Solomons, MD to the Albemarle Sound, NC

We left Calvert Marina in Solomons, MD on October 13th around 8:30 am. The weather looked gloomy with very low hanging clouds. After we got further underway, we realized we were heading into fog, which is something we had not tried our hand at just yet. Another learning experience! We had pretty good visibility, and with our running lights on and all of our navigational electronics working, we proceeded cautiously.

Heading out of Back Creek into the Patuxent River
Cruising south on the Chesapeake Bay

The fog lifted after a couple of hours, and we actually had a nice cruise down to our next anchorage. We went south on the Bay, then hung a right on the Potomac. Very quickly we made another right onto St. Mary’s river, and cruised up to the Horseshoe anchorage, winding our way for a few miles before dropping anchor in a lovely, protected and deep cove. After getting the anchor set, we enjoyed the gorgeous scenery and another spectacular sunset. The water was calm, and this area, although having homes along the shore, seemed remote and quiet.

Heading up Saint Mary’s River to anchorage
Sunset at our anchorage just off Saint Mary’s City

The next morning we launched the dinghy and took a water tour of the environs before heading over to St. Mary’s College and Historic St. Marys City. St. Mary’s College has a great history in its own right, and they have a world-class collegiate sailing team. It is a public, liberal arts honor college established in 1840, originally known as St. Mary’s Female Seminar. The campus was quiet (Covid), but so very pretty to walk through. We then toured the remains of St. Mary’s City – the first colony and the first capital of Maryland. Originally established by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore of England, it was an experiment in religious tolerance (A Protestant King allowed Calvert to have a colony that would not persecute followers of other religions than the Church of England, most notably Catholics). This mandate was unprecedented at the time, as England had been wracked by religious conflict for centuries.

The town was thriving but small in the 1600’s to early 1700’s, but when the capital was moved to Annapolis, there was no more need for the town – it wasn’t a big agricultural spot and it basically existed to conduct state business.  Several years ago, a restoration/archeological dig began and it is now an 800 acre living history museum – kinda like Williamsburg, but less commercial and quieter.  There is a replica of the ship that brought the original settlers to the area in the harbor.  As there were not many people here, we had the pleasure of having basically private tours around the area and the Dove, the ship replica.  We discovered during our tour that the boat we had seen being built at the Marine Museum in St. Michaels is being constructed to replace the current Dove that we were standing on!  The new replica will more closely follow the original Dove designs and will have modern updates to protect from worm rot and other problems.  The original Dove was lost at sea during its return to England, so assumptions are being made on the actual structure, helped by archeological studies that have uncovered drawings and plans of similar boats of the time. We were both in awe of the intrepid nature of the colonists – these ships are not large and they would journey for several months, without really knowing how their journey would end, or how they might survive.  These colonists had great leaders, with contacts with the local native tribes.  So instead of making huge blunders and getting slaughtered, they did live peacefully with each other for many years.  Of course, eventually, that ended, but at least they started well.  

Touring St Mary’s College
Reconstructed State House of 1676 in Historic St. Mary’s City
View of St Mary’s River from Historic St Mary’s City

Other than Neil’s back still nagging him, it was a perfect day – beautiful, fun and full of history – something we both love. After observing an oyster nursery in the college’s marina, we returned to our boat, securing the dinghy and preparing to depart early the next morning.

Oct 15th: Our next leg signaled our return to Virginia. After leaving the Potomac and cruising south, we turned into the Piankatank River, navigating a bridge and a winding waterway to anchor at Berkley Island, a shallow but protected spot.  The winds were coming up and we were expecting a storm, so we were happy to have a well protected anchorage.  

Berkley Island is a natural spot, hosting a church summer camp, but quiet now.  We saw a lot of fishermen, and quickly realized that Saturday, October 17th was the opening day of hunting season – that or there were gun crazed folks shooting off rifles in the early morning…  Although the water was too cool now to swim in, we did enjoy milder days as we moved south.  We took a couple of days here to rest and relax and just enjoy the wilderness around us as Fall brought crisper mornings and changing leaves.

Cruising down the Potomac and into the Bay
Anchorage next to Berkley Island on the Piankatank River
Another beautiful sunset at the Berkley Island anchorage

As we got ready to raise anchor on the morning of October 18th, we were treated to the magical appearance of morning mists on the water. That coupled with literally no wind created a quiet smooth exit for us as we began our cruise down the Chesapeake Bay to Bluewater Yachting Center Marina in Hampton, VA.

Mist on water surrounding our only neighbor in anchorage
Approaching Route 3 Bridge on exiting Berkley Island anchorage on the Piankatank River
Kathleen taking us out the Piankatank River into the Bay

Although we felt a bit like we were returning to an area we “knew”, we had actually only seen Hampton, VA from land (when we toured around in July while staying at Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth). It was much different coming in from the Bay. The winds were 10-15 knots but with lots of cross currents. By the time we were rounding Old Point Comfort, the wind was very “brisk” with a lot of smaller sailboats criss-crossing in front of us. We approached the Hampton River entrance to the marina and could not reach the harbormaster with our VHF radio. Kathleen called on her cellphone to get our slip assignment and directions to pump out.

We overshot the pump out station, and Neil pulled a u-turn in the middle of busy Sunset Creek in front of the marina. Once we got turned around and to the pump out dock, we got permission to dock at a slip close to where we were at that time, which was really great. We did need to tie up stern in, and with the breeze proved challenging, but we did it. Kathleen even secured a bow line onto a piling with no mishaps and no boat scrapes, so success all around.

Granuaile at her slip in Bluewater Yachting Center Marina, Hampton VA

While getting settled in – hooking up power, adjusting lines, etc, we caught up with another couple that we had known briefly back at Grand Harbor Marina in Vero, Travis and Kathy. It was great to see familiar faces and to hear about their summer. Neil got us secured with the harbor master and we relaxed for the evening.

We ventured forth the next day to replenish our groceries, rolling tote in hand. On the walk back, we gratefully accepted a ride from Travis who was passing by. Boat people are the best.

We left two days later (Oct 20) around 9:00. Once we exited the Hampton River and started south into the Elizabeth River, we were quickly shrouded by HEAVY fog – less than .25 miles visibility. Adding to the excitement, we were going to be crossing a major shipping channel. We relied on AIS, radar and VHF to help us across, along with running lights, and a couple of trips to the Portuguese bridge by Kathleen to scan the water with binoculars and listen while Neil steered us across.

As we were almost across, Kathleen heard either a helicopter or a freighter – thankfully, it was a helicopter and we were nearing the huge Naval Station Norfolk shipyard. Just as we approached, the fog started lifting, so we were treated to cruising by FIVE aircraft carriers and many other Navy ships. A tug/barge had slipped in behind us, so we were observant of where that captain was going. To add to the “fun”, a freighter was coming towards us. Thankfully, the waterway there is necessarily deep and wide. The freighter seemed close to us, but he probably hardly noticed us as he confidently piloted his vessel to a pier for lading. Once past this area, we cruised by Tidewater Marina in Portsmouth, where we had spent July. Moving beyond it, we turned onto the Elizabeth River, and the myriad of bridges that we needed to pass through. There were MANY more cruisers and sailors on the ICW this time than when we had come up in June. It was odd to be part of this annual migration to warmer climes, but mostly we spent our time adjusting to the various speeds and sizes of vessels on the water, while navigating the narrow and curvy waterway.

Exiting the fog with view of aircraft carrier row
Freighter passing by us on the Elizabeth River
Ahead, the first of many bridges to pass through on our way south on the Elizabeth River

As we neared the Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina, we once again traveled through a lock, the Great Bridge Lock. We were stopped and waiting for the on-coming traffic to exit the lock first – that on-coming traffic was another tug and barge, with the captain very skillfully steering both through a narrow passage as boaters did their best to pull as far off to the banks as possible without grounding their vessels. To give some perspective, imagine a tractor trailer driving down the center of a two lane rural road with various size vehicles on either side.

Northbound tug and barge exiting the Great Bridge Lock with line of boats including us waiting to enter
Entering the Great Bridge Lock

Once through the lock, we needed to pass under a bascule (draw) bridge. Suddenly the boats in front of us slowed way down, leaving us in the precarious position of directly under the (open) bridge – which needed to close. Neil carefully edged to the left of the traffic jam, about 8 boats long. Unfortunately, coming the other way was ANOTHER tug and barge. Luckily there was enough room for the barge to pass us without any problems.

AYB marina is right on the ICW, with facing docks for transients like us. Kathleen was again having problems hailing the marina on our VHF radios, so we once again used the cell phone. We were given a facing dock slip assignment, but there were no dock hands available. So teamwork again prevailed as Neil edged the boat into our spot and Kathleen got on the dock and secured lines. About 10 minutes after we were docked, and feeling pretty good for having done it “solo”, the dock hands arrived and moved us closer to the boat in front of us, they really pack boats in on this dock especially at this time of year as so many people are moving south.

Kathleen was bummed that we were back in hot and humid weather – she had really been enjoying those cooler days and not sweating.

Tied up at Atlantic Yacht Basin (AYB) marina in Chesapeake, VA
Night falls at Atlantic Yacht Basin marina

The next morning (Oct 21) we cast off from the dock at 9:00, trying to get ahead of the masses coming down the ICW behind us. Our next destination was the Coinjock Marina where we had docked on our journey north five months ago. There was traffic, bridges and barges, as well as winding waterways and still problems with our VHF radios. Kathleen added to the “fun” when she had a complete brain-fart and lapsed into thinking a day marker that was supposed to be on port should actually be on our starboard. Luckily Neil (and Kathleen) noticed this lapse before grounding our girl, and we were able to rapidly stop and go into reverse while getting back INTO the ICW. Did we mention that this happened as a larger cruiser was asking to pass us? Good times. Count on Kathleen to add excitement to a day’s cruising…. Neil had “fun” trying to navigate ANOTHER tug/barge coming towards us in Coinjock Bay. We had ONE FOOT of water under our keel while passing – the tug captain relayed he had the same. We kinda think it might be time to dredge this section of the ICW…

Kathleen keeping the green day marker to PORT
Classic yacht cruising past us while docked at Coinjock Marina

We noticed that the 12V alternator on the main engine was not charging our house battery bank. This meant the battery bank state of charge was dropping as the hours passed by during our cruise. When we got to Coinjock, our VHF radios again were on the fritz, so we used our handheld radios to communicate with the marina. Again, Neil had to pull a u-turn to get on the facing dock, and we had several professional hands helping us get tied up. Once secured, Kathleen did some research on the VHF radio problem, and learned that being able to hear others (which we were) but unable to send clear messages (which was also us) was usually caused by power problems – like a DC voltage drop due to an alternator not charging our house batteries while we were underway. We confirmed this by checking the radio with a neighbor once we had shore power on – and the radio worked fine.

The next morning (Oct 22) we cast off again, knowing that in the worst case scenario, we could run our generator to power the electronics and charge the batteries – and we had cell phones and handheld radios as back ups. The alternator was again functioning correctly and the VHF radios were working like a charm. Should be fun troubleshooting this intermittent alternator issue!
There was fog when we first departed, but it lifted very quickly. Kathleen marveled at the beauty of the spiderwebs built overnight on the dock, heavy with dew and glistening in the morning light. Luckily, she did not spy any spiders….

Passing under bridge just south of Coinjock Marina

We followed south many of the same boats we had been with for the last two days, both sailboats and powerboats. Neil drove us down the ICW, dealing with hairpin turns with local fishermen in dinghies close to day markers and again, boats of various speeds and abilities on very narrow water. Once we got onto the Albemarle Sound, we turned to the west, leaving the migration hoards to continue their journey south.

Cruising west on the wide open Albemarle Sound, NC
Kathleen taking us to Albemarle Plantation Marina, dodging crab pot buoys along the way

The sound is beautiful – very large and shallow. We had gorgeous weather, with no wind and cool temperatures. Our only hassle was a lot of crab pot buoys, but even these were relatively easy to negotiate, as they were strung with a lot of room in between them and in the calm water were easy-ish to see. We both also felt that we were feeling a little more comfortable due to our cruising experience over the past year. Neil negotiated us into the Yeopim River, a VERY shallow waterway that has a VERY narrow channel leading to the marina. Neil had called ahead to the dockmaster to confirm channel depth and was comforted by the fact another Nordhavn, a 62 with deeper draft than ours, had made it through. Adding to the fun were several crab pot buoys lining (and some actually in) the channel. Neil steered us through and we had our slip assignment, so we proceeded carefully.

Our slip does fit our boat, with about one foot on either side. We docked with help from J.E. the harbor master and really great guy, plus another helper from a nearby boat. Once we got secured, including a stern line tied to a piling behind us, we went exploring the Albermarle Plantation development where we were staying. Interestingly, there is not now, nor was there ever a plantation here; the developer just liked the images of a large agricultural area that the word plantation evoked for him. There’s no agriculture here, but it is very pretty, with lots of trees draped with Spanish moss. We took our rented golf cart for a spin, and were amazed at the friendliness of the residents and the beautiful grounds. We stopped at the Clubhouse and had a cocktail on the back patio, looking out over the Sound and a perfect setting sun.

We were going to sit in the cockpit that evening to watch the stars. Kathleen was seated and all set to find Polaris, when Neil came out and asked if she knew what the buzzing sound was. Kathleen had assumed it was a nearby boat’s outdoor lanterns. Neil looked around the corner back up to the dock and said, “Get inside – quickly!” It was hoards of flying bugs. We had heard about the bug swarms in South Carolina and were vigilant on our journey north earlier this summer, but we had not encountered anything like this. We hunkered down inside, lights out, realizing that maybe this place wasn’t as perfect as we had first thought. As Fall had not really arrived here yet, the bugs were still around, and sticking to our boat.

Our slip at the Albemarle Plantation marina
Nordhavn 62 “Gray Matter” docked behind us. Mark and Christine are world cruisers, having cruised to the South Pacific.
View of the Albemarle Sound from our slip
Our transportation, handy for cruising around the rather large Albemarle Plantation development
Beautiful view of the Albemarle Sound from the clubhouse

The next morning dawned with heavy fog, that lifted in a short while. It turned out that the next several mornings would be socked in, but it was really cozy to experience. Even going for a walk was an adventure, with oaks and Spanish moss gradually appearing through the mist. Once the sun was out, we spent the morning and early afternoon busily scrubbing our Granuaile inside and out (the bugs washed off pretty easily, and we learned that we would probably have to wash the boat off every day when it was warm), doing laundry and cleaning up the guest room as two of our favorite people were coming to visit – Kevin and Peggy Maher! This couple is amazing fun that we have known for years from our Colorado days. We also noted that the last time we had been with them was exactly one year ago when they hosted us at the LSU – Auburn game in Baton Rouge. That weekend was the kickoff of our retirement, and we had a fantastic time both with Kevin and Peggy as well on our own down in New Orleans. They were also the first “non-family” visitors to our boat, and we were so excited to see them and to have them experience a bit of this life.

Spanish moss covered trees, path out to the marina
Typical morning fog blanketing the marina
Enjoying visit with Peggy and Kevin

The first evening we had cocktails on the dock at a very pretty picnic table. The gods had dialed in picture-perfect weather – gently breeze, warm sun, calm waters – it was like being in a commercial advertising this place. We were going to have dinner up at the Clubhouse, but belatedly found out that it had closed at 2:00, and the marina grill was also closed. Kathleen whipped up some shrimp scampi with linguine, and as Kevin and Peggy are about the easiest guests imaginable, they were good with it!

Much conversation (and wine consumption) occurred that evening. The next day we got up, had omelets for everyone, and then ventured out to the town of Edenton in Kevin and Peggy’s rental car. Edenton is another historical colonial town, largely unscathed through the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. There are many historic colonial buildings, along with a rather busy small town (Kathleen was FINALLY able to get new sneakers – her old pair had almost worn through…) The four of us had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking around the town and reading about the various homes and sites (Kathleen and Peggy also discovered a pecan tree that was handily dropping nuts as they walked by – score!).

After a couple of hours, we stopped at 309 Bistro and Spirits for a hearty lunch. Again, incredibly welcoming people and great lunch! We capped off the day with (another) grocery shopping trip (whenever there is a car available, we gladly make use of it!). Once home and unpacked, we relaxed on the boat deck in the late afternoon light. Once the sun went down, we went back inside (avoiding the bugs again) and just had a great evening talking about, well, everything. Friends like these are treasures, and we are so grateful that they made the journey to see us.

Roanoke River Lighthouse at Edenton, NC. Moved to Edenton after it was decommissioned in 1941.
Walking tour of historic homes in Edenton
Enjoying a refreshment and the evening view

Sadly Sunday morning they headed back to Norfolk to catch their plane home. Peggy did share that this was her first time ever sleeping on a boat (Kathleen was amazed at this as both she and Kevin are global travelers), and that she really enjoyed it! We think we may have gotten them a step closer to realizing their retirement dreams – not living on a boat, but great adventures.

We had originally planned to leave this marina on Sunday. However, a hurricane was building in the Gulf, planning to slam New Orleans, which meant rougher weather here later in the week. Additionally, before that happened, we had really rough weather predictions for Thursday and Friday. We had plans to cruise east in the Albemarle Sound to the Outer Banks and stay at a marina in Manteo, NC and check out a couple anchorages but with the risk of really bad weather on the Sound we decided to stay here. Sunday was Neil’s birthday, so we celebrated by dining at the Dockside Cafe, the restaurant at the marina. We had a nice dinner and evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent going for walks and enjoying the nice calm before the storm.

The storm came crashing in around 11:00 am and was very rough, we positioned fenders to protect the port side from a piling, and had help from other samaritans (J.E. leading the way) to tie the boat up closer to the starboard dock (no small feat with 35-40 tons of boat being blown the opposite direction). Boat people are the best – always willing to help others out, and it was also a bonus that it was not cold or raining – just super high winds (35-40 knots at one point).

Sunrise on the Albemarle Sound. Calm before the storm.
Wind was from the south so waves built up across the sound and came crashing directly into the marina without break. Unfortunately the catamaran next to us sustained some damage from repeatedly bouncing into the dock.

After the storm blew through, we were talking with another Nordhavn owner docked here (Mark and Christine, owners of Gray Matter), who were actually directly behind us in the marina. Mark and Kathleen had the same thought – it was time for some wine, even if it wasn’t yet 5:00. They invited us over to their boat (62 foot Nordhavn, a true world cruiser) for a tour and a visit. We really love meeting new people, especially Nordhavn owners, as it is fun to learn people’s back stories and lives that lead them to this lifestyle. And we always seem to make really good friends.

Friday was an easier day. As Mark had graciously taken us to the grocery store on Wednesday, we were set provision-wise. Kathleen made a batch of butternut squash soup and guacamole, while Neil updated Wheelhouse maintenance checklist items. The marina has an annual tradition of lighting boats on the evening of October 30th, and people walk around visiting. The winds had been blowing on Friday, but by 4:00 it was fine and we used our Christmas lights to festively decorate our stern and saloon windows. Once dark, we walked over to a neighboring dock and visited with other boaters. Apparently the event had actually been called off due to winds (something we didn’t know) but was ok as at least ten other boats had also decorated their boats. We didn’t stay out long, but it was fun to get a bit into the Halloween spirit.

Granuaile decorated for the marina’s Halloween celebration

Halloween day was beautiful. We went for a long walk around the development and then Kathleen got to work out while Neil mapped out our next course. Mark and Christine came by for a glass of wine and some good conversation, then we settled in for our Halloween tradition of watching the classic movie, Young Frankenstein. Neil may have been a tad less enthusiastic than Kathleen (really, when you can pretty much recite the lines from the ENTIRE movie, it does take away from the tradition aspect). But it was fun, and connected us to our previous life, that had involved children, costumes, carved pumpkins, roasted seeds, candy, doorbells, decorations and this movie.

Sunday (Nov 1st) dawned deceptively nice, with just the beginnings of wind. We took advantage of the relatively calm weather to move the boat over to the fuel dock for a holding tank pump out. It was also good practice for everything from getting out of a tight slip (Kathleen using an extension pole to get the starboard stern line off the piling), to tying up to a facing dock in wind for the pump out, to finally getting back into the dock, this time with both port and starboard stern lines affixed to pilings, and using the time to really secure the boat for another anticipated blow, this time from the north.

After taking showers, the wind picked up, with the rain shortly following. Although rocky, our plans for securing the boat did their job. Kathleen worked on this blog and sewing our rather tattered US flag. Neil worked on mail and other more-mundane boat life items as we kept a sharp eye (and ear) out for any wind related mishaps.

Storm blowing in from the north

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