4 May 2016. Today is a day for sightseeing. It is a bit cloudy and there may be some rain but it should not be too bad. We have decided to take the ferry over to Bald Head Island this morning to see the sights and climb Old Baldy. We leave early in hopes of getting back around lunch time in case Jason, the diver, is able to get to us this afternoon. Well, as they say, "the best laid plans of mice and men". The ferry runs every hour but when we showed up for the ferry at noon we found they actually don't run from noon until 1:PM; looks like we will be having lunch on the island. After lunch we return for the ferry ride back but there is some mechanical problem and they are unable to start the ferry. They have requested another ferry and it will be into port in about another half hour. We have nothing special for the day other than our hopes that we can get the boat bottom done so, okay.
No word about the boat bottom cleaning so we guess it will be tomorrow. We also plan to ride our bikes into the town of Southport tomorrow to visit the maritime museum, ride through the old town and have lunch at The Provision Company. This evening we met Alex and Diane aboard their Gemini catamaran. We really like the Gemini. It is one of the boats we considered for the loop. We had looked at a couple and were really keen on them; just could not find the right one for us at the time. Alex and Diane are live aboards and have been at this marina for about nine months. They are leaving tomorrow morning at around 0730 and heading north. We hope to see them again along the way.
5 May 2016. Today is Suzanne's sister's birthday. She called early to wish her sister a happy birthday. Diane and Alex are busy getting ready to toss their lines. We go over just before 0730 to give them a send off. They make it out just after the ferry has departed. Another thing we have learned about the ferry is that in the early morning it runs every 30 minutes to facilitate getting the people who work on the island over. This is good to know for us tomorrow morning because we plan to follow in Alex and Diane's wake. At 0830 Tim notices he has an invoice from the diver for our bottom job. When did that happen? Turns out, yesterday while we were visiting the island Jason had one of his divers out to do it. Great, we have a clean bottom and the day is free. It's off to Southport.
The maritime museum is small but very good. They are actually growing and expanding so soon it will be even more comprehensive. North Carolina has three maritime museums and each one basically covers the maritime history of the area. After the museum we stop at the visitor's center for information about the self-guided tour and then we head along the water front to The Provision Company. This is what Suzanne has been looking for in every small town we have passed through; fresh, peel it yourself boiled shrimp. It was perfect. Every small coastal town should have something like this.
In addition to touring the historic district, we need to see if we can find some fresh milk. We are out and don't want to mix up the powdered stuff unless we have to. We were unlucky with the milk but we did find a little bakery, Side Street Bakery on N. Howe Street, and next door was a small cheese shop. Some fresh pastries for breakfast and fresh cheese for whenever and we are on our way back to the boat. We have never seen or had cheese curds before but we have heard Garrison Keillor speak of them on his program A Prairie Home Companion. The little cheese shop had cheese curds so we bought half a pound to try. Apparently cheese curds are the bits and pieces left over after the cheese makers make the good stuff for market. Cheese makers take what is left over (the curds) home for their families to enjoy. We enjoyed some of the cheese curds with crackers and wine when we returned to the boat.
Time to tidy the boat and check all systems so we can get an early start tomorrow. Can't wait to see how the boat goes through the water with a clean bottom.
6 May 2016. Today is cloudy, chilly (47 degrees F) and breezy. We are off as planned and have favorable currents most of the day. We reach our original destination at 1430 and decide it is too early. We decide to press on to Mile Hammock anchorage. That is a total of 65 miles for today but we are getting good speeds (for us) thanks to the clean bottom and we want to press on. Besides, there is a wooden boat show in Beaufort, NC tomorrow and if we get closer tonight there is the possibility we can make it into Beaufort in time to see some of the wooden boats. Tim is all in for that.
Imagine our surprise when we enter the anchorage to find six other boats and one of them is Diane and Alex. Just after the anchor is down Alex hails us to join them for “decktails”. He even offers to come and pick us up since his dinghy is in the water. We grab our cheese curds to add to the occasion and off we go. What a lovely evening we had on their boat sharing wine, cheese, apples, and other munchies as well as great stories and conversation. The sun is going down so it is time to head back to the boat and prepare for tomorrows adventures.
7 May 2016. We are off early again as we hope to make it to Beaufort in time to enjoy the boats and festivities. Our speeds are very good again today. Once again, hooray for a clean bottom. We have chosen a marina that is not on the old town water front. The marinas are very expensive and the current through the area is significant. Turns out our marina is only 3 blocks from the water front and the traffic and current are negligible. The marina owner helped us tie up and said we should go on downtown now to enjoy the festivities. We can settle up tomorrow with our fuel and paying the dockage so by 1430 we are on the bikes heading for the downtown waterfront. Tim is in seventh heaven enjoying all of the small wooden boats. Some in the water, some giving free rides out on the water and some lined up along the closed off streets. At 1630 they start a boat race. Seems that there was a two-person team boat building competition that culminates with the winning team having a sound boat that can be rowed out to a mark returned to the waterfront and then the other member of the boat building team has to row out to the mark and return. Most of the boats took on water. Some of the participants did not know how to row and resorted to paddling; in one case the participant stood up to paddle as if the boat was a stand up paddle board and one guy had so much trouble with the current he had trouble getting back all together. It was really a lot of fun to watch. It sure would have been fun to see the participants actually building the boats earlier in the day. We rode our bikes back to the boat to clean up for dinner. We decided to walk back to town where we found a nice Mexican restaurant downtown, Plaza Mexico on Front Street, that had good Mexican seafood meals and great GIANT margaritas. The giant margarita was cheaper than two individual drinks so it made sense; at least that was Suzanne's rationalization. It is a good thing we were walking! We were both a little over- whelmed by the drink and we took half of it back to the boat for tomorrow. For now, we are going to bed.
8 May 2016. Today we top up our fuel tanks, pump out the holding tank and settle up with the dock master. We plan on staying one more night and leaving before the marina opens tomorrow. Today we will visit the second of the North Carolina maritime museums on our list. Again, we are impressed with the museum; it is well done. All of the maritime museums in North Carolina are free as well. After the museum we have a late lunch at Ribeyes Steakhouse on Front Street that had really good shrimp, and then it is time to do a little provisioning. Unfortunately the closest grocery store is about 1-1/2 mile from the boat so we grab our bags and our bikes and head off. The Piggly Wiggly does not have everything we are looking for but then we could not carry it all back if we could get everything so it is just as well. We return to the boat, store all of the food and begin to prepare for our departure tomorrow.
9 May 2016. Todays days run will be fairly short. On our way up the ICW in north Beaufort we passed a marina that had a Gemini catamaran sitting at the dock. It was Alex and Diane. We knew they were up in this area to have the boat pulled for a few repairs but we did not know exactly where they were having the work done. We tried to hail them on the radio however we got no response so we figured they were out. Shortly afterward Tim received a text from Alex saying they had seen us go by. Diane had been below decks with the radio off but she had looked out the window as we passed and Alex had been in the marina office to get the required work squared away.
Tonight we are staying at the free town docks in Oriental, NC. There is no water or electricity but then neither is there when we anchor out. We have some sailing acquaintances from many years back who live there and we are going to stop in for a visit. Tom and Liz meet us at the docks and took us to their house for the afternoon, It was a really special treat. The last time we had seen them was at the wedding of their son, Mark, to one of our very good friends, Jan. Tom has built several wood boats and showed Tim and Suzanne around and Liz is an avid birder and shared much about the local birds with Suzanne after she moved on from the boats. They have a beautiful home which was designed and built by Tom, located on the water in a very private setting which takes advantage of the wildlife. Time to head back to our boat. When we return we find that there is a 96 foot yacht sitting next to us. The juxtaposition really puts us in perspective. Getting out tomorrow morning will be a bit of a challenge. We hope they are planning to leave fairly early so we can get out behind them.
10 May 2016. The next couple of days are fairly easy and straight forward. Today we have a 41 mile run. The weather is mild with highs expected in the low to mid 80's. We are heading for an anchorage at Slade Creek at mile 140 of the AICW. We arrive at the anchorage at about 1700. The anchorage is near the town of Belhaven. Belhaven has free town docks but we didn't need anything from the town since we had just done our provisioning a couple of days ago and we really wanted to press on a little further. The anchorage was quiet and the night at anchor was uneventful, just the way you like them to be.
11 May 2016. Today's destination is Tuckahoe Point at mile 104 on the ICW. The weather forecast is for deteriorating conditions. We are expecting thunder storms and heavy rains later in the day. We arrive at the destination at about 1300. This is just too early. Also, the weather conditions are still good and the water is smooth. We press on and pick an anchorage past the Alligator Swing Bridge. This anchorage puts us close to Albermoral Sound which can be uncomfortable if the winds pick up. If we can get away fairly early tomorrow we may be able to get across before the predicted heavy chop begins. The anchorage is some ways off the ICW since the water is large here. It takes us nearly one hour to make anchorage. After leaving the ICW the waters are a vast field of crab pots. It is like negotiating a mine field with lines lurking under the water just waiting to tangle in your prop and ruin your day. As we are moving through the waters Tim is scoping out our exit for tomorrow morning. He is looking for a short cut. And he finds one. If we can slip through it should save us 20 minutes or more. The only problem is the depth. According to the charts there is between 3 and 5 feet of water in this narrow area. There is less than 3 feet throughout much of the surrounding area. We need 3 feet to float. According to the depth sounder the channel we are following to the anchorage consistently shows one foot more depth than the charts. Here's hoping tomorrow morning will be the same. We finally reach the anchorage at 1720. With both anchors down and 7-1/2 feet of water under the boat we settle in for the night. The weather radio warns that sever storms are on the way and should hit around 2100. Whenever we anchor out Suzanne sets an app on her phone that tracks our movement around the anchors. It is all based on satellites triangulating our location. Suzanne sets an alarm which will go off if we travel more than 30 meters from where the anchors were set. Shortly after 2100 we were under a lot of rain and thunder. There was a sudden burst of lightning, a major down burst of wind and the anchor alarm went off. We both grabbed our foul weather jackets and scrambled topside to see what was happening. It appeared that the boat was now sitting 180 degrees from where we had originally set the anchors and that one of the two anchors had dragged. The anchor appeared to have reset itself once again and we had good holding from both anchors. Suzanne reset the anchor watch app and we went below for a somewhat fitful night's sleep.
12 May 2016. We were awakened to the sound of the anchor alarm again at 0540. The winds are fierce and we are again 180 degrees to what we had been last night when we went to sleep. This time both anchors have held. Over night the temperatures have dropped significantly. Temp is currently in the upper 40's. We did not bring clothing appropriate for these cooler temperatures. We are shrouded in fog and visibility is too low to safely negotiate the field of crab pots that await us so we will have to wait until visibility improves. We decide to turn on the generator and run the heat pump for awhile. This will be the first time we have used the generator on this trip. We ran the generator for an hour and the interior temp is much improved. We use this time at anchorage to chase down a few minor problems we have noted. Yesterday while Suzanne was at the helm there was a spike in the engine speed. We had no explanation for this so Tim was trouble shooting this problem. What he found was a spring from the throttle system had broken. He devised a temporary fix so we won't have the spikes but we will have to obtain a proper part and replace it as soon as possible.
At 0900 the fog and mist have cleared enough that we can slowly navigate our way out of the crab pots and back onto the ICW. It takes both of us watching the crab pots and depth sounder. Not to mention threading our way through that "deep" spot that carries six feet of water surrounded by the 2 and 3 foot depths. Suzanne worries but Tim's calm demeanor gets us through. Finally, we are back on the ICW and on our way to Elizabeth City. But first we must cross Albermoral Sound. Tim hands over the helm to Sulu and we are off. As it turns out, our timing was great. The sound was relatively smooth and the sun was showing through the clouds. We arrive in Elizabeth City by 1440. Elizabeth City also has free town docks but we are thinking we need to top off with water and should pump out our holding tank before we enter The Great Dismal Swamp tomorrow so we choose to stay at Pelican Marina since they are the only marina which shows having a pump out station in the area. After tying up and going to the office to settle up we find out the pump out station is out of order. There will be no pump out until we are in Portsmouth, VA. We console ourselves about paying for dockage when we could have stayed downtown for free by pointing out that we would have had to back into the slip in order to get off the boat at the town docks and our boat does not back well. Additionally, there were no remaining slips that would have accommodated our beam of 11 feet 4 inches. We walk around the town of Elizabeth City and find that many of the restaurants we have read about are no longer in business. After stopping a passerby requesting a recommendation, we were told that any time she wants to go out her first choice is Cypress Creek Grill so with that recommendation in hand, we head off to dinner. The recommendation was spot on. Dinner was delicious. The restaurant has a lot of hard surfaces and it was very busy so it was a bit noisy however the food was excellent as was the service. We head back toward our boat by way of the free docks and visit with the other boaters.
13 May 2016. The Elizabeth City Bridge opens every half hour however from 0800 until 0900 there is no opening. We decide to make the 0900 opening so we are out of our slip and underway at 0840. Most of the other boats going through today left at the 0800 opening so we have the bridge and canal to ourselves. The timing is important because of the lock schedule further up the canal. There is an eight foot elevation between the lower part of the canal and the upper part of the canal. We arrive about an hour early so we tie up just outside of the lock to have lunch and wait for the lock opening. At 1320 Tim calls the lock master to report that we are at the lock entrance and request an opening. At 1330 the lock begins to open and we enter. After leaving the lock we see the lock master jump into his pick-up truck and drive a quarter of a mile to a bridge where he opens the bridge for us to pass.
We have been warned to stay behind other boats by about half a mile if they have a deeper draft because they could dislodge "dead heads" (sunken logs at the bottom of the canal) which then come up toward the surface before settling back down. Hitting one of those submerged logs could ruin your day. The controlling depth in the canal is six feet however much of the canal is significantly deeper. Most people report seeing lots of wildlife along The Great Dismal Swamp. All we see is one very large barge under tow and some birds. Because the day is so cloudy we don't even see turtles sunbathing on the exposed rocks and logs. We arrive at The Great Dismal Swamp welcome center just before they close. It is raining. There are already three other boats along the dock wall. John, the owner of the forward most boat offers to let us raft up to his boat. We can cross over his bow to get off to shore whenever we need to. After checking in at the welcome center and using the very nice facilities there we take a short walk over to the state park on the other side of the river from the visitors center. They have some real nice examples of the wild life found in the area. The rain is coming down hard now so we decide it is time to get back to the boat. After a good dinner, it is bed time.
14 May 2016. This morning is very dismal indeed. The fog is very thick. What ho? What is that in the water just 100 yards from our bow? It is a car! In fact, it is a newer model BMW. How did that get there? Surely that was not there when we arrived yesterday. All of us that were at the docks last night talk amongst ourselves and no one saw it there last night. Nor did any of us hear anything during the night. Amazing. One of the boaters has already called the emergency contact person for The Great Dismal Swamp and the police. By 0700 we have the local authorities on site. A towing company has been called and the police are now just waiting to get access into the car so they can begin the investigation. It does appear the car may have been reported as stolen. At 0745 the tow truck has arrived. The retrieval will not be simple. Finally, by 0900 the tow truck has the car on the flat bed and we need to prepare to get underway so that we can once again make the 1330 opening of the lock, this time the north lock. Just as we are preparing to untie from our neighbor John another boat, a 38+ foot sailboat (an Island Packet) comes through. They are not stopping. We decide to wait about 15 minutes before we cast off to allow for enough distance between us. The sailboat definitely has enough draft to kick up logs on the bottom of the canal. We reach the bridge before the lock about one hour before the opening. The sailboat is already there, tied up and waiting. They call us to come alongside and raft up while we wait. We had planned to stay in Norfolk where we have some friends we intend to visit but first we need to get fuel and the marina we were intending to stay at does not have a fuel dock. The skipper of the Island Packet tells us about where he will be staying in Portsmouth. They have a berth for the night to do a crew drop off, get some fuel and pump out. It really sounds pretty good. Suzanne does some quick research on the ferry that runs from Portsmouth to Norfolk and it really sounds like the perfect place for us. We can do all the things we need to do in Portsmouth. For $2.50 each way the two of us can take the ferry. It runs every half hour from 0530 until 2130 and it is less than one block from the marina in the free town dock basin. After fueling, pumping, docking and showering, we visit the free town docks to find the free docks are full; shucks. Recently on our travels we heard there was a good German restaurant in Portsmouth so we decided that was our destination tonight. We were not disappointed. It was really good. We also enjoyed a great glass of dunlke on draft. What an all around satisfying day. We returned to our boat and called it a night.