Hello virtual crew members and fellow adventurers!
Norfolk is that-a-way
The crew had six good travel days this past week: 1 – travelled to Belhaven and took a slip at River Forrest, 2- Anchored just north of the Alligator River Bridge to stage for an early morning crossing of the Albemarle Sound, 3- Stayed at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center Free Dock, 4- took a marina slip at Top Rack, 5- anchored off the shore of Hampton, 6- took a slip on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay at Onancock Wharf.
Click on the link to read the day-to-day travel log. This includes weather report, sea conditions, captain’s log, and a summary of the day’s experience.
The voyage of discovery did answer the following questions this week:
This week’s video shows Still Waters II meet a shrimp boat in Adams Creek, cross the calm Albemarle Sound, transit the Dismal Swamp, and get a few lessons on how to blow a conch shell. Enjoy!
A follow up to the ‘Big Rock” Fishing Tournament: Interesting enough, the fisherman take a break on Sunday and do not wet a hook. The crews were all onboard their respective boats prepping for the big week ahead.
While the fisherman were busy rigging lines, the crew had Sunday Brunch with Satisfied Frog at The Spouter Inn. The food was exceptionally good.
The restaurant from the water.
Following Brunch, the crew took a tour boat to learn about some of the local history of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Much of the colorful history started with Blackbeard the Pirate. He had a home in Beaufort overlooking the inlet into town. His home also just happened to be next door to the county tax collector, interesting arrangement.
The Pirates Revenge tour boat
The governor of North Carolina once pardoned Blackbeard, but he did not stop his pirate ways. He just shifted his tactics to attack ships headed to Virginia rather than North Carolina. The Virginia government eventually killed Blackbeard after they petitioned the North Carolina governor for help with Blackbeard, and got no help at all.
New born colt spotted from tour boat
The day got off to a good start as the crew made good time thru Adams Creek. While transiting the Creek, the crew met a shrimp boat who had their nets down. There must have been several hundred gulls following the shrimp boat looking for an easy meal.
After exiting Adams Creek, the crew ran north along the Neuse River and eventually came to Gale Creek. At the right angle, looking at the shore in the distance along the Neuse River, the trees and shore seem to form the looks of an alligator.
The tree alligator
After the Neuse River, the crew entered Gale Creek. The name of this creek would soon become an omen. The skies began to darken as storm clouds began to form. The temperature dropped about ten degrees in front of the pending storm.
The calm before the storm on Gale Creek.
Just after passing under the bridge in the above pic, the rain started with just a sprinkle. Within just a few minutes, the rain was falling so hard that visibility was down to less than a quarter of a mile. Then the winds hit. The skipper put the boat in neutral to allow the winds to push the boat backwards into both deeper and wider water. Once the boat was in a wider part of the channel, the skipper turned the boat to face the wind. Visibility had dropped to about 50 yards, and it was difficult to see the shore and Satisfied Frog. The skipper had turned the radar on when he noticed the heavy rain headed their way. The radar helped the skipper keep the boat in safe water.
The skipper also checked the weather radar and watched a red cell pass directly over them. The weather radar showed 40 plus mph winds (gale force winds) After about 5-10 minutes of these high winds and heavy down pour, the winds died back off and the rain slacked back to a sprinkle. The skipper looked over at the Admiral and said, “Well, that was exciting!”
The weather predicted more storms for the rest of the afternoon and thru the night. Rather than anchor, the crew decided to call it a day and pulled into the River Forrest Marina in Belhaven.
The original cruising plan was to make Elizabeth City on Tuesday and the Dismal Swamp Visitor Center on Wednesday. But due to the high winds (20 mph/ plus or minus 5) coming from the east, the skipper did not believe crossing the Albemarle Sound on Tuesday was a good idea. Instead, they choose to anchor just north of the Alligator River Bridge along the eastern shore to get protection from the east winds.
The first half of the voyage was relatively calm as the crew passed thru the Alligator River-Pungo River canal. After coming out of the canal, the crew entered the Alligator River and ran north along the eastern shore.
Canal conditions were flat
Conditions in Alligator River were about one foot waves
As the crew navigated towards the bridge, they met a sailboat headed south. The skipper picked up the radio and hailed the sailboat. After a short conversation, the skipper’s decision to NOT cross the Albemarle Sound was confirmed. The sailboat captain reported that the waves were 3-5 foot and because of the wind direction, the waves were hitting the beam of the boat. He reported that the waves broke over the bow of his sailboat several times as he crossed. The skipper reminded the Admiral that this is supposed to be ‘recreational boating’, and fun. Three to five foot waves are not fun.
After passing thru the Alligator River Bridge, the crew followed a couple of other boats over to the eastern shore and dropped the anchor, along with Satisfied Frog. Another indication that this was not the day to cross came when the Coast Guard announced that a 16 foot sailboat had capsized in the Albemarle Sound and asked boaters to keep a look out for the boat.
Passing thru the Alligator River Bridge
What a difference 12 hours made. The winds died off over night as predicted, and the Albemarle Sound calmed down also. In fact, this was the 6th time our crew has crossed the Sound, and this was the smoothest crossing to date. The light wind had shifted out of the south and caused less than one foot following seas across the Sound.
The crew made good time to Elizabeth City, but decided not to stop for lunch because it had started to rain. However, after passing thru the Elizabeth City Bridge, the weather abruptly changed again. The grey dreary clouds gave way to a beautiful sunshine afternoon.
Elizabeth City Bridge, dreary conditions
Entering the Dismal Swamp
An interesting tree ornament 30 feet above the water
After 18 miles at idle speed (6 mph) the crew arrived at the South Mills Lock. The lock raised the boat about 8 feet. After the lock is a bridge that must be opened, and then only a couple of miles to the Visitor Center.
The Dismal Swamp Canal is not very wide so when you have a situation with boats meeting, it gets a little tight.
Meeting a boat in the swamp
When Satisfied Frog arrived at the Visitor Center Dock there was only room for one more boat. Once Satisfied Frog was safely landed, the skipper pulled up and rafted off Satisfied Frog. Then another boat arrived, a 32 foot PDQ catamaran. The skipper got two other boats to adjust their position on the dock which opened a 36 foot spot on the dock. The PDQ managed to slip in the tight spot. Eventually, a 32 foot Nordic Tug also showed up. The tug rafted off the PDQ motor cat, so there were 6 boats along the dock for the night.
Boats docked at Visitor Center
Today would be another short day to cruise. It was about eighteen miles to the Deep Creek Lock and then just a few more miles to the Top Rack Marina where the crew would stay the night.
The Corps of Engineers reopened the Dismal Swamp in the fall of 2017 after dredging the canal. The controlling depth is now around 6 feet. With the draft of Still Waters II at 4 feet and only 2 feet of water below the keel, the skipper was a bit nervous. The depth alarm was sounding almost continuously, so the skipper finally just turned it off. Luckily the crew made it thru without hitting bottom or a deadhead log.
The water was glassy smooth on the way to the lock. The reflections on the water looked like a mirror.
The Deep Creek Lock experience turned out to be the best lock experience ever. Robert, the Lockmaster, gave a demo on how to play music on a conch shell, as well as gave a brief history of the Dismal Swamp. Watch the video to see Robert do his thing.
The Admiral was so impressed, she left one of her prized Bahama conch shells on the lock wall to add to Robert’s conch garden collection.
1100 o’clock opening of the Deep Creek Bridge
After the Deep Creek Lock, it was time to head towards the Top Rack Marina. Our crew will stay the night. However, the crew of Satisfied Frog is off to Hampton where they have work scheduled on the boat to start on Friday. It has been a blast cruising up the ICW with Berrlin and Debra.
The skipper struck up a conversation with a couple that are on a sailboat. The skipper has passed this sailboat almost daily for the last week. The sailboat is crewed by Howard and Sue from England. In fact, they sailed the boat across the Atlantic Ocean. Their story was a bit surreal.
After leaving England and heading for the British Virgin Islands, they ran into a large storm that raged for a few days. Howard commented that the waves were in excess of 15 feet. After the storm passed, their engine failed, day 4 of their crossing. They raised the sails and soldiered on. Then they found the doldrums. For ten days they basically drifted in the Atlantic Ocean because they had no wind. The winds did eventually return and they completed their crossing in a total of 22 days.
Howard and Sue aboard Sundowner
Today the crew only traveled to the north side of Norfolk so they could stage to cross the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday. The weather, wind, and waves are much more favorable on Saturday to make way across the Bay to the Eastern Shore.
There were many more US Navy ships at the Naval Shipyard than in years past. Looks like the Navy is putting those new tax dollars to work.
A sub in for overhaul
Even saw the Ike in for maintenance
OK, only one more ship, but how about that dry dock
The Waterside Marina also had a new addition. They have added a Ferris Wheel to the waterfront.
After passing thru Norfolk, the crew completed the Atlantic ICW leg of the Loop. The crew anchored in Hampton Flats for the night, prepared to weigh anchor and cross the Bay early in the morning.
Mile Zero of the A-ICW
The crew woke to very calm conditions so they attempted to bring the anchor up and set out for Onancock. However, the anchor brought up some garbage off the sea floor that the skipper had to untangle before they could get started. It was only a short delay, and the crew still managed to get underway by 0630.
Never a dull moment
It was about 70 uneventful miles across the Bay. About the only excitement occurred when the crew passed thru the large ship anchorage near Cape Charles.
A helicopter came and landed on one of the ships to drop off a navigation pilot. Then a boat pulled alongside another large ship and the navigation pilot had to climb some stairs to get onboard.
The run up Onancock Creek was pretty with many nice homes which line the River.
In the Big Rock Fishing Tournament, the boats can enter as many as 9 different contests. Total cost to enter all 9 events was $23,000 this year. One of the events is called the Fabulous Fisherman. The cost to enter the event is $5,000, but the payout was $500,000 to the first boat to land a 500 pound fish. Well, sorta.
The first 500 pound fish was a blue marlin weighing in at 518.5 pounds caught by Honey Hush on Tuesday. Unfortunately for them, they did NOT enter the Fabulous Fisherman event so could not claim the prize.
In fact, the prize remained unclaimed until the last day of the contest when Carterican landed a 500.9 pounder and claimed the cash. The fish put them in second place for the overall contest, for the moment.
However, the final results would not be known until the last weigh-in of the day. Fender Bender landed a large fish and eventually won second place with a 514.3 pound Blue Marlin.
With only three 500 pound fish caught all week, and two of those on the last day, you might understand why Honey Hush did not enter the Fabulous Fisherman contest. However, since they ended up winning the overall tournament and the $753,875 purse, I think they are just fine with the outcome.
The skipper has looked at the weather forecast for next week, and the Bay looks to be calm all week with winds under 10 mph. If these conditions hold, the crew will attempt to cruise 8 hours each day. With fair winds, they hope to make Cape May next weekend.