Tuesday, April 24, 2018:
It was a rainy rainy day. Rainy, rainy, rainy. Dreary, dreary dreary. Lazy, lazy lazy. We just stayed on the boat tied to the dock at Beaufort Town Docks. We read, did devotionals, posted the latest blog, cleaned and reorganized some stuff. Jane made some hearty veggie soup which hit the spot on this chilly damp day. Damp day. It got really windy too. You know, where it hoots. We were docked on the east side of the small westward canal which was the best spot. There really are no tides here to speak of, but the wind brought in much higher water. In spite of the Belhaven breakwater, the unwelcome rollers were coming into our little canal and breaking over the sea wall on the other side. Even though Belhaven is protected by the breakwater, I’m sure I could have surfed on the breakers in the basin. That is, if I could surf. Meanwhile, we could see another Trawler in the other canal thrashing about. It was the Liquid Therapy. I was glad we were where we were, but wondered if I should get out the foul weather gear and go help them. I kept watch, but there didn’t seem to be any crisis that warranted action on my part. In the afternoon, in between the squalls, we ventured out half a block to the local Ace Hardware for some plumbing parts to enhance the shower in the aft head. Enhancement equals stand up, not squatting or sitting. We found the right combulation of needed fixtures and assorted hardware. (This is no ordinary Ace Hardware mind you, it has gifts items, a wine section, cutesy towels, a ladies clothing section, a full Carharrt section, and even antique furniture. It is called Riddick and Windley Ace Hardware. We spent at least an hour in there.) My plumbing installation was a success and found pleasing to the admiral. Later, well cleansed, we indulged in some TV before bed.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018:
We left the dock at 0845. We didn’t need Greg to help us, but he was there and ready if wanted. Belhaven deserves another stay. Perhaps a longer duration next time. My thoughts are that this is a sleeper of a town and ripe to blossom. Jane loosened us from the starboard stern line and moved forward to the breast and then the bow. We were blown free into the narrow fairway. Working patiently, I brought her around hard to starboard with a series of forward, neutral, reverse, neutral, forward, neutral, reverse, neutral, forward, etc. pivoting in place. There were some mosquitos out, but as we got out in the Belhaven Basin, the Purple Martins flitted all about, dipping and diving, swooping them up. When we putted out past the breakwater, into the Pungo, the rising sun shimmered off the rippled brown water casting millions of sparkling diamonds that the Martins seemed to pluck from the surface.
The forecast shows scattered showers mainly in the afternoon with south winds of 9 to 11. I know this because I have checked last night, late last night, and again this morning. I may be slow, but I’m not averse to learning from my mistakes. The Pongo River is wide at this point, but we found the cruising is comfortable. At 0930: Mile 130, Nine Lives, passed us. They have a fast catamaran, and are flying the Looper burgee. At 0940 we get passed by Hullabaloo, a Mainship 40 from Virginia. By 1022 we were in the Pungo River – Alligator River canal and passed under the Wilkerson Bridge.
Other than a few ospreys, we didn’t see any wildlife, but the huge duck blinds were neat to see.
All was smooth and quiet until the fighter jets zoomed overhead. We enjoyed watching them train and they kept coming by at regular intervals.
I noticed that trailing us some ways back was a shrimp boat. The canal channel is not wide and the areas close to the banks are prone to have stumps and fallen trees, so I keep watching to see if the shrimper is going to need to pass. He seemed to be running just slightly faster than us and finally at 1258, just after we exited the 22 miles of the canal and get into the Alligator River, the shrimp boat, Four Girls, from Bayou La Batre, Alabama comes around our starboard side. At this point a distinctly Cajun accent comes over the VHF radio with only “Go Gators!” which gives us a grin.
Shortly the river turns north and becomes quite a bit wider. There is only a slight chop and after another three hours we arrived at the Alligator River Swing Bridge. It only has a 14’ clearance and half the span is receiving some pretty hefty repair work. Four Girls and Some Day are waiting for the opening as the tender is waiting for us and a sailboat to catch up. A storm is brewing to the west and as we pass through and turn west for the Alligator River Marina we hear the thunder and we’re just hoping that we don’t have to tie up with lightning and driving rain. We make it just in time at 1545 all snug bow in at slip number 12 on the north side of their basin. We let the storm pass before trekking over to check in.
The marina is not glamorous by any means. It is run out of a convenience store/gas station. There is a restaurant in the store, but it appears very basic. The run today was 55.1 miles and it was nice to relax with Brooke and Susan from Liquid Therapy for happy hour on our boat.
Thursday, April 26, 2018:
By 0845 we exited out of the slip into glassy conditions on the Alligator River.
By 0930 we had passed the green marker number 3 and were in the Albemarle Sound. It is too vast to see the entrance to the Pasquotank River 14 miles away, but the water is only a slight ripple. Our only concern is dodging the numerous crab pots. By 1130 we enter the Pasquotank with a slight chop and at 1230 we passed the Coast Guard Air Station in glassy smooth water. A number of planes of different types are practicing touch and goes for our entertainment.
At 1310 we docked at Mariner’s Wharf in Elizabeth City. There is no shore power, water, or pump out available and no dock hands, but it’s free. Docking was tricky, but without much wind and Jane’s cowgirl abilities, wrangling the piles for stern and spring lines, we set the bow just off the sea wall adjacent to the tiny finger pier.
We had to climb on and off to visit the quaint town. We had lunch at Flour Girls and walked about a bit. We came across a genealogy library so I had to go in since so many of my ancestors lived in this area. I only had about 30 minutes before they were closing, but I was able to get a sense of what resources they had and kept their contact info for later. When we got back to the boat the wind had picked up but our lines were set well. Two other boats were trying to come in and I was glad to be there to help Dale and Myrna get The Journey tied up and then help the sailor aboard Xtasea with his bow lines. Jane and I ate well that night at The Cypress Creek Grill and spent some time talking with the owner who is retired from the Coast Guard and his son is the chef.
Friday, April 27, 2018:
Up early to meet the Elizabeth City bridge opening schedule at 0730. The Journey and Xtasea were with us.
The cruise winding up the Pasquotank was beautiful. The glassy water at times dotted only by a few raindrops. It is very untouched and reminds me of the Suwannee and the Santa Fe as we moved upstream. By 0915 we were into Turners Cut which takes us to the south lock of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.
We arrived an hour early and had to tread water waiting for the 1100 lock-through.
By 1140 we were through the South Mills Lock and into the Great Dismal Swamp Canal which joins the Pasquotank to the Elizabeth River. The swamp is home to a large population of black bears, but we didn’t see any; just some snakes, geese and turtles.
It also has a very interesting history, with beginnings in the 1700’s. George Washington was an early investor. At 1222 the pontoon bridge opened so we could pass, but we opted not to stop at the welcome center deciding to head on to Norfolk.
At 1248 we passed into Virginia. We arrived at the Deep Creek Bridge 40 minutes before the 1530 opening. Once we got through though the small bascule bridge we were then going right on into the exit lock where we met lockmaster Robert Peek. Robert has been on the job for many years and he loves to regale the boaters in his lock with his abundant knowledge of the history of the area. He also continued to entertain us with a tune on his conch shell. He also brought me to the exit gate to give instructions for avoiding the shoals in the creek.
We finally escaped the lock at 1620 heading into Deep Creek for Norfolk. Boating into Norfolk with all the large ships and industry was somewhat intimidating. We had some confusion with the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Bridge, but it was remotely opened for us.
As we were approaching our destination at the Waterside Marina, there was a cruise ship approaching from the other direction. I felt sure I had plenty of space and time to proceed without issue, but a Coast Guard patrol boat (complete with a gunner manning the 50 caliber machine gun on the bow) came up with lights flashing and got right next to us. Once they found out where we were going, it was ok for us to proceed. I guess they just wanted to make sure we weren’t terrorists about to attack the cruise boat.
We have become accustom to asking each marina for an easy slip to get into since we are running a single screw boat with no thrusters. At Waterside though, I guess they thought they would test my docking skills. It was three turns with the last in a narrow fairway, but I eased the bow into our assigned slip like a pro and Ethan helped us get tied up. There were already a number of Loopers in the marina, but it was far from full. He could have given us any one of much easier slips, but I didn’t bring it up. We joined Alan and Sherry aboard Sea Jamm for docktails along with Roger and Lorrie from Reality. Afterward, we walked up to Hell’s Kitchen for a great dinner. An amazing thing happened there. Neither one of us had our wallets so, no credit cards and no cash. Most restaurants expect you to pay for what you eat and this one was no different. Amazingly, Jane has our Visa memorized and they actually trusted us and ran it through. I guess two grandparents that order vegan food and are the only ones in the entire restaurant without tattoos looked pretty safe. We were grateful, rather I was grateful since I would have been the one to run back to the boat for the credit card.
Saturday, April 28 through Thursday, May 3, 2018:
We enjoyed being in Norfolk for the American Great Loop Cruiser’s Association Spring Rendezvous. We were treated to a grand NATO parade, went to many restaurants with friends, had many sessions on cruising the Loop that were full of great information, went to The Wave church, helped other Looper friends get docked in the wind, hosted many Loopers-in-planning on our boat, and enjoyed a visit to the MacArthur Memorial. I also had an old Viet Nam buddy, Bob Morrison, come over to the boat to visit. Bob not only stayed in the Navy and made a career of it, but he also transitioned to officer. We had a good time reliving the war.
All in all, Norfolk was fun, the marina was standing room only and the conference was hugely informative, but it’s time to move on. I was not impressed with Waterside Marina. They had no laundry, the restrooms were too far away and their pump out system was not fully operable. Jane the laundry queen was not to be denied and was able to get privileges at the Sheraton next door to use their tiny laundry area for a few loads.
Friday, May 4, 2018:
I got up early and in maintenance checks discovered that we had sucked up a bunch of weeds into the main engine strainer from the Dismal Swamp lock. I got that cleaned out and once the larger boat to our stern was out of the way, made our plan to get off the dock. I had Lee from Breeze get on his deck in case he needed to fend me off. It was tight quarters and I didn’t want to bump any other boats. I eased out of the slip just fine, but once turned in the small fairway the wind was quickly pushing towards Antonia. Mark came out on deck and was concerned, but I was able to keep Sabbatical away using reverse and enough throttle to overcome the wind’s effect. I brought her around to starboard and then realized that Eddy had moved Spiritus onto the T head to allow Miss Liberty to escape. He was yelling for me to hold up. But now I had the wind on my beam and uncomfortably close to Antonia. I was able to maneuver back to where I was clear of the others. There were so many boats moving it was like one of those little puzzles where you have to move the tiles around to get them in the right order. I saw Linda on the stern of Spiritus waving her arms like directing an orchestra. We all cooperated and I remained at idle in the main fairway keeping away from the others until it was my turn to get out of the basin. I got complements and cheers on my boat handling ability. Norfolk is home to the world’s largest Navy base and once out in the Elizabeth River we had lots and lots of big Navy and cargo ships to see.
It was a sunny day with 10 knot winds out of the southwest. By 0955 we were in the Chesapeake Bay. We were moving north up the west shore of the bay and it started getting a little rough with seas of 2 to 3 feet. I had Jane wear her PFD while moving about. We were attacked by an invasion of flies. I’ve never seen anything like it. We are well off from the land and here come these pesky biting flies – hundreds and hundreds of them. Jane got out one of the flyswatters and went about trying to wipe out the species. She hardly made a dent and they kept on coming.
After we got through the rough area we had turned to the west moving into the Piankatank River when I spotted a Coast Guard patrol boat headed south. The patrol boat changed course and started in our direction. They were quickly upon us with the blue lights flashing so I put it in neutral and stepped to the back of the fly bridge to ask what I had done wrong. Were we over the limit on fly kills? They asked when was the last time we had been boarded by the Coast Guard to which we said never, so they said prepare to be boarded. At 1408 two of their crew stepped onto the Sabbatical. We were in full compliance so it was no more than a delay of 20 minutes or so. They were very respectful and after the preliminaries, asked me to continue toward my destination. Once they were done with the paperwork, I held my course and speed and the patrol boat came along side and they just stepped over while we were underway.
At 1500 we eased into a slip at the Deltaville Boatyard with brand new floating docks. This place has a pool and the restrooms are newly remodeled. After happy hour on the deck hosted by Curtis Stokes & Associates, we walked to Taylor’s Restaurant with the Snyders. The food was mediocre, but the company was great.
Saturday, May 5, 2018:
We had been enticed to come here for the weekend for a seminar series jointly hosted by Curtis Stokes and Deltaville Boatyard, but I’m glad we now know about this spot. After the rendezvous in Norfolk, we were tired of sitting in classes, but you can’t get too much education. We learned a lot about cruising on the Chesapeake Bay. The boatyard owner, Keith Ruse was also giving complimentary engine room inspections. I’m very glad I got this, because he found that one of my alternators was loose and out of alignment. A nut had wriggled its way off of the bolt and even though it was still working, it was a matter of time before this became an issue that could have put us in a bad way on the water. Their mechanics were too busy to make the repair, but I figured it was within my talents. Being Cinco de Mayo, they had a Mexican Dinner catered into the marina for us along with live entertainment. We watched the Kentucky Derby in the lounge and we should have bet, because the horse I picked won.
Sunday, May 6, 2018:
In the morning, Keith conducted a couple of classes on troubleshooting HVAC and diesel engines in the shop. He had a very informative presentation enhanced by fully operational units with which to demonstrate.
In the afternoon, I went to work removing the out-of-line alternator and I quickly discovered that one shouldn’t touch the wrench to the block while removing the hot lead. It made quite a spark and I dropped the wrench in the bilge. After retrieving the wrench, I removed the hot leads from the battery and turned off the charger before proceeding. The front bolt was fully seized with its nut. During the process of trying to loosen it, the bolt broke, so now I need some hardware. Keith said the NAPA store was closed but West Marine would be open. Jane had arranged for use of the car for grocery shopping, so I had her take the old hardware to match and a list of what I wanted. I worked on cleaning up the alternator from the caked-on belt dust. It was pretty black. She couldn’t get any assistance in the West Marine store, but finally was able to locate everything but the washers. However, it used up all the time she was allowed for the car so the groceries had to wait. She was none too happy about her experience at West Marine. The good news is that I got it put back together cranked it up and checked the operation and it is working fine. Since I was already a dirty stinky mess and had all the floor panels out, I went ahead and changed the oil too. I put the floor all back in place and got the maintenance log out to make the entries about the work I had done. That’s when it hit me. I had forgotten to change the oil filter. I knew it would be full of the old oil and now that the new oil is in the engine, I didn’t want to put a hole in the filter and have it drain into the crankcase. I thought a minute about just leaving it and letting the old oil in the filter mix with the fresh oil I had just put in. I knew getting it off would result in a mess, but I was just going to go ahead and try. I put a bunch of old newspaper around the filter and twisted it off. Surprisingly, not much came out until I started to turn it upside down, but the newspaper did its job and I got the new filter installed and cleaned up the little that did spill. I won’t forget that step again. Afterward, the shower was put to good use and I relaxed while Jane fixed dinner for the two of us.