Rocking the Rappahannock

Just so we don’t give a false impression of our adventures, not all is rosy or goes according to plan. After our delightful family holiday in Quebec City, we have both come back to Bushranger with the dreaded lurgy. Mark’s symptoms are running 2-3 days behind mine. So whereas I was ‘flattened’ upon arrival back in Hampton, Mark was ‘flattened’ today.

Yesterday we moved Bushranger to Put In Creek. We fired up the dinghy to explore the creek as far as we could go. It seems the water level is less than 18” the closer one gets to town! So we turned around, headed back to our boat and did more maintenance in 36C heat. I am not even going to mention the humidity level. Bushranger now sports cleaned and polished eisenglass on the flybridge, polished stainless steel rails and her river mustache has been removed.

With all the work in the heat we thought we would sweat out the lurgy. Unfortunately, not for Mark. He is feeling very poorly. This meant a change of plans. Instead of heading for the undeveloped eastern shore of the Chesapeake, we opted to sail up into the Rappahannock River. If we need to seek medicine or other supplies we can do so easily.

After carefully studying the weather information, we set off for supposed winds of 5 knots from the south with calm sees and clear skies. So how did the weathermen get it so wrong? We ended up with white caps in seas of 1-2 feet with winds of 15+ knots from the north, with rain threatening. Now, on a sailing boat – this would not be a problem. On a motor boat, especially a slow trawler, this is a little unpleasant. We rolled. We plowed. We rolled and plowed. Essentially, at times we were ‘riding broncos’. Thought I might have to make use of my seasick tablets. I ended up helming quite a lot today as Mark was nauseas and wanted to lie down. We passed the no longer used Wolf Trap lighthouse.

Not all is bad. We are now at Dozier Marina in Deltaville on the Rappahannock. It is a most charming marina with superb facilities in beautifully landscaped gardens. When Mark checked in he was won over. With croaky voice he refused handshakes explaining his diseased state. The Dockmaster produced a two liter bottle of Jack Daniels – a cure all for everything. Mark could have spent the afternoon working on a cure. We have been for a swim in their pool and met fellow loopers. Tonight we are dosing ourselves up with Mark’s curry. We think we may stay here two days, depending on Mark’s recovery.

Plans? What plans? It is all a journey of discovery.

Such is Life!

Moving to Mobjack Bay

Today we hit the water again. We are back on the waterways of the Chesapeake, exploring little gems.

We set sail in idyllic conditions – 25C with low humidity and a light breeze. The waters were calm and green. We enjoyed the 4-hour sail northwards to a bay on the western shores called Mobjack. Here, four rivers feed into the bay. We chose to explore East River. We meandered up as far as the water depth allowed and anchored in Woodas Creek.

And for all who knew of my expertise in cutting the hair of our late dog, Bosun, you will realise what a surprise I received when Mark asked me to cut his hair. So, on this balmy day, gently bobbing on the still waters of Woodas Creek, I trimmed his hair. Not bad for a first time (on human head!)

At the end of this pleasurable day all that is left is to just ‘be’ and enjoy a sundowner.

Such is Life!

A momentous side trip

Not strictly a Bushranger adventure, but spending a week in Quebec City, Canada, was certainly a memorable experience.

We hired a car and did the two-day dash to Quebec. Our first day we drove over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It measures 17.6 miles from shore to shore with 12 miles of trestle roadway, two mile-long tunnels, two bridges, and four man-made islands. It provided the route through north-east Virginia, Maryland and Delaware before we hit the New Jersey Turnpike. Vast fields of tobacco plants and wheat were along this rural scenic drive.

After picking up Craig, Pam and Aro’a we headed for Canada, driving though the Adirondacks, catching glimpses of the Hudson River and Erie Canal.

Claire and family were waiting for us in our holiday lodgings. We rented a home with six-bedrooms, three-lounge rooms, five-bathrooms, one billiard room. Not bad, indeedy! It was a great venue for Heather’s 60th birthday celebrations. And celebrate in style, we did. We dined at Le Chateau Frontenac in the Old Upper Town, walked the Terrasse Dufferin, visited the Aquarium du Quebec – all under the shadow of La Citadelle. We explored and photographed the Old Lower Town – an area rich in museums, plaques and statues, Trompe d’Oeil, numerous cafes and restaurants along the cobblestone roads. Gloriously picture-perfect.

We spent a full day driving to Saguenay and Tadoussac on the promise of seeing whales. We drove through deeply forested craggy clefts, snow capped mountains and scenic villages. The fjord was magnificent, painted in steely grey tones. Alas, no whales spotted.

We toured Ile d’Orleans, a gorgeous island in the St Lawrence which has fairytale architecture. And visited the spectacular Montmorency Falls.

Being with our kids and grandkids for the week was wonderful as it not only marked Heather’s significant birthday but also the sad first anniversary of David’s passing (Heather’s brother). Together we laughed and cried.

Now we are back on Bushranger after farewelling all. We took a different route home through Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and on to Virginia. Mark met a very excited small town police officer who had never booked an Australian before. We stopped for lunch in Annapolis. What a beautiful place!

For those of you who sent Heather birthday greetings – – – many thanks. They were gratefully and humbly received.

Bushranger is being readied for her next adventure. May need to delay a little – just found out there is a Reggae festival in a park by the marina.

Such is Life!

Reflections – Savannah, GA to Norfolk, VA

In the four weeks of sailing Bushranger northwards we have covered much water. We are taking a one-week break from sailing. We are off to explore and soak up the ambiance of Quebec City with our kids and and grandkids for Heather’s 60th birthday. Roll on celebrations!

So the random thoughts that sum up this section of our voyage are:

  • The astonishing southern weather: We endured unbelievable heat – in the 40C (over 100F) for days, to only cool down to 29C (84F) at night. The humidity was brutal and non-stop. And this was only springtime! Natives told us this was unseasonal and normally it gets like this much later in summer. The evening thunderstorms in Virginia appear from nowhere, suddenly, and hit with a ferocity. Short and sharp with little cooling.
  • Bugs: They are nasty. Some are huge, some are no see’ums. Love bugs fly in tandem, copulating and then die. Some are downright ugly. All (except love bugs who have other things on their mind) are vicious. Love bugs just litter the deck in the morning with sated corpses.
  • South Carolinians are a very friendly bunch. Not to mention – every South Carolinian owns and uses a boat on Memorial Weekend! They wave and smile on the water. North Carolinians – not so much.
  • We have been humbled by the help and support we get from other boaters, marina staff and some businesses. Just lovely people.
  • Southern architecture is stunning, enhanced beautifully by Spanish moss. Our favorite places have been Savannah, Beaufort (SC), and Charleston.
  • On the other end of the scale we have been in small backwaters with amazing seafood, like a restaurant in Belhaven that should be Michelin rated, or the seafood wholesaler with a world best crab dip in McClellanville. Google both. You will see what we mean.
  • Our favorite sailing on this leg has been the Waccamaw and Pasquotank Rivers, and Dismal Swamp. Pamlico Sound and Albemarle Sound – let’s just say “tick that box”.
  • Water colour: from the beginning of Georgia we have sailed in tannin rich waters, like sailing in chocolate. This has created a mustache on Bushranger (yet to be removed). Once we hit Norfolk, which is on the lower Chesapeake Bay, blue sea water replaced the murky brown river waters.
  • Our knowledge of American history has been enhanced enormously by the places we have visited. We have been immersed in Colonial times, Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and African-American history. And loved it all.
  • Norfolk: a wonderful city to walk around. The military presence on the Elizabeth and York Rivers, on the bays, on Hampton Roads; the huge ships and sheer numbers of them, the helicopters, the ammunition and weapons bases, Langley AFB – – – the size and scope is mind-blowing.
  • Adding to the names of places which ignite the imagination: Pocahontas Trail, George Washington Highway, Dismal Swamp, Snow’s Cut, Cape Fear, Dowry Creek and Pungo River.

By this time next week we will, in 2019, have travelled 1000 miles up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) at 7 mph and then up the rest of the east coast to Canada at 70mph

So for now…

Such is Life!

Norfolk findings

Another day spent ashore, this time in the city of Norfolk. We decided to experience something a little different – glass. We took an Uber to the Chrysler Museum of Art and Glass Studio to not only observe the beauty of glass from bygone eras, but also to see how glass objects are made. We attended a demonstration of creating a glass blown vase. If we were here longer we could attend a class or two. As well, we soaked up the fine artworks of Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Pissarro, not to mention modern pieces requiring more eclectic tastes.

Time for lunch and we hot-footed through the cobbled streets of West Freemason – the earliest residential streetscape in Norfolk. Not designed for stiletto heels. We dined at the Freemason Abbey Restaurant which is actually a repurposed Presbyterian Church. It was absolutely stunning inside. And the food was good!

We then followed the Cannonball Trail through 400 years of Norfolk and American history. We walked through different districts of downtown and even though we had a paper guide, narrative plaques marked places and events of historic interest. We walked past the MacArthur Memorial where General Douglas MacArthur is buried, as well as the Confederate Monument which is nearby.

Along City Hall Avenue is a series of Windows on History – 400 years of Virginia history are showcased in 16 display windows. The windows capture watershed moments of the region’s history.

We walked past quite a few beautiful churches. One in particular, St Paul’s Episcopal Church, has its roots back to the Revolution. It survived the British bombardment of 1776 with a British cannonball still embedded in the wall.

We followed the Cannonball Trail as it wound around and through downtown, past historic homes of early merchants and leading citizens, and government buildings, one being the US Customs House. It was used by Federal troops as a dungeon between 1862 and 1865.

The Cannonball Trail flowed on down along the shoreline of the Elizabeth River to the Waterside and Town Point Park. Earlier I had wondered where all the people were. None were spotted in the downtown area. As we approached the shoreline, groups of police had closed the streets and were on patrol. The annual Harborside Fest was in full swing. Who knew? Thousands of people had converged into a relatively small strip of greenery to listen to bands playing, watch boat building, scale tall ships, clamber aboard navy patrol boats, eat copious quantities of fast food, and generally have a grand ‘ole time.

We walked steadily through the throng to view the Battleship Wisconsin which is tied up next to Nauticus, a naval museum. This part of the world has a never ending supply of museums!

Another Uber ride was in order to get us back to Bushranger. Two foot weary souls ready for an afternoon siesta.

Such is Life!

Pocahontas territory

We moved marinas from the eastern side of Elizabeth River across the Hampton Roads (James River) to Downtown Hampton Public Pier. We dodged a submarine and thunderstorm.

Who knew we were perfectly placed for a voyage of discovery? Combining the rather urgent need of repairing our shattered windscreen with exploring our surrounds, we have been on the road all day.

First stop was at a canvas repairers who will be able to provide us with studs which were ripped out by the damaging thunderstorm. While we waited for their morning work meeting to be over, we discovered our first gem – Fort Monroe. It is situated on Old Point Comfort, the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula (bottom of Chesapeake Bay). It guarded the navigation channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads. It was built in 1819 and only decommissioned in 2011. President Monroe commissioned it to be built at the same time as Fort Sumter, so there are many similarities. The notable differences are it is built on an isthmus, it has a moat, it has gorgeous buildings surrounding it – probably the officer quarters in later years. It is like stepping back in time to Beaufort, SC. It would have been a great posting! Without forgetting the dark side of history, Fort Monroe is the infamous place of being the portal for the first slaves to land on American soil. These first 30 men were captured by the English from Angola. At the end of the Civil War Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President, was imprisoned at Fort Monroe.

Then off we set for Yorktown to get a new windshield made out of plexiglass. Mark did a great job of reassembling shattered pieces to present as a template. The outcome is we have a new windshield ready to be gently but firmly reattached.

Ever onwards we proceeded to Historic Yorktown where the English surrendered to the Americans. We watched a movie explaining the Battle of Yorktown before completing a self-drive tour of the battlefield. We visited Moore House where Cornwallis signed the dreaded deed to Washington. I learned the French played a major part in America achieving independence.

From there we ventured into the delightfully well-preserved Historic Yorktown, nestled on the banks of the York River. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the river and watched the rain well and truly set in.

We followed the Colonial Parkway – a beautiful federal road which meanders between Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, through heavily wooded forests. Not realizing Historic Williamsburg is a “gated historic city” which required a considerable fee to enter, with heavy rain falling and only a couple of hours until we needed to pick up the plexiglass, we decided not to explore this town. Cars are not allowed in, so we did not see anything of this well advertised town.

Back on to the Colonial Parkway, we headed for our last stop – Jamestown – the first permanent English settlement in the US. Hence, Pocahontas and the help of her Native American people in the survival of the English immigrants. Who knows why John Smith chose a marshy peninsula to found a colony?

And not only was the scenery lovely and the history rewarding on our inland excursion, but we also passed iconic entities: Langley Air Force Base; NASA; more large navy bases and naval weapons stations. Actually, all quite mind-blowing in such a geographically small area!

It is a pity about the rain, however, that won’t stop us exploring.

Such is LIfe!

Norfolk, Virginia

We spent an enjoyable night listening to a chorus of frogs. We left our slip in the early morning with rising tendrils of mist creating a primordial scene along the Dismal Swamp.

Three miles further in to the swamp and we crossed the North Carolina/Virginia state border. And shortly after that we were thrilled to see a fawn drinking at the water’s edge.

Norfolk here we come. After being wonderfully entertained by the conch playing lock master at Deep Creek Lock, we left the idyllic Dismal Swamp behind to discover Norfolk … just around the bend! We went from trees to a jungle of steel. The water colour turned from melted dark chocolate to blue-green. (Our heads (toilets) are now flushing with much better looking water!)

We sailed past a number of mighty US Navy ships with cranes standing as sentinels. Row upon row upon row of ships. Little guard boats sailed up and down, making sure we did not get too close.

We tootled on and on down the Elizabeth River, finally reaching Hampton Roads – a busy stretch of water with shipping lanes. We negotiated past two container ships to our destination, a marina, in Willoughby Bay. It is a great location. Across the bay is the US Navy helicopter training base. And yes, they are training… non-stop training. It is now nighttime and they are still training. We were told they will be training all night! Unbelievable noise, constant noise. Constantly above us flying in circles, figure of eights, spotlights… you name it!

A food foraging expedition introduced us to another side of US culture. In the local supermarket was a young female armed guard. In the car park was another young male armed guard. I did not feel any safer for having them present. We don’t know if they are usually here or if it is response to the mass shooting which occurred in Virginia Beach last week. All US flags have been flying at half mast.

Still, I am glad to be here.

Such is Life!

Dismal Swamp

Another day dawns; another adventure begins.

Today we headed off for the Dismal Swamp Canal via the very picturesque Pasquotank River. A beaver, numerous terrapin, Canadian geese and a slithering water snake (too slow with the camera), all spotted to the beat of musical birdsong.

Then we entered a lock and rose 8 feet to exit into the Dismal Swamp Canal. The name bears no semblance to the canal. With eyes peeled for dead heads (sunken logs just under the surface), we crept along at 5 mph.

The waters are pristine although an amazing colour caused by the tannins from trees. The viscosity appears to be like melted chocolate, not black tea. There is a thickness and richness to the water making it impossible to see below the surface. Duckweed is bountiful and makes the most amazing patterns as it swirls along the canal.

At times the distinction between water and sky is seamlessly melded together. The trees have a neon lushness about them. Colours seem enhanced. Blossoms abound low and high.

It is truly a beautiful canal and we have only sailed 4 miles with 18 miles to go. It is dead straight, a uniform 6-7 feet deep and about 40 feet wide with tree tunnels. It was built by slave labour and took 12 years to build. It is the oldest, continuously used canal in the states. We have docked for the night at the Dismal Swamp Visitor Centre with four other boats. The tie up is so small four of the boats have rafted together.

Mark and I walked to the Dismal Swamp State Park, across a small pedestrian bridge spanning the canal. There we watched a short film on the history of the canal and swamp, and walked through the museum. We finished our trip with a stroll on the boardwalk over the swamp. I checked for snakes and bears (can’t be too careful!)

Such is Life!

Eurus’ chuckle

How did the Captain get to look like this? Read on.

After a “lost day” waiting at Belhaven for predicted thunderstorms to pass, which never came to pass  – – – listen quietly here for the deep chuckle from Eurus the god of the unlucky south wind.

With a clear forecast we set sail early, our destination the top of the Alligator River only 30 miles short of Elizabeth City, which is the entrance to the Dismal Swamp. Don’t be alarmed by the name. This is a man-made channel that George Washington had dug to provide transport in the War of Independence. It is iconic and from our point of view a “must do” passage.

Sooooo… Everything is going well: good progress to our intended anchorage; clear weather; clear forecast; only another 4 hours to Elizabeth City – let’s push on and plan a couple of days at Elizabeth City before transiting the Dismal Swamp. (Eurus’ chuckle has just become sinister.)

Beeyootiful crossing of the Albermarle Sound which has a reputation for blowing up. Into the Pasquotank River with only 15 miles to go.

“Wot,” says Heather, “is that grey stuff ahead?”

“Just a passing shower,” says the skipper. (Eurus is holding his sides with mirth.)

The grey becomes black. The skipper is nonchalantly looking at weather radar. He confidently predicts that this passing shower, now a thunderstorm, will pass to the west and we might get some rain. We do! It clears! The skipper predicts a dry arrival at Elizabeth City.

“Wot,” says Heather, “is that white stuff ahead.”

“Just the end of of the squall,” says the skipper.

WHACK – 50 knots on the nose. The Bimini took the full force of rain and hail and exploded inwards, shattering the Perspex windbreak and hurling it at the crew followed by the foul breath of Eurus. As Mark fought to hold the boat into the wind and rain, Heather, with great presence of mind, dashed through the hail to man the lower helm.

So the skipper was kinda right. It did pass; we did control the boat. Eurus gave Mark a black eye but we got docked in peaceful Elizabeth City.

Could the day have got worse? Yep. After settling down we went ashore for dinner about 7pm. That’s the time Elizabeth City closes. After a nice walk dodging the pit bulls we returned and cooked dinner.

Mark commenced the insurance claim.

Such is Life!

Belhaven, NC

It looks like our plans may be thwarted. The weather has turned ugly – black ugly.

Last night we experienced our first ‘summertime’ thunderstorm. We missed most of it as we were dining out. We shared a courtesy car with two men from another boat and were invited to have dinner with them in a most amazing restaurant. To find a restaurant of this calibre in a small outpost of a town is astonishing. The decor was elegant and the food was exquisite and eclectic. All in all, outstanding. We didn’t even realise it had been raining until we left the restaurant.

Then we found out! It bucketed down. The lightning flashed, turning the black sky a neon purple. We arrived back at the boat drenched from our dash from the car. We thought it would cool the air. It did – to 30C (88F).

Today we thought of moving to another marina, as Dowry Creek’s wifi was down and we do not get a telephone signal from which to hotspot. Decided against the move, as this marina has a pool and we do not have a telephone signal at other marina’s, either. Besides, we were able to do a little more brightwork (varnishing) on Bushranger this morning before it got too hot. Then the heat set in again and all work stopped.

We sought relief in the air conditioned clubhouse – the only place with wifi – until it was time to once again board Bushranger for lunch and work detail. We have been having trouble with the smart plugs – the electrical connection from Bushranger to shore. They overheat and cut out. That means no air conditioning. Life was looking good. First the marina staff came to tell us that wifi to the marina had been restored and Mark completed installing new Smart Plugs. But…

We sat contentedly in Bushranger’s air conditioned comfort, catching up with the outside world when first the wifi stopped and then dreaded silence as the aircon stopped. Mark’s comment is not printable as he immediately thought the hours of work on the plugs was to no avail. It was with a strange sort of relief then that he found out that power had been cut off from the whole marina.

Then we heard an amazing noise getting louder and louder – wind rushing through the trees sounding like trains approaching. We looked out to find this lurking off our starboard quarter…

What we saw was what took out the marina and neighourhood power. As we conversed with the folks on the yacht next to us, the first drops fell, followed by the heavens opening. Hatches were quickly battened down. This meant stifling heat in Bushranger with no air conditioning. We thought of starting the generator but the storm brought cooler air so we held off.

The thunderstorms kept rolling in, one after another. They hit from every direction. The Pungo River roiled with white caps. Although Bushranger is tethered to the dock, she started the corkscrew motion. Sheet lightning lit up our interior, with fork lightning and thunder frighteningly close.

Steel grey skies, steel grey seas… forecast again for tomorrow. Think we may be staying here another day!

Might have to start polishing the inside brass work!

Such is Life!