Thursday, May 26, 2016

Camp Lejeune to the Chesapeake - Rain, Rain, Go Away, and Take the Wind With You

It's been a month since we've updated our blog, and in some ways, it's been a long, dreary month: rain, high winds, more rain, more wind, a bad case of bronchitis for Mike, few places with decent internet, and lots of time to read and relax. Don't misunderstand; we're not complaining, and there have been high spots between the downpours and the wind, starting with Beaufort.
We pulled our anchor at Camp Lejeune, NC on April 17, a beautiful Sunday morning, destination Town Creek Marina in Beaufort.  We knew our Bright Angel friends Byron and Cynthia were at the town dock in Morehead City, just across the inlet, and we looked forward to seeing them one more time.  We reached the marina in time for laundry before joining Bright Angel, El Nido (Bob Frederick and Duncan) and a lively group of boaters for dinner at the Ruddy Duck, including our fellow Marine Trader Loopers Frank and Tara from Time to Go.  The margaritas were great, and the conversation was lively, but it was soon time to head back to Beaufort to rest for an early departure on Monday.
Our undocking from Town Creek was smooth, thanks to Mike's skillful skippering.  With help from the dockmaster when we arrived, we had backed into a corner slip, making a bow first departure possible.  But, with the strong wind pushing us toward the dock, we had to set up a spring line on the bow, enabling Mike to turn us 90 degrees to port, then back straight out of the fairway.
Six hours later, we reached R.E. Mayo Seafood Company in Hobucken, NC. We had phoned ahead, and Peggy met us on the dock to direct us to a spot where we were out of the way of the commercial fishing boats - but had no shore power.  Another employee helped us tie our lines across the dock to the land-side pilings.  Watch your step when going ashore. Fresh flounder for Mike and bacon-wrapped scallops  cooked on the grill more than made up for having to run the generator to brew coffee the next morning.  The docks at R.E. Mayo, where we had spent two nights waiting out bad weather on our first Loop, are rustic but sturdy, and they're fixed docks - level with the deck.  Midas can simply hop off the boat instead of having to jump down.
Midas and Marian went ashore early Tuesday morning for his usual "get busy" routine.  (He had remembered the area across the dead-end road from the building.) We had a bag of trash to deposit in the 50-gallon drum next to the door, but that plan was aborted when Marian looked into the can and saw a possum staring back from the bottom. We even captured him on video: As we stood outside the store talking with Peggy, Mike noticed what at first looked like a large black dog ambling across the road.  But it wasn't a dog; it was a bear cub.  He crossed the space in front of the dock, climbed onto the dock, jumped in the water, and swam across.  Mama and his brother (or sister?) followed along, but stayed on
our side of the road.  Peggy confessed that she feeds the bears as well as the possum, and they're somewhat tame.
And if there's any boat hardware you need, you can probably find it in their store.
From Hobucken, we got an early start to our Tuesday night anchorage in East Lake, after cruising up the Alligator River and entering Albemarle Sound.  Active Captain showed two possible spots to drop the hook along a wide creek to our starboard, including one that was supposed to have a boat ramp where we could take Midas ashore.  After more than nine hours, we was ready as soon as we launched the dinghy.  As we headed into the shallow cove in search of the dirt ramp, Mike spotted an eagle near his nest, and we putted by slowly as Mike took this picture, sadly without a telephoto lens:

We turned into a narrow canal and found the "boat ramp" just as described in Active Captain, scooted the dinghy up, and Midas hopped out to explore. We had spotted a white cross as we searched for the opening, and when we saw it from land, we knew there must be a story.  The name Ryan Joseph Kitchings is written on the horizontal arm of the cross, which is surrounded by several ceramic angel figurines.

The next morning, we backtracked to Alligator River Marina for breakfast, and Logan, the owner/dockmaster, told us the "rest of the story." Two brothers got caught in a storm and their small fishing boat overturned. One brother was able to swim ashore, but Ryan Joseph Kitchings apparently panicked and drowned. The sad irony is that they were in shallow water; all Kitchings needed to do was stand up.  His memorial is in a beautiful, remote spot, and we have updated the anchorage description in Active Captain, noting that the white cross is a good landmark to find the small creek and boat ramp.
Sunset in East Lake - Albemarle Sound
The dinghy wake as the sun goes down
makes an interesting picture.
From our East Lake anchorage, it was into Albemarle Sound and some rock 'n roll water as we pushed on to Manteo on the north end of the Outer Banks, where the Yacht Doc, Ken Moore, had agreed to check out our engine.  John Kish in Georgetown had mentioned hearing a slight ticking noise when we tried to revive our dormant autopilot and suggested we have it checked out, and we knew Ken was just the man to do it. Ken dropped by the boat the afternoon we docked at Manteo Waterfront Marina, in a prime slip right next to the walkway behind a condo/retail complex.  After we cranked up "Betty," Ken went into the engine room, tightened a bolt or two, then told us our trusty Ford Lehman was the quietest one he'd heard.  He wouldn't accept payment for the ten minutes he worked on the boat, and we really enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with one of the many terrific folks we've met in our travels.
We turned north again on Friday for another Albemarle Sound crossing, this one a bit smoother than the trip to Manteo.  We held our breath as we approached the spot in the Pasquotank River where our injector pump had failed two years before, but good old Midas Touch cruised right along, past the Coast Guard air station, through Elizabeth City, and on to Lamb's Marina.    There's bridge construction in Elizabeth City, and somehow we managed to knock our American flag off the aft deck roof as we made our way carefully through a narrow opening.  Neither of us know exactly what happened; Marian was in the aft cabin when Mike yelled, and she hurried up to, only to see the flag and its pole floating alongside the boat.  We couldn't stop, so we didn't, but we have now replaced the flag and flagpole.

Views of the Dismal Swamp, a place of unmatched beauty...

We had called ahead to Lamb's to let them know we would need to use their courtesy car to go to the NAPA store to replace one of our four large house batteries, which we had discovered was failing in Manteo.  Mike had already disconnected the battery, and two fellow Loopers met us at the fuel dock, where we tied up the first night.  Within ten minutes, with help from Andy and Mel, the battery was out of the boat, loaded into the car, and with Andy at the wheel, he and Mike were off to NAPA.  Half an hour later, they were
back, Mel met the car, and he and Andy quickly carried the battery, suspended by rope loops from a sturdy board, to the boat. Mike had hurried ahead and was already waiting in the engine room to guide the battery into place and connect it. These things that can and do happen to boaters.  Something breaks, or fails, or stops working, but there are always fellow boaters ready and willing to pitch in.  All three couples met at the Dockside Grill for an incredibly good meal of prime rib with all the fixings - a great end to the day.
Elizabeth City is the official southern beginning of the Great Dismal Swamp, one of the most beautiful sections of our trip so far.  After a second night at Lamb's, we were off the dock at 7:37 on Sunday morning in plenty of time for the 11:00 AM opening of South Mills Lock. In fact, we arrived at 9:55, dropped the anchor behind a sailboat, and waited.  Liquid Assets, another Looper boat, arrived while we waited, and we chatted as we tied up in the lock. We exited at 11:35 and reach the Dismal Swamp State Park Visitor Centre at 12:30.  Liquid Assets tied up behind us, and Midas met their Golden Retriever Benjie.  This was a free dock, with clean restrooms but no showers.  Mike woke up Sunday morning with a runny nose and sore throat, and it had wiped him out by the time we tied up.  We decided to spend the night, and Midas and Benjie had great fun playing.  The Dismal Swamp Visitor Center was closed, but the State Park museum on the other side of the canal was open, so we walked across the pedestrian lift bridge to learn more about the canal.  It was originally surveyed by George Washington and was hand-dug by slaves -- quite an impressive accomplishment.

Monday morning, we were up early and off the dock at 7:34 for another beautiful cruise.  We reached Deep Creek Bridge, south of the second lock, in plenty of time for its 11:00 opening.  We had tied up to the wall before the bridge, and soon the third boat from the Visitor Center arrived.  They rafted to us, then Liquid Assets rafted to them. Mike had time to walk to a nearby drugstore for cold medicine, and Marian picked up lunch at Hardee's, which we could see from the wall.  Just as she returned to the boat, the bridgemaster/lock-master radioed that the southbound boat we had waited for was through the lock.  "Gentlemen, untie and start your engines."  We hustled to untie ourselves, were through the bridge at 11:35 and exited the lock at 11:58.
Deep Creek Lock is not far from Chesapeake, Virginia, a town we knew well from our first Loop, and after stopping to fuel up and pump out at Top Rack Marina, we headed south to Atlantic Yacht Basin.  We had one more lock to go, with a twenty-minute wait for northbound boats to be lifted two feet and leave, and we were tied up next to our Canadian friends from Lamb's by 3:15.  We had called AYB to ask about getting our center window replaced, and James told us it would be best if we brought the boat there.  In many ways, it was like coming home, even back to the same shed where we stayed for storm damage repairs two years before.  Midas remembered exactly where to find his friend Fay, dispenser of gourmet dog treats, and he knew the way to a wooded area that's a perfect "poopy place."  As we motored from the face dock around to the shed the next morning, we passed Camelot, our sailboat friends from Camp Lejeune.  They had gone to AYB for some engine work, and it was great to connect with them and to meet other boaters for docktails one of the evenings we were there.
We had potential buyers from France visit the boat on Wednesday, accompanied by one of the Curtis Stokes representatives who lives in Edenton, NC and would be attending the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous in Norfolk the following week. They seemed interested, but we later learned that they decided on a catamaran as their Loop boat.  Sailboat cat? Trawler cat? We trust they know the wide beam of most catamarans will limit where they can go.
As usual, the folks at Atlantic Yacht Basin treated us like family, and their skilled employees soon had our window replaced. They even gave us several squares of teak veneer plywood to replace a few tabletops that have water damage caused when we forgot to close windows and replaced a window cover snap at no charge.
On Saturday, April 30, Mike's "Dismal Swamp Fever" was lingering, and we knew a storm system was headed our way.  We had talked with Alan Cecil, a friend we made at the 2014 Spring Rendezvous, and decided to make the short run to Old Point Comfort Marina at Fort Monroe, just across Hampton Roads from Norfolk and Alan's home on Willoughby Spit.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Deadrise, the restaurant at the marina, after Alan drove us around the fort.  We soon settled in for a week-long stay, giving Mike time to recuperate while we waited for the rain and wind to subside.  When he was still coughing several days later, we got the names of two urgent care facilities in Hampton, summoned an Uber cab, and off Mike went.  Fellow Gold Loopers who keep their boat, Desiree, at the marina, had offered to take us for provisions, to West Marine, or elsewhere.  Bob(?) picked up Mike when he was finished at the clinic, stopped at Walgreens to drop off a prescription, then later took us to West Marine.  The medications worked, and by the following Saturday, we
Old Point Comfort Marina - not pretty, but Deadrise Restaurant
was GREAT!
Ducks on the Dismal Swamp Canal

  were ready to move on to Deltaville Boatyard, where our radar dome was waiting for us, plus a new rug for the salon, a lighter color that -- so far -- doesn't show the Midas hair like the dark blue one did.  We donated the old one to the boatyard.  We stayed there four days, reconnected with Benji and his people on Liquid Assets, met several more Loopers, had a great dinner at Cocomo's, provisioned, found the tiny screws we needed for our light fixtures at a great local hardware store, enjoyed docktails one evening, and a Looper potluck the next.
When we left Deltaville at 11:25 on Wednesday, May 11 to cross the Bay to Onancock on the Eastern Shore, we knew we would run into rain, and did we ever.  We should have broken out the bright yellow foul-weather slickers (bib overall pants and hooded jackets), but we our Bass Pro Shops rain gear kept us reasonably dry. By the time we reached the Onancock Wharf and Marina, the rain was pouring.  We had called to reserve a slip, and Ruth, the wonderful marina manager, assured us that she went home when we were safely tied up to the dock. She readily agreed to wait about ten minutes for the rain to slack up, so we docked in a steady drizzle, not a downpour.  As it turned out, slip #7 was too narrow for the Midas Touch; we were wedged between two pilings ten feet or more from the finger pier. Ruth told us to tie up alongside at the fuel dock for the night; she knew some of the sailboats in the wider slips would be leaving, and that worked fine for us.  As often happens when a boat approaches a dock, folks on the boats already there show up to catch a line, help connect shore power, and welcome us ashore. Helpers included T. Lee Reed, one of the city councilmen, who oversees the marina and who offered us the use of his golf cart on our last night in town. Thursday morning, the sailboat in slip 1 left early, and we moved from the fuel dock into the slip with ease. You can see Midas Touch behind the pilings.

Onancock is lovely and charming, and we fell in love with the town and its warm, generous people. Yes, there were a few vacant storefronts along Market Street, but there were also beautiful old homes, yards filled with every shade of iris, a restored movie theater where we saw The Lady in the Van, the Blarney Stone Pub, and the Corner Bakery, where we met Dave and his daughter one morning.  Dave lives just across the small bridge that spans the south branch of Onancock Creek, within sight of the marina, and he almost insisted that we use his truck to provision.  We took him up on the offer and made a run to Walmart on Saturday afternoon. The sky was blue when we arrived; when we walked out, the clouds were ominous and the wind had picked up to nearly gale force gusts.  We reached the boat just in time to get all of our bags and five six-packs of lemon water aboard before the sky opened up.
Just as we had in McClellanville, we enjoyed wandering around the town and talking with local residents.  An old school has been converted into art studios, and that's where we met Billy Crockett, whose detailed carvings of birds are amazing.  His dad Willie is a talented painter, and we stopped in at his gallery on Market Street after we left the school.  Check it out here: Midas has another fan there, the friendly woman who works in the gallery.  When we came in, she yelled upstairs for Willie to come down and meet Midas, then proceeded to spoil Midas with many, many dog biscuits.  The next morning, as we headed toward the Corner Bakery, Midas made a sharp turn toward the gallery door, nearly pulling Marian's arm out of the socket in his eagerness to see his new admirer.  We can't say enough good things about the wonderful folks at Onancock Wharf and Marina.
Hallway at the art center,
formerly a school
Mosaic window at the Onancock
Art Center
Everything was green.
Willie Crockett in his gallery 
Prize lettuce at the Farmers Market

The Corner Bakery - yum, yum, yum...
As it had throughout the month of May, weather kept us in Onancock longer than we had planned.  Unlike sailboaters, we stay in port when Windfinder and other weather applications show high winds and waves, especially when the waves will be on our beam (side) instead of the bow.  Unless the waves are three feet or more, meeting them head on simply means an up and down ride. When they're coming at the side of the boat, causing it to roll, the ride becomes very uncomfortable, especially for Midas.  Even when the sun is shining and the breeze is tolerable on land, the breeze becomes a wind and the water turns rough out on the bay.
Monday dawned bright, cool and clear, and the wind was just a breeze when we woke up. Mike had to return to Onancock Building Supply to ship a second UPS package to our wonderful neighbors before we left, and Marian took advantage of the free laundry to wash one last load of clothes.  We were off the dock and on our way to Tangier Island at 11:03, and the breeze had become a brisk wind by the time we backed out of our slip, following the narrow channel from the town back to Chesapeake Bay and the historic village of 757 people (as of the 2010 census).
The channel that bisects the island is lined with fishing shacks on high stilts, some still in use and some abandoned and falling down.  [pictures]Tangier is home of watermen and their wives, and most of them are descendants of early colonists who settled on the island after the Revolutionary War.  According to scholars, their language is very much like the English spoken when settlers first arrived in the New World, and when islanders speak among themselves, the dialect is very difficult to understand. The cemeteries on the island are crowded with graves of Crocketts, Parks, and Pruitts, to name a few. You'll see few cars, many golf carts and motor scooters, a few 4-wheel drive utility vehicles like a John Deere Gator.
Milton Parks, age 85, owns and operates the only marina on the island, and we had read that he may not answer his phone or respond to the VHF radio.  We were lucky to catch a radio conversation between Mr. Parks and an approaching sailboat as we neared the island. As soon as the sailboaters confirmed that dock space was available, Mike jumped in and told Mr. Parks that we were also on the way in.  He assured us that he had room and told us "Just go on in to the dock on the other side of the house. I'll come help you tie up."  He was as good as his word, and told us exactly what to do, including "Slow down. Slow down. You're coming in too fast." Instructions to Marian were followed by "sweetheart" or "dear." Once our lines were secure around the pilings on the high fixed  (as opposed to floating) dock (level with the deck, making it easy for Midas to get on and off the boat), he showed us the bathrooms, collected the $35 dockage fee, told us where to find two of the three restaurants on the island, and told us he would be working at the other end of the dock the rest of the day.
Just about everything on Tangier Island is within walking distance, and we soon set out to explore and eat a late lunch/early dinner at Chesapeake House.  What a meal.  Food is served family style, but since it was almost 3:00 PM, we had the place to ourselves.  Cold food was already on the table:  sliced ham, coleslaw, potato salad, applesauce, and pickled beets.  One of the waitresses soon brought a pan of yeast rolls straight out of the oven, followed by corn pudding, then crab cakes, clam fritters, and green beans.  Desert was a slice of incredibly moist pound cake.  We ate all we could - and then some.  The crab cakes were the best that we've had so far.
Approaching Tangier Island
In the channel on our way to Parks
Parks Marina from shore 

Crab pots on Tangier - they're everywhere

The grocery store 

Methodist Church - the only church on the island

One of the many golf carts on Tangier
It was too late to visit the small museum after lunch, so we made our way back to the boat to relax a bit.  We heard the steady sound of a hard-working diesel motor, but thought it must have been one of the watermen maneuvering his boat. We decided to take another walk through town, and as we crossed the dock, we saw Mr. Parks in his workboat, approaching the large slip on the other side of the dock.  He had not been able to make his usual straight in close approach because the stern of the sailboat extended a few feet beyond the end of the T-dock, but he had managed to attach a stern line before the bow of the boat slid left, nearly wedging itself to the adjacent dock.  Mike quickly offered to help and caught a midship line, but that still didn't provide enough leverage to pull the bow in.  About that time, two Tangier residents arrived, one with his year old son perched in front of him on his motor scooter.  Both men knew what to do, and while Marian held the baby, they found lines and tried to pull in the boat.  It still wasn't quite right, and Mike realized they needed a longer line from the bow.  Marian rushed to the boat to grab our longest line, after putting Midas in the bathroom to keep him out of the way, and once the line was secured to the front Sampson post, Mike and the two local men were able to pull the boat across and secure it.  Mr. Parks stepped to the port side of his boat, telling us that his pants were falling down and he needed to secure them, too. Showing amazing agility for his age, Mr. Parks then jumped up on the dock, insisting that he would pay Mike for his help.  Of course he refused, but told Mr. Parks that the only payment needed was a picture of the four of us. Another bystander willingly took this photo:

Milton Parks on his work boat
We then wandered back to the center of town for a cup of coffee and conversation at Spanky's Ice Cream Shop.  On the way, we chatted with several of the polite, friendly kids who live on the island.  Compared to kids who grow up on the mainland, the young people of Tangier Island are mature and poised beyond their years. There's a sense of peace and safety that you don't find anywhere else, and kids on Tangier can roam as freely as baby boomers did when we were their age.  
One of several cemeteries
Approaching Tangier

Mike's comments on Tangier Island:  
Tangier, like the mythical Brigadoon, may fade into the mist of time, and with it will fade the history of this island land and its people. The island is where the British fleet and army assembled before attacking Washington DC and Baltimore, MD in the war of 1812.  

But not yet! I don’t believe Mr. Milton Parks will let that happen any time soon.  Eighty-five year old Mr. Parks all by himself is worth the trip to Tangier.  The people of Tangier may sound funny or different, but then that’s what someone said of this southern boy while we stopped in a town in Michigan, on our last Loop trip.
Tuesday morning, we were at the museum when it opened, and we truly didn't stay as long as it deserves, but with rain on the way, we hurried back to the boat in a drizzle, donned our yellow slickers, left Midas in the cabin, and made our way through a steady rain across Tangier Sound to Crisfield, Maryland, where we'll stay until Wednesday.  Somers Cove Marina has excellent, clean showers, and we're on the new floating dock, along with another Gold Looper and a couple who are on their first trip.  Sadly, the town of Crisfield lacks the charm of Onancock, but the marina staff is helpful and friendly, and we've made ourselves at home in a conference room/lounge to work on this blog and catch up on email.
When/if it stops raining, we'll make a long jump to Cambridge, but while we wait, we'll rent a car to explore the eastern (Atlantic Ocean) side of the Delmarva Peninsula, including the small town of Berlin and Chincoteague Island.  Stay tuned for the next chapter of our Loop II adventure.

Paris Island, SC video:

Mike and Midas playing tug stick:

Video of vast marsh expanse in SC:

Carolina Beach State Park Mike on a bike with Midas:

Video of a windy day coming into Beaufort, NC:

Video of first lock, Dismal Swamp:

Dismal Swamp:

Dismal Swamp, ducks:

Video of a set sunset in Crisfield, MD:

Video of the Duck and Rooster hangout in Crisfield, MD:

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