Dismal Swamp Welcome Center, NC to Nauticus Marina, Norfollk, VA — May 5, 2013

We took our time this morning getting ready to depart because there are only 4 lock openings each day at each lock and we decide to make the 1:30 opening.  We would then get fuel at a marina called Top Rack and then on to Norfolk.

The Dismal Swamp is really interesting with the water depth maintained at approximately 6′.  The Corp of Engineers comes thru once each year and trims the branches and moves debris to the shore to keep it open. The Swamp is fresh water from draining the adjacent countryside so in times of dry weather they may close to Dismal Swamp to boat traffic because they cannot maintain a water level.   As we traveled there were some really tight areas and I am glad we did not pass any other boats headed southbound.

We joined back with the Virginia Cut waterway about 2 miles after we exited the Dismal Swamp North Lock. We turned right to go about 1 mile to Top Rack Marina as all 3 boats were going to fuel.  After Champ III was tied up Fandango came into the dock and then Adagio. Adagio is a Ranger Tug that is about 27′, just large enough for Sanford and Tundra.  As Adagio was getting close to the dock and we had a line, Tundra was anxious to exit the boat and tried to jump the gap and did not make it.  We had him swim to the main dock where we tried to hoist him up but his 125 lbs. plus probably 20 lbs. of water in the fur made it difficult but finally he was on the dock.  Not a real good arrival in Norfolk.

The trip from Top Rack Marina into downtown Norfolk is pretty interesting in that there are Navy ships all over the place being worked on.  Many of the ship areas are covered in tarps so they can work out of the wind and weather.  Most of the Naval activity is on the Norfolk side but there is some on the Portsmouth side.  There are lots of security boats patrolling the river with their blue lights flashing to make you aware they are there.

We originally planned on staying in Portsmouth, VA. right across the river from Norfolk but wanted to enjoy some time with Kate and Don on Fandango and Sanford (with Tundra) on Adagio.  Don wanted to stay in Norfolk and found us slips at the Nauticus Marina.  It is a little 15 slip marina next to the Navel Museum.  It was originally intended for day boaters to come in to see the museum exhibits.  Now 1/3 of the slips are used by the City of Norfolk Fire Boats, etc.  It turned out to be a busy place during the late morning and early afternoon but pretty quite all the other time.

I went to the Naval Museum the next day and they have the 2nd floor devoted to the Norfolk Area development and general commercial maritime activities.  The 3rd floor is pretty much devoted to the US Navy through the years with special attention to the Battleship Wisconsin because the ship is in the water on the North side of the Museum.  You can tour the ship if you want.  The exhibits are fascinating and we spent a couple of hours touring the Museum.

The museum attracts a lot of school kids and they had a teenage marching band at the museum and they were up on the skywalk.  They played for a couple of hours and were quite good.

The American Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGLCA) had their Spring Rendezvous at the Waterside Marina, just about 1/4 mile from where Nauticus Marina is.  We did not plan on attending the Rendezvous but it was nice to see some of the other Loopers we met along the way.

Alligator River Marina to Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center, NC — May 5, 2013

Fairly cloudy this morning with a few sun patches but the temps were 50 to start and did not climb much past 60.  We left the marina about 8:00 and headed north.  The wind was out of the Northeast about 15 to 20 mph.

We got back to the Albemarle Sound and the waves were mostly 3′ to 4 ‘ with some 5′ thrown in for good measure.  The going was pretty rough with a lot of bouncing real hard on the large waves.  We had about 12 miles to cross the Sound and the waves started to smooth out just a little after about 4 miles with a good number of the 5′ gone.  By mile 8 all the 5′ were gone and most of the 4′ were gone.  By the time we crossed to the other side it was a nice ride and we followed it all the way into Elizabeth City, NC.

We contacted our friends Don and Kate on Fandango and they had left their marina and were about 4 miles ahead of us on the Pasquotank River.  We continued up the river toward the Dismal Swamp Canal that is essentially a wildlife sanctuary,  The land was originally obtained by George Washington and he and other investors were going to drain it and use the land for farming.  This never worked out and over the years the land changed hands several times.  Finally in the early 20th Century it was donated as a National Park.  There is a lot of decaying vegetation and cypress trees and the water is brown with Tannic Acid.  It is so dark it looks like root beer or coffee. There are locks at each end of the Dismal Swamp as it drains the surrounding country side and is fresh water.  The waterways leading to and from the Dismal Swamp are salt water or brackish water.

We had to wait for the lock because it only opens 4 times a day. There were 3 boats at the lock besides the Champ III. Fandango, A small Pacific Trawler and a sailboat. We locked thru without any problems.  We traveled up the Canal to the visitor center where you can ties up to their docks for free, but there is no power. All 4 boats tied up and took up the whole wall.  Another sailboat heading south arrived about 1 1/2 hours later and had to raft off.

The original north bound sailboat that we locked thru with is from Norway.  There are 3 young men on the boat and they are on a year’s journey from Norway,  They left last August and sail down the European coast and down to Africa and then across the Atlantic to the Bahamas, Cuba and then into the US.  They are now headed north where they will sail past Nova Scotia, Labrador and on to Greenland where they will pick up their 4th crew member and then sail home to Norway.  They need to be back for school in August.  I guess they are doing their own Loop of sorts.  The sailboat is not big, maybe 35’ and it is fairly old but these guys are having a great time.

The Pacific Trawler is an elderly gentleman that is traveling with his dog Tundra.  Tundra is a Great Pyrenees that weighs in at 125 lbs. and is docile and would not hurt a flea.  He looks as big as the boat.

Dowery Creek Marina to Strait Creek Anchorage, NC — May 3, 2013

Day started out normally but early.  We were underway before 7:00 as we wanted to make Elizabeth City, NC.  The winds were moderate but no problem getting off the dock and underway.

About 1/2 way thru the Pungo River/Alligator River Cut the winds were starting to blow a little harder with more gusts.  As we approached the Alligator River we heard on the radio that the swing bridge was closed because of the winds.  They had been measured at 28 and 32 mph.  This was probably around 11:00 and we still had another 15 to 20 miles to go to get to the bridge.  The bridge has a clearance of 14′ and we need 12′-6″ to get under.

The Alligator River runs pretty much from Northeast to Southwest,  It ranges form 6′ to 12′ deep and is 2 to 3 miles wide.  The wind was blowing out of the Northeast right down the river.  Waves were about 2′ to 3’+ but the real problem was the wind as it would blow the sheets of water over the boat when the boat went thru a wave,  We found out that zippers are not necessarily watertight.

We arrived at the bridge and talked to the bridge tender.  He said the actual clearance was 14′-9″.  I looked at the water under the bridge and it did not look too bad.  The bridge has fender boards to protect the piers and I thought they would act to break the waves and calm the water under the bridge.  We slowly moved toward the bridge and Lenore is the lookout for the height clearance and she said it did not look good. Also the water under the bridge was not as calm as I had hoped so we turned around.  We went back about 3 miles and anchored off the east shore at Bay Point.  We were 1/4 mile offshore but the waves were about 1′ and the wind was moving us around so the boat was rocking.

We were anchored there for about 4 hours when we received a call from the boat we had been traveling with for the day, Rock Chalk, Marc and Shelley from Texas.  They had looked for an anchorage as soon as they heard the bridge was closed because they needed 15′ clearance.  They were anchored in a small creek off the west shore about 6 miles back.  The wind was blowing but the water was fairly calm.  We did not debate this too long and headed for their location.  We found the unmarked channel and made our way in thru the dead trees and stumps (what would we do without chart plotters) and after Bay Point anchorage this water was like glass.

We had not been able to find a spot for Candy to go ashore because it was all swamp area with cypress trees.  I tried coaxing here to go on the swim platform on a piece of carpet but no luck.  She just hung in there.

The word from the bridge tender was that the bridge would not reopen until the winds had subsided to less than 25 mph for a period of time. He said with their current forecasts that they might not open until Sunday and this was Friday.   The bridge is open 24 hours a day and usually opens on request so there is always someone in the bridge house.  In talking with Rock Chalk we decided to call the bridge tender in the morning and get an update.

River Dunes Marina, Oriental, NC to Dowery Creek Marina, Belhaven, NC — May 1, 2013

Another cloudy day to start with a few sprinkles thrown in.  The winds did not seem to bad in the marina and the water was a 2′ to 3′ chop on the Neuse River.  The wind was from the north and we were headed right into it for about 6 to 7 miles before we turned to port to head into a cut.  This part was the Pamlico Sound.

Inside the cut we passed several fishing boats moored on the west side of the cut.  These appeared to be all rigged for shrimping but we are a fairly long way from the ocean to I am not really sure what they fish for.

Once we were thru the cut we were in the Goose River that leads to the Pamlico River. We passed a tow but in this area a town is usually one barge and the tug.  They are nothing like what we saw on the Illinois River and the Mississippi River.

Today we were in the thick of the traffic headed north.  Lots of sailboats and power boats.  Not sure where they were all staying for the night because there are not a huge number of marinas around this area.  I am sure some of them anchored out because there are a lot of spots for anchoring.

This whole section of the ICW has pockets of development with residences but the pockets are not large and well spaced out. Only saw a couple of marinas along the way.

After the Goose River we crossed the Pamlico River and entered the Pungo River that extends quite a distance in and Dowery Creek is probably 3/4’s of the way up the Pungo River.  The further up the river we travelled the less the winds effected the water and the ride smoothed out considerably.

Dowery Creek Marina is not a fancy place but they do a good job of making you feel at home.  They have a Club House and a Swimming Pool.  The Club House is used at 5:30 for cocktail hour for the boaters in the marina for the night.

We had a nice surprise at Dowery Creek.  Once we were all tied up I was in the office and you could see a squall coming across the rive and I noticed a trawler coming into the marina.  Well it turned out to be Fandango with Kate and Don that we had traveled with on the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland.  We had not seen them since mid-October at Green Turtle Bay in Kentucky.  What a good time at the cocktail party renewing friendships with Don and Kate.  We also had a chance to see some of the people we had met at marinas or talked to on the radio over the last couple of weeks.  More marinas should have this arrangement.

Casper Marina, Swansboro, NC to River Dunes Marina, Oriental, NC — April 30, 2013

Kind of a gray day to start with and light winds.  The sun did come out until later in the morning.  This section of the ICW has really 3 parts to it.  The first part is along the Atlantic from the New River Inlet to the Moorhead City area where the ICW turns inland thru a combination of a river and a cut.  The last part is the Neuse River that is not extremely deep (average maybe 15′) but is several miles wide and the water can kick up here on windy days.

We did not leave until about 10:30 this morning because I had a gentleman out that helped straighten a bent bow rail.  We bent it a couple of weeks ago when we were docking in Beaufort SC.  A line was put over the rail instead of under.  The straightening went pretty well.  The rail is not nearly as noticeable as it was before we started.

Starting later gave us a lot less traffic on the ICW because everybody who was moving for the day was ahead of us.  A reasonable number of boats going South on the ICW. The area between Swansboro and Moorhead City has a reasonable amount of development, houses, along the way. The ICW is fairly wide in this area but the spoils areas where they put dredge material has over the years created some long narrow islands along side the ICW channel.

Moorhead City is right across the inlet from Beaufort NC and you actually make the turn to the river/cut between the two cities.  Because of the islands and dredge spoils areas you really do not get a look at Beaufort NC.  We have several pictures of industrial shoreline in the Moorhead City area with a railroad bridge, warehouses and loading docks.  None of it looks real active right now.

The River/Cut area is less developed overall.  There are pockets where housing has been built and about 10 miles outside Moorhead City, there we two marina/boat yards next to each other that serviced large yachts and mega yachts.  Seemed kind of strange to have these yours well off the Ocean but I guess that affords them protect from the hurricanes.  The last portion of the river area was quite developed with homes along the shore and some of these were fairly large.

The Neuse River section was wide open with little development and the wind had kicked up so there was a chop on the water.  It was about a 10 mile cruise down to the River Dunes Marina on Broad Creeks.  This is a large upscale marina that is part of a residential development.  They have limited the home styles to “southern” within the community with about 6 different home layouts and outside features to choose from.

The docks were great and the marina had a swimming pool and hot tub area.  Situated around the swimming pool where cabana style little structures that the walls on 3 sides essentially lifted up so you can have the breeze come thru without being in the sun.

Met one other boater in this marina that we have first seen in Georgetown and have more or less been on the same schedule.  The boat is a 44′ DeFever and they are from Connecticut.