Fernandina Beach, FL

I Would Want To Travel The Intracoastal Waterway…

If I Knew What It Was!

Great weather
Great weather!

Day 1 – FL (May 10)

Our drop-dead departure date was ten days ago. The goal was to leave before it got too hot to be comfortable aboard ship without air conditioning. Still, we have a pleasant day with a nice breeze.

We set sail, adhering to all the safe practices we could remember – we did not sail on a Friday or on the 31st; we stepped aboard right foot first; and we made a right turn upon leaving…or should that have been a left turn?

We have four souls aboard all told. The Captain, myself, and two crew, Barney and Simon. The crew came aboard reluctantly and sulked most of the day.

Jacksonville Landing along the St Johns River.
Jacksonville Landing along the St Johns River.

We are departing from the Palatka area of the St Johns River. Our goal today: Jacksonville Landing, Florida. The Landing is free to tie up and there are plenty of restaurants along the waterfront.

With the good weather we made the Landing about 1630. Concerned the crew would jump ship we docked at the most southern end of the dock as far from the restaurants, music, and people as we could get.

Red winged blackbird.
Red winged blackbird.

Day 2 – FL (May 11)

The ship is stirring by 0630, the smell of coffee wafting through the passageways.

From Jacksonville Landing it is about twenty miles to the intra-coastal waterway (ICW). The current between here and where we will join the ICW is typically very strong. Tomorrow morning it will be a flood tide and the current against us. Twenty miles is a long way to fight the current. After studying the tides and currents for the day we decided slack

sunset
The Captain has just informed me that too many photos of sunsets and dawns gets boring and to be sure I post enough photos of boats. I told him I will take it under advisement.

water would be around 1130 and then we could catch a lift on the ebb. So we cast off our lines at 0900. Well, it looked like slack water…but the flood currents were still strong and we made six miles per hour and less. The Captain even considered dropping the anchor and waiting it out. Luckily, within the hour we caught a lift from the ebb…eleven mph woohoo!

We join the ICW at Mile 739. The ICW is measured in statute miles, not nautical miles, and counts upwards going south. We are  northbound and so our daily miles will be counting down. Most references to the ICW refer to the section from Mile 0 in Norfolk, Virginia to Mile 1095 in Miami. But intra-coastal routes exist up to New Jersey and over to the Gulf.

Fernandina Beach, FL
Fernandina Beach, FL

At 1300 we enter Nassau Sound then the Amelia River. The scenery is grasslands along either side. It looks a lot like Georgia. Our  anchorage tonight is Fernandina Beach. We wanted to stay away from the Fernandina Beach waterfront as they have followed in the steps of bigger towns, now have a mooring field. More and more towns want to control the waterfront and raise money with mooring fees. Unfortunately, we anchored down wind of the paper mill busily belching out that paper mill smell.

Early morning anchorage.
Early morning in our anchorage.

Day 3 – FL/GA (May 12)
0615 Anchors aweigh! We crossed the Georgia line in no time.  Georgia’s waterway is beautiful. The grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see while the narrow waterways meander left and right and around and around. Good for bird watching and seeing the occasional wild pig.

If you keep an eye on the grasslands you may see a largish low-flying bird crossing back and forth. This is a Harrier hunting. We anchor up in the Frederica River, Mile 673.

Day 4 – GA (May 13)
We spent the day meandering along Georgia’s rivers. It was a short run today as we couldn’t resist anchoring somewhere named Cattle Pen Creek.

While the Captain cooked a spaghetti squash I kept lookout on the bird life and saw another pig.

Coast Guard engaging in training exercises.
Coast Guard engaging in training exercises.

Day 5 – GA/SC (May 14)
0720 A leisurely start to the day. Georgia’s rambling waterways insist one slow down and relax.

In the Ogeechee River we spot a Coast Guard helicopter hovering over a small open boat. This is the first time I have see the Coast Guard helping out a boater. As we approached, it became evident it was actually a practice exercise and not an emergency.

Looking for shelter from threatening storms.
Looking for shelter from threatening storms.

And soon we cross the South Carolina state line.

The weather report is calling for strong winds and storms. From the chatter on the radio we gather boats are running for cover in nearby marinas. We take shelter in the Wright River to wait it out, nicely sheltered from the winds by trees and brush. We chose Wright River because northeasterly winds were predicted and Wright River has a nice bend in it where we would be sheltered from northeast winds.

Day 6 – SC (May 15)
Over coffee we listened to more weather. It did not sound too bad so we decided to make the hop to a new anchorage in Skull Creek. After Skull Creek comes Port Royal Sound. Sounds get rough in this sort of weather and we don’t do rough on purpose.

1000 Done, safely anchored up in Skull Creek. Yes, it was windy and we would not want to be crossing the sound in this weather but for river running it is fine. Now we have a lovely stretch of down time to enjoy.

Day 7 – SC (May 16)
We lay over the day, cozy in Skull Creek, while the storms wear themselves out.

Barnacle "Barney" Bill standing his watch.
Barnacle “Barney” Bill standing his watch.

Let me take this time to introduce the crew who, you may have noticed, don’t seem to be pulling their weight on this trip. Barnacle “Barney” Bill was born for the sea, as his name suggests, but he is the consummate land lubber. Nap and eat, eat and nap. A spry twelve years old, he will occasionally stand watch at night where he generally takes great care of his beautiful coat.

The Bosun, Simon, spotting something...
The Bosun, Simon, spotting something…

Simon’s our Bosun. Simon came to us fourteen years ago as an adolescent. He came because he would not be “domesticated”. I promptly shut him in the house, tossed out all children, dogs, and cats and left him for several hours to explore. For several months he was known as the ghost cat because we never saw him. Over the years he has become tamer and tamer. While not exactly friendly he does like to keep an eye on things and has taken on the role of supervisor. Without Simon’s supervision I expect the Captain would be lying around with Barney, napping and eating, eating and napping. Thank you Simon.

Day 8 – SC (May 17)
I roll out of my bunk to the smell of fresh coffee. This captain is a keeper!

0640 Bye-bye to Skull Creek and hello Port Royal Sound.

Bald eagle soaring overhead.
Bald eagle soaring overhead.

We passed through some desolate areas. With the sun so warm on deck we hauled up sea water in a bucket and took the opportunity of a healthy sea water bath while there were no boats around. Note: the Captain is still a keeper but he’s better at making coffee than keeping watch for boats.

1515 Today’s anchorage is in Tom Point Creek, Mile 495.7 of the ICW. There is already a sailboat anchored up here so we head further up the creek to give them, and us, personal space.

Day 9 – SC (May 18)
0630 and we are underway. The sky is overcast and the wind is cool. Time to break out jackets.

A quarantine buoy in Charleston Harbor
A quarantine buoy in Charleston Harbor

Today we passed by Charleston and through Charleston Harbor. It’s a busy place for both pleasure boaters and freighters.

We made Graham Creek at 1430. Entering the creek there is a shoal to starboard where there were numerous dead horseshoe crabs,  gulls scrapping over tasty bits, and a small shark feeding along the waterline. Later on, as the tide went out, the horseshoe crabs were all gone. Apparently they were not dead.

Soon after anchoring we were joined by the trawler “Fruition” and the sailboat from Quebec “Mill Evasions”. The waterway is bit like driving the interstate, you see the same boats repeatedly as they, too, journey north.

Simon and Barney are settling into the cruising life now they realize it consists mostly of napping. Barney has been loosing weight over the past several weeks. The vet can find nothing wrong. We presume he must have a tumor. I want to tempt him to eat more and

Dolphin swimming by.
Dolphin swimming by.

remember a survival course recommendation that one carry a tin of cat food in the bottom of your pack. The theory is if you are hungry enough to eat the cat food you will be glad you have it.

I search my bags and find a couple tins of cat food. The very best. After all, I bought it thinking I might have to eat it one day. I try it on the cat. Barney is a gourmet and takes to Paul Newman’s Own cat food with enthusiasm. Barney kindly shares his special diet with Simon thereby reducing sibling rivalry and the odds of getting smacked by the Bosun.

A whimbrel looking for a little dinner
A whimbrel looking for a little dinner

What a beautiful soft evening with a gently breeze. Simon and I sit on deck enjoying the sunset. A Whimbrel strides along the exposed mud flats repeatedly giving her strident call before disappearing into the grasses. A dolphin swims up creek in search of dinner. A pair of Skimmers fly by on their way home. Simon’s ears are pricked, he is captivated by the sights. The Captain and Barney are below, probably eating and napping.

So quiet and peaceful.

Day 10 – SC (May 19)
0700 and we are once again underway. The anchor light was not lit this morning so we have some troubleshooting to do.

It is downright chilly today and is wool shirt and jacket time.

Oyster catchers heading home for the night.
Oyster catchers heading home for the night.

Barney seems to be enjoying the tinned cat food more and more and is beginning to eat a reasonable amount.

We are navigating Harbor River. It is a long, straight, narrow stretch with grasslands either side. Tide is about half way and the mud banks are dotted with Laughing Gulls, Plovers, Oyster Catchers, and the occasional Whimbrel.  By 0800 the sun is high enough for a little warmth and most of the birds have finished breakfast and gone about their day. Still, there is a Tricolor Heron in full breeding plumage and a Skimmer skimming by.

Fishing boats in McClellanville.
Fishing boats in McClellanville.

0830 At Mile 430 we take a side trip up Jeremy Creek to see McClellanville, an old fishing town. New, large houses are springing up around the creek. How much longer will this little town be able to maintain its character?

For those of you in a hurry, the side trip to McClellanville took about ten minutes.

1100 We anchor in Minim Creek, Mile 416, about six miles short of Winyah Bay. The wind is howling, the tide is against us. This is a great excuse for anchoring early.

Tomorrow we will travel up Winyah Bay and stop in Georgetown.

Day 11 – SC (May 20)
0700 Much less wind, so even though it’s only 50 degrees it is much more comfortable than yesterday.

The gulls have befriended this fishing boat.
The gulls have befriended this fishing boat.

Excitement for today was listening to a tug and barge talking with the Coast Guard. One of the tug’s mates was having a medical emergency. The tug’s captain ‘parked’ his barge (run it aground), and was calmly and precisely giving the details requested by the Coast Guard. This question and answer thing went on for ages. I wanted to jump on the radio and ask “Is someone on the way to rescue this poor fellow?” Eventually the tug captain asked just that. Hopefully everything turned out alright.

Georgetown, SC waterfront. There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront with access to the stores and restaurants.
Georgetown, SC waterfront. There is a nice boardwalk along the waterfront with access to the stores and restaurants.

0925 Arrive Georgetown, SC and anchored. We hoped to see the Captain’s son while here but it turned out he was out of town for two days. So we will stay over for two days until he returned.

We had barely finished breakfast when the locals started knocking. Danny wanted to know if our vessel was a Merritt Walter design. Yes, and, by the way, this is Merritt Walter sailing on her.

Then it was Dave. Dave recognized the boat and came over to say hello to Merritt.

Then another anchored neighbor stopped by just to admire the boat. Forget anonymity in this boat.

Brown pelican.
Brown pelican.

If you want to fly under the radar, get a white fiberglass sailboat under thirty feet with blue canvas. There must be thousands of those on the waterways.

With the social calls finished, we rowed ashore in the dinghy, called a taxi, and went shopping to re-provision the boat. Somewhere back home there is a bag or two of items that were crossed off the inventory but never made it on to the boat. This is the Bosun’s fault for not supervising properly.

Belted kingfisher on a day mark.
Belted kingfisher on a day mark.

Back aboard we relaxed with the evening cocktail and realized today was the first time we had stepped off the boat since Jacksonville ten days ago. On board your world becomes the boat. The weights of your First World problems fall away, and, “I can gather all the news I
need on the weather report“. Thank you, Paul, for that great observation.

Day 12 – SC (May 21)
Highlights for this quiet day at anchor are rowing ashore for an ice cream and watching the BoatUS guy feeding stray cats over on the island. They are big cats, he must feed them well.

Tern getting breakfast
A tern snags a snack. This morning, I made it my business to get a photo of a tern splashing into the water. It took a lot of time and a lot of shots to get this photo! Gotta love digital photography.

Day 13 – SC (May 22)
Met Captain’s son for breakfast, and then it was time to set sail again.

1350 We pull into Bucksport to buy some famous Bucksport sausage. This is a traditional stop when cruising.

1500 Fueled up at Osprey Marina on the Waccamaw River. Cheapest diesel for miles. Nice marina with very helpful folks on hand.

We double back along the Waccamaw to a little oxbow by Marker 29 where we anchor up for the night. The too-cold weather is now rather hot weather and a glass of ice water from our freshly replenished ice supply is required.

Day 14 – SC (May 23)
0655 Underway. The Waccamaw River is protected by trees. Its dark waters, moved only by wakes or the occasional puff of wind, reflect the Cypress and Tupelo trees lining her shores. At high tide the river’s banks disappear among the trees, a seemingly endlessly. We turn off the river into a connecting canal. Within an hour the trees give way to blocks of condominiums. The chart for this area advises reading Note E: “Numerous rock ledges have been reported abutting the deep portion of the Intra-coastal Waterway…avoid grounding in this area.”  OK, will do. This stretch is called the Rock Pile.

Myrtle Beach Yacht Club
Myrtle Beach Yacht Club

1100 We arrive at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club and take a slip. This is the first night we have had to pay to stay somewhere but we have friends here and want to say hello. Anchoring out and free docks are much cheaper. 😉

Day 15 – SC/NC (May 24)
0720 We throw off the lines and venture out into the Memorial Day Weekend. Personal Watercraft and fishing boats will be buzzing around like gnats.

0830 The Captain just informed me he did not inform me when we crossed the North Carolina state line. 🙁

Goats
Goats

Goats! Three napping on an island.

pontoon bridge
The pontoon bridge in closed position. On the far side, a sailboat awaits the opening time. A high rise bridge now stands in its place.

0835 We just passed under a high rise bridge. This used to be the pontoon bridge. The bridge floated on pontoons and would swing to one side to allow boat traffic through. Another icon gone.

1230 End of the day. Tonight’s anchorage is a little bay a few minutes off the ICW at Mile 310. The bay is buzzing with the activity of families enjoying the weekend. There are also numerous apparently abandoned or unloved boats anchored in the bay, a change from last time we stayed here.

We consult weather reports, tide and current tables, and determine we will make an early start in the morning and hope to reach Wrightsville Beach before the waterway gets too busy this Memorial Day weekend.

Day 16 – NC (May 25)

bridge signage
Signage at pontoon bridge with opening schedules, etc.

0543 Underway…and here comes our first wake of the day to rock the boat. Woohoo! I better grab the coffee pot, cups, binoculars…

By 0600 we have passed the entrance to Cape Fear River, left the sportsfishers behind and caught a ride on the flood. Making over 10 mph at half throttle. Last night’s planning is paying off.

In this area there are numerous inlets and outlets to cross and with each crossing the current changes with or against us. For once they are mostly with us and we make good time.

ICW day mark
Example of a day mark bearing the ICW yellow square. Yellow squares are kept to port when southbound, and to starboard when northbound.

Note: In the ICW it can be confusing whether to keep red markers to the left or the right as you cross inlets or enter rivers. The chart will guide you on this.

Today was a classic example of these changes. North bound on the ICW you generally keep red marks to the left (red to the right southbound). But on entering the Cape Fear River we are headed up river, or inland, hence returning from the sea. The river’s navigational aids system takes priority, and the phrase Red Right Returning comes into play. Upon leaving the river the markers return to red on the left, green on the right.

Fortunately, not only is this clearly marked on the charts, but some kind soul has stuck small yellow reflective squares and triangles on the markers all along the ICW to give boaters a helping hand. My husband assures me this was done by the Coast Guard. Thank you, Coast Guard.

0940 Wrightsville Beach. It’s good to be off the waterway when there are hundreds of little craft whizzing around. Even though we are well away from the centers of activity the wakes still rock the boat a lot.

Day 17 – NC (May 26)
0605 Memorial Day. We leave early so as to reach our anchorage before too many holiday boaters hit the waterways.

boat US
Gotta love any job where you can take your dog to work with you. Most dogs seem to love boating.

Today we have three opening bridges ahead of us, each one opening every hour on the hour and carefully spaced so that only a fast power boat can get through one bridge and make it to the next in time for the opening. But then, most power boats don’t need to open bridges. Fortunately for us, our air draft will let us slide under two of the bridges without waiting.

1110 Mile Hammock Bay (Mile 244) is our anchorage tonight. We are soon joined by a trawler and two sailboats from Canada, “Christata” and “Perle Noire III“.

Traffic on the ICW has picked up considerably over the last two or three years. A few years ago we traversed the ICW hardly seeing another transient, and the Captain would lament the old days of the great migrations, shared  anchorages, and camaraderie.

pier fishing
It’s a great day to do some fishing from your favorite pier.

Anchoring in Mile Hammock Bay is like anchoring in the pluff mud of South Carolina. The same soft mud bottom. We drop the anchor and give her a couple of minutes to settle into the mud before pulling back to get her set. By the way, South Carolinians are very proud of their pluff mud. Pluff mud is the inspiration for the names of businesses, art gallery, a line of apparel, bands, beer, soap, and a handful of children.

Mile Hammock Bay is by Camp LeJeune, a Marine base. Sometimes there are military exercises taking place, but not today.

Day 18 – NC (May 27)
Today’s goal: the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City. The fish market/restaurant has a free dock with space for three to four boats. In the old and busy days of the migration, everybody hurried to get to the free docks first.

mast work
Ah, mast work. I’ve been there a few times. You get a great view of the area from the top of a mast. This mast is particularly enormous. These men are on the second set of spreaders. There is a third set yet, far above them.

Canadians cruisers have the reputation of being frugal and knowing every free dock up and down the eastern seaboard. Being frugal ourselves, we feel the excitement of the race to the free dock. Do “Christata” and “Perle Noir III” know they are in a race? Who will dock for free and who will anchor out or pay for a slip?

0545 A trawler, ‘Doxie‘ from Vero Beach, FL, is also getting an early start. We want to make the 0700 opening of the Onslow Beach Swing Bridge so as to not wait an hour for the next opening. Surprisingly, the two Canadian sailboats don’t appear to be stirring.

camp lejeune firing range
Sign warning boaters about the Marine’s firing range at Camp LeJeune.

After the swing bridge, our second challenge is to get through the Marine’s firing range alive. The firing range just happens to shoot across the ICW to the marshlands. Better be ready to hit the deck! Just kidding. There are lights at either end of the range. If the Marines are engaged in a live fire exercise the lights flash and advise all boaters to stop and wait for the all clear. No flashing lights today so we can continue at our 6 mph racing speed unhindered.

1115 Tied up at the Sanitary Fish Market. Woohoo! We are one of the winners. But wait – there go the two Canadian boats passing by, and yet there is plenty of room at the free dock. What is going on here?

paddleboarding
Paddle boarding has become very popular. We’ve seen just as many paddle boarders as kayakers, if not more.

In the three or four years since we last made this trip the Fish Market has “upgraded”. They now have a floating dock, a bar, outside seating, and it’s no longer free to tie up overnight even if you are eating at the restaurant. $25 if you eat, $1/foot if you don’t, and it does not offer any amenities such as power or water. Obviously the Canadians are more up to date on waterway news than we are.

Further more, come evening, the outside diners are right by the boat being surprisingly loud and the piped in music is remarkably irritating. Sadly, we probably won’t be making the Sanitary Fish Market a regular stop any more.

Day 19 – NC (May 28)
0800 Goodbye Sanitary Fish Market.

It is still quite windy but the forecast calls for the winds to pick up even more.

We refueled at Sea Gate Marina and a very nice marina it is. We make a note for future trips that Sea Gate is a nice option.

1100 We end today’s cruising in Davis Creek, off Adams Creek.

boats aground
I’ve heard it said that grounding is just another form of anchoring. Seems to work for these sailboats.

Day 20 – NC (May 29)
0545 Windy again and, again, forecast to pick up throughout the day. We have twenty miles of the Neuse River ahead of us. The Neuse is wide open to the winds and we want to get through it without too much pain.

The Neuse is awful. The weather station’s estimates of winds around 6 knots must have been pulled from somewhere far inland. The poor cats are both uncomfortable and hunched numbly in what they hope to be safe spots.

Scrapping the rest of the Neuse, we cut across the river to seek shelter in Oriental’s harbor.

We intend to anchor out but first we take a tour of the harbor just for a look see. There are free docks at Oriental with a 48 hour maximum stay. We see the two Canadian boats tied up at the free dock. Our faith in human nature restored we finish the harbor tour and settle down with several sailboats at anchor.

One of the sailboats is a handsome steel ketch designed in the Netherlands. We have a chance to chat with the folks on board. They sailed her over last fall and have been touring the Bahamas and now the east coast. Once they get to Annapolis the “Komeet” will go up for sale so they can go home and resume their lives.

John and Charrington
The owners of the Sandpiper “cat schooner”, John and Charrington. Not only do they have a very sweet boat, but their dinghy is as cute as a button, too.

Another very appealing little sailboat appears to be a cat rigged schooner. We see the owners heading for the dinghy dock and hail them. We learn that the boat is a Sandpiper, 32 foot I think. We then learn that John used to work for several steel boat builders and he and the Captain spend some happy minutes reminiscing about various nefarious characters found along the waterway.

We, too, dinghy to the dock to explore the town of Oriental. Oriental is welcoming to boaters and boasts a Marine Provisioning Company, a West Marine, other second hand marine shops, grocery store within [long] walking distance, and numerous restaurants and cafes. The Marine Provision Company offers several bikes for boaters to borrow and ride about town.

Komeet
“Komeet”, a steel ketch from the Netherlands. I think the owners said it is a Haring design.

Day 21 – NC (May 30)
0600 And off we go. We soon pass up the “Komeet” and get a great photo of her underway.

dawn
Often we wake up to find other boats have come in during the night. By the way, this is a photo of a boat, not a dawn.

Day 22 – NC (May 31)
0610 It is a fantastic morning with an orange sun peeking over the horizon and sea smoke decorating the shore lines. Two trawlers and two sailboats have snuck into our anchorage overnight.

0850 Once again, the weather station swears the winds are around 5 to 6 knots. Not so. We are approaching the wide open Alligator River. In deference to the cats and because we don’t like being bounced about, we anchor up near Mile 100, just of Deep Point on the Alligator River. We choose a spot in the lee of the shore to wait for the winds to lay.

1200 The winds have been steadily picking up. We have now been joined by a trawler and four sailboats, including our Canadian friends who we have yet to meet.

2000 As darkness sets in yet another traveler seeks shelter in this anchorage. We are now a compliment of eight vessels.

Flicka
Another nice little boat with tanbark sails, a Flicka. She was in Oriental also.

Day 23 – NC (June 1)
0710 The weather radio assures us the wind will lay by late morning and into the afternoon. We decide not to wait for the weather radio’s promise to materialize and set off, coffee mugs in hand.

At first the going was not too rough but the wind picked up steadily and long before we reached the Alligator River Swing Bridge we had decided to duck into Alligator Marina.

Simon appreciates the smoother waters and resumes his watch.
Simon appreciates the smoother waters and resumes his watch.

0950 Alligator Marina. For the first time the cats are peering at the terra firma with longing. Simon jumps off to test the dock but quickly returns to the boat.

With power and water and shelter now is the time to wash down the boat, get showers, and update this page.

The marina has a little restaurant for transients and so we skip cooking and head over. We are joined by three other couples also waiting for a good weather window for crossing the Albermarle Sound. Turns out they are all doing blogs as well: “R Island“, “Inch-N-Along” and “Ninkasi“.

Day 24 – NC (June 2)
0633 44 degrees! Get the woollies out again.

The forecast is calling for winds 5-10 mph on Albermarle Sound, shifting from NE to E this afternoon. Despite our utter faith in weather forecasts, we are underway early.

Perle Noire III from Quebec. Beautiful vessel.
Perle Noire III from Quebec. Beautiful vessel.

0610 The navigational aids off Long Shoal Point are confusing. It is not unusual to see someone aground around here. The long shoal is getting longer, and you have to veer off to the east quite a way before turning back west. We spot a motor boat, “Rejoice“, aground and radio an offer of assistance. “Rejoice” accepts. We nose in as close as is comfortable and the owner of “Rejoice” swims a line over to us. Last time we pulled a boat off a shoal I had to do the swimming and it was cold! I got about half way there when my feet hit the bottom. I stood up the water was barely waist deep. Oh, yeah, they’re aground, I can walk most of the way.

Meanwhile, our Canadian buddies, “Christata” and “Perle Noire III” pass on by.

passing through the railroad bridge
Passing through the railroad bridge, Pasquotank River. When a train is coming, someone associated with the railroads, comes out closes the bridge via a hand-crank.

On the Sound there are two routes for the ICW. The primary route goes up to Coinjock and the secondary route goes up the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City and the Dismal Swamp Canal. We bear off on a heading of 007T, making for Elizabeth City and the Dismal Swamp Canal, our old stomping grounds.

Now the challenge is to get through the fields of crab pots while steering our course and not wandering around the Sound too much. The crab pots stretch in every direction for as far as the eye can see.

Note: Day marks and buoys mark channels along either shore, but when crossing large bodies of water one relies on the compass (or GPS, for those of you in the 21st century).

1030 Tied up along side the park on Elizabeth City’s waterfront. After several chats with locals, a walk around town, and a couple of cheeseburgers, we cast off and go to anchor further up the Pasquotank River for the night.

The dark, still waters of the swamp lands reflect our world.
The dark, still waters of the swamp lands reflect our world.

Day 25 – NC/VA (June 3)
First thing this morning I dipped a bucket of water or two from the river. The splashing of the bucket apparently stirred up an alligator who began growling just so I would know it is his territory.

0555 Underway. The waters of the Pasquotank are still and filled with a perfect reflection of our world. This still water is reason number one to be first in the parade of boats heading up the Pasquotank and the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Just before Turner’s Cut I spot a male Prothonotary Warbler in his best bright yellow breeding plumage. If you see a splash of yellow flitting across the waters in front of you it is probably this warbler. It is more common to hear the warblers’ call of “sweet sweet sweet sweet” than it is to see them.

South Mills Lock signage
Right hand fork for the lock. There are a pair of Bald Eagles in this area, often seen flying up the left hand fork.

Just before South Mills is a fork off to the left. There is a Bald Eagle or two here year after year.

0745 South Mills. We anchor up to await the 0830 locking. South Mills Lock schedule is 0830, 1100, 1330, and 1530.

We are now close enough to Norfolk to pick up radio chatter between warships.

Once in the Dismal Swamp Canal you will come upon the North Carolina Welcome Center. The Welcome Center now offers a nature center and a couple of walks through swamp land via a nice boardwalk. It’s worth the time.

This is the dock at the camping area of Lake Drummond.
This is the dock at the camping area of Lake Drummond.

After the Welcome Center we come to the feeder ditch from Lake Drummond. We head up the ditch, feeling our way along looking for shoals, trees, or deadheads. In the feeder ditch the least water we encountered was three and a half feet.

1235 We arrive at the camp grounds at Lake Drummond. The crew gave serious consideration to jumping ship. In fact, one of our stowaway lizards did jump ship but soon returned.

Day 26 – NC/VA (June 4)
0710 It’s much quicker getting out of the feeder ditch as we don’t need to feel our way along so precisely.

Robert Peak
Robert, the Deep Creek lockmaster is there to help you get through his lock safely and with a smile and a chuckle.

1010 Arrive at Deep Creek Bridge. Robert, the Deep Creek Lock Master, is by the bridge and recognizes us from days past. After some chit-chat and catching up he gets us through the bridge. We tie up at Deep Creek dock for the rest of the day. My opportunity to catch up a bit on this log.

The 1100 locking nets four boats. “R Island” and “Inch-N-Along” we know from Alligator Marina. Hi guys!

We are in our old stomping grounds. Until 2007 the “Bonny Blue” ran the Dismal Swamp Canal to Elizabeth City, NC every weekend with sixteen passengers. It’s fun seeing familiar faces and catching up on the intervening years. At each stop we are told repeatedly how much the “Bonny Blue” is missed. The NC Welcome Center said they had to take down the photo of the “Bonny Blue” because they got too many questions, and the NC PBS used re-run a documentary on the”Bonny Blue” but finally stopped as it generated so many phone calls. The lock masters told us the same thing. It’s great to
know she is still remembered.

Friends at Alligator Marina, this photo shamelessly stolen from Inch-N-Along's blog.
Friends at Alligator Marina, this photo shamelessly stolen from Inch-N-Along’s blog.

Day 27 through 29 – VA (June 5-7)
First things first, coffee and donuts with Robert-the-Lockmaster.  Then we lock through Deep Creek Lock.

Now we must decide: make for the free dock or Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB)? Free dock it is.

Rental car, laundry, re provision boat…blah blah blah.

Day 30 and 31 – VA (June 8-9)

Fueling up at Atlantic Yacht Basin.
Fueling up at Atlantic Yacht Basin.

Re-position to AYB for fuel and so the Captain can change oil and do some other maintenance items. This is my opportunity to drive to Richmond and see my daughter, her husband, and their new house. The Captain should be alright by himself for a day, what with the Bosun keeping watch and all.

In the morning I return to the boat and my lonely Captain and cats.

Gilmerton Bridge, and behind it, Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge #7.
Gilmerton Bridge, and behind it, Norfolk Southern Railroad Bridge #7.

Day 32 – VA (June 10)
1240 Underway for Norfolk.

We are able to slide under most of the bridges as our “air draft” is just under thirteen feet. However, railroad bridges have about a seven foot clearance. Just our luck that “Norfolk Southern railroad bridge number 7 will be closing momentarily” as we approached. We hovered around for twenty minutes and eventually a train appeared and disappeared. The bridge remained closed. Another twenty minutes. We tried hailing the bridge tender to get the low down. The only response we got was from a tug and barge waiting on the far side of the bridge and his information was he knew no more than we did. Then a second train appeared and disappeared. Finally we are allowed through the bridge.

Condos along the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, VA
Condos along the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, VA

1630 Anchor off Hospital Point. It’s hot and there is little wind. I’m in a bad mood. The litter box was accidentally inaccessible to the cats for a bit and Simon, the Bosun, piddled on a bag. To be fair, he had
been trying to tell me something and I had been dense. Still, bad mood it is.

It’s a pleasant evening and we watch the “American Rover” do her sunset sail. It was a magnificent sunset – what I could see of it through the buildings. Am still in bad mood.

The American Rover on her sunset cruise.
The American Rover on her sunset cruise.

The Captain starts a conversation about our next destination. I grumpily reply that I see no point in going north of the Mason-Dixon line. Ever. The Captain considers this and then announces he is no longer interested in the Erie Canal. Now I am in a bad mood AND feel bad about being in a bad mood.

In short, we decide to putter around North Carolina for awhile and eventually get home. We agree it would be a good idea to cruise the Erie Canal on a canal boat, readily rent-able on the Erie Canal. That’s the current plan.

So, technically, from here on, our journey is Southbound on the ICW.

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