5 Days on Big Water: Norfolk VA to Cape May NJ

July 24, 2009

The trip from Norfolk VA to Cape May NJ was our first, “solo”, extended journey on big bodies of water:  4 days on the Chesapeake Bay and 1 day on Delaware Bay with a day in between going through the C&D (Chesapeake & Delaware) Canal.  And each day was quite different from every other.

Entering the Chesapeake

Entering the Chesapeake

Our first day on the Chesapeake began alittle before noon after our trip through Norfolk and Hampton Roads.  Just as we lost our Navy escort and headed out of the last channel, we heard an ocean-going freighter call to Kasekuchen, a beautiful, green-hulled, 53-ft., Selene, owned by friends Cheryl and Bob.  We had no idea they were in the area, but they were about 10 miles ahead of us.  We hailed them and the two Selenes kept tabs on one another as we moved cautiously northward.  The weather was overcast bordering on quite foggy, and it deteriorated the further into the Chesapeake we ventured.  Clearly a storm was brewing and we were going to be caught in it!  At one point, the Kasekuchen called to be certain we were OK and suggested we duck into an inlet to let the storm pass.  But as it turned out, we were further from shore than they and that put us further from the storm.  Foggy, windy and generally unpleasant, our first day on the Chesapeake gave us a great opportunity to practice foul weather procedures without really having to resort to them:  don life jackets, steer from below, track the weather and other boats with the radar, etc.  As it turned out, we had more wind and waves than rain, and without incident, we rendezvoused with Kasekuchen late in the afternoon at Dozier’s Regatta Point, a delightful marina in Deltaville, VA.

Safe in Deltaville

Safe in Deltaville

After a layover in Deltaville to be certain the storms passed without us, our second day on the Chesapeake could not have been more different than the first:  it was warm and sunny with both haze and wispy white clouds but also some wind (8-10 knots) so we contended with good sized waves most of the day.  The day ended in the Solomons, MD, but not before we had to thread our way through 3 different sailing regattas to get into the inlet where Calvert’s Marina awaited us.  We planned the stop in the Solomons to visit Washburn Boat Yard, the other Selene specialist on the east coast, to tie up loose ends remaining from Sojourner’s stay at Bennett Brothers.  As it turned out, the trip from Wilmington, NC served as an extended sea trial for the work done by BBY, and we had a multi-item list to go through with the folks at Washburn’s…

The third Chesapeake day dawned overcast with only light winds.  It threatened rain almost all day and the temperature never got above 71 degrees.  Despite less than perfect weather, it was an eventful day.  We passed the point at which the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake, and it was fun to contemplate the possibility of going to Washington, DC on our return trip this fall.  Day 3 also took us through a very large and forbidding-looking restricted area.  It actually covered one whole section of the bay and according to the paper charts, we had to be through before 1:30 in the afternoon.  Very strange markers in the water and on the charts suggested the area could be a practice run for aerial bombing, but we didn’t stay around to find out if anyone would be sharpening their skills that day!  We also passed 3 huge freighters, anchored in the bay but seemingly in position to pass under the Lane Memorial Bridge.  Later, we worked through a series of showers and rain squalls but nothing too serious.  Nonetheless, at the end of the day, we were happy to find our way into the Annapolis Landing Marina, and the weather in there was terrific:  warm and sunny.  We were delighted by a surprise visit from Andrea and Chuck Wistar of Selene Annapolis.  They had helped us secure us a spot at the marina, and they came by bearing gifts and greetings.  It was great to see them and get a chance to catch up since four of us first got together some 15 months ago when we met at Port Charles Harbor Marina in St. Charles, MO for the intial viewing of  the Selene 36 that became Sojourner.

From Annapolis northward, the bay continues to narrow and becomes more and more like a river, and by mid-afternoon on the 4th day, we were in first the Sassafras River and then, the Bohemia and Elk Rivers, heading for the C&D Canal.  The entrance to the Canal is really quite inauspicious and, despite knowing to look for the warning lights about potential barge and freighter traffic in the Canal, we almost missed the signal.  Luckily, there was no traffic and we ended the day at Summit North Marina, a little over half way through the Canal.  Friends had suggested we stop at Chesapeake City which is not quite as far into the Canal, and that would have been good advice to follow…  So, despite an iffy weather forecast the next morning, we re-entered the Canal on our way to Cape May, NJ, blissfully unaware of the adventures awaiting us during our day on Delaware Bay.

Storms & BIG ships on Delaware Bay

Storms & BIG ships on Delaware Bay

We were lucky to have practiced foul weather procedures earlier because we truly needed them on Delaware Bay:  we hit rain, wind, waves, fog, and significant large ship (and small boat) traffic all at once!  Fortunately, navigator Carolyn insisted we follow advice given by others, and the course she plotted kept us out of the major ship channel.  At one point, we emerged from a total fog bank to see 3 trawlers coming at us and a very large freighter gaining ground just behind us, but all were off to one side because they were all in the ship channel and we were not!  WHEW!!  What became a very long day of watching (and experiencing) weather develop and pass on a large body of water, ended with one of our most challenging approaches to a marina.  It was full moon time so the Cape May area and especially the channel to Cape May from Delaware Bay were experiencing extreme tides.  And of course, we hit there at low tide so we went from the Bay, into and through the channel, out the other side, around the breakwater to the marina and into our assigned slip with the depth finder reading 1.0 at best and usually 0.0!  As we pulled into the slip, the dock master kept yelling: “pull her forward some more!”  Well-l-l… Sojourner wouldn’t go any further forward:  her nose was in the mud!!!!  [More pix]


Wilmington NC to Norfolk VA

July 17, 2009

With a few loose ends from Sojourner’s stay at Bennett Brothers boat yard still needing attention, we nonetheless resumed our journey northward on Saturday, July 11th.  The trip from Wilmington NC to Norfolk, VA took us through the last stages of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the trip was in many ways similar to, and yet different from, the ICW we had experienced thus far.  NC Beach Fun  From Wilmington north, the ICW meanders quite close to the Atlantic shore so we saw more of the land side of beach resorts, e.g., Wrightsville Beach and Surf City, before stopping in Topsail at Harbor Village, a delightful il’ pocket marina just off the ICW.  The next day, we continued close to the coastline, passing through Camp LeJeune Marine Base and by Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach.  Lucky for us, the Marines were elsewhere on this day because the ICW is often closed when they engage in live fire exercises along it and on the nearby beach.  We stopped at the Morehead City Yacht Basin, on the working port side of Morehead City/Beaufort harbor.  FYI, in case you’ve ever been confused by the two Beauforts in the Carolinas, we learned from the dock master at the city marina in the SC city, the BEAU in Beaufort SC is pronounced as the BEAU in beautiful, so… BEAU tiful, SC ; whereas the BEAU in Beaufort, NC is pronounced like BOA as in BOAT, so BOATiful NC.

From Morehead City, we headed inland on the Adams Creek Canal to the Neuse River, along it to the Pamlico River and Sound near Oriental, NC and then back inland on the Pungo River to Belhaven.  We hit our first significant fog about 30minutes out from Morehead City and it lasted about 30 minutes… fog can be incredibly disorienting!!  Fog on Adams CreekSometime after passing Oriental, we moved into a “dead zone”, and for the next 24-36 hours, we were in the hinterlands of modern communication and beyond the clutches of Ma Bell.  Unfortunately, both our cell phones and internet connection are ATT so we were also totally out of communication with seemingly everyone!  In Belhaven we found one of our most favorite marinas, Belhaven Waterway, a very small boutique marina with slips for about 10 boats.  The grounds and facilities were impeccable and with every amenity, including a gorgeous sunset!  We walked into town and had a delicious dinner at the Fish Hook restaurant, and enjoyed it all without phones or internet!  Leaving Belhaven we caught the Alligator River-Pungo River Canal into the Alligator River.  The Canal was very rural, natural and green.   Cruise guides say go slowly and look for wildlife; we can report we saw 8 ducks, 1 wild turkey, and a turtle!  Actually, our attention was drawn much more closely to the floating and semi submerged debris in the water, mostly logs, of various shapes and sizes.  At one point, a sailboat just ahead of us hit a submerged log and bounced about 4 feet to one side, righted itself and went on.  We called to the skipper and she assured us she was fine!  Beautiful River Debris This day ended at the Alligator River Marina, our least favorite of the trip thus far.  In stark contrast to the ads in our cruising guide, it was at best minimalist affair with less than Spartan facilities with dock in the back of a gas station that doubled as the marina office.  Reputed to have the best diesel prices within 100miles, the marina staff wouldn’t tell the price until a boat docked at the fuel pumps so we held out for what turned out to be a better price at a much more congenial place.  Needless to say, we were happy to move on early the next morning to the Albemarle Sound!

The Albemarle Sound is one of those mythic places that many cruisers mention as very significant in their ICW experience…  Because it is so shallow and the winds and currents often move in very different directions, all the cruise books also discuss it and warn that it can provide a potentially very difficult crossing.  Crossing the Sound took on even more significance for us because the 36th Parallel runs through it, and our insurance company set that latitude as the line north of which we must be before hurricane season begins and south of which we cannot go until the threat of hurricanes passes at the end of the season.  (Needless to say, Carolyn had to negotiate a waiver for the June 1 deadline this year).  So we looked to the day of Albemarle crossing with mixed emotions:  joy at finally getting there and trepidation about how the crossing might be.  Our crossing was basically uneventful:  we had hazy skies, southwest winds from 10-15 mph, and waves at about 1 ft.  Perhaps the most startling event was hearing the following over the VHF radio:  “This is the Warship 275 hailing private vessel….; you are approaching a live fire exercise range.  You MUST alter your course to the following coordinates and maintain that course for 30 miles.  Beyond that point you may resume your original course.”  The warship was NOT talking to us, but we heard similar broadcasts off and on for the next 2-3 days…  The exit from the Albemarle Sound was abit dicey, but we made it without incident and arrived at Coinjock, what we thought was that day’s destination before noon, so we continued on the North River through wild, uninhabited wilderness… for hours, we saw no people, no buildings and only an occasional little crabbing boat…  The quietness of this scene was suddenly disrupted as we realized we were very close to making the once-an-hour opening of two bridges that lay between us and our destination for the evening.  We came close but we would not have made the first  if a sailing vessel ahead of us as we approached the bridge had not taken an inordinate amount of time to make a circle required by the bridge tender.  We talked with the vessel’s captain at Grand Bridge, VA later that evening, and he said he moved his boat slowly so we could catch up; he knew the bridge tender would not wait for us even though we had called ahead to alert him of our approach and we were clearly in view.  Bridge Open?  Throughout this trip we have consistently experienced the kindness of strangers such as this and the opposite behavior has been noticeably and delightfully rare.  The next morning we timed our departure from the Atlantic Yacht Basin in Great Bridge VA to catch the first in a set of five timed opening bridges and a lock that led us into the very populous, busy and congested Norfolk, VA. Approaching Norfolk  We entered Norfolk at about 10 am,  passed Statute Mile “O”, the northern end of the ICW at 10:27 (we made it!!!), were escorted by a naval security boat for about 15 minutes as we passed the US Navy ship yards, entered Hampton Roads around 11:30 and by noon, we were well into Chespeake Bay!

The contrast between the quiet wilderness of North Carolina (and much of the earlier ICW) and teeming activity of Norfolk and Hampton Roads with their commercial and naval traffic was absolutely striking, virtually palpable!  The pictures communicate quite effectively, we hope, what it was like to visit this steel and iron infested harbor on our way to the Chesapeake.   [More PIX of Wilmington-Norfolk ].  [PIX of Norfolk].


More on Wilmington and North Carolina

July 11, 2009

In our earlier posting on Wilmington, we didn’t say much about getting there or what we did while there other than in relation to Sojourner’s stay at Bennett Brothers Yachts, and that gives a rather distorted picture of our visit.  Our entry into North Carolina came in early morning, mad dash from the Myrtle Beach Yacht Club to the very last pontoon bridge in the country. 

Pontoon Bridge

Pontoon Bridge

The Dock Master said it would take an hour to get to the bridge (which only opens once an hour on the hour), and we were about 10 minutes late in leaving the marina.  So before 8 am, we were pushing Sojourner to run at about 9 knots, and we made the opening with seconds to spare.  The Bridge Tender was a charming, elder gentleman who said ‘Ladies, no need to rush; you will make it!”  As some bridge tenders won’t wait even if they can see you coming, this was a delightful surprise, especially so early in the morning!

Our month in Wilmington gave us time to see and experience much of the area, meet some very interesting people, hear some great jazz, and eat marvelous seafood!  Tanya’s complex had a 4th of July parade and then picnic by the pool.  Mostly for the kids, the parade gave us some “inspiring” visions of Independence Day.  At the picnic, we met many of Tanya’s friends and neighbors and had an opportunity to talk boating with several of them.  Among the most interesting was Sandra Ihly, a local artist of some renown.  A wonderfully outspoken feminist, Sandy does mixed media/assemblage sculpture.  She graciously invited us to visit her studio, and our time there turned out to be a real highlight of our stay.  As you will see in our pictures and if you explore Sandy’s work further [ Sandy’s blog; Sandy’s Gallery], she takes common everyday items like ironing boards, piano parts, mannequins, etc. and assembles them into clear, feminist statements about the world and women’s role and place in it.  Though very difficult to choose among the many pieces we saw, one of our favorites has to be “Esther Williams does laundry”, perhaps because it combines a striking message with a dash of humor.  Another, very powerful piece is “Fortitude.”  Originally entitled “Dignity”, Sandy renamed this piece after hearing Michelle Obama talk about the role of fortitude in her life.  Sandy’s studio is in a large building shared by several artists [Acme Art Studios], and while there, we also met Michelle Connolly, an British artist visiting the USA for a couple years.  Though very different from Sandy’s, her work too is fascinating and thought-provoking.

Loading cargo

Loading cargo

Leaving Bennett Brothers and returning to the ICW heading north required a 7-mile journey back down the Cape Fear River to the Cape Fear inlet to the Atlantic.  In the process, we passed the Port of Wilmington, a large, very busy commercial port considered to be hurricane safe because it is so far from the coast. 

The river trip also took us right by downtown Wilmington and we got to see waterfront restaurants where we had dined with Tanya, a farmers’ market and a naval battleship,  among other city scenes.  Once back on the ICW, we passed through the nature preserve across from Tanya’s complex and saw from the water the same navigational marker (red 140) that we had seen from her living room every day for a month.  The peace and quiet of that area was quickly replaced, however, with a cacophony of boat and ski doo engines
The weekend boating crowd

The weekend boating crowd

as we then threaded our way through heavy water traffic in Wrightsville Beach and Surf City on a sunny summer Saturday.   [More pix of North Carolina and Wilmington]