Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Still in Deltaville

We are still in Deltaville, VA. As nice as this place is we are ready to leave: however, things just keep breaking and needing repair. After the bottom job and the new sea cocks were done, the fresh water pump broke down and I managed to finish off the shifter which has been a problem for years. Hopefully both of those will be fixed by tomorrow. Then we plan to push on with exploring the Chesapeake.

Deltaville is very rural and to make my point I am adding a picture of a family of wild turkeys that Jan and I saw only a quarter of a mile from the boatyard. The weather has been fantastic--clear and mild.

On a note of 'blast from the past' we met an old acquaintance from Corpus Christi in the boater's lounge at the Deltaville Marina--Molly Childs. Old timers will remember her as racing hard with Nick Welch on his Ranger 20 years ago. They were arch rivals when I was racing the "Puff", my Ranger 28. She is cruising with her new husband Jim.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Deltaville, VA--at last

"Life is a journey, not a destination," says the sage. Well, the sage had not spent the last 10 weeks traveling 1000+ miles at walking speed in a leaky boat with a foul bottom and a balky transmission. We needed to get to Deltaville.

Friday morning dawned beautiful in Sarah Creek. I was determined to catch the ebb at 8 am. We whisked down the York and out in the Chesapeake. The wind had clocked to the SE so White Pepper could sail to the Piankatank River 20 n. mi. to the north. The Piankatank is a small river south of the Rappahannock River. Deltaville is on the small peninsula between the two rivers.

We made Jackson's Creek off the Piankatank about 3 pm. It was not long before White Pepper was tied up at the Deltaville Marina.

The first thing to understand about Deltaville is that it is very rural. The permanent population is about 800. There is no downtown. There is one motel, one restaurant, and no grocery store. The second thing is that Deltaville is all about boats. Many years ago Deltaville was an important boat building center. That industry is long gone, but the town has somehow retained its skills in the marine trades. There are 29 marinas and 6 full service yards. There are hundreds of yachts --most are in storage. There are TWO West Marine Stores. The manager of one, Sam, told me that the two stores were number one and two in production for the East Coast and he was planning to expand.

We met with the service writer at the Deltaville Boat Yard--India. After making some arrangements for the bottom job and the seacocks, we packed up and drove to Manassas, VA for a visit with the kids.

Sarah's Creek on the York River

White Pepper left Portsmith with her intrepid crew of Jan, Karl, and Cindy Elliot on Thursday. We left late and struggled against a flood tide. Hours passed as we crawled past miles of warships lined up along the Elizabeth River. Finally, at the mouth of the river we passed two magnificent Forrestal class air craft carriers. We did not take pictures as I did not want a Coast Guard boarding.

Eventually, we entered Hampton Roads. For being so famous Hampton Roads is small--maybe 3 mi. by 5 miles. I once lived on the banks of Hampton Roads as a sixth grader. It looked so enormous then. Once past Fort Monroe, where my father was once stationed, we were out in the Chesapeake Bay at last.

Even in the wide open Chesapeake we were confined to fairways. Wide swatches of the bay are assigned to fishermen who can leave nets in the water. We did not see any impediments but stayed in our lane regardless. The wind stayed light from the NE and on the nose. So we had to motor all day. To compound the delay the current changed and now we were fighting an ebb tide.

A change of plans was required. White Pepper turned up into the York River. Five miles upstream and across the river from York Town (Cornwallis, Washington, etc.) we turned into Sarah's Creek. It was the perfect Bay anchorage--tranquil, placid, and picturesque--just as the sun set. We barbecued chicken and spent a peaceful evening.

Norfolk, VA

The Elizabeth River is a short but heavily industrialized and militarized corridor with a long and eventful history. Portsmith is the older city on the eastern bank. Norfolk is the younger but more successful city on the western bank. This Sunday afternoon was White Pepper's first encounter with large opening bridges. With Jan following "Cruiser Bob's" succinct guide and myself on VHF channel 13 we managed fine. Later that afternoon we docked at Tidewater Marine in the shadow of the famous Portsmith Naval Hospital.

New crew member, Cindy Elliott, Jan's sister, was due to join us Wednesday. On Monday we took the ferry ($1 exact change) to Norfolk and spent time exploring Granby Street, the Naval museum (Nauticus) and the US Wisconsin. The Wisconsin is one of the 4 Iowa class battleships. It is long, low and lean. It is the final expression of battleship architecture--much like Chartes is the ultimate expression of the cathedral.It is docked permanently in Norfolk and serves the community much as the US Lexington does Corpus Christi.

Tuesday we checked out historical Portsmith and it's revitalized shopping district.

On Wednesday Cindy flew in early. We had enough time to go over to Norfolk and visit the Chrysler Art Museum. The Chrysler is a jewel. It is rated as one of the top 20 art museums in the country, but it is still a shock to find such an amazing institution in residential Norfolk. To get there we took the city bus which is free. Mr. Chrysler spent seven decades and a good chunk of his family fortune collecting art. He endowed it all to his museum. I have no idea why he choose Norfolk. Wednesday afternoon was free admission. After three hours seeing one amazing display after another the three of us relaxed with a glass of wine and jazz combo in the lobby of the museum. It was quite an afternoon.

The Dismal Swamp

First about the name--dismal. We found two explanations. All of 15th century colonist called any swamp dismal. The great expanse of wooded wetlands on the Virgina/North Carolina border was just the most dismal of all. That bit of information was courtesy of a pamphlet distributed by the NC Dept. of Highways. At the park headquarters we learned that William Byrd II, who surveyed the Virginia/NC border in 1728, called the area 'most dismal' and the name stuck. The swamp was the home of many run away slaves. Many of these came up the Pasquotank from Elizabeth City which held more abolitionists views than the typical Southern city.

The area has changed much since then. Every single tree has been logged or burned. Roads and canals have changed the water flow. The area is making a slow recovery under the care of the National Park Service. The Corp of Engineers administers the set of two locks.

White Pepper's trip through the canal was uneventful. We did not see much wildlife. The greenery was quite thick and right down to the waterline. It was much like driving through a long, straight and green corridor. The canal is too long to traverse in one day considering the locks only open four times per day and the last opening is at 3:30 pm. We stayed over night at the park head quarters with new friends and fellow Texans Bobbie and Jennie from Wandering Star.

The locks were fascinating. They raised and then lowered White Pepper eight feet. We were the only boat each time in the lock. After the northern lock we were in the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. Eventually, I do not see how the Dismal Swamp Canal can stay open. Few cruisers use the canal except during the great migration in October. Power boater avoid it because of floating logs. Bigger yachts can not use it because of depth concerns. White Pepper and Wandering Star were the only two yachts in the canal for the two days we were there. It's hard to see how the Corp of Engineers can justify the expense of the locks and dredging for so little traffic.

Elizabeth City, NC

At the mouth of the Alligator River lies Albemarle Sound. From this spot the northern bound cruiser has a choice. To the NE there is the Chuittuck Sound and the Chesapeake-Albemarle canal. This is the Virginia Cut route. It is shorter, quicker, deeper than the alternative--the Dismal Swamp route. To the N of Alligator River 20 ni. mi. across Albemarle Sound is the mouth of the Pasquotank River and the way to the Dismal Swamp.

The wind had freed enough that White Pepper was able to raise her main. This was the first time the main sail had been up in weeks. It helped calm the boat as she handled the chop. The day was beautiful with a pleasant dying clocking breeze. No day sail on Corpus Christi bay was ever nicer.

Upon entering the Pasquotank White Pepper encountered hundreds upon hundreds of crab traps strung out in lines of 6 to 12. Several hours of gingerly picking our way through this maze used up much of the afternoon. Along the Pasquotank is a gargantuan dirigible facility and the largest Coast Guard air station. Finally, Elizabeth City came into view about 12 miles up the river.

Elizabeth City offers 48 hours of free dockage at the city park. This is quite generous but requires interacting with all of the many (friendly) passersby. Elizabeth City is a great place to visit. At 17,000 population it is the largest city in NE North Carolina. The city has done a great deal of work on the waterfront and city infrastructure. They have just opened a marvelous new museum. Something seems to go on every weekend at the park.

Jan and I walked through the historical district. We were intrigued enough to do it again in a guided tour with Bonnie. Bonnie recently moved from Portsmith, VA and has restarted her business of historical guiding. We finished up with high tea at her home which is the oldest brick home in Elizabeth City. She is restoring it to its prior beauty. Later we stopped at local seafood restaurant and market. We took revenge on some of the local crabs for making our trip up the river so tedious. The food was great and cheap.

Saturday when our free 48 hours were up White Pepper headed up the now narrow and winding Pasquotank for the Dismal Swamp Canal. Jan and I believe that visiting Elizabeth City is the best reason to use the Dismal Swamp route.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Up the Pungo (and down the Alligator)

From Oriental, NC. White Pepper set off just after the morning fog burned off at 9 am. A long winding journey was in store for the day. First we sailed down the Neuse river to the Pimlico Sound, then along the edge of the sound to turn up the short stretch of the Bay River. After that there was a 5 n. mile trip thru a canal and past Holbucken. There is a Coast Guard Station at Holbucken. It might be the only Coast Guard station set in a pasture. Finally we entered Goose Creek and then turned into the Pimlico River. It was about 4 n. mi. across the Pimlico River into a short choppy sea. It was late afternoon and the sea breeze had firmly set in. Bath, NC was 30 miles up the river--well out of our way.

The next leg was the most interesting as White Pepper turned into the Pungo River. The Pungo is wide, deep and short. Ten miles up the river is Belhaven NC--a small, sleepy, post commercial village. We could have easily anchored in the river itself, but decided to stay at the Dowry Creek Marina. Dowry Creek Marina is a sleepy but well run operation that caters to the transient trade. Mary, the owner, will quickly tell you that she is living her late husband's dream and would not have it any other way. Mary let us and new friends, Richard and Kathy, take the marina's truck into Belhaven. We checked out the library downtown. Nothing else was open so we drove out to the highway for groceries and fast food Chinese.

After two days at Dowry Creek and after one last long shower, Jan and I shoved off for the Alligator River. First we had to go under Albert B. Jones bridge. All bridges on the ICW are supposed to have 65 feet of clearance. This bridge has only 64 feet of clearance on good days. The chart and cruising guides warn of as much as two feet less clearance "sometimes." There is no celestial tide here so this mysterious missing two feet is probably due to wind driven tides. Sixty two feet is just about where White Pepper's masthead is. We passed under bridge very slowly and breathed a hugh sigh of relief as we entered the 25 n. mile long Pungo-Alligator canal. The wind was right on the nose all day slowing us down to 4 knots. By the time White Pepper finally got to the Alligator River is was late and we anchored at the first possible spot.

The Alligator River is one of the most remote and desolate spots that I have ever been. It is in the middle of absolutely nowhere surrounded by second and third growth scrub and swamp. There are not even any alligators there. The only sign of civilization were two F14 fighter jets that kept circling overhead. Later we learned that the Navy maintains a bombing run nearby.

The next day despite an early start the wind stayed right on the nose funneling down the river. With a steep chop added to the 15 knot head wind progress was very slow. Finally at 2 pm we ducked into the Alligator River Marina to wait for a change in the weather and wind.

Oriental, NC

Oriental, NC is well known is the sailing world. Imagine my surprise when I learned that only 875 people live in Oriental. The nearest large town is New Bern 35 miles further up the Neuse River. Oriental is small and can walked in an hour. Many old cruisers who have "swallowed the hook" and settled down live here. The setting for sailing is idyllic. The Nuese river is deep and wide. The seas are protected and the wind gentle. It seems the ideal location to learn to sail. Indeed several well known summer camps operate nearby and teach sailing to youth. Eventually, I believe that Jan and I would tire of such bland sailing.

The dingy motor died in Oriental and would not come back to life. It was the carburetor as usual and required professional service. As we were entering very rural North Carolina this would not be available for quite a while.