumpsters for trash. Across the canal, accessed by a small lift bridge, is the Dismal Swamp National Park. There are free bikes to use along the trails, and you can also rent kayaks and canoes to use in the canal….ok, maybe it is a visitor center.

Howard was itching to get some fresh air, so we took him for a few walks along the canal bank. Scott chatted with the couple that locked in with us, who were now tied up behind us for the night.

Tomorrow, we plan to do a long day out of the canal, past Elizabeth City, NC, across the Albemarle Sound and into the Alligator River, where we’ll anchor for the night. Here are some photos of today’s travels.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Welcome To Norfolk??

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A long, eventful day! We started out of Olverson’s pleasantly, everyone relaxed and ready for a long day. Not two hours later, before we were even out of the Potomac, things picked up a bit, causing Howard to go into full seasick mode. I managed to get a anti-vomiting pill in him, and he and the water settled down.

We got lucky for a long while, with big current behind us, despite the wind coming at us we moved along pretty well. The big wind and waves held off until about 4pm, as predicted. We were getting a pretty good fetch off of the ocean, as we got closer to Norfolk, which sent Howard back into seasick mode. With an empty stomach, and anit-vomit meds still in him, all he could do was howl and drool.

So while we’re pitching around, he’s trying to find a place to vomit, and I’m trying to chase him with a towel, to catch it, in case he actually did vomit. After spending some time panting on the salon floor (where is was close to 90 degrees), he eventually settled into his litter box.

Now we’re approaching Willoughby Bay, and our anchorage for the night, and we spy a helicopter hovering over the water, with a cable coming down from it. Not that it wasn’t odd enough to see a helicopter towing something by a cable, but this thing was kicking up a massive amount of water and spray around it:

While we’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the helicopter, Scott notices that the channel markers were all askew. He then remembered reading that the channel had shifted, and was now marked with floating, relocating markers. This made our chart plotter worthless, and Scott had to do some old school navigating, while keeping an eye to make sure that the helicopter wasn’t going to swing toward us, bringing the wall of water.

Once we navigated through the floating markers, Scott stumbled across a note about the helicopter, on our Ipad navigation system: (prepare for Coast Guard-speak)

“Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) routinely conducts airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) operations utilizing the MH-53E helicopter at low altitudes over the following inland and coastal waterways.(I skipped the listed locations)

During these operations, the aircraft will be operating at altitudes as low as seventy-five feet and will produce localized winds in excess of 125 miles per hour. Rotor wash produced winds pose a considerable hazard to vessels, especially sailing vessels. The devices the helicopters tow range in size and appearance from a large orange and white sled approximately the size of a pick up truck to slightly submerged steel pipes thirty feet in length, both of which have submerged cable extending well beyond the visible portion of the towed device. The Aircraft Commanders have been directed to exercise every effort to conflict and avoid surface vessels.

“All mariners are requested to remain well clear of the helicopters, the towed devices, and the area extending directly behind the aircraft for four hundred yards. Do not approach or cross the area directly behind the towed device as a submerged hazard exists regardless of whether the device is in motion or stationary.”

“These operations involve large naval helicopters at flight altitudes of 100 feet or less, towing surface and sub-surface devices at speeds up to 25 knots. Helicopters may be identified by a rotating amber position light on centerline of main hull flashing 90 times per minute. An area of hurricane-force winds exists within a 250-foot radius around these helicopters, sufficient to blow people and objects from exposed decks and capsize small craft. The towed devices may be completely invisible and include large cables on or just below the surface streaming up to 1200 feet behind the aircraft.”

So now we have navigated the new channel, know what’s up with the helicopter and that it’s not going to turn near us. We now have to navigate to find a place to anchor, through a mine field of crab pots (no crab pots in sight two years ago, when Scott was bringing the boat up from Ft. Lauderdale).

We get anchored, knowing that we’ll have to be careful getting out of the snarl in the am, and I go off to locate Howard. I find him wedged in some stuff that I have stored in our forward head (bathroom). Once I grab him, and he realizes that the motor and motion are done, he begins to purr like crazy and beg for food. Not scarred at all:

So we survived our long day. To quote Overboard, one of my favorite movies: “It’s a hell of a day at sea, sir!” Tomorrow, on to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal…and the Intracoastal Waterway!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

On To Norfolk

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The last few days have been spent making Walmart runs, having a family picnic, grocery store runs, visiting with extended family, and preparing for five or so days of travel to Beaufort, NC.

We left Olverson’s at dawn this am. A BIG thank you again to everyone at Olverson’s for all of their hospitality. They claim to be the friendliest marina on the bay….agreed!

It’ll be a 12-13 hour run for us today, to Willoughby Bay, which is just north of Norfolk; an unexciting, straight-line run. Time could end up shorter, if we catch some current behind us, The south winds are supposed to pick up later, which can make time longer, if waves build, We may stop and anchor earlier, or change our Norfolk anchorage plan. It’ all up to the whims of Captain Scott!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Pot Luck!

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On Saturday, I jumped into my trusty courtesy car and went to visit my parents for lunch. They had a new roof put on, and are now getting the siding done, so I got to meet the crew; it’s looking great.

That afternoon, our neighbors Rich and Sue invited us to a pot luck dinner on the pier. We are at the end of a long, covered pier, that dog-legs about two thirds of the way down. The dog leg is the gathering place for the regulars, and there’s always someone there to greet you as you come through.

I panicked when we were invited, having no idea what to bring (we haven’t fully stocked up on groceries yet). Then I remembered that I had a peanut butter truffle cake, that the AWESOME girls from Sugarbakers gave me, in the freezer. Woohoo, I was set!

Scott and I wandered up to the dog-leg at about 7pm, as the spread was being set out. All the food was terrific, but the pista resistance was the huge platter of freshly caught and fried (on site at the dog-leg) perch. It was awesome! We both had seconds of everything, especially fish, and were glad that everyone enjoyed the cake (thanks girls!).

The B Pier group welcomed us in, and made us feel like regulars. Can’t say enough good things about this Olverson’s place!

On another note. Years ago, Scott found an old Pennzoil Motor Oil jar in one of my parents out buildings. He’s saved it all of this time, and has now cleaned it out (really?), and has filled it with his own spiced rum. Scary thing is, it kinda looks like motor oil!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Olverson’s Lodge Creek Marina

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We’re currently staying at Olverson’s Lodge Creek Marina. It’s about 30 minutes from my parents’ farm, and we don’t have to take the boat too far up the Potomac to see them. Lodge Creek is tucked up at the end of the Yeocomico River, off of the Potomac River (check out our Where In The World Are We? page, to see detail of the location).

So we chose it because of it’s location, and it’s also very affordable, which is great too. It’s also a terrific marina! Fred Olverson and his staff are more than welcoming and even MORE than accommodating.

Fred has 60-some acres (forgive me if I’m a bit off on that, Fred) here, that includes the marina, huge amount of land storage (boats, RVs, cars, etc,), heated pool, a farmhouse that you can rent out, pavilion, free bikes, ice on the honor system, and FIVE courtesy cars!

Courtesy cars are the bomb. We discovered them on our trip south in the winter of  2008-2009 (If you’re interested, check out the blog we kept). Marinas have cars available to transient slip holders, to use for grocery store, west marine, etc. They’re usually always on the honor system, and you can use them for an hour or so, depending on demand. No money, no driver’s license, just ask to use the car, and they give you a key.

Now mind you, these aren’t dealer cars, or usually even gently used cars. We’ve driven all kinds of makes, models and years…and in all state of wear! On occasion, we’ve also used personal cars of marina managers and dock masters. We haven’t noticed them in Maryland, but usually don’t have a need for one when we travel around the bay in the summer.

Olverson’s is courtesy car gold! Fred has FIVE cars to use, at anytime. Unlocked, with keys in them ready to go. This is terrific for us, as we don’t have to go back and forth, trying to use my parents’ car. We happily jumped in a Jeep Grand Cherokee last night, to go to dinner…what a treat! I can also use it for both a Walmart and grocery run, before we head down the Intracoastal. It’s a terrific perk.

Honor system ice is also great. The bins are unlocked, with ice prices posted on the doors. There’s a box nearby, that you can drop your cash in. No worry about whether the office is open, to go pay someone or get a key.

Here’s an aerial view of Olverson’s:

Image result for aerial view of olverson's marina va


If you find yourself in the area, please stay with Fred, at Olverson’s. Friendly staff and slip holders, helpful perks and a tranquil location. Thanks Fred!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Traveling To The Potomac

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We’d planned to stay at Herrington Harbor until Saturday, but the wind forecast for travel that day went down hill. So, we cut our stay short at our favorite marina, and made way for the Potomac River, where we would visit my parents and family.

Scott had charted us a twelve hour day, but the tide was with us all the way, and we cut some corners on the route, shaving us down to nine hours…yay! Once you pass the Patuxent River, and Solomon’s Island, the color of the bay water changes dramatically. It’s much more green-blue, and you see wildlife that is too smart to try and live in the northern bay. We spotted our first pelican yesterday…and a sea turtle!

We were somehow inundated with hundreds of biting flies, that swarmed around the outside of the boat as we traveled. Scott went out to try and secure the paravanes (which we didn’t need to use, because of the terrific weather), and was attacked. Of course, some made their way into the boat, to feast on us. We hoped that Howard would help us out, as one of his favorite past times is chasing and eating flies, but he was busy….

We arrived at Olverson’s Lodge Creek Marina, where we were warmly greeted by Bill, and the dock master, Rodney. They helped us tied up, and we then went to check in with Fred Olverson. Fred is a great guy, and a fellow cruiser. He and his wife have been traveling by boat to Marathon, Florida for the last nine years, to spend the winter. (More about Fred’s terrific marina later)

Once we’d iced the cooler, cut Scott’s hair (yes, it’s my job now) and took showers, we headed out to Los Portales for dinner, because we never turn down a chance to eat Mexican! We were more than pleasantly surprised with our food, service and the whole place. It was awesome….and very, very affordable! If you’re ever in Callao (pronounced Ca lee o), Virginina, stop by and stuff yourself!

We’ll stay here, happily ensconced at Olverson’s, for the next few days.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Casting Off!

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Welcome to our big, nautical adventure!! I am posting later than I’d planned, and am still figuring out this site, and how I want it to look, so bear with me.

After two hellish years of a complete refit of our trawler (check out our Our Floating Home), we planned to set off on Tuesday, September 1st. I wish I could tell you that the last few months were spent leisurely visiting friends, and gathering last minute things. The reality was a manic state. We were trying desperately to finish as many boat projects as possible, while plugged into power, and close to West Marine, Home Depot, etc.  We saw many doctors, and had many test, making sure all is well as possible for the next three years. Things were ordered online, and bought at various stores in the area, making for full days of errands and doctor appointments.

We squeezed in as many friend and family parties and visits as possible during the last few months, in between errands, doctors and boat projects. Thanks so much to everyone, for being flexible and making time to see us! Time with you was a welcome and much needed break from the stress of our pending departure.

The final days were a flurry of craziness: On Monday August 24th, the clutch on Scott’s Land Rover went out, on the way to storage. It’ll take a few weeks to fix, so the shop will tow it to storage for us, once it is ready. That Thursday, Scott went in for an emergency root canal, an all day process. He now has what is essentially a dead tooth, so we have to figure out how to get a crown done somewhere before we cross to the Bahamas.

Friday evening, Scott woke up with severe pain in his left testicle (yes, we’re sharing all in this here blog). By Sunday, we were in the emergency room, after a phone conversation with an on-call urologist. Tests showed nothing wrong..ugh! He followed up with his regular urologist on Monday (a BIG thank you, to our friend, Colin, for being Scott’s driver all day!), and it seems that Scott has a cyst, inflammation and an infection in his testicle. He left with a strong antibiotic and anti inflammatory, which wreak havoc on his innards.

So back to the Tuesday the 1st. It was our “blast off” date for the last year, and Scott was going to keep to it, come hell or high water (or infected testicle)! Our weather was beautiful, the bay forecast was great..waves flat (something you almost NEVER hear) and our friends Perry, Stephanie and Paul, Amy and Joe,  and Ted took time out of their morning to come and see us off, which meant so much!!

Thank you to Stephanie and Pattie, for their great photos of our departure!

Day one was an easy four hours across the bay, to Bay Bridge Marina (except when I almost sunk our boat on a bay bridge piling!). We met our friend, Kirk, for dinner and had a wonderful visit. We were both in bed at 8pm…the last few months have taken a toll! Yesterday (2nd) we traveled to Herrington Harbor South, the marina resort where we were married ( We’ll be here until tomorrow am, when we’ll head to a slip off of the Potomac River, for a visit with my parents.

With Scott less than 100%, I’m thankful that our first week will be quiet and easy. He’s feeling better every day, and we’re grateful that we lucked out with all of this happening while we were still at home port….and not Guatemala!

PS…a BIG, BIG thank you to my sister, Sally, who helped me get this crazy blog idea up and running!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”