Sunday, November 22nd, 2015
After a fast and very cold sail from Jackson Creek, I decided to stop for the night in Chisman Creek and regroup. The creek is easily accessed off Mobjack Bay and provides good shelter. I was grateful for this as the wind picked up and the weather deteriorated. No wifi access here, but the NOAA weather radio gives on-going weather information. It all sounded bad with strong southerly winds. I waited it out and was only able to set off again 3 days later. Then it was an easy sail down to Norfolk on a sparkling clear day. I stayed close to the coast all the way which helps to avoid the very strong tidal current.
Once again, entering the Elizabeth River at Hampton Roads I was amazed at the big ship traffic. Before entering the marked channel up the river, I started the engine as the wind had almost completely disappeared. Soon I was anchored in much the same spot, near to Hospital Point, that I had used when I first arrived at the end of June.
I did some provisioning and met some interesting people and after a few days set off again for the Dismal Swamp Canal.
I had last done the Dismal Swamp route in 2007 and nothing much seemed to have changed except that now there was more traffic. It was almost the official end of the hurricane season and the snowbirds were rushing south. I shared the first lock at Deep Creek with 4 other boats.
Once through the lock there is a comfortable free dock and I decided to stop there for the night. The others continued on to the Welcome Centre about 20 miles further on. Later in the day I was joined by a big Canadian trawler, ‘Sea Star’ and they had me over for cocktails and dinner. The hospitality along the waterway never ceases to surprise and amaze me.
Next day we moved on to the free dock at the Welcome Centre and to start with were the only boats there. Later in the day others started to arrive and soon boats were rafted-up 3 deep. Speedwell was dwarfed by these big cruising boats, few of which could have been under 40ft. The big boats did not attempt rafting up to me which was quite a relief.
The surroundings were quite beautiful with the water forming a perfectly smooth black mirror to the changing foliage. I wandered along a nature trail which had been laid out along the water’s edge with labels for the trees. Now I know what Loblolly Pine, Pignut Hickory, Black Cherry, Virginia Red Cedar, and more, look like. There was a sign warning one to beware of snakes. I trod carefully.
An early start the next day and a short wait for the Mill Creek Bridge to open and let us through to the lock. There was noticeable current pushing Speedwell down to the bridge and I had to do some awkward manoeuvring in the narrow, shallow canal to stay safely away from it. Speedwell does not handle well in reverse gear. Once through the lock, the canal soon opens out into the winding and interesting Pasquotank River. It was too beautiful to be rushed and I stopped early and spent a night anchored behind Goat Island just enjoying the solitude.
Next day it was on to Elizabeth City which is well-known for its hospitality to passing boats. There are some free docks available, but I find it too tricky to manage getting lines around the high pilings with very little room for making mistakes. I tried it once on a previous trip through and prefer to tie up alongside at the park dock. Despite a sign saying ‘No Docking’, nobody bothered me. I had time to pay a quick visit to the Museum nearby which is one of the best I have seen, with very well presented displays of the history of the town and the area. I felt a degree of comfortable companionship with the backpacker who slept on the park bench next to the boat. At least here, in friendly Elizabeth City, they have not divided up all the benches with separators that make them impossible to lie down on.
The wind was starting to strengthen again the next day and I decided not to waste the favourable weather. I had a really good sail across Albemarle Sound, just able to lay the course to the entrance of the Alligator River by cutting the corner behind the green ‘PR1’ beacon. The depth never showed less than 2.5m. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my new sail performs to windward. That night I anchored quite far up the Little Alligator River which gives good shelter in a northerly wind. But the next day was forecast to bring a SW wind. Not good, so on-on. I started out again at first light and was soon approaching the Alligator River swing bridge. A faster yacht was ahead of me and I heard them call the bridge and request an opening. I tried desperately to speed up so that we could pass through together, but Speedwell’s top motoring speed is 5 knots and we were not quite catching up. The other boat passed through the open bridge. The line of cars and trucks stopped on the road, waiting for the bridge to close again, was getting longer. We still had about half a mile to go. I called the Bridge operator on the VHF radio, to ask if he could wait for me and he replied very quickly to say that it was no problem and he was happy to wait. I’m not sure that the motorists would have been so polite. Eventually we were through. I waved my appreciation. Then a gentle sail up the well-marked channel showing the deep water in the river. I dropped the sail turning in to the approach to the Pungo River Canal as I needed to find a safe anchorage for the night and the weather was starting to turn nasty again. I managed to creep in to the shallower water away from the channel and found a good anchorage near to Tuckahoe Point. Well protected from almost all directions. In 1.8m I let out 30m of chain and felt safe enough.
It was not the most attractive of anchorages but I chose to stay where I was until the weather improved again. Other boats set off, regardless, the next morning with a northerly wind gusting to 30 knots and the water very choppy. I had no fixed itinerary and couldn’t see the point in suffering. It was cosy down below and I made a delicious bean stew in the pressure cooker. To my surprise my cell phone worked and I was able to use the internet again. With the weather so changeable it’s a big help.
I left again when the wind dropped a day later and motor-sailed to Belhaven, passing through the Alligator-Pungo Canal and then down the Pungo River. By the time I got to Belhaven I was well and truly soaked in my non-waterproof foul-weather gear. I anchored quite far in approaching the bridge and well out of the channel. There is a nice free town dock which I only discovered after anchoring and going ashore. A good place to go next time. I needed some fresh bread and other odds and ends and went for a walk to the local Food Lion about a mile down the road. Back in the town, there was still evidence of the flooding they had suffered during the recent heavy rains. It blew very strongly that night and I let out some extra chain taking it to 50m. After dark an enormous barge came in and tied up at the factory nearby. I was surprised at how close it seemed to come despite my being anchored well out of the marked channel. The next day it poured with rain again and I stayed where I was. That night the barge moved out and I was woken up by a loud rumbling and the boat starting to move strangely. I dashed up on deck to see the lights of the tug-barge combo towering above me. The water was churning wildly as they manoeuvred to get away. Suddenly I realised that we had started spinning and Speedwell was trapped in a whirlpool created by the powerful props of the tug. It was a strange feeling and the tiller had absolutely no effect. Thankfully by now the barge was pulling away and the danger of a collision had passed, but Speedwell was still spinning. What to do? I decided to start the engine and put it in reverse. This broke the stranglehold that the whirlpool had on us and eventually things calmed down. It had been a rather frightening experience.
A lovely sail from Belhaven to Oriental down Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River. I had spent the winter of 2006/7 in Oriental and was looking forward to seeing old friends again. Henry and Tuk on their boat Parpar had arrived a few days before me and it was really good to see them again. I anchored nearby in Oriental Harbour.