Excerpts from Journal Entries from April 16,2017 to May 2, 2017
Sunday, April 16, 2017
I shoved off the fuel dock at Joyners Marina Friday morning at 7:30, a good time to start since the tide was going my way. Tide and current are related but not as you might naturally think when navigating the waterway. This morning as I passed the first inlet at Wrightsville we were going seven knots, a few miles further at the next inlet the boat speed dropped to 4 knots. However, it does average out and arrival times can be predicted with some accuracy provided nothing else stands in your way. And, of course, it did; three bridges are along the route to Mile Hammock and they each have to open for you to pass. I reached the first bridge just after it closed and had to wait forty-five minutes to go through. The second opened every thirty minutes so the wait there was only twenty. And the last, a slow moving swing bridge that was hidden behind a foundation that will be, someday, maybe, a new high bridge forced me to wait almost a full hour fighting a fickle current in the narrow channel. The bridges put my arrival time at the anchorage back over two hours. Then, at the New River Inlet within sight of the Mile Hammock lagoon I ran aground at exactly low tide in a place very poorly marked. Follow the marks, that’s good advice. But what if the marks are not where they will help you, then what? You go aground like me and wait until the tide lifts you off. Three hours later a power boat came along and it’s wake bounced me free. Now I still wouldn’t have known where the channel was unless two other sailboats had come along earlier. The first boat felt its way through and the captain told me the water depths as he went. I watched carefully and tried to memorize his track: It was close to the bank – where my charts showed nothing! The second sailboat approached slowly and ran aground but quickly backed free. I hollered for him to go closer to the sandbank and after another soft bump, he got through. Without watching those two boats I would have undoubtedly become stuck again. As it was I got to the anchorage just in time to watch the sun set.
Such a peaceful place Mile Hammock, you would never know it is in the middle of a U.S. Marines training ground. I only saw two aircraft buzzing around, perhaps because of the Easter weekend. There was an almost constant low level growling from the direction of the seashore, heavy equipment on the beach practicing land maneuvers maybe. It wasn’t loud enough to be annoying, just more white noise. I left at seven fifteen Saturday morning to get to Beaufort early in the afternoon and for once my estimation was close. The sailboat that showed the way through the puzzle at the New River Inlet yesterday left right before me and I tagged closely behind since he obviously had better charts. There was, on the way south last Fall, a tricky spot two miles north of the Mile Hammock anchorage and I thought by following this guy I would have less trouble. But apparently that section has been dredged and is now shoal-free.
The trip was uneventful until I reached Morehead City, NC. Some of the cruising people we have met over the years say they avoid traveling on the ICW on weekends. That makes a lot of sense. Good Friday, however, should be considered part of a weekend. It was about one o’clock when I entered the commercial turning basin at the head of the Morehead Ship Channel which leads out to the Atlantic. There were literally hundreds of small power boats, some anchored for fishing, most just roaring at top speed in every direction filled with people “recreating” on the water. I bore across the mile-wide basin then down the ship channel heading to a secondary channel which I would follow to Beaufort. Traffic picked up, now dozens of boats were charging up and down the channel, leaping over the waves, spray flying. And there, twenty feet off my bow a boat load of people suddenly appeared, panic in their eyes. Thank heavens I saw them and spun the wheel in time. There was no looking back and I’ve been shaken ever since. I have a small mental box where I store all incidents like that and open it from time to time just to check. Then slam the lid.
I’ll start off again tomorrow. Weekend will be over and it’s a short hop to the town of Oriental which is good for a night, or two if shrimp are available.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
I started out from Beaufort with a short delay at the lift bridge, got there half an hour early and had to wait. By the time the operator lifted the spans ten boats had gathered and it was a mad dash going through. The ICW divides into two lanes a couple miles north of Beaufort. The main route goes to Morehead City, the other, called Russell’s Slough (sluff) winds it’s way to Beaufort. Shrimpers use that route and many of the shrimp boats were parked along its edge. Where the slough joins the main ICW channel things became easier, the water deeper and better marked. I cruised up to the Neuse River and passed by Oriental, NC by eleven, much too soon to stop for the day and went on to my favorite marina River Dunes and took a slip for two nights. It’s a great place, not overly expensive and is like going to a fine hotel. I borrowed their van and drove down to Oriental. The hardware store filled my empty second propane tank, I like to keep ahead with my cooking gas supply, and after that I visited an outdoor tiki bar for a beer and small talk with the locals. Then dinner at the Toucan Restaurant: very good shrimp bisque and a burger which prepared me for a visit to the grocery store (not hungry at all) where I bought a loaf of commercial everlasting bread and some meat. It’s a good idea not to go food shopping on an empty stomach. My errands done I drove back to the boat for a good night’s sleep.
Today I’ll spruce up my vessel a little, and partake of the marina’s amenities: a soak in their Jacuzzi and another steam shower!! Then tomorrow it’ll be back to camping mode. I think I can be as far as Portsmouth, VA by the weekend.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Walkabout is parked in the north ferry boat landing in Portsmouth, Virginia where we will stay until tomorrow or Tuesday depending on the weather. The city will let you tie here free of charge for 48 hours but boaters often stay a lot longer and nobody minds, I think. I came up the ICW from Coinjock, NC yesterday in wonderful conditions, warm, sunny with a moderate breeze from behind. Not sailing, the channel was much too narrow for that, but motoring along at a peaceful pace. Traffic was lighter yesterday than the previous two days, the motor yachts had almost all disappeared over the horizon leaving slower boats to plod on to their next stop.
While walking on the dock at Coinjock Marina yesterday I was greeted by Randy Chapman from Chesapeake City and a former Vermont resident, who had just bought our friend’s boat, Both Sides Now, and was driving it home. Ken Bushee from Danby, VT, and a Lake Champlain sailor, wrote for a long time on his blog of the adventures he and his wife Francine were having on their voyages. Jeanne and I first met Ken in the Bahamas and continued to read about his exploits in his blog. He had switched from a sailboat to a trawler recently and had planned to travel the Great Loop but unfortunately passed away in January. It was quite a coincidence meeting his boat’s new owner but it is in good hands.
As soon as I arrived in Portsmouth yesterday afternoon and had let the wind blow me down to the rickety pier and tied off, the rain began and then thunder, lightning and a deluge forcing me into the cabin to tighten down hatches and portlights. It let up at dark but the wind still roared and the temperature dropped into the high fifties, not what I’m used to and this morning is drizzly and downright chilly. I’ve got to slow down!
Knowing something about boat maintenance costs (it’s frightening) I’m looking across the river at the General Dynamics shipyard operations where US Navy ships are being refurbished around the clock and think: Unimaginable amounts of tax dollars and debt dollars are being spent on the war machine. For all the hue and cry against social programs from the Right – giving away our/their/corporations? hard earned money, and so forth – all the welfare programs put together would not come close to what, I believe, this one shipyard spends in one month on warship maintenance. The multi-national military industry has grown so large that it dwarfs anything else: Health, education, infrastructure, social programs, Social Security, anything. But manifest militarism does a far more insidious injury to our people, it brings us down to the level of wanton killers, an overbearing aggressor of a nation whose leaders will fabricate reasons to attack lesser peoples or acronymics and then propagandize us with fear so we will support more aggression. When have we not been at war? When did we hand over the reins? About the time when American women began to get tattoos…
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Walkabout has been sitting here at the ferry landing in Portsmouth now since Saturday afternoon. The rain let up today and the sun appeared for a couple hours. Now it’s right back to drizzle. And its been cold, at least for me, when the thermometer shows sixty and its damp like this it feels frigid. But, for the short time the sun was out today the temperature shot up fast.
I will be off to Yorktown tomorrow morning. I have to leave before eight because if I don’t the tide will cover the dock next to the boat and I’ll have to wade to untie the lines. That’s the one big shortcoming of this free dock, twice a day you have to wade to get ashore, or get back back on board. One of the boats behind me has their dinghy out, maybe that’s a solution. I called the municipal dock in Yorktown this morning and have a reservation. The American Revolution was decided there and there should be plenty to see. If it’s not too expensive I’ll stay for a couple of days before moving further north.
Since it rained so much I haven’t gotten much done except for one grocery shopping run Sunday afternoon. The store is quite a hike from the dock but I dragged my little cart and brought back enough food to get me to New York I think. That’s only three weeks away. Day by day I’m getting closer to home. This morning I visited the local bicycle shop and bought a new seat post. The old one was snatched away one day at sea by a jib sheet. The bike was useful in Marathon and I rode it some in Cuba and Bimini but it’s taken a beating out there on the deck. I worked on it this afternoon to break down the rust but it may have gone too far, the chain, brakes and shifters are frozen and will take lots and lots of WD40 to free up. The bike failed the salt spray test I guess.
This evening I’ll walk down to High Street to Baron’s Pub which I like for one last mug of Sweet Baby Jesus† beer and a bite for supper. I would go across the street to the Commodore Theater for a movie but later I would have to traverse the flooded dock to get home and with sacrilegious brew in me might step off into the abyss.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Starting out from Portsmouth yesterday morning there was a lot of traffic, the river was churning with tugboats going out for their next tug. I hugged the edge of the ship channel on the starboard side which put me near the string of U.S.Navy ships parked at their docks. You are supposed to give Navy ships 1500 feet of clearance but that would have put me in the way of tug traffic so I stayed right on the line. When I passed a watchtower whistles blew and lights flashed and I could see a watchman behind his window waving his arms. Must have been for someone else, I just kept on going.
Later, as I turned the corner to head out into Chesapeake Bay a U.S.Coast Guard cutter appeared; I had been taking pictures of an unusual Navy ship that had passed me on its way to the yards so I took shots of the cutter too. Next thing I heard was a call from the cutter asking when my last inspection was and that they were boarding boats that morning and I was next! Great. I scrambled below to fetch my papers and thirty seconds later the boarding party was climbing over my rails. It sounds worse than it was, all they want is to see if you have your safety gear, extinguishers, life jackets, and your registration. The two guardsmen made quick work of it, filling out a form which I signed and ripping off a copy for me to keep (but the form was defective, my copy was blank, they had to give me another!) and hopped back in the chase boat that was skippered by a young, capable guardette and were gone. I watched for a minute and they immediately boarded a motor yacht nearby so I guess I wasn’t singled out.
The wind came up when I got out into the bay and I motorsailed for three hours until my course put me directly into the wind. But the wind died anyway and I drove up the York River in flat calm water. The Riverwalk Marina sits in the center of Yorktown’s harbor and consists of two large floating concrete docks jutting out into the fast flowing York River. The marina, like many I’ve visited is municipally owned and operated, but this one is a professional operation from what I’ve seen so far. Attentive people, fair pricing and clean facilities; what more do you want?
Just a half mile walk away from the dock although there is a free trolley is the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. I spent four hours there bulking up on history. The eight year conflict is laid out in the museum’s exhibits that even extend outdoors with reconstructions of military encampments, demonstrations complete with cannon fire, and a settler’s farmstead which includes a slave quarters and a tobacco curing shed. That part of the museum is only a month old, the buildings have a new bright look. School kids out for a field day trooped through the place, their leaders trying to keep order which was hard because gunfire had made them excited. Better than bored.
I’m going north in the morning, only forty miles like yesterday. This time to Reedville off the Rappahanock in a small creek that is well protected and has water deep enough for Walkabout.
Monday, May 1, 2017
On Friday I left Yorktown and motored north to an anchorage in the town of Reedville, VA that Jeanne and I had anchored in six years ago. That time we were besieged with a sudden thunderstorm and had to fight to keep from hitting another boat. Not a good experience. This time I was the only one in the creek and had the pick of good spots, and the weather was not threatening so I had a good night’s sleep in a quiet place.
I left early the next morning for Solomon’s Island, another forty miles in much the same conditions. Tried to sail but the wind was not cooperating. I anchored in Mill Creek for the night in the same spot I was in back in December. The next morning the air was still, the creek was also motionless at low tide, so I upped anchor at 0630 and raised my mainsail while sitting there in the calm. By the time I had motored out into the Bay there were signs of wind, it was going to fill in and by ten it was blowing fifteen knots right from behind. I have mixed feelings about sailing straight downwind, Walkabout rolls like mad and it’s hard to keep the sails full when she does. But I had the engine off by eleven, the whisker pole out for the jib and a solid preventer holding the main out to starboard. Wing on wing. The nice thing about the wind Sunday was it did not vary at all in strength or direction for five hours, long enough to get me to the entrance of the Wye River over on the eastern shore. There it collapsed to nothing in just a few minutes and I pulled in all the sails to motor up the river to where I was going. That was ten miles further, in a small “creek” called the Wye East River where I called it a day and anchored close to Wye Island.
Last night was calm and I got a good rest. This morning I woke to the wind picking up and blowing into my anchoring spot rocking the boat. That wouldn’t do. The main reason I traveled so far away from the bay was to get a secure place for the cold front that is coming tonight with high wind, maybe in the thirty knot range. I pulled up the anchor, it was not easy but I got it up and left with it dangling in the water ready to quickly drop and drove two miles more up the creek and into a small but very protected cove on a side tributary called Dividing Creek. Here I think we will be OK, it’s been howling all day but the water in the cove barely moves.
Wye Island is owned by the State of Maryland which is keeping it as an historical and ecological artifact. The private island was a plantation since the seventeen century but fortunately its owners did not totally deforest it for agriculture as it still has a twenty acre stand of old growth forest that you can walk through on a trail. Presently the island is called the Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area, NMRA, and has picnic and camping areas, working fields, a bald eagle habitat and some original homesites. But it is not, as far as I can tell, an exploitative operation because the island is being left mostly in it’s original wild state. The woods are not groomed, the creeks and coves have fallen trees in them, and you’re on your own when visiting. On my walk today I did not see a single person on the trails and only one distant vehicle on the dirt road that goes down the center of the island. The old growth forest is spectacular, huge red and white oaks, sweetgum trees and loblolly pines soar a hundred feet into the canopy. The footpath is the only thing attended to in these woods, fallen trunks lie mouldering among the new saplings reaching up to replace them. It was quiet walking through there by myself, a good place to reflect… Who me? Naw.
One trail ended and another began, this one through a plantation of young market trees, farmed trees, many with plastic tubes placed around their slender young trunks, probably to keep off pests. And that trail led me around to the highlight of the whole excursion, the 275 year old Wye Island Holly Tree, standing alone in a field of mowed grass with wooden marker poles set around it, presumably to warn off vandals. The poor old tree however, looks it’s age. The truncated trunk is enormous but you can see that it is hollow in places through holes in the smooth gray bark. But the ancient tree is still producing bright red berries, which means it is still trying to make more hollies and its leaves are dark, dark green with very sharp prickers. Respect me, she says.
I’m at the mercy of the weather which is going to be ugly for another day. Wednesday I’ll move again, this time to Rock Hall, still on the eastern shore and after that it’s a tossup, Annapolis or Baltimore.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
The cold front came over the Wye River today, it blew hard last night and there were a few rumbles of thunder but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. It was still good to be in this protected hole and I decided to stay until tomorrow, the wind was forecast to hit forty out on the bay this afternoon. I went for another walk in Wye Island’s woods and fields today instead of battling the waves, the sun was out, the sky brilliant blue and the temperature was seventy-three. It’s like early summer in Vermont, the hay here is ready for a first cut, tree pollen has coated Dividing Creek and I’m sneezing.
Tomorrow I’m going to sail to the Patapsco River and Stoney Creek to stay at the Maryland Yacht Club for a night: To refuel and get a pump-out. I’ll ask if they recognize the RSYC as a reciprocal club – doubt it, but my ensign is flying just in case they do. Thursday I’ll try to get a slip at the Baltimore Public Docks, I called today but they weren’t answering. That would be a great base for touring Baltimore, the docks are right in downtown on the inner harbor. It’s supposed to rain on Friday, all day, and some more on Saturday, actually it won’t be clear and warm again until the middle of next week. My scheduling is becoming more critical too, I don’t want to be early getting to New York and by the same token the Champlain Locks are opening in just seventeen days.
† They were out.