Sunday, November 4, 2007

Deltaville, VA to the Great Dismal Swamp, NC

November 2, 2007

Hi Everyone:

We are really are thrilled when we hear from you, so please go to the end of this posting and click on the word Comments and let us know your reactions!

We are currently anchored in a small body of water called “The Straights” on the western shore of the Alligator River (mile mark 95 on the ICW), in North Carolina.

Yes, we are actually on the Intracoastal Waterway! We are waiting out the passage of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Noel, which is about 475 miles off Cape Hatteras. Seems like a safe distance, but we have been seeing winds around 25-30 knots since around midnight, and it may not drop down late Saturday (Nov 3).

So, friends, looks like I have a golden opportunity to get you caught up on our adventures since we were anchored in Jackson Creek (Deltaville, VA).

Peaceful Put In Creek (Tues, Oct 23)

We awoke around 6 am in Jackson Creek to the noise of watermen departing to check on their crab pots. We were underway by 8:40 am, motor sailing south toward Mobjack Bay. We spied some strange craft in the distance, which turned out to be some sort of Navy hovercraft exercising. When ever they made a turn, they seemed to disappear into a cloud of mist and spray. They looked to be very maneuverable.

Winds picked up so we could sail up the Mobjack on a welcome reach for about an hour before heading up the East River and our anchorage at Put In Creek, which we shared with one other boat. Some miscellaneous maintenance, a few pork chops on the bbq fresh veggies from Onancock and some quiet talk in the cockpit made for a very relaxing stay.

Sarah’s Creek Hospitality (Wed, Oct 24)

Our next stop was the York River, the last major river on the Western Shore. We were heading for Sarah’s Creek. We sharpened or electronic charting skills, by entering the York via the “Swash Channel”, a narrow and shallow zigzag path through some shoals, which saves about 3 miles. Sue coolly handled the helm, as Brian bounced about from the nav station to the helm delivering navigational advice that in the end was hardly needed, if you just followed the chart plotter on the helm.

We tied up a little past noon, at Sawgrass Point. Paul and Barbara, relatively new Gozzard owners, were there to give us some last minute advice on navigating the creek, plus help us with the dock lines. Like all owners of similar boats, we like to see how others have improved them, so we spent a few hours visiting each others boats. Paul and Barbara were very gracious hosts, providing us not only free dockage, but lunch, local transportation, and a fabulous steak dinner at their place, a short walk from the dock. Weather-wise things were beginning to deteriorate, with some very heavy rain showers beginning in the afternoon and running into the night. Sogno badly needed a fresh water wash and Virginia certainly needed the rain, but it was still somewhat of a come down, after having had such a great run of weather since we left Marblehead.

We finished the evening by watching the Red Sox take a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

Oysters, Friends, and Family (Thurs-Sun, Oct 25-28)

We woke to a very soggy Sarah’s Creek. The forecast was for further deterioration, so we left early after stopping at York River Yacht Haven to top off our diesel tanks. A very friendly “boat sitter” came out of her client’s large yacht to help us with the dock lines. It was a totally self service pump, so we were soon on our way again in a light drizzle. As we turned the channel toward the York River, we were surprised to see fog all across the river. On came the running lights and the radar, and we were soon sorting out the moving barges from those anchored. Visibility improved as we headed out, but the waves were building as we rounded the Goodwin Island shoals to make our way to the Seaford Yacht Club in Back Creek, VA.

There are literally dozens of Back Creeks in the Chesapeake, but this one was home to our dear friends, Mark and Nancy, who we have kept in touch with through 30 years via Annapolis Boat Shows! They had arranged dockage at the Seaford Yacht Club, and we were to be their guests at the annual Oyster Roast on Saturday.

We arrived without incident, with Mark there to greet us in a light drizzle. After we did some chores and investigated a leak near the mast, we were off to M&N’s for dinner. Other Boat Show friends Jack and Gena were there as well.

The next few days were spent running around to deal with a variety of provisioning, financial, and other errands. Seaford was also our “drop” for some canvas repair supplies, and some new batteries for the laptops. (Thanks Dan and Elaine!). The evenings were definitely social, connecting with other Boat Show “regulars” Mary and Toby, Carl and Debbie and Herb and Barb. Our new Gozzard friends, Paul and Barbara joined in on Friday, rafting up to Sogno for the weekend.

The social highlight of the stay, however, was the Oyster Roast. SYC has been doing this for years and has it down to a science. We are not real oyster fans, but I have discovered that roasted oysters have certain appeal. Two pits are dug, with roaring wood fires heating up metal plates on which oysters are placed, covered with wet burlap bags. The whole thing is pretty primitive, with the roasted oysters delivered to the stand up table with a shovel! Even then, the oysters don’t just give up, you’ve still got to dig in to the critter with an oyster knife and pry the shells apart. (Gloves were provided.) To a novice like me it’s all great fun , as long as you are careful with the knife. Boiled shrimp, raw oysters, pulled pork, wine and beer complete the recipe for what is a sellout event each year. A few of us sat around the oyster fire until midnight – talking about boats and boating.

Our last day on Sunday was (thankfully) a bit slower paced, but just as fun. Sue’s two nieces, Joanna and Louisa and friends Amy and Matt came over for a visit to see Sogno. Except for Matt, they are students at Christopher Newport University, in nearby Newport News. We had planned to go out for a sail, but the wind was acting up so they had to settle for a tour, an explanation of our planned trip and an attempt at understanding what college was like these days.

We finished up at Mark and Nancy’s for another great dinner and watching the Sox hold on to sweep the Series. Mark and Nancy – you are the best!

Draw Bridges Rule the ICW (Mon, Oct 29)

If we stayed any longer in Seaford, we’d have to join the SYC. This was the day to get back in the hunt for the ICW. We showered up, pumped out the holding tank, topped off the water and said farewell to Mark and Jake who were down to help us off, and give us the latest status on the ICW.

We mostly motored, but did get some downwind sailing in as we headed for Hampton Roads, the entrance to Norfolk and “the Ditch”. The ICW begins at Norfolk (mile 0) and continues on for over a 1000 miles to Miami and beyond. At the beginning, there are two alternate routes to get to the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Route 1 (the Virginia Cut) is deeper and less restricted and is the favorite of most boaters. Route 2 (the Great Dismal Swamp Canal route) is slower, a bit shallow in spots, and is favored mostly by slow moving sailboats, like us, who don’t like to be bounced around by the wakes of overtaking power boats).

We were going for the Dismal Swamp route, but the only problem was that Tuesday (Oct 30) was the last day the canal (and locks) would open this year, due to a shortage of water in the lake that feeds the two locks. On Tuesday, you had to be ready to enter the Deep Creek Lock at 9 am and leave the canal via the South Mills lock by 3 pm. Without going into more details, we had to hustle into Norfolk, get through two draw bridges that normally don’t open for recreational boats until after 5:30 pm and find a place to “park” before the sun set at 6:10 pm.

We had an impressive cruise down the Elizabeth River, past the Atlantic Fleet, various commercial and military shipyards, and the fleet of cruisers anchored at Mile 0, waiting to set out the following day on the Virginia Cut. We lucked out on the first bridge (a tug and barge were let through so we could go through early). The second bridge opened for us at 5:30 and we were able to anchor by ourselves in the snug little Deep Creek basis 8 minutes fore sunset! It was a long day, but one worth celebrating with one of Sue’s special pasta dinners.

Dismal Swamp, Duckweed, and Diesels (Tues, Oct 30)

We woke to dense ground fog (or sea smoke rising from the water), which lets you see everything above 20 feet. We exited the basin at around 8 am and immediately had to let a motoring sail boat slide ahead of us. We were happy to do so, since we could follow. It was strange motoring along where you could see the buildings and trees, but couldn’t see the banks, the docks or the low lying marshy areas. By the time we got to the lock there were 4 other boats ahead of us waiting for the lock to open around 9:00. When the moment arrived out came one northbound sailboat (where was he going?) and in we filed together with one late arrival and a VA park ranger boat.

The lockmaster was a very cool guy. He effortlessly helped out all the boaters with tying up to the lock and then got them relaxed. We were at the back of the pack, and only a few feet from where the lock door closes. The lockmaster, just told me to not look or else I would really get scared! Then the water was let into the lock, and we were raised about 8 feet in what seemed about 10 minutes. We then moved out of the lock, waited again for the lockmaster to drive to the next draw bridge and open it, and finally we were in the Canal.

At the head of our parade was a large but slow catamaran, 2 smaller catamarans, 3 sailboats from the lock, and 2 sailboats who had spent the night in the canal near the Deep Creek lock. Some wanted to go faster, but no one wanted to go too far from the center of what was a channel that was only around 8 feet or so. When the lead catamaran Spirit agreed to move over to let a catamaran go by, she immediately went aground, and our caravan halted again. When Spirit got going again, the urge to pass anyone had completely vanished.

Since we were the last group going south (and we never saw anyone in the canal going north, thankfully), one of the boats contacted the South Mill lock to ask if he would open early. He was ok with the idea, but there was a TV crew coming to take pictures of the last lock openin! It eventually turned out ok, and we did get through the lock a half hour early, while they were taking our pictures.

Everyone blasted out of the lock into the much deeper Turner Cut, but we noticed that the engine cooling water coming out of our exhaust was much less then usual. The engine temperature was also rising. We pulled into an abandoned “side canal” and ran aground. That was as good as anchoring, and gave Brian a chance to clear the water intake which was plugged with duck weed that was picked up in the canal and lock. Things were better for a while but a few miles later we had to stop and anchor. After a lot of trouble shooting, letting the Coast Guard know we could use some mechanical help, and some encouragement over the phone from SeaTow, we finally removed another plug in the intake valve (pine needles!) and got everything back in order. We spent the night in Turner Cut (about 100 feet wide) in almost a total calm. It was actually a unique and special place to take some time out from the ICW race south.

Coming attractions: We make new friends in Elizabeth City. Stumps to starboard and stakes to port, we hole up in “The Straits” off the Alligator River. Noel heads North and we head south to Belhaven.

Don’t forget to send us your comments. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue Schanning
Buds at Sea


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue & Brian,
It was great reading about your first entrance into the ICW. Many a time have I pored over the road atlas, daydreaming my way down the Mississippi and up the ICW to Boston. I'm glad I can enjoy the trip vicariously through reading your postings. Have a great time, and God bless you both. Love, Mark & Liz

Julie & Jason said...

Congratulations on the Red Sox win!

I'm enjoying your adventures. Thanks for keeping up the chronicle. Your latest makes me reminisce on living in that area. I always thought the Great Dismal Swamp was such an excellent place name.

aed said...

Brian & Sue,
Great to read your adventures - your making me jealous - we'll have to do it someday. You seem to be living your Sogno - well done - keep up the good work
Be safe & have fun.

Aedan & Bernie

Lisa said...

Hmmm... Alligator River, watch your step! I was wondering how you were faring with formerly Hurricane Noel. Your timing seems to be working out great. The girls, as well as Dave and I, really enjoyed the chance to visit and enjoy Sogna. Thanks for making the time. Your pictures are beautiful and very envy-inducing. Enjoy the ICW (I've picked up the lingo) and smooth sailing.
Love, Lisa

Strathspey said...

Hi guys, we're at Bald Head Island right now waiting for some parts. Highly recommend it as stopover. $1.25/foot and lots of exploring to do.
Mary and Blair (Strathspey- Tartan 3500)

Garet Wohl said...

Hello, Sue and Brian:
It's great to read your comments, especially since "Possibility" and I are following in your distant wake. We're in Deltaville now and will haul out for two weeks in Norfolk, then continue down the ICW -- primarily on long weekends. Looking forward to your next installments. Fair winds, Garet

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan and Brian,We are so happy Alexander gave us this sight in the new Headlines. We had not heard a word from anyone about yourtrip. I am very glad your doing it for us.It sounds like to much work for me so i will sit back and enjoy your stories.Enjou the rest of your trip. Smooth sailing,Frank and Lenore.P>S> I thought sailors used sails not engines that can get clogged!

Bonnie Strong said...

Hi, Folks--
I am so thrilled to be on your list! I am enjoying all that you're doing from the wonderful descriptions, but I'm also enjoying seeing you together and noticing how you give and take, kid, "help" each other, etc. We rarely have an account like this where many of the feelings are shared as well. Thanks! Bonnie.

Tim Green said...

Hi Brian & Sue,
What a wonderful blog. So glad to hear of your progress and good times. I recall getting into that low level fog where you cannot see the banks but only the treetops and bridges. I only wish I was heading down this year but thats the way it is. Perhaps next year.

Tim & Stephanie

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