The Way Less Traveled

An hour before sunrise, we pulled away from the Elizabeth City Free Dock to make our way down the Pasquotank River toward the Albemarle Sound. Our stay in Elizabeth City was brief, but pleasant. The first night we were able to get caught up on sleep, not waking until eleven hours had passed. Tuesday, we walked 1.3 miles to McDonald’s for lunch and wifi, visited the mall across the street, and took a taxi to the Walmart 4 miles out of town. After Cindy restocked her yarn supplies and we had dinner (yes, at McDonald’s again), we called a taxi. While we were waiting, the sweetest little lady named Margaret Pace refused to let us wait for the taxi and insisted she give us a ride back to the waterfront. This did nothing but strengthen our impression of Elizabeth City as one of the nicest places on earth. I called the taxi to see if the taxi was close to our location yet, as I hated to cancel if he was already near. The taxi owner basically said it doesn’t matter how close he is and that if I had an offer of a free ride, I should take it! Nice! Sadly, we were derelict in our duty of photo-taking while in Elizabeth City. Uncharacteristically, I’m not sure if we took any photos. I think we were just happy to have a place to recover from our trip through Hampton Roads. Plus, we had been here back in late June.

Leaving Elizabeth City before dawn.  (It's quite difficult to take a night-time photograph from a moving vessel).

Leaving Elizabeth City before dawn. (It’s quite difficult to take a night-time photograph from a moving vessel).

The sun's coming up!

The sun’s coming up!

The blimp hangar just south of Elizabeth City (basically all other blimps, other than Goodyear, are manufactured here.)

The blimp hangar just south of Elizabeth City (basically all other blimps, other than Goodyear, are manufactured here.)

Sunrise on the Pasquotank

Sunrise on the Pasquotank

At this juncture of our trip southward, we had a big decision to make. The vertical clearance beneath many of the bridges in the Carolinas are reduced at this time due to the high waters from the recent deluges. If we continued down the ICW from Elizabeth City, it would necessitate going beneath the 64’ Wilkinson Bridge that we barely squeaked under on our way north. Many of the bridge clearances in South Carolina are reported to be greatly reduced, to even 61-63’. Our 64.5’ mast would not like this. So, despite some anxiety of going off the beaten path, we decided to head across the Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks, rounding the eastern side of Roanoke Island (with one 65’ bridge), and head down the Pamlico Sound. These two bodies of water are noted to be quite rough in bad weather, but the forecast for the next two days was for calm. We would go for it.

Notice the wind speed in the lower right hand corner.  This was characteristic of our entire day.  (Also, notice that a wind speed of 0.0 does not equal a Beaufort scale of 3!)

Notice the wind speed in the lower right hand corner. This was characteristic of our entire day. (Also, notice that a wind speed of 0.0 does not equal a Beaufort scale of 3!)

The next decision would be whether or not we would sail all the way across the sound from east to west and rejoin the ICW down to Beaufort, NC or would we exit the Okracoke Inlet in the Outer Banks. The ICW route would require passing beneath a couple of more bridges. The Okracoke Inlet route would require navigation through a narrow, winding channel with frequently shifting sandbars. What to do?!

Cindy crocheting while underway

Cindy crocheting while underway

The day on Wednesday, October 14, was gorgeous. Bright sunshine, warm temperatures in the 70’s and almost no wind. It looked as if a thousand diamonds were scattered along the water as the sun’s rays reflected on it’s surface. The seas were flat as we motored along at over 7 knots. As we rounded the north end of Roanoke Island, I could see many familiar sights from our visit to the outer banks with family back in July. The Wright Bro’s Memorial was visible from our vessel, as were the sand dunes of Kill Devils Hill on which I took my hang gliding lessons. I enjoyed seeing this area that I had already enjoyed from the land, from the water. We motored through a narrow channel down the east side of Roanoke Island, famed for the location of the ill-fated “lost colony” of Sir. Walter Raleigh, established in the 1580s. Passing through the one bridge required on this roundabout route made me thankful we had not taken the ICW route. The 65’ bridge was more like 64’ and a few inches, and we barely squeaked under with a handsbreadth to spare.

A small island as we approach the outer banks.

A small island as we approach the outer banks.

Northwestern corner of Roanoke Island

Northwestern corner of Roanoke Island

The dunes of the outer banks on which I took hang-gliding lessons, and on which the Wright's invented the airplane.

The dunes of the outer banks on which I took hang-gliding lessons, and on which the Wright’s invented the airplane.

Nice homes on Roanoke

Nice homes on Roanoke

Our constant worry on the ICW.  Our mast height - 64.5'.  The vertical clearance  - 64'.  What to do on this single bridge we would face today.  We slowed to a snail's pace and barely made it underneath.  Whew!

Our constant worry on the ICW. Our mast height – 64.5′. The vertical clearance – 64′. What to do on this single bridge we would face today. We slowed to a snail’s pace and barely made it underneath. Whew!

The bridge connecting the outer banks to Roanoke Island, under which we barely made it.

The bridge connecting the outer banks to Roanoke Island, under which we barely made it.

After rounding the southern end of Roanoke we were joined for the first time in months by several dolphins frolicking in the water. Aaah! It was good to be back in warmer waters… speaking of which, the water temperature increased from the upper 60s in the Chesapeake to about 75° where we anchored for the night. Nice! We pulled into the Long Shoal River anchorage on the north side of Pamlico sound and dropped anchor in about 9 ft. of water around 4:30. It was a large, open anchorage in which we were the only boat. I don’t think this area is often frequented by other cruisers, who tend to stay on the well-worn path of the ICW. By evening, although large, the anchorage had calmed and we enjoyed a good night’s rest all by ourselves.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outerbanks.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outerbanks.

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A group of geese resting on their way southward.

A group of geese resting on their way southward.

The calm water of the Pamlico Sound.

The calm water of the Pamlico Sound.

Repairing our bow navigation lights.

Repairing our bow navigation lights.

Sunset at the Long Shoal River anchorage.

Sunset at the Long Shoal River anchorage.

A big anchorage with one lonely boat.

A big anchorage with one lonely boat.

Annapolis to Elizabeth City: A Two-day Journey

As I topped off the water tanks on Sunday morning, I could see my breath. That’s as sure a sign as any that we were in the wrong place. With long johns underneath a top layer, topped off by a jacket, we pulled from E-dock at 8:30 for what we expected to be 34 hours or so of straight sailing. If calm is what you like, you could not pick a better weather window than this for a two day journey southward. Winds remained less than 5 knots all day, and the best the Chesapeake Bay could muster was a light chop. This means we motored, rather than sailed, but we generally don’t mind when we get conditions as benign as this.

Bundled up at the helm

Bundled up at the helm

Thomas Point Shoal Light on the Chesapeake

Thomas Point Shoal Light on the Chesapeake

During the first part of the day, there was a lot of traffic, consisting mainly of fishing boats and day-sailers. This diminished as we moved further south and as the day wore on. By sunset, we had passed the southern bank of the mouth of the Potomac River and remained on a heading of nearly 180° (due south) for the rest of the night. During the afternoon, the bright autumnal sun had warmed things up a bit, such that I could strip down to shorts and a t-shirt for a couple of hours. But as soon as the sun approached the western horizon, the temperatures plunged and back on came all the layers which had been discarded hours earlier. With not a cloud in the sky, we watched the great orange ball of fire known as our Sun slowly slink beneath the curvature of the earth. The high during the day was around 65, but the low during the night would be in the low 50s. Fortunately, the wind and the seas are expected to continue to play nicely with us.

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Enjoying a beautiful day on the Chesapeake

Enjoying a beautiful day on the Chesapeake

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We pass much of our leisure time playing "golf" in the cockpit.

We pass much of our leisure time playing “golf” in the cockpit.

Practicing using our new "boat hook," called the "Hook & Moor" which feeds line through  a mooring.  This should make it easier to pick up moorings and dock without assistance with the lines from others.

Practicing using our new “boat hook,” called the “Hook & Moor” which feeds line through a mooring. This should make it easier to pick up moorings and dock without assistance with the lines from others.

Sunset on the Chesapeake

Sunset on the Chesapeake

The night watch was to be divided up in our usual fashion, with Cindy taking 8-11, me taking 11-2, Cindy taking 2-5, and me back in the helm from 5-8. Unfortunately, the schedule turned out to be nothing like this. I had failed to take into account the expanse of Hampton Roads harbor. It takes hours to transit from the base of the Chesapeake through downtown Norfolk/Portsmouth. Cindy stood watch from 8:00-10:30 (I couldn’t sleep at all and therefore shortened Cindy’s watch), and then I stood watch from 10:30-Midnight. I then woke Cindy up to do watch again since I had a feeling I would be awake for much of the time once we reached the Hampton Roads area. I was right. I would not sleep again from that time. The harbor is one of the busiest in the country (second to New York, I think). Between the lights, which were everywhere, and the ubiquitous shipping traffic, I was required to stay at the helm with Cindy to assist. She did really well, considering the challenge with which entering such a busy harbor at night presented us. Our new autopilot was acting up as well, which added to the stress.

The last of the big ships as we leave the Norfolk area.

The last of the big ships as we leave the Norfolk area.

Just as the sun was rising, we had passed under the Gilmarten Bridge and entered into the Dismal Swamp Canal. Since we were slightly early for the Deep Creek Lock opening at 8:30, we tied Beatitude to the dock of Chesapeake Yachts for about 45 minutes. The preceding eight hours had been demanding and arduous, but that’s a part of this lifestyle. Our good friend and mentor, Captain Roy, said recently that we are not on a vacation, but an adventure. It really is true. Cruising is not all tropical beaches, swimming in beautiful clear waters, reveling in spectacular sunsets, and sipping cocktails in the cockpit. A good portion of what we do is very challenging, which only multiplies the reward and sense of fulfillment that we feel as we travel. To think that we’ve taken Beatitude from the Tampa Bay area to the Exumas, all the way up to Nantucket — and now heading south again — is a joy to us both. It makes the sunsets and beaches all the more enjoyable.

The Gilmerton Bridge at Dawn

The Gilmerton Bridge at Dawn

Beautiful sunset on the Elizabeth River south of Norfolk

Beautiful sunset on the Elizabeth River south of Norfolk

Our boat tied up momentarily at Chesapeake Yachts.  The rising sun casts a red glow on our stern.  (The "Hook and Moor" came in handy here.)

Our boat tied up momentarily at Chesapeake Yachts. The rising sun casts a red glow on our stern. (The “Hook and Moor” came in handy here.)

Cindy removing the fenders after our morning respite at the dock.

Cindy removing the fenders after our morning respite at the dock.

Once we had slipped through the northern lock on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, we began our roughly 20-mile journey down the narrow, shallow, man-made body of water once known as Washington’s Ditch (as I mentioned a little over three months ago when we passed through going northward, George Washington once owned much of the Great Dismal Swamp). The water was completely calm and the scenery was drop-dead gorgeous — anything but dismal!). Wow! Although quite cool for most of the day, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We didn’t see much wildlife in the canal itself, but once we proceeded through the southern lock and made our way down the Pasquotank river, we saw a variety of animals. A water moccasin zig-zagged his way through the water and out of our wake. Scores of turtles sunned themselves on rocks and logs, taking awkward plunges into the river as we passed by. A graceful blue heron and a magnificent bald eagle flew along the river as we approached. I unfortunately took out a couple of tree limbs which overhung the canal, sending some kind of explosive fruit crashing onto Beatitude’s deck, staining it with different shades of purple.

Breath-taking reflections along the Canal.

Breath-taking reflections along the Canal.

Morning selfie at the lock.

Morning selfie at the lock.

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Blue Heron.

Blue Heron.

Entering the Deep Creek Lock

Entering the Deep Creek Lock

Making our way southward through the canal.

Making our way southward through the canal.

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Water Moccasin getting out of our way.

Water Moccasin getting out of our way.

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Back to the Tea-colored water of the Dismal Swamp

Back to the Tea-colored water of the Dismal Swamp

Blue Heron in flight along the canal.

Blue Heron in flight along the canal.

Tree trimming

Tree trimming

These little fruits (nuts?) fell on our deck, splattering their purple juice everywhere.

These little fruits (nuts?) fell on our deck, splattering their purple juice everywhere.

Bald Eagle along the shore.

Bald Eagle along the shore.

Touch of Red

Touch of Red

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Cindy at the helm down the Dismal Swamp Canal

Cindy at the helm down the Dismal Swamp Canal

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At 4:30, we made our way beneath the Elizabeth City drawbridge, and by 5:00, we were tied up to the Elizabeth City Free Dock which abuts a pretty city park. It’s not quite as nice as the free town dock at Mariner’s Wharf at which we tied up before but, hey… it’s free! Since the winds did not look favorable today, we’re spending a day recovering and relaxing in Elizabeth City before continuing our journey to the islands. Over the last two days, we covered what took us five days to cover on our way northward. 191 miles down, and a few more hundred to go!

Rainbow astern as we approach Elizabeth City

Rainbow astern as we approach Elizabeth City

If you’re interested in more pictures of the canal or our account of our journey northward through the canal, they can be found here and here.

The Islands are Calling

At 8:30 this morning, we pulled out of our slip at Port Annapolis Marina searching for warmer weather and clearer water. It’ll be a little while before we find those, but the trek southward has begun.

We arrived back in Annapolis from my work excursion in Maine on Wednesday.

On the seashore of southern Maine, near Old Orchard Beach

On the seashore of southern Maine, near Old Orchard Beach

Brrrr!

Brrrr!

A little jazz at Blue in Portland

A little jazz at Blue in Portland

Thursday was a mixed day of recuperation from our time in Maine and preparation for our journeys onward.

Thursday morning Rainbow.

Thursday morning Rainbow.

The Mystic Whaler, a 106' Schooner which was one dock over from Beatitude when we returned to Annapolis.

The Mystic Whaler, a 106′ Schooner which was one dock over from Beatitude when we returned to Annapolis.

Replacing the wifi booster/extender we destroyed on our rough passage from Newport to Martha's Vineyard.  All is well once again with the wifi world.

Replacing the wifi booster/extender we destroyed on our rough passage from Newport to Martha’s Vineyard. All is well once again with the wifi world.

Friday and Saturday was spent at the largest and oldest in-water sailboat show in the world, the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis. It’s always a pleasure to step aboard the huge number of sailboats and see the latest and greatest in sailboats. There is also tent after tent filled with vendors selling their marine and boat-related wares. We made a few small purchases, like dock-lines and boat-hooks, and one large purchase, a life-raft. We’ve had a coastal 6-person life raft since we’ve bought the boat, but it has not been serviced in a long while and is really not adequate for the kind of passage-making we’re anticipating. So, we bought a new 6-person Offshore life-raft that we hope we never have to use. It’s a huge expense into which I hated to put the money, but having adequate safety equipment is the right thing to do. Besides spending money, Cindy and I also enjoyed sitting in on free seminars given by some of the most well-known and experienced cruisers.

Cindy sitting on the bow of this cool Neel Trimaran.

Cindy sitting on the bow of this cool Neel Trimaran.

A very cool piece of equipment that we hope we wasted money on.

A very cool piece of equipment that we hope we wasted money on.

The famous Don Street sharing his thoughts on great places to go in the Eastern Caribbean.

The famous Don Street sharing his thoughts on great places to go in the Eastern Caribbean.

The famous Lin Pardey, sitting on the left, imparting her wisdom on sailing in the South Pacific

The famous Lin Pardey, sitting on the left, imparting her wisdom on sailing in the South Pacific

So, it has been a busy three days back in Annapolis prior to today. We are both excited to be moving southward again. It is already way too cold for my tropical blood in the north. Our plan is to sail all day today and overnight tonight, not stopping until tomorrow night somewhere along the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina. If all goes well, that’s what will happen. The weather looks perfect for the next 36 hours (although the winds will be light, entailing motoring for much of the time). At some point within the next two weeks, we hope to sail into Charleston, where we will once again visit with our friends, the Argabrights, for a few days and then leave the boat for a week while I work for a few days. Upon returning from my week of work, we hope to make a bee-line for Miami, which will be our jumping off point to the Bahamas. Barring any large, unforeseen complications, we hope to be back in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas within six weeks. Wish us well!

Selfie at one of the seminars at the Sailboat Show.

Selfie at one of the seminars at the Sailboat Show.

Selfie at the Federal House, where I watched my Georgia Bulldogs play poorly and lose for the second week in a row.

Selfie at the Federal House, where I watched my Georgia Bulldogs play poorly and lose for the second week in a row.