17 Portsmouth, VA to Beaufort, NC


We thought we’d seen all the ships as we motored into Portsmouth. As we headed for the ICW we discovered even more. Most looked inactive, but the size of the fleet is overwhelming. Mixed in were active terminals handling container ships. You feel dwarfed by the huge cranes picking sea containers off the deck like they were a child’s toy.

The bridge tenders (there are many bridges that have to be opened) are a delight. Heavy southern accents and very vocal. We chuckle at the “Git that sailboat up close and I’ll open”, or “Bring em on down.” We got a kick out of the one tender handing off to the next tender saying: “you’ve got a gaggle of boats coming at ya.”

The Chesapeake charts are put away and the ICW charts that carry us to Florida are out. It makes for different navigation. On the Chesapeake we were continually switching from small-scale overview charts to the large-scale charts showing the area in more detail. We continually entered waypoints into the GPS to assist in finding our way. On the ICW we’re back to navigation like we did on the Erie Canal. You move your finger down the page and track your position by landmarks. The GPS isn’t even turned on and the cover is on the compass. We’ll switch back when we cross some of the major open areas.

We were disappointed to learn that the ICW route through the Dismal Swamp was closed due to low water. The alternative route is the Virginia Cut, it has commercial traffic and heavier traffic since there isn’t an alternative. We went through the one lock on the route with 8 other boats plus a tug pushing two barges. We even had a sailboat raft off of us to fit everyone in the lock.

Shortly after we started, the leaden sky began to drip. We were comfortable in the enclosed cockpit, but rain on the outside coupled with condensation on the inside made for poor visibility. We found a wide spot in the canal and stopped early at Pungo Ferry. A bow and stern anchor hold us in position so we won’t swing out into the channel. We’re enjoying the passing show of boats and Ruth is baking bread. Nice was to spend a rainy afternoon.

Paid the penalty for not having done a proper stern anchor set the prior afternoon. Just before dawn there was a major wind shift and speed increase. The stern anchor became the holding anchor. Unfortunately I hadn’t backed down, dropped the anchor and then pulled forward so it was out behind us. I’d just dropped it over the stern and let out some rode. The rode had gotten under the rudder and with the wind force, there was no way to work it free from the deck. Came up with 3 alternatives, the easiest of which was to go in the water with a second line on the opposite side, dive and loop it under the rode. That’s what I did. Then I got back on deck. Ruth slacked off the rode and I pulled it up on the proper side and moved it to the bow for a proper set. Got done just after first light. Made for an exhilarating morning and a lesson learned.

Encountered our first gas station, connivance store, restaurant, and marina on a lonely stretch of the Alligator River. Nice marina, lousy food. We did meet up with our friend Don Jacobs on Liefde again. Had dinner together, then watched his Lake Superior videos. The world got even smaller when we discovered that he’d met up with Ken Corbin, the professor who along with his wife Pat, we’d become friends with in Grand Marais and Munising when we were cruising Lake Superior.

The weather broke and we had a beautiful sunny crisp fall day. Looked like fall was catching up with us as we motored down through one of the cuts on the ICW. Saw hints of yellow, orange and red in the trees. Just enough to tease, but not much to exclaim over. We seem to stay just on the fringe of the colors as we move south to avoid the cold.

Sounded like everyone who was on the move pulled into marinas in Belhaven, NC. VHF radio traffic was heavy as we neared the town. Everyone was arranging overnight dockage.

We opted to try anchoring in Slade Creek. The cruising guide said: “this harbor is difficult to enter due to shoaling on both sides of the entrance.” The chart indicated no buoys and the shoaling starting out a half mile from shore making navigating difficult. I entered GPS waypoints based on the chart. We headed in, backed off, adjusted and then encountered the highest density of crab trap floats we’ve seen so far. We picked our way through the floats and found a completely wilderness area to drop anchor. The feeling of achievement is hard to describe. You are at some risk. You go slowly and carefully to make sure that you can back off. You have to be very dynamic in evaluating the situation and flexible to communicate, coordinate and agree on decisions. Having done it is a mutual feeling of joy and satisfaction. The sunset accompanying our grilled hot dogs was the final touch to a prefect day. The stars are out, the night is cool and we are enjoying another great, calm anchorage.

We motored on to Oriental, NC. The town has always intrigued us. It’s listed as the sailing capitol of the US, or North Carolina depending on whom is advertising. We pulled into a marina outside of town. Used the courtesy car to get supplies and then did a leisurely tour of town on our bikes. Definitely a non-tourist town with much appeal. Tall pine woods with houses snuggled among the pines. Ruth found a nice waterfront lot. A call to a realtor and we found we could have a lot for $119,000. Then if we built a dock, had water and power put in, we could have our own private base dock for exploring the ICW. We’ll put that plan on hold for awhile.

Coming down the Adams Creek canal we again encountered dolphins. This time there were dozens of them. They were heading upstream as we headed down. What a sight to see them surface for air and slip back underwater. Pelicans are now common. We enjoy seeing them cruise by.

We headed for Beaufort, NC. A moment’s inattention as we were heading into the cut put us hard aground. This time, after a half hours work, it was apparent there was no way we were going to free ourselves without major work, or waiting for higher tide which would take at least 4 hours. We called Boat US, who we had just recently increased our towing insurance coverage. The towboat was there within 10 minutes, and easily pulled us off. We chalked up another lesson learned.

Our last fun project for the day was trying to get into the dock where we thought we had made a reservation. As we tried to pull in it was apparent that we and the marina did not agree on space available. We didn’t think we’d fit. The marina thought we were nuts. We requested help, and as the help arrived they finally understood that there was a boat they didn’t know about taking up most of the face dock space they had assigned to us. Once that was sorted out, and the boat that was trying to get in without paying left, we had an easy dockage.

To our great delight, Samum the boat we had been looking for since Annapolis, heard our VHF conservation with the marina and called us. We met up with them in town and had a great reunion.


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