Yesterday was one month since we cast off our lines. One thing that has surprised me about this whole “cruising” thing is how little downtime there is (hence the irregular blog-post schedule). We are inevitably either on the move (in which case one of us is steering and one of us is on lookout since we have no autopilot) or running around to find provisions or planning our next hop or working on something boat-related. It’s hard to believe that it has already been a month… so much has been going on it has been just a ton of experiences crammed into such a short time. Visiting so many places and meeting so many awesome people – it has been a blast.
After we said goodbye to the crew in Deltaville, we headed for Hampton, VA. It was a reasonably long hop, and as the forecast was calling for wind and waves to pick up quite a bit that evening, I made the call to duck in early to Salt Pond where we tied up at a nice protected marina. Of course the next day I realized I had misjudged the distances and Hampton was only like another 10 miles or so (we could have made it easily the day before). Being that there wasn’t really anything around Salt Pond, we decided to brave the “washing machine” like conditions for an hour or two and make it around to Hampton. We had some fairly big quartering seas and chop, which made for an unpleasant sail, but the nice strong wind gave us a boost to make it to Hampton pretty quickly, so we didn’t have to endure the confused seas for long. Pulling into the town docks in Hampton was a bit of an adventure – a strong crosswind made it literally impossible to get into our designated (upwind) slip (even coming in at full throttle we would get blown off immediately), so after several aborted attempts we were re-assigned a downwind slip, and kind of just crabbed in by aiming for the next slip over and letting the wind blow us down into our slip!
Hampton was a cute little town, and we took advantage of our free dockage to take care of some boat projects. I un-bypassed the hot water heater (woohoo we have hot water now!), put the registration numbers on our dinghy and finally vented the composting head, which was definitely needed. We also had our bottom scrubbed, but our speed under power still remains low – I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out what else could be causing it (low compression? dirty injectors? then engine seems to be running fine, so it’s strange that it doesn’t seem to be putting out as much power as it should).
After leaving Hampton, we decided to bypass Norfolk/Portsmouth and head directly for the Dismal swamp. We anchored in Deep Creek basin just before the Deep Creek Lock, in order to make the first lock in the AM. We had never been through a lock before, and I got yelled at for asking the keeper which line he wanted first. Apparently the normal, super-friendly, lock keeper was off, and we had the other (surly) guy… He told me I needed boating lessons… oh well. The Dismal Swamp was just as beautiful as everyone said, and we had a lovely sail (motor) down to the welcome center. With only room for 3 boats on the dock, we had another first – rafting up! Fortunately we were right behind a nice couple on a Sabre who were old hands at the ICW and helped us raft & get our lines secured. We then helped the folks behind us. All told there were 7 boats rafted up that evening – we all got together for happy hour and had a blast.
Next day we all cast off about the same time heading for Elizabeth city. As usual we were the slowest boat out there, and were the last to get to Elizabeth City. The free slips on the town dock are marked with their widths, so having a just-shy-of 11′ beam, we chose a slip marked 11′. There wasn’t a ton of wind, so backing in to the slip was pretty easy – Vicky lassoed the piling like a pro, and just as I was getting the stern line ready to throw, we came to a sudden stop. I assumed it was just our fender getting hung up on the midship piling, but when I looked at the other side of the boat, I realized we were actually wedged between the two pilings! Whoops – guess it wasn’t actually 11′ after all. After we (and everyone on the docks) finished laughing, I managed to get us out and shifted over a slip or two into a 13′ slip without incident. We had heard Elizabeth City talked up quite a bit as kind of “mecca” for cruisers doing the Dismal Swamp, but it seems to have been going downhill in recent years. Many of the restaurants & businesses by the waterfront have closed, and it seems the nightly wine-and-cheese cruiser get-together has been done away with as well. Oh well – we made our own party with everyone who had been hanging out since the swamp! Most boats headed out the next day, we stayed to do some provisioning and take advantage of the facilities! Later in the day we saw an even smaller boat than us pull in to the docks (they actually made it into the 11′ slip that we couldn’t!) Usually we seem to be the smallest boat in the anchorage, so it was cool to see some other folks in the “go small, go now” category… We met them a bit later, Chris and Ryan on s/v Firefly (as in Browncoats), who were super cool – we’ve been crossing paths & sharing beers ever since.
After Elizabeth City, the ICW goes through the Alligator River and Pungo Canal, which are pretty uninhabited until Bellhaven, NC. Knowing that there was no good place to stop after the Alligator river bridge, we did a short hop and “staged” for a night just before the bridge, ready to get an early start the next day for the long haul to Bellhaven. That was a *long* day, but we we did make it to Bellhaven just before sundown. We were both starving at this point and decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the Spoon River Artworks and Market. Let me tell you – this place was worth the trip to Bellhaven all by itself. Set up in an old retail storefront the decor was whimsical yet elegant, the wine list consisted of a fully stocked wine shop (choose your own bottle) and of course the food was spectacular. All locally sourced and super fresh, the dishes were creative as well as tasty – Vicky had a Grouper fillet, prepared in a kind of smoky sauce – I never would have thought to pair smoke with grouper, but it worked deliciously. The owners were on hand as well, chatting with everyone and making them feel like part of the family. Really nice folks. We ordered a flight of wine which was supposed to be 3 wines, but came out with 4 – each pour was about a full glass in and of itself, and after we finished dinner totally stuffed, they brought out dessert for us on the house. The place is definitely worth a visit for any ICW-going cruiser.
Bellhaven was fun, but just a short overnight stop as we geared up for another long day the next day all the way to Oriental…