ICW Virginia & North Carolina: Oct 30 2006
We departed Norfolk under drizzly, grey clouds (Oct 17). Our goal was to start the dismal swamp route of the ICW later in the afternoon...either anchored just out front to wait for the first opening the next day or scoot through at the last opening today. We arrived about an hour before the final lock opening and simply anchored and waited. We made it through (at the 3:30pm opening) and tied up for the night. It was our first lock passage and happily uneventful. There were six boats (all monohulls except for us) for the night and a cocktail party had already been put into motion. However, with our arrival it became headcount 12 people - too many for the original hostess so we were asked to pinch hit. No problem!! Our Thursday night dock parties were a perfect training. Everyone arrived with a heavy appetizer and their own cocktails...and all the serving and eating utensils they needed (wonderfully self-sufficient lot). We had been on the road all day and were not sure what to contribute...Blue Ridge Mtn apples came in handy for a pie. Our new friends are all headed South, too, and we will likely be crossing paths several times.
Oct 18 we all marched with coffee mug in hand for bagels and coffee cake compliments of the world's friendliest lock master - Robert. We headed out en masse and continued along the Dismal Swamp (total distance is 37 miles). It is absolutely as beautiful as everyone says it is - dense swamp trees and bushes reaching above and into the canal (watch the mast). We saw several turtles sunning themselves but did not catch sight of the shy black bears or alligators. The water of the dismal swamp is so brown that it looks like coffee. Although the first thought might be that it is dirty water...it is actually incredibly clean (Chris - according to our lock master. Yeah right ... I'm not swimming in it) . The unusually pure water is preserved by tannic acids from the bark of the juniper, gum and cypress trees which prohibits the growth of bacteria. We passed through the second lock and made our way to Elizabeth City (the friendliest town around). We tied up at the free town docks and scurried over just in time for the wine and cheese party hosted by the Rose Buddies. The Rose Buddies have been welcoming cruisers to town for decades - providing town info and all sorts of helpful details (including the van that will pick you up and return you to the docks after a supermarket trip). We stayed three nights in order to wait for favorable winds to cross the Albermarle Sound (the Sound can get pretty choppy due to shallow depths and it is not recommended to cross if winds are greater than 15 knots). Another helpful tid bit (compliments of the Rose Buddies) found us attending an evening program at the Albermarle Museum - a discussion of Blackbeard and the Queen Anne's wreck narrated by the man who discovered the wreck. It was fascinating and we did not realize the rich history of pirate activity in the area (including Blackbeard). The evening began with a light supper and mingling. The museum members made us feel welcome and were wonderful to talk with...and thrilled to have "out-of-towners" attending the program.
We left Elizabeth City (Oct 21) before sunrise so that we could make a good, long run for Belhaven, NC (anchored at 5:30pm). Erin's parents arrived on Oct 22 after driving from Raleigh - once aboard and settled - we headed for Ocracoke (10/23). Wow - what a great recommendation from our lock and Elizabeth City friends (thanks Diana and Randy)!! Ocracoke is part of the outer banks and a mere slip of land offshore of North Carolina. The magic of the place began as we were escorted into the harbor by dolphins, pelicans and cormorants (Chris - "escorted" was really one dolphin jumping .... but whatever). The myth of the place continued as we learned that it was where Blackbeard was tricked/ambushed and killed. The winds were mighty strong so we stayed anchored for three days and explored the island...even biking out to the Atlantic side and looking for seashells. Restaurants had not yet closed for the season and we enjoyed regional cuisine such as she crab soup, Carolina chowder, hushpuppies, soft shell crab, and fish (grouper, flounder and red drum). It was all delicious but our favorite dinner was aboard Barefeet when we cooked up some just caught red drum and oysters. The red drum was simply baked in the oven (too windy for the grill) seasoned with butter and Santa Maria spices - delicious! The oysters were shucked by Chris and my Dad then served both raw and lightly cooked (each seasoned with butter, garlic and lemon juice - thanks for the recipe Creighton and Lois) - another hit!!
The wind died down (10/26) and we made a run back to the mainland with two other sailboats. We were anchored in Oriental with time to stretch our legs ashore and then back aboard for a birthday (40th) dinner for Chris - Greek salad, grilled steaks with potatoes & peas and of course a hot apple pie (Winston's receipt - thanks Winston, never a bad bite). Oriental was a charming town and the light wind was a nice change - although not to last. We departed Oriental via Adam's Creek and made it to Beaufort, NC (pronounced Bow-fert). We again saw a variety of wildlife; dolphins, herons, pelicans and gulls. Thanks to TowBoat US for getting us off the sand when we went aground as we maneuvered into Beaufort Harbor ('Thanks' here is 500 bucks). Sand is soooo much better than rocks - no damage and just a minor inconvenience. The TowBoat US guys also mentioned that the channel we were in (clearly marked on our "updated" chart) had become shoaled up for quite some time due to hurricanes and shifting sands...but despite lots of efforts - maps have yet to be updated. Local knowledge is always useful. We tied up snug at the Beaufort docks to wait out the 30 knot winds and heavy rains that carried on for the next two days.