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!
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.
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.
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.
(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!
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.
Our second day in Cleveland was spend exploring the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We both enjoyed the experience, although we were most interested in the songs and artists of our own generation. I expect some people could spend days there, looking at memorabilia. I found the clothes fascinating, it was hard to believe the performers were so small. There were dresses belonging to Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they were tiny! The clothes worn by the giants of rock and roll, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and many more recent rockers, show that these men had to be well under 6 feet tall, and extremely thin by today’s standards. There was an excellent film with clips of Elvis Presley, and we also loved a 30 minute film of Dick Clark and American Bandstand. In the evening we walked a little further into town for an outstanding meal at Blue Point Grille.
From Cleveland it was a long day, 100 miles, to Erie, Pennsylvania. This year we made a conscious effort to reduce the distances we travelled each day, so a normal day has been 30 to 40 miles. The weather was glorious, although hot, with a bright blue sky and a good forecast for wind and waves. With no rain in the forecast we replaced the side doors with the screens, which involves two large stiff zippers each side and one on top. Just after lunch the clouds started to build up and the sky got dark. We were caught in an afternoon thunderstorm with accompanying squall out on the water. The rain lashed the boat from the side (of course it was the side I sit on) and the cushions, carpet, and my chair with me in it, got absolutely soaked. Eventually I managed to undo the top zipper and secure my door at the top, but with the strong wind the only way it could even partly reduce the amount of rain coming in was for me to stand with my back to it and hold on. Drenched doesn’t even begin to describe the experience. Dick, from his dry seat at the helm, was highly amused. The rain, low visibility, and choppy water were not the only matters for concern. We had heard a securite announcement from a tow that he was headed into port with 3 loaded barges. We could see his position on the chartplotter, but he didn’t seem to be moving, and we were headed directly for him. Dick went well out into the lake to make sure we gave him plenty of room. We were able to see through gaps in the rain as we passed that he was indeed stopped, repositioning the tow from the front of the barge train (pulling) to the rear (pushing it into port). In due course the rain stopped, the waves settled down, and the sky was blue again. The carpet took a while to dry though, and it was surprising how very dirty that rain was.
Erie is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, and its only major port on the Great Lakes. As heavy industry and shipping have declined, health care, plastics, tourism, and service industries have taken their place. The harbour was interesting, divided into several parts, with the one we were visiting requiring passage under an elevated walkway that connects the Sheraton Hotel with the Bayfront Convention Center. Unfortunately, the harbour itself is still something of a work in progress, but in a few years it could be very pleasant. There is a large maritime museum and library, and a 187 foot Bicentennial Tower along the waterfront.
Our next stop was Buffalo and a grateful goodbye to “big water” for this year. We stayed at the marina that is closest to downtown, and once again were pleasantly surprised by the waterfront parks and development of what was once a very unattractive industrial port. The marina is situated on a spit of land that also includes a waterfront park with attractive gardens, a lookout tower, and two restaurants. From the marina it was easy access to an extensive network of cycle paths. We rode our bikes through what looked to be a very interesting naval museum, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. There are a number of decommissioned ships, including a submarine, a cruiser, and a destroyer. Further along the Buffalo River is the oldest active fireboat in the world. The Edward M Cotter was built in 1900 and rebuilt in 1953. In addition to being a fireboat, she is used as an icebreaker on the Buffalo River in winter. She has a colourful history, including being burnt out in 1928 while fighting a fire on a barge carrying 5,000 barrels of crude oil. Rebuilt, she continued in service, and crossed Lake Erie in 1960 to help put out a fire in grain elevators in Port Colborne, Canada. We only saw her at dock, but I gather she is a regular sight in Buffalo Harbor.
After a two night stop in Buffalo it was time to make our way into the Western Erie Canal. We had planned our usual 9am start, but we were delayed somewhat at the pump out dock by a very slow pump. As it happened, that delay didn’t matter, because of limited service at the lock on the Black Rock Channel. This three and a half mile channel parallels the Niagara River, and allows boats to avoid the strong current and rough waters of the river. It was built as part of the Erie Canal, but somehow it is no longer part of the Canal and the lock is a Federally operated lock. It is in need of refurbishing, so the operators have decided to limit openings, and while two different phone numbers are provided to call to get the schedule, neither of the lines are manned. On arrival at the lock we found a sign that told us the first opening would be 11am, so we had to tie up and wait for over an hour. As is his wont when there is any expected delay, Dick set off along the lock wall to investigate. On his return, he met the lock keeper arriving for work, a surly individual who was not at all impressed with Dick’s friendly smile and told him in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden to be on the dock and to get back on that boat and stay there!
After exiting the Black Rock Channel, we were into the Niagara River, which was unpleasantly choppy until we turned into Tonawanda River. Not the most attractive waterway we have been on, and even after making the turn into the Erie Canal proper, it was somewhat unprepossessing until we had passed through the double lock at Lockport. The stretch between Lockport and Rochester is very pleasant, with small towns that are making the most of their waterfront and the opportunities for tourism. There are many lift bridges, all freshly painted in soft green with contrasting bright yellow trim. Most of the towns have free docking at the town walls, and many have installed power pedestals and shower facilities. One of the lock keepers told Dick that she is employed full time, all year round. During the winter when the canal is closed, they take apart and refurbish all the lock and bridge mechanisms. She said her winters are spent “up to the elbows in grease!” At each lock we were asked how far we planned to go that day, and the keepers called the next lock to tell them to expect us.
In Middleport we were joined for the evening by Wade Aiken, a talented photographer I met when we lived in Olean some years ago. It was nice to catch up and hear about his extensive world travels and his photography. The next day we travelled to Spencerport where we were met by another friend from the Olean Camera Club. Barbara was not able to stop for a meal, but we had time for a chat and a cup of tea and hope for a longer visit, perhaps next year when we are in the Finger Lakes.
A frequent sight on the Erie Canal is English-inspired canal boats that appear to be a popular vacation. The boats are a little wider than UK narrowboats, and generally shorter at a maximum of 43 feet, but they are driven by a traditional tiller at the stern, and they all look very clean and in good condition. You can rent them from Midlakes Navigation, and they offer 3, 4, and 7 day rentals. We do not wish to be disloyal to Nine Lives, but we were intrigued by the possibilities!
Rochester is another city with an attractive downtown. We turned off the Canal into the Genesee River, navigable almost to the city center. We tied up at a good dock in Corn Hill Landing, a revitalized historic neighbourhood. The waterfront complex of rental apartments includes several restaurants, one of them is a very pleasant wine bar. We walked over and each ordered a flight, sparkling for Dick, and rose for me. To accompany we had a meat and cheese board, with fresh French bread, local honey, and grainy mustard. It was a delightful way to spend an hour in the afternoon, particularly as we were planning an “eating up” evening of leftovers on the boat!
The next day Dick rode his bike through downtown to Lake Ontario. He reports that Rochester is a very clean city with lots of parks and waterfront paths. It is strange that a canal has never been cut to bypass the waterfalls in the river and allow access between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario. Apparently, it has been proposed many times, but so far nobody has found the money.
In the afternoon we took a rental car to Ithaca, and after a very nice meal in a French restaurant we went to a concert by Joan Baez. What a remarkable woman she is. She played straight through without an intermission (or a chair), and returned to sing three more songs for an encore. It was a mix of old favourites and new material from her latest album. Although she can no long sustain the high notes, at 77 years old, she is still an amazing performer, and we were very glad we were able to take the time to see her on what is expected to be her last tour. The theatre is also of historic and architectural interest. The building, originally constructed in 1915, began as a garage and Studebaker showroom. In 1926 it was transformed into a cinema and vaudeville palace. The extravagant combination of Moorish and Gothic architecture is striking. After struggling for many years as a movie theatre that closed in the 1980’s, the building was condemned in 1997 and slated for demolition. It was saved by strong community support and fundraising from both municipal and private donors, and has been operating as a concert theatre since 2001.
Returning to the boat at midnight, we planned a slightly later than usual departure, but my Rochester experience was not yet complete. At just past 4am I became aware of footsteps and a slight rocking of the boat, as well as conversation from outside. I got up and shouted at Dick to wake up. No response. Shouted again as I opened the hatch and went up to the cockpit to find the absolute cliché of a black man in a hoodie sitting on the boat. I shouted at him “GET OFF”, and somewhat to my surprise, he did, with profuse apologies and compliments on the boat. He told me it was such a beautiful boat he just wanted to try to get a picture of himself sitting on it. His girlfriend on the dock also apologised and paid compliments. As this was happening, Dick finally woke up, just long enough to understand what had happened, to hear the apologies, and know that his intervention was not required. Then back to sleep he went, while I lay awake for hours getting over the shock! Thinking about the incident, I come away with a few thoughts. Given how well spoken and truly apologetic the man and his companion were, we are assuming they were simply walking to or from work, saw the boat and thought it was unoccupied and that they would not disturb anyone if they took a picture. It would have been very easy to over-react. By coincidence I have been reading in the AGLCA forum about several boats being boarded while tied up on the Illinois River. The boaters reported that they used wasp spray and other unspecified deterrents to get rid of the intruders. I know that many boaters (legally) carry firearms. In our case, while it was, for me, a disturbing experience, the trespassers were quite innocent, and over-reacting could have been disastrous. One thing we did agree on, in future we will make a point of connecting the lifelines and rail as well as bringing in the boarding ladder if we are using it. Just to make it a little less easy to get on board.
After Rochester we stopped at Newark, with a well maintained town wall, excellent shower facilities, and a nice little canal museum. From there the Canal became less scenic, and the towns not quite as pretty. There followed long stretches with no towns or signs of habitation. The next night we tied up below a lock, truly in the middle of nowhere (Tripadvisor reported the nearest restaurant was 4.5 miles away). It was an incredibly peaceful stop, almost like anchoring. We also noticed a somewhat different attitude on the part of the lock keepers (with the exception of the one we tied up at.) They seemed to be less likely to be paying attention to their radio when we called for a lock-through, requiring several calls before we could see any activity at the lock, and often no response on the radio at all. No longer interested in how far we would be travelling, and certainly not willing to call the next lock to let them know we were coming. The attitude seemed to fit with the general condition of the houses we saw along the canal in this stretch. Tumbledown shacks, yards full of junk, and lots of derelict docks.
Shortly before Baldwinsville we began to see an improvement. New homes and tidy cottages with well kept grounds and well maintained docks lined the Seneca River (the Canal becomes the river for much of this stretch). Baldwinsville is a very pleasant town of about 8,000. It is built on both sides of the canal, and includes an island between the canal lock and the dam. On the island is a large park with an amphitheatre, and we understand that concerts are held regularly through the summer months. The town wall has power and water, at $5 a night on the honour system. Here we met a couple of Loopers who have been spending summers on their boat for the past 8 years. They completed the loop in 2010-2011, and since then, they have been twice to Maine, spent two summers on Lake Michigan, and this summer they went to the north side of Lake Superior. Now me, I think of the Canadian side of Lake Superior as rocks, pine trees, and mosquitoes big enough to carry off your boat! However, Jill told me they loved it, anchoring most nights for nearly a month. The Lake was far more peaceful and the weather predictions more reliable than Lake Michigan, and as for mosquitoes, when they were there it was far too cold! It was certainly interesting chatting with them.
From Baldwinsville it was a short morning’s run to Brewerton, at the north end of Oneida Lake. At Winter Harbor, an aptly named marina where we will leave Nine Lives until next June, we found several other Looper boats in various stages of getting ready for winter storage. Nine Lives will be hauled out and stored in a huge heated and humidity controlled storage shed. While considerably more expensive than non-heated storage, there are a great many advantages, including being able to leave the water tanks full, most of the pantry food on board, and the security of knowing that damp will not be an issue. Since this is also a working boat yard, a quite long list of maintenance and repair items will be dealt with before launch next spring. Today is being spent packing up the clothes we will be taking home, doing a lot of cleaning, and generally getting Nine Lives ready for a long winter’s nap. We expect to leave tomorrow late morning, driving to Hagerstown, PA, and then get home early evening on Tuesday.
Look for the next instalment of the Nine Lives blog some time in June 2019.