Poquoson River, VA, to Pungo River, NC

Poquoson River, VA, to Hampton, VA

October 13, 2003

The sun was out and a northerly breeze had sprung up when we hoisted the anchor about 8:00 am. We motored out the river and hoisted sail in company with about five other sailboats who appeared to be heading toward the Norfolk area. The wind built to about 15-20 kn from the north, making the broad reach mostly fast and lumpy as we huddled out of the wind and watched the miles roll by.


By noon we had rounded New Point Comfort to enter the Hampton Roads and began to make our swing into the Hampton River to a slip at Bluewater Yachting Center where we plan to stay for a couple of days. We recognized Ian, the Australian dockmaster, from the municipal docks when we visited this area a few years ago.

Bluewater YC is a newly renovated facility just inside the mouth of the Hampton River. Although some distance from downtown, it has a launch service, good restaurant and beautiful floating docks. A lovely neighborhood nearby provided plenty of places for Sandy to take her daily walks.

Although the marina seemed in fine shape, they had lots of high water from Isabel. You can see where the floating docks rode up the support pilings and one dock reportedly floated off its piling. The area suffered lots of fallen trees, many of them very large with attendant damage to roofs and walls of homes. You still hear chain saws cutting away at the fallen wood.

Hampton, VA

October 14, 2003

With a strong low passing to the north and rain and southerly winds forecast, we spent the day in the marina and messing around Hampton. Sandy finally had an opportunity to begin writing thank you notes to folks from the wonderful bon-voyage party that Ann & Dave Stetser hosted for us. Later, in downtown Hampton, Sandy got a trim at the local hair design school. Bill had the biggest “grilled cheese sandwich” ever seen at a local pub called Marker 14. And we took in a film at the Virginia Space and Flight Museum IMAX. (“Adrenaline Rush, the Science of Risk” was, like most IMAX films, visually stunning but not much of a story.)

That evening we tried the restaurant at the marina, the Surf Rider. Although our service was a bit slow (they were quite busy), the food was excellent. Recommended!

Hampton, VA

October 15, 2003

Yeah, still here. Winds were gusting to 35 and people were beginning to arrive on the dock who are getting ready to do the Caribbean 1500. So, it seemed like it might be more fun to stay around, socialize and maybe do some laundry. That evening we had dinner at the Surf Rider again, this time with several other people who were tied up at the marina.

Hampton, VA, to Dismal Swamp Canal Visitor Center, NC

October 16, 2003

This was an eventful day.

We started off by topping off the boat’s diesel fuel tank before heading across Hampton Roads Harbor. It was a busy morning with several war ships making maneuvers in the harbor, each patrolled by a few machine gun equipped picket boats enforcing the mandatory 500 yard buffer zone required since 911.

Near Norfolk’s Waterside we passed the official marker that begins the ICW at 10:21 am, marking, also, the first time Whistwind has ever left the waters of the Chesapeake in the 19 years we’ve owned her. Entering the Elizabeth River, with its numerous drawbridges, we were disappointed to be held up, albeit briefly, at two of the railroad bridges which are normally open.

Along the way we were also boarded by the Coast Guard for a safety check while passing an unloading LNG ship they were guarding. (The duty is boring so they do safety checks to pass the time. And, no, Paul Wolpert was not among the boarders.) They were very polite and were pleased that we accepted our fate cheerfully, letting them know that Bill is an active CG Auxiliarist who teaches safe boating and navigation courses. The launch driver was from York, PA, so that was some other common ground. We passed the check and off they went.

A few miles later we broke off the main ICW path, choosing to travel the Dismal Swamp Canal instead of the more commercial Virginia Cut Route. Within a couple of miles we transited the Deep Creek Lock, a lift of about eight feet. Lock Tender, Bridge Tender, Maintenance Engineer and Caretaker, Robert Peek, locked us through and raised the drawbridge about half a mile south. Since we were the only boat locking through, we had lots of time for conversation. After pleasantries and finding out our destination, Robert made us promise to bring back a conch shell on our way north in the spring.

Locking Through Dismal Swamp Canal
Locking Through Dismal Swamp Canal

“Why?”, we asked. “To add to my horn collection”, answered Robert, whereupon he proceeded to play tunes on a couple of the many conch shells he keeps in a garden in front of the lock-tender’s office. We remarked that we were pleased to be able to transit the Dismal Swamp, reopened just a couple of days earlier after Isabel. Robert noted that, over the past couple of weeks, the Corps of Engineers had removed 683 trees that had fallen across the canal during the hurricane.

Robert also offered some tidbits about the canal’s origins. Surveyed by George Washington, it turns out that George held major interests in the swamp and the canal and that his interest was not as a commerce route between two bodies of water, but rather a method to remove timber from his land holdings. The canal has the distinction of being the oldest, continuously operated canal in the US.

Entering the canal we noted that the water was almost as dark as black coffee, stained by the many cypress trees in the Great Dismal Swamp. We noted, too, the thousands of fallen trees along the route that did not impede travel along the canal. (We also touched a few obstacles the Corps missed in their cleanup efforts.)

Our day’s travel ended with our arrival at the Dismal Swamp Canal Visitors’ Center just across the North Carolina line. The Center offered a lovely, free dock, 24-hr restrooms and water. It was here that we met Ed and Sandy Lewandowski aboard their Island Packet 380, Endless Love. They invited us to stop over after dinner and we did. Sandy and Sandy surprised Bill with a piece of candle-laden cheesecake to celebrate his 57th birthday.

Dismal Swamp Canal Visitor Center, NC, to Elizabeth City, NC

October 17, 2003

Along with Endless Love, we left the dock at 8:00 am in order to make the first, 9:00, opening of the South Mills Lock.

Dsimal Swamp Canal
Dsimal Swamp Canal

Departing the canal we entered the beautiful Pasquotank River. The river was lined with knobby-kneed cypress trees which gradually widened as it approached our day’s destination, Elizabeth City.

Elizabeth City is very welcoming to visiting yachts with free slips right downtown. Fred Fearing leads the Rose Buddies who make it their business to welcome all visiting yachts and to host a waterside wine & cheese party whenever there are five or more visiting yachts. Since there were only four yachts, Fred hosted the party at his house about five blocks away. There, with his good friend and fellow Rose Buddy, Gus, we shared the repast and conversation.

Fred, who cherishes his departed wife, is quite a ladies man and gave the gals a tour of his home. He showed off his collection of antiques and memorabilia, many of which evoked stories that reminded him of his wife. And, as a parting gift, presented each of the women with an antique, cast iron flat iron. (Just what we need aboard?)

Returning to the boat, we surgically located among our many storage boxes, a large can of kidney beans to serve as the basis of a meal of chili. A very good day!

Elizabeth City, NC

October 18, 2003

How could we have planned this any better? It turned out that Elizabeth City happens to be the home of Moth sailboats and that this was the day of their annual regatta. So, with a brisk breeze, the racing got started off the city docks, complete with CGAux patrol, committee boat, etc. Other boat classes also raced including Shark catamarans. These molded wood and resin boats are beautiful and unique in that they literally fold in half to fit on their trailers.

Elsewhere, a high school band played at the site of the new Elizabeth City Museum while folks from a nearby town showed off their replica of the Gattling (the first) airplane that flew once, from a barn roof to the ground.

That afternoon, as the city docks began to fill with cruisers, Sandy explored the downtown shops and Bill “penned” memoirs and helped get boats safely into slips in the face of stiff cross winds and currents.

Main Rose Buddy, Fred Fearing
Main Rose Buddy, Fred Fearing

Since there were more than four boats tied up, this would be a night of an “official” wine & cheese held on the docks. Fred put extra beer and wine on ice and stopped by to inform us that he’d arranged some special visitors and would we please all be sure to bring our cameras. It turned out to be quite an affair with more than 40 cruisers in attendance. The special guests turned out to be Orville & Wilbur Wright reenactors. In their company were two direct descendants of Lifesaving Service (predecessor to the Coast Guard) people who helped the Wrights with the first flight.

Bill especially enjoyed talking to Terry Beacham, pilot and US Coast Guard, retired. Terry piloted search and rescue helicopter missions in Alaska and was Director of Auxiliary for the District that includes Florida, USVI, and Georgia. He had some amazing stories, especially of the SAR stuff.

After the party we needed something to eat. Based on Terry’s recommendation, we tried the Cypress Creek Grill … excellent!

Elizabeth City, NC, to Pungo River, NC

October 19, 2003

It was quite a parade of boats leaving the City Docks this morning. We untied the lines about 7:30 and there were already about five boats stretched out ahead of us. Several others followed. It was predicted to be a day of light winds which was good news for crossing the Albemarle Sound which can become very rough in any kind of breeze. While light, there was enough wind to make it worth motor-sailing, raising our speed from about six to about seven knots. We were able to motor-sail about half of the 70 miles to the Pungo River, saving us about half an hour of travel!

Along the way we joined with folks who’d taken the Virginia Cut route so there was a long parade of boats that passed through Middle Ground and the Alligator River Bridge on their way south. Entering the 25-mile Alligator River/Pungo River Canal mid-afternoon, we met our first tug and barge heading north. If you’ve never encountered one before it can be intimidating. Tugs and barges are huge next to your puny little cruising boat and they seem to take up 75 percent of the channel. In fact, they take up less than half, but, if there were to be a collision there’s no doubt as to who would suffer.

In the end, we joined about a dozen boats who anchored in the Pungo River, just south of the canal for the evening. We rowed over to Endless Love to say goodbye to Ed and Sandy with whom we’d been traveling for several days. They plan a 60 mile day to get beyond most of the open water sections before the winds get heavy for several days. We plan to visit our friends, the Nettings. Dave and Sandy live only about 40 miles from where we’re anchored.