Monday, November 22, 2010

Long Weekend

Another lock, another bridge and another few hours of motoring and we were through the Dismal Swamp and into the Pasqoutank River. Cypress trees lined the banks, their trunks spreading down into the water.

And since I know you all loved the reflection photos... here's another one from the swamp. 

Just after noon on Saturday we arrived in Elizabeth City. We walked the two miles to the grocery store to do some shopping and someone from the store gave us a lift back to the wharf. Elizabeth City prides itself on being boater friendly going out of their way to make things accessible to passing sailors. The guy who drove us back to the boat was a local college kid who coaches the middle school wrestling team. (FYI: He's optimistic about the teams upcoming season.... their first match is Tuesday.)

Moon over Elizabeth City
The two boats that transited the swamp with us have tied up at the city dock for the night too. We made some friends and met up for dinner with the crew of one of the boats, Isabella. The crew is a mother and son who just last week wrapped up their land life (sold the house, cars and all belongings) and are off on a two year adventure with plans to spend time in Central America and transit the Panama Canal. Isabella is 27’ long, with no oven and no shower below. We feel spoiled on Saralane. A son/brother of this duo recently opened a restaurant in Charleston called “Graze” and if we’re able to get there when we’re in Charleston we’ll stop in with greetings for the chef/son/brother from the crew of Isabella. I forgot to mention the third crew member on Isabella.... Admiral Cunningham. He's a really, really small dog who thinks he's a really really big dog. 

The crew of the other boat, Illusion, is an enthusiastic young couple that we’ve come to refer to as ‘the kids’. Their boat is a project that’s not nearly as far along as Saralane and again we feel spoiled. We have some painting, carpentry and electrical work still to do, a cockpit table to build and a few other things – but otherwise we’re in pretty good shape. Everyone is heading in the same direction, at least for a while, so we’re sure meet up from time to time along the way.

Early Sunday we left Elizabeth City and made our way across the Albemarle Sound and into the Alligator River. It’s flat calm and I can’t resist a few photos…

There are a few boats anchored north of us, but we’re all alone at anchor in an 8’ deep spot just off the river…. I photograph the evening sky... 

...but only Skip sees Monday's sun rise. I’m working on becoming a morning person, but I’m not there yet.

Skip's sunrise photo!

Today's ride was uneventful with little wind and more opportunities for reflection pix. I think I'll call it "Channel Marker with Grill". Not to worry... I'm already getting tired of taking photos like this.

We're anchored all by our lonesome in a deep spot outside the Gale Creek channel. The minute we dropped the anchor we were swarmed by big skinny (hungry?!) mosquitos. Ack! We closed off the companionway with only a few of the hungry buggers getting in, and then realized that we'd neglected to turn on the propane that we'll need if we want to cook tonight. The propane is under the seats.... at the stern... outside... past the mosquitos. Bummer. 

Coordinates of the mosquito infested anchorage: 
35° 12.6 North
76° 35.5 West

The plan is to pick up our sail tomorrow in Oriental, then we'll start thinking about cooking for Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Warnings & Welcomes

Today’s trip was one of contrasts. Early in the day the navy told us in no uncertain terms “KEEP OUT” but later on North Carolina said “COME ON IN!” 

We listened to both. We left the anchorage at Hospital Point early and started for the Dismal Swamp, which the woman at the visitor’s center assured was not the least bit dismal. We passed more industrial and navy waterfront; huge ships being built and countless cranes on standby for loading/unloading. 

A bored/friendly sailor waved from a container ship from some unknown country (we couldn’t identify the flag) and a Bahamian sailor was tending the flag on another vessel.

It’s hard to judge the size of this crane until you look at the zigzag of vertigo inducing steps going up to the tippy top. Yikes.

We turned the corner from the Elizabeth River into the Dismal Swamp around 8:30 and to the dismay of the drivers trying to get to work on time the bridge tender held up traffic a few extra minutes for us to get through. 

We locked through the Deep Creek Lock in mid-morning. It’s easier to see the water level difference looking at the boat behind us…. it was about 10 feet from the lower level to the upper level. Lock tender Rob, assisted by his trusty hound U-turn, got us through the lock, then jumped in his car and dashed to the draw bridge about half a mile further along and opened the bridge for us. He wished us all God speed and on we went.

Saralane leading the way out of the lock

The 28 mile stretch we did today was scenic as expected and we even had a few wildlife sightings…. a blue heron and a turtle! Ok… not all that exciting…. but how many of you saw a blue heron and a turtle today? And…we saw a BEAR. Really! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the heron and the turtle.

I decided to forgo the usual ‘pretty autumn tree’ photos and instead am including this montage of ‘pretty autumn tree reflections in the water’ photos. The ripples were from the wake we created as we moved through the water.

Here’s North Carolina welcoming us! (On the other side of this sign it said “Welcome to Virginia”… we wondered if the two states argued about who had to take care of the sign.) 

It was a long lazy ride through the swamp and Renaissance man Skip took a break from the scenery to bake  bread from a dough he started yesterday.

We tied up along with the two boats we went through the lock with earlier in the day. Saralane is the boat on the far right of the photo. Skip got all fancy and turned us around to pull alongside. Whatever breeze there was had been coming from the north, so this will make our night more comfy if the wind picks up. (And we were too lazy to change the fenders from the starboard side to the port side… plus we’ll need them on the starboard side again tomorrow to go through another lock.)

So… the BEAR. We decided to go for a walk on the trails before it got dark… and we saw a BEAR. OK… it was dead… but it was still a bear. A few park rangers were clustered around the end of the bridge that took us over to the trails and we stopped to chat with them and see what all the activity was about. They were trying to figure out the best way to get this poor dead bear up out of the water and find out what had happened to it. The rangers were waiting for the local wildlife biologist to show up and tell them 1) what might have happened to the bear 2) how old the bear was 3) how the heck to get a big bear out of a ravine and dispose of it. 

They were still waiting when we crossed back over from our walk and when we asked what news there was about the bear… they said they’d been pondering a more important question. What were the words to Pattycake, Pattycake?! They’d gotten “Pattycake, pattycake baker’s man… bake me a cake as fast as you can” and it went downhill from there. So if anyone knows the rest of it… please let us know. We told the ranger we’d check in with her in the morning for an update.

One sort of scenic photo to end with. We saw these cool berries on our walk and have no idea what they are. They were really bright bold pinky purple-ish. Pretty! Looking at the wildflowers kept our minds off bears.... the live kind that might walk out of the woods and want to eat us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Still in Norfolk.... sort of

New hot water tank? Check! New fridge shelves? Check! Fixed autopilot? Not quite. New mainsail? New mainsail? Anyone seen a new mainsail? No new mainsail yet. We made arrangements to meet up with it farther down the road and continued on. It’s not an issue because we’ll be entering the Intracoastal Waterway beginning tomorrow and will be motoring through it. It’s essentially a canal system that’s very narrow; there are bridges to go under and locks to pass through and lots of beautiful scenery to take in. (Warning: scenic photos to come.)

We spent four days in Little Creek in Norfolk hoping to sort out our autopilot issues, but the last autopilot in captivity (of our vintage) mysteriously disappeared. Oliver did his best to reconfigure ours to make it work better. Time will tell.

With time on his hands, Skip created some shelves for our fridge that will make it easier to navigate the cold box without too much frustration. So far so good. 

Another fridge issue is that the air shock (fridge door holder-upper) that keeps the heavy lid in the open position is a little too strong and the lid doesn’t want to stay shut. For now we pile heavy objects on top of the closed lid for a little extra weight. (Think: leaning a chair up against your fridge door to keep it closed.) We’ll have to come up with a better solution.

After leaving Little Creek we headed just a few hours away to Hampton for a night where Skip’s friend Gaston has a marine business and where our replacement hot water tank had arrived. Getting the first tank out was a little messy, but after mopping up the spilled water and antifreeze we got the new tank in without much trouble. Voila…. no leaks! This is very good news. We have hot water again and we don’t get aggravated at the sound of the water pump cycling every hour.

Gaston and Skip swapping sea stories (telling tales/lies)....
Gaston offered us a slip for the night and provided the muscle to pull Skip up the mast so he could replace our masthead light, which hadn’t been working for a while. (Thanks Gaston!)

Gaston's 'hood....
It looked a little nicer after dark.
Someone overstayed their welcome.
Chores finished, we headed for Hospital Point, which is on the west side of Norfolk and is Mile 0 of the waterway. This took us past the main Navy base in Norfolk where there was some pretty fierce looking navy gear. 

Along the same shoreline was the industrial working waterfront where there were big ships, big cranes and zillions of containers piled up and waiting to be unloaded at your neighborhood Walmart. 

Incredibly skilled tugboat captains move barges around, navigating the waters with ease. Watching them work is like watching water ballet on a grand scale. 

We’ll spend the night anchored here… lots of boat traffic will make us rock and roll all night but otherwise it’s quiet and pretty. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010


After a quiet night anchored in Solomons at the southern end of the western shore of Maryland on the Patuxent River, we moved on to Deltaville Virginia. It was a sunny day with a brisk north wind, but the crab fishermen were out there crabbing away leaving fish guts and happy gulls in their wake.

We spent a day in Deltaville, did some laundry and some errands and met a few other sailors who are also heading south. Most of the boats in the anchorage flew Canadian flags but there was also trawler from Rhode Island that had been tied up ahead of us for a few days in Chesapeake City. 

Saralane at anchor in Deltaville
It’s easy to tell, by the ‘yes ma’ams/sirs’ and ‘y’awls’, that we’re in the south. Another giveaway is the southern hospitality – the boatyard in Deltaville kept a old loaner car in the lot for anyone who needed it as well as bicycles for those feeling more energetic. We had some heavy stuff to carry back from our errands so we opted for the car.

Before we left Newport I picked big bunches of parsley and sage from the garden… and sadly this is all that’s left. Picking through the wilting leaves I found this hitchhiker! Since we weren’t going to keep feeding him we gave him the swim test. He didn’t make it but I’ll bet he made a good meal for a sea critter farther up the food chain.

We left Deltaville with a strong north wind and a big following sea and headed for Norfolk. (For the non-sailors that means the waves are going in the same direction as the boat – it’s a much more comfortable way to move than to be bashing into waves that are going in the opposite direction.) The seas got much bigger when we reached the mouth of the Chesapeake and we got a long distance view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The photo is a little blurry but it’s all I could manage before losing either my camera or my lunch over the side.

It was dusk when we arrived in Norfolk where Skip’s friend Oliver (of the to-do list… “call Oliver re: auto pilot”) wrangled a free slip for us for a few nights. We didn’t realize until we found it that it was narrower than Saralane. So… how to fit a 12 ½ foot wide boat into a 12 foot wide slip? Those pilings aren’t really solidly in place are they? Apparently not. And besides… that’s what fenders are for! It’s just as well nobody was home on either of the adjacent boats. We should probably leave in the dark too.

Oliver gave us his car to use and we ran yet more errands trying to find pieces to finish the fridge interior. The businesses in the marina were throwing a big customer appreciation bash with free food and drinks and a band on Saturday night and we were officially customers for the night. The party was such a hit that they ran out of food before we could get any. At least they didn’t run out of drinks or music.

The company that made our hot water tank was good enough to offer to replace our leaky tank so along with our new main sail, our new hot water tank should arrive either here or just across the way in Hampton over the next few days. It's been unseasonably cold ('unseasonably mild' as the forecasters euphemistically say) so we'll stick around and enjoy the hot showers here until all our stuff shows up.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Week away recap

We left Annapolis this morning after a week of boat chores and time spent with family and friends. We got a cheery wave from the bridge tender as we passed through the Spa Creek drawbridge at the 9 AM opening and we headed back out into the Chesapeake and set a course for Solomons. We passed Thomas Point Lighthouse early on and we had the bay to ourselves with the exception of a few crab boats and barges. The wind was at our back so we rolled out the jib and settled in for the trip. 

Here’s a quick look back at the week:

Last Sunday Ruth and Carly drove down to get me and bring me back to Wilmington… but not before we took off the old main sail and packed it up to leave in my dad’s basement until we get back. This is why we’re still mostly a motor boat. (Perhaps it had something to do with Skip's bad case of shingles?) Hopefully our new sail will meet up with us in Norfolk later this week.

Ruth improved her method of getting on and off the dinghy and the boat and I think she finally believed me that sometimes it just makes more sense to scooch off the dock or the boat on your butt rather than trying to step off onto a small bobbing rubber boat. Carly has youth on her side and hops on and off like an old salt. She also excels at driving the dinghy and we’re hoping she’ll have a chance to zip around in the Bahamas in it too.

Sunday was Halloween and Carly and some friends went out as cats (they’re not quite too cool for trick or treating yet); I stayed and handed out candy with Ruth and ate just enough candy to get that nasty sugar crash headache about an hour later.

Sue was invaluable helping me make fitted sheets, a mattress cover and a mast cover. We tapped our inner Martha Stewarts and made the mast cover from pillowcases. It sounds weird but it worked. I left a little room at the top of the cover to stuff in some absorbent material to catch the water that drips down the mast. Skip keeps telling me it’s normal to have some water leaking in at the mast. Hmmmm. It is NOT normal, however, to have water leaking out of the brand new hot water tank – which we also have. A call to the company that makes the tank confirmed that they have indeed been having problems with a leaky valve on the tank – but apparently they don’t have a fix for it yet. Well, at least we know what the problem is now.

I got in a visit with Graham and Eva and the kids down in Milford this past week. I hadn’t seen them in over a year and the visit was long overdue. Everyone looks great and the kids are SO BIG. Sasha turned 2 last month (another October baby!) and is walking and talking and making her opinions known. She doesn’t seem to have that indecisive nature that’s often associated with Libras (who me?) but she didn’t try to wriggle off my lap so I guess she’s decided that I’m OK. 

Aidan and Gavin are great with her and are learning more each day about how to push each other’s buttons. (Good luck Graham and Eva!) I think I got one photo with Gavin not making a silly face – I’m guessing he got the goofy gene from Graham.

The only other visit I was able to squeeze in was with my old friend Shannon. We’ve been friends for ages but hadn’t seen each other for ages either. Ron and youngest daughter Sydney couldn’t be there but Maddie, Anna and Sara came along with Shannon. They are beautiful, smart engaging girls and I can hardly get past the fact that they’re so grown up. 

Maddie, Anna, Sara and Shannon
Some of you remember “baby Madeline”? This is baby Madeline who’s now 19 and a sophomore in college. Crikey. I wish I had some of her baby pictures in my computer – I’d post them along with these photos. (Maddie, I promise I wouldn’t have posted the potty photo… for your sake and mine!) It was great to see these guys and we promised to visit again when we’re headed north next year. We’ll need at least a few nights and a few bottles of wine to relive some of our misspent youth.

Two Maddies
On Sunday I headed back to Annapolis with two sisters (Leslie and Rebecca) and two nieces (Carly and Maya) along for the ride. This was Maya’s first look at Saralane and I’d say she had a pretty good time. 

She liked all the funny little spaces, tried out the wheel (as did Leslie in Chesapeake City – photo courtesy of Sue) and wondered where the television was (we don’t have one). Miles and Lex were on their way back from visiting family and made a stop in Annapolis to join the six of us for lunch.  

After goodbyes were said all around we took Saralane back to the anchorage for the night and started stowing the provisions I’d picked up in Delaware.

Before everyone decided who was riding down with me on Sunday, I found a web cam of the City Dock in Annapolis where Saralane would be. Leslie, my techie sister gets a kick out of web cams in different places (like uh… watching snow fall on a web cam in Alaska? Zzzzzzz…..) so I sent it to her.  Once we figured out where the camera was, I trekked over to it on Monday and called her. Here’s a screen shot of me sitting on the wall in view of the web cam saying “Can you see me?! I have on a green hat and I’m holding a newspaper.”.  It’s not quite the Bourne Identity, but I felt like I was in a spy movie! I know… I’m easily amused.

Skip spent the week powering through the to-do list and did just about all of it. The “call Oliver re: autopilot” will have to be put back on top of the next to-do list as our auto pilot is still not piloting automatically.

Since we moved onto the boat literally days before we sailed off for the year, we’re still sorting out where to put things and how to organize our small space. Our friends George and Christina who live aboard their boat Sophie, and know a little something about living on a boat, told us we’d be discarding things along the way as we realized we’d brought things we didn’t need. They were right and we’ll tell them so in person when we see them in Charleston where they’ll spend the winter on Sophie. Our little gecko companion is a gift from them and it reminds us of the warmer places we’re heading. Maybe we’ll have a tofurkey dinner with them around Thanksgiving?

Two pix from the day.... one is our first pelican sighting. A sure sign we're not in Kansas (or Rhode Island) anymore. 

He was headed over to this fish trap which was out in the middle of the water with no markers on it. The chart says "Numerous fish traps" No kidding. Good thing we passed by in daylight...