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April 12 to May 4 2018, Hilton Head to Norfolk

2018_Spring_Rendezvous_Group_Photo
Over 300 Loopers and 50 boats attended the Rendezvous

Before I begin telling you about our spring voyage, I should start with a brief summary of the winter projects.
Dick was quite busy on Nine Lives this winter, working through a list of general maintenance and specific issues. Initially this involved various electrical systems. Hurricane Irma last fall fried the power cords and affected some of the systems, so a boat electrical specialist was called in and worked with Dick to sort out the issues. While working on that, they discovered that the solar panels were not charging the batteries, because the connections had been damaged by a lightning strike way back before we collected the boat in St Petersburg! The panel connections were repaired, the stereo was replaced, and a few other issues were also resolved. We had some concerns over one of the fridges not keeping cold enough for safe storage of food. Dick realized that the enclosure is too tight to allow proper air circulation, so he installed two small computer fans at the back. Those, together with a small battery operated fan inside the fridge, seem to help.
Some of the other projects included installing a CO2 detector and a battery monitor, changing the oil in both engines and the generator, changing zincs and filters, purchasing new dock lines and all sorts of esoteric boating tools, replacing the grill with a new infrared grill, and removing the diving compressor from the front storage locker, thus freeing up lots of space. Oh yes, replacing the “joker” valves on both toilets, an unpleasant job that Dick said was not quite as awful as expected.
Fresh water tank newly sanitized and filled, and a final thorough cleaning of the interior by our ever helpful Kathy, together with cleaning and waxing the exterior by a local specialist and bottom cleaning by the diver, we were ready to embark!
We left just after 10am on April 11th, and headed to one of our favourite anchorages at Tom Point Creek, north of Beaufort SC for the first night. Upon arrival we celebrated the start of the 2018 voyaging with a special bottle of Moet champagne that is intended to be served over ice, perfect for boating! We chased the spring north, and the different greens and almost autumnal colours of the new leaves on the trees was very pretty. Some nights were quite chilly, but for the most part the weather was perfect and there were few insects about.
Our first bit of excitement occurred just as we were approaching Charleston. The area is busy and quite complicated to travel through, with close attention needed to both the charts and the numbers and shape of the markers. Shortly before we arrived in the harbor, the chart plotter (the electronic version of the charts that we see on the screen in front of the helm, and that we use to see where we are and where we need to go) suddenly switched from the correct detailed chart to something like a broad diagram, completely unusable. The usual measures such as turning off and on had no effect, so Dick had to quickly switch to using the tiny chart he had downloaded on his iPhone. Fortunately I also had a book
of paper charts to follow along, so we were not entirely travelling by the seat of our pants! It was somewhat disturbing though, to watch Dick, the driver, who is far sighted, at exactly the moment when the most attention needed to be paid to the waters ahead, suddenly whip off his sunglasses and peer down at the tiny screen on his phone! Fortunately we managed, and continued to manage for the 3 days it took to resolve the issue! We did not repeat last year’s two hour detour up the wrong channel in Charleston’s vast and complex harbor, and arrived without incident at our second night’s anchorage in Graham Creek, south of McClellanville SC. We have stopped there twice before, but this time was considerably less enjoyable due to the continuous and dramatic swinging from side to side as the wind and the tide worked in conflicting directions. I enjoyed watching oystercatchers on a temporarily uncovered shoal.
Day 3 took us to Bucksport on the Waccamaw River, one of the prettiest sections of the South Carolina ICW. It is something of a red-neck destination, with bikers, a large RV camp and the docks, and a bar that can get very lively on the weekends. We stayed there two nights, to avoid thunderstorms and high winds in the weather forecast. We were not the only boats taking precautions, as we saw few northbound travelers the second day, and very few of the smaller pleasure boats that are usually out and about on a Sunday afternoon.
Monday morning we headed towards Myrtle Beach, arriving early afternoon at the marina at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club, which is confusingly located in Little River, well north of the city it is named for! There we met and chatted with our first Loopers of the trip. To remind you, “Loopers” are boaters who are either in progress or have completed America’s Great Loop, the 6,000+ mile navigation of the east coast, the great lakes, the central rivers, and Florida that is our 5-year planned voyage. These Loopers we met are rather special, in that they have come all the way from Adelaide Australia to make this voyage. They bought a boat in Florida and began the trip this spring. They plan to complete the loop in about 1 year, a not uncommon practice, and then sell the boat at the end of their journey. We enjoyed meeting them again at the Rendezvous in Norfolk, after leapfrogging their boat “Someday” several times on the voyage north.
From Little River to Southport, and then on to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, we enjoyed an uneventful voyage. For a change, this part of the Intracoastal Waterway has been recently dredged, so we mostly had at least 12 feet of water under the boat and few nerve racking moments when the water shoals unexpectedly. Last year we touched bottom several times in this stretch.
Wrightsville Beach looks very pretty from the water, and is quite a lively stop for boaters, but there is very little there apart from the marinas. I enjoyed watching several floating condos (large, 70 ft+ cruising yachts) dock on the other side of the river while trying to avoid being run into by yahoos in speedboats and the occasional kayaker. It is one of the challenges of being on the water. Kayaks and paddleboards technically have the right of way over motor driven boats, as do boats under sail, but the jokingly called “law of gross tonnage” means that the bigger the motor vessel, the longer the stopping distance and the less maneuverable it is. Unfortunately kayakers and paddleboarders often fail to comprehend this simple fact of physics, and one has to keep a sharp eye out and be ready when they suddenly decide to cross directly in front of your boat! Speedboats are a different challenge, seldom
having a radio on board, so you cannot contact them (not that any transmission would actually change their behavior), and thinking that because they get a great thrill out of bouncing over a big wake, so will you. So the sensible rule of “one hand for the boat at all times” needs to be followed when these idiots I mean fellow boaters are out and about.
Leaving Wrightsville Beach we were stopped for a couple of hours by the closure of the Surf City Swing Bridge, which only opens once an hour, and does not open at all when the winds gust to more than 30 knots. Our destination that night was the anchorage in Mile Hammock Bay, which is located in the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune. The protected anchorage can get quite interesting. For some hours after we anchored a large military helicopter crossed back and forth just north of our location, and the next morning we could see a lot of trucks and men in uniform on the shore. A number of them embarked on dinghies and set off south, followed closely by a Coast Guard RIB. We could hear over the radio that both the Surf City Bridge, and the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge were closed due to high winds, so we were lucky to have passed through Surf City during one of their few openings earlier. Fortunately the winds subsided enough that we were able to pass Onslow Beach Bridge the next morning. It is possible that we could have slipped under those bridges at absolute low tide, but I was glad we didn’t have to try!
Onward, continuing north to our next multi-day stop at the very pretty and boater friendly Beaufort, North Carolina. Just south of Morehead City we passed through a shallow area, and suddenly the water was literally boiling with triangular fins of hundreds of manta rays. I can’t find anything on google to explain the behavior, other than the statement that they occasionally breach like whales for unknown reasons. They eat zooplankton, so they were not feeding on a school of fish. We could hear them thumping and bumping on the hulls. The thrashing lasted for about 20 yards, and then all was calm again.
At Beaufort we enjoyed a great meal in a restaurant we went to last summer, and met quite a few Loopers docked in the marina. The City Docks are perfectly positioned to enjoy the waterfront restaurants and shops, with the added bonus of tokens for free drinks at one of the establishments. On Saturday we walked over to the local farmer’s market. As often happens these days, there are few stalls selling actual produce, and more selling crafts, but we enjoyed it anyway. I found a great hand woven basket set on a lazy susan. It is perfect for holding all the various bottles such as olive oil, vinegars, sauces, vanilla, etc etc, that must be secured even inside a cupboard so that they don’t fall over and leak when the speedboaters I was telling you about get too close and create wakes big enough to knock over anything unsecured. I also found a very cute stuffed toy lion made of alpaca, to add to the collection on the bed, much to Dick’s disgust.
North of Beaufort begins the first of the sections of the trip that I worry about, being very unhappy when the waters get even a little bit “lumpy”. As a former sailor you would think I would be used to big waves, but I never was and am unlikely to ever enjoy such conditions. The first challenge was the Neuse River. Last year, due to a lack of experience and understanding of wind and wave forecasts, plus a mistake on the part of the helmsman in following the chartplotter, we were really beaten up on this very wide and shallow river that empties into Pamlico Sound. This year we were well prepared, had followed
the forecasts, and knew exactly where we needed to go. We have also learned that when crossing “big” water, Nine Lives rides a lot smoother if we go on wide open throttle (pretty much as fast as the engines will take us at about 18 knots) than if we go at our usual 7 knots trawler speed. Of course this uses a lot more fuel, but the comfort and the ability to skip across potentially rough water is priceless. So we skimmed across most of the Neuse, and ducked into the very protected harbor at River Dunes, a boaters resort and housing estate north of Oriental, NC. In addition to the sheltered harbor, the resort offers a nice lounge and restaurant to boaters, plus a small general store and the loan of a courtesy car if you need to pick up groceries. At River Dunes we found 7 other Looper boats, with another arriving the next morning, so there was much enjoyment of docktails and convivial meals in the restaurant. A difficult decision was made (on our part) to wait out a predicted storm for 3 nights at River Dunes, instead of trying to make it further north to Belhaven the next morning. As I said to Dick, “Eight other Loopers are unlikely to be wrong!” We had a great time, especially the second night which happened to be my birthday. We invited all the Loopers to join us on board Nine Lives for Prosecco and nibbles. The weather being somewhat rainy and cold, everyone was inside, either in the salon or the cockpit, and we discovered that 16 on board is friendly but quite doable! All gathered during a break in the rain for a picture on the dock. I thought it was one of the best birthdays, and certainly the biggest party I have had since I was a teenager!
Tucker spent the time staying at his other home with Shel and Sherry. They are delighted to have him for much of this year, and he is delighted not to have to join us on the hated boat. However, perhaps he missed us a little, Sherry sent a picture of him trying out boxes to see if he could mail himself to join us…
During the downtime at River Dunes Dick took the opportunity to launch the dinghy and start the outboard motor. Unfortunately, after much coaxing, all that was achieved was a vague Eh Eh ah ah, followed by nothing, so rather than completely drain the battery, Dick gave up and added that to the ever-growing list of things to sort out at the boatyard this month.
From River Dunes we chose to run as fast as possible and make a 90 mile trip up the rest of the Neuse River, the Pungo River, and the Alligator River to the marina at the mouth of Albemarle Sound. This allowed us to catch up some of the time we had lost, and by giving Elizabeth City a miss the next day we were back on schedule. We set off across the Albemarle Sound (the second of the potentially very wind tossed big bodies of water) early in the morning at absolute mirror flat calm. By the time we had crossed the sound the wind and waves were already coming up, and I was very glad we had decided to start early and run fast. We took an alternate route north this year, opting to go through the Great Dismal Swamp (yes, it really is called that), a large protected wetland south of Norfolk, Virginia. The Dismal Swamp Canal is the oldest continually operating canal in the United States, opening in 1805, and never closed until 2016, when Hurricane Matthew did so much damage that the canal was impassable for a year. The original canal was dug completely by hand. George Washington was one of the early investors in the Canal Company, and helped to manage some of the building of the canal before he became disillusioned with the project and sold his shares.
North of Elizabeth City we joined the Pasquotank River, a beautiful waterway between treed banks with occasional well kept homes and cottages. At one point Dick’s attention was caught by a stick floating on
the water that seemed to move oddly. Rushing to the door we could see that it was in fact a large water snake swimming across the river. Gradually the river narrowed until we reached the South Mills lock. It was fortunate there was no southbound traffic coming out of the lock, because there was no room for another boat to pass us! This lock is the first that many Loopers encounter, and the lockkeeper takes great care to ensure that everyone is properly secured and fully understands the operation of the lock before he begins the 8 foot lift. Instead of 8 feet, this should definitely be referred to as 96 inches, it took 45 minutes to pass through this lock and the immediately following swing bridge!
Partway through the Dismal Swamp Canal is a stopping point with a 150 ft dock, a visitor centre, and a picnic area and rest rooms. On our arrival we could see that the dock was already full, with 2 sailboats and a large trawler, but fortunately it is common practice to “raft up” when the dock is filled. This meant we tied up our boat to the already docked boat “Exhale” a beautiful new North Pacific Trawler, and met the very nice Loopers who own it. Rick and Mary made us welcome and invited us for drinks aboard their boat. Trying hard not to be too envious of their large salon with two extremely comfortable recliner chairs, we enjoyed a convivial evening! The next morning we all set off in convoy through the rest of the canal towards our destination of Norfolk Virginia and the Looper’s Rendezvous. As the boats waited for the lock at the top of the canal and exited into the Deep River, we took pictures of each other and exchanged them by text messages. What a difference mobile phones make to all our lives!
Initially we found the much touted Great Dismal Swamp, well, dismal. For much of its length there is only a narrow strip of trees between the canal and a busy four lane highway. On the other side, again screened by a narrow line of trees, are farms and large fields, so I was doubtful (correctly) that we would see any sort of wildlife. As the clouds cleared the next morning and the sun came out the scenery also improved, the four lane highway gave way to a bike path, and the absolutely still water created gorgeous mirror image reflections of the vegetation on the banks.
A short trip up the Elizabeth River and we were at last in Norfolk. Mary from Exhale reports that the Blue Angels flew overhead to celebrate our arrival at Waterside, although I was busy helping with the docking and did not see them. However the next day Nine Lives was welcomed to Norfolk by a wonderful parade with representatives and floats from almost all the NATO countries plus marching bands from high schools and colleges around the country. I am certain our arrival was the reason for the celebration, surely it could not have just been the annual NATO Day Parade?
Not long after we docked our attention was drawn to a visitor on the finger pier right beside our slip. An otter came out onto the pier and proceeded to roll and wriggle on its back to dry its fur. Wonderful to watch, I have never seen an otter “in the wild” this close. I did not dare take time to drag out my big camera, so only phone pictures are available. After all the wriggling and rubbing, the otter went over and rearranged our neatly coiled dock line. “Awww,” I thought, “he is going to go to sleep on it!” Wrong. After disarranging it to his satisfaction, the little blighter first thoroughly peed on the line and then shat on it! Dick was, to put it mildly, not best pleased. After cleaning it off later, we discovered the next morning that the otter had returned in the night and decorated the line again. At that point we
changed the lines and secured them back to the boat. Apparently we were not the only boat in the harbor that was so blessed.
While we cleaned and polished the boat and prepared for the Rendezvous we were joined for dinner by friends Marilynn and Winkie. This was their second visit to Nine Lives, as we entertained them last year when we were at Hampton Yacht Club. It is always a great pleasure to meet and spend time with friends from the past. Marilynn and I worked at Brookhaven National Lab together many years ago.
The Rendezvous is a gathering of Loopers, future Loopers, and past Loopers and sponsors that takes place twice a year. There were 300 attendees, and 50 boats filled the Waterside Marina for the conference. Each day there were seminars on topics of interest, including slide show presentations on the route ahead, tips and tricks for choosing and buying the right boat, insuring it, maintenance, and even clearing US and Canadian customs. For 3 of the afternoons there is a “Boat Crawl”. Anyone who wishes to participate will open their boat for conference attendees to come aboard, see how we live on board, and ask questions. This is particularly valuable for people who are planning to do the Loop, but have not yet chosen their boat. Because we are somewhat unique, not many catamarans on the Loop, and we were the only Endeavour catamaran in the marina, we opened all three of the days. This meant that we didn’t get a chance to see the other boats, but we certainly enjoyed meeting all the people who came aboard. The conference finished with a Pub Crawl through four different nearby pubs. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience, and as we make our way around the Great Loop we will certainly attend future events.
On our last day we backtracked a little to Great Bridge, where Nine Lives is resting at Atlantic Yacht Basin. She will get a haul out and refurbishment of bottom paint, plus the list of projects that Dick either didn’t get to or could not reasonably do himself. Dick expects the work to be mostly complete by about the 24th of May, so he will return and stay onboard for a week or so then. He will re-provision, and also visit some of the Norfolk attractions we didn’t have time for. I am looking forward to a week on my own here in Hilton Head. Some time around June 1st, weather permitting, we will return to the boat and begin our summer voyage up the Chesapeake and onward to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Montreal, the Rideau and Trent Severn Canals, and then we will leave the Looper pack and head south to Lake Erie and the western end of the Erie Canal. Around September 1st we are booked at a marina in Brewerton, NY, for heated indoor storage for Nine Lives while we return home for the winter.

April 12 champagne 3
Champagne to celebrate our first day out
April 12 Tom Point Creek
Tom Point Creek, our first night’s anchorage
April 13 Charleston sailing race
Charleston Harbor sailing race
April 16 swallow
a swallow perched on the rail one morning
April 18 Wrightsville Beach bridge
Wrightsville Beach bridge opening
April 21 Beaufort beer
Enjoying free beer at the docks in Beaufort
April 21 Beaufort bicycles
whimsical plates on rental bicycles
April 21 Beaufort docks
historic and modern sailing boats in Beaufort Docks
April 22 River Dunes lobster roll
a delicious lobster roll in River Dunes
April 23 River Dunes docktails
docktails, all these folks joined us on Nine Lives!
April 23 River Dunes launch dinghy
launch the dinghy, but the motor did not start
April 23 Tucker in a box
Tucker considers having himself mailed to us
April 25 RE Mayo Hobucken shrimp boats
shrimp boats at Hobucken
April 26 Pasquotank River cottages
Pasquotank River homes
April 26 Pasquotank River
The serene Pasquotank River
April 27 Great Dismal Swamp 1
Great Dismal Swamp, looking dismal
April 27 Great Dismal Swamp bridge
Great Dismal Swamp, that is Nine Lives waiting for the bridge opening
April 27 Nine Lives leaving Dismal Swamp
Nine Lives in Deep Creek after exiting Great Dismal Swamp
April 27 otter 2
our visiting otter
April 27 otter
our visiting otter
April 28 Norfolk NATO parade 2
Norfolk NATO Parade
April 28 Norfolk NATO parade
Norfolk NATO Parade
April 28 otter poop
Dick cleaning otter poop, for the second time
May 1 warship
a warship repositions for drydock in the Norfolk yards
May 4 Great Bridge lock
heading south, we had the huge Great Bridge lock to ourselves
May 4 Nine Lives in Great Bridge
Nine Lives taking a well earned break in Great Bridge

June 1 to 15, 2019. Brewerton to Oswego with a visit to the Finger Lakes

Welcome back to the account of Nine Lives and her Great Loop Voyage!

We left off the story in September, 2018, after leaving Nine Lives in Brewerton, New York.  She spent the winter snoozing in heated, climate controlled, indoor storage while her crew did some travelling and even spent a few weeks at home in Hilton Head.

During the winter, the excellent team at Winter Harbor performed various expected maintenance and upgrade operations, as well as one or two additional, somewhat unexpected repairs.  We had a major engine overhaul and added several new gauges and alarms.  We now are able to tell that the solar panels are doing their job and charging the batteries, and we have alarms to show exhaust temperature heat, a faster indicator of trouble than engine temperature.  New house and generator batteries were installed.  Now the lighting in the cabin is brighter, the icemaker does not turn off the chart-plotter when we are underway, and we can stop overnight without shore-power and still have enough battery charge to make coffee in the morning!  New strainers were added to the air conditioning system that allow us to put in chlorine tablets.  These will stop marine growth inside the coils of the water-cooled system, and presumably improve the operation of the AC. The anchor up/down switches that had stopped working were replaced, as were the underwater LED lights.

There were also some cosmetic and not-so cosmetic repairs required.  Last summer, thanks to a nasty cross current and a badly sited protrusion on a fuel dock we put a small hole in the side of one pontoon, fortunately above the waterline.  Some good strong white tape kept water from splashing in, and the repair was scheduled for the winter.  When the Winter Harbor team looked for the damage, we had done such a great job with the tape, that they couldn’t find it at first!  Instead they discovered a much bigger hole, below the waterline.  When Nine Lives was built, the original owner added so much extra electronics and other features, that it was decided to add extra flotation to the pontoons.  This consists of a large tube down the side of each pontoon.  In the starboard flotation tube was a large hole, and the flotation tube was carrying 15 gallons of water inside.  Dick remembers noticing that there were some performance changes last year, slightly higher fuel consumption and minor handling differences.  No wonder, carrying around all that extra water!

boat repairs
A small oops, fortunately above the waterline!
boat repairs
The much bigger oops, that we knew nothing about!
boat repairs
That hole was carrying 15 gallons of water, fortunately not in the main part of the pontoon.

Last but not least, a new ice maker was installed, as the old one was no longer working properly.

Repairs complete, Nine Lives was put back into the water at the end of May, and was pronounced ready to go after a successful sea trial.  Her crew left Hilton Head on May 31st, and arrived in Brewerton on the 1st of June.

Various preparations were needed before we could set off.  Dick changes the oil and fuel filters himself.  This is a good way to observe exactly what goes on with the engines, and if a boater is able to do the job himself it is much better, as well as saving a whole lot of boat bucks!  We also clean the fresh water tanks ourselves.  This means adding bleach to the tanks, running it through the system and then leaving it to sit overnight.  Next day needs two complete fills and empties to get all the bleach out of the system, and finally the Seagull filter (that filters bacteria as well as impurities out of the drinking water tap and the ice maker feed) is replaced.  Cleaning the fresh water tank annually and always filling with our own hose ensures that we can safely use the water on the boat just as we would the water from the taps at home.  My job was to put everything away, make beds and organize the pantry, and prepare the provisioning (grocery) list.  I also spend a few hours making up little bags of cloves, using sacks designed for making your own teabags.  These little bags are distributed in all the pantry cupboards, and are intended to discourage ants.  I read about this on a sailing blog, and have done this each year, replacing the bags roughly every 6 weeks.  So far so good, and knock on wood.

preparation for voyage
Taking a look at all the wiring behind the TV. Who knew all that was back there!
preparation for voyage
Checking out the dinghy, making sure it starts.
preparation for voyage
In theory, these little bags of cloves discourage ants. They do make the cupboards smell nice.

At last we were ready to set off on Tuesday June 4th.  We had an easy few hours on the Erie Canal, passing through two locks, and retracing our trip from last autumn to Baldwinsville.  We were pleased to find that our locking and docking skills had not deteriorated from disuse over the winter!  We like Baldwinsville, and particularly enjoyed a second visit to the restaurant called “The Chef and The Cook”.  It is an interesting place, with two sides to its regularly changing menu.  The cook’s side offers somewhat more familiar, although still quite innovative dishes, while the chef tends to be quite experimental.  Dick particularly enjoyed his unusual appetizer, carrots prepared in 5 different ways with a small piece of roasted pork belly.

first night underway
Opening our traditional bottle of bubbly after our first day out.

June 5th took us into new territory, as we followed the Erie Canal west to the Cayuga Seneca Canal and then headed south.  There are beautiful homes lining the Erie Canal for some miles west of Baldwinsville, many with extensive landscaping and interesting dock facilities.  The Cayuga Seneca Canal connects the Erie Canal with Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, allowing industries on the shores of both lakes plus Seneca Falls and Waterloo to have access to the Erie Canal and ultimately to Lake Ontario, or even the Atlantic ocean via the Hudson River.  Begun in 1813, added to and improved through the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the canal carried goods as wide ranging as flour, potash, pork, whiskey, lumber, and wool.

As we passed through the extensive lands of the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, that encompasses part of the Erie Canal and the first few miles of the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we were surprised to see a huge brown bird fly overhead.  It looked just like a juvenile bald eagle!  A little google research proved us right.  There are at least 6 occupied bald eagle nests in the Refuge, and a number of juveniles remain in the area.  Altogether we saw 3 juveniles and 4 adults on the two days we travelled through the Reserve.

We spent the night tied to the wall below Lock 1.  The next morning, we set off south, hugging the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake.  The shore is lined with cottages of all vintages and sizes, ranging from tiny cabins to large mansions (and the occasional glimpse of one of the area’s wineries).  Many of these cottages are built on the cliffs above the shoreline.  Often all we could see was an impossibly long staircase disappearing into the trees.  Having been part of the “cottage country” lifestyle as a teenager, and knowing just how much of a pain it is to carry all your provisions up and down a steep hill to and from the water, I looked at these stairs without envy!

Cayuga Lake east side
Cliffs and a waterfall on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake

Summer has only just arrived here in northern New York State.  Lockkeepers and fellow boaters commented that this was the first nice weather of the year, and we could see many boats still shrink wrapped and out of the water in the various marinas we passed.  Even some of the trees have clearly only just leafed out.  However, this means that temperatures are pleasant, and we are enjoying cool nights and no need to run the AC.

Near the southern end of the lake we passed a huge mine.  Cargill owns the controversial salt mine, situated at the edge of the lake and tunnelling deep under the centre of the lake.  The first mine was built in 1915, but was unsuccessful and shut down.  In 1921 a deeper shaft was sunk (2000 feet) and produced commercial grade salt.  The mine was purchased by Cargill in 1970.  Salt is produced mainly for the road de-icing business, with some also for residential de-icing. The 7 mile long shaft produces 2 million tons of raw salt a year.  When Cargill decided to drill a new 2500 foot shaft, a lawsuit was filed to halt the initiative, suggesting that the mine has an adverse effect on the salinity of the lake.  The lawsuit was filed in 2017, and is still awaiting a court decision.  Meanwhile, Cargill continues its preparations for the new shaft, that has already received approval from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The mine employs 200 workers, and contributes millions to the local and state economy.

On our travels around the country, we have commented many times on how it is clear that towns that once thrived are now barely holding on.  Industries that once anchored the towns and villages have shut down or moved away, family farms are closed, and there is not enough population to sustain local businesses.  A lawsuit that holds up a commercial initiative, even though it has already been approved, is a common theme for so many industries, and has to contribute to the many corporate decisions to simply abandon long established factories in favour of more commercially friendly locations.  I shall now step down off my soapbox.

Cayuga Lake east side salt mine
The huge and controversial Cargill salt mine complex on Cayuga Lake

We arrived in Ithaca, at the south end of the lake, in early afternoon.  Multiple attempts had been made to make a reservation at the large, State-run marina, without success.  Given that it was a weekday and very early in the season, we thought we would just take a chance and show up, and if necessary, anchor somewhere if there was no room for us.  Fortunately, an empty T-head presented itself, because we soon realized that all the slips designated for transient (visiting) boaters had an inconvenient post in the middle of each slip, limiting the accommodation to boats of less than 15 feet beam.  We met the dockmaster, who told us she knew the dock we were on was available that night and we were fine to stay.  She also explained that she has to be out on the docks all day, rather than in the office, and does not answer the phone, allow or return messages, and does not have a radio to communicate with boaters.  While we were there, I watched her replace 3 old boards in the dock.  Clearly, New York State has decided that the extensive and well-built marina needs only a single employee as a jack-of-all-trades.  I can only imagine the chaos in busy summer months.

Fender Boards
Ithaca saw our first use of our new fender boards. These keep the boat from scraping on the dock when the construction has pilings on the outside of the dock.

Ithaca is a nice town, we know from our visit by car last autumn, but it is all but impossible for boaters.  The area is too hilly for bicycles, and the town centre is a long way from any docking facilities.  The one riverside restaurant is far enough away that we needed to ride bicycles rather than walk, and while they do have their own dock there doesn’t seem to be any way of using it.  So we were fine with just spending the one night there.

There is a tourist boat docked in the marina, and I watched as a large tourist bus decanted about 30 Amish tourists.  All the women wore the typical white bonnets and long dresses, while many of the men sported beards of varying lengths.  I don’t know enough about the Amish people to understand why they use horse and buggy for personal travel, rowboats without motors for fishing, and yet travel in large coaches and cruise on sightseeing boats.  Something to research some rainy day perhaps.

Ithaca tour boat
Tour boat with Amish visitors

On June 7th we travelled north, hugging the western shore of Cauyga Lake.  We passed Sheldrake Point, a very pretty part of the lake with some lovely old homes, working farms and a winery.  I was particularly interested because my father’s Yorkshire mother was a Sheldrake, and it is a relatively unusual family name.

Cayuga Lake west Sheldrake Point
Pretty Sheldrake Point on the west side of Cayuga Lake

After turning back into the Cayuga Seneca Canal, we arrived at Seneca Falls and docked on its very boater friendly town wall.  There is a long wall with power pedestals and good cleats on both sides of the canal, with sections of lower floating dock to allow for smaller boats, while larger craft are made welcome on the higher walls.  The boater facilities include excellent showers and toilets, and even laundry facilities.  Such a contrast to other towns, that could equally make boaters welcome and yet allow their docks to become derelict, or fill them up with commercial tour boats.

Seneca Falls Nine Lives docked
Nine Lives on the boater friendly dock in Seneca Falls

We liked Seneca Falls.  This is clearly a town that is making efforts to improve the downtown and attract tourism, in spite of losing local industry.  Goulds Pumps, founded in 1848, still maintains their headquarters in the town, but the Seneca Falls Knitting Mill has shut down.  Situated in a beautiful old limestone building on the canal shore, the knitting mill opened in 1844, making socks until 1999.  The company held the last two patents for socks in the US, but the owner decided to sell the patents to a German company, and the business has gone to Europe.  Fortunately, the historic building is gaining a new lease on life as the new home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  It is a good fit for the town, which is known as “The Birthplace of Women’s Rights”.

Seneca Falls knitting mills
The beautiful limestone future home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame

On July 19 and 20, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention was held.  Its purpose was “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.”  It is considered by many to be the event that triggered and solidified the Women’s Rights movement in America.  One should note that the Suffragette Movement in Britain was founded in 1903, more than 50 years later.  Seneca Falls is now the home of the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.  The Wesleyan Chapel, where the Convention was held, has been restored, a visitor centre is situated next door, and two of the homes of the organizers of the Convention are all part of the Park.

Seneca Falls Womens Rights Park
The restored Wesleyan Chapel where the Convention was held
Seneca Falls
Downtown Seneca Falls

The next day, Saturday, we followed the Canal to the head of Seneca Lake.  The last four bridges crossing over the canal before it joins the Lake, were, shall we say, interesting.  The final one is nominally 17.3 feet above the water, and we had already lowered our antennas in anticipation, but given the high water the whole area is experiencing, we decided I should stand outside and we would approach very slowly, ready to back off if necessary.  The first 3 were quite close, but as we passed under the rusty girders of the last one, I could see just inches above our radar array.  Our air draft is 14.5 feet, and we should be a little lower with a nearly full load of fuel, but I certainly would not have wanted to pass under that bridge in choppy water.  A lockkeeper later told us that the canal has been raised 6”, and the lake a full foot.

Travelling close to the eastern shore of Seneca Lake we could see lots of cottages and homes of all sizes and ages.  Eventually we arrived in Watkins Glen, after carefully dodging a sailboat race.  The T-head had been reserved for us, but it was already partly occupied by one of the many speedboats that were out and about on the first nice day of summer.  Apparently, the owner felt that the “Reserved” sign did not apply.  Fortunately, our docking skills (and no wind to speak of) stood us in good stead and we successfully docked without crunching him.

The friendly boating facility in Watkins Glen is an example of how to get it right.  There are lots of transient slips of all sizes, and a lively restaurant right at the marina.  Boaters are free to come in and tie up while visiting the town or the restaurant, and are only asked to pay if they want to stay overnight.

Watkins Glen marina
The busy and well run marina at Watkins Glen

Saturday evening, we entertained our first visitors of 2019.  Bill and Louise Wirz joined us for drinks and chat on the boat, and later we went for dinner at one of Watkins Glen’s nicer restaurants.  Bill was a colleague of Dick’s from Dresser Rand, so there was much reminiscing, and of course shaking of heads about the direction the company has taken since Dick retired.  Bill is newly retired, and is easing into the new lifestyle, keeping busy with Habitat for Humanity and other pursuits while his wife continues working for another year.  It was a most enjoyable evening.

Watkins Glen
A historic building in downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
Downtown Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen
The World’s Smallest Diner!
Watkins Glen gorge
Dick hiked up the Gorge in Watkins Glen

We had intended to leave Watkins Glen on Monday, but the weather forecast was not good, so we stayed an extra day.  As we did last year, we try to stay in a marina on weekends, in order to avoid all the mad boaters who get out on the water and tear around, waking everybody and just generally being a nuisance!  Tuesday morning, we headed north, following the western shore, hoping to stop overnight in Geneva.

Watkins Glen is home to two salt producing operations.  In the town, Cargill operates a refinery that is a brine operation (as opposed to a mine). Steam is introduced into two wells, creating a brine that is then pumped up and processed into products including granulated salt for food, water conditioning pellets, and agricultural salt.  Just north of the town is another brine operation operated by US Salt. This taps into a brine well 1500 feet below the surface, discovered in 1882.

Seneca Lake salt plant
US Salt on Seneca Lake

On arrival in Geneva it was clear that the negative reviews we had read about their dockage were quite accurate.  Although there are quite a few spaces on floating docks behind a breakwater, the docks are very short, with space for only one large boat such as ours.  That space was already occupied, so we turned around and headed back to Seneca Falls.  And town fathers wonder why they cannot attract enough tourists even though they ignore the opportunities from boaters!

In Seneca Falls we were reminded again of how unusual Nine Lives is.  People comment and ask questions as they go by.  It is very interesting to notice how different are the reactions of men versus women.  Men get quite excited by the boat, and will call out across the water, “What a great boat!”  Women, on the other hand, are interested in the name, and I hear them pointing out the name to each other “Nine Lives, Nine Lives”. This month, all the women seem to be getting quite excited by the dinghy.  I hear comments, “Oh and look, a little boat!”  Two women who stopped to chat about our boat and our voyage were more interested in Minnie (the dinghy), wanting to know what we would do with the little boat.  Of course, we love answering any and all questions and I am sure Nine Lives bobs up and down with pleasure when she hears all the compliments.

Seneca Falls sculpture trail
In addition to its many other attractions, Seneca Falls has an interesting sculpture trail.
Seneca Falls church
The beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church on the canal in Seneca Falls
Seneca Falls church
The Anglo Gothic architecture of Trinity Episcopal Church

As we made our way back to Baldwinsville the next day, I was able to sit out front with my camera and big lens and watch for eagles and other interesting wildlife as we passed through Montezuma NWR.  In addition to the eagles, we saw other raptors including osprey, a small hawk, and a group of vultures.

We passed the ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct.  Opened in 1857, the second longest aqueduct on the system carried the original canal over the Seneca and Clyde Rivers.  It was dynamited in 1910 to make room for large barges to pass on the Erie Barge Canal. It was 840 feet long, with 30 piers and 31 stone arches.  The ruin is an impressive sight.

Seneca River Aqueduct ruins
Impressive ruins of the Seneca River Aqueduct

In Baldwinsville we were delighted to entertain our second visitor of the season.  Barbara Kubiak is a wonderful photographer who I met many years ago when we lived in Olean.  Her family is from Baldwinsville, so she was willing to make the 3 hour drive to get together with us.  I showed her my pictures of eagles and songbirds from Alaska, and she shared her images of Cuba with me.  A most enjoyable afternoon, followed by dinner in one of Baldwinsville’s many restaurants.

We left Baldwinsville on Thursday morning very early, hoping to dodge the raindrops, but with a total of 8 locks to transit we did get quite wet.  We are tied up to the free wall in Oswego, fortunately above the last of 3 locks, because as I write this (Friday) there is a big windstorm.  Wind coming up the river, against a strong current from all the rain going down the river, has made for some really heavy chop at the dock below the last lock.  Dick was just there, and reported that the big boat we saw pass us earlier is bouncing up and down.  We don’t envy those aboard.  The only downside of our free dock is that there is no water or power.  Fortunately, we can run the generator to get the hot water tank up for showers, and the solar panels are at last doing their job and charging the batteries for much of what we need.  Cool weather means no need for air conditioning, which is the biggest power draw.

(Saturday) We are watching the weather closely, and expect to be able to leave tomorrow morning with light winds and calm seas on Lake Ontario.  Yesterday afternoon we were joined on the wall by two other Looper boats.  An invitation to join us on Nine Lives for drinks and chat was well received and we enjoyed a convivial couple of hours swapping stories.  We have an app that lets us see where other Loopers are, and could see that at least 10 boats were staging themselves on the canal well south of Oswego.  This morning the news came that there are two major problems at Phoenix, and the canal is closed indefinitely.  As I said to Dick, when you can see the good weather coming, doesn’t it make good sense to get as close as possible, rather than hanging back and counting on there being no issues with the canal! We had thought to see a big group arrive today, but at this point it looks as though there will be just two other boats at most joining us here in Oswego.

I wrote fairly comprehensively about the interesting and historic town of Oswego when we were last here in 2017, so I won’t repeat it all again.  Enough to mention that it is an important and historic port town, situated as it is on the shores of Lake Ontario.  There is a marine museum with a WWII tug, restored Fort Ontario, and some interesting shops and restaurants.  The commercial port is still active, although small by modern standards.  It is the first large American port city west of the St Lawrence River.  Over one million tons of goods are still shipped from the port.

Tomorrow Nine Lives will be on the move again, heading for eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands, and then on to Canada and eventually the Trent Severn Canal.

May 24, 2019. A note for readers.

Nine Lives and crew are getting ready for our 2019 summer voyage.  Expect to see new blog postings some time in the next 2 to 3 weeks.  We will begin in Brewerton, New York, and visit the Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca, before heading up the Oswego Canal and into Lake Ontario.

Meanwhile, I have just added the earlier blog postings that were originally published elsewhere.  This means that unfortunately the blog is now somewhat out of order, for which I apologise.  You can easily see the dates of the individual postings, so I hope you will forgive me for not knowing how to get it all in the correct sequence!

Until my next post and the 2019 voyage,

Louise

July 25 to August 13, 2017. New Jersey to Beaufort NC

Retracing our steps

Our stay at Great Kills Yacht Club in New Jersey was very enjoyable.  Without question it was the friendliest yacht club we have visited.  Each day there were people working on their boats or in the evening spending time in the bar.  Most made a point of chatting to us, and several came along the dock to look at Nine Lives and ask questions.  She likes that kind of attention!  We rode our bikes into town and found a very nice Italian grocery.  Although we didn’t really need any provisions we couldn’t resist a few things on the shelves.  We also rode over to the park on the Atlantic side of the basin.  We were amused to see many people relaxing and sunbathing on lounge chairs set up in front of their cars in the parking lot.  Wide sand beaches and acres of grass were completely ignored in favour of being within spitting distance of the car!

Eventually we got a one day weather window that was enough to get us to Atlantic City.  Here we were again stopped for several days.  We had planned to stay at a large marina in front of one of the casinos, but it was fully booked for the weekend and instead we docked at a small family run facility across the basin.  The Coast Guard Station was opposite, and we could hear Reveille and Taps across the water each morning and evening. The next day a huge out of season nor-easter blew in.  The waves were right on our beam, which meant rocking from side to side so much that one of our lines frayed nearly through.  We had to get out at the height of the storm and move the boat further into the slip and retie everything.

We did have an interesting stay in Atlantic City apart from the storm (which was a different kind of interesting).  We rode our bikes all the way along the boardwalk through both Atlantic City and Ventnor.  The dreadful tourist souvenir shops, attractions,  and hot dog stands show that the British by no means have the monopoly on tacky when it comes to seaside resorts.  On the other hand, the mostly closed casinos are fascinating architecture, and it is rather sad that they are so quickly becoming derelict.  Ventnor is entirely different, with large gracious homes with beautiful gardens all along the shoreline. Atlantic City is trying to diversify their economy, and local residents are quite pleased that there is a university currently building a new campus near downtown.  Why they would not take over one of the enormous empty casinos I do not know, probably the casino owners or the debt holders are holding out for more money than it will take to build a new campus from scratch.  One can only shake one’s head at the waste.

Shortly after our arrival another boat came in to the marina and the captain walked over and introduced himself.  It was a sailing catamaran, also built by Endeavour (the builder of our boat).  We enjoyed two evenings of docktails with this very nice couple, and it was fascinating to compare the similarities and differences in the two boats.

Finally, the weather calmed again and we made a fast run to Cape May.  We tried a different marina this time, and hope to return and spent a bit more time next year.  The town seems very quaint, with lots of interesting shops and restaurants to visit.  The next day was also calm and we were able to proceed up Delaware Bay and through the C&C Canal to Chesapeake City.  This is a lovely little town, that has done a wonderful job of sprucing itself up and turning into a boater’s destination.  We docked at one of the restaurants, and even though it was a weekday it was packed until very late, both the fine dining restaurant and the more casual outside deck.  We enjoyed a great meal in the dining room, lobster for Dick and red snapper for me. The houses in the village are beautifully restored, not just the mansions, and most have nicely kept lawns and gardens.

Our next challenge was to make our way down Chesapeake Bay.  The forecasts were good for the mornings, but blew up each afternoon to small craft warnings.  Our first stop was Annapolis, staying two nights.  We made a good run to Solomons, where we filled up with fuel and stayed two nights again.  This time I joined Dick on a bike ride around the town, and later we rode our bikes to the restaurant for dinner.  We liked Solomons on both our visits, and plan to stop there again next year.

Having taken on fuel, we decided to make a single high speed run to Portsmouth, rather than stopping overnight part way.  We left by 6:30 am, and made it to our destination before the daily blow up of wind and waves.  Being a weekend, we had to dodge sailing boats that were busy tacking back and forth across the channel, as well as watching for the huge wakes being thrown up by weekend fishermen.  No military vessels or cargo ships to avoid this time, but at least those are predictable when they are underway!

Portsmouth is struggling to attract visitors, especially with extensive new waterfront facilities across the river in Norfolk.  They have many beautifully restored homes and downtown buildings, but as so often happens with these old towns, they don’t seem to be able to attract the mix of shops that will make downtown liveable.  We spent nearly an hour in a wonderful antique shop, and then another happy hour in one of the most interesting kitchen shops we have seen.  So many unusual gadgets and things that you never knew you needed! For the most part, we resisted temptation. The Portsmouth lightship is one of a very few lightships.  They were used when construction of a lighthouse was not practical.  Can you imagine spending time on a vessel like that, rolling around in heavy seas, not to mention climbing up to tend the light!

After a two night stay in Portsmouth we set off down the Elizabeth River and onward to the small town of Coinjock, about an hour north of the Albemarle Sound.  Almost immediately we were held up by a railway bridge that is usually in the open position, but it was down for a train to pass.  After fifteen minutes of stooging around (an important skill for mariners that involves maintaining position in a channel without running onto rocks or into other vessels while waiting for a bridge or lock to open), the bridge lifted and we could proceed.  That fifteen minutes put us behind on all three subsequent bridges and the single lock, turning what should have been a three hour trip into nearly five.  The offending railway bridge is next to an unusual style of highway bridge, that lifts instead of opening.  We have seen this type of bridge for railways (usually open) but never for a highway.  Just after we passed it lifted for a boat that was too tall to fit under, quite interesting to watch.

Albemarle Sound is one of the two crossings that I had been dreading, as it is very shallow and winds pile up the waves and can make a miserable trip.  This time the winds were higher than I would have liked, but they were behind us, so in theory it would not be so bad.  As the day progressed it got rougher, whitecaps appeared, and there was a corkscrew effect that made Tucker and I most unhappy.  At the end of the crossing there is a zig zag required to get into the mouth of the Alligator River, so that put us broadside to the waves and made things worse.  Fortunately, it was a short time before we were tied up at the marina and I could sit still and be quiet for a while!  We watched two sailboats make their way into the marina a bit later.  The broadside whitecaps had them wallowing, and even experienced sailors find that much rolling very uncomfortable.

That evening we invited the couple on one of the sailboats to join us for docktails.  Such an interesting life they are leading!  They left Falmouth, England, in 2008 on their two masted sailboat headed for Spain and the Mediterranean.  A year later they crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, and spent time there, and in Uruguay and Argentina.  Some years on they came north, with stays in Panama, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands before crossing to the US and making their way north on the ICW.  Their current destination is the Chesapeake, and after that, they will go where the wind takes them!  An adventurous life that would not suit everyone, but what wonderful experiences they are having!

Our trip down the Alligator River to Belhaven was dry and uneventful, in spite of threatening skies.  In calm weather this part of the trip is two hours of boredom followed by two hours of tedium, but that is better than the excitement of a rough passage! Perhaps Belhaven is an interesting town, but apparently August is low season, and the best restaurant closes for 3 weeks.  There were very few boats in the marinas.  It is very strange to me to be told that August is low season, but I suppose with so many American schools starting mid-August there are just not that many families travelling.  Most boaters are much further north during the summer months.  One marina owner told Dick that August is just too hot for boating! We were told that the Alligator River Marina has had up to 30 boats in overnight during the season for travelling south in October and November. The night we spent there, we were one of only three boats staying.

We decided to leave Belhaven very early, because we are still seeing high winds and thunderstorms coming up in the afternoons.  Our transit of the Bay and Neuse Rivers was completely calm, and a welcome change from the dreadful crossing we had on our northbound trip.  We stopped in Oriental. Waterway Guide waxes lyrical about the attractions of this sailing town, but we were seriously unimpressed.  The marinas offer little protection when the winds are from the south, so we spent an uncomfortable night rocking in the waves.  Dick went for a bike ride (dodging raindrops), and was not enthused.  Again, we decided to leave early for the short journey to Beaufort, NC. The brief crossing of the Neuse at 6:30am was calm, and the Adams Creek Canal is interesting. We were travelling slower than usual, in order not to arrive to early in Beaufort, but that proved to be a slight error in judgement!  As we came into the tricky part of the trip, navigating through various shoals in the busy Newport river, we were enveloped in thick clouds and torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.  We have radar, which we use on those rare occasions of low visibility, but when Dick updated the firmware on the chartplotter he did not realize that it would change how the radar is accessed.  He didn’t dare risk losing the chart (and taking his eye off the waters ahead) while he poked around trying to find the radar screen.  I was very concerned that not only could we not see any boat coming toward us, they couldn’t see us either.  Eventually, after what seemed like a long time but was probably only about 15 minutes, the storm cleared enough that we could see again.  In addition to a large shrimp boat ahead of us, we came on two kayakers paddling across the channel.  What possessed them to be out in busy waters in such poor visibility I do not know.

We arrived in Beaufort to find it celebrating the annual Pirate Invasion.  Beaufort was the home of the famous Blackbeard, and it celebrates all aspects of its nautical history with grand enthusiasm.  Shortly after we tied up there was a battle between a fully rigged pirate ship and a large rowboat with 8 pirates and a cannon on board.  Our view of the naval engagement was blocked, but we could hear the cannons firing and the screams!  Arrrr!  The town was infested with pirates, along with a number of women dressed as heaven knows what.  However, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

We have seen some interesting wildlife behaviours on this trip.  On our way north we passed hundreds of osprey nests; sometimes it seemed as if every channel marker had a nest with osprey rearing chicks.  Now, two months later, the chicks have flown, but I have noticed that there is often a bird perched on the empty nest.  I wonder if it is one of the young, still staying around familiar places.  On one of our ocean passages we saw at least 30 dolphins herding fish into a tight circle to feed from them.  We passed an area on the Chesapeake with hundreds of gulls swooping on waters that were literally boiling with fish.  In addition to the gulls there were pelicans, and even a few osprey diving to catch dinner.  We couldn’t tell what was making the fish rise to the surface, but there were several areas like this over a couple of miles of shallow water.  One of the most fascinating episodes I watched was while I was sitting in the cockpit at the dock in Great Kills.  I heard a repeated banging sound, and turned round to see a young gull with a huge clam.  He was jumping up about 10 feet above the dock and dropping the clam, then following it down to make sure it didn’t roll off the dock.  After dropping it about 20 times, the clam developed a crack in the shell, and the gull was able to break it open and eat the meat inside.  I was so fascinated I forgot to get a camera and take pictures!

We are nearly finished this year’s journey, expecting to be home in about a week.  We have not anchored overnight since we left North Carolina on our outbound journey, and we enjoy the peace and quiet, so we plan to anchor most nights, and to stop just one night at a marina in Southport and one south of Myrtle Beach.  It has been an interesting trip.  We have made lists of things that we want to fix, or improve, before we set off again next summer.  Tucker has finally settled into the various routines, and seems to be reasonably content.  I have enjoyed cooking on board, using some of the special things I spent so much time collecting this winter.  The pressure cooker/slow cooker has been an unqualified success, but I have also found some great recipes for one pot meals and casseroles that work in the toaster oven.  We do plan to replace the Australian style grill for a more familiar type.  I had expected to be able to work on pictures during some of the quiet times, but this has not been possible.  Even a slight motion of the boat makes me feel queasy if I try doing close work on the laptop in the salon, and the table in the cockpit is too high for me to work on. We find that while the cockpit chairs are comfortable, the helm chair leans back too far for me to be able to sit in it and drive, and we both miss being able to relax in a recliner chair.  So we are hoping to replace both cockpit chairs with some that we saw at the boat show that have more adjustment and also a recliner position and footrest.  Dick is going to replace the bulbs on the interior lights, plus a couple of inoperable fixtures, and we hope that will solve the problem of the dim lighting at night.  We are also hoping to get screens made for the side doors of the cockpit, to add more air circulation while keeping the insects out.

This was Tucker’s last voyage for some time.  Between the heat and the continuously changing routines, he became more and more unhappy in the last few weeks of the summer voyage.  He now spends his summers with his other family in Hilton Head, and everyone is happier.

storm at Great Kills
Storm at Great Kills NJ
Great Kills basin
Great Kills Basin, after the storm
whats in there
What’s in there?
Atlantic City Coast Guard Station
Atlantic City Coast Guard Station
Atlantic City
Atlantic City
Chesapeake City 2
Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City
Annapolis sunrise
Annapolis sunrise
Sunrise leaving Solomons
Sunrise as we leave Solomons
Tucker and the view of Norfolk
Tucker and the view of Norfolk
lobster dinner
Lobster dinner
Portsmouth lightship
Portsmouth lightship
Portsmouth old town
Portsmoth Old Town
highway lift bridge
highway lift bridge
Carolina Reaper Shrimp
Carolina Reaper Shrimp
a good place to sleep
A good place to sleep
fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal
fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal
rainbow leaving Belhaven
rainbow as we leave Belhaven
keep watching the chart
Keep watching that chart!
Alligator River
Alligator River
Pirate ship
Pirate ship
pirates
Pirates at Beaufort!
red snapper
Red snapper
What do you want
I want to go home!

July 5 to 24, 2017. Utica to Oswego and back to New Jersey

There and Back Again

On July 6th the lock above us on the Erie Canal finally reopened and we were able to leave Utica and head for Oswego.  The waters of the canal still looked like extra thick mushroom soup, and we had to keep a careful watch for floating logs, some of them whole trees that were partially submerged.  We passed dredgers working on silted up areas, and other barges with workmen still gathering and cutting up debris.

Oneida Lake has a reputation for building up waves when the wind is from the west, and we wanted no further delays so we ran wide open (that means pushing the engines to just below their top speed, which gives us about 18 knots, as opposed to our normal travelling speed of 7 knots) and cut the journey time in half.  Brewerton is on the northern shore of the lake and was our next stop.  There is an attractive town dock, but we wanted to stop at one particular marina that Dick is planning to leave the boat with at the end of next season.  They have heated indoor storage, so you don’t need to go through the rigmarole of winterizing.  They also have excellent fuel prices, so we made a point of filling up!

North of Brewerton we passed a number of very nice cottages and full-time homes on the side of the canal before arriving at Three Rivers, the junction of the Erie and the Oswego Canals.  The Oswego Canal was completed 3 years after the Erie Canal opened, and allows boats to travel directly north into Lake Ontario.  8 locks later we arrived in Oswego.  Interestingly, the last two locks are right in the centre of town, and as you walk over the bridges you can see how the canal and the river have been kept separate.

Oswego is another old town that was once wealthy and has now lost much of its industry.  In addition to being an important freshwater port it was also a railway hub.  There were grain elevators and mills, the Kingsford starch factory, and textile mills.  Today there is still a cement depot in the harbour, but most of the mills and factories are gone.  We tied up at the Oswego marina, and prepared to leave the next morning for Kingston, Ontario.

There is a historic fort at Oswego that we did not explore on this visit, but there is also a marine museum, where we saw one of the tugs that was built for Operation Overlord in WWII.  It was used to tow barges of ammunition and supplies in convoys across the English Channel to the Normandy beaches in 1944.  After the war, she continued to work as a harbour tug for more than 40 years.  We also went for a harbour ride on a solar powered wooden boat.  This was an interesting experience, the boat was quite dreadful, all plywood, and extremely basic.  The captain and his wife are very enthusiastic about their various projects, this one being their second solar powered boat, and a third is currently being built in a shed at Kingston (NY) harbor.  We had seen the project when we stayed at the museum on our outbound journey.  Dick was fascinated by the technology, whereas I was amazed at the complete lack of any safety briefing or life jackets on board when they are taking out members of the public.  The liability issues are staggering.  However, it is certainly a good cause.  The boats are built by middle school students, closely supervised of course.  It is often the first time any of these young people have ever picked up a hammer and nails.

Our original plans were to explore the Thousand Islands as far as Cornwall, and then work our way west towards Hamilton, eventually circumnavigating Lake Ontario before heading south towards home.  Alas, the many weather delays changed these plans, but we were still expecting to cross Lake Ontario to Kingston and have time to visit Trenton, and friends and family further west.  For once the weather was in our favour, and at 8am Dick turned on the chartplotter to plan the route to Kingston.  At one mile outside Oswego Harbor, all the chart detail stopped.  It wasn’t quite “Here Be Dragons” but close! When we bought the boat, everything had been equipped to such a high spec that it never occurred to Dick that the previous owner would not have bought the complete North America charts.  With no paper charts for Canada either, we were not going to proceed, so Dick got busy and placed the order for the updated and complete charts, paying extra for “overnight” delivery.  Nothing on the Navionics website suggested that they only process orders Mon-Fri (and this was a Saturday).  Dick waited in vain on Sunday for the new charts.  Then we gave it some more thought and realized that even if we did get another weather window we would risk getting stopped more times while travelling around Lake Ontario, and with a deadline for being back in Hilton Head we decided that Oswego would be our turnaround this year.  Dick rented a car and visited his Mum while I stayed to keep an eye on the boat and Mr Tucker.

The evening before, we had one of the best get-togethers of the trip.  We had enjoyed docktails with a group of Loopers earlier on the Erie Canal.  The rest of that group got stuck in Ilion, two locks south of where we were in Utica, but once the canal reopened we all met again in Oswego.  We gathered at a local restaurant and enjoyed a very pleasant evening of chat and consultation.  One of the group is solo on a sailboat, he is Australian and has been planning to do the loop for nearly 15 years.  He had spent time in Long Island Sound, and is now making his way around the loop with the rest of the pack.  It was a great evening.  The next morning, I stood on the stern of our docked boat and waved goodbye to all our new friends as they headed out across Lake Ontario and onwards.

Dick enjoyed visiting his Mom, and made a detour on the way back to shop at Wegmans, once our favourite supermarket when we lived in NY State.  Then we waited some more for the not-even-close to overnight delivery of those pesky charts.  They finally arrived at noon on Wednesday, and we decided we were quite tired of Oswego and ready to move on immediately!

On our return journey we are planning a combination of repeat visits to places we enjoyed, and new stops just to make things different.  One new stop was Amsterdam on the Erie Canal.  Another once wealthy town, but they have made major efforts to make it an attractive destination for boaters.  There is a beautiful park on the river, with a bandshell and concerts weekly through the summer.  You can tie up on the wall right in the park.  Downtown has nicely restored buildings, but there is the usual sad problem that they are unable to attract a good mix of shopping and residential, so many of the shops are empty and those few that are open are a strange mix of tattoo parlours and wedding shops.  East of Amsterdam we stayed overnight at the Schenectady Yacht Club, probably the prettiest location on the Erie Canal as the canal/river cuts through a gorge.  After locking down through the final 6 lock flight we stopped again at Waterford.  This is another village that has made efforts to attract boaters to the waterfront and the historic downtown. By this time, I was quite glad to get out of the Erie Canal and back into the Hudson River, with only one last lock to transit.

As we approached the lock above Albany, we watched replicas of the Nina and the Pinta travelling upstream on their way to Oswego and parts west.  They looked quite strange with all their masts and rigging stepped and piled up on the decks.  The authenticity stops at propulsion… they both have efficient modern motors to supplement their sails.

Our air conditioning pump was unreliable, so we stopped for an extra couple of nights at Shady Harbour in New Baltimore on the Hudson.  The mechanic was able to get a replacement quickly.  We certainly did not want to be travelling south into even greater heat and humidity without working air conditioning! That said, the other day this area had higher temperatures than Hilton Head, and the humidity was over 90%. I used the time to scrub the fenders with soapy water to get off most of the crud from the Erie Canal, and then Dick gave the boat a good wash as well.

I like the Hudson River.  There is so much history and it is both beautiful and interesting with all the commercial traffic.  One morning the river was completely covered in fog, and a big tanker passed, blowing its whistle every few minutes to warn oncoming traffic.  We later read about the requirement for all cargo vessels to take on board a Hudson River pilot.  He climbs up the side of the moving vessel in New York Harbour, and takes the ship up to Hyde Park, where another pilot takes over so they are always fully rested.  Most of these ships have foreign crews, and many have never been through New York or on the Hudson before.  The pilot must know how to navigate every kind of vessel, and these ships are huge!  They run right through the winter, sometimes travelling in convoys because of ice.

We stopped again in Kingston, having enjoyed the Marine Museum and waterfront so much earlier.  This time we tried the other restaurant we had noticed, and had the best meal so far on the trip.  I had lobster ravioli that I will dream about for some time!

Our transit of New York Harbor was uneventful, if lumpy.  This time most of the ferries and all of the NYFD vessels that had created such huge wakes on our outbound journey were not there, but there were a lot of sailboats enjoying the brisk winds.  They all have the right of way when they are under sail, so we had to keep a sharp lookout and try to anticipate where they might be going.  There was also very confusing chatter on the radios, with crackle, jargon, and add strong New York accents into the mix and it was impossible to work out what was going on and what we should be looking out for.  After we had passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge and were heading west along Staten Island I looked back and could see what we missed.  There was a huge autocarrier that came out just behind us, followed by another big tanker.  Timing is everything, it would have been nasty to try to get out of their way in the busy harbour!

We are now in Great Kills, New Jersey, again waiting for a weather window.  It is incredible how weather dependent we are.  We knew intellectually that we would experience delays, but actually living it has been a big surprise to both of us.  It is not rain we worry about, it is winds and currents, as well as fog and thunderstorms.  The winds and currents must both be in our favour before we can set off.  We already know how unpleasant (and scary) it gets if we are caught in unexpected conditions.  Even when everything is “perfect” it can be very bouncy at certain times such as when we came through New York Harbor with the tide behind us, the wind in front of us, and the East River outlet on our beam!  We arrived here on Saturday and don’t expect the conditions to be acceptable until at least Thursday.  Of course, you have to keep checking, the forecasts change continually.  I have three different weather apps on my phone, and Dick has at least two others, and we look at all of them two or three times a day.

So, what is a typical day on our boat?  Well, of course it depends on whether we are staying in port or planning to get underway.  I tend to get up pretty early, usually between 5:30 and 6:00.  I make a pot of coffee and wash up any dishes from the previous day.  We both like our quiet mornings, sitting in the cockpit with coffee and watching the world wake up.  Dick gets out his laptop and catches up with news and weather, and we both read the daily digest of the Great Loop forum.  If we are heading out we try to go sometime between 8 and 9am, but this might also be dependent on the tide.  If the tide is against us we will take longer and use more fuel to arrive at our destination, so some days it is better to wait until it has turned.  When the time comes the engines are started, various lines and fenders reorganized, Tucker gets his harness put on, and the gate at the top of the steps is put up.  Once we are underway we can close up the cockpit and take away the gate so Tucker can come up and enjoy the wind and be with his people.  Unfortunately, if it is a day on a canal with locks, Tucker has to stay below because we need to be able to step in and out through the doors.  It takes two of us to hold the boat in position in a lock.  I bring the boat in, and Dick catches the lock-side ropes or wraps a line around the pipe that goes down the side of the lock.  Then I can shut off the engines and get out and hold the stern rope to keep us in place.  When the lock doors open I start the engines and drive the boat out.

Most of the time Dick does the driving.  The seat is too far back for me to really see well, so I have to stand to drive, which gets tiring very quickly.  I also prefer Dick to take the helm in tricky winds or currents.  He is calmer than I am, not to mention if somebody is going to bump hard into the dock because of winds or currents I would much rather it was him!  Instead I stand at the rail and throw the lines to the waiting dockhand, or make my best rope-toss over a cleat if there is no help available. We have headsets that are appropriately called “marriage-savers” by other cruisers in the know.  It means we can talk to each other through the various manoeuvers calmly instead of having to shout or make easily misunderstood gestures.

Days spent in port begin the same way, but after breakfast there are usually necessary chores to be done.  I am lucky to have a washer-dryer on the boat, but it uses a lot of water and power, so we have to have access to dockside services.  Dick vacuums thoroughly once a week, and every other week there is a proper cleaning to be done, just as at home.  Sheets get changed, bathrooms are cleaned, the kitchen gets a deep clean, and the rooms are dusted and the wood polished. Dick also gives the outside of the boat a good wash.

We usually alternate dinners out with cooking on board.  Mostly the restaurants that are walking distance from the boat are not exactly fine dining, but we have had some very good burgers and steaks.  I try to plan ahead for about 7 or 8 meals to be cooked on board.  When we are in a port Dick gets his bicycle off the front rail and heads out with saddle bags and a shopping list.  We have enjoyed most of the meals that have been chosen from a fairly extensive collection of on-board cookbooks left by the previous owner, plus my own cookbook.  Last night I made chicken breasts in a wine sauce with cheese and bread stuffing topping.  Other successful meals have included cooking a whole chicken in the pressure cooker, various beef or pork stews, plus we have the grill and Dick will do pork or lamb chops as well as steaks.  We have tried pizza on the grill, so far not very successful, but we will keep trying!

Our next couple of weeks are likely to be spent mostly in port waiting for weather.  We will first have the trip “outside” down the coast to Atlantic City and Cape May.  Then there will need to be suitable wind and wave conditions on Delaware Bay, followed by the several days of good weather we need to transit the Chesapeake.  South of Norfolk we must again cross Albemarle Sound and the (dreaded) Neuse River.  After that we are at last back in the ICW and can expect mostly smooth traveling through North and South Carolina to get home.

clearing debris
Clearing debris
Brewerton
Brewerton
in the lock
In the lock
Oswego canal
Oswego Canal
Oswego gathering 1
Loopers gather in Oswego
solar boat
Solar powered boat
WWII tug
World War II tug
Oswego tavern
A tavern in Oswego
wash the boat
Wash the boat
Tucker
Tucker
downtown Amsterdam
Downtown Amsterdam
Nine Lives in Amsterdam
Nine Lives in Amsterdam
Schenectady
Schenectady
Schenectady Yacht Club
Schenectady
docks at Waterford
The docks at Waterford
downtown Waterford
Downtown Waterford
Maid of the Meadows
Maid of the Meadows
tanker in fog on the Hudson
Tanker in morning fog on the Hudson River
Captain and crew
The captain and crew
Louise and Tucker
Louise and Tucker
lobster ravioli
Lobster Ravioli

June 20 to July 4, 2017. Delaware City to Utica

We left Delaware City early in the morning, part of a mini-convoy of 5 boats.  The group soon split up, partly because we travel at different speeds.  Dick and I followed the excellent advice of the harbourmaster in Delaware City and navigated Delaware Bay on a route that took us carefully southbound until a certain point and then on a direct line towards the canal at Cape May, New Jersey.  We could hear the conversations of the two boats following us.  One captain chose to ignore the advice and angled off towards Cape May Canal much earlier.  After questioning, the boat following took the same line.  We could tell from the conversation (and we could see for ourselves from the swells) that both of those boats had a most uncomfortable ride, while we were smooth for the whole trip.  It was an interesting lesson, going in convoy or as “buddies” may not always be a good thing, sometimes a strong-willed captain may make a poor decision and take the whole group with him.

Cape May is very pretty, with houses built right out over the harbour and painted in ice cream colours.  We passed the famous Lobster House.  Tied up below their deck was a paddleboard with an enormous Golden Retriever asleep on it, waiting for the master to return from his meal.  Sadly, I didn’t get a picture, he was a lovely dog.

We decided after reading reports from the forum that since we only draw 3 feet, we would chance the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway, which is notoriously shallow and seldom dredged.  It is possible that I made a poor decision and persuaded Dick to take on a full load of fuel before we set off.  So, we probably drew more like 4 feet. We ran aground 4 times.  No, correct that, on 4 occasions the earth impeded the operation of our propellers and forward motion was temporarily halted… Fortunately we are a catamaran, and our props are a long way apart.  Dick was able to twist and turn and eventually wriggle free each time.  The route is incredibly beautiful and the small towns you pass through are interesting, but the whole trip to Ocean City was so stressful I didn’t even think about pictures.  The next morning we checked wind and currents and decided to “go outside”, that is, travel on the ocean about 3 miles from shore.  All day we could hear boats that had taken the ICW calling for towing companies, having run aground and been unable to free themselves, so we were happy with our decision.

Our next port of call was Shark River, where we again had to spend a few days waiting for the right wind and currents before we could continue our journey.  It is quite a nice small town, full of friendly folks who all seem to be keen fishermen.  It is also commuting distance from New York, so the newly opened marina restaurant was hopping every evening with twenty-somethings out to see and be seen.  The noise was incredible, but the food was good.

Eventually the conditions were right, and we set off early in the morning for Sandy Hook and New York Harbor.  The seas were very smooth, and we were able to push up our speed (and use 4 times the fuel) and make the first part of the run in time to catch the perfect incoming tide for passing through New York and up into the Hudson River.  New York is amazingly busy, there are ferries everywhere.  They throw huge wakes, as do the FDNY (Fire Department) vessels that seem to need to hurry past as close to unfortunate pleasure boats like ours as they can.  We were lucky that there were very few freighters that morning.  We passed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge.  I have driven over it quite a few times, but this was a different view!  Same again when we reached the Tappan Zee Bridge. I always felt I had at last left New York and was on my way home when I used to live on Long Island and commute weekly to Painted Post.

The Hudson River is very interesting.  Near to New York there are lots of very beautiful homes, and as you get further from the commuting towns, you come into the Catskill Region, and yet more beautiful estates.  West Point is an enormous campus.  We were amused by “Sink Navy” painted in huge letters on the roof of the sports stadium.

Travelling up the Hudson you see evidence of industry that is long gone.  One town we passed was once the site of over 100 factories, all gone now, or only derelict buildings left.  There is still quite a lot of freight passing up and down the river, including big tankers, cargo ships, and many barges, sometimes as many as four linked together, filled with sand or gravel and pushed by a tug.  There are some very pretty lighthouses.  Seven of the original 14 lighthouses that were built after the opening of the Erie Canal are still in existence and carefully preserved. Esopus Lighthouse is called “The Maid of the Meadow”, and is the last of the wooden lighthouses on the river.  Rondout Lighthouse was built in 1915, is still active, and can be visited.

Kingston, NY, has an “old town” that was once the thriving port of Rondout.  This was the terminus of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, now defunct, but what a huge savings in time and effort there would have been in its heyday.  Rondout was also a centre of shipbuilding, and the old buildings on the waterfront have been restored and a very pleasant promenade built along the remains of the old canal.  We spent the night tied up at the Marine Museum.  They have various exhibits, including sheds for building and restoring wooden boats.  Tied up near us was a wooden tall ship that we were told was built for Pete Seeger, who was active in a campaign to clean up the very polluted waters of the Hudson.  The museum is quite popular, and I was amused when one visitor took a great deal of interest in Nine Lives.  He actually undid a barrier and walked out onto the dock to take a closer look… I wondered whether he was going to step aboard in the mistaken belief that we were part of the exhibits!

We spent a night at the Yacht Club in Albany.  We happened to be there on a Wednesday, and joined their “happy hour”.  In addition to generously poured and amazingly inexpensive adult beverages, for $5. you can have all you can eat of grilled chicken, sausages, pasta, salads, potatoes, and various accompaniments!

We turned out of the Hudson and into the Erie Canal.  The first section going west is a flight of 5 locks spaced very closely together.  If we were feeling a bit rusty when we started we were well reminded once we were through!  Most of the locks on the canal lift about 20 feet each time.  They are very large, and it takes both of us to hold Nine Lives in place as the water rushes in.  Sometimes there is a pipe you can put a line around and the line moves up the pipe as the lock fills, but more often there are just ropes dangling down that you have to hold onto.  Needless to say, they are wet, slippery and very dirty.  Add to that we have to keep pushing the boat off the sides of the lock to avoid ripping the fenders off, and you finish the day exhausted and dirty.  Not to mention the boat is also filthy!

At Scotia Landing we saw a lot of preparations going on the various 4th of July celebrations.  When we returned from dinner in a nearby restaurant we were surprised to see that the water skiing exhibition was being held that evening.  Unfortunately, we had missed most of it, but we caught the last two or three runs.

The little town of Canajoharie turned out to be a fun evening.  We tied up to the town wall and saw that there were several other boats already there.  It turned out they were also “loopers”, and we all crowded aboard one of them for a convivial evening of drinks and stories.  “Loopers”, what are they you ask?  Members of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association fly a distinctive burgee(triangular flag) so they can recognize each other.  They are all in various stages of travelling the Great Loop.  Some might have finished and are going around again, some are just starting out, and everything in between.  While we were socializing the rain pounded down, and when we came out to return to our boat there was a lovely rainbow across the canal.  Little did we know that the rainbow was NOT a promise of fair weather to come!

The next morning we set off, somewhat surprised at how muddy the water had become and the strength of the current we were fighting.  Our destination was Utica, just below lock 20.  The other loopers stopped earlier, and we carried on to lock 19.  As the water brought us up to the top of the lock, we seemed to get higher and higher, until it was just a few inches below the top.  At that point, the lockmaster asked us to stop and tie up on the wall above the lock and not proceed any further that night.  We could see the water roiling just ahead, coming out from a stream and carrying whole trees as well as logs and other debris.  We spent two nights on that wall, joined the second by a sailboat.  He had been tied up on the lower wall, which was right under a railway track and the noise was incredible.  The lockmaster took pity on them and allowed them to come up to the top wall.  First, a big sunken tree had to be moved away, it was completely blocking the lock doors.  It had apparently been taken out and tied on the bank earlier in the year, but the heavy rain had washed it back into the canal.  Dick took on the challenge of getting this incredibly heavy obstruction out of the way, helped by the captain of the sailboat.  Together they managed to haul it back up onto the bank and secured it somewhat better this time.  Appropriately, Dick was wearing the red t-shirt that says, “Keep calm and ask an engineer”.

Yesterday morning we watched workmen trying to clear the accumulated debris from the lock.  Then, fortunately, we were allowed to proceed to Utica, at our own risk and only because there were no further locks between us and the town.  Utica declared a state of emergency during the rain, with many of its streets under water.  Another boat was at the dock that night, and was so concerned about the number of tree limbs hitting his boat that he took his family off to a hotel for the night, rather than risk being on board.  I guess we were better off on the lock wall!  We had a nice dinner at Delmonico’s last night, and now, here we wait.  The section of the canal that we are on was expected to open this morning, but looking at the wind forecast for Lake Oneida, we decided to stay put.  A good decision.  The sailboat left this morning and a few hours later he returned, not able to get through even the first lock.  At the moment, the whole canal from the Hudson River to just before the lake is shut, and then the further section of canal that leads to Oswego and Lake Ontario is also shut.  The debris gets trapped in the lock doors and prevents them from opening and closing.  Of course, it is not helped by it being July 4th!  With luck, we will be able to carry on tomorrow, but meanwhile we are in a nice spot and at least here we have dockside electricity and water.

passing a freighter
Passing a freighter
Cape May
Cape May
leaving Shark River
Leaving Shark River
New York Harbor
New York Harbor
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
its not a cup holder
It’s a chin rest, not a cup holder!
West Point
West Point
Marine Museum
Marine Museum at Rondout
Rondout Lighthouse
Rondout Lighthouse
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse
Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, Catskills in the background
sleeping on the new throw
What else should a cat do? Asleep on the new throw.
Water skiing exhibition
Water skiing exhibition
approaching Lock 9
Approaching lock 9
rainbow over the canal
Rainbow over the Erie Canal
roiling water
Roiling water above lock 19
dragging the log
Dragging the log out of the canal
securing the log
Securing the log so it doesn’t fall back into the canal
clearing the lock
Canal workers clearing the lock
cappucino
After our adventures, a cappucino goes down well!

June 1 to 19, 2017. Hilton Head to Delaware City

(a note for our regular readers: I am adding the earlier issues of the blog from 2018 and 2017 that were published elsewhere.  Apologies for the blog now being somewhat out of order!)

We are now about 2 and a half weeks into our summer 2017 voyage.

We left Wexford on June 1st, with Tucker on board and looked forward to our first night out at anchor in a creek just north of Beaufort.  There was a small setback when we discovered that our chosen creek was silted up and no longer accessible, so after a slightly frantic search of our two guides, Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob’s, we chose an alternative slightly farther north and the rest of the evening was uneventful.  The next day we travelled through Charleston, towards a planned anchorage north of the city, and “enjoyed” a two hour unplanned excursion up one of the rivers when the helmsman failed to notice the location of the magenta line on the chart.

What is this magenta line?  It is the centre-line on the chart of the Intracoastal Waterway, and is a big help in staying on course.  The boat has an electronic chartplotter, so we mostly don’t use the big paper charts.  We use autopilot, but the helm chair is never empty and it is important to remember that the actual markers in the channel are always to be followed when they disagree with the magenta line!

After Charleston we carried on north, staying with our planned itinerary and stops until we got to our first weather delay.  High winds and thunderstorms were forecast, so we extended our stay in Southport, North Carolina to 3 nights.  The thunderstorms never materialized, but it was very windy the first evening and I would not have wanted to anchor in that wind.

The next and possibly most valuable lesson was two days later.  We set off across the Neuse River, and after his miscalculation in Charleston Harbor, Dick was determined to stick with the magenta line.  Well, we headed straight up the centre of the very wide river, and conditions got worse and worse.  The boat pounded into the waves, stuff fell down inside, and Tucker was terrified.  I had to bring him up into the cockpit and hold him on my lap.  The dinghy jumped off its support and hung in the davits (fortunately it stayed there), and Dick’s bicycle looked as though it was about to flip over the front rail at any minute.  We later discovered that most of our fresh water tank had emptied out of the overflow valves it was so rough.  There was a certain amount of language from me, and Tucker said some very rude words in Cat, but to give credit where it is due, Dick remained calm and handled the rough seas very well, and eventually we were able to make our way into a wonderfully quiet river and anchor for the night.  Two lessons were learned.  One, be sure of your actual destination, and two, when it starts to get rough, and you can see it will only get worse, turn around while you still can and find a place to wait out the weather.

This lesson stood us in very good stead on the Chesapeake.

However, before the Chesapeake, we spent a nice evening in a very small marina on Alligator Creek.  Just five boats were in, and amazingly, three of them were Endeavour TrawlerCats.  The other two were the newer style with the high bridge, a 48 and a 40.  There are very few of these compared to other manufacturers, so to see three at once was most unusual. A very pleasant evening was spent in the large upper lounge of the 48 chatting with the other owners and comparing experiences.  Two days later, we came out of our anchorage to find both of them just behind us, so we led a parade of Endeavours through several bridges and a lock before we all went our separate ways.

Our trip through Norfolk was fascinating.  Seeing all the navy ships was interesting in itself, but the town also has a dock with a number of tall ships.  That day there was a special event of skipjack (working fishing boat) races, so the town harbour was full of hundreds of spectator boats of all sizes, some anchored, some cruising around, and it was quite a challenge to make our way through them all.

We stayed two nights at Hampton Yacht Club, and were delighted to welcome our friends Marilynn and Winkie on board for drinks and a pasta supper.  Our first dinner party on board!  I used to work with Marilynn many years ago at Brookhaven Lab.

The day we came out of Hampton we were just ahead of a warship.  It was fascinating to listen to the radio communication between that ship, another warship that was already out to sea, and a tanker with a tug that was waiting to enter Hampton Roads.  Later that day there was more interesting communication as NASA required all vessels to observe a ten mile exclusion zone where a rocket was scheduled to plunge into the sea. One owner of a pleasure yacht was most annoyed to be told to take a specific heading, not where he planned to go,  and stay on it for 8 miles!

From Hampton we began our journey through the Chesapeake.  The first night was at the quaint fishing village of Tangier Island, all crab huts and working fishing boats.  Dick made me laugh.  He read in the guidebook that due to a strong Methodist influence, the island is dry.  He interpreted that to mean that there was a water shortage on the island.  He was quite surprised when I explained that there would be no beer or wine with dinner that evening! The next day the Chesapeake lived up to its reputation for misery and a gale blew up not long after we set off.  We had to travel well south before we could get close enough to the western shore to gain some protection, and it took a long time to make our way to Solomon’s Island.  There we waited out the weather again, for two nights this time.  The third morning was clear and the bay was (relatively) smooth, and we were able to get as far north as Rock Hall.  From there we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and then into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

The C&D Canal is the busiest in the nation.  It was first built in the 19th century and widened and modernized in the 20th.  It saves 300 miles in travel between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it is used by enormous cargo and tanker traffic.  We were very fortunate that in the 12 mile length we met only one tanker, just as we were exiting the canal.  They create huge wakes that reflect off the canal sides and make for an uncomfortable ride.

We are now at Delaware City, a very picturesque old town that was once an important port between Philadelphia and Baltimore at the mouth of the canal.  The marina is on the only remaining piece of the original canal.  The old canal was dug by hand by free blacks and Irish immigrants who were paid 75 cents a week.  It was (is) 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep.  We visited Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, an important fort that was used to house hundreds of confederate prisoners during the civil war, and was again used for prisoners of war during world war two.  It is gradually being restored, and is staffed by volunteers in period costume who take on the characters of the civil war occupants of the fort.

The marina manager gives an evening briefing for the transit of Delaware Bay.  We were already aware of a small craft warning, but the briefing was very interesting.  We learned how to interpret the symbols in the NOAA wind and current databases and how wind, fetch, and current combine to make huge waves.  We are delayed again by high winds in opposition to a fast current, and expect to be here at least another night if not two.  Apparently it is very late in the season for this strength of wind opposing the currents. Interestingly, there are 5 other “looper” boats (boats, like us, doing the Great Loop), here in the marina with us, so in spite of our late start compared to most of the pack, we are by no means the last ones heading north.  I expect there may be some docktails and trading stories in the next couple of days while we wait for calmer waters in the Delaware Bay.

One of the more interesting boaters awaiting calmer seas is a man in a rowboat.  Granted, this is not your father’s rowboat, it is a modern looking skiff style.  He started his trip in Miami and is heading for New York City.  He expects the whole trip to take him just 55 days.  He says he usually travels 50 miles in a day.  Amazing, comparing that to our usual 50 to 80 miles a day.  I am not sure where he sleeps, but his boat is full of plastic bags with all his stuff.  Needless to say, not the sort of adventure that would interest me!

Goodbye Wexford
Goodbye Wexford! Leaving our Hilton Head harbour to begin the adventure.
Charleston Yorktown
The Yorktown in Charleston Harbor
Nine Lives at Alligator Creek
Sunset at Alligator Creek
Endeavour TrawlerCats
We were 3 Endeavour Trawlercats in a row!
waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
Waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
boat traffic in Norfolk
Boat traffic in Norfolk
Tucker sleeping on the step
Tucker sleeping on the steps
tall ship in Norfolk
Tall ship in Norfolk
Solomons Island
Zahnisers at Solomons Island
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Delaware City Marina
Delaware City Marina
original C&D canal
The original Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
a new vehicle
A new vehicle for Dick?
checking out the cannon
Checking out the cannon