May 8 to May 14, 2011

May 8, 2011 Pungo Creek anchorage, Belhaven to East Lake anchorage, Alligator River

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and grandmoms out there. Hope you had a wonderful day! We heard the patter of rain on the roof early this morning and rushed to put some things under cover. The steady rain began about 7:30 as we got up and got ready to go.

(It dawned on me that I could have stayed in my pajamas all day and no one would have known the difference. We wouldn’t really be in close contact with anyone today, so who would know???) The boat was covered in midge flies or fuzzy bills as some people call them. They look like mosquitoes, but they don’t bite. I think there was a recent hatch because they were everywhere! They leave black spots of residue wherever they go. What a mess! We pulled up a mucky anchor in the rain and were on our way at 8:30. I’ll be curious to see how many boats we see traveling around today. We traveled in a steady, nagging rain most of the morning. We entered the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal that runs SW to NE. The canal was narrow and it was reported to have snags and stumps along its edges.

We would have to keep a keen lookout for any floating logs. The canal is 20 miles long with cypress marsh on both sides.

We were excited to see 2 bald eagles perched atop a dead cypress tree. We passed 2 sailboats and followed 2 other powerboats most of the way.

The rain finally stopped around 11:00, but the skies remained grey and overcast. We welcomed any sign of wildlife….a bird…a turtle…even a sign to read would have been interesting, but there wasn’t much. We exited the canal and entered the Alligator River where we were immediately engulfed in smoke from a forest fire burning somewhere nearby. We could smell the smoke and it affected our eyes. It obscured the coastline and the boats traveling behind us. We heard it mentioned on the news a day or so ago, but couldn’t remember where they said it was. After calling the Coast Guard who were of no help, and the National Forest Service number they gave us didn’t answer. Maybe they were out fighting the fire?!

We had to deal with the smoke for about 15 miles and then we turned north, came upon some wind, and we were finally out of the smoke. As we neared Albemarle Sound, we turned into East Lake to anchor for the night. It took us an hour to make our way in, avoiding all the crabpots and shoals along the banks. The sun finally peeked out as we dropped anchor at 3:00.

We would be all alone in this serene anchorage tonight after traveling 63.1 miles today. The skies cleared and it would be a beautiful star-filled night. The midge flies hung with us all day and who knows how many we’ll find on the boat in the morning. Once the skies cleared of clouds, we could really see the magnitude of the forest fire in the distance.

Auggie was able to do his business in his doggy tray after being able to go on shore for the last couple of days. He was rewarded with his favorite treat….string cheese. He truly is a Wisconsin cheese hound! Oops! Don’t look!

We had an early dinner and watched the beautiful sunset.

Tomorrow we head for Elizabeth City and then Norfolk/Portsmouth on Tuesday. We can’t believe that we are almost there!

May 9, 2011 East Lake , Alligator River to Elizabeth City, NC

It was a beautiful anchorage, but it was about 6 miles off the AICW. Still…..well worth it! There were very few midge flies left over from last night, so that was good. The sun rose and shone right into our door. What a great way to greet the day! It felt warmer too. We hauled anchor at 8:30 ( a little later than we wanted) and made our way back to the AICW. The skies were sunny and the temps were climbing into the 70’s. There was a dense smoke advisory issued this morning for Beaufort caused by that forest fire we saw yesterday, but we had no trace of smoke today. Once on the Albemarle Sound we found 2′ waves from the NW–not as predicted, but we dealt with it. The worst part was dodging all the crabpots. Man, our eyes got tired from constantly watching for them. The crabbers were out checking their pots.

Bob said we should go out to dinner tonight and eat crab just to get even with them…..the crabs that is. It was about 10 miles of slow drudgery across the Sound until we reached our turn up the Pasquotank River. As we neared the other side, the wind and waves calmed down and the whitecaps disappeared. It took us 90 minutes to cross the Sound at 10 mph. As we approached Elizabeth City, we noticed the U.S. Naval Blimp Hangar. We did see a blimp in the air as we approached the city.

We arrived in Elizabeth City at 12:30 to spend the night at one of their free docks after 39.4 miles today. The Marina Wharf was full and the City Docks had piers that were too short, so we chose to tie up to the wall in front of the Jennett Bros.Food Service Distribution building.

You can tie up there for free if you agree to go to eat at one of the 20 restaurants in town, which they service. Such a deal! I’m ready to go out to dinner! After giving Auggie a chance to walk around on the grass, Bob and I took a walk around town. We started first at the Mariner’s Wharf.

We wanted to see what boats had come in for the night. There were many boats there that we had seen already on this trip. We saw the “coconut bird lady” from Fernandina Beach and a few other boats that we had passed along the way.

Elizabeth City does a great job of welcoming boaters by offering these places to tie up for free. They are definitely the “Harbor of Hospitality”. At the Marina Wharf, the Rose Buddies welcome boaters with roses and a wine and cheese party when 5 or more boats fill the marina.

From there, we walked along some of the city streets that were very narrow and filled with old buildings.

Main Street seemed to be the hub of activity with many thriving businesses.

One of the newest buildings was immense. It was the Museum of the Albemarle. It houses many galleries and here you will find stories of people who settled in the Albemarle region.

This building was the North Carolinian Building and was the publishing house for the newspaper that first wrote about the Wright Brothers’ flight.

The Charles O. Robinson house was built as a wedding present for Ivy, from her father when she married Charles Robinson. It is one of the state’s finest examples of the “Southern Colonial” style. It is still a Robinson family residence.

This Pasquotank County Courthouse was build in 1882. The original courthouse was torched by panicked citiznes following Elizabeth City’s capture by the Union troops.

We found a section of the city street that was still paved in the original materials….granite squares and bricks.

We checked out the list of restaurants that we could choose from for dinner and picked out the Logan Raye’s Grill not far from the boat. We went for an early dinner and Bob got his revenge on the crabpots by having soft-shelled crab and fried oysters for dinner. We returned to the boat to enjoy the evening, watching the boat traffic go by.

We took Auggie for his evening walk which he truly enjoyed and turned in early. Tomorrow we would do the Dismal Swamp route to Norfolk. That would entail doing two locks, one at the beginning and one at the end. We would have to time our passage carefully to make the scheduled lock openings and get to Norfolk at a reasonable time.

May 10, 2011 Elizabeth City, Jennett dock to Chesapeake City, Top Rack Marina, VA

We found our dockage at Jennett’s dock last night to be very nice. There was a place to walk Auggie across the street and the gate is locked at night so the place is secure. It is within easy walking distance to town. Being close to the bridge was not a problem and although we heard a lot of traffic noise during the day, we heard nothing at night. We would definitely stay there again. There was fog on the water again this morning as we opened the door.

There were 2 sailboats who crossed under the bridge this morning, probably hoping to catch the first lock opening at 8:30.

We got ourselves and the boat ready and pulled away from the dock at 8:00.

We had a slow ride of 17.3 miles to our first lock at South Mills for an opening at 11:00. The water was tea colored, sometimes as dark as coffee. It is caused by the tannic acid from the leaves and decaying vegetation in the water. Tannic acid is also responsible for the “brown mustache” that many AICW boats sport on their bow. I suppose we’ll have one too.

We traveled at 7 mph on the Pasquotank River for 13 miles before we actually came to the “ditch” of the Great Dismal Swamp. The Pasquotank River was beautiful, lined by cypress swamps, interspersed with houses and docks along the way.

It became more desolate, winding its way through the swamp.

Our bubbles left a path to show where we had been.

The sun lit up one shore where we could see turtles sunning themselves on logs.

Auggie and I got a little sun out back ourselves.

We saw Canadian geese and a goldfinch or two and the bird sounds we heard were amazing! It got pretty narrow (50 ft.) at times.

The different shades of green in the swamp against the blue sky was very striking.

All alone, it was like we were explorers experiencing the area for the very first time. When the waterway split, we took the right fork and entered Turners Cut which took us to the South Millls lock.

We arrived at the lock with minutes to spare and thought we would be the third boat in the lock. To our surprise, we were the fourth. We all got situated and in the lock by 11:20.

It took 20 minutes to raise us 8′ and we were back out again by 11:40.

In 4 more miles we passed the Welcome Center for the Dismal Swamp State Park, where you can tie up for the night for free. There are bathrooms and water available. This is where the Coconut Bird lady stopped and we continued on.

The footbridge allow hikers to go from the Welcome Center to the Dismal Swamp State Park. We had to wait for them to open it, before we could continue on.

This area officially begins the start of the Great Dismal Swamp and the Hamburg Canal.

The Great Dismal Swamp is 37 miles long and 12 miles wide. 60% of it is in North Carolina and 40% is in Virginia. At one time it was covered by a glacial sea during the Ice Age. It contains acid water that is healthy for you. The swamp was seen as so “dismal” that no one could survive there. In 1763, George Washington along with some other men bought 40,000 acres that they believed could be drained and used for farmland. It did not produce a profit so they produced juniper shingles from the trees instead. Washington supervised the digging of the “ditch” to ship shingles and other wood products to the Norfolk market. In 1830, a RR was laid to haul timber, shingles, and other items. Every tree was cut down by the 1950’s. In 1973, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was created. Everything from birds, to reptiles (3 poisonous snakes included), to insects, and mammals including bobcats and black bears, inhabit the primeval forest. The sides of the canal were vine-covered and lush.

Bob was going a little stir-crazy from driving at 6 mph for so long.

Finally, we crossed over the border into Virginia. They even had a sign to let us know.

I entertained myself by dancing to the music on the radio out in the cockpit. Sorry, no video available! We had one small sailboat follow us all the way to the Deep Creek lock for the 3:30 opening. The conditions were perfect all day—sunny and 77 degrees. As we neared the lock, we had some high, thin clouds move in that cooled things off a little. We locked through at 3:30 all by ourselves. Our sailboat friend decided to tie up at the pier overnight and not lock through. We met the nicest lockmaster, Robert Peak.

As we descended 8′, he told us the history of the Great Dismal Swamp and gave us advice on where to go and what to do in Norfolk/Portsmouth. He had a beautiful flower and veggie garden…that he said was for the bunnies.

He also had a collection of conch shells from boaters who had been to the Bahamas. He was a master at playing the conch. I’ve NEVER heard it played like that before!! He was voted the #1 lockmaster on all of the AICW….twice….and I can see why. The time went by quickly, we were out of the lock, and on our way. That was the end of the Great Dismal Swamp. It may be called “dismal”, but its beauty surpasses anything we’ve seen on the trip so far. We were spending the night at Top Rack Marina just outside of Norfolk, in a town called Chesapeake City. It is a brand new marina with nice facilities. They had a deal where if you eat at their restaurant, your dockage is free. They also have the cheapest gas around and we would need to fill up. That convinced us to stay. We got docked around 5:00 and were ready for a cocktail. It was a LONG day! We did a total of 44.8 miles.

We took Auggie for a walk before heading off to dinner. It makes me laugh to see how excited he gets when he gets to run! He loves all the smells, puts his nose to the ground, and goes! We had a great dinner at the Amber Lantern and went back to the boat to relax. We won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight. Tomorrow… Norfolk. Here we come!

May 11, 2011 Top Rack Marina, Chesapeake City to Portsmouth, VA (free dock)

We slept in today after a slow 9 hours in the Great Dismal Swamp. We were exhausted! We did some checking on the weather and then moved the boat over to the gas dock for fuel, water, and a pumpout. I cleaned and vacuumed the inside and Auggie got his run this morning. Now we were ready to go. We left the Top Rack Marina after a nice stay and would recommend this place to anyone looking for cheap fuel, good food, and a friendly, helpful staff.

It was overcast and a little cooler this morning. We motored back up the southern branch of the Elizabeth River towards the free dock in Portsmouth. Once we entered the Elizabeth River, we saw activity all around us. We definitely had re-entry shock with the volume of water traffic and intense industrial activity.

What a change from going from wilderness in the Great Dismal Swamp to this! We had to dance around at the bridge into the harbor with quite a few other boats waiting for the bridge to open and a tug to come through.

We found the southern free dock at High Street Landing, but decided to check out the northern free dock as well.

We liked the northern one better and decided to tie to the wall among 3 sailboats.

The paddlewheel ferry docks here and you can take the ferry over to the Norfolk waterfront for $1.50.

We could see the city of Norfolk across the river from where we were.

We listened to all the chatter from the tug captains and Navy ships on the marine radio as they announced their intentions. It was very interesting to listen to. We settled in and later took Auggie for a walk.

We decided to walk around Portsmouth and see what we could discover. We walked along the length of the waterfront with a view of Norfolk on the other side.

We stopped to view the Lightship Portsmouth which was used a floating lighthouse around the East Coast. It last operated in 1964. Notice the Fresnel lens at the top of the mast.

From there we walked to the other free dock at High Street Landing. The one we were at looked like it was in a more secure area and we were glad we decided to dock there. We found a 1st order Fresnel lens encased there along the water. There is only one bigger in Hawaii.

We walked down High Street in the center of downtown with lots of restaurants and shops to choose from. Our first stop was the 1846 Courthouse.

We caught sight of the tallest church steeples that we have ever seen on the First Presbyterian Church and St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

We went inside St. Paul’s and marveled at the immense organ. The beautifully ornate altar area was made of marble and above the altar was a ring of lights made to look like the crown of thorns Jesus wore.

We spent quite a bit of time there in awe of the stained glass windows and painted murals on the walls. We stopped at Griff’s Bar and Grill to have “mammoth nachos” and a beer. After lunch we took a peek in the Commodore Theater.

It has been meticulously restored and features a “dinner and a movie” atmosphere.

They show first run movies and tonight’s feature was “Conspirator” about the assassination of President Lincoln. We bought a couple of tickets for tonight’s 7:00 show and reserved our table. Too bad we were a week early for next week’s feature which is the NEW Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Bob was so disappointed! We walked back through the middle of the historic Olde Towne District.

Some kindergarten kids out on the playground for recess called us over to show us a dead squirrel in the street. There were so intrigued by it and wanted us to see. We passed two carpenters who were working on restoring an old house. We got to talking with them and asked if we could look inside. They gave us a tour of the home. There was a lot of beautiful craftsmanship inside.

We passed the Confederate Memorial built in 1881. The 4 statues represent each branch of the Confederate Military–Calvary, Infantry, Artillery, and Navy.

The Lafayette Arch was dedicated to all who have lived or died for freedom.

The Court Street Baptist Church is very unique. It stands in the background with the green roof.

We came upon an old graveyard in a courtyard of a church downtown that had headstones named with Civil War soldiers. That was very interesting!

In one single square mile, the Olde Towne Historic District has a larger collection of 18th and 19th century houses than any other city between Alexandria, VA and Charleston, SC. Here area few of my favorites.

We also learned that Portsmouth is home to the oldest Naval shipyard and largest US Naval hospital. It is also located on the world’s largest and deepest natural harbor. After our walking tour, we came back to the boat to find that the tide had come in and the water was over the dock..

That creates a situation where the rails of the boat can get caught on the top of the dock poles. Not good. We did what we could to keep any damage from occurring until the tide started going down, which started at 4:00.

We won’t have to worry about it again until the morning at 5 AM. It doesn’t seem to be an issue with the sailboats. They have a much lower freeboard that we powerboaters do. The tide was something that was never mentioned in the reviews we read. We were going to spend another day here, but may have to consider going to a marina to avoid this situation tomorrow. Bob did his calculations after fueling up today and discovered that we got 1.12 mpg on the last tank of gas. That’s the best we’ve ever done with this boat! Must have been all those slow miles going through the Dismal Swamp. We sat on the back deck watching the boat traffic. A huge oiler left and looked like it was heading out to sea. It was a Navy refueling ship.

The next time I looked up, another huge ship was coming in. Unbelievable! I’m sure that happens all day long, but it’s amazing to me. We left the boat about 6:30 and walked down to the movie theater for our 7:00 show. The movie was thought provoking and we had a nice time with a pitcher of beer and a bucket of popcorn.

We had a nice walk back to the boat and found Auggie waiting for us to return.

It was a beautiful evening. We gave Auggie his evening walk and turned in.

May 12, 2011 Portsmouth, VA Ocean Marine Yacht Center

We slept in, but got up around 5 AM to check the boat with the tide at its highest. Everything was fine, so we went back to bed. After having breakfast and walking Auggie, we decided it would be best to move to the marina instead of spending another night on the wall. Today should bring a higher tide than yesterday. We moved over to the Ocean Marine Yacht Center about 9:00. Once we settled in we did some wash at the laundry room at the marina. They had one of the nicest facilities I’ve been in. While the clothes were washing and drying, we washed the boat. In the meantime, Bob had scheduled a mechanic to come and time the engines and adjust the distributors. It was something we had wanted to do before we left, but it was convenient to do it here since they had a mechanic on site. He was scheduled to come at 12:30. Our plans were to hop on the ferry to Norfolk as soon as he left and tour around the city. While we waited for him to arrive, we washed the entire boat. She needed a bath so bad. “Well laid plans are put to waste” as they say, because the mechanic was late in arriving. He finally got here, so in the meantime, Auggie and I took a walk to stay out of his way.

It didn’t take him long to do what he had to do, but by that time it was too late to do all we wanted to do in Norfolk. We would have to put that on our “must stop” list for our return trip. Both of us were tired, so we relaxed in the cockpit watching the boat traffic pass by before dinner. That’s our boat in the middle.

Bob grilled out and we enjoyed a dinner at home. After dinner, we took a walk to check out the two free docks and see who was there today. Auggie found a sign that he was curious about. I think he was trying to read it.

We watched a little TV and made plans for tomorrow to go to Hampton to anchor out. The weather looks a little iffy on Saturday and Sunday, so we made temporary plans to stay in a marina if we get the winds and rain they are predicting. We are anxious to get moving north into the Chesapeake, but the weather has to be right.

May 13, 2011 Portsmouth (Ocean Marine Yacht Center) to Hampton Downtown Public Piers, VA

It’s Friday the 13th! Good thing I’m not superstitious. It was an overcast day of 65 degrees. As I took Auggie out for his morning walk, we heard revile and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner somewhere across the river. We made our preparations to leave and pulled away from the dock at 8:30. That seems to be the “magic hour” on this trip. The weather forecast was for rain, thunderstorms, and stronger winds for today and Saturday, so we made plans to stay at the Downtown Hampton Public Piers. As we motored down the Elizabeth River through the harbor, we could see ships of every shape and size.

We got a good look at the USS Wisconsin.

We were told that up until last week they only allowed tours of her top deck because they had to keep her “battle ready”. (She could get ready for deployment in as little as 72 hours, if needed.) This week she was opened up for complete tours when she was released from her “battle ready” status. We will definitely take a tour of her on our return trip through Norfolk. As we neared the harbor entrance, we passed the oiler we saw the other day, heavy in the water at the dock getting filled up, and container ships being loaded. We saw a battleship come in from the ocean and tugs moving things around.

There were many ships being worked on. No wonder they call it the biggest and busiest port in the U.S.

We passed Mile Marker 0 – the official start and end of the AICW. After crossing Hampton Roads waterway, the area of the James River that connects Norfolk and Hampton, we passed Ft. Wool on the Norfolk side.

It was a short crossing of open water of only one mile before we entered the Hampton River to the city marina downtown. Our total trip today was 16 miles.

Kate, the dockmaster, was especially helpful in getting us settled in and acquainted with everything we needed to know about the area. We planned to stay 2 nights because of the weather, but they are offering a deal that if you stay 2 nights you get the third night free. That sealed our decision to stay for the weekend. Tomorrow night they close the street in front of the marina and have music and food. Sounds good to me! We timed this visit just right! We decided to take a bike ride over to Ft. Monroe, the largest stone fort in the U.S., and tour the area before it rained. The marina supplied bikes and helmets (even though we had our own), so we used theirs. It was a law that you had to wear a bike helmet while riding in the fort. We left before lunch and took the 3 mile ride, through the town of Phoebus, and out to the fort.

It was an easy ride, over the highway bridge with wide sidewalks the entire way. From the bridge, we could look down the Hampton River at the marinas and our boat docked there in the middle.

We had to show IDs at the gate before entering. The fort was named for President James Monroe.

We crossed the bridge over the moat that encircled the fort. The moat makes this fort unique.

Then we had to wait for the green light to pass through the narrow wall entrance.

We biked through the fort wall and around the fort until we came to the Casemate Museum.

The museum was a treasure trove of information filled with history and artifacts.

After over an hour in the museum, we walked outside and climbed on top of the fort wall to catch the view from above. We could see across the Hampton River to Norfolk.

Walking around the top we came upon the Old Point Comfort lighthouse.

An impressive moat surrounds the fort to keep out intruders.

In biking around the fort, we could see the many beautifully renovated buildings now used as military housing.

As the temperatures dropped and the winds became chilly, we biked back to the boat. Once we got back, we took Auggie for a walk along the waterfront. Jets overhead practiced for the upcoming air show. We did some reading and trip planning before dinner. We had a short rain shower and that was it for the rain. It is nice to be in one place for a few days. We relaxed with some TV before bed. It remained overcast and cool until sunset and throughout the evening.

May 14, 2011 Hampton Public Piers, Langley AFB Air Show

Today we had more cloudy skies, but warmer temps. We procrastinated for a good part of the morning deciding what to do today based on the weather and finally decided to check into renting a car to go to the Langley AFB Air Show with the Thunderbirds. Conveniently, there was an Enterprise Car Rental agency on the downtown waterfront. Bob checked with them and they were all out of cars. Go figure! We checked with their other office and they had one truck left. We would have to rent it for 2 days because they are closed on Sundays, but that would be ok. We would use it to go grocery shopping and make a trip to Jamestown or Williamsburg on Sunday. After getting Auggie settled, we rented the truck at 11:00 and headed off to the air show about 5 miles away. (We thought about riding our bikes there, but we would have to ride on some major highways without bike lanes or sidewalks.) Once we got there, the skies turned sunny and it warmed up to the upper 70’s. It didn’t seem very crowded because the exhibition area covered a lot of space, but there were a ton of cars in the parking lot. I guess the threat of rain might have kept a few people away, but the “free” price tag shouldn’t have. We toured a lot of cool planes and actually got into quite a few.

I find planes extremely interesting and have not been to an air show with the Thunderbirds before. I was excited to be there with lots to see.

After walking around for awhile and grabbing some lunch, we ended up sitting in a huge super transport plane to get out of the sun and rest our feet.

From there we had a good seat for the air show as well. (You can see me sitting of the left in the back enjoying a cold beverage.)

There were planes of all kinds doing stunts and acrobatics.

I really liked the F-14. It was so loud, the sound reverberated against my chest! Awesome!

Of course, they saved the best for last. There was some pomp and circumstance in preparation for the Thunderbirds taking to the air and the show was unbelievable!

I especially liked when they flew over our heads, flying low to the ground. It took my breath away!

It took some time to get out of the parking lot after the show and after stopping at the grocery store, we got home around 5:00. Auggie did well being by himself all afternoon. We played ball and went for a nice long walk after dinner. We could hear the Reggae band at the street festival not far away, but we were too tired to check it out. It was nice to relax after a great day. My feet were tired! The skies grew cloudy and they were talking about rain overnight. We’ll sleep well tonight.

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