Atlantic Dolphins!

On our first ocean leg, from Beaufort North Carolina to Charleston South Carolina, we had dolphins travel with us for quite some time…a lot of dolphins! I finally have the video compressed enough to share here it is!

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

Beaufort, North Caroline

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Beaufort is a nice little town, and has gotten even better in the seven years since we last visited. We got a slip at Beaufort Docks. Just on the other side of the piers is a small boardwalk that runs the length of the dock, with some restaurants, parking and a shop or two. Across the street from the boardwalk area is Beaufort’s main street, lined with many more shops, restaurants and such. The area is all very walkable, but we got our bikes off of the boat and rode through the side streets, admiring the houses and getting our legs moving a bit.

We made sure to stop in at Backstreets Pub, a great little dive bar that we visited on our previous stop to town. Being Sunday evening, we had the place to ourselves. The bartender served us, and then went back to work scrubbing and cleaning the outside patio..I mean scrubbing, even the bricks! I’ve never seen a dark, divey bar so clean! The various stuff hanging around had dust on it, but you could eat off of the floor, even in the corners! Scott spilled some beer onto the bar, and I jumped up to get some paper towels from the bathroom, to wipe it up! I felt terrible about our peanut dust on the floor (we were given cups to deposit the shells).

The bartender then sent us to Queen Anne’s Revenge for dinner (Backstreets doesn’t offer any food, just the peanuts). It is located in one of the buildings directly across from our slip…perfect. We sat at the bar, where Joe, the bartender, introduced us to a tasty beer called Red Oak. It’s delivered cold and kept cold. He told us that Coors was handled the same way when it was first released.

We chatted with Joe while we drank our beer, and waited for pizza to go. He sent us on our way with two bottles of Red Oak, from his private stash (the bar only sells it in draft). Thanks Joe!

We spent today (Monday) preparing for an offshore run to Charleston, SC. Scott did some motor maintenance and checks. I did a small grocery run, and go to use one of the trusty “70s (ok, maybe 80s, I’m bad with cars years) flash-back” courtesy cars.

Fred, at Olverson’s still has these guys beat, as you can just jump in a car and go, keys in it. Here, you have to sign these beauties out. Use is limited to an hour at a time, and you are asked to replace any gas used Fair enough, but I have to walk two blocks to where the cars are; take an orange cone off of the roof; spend five minutes or so trying to figure out how in the world to move the seat forward, because I am miles from reaching the pedals (for possible future reference, it’s a mechanical control…on the door); place orange cone in parking spot, to save it; drive the ten minutes or so to the store; maneuver an unfamiliar store; check out, with a wait for a register glitch; drive back; find a gas station; fill tank with some gas; drive to meet Scott with the dock cart, so he can take the groceries to the boat; take car back to spot; remove cone to park in spot; place cone back onto roof and walk back to dock office. That takes more than an hour, no matter how you cut it. I took 75 minutes, door to door. Luckily, they let me slid..whew. I’m glad we’re not staying long, and I only had the need for one courtesy car run…too stressful!

I also hit the local laundromat across the street, to wash some blankets and rugs. You walk your laundry through the general store, past people ordering fudge and ice cream, and perusing t-shirts and trinkets, to the laundromat our back. Again, eat-off-the-floor clean. While waiting for the washing and drying to finish, I shopped some of the main street stores.

Scott and I did another bike ride, and then loaded them back onto the boat, before heading to get something to eat at Clawson’s. It’s located in an old bank, and has a neat interior, with a lot of the details still intact. We ate in the bar, and Danny served us. He was great, and even gave us an extra large take-home size of the house made ranch dressing…DE-LISH!

So now we head out at dawn tomorrow (Tuesday) for a 30-35 hour offshore run to Charleston, SC. We will  head straight for Cape Fear, and then turn, to curve around the shoal (shallow area) that extends out from it. From there, it’s a straight shot to Charleston. There is only a sliver of a moon tomorrow night. Great for stars, bad for pitch blackness!

We’ll take turns on watch: Scott will start out (6:30am or so), and be on until noon. Me – noon to 7pm, Scott – 7pm to midnight, Me – midnight to 3am, Scott – 3am to 6am, Me – 6am to noon, and then Scott will finish and take us into the marina slip.

If you pray, pray that I don’t panic when I think that we’re 60 miles or so out from shore, or when I look over at the depth finder to see that we’re in 100+ feet of water, or when it’s PITCH BLACK DARK all around us, or, that Scott admits it’s a bit scary and unnerving. If you don’t pray, cross your fingers, toes and eyes!

Be sure to follow our progress on the Where Are We Now? page of the blog! Look for my post, once we’re safely ensconced in a slip at Ashley Marina!

Here are a few pictures of our quick trip to, and in Beaufort.

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

Traveling to Beaufort, NC

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On Sunday am, we left our anchorage off of the Neuse River, and traveled just four hours south, to Beaufort, NC, where we got a slip at the Beaufort Docks. We stopped here on our way south in 2007, and Scott stopped here with his friend, Captain Eric, on the way north in 2013, after buying Sea Life in Ft. Lauderdale.

We took a “back way” into Beaufort, which took us under a drawbridge that opens on the half hour. As we came up to the area, it was clear that they are constructing a new, higher bridge, to remove the need for the draw. This is happening more and more along the routes south.

The construction…concrete pilings, barges and such, was strewn all across the channel that we were using to get up to the bridge. And, the markers had been moved to new spots…always keeping us on our toes. So we’re trying to jockey in place, fighting current, while we wait for the bridge, trying not to hit either of the markers or the concrete stuff in our way.

We had previously hailed the bridge tender on the radio, to let him know that we were south bound, and awaiting his next opening. This is customary, although it irritates Scott. He thinks that since we are clearly visible to the bridge tender, they should obviously know that we’re waiting for the bridge. Or, in on-demand cases, he thinks they should see us and open it. If this were true, we’d miss all the “fun” of hailing them on the radio, and waiting for them to respond.

This, more often than not, takes awhile..longer than you’d think, considering that they’re in a tiny space, and right near the radio. You always wonder if your radio isn’t working right, because sometime that happens. They can hear you, and respond, but you can’t hear them, so you keep hailing them. You’re getting irritated that they’re not responding, and they’re irritated that you’re not responding. By the time you get through, or just give up and call them on the phone, everyone is irritated.

But, I digress; apologies. As we’re jockeying, a commercial fishing boat on the other side of the bridge hails the tender that he’s waiting for an opening. The tender informs him that a cruising trawler is waiting on the north side, and that we’ll go through first. The commercial captain replies, (in my best working-man Southern drawl) “ya mean ah yacht?” Now we’re waiting to see his reaction as we come through, and he sees us with our paravanes and such (like commercial fishing boats), and calls us “posers.” We prepare ourselves for radio humiliation.

So it’s now minutes before the opening, and a little boat of idiots anchors to fish…right between us and the bridge!

It may look like there is a lot of extra room, but there’s not, and we’re also dealing with current, which tends to get “wanky” as you go under bridges. We’re also heavy and slow. Good for ocean travel and fuel efficiency, but tricky for maneuvering quickly and in tight conditions.

When said idiots in boat hear the bridge bells go off, to signal the opening, the cobwebs are wiped away, and they realize that they are in middle of the “road”! They haul up their dumb anchor, move just out of our path..and then plunk that dumb anchor back into the water….now their the next guy’s problem.

Ok, we’re good to go, no idiots, bridge opening, commercial guy chomping at the bit to come through on the other side..and a second batch of idiots comes up behind us and cut us off to go under the bridge! Thank God we’re not fast.

Of course once they buzz past us and under the bridge, they see the big guy on the other side, and swerve out of his way…back into our path. Thank God they’re fast, and move across quickly.

We get big “props” from the bridge tender as we go through, “That’s a good hull you got under you, Captain.” It’s nice to get a nod from the locals, and a bridge tender to boot. On to Beaufort Docks!

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

Alligator River to ALMOST Oriental, North Carolina

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So remember our trip to Willoughby Bay, just north of Norfolk, where I said that “It’s a hell of a day at sea!”?? Well today, we squashed that. And I mean really squashed it…kinda like this:

We started out from our anchorage on the Alligator River, with the plan to end the day in Oriental, NC. The route takes us from the Alligator River, into the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal, then into the Pungo River. After that, we enter the Pamilco River and then on to the Neuse River, by way of several smaller rivers.

Oriental, NC sits on the Neuse River, and they have a free 48 hour dock for boaters. It’s a small town, with very friendly locals. On our last trip south, a car did a u-turn to pick up Scott and me as we were walking back from West Marine in the rain. Unheard of in Maryland….or just about anywhere else.

Along the way, we decided instead to anchor about 30 minutes from Oriental, and not deal with coming into town to find the free dock full, or worry about having enough water level there (we’ve heard that it’s good for boats with 5 foot and under draft, and we’re 5).

So our day was going fine. The terrain along the way is really cool. A mix of grasses, dead trees and swampy shoreline, with some interesting housing mixed in for extra interest.

As we were entering the Pamlico River, a line of storms caught up with us. Skies got dark, and the rain came on fast, accompanied by thunder, lightening and wind gusts of 38mph. No, this isn’t the “squashed” part.

All in all, though, it wasn’t bad. The winds didn’t kick up the waves much, like you’d think they would. Soon, the storm line passed, and we continued on through the Pamlico River, and eventually into the Neuse River….HERE is where we get squashed.

The wind forecast was for 10-15 knot winds, with gusts to 20, from the southwest. Not an issue for us, as we are heavy, and roll slowly. Quick information, for those who may not know:

The Neuse River is similar to the Chesapeake, in that is an overall shallow body of water. This causes waves to kick up faster and steeper than deeper water. South wind at the base of the bay, near Norfolk, don’t produce big waves (for the most part), as the wind hasn’t had time to travel and build them.

By the time you’re up near Annapolis and Baltimore, however, the wind has traveled a distance, and has built bigger waves. The shallow water also causes the waves to be closer together, or have a shorter wave period. So stronger south winds can be a miserable go in the middle and upper bay. The reverse is true for north wind, which makes things worse by the time it gets to the southern bay.

Ok, lesson over…

So we’re in the Neuse, in the south winds, that shouldn’t be a problem for us, as they are FORECASTED. However, we all know how a forecast can turn on a dime. Instead of winds 15-20, with gusts up to 25…WE, at the flip of a switch, got sustained 25-30 knot winds, which translates into about 28-35 mph winds….sustained, meaning constant. Our gusts were 46 or so mph, and they were often. Another tidbit of note, the power of wind quadruples, when it’s speed doubles…yay for us. You may think that I’m embellishing this..I’m not.

Waves quickly built to 3 and 4 feet, with many 5 footers thrown in. This may not be a big deal to some boaters, and we were in no danger of capsizing or sinking by any means, but it was insanely unnerving. Our bow is eight feet above the water line, and the windows of the pilot house are another five or so feet higher than that. We frequently had waves spraying onto the windows:

Scott installed an awesome paravane system, but we need to be in at least 20-25 feet of water to deploy them. Curses!

A set of big waves would hit, and we’d go UP, and then…DOWN. The down was definitely the more nerve wracking. Scott just kept watching the wind get stronger,  and the waves get bigger. Going up and down so drastically slowed our speed. We went down to 2 knots, and at that speed wouldn’t reach our anchorage before dark. Scott altered course a bit, which allowed us to speed up.

As we inched toward shore, the waves and wind finally started to calm. Howard tolerated all of it like a champ, which shocked us both. I think he was so scared, that he went into a catatonic (no pun intended) sleep.

We eventually made our way into the South River, off of the Neuse, and anchored in a creek. Scott kicked himself for not looking at the NOAA weather fax, but they are usually most useful in ocean waters. Live and learn.

Thankfully, tomorrow should only be a four hour or so trip to Beaufort, NC. Hooray! Here are our photos from today.

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

Dismal Swamp to the Alligator River

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Yesterday, we left our spot at the North Carolina Visitors Center, and continued down the Dismal, headed for South Mills lock and the end of the canal. We had the “road” to ourselves, as we slide through the duck weed. The canal is covered in most spots with it; gross-looking stuff, that tends to clog the strainers for our motor, toilets, air conditioning.

We had an eleven hour day ahead of us, taking us out of the Dismal Swamp Canal, into the Pasquotank River, across the Albemarle Sound and then into the Alligator River, where we would anchor for the evening.

After about an hour in the Dismal, we “locked through” at South Mills lock. This lock works in reverse. We first wait for the lock keeper to drive to the drawbridge and open it (at 8:40, I’m sure the commuters LOVED us!). Then it’s on to the lock, where we tie up and wait for the water to fill, as opposed to being drained at Great Bridge Lock. When it’s done, we’re 8 feet higher, and ready to head out of the lock and out of the canal. We missed Robert’s smiling face, and his “conched-up” lock keeper house!

Once in the Pasquotank, the water opens up, and views are more expansive. We also lost the brown, tannic water that we had through the Dismal (it was pretty gross when you flushed the toilet!).

The Albemarle Sound can be quite treacherous, depending on wind. We had a terrible go, when we came north on our last cruise. This time, we had favorable winds, and a pleasant crossing (Except for Howard. He retreated to the forward shower for the last hour of the crossing).

In the Alligator River the terrain changes again. It’s a Cypress swamp, so you see lots of dead wood with the green, and stumps poking out of the water. We traveled through the Alligator River Swing Bridge, which literally swings on a central pivot to open. It’s pretty cool!

We traveled another two hours or so after the bridge, and then dropped anchor for the night at about 6:30. Howard got to stretch his legs, and spend some time up on the fly bridge, his favorite place (lots of places to go unseen). Scott and I joined him, to sit in the shade of the aluminum dinghy (Scott calls her the Aluminum Princess). Once the sun started to set, we enjoyed some time on the bow, before having dinner, a shower and then collapsing into bed.

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

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!”