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.